Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Allan Mott ""

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Allan Mott

Allan Mott owns the posters for all but one of the Roger Corman movie’s and owns six Cirio F. Santiago films on Blu-ray. Oh, and he writes stuff some times. That pretty much sums it up. You can find him @HouseofGlib on Twitter and as VanityFear on Letterboxd.

That Naughty Girl (1956), Michel Boisrond
Included in a collection of Brigitte Bardot movies I bought on a whim during a trip to Seattle, I put on France’s That Naughty Girl (aka Cette sacrée gamine) expecting a dated but hopefully charming light comedy built on the abundant charms of its leading lady. And that’s exactly what I got, but what made the experience watching the film (in which Jean Bretonniére plays a successful nightclub entertainer engaged to gorgeous doctor Françoise Fabian, whose life is turned upside down when he agrees to take care of a friend’s young daughter—not realizing she’s Bardot at her Bardot-est) more memorable than it might have been was a scene in a dressing room.

You see, from a visual and story standpoint, That Naughty Girl is indistinguishable from the Hollywood product of that period. Which is what made me sit up when in that dressing room we saw an extra without her top on. Now, nudity in foreign films wasn’t unheard of at that time, but it happened in serious films where it was artistic and justified. Not so here. And there was something strangely thrilling seeing gratuitous nudity in a film that—had it been made in the States—could have easily starred Doris Day as the doctor, Frank Sinatra as the nightclub guy and Bardot as Bardot (because they pretty much just had the one of her back then).

The popular cliché is that censorship made films from the studio era better because filmmakers had to resort to clever innuendo and subtext to insert adult themes into their work, but watching That Naughty Girl gave me a glimpse into what might have happened if filmmakers didn’t have to be sneaky and could just make the movies they wanted to make and I’m not convinced it wouldn’t have been just as good if not better.
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Live a Little, Love a Little (1968), Norman Taurog
Even among the sort of movie fans apt to spend time watching Elvis Presley movies, Live a Little, Love a Little isn’t well regarded and is largely regulated to his flop pile (artistically if not financially), but watching it for the first time in 2018 I found myself struck by a crucial element in its design that would ensure I’d be watching it over and over again over the years to come.

In the film, Presley plays a talented photographer who loses his job and the house he’s renting after being kidnapped by a gorgeous weirdo played by Michele Carey. Despite her obvious physical appeal, Presley (wisely) spurns her and tried to rebuild his life, which requires him to take full time jobs at two different magazines located in the same building—leading to the usual spinning-plate style farce you’ve seen a hundred times—while he also realizes he might actually love Carey despite all the warning signs to stay away.

Honestly, it’s easy to see why—based on the story—a lot of people don’t like this movie, but as ridiculous and contrived as Carey’s character is, her outfits are probably second only to Jane Fonda’s Barbarella for sheer, unabashed in-your-face 60s stylistic excess. And that is more than enough to keep me entertained for repeated viewings.
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The Rosebud Beach Hotel (1984), Harry Hurwitz
Probably the least well-known of the strange spate of 80s comedies in which average white folks decide to solve their problems by becoming pimps, I put on The Rosebud Beach Hotel expecting a painfully sophomoric titty comedy by the guy who made the oddly charming The Projectionist about a decade earlier. And while it is pretty sophomoric, it turned out to be far more entertaining than I imagined possible.

The VIP here is Colleen Camp, a truly talented comic performer whose career suffered because people couldn’t reconcile the fact that someone who looked like a Playboy Playmate could also be really funny too. She plays the take-charge fiancé of Peter Scolari, who has been tasked to manage the titular business by her ruthless father, Christopher Lee. Knowing he’s been doomed to fail, she becomes inspired by happy hooker Fran Drescher and turns the hotel into a brothel by staffing working girls as sexy bus boys. Added into the mix are fun turns by Eddie Deezen (as a resident who believes he’s a vacationing space alien) and Cherie Currie (paired with her non-Runaways sister Marie) as a maid with musical ambitions.

And in one of those odd movie coincidences, TRBH features a scene where Scolari has his fidelity tested when finds himself unwittingly alone with a naked Monique Gabrielle the exact same year his Bosom Buddies pal Tom Hanks found himself in the exact same situation with the exact same actress in Bachelor Party. I wonder if they ever compared notes?
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Swamp Water (1941), Jean Renoir
Renoir is one of my Top 10 favourite filmmakers of all time, so it’s surprising it took me this long to get to his first American film. I admit I didn’t hurry to see it after reading about the difficulties he had making the film and the rumours that much of it was directed by the film’s producer.

I shouldn’t have waited. Despite its behind the scenes issues, Swamp Water displays all the hallmarks that make the French master’s work so moving. While maybe not up to the level of Grand Illusion or The Rules of the Game, it still comes together as a very entertaining film that pulls off his unique trick of indicting and uplifting us at the same time.

Dana Andrews stars as a young man who risks entering the deadly Okefenokee Swamp to find his lost dog, but instead comes upon Walter Brennan, a fugitive unjustly convicted for a murder he didn’t commit. The two strike a bargain and Andrews sells the furs Brennan traps in the swamp, using part of the money to take care of Brennan’s ragamuffin-but-actually-no-she’s-really-beautiful daughter, Anne Baxter.

While some might find the ending a bit too easy and pat, for me it falls right in line with the themes that make Renoir’s films so uniquely transcendent.
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Bluebeard (1972), Edward Dmytryk
There’s always a risk you take when you decide to watch a movie you’ve never seen before on your iPad during a flight across the country. Especially when it’s a somewhat disreputable 70s Eurosploitation sex comedy/thriller/horror movie featuring some of the sexiest women of that decade (including, but not limited to, Raquel Welch, Joey Heatherton, Sybil Danning and Virna Lisi).

But in the case of Bluebeard, I’d do it all over again.

Richard Burton stars as the title character, who—despite the film’s effort to keep it a surprise—does exactly what the Bluebeard of legend did with his many wives. The film begins with his courtship of Heatherton (who does a much better job than you’d expect for an actress best remembered today for Catherine O’Hara’s SCTV parody), who eventually discovers his grisly secret, which results in his telling her (and us) the stories of his former wives and their demises.

Beyond the film’s fantastic visual design, I was most intrigued by its refusal to stick with any one tone as it dramatically veers from farce to sleaze to outright horror as it goes on. While probably not the best movie to watch on an airplane, I still find a lot here to recommend to fans of that era in filmmaking.
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Pyaar Ke Do Pal (1986), Rajiv Mehra
Of all the films on this list, Pyaar Ked Do Pal was a discovery in the truest sense of the word, since I had no idea it existed until two minutes before I watched it. The night before I had watched the beloved 80s Bollywood blockbuster Disco Dancer (which I can report features surprisingly little disco dancing) and decided to see if Netflix had any films starring that film’s leading man Mithun Chakaborty.

Up came Pyaar Ke Do Pal and as I read its description I realized right away that it was a Hindi remake of the Haley Mills’ classic, The Parent Trap. Needless to say, I hit play IMMEDIATELY and I can still feel the consequences of that action to this day.

Some fans of Bollywood films are quick to fight and correct the unfair stereotypes that plague popular Hindi cinema held by ignorant western audiences and I applaud their effort to treat genuinely great films with the respect they deserve. That said, Pyaar Ke Do Pal is 150% the film people imagine when they think of crazy over the top Indian movies from the 80s.

Because girls are apparently icky, the teenage girls from the original film are now pre-teen twin boys (who sing with the voices of a 40-something woman) who discover each other’s existence at camp. But the film doesn’t linger on their reunion (because split-screen effects cost money) and instead gets them switching homes within a couple of scenes. And that’s when things get really nuts.

The original Parent Trap eluded the problem inherent in its premise (what kind of monsters split up twins and keep their existence a secret?) by just pretending it wasn’t there, while Pyaar Ke Do Pal makes the explanation for this decision it’s entire raison d’etre. And it’s BONKERS.

I won’t spoil it for you, but I will say it involves an amoral gold digger, her ruthless boyfriend, a woman who might be an actual saint and a sitcom-style misunderstanding about who did or did not have an abortion. All of which leads to a stunning finale where the villainess gets her face burned off and the twins THREATEN TO COMMIT SUICIDE IF THEIR PARENTS DON’T GET BACK TOGETHER.

So, yeah. You need to see this.
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Yeh Dillagi (1994), Naresh Malhotra
Literally the day after I discovered Pyaar Ke Do Pal, I decided to watch another Hindi remake of a Hollywood classic, but in this case it turned out to be a genuinely great movie (with only a few questionable bits here and there).

A remake of Billy Wilder’s Sabrina, Yeh Diallagi beat Sidney Pollack’s version of the same material to the screen by a full year and manages to be the superior of the two updates (and even corrects the main problem of the first film by casting age appropriate actors in the main roles).

Future Bollywood legend Kajol takes on the lead role of the chauffeur’s daughter who leaves the large estate she grew up on to go to the big city, where she blossoms into…well…Kajol. Akshay Kumar and Saif Ali Khan (fresh from their roles in Main Khilardi Tu Anari, the Hindi remake of John Badham’s The Hard Way) take on the Humphrey Bogart and William Holden roles of the wealthy family’s hardworking and ne’er-do-well sons, who both have their hearts stolen by the girl they’d once taken for granted.

Filled with some great musical numbers and the presence of a lead actress who shares many of the same qualities that made Audrey Hepburn an icon, Yeh Dillagi is both a worthy remake and its own special creation, taking liberties with the material Hollywood never would—mostly to its benefit.

Oh, and just like Pyaar Ke Do Pal it ends with one of the characters THREATENING TO COMMIT SUICIDE IF THEIR PARENTS DON’T DO WHAT THEY WANT.

Now, there’s a motif that Hollywood didn’t latch on to.
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To The Limit (1995), Raymond Martino
A list like this would never be complete without one legitimately terrible movie that still managed to make me happy despite all the grievous crimes it commits against cinema. In this case it’s the egregiously awful sequel to that legendary film you probably haven’t heard (except you’re on this site, so you probably have), Da Vinci’s War—To the Limit.

Now, there’s a reason why—in this case—the sequel to a film is to be celebrated while the original languishes in deserved obscurity and that reason is Anna Nicole Smith.

A year after making her film debut in the Coen brother’s The Hudsucker Proxy, the tragic bombshell took on the role of a deadly CIA operative who is embroiled in the affairs of Vietnam Vet Joey Travolta (the Da Vinci from the first film) after her lover (husband?) is murdered by the same evil folks who killed Travolta’s wife on the day of their wedding.

And by “embroiled” I mean “barely interacts with anyone else in the movie and is only there for a series of spectacularly gratuitous nude/sex scenes and some of the most absurd low budget action set pieces of the 90s”.

There is nothing secretly good about To the Limit, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. I would definitely nominate it as a true so-bad-it’s-good classic.
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