Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Friday, January 31, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2019 - Justin LaLiberty

Justin LaLiberty holds degrees in Critical Film Studies and Film Preservation. He is currently the film archivist for Vinegar Syndrome and a freelance projectionist and film programmer. He is a regular contributor to Paracinema and Moviejawn and is working on a book about porn parodies.

8 WOMEN (Dir. Francois Ozon)
Rian Johnson’s KNIVES OUT got a ton of attention this year, which inspired me to finally check out Francois Ozon’s inspired, Christmas set murder mystery with an ensemble of - you guessed it - eight women, lead by Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert. It’s campy, colorful and peppered with surprise musical numbers. If you dug KNIVES OUT this year, this is a very solid import that seems to have gotten overlooked since it came out in 2002.
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CHILLY SCENES OF WINTER (Dir. Joan Micklin Silver)
Romantic obsession comedy/drama starring John Heard and Mary Beth Hurt that tackles the perils masculinity with a nuance that few other films - almost all written and directed by me - of the 70s could claim. Between this and BETWEEN THE LINES, I’m convinced that Joan Micklin Silver is better at writing male characters than her male contemporaries are. Also, there’s a scene where Heard takes Hurt to see INSIDE JENNIFER WELLES at a movie theater and she asks if “all pornos are this gross” and it’s super sweet and sincere and surprisingly resonant (at least for me).
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CRY OF A PROSTITUTE (Dir. Andrea Bianchi)
The cinema sucker punch of the year for me! I should have known what I was in for when the one-sheet for this featured a pink tinted image of a battered Barbara Bouchet with the tagline “For a lousy twenty-five bucks, some people think they can do anything!”, but even that didn’t quite prepare me. At face value, this is a generic mafia centric crime film from the mid 70s of which there are plenty - many of which are arguably objectively better than this one - but the performances from Bouchet and Henry Silva deserve to be iconic and a certain scene that manages to involve sodomy and a pig carcas is, well, something to witness. Not at all for the faint hearted!
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CYBERJACK (aka VIRTUAL ASSASSIN) (Dir. Robert Lee)
In 1995 (the same year as STRANGE DAYS, THE NET and JOHNNY MNEMONIC), the cyber thriller went the DIE HARD route (also the same year as UNDER SIEGE 2: DARK TERRITORY) with this Canadian slice of DTV silliness featuring Michael Dudikoff as a baseball obsessed janitor/ex-cop who needs to fend off a group of leather clad terrorists headed by a bleached blonde Brion James who says things like "I used to fuck a guy in prison named Nick".

Lots of mid 90s computer effects, a system that is legitimately named Skynet, a stripper hologram for a few seconds of gratuitous nudity, a killer robot named C.Y.C.L.O.P.S., a Jamaican terrorist that uses a spliff as a peace offering, the same screen used future guns that were also screen featured in TIMECOP, numerous references to a fake baseball team named The Neptunes and Dudikoff putting all of his skills to use. This one has it all!
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DELIVERY BOYS (Dir. Ken Handler)
Who is this for? An 80s, NYC set, sex comedy featuring breakdancing pizza delivery boys and Mario van Peebles as some sort of voodoo guy, carrying around shrunken heads and wearing a grill.

Produced by Chuck Vincent and shot by Larry Revene, which may answer to why this feels like porn but isn't. It's also homoerotic to the extent that it is far more interested in the bodies of its male stars (especially a very long lasting boner gag) than any of the women they bed. Baffling but unabashedly entertaining. And I didn't even mention the musical numbers!
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DIARY OF A HITMAN (Dir. Roy London)
Disarmingly histrionic Pittsburgh set crime film featuring Forrest Whitaker (almost ten years before GHOST DOG) as a soft spoken hitman hired to take out his boss's wife, played by Sherilyn Fenn, and their ten month old "crack baby". That woman on the bottom of the poster isn't even in the movie, half of it takes place in an apartment where Whitaker and Fenn shout at each other and throw cake, Jim Belushi plays a detective who calls his asshole "cherry hole", Sharon Stone shows up with dyed black hair and a spray painted fur coat, Seymour Cassell might be playing himself and the dialogue is on another plane of reality where people talk about "bronze vessels" a bit too much.
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FAIR GAME (Dir. Andrew Sipes)
If nothing else, this has the dubious honor of being the only starring role for Cindy Crawford and the only directorial credit for Andrew Sipes. It’s also based on the same book as COBRA.

It also features Dan Hedaya as a sleazebag who misses lunch with "Donny Trump" and tells Crawford she should wear a thong, a gratuitous Stallone reference (this is no COBRA) and two pretty solid chase scenes, including one that ends in a requisite sex scene where the pesky Russian villains watch Billy Baldwin and Crawford doing it in thermo vision and shine a laser sight dot on his ass crack. How does this only have a 13% on RT?
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FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (Dir. Joseph Losey)
The vastly underrated Joseph Losey gave us a super masculine early 70s buddy movie featuring Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell as escaped convicts being chased through Latin America by an ominous black helicopter. On paper, it sounds like a mash-up of THE DEFIANT ONES and BLACK THUNDER and it pretty much is exactly that - would love to see this on a big screen, but Kino’s blu-ray is a great way to discover it.
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FLASHBACK (Dir. Franco Amurri)
The writer of PASSENGER 57 and the director of MONKEY TROUBLE gave us this 1990 Dennis Hopper and Keifer Sutherland buddy comedy that plays like a mash-up of MIDNIGHT RUN and FIRST BLOOD with Hopper as a fugitive hippie and Sutherland as the FBI agent tasked with bringing him to trial. A couple of great train set pieces, Carol Kane totally stealing the show in the second act and Hopper basically plays himself. It's weird that this hasn't earned more of a following over the past thirty years.
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IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT (Dir. Nico Mastorakis)
*disclaimer* I work for Vinegar Syndrome and it may be a conflict of interest to include one of our releases here but I really, really want everyone to discover this bat-shit erotic thriller and, well, it’s here for that purpose!

You know this guy is a psychopath because he sleeps on a glowing waterbed, appreciates pineapple on pizza (not gonna lie, I do too), refers to tea as "juice from hell", enjoys gazing at his reflection in a Laserdisc and has nightmares of strangling a woman every night.

Neon drenched Skinemax trash from the director of ISLAND OF DEATH is pretty much exactly what you'd expect even if it doesn't live up to the thrills promised by its inexplicable NC-17 rating. It does manage to cast Tippi Hedren in a brief scene as a woman who is frightened by an off screen bird though.
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NO PLACE LIKE HOME (Dir. Perry Henzell)
What a major discover this is! Who would have thought that after THE HARDER THEY COME, Perry Henzell would make a Hong Sang-Soo esque meditation on relationships, nature and cinema and how they (attempt to) intertwine. Plays out its first bit like a Jamaican SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM before focusing more on well written character work. Such a shame this didn't come out in the mid/late 70s and reach the canonical status of his first film but the brand new restoration (especially considering how "lost" this was until recently) is stunning. And keep an eye out for Grace Jones! This is included on Shout Factory’s massive three-disc release for THE HARDER THEY COME and is worth the cost of that set alone.
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THE RAPTURE (Dir. Michael Tolkin)
Six years before starring in a movie titled PLAYING GOD, David Duchovny is in this slice of 90s fringe erotica saying "There is no God, only chaos." Ultimately kind of perplexing but it plays out like Zalman King making SORRY TO BOTHER YOU as released by Full Moon, which is 100% for me. This is likely not for most people, even Duchovny die-hards, but it feels ripe for reappraisal and could earn some sort of fervent fanbase if a distributor wanted to grab it for a blu-ray release.
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TONGUES UNTIED (Dir. Marlon Riggs)
Weaves together collage, spoken word and video art yet remains remarkably focused in the process. Packs more weight, fire and finesse into a meager 55 minutes than most 2 hour (+) films can. Between the BAM retro and inclusion in MoMA’s end of year queer cinema program, this is likely being discovered by many people this year (at least in NYC).

There's some striking images here, but the obvious takeaway to me is a brief moment in the Castro where a shirtless man in short shorts is rubbing his belly with one hand while holding a sandwich in the other and the camera slowly zooms in on his abdomen. It made me hungry?
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TOYS ARE NOT FOR CHILDREN (Dir. Stanley H. Brassloff)
At face value, this is sleazy 70s exploitation but it plays out more so like an ultra-dark, taboo shredding, melodrama that has a lot to say about sex work and perversion and surprisingly has a lot more in common with CAROL than expected. That final shot is a doozy.
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VIRTUAL COMBAT (Dir. Andrew Stevens)
Andrew Stevens (the prolific director/producer responsible for over 100 DTV productions including erotic thrillers like NIGHT EYES, SCORNED and ILLICIT DREAMS) helmed this ludicrous sci-fi action film from the "virtual" obsessed 1995 - same year as VIRTUAL ASSASSIN, VIRTUAL SEDUCTION and VIRTUOSITY - where a mad scientist manages to make VR content physical via some weird goo bath, resulting in two cybersex apps, (a dominatrix and a more wholesome porn starlet) and a jacked up warrior named Dante who speaks with his mouth closed, unleashed upon humanity and, somewhere along the line, a border patrol officer played by Don "The Dragon" Wilson gets involved.

Better use of the Hoover Dam than UNIVERSAL SOLDIER, Rip Taylor as a disembodied hologram head, the requisite gratuitous nudity Mr. Stevens is known for and plenty of brutal, titular "combat" for The Dragon. I strongly believe this was actually written by a 12 year old boy though, after all, the IMDB keywords include: "tough guy", "showdown", "virtual sex", "kissing while having sex" and, of course, "combat".
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