When Best Laid Plans Go Awry

On first impressions The Big Caper (1957) may look like just another grade B bank heist thriller but don’t be fooled. This 1957 independent pickup by United Artists is a genuine loose canon and highly peculiar within its own specialized genre. In the best heist thrillers (Rififi, The Asphalt Jungle), the robbery is usually ingeniously planned and executed but when it goes awry, it’s usually due to festering hatred among the instigators (Odds Against Tomorrow) or bad luck (Plunder Road). In The Big Caper, the glaring flaw is the organizer who appears to be a shrewd and cautious businessman until you see the wacko team he assembles for the job. And he might be the biggest nutcase in the lot. It’s not a comedy, but it should be, and you may very well find yourself laughing uncontrollably at times.   Continue reading

Advertisements

From Graphic Novel to Animated Feature: The Making of Luis Bunuel’s Las Hurdes

Gkids is a New York based film distributor that represents Japan’s famous Studio Ghibli with such family-friendly animation features as My Neighbor Totoro (1988) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) as well as more adult oriented titles like the harrowing WW2 survival tale Grave of the Fireflies (1988) and the Oscar-nominated Chico & Rita (2010), a passionate love story set in pre-revolution Cuba. Salvador Simo’s Bunuel in the Labyrinth of the Turtles, one of Gkid’s recent acquisitions, belongs in the latter category and is currently playing selected theaters in the U.S. with an iTunes streaming release in the near future.  Continue reading

Nicholas Ray’s Gender Bender Western

In the fifties, the Western genre experienced a revitalization that saw new approaches to the form – everything from a film noir interpretation like The Furies (1950) to a psychological thriller like High Noon (1952) to a promotional gimmick like the 3-D Western, Hondo (1953). However, it’s safe to say that Johnny Guitar (1954), Nicholas Ray’s bold experiment with color, role reversal, stylized sets, and operatic emotions is a one of a kind masterpiece that will never be repeated.   Continue reading

The Macedonian Beekeeper

Imagine living in a remote area where there is no running water or electricity. There are also no established roads or available food nearby or even much protection from extreme temperatures in the winter and summer. You can also forget about any local services like a doctor or policeman or mail carrier. We’re not talking about America here but a desolate region of Macedonia where life is a daily hand-to-mouth struggle.

Winner of the Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary category, Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov’s Honeyland is a remarkably intimate and engrossing human portrait of Hatidze Muratova and her 85-year-old mother who live in primitive conditions in the deserted village of Bekirlija, Macedonia. Although it is essentially a documentary, it has the feel of a scripted drama made with non-professional actors who are playing themselves.   Continue reading

Cagney & Blondell: Made for Each Other

Could there have been a more ideally matched couple from the Warner Bros. stock company than this pair of New York natives with their street-smart ways and attitudes to match? It seems strange that James Cagney and Joan Blondell aren’t usually included in that rarified group of Gable & Harlow or Tracy & Hepburn or Bogart & Bacall or Loy & Powell and others but Blonde Crazy (1931) alone is reason enough to add this duo to the Hollywood leading couples A-list.  Continue reading

The Legend of Black Tiger

Chartchai Ngamsan stars as Thailand gunslinger Dum aka Black Tiger in the 2000 cult film, Tears of the Black Tiger.

When it first appeared in 2000, Tears of the Black Tiger (aka Fah Talai Jone), became an instant sensation at almost every film festival that programmed the directorial debut of Wisit Sasanatieng. One of the most ambitious productions to ever emerge from the Thai film industry, Tears of the Black Tiger seemed poised for international success upon its original release but got tangled up in distribution troubles and didn’t receive a U.S. theatrical release until seven years later, despite a great reception at the 2001 Seattle International Film Festival.    Continue reading

Gloom and Doom in Snowdonia

After winning the Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature at the 2019 Edinburgh International Film Festival and various other accolades in Europe, William McGregor’s debut feature Gwen is opening in selected theaters across the U.S. this August. Some critics have compared it to Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (2013) and other historical dramas with supernatural elements but don’t be misled by those comparisons. The horrors that await Gwen are grounded in reality – sickness, animal deaths, misogyny and grinding poverty.   Continue reading