Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '78 - John Cribbs ""

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Underrated '78 - John Cribbs

John Cribbs is the co-founder and head writer of The Pink Smoke (http://thepinksmoke.com/), where for the last 10 years he's offered a spirited defense of Robert Altman's QUINTET, passionately extolled what he feels to be the most underrated killer rat movie and delved into the seedy underworld of movie novelizations. Feel free to hit him up on Twitter at @thepinksmoke or @thelastmachine and hey, if you feel like watching SNEAKERS he's always up for it.

Check out his Underrated '98 list here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/05/underrated-98-john-cribbs.html
and Underrated '88 here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/09/underrated-88-john-cribbs.html

Debuting in 1978: Halloween. Martin. Blue Collar. The Driver. The Fury. The Marriage of Maria Braun. The Silent Partner. Gates of Heaven. American Hot Wax. The Star Wars Holiday Special. And me. I debuted that year, and reviews were mixed: most viewers damned me with faint praise, "Cute but smelly and kinda stupid." Not sure if I deserve reappraisal 40 years later, but these movies definitely do.

Remember My Name (dir: Alan Rudolph)
This one's come up on quite a few lists in this series, can we officially crown it Most Underrated Film of 1978? It's either this or THE SILENT PARTNER, and since NAME hasn't even earned itself a DVD release to date (most of us have to wait for it to turn up on the TCM schedule) I'd say its legacy has depreciated slightly more than that of the similarly neglected Canadian bank robbery classic. There's a reason Alan Rudolph's film failed to gain an audience 40 years ago, and it's the same reason it deserves to be seen today: it's intentionally elusive, impenetrable in a lot of ways, asking us to connect with an emotionally unstable character who's potentially very dangerous. The L.A. Rudolph presents is one of wonder and sadness, full of beautiful banalities and casual cruelties upon which he unleashes a volatile avenger in Geraldine Chaplin's calculating ex-con. Her Emily is the whole show: weaving in and out of social quagmires and sexual politics, instantly rejected by everyone she meets, she responds by making sure they won't forget her. This desperate insistence on her own existence is almost achingly relatable; on the other hand, it comes from a place of selfishness and anger that nobody could easily identify with and as a viewer you're constantly unsure as to how you're supposed to respond. The beauty, as Brian said, is in the watching of it. REMEMBER MY NAME is to classic Hollywood female melodramas what THE LONG GOODBYE is to classic Hollywood detective yarns, a reappropriation of something in which moviegoers find comfort made compellingly uncomfortable - that's why we remember this movie.

The Whole Shootin' Match (dir: Eagle Pennell)
In Eagle Pennell's Austin-based indie we find another unlikable character you still can't help but root for in Frank, a deadbeat husband who drinks, cheats on his sweet wife and has no problem belting his kid after a long day of well-earned failure. He does nothing productive but tag along with best buddy Loyd, who leads the duo into several quirky enterprises from polyurethane spraying to inventing a revolutionary mop. It's this friendship with Loyd, sitting around sketching out inventions on the inside of a pizza box and fantasizing about Indian gold hidden in the hills (he's played with irresitible swagger by the great Lou Perryman), that largely redeems Frank: the notion that maybe two fuck-ups equal one success story sits in the peripherals of the entire film. Following them around on their misadventures, Pennell finds unexpected poignancy in car washes, dousing rods and washroom discussions about how 'rhythm' can prevent pregnancy, the proceedings accompanied by a delightful banjo & harmonica-heavy score and the ambient droning of radio OKC evangelist 'Brother Bob.' Considered a classic among the Texas film scene (it supposedly inspired Linklater to pick up a camera), SHOOTIN' MATCH stands as a forerunner to the hopeless blue collar dreamers of MELVIN AND HOWARD while the film's long takes in attractively economic black & white anticipate the ones in STRANGER THAN PARADISE.

Warriors Two and Enter the Fat Dragon (dir: Sammo Hung)
If there's a conversation about the greatest year for kung fu movies, the standing defender would have to be 1978. Just step back and look at it: DRUNKEN MASTER, FIVE DEADLY VENOMS, CRIPPLED AVENGERS, INVINCIBLE SHAOLIN, HEROES OF THE EAST and THE 36TH CHAMBER OF THE SHAOLIN, to name only a few legendary releases. Sammo Hung almost single-handedly seals the deal, since on top of the ELEVEN movies he worked on that year, he directed and starred in two outstanding ones, WARRIORS TWO and ENTER THE FAT DRAGON.

Sort of a dress rehearsal for Hung's THE PRODIGAL SON (both films are revered for their accurate use of Wing Chun style), WARRIORS TWO is an epic martial arts movie in its own right. Featuring wall-to-wall action with moves like the Hand-Tying Running Hammer, the One-Inch Power, the unmovable Goat Stance and "Sticky Hands," designed to beat an opponent's reactions to the brain, its highlights include Bryan "Beardy" Leung (who's also in FAT DRAGON) fighting off baddies WHILE HIS FOOT IS STUCK IN A BEAR TRAP and Sammo in a six-sword melee that has to be seen to be believed. As usual, Hung is innovative in front and behind the scenes (at one point he has a guy fall crotch-first into the camera!) and seasons the kung fu mania with high concept physical comedy, one example being a full-length blind-folded fight (Sammo's character cheats, of course).

FAT DRAGON is an even more interesting venture. GAME OF DEATH, the largest and most reputable of Bruceploitation efforts (given that footage of Bruce from an unfinished project were edited into the movie), had been released internationally by Golden Harvest in June. Hung was the fight coordinator and action director of GAME's newly-shot, non-Bruce sequences using stand-ins (including Hung's Peking Opera School brother Yuen Biao) which straddle the line of homage and grave-robbing. Possibly feeling a tinge of guilt over this, Hung released ENTER THE FAT DRAGON in July, casting himself as a pig farmer/Bruce fan who takes it upon himself to beat the shit out of a Bruce Lee imitator on a movie set and declaring, "He's my hero - you're nothing like him!" There's much more to love about the film, with Hung channeling the spirit of the Little Dragon to defeat a gang of kidnappers, but this moment of reflection on the Hong Kong action market is what makes it surprisingly profound.

The Demon (dir: Yoshitaro Nomura)
THE DEMON came recommended as a Japanese horror movie, so imagine my surprise to find not a single demon (at least not of the yokai variety) in the entire film. But it's a horror movie for sure, one of the most disturbing I've ever seen. Finding herself cut off financially and fed up in general, a single mother of three drops her children at the doorstep of their alleged father (Ken Ogata, setting off a series of incredible roles that would include three collaborations with Shohei Imamura and playing Mishima for Paul Schrader) and then promptly disappears. Already overwhelmed by the demands of his print shop and bullied by his spiteful wife, Ogata turns to some truly horrific measures to deal with this fresh inconvenience. Fair warning: this movie pulls no punches in dealing with the callous mistreatment of children and neglecting of familial responsibility that suggests modern civilization hasn't progressed far from the survival-first days of old. Hard as it is to watch, it's a tour de force from the prolific Yoshitaro Nomura, who started his career as an assistant director for Kurosawa. The American DVD art for DEMON even evokes IKIRU, but make no mistake: there's no bittersweet, life-affirming sentiment to be gleaned from this film, only a cold unfeeling pit the viewer follows Ogata down, not realizing there's no bottom. (p.s. It's really good!)

Out (dir: Jim Goddard)
Cheating here, not a movie, just a really fantastic Thames Television series that only ran one season and deserves to be on a list of greatest British crime stories right next to GET CARTER, THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY and THE HIT. It's your standard plot of a crook being released from the nick after an 8-year stint determined to find the man who grassed him out, but it fends off cliche thanks to the strong central performance from Tom Bell as verbal, vengeful thug Frank Ross and the unsentimental southern London location shooting by Goddard (who also directed half the excellent Sam Neill miniseries REILLY, ACE OF SPIES; Martin Campbell directed the other half). Frank finds himself spun around in cultural shock of late 70's London as he attempts to reconcile with his estranged family and match wits with crime boss Brian Cox. If you love THE LIMEY, you'll love this six-part series.

The Mongreloid (dir: George Kuchar)
Patrons of the gone-but-not-forgotten Kim's Video will probably remember their "Color Me Lurid" bootleg vhs of George Kuchar's iconic experimental short HOLD ME WHILE I'M NAKED. The tape included other surprises, one of them being the filmmaker's valentine to beloved dog Bocko, infused with his typically captivating use of color, devious incorporating of showtunes and novelty songs on the soundtrack and a steady dose of the man's trademark eccentric personality (also a cameo by Curt McDowell, director of THUNDERCRACK!, who created the painting of the mongreloid seen in the credits). Kuchar reminisces with Bocko over cherished memories as trivial as when they once got off a train so his pal could take "a cocky in Ogden, Utah!" and it's never less than fascinating to see how an avant garde director films his pet; an ideal double-feature would be Stan Brakhage's SIRIUS REMEMBERED. Yes, most of the 10 minute runtime is a man doting over his dog, but when that man is George Kuchar we're talking about 10 of the most charming and tender minutes ever captured on Super-8. I'd call this the best dog-based film of 1978, which is saying something considering it was the year of Curtis Harrington's unforgettable TV movie DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND FROM HELL.

Money Movers (dir: Bruce Beresford)
Few things are as genuinely bewildering as Bruce Beresford's strange filmography. The man's dropped enough masterpieces with BREAKER MORANT, TENDER MERCIES, MISTER JOHNSON and BLACK ROBE to be considered one of the all time greats, yet his legacy is centered around the dispensable awards whore DRIVING MISS DAISY. And that's before you even start to notice dreck like KING DAVID, HER ALIBI and LAST DANCE littered throughout his career. It's not like Alan Rudolph, whose strengths and weaknesses share a pasture - Beresford moves from maestro to hack from one film to the next. Who is this guy?

Well before any of that, he was the director of what is possibly the greatest armored car heist movie of all time. And we're talking stiff competition: SECOND BREATH, CRISS CROSS, KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL, ARMORED CAR ROBBERY, HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN. Plotwise, it's probably most accurate to say it's like a gritty, Australian version of THE LAVENDER HILL MOB, its inside job being orchestrated by employees of the security company tasked to protect the $20 million sitting in the firm's vault. Double-crosses, corrupt cops, kidnappings and horrific torture scenes keep things moving, but the real thing to appreciate is the equal detail given to the plotting of the caper from within the firm as well as the plot to try and foil it. Friedkin-esque in its quick-cutting and unflinching depiction of violence, this movie remains frustratingly underseen compared to most Hollywood heist dramas even though it goes toe-to-toe with the best of them (that's a joke for people who've seen the movie). MAD MAX may have been the film to explode the Australian film industry across the world, but MONEY MOVERS is the silent masterpiece of the country and the year.

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