Tuesday, December 23, 2014

FAN GUEST POST: Steven Bevilacqua's Favorite Film Discoveries of 2014

Each December, we here at TV STORE ONLINE have fans of our blog write guest posts about their favorite movies or whatever is on their mind.  In this first installment, Steven Bevilacqua shares his favorite "movie discoveries" of 2014.

Here are 5 films that I saw for the first time in 2014.  This list isn’t like other year-end lists because these films are all older and most of them would never qualify for the “best” of anything.  These movies may not all be great, or even good, but each one is a real standout for one reason or another and I’m very glad that I saw all of them.  Here we go…

NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR (1985) dir. John Carr, Philip Marshak, Tom McGowan, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Gregg C. Tallas

Night Train to Terror has developed a legendary reputation among cult movie fans as one of the worst 80s horror movies.  Happily, it turns out that everything they say about this movie is true.  Night Train to Terror is a towering triumph of bad 80s horror.  This movie is allegedly made up of 3 unfinished horror movies, and that seems very likely.  This literal train-wreck of a movie takes place on a train that’s about to crash, while God and Satan sit in a booth, debating whether mankind can be saved, or something, which will somehow be resolved by this train being destroyed.  To illustrate their debate, God and Satan look into a window to watch insane scenarios that demonstrate absolutely nothing but are clearly culled from the unfinished films. 

We keep cutting back to one car of this train that carries a new-wave 80s band performing their never-ending, terrible song.  They’re so awful that about halfway through this movie, you start wondering what kind of God would allow this fucking band to live for one more minute.  This movie is astoundingly bad, with epic continuity errors worthy of Dolemite, like characters’ hair getting longer and shorter from scene to scene.  The schlocky, practical, puppet-based special effects are a real highlight, and oddly keep this mess afloat.  If you like bad 80s horror, then this one’s a winner.

HIT MAN (1972) dir. George Armitage

Hit Man is a blast.  If you’re in the mood for some groovy 70s blaxploitation, Hit Man totally delivers.  Bernie Casey returns to L.A. to track down who killed his brother, which leads him on a long trail of gangsters, hookers, fast-talking underworld types, and sleazy pornographers.  He meets Pam Grier on the way, along with some wild animals on the rich villain’s estate.  Hit Man is based on the same Ted Lewis novel as 1971’s Get Carter (2 movie adaptations of this book in 2 years?  Somebody’s earning their commission…)  This is the kind of movie you can watch just for the cars, clothes, and street footage of early 70s L.A., but Hit Man’s loopy plot, bizarre characterizations that make people incredibly hard to gauge emotionally, and outstanding jive dialogue make this a really fun ride.  And (*SPOILER*) as far as I know, this is the only blaxploitation movie where Pam Grier gets eaten by a lion.  That moment alone makes Hit Man worth watching. 

DARK PASSAGE (1947) dir. Delmer Daves

Lauren Bacall was one of the coolest actresses of all time.  In my opinion, she was also one of the coolest people of all time.  I think she was amazing.  When Bacall passed away this year, I realized that there was one of her movies with Humphrey Bogart that I had never seen…Dark Passage, in which Bogart escapes from prison, has plastic surgery to disguise his identity and hides out in San Francisco with Lauren Bacall.  While Dark Passage isn’t in the rarified stratosphere of The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, it’s a damn good film noir, and it stars Bogart and Bacall, which makes it a must-see.  While the plot relies on some pretty major coincidences, these gaps in logic work mostly due to the kickass performance of Agnes Moorhead, who brings her trademark intense fury that makes her one of the greatest character actors of all time. 

Another Lauren Bacall shout-out: If you’ve never seen her in Sidney Lumet’s Murder on the Orient Express, you should absolutely check it out.  Bacall is incredible as the loudmouth American in one of the best movie whodunits ever. 

WAKE IN FRIGHT (1971) dir. Ted Kotcheff

Australians are fucking maniacs.  Their drunken benders make your ugliest weekend look like an episode of Glee.  I doubt any film has demonstrated this better than 1971’s Wake in Fright.  A rural schoolteacher stops in a small outback town on his way to Sydney for Christmas break, and he has some drinks with a few new friends.  What follows is the most harrowing, feverish, alcohol-fueled nightmare ever committed to film.  Soon, they’ve downed several bottles of whiskey apiece, kicked the shit out of each other, and have driven through the wilderness like psychopaths, gunning down kangaroos by the hundreds.  In the outback, they don’t call it a night until it goes on for a week and someone gets shot in the head.  And this isn’t even the worst stuff that happens!  Wake in Fright is sweaty, horrible, and disturbing in a way that very few movies achieve.

Unlike American movies that include the “No animals were harmed during the making of this motion picture…” this testosterone-spewing nightmare includes just the opposite.  It ends with an “anti-disclaimer” informing you that all those kangaroos were genuinely shot dead by hunters.  In other words, don’t kid yourself, you just watched real kangaroos get slaughtered.  This movie stays with you for a long time, maybe even forever.  You’ll spend big stretches of Wake in Fright with your jaw in your lap and you will emerge a changed person.  I highly recommend it. 

THE BICYCLE THIEF (1948) dir. Vittorio DeSica

Okay, I’ll admit it. Until this year, I had never seen The Bicycle Thief, or Bicycle Thieves as it’s now called.  Except for clips in awards shows, this one slipped past me.  Bicycle Thieves is Vittorio de Sica’s landmark, post World War II, neo-realist film.  It tells the story of a destitute, unemployed family man who finally gets a job, only to have the bicycle he needs for the job stolen. Accompanied by his young son, the dad goes on a desperate search through post-war urban Italy, looking for the dirtbag who stole his bike.  Seen mostly through the young boy’s eyes, this movie is brilliant and gut-wrenching.  It’s one of cinema’s most successfully realized expressions of poverty and man’s inhumanity.  De Sica’s gritty, documentary-influenced style was a radical departure in its day, and it holds up beautifully.  Sixty-six years after it was made, this movie still has the power to rip out your heart and chew it to shreds.  In this age of out-of-control billionaires and sprawling homeless camps, with America’s income gap between rich and poor growing disastrously wider each week, Bicycles Thieves is as relevant today as the day it was made.  It is a timeless masterpiece.

Steve Bevilacqua is the author of KAFKA AT THE BEACH: A Layman’s Handbook for Those Falsely Accused of Felonies. http://amzn.to/1idTqOF

Check out Steve’s blog: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED (the hard way) http://how-2-get-published.com/