Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Cole Roulain ""

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Cole Roulain

Cole co-hosts a podcast with his wife, Ericca Long, called The Magic Lantern in which they discuss the films in their personal canons and their enduring cinematic memories.
We do an annual round up of film discoveries on The Magic Lantern too (this year's edition: and, like last year, I wanted to take an opportunity here to shine a light on a few films that we didn't already discuss. Seems like there is never enough time or space to talk about all the great things I stumble across in a year, but here goes:

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (Zeman, 1961)
There are a number of iterations of this story, but this one immediately became far and away my favorite. One of the greatest fantasy films ever made, we got a pristine upgrade of it this year from the folks at Second Run. I would be hard pressed to name a better purchase I made all year. Over half a century down the road I still find myself scratching my head at how they acheived these visual tricks and it is brimming over with wild adventure, boundless imagination, and good humor. Clearly a major influence on Terry Gilliam, you can see a direct line between this film and his animation for Monty Python. You can also trace its roots back to early animation pioneers like Lotte Reiniger. One of the most illustrative examples of the phrase "movie magic" that I have ever laid eyes on.
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Casa de Lava (Costa, 1995)
Pedro Costa took Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie and stripped it down to its bare essentials – the long shadow of colonialism and a young woman as outsider – with Casa de Lava. Set against the volcanic backdrop of Cape Verde, it's the story of a young nurse who accompanies an injured worker back to his homeland and finds herself, along with almost everyone she encounters, in limbo, be it cultural, physiological, or spiritual. If you are familiar with Costa's work, this is where you can find the beginnings of what has matured into his dense, rigorous aesthetic. InĂªs de Medeiros is captivating as Mariana, the young nurse, and you can easily see how she would capture the imagination of a village as a newcomer there. The effect that she and her environment have upon one another is profound and if you like deliberate, thoughtful cinema, this will probably be up your alley.
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The Murderer Lives at Number 21 (Clouzot, 1942)
The most fun serial killer movie I saw this year! Henri-Georges Clouzot is well known as a master of suspense with The Wages of Fear and Les Diaboliques, but I don't think he gets enough credit for his earlier films. This is his first and, combined with the follow up Le Corbeau, it makes for a potent debut one-two punch. This was also a big year for my growing admiration of Pierre Fresnay. Between the Marseille Trilogy and this, Fresnay was responsible for a lot of my favorite screen performances this year. It's a perfect blend of crime and comedy, best exemplified by a scene in which Fresnay lights a match on a suspect's neck – equally hardboiled and laugh out loud funny at the same time. It has some of the omnious point of view of M, some of the drawing room eccentricities of Agatha Christie, and a fun twist at the end. Impressive to see what a sure hand Clouzot had from right out of the gate.
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La Cabina (Mercero, 1972)
This was one of my favorite treats from our schedule of Halloween viewing. It's a short film made for Spanish television and I think it ranks up there with the greatest episodes of The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits. It's a simple premise – a man gets stuck in a telephone booth and passerby are unable to free him – but it builds to a genuinely chilling conclusion. By the time you get to the end of this half hour, you will find yourself questioning why you struggle against the chaos of this universe. At least I did. It's the primal fear of understanding how random and insignicant we all are all wrapped up in a tidy little package. I think what makes it so effective is how innocuous it is in the beginning. It's almost comical. The best description I have heard of it is that it's a comedy that ultimately begins peeling its own face off. If you ever step into a phone booth (if you can even find one anymore), don't close the door.
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Dirty Ho (Lau, 1979)
One of our favorite annual events is Austin Film Society's Old School Kung Fu Weekend. I make great discoveries there every year and then use that as a springboard to go in search of others. One of the most fun things I came across in those searches this year was Lau Kar-Leung's Dirty Ho. Another Shaw Brothers extravaganza, it stars the always-amazing Gordon Liu and Lo Lieh. It can be tough to find martial arts movies from this time period that aren't boilerplate revenge/rival schools stories, that don't feel like they are recycling the same plots and fights ad infinitum, but this one is a cut above and is among Lau's most imaginative, non-traditional fight choreography. Gordon Liu delivers a savvy performance, playing his athletic prowess close to the vest with a sly smirk, and Lau's nods to genre fans, parodying other high profile franchises, are a nice bit of comic relief. If you find yourself bored with the kung fu films you've seen lately and are looking for something to reinvigorate your faith in the genre, Dirty Ho is the movie for you!
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