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)

the-smart-set

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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61 Days of Halloween: Dead Souls (2012)

Introduction

For an introduction to the concept of 61 Days of Halloween, as well as a list of previously featured titles, please go here.

Dead Souls (2012)

I have frequently argued that when I choose to watch a TV movie that does not preclude it from inclusion in BAM Award consideration. However, on occasion some TV movies, I must admit, will have me shy away for a while. This is one I regretted letting slip. I think this were late 2012 re-airings of this Chiller original film but I let it slip owing to the fact that I was bogged down in my Year-End Sprint. I wish I hadn’t. However, this film is very much alive for my favorite older films of 2013 list.

The synopsis on the onscreen guide was thankfully bereft of information. With a setup up kind of like this on the menu: John returns to his birthplace to learn the secrets of his biological family; there’s a lot of blanks left to fill in.

The film starts strong from the very start. What you see is a shocking series of events, including crucifixions (easily cringe-inducing for me) as well as intimations of some kind of cult activity. However, the exact nature of what is going on is a bit obscured. Thus, we the audience are placed much in the same place as the protagonist, discovering along with him. That’s a good place to be in.

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.

The arc of Emma (Magda Apanowicz) is also a benefit to this film. Whereas, she seems like she’ll be a bothersome and unnatural guest much like the one in Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, she softens, becomes a sidekick and co-combatant with the protagonist.

By the conclusion of the film not only are the blanks left un-filled by the beginning filled in but a new spin on the occult has been portrayed. Not to mention that the start is mirrored, completed and filled in by that point. This is a horror film that’s a little different and ought not be overlook, and I’m kind of kicking myself for letting it slip through the cracks last year.

Top 10 Movies I Can’t Believe I Liked

This is a list I originally posted on my prior site. I don’t think I’ve found newer, better examples; so the choices remain the same. Below you’ll find 10 films that for one reason or another I had no expectations going into, but ended up liking.

10. The Shining (1980)

The Shining (1980, Warner Bros.))

I first saw this film in cinema class as a freshman in high school. Until I saw this film I never really enjoyed being scared, and I hated horror movies. In a class setting it must’ve taken three days to watch it and I was riveted as if I watched it in one viewing and I looked forward to it every day. It was Kubrick‘s The Shining (which I like better than the book) that got me to read Stephen King and ultimately made me fall in love with horror.

9. Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002, 20th Century Fox)

I saw the Star Wars prequels first. Having never felt the urge to see the originals, and then hearing about the prequel concept which was popularized, if not invented by, Lucas – I wanted to watch the movies in the story’s chronological order. So I waited until 2005 to see the original trilogy. After having seen The Phantom Menace I just didn’t get the appeal, but I stuck it out and went to see Attack of the Clones and then I got it – Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones is awesome. The Phantom Menace was just not that good at all and it never will be no matter how many times I watch the film. Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones won the BAM for Best Picture in 2002 (BAMs are my personal movie awards – look out for those here next year).

8. Hook (1991)

Hook (1991, Columbia)

This film being on the list is based entirely on concept. To me the idea of a movie about Peter Pan growing up was just absurd, so I avoided Hook for a long time but then I watched it… and Spielberg does turn almost everything into gold. It will never replace the original, or come close to it, but it is a very good and underrated film.

7. Max Keeble’s Big Move (2001)

Max Keeble's Big Move (2001, Disney)

I saw this as the cherry on top of a self-made triple feature one day. Of the movies I saw that day (Zoolander and Hearts in Atlantis being the other two), I had the lowest expectations for this one and it was my favorite. It is just a zany, off-the-wall comedy that actually ended up being nominated for a BAM as Best Picture.

6. Freaky Friday (2003)

Freaky Friday (2003, Disney)

It was one of those Disney’s 70s live-action films that just never quite did it for me for a number of reasons, but mainly because suspension of disbelief becomes difficult. Complicating matters this was the second time Lindsay Lohan was remaking a Disney film after her big break in the The Parent Trap. I went to see it ‘just because,’ not expecting much and loved it. It was probably Lohan’s last appealing character pre-drug/attitude problems and Jamie Lee Curtis is a perfect foil. Thus, the ridiculous concept didn’t bother me at all in the end.

5. School of Rock (2003)School of Rock (2003, Paramount)

Keep in mind this film was released in 2003. At the time I only really knew Jack Black from Tenacious D and I didn’t think this concept would work or be funny. I was dragged to watch the film just short of kicking and screaming, and lo and behold I loved it, and consider it to be one of the 50 funniest movies I’ve ever seen. No other vehicle has quite captured Jack Black’s lightning in a bottle like this film did. I was ultimately very glad I saw it indeed and watch it frequently – and quote it as well.

4. A Dog of Flanders (1999)

A Dog of Flanders (1999, Warner Bros.)

I used to go to the movies every weekend in junior high and high school, whether accompanied or not, to see something new. It didn’t matter what I went to see, and that’s how I saw the next film. Here’s a film that misleads with its title. Having never seen or heard of the original story and films upon which this most recent rendition was based I thought it was your typical ‘boy and his dog’ film, in fact the title refers to the protagonist, Nello, as much as it does to his dog. However, at its heart it is a much more serious tale of poverty, sacrifice and the struggle to be an artist. In fact, it may well be one of the best examples of that subgenre. It is a rare film in which the protagonist ages and both performances by actors playing younger and older Nello (Jesse James and Jeremy James Kissner) are equally compelling. Along with a great supporting turn from Jon Voight, a good score, and a tear-jerking ending this is a great film that caught me completely by surprise.


3. Young Einstein (1988)

Young Einstein (1988, Warner Bros.)

I literally saw this because Home Alone was sold out, or was it Batman? Either way I didn’t see it that day and my friend’s birthday plans changed. Just watching it under those conditions should have lead to disappointment. However, I remember it being okay and not a complete and total waste of time. And looking back and considering that it starred a man who calls himself Yahoo Serious that is saying something.


2. High School Musical (2006)

High School Musical (2006, Disney Channel)

If nothing else, it’s one of those movies you watch just because you want to see what people are talking about, and I have to admit that the first one actually does work. Yes, it’s sappy, but it makes no claims to be otherwise and doesn’t try to overdevelop subplot as the 2nd and 3rd installments do. The sequels are also pretty much artistically unjustified and terrible but that can’t detract from the first.

1. Jack Frost (1998)

Jack Frost (1998, Warner Bros.)

This one sits atop the list because it deals with perhaps the most preposterous storyline of them all. A kid loses his father and finds him the next year reincarnated as a snowman. It sounds like the kind of thing that would land on MST3K. However, with the setup, the tumult surrounding the father leaving and the devastation his loss causes, and with all the insinuations of insanity handled immediately – it starts to work. What pushes it over the top are the performances of the cast: the always great Michael Keaton, both on screen and in voice becomes a character we ourselves greatly miss seeing. Joseph Cross, who is now an established character actor having recently appeared in Lincoln, after his prior comeback with Running with Scissors and a supporting role in the Oscar-winning Milk; gives the performance of his childhood career (which is saying something), as the sensitive, shy and affected Charlie. Rounding out the principal cast is Kelly Preston doing the most that almost anyone could with such a small role. It’s a film I’ve now seen a number of times and could probably pop in every holiday season without growing tired of it and still think “I can’t believe I like this, but I do.”