Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Patrick Bromley ""

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Patrick Bromley

Patrick Bromley is the Editor-in-Chief of F This Movie! ( and a contributor to Daily Dead and Blumhouse. He hosts the F This Movie! podcast and is a co-host of the horror-themed podcast Corpse Club.

I saw hundreds and hundreds of movies in 2017, and while I didn’t see a whole lot of new movies that I fell in love with (which is not to say that it was a bad year for movies — it wasn’t — just that there weren’t many 2017 movies that will become all-timers for me), that’s not to say I didn’t fall in love with a lot of movies. They just happened to be older titles I discovered for the first time this year. That’s what’s great about movies: they stick around forever, so even if it’s years before you finally get the chance to see something, it’s never too late to find a new favorite. Here are some of my new favorites I saw for the first time this year.

Truck Stop Women (1974, dir. Mark L. Lester) 
One of my favorite discoveries of the year comes courtesy of Code Red Blu-ray, a label that led to more discoveries than any other this year. The perpetually underrated Mark L. Lester directs this incredibly entertaining drive-in effort in which Lieux Dressler plays the madame of a truck stop brothel whose daughter (the incomparable Claudia Jennings) is both working for her and trying to take over her operation by cutting a deal with the mafia. The movie is violent and silly and super energetic and a total good time. This is both one of my favorite 2017 discoveries and one of my favorites in the Code Red library, which is saying something because I love a lot of Code Red titles. So happy they gave this a Blu-ray release.
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Night Patrol (1984, dir. Jackie Kong) 
Though best known for her work in horror thanks to movies like The Being and (especially) Blood Diner, Jackie Kong made a pair of wild comedies in the mid-‘80s that both feel like they were engineered specifically for airing on USA Up All Night. Better known as the "Unknown Comic" movie, Night Patrol was Jackie Kong's biggest commercial success. It stars Murray Langston (the Unknown Comic made famous on The Gong Show, and also a writer on Night Patrol) as a beat cop who dreams of being a stand-up comic but who has to do jokes with a bag on his head so as not to violate the department's policy on moonlighting. Simultaneously, there's a bank robber taking down scores all over L.A. with a bag on his head. The movie has supporting roles for Linda Blair, Billy Barty, Jaye P. Morgan and a young Andrew Dice Clay. Released about six months after Police Academy, it's easy to accuse Night Patrol of being a cheap cash-in. It's not. Aside from being set amongst wacky cops, the two films are totally different; Kong is much more concerned with absolutely assaulting us with jokes, using the Zucker/Abrams/Zucker approach of "see what sticks" but somehow going even sillier, even stupider and sometimes raunchier. Enough of them are funny to make Night Patrol an entertaining watch.
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Design for Living (1933, dir. Ernst Lubitsch) 
A wonderful pre-Code comedy that’s more progressive than most contemporary romantic comedies. This adaptation of a Noël Coward stage play casts the incomparable Miriam Hopkins as a woman in love with two men (Gary Cooper and Fredric March, which seems like an obvious choice to me [it’s Fredric March]), so the three of them decide to live together as one unit. No one made better comedies in the Golden Age than Ernst Lubitsch, and this wound up being one of my favorites.
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The Devil’s Honey (1986, dir. Lucio Fulci) 
I mean, I’m only human.
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Defiance (1980, dir. John Flynn) 
I owe this discovery to Brian Saur and the Pure Cinema Podcast, as it was mentioned on their “Death Wishes” episode and wasn’t on my radar prior to that. Jan-Michael Vincent plays an unassuming guy who moves into an apartment building while waiting to ship out on his next job and finds himself running afoul of a gang and has to fight back. There’s a real grittiness to this movie even though it lacks the meanness of a Death Wish, the movie that clearly inspired it. The great John Flynn directs and knows his way around this kind of street-level movie (having also made Rolling Thunder and, later, Out for Justice), giving it a air of authenticity even though it’s clearly a movie and plays by movie rules. Danny Aiello gives a really fun supporting performance as a boorish neighbor who begins the film as an adversary and ends it as a friend.
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Stroker Ace (1983, dir. Hal Needham) 
I went on a pretty major Burt Reynolds jag earlier this year, trying to fill in the gaps of stuff I’ve missed over the years. The best — and by “best” I probably mean “most mindlessly entertaining” — of my new discoveries was Stroker Ace, a ridiculous vanity project in which Burt plays a race car driver trying to get out of a bad contract he’s got with Ned Beatty. Then-wife Loni Anderson plays his love interest and Jim Neighbors (RIP) is very likable as his mechanic. Almost nothing about the movie has dated especially well (including the romance between Burt and Loni), but it’s fun to watch Burt in full DGAF mode at the peak of his powers. My biggest complaint is the lack of actual racing footage, since I know Hal Needham knows how to shoot that stuff so well. The heavy reliance on stock footage really undermines this movie in which Burt Reynolds wears a chicken suit.
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Ambitious Kung Fu Girl (1982, dir. Lu Chin Ku) 
I randomly recorded this off El Rey because I loved the title and discovered a terrific Shaw Brothers production that’s also very funny and kind of sweet. Michelle Yim plays a spoiled heiress who is terrible at kung fu, but no one will tell her because she always gets her way. Refusing to be with the man her father has arranged her to marry, she sets out on her own to meet her hero (Chen Kwan-Tai) and winds up meeting a series of liars, deceivers, and all around bad people. I was so taken with this movie that immediately tried to find a copy to own; alas, it doesn’t appear to be available in the US on DVD or Blu-ray. I’ll stay on the lookout.

Wolf Guy (1975, dir. Kazuhiko Yamaguchi) 
God bless Arrow Video, for without them I might not have ever seen Wolf Guy. Never before released outside of Japan, this rare 1975 Toei production is part horror, part martial arts movie, part science fiction fantasy, part action movie, part blood-soaked gore fest. In short, it's amazing. The great Sonny Chiba stars as Akira Inugami, the only surviving member of an ancient clan of werewolves who also happens to solve crimes. I think? He never really wolfs out, so don't expect any full-on werewolf action. He does fight a bunch and at one point is captured and experimented upon, during which we get to see him eviscerated and disemboweled in graphic detail. Also, there is a series of unexplainable crimes in which the members of a rock band are being attacked by an invisible tiger and shredded alive. From the acid jazzy score to the enormous sprays of blood that gush from every wound to the endless cool of Sonny Chiba, Wolf Guy is so watchably weird that I found myself loving it. 2017 was a bad year in so many ways, but at least we now live in a world in which this movie is widely available on Blu-ray.
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Sweet Sugar (1972, dir. Michel Levesque) 
I happened across this one by way of Vinegar Syndrome’s limited edition Blu-ray and I’m so glad I did. Besides making me fully aware of my biggest post-Claudia Jennings exploitation crush Phyllis Davis — whom I had seen in both Terminal Island and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls but who didn’t register in that one the way she does here — Sweet Sugar is full of crazy scenes like a memorable one in which a bunch of women are locked away in prison and have cats thrown at them (which itself recalls Night of 1,000 Cats, another great 2017 discovery that I owe to Elric Kane). I can’t necessarily claim that Sweet Sugar is a good deal better than a lot of other women in prison movies of the period, but it has so much crazy energy and Phyllis Davis is such a standout that it quickly became one of my favorites of the genre.
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Making Contact (1985, dir. Roland Emmerich) 
This early Roland Emmerich film, also known as Joey, is completely bananas and one of my favorite new discoveries this year. Describing the plot is more or less pointless, because it isn’t so much what this movie is about as it is how it is about it. Ok, actually, it’s also kind of what it’s about: a telekinetic boy thinks he has found a way to talk to his dead father but is being terrorized by a demonic puppet and other demonic toys (no, not those demonic toys) and has to defeat them in the spirit realm. From the director of Godzilla ’98! Everything about this movie feels like aliens came down to Earth and tried to make an Amblin film. They did not succeed, but where they failed is what makes the movie so spectacularly weird.
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First Love (1977, dir. Joan Darling) 
Here’s a movie I only saw while trying to catch up on as many 1977 movies as possible while preparing my “Underrated ’77” list for Rupert Pupkin Speaks. William Katt and Susan Day star in this romantic drama that feels a lot like Love Story minus the sickness. Sure, the artistry and production values are on par with a made-for-TV movie (in fact, so is the cast), but the movie is alternately sweet and sad, unafraid to explore the pain of early heartbreak without overly romanticizing it and surprisingly frank about its sexuality. The late John Heard and (especially) Beverly D’Angelo are both great in supporting roles. It’s a movie that would seem pretty generic and disposable on its face, but it cast a real spell on me.
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Texas Detour (1978, dir. Howard Avedis) 
Another great Code Red discovery! A terrific little drive-in movie in which Patrick Wayne (John’s son) and his younger brother and sister get stranded in a small Texas town when their van gets stolen. While there, Wayne strikes up a romance with an impossibly lovely Priscilla Barnes, who is the daughter of the richest man in town. Totally unpretentious entertainment, brought to colorful life on Code Red’s Blu-ray (a double feature with Cuba Crossing, which I didn’t enjoy nearly as much). I had such a good time with this.
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Certain Fury (1985, dir. Stephen Gyllenhaal) 
My friend Stephanie and I have started swapping Blu-rays through the mail, and this was the first title I borrowed from her. I know now that she owns it because she is cooler than me, as this movie is awesome. Irene Cara and Tatum O’Neal play young women who are both arrested but escape during a riot and spend the rest of the movie running from the law and getting into trouble. This is New World by way of Cannon, like a PG ‘80s take on The Defiant Ones that wound up way too violent and sleazy to avoid an R. There’s an extended scene in which Irene Cara is trapped in a shower while O’Neal’s psycho ex-boyfriend tries to break in that alternates between being totally exploitative and genuinely tense and scary because of just how vulnerable she is. I also totally love the score, credited to three different composers and sometimes at odds with what’s happening on screen. Of all the movies on this list, I think Certain Fury is the one I was most bummed about not having discovered years earlier.
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Victor/Victoria (1982, dir. Blake Edwards) 
I’ll say something that may be unpopular: I have never been a huge Blake Edwards fan. I haven’t seen every one of his movies, but the ones I have seen have rarely appealed to me outside of being a decent diversion. That is, until seeing Victor/Victoria this year. What a magical movie — a gorgeously staged, celebratory musical about identity, gender fluidity, the spectrum of human sexuality and so much more. Every role is perfectly played, from Alex Karras’ sweet bodyguard to Julie Andrews as the luminous center, to (most of all) Robert Preston at his scene-stealing best. 1982 is already my favorite year for movies ever, and now I can add Victor/Victoria to my list of reasons why.
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Prime Cut (1972, dir. Michael Ritchie) 
Somehow I’ve gone my entire life without this movie being on my radar, but when I found out that there was a crime thriller pitting Lee Marvin against Gene Hackman, I couldn’t see it fast enough. The movie did not disappoint. The cast alone is enough to make me love it, but from its incredible opening sequence in which we see, quite literally, some very special sausage being made, to a climax involving a combine harvester chase in an open field, Prime Cut easily became one of the the absolute best new-to-me movies I saw in 2017.

Now who’s hungry?
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