Rupert Pupkin Speaks: February 2021 ""

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Laura G

If you weren't already aware, Laura runs the wonderful blog Laura's Miscellaneous Musings, which is a must for any classic film fans:
She can be found on Twitter here:

Check out her Film Discoveries of 2019 here:

WHAT HAPPENED TO JONES? (William A. Seiter, 1926)
It's an honor to share my eighth annual list of Favorite Discoveries! This year I begin with a silent film, my favorite from a wonderful three-film set of '20s comedies starring Reginald Denny. Denny plays a young man who spends his wedding eve at a poker game which is unfortunately raided by the police, leading to a series of amusing situations as he tries to escape. Eventually, after a long, crazy night, he finds himself posing as the bishop scheduled to perform his own wedding ceremony! Denny is a delightful farceur, and it gives those only familiar with his later supporting roles a completely new perspective on his career.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

THE EAGLE'S BROOD (Howard Bretherton, 1935)
This excellent second entry in the long-running Hopalong Cassidy series has a darker, grittier feel than later Hoppy films. The steely-eyed Hoppy is a pretty dangerous customer here, almost scary at times, and then he periodically breaks out into the familiar reassuring Hoppy smile. The story concerns a young boy (George Mari) whose parents are murdered. He's found by a dance hall girl (Joan Woodbury, billed as Nana Martinez), who protects him from the men looking to kill him as well. She writes to the boy's grandfather, the legendary Mexican bandit El Toro (William Farnum). As El Toro heads north to find his grandson, he chances to save the life of Sheriff Cassidy (Boyd); the sheriff orders El Toro to head back south of the border but, in gratitude for El Toro saving his life, he pledges to find the little boy himself and deliver him safely home.

Available on DVD.

I watched several ARABIAN NIGHTS-style fantasies in 2020, perfect escapism for a very challenging year. ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES was a glorious Technicolor spectacle starring the frequently paired team of Jon Hall and Maria Montez, with strong support from Turhan Bey and Andy Devine. Hall plays the orphaned son of a Caliph raised by the thieves, making them "forty and one"; eventually he's reunited with his childhood friend (Montez) and battles to reclaim his lost throne. The film deftly blends action, humor, and romance; the vigorous score by Edward Ward is another plus.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

SONG OF SCHEHERAZADE (Walter Reisch, 1947)
When I saw SONG OF SCHEHERAZADE I described it as "crazy, but in the best possible way." It's a giddy fantasy which, like ALI BABA, provides marvelous Technicolor escapism, including plenty of screen time for one of the most beautiful women ever to be filmed in color, Yvonne De Carlo. The plot, a bunch of nonsense about the adventures of the composer Rimsky-Korsakov, is hard to describe but great fun; the film's pleasures include a hilarious performance by Brian Donlevy as a ship's captain, dances by De Carlo, and the gorgeous music of Rimsky-Kirsakov, supplemented by Miklos Rozsa.

Available on DVD from the Universal Vault Series.

HELLFIRE (R.G. Springsteen, 1949)
This unusual Western, filmed in otherworldly-looking Trucolor, has stuck in my mind since I first saw it. Marie Windsor, in one of her best roles, plays Doll Brown, who as we meet her has just gunned down her abusive ex (Harry Woods). Zeb (William "Wild Bill" Elliott), a former card cheat whose life was turned around by an encounter with a preacher (H.B. Warner), goes after Doll, hoping to use the reward money to fulfill his pledge to the now-deceased preacher to build a church. Doll is on an unstoppable mission: Finding her younger sister Jane, from whom she was separated as a child. Meanwhile Marshal McLean has his own very particular reason for hunting down Doll. The movie is fascinating for a host of reasons, including Windsor's fierce performance and the melding of religious themes with intense violence. Both Windsor and Elliott counted this among their best films.

Not on DVD.

SON OF ALI BABA (Kurt Neumann, 1952)
This film was, plain and simple, one of my most enjoyable viewing experiences of 2020. It might not be great art, but it's great entertainment, and I pretty much smiled from start to finish. (Any movie which has that effect on a viewer perhaps is a kind of art, at that.) Charismatic Tony Curtis plays the title role; he seems to be having grand fun, and so does the audience. It's an adventure film shot in Universal's trademark candybox Technicolor, with Piper Laurie and Susan Cabot as spunky ladies who eagerly join in battle. William Reynolds is engaging as Curtis's pal, and there's even narration by Jeff Chandler. It won't be long before I watch this one again.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and DVD from the Universal Vault Series.

THE NIGHT MY NUMBER CAME UP (Norman Leslie, 1955)
This British film takes one of my favorite subgenres, the aviation disaster film, and gives it an otherworldly TWILIGHT ZONE type spin. A British naval commander (Michael Hordern) has a dream about a plane crash which he recounts to other guests at a dinner party...some of whom are planning to fly the next morning, and as they make preparations, the details from the dream seem to be unfolding with uncanny accuracy. There are interesting questions raised about whether or not to get on the flight, building to a very suspenseful third act. Thanks to vividly sketched characters, excellent dialogue, and its overall theme, I found this film completely engaging. Michael Redgrave and Alexander Knox lead an excellent cast.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS (Ronald Neame, 1956)
A fact-based, top-notch "spy procedural" about two British intelligence officers (Clifton Webb and Robert Flemyng) who concoct a plan to draw the Nazis away from Sicily before the Allied invasion, in the hope of lessening casualties. The elaborate ruse involves concocting a fictional persona for a dead body, planting letters in his briefcase showing that the real action will be in Greece and Sardinia, and then making it appear he's an officer who went down in a plane crash near the coast of Spain, where the Nazis are likely to gain access to the man's personal effects. But will the Germans fall for it? This film is equal parts gripping and touching, with Webb superb, displaying his trademark dry wit, mixed here with sensitivity.

Available on DVD from 20th Century-Fox.

RIDE A CROOKED TRAIL (Jesse Hibbs, 1958)
Audie Murphy stars as outlaw Joe Maybe in this very good film, scripted by top Western screenwriter Borden Chase. Joe is mistaken for a marshal who's died and is hired by a wily judge (Walter Matthau) to keep order in a frontier town. Joe's old flame Tessa (Gia Scala) chances to show up and poses as his wife, and in the tradition of films like LARCENY, INC. (1942), Joe and Tessa find they prefer the honest work of their "cover" to a life of crime. Murphy's laconic line readings are perfect in his scenes opposite Matthau, whose hard-drinking judge is an ace with a gun. The film encompasses action, suspense, humor, and family drama, as Joe mentors an orphan (Eddie Little) who reminds him of his own childhood.

Available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber and DVD from the TCM Vault Collection.

THE CRIMSON KIMONO (Samuel Fuller, 1959)
This might seem on the surface to be a run-of-the-mill crime drama, but it's also a fascinating interracial romance, played out against fantastic Southern California locations. James Shigeta and Glenn Corbett are police detectives investigating the murder of a burlesque stripper who was gunned down in the middle of a street. Corbett falls for a USC art student (Victoria Shaw) who's a potential witness, but she's more interested in the sensitive and artistically minded Shigeta. I appreciated the uncliched treatment of race and the way that Shigeta and Corbett work to rebuild their friendship after a falling out; I also liked that Shaw wasn't a damsel in distress, but was calm and direct in expressing her feelings. The film is a love letter to Downtown Los Angeles, including Little Tokyo, and it also filmed at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.

Available on Blu-ray from Kit Parker Films and Twilight Time and on DVD from Sony in a boxed set or as a single title.

SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN (Harry Keller, 1960)
Audie Murphy makes the list twice, this time thanks to SEVEN WAYS FROM SUNDOWN, costarring Barry Sullivan. Murphy plays Seven Ways From Sundown Jones, who joined the Texas Rangers after the death of his older brother, Two. His new commanding officer (Kenneth Tobey) sends Jones out to round up a dangerous outlaw, Jim Flood (Sullivan). Jones is an ace with a rifle but not so much with a handgun, a problem Sgt. Hennessey (John McIntire) does his best to rectify. Jones captures Flood and as they make their way back to town, battling Apaches and more along the way, they develop an uneasy respect. However, Jones is unaware that Flood happens to be his brother's killer. This has an excellent script by Clair Huffaker, based on his novel, and Murphy and Sullivan really strike sparks opposite one another. A superior Murphy Western.

Not on DVD.

DEAR HEART (Delbert Mann, 1964)
I've heard good things about DEAR HEART from friends for years and am glad I finally caught up with it. It's a sweetly funny, charming romance about Harry (Glenn Ford), a salesman who's also a former playboy ready to embrace domesticity, and Edie (Geraldine Page), a quirky postal service employee Harry happens to meet at a convention in New York. Harry has recently proposed to a widow named Phyllis (Angela Lansbury) but gradually comes to realize that he and Phyllis want very different things from life, while he and Edie share common goals. Ford is especially good in this, with some wonderful comedic reactions, and Page is a delight as an unusual character who's simultaneously awkward, warm, and thoughtful. It's typically Edie to learn the names of every hotel staffer and thank them for their help; a scene near the end where she checks out of the hotel was unexpectedly moving. It's also a very Edie thing to have herself paged in the hotel lobby, just for the thrill of hearing her name called! An amusing and heartwarming film.

Available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

A dozen more great discoveries from this year which there's not room to discuss here: FAST AND LOOSE (1930), SPAWN OF THE NORTH (1938), PHANTOM OF CHINATOWN (1940), TANKS A MILLION (1941), KISMET (1944), DAKOTA (1945), RED BALL EXPRESS (1952), THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956), THE BADGE OF MARSHAL BRENNAN (1957), THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974), TIN CUP (1996), and SELENA (1997).

Monday, February 22, 2021

New Release Roundup for the week of February 23rd, 2021

PUMP UP THE VOLUME on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

SMOOTH TALK on Blu-ray (Criterion)

JOHN HUGHES: 5-MOVIE COLLECTION on Blu-ray (Paramount)

THE ALLNIGHTER on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)

HARD TO HOLD on Blu-ray (Kino Lorber)


TWICE DEAD on Blu-ray (Scream Factory)


SHOW BOAT on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

MY DREAM IS YOURS on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

ON MOONLIGHT BAY on Blu-ray (Warner Archive)

LADY SINGS THE BLUES on Blu-ray (Paramount)

MAN PUSH CART on Blu-ray (Criterion)

CHOP SHOP on Blu-ray (Criterion)


COLUMBIA NOIR #2 on Blu-ray (Indicator)
(from Last week)

DEMONS 1&2 on 4K Blu-ray (Arrow)

HOST on Blu-ray (Second Sight)

PULSE on Blu-ray (Eureka)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Allan Mott

Allan Mott is a 45 year old Canadian who owns ‘Cats’ on Blu-ray and still expects you to take his recommendations seriously. You can tweet your outrage at him at @HouseofGlib. He’ll probably respond with a sexy Taylor Swift ‘Cats’ gif.

The Monster and the Girl (Stuart Hesler, 1941)
2020 being what it was I never even bothered to put together a list of my Top 10 faves of the year. I managed to completely lose track of what was “current” and instead focused all of my attention on the past. And, by that standard, my favourite film experience of the entire year was a black and white man-in-an-ape-suit movie from 1941.

There are two kinds of great genre films. Those that perfectly perform the ritual we expect and those that expertly defy it. Stuart Hesler’s ‘The Monster and the Girl’ is a moving example of the latter--a film whose execution is so assured and sincere that it transcends the camp we expect from movies featuring a man walking around in a gorilla costume and becomes something entirely different.

More noir than horror, ‘The Monster and the Girl’ mines late depression-era big city tragedy to add a note of genuine pathos to its outlandish premise. The film begins with a young man named Scot on trial for a murder he didn’t commit. A small town boy, he attempted to rescue his sister, Susan (Ellen Drew, who’s excellent here), after she’s caught in a scam designed to lure beautiful young women into prostitution. The gangsters behind the scheme pull strings to ensure his conviction and death sentence. After his execution his brain is transplanted into the body of a gorilla and he goes on to get revenge on the men who led him to his fate.

Despite its B-movie plot and length (it’s only 65 minutes long), “The Monster and the Girl’ never feels cheap or rushed and expertly uses moody and affecting cinematography to become something greater than it should have been. Extra praise deserved for famed suit performer Charles Gemora, whose performance as the gorilla is on par with Andy Serkis’ work in the recent ‘Planet of the Apes’ films--without the benefit of mo-cap cgi.

Sex Appeal (Chuck Vincent, 1986)
Last year a local horror convention gave me my pick of its guests to interview for one of their panel Q&As and I immediately chose ‘Killer Workout’s Marcia Karr because her brief filmography not only included that cult classic but also ‘The Concrete Jungle’, “Chained Heat’, ‘Maniac Cop’, ‘Hardbodies’, ‘Real Genius’ and ‘Savage Streets’ (not to mention her being the casting director for ‘Cheerleader Camp’). It was going to be her first ever convention appearance and I made it my mission to completely catch up on every film she appeared in (which was easy because I already owned half of her onscreen credits). Unfortunately the convention was canceled due to y’know, but at least it gave me the excuse to watch ‘Sex Appeal’, which I think features her best performance.

Ever since I saw the VHS cover at my local video store when I was a kid, I got it into my head that it was probably a low budget riff on ‘Weird Science’ (based solely on the image of a sexy lady posing in a doorway). Instead, it turns out to be one of Chuck Vincent’s more personal works--albeit one with as much nudity as you’d expect from a filmmaker who jumped back and forth between hardcore XXX and softcore genre fare.

Vincent regular Louie Bonanno plays Tony Cannelloni, a shy schmuck with an overbearing Italian mother who is inspired to move out and get his own place after he buys a book about how to score with beautiful ladies. Forgoing an A to B plot, the film then follows his fruitless attempts to get laid with a series of actors from Vincent’s far more explicit films.

Karr appears as his sister, whose affection for him belies the film’s sly sweetness, which does a great job of sanitizing a potentially sleazy premise. It also helps that Tony comes across more as lonely than creepy and all of his potential partners are presented as being enthusiastic before fate shuts down each interlude. The result is the rare low budget 80s sex comedy that’s actually funny and allows you to like its characters rather than be grossed out by them.

The Mephisto Waltz (Paul Wendkos, 1971)
My favourite book of 2020 was Stephen Rebello’s ‘Dolls! Dolls! Dolls!: Deep Inside Valley of the Dolls, the Most Beloved Bad Book and Movie of All Time’, which--as its subtitle makes clear--is an entertainingly exhaustive look at Jacqueline Susann’s blockbuster novel and the resulting film adaptation, Like all great books about movies, it made me want to explore other works by the performers it discusses--especially Barbara Parkins, who I was least familiar with.

Scanning my DVD library I realized I’d been sitting on a copy of ‘The Mephisto Waltz’--in which she co-starred with Alan Alda and Jacqueline Bisset--for years now, so I decided to pop it in. Coincidentally, my only knowledge of the film came from a write-up of it in another Rebello book, his ‘Bad Movies We Love’ (co-written with Stephen Marguilles), so I was expecting some campy early 70s nonsense.

And that’s exactly what I got, but in all the ways that made me ludicrously happy rather than disappointed. Alda stars as a music journalist who meets Curd Jurgens, the world’s greatest concert pianist, for an interview, and quickly find himself seduced (along with his wife, Bisset) into a strange world of Satanic worship and dark rituals that allow the master musician to take over the younger man’s body. It’s totally ridiculous, but I honestly found it more entertaining than ‘Rosemary’s Baby’.

It helps a lot that the film allows Parkins, playing Jurgens’ very sexy daughter, to shed the good girl persona she was shackled to in ‘Valley of the Dolls’ and go full vamp in a series of often astonishing 70s outfits. She, along with Bisset, give the film a genuine erotic charge that I found all the more entrancing thanks to its period outrageousness.

Bank Shot (Gower Champion, 1974)
The early 70s was a good time in Hollywood for author Donald Westlake. Between 1972 and 1974 four of his novels were adapted into movies. ‘The Hot Rock’ came first, followed by ‘Cops and Robbers’, ‘The Outfit’ and finishing up with ‘Bank Shot’.

It was also a good time for Joanna Cassidy (you probably know her best from ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’), who co-starred in the latter two films and is one of the primary reasons I found ‘Bank Shot’ surprisingly delightful.

Directed by former MGM musical star Champion (‘Give a Girl a Break’), the film stars George C. Scott as a famed bank robber who escapes from prison with the help of Sorrell “Boss Hawg” Brooke, whose nephew (a baby faced Bob Balaban) has a plan for a new heist. The scheme is bankrolled by Cassidy, who is looking for some adventure, but Scott refuses to go ahead with it until he comes up with a brilliant idea of his own--to avoid risking getting caught trying to break into the state-of-the-art safe, they’ll just steal the entire building instead.

As the premise suggests, ‘Bank Shot’ doesn’t take itself seriously and its third act--when they’ve successfully stolen the building--often veers into straight out farce/slapstick, so it’s not for those expecting another ‘Point Blank’ (also adapted from a Westlake novel), but is definitely a great choice for anyone looking for a fun crime caper with a heavy dose of absurdity.

An Eye for an Eye (Larry Brown, 1973)
Also released with the similarly generic title of ‘Psychopath’, this unique B-movie thriller was recommended to me by G.G Graham, who has quickly become one of my fave sources for 70s exploitation titles that have flown past my radar. Like a lot of the best low budget genre fare of the period, ‘An Eye for an Eye’ tries to justify its sleazier instincts by attaching them to an important social issue in a way that is as unquestionably sincere as it is unintentionally hilarious.

Tom Basham plays Mr. Robbey, a childlike TV show host who regularly visits the children’s ward of a local hospital, where he overhears a nurse talk about the number of abused kids the ward treats and how they’re often returned directly to their abusers. As you might expect, he doesn’t take this news well and makes it his mission to make sure those terrible parents never hurt their children ever again.

Part misguided message picture, early proto-slasher film and police procedural, ‘An Eye for an Eye’ hits that exploitation sweet spot where it’s just creepy enough for you to forgive its rough spots and goofy enough that it never feels as icky as it could have been. It’s a case where a film’s more amateurish moments makes it more watchable rather than less and creates a work that is ultimately far more memorable than other similar but more professional productions.

Interestingly, fans of the film ‘Maniac’ might find ‘An Eye for an Eye’’s plot familiar, since Joe Spinell and ‘Combat Shock’ director Buddy Giovanazzi shot a short film called ‘Maniac 2: Mr Robbie’ in an (unsuccessful) attempt to get funding for a non-sequel sequel to William Lustig’s controversial cult favourite. Based on that short (and it’s subtitle) the planned feature would have been a direct remake of Brown’s film.

Patrick Still Lives (Mario Landi, 1980)
One of the classic examples of Italy’s enjoyable tradition of unscrupulous producers completely ripping off a successful film and fraudulently selling it as an official sequel, ‘Patrick Still Lives’ is a hilariously sleazy riff on Richard Franklin’s Australian classic, ‘Patrick’, that ditches the original’s suspense in favour of surreal death scenes and an epic amount of gratuitous nudity.

If you’re unfamiliar with Franklin’s film, it’s a tense supernatural thriller about a seemingly comatose hospital patient who uses his psychic powers to terrorize the nurse he’s become obsessed with. Landi’s non-sequel sequel switches the action to a large mansion where a mad scientist keeps his psychic comatose son alive as he invites several unsuspecting guests over for a weekend of boobs, bloodshed and more boobs.

Like many similar Italian horror films of the period, ‘Patrick Still Lives’ doesn’t even attempt to make sense. It’s a softcore fever dream that riffs on its source material so loosely that you begin to suspect the filmmakers had never even seen the original film and just based their script on someone else’s description of it in a cinematic game of Telephone. The result is a work of mesmerizing incoherence that manages to avoid feeling as cynical as it could have considering the whole reason why it got made.

The Black Cat (Luigi Cozzi, 1989)

Speaking of incoherent Italian fever dreams! Despite being titled ‘Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat’ Luigi Cozzi’s bizarre sci-fi horror has no discernable connection to Poe’s short story (and even less connection to Lamberta Bava’s ‘Demons’ even though it was sold as an entry in that franchise in several territories).

But that doesn’t matter since it’s made with Cozzi’s uniquely endearing sincerity, which has long made him my fave Italian genre auteur. Like ‘Starcrash’ and his Hercules films, ‘The Black Cat’ wears its influences on its sleeves like a sixth grader mashing together their favourite stories into one hilarious whole. In this case, there’s a (tiny) bit of Poe, a touch of Bava (but Mario, not Lamberto), a dash of Kubrick and--weirdly--a sprinkling of X-Men (but only if you’re paying attention).

It’s impossible to sum up the plot (which may explain why the film doesn’t even have a wikipedia page), but highlights include Caroline Munro being Caroline Munro, a boil-faced witch spewing green slime straight out of ‘You Can’t Do That on Television’, a swerve in every scene and the kind of bonkers ending only Cozzi could be satisfied with.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Marc Edward Heuck

Under the circumstances of this past year, anyone who’s followed this site and my contributions to it would likely deduce that while public theatrical viewings plummeted, first-time viewings at home bloody skyrocketed. I saw so many movies at home, and even in socially distanced drive-in events, that in a sense it made making this list harder because it left me in the position of either severely narrowing down which titles to speak about here and leaving out so many others that affected me, or just throwing out a longer list of movies without elaboration and thus providing no context as to why you should watch them. I’m going with the former because understandably, not everyone is inclined to blind watch a film just on the reputation of the recommender, and writing these lists for me is always about the endgame of getting more people to see what I have seen.

People like me who grew up through the 70s and 80s were not immediately aware just how much Randal Kleiser was dominating their childhood; he wasn’t a front-and-center rock star like Steven Spielberg, but from TV movies as DAWN: PORTRAIT OF A TEENAGE RUNAWAY and THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE to the juggernaut of GREASE to the kid perennials FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR and BIG TOP PEE-WEE, your first pangs of young love, young lust, and fantasy were being shaped through his lens. And when I was in middle school, it seemed like *all* the cool kids found a grown-up to get them into his very adult and yet very innocent THE BLUE LAGOON and SUMMER LOVERS while my parents wouldn't let me see them. Thanks to the New Beverly, in one of the last repertory screenings that happened before the big sequester, I got caught up. Of those two, SUMMER LOVERS so knew me with its Radley Metzger sex candor and last-bit-of-'70s idealism. Experimentation without stigmatization? Girls who actually like the Three Stooges? And what a soundtrack, with its iconic placement of "I'm So Excited" plus I believe the first use of Prince in film, and while "Hard to Say I'm Sorry" was already doing well, it kinda exploded after the release, plus some radio realized that "Getaway" should be attached to it when they played it. If I could live in a movie, well, like Liz Lemon says, I want to go to there.

SCALPEL (1977)
A juicy Southern Gothic potboiler that starts from a fine template reminiscent of the early Hammer thriller Stolen Face – a rogue plastic surgeon gives a desperate, unmannered woman the likeness of another woman of significance in his life – and then gets progressively and enjoyably ickier as the repercussions unfold. Grissmer had previously written the underrated THE BRIDE with Robin Strasser, which was an effective if spare meshing of THE HEIRESS and DIABOLIQUE with a doozy ending, and this one builds on the potential from that previous effort, also throwing in a finish that is darkly just, yet surprisingly not bleak.

SCARRED (1983)
Tales of teenage prostitution have pretty much been a guaranteed draw dating back to Victor Hugo and Stephen Crane. Rose-Marie Turko, then a student filmmaker at UCLA shooting over four years with grants from AFI and NEA, brought some nicely distinct touches to her version of this template, not least of which is the participation of provocateur artist Nina Menkes, second unit work from REPO MAN auteur Alex Cox (in fact, a significant overlap of REPO MAN crew in general), and cinematography by ROBOCOP creator Michael Minor, plus a punchy soundtrack featuring The Plugz, and unlike Hugo and Crane’s chronicles of “women of brilliance and audacity," a hopeful ending. Turko demonstrated some righteous chops and should have had as many opportunities for more as her mates Cox and Minor did, but she has only one other directing credit, the “Ice Gallery” segment of the Empire Pictures gaming horror fave THE DUNGEONMASTER, and that’s the real bummer ending to this story.

Another long-overlooked female directed discovery from the ‘80s, the time in the coming of age genre, and while its ad campaign promised your standard wacky hijinx, it’s very much more serious and thoughtful, with elements of SPRING NIGHT SUMMER NIGHT, SMOOTH TALK, and RUBY IN PARADISE. A wordly but still inexperienced city girl spends her vacation with her grandparents in Appalachia, and is swept up in the often banal and violent dramas that have hung over the town for years, one of which includes her own family. Serendipitously, it shares some personnel with SCARRED, including cinematographer Afshin Chamasmany and Nina Menkes. The only film to date by writer/director Teresa Sparks, it’s the kind of regional drama that could have found a better reception a few years later during the 90s indie boom, and deserves a fresh look today.

I think by the nature of how my film obsession began as a youth, I learned that BECKY SHARP was the first film shot in 3-strip Technicolor (and one of the first important restoration rescues by the UCLA Film & TV Archive) long before I learned that it was a stripped-down adaptation of Thackeray’s VANITY FAIR, which I sheepishly admit I have never read. That aside, the combination of the overwhelming color design and Miriam Hopkins zealous performance was a knockout. There’s a clear excitement about being able to use color at length in a production, almost as if this was the make-or-break for the format, so it’s the right accompaniment for Hopkins’ social climber, one of the best cinematic bad girls of all time: If anyone were to draw up brackets, she’d definitely crush the first couple rounds. Many have rightfully praised Autumn DeWilde’s 2020 adaptation of EMMA, and it’s clear to me she drew heavily from here for the staging and Anya Taylor-Joy’s saucy demeanor.

Darn it this movie is adorbs. Looking back at reviews from male critics of the day, it's sad but not surprising so many dismissed it because all they saw were the crazy clothes and not the coming of age. Granted, I've had 15 years since its release to catch up with classic Pinky Violence movies and other details embedded within, but I felt its core idea about how teenagers often immerse and isolate themselves in a scene when it feels like they can't even with other teens and those kids won't even with them, along with discovering that you do care about someone else more than your own comfort, and that even within an outwardly frivolous fixation you can discover a true talent. It also occurred to me that this movie is kind of an unsanctioned, gritty origin story for the J-Pop band Puffy AmiYumi, since that duo was playing on a dressy queen/scrappy punk best friend dynamic as well. Considering that Puffy was formed in 1996, while the manga that sourced this movie was published in 2002, I'm surprised the band didn't sue. Lower stakes than GIRL BOSS GUERRILLA, way more sugar-charged than TIMES SQUARE, and aside from the frequent headbutting and a certain dude's phallic pompadour, safe enough for your tweeners.

DRIVE-IN (1976)
Technically, when I was a child, I had been in a room where this was on TV making its debut as the ABC Friday Night Movie, but nothing beyond its opening bars of “Whatever Happened to Randolph Scott” by The Statler Brothers stuck in my memory. This past fall, I had the surreal joy of watching this in 35mm at an actual drive-in, a damned great one in fact – the Skyline in Shelbyville, Indiana – and I’m sorry little Marc didn’t pay closer attention. Occupying some of the same terrain that Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED did so well – Texas teens, all-in-a-night story – while it doesn’t have the character depth and style that made the later film an instant classic, it does have the of-that-moment authenticity of that curious Bicentennial year (you can practically taste the barbecue sandwiches), and how roller skating rinks, disaster movies, and petty rivalries were probably the most interesting things a young adult had to occupy them in a small town. It also had a refreshing theme of proto-feminism in its use of now-reality TV producer Lisa Oz as unapologetically flirty heroine Glowie Hudson, who likes sex but not fuccbois, and Playboy playmate Ashley Cox as ersatz fiancee Mary Louise, who isn’t necessarily ready to chuck college for domesticity. A chance for our daily-stressed souls to gather up our cars and watch a movie about less-stressed souls pulling up in their cars to watch a movie was a special kind of getaway.

Kind of a BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S played for grimmer stakes, Maggie Cheung is a social-climbing actress whose apartment shares resources with Kenny Bee, a scab taxi driver subsidized by a sugar mama, during the Hong Kong riots of 1967. The two grudgingly help each other out with short-term goals and infatuation does build, but both their ambitions and the country's political instability comes between them. Everything is beautifully staged, especially the scenes of Maggie on film sets; one number definitely feels like a homage to "Big Spender" from SWEET CHARITY, only more vicious. And it was a kick to see Margaret Lee from CENTIPEDE HORROR pop up as a mean actress. Good use of English-language period pop too. There's been no Blu release of this anywhere in the world; hoping that since Criterion is now deep in the soup with Fortune Star, maybe they'll get this and other long-neglected Hong Kong classics like FAREWELL CHINA upgraded in the near future.

I watch plenty of feature-length retrospectives on the making of films, and most of them are pleasing fan service but generally not much more than that. But Jesse Moss, who went on to make the effectively troubling religious-cabal-in-government docuseries “THE FAMILY” for Netflix, took what could have been just a puff piece about one of the greatest crowd-pleasers of the ‘70s, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, and turned it into a supremely affecting chronicle of not just the making of what was then an unlikely hit, but also the friendship, parallel careers, and darker moments of its respective director and star, Hal Needham and Burt Reynolds. There’s been plenty of comparisons of Hal and Burt to the fictional Clyde Booth and Rick Dalton of ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, and its own way, this documentary would pair nicely with that film as they both explore trying to keep personal integrity within the showbiz machine. You come away from this with a bigger respect for the movie, its creators, and why precisely it has hit a sweet spot with so many fans for decades since.

So what if I told you that Sidney Lumet made a period polyamory drama in 1974? Would that get your attention? Granted, there are so many rock solid classics in his repertoire, and some "well they can't all be gems" along the way, but LOVIN' MOLLY has been one of the hardest to see and thus least discussed works of the plain-spoken sage. It didn't get a lot of love the first time out since Larry McMurtry, whose book LEAVING CHEYENNE was the basis, openly hated the movie and said it nearly killed his dad. And it didn't even get a VHS release until the 2000s. But this year, the 40 year back-and-forth between Anthony Perkins, Beau Bridges, and Blythe Danner really affected me. Maybe some grit was lost along the way in the adaptation, but I rather liked how earnestly it wanted to present a sex-positive story amidst a repressive climate; really, the biggest knock I could give to this movie is that it's too darned nice. It has an eerie poignance too in its depiction of the ebbing between Perkins and Danner; when contemplating Perkins' real life with Berry Berenson, navigating public propriety, genuine affection, and personal desire. I could well imagine that yeah, long ago, this was how people who couldn't articulate why they weren't set for traditional coupling would muddle through the years. Hoping someone will get the eternally luminous Danner on the record talking about this movie since a Blu upgrade seems unlikely for now.

I know most people who love the iconic Eugene Ionesco play hate this movie, thinking that in an American idiom of the '70s it lost bite, but seeing it a first time at the dawn of the pandemic, director Tom O'Horgan must have had a nightmare about 2020 in between pansexual hookups and channeled it into the film, because it felt relevant as fuck. Not just as political metaphor for the long-rampaging lunatic charging through America and the death cult that worships him, but with the constant references to plagues and lines like "I never believe journalists. They’re all liars. I don’t need them to tell me what to think." and "We mustn't interfere with people's lives", and, oh yeah, and a sequence where Gene Wilder is walking home and he CAN'T πŸ‘ SEE πŸ‘ PEOPLE'S πŸ‘ FACESπŸ‘! Is it funny? Funny ha-ha? No. I didn't laugh. But then again, I laughed at very little this year, because THE COMEDY AIN'T WORKING: HE'S STILL THERE! But was it an effective prediction/encapsulation of our current apocalypse? Very. Which means the maligned O'Horgan, and for that matter Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Karen Black, are all ruefully laughing in their graves right now.

The most treasured first-time viewing this year carries particular significance, not just for its impact on film history, but also that it was one of the few classic films I saw in a theatrical setting before Everything Went Wrong, and right now, it can only effectively be seen in a theatrical setting unless you happen to luck out with Turner Classic Movies’ scheduling or you happen to have $400 to give Frederick Wiseman for an “educational” VHS tape. The second narrative film by the innovative Shirley Clarke, it took a fairly popular trope of the early ‘60s, juvenile delinquency, and dared to meet it with empathy and without moralizing, showing its young protagonists trying to achieve dignity and small pleasures in a frequently unstable environment. The use of real non-professional teenagers given rein to improvise is a big element of Clarke’s verisimilitude in telling this saga. It was added to the National Film Registry in 1994, so it’s importance on culture has been recognized, but again, it’s a very difficult film to see, thus standing as the embodiment of every archivist’s stern warning, “Preservation without access is pointless.”