A Measure of the Sin (2013)

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A Measure of the Sin ★★★★☆ Dir: Jeff Wedding Brink Vision (Official Site) 76 minutes – A childhood spent in the safety of a mother’s care becomes a nightmare straight out of the Old Testament in Jeff Wedding’s A Measure of the Sin. This chilling underground horror film follows the life of 20-something Meredith (Katie Groshong), one in a trio of beautiful young women living with The Man (Stephen Jackson) in a dilapidated farm house, away from civilization. This nameless, almost-elderly patriarch of what must surely be a cult essentially owns the women who, just like a bad joke from the 1970s, are comprised of one brunette — Meredith — as well as the blonde Alicia (Starina Johnson) and the redhead Ruth (Dale Rainey). Alicia and Ruth are content to spend their days bathing together, brushing each others’ hair, giggling and standing around nude. The two court the audience’s gaze, their allure less provocation than a blatant accusation. But Meredith demurs, wanting no part of their frolic but only to leave The Man, the isolation, and the enormous black bear that torments her at night. It’s a bear only she can see, and she believes it to be the father of her child. Despite the pregnancy, Meredith makes her plans to escape. We see her childhood education must have been truncated when she and her mother embarked on a trek through a world rich with the bounty of the land, yet full of snakes. An even more distant flashback shows … Continue reading

The John Ford Blogathon: Fort Apache (1948)

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Fort Apache was the first film of what would become known as director John Ford’s “Cavalry Trilogy.” Though Ford worked within the same historical period in other films, too, these three movies — Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) — were loosely tied together thanks not only their shared historical setting, but because they were released consecutively and featured period-appropriate music used as strong thematic elements, the role of Irish immigrants in the United States’ brutal expansion through Native lands, and a subversive, critical approach to the policies of the United States government. Continue reading

The Battered Bastards of Baseball (2014)

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The Battered Bastards of Baseball ★★★½ / ★★★★★ Directors: Chapman Russell Way, Maclain Way A Netflix Production 79 Minutes Premieres on Netflix Friday, July 11, 2014 – The Portland Mavericks were the most popular minor league baseball team in the country through much of the 1970s. They were the WKRP of sports, a highly photogenic, ragtag band of misfits with a host of issues and hearts of gold. The brainchild of actor Bing Russell, who formed the team when the Portland Beavers, a AAA-league team, moved to Spokane in 1973, the Mavericks were the only independent team not affiliated with any major league club. Russell’s project was considered a joke at first, but became a stunning success: not only could the Mavericks play, but they put on a damn good show. Sports writers were stunned, fans were ecstatic, but the businessmen behind the major leagues were livid. That all-too-common conflict of our modern capitalist society was sparked and battle lines were drawn as moneymakers once again tried to keep the little guy down, because the little guy always eats into the profit margin. The Battered Bastards of Baseball, the newest documentary from Netflix, follows Bing Russell, best known to audiences as Deputy Clem Foster on “Bonanza” — the more discerning cinephile will recognize him as Red from Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966) — as he dreams up, then manages, the Portland Mavericks. Bing grew up working with New York Yankees legends such as Lefty Gomez and Joe DiMaggio, but … Continue reading

Whitey: United States of America v. James J Bulger (2014)

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Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014) ★★★★☆ Dir: Joe Berlinger Magnolia Pictures (Official Site) 120 minutes U.S. Theatrical Release: June 27, 2014 (Limited) – Just before Christmas in 1994, James “Whitey” Bulger, a big player in the so-called Irish Mafia in South Boston, was tipped off that the FBI had issued a warrant for his arrest. Having spent decades as an FBI informant, Bulger had cultivated plenty of friends in law enforcement, several of whom were happy to give him a head start in what would become 16 years of life on the lam. By the time he was finally caught and arrested in 2011, several individuals in the Boston office of the FBI were known to have ignored the crimes of the Irish Mafia — everything from extortion to theft to murder — in exchange for information from these gangsters that would allow them to take down the Irish Mafia’s biggest competitors: the Italian Mafia. Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger is a startling new documentary that investigates the overwhelming deception, corruption and brutality of organized crime, not just by the gangsters, but by those in the FBI and Boston law enforcement who enabled them for decades. Boston FBI agent John Connolly, who grew up in Southie idolizing a teenaged yet already notorious Bulger, was especially involved in the perverse tit-for-tat that existed between the agency and the Irish Mafia. Connolly helped develop the Top Echelon Informant Program and promptly recruited Whitey, … Continue reading

Elsewhere: The Rainy Season Edition

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Thanks for your patience during SBBN’s downtime last week. The site should be stable from now on, though my time here will remain limited because of some life issues; to be both vague and blunt, I have to spend my time making money and not entertaining the masses for free. Speaking of free, here are some recent articles I’ve written around the intertubes: My last ClassicFlix articles: * Partners in Crime: Sidekicks in Film Noir * I Live My Life DVD review * Clara Bow: Life As the It Girl Recent Reviews and Articles at Spectrum Culture: * Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (2013): I no longer remember what review this was from, but not long ago I stumbled across a description of a film as being an exasperating hagiography, a film “by friends, for friends.” The same could be said for Supermensch, which is one of the most accidentally creepy films I have ever seen in my life. The image of the good-natured, awesome, karmatastic Shep Gordon only barely hides the judgmental one-percenter underneath. * Oeuvre: A Woman Under the Influence (1974): Though I recognize how influential and groundbreaking they are, I don’t click with John Cassavetes’ films and I struggle not to actively loathe them. That’s why you shouldn’t bother reading this article. Recent SBBN Articles and Reviews You May Have Missed: * We Are the Best! (2013): I really loved this film. Viewers should stay for the end credits, a nice nod to a comparative sequence … Continue reading

White Elephant Blogathon: The Dunwich Horror (1970)

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This is the SBBN entry for this year’s White Elephant Blogathon, hosted by Philip Tatler IV of Diary of a Country Pickpocket. – “These terrors are of older standing. They date beyond the body — or without the body, they would have been the same…” – Charles Lamb, Witches and other Night-Fears – To call H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction evocative would be to commit one of the most egregious literary understatements possible, second only to “Bukowski’s poetry is bleak,” or maybe “Shakespeare was kind of wordy.” The Dunwich Horror, a short story written by Lovecraft in 1928, was somewhere between the second and eighth entry in what would become known as The Cthulhu Mythos. In most of these stories, ancient gods from another realm terrorize simple folk in the American Northeast, in frightening tales that — and I must quote Wikipedia here — reflect “the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of … cosmic horrors.” Evocative! Roger Corman, born less than two years before the publication of The Dunwich Horror, produced and directed some of the best B-movie horror films during the 1960s, often borrowing from the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Corman was nearing the end of what would be his most artistically productive and compelling period when he stopped making films based on Poe’s stories, and it must have seemed only natural to move on to Lovecraft, a fine horror craftsman who was also inspired by Poe. But there was a problem with adapting Lovecraft for modern audiences: … Continue reading

We Are the Best! (2013)

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We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!) (2013) ★★★★★ Dir: Lucas Moodysson Magnolia Pictures (Official Site) 102 minutes U.S. Theatrical Release May 30, 2014 (Limited) – Director Lukas Moodysson’s Together (2000), though lauded as a warm and progressive comedy, indulged in a judgmental tone, mostly directed at gays and women and manifesting as stereotypes invoked as it’s-funny-because-it’s-true moments. Thankfully, Moodysson’s art has matured; he’s developed a keen observer’s eye, one that imbues his latest film, We Are the Best! (2013), with an intelligent, humanist perspective that no longer concerns itself with judging those it portrays. Based on the graphic novel Never Goodnight, written by Coco Moodysson, We Are the Best! is inspired, delightful, tough and funny. The film follows two young teen punk rock fans, Bobo (Mira Barkhammer) and Klara (Mira Grosin), rebelling against ridiculous adults and their even more ridiculous rules. Shot in almost documentary style with the requisite awkward framing and fast pans, We Are the Best! is as unrefined and earnest as its young leads. It’s 1982 and punk, as they are told repeatedly, is dead, but Klara and Bobo still embrace its anti-mainstream principles long after everyone else has moved on to New Wave. In an impulsive act of rebellion, the girls strike back against Iron Fist, an all-male group of jerks with a delightfully mediocre rock band. The girls cheerfully point out that Iron Fist failed to follow some of those rules the adults are always going on about, thus forfeited their use of the … Continue reading

The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968)

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Cesare Celli (Vittorio De Sica), at the funeral of a good friend, is kidnapped by a group of thieves intent on stealing $50,000 from the former gangster. To his embarrassment, Celli has no money, but merely relies on his long-standing reputation. It’s because of this reputation that he encourages the thieves, led by Harry Price (Robert Wagner), to contact some of his pals for the funds instead; he doesn’t want anyone to know he’s broke. But money is not forthcoming, so Celli brings the thieves in on a job he was about to embark on: the robbery of $5 million worth of platinum from a train. The only catch is that they need $3,000 for the right supplies to pull off a train robbery, thus have to commit a smaller heist to fund the larger one. Wackiness, as they say, ensues. The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968) is the subject of one of critic Renata Adler’s first reviews in A Year in the Dark — and if you don’t have your copy of the book handy, her review is happily available online at the New York Times. Having just obtained a replacement copy for myself, I deliberately did not read her review until after I’d seen the film, and was delighted to find Adler also heard De Sica’s line, “He was taken by a master” pronounced as, “He was taken by a mustard!” Less charming is her obvious distaste for anyone who is not conventionally handsome in the Hollywood … Continue reading

The Big House (1930): Triple Feature from Warner Archive

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There’s a lot of Alibi (1929) in the opening frames of The Big House (1930). There’s the silent marching feet with sound effects overdubbed, the silhouette framing, the long shots of authoritative figures in their cavernous rooms. This aesthetic extends to later scenes, symmetrical with deep blacks in windows, doorways, even on clothes, giving the entire scene an art deco feel without a single bit of decor around. The first and arguably one of the finest examples of the prison movie genre, The Big House was an important, innovative film in its day. As gritty as they come, with a darkly stylish aesthetic and the kind of sinister undertones you couldn’t get once the Production Code began to be enforced, The Big House scared and impressed nearly everyone who saw it. Winning two Oscars and nominated for two more, prison films would become all the rage in Hollywood, and not a single movie or TV show today doesn’t owe at least a small debt to this early talkie. Wallace Beery had a limited range, but that range was perfect for films like The Big House. He wasn’t meant to be in the film at all, actually; Lon Chaney, Sr. was slated for the role of Butch, and several scenes do indeed seem tailor-made for Chaney. But he had become ill a few months before filming began, and Beery, who according to the IMDb hadn’t been in a film since 1929, was cast to replace Chaney, and stardom followed. Sometimes genial, … Continue reading

Beneath the Harvest Sky (2014)

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Beneath the Harvest Sky (2013) ★☆☆☆☆ Dir: Aron Gaudet, Gita Pullapilly Tribeca Film (Official Site) 116 minutes U.S. Theatrical Release May 2, 2014 – Casper (Emory Cohen) is a genial asshole, a troubled teen who threatens teachers, gets his young girlfriends pregnant and steals prescriptions for his pill-slinging father (Aiden Gillen); it’s no wonder everyone in the tiny burg of Van Buren, Maine is always talking about Casper. This includes Casper himself, who drifts into the third person when flexing his muscles, or his reputation. He and his best friend Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) dream of leaving the small farming community and moving to Boston, away from their problems and closer to the Red Sox. Over the week-long harvest break, Dom works fields full of the purple potatoes Van Buren is famous for, while Casper just shoots them from a potato gun. Beneath the Harvest Sky is the first non-documentary film from the team of Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. Unfortunately, this young male coming-of-age story is just one of many in an overworked and overcrowded genre saddled with a litany of tropes that are difficult to avoid. Beneath the Harvest Sky not only does not attempt to avoid cliché, it doesn’t realize its content is 80% cliché by volume. Drugs, divorce, derelict houses, broken homes and fast cars all make an appearance right on cue, as do poorly-drawn female characters who exist only to irritate or sexually please the male leads. This is a clumsy and unskilled affair, a real … Continue reading