Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Eric J. Lawrence ""

Friday, March 16, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence has been a DJ over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) for many many many years and I have been a fan of him there for more than a decade. He plays quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check him out!

The Plague of the Zombies (Dir. John Gilling, 1966)
Each year I track down a bunch of Hammer films that I haven’t seen, and this one was the cream of this past year’s crop. One of the best not to feature either Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing, this spooky gem is still populated with Hammer favorites such as Andre Morell, Jack Carson and Michael Ripper. Released on the eve of Romero’s “Living Dead” revolution, this film retains the classic voodoo-type zombies, albeit with a somewhat more aggressive attitude.
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The Hit (Dir. Stephen Frears, 1984)
I was drawn to check this film out in the wake of John Hurt’s passing (after re-watching his awesome performance in the legendary UK TV serial, I, Claudius). I was also prepping for an interview I did with Tim Roth, and one never needs any special reason to check out a film with Terence Stamp in it, so watching this was a no-brainer. All three leads are stellar, and Frears keeps this character-driven gangster film moving. Keep a lookout for brief appearances from Jim Broadbent & Fernando Rey!
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Green for Danger (Dir. Sidney Gilliat, 1946)
This cheeky detective story is a quintessential example of the “stiff upper lip” stereotype of British citizens during WWII, as it manages to serve as a variation of the classic “drawing room” kind of English mystery story, while set in a grim, rural, makeshift hospital beset by Nazi bombardment. Alastair Sim plays the detective with his usual eccentric pique, and among the familiar faces of mid-century UK cinema is Trevor Howard (The Third Man) and Megs Jenkins (The Innocents).
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ffolkes (aka North Sea Hijack) (Dir. Andrew V. McLaglen, 1980)
Keeping with a British theme, this is one of those weird one-offs Roger Moore did in-between Bond movies. Directed by the son of John Ford’s pal, Victor McLaglen, action specialist Andrew leads Moore (alongside James Mason, Anthony Perkins, Michael Parks and George Baker) in a Bond-like adventure to take down terrorist on board a North Sea oil drilling platform. Being somewhat more realistic than 007’s escapades (which ultimately means less gadgety & more talky), this actually holds up better than many of Moore’s Bond films!
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The Rocking Horse Winner (Dir. Anthony Pelissier, 1949)
An oft-overlooked example of pre-Hammer British horror films, this dark fable is a quite faithful adaptation of a D.H. Lawrence short story about a boy who discovers he can predict horse racing winners while in a trance riding his toy horse. Ultimately it becomes a terrifying, existential look at obsessive/compulsive behavior with a healthy dose of tough social commentary to boot. John Mills (who also produced) & Valerie Hobson (both from David Lean’s Great Expectations) impress, as does child actor John Howard Davies, who later became a top BBC producer & worked on Monty Python and Fawlty Towers, among other hits.
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The Wild One (Dir. Laszlo Benedek, 1953)
I wouldn’t say I’m well versed in the “biker gang” genre, but this one is the granddaddy of them all, so I was curious to check it out. That said, also being a fan of Marlon Brando’s other 50s films made it an essential watch, and it is worth it! The presence of Lee Marvin doesn’t hurt either. Surely the lowest budget film Brando ever did, although it really transcends being just an exploitation film – it cemented his iconic image with the leather jacket & motorcycle cap just as much as the grimy, rolled-up t-shirt in Streetcar did. No love from the Oscars (unlike most of his films from that era), but a timeless performance.
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They Call Me Mister Tibbs! (Dir. Gordon Douglas, 1970)
The first sequel to the award-winning Sidney Poitier classic, In the Heat of the Night, is quite a different animal, but it sure doesn’t want you to notice, going so far as to take its name from the famous line from the original, despite not being uttered in this one. Nonetheless, fans of gritty, urban ‘70s crime films should have no complaints, as the sweaty, racist Mississippi town is left behind for vice-ridden, Bullett/Dirty Harry-era San Francisco. Joining Poitier is a nifty cast including Martin Landau, Anthony Zerbe, Jeff Corey & a hirsute Ed Asner, and was ably directed by the eclectic & prolific Gordon Douglas (The Great Gildersleeve, Them!, Robin & the Seven Hoods, Tony Rome, In Like Flint, etc.)
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Demon Seed (Dir. Donald Cammell, 1977)
More of a WTF than a genuinely great film, this sci-fi/horror hybrid is based on a Dean Koontz novel about a sentient computer that seeks to impregnate its creator’s wife. This alone should qualify it as whacko, but throw Performance director Donald Cammell in the mix and Fritz Weaver and Julie Christie as a pretty unconvincing married couple (plus Robert Vaughn as the voice of the computer), and you’ve got a genuinely disturbing mind-blower! Further consider that, given its era (the mid ‘70s), the depiction of the computer, both in its physical and virtual forms, is quaint and decidedly unpretty. Props to Ms. Christie for committing to her role, which she surely does, despite the ridiculousness of the situation.
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The Late Show (Dir. Robert Benton, 1977)
I will admit I never considered either Art Carney or Lily Tomlin as particularly noteworthy actors, but The Late Show proved me wrong. A clever, not-so-gentle satire that mixes The Odd Couple with The Big Sleep, this charming buddy pic also works as a time-capsule of mid ‘70s LA, as the two leads follow the breadcrumbs of a murder case throughout the city. Surprisingly violent at times, it still takes full advantage of its leads (along with TV’s Maude’s husband, Bill Macy) as comedic legends to keep things fairly light and fun. Still, like Bubba Ho-Tep or even Twin Peaks: The Return, it also extols the heroism of older folks.
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