Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Lars Nilsen ""

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics.

The Austin Film Society can be found here:
http://www.austinfilm.org
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/197585777057317/

Here's Lars List from last year:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2018/01/film-discoveries-of-2017-lars-nilsen.html
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2016/12/film-discoveries-of-2016-lars-nilsen.html


BELL BOOK & CANDLE (1958)
The same year they starred in Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak costarred in this very funny comedy about a lovelorn beatnik witch (Novak) who feels romantic longings for her square upstairs neighbor (Stewart) in Greenwich Village at Christmas time. Her super-witch aunt (Elsa Lanchester) and warlock brother (Jack Lemmon) help and hinder in turn. Also featuring Ernie Kovacs and Hermione Gingold if you need any more convincing. Full of mid-century bohemian interiors and hip talk, this one is well on its way to becoming a holiday tradition around here. Shot by James Wong Howe.
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THE CON ARTISTS (1976)
In the wake of the international commercial success of THE STING, Sergio Corbucci got the chance to make this ‘20s-set picaresque action comedy about a young grifter (Adriano Celentano) who drifts into the orbit of an older, master con-man (Anthony Quinn) and his equally scheming wife (Capucine). The film’s narrative strategy consists of a number of “bluffs” that mirror the cons being perpetrated by the protagonists. It’s a tricky movie, full of reverses and cross-plots. It’s also very funny and, as you would expect from Corbucci, creatively and capably directed.


THE DEVIL’S CLEAVAGE (1975)
George Kuchar had a peculiarly perceptive handle on Ross Hunter-era melodramatic Hollywood dialogue and situations. This is his feature homage to these overheated, overwritten movies. Characters volley metaphors about their unhappy lives and loves back and forth until there’s barely any (metaphorical) fuzz left on the (metaphorical) tennis ball. It works. It’s smart and funny. Sample dialogue:
"I've changed, Angie. My body's under control. I no longer have to muzzle it."

"That's just what I don't want. A body under control. Mine has been running rampant for three and a half years, just like the Mississippi River at springtime. Sure, there's a lot of mud and filth, there's a lot of copperheads, too, but the wild thrill of an elemental existence drives me on and has been driving me on, ever since the afternoon I stepped on the bus in my leopard slacks and they split with a big crack at the crack of dawn, a dawn to a new world."

GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW (1959)
I never got around to this one before now, and I sort of assumed it would be pretty generic, but it’s actually a daring and unusual spoof that’s very funny - though the haunted house/ghost stuff is nowhere near as prevalent as the title and poster would imply. Dialogue is very sharp and well delivered. It’s like a good MAD magazine feature. There are laughs all the way through and a few big ones. MVP is Sanita Pelkey as the towering engineering nerd girl.
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GIRLS OF THE WHITE ORCHID (1983) aka DEATH RIDE TO OSAKA
In this made-for-tv movie, sweetened for foreign theatrical release, talent scouts recruit a young LA woman to work in a Japanese nightclub, but it’s all a front for a prostitution ring. But here’s the good part: it’s directed by Jonathan Kaplan and stars Jennifer Jason Leigh. If you don’t think those two could do anything wrong in 1983, you are probably right, because this movie really works on its own sleazy terms. The nightclub acts - particularly Leigh’s song and Ann Jillian’s dance (!!!) are exceptional. This is ‘30s pulp with ‘80s aesthetics.
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HAMMERSMITH IS OUT (1972)
Here’s a hyper-strange movie that absolutely nobody wanted when it was released. That number has probably increased by 2 or 3 since then and I expect the figure to remain fairly stable. Beau Bridges plays a horn-dog asylum orderly who teams up with a sexy, gum-chewing diner waitress (Elizabeth Taylor) to break the Hannibal Lecter-like genius inmate Hammersmith (Richard Burton) out of the mental hospital. They do so, and become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams, etc. Peter Ustinov (who also appears) directed the film and must have provided a lot of the movie’s absurd humor. It is loaded with bizarre dialogue and settings. Interestingly, even in the company of such thespian heavies, Bridges has the best moments and the biggest laughs.


HEALTh (1980)
Made during that period when Robert Altman was condemned to wander the wastelands and forage roots and berries, this is yet another of the master’s unfairly ignored and/or maligned films. Carol Burnett, Lauren Bacall and Glenda Jackson are all candidates for the leadership of an influential national organization. Against the backdrop of a crazy health food conference, the three press their various advantages. As you would expect, Altman feasts on this kale and bean sprout buffet. With a dream supporting cast to balance that formidable lead trio of Burnett, Bacall and Jackson: James Garner, Henry Gibson, Alfre Woodard, Paul Dooley - even Dick Cavett and Dinah Shore.
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MANCHU EAGLE MURDER CAPER MYSTERY (1972, released 1975)
Completely unique and oddly brilliant noir spoof written by and starring former Bowery Boy Gabriel Dell. There’s a really pure vision animating this story of a visionary poultry engineer (Dell) who takes on a side gig as a private detective in his small southwest town. There are loud echoes of THE MALTESE FALCON here but nothing really moves in a straight line. Dell moves from one encounter with a bizarre local character to another, and each new bit of information helps to sketch a bizarre portrait of a bizarre community. All the cast members give it their all, though even today it’s hard to see who wanted a movie like this then or now. I loved it, but I can’t imagine many others would. Check out this supporting cast: Barbara Harris (she has a brilliant monologue), Will Geer as a small town Doctor Benway, Anjanette Comer, Nita Talbot, Vincent Gardenia, Huntz Hall, Jackie Coogan and Joyce Van Patten.
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STARSHIP INVASIONS (1977)
This Canuxploitation CLOSE ENCOUNTERS is surprisingly intelligent. Director Ed Hunt (BLOODY BIRTHDAY and THE BRAIN) always has interesting ideas. This is smarter than you’d expect and the outer space scenes have a super-cool ‘70s pinball back-glass look. Robert Vaughn plays the UFO expert who gets caught in a battle for Earth between the good-guy aliens and the bad-guy aliens, led by Christopher Lee. All of that’s great, but what really ties it all together is a hyper-stoned Creed Taylor-esque narco-jazz score by Gil Melle.
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THIS PROPERTY IS CONDEMNED (1966)
Somehow nobody ever talks about this movie, but it’s a knockout. This is one of those films that straddles old and new Hollywood. Based on a Tennessee Williams fragment, scripted by Francis Ford Coppola (among others), produced by Ray Stark, shot by James Wong Howe, directed by Sidney Pollack and starring Natalie Wood, Robert Redford, Charles Bronson, Mary “Scout” Badham and Robert Blake. Pretty good bona-fides. For this movie to be so obscure it must be terrible, right? What a surprise to discover that it is absolutely terrific, a classic. This is one of those examples of a film’s initial commercial failure coloring its subsequent reception. It was clearly not a film that anyone wanted in 1966, but as we look back on it we can see that it is as good an Oscar-level performance as Wood ever gave. This is big, Oscar-y acting and that’s not an insult. It’s a particular style of star acting, and this is as good an example of it as you’ll see. Redford is also magnetic and he clearly already understands the demands placed on a Hollywood leading man. I can keep typing, but you should just go watch it instead.
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