Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - John Portanova ""

Friday, January 24, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - John Portanova

John Portanova directed a Bigfoot movie. He also wrote and/or produced movies about aliens, killers, and mental breakdown. You can follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd @October_John.

THE HAUNTING OF JULIA (1977; Richard Loncraine)
I may not have a New Bev or Alamo Drafthouse near me, but I'm always thankful I live near Scarecrow Video, the largest rental library in the world. If a movie has had a home video release on any format, there's an extremely good chance Scarecrow has it. After hearing about this Mia Farrow starrer on Pure Cinema, I quickly went about renting it on a French DVD from Seattle's renowned repository. It's unfortunate the film is so hard to find (and that the picture quality on the region 2 DVD is so awful) because this is one of the more memorable ghost stories I've seen. Without getting into spoilers, I'll just say that the opening and closing scenes are both all time shockers and the bits in between ain't too bad either.
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WHITE LIGHTNING (1973; Joseph Sargent)
One of the highlights of 2019 for me was taking a trip to Portland to see Joe Bob Briggs' live show "How Rednecks Saved Hollywood." Watching Monstervision helped foster my love of horror when I was younger and I've kept up with Joe Bob's horror work ever since, but I was excited to hear him dive into a subgenre I wasn't very familiar with at all. In the months following the show I rented several of these Hicksploitation movies from Scarecrow Video, most starring Claudia Jennings or Burt Reynolds. White Lightning was the movie that cemented Burt as "the patron saint of rednecks," as Joe Bob would say. It's a two-fisted action yarn that is played relatively straight. As Burt's stardom and mustache grew, so did the goofy comedy that endeared him to the masses even though it doesn't quite work for me. But with White Lightning he shines in a simple revenge picture complete with great car action and a quietly intimidating villain in Ned Beatty.
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THE AMBULANCE (1990; Larry Cohen)
When Larry Cohen died last March, I made a point to dig deeper into his filmography than I had previously. Although it isn't as highly rated as some of his cult or straight up classics, The Ambulance might now be my favorite of Cohen films. Eric Roberts stars as a Marvel comics artist with a great mullet who is smitten with a woman he meets on the street. Unfortunately his flirtation is cut short when she passes out and is taken away by an ambulance. Only problem is the ambulance never took her to a hospital and there's no record of one picking her up. Soon Roberts and police lieutenant James Earl Jones are trading classic Cohen barbs while on the trail of an organ collection ring. The cast is excellent across the board (even Stan Lee is invigorated by Cohen's direction, giving easily his best performance as a version of himself) and there are some outrageous vehicular stunts. With the release of Scream Factory's Blu-ray, the film is more readily available than ever and well worth seeking out.
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People were talking about Martin Scorsese a lot in 2019. Whether it was his new picture, how his old pictures influenced a new picture, or what he thought about other people's pictures, Scorsese was a name I saw in a lot of articles throughout the year. What I didn't see mentioned as often was Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, his first movie to win an Oscar (Best Actress for Ellen Burstyn) and the only one to inspire a sitcom (Alice, which ran from 1976-1985). Maybe that's because the story of a single mother looking for love and a singing career isn't something people expect when sitting down to watch a Scorsese film. But despite looking like an outlier in his filmography on the surface, Alice features the same style, engaging characters, and attention to real life details that make Scorsese's crime yarns feel so real and so rich. It's also very funny, a descriptor that isn't one of the first I'd use when describing the majority of the man's catalog. My favorite humorous moments revolve around Alice's relationship with her son. He isn't a precocious know-it-all or cute as a button; like real kids he can be annoying and grating. And he annoys and grates on Alice in several hilarious scenes. This may have been a "complete the filmography" inspired watch, but I was happy to discover a seemingly forgotten gem in the crown of one of the greats.
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STREETS (1990; Katt Shea)
I heard a lot about Katt Shea on podcasts released around the time the New Bev showed a triple feature of her exploitation work in early 2019. This inspired me to seek out a handful of her films, of which Streets was easily my favorite. The film stars Christina Applegate as Dawn, an L.A. prostitute being hunted down by a deranged cop. Helping her is a naive middle class runaway named Sy. The relationship between the two is gentle and sweet, which makes for an interesting tone when contrasted against scenes of the cop murdering hookers or Dawn shooting heroin. The film was released on DVD by Shout! Factory in 2011 in a double feature with the similarly themed Angel in Red. Unfortunately the disc is out of print and goes for a pretty penny on the secondary market. Here's hoping Shout! revives Streets with a re-release, something they've been doing more of lately with their early Roger Corman's Cult Classics discs.
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