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

Starry Eyes (2014)

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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)

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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

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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

Possessed (1947) on Blu-ray from Warner Archive

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Possessed (1947) was the third of Joan Crawford’s films for Warner Bros., the studio who snapped her up when her long-time home MGM, where she had been since the silent era, decided to cut her loose. Crawford was one of the few, if not only, actresses who managed to weather a host of problems that killed others’ careers: she transitioned to talkies without incident in the late 1920s, overcame the label “box office poison” in the late 1930s, and then, in the mid-1940s, managed to survive being let go from one of the big two studios in Hollywood. And boy did she survive! Her first real film for Warner Bros. was Mildred Pierce (1945), a box office smash that won her a Best Actress Oscar. Her next two follow-up films were terrific, too, and Crawford, for maybe the first time in her career, was shown to be capable of depth and true acting ability. Still the glamour queen in Mildred Pierce and Humoresque (1946), it’s Possessed where Crawford gives her most astonishing performance as an aging nurse with a burgeoning mental illness. She’s still Joan Crawford, and even without her false eyelashes and heavily penciled eyebrows and intricately applied lipstick, she’s glamorous. She is, in fact, the most glamorous middle-aged spinster nurse to ever appear on the big screen. But if anyone could prove that talent and glamour could go hand in hand, it was Joan Crawford. Louise Howell (Joan Crawford) is found wandering the streets of Los Angeles, pale … Continue reading

Stonehearst Asylum (2014)

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Stonehearst Asylum ★★½ / ★★★★★ Director: Brad Anderson Millennium Entertainment (Official Site) 112 Minutes In Theaters Beginning October 24, 2014 (Limited) – In Edgar Allan Poe’s wry short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” a young doctor takes the opportunity to visit a renowned mental asylum and view for himself the successes of the so-called “soothing system” treatment. Invited to stay for dinner, it becomes delightfully clear to the reader that the locals and staff are quite insane, but the narrator, pleasant but dim, fails to realize it himself. Finally, the actual staff comes bursting into the building, and even then, many of the more obvious details fails to register with our narrator. Stonehearst Asylum, director Brad Anderson’s latest, is based on this charmingly macabre story, but replaces the somewhat clueless doctor of the original with the wide-eyed and eager young graduate Edward Newgate (Jim Sturgess). Further, the film obscures the bizarre behavior of the staff to such an extent that the reveal that they are not staff but inmates is understandably a shock to the newly arrived intern. Still, the reveal comes early enough, and with enough ambiguity, that the question of who is telling the truth and, more importantly, who is truly sane in this whole mess, remains for much of the film. The charismatic and professional Silas Lamb (Ben Kingsley) greets the doctor when he arrives, and takes him on a tour of the facilities. There, Newgate sees the beautiful Eliza Graves (Kate Beckinsale), … Continue reading