Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Jack Criddle ""

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Jack Criddle

Jack Criddle is a filmmaker, radio host, and cat guy from the wilds of Western Massachusetts. His show, Play Morricone For Me (www.mixcloud.com/playmorriconeforme), goes out over WJJW 91.1 FM in North Adams, playing all the best in film soundtracks from high art to low schlock. He may sometimes be seen working in the box office of Images Cinema, Williamstown's non-profit independent movie house, and the rest of the time can be found on Twitter at @PlayMorriconeFM.

THE LEMON DROP KID (1951, Sidney Lanfield & Frank Tashlin)
Christmastime comedy-caper film adapted from a Damon Runyon (GUYS AND DOLLS) short story. Bob Hope is the titular kid, a racetrack hustler who owes money to a big-time gangster. He runs a convoluted fake charity scheme to save his neck, passing off said gangster's closed-down casino as the Nellie Thursday Home for Old Dolls, whilst sending a small army of petty crooks out to New York's streets as Santy Claus-impersonating bell-ringers. THE GRAPES OF WRATH'S Jane Darwell, 'I Love Lucy's William Frawley,' and Tor Johnson round out a game supporting cast. This film's got just enough bite to please folks who don't like their holiday viewing to get too saccharine and treacly. It also introduced the song "Silver Bells," which hope sings with co-lead Marilyn Maxwell.
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ENTER THE FAT DRAGON (1978, Sammo Hung)
This garage sale VHS find turned out to be a real winner. Sammo Hung directs and stars here as a Bruce Lee-idolizing, provincial bumpkin sent to Hong Kong to work at his uncle's noodle shop. He gets into all manner of shenanigans after besting a group of local hoodlums in hand-to-hand combat. The film has a good-naturedly loose, shaggy-dog quality as one misadventure follows another, including a very funny bit of business in which Hung decimates the set of a Brucesploitation picture.
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DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936, Lambert Hillyer)
One enormously pleasurable exercise that my fiancee and I embarked on this year was watching and/or rewatching the classic Universal monster movies in chronological order. I had seen a good chunk of them over the years, but one of the missing holes I filled in was this direct sequel to the first DRACULA, which I found not only to be slightly superior to its predecessor, but maybe the best in the canon not directed by James Whale. It's a moody, lyrical piece - one of the earliest films made about a reluctant vampire seeking a cure for their condition - anchored by an otherworldly performance by the sensuously severe Gloria Holden.
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GODS AND MONSTERS (1998, Bill Condon)
My Universal Monster viewing binge also caused me to remedy the fact that I had never seen Bill Condon's excellent cinematic portrait of James Whale in his twilight years, as masterfully played by Ian McKellen. Having suffered a stroke, a retired Whale lives with the memories of his war service, his filmmaking career, and his open-secret life as an gay man in early Hollywood, eventually striking up a difficult-at-first friendship with his (fictionalized) homophobic gardener, Brendan Fraser. It's at once a loving tribute to horror cinema, brilliant depiction of a troubled genius, and a film I think continues to resonate in the #MeToo era and throughout the continued struggle of LGBTQ civil rights - as well as a good example of how a biopic may sometimes play fast and loose with the 'facts' in order to get to the Truth.
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RIDING SHOTGUN (1954, Andre de Toth)
In this tension-filled Warner Bros. programmer, Randolph Scott works as a stagecoach shotgun guard as an excuse to roam the country, searching for the bandit gang who killed his family. A hasty attempt to go after the gang leaves him captured and left for dead in the desert, but worse, upon making his way back to town, mistaken for being in with the bandits by the townsfolk. Scott once again plays his Boetticheresque 'good man trying to bring about justice without losing his soul,' de Toth's focus here is on the mob mentality amongst the townsfolk, whose suspicions and rush to judgement create an even greater obstacle for Scott than the killers he's sworn revenge against. It's a very good 'social' western, with a fine supporting part from a baby-faced but still sufficiently leathery and imposing Charles Bronson.
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THE 5,000 FINGERS OF DR. T (1953, Roy Rowland)
I don't have an excuse for not getting to this well-loved, bizarro cult item until now, but I'm incredibly glad I finally crossed it off my shame list this year. It was notably the only live-action film that Theodore "Dr. Seuss" Geisel had a hand in during his lifetime, and he reportedly hated the results - a totally gonzo fantasia in which a boy imagines his music teacher kidnapping 500 boys to play at his giant piano in a fortress that resembles a cross between DR. CALIGARI and 'Green Eggs and Ham.' Hans Conried, perhaps best known as the voice of Disney's Captain Hook, plays the campy, megalomaniacal Dr. Terwillicker as essentially a live-action version of the former. One can easily imagine a prepubescent Tim Burton sitting alone in a theater, soaking up inspiration from this film, while his peers were outside playing baseball.
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CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (1962, Agnes Varda)
Another list-of-shame entry I got to cross off, and I'm happy I waited until I had a chance to see it in the theater. Images Cinema showed this, and three other Agnes Varda films, in conjuncture with the Clark Art Institute's Women Artists in Paris exhibit. Chronicling the two hours that go by as a pop singer waits for the results of a biopsy, this is one of those films in which, not much happens, but meanwhile *everything* happens. Cleo ponders life and death as they each related to selfishness and selflessness (miles away, the Algerian war rages) art and cinema (there's a lovely, meta, silent film-within-a-film featuring fellow New Waver Jean-Luc Godard.) Michel Legrand's supporting turn as 'Bob le pianiste' may be added to the sadly short list (it might just be him and Danny Elfman in FORBIDDEN ZONE) of great performances by film composers in films they also scored.
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DEF BY TEMPTATION (1990, James Bond III)
A Troma-distributed passion-project from the (awesomely named) James Bond III. Bond started his career as a child actor, and recruited much of both the on and off camera talent on this picture from the folks he met working on Spike Lee's SCHOOL DAZE, including Bill Nunn, Kadeem Hardison, Samuel L. Jackson, and cinematographer Ernest R. Dickerson. Bond's naive but well-meaning divinity student Joel travels from the rural South to New York City to visit a childhood friend, and gets into the crosshairs of a vampiric demon posing as a beautiful call girl. Bond's screenplay's themes of religious faith challenged make for a perfect marriage with the cinematography of admitted Euro-horror devotee Dickerson, who create some wonderful nightmare-logic alchemy here.
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HAIKU TUNNEL (2001, Jacob and Josh Kornbluth)
A delightfully strange and very funny early-oughts indie from comedic monologist and San Francisco Bay-area cult icon Josh Kornbluth, about a longtime office temp worker who falls down something of an existential rabbit hole when he's brought on as a 'perm' (permanent) office assistant at a large tax law office. It's a little Kafkaesque dread, a little Melville's 'Bartleby' and bit like other office-set comedies like OFFICE SPACE and the like, but it's mostly wholly its own animal - Kornbluth's surreal and poker-faced depiction of corporate culture really makes for comedy gold.
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