Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Stephanie Crawford ""

Monday, December 30, 2019

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Stephanie Crawford

Stephanie is a Writer, podcaster (The Scream Cast, Just the Discs & beyond) & frustrated vaudevillian.
Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, Dread Central, Daily, Grindhouse, Scream Cast, and Talk Film Society.
Follow her on Twitter @Scrawfish.

What a Way to Go! (1964)
It’s very rare I’ll dub a film “probably one of my favorites now” immediately seeing it after the first viewing, but What A Way to Go! actually convinced me about mid-way through that this was the kind of movie that Speaks Directly to Me. Ultra-prolific director J. Lee Thompson (better known for more “muscular” films like his work with Charles Bronson, the slasher Happy Birthday to Me and, of course, The Guns of Navarone) uses his genre flexibility to weave a free-wheeling, sparkling tale not of a merry widow but, rather, a charmingly bewildered one.

See, once you marry Louisa May Foster (Shirley MacLaine at the height of her gamine powers), you’ll get lucky. REAL lucky. You’ll become famous, fabulously wealthy, or even a combination of the two. Then you’ll die in a freak accident. Dick Van Dyke, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Gene Kelley and Dean Martin all end up wearing her ring, and each actor seems to revel in playing a solid yet comedic male archetype in their respective segments. It’s so much outlandish, weird fun, but the witty dialogue and heart beneath it all⁠—she just wants to be loved!—elevates it to something I’ll be recommending far and wide from now on.
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Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)
Back when you could corral Fred Ward, Clancy Brown, David Warner, and Julianne Moore into a TV movie, action director extraordinaire Martin Campbell made the most of it with an urban noir fantasy that has as much panache as it does a sense of humor. Make sure you have the legally mandated magical private eye named Harry (here, Harry Lovecraft. See also Harry Dresden and then Harry D’Amour from Lord of Illusions), a Necronomicon, style to burn, and you have yourself a genre companion to The Rocketeer in terms of delivering a sumptuous and effective valentine to a bygone era. Somehow balancing both the private eye and “we live in a modern world of monsters” tropes incredibly well without getting too cheesy, I’d be hard-pressed to find someone who couldn’t find a lot here to love.
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The Ship of Monsters (1960)
What do you get when you mix space, vampires, a charming gaucho, a romance between robot and appliance and a gaggle of bargain-basement-cheap-but-top-shelf-imaginative creatures?
You get a true treasure of several genres straight from the tireless director Rogelio A. González. I was very lucky to attend my first Fantastic Fest this year, and there was a big focus on Mexican genre cinema this year, spearheaded by Morbido Fest's head programmer Abraham Castillo Flores. It was a real gift to see some of these films on the big screen, but The Ship of Monsters far and away packed the biggest wallop, and it had me grinning and raving about its charms so as many people as possible would see its second and final showing there.

In short (because absolutely no one should spoil any of the surprises therein), this film is bonkers, but it fully knows it’s bonkers, and it’s incredibly shrewd in its bonkers execution. There is no “so bad it’s good” or “so bad it’s brilliant” here: This is about as sure a hand a filmmaker can have when it comes to pulling off very clever dialogue and characters you can’t get enough of when almost nothing on screen makes any sense. Pure, distilled joy on film.

Sunset Grill (1993)
Peter Weller is trying real hard to be the shepherd in a parade of kicky hats in this Maker’s Mark celebration of an action/neo-noir. It’d be useless to recap the plot as it’s your standard “jaunt around Los Angeles” yarn to get answers and kick some ass. What’s important to note that it pulls off the standards like a grimy, rumpled virtuoso, with enough quirky deliveries to make it stand out from the crowded early-90s straight-to-video shelves of similarly plotted “shoot first and solve the mystery later” flicks: If this isn’t the only one to have an actor from The Lord of the Rings get lassoed in a back alley, then I’m going to need the list of the others immediately. Most notable is the cast: Lori Singer, Stacy Keach, Alexandra Paul, Kelly Jo Minter, John Rhys-Davies, and Danny Trejo are the chorus of angels to Weller’s grizzled, sweaty seraph.
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Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)
The older I get, the more I forgive myself for not immediately getting to films with a certain kind of sterling reputation and pedigree. In my neck of the movie-watching woods, the John Carpenter-penned Eyes of Laura Mars always loomed large in the “unwatched pile” for me, making me feel mildly guilty about not seeing it and for also confusing it in my head for Play Misty for Me for whatever reason. Well, Mill Creek releasing it on Blu-ray turned out to be the deciding factor, and I’m so glad it didn’t take me any longer than this.

Laura Mars (Faye Dunaway) is a talented, edgy, and sophisticated fashion photographer lauded for her outside-the-box concepts⁠—including an incredible one involving an orchestrated flaming car wreck in the middle of a city! She has it all, including the thing no one wants: a stalker. This stalker takes it to another level by basing their murders on her photoshoots, and the film goes full-tilt giallo when it surrenders itself to stylish mystery beats and unexplained metaphysical connections between Laura and the killer. That may sound messy, but its execution is slick, sexy, and incredibly engaging. I’m already in the mood to revisit it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a date with Laura Mars became an annual thing.
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Remote Control (1988)
Jeff Lieberman’s Remote Control surrounds a film that, once distributed, causes murder and mayhem for those who dare watch it, and he did it way before that whole kind of thing became a fashionable pastime. As someone who’s made no secret about my fetishistic love of video stores, this entire movie surrounding one (with a visit to several!) and the culture of renting videos was absolutely irresistible. Thankfully, this is a fun horror/sci-fi/culture comedy even if you aren’t as mad for the concept as I am, and Kevin Dillion and Jennifer Tilly are especially charming and energetic. It’s a madcap race to keep Earth from turning into the galaxy’s worst focus group, and the movie-within-a-movie looks like a blast as well. Fans of adorable sincerity and those curious about a 1960s’ retrofuturism look done through a 1980s’ lens shouldn’t miss this one.
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