Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Film Discoveries of 2020 - Barry P ""

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Film Discoveries of 2020 - Barry P

Barry P. runs the eclectic movie blog Cinematic Catharsis, focusing on the little films that slipped through the cracks, with an emphasis on genre titles. Some regular features include: classic spotlights, capsule reviews and overlooked gems.Find Cinematic Catharsis here:
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See his Discoveries lists from last few years here:
Beverly Garland plays Joyce Webster, a woman searching for her missing husband Paul (Richard Crane). Her search ends up at an estate in bayou country, where Paul is part of an experiment to restore bodies that have been horribly injured. It’s too bad the process (using properties from alligator DNA) transforms the test subjects into human-alligator hybrids. The final alligator man stage is hokey, but the makeup for the transitional phase (by Ben Nye and Dick Smith) is surprisingly effective. Lon Chaney, Jr. also appears, as a hook-handed Cajun (sans accent) who holds a grudge against the giant reptiles. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable creature feature that deserves to be mentioned more often.

Below (2002) 
Director/co-writer David Twohy’s supernatural submarine film is a compelling mix of World War II drama and old-fashioned ghost story. After the crew of an American sub, the U.S.S. Tiger Shark, rescue three shipwreck survivors, unexplained events begin to occur. The tight confines of the vessel prove to be an inspired setting for this tale. As they’re relentlessly pursued by enemy surface ships, and tension continues to mount, we gradually learn about the crew’s dark secret. The film features some fine ensemble work, with standout performances by Bruce Greenwood as Brice, the C.O., and Olivia Williams as Claire, a British nurse. Although the plot gets muddled in the middle, and there are a few too many unnecessary jump scares, it manages to find its footing by the climax. Below may have slipped through the cracks during its initial release, but it’s long overdue for reappraisal.

Cosmic Voyage (aka: Cosmic Journey) (1936) 
This enjoyable silent Soviet film from director Vasily Zhuravlyov balances hard science with whimsical adventures. Set in the near future of 1946, a determined inventor (Sergey Komarov) plans a journey to Earth’s satellite in his giant rocket. Despite efforts from his detractors to derail the mission, he travels to the moon with his assistant (Ksenia Moskalenko) and an eager boy scout (or the Russian equivalent) in tow. They encounter weightlessness along the way, and explore the rocky lunar surface. Cosmic Voyage features some impressive visuals (including stop-motion animation to depict their lunar adventures), which rival the imagery in Things to Come (also from 1936). It’s a thoroughly charming excursion, which never takes itself too seriously. Good fun.

Good Manners (As Boas Maneiras) (2017) 
In this surprising film by Brazilian writer/director team Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, Ana (Marjorie Estiano), a young well-to-do pregnant woman hires Clara (IsabĂ©l Zuaa) as a personal assistant/nanny. Clara soon finds that her employer has some unusual nocturnal habits, which provide some clues about her unborn child. Good Manners holds its cards close to its chest, taking time to establish the main characters before delving into the more fantastical elements of the second half. The filmmakers employ a blend of visual styles and tones (including some brief musical interludes), weaving its tale of unselfish love and personal sacrifice. As in many werewolf movies, there’s a tragic, fatalistic streak that runs throughout, about the immutability of changing one’s nature. It’s better not to know too much about this film going in, instead allowing the melancholy story to unfold.

A Letter to Momo (2011) 
Writer/director Hiroyuki Okiura spins a bittersweet, beautifully animated tale that employs gentle comic moments to balance the serious themes. After her father’s untimely death, Momo and her mother move from Tokyo to the remote island community of Shio. Adjusting to island life proves to be a challenge for the young girl, as she contends with her grief and ambivalence about forming new friendships. Her problems multiply when she encounters three mischievous (and very hungry) goblins, who seem reluctant to leave her alone. Momo’s initially contentious relationship with the goblins evolves from animosity to acceptance, opening the door for her to gradually experience friendships and begin the healing process. A Letter to Momo provides a touching portrait of the many faces of grief, and how one girl learns to literally and metaphorically overcome her demons.

The Monster that Challenged the World (1957) 
Technically, this isn’t a sea monster movie, since it’s set in the Salton Sea (a saltwater lake located in the Southern California desert), but I’m not going to split hairs with this one. An earthquake creates a rift on the lake floor, unleashing a deadly prehistoric creature that sucks its victims dry. The monster, which is supposed to be an ancient mollusk but resembles an overgrown centipede, is one of the more frightening creatures to emerge from 1950s genre movies. The production rises above the pack, thanks to a solid cast, including Tim Holt as a determined Navy commander, Audrey Dalton as a widow, and Hans Conried as a puzzled scientist. Also, watch for a wonderfully eccentric performance by Milton Parsons as an over-eager museum worker.

Prospect (2018) 
Writer/directors Christopher Caldwell and Zeek Earl’s space western starts as a tale of survival and greed, but morphs into something more. Damon and Cee (Jay Duplass and Sophie Thatcher), a father/daughter prospector team, land on a forest moon, and are forced to struggle against toxic dust and hostile competitors, also looking to strike it rich. When Damon meets his untimely demise, Cee must survive on her own, forming an uneasy alliance with Ezra (Pedro Pascal of The Mandalorian fame) an enigmatic, soft-spoken prospector. Prospect does a lot on a small budget (reportedly in the neighborhood of $3 million), with good use of location shots (filmed in in Washington State’s Hoh rainforest) and some decent CGI (used sparingly). The performances, especially by Thatcher and Pascal, are uniformly solid. At its heart, it’s a simple tale that reminds us that people are not always who they seem to be, and companionship can come from the unlikeliest of places.

The Strangler (1964) 
This overlooked little thriller is worthy of rediscovery, thanks to Victor Buono’s gloriously unhinged performance as Leo Kroll, a man frozen in a stage of arrested development. The standard police procedural plot is nothing special, hampered by wooden acting from David McLean and Baynes Barron as a pair of obtuse cops. Buono takes the film to a different level, however, as Kroll with his intimidating presence, sociopathic tendencies and idiosyncrasies (he targets nurses and collects dolls, which he keeps locked in a desk drawer). He’s tormented by his hospitalized, domineering mother (Ellen Corby), who teaches him to distrust women. In one of the most memorable scenes, he expresses his love to a horrified arcade prize booth worker. If you can excuse the dated psychology, it’s a compelling portrait of a profoundly disturbed individual.

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