Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Underrated '78 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Underrated '78 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation in Archiving. He is currently responsible for programming at Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers, NY and is an itinerant projectionist, ready to run reels if you've got 'em. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and can usually be found in whichever NYC art-house is showing the most sordid content on a given day.

MAGIC (Richard Attenborough)
Nothing quite says romance like a super creepy dummy and his equally creepy ventriloquist. A suitably disturbing and surprisingly crass character study from Attenborough that features Anthony Hopkins a weirdo named Corky who has obsessions to spare and may or may not accuse the woman he loves of fucking his dummy. Gets sincerely atmospheric at times and if you’re even mildly averse to dolls, it doesn’t get much creepier than this.
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I love a good Christmas crime film and few can match the outright insanity of Christopher Plummer as a madman dressed up as a mall Santa robbing a bank teller (Elliot Gould) at gunpoint. The screenplay from Curtis Hanson (based on a novel that I haven’t read) is great, with a darkly comic bent and its share of period excess. That this hasn’t become annual holiday watching for many needs to change.
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Jean Rollin paints the French countryside with every color in the crayon box with this absolutely nuts “zombie” movie that takes Ebola and introduces it to wine. The result is a very French version of THE CRAZIES with sparse landscapes, gratuitous nudity, plenty of ooze and maybe just a bit of anti-pesticide propaganda. Throw this on when someone asks why you buy organic produce. The French title is LES RAISINS DE LA MORT! which is obviously the coolest sounding title of 1978.
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CONVOY (Sam Peckinpah)
One of the more inexplicable things to happen in 1978 was Sam Peckinpah and CISCO PIKE writer/director Bill Norton adapting the song “Convoy” into a feature length trucking movie. Basically SORCERER by way of ROAD HOUSE, it’s a shit-kicking truckers vs the law picture that stars Kris Kristofferson as a character legit named Rubber Duck and Ernest Borgnine as a dumb cop who should have just left the truckers alone. You already knew it was great when Peckinpah disowned it.
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THE SHOUT (Jerzy Skolimowski)
DEEP END director Skolimowski goes horror (sort of) with this intensely creepy yet restrained thriller featuring a stranger (Alan Bates) going toe-to-toe with a musician and his wife (John Hurt and Susannah York) via aboriginal magic. It sounds high concept but it’s almost alarmingly organic and subtle, lending a certain humanity to other-worldly/supernatural terror. Could make for an apt ‘78 double bill with (the much more excessive) THE FURY.
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GIRLFRIENDS (Claudia Weill)
I’m ashamed to have overlooked this myself until just last year. Weill delivers one of the best New York films of the 70s that deals with body positivity, romance, infidelity, sexual health, roommates, friendships - and the lack of all of them. It also proves that JEANNE DIELMAN didn’t get the last word on cooking potatoes.
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It took Alan Rudolph until about now to finally get his due thanks to a great NYC retrospective of his work this year. And the highlight is almost certainly the (re)discovery of REMEMBER MY NAME and, perhaps most importantly, the performance of Geraldine Chaplin in REMEMBER MY NAME. A stalker movie that makes the stalker as human as those being targeted, rendered via a formalism that wouldn’t be lost on some of the French titans like Bresson or Rivette.

THE BIG SLEEP (Michael Winner)
Man, when they asked Michael fucking Winner to adapt THE BIG SLEEP, they had to know they were going to get a total sleaze fest, right? Robert Mitchum steps into the Bogie role here and says great things like “She tried to sit on my lap. I was standing at the time”. The location is changed to England, Candy Clark doesn’t keep her clothes on and there’s a lot of talk about pornography. This isn’t 1946.
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DEATH FORCE (Ciro H. Santiago)
Calling DEATH FORCE Santiago’s craziest film is saying a lot when you’re talking about the guy who made batshit trash like FLY ME and EQUALIZER 2000 but DEATH FORCE is not only his craziest film, it’s his best too. The great Leon Isaac Kennedy of the PENITENTIARY films gets stranded on an island inhabited by two Japanese soldiers stranded there since WWII and teach him the way of the samurai. And then he goes back to LA to get revenge on a bunch of mobsters GHOST DOG style. It ultimately feels like two movies in one, but both are good and the number of decapitations keeps things moving right along.
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THE BIG FIX (Jeremy Kagan)
If you think THE LONG GOODBYE is the ultimate 70s shaggy detective movie, you haven’t seen THE BIG FIX. Fitting in with other sunshine noirs, we follow around Richard Dreyfus as Moses Wine a private detective that gets involved in all sorts of political turmoil. A political paranoia thriller in neo-noir clothing, it tackles big themes of the time like Vietnam and communism while also deftly being both a wry comedy and a compelling crime film. It’s begging for a quality disc release to find the audience it deserves.
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COACH (Bud Townsend)
You already likely know if you’re a fan of the Crown International brand of humor almost solely aimed at pre-pubescent boys and COACH doesn’t really flip the script, but it does try. We get to follow a female coach of a boys basketball team even though “a woman can’t do that” because she doesn’t know anything about sports, yet all the guys want to sleep with her. So she embarrasses them and makes them take cold showers. You know, until she ends up in bed with them anyway. It does have a great montage song though, featuring the lyrics “My high school is the best high school in the everlovin’ USA. We got the hottest girls in the whole wide world and we win every basketball game we play.” It’s exactly what you’d expect.
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Starring the one and only John Holmes as Pizza Man! You should know what you’re getting into with a title like that and Bob Chinn behind the scenes, but if you don’t you can rest assured this is hardcore. But it also works as a legitimately zany work of late 70s comedy pitting a pizza shop (Country Girl Pizza Parlor) against a new fried chicken joint with plenty of skateboarding, fornicating and something known only as the “night chicken”.
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