Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Lars Nilsen ""

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics.

The Austin Film Society can be found here:
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:

Here's Lars List from last year:

BLACK SHEEP (1935; Allan Dwan)
The extraordinary prolific Allan Dwan had a career that stretched 50 years, from 1911 to 1961, and along the way he not only learned a lot about screen storytelling, he also invented a fair amount of it. Dipping into just about any Dwan film - and most were B-movies - we are treated to a showcase of narrative invention, very economical narrative invention, usually, but it’s all part of Dwan’s aesthetic. BLACK SHEEP is a yarn about a professional gambler (the underrated Edmund Lowe) who makes the acquaintance of party girl Claire Trevor and jumps the turnstile from second class steerage to the luxury first-class gaming tables, where more money equals more problems. Lowe and Trevor have great chemistry together, and the villainess of the piece, played by an angular beauty named Adrienne Ames, gets the benefit of all of Dwan’s special talent for characterizing melodramatic personae. So does the audience.
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CLIFFORD (1994; Paul Flaherty)
If you like your comedies so funny that they can do damage to your insides, this is the one for you. 40-year old Martin Short plays a scheming, demonically energetic 12 year old who wants nothing more than to visit his favorite amusement park Dinosaur World. To that end, he makes his way to Los Angeles where he puts himself in the charge of his neurotic, yuppie uncle. Played by Charles Grodin, this uncle is eager to prove to his wavering fiance (Mary Steenburgen) that he is in fact dad material. The film is extremely funny throughout, but there are a couple of set-pieces that may actually be dangerous to your health. If you get out of CLIFFORD with only a sore abdomen you should probably consider yourself very lucky.
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CLUNY BROWN (1946; Ernst Lubitsch)
The last film Ernst Lubitsch completed is a thing of joy and beauty in his great tradition. Jennifer Jones is a game trouper as the working class niece of a plumber whose greatest ambition in life is to be a plumber herself. She meets a Czech refugee of the creative class (Charles Boyer) and a shiftless refugee from the upper class (Peter Lawford) and everything gets all messed up. In Jones, Lubitsch must have spied some openness and generosity of spirit that only his genius could detect, because she had previously been misused in maudlin dramas and did not display anything like the spark that Lubitsch kindles here.
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THE DAY IT CAME TO EARTH (1977; Harry Thomason)
A few years after making this film, director Harry Thomason would become a big TV producer, and would co-create the series DESIGNING WOMEN, but in 1977 he was just another hustling filmmaker turning out cheap movies for drive ins. THE DAY IT CAME TO EARTH is a ‘50s period film and seems to be trying to meld an AMERICAN GRAFFITI-style nostalgic sensibility onto a more modern style sci-fi horror film. It’s much funnier than you’d expect thanks to some amusing acting by the leads Wink Roberts. Delight Du Bruine (!!!) and Rita Wilson. Early TV star George Gobel also brings some next-level humor to the film in a role that I think is intended to be 100% serious.
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FEAR OVER THE CITY (1975; Henry Verneuil)
When Jackie Chan cited his biggest influences no one was surprised to see Buster Keaton, but many were surprised to see the name Jean-Paul Belmondo. In the US, we think of Belmondo as the star of art films like Godard’s BREATHLESS and Truffaut’s MISSISSIPPI MERMAID. In his native France he is of course celebrated for these movies, but he is also an icon of action films, in which he flashes his charm and frequently does breathtaking, dangerous stunts. FEAR OVER THE CITY, also called THE NIGHT CALLER, is one of Belmondo’s very best action films. He plays a put-upon, Dirty Harry-type detective who keeps just missing his prey, a serial killer. But when he finds him - oh boy. This has some of Belmondo’s greatest ever stunts, including a chase over the clay-shingled rooftops of Paris that will make you swallow your chewing gum.
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IN THE DUST OF THE STARS (1976; Gottfried Kolditz)
This East German space exploration movie has a pretty passable conscious ‘70s sci-fi storyline, but that’s not what you’ll watch it for. It’s the wild, beautiful, full-on GDR aesthetic of the thing that will make your jaw hit the floor. Long renowned for its alternate-universe style of functional design, East Germany also, as we now know, produced futuristic fables in the same key, with rounded plasticine space-craft, life-support suits, and celestial discos. Weird, psychedelic and cerebral.

KELLY'S HEROES (1970; Brian G. Hutton)
Before watching this, I assumed it was an earnest military action movie along the lines of Brian G. Hutton’s earlier film WHERE EAGLES DARE. Well, it’s different. It does have massive war sequences and all the action you can handle, but it is strangely subversive. It’s much more a M*A*S*H than a PATTON. The cast is out of control. Clint Eastwood, Don Rickles, Carroll O’Connor, and Donald Sutherland (who really got around, war-wise, that year). But the MVP here is, without a doubt, the great Telly Savalas, who plays his role of company commander like a guy who’s been studying Timothy Carey and finds him much too reserved. It’s a gonzo performance but it’s just right for the film. Also just right is the score by Lalo Schifrin, which adds a layer of narrative subtlety to the film that few others could have given it.
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LOOKIN' TO GET OUT (1982; Hal Ashby)
This Hal Ashby-directed film about lovable losers on a winning streak came out about 8 years too late. By 1982, no one cared about losers at all. Jon Voight (who also co-wrote the film) plays a hyperactive, abrasive gambler who alternates regularly between winning a bundle and losing it all. When he and his best friend, played by Burt Young (never better) anger the wrong guys, they take off for Vegas, where they con their way into a suite reserved for a friend of the casino manager. Things go well and things go bad, and Voight is reunited with an old girlfriend (Ann-Margret) who now provides companionship for high rollers. This is a hang-out movie and a character study of a trio of low-lifes who aren’t always so low.
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SCARAMOUCHE (1952; George Sidney)
For me, it is this film, not THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD, that is the absolute platonic ideal of what a swashbuckling adventure movie should be. Based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini, it also takes place in front of a rich backdrop of concealed identities and theatrical intrigue. Stewart Granger plays a rakish bastard (literally) whose sword and heart land him in a variety of predicaments that come to a head when he hides out among a traveling troupe of commedia dell’arte players and gets his chance at revenge on on his nemesis (Mel Ferrer). The two men’s sword duel is very long and practically destroys the whole theater. With the gorgeous Eleanor Parker as Granger’s love interest and Janet Leigh as, well, you’ll find out.
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STORMY WEATHER (1943; Andrew L. Stone)
This black-cast musical, based on the life of its star Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is almost too good to be true. If it had only featured Robinson’s amiable dances, arranged on a string of perfunctory plot devices, it would be a treat for the ages. As it is, the film also features beautiful, dynamic Lena Horne in a major role that showcases both her personal charm and her musical talent. Horne’s “Stormy Weather” sequence is illustrated and complemented by dancer-choreographer Katherine Dunham and her players. The movie also has full musical performances and funny support from Cab Calloway and Fats Waller (!!!) and a climactic dance number by the Nicholas Brothers that is considered by many the pinnacle of dance on film.
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Ira Brooker said...

Of all the movies generally considered awful by conventional wisdom, "Clifford" might baffle me the most. It's been one of my favorite comedies for 20-odd years, and I'm not even a major Martin Short fan. I always appreciated that David Letterman made a point of giving props to "Clifford" nearly any time Grodin or Short was on his show.

Robert M. Lindsey said...

Anything with Clair Trevor is worth watching.

I didn't care for Kelly's Heroes much, but it is the only movie I know of that uses the 35th Infantry Division that my Grandfather was in. He got a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, ending his time in Europe during the Bulge and spending the rest of the war in the hospital. He survived. He'll be 100 in March. He and his company are seen marching in Thousands Cheer with Gene Kelley, so I guess there's that too.