Nicholas Ray – Born to Be Bad [+Extra] (1950)

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Synopsis:
One of the most oft-revived of the pre-Technicolor Nicholas Ray efforts, Born to Be Bad offers us the spectacle of Joan Fontaine portraying a character described as “a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg O’ My Heart”. For the benefit of her wealthy husband Zachary Scott and his family, Fontaine adopts a facade of wide-eyed sweetness. Bored with her hubby, she inaugurates a romance with novelist Robert Ryan. All her carefully crafted calculations come acropper when both men discover that she’s a bitch among bitches. She might have gotten away with all her machinations, but the censors said uh-uh. Originally slated for filming in 1946, with Henry Fonda scheduled to play the Robert Ryan part, Born to Bad was cancelled, then resurfaced as Bed as Roses in 1948, this time with Barbara Bel Geddes in the Fontaine role. RKO head Howard Hughes’ decision to replace Bel Geddes with the more bankable Fontaine was one of the reasons that producer Dore Schary left RKO in favor of MGM. Based on Anne Parrish’s novel All Kneeling, Born to be Bad is so overheated at times that it threatens to lapse into self-parody; though this never happens, the film was the basis for one of TV star Carol Burnett’s funniest and most devastating movie takeoffs, Raised to be Rotten Continue reading

Cary Joji Fukunaga – Beasts of No Nation (2015)

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Fukunaga, who’s emerged as the MVP of True Detective’s first season after departing before its disastrous second, sketches out this precarious stability with affectionate efficiency, then rips it all away in a few sickening scenes that send Agu running by himself into the forest, his family members all dead or gone. He wanders into the clutches of some rebel forces, where the Commandant (Idris Elba), swaggering out of the foliage bare-chested but in a military beret, deigns not to kill the boy but to add him to his ragtag army, promising him a chance at revenge against the people he saw slaughter his father. Continue reading

Robbins Barstow – Disneyland Dream (1956)

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“The Barstow family films a memorable home movie of their trip to Disneyland. Robbins and Meg Barstow, along with their children Mary, David and Daniel were among 25 families who won a free trip to the newly opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., as part of a ‘Scotch Brand Cellophane Tape’ contest sponsored by 3M. Through vivid color and droll narration , we see a fantastic historical snapshot of Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Catalina Island, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and Disneyland in mid-1956. The movie was shot with a 16 mm handheld camera.

Robbins Barstow was a pioneering maker of home movies. Disneyland Dream is one of literally hundreds of films he completed from 1929 (when he first received a camera) until his death in 2010, many of which star his immediate family. Continue reading

Woody Allen – Shadows and Fog (1991)

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As Wolcott Gibbs once said to Shakespeare: Kafka, here’s your hat.

That’s just one of the deliciously eccentric messages being sent out by Woody Allen in his rich, not easily categorized new black-and-white comedy, “Shadows and Fog.” Among other things, “Shadows and Fog” contemplates life, death, love, literature, movies, American humor in general, the gags of Bob Hope in particular, the music of Kurt Weill and the changing fashions in B.V.D.’s.

Kleinman (Mr. Allen) is a timid clerk in the kind of unidentified Middle European city once so beloved by Kafka, Kafka’s imitators, the masters of the German Expressionist cinema of the 1920’s and their imitators. It is always night in this closed world of miasmic fog, cobbled alleys and street lamps that shed too little light but cast photogenically deep shadows. Continue reading

James Whale – Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

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Sequel to 1931’s Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein was directed by James Whale and stars Boris Karloff as The Monster, Elsa Lanchester in the dual role of his mate and Mary Shelley, Colin Clive as Henry Frankenstein and Ernest Thesiger as Doctor Septimus Pretorius.

The film follows on immediately from the events of the earlier film, and is rooted in a subplot of the original Mary Shelley novel, Frankenstein (1818). In the film, a chastened Henry Frankenstein abandons his plans to create life, only to be tempted and finally coerced by the Monster, encouraged by Henry’s old mentor Dr. Pretorius, into constructing a mate for him. Continue reading

Roberto Minervini – Low Tide (2012)

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A 12 year old boy and his single mother live parallel lives. The boy spends his days alone while his mother works and goes out with her friends. The boy’s solitude is both a source of freedom and a cause for grief. His explorations slowly bring to light the dark contrast between the rules of society and the laws of nature. And before long, the delicate balance of his inner world becomes shattered by unforeseen events. Continue reading