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.

Marching into the Great Unknown

 Occasionally a movie comes along that defies easy categorization and doesn’t cater to audience expectations of any kind. And when the director’s intentions and directorial choices are also never made obvious or explicit, it can result in a baffling but memorable viewing experience. Welcome to Serge Bozon’s La France (2007), which had been widely praised at various film festivals (it was nominated for two awards at the Cannes Film Festival), but never made much of an impact on U.S. film critics and moviegoers.     

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How to Wreck a Hollywood Soiree

You don’t have to go back that many years to compile a long list of Hollywood films in which white actors are cast as Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, African Americans, Pacific islanders, Arabs, etc. In fact, this controversial practice continues into the 21st century with such conspicuous portrayals like Jake Gyllenhaal as an Afghan orphan in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010) and Johnny Depp as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013). If you were creating a top ten hall of shame, however, it’s a good bet that Blake Edwards’ The Party (1968) starring Peter Sellers in brownface makeup as Indian film star Hrundi V. Bakshi would be near the top of the list. Yet, the film is considered by many film critics and movie lovers as one of Edwards’ best comedies and has a cult following that has nothing to do with racial stereotypes. It is also considered a radical departure from other comedies of that time for its improvised, almost experimental approach to the genre.  

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Voyeur Villa

Sometimes a film poster doesn’t offer enough information to let you know what kind of movie to expect. Take, for example, Eyes Behind the Wall (Italian title: L’occhio dietro la parete, 1977). The Italian poster suggests it might be an erotic drama with its image of an older man touching the exposed thigh of a younger woman. The background paraphernalia and laboratory setting could also indicate a sci-fi or horror premise. The American poster for the film displays a demented face, an oversize bloody knife and a topless female victim in the style of a trashy giallo. The simple truth is that Eyes Behind the Wall is hard to classify and doesn’t easily fit into any specific genre although you could file it under Eurotrash. While the film is problematic in many regards, it still manages to be consistently intriguing and unpredictable.

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The Case of the Fake MD

Most medical dramas focus on storylines about the inner workings of a hospital, rivalries between staff members, patients in crisis situations or maybe all of the above. Bedside (1934) is unique in that the main character, Dr. J. Herbert Martell aka Bob Brown, isn’t a real doctor at all. He’s only an X-ray technician posing as a MD and his motivation has nothing to do with the Hippocratic Oath. He’s a dirty rotten scoundrel and you know he’s up to no good from the start because he is played by Warren William, a familiar face in films of the Pre-Code period.

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R.W. Fassbinder and Daniel Schmid: Shadow of Angels

In his relatively brief lifetime of 37 years, Rainer Werner Fassbinder turned out 21 feature films, two TV mini-series (Berlin Alexanderplatz, Eight Hours Don’t Make a Day), 11 made-for-TV movies, 1 documentary, several film shorts, and numerous theatrical productions. He also helmed an episode of the quasi-documentary/fiction compilation Germany in Autumn (1978), served as producer on other German films like Tenderness of the Wolves (1973) and appeared as an actor, not only in many of his own films but in those of other contemporaries from the New German cinema like Volker Schlondorff. Fassbinder’s role as the contemptuous anti-social rebel Baal (1970), adapted for television by Schlondorff from Bertolt Brecht’s play, is one of his finest performances (Criterion released a beautifully restored version of it on Blu-ray and DVD in March 2018). Equally impressive but lesser known is Daniel Schmid’s Shadow of Angels (Schatten der Engel, 1976), which is based on Fassbinder’s play The Garbage, the City and Death and features R.W. in a pivotal role.

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Lost in Manhattan

Why do so many marriages end in divorce? It usually comes down to a common problem – a lack of communication. After the honeymoon stage, a pattern develops once the couple has children and problems develop from the combined pressures of child-rearing and career demands. Sofia Coppola explores this common quandary in her new film, On the Rocks (2020). Laura (Rashida Jones) is trying to resume her professional career as a writer but her daily responsibilities with two young daughters demands a juggling act that allows little time for creativity. Her husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) has recently launched a start-up operation that is requiring more time away from home with office meetings and business trips. As a result, Laura begins to feel an emotional and physical estrangement from Dean. Little signs in his behavior suggest his affections might lie elsewhere. Is he having an affair?     Continue reading

Roald Dahl’s Gift to Patricia Neal

What do you get when you mix together a serial killer thriller, a May-December romance between an older woman and younger man and a masochistic mother-adopted daughter relationship melodrama with echoes of Now, Voyager (1942)? The result, The Night Digger (1971, aka The Road Builder), from a screenplay by Roald Dahl, is much more homogeneous than you’d expect and is an unjustifiably overlooked curiosity in the filmography of Patricia Neal.   Continue reading

On the Road with Robert Kramer

Route One is a historic American highway with a rich history spanning three centuries. It starts in Key West, Florida and ends in Fort Kent, Maine and some of the cities along the way include Miami, Washington, New York City and Boston. Filmmaker Robert Kramer decided to travel the entire route in 1988 with his friend Paul McIsaac and make a film about the journey. Part of his intent was to explore and document the lives and mind set of the people he met along the way but also to come to terms with his own feelings about America after living abroad for almost a decade. The completed film, Route One USA (1989), is a fascinating mosaic of American culture and much more than just a time capsule since it reveals the roots of the polarization and fragmentation that is affecting our country today.   Continue reading

Balm for the Soul

The Japanese poster for The Burmese Harp (1956)

In 1955 Kon Ichikawa was a well established filmmaker in Japan who was mostly known for satiric comedies like Mr. Pu (1953) and A Billionaire (1954) and the occasional literary adaptation like Young People (1952). His work was still unknown outside of his own country but that would change with his 27th film, The Burmese Harp (Japanese title: Biruma no tategoto, 1956). It would prove to be his first major critical and box office success in Japan but also one that would bring him international acclaim. “That was the first film I really felt I had to make,” Ichikawa later admitted to author and film scholar Donald Richie.   Continue reading

Down the Noir Highway

What could make a reputable insurance instigator go bad? A beautiful woman? Lots of loot? A sense of empowerment? For Joe Peters (Charles McGraw), it’s all of these things but it’s definitely a femme fatale named Diane (Joan Dixon) who first ignites the copper’s lust and then his greed. Roadblock (1951) is a cleverly plotted, terse little film noir that has more twists and hairpin turns than a winding mountain road. What makes it stand out from other low-budget noirs produced at RKO is Charles McGraw’s compelling performance as an easily seduced sucker unlike his usual tough guy roles and Joan Dixon’s sultry presence.  Continue reading