Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Kevin Maher ""

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Kevin Maher

KEVIN MAHER is the host of KEVIN GEEKS OUT, a live video-variety show in Brooklyn. Follow @KevinGeeksOut or visit for details.
In an era of film-podcasts and YouTube channels, I host an old-fashioned variety show where guests talk about movies. Each month there’s a theme and we dive deep into that particular sub-genre. Researching genre films means I end up watching a lot of uneven or forgettable movies. But sometimes I’ll stumble upon a standout film. Here are some of the favorite movies I encountered during my research (plus a few films I watched for entertainment purposes.)

(aka THAT NAZTY NUISANCE) (1943, Glen Tryon)

A sort-of-sequel to the imaginative Hal Roach comedy THE DEVIL WITH HITLER (where Satan is worried about losing his job to Adolf!), this slapstick follow-up features an orangutan beating up Mussolini and Hitler getting fired out of a submarine. It sounds funnier than it is – but it’s still pretty entertaining. This crowd-pleasing political comedy must’ve been THE INTERVIEW of World War 2. There’s a better-than-it-needed-to-be performance from Bobby Watson, who played Hitler in broad comedies and period dramas. (Much like Ian Holm playing Napoleon, he was the go-to-guy to be Hitler.)

Watched while researching KEVIN GEEKS OUT: MONKEY MADNESS.
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PUFNSTUF (1970, Hollingsworth Morse)
The H.R. PUFNSTUF movie isn’t great, but three things captured my attention: Billie Hayes gives a larger-than-life performance. It should NOT WORK – but it does. Remarkably, she’s never “too big” because her acting is grounded -- she delivers an honest portrait of a villain. (Compare that to the adult actors on live-action Disney or Nickelodeon shows.) Another standout is the Mama Cass song where an all-witch-chorus celebrates being different. It’s equal-parts bizarre and beautiful. Lastly, the cast of walk-about puppets includes a Nazi Rat Chauffeur. (This character was not in the PUFNSTUF television show, so presumably someone asked, “How can we make the movie better than the TV series?” and the answer was: Heinrich Rat!)

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SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981, Walter Hill)
SOUTHERN COMFORT is to DELIVERANCE what TWO-LANE BLACKTOP is to EASY RIDER. SOUTHERN COMFORT and TWO-LANE BLACKTOP are not the first of their subgenre, nor the most well known. But these later entries explore the same themes as their predecessors with a depth and nuance that hadn’t been used previously. It’s also a summit of ‘80s character actors (Powers Booth, Fred Ward, Brion James. Why didn’t T.K. Carter become a bigger star?) There’s a menacing score by Ry Cooder. And the cold misery that went into making this swampland thriller comes across in the finished film. You can practically feel the trench foot forming. The film stays one step ahead of the audience and never falls into formula. And the movie follows Joe Bob Brigg’s praise of a drive-in movie: any one can die at any time.
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THE ANNIVERSARY (1968, Roy Ward Baker)
You know, the one where Bette Davis wears an eye-patch. (She actually wears different eye-patches, color-coordinated with her different outfits. The red eye-patch is my favorite.) Based on a play, but it never feels too stagey because the dialogue is barbed wire sharp. The film was released at the height of post-BABY JANE Hag Horror, and while this film isn’t a horror movie, Davis plays a real monster. (“She’s the original Monster-in-Law” a DVD re-issue might’ve boasted in 2005.) Fast paced, layered, and laugh-out-loud funny.

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Another surprising hagsplotation film. Academy Award winner Geraldine Page never lets on that she’s in a B-movie, and yet she seems to be having immense fun in the role, delivering lines with a musicality, sometimes emphasizing the wrong syllables in words. (“I told George to sell before it took a loss, he pro-CRAS-tinated until it was too late.”) The Arizona setting makes for a nice departure from the Southern Gothic roots of the hagsploitation cinema. The late ‘60s fashion includes plenty of flowing, creamsicle-colored outfits, displayed by Geraldine Page’s broad body language and exaggerated gestures. Ruth Gordon co-stars as a geriatric Nancy Drew, sort of a world’s oldest final girl, trying to solve the mystery at hand. All this and a plot point involving a little old lady wig!

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DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931, Rouben Mamoulian)
Of all the adaptations of JEKYLL & HYDE, the one that I watched the most as a kid was the goofy cocaine-and-sex comedy JEKYLL & HYDE…TOGETHER AGAIN (1982). I must’ve liked watching something that was too “mature” for me. Since then I’ve seen a lot of other interpretations, but none of them are as powerful as this 1931 film. Frederic March plays both roles beautifully, whether he’s the tormented, uptight doctor or his self-loathing alter ego. His in-camera transformation is worth the price of admission (or the price of a streaming service.)

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(aka GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER) (1971, Yoshimitsu Banno)
Why didn’t I learn about this sooner?! It’s weird even for a Godzilla movie: there’s odd animated vignettes, a psychedelic nightclub sequence and a James Bond-style opening song. The real star is the titular villain, Hedorah, the Smog Monster. I’m a sucker for water symbolism and here the symbolism is as loaded as a polluted stretch of oily ocean. Godzilla gets beats up pretty bad, if you’re into that kind of thing. I love that the ending is a Kaiju re-telling of SHANE: young Ken Yano chases after Godzilla, who lumbers toward the mountains, like a lone cowboy riding off into the distance.

Watched while researching KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT KAIJU.
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THE NIGHT FLIER (1997, Mark Pavia)
There have been plenty of bloated Stephen King adaptations. It’s easy to find some forgettable sequel loosely based on a 12-page story from NIGHT SHIFT. But NIGHT FLIER is lean and efficient, like a single engine propeller plane. The story follows a cynical tabloid reporter becoming obsessed with a mysterious serial killer. It’s a lovingly low-budget affair that makes good use of its simple score and small cast of characters. Miguel Ferrer is given the lead role and he steps up like a pro. (It makes you wish more filmmakers had put him in bigger roles.) The moody, fatalistic plot reminds me of a Black Lizard paperback, like THE HOT SPOT or THE FAR CRY. A more obvious comparison might be the TV series THE NIGHT STALKER, (which is kind of ironic in that King denounces the Kolchak show in his book DANCE MACABRE.) This film is everything the NIGHT STALKER re-boot should’ve been.

Watched while researching KEVIN GEEKS OUT ABOUT STEPHEN KING.
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(aka THE SHIP OF MONSTERS) (1960, Rogelio A. Gonzalez)
Certain Mexican b-movies exist in a contradictory state of being silly films that take themselves deadly seriously while still having a great sense of humor about the whole thing. (The only American films that come close are BUCKAROO BANZAI and SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS.) The plot has familiar elements: sexy alien ladies, a singing cowboy, cheap-looking monsters, and a robot that falls in love with a jukebox. But the story is told with style and atmosphere that are rare in low-budget genre fare. Or maybe it’s rare that it works this well.
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BLUE COLLAR (1978, Paul Schrader)
I worked in a factory for two summers, so I love the authentic details on display, as well as under-used character actors like Harry Northup and George Memmoli. The film’s working-class perspective lines up precisely with the tropes of a heist-gone-wrong story. I’ve been meaning to see this one for years. BLUE COLLAR not only lived up to its reputation, but surpassed it. Excellent use of Richard Pryor’s fire and intensity.


Anonymous said...

I'd never heard of that Hitler movie, but it features Ed "Strangler" Lewis--the Babe Ruth of professional wrestling! That alone makes it worth tracking down for me. Sadly, by that point Lewis was really down on his luck, totally broke, and mostly blind thanks to a disease called trachoma that a lot of old-timers got from ring canvases that weren't properly cleaned.

Bill Scurry said...

Good point about TK Carter -- after "The Thing," the only project I remember him having a huge heave with was David Simon's proto-Wire series "The Corner," back in 2000 on HBO.