Rupert Pupkin Speaks: December 2020 ""

Friday, December 25, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Lars Nilsen

Lars is a programmer at Austin Film Society and there he curates repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics.
The Austin Film Society can be found here:
http://www.austinfilm.org
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/197585777057317/

Check out his previous Discoveries lists here:
http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/search/label/Lars%20Nilsen

CIRCLE OF POWER aka BRAINWASH (1981 D. Bobby Roth)
I certainly wasn't expecting the extreme darkness of this melodrama about a self-help retreat that goes off the rails. Yvette Mimieux plays the head of an executive consciousness-raising group called Mystique that effectively tortures and brainwashes its participants. You can imagine a lot of approaches to this subject matter. CIRCLE OF POWER takes the rawest and most intense path. It is a disturbing movie, and deserves credit for being so uncompromising. Participants are tortured both physically and psychologically - couples' bonds are deliberately frayed and torn. I may never watch it a second time, but I loved it, even as I could barely believe what I was watching. It's an achievement.

CITIZENS BAND (1977, D. Jonathan Demme)
Here's one that has eluded me forever somehow. It's really special, and it may be the best part Charles Napier ever had, as a trucker with a complicated love life. There are a number of subplots here and the different character arcs converge and diverge throughout with the CB radio being the thread that holds them all together. There's an Altmanesque energy here but it is somehow more innocent and hopeful. Deserves a place on any cinephile's Oddball Seventies shelf.

DOG DAY (1984, D. Yves Boisset)
Lee Marvin is clearly old and depleted here but he is absolutely 100% Lee Marvin in this story of a fugitive gangster who hides out with a French farm family. Very eccentric and odd in its effects. With an actress who has become a big favorite of mine, Miou-Miou. At one point she says to her son, "We'll be rich! We'll be real shitheads!" It's genuinely very funny and I would love to know what Lee Marvin was thinking the whole time it was being made. Also with Tina Louise, somehow.
https://amzn.to/3mCxuCI

A GENIUS, TWO PARTNERS & A DUPE (1975, D. Damiano Damiani)
Having seen all the Sergio Leone westerns multiple times, and considering myself a big fan of Euro-westerns I nonetheless never made it a priority to see this Leone produced comedy-western. The very political director Damiano Damiani (A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL, CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN) is a very odd choice to make a Terence Hill western, and nobody seems to like the film very much. Consider me surprised to find out that it's a very smart, sophisticated western comedy, not at all elegeic or sentimental like its companion piece, MY NAME IS NOBODY, which I also like, though I do prefer this one. Apparently Leone was a big fan of Bertrand Blier's GOING PLACES (this should clue you in that the comedy here is very offbeat) and brought in Miao-Miao to co-star. She's awesome, as are Terence Hill and bad-guy Patrick McGoohan.
https://amzn.to/34qWk2r

HOLLYWOOD STORY (1951, D. William Castle)
Many years before William Castle became the master of horror movie ballyhoo gimmicks, he was just one of the crowd, a talented journeyman who made solid and semisolid 'B' product. This is Castle's seamy SUNSET BLVD ripoff, in which he rips the lid off the dark side of Tinseltown. Richard Conte plays an upstart movie-mogul who buys the old Chaplin studios and becomes fascinated by an unsolved murder that is clearly inspired by the William Desmond Taylor case. There's real affection for old Hollywood here, and it benefits from cameos by many former stars of the silent era.
https://amzn.to/37BesZu

HOUSE ON GREENAPPLE ROAD (1970, D. Robert Day)
This hard-edged and occasionally brutal telefilm was the pilot for the Quinn Martin-produced DAN AUGUST show, which replaced the movie's costars Christopher George and Keenan Wynn with Burt Reynolds and Norman Fell. The show's good, but the movie is fantastic. After years of not really liking Christopher George and considering him a generic leading man type, I finally got him. He's a good actor and he always gives it his all. But this film is ultimately Janet Leigh's show. She is seen in flashback as she consummates a number of love affairs behind her husband's back. It's a great role for Leigh. Her character is an aging beauty, worried that the currency of her youth and desirability is rapidly devaluing, and trying to fuck her way out of it. What a part. And what a performance. She is amazing, never holding back, and never using her star power to force Joan Crawford-y rewrites where everyone talks about how gorgeous she is. This is an aging beauty playing the part of an aging beauty and meeting it head on. Very solid and memorable on all counts.

HOUSEKEEPING (1987, D. Bill Forsyth)
Bill Forsyth followed up the legendary LOCAL HERO with this film, his first American work. It's a period piece, and Forsyth works a kind of magic by giving us powerful nostalgia in the most classically true sense - the word is from the Greek and means something like "the pain of going home." It's the story of two sisters who lose their mother and settle into the old family mansion with their eccentric (to say the least) aunt played by Christine Lahti. As the aunt's behavior becomes more unusual and socially embarrassing, one sister grows closer to her and the other drifts away. It's a painful schism, and the memories are both shimmeringly beautiful and uniquely painful. It's a film that does things that I have never seen another film attempt, exactly, and it's a beautiful, unforgettable experience.
https://amzn.to/3axqGnE

POISON IVY (1953, D. Bernard Borderie)
I have a watched a lot of Eddie Constantine movies this year and I have been reflecting on why he wasn't a bigger star. He definitely had his audience, mostly in Europe, but he really should have been an action star in his native America. But it was the '50s and Hollywood did not have much use for an ugly/beautiful mug like this one. Fortunately for all of us, Europe understood Eddie Constantine's appeal. This is only his second film appearance, and his first as wisecracking FBI agent Lemmy Caution. The dialogue is sharp, the director Bernard Borderie knows how to make these films, and the female lead Dominique Wilms is gorgeous and witty. It's as good a place to start as any. Hollywood's loss is our gain.
https://amzn.to/3pal7zx

SIREN OF ATLANTIS (1949, D. Gregg G. Tallas)
This one just plain hit the spot with its German fantasy influences and deeply psychotronic feel. Shot by legendary German cinematographer Karl Struss, it is silvery and luminous, even as the sets and costumes give evidence of a very low budget. Maria Montez is truly a sight to behold as the Queen of Atlantis and she shimmers befittingly. Just as magic kingdoms vanish like a desert mirage, the plot of this film has drifted mistily away over the horizon of my memory, but I liked it, I promise.
https://amzn.to/3rd10Tf

THE SPELL (1977, D. Lee Phillips)
This is the kind of movie that might just as easily be a silly bit of fluff if the casting was different, but the lead role here went to Lee Grant and the dynamism of her performance makes it all so, so worthwhile. She doesn't take a breath or an eye-blink off, even though an Academy Award winning actress might well be forgiven for cruising through a movie-of-the-week CARRIE ripoff on reputation alone. If Grant feels slighted about the direction her career is headed, she pours all that high-octane resentment in the tank and steps on the accelerator. There's one scene - and it's not a major scene in the structure of the plot at all - when she lets her cigarette do the talking and convey her character's mental state. It's high-level mastery. As I was watching this, I was waiting for the inevitable left-turn into silliness as the long-delayed horror elements come to the fore. Well, thanks to Grant's performance, the schematic plot twist works - really well, in fact. The other performers (James Olsen, Lelia Goldoni) are good too, but this movie is Grant's - it's a little like hearing a transcendent singer performing an OK song - it all gets suffused with her greatness.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Larry Karaszewski

Larry Karaszewski has been part of this series for seven years now. He is one of my favorite screenwriters and a true cinephile's cinephile. He and Scott Alexander have collaborated on many memorable screenplays including one of my personal favorites, Tim Burton's movie ED WOOD. Larry and Scott also worked on the Golden Globe-winning FX series AMERICAN CRIME STORY: THE PEOPLE VS. O.J. SIMPSON and the excellent film for Netflix - DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.
Larry spreads his love for cinema the whole year round via his Trailer's From Hell commentaries - all of which are recommended:


And here are Larry's Discoveries of 2020:

ARIZONA (1940)

THE EXECUTIONER (1963)

LA NOTTI BIANCHE (1957)

CRIA CUERVOS (1976)

SADIE MCKEE (1934)

VICTIM (1961)

ROOM AT THE TOP (1959)

CANYON PASSAGE (1946)

ONE-WAY PASSAGE (1932)

IL POSTO (1961)

SENSO (1954)

OKLAHOMA (1955)

CARRIE (1952)

REMEMBER MY NAME (1978)

CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS (1966)

THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (1955)

THE SERVANT (1963)

LONG WEEKEND (1978)

THE TARNISHED ANGELS (1957)

UN FLIC (1972)

VIVRE SA VIE (1962)

MANNEQUIN (1937)

PHANTOM LADY (1944)

THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMEN (1968)

THE COBWEB (1955)

HOLIDAY AFFAIR (1949)

Monday, December 21, 2020

New Release Roundup for the week of December 22nd, 2020

THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)
BUY IT HERE: https://amzn.to/2WwI43F

IT HAPPENED ON 5TH AVENUE on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

AKIRA on 4K Blu-ray (FUNimation)

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

ROAD GAMES LE on Blu-ray (Indicator) (From last week)

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Jonathan Hertzberg

Jonathan Hertzberg is a longtime friend of Rupert Pupkin Speaks and runs the Fun City Editions Blu-ray Label. Check it out here:
https://funcityeditions.com/

Check out his other Discovery Lists: http://www.rupertpupkinspeaks.com/search/label/jonathan%20hertzberg

Get Rollin' (1980, Terrence Mitchell)
Terrence Mitchell's rousing and humorous documentary about two Brooklyn roller disco kings is almost certainly at least partially "scripted reality." But, that's not a knock. This is an entertaining and by no means frivolous look at a long-vanished subculture, as well as a long-vanished New York City. It's also impossible not to look at it with a little wistfulness and sadness for the obsolescence of this culture--both roller disco and disco music itself--and this version of the city that we know soon followed. The film itself has disappeared from the market, almost certainly due to its soundtrack that is chockablock with heavy disco bangers.

Melanie (1982, Rex Bromfield) 
Fun City Editions and Danny Peary favorite Glynnis O'Connor still flies under the radar and it doesn't help that one of her major feature film gigs--the title role in Melanie--has been out of circulation for nearly 40 years. This Canadian production (Glynnis won the Genie for Best Foreign Actress) mostly takes place in L.A. where the illiterate Melanie goes in search of her young son, who has been taken there by her estranged husband (Don Johnson in perhaps his scuzziest and most villainous part). There, Melanie meets struggling songwriter Carl (Burton Cummings of the Guess Who) and his lawyer Paul Sorvino, both of whom help her get on her feet. This is O'Connor's show and she pulls off a very tricky part...I think it should have led to more big-screen opportunities for her as an adult, but subsequent roles were mainly in television films.

Drying Up the Streets (1978, Robin Spry) 
This hard-hitting Canadian telefilm is harder than anything seen at the time on U.S. network television--and, in fact, just about any Hollywood film--and its plot, while sharing much with the storyline of Paul Schrader's Hardcore, actually beat the American film to the screen by a year. Veteran Canadian character actor Don Francks fully inhabits his role as a former radical professor turned junkie, who is loosed onto the Toronto streets by a cop (Len Cariou) to help bust up a drug ring, while also searching for his own teenage daughter who has tragically fallen into the life. Sarah Torgov (Meatballs) is unforgettable as a painfully young runaway who has fallen into the clutches of the aforementioned mob. 

Claudine (1974, John Berry)
The remarkable Diahann Carroll--stepping into the formidable shoes of the tragic Diana Sands--is absolutely radiant in the title role. She's a single mother struggling mightily to keep a roof over herself and her six children in Harlem when she meets and falls for Roop (a most magnetic and charming James Earl Jones). Various circumstances, not the least of which is a badly flawed and unforgiving welfare system, threaten to keep them apart. Over 45 years later, this film stands out for its portrayal of everyday, working-class Black characters who are not criminals and do not fall into cheap stereotypes. I finally saw this via a mediocre rip of the long OOP DVD and not much later it was announced as a new Criterion Blu-ray. I look forward to viewing it in that vastly improved version, along with the included supplemental features.

Threshold (1981, Richard Pearce) 
Here's another once-acclaimed film that's really been forgotten, even though it boasts a great performance by one of our greatest actors, Donald Sutherland. Here, he's a top heart surgeon on the cusp of medical history after he connects with an ambitious young research scientist developing an artificial heart (Jeff Goldblum, perfecting the "Goldblum" schtick we all know and love today). This is a Canadian production and its attention to detail is uber-authentic and the whole thing remains refreshingly unsentimental, which is not at all to say that it lacks emotional oomph and payoff. The consistently excellent and underrated Mare Winningham is so good here as a young heart patient, perhaps Sutherland's most challenging case.

Who Am I This Time (1982, Jonathan Demme) 
Short and oh so sweet, this American Playhouse short produced for PBS is based on a Kurt Vonnegut story about a small-town community theater company, whose best actor is a very shy, introverted hardware store worker (Christopher Walken). Susan Sarandon, as an itinerant telephone company worker passing through town, is equally lonely, but, like Walken, also willing to throw herself into the latest production, A Streetcar Named Desire. The two leads are that very best here. Demme manages to beautifully capture the rhythms and charms of this mid-century, midwestern burg in spite of the abbreviated running time. The late Robert Ridgely, a Demme regular, is wonderful as the producer of the show.

Freedom (1981, Joseph Sargent) 
Barbara Turner (mother of Jennifer Jason Leigh) based this TV-movie screenplay on her experiences raising and sparring with wayward daughter Carrie, who left home as a teenager to work with a traveling carnival. Jennifer Warren (so good in Night Moves) is equally fine in the Turner role and a very young Mare Winningham (a childhood friend of JJL and Carrie) plays the rebellious teenager. This is a small-scale, human drama with smart, topical writing that embodies what television films could be at their best. The unglamorous carnival life is vividly portrayed, with familiar faces like Peter Horton, Eloy Casados and Taylor Negron playing part of the tight-knit group of carnies, which, while not as nefarious as the cults that were so prevalent at the time, has some similarities. One can see how the disaffected daughter could have just as easily been sucked into one of those religious cults. Horton would appear the next year as a member of Peter Fonda's Unification Church-like cult in Split Image.

All Night Long (1981, Jean-Claude Tramont) 
Writer W.D. Richter trashes this movie on the accompanying interview on the Blu-ray, but the film is far better than he gives it credit for, even if it materialized differently than originally envisioned. Gene Hackman is his usual, seemingly effortlessly good self as a corporate hack for a chain of all-night drug stores. In the opening scene, he has a breakdown in his office and is kicked down to a position as a night manager at one of the company's rougher outposts. As part of remaking himself, he has an affair with the similarly stifled wife of one of his wife's relatives. Originally starring opposite Hackman was the up-and-coming Lisa Eichhorn (fresh from Cutter's Way), but she was fired as part of a power-play between Hackman, director Tramont and his wife, super-agent Sue Mengers, who brought in her star client Barbra Streisand to replace Eichhorn. In spite of this behind-the-scenes discord, I was thoroughly charmed by this quirky, left-of-center dramedy, which pre-dates by several years a number of well-known films that mine similar topics--Lost in America, Something Wild, After Hours and so forth--and is also reminiscent of the earlier Petulia.

The Missouri Breaks (1976, Arthur Penn) 
Despite boasting two of the finest actors on the planet at the height of their powers, in Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson the resulting film has a reputation as a bloated misfire for all. I guess that's why it took me so long to see it; it's long, yes, and there's the expected scenery-chewing by Brando and Nicholson, but I was engaged and laughing throughout. The humor in Tom McGuane's screenplay is often rather dry and acidic and mean, which is my preferred blend, I think. That humor and the plot share some similarities with the previous year's Rancho Deluxe, also written by McGuane. Another great asset here is the score by John Williams, which is smaller in scope and more whimsical than the grand scores he is much better known for.

Hard Country (1981, David Greene) 
This is akin to an English kitchen sink drama transplanted to Texas, not surprising considering veteran helmer Greene is a Brit who came up during the age of Look Back in Anger and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. This is also very much a post-Saturday Night Fever and Urban Cowboy film, with main characters Jan-Michael Vincent and Kim Basinger spending a lot of time at a big honky tonk bar that's quite reminiscent of Gilley's. The surprise and the twist here is that this film is really the girl's and Basinger shines as a young woman looking to bust out of the small-town confines with or without her less ambitious, small-minded beau. With a seedy mustache, greasy hair and a thinner physique than usual, Vincent looks rough, and he should be commended for dispensing with vanity, whether it was entirely for the role or due, in part, to his well-known substance issues.