Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - World B Tweet ""

Friday, February 23, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - World B Tweet

World B Tweet – worked in movie theatres and video stores almost non-stop since 1987. My first night in a movie theatre was opening night of the first “Lethal Weapon.” I’m a child of the 80’s drive-in scene, the long lost son of Sam Firstenberg, and I can be found talking movies on Twitter (@WorldBTweet) or at

I made it a point to strictly go older films for this list. However, I would like to drop an honorable mention to whomever was kind enough to recommend the delightful family film PADDINGTON to me (I'm eagerly awaiting the U.S. release of the sequel).

I'd also like to give a shout-out to a fantastic trend that continued through 2017 and I can only assume will keep going through the next calendar year-- the remastering of darkly lit horror/genre films. There are so many films from the 70's and 80's that I hated mostly because I couldn't see what was happening in all of the shadows and darkness. Now, due to blu-ray and great production work by some great independent disc companies, I could now find merit in films that previously bored me to tears. To the makers of HOWLING II (1985), THE MUTILATOR (1984), and HUMONGOUS (1982)... I finally see what you were trying to accomplish. Kudos to all of the cool kills and red stuff that were hidden in the shadows for decades.

On to this year's best:
Bad distribution patterns and lousy prints had kept me from this one for forever and a day. I finally got my hands on a clean view of it this summer, and, for fans of the Western, it is fantastic. Willie Nelson plays Barbarosa, a mythical gunfighter and bandit, and Gary Busey plays a young man who follows him after he accidentally kills a neighbor. The film is filled with standard Western tropes, but is also laden with great dry humor and many of the quirky touches you'd expect from Nelson, Busey and director Fred Schepisi.

BARBAROSA will not be the Western to appeal to those who need wall-to-wall action and gun battles. There is a good bit of gunfighting, to be sure, but this film is about the characters, and in a great script by William D. Wittliff, the Old West of the Texas/Mexico border may be the best character the film has up its sleeve.

I watched this and BONE TOMAHAWK with a family member who is a true-blue Western fan. He loved them both. BARBAROSA is both very different and as old-fashioned a Western as you can possibly get.
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I'd feel like the biggest dipshit in the world for, as being someone that has seen just about every single genre film of the early 1980's, not having ever laid eyes on BUTCHER BAKER NIGHTMARE MAKER. I always remember the film for being a huge recommendation of Stephen King back in the 80's, and for the longest time, I certainly did my darndest to find it. It was just impossible. For a while I didn't even realize that BUTCHER and NIGHT WARNING were the same film, so there may even have been a time or two that I passed a VHS copy or HBO showing without even being aware.

After that, I just kind of gave up, figuring it was a lost cause.

Cue 2017. Code Red Bill came up with a beautiful copy and dropped this sucker onto Blu-ray, and it is everything that Stephen King said and more. Grimy, sleazy, suspenseful, sometimes scary and definitely sleazy a second time over, BUTCHER tells the tale of a single woman who's not quite all there (Susan Tyrell) and the nephew (Jimmy McNichol, of the acting McNichol teens of yesteryear) she has taken in and raised as her own after his parents died when he was young. All was good between aunt and nephew for awhile, but now, as he's finishing high school and has plans for moving away to college, things are starting to unravel. He's looking for more control over his life, and she's quickly losing control of hers.

I will drop no more plot points into this except to say when you think it's going one way, it ain't for long. Bo Svenson plays a very dirty cop who may be the biggest villain of the entire piece, Julia Duffy plays the nephew's girlfriend and displays some actorly choices I never thought I'd see from the stately actress from TV's NEWHART, and Bill Paxton appears in a small but significant early role. However, this is Tyrell's film from start to finish, and this is a true one of a kind that will stick with me...well, forever.

Director William Asher helmed BEACH BLANKET BINGO and episodes of BEWITCHED before taking this one on; after this, he went back to TV for eps of HARPER VALLEY PTA and a GREEN ACRES TV movie. How the HELL did he end up here, and how the HELL did he knock it out of the park so easily?
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For me, even when they aren't of the highest quality, 1980s comedies are the best comfort viewing in the world. Made by many directors and writers who made their bones on television sitcoms, most humor films from that decade try not to be too offensive or too deep. They simply introduce familiar situations, familiar characters, and familiar settings. Your mind is supposed to provide the rest of the equation. Films like THE LONELY GUY, BEST FRIENDS, and THE FOUR SEASONS aren't necessarily great films, but they go down very easily and are filled with likable characters in relatable situations.

I enjoy watching them all.... which made it very surprising when I realized that, fifteen minutes into turning it on, I had never seen HOW TO BEAT THE HIGH COST OF LIVING. It felt right in my 80's wheelhouse. How had I let it slip past me?

The film, about three women (Jane Curtin, Susan Saint James and Jessica Lange) trying to find a way to survive the economic crunch, is the exact description of 80's comfort viewing. Nothing bold or new happens during the film (and if I had seen it in a theatre in 1980 instead of my house in 2017, that'd still have been true). However, all three leads are charming (and watching the ground that Lange covered in acting skills between KING KONG in '76 and here is almost breathtaking), Dabney Coleman plays a genuine good guy/romantic foil, and the supporting cast is top notch.

I've seen better films that HOW TO BEAT THE HIGH COST OF LIVING this year, but it may end up turning out that I rewatch this one more than most of those superior films. Comfort viewing is where it's at.
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In June, I tried to do a "You Pick My June" theme where 30 people I talk to on Twitter each gave me a recommendation so I could do one of their picks per day. The task was way too daunting, and I fell way short of the goal. Thirty people were kind enough to give me ideas, and I believe I finally ended up watching sixteen of them. Bad Bob.

PADDINGTON (which I mentioned earlier) was on that list, but the film I loved the most during that month was a film that, if you know what I like, should have been a film I had seen a dozen times, not zero.

I had THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973) pinned down as another standard heist film, a movie that I'd definitely get to when I continued my deep dive into the early 70's, but something that could easily wait awhile. Picture my surprise when the movie turned into a close relative of one of my "handshake films," PRINCE OF THE CITY. Take your main character, who has done some bad things but doesn't want to implicate his friends and co-horts, tighten the screws on him, and watch him squirm.

Robert Mitchum plays the title character, a small-time gangster who steadily realizes that the amount of moves he has left in the game are diminishing by the minute. He tries to do everything possible to keep himself out of trouble, both with the law and with his partners, but it becomes obvious that something is soon going to give.

THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE is gripping, bad-ass, and more than a little sad and depressing. Mitchum is fantastic and the film is filled with a ton of great tough guy supporting actors (Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Alex Rocco, etc). I'm gonna need to watch this again... soon.

I won't go into too many details about another film from my June recommendation project, but ABSOLUTELY search out a film I learned about first on Pure Cinema Pod, 1947's RIDE THE PINK HORSE. Fans of noir who haven't seen this one need to find it immediately, as it not only hits all the main checkpoints of a great noir film but it is it's own weird, wonderful beast at the same time. I had never seen much of Robert Montgomery before this, but he is perfect (he also directed), and Wanda Hendrix's work as Pilar stuck with me for months afterwards. RIDE THE PINK HORSE was everything that people had promised me, and so so much more.
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The "Blaxploitation" films of the 1970's came in a wonderful array of shapes and sizes... and skills. No two films can designate how different two films of a genre can be, both in style and plot but, more importantly, in execution. One was fast paced and filled with great moments; the other was a hilarious trainwreck where nothing really went right. I couldn't take my eyes off either one, and I'm so glad they both ended up in my collection in 2017.

Before he made THE ACCUSED, OVER THE EDGE and UNLAWFUL ENTRY, director Jonathan Kaplan gave us TRUCK TURNER (1974), starring the one and only Isaac Hayes as a bounty hunter who becomes the target of a madame (Nichelle Nichols) and a hitman (Yaphet Kotto) when the man he is trying to bring in gets killed.

From the very first scene where Hayes complains that the clothes he is wearing are covered with cat urine to the action-packed finale, this is 100% pure Blaxploitation gold. Filled with way more intentional humor than I was expecting, TRUCK flows smoothly between shootouts (of which there are more than enough). Hayes is perfect as the lead and should have made about a dozen more of these (sadly, this came out as the genre was starting to subside a bit). Nichols is crazy insane as the madame who has a score to settle with Truck (seeing Uhura from STAR TREK lay down a blue streak of profanity may be the highlight of the film). And holy cow-- Yaphet Kotto is so great as the deadly and evil hit man that he's still haunting my nightmares on a daily basis.

TRUCK TURNER is perfect. BLACKENSTEIN (1973) is perfectly unperfect.

I will never be able to fully explain the awesomeness of this film, so I always recommend to those I loan the film to (and a LOT of people have gotten to understand my love for BLACKENSTEIN this year!) to check out the trailer first, even though it may spoil some of the actual film for them. There was no better 3 minutes for me this year than hearing the narrator of the trailer alternate between "Blackenstein!" and "The Black Frankenstein" over and over again, as if anyone was truly confused about the meaning of the title (although I absolutely would go to see a film about the black Albert Einstein as well-- BLACKEINSTEIN!)

The lead performances are, well... stunning. Ivory Stone, as the fiancee of the man who becomes Blackenstein is wonderfully bad, but this is truly the acting battle of the century-- choose your side. Who is the more memorable awful performance, Joe De Sue as Eddie/Blackenstein, or Roosevelt Jackson as the jealous assistant, Malcomb? The decision will keep you awake for weeks.

P.S. Director William Levey was actually allowed to keep directing after this, and went on to make SKATETOWN U.S.A., which is on my list of criminally unreleased films on Blu-Ray. I need to watch both as a double feature for the ages.

P.P.S. - How did we get films about Black Frankensteins, black vampires, black zombies, black exorcists and no black werewolves? Where was my BLACKWOLF, starring Antonio Fargas? Damn you, Hollywood!
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THUNDER (1983)
Italian actor Mark Gregory is now officially my hero. After getting to play the Michael Beck role in the best WARRIORS ripoff, ever, 1990:THE BRONX WARRIORS, I learned this year that Gregory had also taken on the title role in THUNDER, Italy's proud love letter to the Rambo series. It breaks my heart that Thunder has never gotten the true love in the U.S. that Gregory's earlier lead role had gotten, and it's time to fix that now.

Gregory plays "Thunder," a Navajo/Vietnam vet who returns to his hometown to find his tribe's burial ground is being taken control of and built over by greedy businessmen. Thunder spends the next 80 minutes taking on the businessmen, their workers, the local sheriff and his deputies.

Print up a checklist of Rambo plot points and start your drinking game:

1. Rambo just wants to come home and have things like they are; so does Thunder.

2. Rambo gets terrorized by the sheriff; so does Thunder.

3. Rambo has a bow and arrow; so does Thunder.

4. Rambo blows up buildings...well, you get the point.

Much like BLACKENSTEIN, I'm upset we didn't get a cottage industry of "Mark Gregory takes on the 80's" films. Gregory as Jason Voorhees. Gregory as Indiana Jones. Gregory as Victor/Victoria. Gregory plays all five parts in The Breakfast Club. And so on.... the man knew how to rip off all of our classics. Trash, er...Thunder.... we salute you.
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