Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Elijah Drenner ""

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Elijah Drenner

Elijah Drenner is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker and one of the leading independent producers of Blu-ray/DVD bonus content. Some of the the 2017 releases he produced include Barton Fink, Anatahan, Brain Damage, J.D.'s Revenge, A New Leaf, Castle Keep, Psycho Cop Returns, Orgy of The Dead and The Apartment.

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962; Karel Zeman)
Words cannot express the sheer eye-popping ingenuity that this movie possess. If you've seen Terry Gilliam's take on this story of a fictionalized European nobleman with a penchant for telling elaborate tales, you have an idea what to expect -- but prepare yourself for more. Second Run's gorgeous region free Blu-ray comes with a documentary on the late director's life and amazing career, loaded with clips from his other work. Bring on more Zeman in 2018.
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Mädchen, Mädchen (1967; Roger Fritz)
Actor-turned-director Roger Fritz's first feature shows the steady hand of a master. Its a shame he only directed three more films before returning to acting. A teenage girl leaves her boarding school to travel back home, only to be sidetracked when she passes the cement factory owned by the older man who seduced her (and currently serving his sentence). Defying all sensible reason (but really stirring trouble on purpose), she enters the facility that has been in decline since he went to jail. The workers know who she is and do not hide their contempt for her. All except for the imprisoned man's son. She coyly seeks him out and the two embark on a romance over the span of a few days, knowing full-well the patriarch will be released and return home at any time. Fritz casts his wife Helga Anders to play the lead, using her sexuality as a doe-eyed weapon, even if it means risking her safety. Haunting and sexy, this film's lack of recognition in the arthouse world is only due to the director's limited output. Had his work continued, you'd already know about this masterpiece. Subkultur's Region B Blu-ray belongs on your shelf.
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Edge of Doom (1950; Mark Robson)
Farley Granger stars as a downtrodden working man who's mother suddenly dies. Feeling guilt for not being able to provide better living conditions that may, or may not, have resulted in her death, mixed with a cynical view of the church for not being able to help cover the cost for a proper burial, he accidentally kills a priest in a momentary rage of emotion. Fleeing the scene, Granger becomes a hunted man by the police. His salvation rests in the fate of a young priest played by Dana Andrews, whose faith in God compels him to help Granger. If there is such a sub-genre as Faith-based Noir, this is it. Co-starring some of the best footage of real-life skid row downtown Los Angeles locations I've ever seen.
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Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970; Frank Perry)
Tina (Carrie Snodgrass) is a bored, unappreciated upper class married mother of two. The only attention she gets from her husband (Richard Benjamin) is when he needs something or criticizes her physical appearance. All that changes when she meets George (Frank Langella) and they embark on an affair. Seeking fulfillment, she instead realizes that her secret lover is just a different version of the man she's married to -- self absorbed, cruel and uncaring. She turns to group counseling, but even they gang up on her. The timelines of this movie couldn't be more obvious.
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There's Always Tomorrow (1955; Douglas Sirk)
Fred MacMurray stars as Cliff, a dutiful husband and father of three. His family, social and work life is fulfilled, but when he tries to make time for his wife, something always gets in the way. After one of their date nights go bust, he runs into an old co-worker, Norma (Barbara Stanwyck) and discovers that since they last saw each another, she has become a successful designer -- and newly divorced. Cliff discovers that he's unsatisfied with the life he thought he wanted. It's Norma who embodies all that he thinks he's missing, and yet, their love affair never blossoms. The film seems to be telling us that heartbreak and personal sacrifice is the right thing to do. Up yours, happy Hollywood ending.
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Women In Bondage (1943; Steve Sekely)
Where to begin? Firstly, this movie is not what the title implies to those of you reading this with a questionable web browser history. In some ways, its more. In some ways, its shocking. In some ways, its inspiring. A woman returns to her German homeland after being away for several years while her husband serves on the Russian front during World War II. Upon her arrival, she is recruited to lead a conditioning camp of Aryan pure-blood teenage girls for the Third Reich. Witnessing the mistreatment of her campers and horrors of the German government, she revolts against her commanding SS superiors to help the women she’s in charge of to escape. I've never seen such a compelling, yet utterly shameless, women's picture about Hitler's Germany. And just wait for the Nazi baptism scene.
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Caught (1949; Max Ophuls)
Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes) is looking for a husband to take care of her. Etiquette lessons at Dorothy Dale's School of Charm are not easy to afford on her department store model salary. Since moving to Los Angeles, she has struggled to find the lifestyle she dreams of. All that changes when she meets the gruff and wealthy Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). You can't say they exactly hit it off, but he marries her to prove his psychiatrist wrong. And thus begins Leonora's martial hell. So unhappy and fed up with her controlling husband, she's willing to part with the comforts he provides and lands a low paying job as a secretary for Dr. Quinada (James Mason). Spoiler alert: they fall in love and Ohlrig is none to happy about it. The work of Max Ophuls was new to me this year and this was my favorite discovery from his filmography.
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Who Killed Teddy Bear (1965; Jospeh Cates)
One of the best things about watching New York indie films made during the mid and late sixtes, is the flirtation that occurs at the borders of deviancy and art. There's beauty in low-lifes and within the spaces they inhabit. Andy Warhol stood on that subway platform. So did Doris Wishman. Dianne Arbus finds inspiration in the same derelicts as Mike Findlay. The only thing that separates their work from one another is their audience and places of exhibition. Those clustered urban spaces are dark, noisy and seemingly on the verge of eruption. For the mentally imbalanced, the Manhattan that’s on display in this movie is the perfect incubator to nourish their impulses. Sal Mineo (yes, that Sal Mineo) plays one of those New York City psychopaths, the kind you don't see much in movies anymore, in this wonderfully weird sex thriller that exists somewhere between "The Touch of Her Flesh" and "Taxi Driver”. Gorgeously photographed in black and white by Joseph Brun, who previously collaborated with director Joseph Cates (father of Phoebe) on another provocative NY indie, "Girl of The Night", starring Anne Francis.
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Deep End (1970, Jerzy Skolimowski)
This kind of cock-eyed love story could only have come out of the revolution (and confusion) of the 60s. Set in a London SoHo bathhouse, a high school drop out (John Moulder-Brown) lands a job cleaning private rooms and other odd jobs in a dilapidated sauna, while pining for his co-worker (Jane Asher). One of those powerful movies that sneaks up on you, along the lines of "The Graduate" or "Harold and Maude". Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski's colorful and absurdist eye elevates this unusual comedy-drama, featuring music by CAAN and Cat Stevens.
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Outlaw: Gangster VIP, Gangster VIP 2, Heartless, Goro The Assassin, Black Dagger, Kill! (1968 - 1969; Toshio Masuda, Keiichi Ozawa, Mio Ezaki)
Tetsuya Watari stars as Goro, a knife wielding contract killer trying to go straight after his release from prison. Having lost his entire family, his history of violence weighs heavy on his soul as he tries to set his life back on track and -- inevitably -- is sucked back in over the course of this six-film series. On their own, each film can stand by itself, but when watched back to back, there's a pervasive sense of doom for our anti-hero; a man who's future is relentlessly bleak. His body is tired, beaten and scarred, and yet, he marches forward. The knife fights are incredible. Chaotically staged within the wide scope frame and featuring the actual actors, they leap and lunge at their opponents with barely a cutaway. The realism in these scenes is breathtaking and every movie has its own set piece. But its Part 3's epic showdown in a paint factory that is a truly sight to behold. Based on the true life exploits of Japanese gangster Goro Fujita.
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