Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2018 - Eric J. Lawrence ""

Friday, March 22, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2018 - Eric J. Lawrence

Eric J. Lawrence has been a DJ over at KCRW(a wonderful radio station) for many many many years and I have been a fan of him there for more than a decade. He plays quite an eclectic mix of new and old songs, it's described on KCRW's site
as thus:
"A musical line-up of criminally overlooked tunes, hidden gems, guilty pleasures and standout selections from the latest releases... from Jacques Brel to Mott the Hoople to Gary Numan to the Fall, and everything in between. Like playing poker with dogs -- only better."
I can't really recommend the show higher than a decade of listenership can I? Check him out!
http://www.kcrw.com/music/shows/eric-j-lawrence

Also, check out his other discoveries lists here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/search/label/Eric%20J.%20Lawrence

You’re a Big Boy Now (Coppola, 1966)
This Richard Lester-esque student film from Francis Ford Coppola beat The Graduate to the theatres by a year, with its story of an aimless young man caught in a woman’s web, all set to a rock & roll soundtrack (in this case, the Lovin’ Spoonful). But this one is decidedly East Coast, starring ill-fated couple Peter Kastner & Elizabeth Hartman, real life couple Rip Torn & Geraldine Page (a Golden Globe nominee) as Peter’s parents, Karen Black as the girl Peter should be with, and a slew of great character roles from Julie Harris, Tony Bill, the great dwarf actor Michael Dunn, and the New York Public Library.
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Audrey Rose (Wise, 1977)
Part of the series of horror-tinged psychodramas that were popular in the 70s, this tale of tormenting reincarnation works as a reverse Silence of the Lambs, where Anthony Hopkins stalks a family and their 10-year-old daughter, armed with some secret knowledge of why the girl is suffering from overwhelming nightmares. Marsha Mason and John Beck (of Rollerball fame) play the parents who don’t know what to believe. Surprisingly tender, despite the downbeat ending, and further proof director Robert Wise (fresh from a 5-year run as president of the DGA and in the wake of the premature death of his first wife) was truly a Renaissance man of cinema.
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Them (Douglas, 1954)
I’ve avoided many of the classic Atomic Age sci-fi films for too long, generally preferring the gothic horrors of the Universal monsters and the Hammer horror revival of the 60s,and fearful that the threats would come off as silly (giant ants?!?) But this one really works as a solid thriller with some serious consequences, especially for my hometown of LA. Great character work from the likes of James Arness, James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Fess Parker, and cameos from Leonard Nimoy, Richard Deacon, William Schallert and Dub Taylor, all of whom would soon be omnipresent on the true Atomic Age monster: TV.
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The Blackcoat’s Daughter (Perkins, 2015)
One of the key films in the horror revival of the last decade, this chilly tale of Satanism in a girls boarding school travels in the same tonal universe as films such as The Witch, Get Out and Hereditary. Decidedly Canadian, and directed by Anthony Perkins’ oldest son Oz (and scored by his younger brother, Elvis), this one deserves to be better known than just by genre aficionados. (Bonus mentions: two other, very different horror films I was happy to view last year are Hammer’s The Reptile (1966) and the hybrid horror/comedy The Innkeepers (2011).)
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Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier (Foster, 1955)
One of two feature-length compilation films cobbled together from the classic Walt Disney’s Disneyland TV series, this cultural phenomenon hit young boys bigtime, setting off the coonskin cap craze. Although it remains very much in the “Native Americans as savages” tradition, the affable Fess Parker as Crockett refuses to mistreat them himself, either on the battlefield or in the halls of the US Congress. But what was most surprising to me was how downbeat certain key plot points were throughout the film; a key one happens pretty early on & totally caught me off guard. And then the fatalistic battle at the Alamo surely must be the bleakest ending a Disney film has ever had! But Parker, Buddy Ebsen as his rustic pal, and sturdy direction from the multi-talented Norman Foster make the ride exciting and a solid piece of American mythology.
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A Hatful of Rain (Zinnemann, 1957)
A grim black & white look at morphine addiction among Korean War vets, this adaptation of a popular Broadway play is pretty much a perfect acting exercise for its talented cast. Anthony Franciosa and Henry Silva reprise their theatrical roles (with Franciosa earning an Oscar nod for his troubles), and are joined by Don Murray (fresh from a career-making turn in Bus Stop), Eva Marie Saint (who got Golden Globe & BAFTA nominations for her performance), and Lloyd Nolan in a parental role. A fun side note about this film is that it is adapted from a play by Michael V. Gazzo, who later established himself as an acclaimed actor, earning his own Oscar nomination for The Godfather Part II! (Oh, and he wrote the screenplay for Elvis’ King Creole!!!)
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Lilith (Rossen, 1964)
The final film from Hollywood legend Robert Rossen, who died a year & a half after its release, but whose career and reputation were ultimately already tarnished by his naming names in the Communist witch hunts of the 50s. His early demise may have also been hastened by on-the-set conflicts with star Warren Beatty, who is definitely the centerpiece of this story of a love triangle set amongst a private mental institution. Jean Seberg co-stars, with fine performances from Peter Fonda, Kim Hunter & Jessica Walter, with an early screen role for Gene Hackman and uncredited cameos from Rene Auberjonois and Olympia Dukakis.
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You’ll Find Out (Butler, 1940)
Musical comedy specialist David Butler directed many greats over the year, from Shirley Temple (The Little Colonel) to Bob & Bing (Road to Morocco) to Doris Day (Calamity Jane). He also worked with bandleader Kay Kyser on a couple of films based around this trials and tribulations of his jokester bandmates. This one features an “old dark house” theme, with the musicians (and their romantic partners) being chased around by the killer trio of Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi! It works as a sort of dry run for the comedic chills of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein eight years later.
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The Chairman (Thompson, 1969)
Gregory Peck probably isn’t the first person you’d think of to portray an American secret agent infiltrating Chairman Mao’s Communist China, but such are the vagaries of Hollywood. More surprising to me though was him getting some sexy time with a naked Zienia Merton of Space: 1999-fame! Regardless, it’s an effective Cold War piece, with a little goofy sci-fi thrown in, and some nice screen time for some of the familiar Asian actors of the time, including Burk Kwouk, Keye Luke, and Conrad Yama (playing Mao himself).
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Sh! The Octopus (McGann, 1937)
This low-budget comedy thriller got a bit of random social media chatter at the end of last year, as people began sharing a clip from the climactic scene where the villain transforms on screen, a la Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, into a hideous monster. Thanks to Warner Archive’s 6-film horror/mystery double-feature collection from 2010, it is readily available for all to witness. It is pretty darn effective, and by no way redeems this otherwise ridiculous screwball film set in a mysterious lighthouse. But if you are in the mood for a ridiculous mysterious lighthouse mystery movie, this one is it!
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