Rupert Pupkin Speaks: January 2020 ""

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Daniel Budnik

Dan Budnik's second book, '80s Action Movies On The Cheap, is available now and can be ordered from Amazon. His first book, Bleeding Skull!: A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey, is out of print but can still be found by those who look hard enough. His writing is on the Some Polish American Guy Reviews Things blog and the Bleeding Skull! website. He is host of the Eventually Supertrain and the Dan's Drive-In Double Feature podcasts, located at eventuallysupertrain.blogspot.com. He is also co-host of The Made For TV Mayhem Show and part of the Podcastmania horror discussion.

See Dan's Film Discoveries from last year here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2019/02/film-discoveries-of-2018-daniel-budnik.html

Amazons (1984)
A 1984 TV movie about modern day Amazons in Washington D.C. Directed by Starsky. Starring Madeline Stowe and Jack Scalia. Music by Basil Poledouris. I’m in. Over at The Made For TV Mayhem Show, we did a DVD commentary for this one. That’s not why this is on here, though. I saw other TV movies this year (plenty of them) that were better than this one. The plotting is a bit off throughout. It feels like it should have been a longer film. It ends far too abruptly. But, because I watched it four times for the commentary, I really grew to appreciate and love it for all its flaws. The concept is fantastic. Scalia and Stowe make an interesting lead couple. The music is great. It has an almost-epic feel to it that a lot of TV movies achieve. And it moves along very nicely. Plus, Peter Scolari! It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But, it has enough imagination and style to make it worth watching. At least four times. 
There are a bunch of girls. They get access to a relative’s beach house. They throw a party. It’s not the most distinguished or most interesting of these sorts of T&A films. It starts off and the gals (well, and the guys too) are pretty non-descript. Things sort of meander along as the party is approaching. Then, the party starts. And, the film sustains itself wonderfully to the end of the film. All sorts of fun/ wacky party festivities occur. Characters grow or they don’t. One gal has some sort of character transformation. (But, I actually thought she was two different characters so that bit might not work so great.) There’s a lot of fooling around. And I really enjoyed it. There’s always enough going on. Always something happening. I had thought it might peter out but it doesn’t. (It reminded me of the film Lunchmeat. About 20-odd minutes in, the six main characters start to get chased around by the cannibal family. How on Earth can this sustain itself? I said aloud to no one the first time I saw it. But, it does. There’s always something happening.) The Beach Girls is super fun. It has (mostly) a very innocent and joyous vibe to it. It surprised me. I recommend it. 
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Mr. Magoo (1997)
I had ignored this film for years but I’m not 100% sure why. I’m a Leslie Nielsen fan. Pat Proft is a hilarious writer. Stanley Tong does good action/ slapstick action. It seems like a dream come true kind of movie and yet I ignored it for decades. It turns out that it’s pretty brilliant. Nielsen is great as Magoo. The film is funny. All the shenanigans (mainly big slapstick action) is well directed. But, the thing the film really gets right and that I really appreciated is simpler that all that. The film doesn’t spend a half-hour or more creating a world and then revealing the plotline. (It’s stolen jewels or something and people chasing Magoo around. I don’t fully remember and it doesn’t matter.) The script assumes that we all know who Magoo is. It very deftly and quickly creates his world. Then, it begins the shenanigans almost immediately. There’s almost no down time. It just goes. Even when it’s not funny, it’s fun to watch. I’m not saying you should stop watching The Irishman (which I know you’re only around 100 minutes into) to watch Magoo. But, maybe afterwards. Even if you don’t laugh, you will enjoy yourself. 
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Night Killer (1990) 
So, I got two tickets to a Severin triple feature at the Egyptian theater in Hollywood. The films were surprises. All upcoming releases. My wife couldn’t go in the end so I gave the second ticket to an employee to give to someone standing by. (You are very welcome, Person I Do Not Know.) And I went into the theater. The Egyptian is this huge, epic theater that I am proud to say I have watched everything from Bill Lustig’s Maniac to Gone with The Pope to Paradise, Hawaiian Style to The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra to Meatballs 2 in. They had said the show was sold out but there seemed to be quite a few empty seats. After a time, a man came out and introduced… Alex Cox. What?! Awesome. What film of his is Severin putting out? He talked about his movies, especially his latest one. This was exciting. What could they be showing? The lights went down… and Repo Man began. Hell yeah! I love Repo Man. 78 seconds later, I realized that Criterion put out Repo Man. Then, I realized that the discussion never mentioned Severin. And then, the not-sold-out theater made me realize “Dan, you’re in the wrong place.” I leapt up and ran to an employee. “Is there another theater?” “What?” “Where the Severin stuff is showing?” “Sure. Over there.” Did you all know there is a second, smaller theater within the Egyptian? I sure didn’t. And, you know what? It turns out it was sold out. I spent the triple feature tentatively sitting in a “RESERVED” seat waiting to be asked to stand/leave. Luckily, it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, I missed the opening 10 minutes of the first movie. I recognized actors. The style of the filmmaking felt familiar. It was completely screwball. When it ended, of course, it was Fragasso mixed with some Mattei. It was Night Killer. Of the three films shown that night, that’s the one that stuck with me. I own the Blu. I’ve watched it four times. It is nuts. What’s it about? Frankly, who cares? Watch it. And then remember, the Egyptian has a second theater. Don’t be an idiot, like me. (Don’t even ask about my embarrassing moment with Stephen Thrower.) 
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Screams of a Winter Night (1979)
Specifically, the 119 minute version that appeared on Code Red’s Blu-Ray. This is an anthology film about a bunch of friends (I think they’re friends) at a cabin in the woods telling scary stories. I first saw this film about 10 years ago but really didn’t know about this other version until now. It’s 27 minutes longer and contains another complete tale. My thoughts on the theatrical version is that the main characters are pretty annoying but the tales get better as they go so hang in there. In the extended version, the first tale begins around 28 minutes in. (In the 92 minute theatrical, it’s around 21 minutes.) One can’t imagine that spending more time with these characters would work in any way, shape or form. But, it kind of does. I forgot that it was an anthology film after a while and became more interested in the characters. Then, when the tales began, it was a bonus. And the extra tale (while quite short) is a nice addition to the film. Turns out a film I kind of “liked” has become one that I “really like” thanks to the extended cut. (I applaud Code Red for continuing a Screams release tradition. The original theatrical run was very limited. The VHS was very tough to find. And, the Blu was pressed in super limited quantities. I expect to see a 4K disc with a pressing of 45 copies in 2021.) 
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Smile Jenny, You’re Dead (1974)
The second of the Harry O TV movies, preceding the two full seasons of the show. I have seen both seasons of the show (Spoiler: They’re excellent.) but it wasn’t until earlier this year that I saw Jenny (along with a favorite TV movie of mine The House on Greenapple Road) for an episode of the Made For TV Mayhem Show. It’s a pretty darn good 1970s TV movie made in, I think, the Golden Age for this sort of thing. (Possibly the best time for the TV movie? The debate rages on.) Harry is asked to protect a model from a crazy guy (yes, he is played by Zalman King). David Jansen is fantastic, as always. He’s gruff, rough but charming. Yes, he does develop a romance of sorts with the model. That kind of thing happens. Plus, Zalman King is nuts. Surprise? Not really. The whole thing ends on a roof. The best place for most films to end. I do prefer the series to the two movies. But, this one is very good, regardless. 
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Them! (1954) 
Please, laugh all you want at the fact that it took me so long to see Them! (On the big screen, no less.) It’s an iconic Something Giant (That’s Not Normally Giant) Attacks Humanity movie. It’s so very 1950s, in the best way. It’s also scary, relentless and quite well made. I expected to enjoy myself, like I do during, say, Tarantula. I was surprised at how much I REALLY enjoyed myself. Bought the Blu-Ray the very next day. I’m not going to tell you any more about it. I don’t think there’s any chance that you don’t know what it’s about. In case you don’t, though, go in cold. It’s worth it.
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Monday, January 20, 2020

New Release Roundup for the week of January 21st, 2020

THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY on Blu-ray (Blue Underground)
https://amzn.to/2tgpZvZ
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ULZANA'S RAID on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
https://amzn.to/2QY7FAB
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HIGHBALLIN' on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
https://amzn.to/2TxoYue
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SEMI-TOUGH on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
https://amzn.to/2tsgfP3
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GREGORY'S GIRL on Blu-ray (Film Movement)
https://amzn.to/38kuIeZ
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SLIDING DOORS on Blu-ray (Shout Factory)
https://amzn.to/2G0HClS
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TOBRUK on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
https://amzn.to/35VyHgg
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THE WAR LORD on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)
https://amzn.to/371XOzs
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CIMARRON on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)
https://amzn.to/38i06L8
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KITTEN WITH A WHIP on Blu-ray (Universal)
https://amzn.to/30tWFy6
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LE PETIT SOLDAT on Blu-ray (Criterion)
https://amzn.to/2QZYlfx
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Friday, January 17, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Andy Ross

Andy Ross is a film writer, humorist, and improv performer, whose weekly column “Batteries Not Included” has been seen in The Loafer, an arts publication covering the Tri-Cities Tennessee area, for 13 years. Andy also writes a monthly column in The Greeneville Sun about classic film. In January of this year, he published his first book, the comedic mystery novella “Saved on Sunday, Dead on Monday,” about the death of a pimento cheese magnate. He can be found spreading his particular brand of nonsense on Twitter @ThatAndyRoss.

“Wicked, Wicked” 1973, Dir by Richard L. Bare
I’m a big fan of William Castle, so I have a soft spot for gimmick films. Not only does “Wicked, Wicked” cover that with the strange spilt screen effect, but it also falls into a category of films that I like to call “Someone had to cut a check for it.” Films from a major company or studio that are so oddball you have you think that at some point someone in a suit had to sign off on this, then another person had to go and write them a check to make the thing.

I wouldn’t call “Wicked, Wicked” a good movie, per se. But it’s such a weird, campy, romp that you can’t help but be dazzled by it, with the added oddity of its writer and director being best known for the Joe McDoakes shorts and directing most of the TV series “Green Acres.” It’s what I suppose it would be like to take a bunch of psychotropic drugs while watching “Psycho” AND listening to a Jefferson Airplane album at the same time.
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“Mystery Street” 1950, Dir by John Sturges
This film took me by surprise, it was a blind buy I picked up during a Warner Archive sale, and I just absolutely fell in love with it. Ricardo Montalban is fantastic in it, it very much has a sort of template for the kind of procedural TV series that would come in the following two decades. A real gem of a noir!
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“Polyester” 1981, Dir by John Waters
OK, I am deeply ashamed that it wasn’t till this year I saw this one, but I am woefully behind on some of Waters’ films. This film is a delightful hoot from start to finish, and to see it with my own “Odorama” card was a real highlight. I think the pairing of Tab Hunter and Divine is one of the greatest achievements of 1980s cinema. Just an all-around fun film and one I need to revisit with Waters's commentary track turned on.
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“Daredevils of the Red Circle” 1939, Dir by William Witney and John English
I never thought we’d see the day that movie serials of the ‘30s and ‘40s would come out on blu-ray, but I am here for it. “Daredevils of the Red Circle” has just about everything you could want in a cliffhanger. We have a trio of circus performers as our heroes, a villain named “39-0-13” who goes around impersonating a wealthy benefactor, and plenty of great chapter stoppers that leave us wondering how our heroes will escape.

Seeing serials like these for years in rough shape on VHS releases and bootleg tapes, it’s downright shocking to see them looking so clear, but from a 4K scan, this looks amazing and is worth the time to watch.
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“The Horror at 37,000 Feet” 1973, Dir. by David Lowell Rich
Where can I begin with this one? First off, this very much falls into the “someone had to cut a check for this” category. This TV-movie made by CBS in the early 70s has…well…everything. William Shatner, Buddy Ebsen, Chuck Conners, and The Professor himself, Russel Johnson. It’s “1960s TV Stars Bingo.” Druid ruins are cargo bound to the US from the UK, and the ghosts are not happy about and begin to terrorize the passengers. Simply put, this is William Shatner fighting Ghosts on a plane.

The film is truly ludicrous, bizarre, awful, and just mind curdling insane. Hands down it’s the most batshit crazy movie I’ve ever seen. At one point, to the fight the ghosts, the passengers build a freakin’ fire on a cocktail table in the lounge of the plane. Honestly, this film should have won an Emmy just for existing as every single minute of this is an exercise in “WTF?”
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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Kevin Maher

Kevin Maher is an Emmy-nominated writer-producer and the host of KEVIN GEEKS OUT, a live video variety show. You can see his video essays at www.LoveKevin.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinGeeksOut.
Check out his Film Discoveries from last year here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/2019/01/film-discoveries-of-2018-kevin-maher.html


THE BURGLAR (1957, dir. Paul Wendkos)
It’s not easy to capture the mood of a David Goodis novel, his pulpy-yet-personal fatalistic crime novels have a distinct flavor. This one gets it right by filming in and around his old stomping grounds of Philadelphia and South Jersey. These locations provide a seedy authenticity that perfectly compliment the film’s low budget. A Goodis adaptation is better suited to a low-budget B-movie than a big studio picture. The movie’s ending borrows from the final set-piece in THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI, but in Atlantic City’s Steel Pier Amusement Park.
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DEAD OF NIGHT (1977, dir. Dan Curtis)
This made-for-TV anthology thriller was Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson’s follow-up to TRILOGY OF TERROR. Like its predecessor there’s two bland chapters followed by a gripping finale. Skip the time-travel story and the vampire tale, go right to “Bobby”. I won’t give anything else away.
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THE DEVIL’S MESSENGER (1961, dir. Herbert L. Strock)
It’s not good, but it’s mesmerizing. The movie combines three episodes of an anthology TV series that was filmed in Sweden. Combine that with unknown actors, amateurish performances, spooky stories and a murky (almost underwater) transfer – and it creates the atmosphere of a strange dream. Especially if you watch it alone in the dark, late at night. This unintentional effect is better than the movie itself.
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DUNSTON CHECKS IN (1996, dir. Ken Kwapis)
Pure Cinema Podcast praised filmmakers who revive a dormant subgenre, and this one’s a fun 88 minutes of “hijinks at a fancy hotel.” (I grew up watching UNDER THE RAINBOW whenever it was on HBO.) There are some syrupy moments and generic kid actors in mid ‘90s clothing, but those shortcomings are outweighed by well-built gags, heightened archetypes and laugh-out-loud moments with Paul Reubens and Glen Shadix. Plus, Sam the Orangutan has great comic timing!
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SEASON OF THE WITCH (1972, dir. George Romero) and BONE (1972, dir. Larry Cohen)
I wish George Romero had been allowed to make non-zombie movies later in his career. This film is decidedly ugly, as it should be since it’s about the Pennsylvania suburbs of the early ‘70s. It’s also about women’s empowerment and hair. That same year Larry Cohen made his directorial debut with a scathing satire about a despicable married couple in Beverly Hills. I wish Larry Cohen had been allowed to make some non-gimmicky monster movies. I love his monster movies but watch a few minutes of BONE and you’ll see what I mean.
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THE SET-UP (1949, dir. Robert Wise)
Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter get top billing, but the main attraction isn’t the acting or the fight choreography: it’s the faces in the crowd. When a filmmaker portrays the audience, he reveals his feelings about movie viewers. Fighters will come and go, but the spectators stay the same.
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THE GIRL CAN’T HELP IT (1956, dir. Frank Taschlin)
For years I only knew this title as the answer to a trivial pursuit question that’s read in the last scene of SPIES LIKE US. It’s effervescent cinema! Playful, colorful and breezy. I love that some of the gags were painstakingly executed, but the movie never lets on that it’s anything more than a fun time for all. Jayne Mansfield’s image was an ideal match for Taschlin’s cartoonish sensibility.
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WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK (1993, dir. Fred Walton)
This year there’s been a lot of discussion about “fan service” and the perils of sequels, but here’s a made-for-TV movie that successfully recreates the best elements of the first film while providing new and bizarre twists. Also, because it was made in the early ‘90s it stars Jill Schoelen!
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KIND HEARTS & CORONETS (1949, dir. Robert Hamer)
For years I’d read about this film and I only knew that Alec Guinness played multiple parts. I had no idea it was a murder-comedy that quickly directs your sympathy to the killer! So crisp and funny, with virtually zero fat – modern viewers might experience this as a radical approach in the post-Apatow comedy landscape.
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McBAIN (1991, dir. James Glickenhaus)
Is it possible for a fiery explosion to be nonchalant? McBAIN says yes. Christopher Walken’s performance sets the tone – and the tone is “subdued bonkers.” In the early ‘90s Walken hadn’t yet morphed into a self-parody brand, a la Jeff Goldblum; he was recognized as an intense, dramatic actor. Walken brings his DEER HUNTER pedigree into the role, leading a group of Vietnam Buddies on an international vigilante mission. It never ceases to be jarring to see Walken basically starring in a Chuck Norris movie.
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