Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2019 - Kevin Maher ""

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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