The Day They Robbed the Bank of England (1960) from Warner Archive

Irish nationalists plot to rob the supposedly impenetrable Bank of England at the turn of the last century in the 1960 caper flick The Day They Robbed the Bank of England. The brainchild of a man known only as O’Shea (Hugh Griffith), the robbery is less about the money than the potential political ends; as O’Shea says, “£160,000 is a matter for the police, but one million pounds is a political offensive.” His role in the heist is limited, however, with the break-in itself to be carried out by Irish-American import Charles Norgate (Aldo Ray) and a handful of Irishmen, including the volatile Walsh (Kieron Moore). Walsh is all over the place both intellectually and emotionally, ranting and raving about the impossibility of breaking into what amounts to a Medieval fort, his distrust of Norgate, his disagreement with O’Shea’s plans and, most importantly, his anger over his loss of Iris Muldoon (Elizabeth Sellars) to the American in their midst. Despite the rather misleading title and publicity, John Brophy’s novel on which the film is based is fictional, though inspired by a real life event which never got past the planning stages. The somewhat by-the-numbers plot of The Day They Robbed the Bank of England is faithful to the book, though the standard narrative is broken up by two key elements in the film, both of which make it much more than just a B-movie heist flick. First is the appearance of Captain Monty Fitch, played by Peter O’Toole in an … Continue reading

Night Must Fall (1964)

Dora (Sheila Hancock), maid to the semi-invalid Mrs. Bramson (Mona Washbourne), finds herself pregnant and with a boyfriend reluctant to marry her in the 1964 British psychological horror film Night Must Fall. At the nosy Mrs. Bramson’s insistence, Dora invites her boyfriend Danny (Albert Finney) over, and his boyish ways immediately wins the affections of the tetchy old widow. Less impressed is her daughter Olivia (Susan Hampshire), staying with her mother indefinitely, using her mother’s illness as an excuse to take a break from an unhappy marriage. But soon even Olivia is charmed by Danny’s antics, and there’s the little matter of the heavy police presence just beyond their gates, as hundreds of men look for the body of a missing local woman. Though it should rightly be an ensemble cast film, the movie, made to followup on Finney’s post-Tom Jones fame, is all Finney’s film. He is undeniably the center of this movie, and he gives an incredible performance. It’s perhaps a little too incredible, an intense turn that needs a little breaking up now and then, though with this stage play turned movie, there’s really nowhere else for the movie to go. Everyone in the film gives a fine performance, though special notice should be given Susan Hampshire, who takes what could have been a dull character and makes her complicated and frustrating. With heavy makeup — emphasis on rouge to give him that boyish glow — Danny’s face looks almost like a mask, albeit a porcelain mask, … Continue reading

The Fan (1981): Now out on DVD from Warner Archive

  Poster for The Fan (1981). Be ye warned, gentle readers: there are spoilers ahead!   “What is this ‘bliss’ shit?” shouts Belle Goldman, beleaguered assistant to Broadway star Sally Ross. A series of disturbing letters have been arriving for the aging star, but Belle can’t get Sally to understand how concerning they are. Sally, always dependent on the kindness of her fan club members, thinks Belle is too mean, and lectures her about her allegedly poor attitude, accusing Belle of always wanting a life full of “bliss.” Unfortunately for them all, overzealous fan Douglas Breen also believes that Belle is mean to him, and his behavior escalates. Michael Biehn plays Douglas, the titular fan in the 1981 drama-horror film The Fan. Douglas becomes increasingly hostile in his fan mail, while Belle (Maureen Stapleton) works behind the scenes to try to chase him off. As Sally (Lauren Bacall) rehearses for a new musical and navigates a complicated life with her film director ex-husband (James Garner), she’s unaware that Douglas is never that far from her, no matter where she goes. Soon he begins violently attacking those closest to her, and she realizes he is no ordinary overinvested fan, but someone actively trying to kill her. Rounding out the cast are Hector Elizondo and Anna Maria Horsford, both great in supporting roles as police officers. Also watch for Dwight Schultz and Griffin Dunne in small roles. Promotional photo courtesy Paramount Pictures.   The line between fiction and reality was purposely blurred … Continue reading

We Are the Giant (2014)

We Are the Giant ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Greg Barker Music Box Films (Official Site) 90 Minutes In Theaters Beginning December 12, 2014 (Limited) – Many in Western culture consider political protest to be romantic; others consider it tantamount to treason. This is particularly true in the United States, where protests held by minority groups demanding equal rights are treated to everything from ridicule to violence. Meanwhile, the grade school tales of brave white men during the time of the American Revolution stick with us into adulthood, leading to the kind of naïve notions that may sound wonderful, but come from people who never had to protest for their rights at all. “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion,” said William Faulkner, a man who, as well-intentioned as he was, never had to endure water hoses or rubber bullets for raising his voice. We Are the Giant, the new documentary about the Arab Spring revolutions, evokes the feel of an interconnected world with its frequent use of collage featuring photos of protest and revolution from all over the world, including many from the 1960s civil rights movement in the United States. We’re all in this together, according to the film, its title borrowed from a metaphor noted Bahraini revolutionary Abdulhadi al-Khawaja told his daughters: protests for human rights are a David and Goliath story, but people don’t understand that, when they band together, they are the giant, not oppressive governments, and if people would … Continue reading

Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: Season Three Now on DVD

Thank you all for your patience during this unintentional hiatus, brought to you by seasonal colds, internet outages and unpleasant traveling for even more unpleasant business. But enough holiday cheer! Things are back and hoppin’ here on SBBN, so let’s get to it. Like all good GenXers, I spent all of my 20s and most of my 30s watching cartoons. Craig McCracken and other cartoonists helped pave the way for the animation renaissance we’re enjoying today — it’s almost impossible to overstate McCracken’s influence, starting with Cartoon Network shorts and “Dexter’s Laboratory” episodes, then his multi-award-winning “The Powerpuff Girls.” His followup project in the mid-2000s was “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends,” a more kid-oriented show than his previous work, with milder humor and some of the most fantastic design and animation to be found on the small screen. Warner Archive is now offering the “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends: The Complete Third Season” on MOD DVD, good news for “Foster’s” fans who were left out in the cold when Turner released only seasons one and two, then stopped altogether in 2007. For those of you used to seeing these on Netflix (which only has season two at the moment) or in syndication, you’ll be pleased to know the full introductions are intact rather than the odd truncated version where the music abruptly changes and you’re left going, “What? Where am I?” “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” follows the tales of young Mac and his best friend, the imaginary Bloo, a … Continue reading

Wicked, Wicked (1973)

Troubled hotel handyman Jason (Randolph Roberts) dons a creepy mask and dispatches beautiful blonde women in the 1973 slasher flick Wicked, Wicked. Filmed in a split-screen format called Duo-Vision used for most, but not all, of the film’s runtime, the audience is ostensibly treated to both the killer’s and the victims’ point of view simultaneously. Fortunately for us, though unfortunate for Wicked, Wicked’s Oscar chances, this split screen turns what would be a relatively tepid slasher film into a camp classic, one that became one of the biggest hits on TCM’s Underground series in the late 2000s. Not content to just hire extras at scale and have the creepy mask-wearin’ Jason off them one by one, Wicked complicates matters by introducing an economic element to the mix, as the manager of this glorious old seaside hotel decides that the missing women were actually just skipping out on their bills. Hotel detective Rick Stewart (David Bailey), however, discovers the women may have left the resort, but they never returned home, implying more than simple skipping out is going on. Soon, Rick’s beautiful ex arrives, an up-and-coming singer named Lisa James (Tiffany Bolling) set to perform at the hotel. Her superstar image includes wearing a large and unconvincing blonde wig, which unwittingly makes her the killer’s next target. Filmed in and near the legendary Hotel del Coronado, the setting of Wicked, Wicked is one of the best features of the film. Though the hotel was purportedly being expanded and renovated in the … Continue reading

Beside Still Waters (2014)

Beside Still Waters ★★☆☆☆ Director: Chris Lowell Tribeca Film (Official Site) 96 Minutes In Theaters November 14, 2014 (Limited) – It’s The Big Chill for a new generation in Beside Still Waters, the inaugural directorial outing for actor Chris Lowell. Daniel (Ryan Eggold) gets the old gang together at his family’s lake house before it’s foreclosed upon, and soon tensions, loves and rivalries bubble to the surface, especially after it’s revealed none of them bothered to show up for his parents’ funeral just a few months prior. The friends are the usual monochromatic, Hollywood-eclectic sort: Olivia (Britt Lower), Daniel’s former girlfriend who brings her new, slightly older boyfriend with her; Charley (Jessy Hodges), the free spirit character responsible for all the drugs the plot requires; Tom (Beck Bennett), the token gay guy, and more. Though the ensemble cast, for the most part, works well together, the characters are undeniably stereotypical. And it’s not immediately clear just how a group of people whose ages appear to span the better part of a decade are all childhood friends, or how someone who once had a significant career on the stage but is now reduced to reality shows could be the peer of a woman just beginning her master’s degree. This is a problem in a film that so blatantly compares generations: there is a thin thread of “Lost Generation” references throughout, and a hapless Gen Xer in their midst, as well as the group’s unseen parents, presumably members of the Big Chill … Continue reading

Starry Eyes (2014)

Starry Eyes ★★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer MPI Media Group (Official Site) 98 Minutes In Theaters Beginning November 14, 2014 (Limited) – Sarah (Alexandra Essoe) is just one of thousands of struggling young actresses in Los Angeles, a nice girl stuck with crappy friends and a demeaning job, desperate for auditions and waiting for callbacks that never come. No one is more shocked than Sarah when she lands an audition with a big studio, but competitive and disbelieving friends, an inappropriate boss and her own uncontrollable insecurities wear at her. When she thinks she’s blown an audition, she falls back on a frightening habit: yanking out chunks of her own hair. It’s a gruesome act of both self punishment and self soothing, and it’s when she accidentally reveals that hidden reservoir of anger in an audition that she finally gets a chance at stardom. In Starry Eyes, those dreams come at a grisly price. Filmed deep in Old Hollywood territory, primarily at the old Howard Hughes offices on Romaine in L.A., Starry Eyes is nestled firmly between Hollywood’s cynical, smog-filled present and its rich, glamorous past. It’s Rosemary’s Baby by way of Mulholland Drive, a grim world where success comes at a price no one should have to pay. But it’s a world where the woman in distress is, in a perversely refreshing change, less defined by her victimhood than her choices. She’s being taken advantage of from all sides, but she’s savvy enough to know that … Continue reading

Why Be Good? (1929)

The son of a millionaire department store owner is throwing a bash on his last day of “freedom” in 1929’s Why Be Good?, the long-lost silent film, recently restored and released on DVD by Warner Archive. What this rich kid means by “freedom” is really “being almost 30 and only just now being expected to work for a living,” which is why his father’s spacious, expensive and booze-filled home is packed with partiers in various states of sobriety and humor. Despite the horrors he must endure in the morning at (gasp!) work, Peabody (Neil Hamilton, never given a first name for reasons that are unclear) trudges on, hitting a hot local night spot for some last-minute revelry. Elsewhere in town, perky Pert Kelly (Colleen Moore) is winning a Charlston competition. She’s mouthy and arrogant and seemingly willing when it comes to swells who are interested in her, but she always seems to be making fun of the poor pomaded fool she leaves the competition with. Later, we learn it’s because she’s crafted a reputation for herself, a little sexual street cred, if you will, though it takes far too long for that to be revealed for us to really be in on the joke with her. Still, it’s with that reputation that she meets the junior Peabody at a completely bonkers night club known as The Boiler. Our rich alleged hero falls for her as hard as she falls for him, only to later discover she’s a clerk at his … Continue reading

The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion

The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion by Jason Bailey Voyageur Press Released: October 15, 2014 ★★★★½ / ★★★★★ – Jason Bailey’s The Ultimate Woody Allen Film Companion is a handsome book, solid and oversized, perfect for the coffee table with its striking Brad Norr Designs cover art and clever use of That Font. You know the one: EF Windsor Elongated, Allen’s typeface of choice for the majority of his films. Or maybe it’s EF Windsor Light Condensed. It’s a font; therefore, it’s complicated. But it’s unmistakable, just like Woody Allen himself, one of the most recognizable and important auteurs of American cinema. The Companion is a delightful, comprehensive and indispensable guide Allen’s oeuvre. It’s organized chronologically, each of the director’s films getting from two to five pages devoted to it exclusively, with fast facts in a sidebar on the left, a few pictures, some trivia and film quotes, and a little box on the right where Woody bitches incessantly about his own movies. Those quotes alone are worth the price of admission; as funny as Woody Allen is, he’s funniest when he’s not trying to be funny. On Deconstructing Harry (1997): “I didn’t dislike it.” Coming just a year after the release of his excellent book on Pulp Fiction, Bailey’s writing has taken on a more mature, confident tone. There’s an efficiency that remains entertaining, with a playfulness that shows in some light puns and a few little callbacks here and there that display a solid knowledge of Allen’s work … Continue reading