Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Barry P. ""

Friday, December 20, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Barry P.

Barry P. runs the eclectic movie blog Cinematic Catharsis, focusing on the little films that slipped through the cracks, with an emphasis on genre titles. Some regular features include: classic spotlights, capsule reviews and overlooked gems.
Find Cinematic Catharsis here:
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See his Discoveries lists from last few years here:

The Man Who Stole the Sun (1979) 
Director/co-writer Kazuhiko Hasegawa’s thought-provoking film is the darkest of comedies, told from the perspective of a country that has lived under the nuclear shadow. Makoto Kido (Kenji Sawada) is an eccentric high school science teacher who decides to create the ultimate experiment, an atomic bomb. He breaks into a nuclear power plant to steal radioactive materials, and proceeds to construct the deadly device. He stays one step ahead of the authorities, goading a hard-edged police inspector (Bunta Sugawara), and catching the imagination of Zero (Kimiko Ikegami), a local TV host. As government officials race against time to locate the bomb, they acquiesce to his increasingly fanciful demands (including hosting The Rolling Stones in Tokyo).

The Man Who Stole the Sun works as an allegory for the Pandora’s Box we have opened and can never close – the constant threat of nuclear annihilation (Kido calls himself “Nine,” as the ninth nation to have a nuclear arsenal). As Kido slowly succumbs to the effects of radiation poisoning, he has less to lose, and his behavior becomes more erratic. His motives are never made clear – does he act out of disdain for authority, boredom, or something else? The ambiguity surrounding the character works for him, as we’re left to speculate. When we hear the ticking bomb in the climax, we can only imagine it ticking for all of us. One thing is likely – you’ll be thinking about the film for days.
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Jack the Giant Killer (1962) 
This excellent fantasy film shares some DNA with The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad (1957), including the director, Nathan Juran, and stars Kerwin Matthews and Torin Thatcher, but has an identity of its own. Jack (Matthews), a simple farmer, is knighted by the king after he saves his daughter, Princess Elaine (Judi Meredith) from a fearsome giant. Thatcher is at his sneering best as the scheming wizard Pendragon, who has eyes on the throne. Jack the Giant Killer is colorful, briskly paced, and filled with cool stop-motion animated beasts. The effects might be a notch below Harryhausen’s Dynamation process (the creatures don’t quite have the same level of detail or expression), but they do the trick. The only downside is an annoying leprechaun in a bottle (Don Beddoe), who speaks in rhyme. It’s the perfect movie for a rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoon.
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Amphibian Man (aka: Chelovek-Amfibiya) (1962) 
This charming Soviet-era science fiction/fantasy was based on a novel by Aleksandr Belyaev, and filmed on location on the Crimean Coast and on a Leningrad sound stage. Vladimir Korenev stars as Ichtyandr Salvator, a young man with the ability to breathe underwater (his goofy, silvery outfit only adds to the film’s considerable appeal). His scientist father (Nikolai Simonov) saved him from a fatal respiratory ailment by replacing his lungs with shark gills (don’t ask about the science behind it). Now, Ichtyandr retains the ability to walk on land, but remains rooted in the sea. He becomes infatuated with a young woman (Anastasiya Vertinskaya) after he saves her from a shark. She’s engaged to a cruel business owner who exploits his workers and alienates his future father in law. Things come to a head when her fiancé captures Ichtyandr as his personal slave to gather pearls. Amphibian Man is a modern fable, with its romantic subplot and theme about a protagonist living in two worlds. Catch it if you can.
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Branded to Kill (1967) 
Seijun Suzuki’s neo-noir crime thriller is fast, sexy, and flaunts enough style for a dozen other movies. Jô Shishido stars as Gorô Hanada, one of the underworld’s top hitmen. He’s sought after for his prodigious skill with a gun, but the hunter becomes the hunted when he botches an assassination attempt. Now he’s at the top of the hitlist, pursued by a fabled killer known only as “Number 1.” To complicate things, he’s become entangled with the beautiful, mysterious Misako (Annu Mari), who enjoys pinning butterflies and birds. Branded to Kill distinguishes itself from other films in the genre, thanks to a relentless pace, inventive camera angles, and an idiosyncratic main character (who has a bizarre rice fixation). It’s required viewing for anyone with a taste for action movies that exceed the norm and keep on going.
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The Haunted Palace (1963) 
Although the title is based on a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, it isn’t really a part of Corman’s Poe Cycle, but an adaptation (by Charles Beaumont) of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.” This deliberately paced, atmospheric movie features fine performances by Vincent Price, Deborah Paget and Lon Chaney, Jr. Price plays a dual role as Joseph Curwen, burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft, and his heir, Charles Dexter Ward. After the prologue, the story picks up 100 years later, when Ward takes possession of his estate, and in turn is possessed by his ancestor’s spirit. It doesn’t take long before Curwen is up to old tricks. The Haunted Palace looks great, with good production values, costumes and nightmarish makeup of the village’s mutated residents. The only downside is an unconvincing monster in a pit (its features are obscured by blurring) that looks like it was slapped together by Corman’s team out of whatever materials they had lying around.
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Night on the Galactic Railroad (1985) 
In a perfect world, Gisaburô Sugii’s mesmerizing, beautifully animated Night on the Galactic Railroad (adapted from a story by Kenji Miyazawa) would be as well-known as works from Hayao Miyazaki or Mamoru Hosoda. The film (told from the perspective of anthropomorphic cats) progresses at a leisurely pace, allowing the story to gradually unfold. On the eve of their village’s lantern festival, young Giovanni and his school friend Campanella embark on a train that travels through the cosmos. Their voyage through time and space is a meditation on friendship, love and death. Although some of the allegorical elements can be a bit heavy-handed at times, it’s tough to deny the artistry of the animation, accompanied by Haruomi Hosono’s haunting score. Regardless of where you sit on the spiritual fence, it’s easy to become engrossed in the film’s existential themes, which venture where few, if any, American animated films would dare to go. It’s a heartfelt, touching experience that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
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Seconds (1966) 
John Frankenheimer’s disturbing sci-fi thriller, based on a novel by John Ely, plays a bit like an extended Twilight Zone episode, with the central message that we must be careful of what we wish for. A jarring Saul Bass opening title sequence sets the stage for the tone of the film. Middle-aged banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) is offered an enticing prospect from a shadowy organization – to leave his humdrum life and reinvent himself. Through extensive plastic surgery and physical therapy, Arthur becomes a different person with a new identity, Antiochus Wilson (Rock Hudson). He experiences life as an artist in an exclusive Malibu community and encounters a free spirit (Salome Jens). Despite months of physical and psychological conditioning, however, he finds it difficult to adjust to his current reality. James Wong Howe’s inventive cinematography keeps us on edge throughout, as we view things from Wilson’s distorted, outsider perspective. Seconds challenges us with its relentlessly grim, bewildering vision, in which no one is quite what they appear to be.
Film fans take note: Seconds would pair nicely with Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another (also from 1966), which deals with similar themes of isolation and identity.
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Fear in the Night (1972) 
This nifty Hammer thriller from director/co-writer Jimmy Sangster is filled with suspense and surprises that will keep you guessing until the end. After experiencing a nervous breakdown, young teacher Peggy Heller (Judy Geeson) moves with her new husband Robert (Ralph Bates) to the country (where he works at a boarding school) for some peace and quiet. She soon finds that her troubles follow her, as she suffers attacks from a mysterious figure with an artificial arm. Unfortunately for Peggy, everyone around her, including Robert, believes the incidents are in her head (or are they?). The suspects continue to add up, including Robert’s employer, the eccentric headmaster Carmichael (Peter Cushing) and his antagonistic younger wife Molly (played by Joan Collins, doing what she does best). Sangster does a fine job planting the seed of doubt about Peggy’s sanity in the audience’s mind.
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