Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Ira Brooker ""

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Ira Brooker

Ira Brooker is a writer, editor and trash cinema enthusiast living in Saint Paul, Minnesota. His Letterboxd account is a document of a life poorly spent. You can find his writing all over the place, and especially at, and @irabrooker.

His 2017 Discoveries list can be found here:

Christmas with Dennis (1988, directed by Wayland W. Strickland)
You’re going to think I’m being ironic with this pick, as this movie is just 70 minutes of a man playing Christmas songs on an electric organ. Once you take a look at Christmas with Dennis, though, you’ll understand that I’m being as sincere as the day is long. This infectiously enthusiastic document from musician Dennis Awe is a bubbly, accidentally trippy look into the weird world of a true old-school entertainer.

Dennis grins his way through the Christmas canon sporting a sequined suit and pompadour, rocking out on a living-room set decked out in holiday figurines, a fully dressed tree, and an ever-circling toy train. The editor employs a constant barrage of fades, cuts, and dissolves that create a disorienting, psychedelic effect. Dennis sings a duet with a puppet. Dennis’s sister DyAnne drops by for a visit, as do Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus, in an increasingly surreal series of cameos. And throughout the whole mesmerizing, marginally nightmarish experience, Dennis slays on the keys, keeping our toes tapping and heads spinning with his distinct brand of Christmas cheer. This is absolutely going into my family’s slate of annual holiday traditions, no matter what my wife says.
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The Perfume of the Lady in Black (1974, directed by Francesco Barilli)
As I may have mentioned in last year’s Film Discoveries list, I’m a fan of Mimsy Farmer in just about any context, and this movie makes as good a use of Mimsy as anything I’ve seen. It also makes phenomenal use of color, atmosphere, and Alice in Wonderland as Farmer roams the streets of Rome struggling to stay on the right side of sanity. The hallucinations keep piling up and the intentionally hazy plotting keeps it unclear whether she’s the target of a gaslighting conspiracy, haunted by childhood trauma, or simply losing her grip. Tantalizing though the mystery is, the root cause hardly matters. This film is so visually thrilling and dreamy that it would rank as a classic even the story was pure nonsense. In a just world, this would have made Mimsy Farmer a household name.
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Poor Pretty Eddie (1975, directed by Richard Robinson and David Worth)
There are a few scenes that stick in my memory as pictures of human cruelty so visceral that I shudder to think about ever revisiting them again. The back half of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” is like that. So is the middle going of “Dogville” and the climax of William Faulkner’s “Sanctuary.” And despite all odds, “Poor Pretty Eddie” is like that too.

The product of a Georgia porn producer trying to go legit, this movie has a fascinating backstory, with multiple cuts floating around after the producers tried to sell it as a thriller, a backwoods exploitation flick, and even a feel-good musical success story. But “Poor Pretty Eddie” is not a feel-good movie. It is a feel very, very bad movie tracking pop star Leslie Uggams’ doomed attempt at a solo weekend getaway. When her car breaks down on a southern back road, she finds herself the unwitting house guest of self-styled rockabilly singer Michael Christian and his spiteful sugar mama Shelley Winters.

What follows is a sickening spiral of abuse and degradation, the kind of thing everyone sees coming and no one cares enough to stop. It hurts to watch it happen but it all feels grimly necessary, part and parcel to a film that, possibly accidentally, emerges as one of its era’s more unflinching portrayals of the racism, sexism, commodification, and violence coursing through America’s veins. Plus it has Ted Cassidy as a creepy dog breeder.
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The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (1978, directed by Fred Schepisi)
From what I’ve read, this unblinking look at one man’s doomed struggle to climb the ladder in colonial Australia is appropriately revered in its home country, but it seems to be majorly overlooked here in the US. Tom E. Lewis turns in an indelible performance as a well-meaning Aboriginal Australian young man doing his damnedest to establish a career in his white-dominated rural community. When the constant stream of racial indignities finally pushes him too far, he’s reborn as a vengeance-minded revolutionary.

While it carries some of the baggage you’d expect from white filmmakers telling a fundamentally not-white story, it’s a film of both rare beauty and rare ugliness. The cinematography is breathtaking, the performances from a mix of seasoned and rookie actors are searing, and the climactic rebellion is one of the more sickeningly frank acts of violence I’ve seen on film (it even landed the movie on the fringes of Britain’s Video Nasties list). Full of big ideas and calling to mind American Westerns and Blaxploitation flicks, this one needs a bigger audience.
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Night Wars (1988, directed by David A. Prior)
I’ve written about this one on this site before, but I still can’t get over how perfect an ‘80s horror concept “‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ but with the Vietnam War as Freddy” is. Sure, the execution is a little silly — this is a movie that dedicates considerable time to a couple of dudes napping in a tiny bed while decked out in full jungle strike military gear and firing weapons into the ceiling — but you don’t go to the man who made ‘Deadly Prey” for subtlety. Despite the goofy moments, David A. Prior for the most part puts together a queasy, sleazy, legitimately unsettling piece of traumasploitation. It’s an unlikely mashup of ‘80s trash genres and it works far better than you’d ever expect.
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Blood Beat (1983, directed by Fabrice A. Zaphiratos), Blood Hook (1986, directed by Jim Mallon)
Growing up in the backwoods of Western Wisconsin in the 1980s, it never would’ve occurred to me that anyone would want to make a movie there. As it turns out, several people did, and we’re all the richer for it.

As two pieces of the unofficial “Wisconsin Blood” trilogy (also including Bill Rebane’s “Blood Harvest,” which I haven’t yet gotten around to), “Blood Beat” and “Blood Hook” are markedly different films. The former is a truly weird piece of outsider art about a college student who makes a holiday visit to her boyfriend’s home in rural Wisconsin and gets tangled up in a world of sinister paintings, telekinetic murders, and the vengeful ghost of a psychedelic samurai. It’s all bonkers in an artsy, ambitious way that belies its overall skeeviness. “Blood Hook,” on the other hand, is a surprisingly sharp slasher comedy about someone murdering anglers at a rural fishing tournament, from the mind of future “Mystery Science Theater 3000” co-creator Jim Mallon.

Like I said, they’re very different movies, yet they’re linked in my mind by how much they get right about my home country. The obsession with hunting and fishing, the rolling hills and nondescript forests, the contempt for tourists from Illinois — all of it comes through loud and clear and true to life. These movies just GET Wisconsin in a way few others do. This is all gravy to me, served up on a pair of hugely appealing platters.
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Where’s Marlowe? (1998, directed by Daniel Pyne)
The late, great Miguel Ferrer was born to play a sad-eyed L.A. private eye, and he got his chance here. Developed as a TV pilot for ABC and expanded into a feature after that didn’t get off the ground, “Where’s Marlowe?” could’ve been a disposable mess. Instead, it’s a melancholy, deeply charming mockumentary anchored by Ferrer in a hapless performance that’s one of the best of his career. You also get a young John Slattery as Ferrer’s long-suffering business partner and an even younger Yasiin Bey as one of the questionably talented wunderkind filmmakers tasked with documenting Ferrer’s various disgraces. I wish it had become a TV show, but I’m glad it left at least this document behind.
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Rebirth of Mothra Trilogy (1996-98, directed by Okihiro Yoneda and Kunio Miyoshi)
If you want a perfect encapsulation about what I like least about film nerds, look no further than the abundant complaints from kaiju fans about the ‘90s Mothra trilogy being too kid-friendly. I can’t even fathom the kind of joyless pedantry that would lead someone to penalize a series of movies about a giant moth-god defending Earth against a variety of foam-rubber monsters for catering to kids.

I’ll grant you that the “Rebirth of Mothra” trilogy is utter nonsense, with Mothra gaining more elaborate, near-omnipotent powers in each installment, but again, that’s a big part of the fun. The non-monster bits are even entertaining, pitting Mothra’s familiar duo of singing fairy heralds against their sort-of-evil estranged sister (the incomparable Aki Hano, who delivers what’s easily my favorite performance by a human in a kaiju flick). If I had to pick a favorite, I’d probably go with the third film, in which Mothra battles King Ghidorah via time-travel, forced evolution, and resurrecting the goddamned dead, but really they’re all well worth a spin.
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Joseph Merhi Circa 1988
I’ve written a lot about Joseph Merhi in the annals of this site, so I’ll just leave it at this: Watching Joseph Merhi learn the ins and outs of action filmmaking by cranking out a soul-sick, 90-minute cinematic cry for something (Help? Validation? Attention?) every two months for the duration of 1988 is one of the more visceral experiences a trash cinema lover can have.

Merhi made seven (seven!) movies in 1988 and you’re either someone who needs to see all of them or someone who needn’t bother seeing any of them. If I had to tell you to watch only one of them, it’d be “Heat Street,” with its crazy glam punk intro, legitimately insane finale, and more empty thrusts at fulfillment than anyone could reasonably expect from its revenge-driven scumbag protagonists. But honestly, just pick any movie from the list and dive right in. Joseph Merhi is going to teach you a lot more about late ‘80s L.A. than you ever wanted to know, and I’ll wager 80% of it is the gospel truth.
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Bill and Coo (1948, directed by Dean Riesner)
The story of a clean-living local boy defending his hometown against unruly outsiders, rescuing hapless locals from various disasters, and still managing to show his ladyfriend a good time at the carnival, this is kind of like a less-ambitious Republic serial boiled down to sixty-odd minutes and recast with birds.

So yeah, “Bill and Coo” isn’t a great or even an especially good movie, but it is the only feature film I’m aware of to feature an all-bird cast. It’s pretty much a filmed document of a bunch of trained birds in clothes doing dumb tricks, tied together by narration that hinges on even dumber bird puns. It’s the type of movie I love just because it dares to exist. It somehow won a special Oscar for writer-director Dean Riesner, a former silent-film child star who went on to write “Dirty Harry,” “Charley Varrick,” and a bunch of other gritty ‘70s action movies and who was married to Vampira for most of the ‘50s. Now THAT’S a guy in need of a biopic.

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