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.

My Name is Ivan

“My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle. Suddenly, I found myself standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me. It was a room I had always wanted to enter and where he was moving freely and fully at ease. I felt encouraged and stimulated: someone was expressing what I had always wanted to say without knowing how. Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” – Ingmar Bergman

Nikolai Burlyaev gives a stunning performance as a war refugee turned Russian spy in Ivan’s Childhood (1962), the feature film debut of director Andrei Tarkovsky.

A harrowing yet poetic account of war seen through the eyes of a twelve year old boy, Ivan’s Childhood aka My Name is Ivan (1962) was Andrei Tarkovsky’s first feature film and one that had a major impact on Russian cinema and the international film world (It won the Golden Lion at the 1962 Venice International Film Festival). Continue reading

High School Was Never Like This!

Among the many peculiar assemblages of cast and crew in Hollywood history, Pretty Maids All in a Row (1971) is in a class by itself. A black comedy set in a California high school where someone is murdering female students, the film marked the U.S. film debut of French director Roger Vadim (Barbarella, 1968) with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry producing and writing the screenplay. Mix in a number of seasoned Hollywood professionals (Rock Hudson, Angie Dickinson, Roddy McDowall, Keenan Wynn, William Campbell) with a hip, younger cast of aspiring actors and starlets. Top it off with a music score by Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible, 1996) and a theme song co-written by Christian music mogul Mike Curb and sung by The Osmonds. And the result is a delicious guilty pleasure for some and a cringe-inducing embarrassment for others. There is no middle ground here unless you choose to view the film as a sociology experiment.   Continue reading

Reggae Roots 101

When it comes to feature length documentaries on music that had a theatrical release and weren’t concert films, ska and reggae music are sadly missing in the mix. Sure, there have been some highly influential cult movies fueled by reggae music – The Harder They Come (1972), Rockers (1978) and Babylon (1980) – but no first-rate documentaries on the subject. Certainly Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records (2018) is an admirable attempt to correct this situation and, for those who know little about the famous record label or the rise of ska and reggae music in the mid-sixties, it is a great place to start.  Continue reading

John Ford’s Up the River

If someone used the expression “up the river” in the early part of the 20th century, they usually weren’t referring to a location or direction; they meant prison time for some fool. Although there is nothing funny about going to jail, director John Ford decided to take a lighthearted approach to the topic in Up the River (1930), one of his earliest sound features.    Continue reading

Monkey Repellers Wanted!

If someone told you that repelling monkeys was a profession in some countries, you’d probably think it was a joke but in New Delhi, India it is not only a legitimate occupation but a much-needed service. In recent years, the macaque monkey population has increased and grown increasingly aggressive in their search for food, invading government offices, private businesses and public spaces. Their constant presence has become a major nuisance and sometimes a physical threat to local residents and tourists (they carry the herpes B virus). As a result, New Delhi officials have employed a number of professional monkey repellers to try to control the situation and Anjani (Shardul Bhardwaj), a new recruit from the provinces, finds the situation overwhelming in Prateek Vats’s feature film, Eeb Allay Ooo!  Continue reading

Oedipus Rex in Drag

Next to William Shakespeare, Sophocles is probably the most enduring and internationally renowned dramatist in terms of his work still being adapted for the stage, television and cinema and I doubt you will find a more bizarre or outre version of his Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex than Funeral Parade of Roses. Directed by Japanese avant-garde filmmaker Toshio Matsumoto, this revelatory 1969 movie – it was his first feature film after several experimental shorts – is just as fresh and startling today as it was when it first appeared over fifty years ago.    Continue reading

Irish Ghostbusters

Can you name five great paranormal comedy movies released in the past decade? I’m drawing a blank. By my estimation, two of the best comedies about the spirit world were released back in the eighties – Ghostbusters (1984) and Beetlejuice (1988) – and there has been nothing to really rival them since then. Of course, if we were to broaden the search to include best horror comedies of the past decade then I would have to pick the 2014 vampire satire What We Do in the Shadows, written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, and their subsequent FX TV series based on the film. If you are fans of those, you will probably get a kick out of Extra Ordinary (2019), a paranormal comedy from Ireland that is almost as witty, twisted and silly as anything the Clement-Waititi team can conjure up. Continue reading

Jack Webb: Drill Instructor

“I AM NOT YOUR MOTHER!” – Sergeant Jim Moore

One of the more popular releases in the Warner Archives Collection, The D.I. (1957) was not a box office smash upon its original release but the cult of Jack Webb has grown considerably since then and The D.I. is undiluted, industrial-strength Webb; the star/director/producer is on the screen almost the entire time during this 106 minute marine training drama.  Continue reading

Abattoir Blues

“I wanted to do something that reflected the way people in the community would see themselves. Coming from another place, you can see a much larger picture. But when you’re in a well, you can only see the narrow light above. If you’ve been living like that for a long time, it can have an unproductive effect on you in many ways. So it wasn’t my personal conflicts. It was the conflict of the community.” – Director Charles Burnett in an interview with Filmmaker Magazine about his film Killer of Sheep.

After more than 42 years, Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) is now recognized as a seminal film in the indie film movement of the ‘70s even though it didn’t receive a wide release until 2007 via Milestone Films. In fact, Burnett never really intended for the film to have a theatrical release; he made it as his thesis film at UCLA. But retrospective screenings of the film and the resulting critical acclaim culminated in Killer of Sheep winning the Forum of New Cinema prize at the 1981 Berlin International Film Festival. Other accolades followed such as being selected by the National Film Registry in 1990 for film preservation and winning a special award from the New York Film Critics Circle in 2007. Not bad for a movie shot on 16mm and made for a rock bottom budget of $10,000 from film grants.   Continue reading

The Working Woman’s Dilemma

Kay Francis was the most glamorous and popular actress on the Warner Bros. lot in the early 1930s.

By 1935 Kay Francis was at the peak of her film career and the highest paid actress on the Warner Bros. lot. While her image as a chic and stylishly dressed sophisticate eventually worked against her, obscuring her genuine talent as an actress, Francis was amazingly prolific in the early sound era, averaging four to five movies a year opposite such dashing leading men as Ronald Colman (Raffles, 1930), William Powell (Ladies’ Man, 1931), Joel McCrea (Girls About Town, 1931), Fredric March (Strangers in Love, 1932), and Herbert Marshall (Trouble in Paradise, 1932).   Despite the often clichéd and formulaic scripts she was given by the studio, which were mostly soap operas, tearjerkers and romantic dramas, Francis still managed to display her versatility in a variety of films that deserve to be better known today such as the delightful caper comedy Jewel Robbery (1932), the exotic Pre-Code melodrama Mandalay (1934) and the offbeat espionage thriller British Agent (1934). But there are plenty of lesser known efforts in her filmography that deserve rediscovery and one of the most intriguing is Stranded (1935), a curious blend of romance, New Deal optimism, and crime drama directed by Frank Borzage and pairing Francis with George Brent, who first appeared with the actress in The Keyhole (1931). (Brent would soon become Bette Davis’s leading man of choice at Warner with that actress replacing Francis as the queen of the lot).   Continue reading