Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 3 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Maya (1966)

Maya (1966, MGM)

This is one of two titles that appears on this section of the list thanks to their being made available by Warner Archive. This is one of the great things about Warner Archive is that they do rescue these titles from obscurity. This was one of Jay North’s rare film roles after Dennis the Menace was done airing, and it was apparently popular enough to spawn a TV-Show spin-off that ran for a season, which starred both himself and his sidekick Rajid Khan.

Maya tells a simple tale of a boy who runs away in India after a fight with his father, but does so very entertainingly and creates great adventures, and a wonderful bond between its two leading characters.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, MGM)

If you like films that take place all in the course of 24 hours it’s kind of hard to do better than Bad Day at Black Rock. The film brilliantly takes its time, paints xenophobia and builds tension. Furthermore:

This film sets itself up so well and does things that work in its favor constantly. It deals with xenophobia, with regards to its ghost character; it deals with the stranger-in-a-strange-land trope brilliantly, with its protagonist; however, it also makes the paranoia felt in this town so palpable the lead is instantly on the defensive, such that you’re left unsure as to what his business in town is. It’s a cloistered and oddly claustrophobic tale, in what looks like an inhabited ghost town that’s well worth watching.

Bolt (2008)

Bolt (2008, Disney)

This was one of my more fortuitous viewings of the year. It was already into my March to Disney theme it was early on a Sunday, before you even ponder doing much of anything, and this came on Disney Channel. I found myself not only pleasantly surprised that this was a good Disney animated feature of recent vintage that I didn’t give a fair shake when it was released theatrically, but also that it shared similar themes and topics as a classic with modernized touches.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (1971)

Lizard in a Woman's Skin (1971,  Apollo Pictures)

When you’re dealing with the two titans of Italian horror you’re lucky to find a new-to-you film. Recently, prior-to-its-reissue, I happened upon a region-two DVD of this hard-to-find film.

When one gravitates towards Italian horror and starts to navigate it, one is generally made aware of the two most titanic figures in it: Argento and Fulci. Many viewers make it seem like you have to embrace one and scorn the other. I do not believe that is so. They both operate in rather different ways, but this title perhaps could be viewed as the closest to there being a stylistic overlap, certain tropes are similar: the approach to the narrative highly stylized, while the protagonist “witnessed” the incident in a dream, or fugue state early she (like us) is trying to make sense of what she saw, to identify the culprit, going in chase of them parallel to police activity, and independent of them.

A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin may not be Fulci’s greatest work, but it is another great work of Fulci’s I was glad to discover.

The Smart Set (1928)

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I will admit there is an unevenness to the lead performance in this title. William Haines is a jokester who has to start realizing the consequences of his actions and be brought back down to earth. He loves a girl, he’ll want to win her. Perhaps one of the brilliant things about the film is that is does work despite the fact that for about 30 minutes Haines seems to be enacting a slapstick performance from the decade prior. However, when he starts acting more like a person he is pretty good and charming. The film is funny, romantic and dramatic and really starts to kick into gear. This was a film I discovered thanks to Coy Watson, Jr.’s biography, and he does brilliantly in his small role. The standout may be the reconstructed, gorgeous score of the film. Many thanks to Warner Archive for that and for making this great film available.

Sisters (1973)

Sisters (1973, AIP)

One way I chose selections for 61 Days of Halloween was Stephen King’s list of standout horror films from 1950-1980. On it a few selections were Brian De Palma films. I went into this film a virtual blank slate and was very glad I did.

Sisters is a great little gem. I use that term because it starts with a fairly small series of events one after another that slowly turn in to a much bigger plot than was intimated at first. The simple Hitchcockian mystery element gets more byzantine as it progresses; even throwing some last second misdirection, making certain things even weirder than they are.

Hell Night (1981)

Hell Night (1981, Compass International)

This is a choice I owe completely to my being invited to participate in my first ever podcast as a guest. Because of that I finally got around to viewing this film. If you want more in depth discussion of the film you can go check that out. For a quick blurb that may convince you, read this:

It may be another slasher, another slasher with college co-eds but it does try to spice things up. Firstly, the four pledges who are locked in the house of ill-repute overnight are two different factions: those very much into the fraternity/sorority process and those not so enamored with the idea, doing it because they feel they have to.

And as mentioned on the podcast, it does masquerade as a haunted house film a bit which gives it an additional layer.

The Neverending Story (Original German Cut) (1984)

The Neverending Story (19484, Warner Bros.)

This was an alternate cut that I didn’t even know existed until I saw an announcement from Diabolik DVD. If you’re interested in specific, detailed explanations of what changes in this version the IMDb does have an exhaustive user-submitted list.

In short: some of the voice talent is different, the score is different, some scenes play out longer and better. You have to be a huge fan of the film to want to pay to get this version (the Blu-Ray is region-free, by the way), but if you are it’s well worth it, as there is a different, at times darker feel to it. It also has a German dub that I may try out one day.

Dead Souls (2012)

Dead Souls (2012, Chiller)

There are a few noteworthy things about this film. First, it’s the newest title and second it’s the only made-for-TV movie that appears on the list. It’s one that I wish I had sneaked into my 2012 BAM Awards. As it stands, I didn’t and it makes an appearance here.

What this film does that’s slightly off the beaten path is that it plays out like a haunted house/ghost story, but also has an element of occult building and that puts it’s own spins on the events.

It leaves its protagonist John (Jesse James) alone much of the time. That’s good for character work, especially when there’s an expressive actor in tow. James has a natural sensitivity that exudes off the screen and allows him to carry the vehicle quite easily. He effortlessly handles the notes he has to play in the film: thoughtful, quiet, scared – and, upon learning what he deals with, feeling an emotional pull to the place and his family he’d never known. He does brilliant work here.

It’s definitely worth checking out.

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Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 2 of 5)

This is an list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation)

One theme that was hard to split up among all these lists were the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. While Fassbinder made the lists in 2011 and 2012 I saw one and two films of his in those years respectively. This year I saw quite a bit more, and then got both region 2 box set of his films.

I was more hooked on his work than any other filmmaker this year, and this is the first of his selections that will show up here. The postbellum period in Germany’s history was one of his major preoccupations and while I’ve not yet seen all that’s readily available this appears to be both the most evocative and effective of his works on the time period; whereas Fassbinder paints the portrait of a nation, and a period of time, through the eyes of one woman.

The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin (1952, RKO Radio Picutres)

This is another selection from 31 Days of Oscar and was one of the films I had heard the least about going into my viewing. Here was my initial take:

Here’s another film with a short running time but a hell of a lot of wallop. The setup is great: cops escorting a grand jury witness cross-country to testify against a mobster. When you throw in the fact that it’s a film noir tale, you know you’re gonna be thrown for a loop quite a few times and boy does it have some doozies up its sleeve. This movie’s the kind of good that had me absolutely buzzing after it was over. Amazing.

It was a late night viewing that kept me riveted and is very memorable.

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968, Disney)

Viewed, but not written up, during my March to Disney theme this film had a few surprises in store. Sure enough there were a few staples of Disney live-action musicals within in, especially enjoyable toe-tapping songs; but perhaps most surprising (in a move reflective of the time in which the film was produced, and something that would never happen now) there’s a lot of familial in-fighting of a political nature. Not only that but the backdrop is one of frontier days prior to the Dakotas joining the union. Therefore, there’s also an American history reminder folded neatly into the plot, which if you pay close attention to the Walt Disney World attractions was a favorite of Uncle Walt himself also. There’s much to like in this not-too-frequently-referred-to film.

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

This is a film that was part of my Poverty Row April theme this past year. It’s also an example of how the initial scoring is not always indicative of how lasting a film will be. There was a film that scored higher, in part because of a more generic title, that I had to slip back in to the final post because this one was more memorable.

Here’s a blurb from my original review:

In this film there’s an example of much of what I was talking about as a boy is orphaned one day through two unrelated acts. Both his parents die on the same day. His father has just learned of his mother’s demise when he meets his unfortunate fate. The plot that follows his less high-stakes to an extent, but it is moving. Jean Hersholt is endearing in the lead and Jackie Searl shows his ability to play endearing characters as well as conniving ones, though his Irish accent isn’t that great. It’s a simple film, but a truly enjoyable one in the style that only this era could produce.

This is a film you can find on archive.org.

Blood Car (2007)

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I’m not very up-to-date on HBO and Showtime. I have, at the moment, one show I watch on DVD (i.e. late) from each. I say that by way of an introduction to the fact that I’ve been slow to catch up on the Anna Chlumsky renaissance, most notably HBO’s Veep. Granted she has a supporting role, but this was one of her first roles back from her departure from acting after a promising, if not A-list, career as a young actress.

Blood Car is a hilarious horror/comedy that riffs tremendously on current events and concerns and takes them to absurd extremes for comedic and horrific effect. Fueling automobiles with blood is a tad ridiculous, but how far away from that are we really?

Ariel (1988)

ariel1

Over the course of the week via Netflix I finally viewed the Proletariat Trilogy, which I had meant to see for quite some time. I thought that perhaps the films were just going to seem passable, although brisk, a bit off-balance comedically, unique and visual; but then there was Ariel. A man’s father commits suicide and he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Upon escaping from jail he wants to flee the country but of course things don’t go smoothly. I would recommend all the films as they are short and quick-moving but this is the unusually warmest and most human.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

The Gish Sisters

Here’s one I was able to see, yes, because it’s on YouTube but the reason I even looked for it was a blogathon. Silent features, even if you’ve seen more than a few, can be a bit daunting; especially one this lengthy. However, the later the vintage on a silent feature the more like the modern language of film it is, that and this film very quickly absorbs you as I stated in more words in my original post.

Dead Ringer (1964)

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I shouldn’t have to try too hard to sell a film starring Bette Davis and Bette Davis. However, what bears noting is that the film is worth watching for more than just the unique double-starring role for the legend. It’s a classic revenge thriller formula with a great ending and brilliant support from Karl Malden.

The Fly (1958) and Return of the Fly (1959)

The Fly (1958, 20th Century Fox)

I discussed the entire original Fly Trilogy during 61 Days of Halloween. However, they really stood out through now. I took a while to watch the box, and didn’t get in as many new vintage titles during that timeframe this year as I wanted to, but these were great not just on their own but also how they work back to back (as I watched them very close to one another. They make a great double-bill.