Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.

2017 was a crazy year for me. It was my first full calendar year as a programmer and I watched way too many films. Over 800, actually. This is my longest discoveries list yet which is indicative of how many great films are out there just waiting for the right audience to come along and I absolutely intend to screen as many of these as possible to paying audiences in the following year. Here’s to more discoveries in 2018!

A WOMAN’S TORMENT (1977, Roberta Findlay)
Vinegar Syndrome have recently come to the rescue of the films of Roberta Findlay and the crown jewel of that has to be A WOMAN’S TORMENT. As much a work of moody psycho/slasher cinema of its era (think specifically Polanski’s REPULSION) as it is in line with its more sensational porno chic trappings, Findlay delivers a careful character study that’s punctuated by bloody violence and explicit sex. There’s nothing else really like it and Vinegar Syndrome offer both hardcore and softcore cuts on their fantastic blu-ray release, which makes it accessible to (almost) all. Don’t miss it.
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HIRED TO KILL (1990, Nico Mastorakis)
What do you get when the dude responsible for ISLAND OF DEATH makes a big dumb action movie starring Brian Thompson as the hero and Oliver Reed as the villain? Well, you get HIRED TO KILL. A bombastic, island set prison break film featuring Thompson and a gang of Andy Sidaris-esque women – each with their own “talent” – trying to break a guy out of prison. It’s amazingly stupid and just what I want in my action cinema from the early 90s. Bonus points for the ultra classy line “Honey, you wouldn’t know an orgasm if it fell on your face!”
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PUZZLE OF A DOWNFALL CHILD (1970, Jerry Schatzberg)
I was fortunate enough to see this on a pristine 35mm print at Metrograph. Widely, and unfortunately, not easily accessible on home video – this may be Schatzberg’s best film and features exemplary work from Faye Dunaway in the leading role. This is careful late 60s/early 70s character work that was inexplicably released by a major studio and is indicative of the risks that the majors were willing to take almost 50 years ago. Beautiful stuff. If it plays near you, get to it.
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NO CONTEST (1995, Paul Lynch)
If I had to choose one discovery of 2017 as the most fun it would be no contest because it would be NO CONTEST. Paul “PROM NIGHT” Lynch delivers one of the most batshit DTV releases of the mid-90s with this DIE HARD clone featuring a mustachioed Andrew Dice Clay holding a fucking beauty pageant hostage. And who is our John McClane: none other than Shannon Tweed. Robert Davi is her guy on the outside, Roddy Piper plays a villain named Ice who gets killed with a bag of ice. There’s a requisite StairMaster reference and some nicely timed Ben & Jerry’s jokes (!). Not sure where this has been all of my life, but I’m very happy to have it now.

Also look for its also DTV sequel FACE THE EVIL, also featuring Tweed this time taking on Lance Henriksen in a museum held hostage over Nazi shit. It’s quite the double feature.
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WORKING GIRLS (1986, Lizzie Borden)
Imminently quotable, feminist drama set within a Manhattan brothel with as much an emphasis on starting a didactic conversation on the ethics and representation of sex work as offering up the visual pleasure excesses of its subject matter. But, really, you’ll quote this for days: “You call running upstairs to fuck Miles in the Kleenex room class?
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BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS (1984, Billy Woodberry)
As equally important a release from Milestone as LOSING GROUND before it, Woodberry’s BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS works as a pseudo-companion to Charles Burnett’s KILLER OF SHEEP taking place in the same neighborhood only a few years later and feeling just as matter of fact in its portrayal of a community that is seldom represented. Another entry into the LA Rebellion, which is proving to be absolutely vital for American cinema history.

UNDERCOVER (1995, Gregory Dark)
Well known pornographer Gregory Dark turned to low budget, and usually DTV, genre fare in the early 90s and one of his better non-hardcore films is this sleazy undercover cop film that was also released as UNDERCOVER HEAT. Playing out sort of like a law abiding version of ANGEL with a cop undercover as a prostitute in a sort of Lifetime movie version of BELLE DE JOUR (with much more gratuitous nudity) and a supporting cast that features Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a brothel henchman, Meg Foster as the madame and Rena Riffel as a prostitute with great dance movies (in the same year she was in SHOWGIRLS). Great fun.
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DEVIL IN THE FLESH (1998, Steve Cohen)
I love a solid, silly 90s domestic thriller and DEVIL IN THE FLESH delivers on all the promises of the genre. Sort of an amalgam of POISON IVY and THE CRUSH (which, let’s face it, are nearly the same) with Rose McGoawan stalking her teacher, sniffing his clothes and surprising him in the shower. And of course the teacher has nothing to do with this, going so far as to hilariously explain “I’m not boffing my student!” Just as trashy as you want it to be.
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CISCO PIKE (1972, Bill L. Norton)
I caught this as part of a Harry Dean Stanton retro shortly after his death and it’s one of the better screenings I attended this year. I near criminally underrated early 70s slice of life from the director of BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND, Harry Dean is joined here by Kris Kristofferson, Gene Hackman (who has a great moment where he runs in place for an extended period of time, and Karen Black. This is the kind of disaffected 70s alienation cinema that I long for and it deserves a much bigger audience than it has seen.
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RED ROSES OF PASSION (1966, Joe Sarno)
Vinegar Syndrome brought this relatively unknown (even by Sarno standards) mid sixties sexploitation entry to blu-ray in one of the best 2017 home video surprises. A delightful and always entertaining barrage of ropes, roses and transparent negligees. A must for Sarno fans and newcomers alike.
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WOLF LAKE (1980, Burt Kennedy)
Workmanlike, dark Canadian genre cinema from the dude who gave us SUBURBAN COMMANDO is an ultra-bleak us vs them narrative featuring Rod Steiger and his band of baddies terrorizing a young couple in the woods as a result of the guy being a Vietnam deserter. Its politics are still relevant and its cynicism is apt. Borderline repellent in its nastiness at times, but Steiger is a force and it plays out like STRAW DOGS meets DEATH HUNT.
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STONE COLD DEAD (1979, George Mendeluk)
The Canuxploitation continues with this Toronto for NYC slice of late 70s sleaze featuring a sniper taking out prostitutes in the city. Featuring Paul Williams as a loony pimp and Richard Crenna basically being Richard Crenna. Plays with the patience of a giallo but the grit of period American genre cinema.
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TOP OF THE HEAP (1972, Christopher St. John)
As soon as this ended, I wanted to find a rooftop and shout its praises. There is no reason for this to be as unknown as it is, but hopefully that will change thanks to the Code Red blu-ray currently available. A socio-political evisceration of its time, masqueraded as escapist blaxploitation fare - basically a sort of fired up, stylish proto-Bad Lieutenant with some brutal violence and surreal sci-fi moments that make this a rarely singular entry in early 70s genre cinema. There's really nothing else like it.
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COLD STEEL (1987, Dorothy Ann Puzo)
Back in the late 80s, Mario Puzo’s daughter directed one film and that film is COLD STEEL. A Christmastime crime thriller where Jonathan Banks plays Iceman, a junkie killer with a robot voicebox who force feeds people fish to death. Brad Davis and Sharon Stone team up, he mansplains how to eat sushi to her, there's a gratuitous sex scene and an equally gratuitous (but solid) shoot out. Bonus points for the practical stunt heavy car chase that ends in a racetrack.
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LADY BEWARE (1987, Karen Arthur)
Karen Arthur, who gave us THE MAFU CAGE, brought us this late 80s erotic thriller featuring Diane Lane as a department store window dresser plagued by creepy phone calls, creepier mannequins and some (also creepy) sexual fantasies. This is really something.
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RIOT (1996, Joseph Merhi)
I became sort of obsessed with Jospeh Merhi and PM Entertainment his year and the jewel of the bunch is easily this Christmas Eve set Escape from New York clone featuring Gary “don’t call me Santa Claus” Daniels in the Snake role entering a war zone LA to find the British Ambassador’s daughter who has been kidnapped by Shy Boy, leader of the Crips. This is fucking bananas, with Daniels partnered up with Sugar Ray Leonard taking on an apocalyptic LA full of hooligans on dirty bikes, roller blading hockey players and gang members with bazookas. And he only has a tiny ankle gun to protect himself! Lots of back flipping, some racists get the shit beat out of them and Charles Napier shows up in sunglasses. And it, naturally, features a Christmas rap song on the soundtrack. This should become required holiday viewing.
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IRRESISTIBLE FORCE (1993, Kevin Hooks)
In the annals of “how did this happen” made for TV movies, we get this DIE HARD set in a mall featuring Cynthia Rothrock as a Navy SEAL trained rookie police officer who happens to get herself inside of a mall during a takeover by white supremacists. She then proceeds to take them out with her trademark kicks, some uzi shooting and, at one point, dual wilding frying pans. Oh, and Stacy Keach plays her partner and Paul Winfield is a sexist police chief who refers to Rothrock as Wonder Woman. Anyone saying that we’re currently living in the Golden Age of TV is flat out fucking wrong.
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COMING SOON (1999, Colette Burson)
This female directed AMERICAN PIE for ladies was inexplicably threatened with an NC-17 in 1999 despite featuring no explicit sex and humor much more tame than its more male centered contemporaries. Wonder why? Regardless, this sly sex comedy featuring a cast of young women searching for their own climax is a sweet coming of age film that deserves to be seen. Plus, Peter Bogdonavich plays a South African potter and Ryan Reynolds is a rocker that sings about orgasms. Burson directed this year’s PERMANENT, another female centered coming of age film, and hopefully that will lead audiences to this one. It did for me.
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