About JStafford

I am a writer for The Travel Channel, ArtsATL.com, Burnaway.org and other publications. I am also a film researcher for Turner Classic Movies and a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle. This blog is dedicated to overlooked, obscure or underrated movies and other cinema topics that I want to share.

A Time for Demonic Visitations

“According to the ancient Romans, the Hour of the Wolf means the time between night and dawn, just before the light comes, and people believed it to be the time when demons had a heightened power and vitality, the hour when most people died and most children were born, and when nightmares came to one.”

Setting the stage for what will follow with this ominous introduction, Ingmar Bergman’s 1968 feature Hour of the Wolf (Swedish title: Vargtimmen) is probably the closest the director has ever come to making a horror film, one that crosses over into the realm of the supernatural. Continue reading

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The Next Wonder of the World

Imagine a tunnel under the Atlantic that connected the United States with Europe and provided a high speed form of transportation between the two points. It’s certainly not an unrealistic expectation for the near future when you consider that the undersea rail known as the Channel Tunnel (aka the Chunnel) that currently connects Folkestone, Kent in England to Coquelles, France has been in operation since 1994. But that remarkable feat of engineering is only 50.5 km. compared to the 5,000 km. that would be the more likely distance of an undersea rail that connected New York City with London. Still, proposed plans for under-the-sea travel connectors between countries separated by water continue to surface in news reports and may happen in the near future. What’s most remarkable is the fact that Transatlantic Tunnel (aka The Tunnel), a 1935 British film, envisioned the same thing and some of that movie’s futuristic art direction and design is not that far removed from some of the models you can view on the interest today (just do a search for undersea rail systems).       Continue reading

Vittorio De Seta’s L’Invitata

Road movies might seem like a home grown American film genre with such famous examples as Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces (1970) and Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) but there have also been plenty of influential representatives from abroad such as Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953) and Wim Wenders’ Kings of the Road (1976). The latter film, in particular, takes a much more introspective and observational approach to character and narrative and such is the case with Vittorio De Seta’s little seen and almost forgotten 1969 feature, L’Invitata (aka The Uninvited).  Continue reading

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

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