The Duke of Burgundy (2014)

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The Duke of Burgundy ★★★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Peter Strickland IFC Films 106 Minutes In Theaters Beginning January 23, 2015 (Limited) – Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) arrives at the opulent home of Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen), a beautiful but stern entomologist. Angry at her maid Evelyn for her lack of perfection, Cynthia spends the day reading books and eating bon-bons and becoming increasingly hostile. By evening, Cynthia has had enough, and subjects Evelyn to perverse and oddly sexual punishment for her failures. When the same scenario begins the very next morning, we see this ritual for what it is: a fantasy concocted by Evelyn, desperate to be dominated by her lover Cynthia. This intricate love affair is the heart of Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, the follow-up to his well-received thriller Berberian Sound Studio (2012). A romance with more than a hint of horror and melodrama, The Duke of Burgundy is filled with the kind of vague and inexplicable moments that define softcore porn flicks of the 1970s. It’s a fantasy world, of course; there’s not a single man in the land, the homes are luxurious, all the women are chic and beautiful. There is an abundance of leisure and a standard of living so decadent that the economy can sustain an entire village filled with nothing but lepidopterists and the occasional BDSM equipment salesperson. But who fashions the expensive, custom-made wardrobes that figure so prominently in this world? Why does no one tend the impeccable landscapes? And why does … Continue reading

Loitering With Intent (2014)

Loitering With Intent ★★★★☆ Director: Adam Rapp Metal Rabbit Media 80 Minutes In Theaters Beginning January 16, 2015 (Limited) – “What do writers do?” Dominic (Michael Godere) asks his friend Raphael (Iván Martín). “They go to the country. We’ll go to the country.” The chance to write and star in their own low-budget indie has just magically fallen into Dom’s and Raph’s laps, and the pair scramble to get a script together in 10 days in Adam Rapp’s gentle comedy Loitering With Intent. After a brainstorming session or two — a few of their ideas are good, a couple hilariously awful — the tranquility at the beautiful home of Dom’s sister Gigi (Marisa Tomei) dissolves, interrupted first by the arrival of Gigi’s friend Ava (Isabelle McNally). Soon, Gigi herself arrives, drunk off her ass and in obvious trouble, with news that her war veteran boyfriend Wayne (Sam Rockwell) has gone just a touch crazier than usual. By the time Wayne reappears with his brother, the annoying surfer bro Devan (Brian Geraghty), Raphael has thrown himself into the drama around him, while Dom sequesters himself, refusing to give up on what he believes is his last big chance at success. Loitering With Intent comes pre-packaged with a comfortable and familiar plot. It features the requisite whimsy and heartfelt emotion of a low-budget indie, plus plenty pf introspection and meta references and a handful of 30- and 40-something white guys who realize they finally need to grow up. But there’s something else … Continue reading

The World Made Straight (2015)

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The World Made Straight ★★★ / ★★★★★ Director: David Burris Millennium Entertainment (Official Site) 119 Minutes In Theaters Beginning January 9, 2015 (Limited) – Teacher-turned-drug-dealer Leonard (Noah Wyle) takes a wary interest in restless high school dropout Travis Shelton (Jeremy Irvine) in David Burris’ neo-Gothic drama The World Made Straight. Travis has shown up at Leonard’s door with some stolen pot plants in the back of his pickup, hoping to score some funds after losing yet another job. It’s 1974, and the Appalachian hills of Madison County, North Carolina offer few prospects for the locals beyond chronic unemployment, booze and drugs or, for the lucky few, working at the hospital where most everyone gets stitched up after things go predictably wrong. It’s a grim world of muted colors and cold drizzly days, a place where all of life’s answers can be found at the end of a gun. Cast out of his home by an abusive father and seriously wounded by Carlton (Steve Earle), a dangerous local drug dealer, Travis is begrudgingly taken in by Leonard, despite his sometimes-girlfriend’s protestations. The former teacher, known locally as “the Professor,” sees a curious soul in the boy. He may be cursed with a lack of education, hot temper and worthless friends, but Travis has a keen interest in learning, especially the history of the county and the Civil War-era tragedy which his own ancestors had been involved in. The Shelton Laurel Massacre is no fictional construct but rather a very real event, … Continue reading

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

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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)

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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

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  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 were purposely blurred … Continue reading

We Are the Giant (2014)

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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

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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)

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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 when the manager of this glorious old seaside hotel decides that the missing women were actually just skipping out on their bills, but hotel detective Rick Stewart (David Bailey) discovers the women may have left the resort, but they never returned home. Soon, his beautiful ex shows 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 early 1970s, only the shabbier areas are shown, … Continue reading

Beside Still Waters (2014)

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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