Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - James David Patrick ""

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - James David Patrick

James David Patrick is a writer with a lifelong moviewatching habit. His current projects include #Bond_age_, the James Bond Social Media Project (thejamesbondsocialemediaproject.com) and Cinema Shame (cinemashame.wordpress.com). Follow him on Twitter at @007hertzrumble.We all approach this hobby from one main avenue. We're all staring out into the same Gothamesque cityscape of cinema history. Sometimes we stick to the primary arteries and sometimes we venture down a seedy back alley in search of something shocking or radical. We can't all go down these back alleys or they'd get too crowded, so when we find something unique, it's our duty - via this community fostered by Rupert Pupkin Speaks - to share these alleys with the world.

Check out James' Discoveries list from last year here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/03/film-discoveries-of-2017-james-david.html

New favorites come in all shapes and sizes - we just have to be ready to recognize potential greatness when it slaps us across the face. Time-tested classics, secondhand recommendations and totally off-the-radar oddballs come at us in measured waves and I'm serving up a little of each. May you find a new favorite among these eight movies that wooed me during the bizarre, disillusioning, disorienting year that was 2018.

Deadly Games aka 3615 code Pere Noel (Rene Manzor, 1989)
Proto-Home Alone, except twisted and French. This kid who dabbles in guerrilla warfare and lives in the Silver Spoons house hits up "Santa" on some text-based 1989 messaging service to uncover the truth about Kris Kringle and it turns out this "Santa" is disgruntled and harbors childhood Christmas-related trauma. So he shows up at his house to kill him.

Right away you know this is no comic lark because the kid's lovable mutt gets stabbed forthwith. Harry and Marv this guy is not - because it gets even darker by film's end. I read that the producers considered suing the Home Alone production. It's not hard to see why. Add this to your roster of holiday favorites; just don't show it to your kids. Unless you want to scar them like Phoebe Cates in Gremlins.
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A Dandy in Aspic (Anthony Mann, Laurence Harvey, 1968)
In the process of vetting 1960's espionage movies for #Bond_age_ live tweets, I watch a lot of bad spy films -- from the odd and referential to the totally forgettable. It's rare a film (at least in year six of the project) that sneaks up and thrills me like A Dandy in Aspic.

The British assign agent Alexander Eberlin (Laurence Harvey) the task of rooting out a Russian spy named Krasnevin - but only Eberlin knows that Krasnevin is actually himself. Tom Courtenay plays a ruthless and histrionic mole hunter who joins him on assignment.

Anthony Mann's final film displays a keen sense of the genre. (Mann died during production, and Laurence Harvey stepped in to finish the project.) It's a sincere enterprise operating on its own wavelength. There's no nudge nudge references to James Bond. There's only a wry smile, a pretty but dim girl (Mia Farrow, out of her element), and a lot of double crossing. Also Laurence Harvey's excellent coif that does all of his emoting. Mann's sense of depth and focus gives the production a surprising visual flair and a clarity of vision lacking in most late-60's spy films. Tom Courtenay relishes the opportunity to play camp and background noise to the foregrounded narrative of paranoia. If you dismiss the 60's spy genre as a glut of Bond knockoffs, you'd be mostly right - but you'd also be missing movies as entertaining as A Dandy in Aspic.
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Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (Brian Clemens, 1974)
The name "Hammer Horror" elicits expectation, especially when it comes to vampire movies from the 1970's. Forget all that. Captain Kronos is a visually inventive period vampire swashbuckler with a wry sense of humor. Consider for a moment, too, that director Brian Clemens wanted to spin the Captain Kronos character into a Dr. Who-type series of episodic tales about a sword-wielding, time-traveling vampire hunter. THE MIND REELS AT THE POSSIBLITIES.

Alas, the film dropped during the death gasp of Hammer's horror output so audiences were never blessed with this sprawling conception. It totally blows the doors off the traditional vampire myth - vampirism doesn't necessarily mean drinking blood, fear of crucifixes, or death by wooden stake. These vampires suck the life from their victims, turning them into shriveled corpses.

While Horst Janson's a bit of a stiff, his rigidity benefits the film's moody, understated humor and swashbuckler framework. Plus Caroline Munro. I don't know if Captain Kronos' eccentricity could have ever played to a mass audience, but fun, inventive and lively horror cinema is such a rare and beautiful thing.
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Closely Watched Trains (Jiri Menzel, 1966)
If Wes Anderson had been Czech and a witness to World War II.

Closely Watched Trains sat unopened on my Criterion shelf for years. If I had to guess, I bought this disc shortly after viewing Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball. Unfortunately I got sidetracked along the way to expanding my Czech New Waviness... until the November Cinema Shame prompt coerced me into viewing my unseen Criterions. Out of all the new watches, this proved to be the most surprising of the lot. (Runner up: Big Deal on Madonna Street.)

Apprentice train-watcher Milos, oblivious to the ongoing War, becomes obsessed with losing his virginity. He's shy and unsure and despite the overt advances of super cute train conductor Masa, Milos sabotages himself at very opportunity. He watches his partner at the station engage in all manner of sexual behavior without hesitation. Milos finally surrenders himself to a beautiful resistance fighter, and she recruits him to sabotage a train carrying German armaments. Just as Milos finally sheds his childlike insecurities, he's rapidly drawn into a dangerous adulthood.

Menzel's film provides surface quirk layered above a dark, inner beauty. Closely Watched Trains explores childhood insecurities, suicide, emotional impotency, and what it means to be a man in a world filled with unexpected cruelty.
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I've Got Your Number (Ray Enright, 1934)
Pat O'Brien and Joan Blondell have a charming rapport in this little crime caper about some missing dough and a sweet but gullible switchboard operator. The real attraction (other than many medium shots of Blondell's beautiful, batty eyes) becomes the way a telephone repairman (O'Brien) uses 1930's telephone technology to solve the mystery and exonerate Blondell's switchboard operator/would-be patsy.

Sure, O'Brien's not exactly your matinee leading man material, but he's workmanlike and propped up with Warner bit-players like Allen Jenkins, Eugene Pallette and Glenda Farrell.

I've Got Your Number plays like lite-espionage with a comedic touch and working-class sentimentalism. The fist-fight finale from an elevated crane shot could either be inspired comedy or shoestring filmmaking. Either way it's worth a laugh. I've Got Your Number just became one of my favorite early Blondells.
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Stop Making Sense (Jonathan Demme, 1984)
I've caught up with dozens of essential films as a result of Cinema Shame, and I've ultimately loved a great many of them. Jonathan Demme's Stop Making Sense, however, just became the first film I can't comprehend not having had in my life. Like my first-time viewing of Once Upon a Time in the West at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival, this isn't much of a "discovery" but maybe it'll be enough to convince some others to right those cinematic oversights.

We're all familiar with the music of Talking Heads. I'm a huge fan, which makes this non-watch even more bizarre. In the film, familiar music gains an entirely new life - as the score to a Jonathan Demme movie about a band called, perhaps, Talking Heads. Each band member becomes a character. Each of David Byrne's costume changes, part of a pop-art masterpiece.

There's no doubt in my mind that this is the greatest concert film ever made (come at me) - and the greatest concert film that ever will be made. The confluence of the wildly creative minds of David Byrne and Jonathan Demme resulted in this, a synesthetic masterpiece of sight and sound.
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Every Home Should Have One (Jim Clark, 1970)
British sex comedy with more to offer than moldy old men ogling beautiful young girls. In this satire of the marketing business, Marty Feldman's a semi-wholesome adman who happens to be obsessed with selling porridge with pure sex. As he tries to create the perfect campaign he inserts himself into his ribald, porridge-laced fantasies.

Some potent satire compensates for the occasional bit of lechery, and the stylized, fantasy set pieces give Feldman plenty of room to do zany. There are a high number of leaden gags, but the inspired jokes - like the brawl between the adman and the priest in a movie prop room - keep the entire production on the level. Your appreciation for Every Home Should Have One probably depends on your Marty Feldman tolerance. I enjoyed it greatly - despite recognizing its many flaws. There's a creative spark that's not often present in sex comedies of this variety. At the very least this eclipses Jim Clark's other sex farce, Rentadick. Low bar, but a bar nonetheless.
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The War of the Roses (Danny Devito, 1989)
Kathleen Turner's Vulture interview finally inspired me to catch up with The War of the Roses - one of those big Hollywood films of the moment that have always eluded me. Released when I was 11, I was just a little too young to care about the violent dissolution of marriage. The film's popularity burned white hot in 1989 before quickly dying to embers. By the time I'd reached an age properly tuned to this brand of black humor it'd slipped into the rearview.

You don't see Hollywood making movies with terrifically bleak endings like this very often - an ending, it should be noted, that the stars had to fight to keep in the film. While DeVito's no stylist, his tone and warped humor make for wicked fun. I wish he'd make more movies. But let's talk about the lady of the hour. Kathleen Turner was a goddamn powerhouse, and I'm guilty of forgetting how much I enjoyed her presence in film. Michael Douglas does all he can to keep up.
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1 comment:

Louis Letizia said...

Every Home Should Have One was released in the late 70s in the U.S. as Think Dirty in the wake of Feldmans success with Young Frankenstein. It was billed as a smutty comedy after his low budget anthology sex comedy Sex With a Smile did quite well in 1976