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.

Lisbon: City of Dreams, City of Despair

The Covid-19 crisis has taken its toll on film distribution and exhibition as we know it and there is no guaranteed that attending films in the near future will resemble anything like movie-going prior to the pandemic. This challenging situation has encouraged some distributors and filmmakers to come up with more innovative ways to reach their audience and one of them is to offer direct streaming options to viewers. This has resulted in some new movies receiving a world premiere showcase on the internet along with restored classics from aboard that never received an American release such as Paulo Rocha’s Os Verdes Anos aka The Green Years (1963), filmed in Lisbon, Portugal’s capital.   Continue reading

Justice is Served

Now this is the sort of film title I’d like to see in an era where the rich are getting richer, the middle class is eroding and the poor are becoming a majority. But Millionaires in Prison (1940) is not in the muck-racking tradition of Inside Job (2010) or Capitalism: A Love Story (2009) or Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room (2005). Instead, it’s a 1940 grade-B programmer from RKO which serves up two terrific premises but doesn’t quite deliver on either in the expected way. Still, it’s rather astonishing that the filmmakers were able to shoehorn two ambitious storylines along with a romantic subplot (two of the convict protagonists have girlfriends on the outside) into a 65-minute movie.   Continue reading

The Lovely Bones

Often relegated to the ranks of sexploitation filmmakers, French director Jean Rollin has enjoyed a critical reassessment in recent years that he never experienced during his prolific filmmaking years in France, where he was mostly dismissed by the country’s leading critics. Many of his films utilized horror film conventions (graveyards, vampires, zombies) as well as exploitation tactics (gore and nudity) but combined them in a way that were uniquely his own. The Iron Rose (1973, aka La rose de fer), however, was a complete departure from Rollin’s previous efforts and was unlike anything he would ever attempt again. Closer in form to an experimental film than something that would fit comfortably into the horror genre, the movie is a macabre mood piece with poetic touches that recalls the films of Jean Cocteau and Georges Franju.   Continue reading

Donald Shebib’s Feature Film Debut

The Canadian film industry has never experienced a time in their history where their regional cinema ignited an influential movement like the Nouvelle Vague films of France in the late 50s or Australian’s New Wave films of the 70s. Instead they tend to be viewed more as a functioning subsidiary of the U.S. film industry, occasionally providing locations, cast and crew and other services to American productions. Yet, movie lovers often forget that the country’s national treasure, The Film Board of Canada, continues to be one of the most prolific creators of internationally renowned animation and documentary films, which have garnered 12 Oscars and 74 Oscar nominations to date. Canada has also produced a number of artistic and critically acclaimed feature films which have enriched world cinema such as Claude Jutra’s Mon Oncle Antoine (1971), David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers (1988), Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions (2004) and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (2007). And one film that continues to make Canadian critics’ all-time top ten movie lists is Donald Shebib’s Goin’ Down the Road (1970), although it is not as well known among American viewers as the aforementioned titles.    Continue reading

When Ginger Met Ronald

Chemistry between actors is a curious thing. It can result in some kind of indecipherable but wondrous alchemy that crackles and pops or a concoction that simply refuses to strike fire like soggy matches.  It works best or most memorably when the least likely actors are paired together in a movie and click beyond all expectations – Fonda and Stanwyck in The Lady Eve, Bogart and Hepburn in The African Queen or Lancaster and Kerr in From Here to Eternity. When it doesn’t work, you end up with something inert and lifeless like Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl or Sophia Loren and Anthony Perkins in Desire Under the Elms. There is also that gray area in between where it both sparks and fizzles out simultaneously, allowing you to see the potential in a promising pairing. Such is the case with Lucky Partners (1940), which stars Ginger Rogers and Ronald Colman in a whimsical romantic comedy based on the 1935 French comedy written directly for the screen by the prolific dramatist/actor/director Sacha Guitry. That’s part of the problem right there.    Continue reading

Othello, King of Bebop

Attempts to bring Shakespeare to the masses can be ill-advised and most film adaptations of the Bard’s work are either faithful copies of the stage plays such as Laurence Olivier’s Henry V (1944) and Richard III (1955) that preserve the language of the original or creative interpretations that either result in a broader appeal (Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, 1996) or earn the wrath of the Shakespeare purists without appealing to anyone else. All Night Long (1962), which updates Othello to London’s West End in the early sixties and transforms the Moor of Venice into a renowned jazz pianist known as Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris), falls into the latter category.      Continue reading

The Revolution WILL Be Televised

What would drive a peaceful, non-violent student protester to become a bomb maker in a subversive political organization? What ideology would cause an Ivy League college graduate to sever all contact with their family and friends and go into hiding for years, hunted by the FBI? What convinces someone that the U.S. government is their enemy and to fight them by any means necessary? These are some of the questions which are raised and answered by two fascinating documentaries on the same subject – Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s The Weather Underground (2002), which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and Emile de Antonio’s infamous Underground (1976).    Continue reading

Clothes Make the Man

How much of your identity is reflected in the clothes you wear? For some, fashion is the truest form of self-expression. It is who you are…or who you want to be. Some of the greatest fashion designers of our time have stated as much while offering other reasons for why it is important. Alexander McQueen said, “Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment” and Coco Chanel once remarked, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” This is certainly something to mull over while watching Quentin Dupieux’s dark, twisted fable, Deerskin (French title: Le Daim, 2019), which isn’t really about fashion per se but self-expression, creativity and being different are clearly part of the film’s thematic interests.   Continue reading

Beware of Japanese Cats

The avenging cat witch ghost is the star of Nobuo Nakagawa’s Black Cat Mansion aka Borei Kaibyo Yashiki (1958).

Every national cinema has their own homegrown subgenres and mythology when it comes to horror films and I think Japan has some of the most unique and bizarre creatures of all such as the hopping Umbrella ghost from Yokai hyaku monogatari (1968, aka The Hundred Monsters) or the rampaging stone idol of the Majin trilogy which began in 1966. Yet, in terms of eerie beauty and supernatural creepiness, I’m drawn to the bakeneko-mono stories from Japanese folklore with their shape-shifting cat demons and one of my favorites is Borei Kaibayo Yashiki (1958, aka Black Cat Mansion aka Mansion of the Ghost Cat).     Continue reading

The Way of All Flesh

Every once in a while a low-budget independent film with a no-name cast will come along and captivate critics and audiences alike with its audaciousness, honesty and ability to transcend easy categorization. In the film industry, they sometimes call this a “sleeper” and, while this kind of movie rarely becomes a box office hit, it can acquire a cult status or insider buzz that saves it from falling off the radar and vanishing into obscurity. Such is the case with A Cold Wind in August (1961), a steamy little adult drama that was targeted for grindhouses and the drive-in trade with the tagline: “If you care about love, you’ll talk about a teenage boy and a woman who is all allure, all tenderness…all tragedy.” The poster depicted two lovers in a torrid horizontal embrace while the figure of an exotic stripper, dressed in an open cape and eye mask, towers over them, revealing her shapely, half-naked body.
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