Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2020 - Lars Nilsen ""

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:
and Lars excellent AFS Viewfinders Facebook group can be found here:

Check out his previous Discoveries lists here:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


P.Kellach W. said...

Lars my man.. (( sorry -- this HAD a lot of spacing and such before I cut and pasted-- sorry for wall of text )) ------- I almost sent you a fbook note  then I realized.. it might get more eyeballs and such for you on this spectac list ( AS ALWAYS) if I type this elsewhere then paste into a comment here !! Random Thoughts by the entry  --- WOW.. How have I never even HEARD of Brainwashed?  Need to queue that !! I saw Citizens Band in the THEATER  on it's release and even as a 10 yr old I thought  it was absolute dumbass garbage-- and not the fun MST3K kind-- If you are seeing something in it  I should give it another look see as an allegedly mature middle aged person.Dog Day is indeed awesome in it's weirdass way -- need to see it again.Genius/Dupe sounds interesting .. LOVE LOVE Hollywood Story ..  I should watch it again Haven't seen House on Greenapple Road since  it aired-- I  def am  putting  that on watchlist.. Housekeeping IS fantastic-- saw in theater -- should put in queue Poison Ivy is new to me -- shall check it out.  I tried to watch Siren of Atlantis 3 times years ago and I was bored silly.  Perhaps another try... and the hugest surprise  here.. I worship Lee Grant too but I saw  The Spell the day it premiered on Sun Night on NBC   in the 5th grade and me and I remember my Dad both thought it was ABSOLUTELY HORRID.    Maybe another try here too.?  Hmm.  Anywho. LOVE LOVE your lists always---  if we aren't already friended there-- add me on LetterBoxd--- I am GustavMahler :) :) 

beamish13 said...

Bill Forsyth’s follow-up to Local Hero was the excellent Comfort & Joy, not Housekeeping