Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2017 - Michael Viers ""

Friday, April 13, 2018

Film Discoveries of 2017 - Michael Viers

Michael Viers is an independent filmmaker, podcaster and editor from Milwaukee, WI. He likes to brag that he used to edit videos for Troma Entertainment and is texting buddies with Lloyd Kaufman, but no one really cares. Check out his Instagram every month for a selection of four hand picked film recommendations.

You can listen to his podcast THE SHAMELIST PICTURE SHOW on SoundCloud, iTunes, Stitcher Radio and Google Play.

SHAMELIST PICTURESHOW PODCAST via SoundCloud (https://soundcloud.com/shamelistpictureshow)

Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/michael_viers/)
Letterboxd (http://letterboxd.com/viers102008/)

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I’d like to say that I’m thankful I was allowed to come back for my second year of film discoveries and that while it wasn’t intentional to have most of my discoveries come from the ‘80s, it was just an accident that really amused me. I’ve had a fantastic year with my podcast The Shamelist Picture Show and it’s helped open the doors for me to see more and more films that have avoided me. We’re living in a very exciting time for blu-ray releases and it’s enough to make any cinephile drool.

I also don’t usually write about newer discoveries but I thought I’d use this spot as an opportunity to show some love to Christophe Barratier’s film THE CHORUS aka LES CHORISTES and the Coen Brothers film BURN AFTER READING.
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The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (dir. John Cassavetes, 1976)
Confession time: this is still the only Cassavetes film I've seen. Nothing against the guy, his work is just a blind spot to me and I've only got so much time in the day. That being said, I really loved this film. However, I kind of felt I was going to as I've got a weird love for long, on the nose titles (I'm looking at you BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA) and low-budget, off-beat crime films.

Cassavetes teams with Ben Gazzara to show the not so glamorous life of a small-time burlesque club owner named Cosmo (Gazzara) with a gambling debt to pay. Cosmo is charming and well-liked and while he's gotten himself into a world of weird situations, this likeability travels along throughout the film and helps make Cosmo's sinister actions (even murder) seem more palpable because we actually LIKE Cosmo. We (I guess) like his club and like that he cares so much about it that he'd do anything to keep it going and keep his employees on the pay roll.

If I had to find a complaint it simply be that some of the shows at the night club go on for a little too long, but I'd like to believe Cassavetes wanted us to see these shows to create an extra dimension to Cosmo and his club.
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Slap Shot (dir. George Roy Hill, 1977)
I like hockey but don't follow it. I'm already an obsessive film watcher and a fan of pro-wrestling; I've only got so much time in the day! That being said, movies like SLAP SHOT that strive to show us the people behind the sport really stick with me. Sports movies are a dime a dozen, and for every on-the-nose REMEMBER THE TITANS-esque sports film, there's always one that sticks out.

Hockey is a weird sport cinematically because while there's definitely a sub genre of hockey films, it's not nearly as over-done as football or baseball. What truly shocks me is not only will I go so far as to say SLAP SHOT is the best hockey film (in my opinion), but no one talks about it! Hell, it took ME this long to see it!

SLAP SHOT is about a low level hockey team that's not very good. Sure, they've got some skill on their team, but no one gives a shit. Their team captain Reggie Dunlap (Paul Newman) was once a hot shot with a future, but poor decisions have lead him to where he's at. After fear of the team being folded starts to bubble, Reggie lets the team's newest acquisitions, the Hanson brothers, run wild and their thuggish, violent way of playing generates new interest in the team.

The film is great. I've thought about it so much since I made a blind buy and I'm actively excited to re-watch it. The film is funny, has heart but never feels cheesy. It's gritty, it's real and it fits in perfectly with the style of film being made in 1977. More than anything, it never feels false.
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Blue Collar (dir. Paul Schrader, 1978)
This recommendation came to by thanks to the folks over at Pure Cinema Podcast (I swear this will be the only time I kiss the butt of Brian Saur's podcast – it's just very good). I honestly had NEVER heard of it before the “Crime Story” episode but after hearing the way Elric, Brian and Josh Olson talked about it, I knew I had to track it down. Literally the next day I rented it from Amazon Prime and I've not been able to stop thinking about it.

BLUE COLLAR is a commentary of what it's like being a working stiff in the '70s when most able bodied men broke their back doing factory work. It's also got a lot to say about the financial struggles that come with being in this line of work and dealing with a Union. The film has got a lot to say but I never feel like I'm being beat over the head with a message and a big part of that is because of our lead actors; Richard Pryor, Harvey Keitel and Yaphet Kotto (which, for my money, is the standout in this film).

The film is also interesting because while it stars comedian Richard Pryor and he's definitely the most humorous of the three, this film is not a comedy. The film is nestled nicely after CAR WASH and SILVER STREAK and right before THE WIZ so to say the role was a different pace isn't an exaggeration. Pryor shows off his acting chops playing a very flawed, but likeable character that's getting sick of being pushed around by his Union, an organization that's put in place to HELP the workers, not hurt them.

One interesting factoid I've read about the film is that the three main actors, as much chemistry as they had, did not get along well. Directing the three was often a chore and it caused director Paul Schrader to suffer a nervous breakdown. However, when you watch the film, none of that matters, because the storytelling is so clear, concise and great that the film works even with all the inner turmoil.
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Graduation Day (dir. Herb Freed, 1981)
I love slasher films and it's probably my favorite sub-genre of horror. I personally feel even a bad slasher film is still a good slasher film because there's always something to like.

I avoided GRADUATION DAY for awhile. I think because Troma had released it I kept assuming it was more of a slasher parody, which usually doesn’t appeal to me. I’ll be the first to admit I was wrong, this is a true blue slasher film through and through. Shout out to James Neurath from Vinegar Syndrome for recommending the film to me. I met him at a convention and when he found out I was an editor for Troma he said “Wait, you work for Troma and you HAVEN’T seen SUGAR COOKIES or GRADUATION DAY?”

GRADUATION DAY is a pretty by the numbers slasher film in all the right ways. It revolves around a high school track team and a series of grisly murders occurring after the accidental death of the school’s star runner. When the star runner’s sister comes home from a stint in the US Navy, she takes it upon herself to figure out her sister’s mysterious death and whose killing as these damn teenagers. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, how about a supporting cast of Christopher George, Linnea Quigley and Vanna White?!

This film hits all my sweet spots. It’s a great, well made slasher with some great kills and well paced scares. It’s got a FANTASTIC roller blading scene with a the band Felony performing their track “Gangster Love” (seriously, drop what you’re doing and look it up). The film is fun and cheesy in only the way that these early slashers could be. They weren’t trying to be over-the-top, they just were. They’re earnest, a lot of fun and if done correctly have a nice little whodunit element.

Also worth mentioning that director Herb Freed was a rabbi before jumping in the filmmaking game. Chase your passions, kids!
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The Decline of Western Civilization (dir. Penelope Spheeris, 1981)
These DECLINE films have been on my radar for quite some time, but had never seen them. I was a lot more familiar with the sequel THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION PART II: THE METAL YEARS because of it being featured on the VH1 special I LOVE THE 80s.

I’ve always been really into the punk scene and am continually fascinated by the lives of the “kids” that are helping create the sound and the culture. The figures of the movement were young, rebellious and destructive to themselves and others but as we see in this documentary; with a purpose. They believed in something and while the antics of Darby Crash might seem childish, it gives you a better perspective into who these people were.

The film is a documentary, but it’s important because it’s not a simple floating heads doc talking about the importance of Punk after the fact with a clearer head. No, this film is Penelope Spheeris with a camera being a fly on the wall and asking these kids questions and while their answers might make some of us roll our eyes, the answers are earnest. They’re sincere and it’s because they’re young and they believe everything being said.

On top of all that, the soundtrack is KILLER. If you’re a Punk fan, you’ll be in heaven. If you aren’t a fan after this documentary, Punk just isn’t for you. See it on the big screen in a crowded theatre if you can. I did and it was the perfect atmosphere.
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Breathless (dir. Jim McBride, 1983)
This film might be the most controversial pick on my list because it’s the unwanted bastard remake of one of the greatest films ever made… but c’mon, this movie is SO. MUCH. FUN!

As mentioned, the film is a remake of the Jean-Luc Godard classic À BOUT DE SOUFFLE (BREATHLESS is the US) which is one of the most famous films to come out the French New Wave and is about a French criminal and the American girl he’s falling for. Jim McBride’s version keeps the concept but changes it to an American criminal and the French girl he’s really into.

What I feel really works about this film is some of the things that people actually kind of hate. Breathless was small film where a lot was implied. We never really got to know much about Jean-Paul Belmondo other than he’s car thief and that he’s obsessed with Humphrey Bogart. Same goes with his love interest played by Jean Seberg. In the remake, we’re given a chance to get to know Richard Gere and Valérie Kaprisky. Both have a lot of personality and goddamit is Gere charming in this film. While it may seem silly that he’s so obsessed with Jerry Lee Lewis to contemporary audiences, it’s so damn Americana that it kind of works. The film in France was called À BOUT DE SOUFFLE MADE IN THE USA because that’s what Jim McBride is going for. He doesn’t want to re-do what Godard did before, I honestly feel he’s trying to do a loving tribute to it while telling his own story. Sure, the argument could be made that he could have called it anything other than BREATHLESS and while it’s a bold choice to remake a classic, I commend him for it.

I’ll be the first to admit it took me a long time to truly get Godard’s classic. It took me multiple viewings, and while I didn’t love it on my first viewing, I was kind of obsessed with it. I got the same obsession with the remake, the only difference is I loved McBride’s film right away.
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Real Genius (dir. Martha Coolidge, 1985)
Not enough have seen REAL GENIUS, let alone heard of it. I’ll admit I was in that camp until it had popped up on Hulu, but damn do I want others to see it. I was so enamored by it I had to make my wife sit down and watch it the next day. I usually dislike rewatching movies so close together, but this (and PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED) was an exception.

The film follows Mitch Taylor (Gabriel Jarret), a young genius, that bypasses High School and jumps right up to College where he joins a research team developing a laser. While on the team he befriends the brilliant, but rebellious Chris Knight (Val Kilmer) and together they not only figure out the laser, but learn a little about life. In a lot of ways REAL GENIUS is a generic ‘80s comedy, but it’s done so damn well. A big part of that being the sharp direction by Martha Coolidge of VALLEY GIRL fame.

The film was shot by the master Vilmos Zsigmond, music by Thomas Newman and it’s got a young Val Kilmer before he became difficult to work with! All joking aside, Kilmer is stupidly charming in this flick and is definitely one of the standouts and if the love story between boy genius Mitch and quirky Jordan (Michelle Meyrink) doesn’t touch your soul, nothing will.
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Dead End Drive-In (dir. Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1986)
My wife knows how much film discoveries and blu-rays mean to me so one year for Christmas she took a gamble and bought a couple of Arrow titles she had never heard of hoping I’d love them. From the collection I got MOTEL HELL, TENDERNESS OF WOLVES and DEAD END DRIVE-IN. Her and I share a love for the MAD MAX series and cherish any knock offs we can find. What I wasn’t expecting was for this film to be the insane love child of MAD MAX and REPO MAN.

The film is about a drive-in movie theatre in Australia which is a popular hangout for vagabonds and punks because it doesn’t charge if you’re without work… which is just a clever ploy by Police to enprison the terrible youth of Australia in a drive-in they can’t escape. Well, a young guy by the name of Crab (Ned Manning) doesn’t want to be a prisoner any more and makes it his goal to escape the drive-in!

It’s a weird, yet exciting little film complete with great music, Punk fashions and some insane stunts. It’s also noteworthy for stunt man Guy Norris setting the world record for a jump by a truck which is 162ft! This film is great and is so much fun. If I had a chance to see it in a theatre I would. The crazy, Punk-infused dystopian films are a rarity nowadays. There was a time in the ‘80s where Troma was kind of the king of this style of film, but Brian Trenchard-Smith has shown that it can be done with amazingly high production and good direction. It’s no wonder he’s Quentin Tarantino’s favorite director.
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Peggy Sue Got Married (dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1986)
I had no idea I’d love this film as much as I would. It’s weird, I had no idea what this film was really even about before putting it on randomly one night on Hulu. I was expecting a cheesy, ‘50s inspired comedy with Nicholas Cage but what I got was a very haunting and beautiful love story about youth, nostalgia, and the feeling of falling in love all over again. This movie hit me like a ton of bricks and while I sat up late at night watching in my own little world with headphones, I shed a tear.

The film is about time travel of sorts with the titular character, Peggy Sue, going to her high school reunion. While there she’s overrun with memories of her past, the people she wish she had connected with, and even her ex-husband (who was her high school sweet heart). While at the reunion, she’s nominated queen of the reunion, but faints during the ceremony and wakes up 25yrs prior. She’s back in her old high school gym, and all her friends are there. Peggy Sue then tries to figure out what caused this unexpected time travel and how to get back.

I’ve always known Coppola was an amazing director, but I often thought of him as being a technical director first and foremost. This movie reminded me how fucking good he is with performance and character. Sure, Nicholas Cage’s performance of Charlie Bodell is over the top and weird, but in a strangely sincere way. Kathleen Turner is actually fantastic too in a way that really impressed me. Turner is known for her “old Hollywood” style of talking and performance, but my God did she embody the spirit and style of a teenager so well that I never once questioned her performance. I haven’t seen such a convincing “child in an adult body” performance since the first time I saw JACK (also, ironically, directed by Coppola). This is one film I’ve not stopped singing the praises of.
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Psychos in Love (dir. Gorman Bochard, 1987)
Hands down my favorite discovery of 2017 and I need to give a HUGE shout out to my friends over at Vinegar Syndrome for introducing this weird little film to me. The film is about Joe (Carmine Copobianco), a bartender, and Kate (Debbi Thibeault), a manicurist, falling in love. Neither have been able to find the right lover for so long that they’ve given up… until meeting each other. Their bond significantly grows stronger after realizing they’ve got a commonality amongst themselves, a shared hatred for grapes… oh, and that they’re both slasher killers. Yup, two insane killers met each other, fell in love, and start killing together.

The film is hysterically funny. I seriously could not stop laughing. Everything from it’s opening monologue about Joe’s hatred for grapes, to the musical montage in the middle set to the extremely poppy theme “Psychos in Love” to the weird ending. I loved every second and need to keep showing this film to people.

Part of the reason I loved it so much might be because it reminds me a lot of being in film school and the type of weird movies we’d make. We used friends whether they were good actors or not, whatever houses and apartments we could find, and improvised more than we should have. I’ll admit, this film isn’t for everyone, but I recommend everyone go buy yourself a copy… or at very least come to my place and I’ll make you watch it. Just don’t bring any grapes.
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Honorable Mentions:
Forgotten Pistolero (dir. Ferdinando Baldi, 1969)

Magic (dir. Richard Attenborough, 1978)

The House on Sorority Row (dir. Mark Rosman, 1983)

The Last Dragon (dir. Michael Schultz, 1985)

In the Mouth of Madness (dir. John Carpenter, 1994)

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