Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2020 - Justin LaLiberty ""

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Film Discoveries of 2020 - 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.

Check out Justin's Discoveries List from last year here:

AMANDA & THE ALIEN (1995, dir. John Kroll)
Basically a horny Disney Channel version of THE HIDDEN with an alien that takes over a hot woman's body only to discover that it can orgasm in the shower and by eating paprika (don't ask) and then fucks a dude and takes over his body instead, which naturally leads to a perfect 90s romance. Honestly not sure who this is for as it plays like a kid/tween movie but has nudity and lines like "did he at least taste better than he fucked?" but it's also stridently feminist and surprisingly sincere so I'm all for it.

DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT (1994, dir. Linda Hassani)
A Full Moon produced, woman directed, feminist riff on LITTLE NICKY with a demoness escaping Hell to come up to earth and do fun things like fight racial injustice, take man dates to porno screenings and feed her dog Hellraiser human hearts. If that's not enough, this is written by Freeway writer and director Matthew Bright.

DRAGONFIGHT (1990, dir. Warren A. Stevens)
No, there are no dragons in DRAGONFIGHT but James Hong does give a speech about how his ancestors are dragons, which is better than nothing. It takes place in current day, capitalist America, where two rival corporations make a friendly bet over a duel to the death between two men who are dropped into the desert with a sword and axe (Michael Paré and Robert Z'Dar, who spends the whole movie in chainmail) while a bunch of rich spectators watch the action via CCTV (how that works technologically, we are never shown). Running a mere 79 minutes, it's quick and it's narrated by a drunk George "Buck" Flower and Charles Napier plays a ranger named Moochow.

I AM SOMEBODY (1970, dir. Madeline Anderson)
I discovered Anderson’s work in general this year - including the equally potent and timely INTEGRATION REPORT 1 - and this thirty minute document of the 1969 Charleston hospital workers strike is urgent work both for its time of production and now. It renders labor as a tool, a human right and leverage all while remaining pragmatic about its material and intentions. Really powerful work. 

I START COUNTING (1969, dir. David Greene)
Coming of age cinema set in the foreground of a serial killer narrative that combines sexual discovery with anxiety; touches on some of my favorite tropes in cinema of the period : voyeurism, religion, sexual aberration, murder - yet all filtered through the gaze of a precocious teen girl, sort of like a realist, British VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS.

THE LAST SUPPER (1995, dir. Stacy Title)
Cameron Diaz and her liberal grad student friends start offing racist, homophobic, sexist conservatives (including Bill Paxton and Jason Alexander) by inviting them over for dinner and poisoning them and then burying them in the backyard as tomato plant fertilizer. Ridiculous and timely, with more than a few quotes that feel plucked from our current zeitgeist.

LIES (1983, dir. Jim Wheat, Ken Wheat)
Like an 80s variation on UNSANE, from the brother directing team of BATTLE FOR ENDOR, with an actress being wrongfully held at a mental hospital as part of pretty clever murder cover-up - successful slow burn that leads into a giallo-esque third act with a black gloved killer and some solid kills, including a particularly sadistic elevator involved death. All but discarded in its initial release and still only available on VHS, this is ripe for re-release.

OUT FOR BLOOD (1992, dir. Richard W. Munchkin)
Surprisingly grim PM Entertainment offering with Don "The Dragon" Wilson basically doing The Crow as a character named Karate Man who wakes up from a coma with a case of amnesia and seeks revenge on the cartoonish group of baddies that killed his family. He punches, kicks and eyeball pokes his way to vengeance and eats some soup in his downtime. Some great stuntwork here too, including a very dangerous looking long burn fire stunt in the final act.

RAW COURAGE (1984, dir. Robert L. Rosen)
The mash-up of DELIVERANCE and PUNISHMENT PARK that I never knew I wanted! Ronny Cox and his buddies go for a run in the New Mexico desert and get terrorized by a bunch of dirtbike riding right wing militia types lead by M. Emmet Walsh. Necessarily sparse - it takes place in a desert after all - genre cinema that feels unfortunately resonant despite being all but forgotten (which hopefully the brand new blu-ray from Scorpion fixes). The synth score is out of place and that opening shot featuring Cox greasing up his toes with vaseline should have been left out entirely (along with a dastardly rattlesnake encounter) but it legitimately made me exhausted, which is a rarity. And my new favorite opening scene goes to Ronny Cox slathering vaseline all over his toes - someone alert Tarantino. 

RIGHT ON! (1970, dir. Herbert Danska)
“God I wish I could fuck you! goodnight.”
Either the purest form of a concert film or the direct opposition of that very idea. Either way, the footage of period NYC is a staggering document and this manages to be timely in both politics and in the amount of time spent on NYC rooftops, which directly mirrors life in the city during COVID. MoMA made this available to stream for free, at a moment this summer when when media coverage of protests and riots due to repeated, brutal violence on a community was carried out by law enforcement around the country, took over the coverage of the pandemic. This screening remains one of the more important for me this year and could be a defining experience for years to come - hopefully it makes its way to home video soon as well. 

THE SEVENTH CURSE (1986, dir. Lam Nai-Choi)
A cop goes to Thailand on a medical expedition to research AIDS, meets a woman who is just casually splashing water all over herself wearing nothing but a long t-shirt (which is very transparent) and then ends up the victim of a blood curse put upon him by a witchcrafty Worm Tribe which, a year later, cause the veins in his legs to burst when he has sex. So, you know, just your average blood curse.

I didn't know much about this going in, but it's some mid 80s unholy genre amalgam of fantasy, horror and macho action that also features a demon made of the blood of 100 children (who we see get legit juiced by some stone vice), abdomens exploding with worms, a whole lot of machine gun fire and Chow Yun-Fat using a rocket launcher against a prosthetic monster. The gore and creature effects here are a highlight and it has more than a little in common with BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, which came out the same year, even if it's far more excessive in every way.

SHADOWBOXER (2005, dir. Lee Daniels)
There's a scene in this where Cuba Gooding Jr strips for Helen Mirren to a Nas song and then later they fuck in some fairy tale forest that looks like a flashback from a Hallmark movie. And somewhere between those two things, we get to see Stephen Dorf's flaccid condom wrapped dick for no real reason, but he does shoot a few people with it dangling out there. And then there's an indecipherable Macy Gray who orders "five drinks" at a bar, Joseph Gordon Levitt as a doctor that eats out his patient and Monique as his crack smoking girlfriend/nurse. It's like SHORT CUTS for mutants. Lee Daniels only makes trash but it is unequivocally my trash. Between this and THE PAPERBOY, he is easily the best exploitation filmmaker of this era to also be Oscar nominated.

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