MoviefiedNYC‘s Ten Best Movies of 2017

Here it is, better late than never, MoviefiedNYC‘s Ten Best Movies of 2017. It was not a banner year for great movies but once the last quarter arrived, September through December ultimately redeemed 2017 and proved to be an ok year at the movies!        Here are the Ten Best of 2017 as seen by John David West:

1. Dunkirk


Witnessing Christopher Nolan’s latest experiment with time was initially frustrating, but ultimately mind-blowing. It was a unique cinematic experience making for a refreshing departure from the sappy Hollywood war film—or any predictable narrative, plot-driven movie. Nolan takes viewers through a turning point of WWII with an immersive experience on land, sea, and air, revealing the soldiers’ confusion, fear, and drive to survive. Their experience is the viewer’s experience and is historic and important from a cinematic perspective. Hans Zimmer’s score is equally effective as are incredible visuals by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar).

2. The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro is at the top of his game with this beautifully conceived fairytale for adults. With exquisite art direction, fluid cinematography by Dan Laustsen, a dreamy score by Alexandre Desplat (The Tree of Life), and a strong performance by Sally Hawkins; the world that del Turo has created makes this film stand out as one of the most unique movies of 2017. One can’t help but think of the 1955 classic B-movie, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but this m/animal has more depth and love. And there’s a Good versus Evil element, with Good represented by characters on the margins of society.

3. Phantom Thread


Director Paul Thomas Anderson delivers a quiet mood piece that is beautifully styled, and artistically stylized. It’s lovely to look at, thanks to Anderson’s careful attention to detail in every shot. The cinematography—by Anderson himself—brings viewers in close contact with the fabric and feel of dresses as the characters make them. The score by Jonny Greenwood equally matches the lush visual textures seen on screen. This is a film involving three people: dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville), and Reynolds’ lover, Alma (Vicky Krieps). All actors are as exquisite as the other elements of this film and delicately funny.

4. Call Me by Your Name

Is this the annual pretentious film appealing only to lovers of high art, beauty, language, and the finer things in life that elevate us? Those elements are all there in a multi-linguistic script that is balanced and restrained, thanks to Luca Guadagnino’s measured direction. The film’s elements are indeed beautiful (the “Somewhere in northern Italy” location, the actors, and the soundtrack), but above all, the film’s subject is universally relatable. No matter whom you love, the pain of love and loss sticks with you long after the film’s credits end—and what’s portrayed behind those final credits makes the film devastating and unforgettable.

5. I, Tonya

Movie snobs beware, Tonya Harding is the subject of a narrative film and it’s funny and campy, it winks at its audience in a faux documentary style, it’s a tragic comedy about a comically tragic event, and it’s damn good. When I first heard about I, Tonya, I thought, “oh hell yes, this will be a hoot to watch,” a hoot in the campy Lifetime movie sense—certainly not in the Academy Award level sense! Margo Robbie kills it as Tonya. We are with her—elevated with joy—when she triple axels her way to the top of the podium at the US Championships, and we feel the pain of a too harsh sentencing when she’s stripped of her US figure skating rights and never allowed to skate again. One can’t help but think, “Jesus, at least let her skate in an animal suit in Ice Capades; she’s not a child molester or a drug kingpin—it’s just ice-skating after all!” Allison Janney also kills as Tonya’s monstrous mother. For a film about a kooky moment in sports history that centers on a bunch of foolhardy “Boobs,” it’s impressive how moving I, Tanya is.

6. Get Out

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Jordan Peele brilliantly takes the anxiety felt by American minorities and submerges it into a thriller to capture today’s racial tension. This multilayered horror, sometimes-comedy draws on the ever-present U.S. issues of black and white racial tensions and the legacies of American slavery. Peele makes us question where all the racists suddenly came from when Trump became President, folks who were previously silenced and muzzled by political correctness. Get Out is not only a good horror film—a difficult achievement in itself—it’s a film that will be remembered as an important movie that reflects the time in which it was made.

7. Florida Project

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Sean Baker’s latest social-realistic film introduces viewers to another set of enigmatic characters who live on the fringe of society. Halley (Bria Vinaite) and her daughter (Brooklynn Prince) survive on the edge of homelessness in a motel called the Magic Castle, near Disney World. The exterior of the motel is a vibrant cheap purple, and this creates a delightfully colorful world in contrast to occupants’ poverty, but at the same time reflects the children’s joyous summertime play. The film easily brings back memories of those days of childhood wonder, regardless of one’s economic status or what neighborhood you grew up in. Their world contrasts sharply to Disney’s with its pricy fun far out of financial reach to many. Too obvious a metaphor? Perhaps, but watching these characters live makes the film remarkable.  Florida Project doesn’t have a deeply complicated plot and the mother doesn’t have a traditional character arc whereby she learns and grows—she’s a tragic figure. Above all Brooklynn Prince, whose naturalness infuses Florida Project with energy and charm, makes you want to keep watching her—and everyone—live and behave in their world.

8. Faces Places

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At 89 years old Agnès Varda—a legend of the French New Wave—is still making movies, and this time she’s found sweet perfection as she teams up with 35 year old photographer, JR. Together they make for the most unlikely duo to entertain audiences in years. Faces Places is a road movie that travels through rural France and shows us the extraordinary beauty of seemingly ordinary people. And the movie may make a historic stamp on cinema when the father of the French New Wave, Jean-Luc Godard, makes the mother of the French New Wave cry—he doesn’t even appear in the movie and yet Goddard is still affecting cinema.

9. Good Time

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Who is that scruffy skinny actor so full of energy? Why it’s Robert Pattinson! He plays the worst brother a sibling could be cursed with, especially one who is mentally disabled. After a bank robbery that goes really bad, Connie’s (Robert Pattinson younger brother Nick (Benny Safdie one-half of the film’s brother directors) ends up in prison. Good Time has been compared to Martin Scorsese’s 1985 Tribeca odyssey After Hours. The comparison is certainly fair, only this NYC odyssey pushes it to full-throttle taking viewers in a rapid fire pace through Manhattan and God knows which borough of New York City.

10. mother!

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Without a doubt mother! is the most polarizing film of the year. It pissed a lot of people off, made others laugh, and inspired endless “WTF” text messages upon its release. Once the allegory is clear, mother! sends your mind spinning. It’s an apocalyptic, biblical tale that layers on elements of war, invasion, and climate change, resulting in an experience that is disturbing, maddening, and sits with you for days. Michelle Pfeiffer delivers one of her best performances in years, and Jennifer Lawrence (this year’s Razzie nominee for worst actress), is well cast in one of her best role since Winter’s Bone.

Honorable Mention:

Blade Runner 21. Bladerunner 2049
2. Lady Bird
3. Coco
4. The Killing of a Sacred Deer
5. Mudbound

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Five Classic Horror Movies from the Zealot

Sure, you could watch a classic horror movie this like Halloween, Psycho, or The Thing, but why not try some offbeat chillers to give you the holiday shivers? Here are 5 flicks guaranteed to raise the goosebumps.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)

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This film version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale of a scientist’s experiments with mind and body transformations via a laboratory potion was castigated and an embarrassing flop on it’s initial release.
Many thought Spencer Tracy’s two character performance was hammy and hamfisted. He even thought it would ruin his career! It’s time for a rewrite. Let’s start with the production. It got the full luxe MGM treatment.There’s nothing like fog-blanketed Victorian London to set a moody tone and here you get those eerie cobblestoned passageways with a murderous cloaked madman flitting about the barred parks and side streets like a superhuman acrobat. Chillingly beautiful. And then the cast: Tracy brings a nuanced interpretation to the halved protagonist, more psychological than Freddie Kruger scary. Stevenson’s idea of Everyman being a receptacle of Good and Evil is ratcheted up another Freudian notch. The Evil is our id, sexual repression leads to beastly carnality. The good doctor is torn between his virginal fiance, Lana Turner as a dewey Victorian Barbie doll, and the lustier bad girl, Ingrid Bergman as a hotly-totsy barmaid garbling a dubious Cockney accent. Each woman toys with his inner urges (given how stunningly beautiful they’re filmed by lensman Joseph Ruttenberg, is it any wonder?) and each summons up that creepy ol’ Mr. Hyde in some disturbing shock moments. But if there’s one reason to see how legendary director Victor Fleming spins the yarn, it’s in the Jekyll-to-Hyde mutation sequences. The images that are careening thru Jekyll’s brain are so bizarro you wonder “How did this get past the Hayes office??” Need I say more than Tracy flogging two horses with a whip, one white, one black, who morph into galloping naked Turner and Bergman? If that doesn’t get you to watch this underrated classic I don’t know what will.

Cat People (1942)

cat-people-10-leopardCat People (1942) The best horror film of the ’40s. Kent Smith is a draughtsman who meets cute and weds a mysterious Serbian fashion designer, the kittenish Simone Simon. Things turn eerie when she tells him they can’t consummate the marriage because she’s cursed by an Old World spell wherein she’ll turn into a deadly panther if they do! Sounds hokey but it’s got scenes of real shock and terror that have been ripped off for decades. A masterly use of atmosphere, sound effects, and inky dark shadows to make you squirm.

Bedlam (1946)

29-bedlam-400What if you’re committed to an mental asylum and you keep insisting you’re sane…but no one believes you? That scary old premise is given a good turn in this literate and moody horror drama. Anna Lee is the crusading do-gooder who wants to reform the inhuman conditions of Bedlam, the infamous 18th century London madhouse. But the cruel director of the joint, lispy Boris Karloff, catches wind of her scheme and has her thrown in with all the ‘loonies’ through some political sleight of hand. How she plots to keep her wits about her and escape the spooky place is satisfying fun. And if the actress sounds familiar it’s because she went on to become the kindly matriarch Lila Quartermaine 35 years later on the soap “General Hospital”.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

creature-black-lagoonYes, it’s just a stuntman in a rubber lizard suit, but this atmospheric frightfest has more to offer than it’s (well-deserved) shocks. A team of paleontologists take a tramp steamer deep into the Amazon jungle searching for the remains of prehistoric ‘gill man’ and surprise, he still around to wreak havoc on their mission. Take it all at kitschy face value or look closer and see the real ‘creature’ here is the male ego of the two lead scientists (Richard Carlson, Richard Denning) who vie for the attention of their female cohort (Julie Adams). It’s monster as symbolic sexual frustration. When the big reptile ogles her in a famous underwater pas de deux, the chills are sexy AND spine tingling. 

The Conqueror Worm (1968)

witchfinder-general-18On the surface this looks like another one of those overought ’60s Edgar Allen Poe pictures where Vincent Price hammed it up amongst the pits and the pendulums. But look again, it’s a thoughtful meditation on pervasive corruption in religion and government. Here he’s Matthew Hopkins–a character loosely base on fact—a lawyer in 17th century England who’s a self appointed witch-hunter,  going from village to village executing anyone being suspected of witchcraft or satanism. For the right price. Bleak and unflinching, there are some gruesome scenes of torture and violence so be prepared. But Price is the very picture of smug malevolence in the name of religion, (he considered it his best performance), a baddie with haunting echoes of current events . . . Ted Cruz ring a bell? So it’s worth the time if you can stomach the horror.

—Ron Castillo

You can read more of Ron’s choice picks, penchants, and caprices at The Celluloid Zealot

Secret Agent (1936)

secret-agent-1They’re well nigh on being 80 years old, but the films of Alfred Hitchcock’s British Period, his vastly entertaining oeuvre before he crossed over the pond to the cinematic heights of Hollywood, are looking as fresh and fascinating as ever. Case in point: Secret Agent, a very fine spy picture that boasts some haunting visual set pieces and a thoughtful study on the human toll of war and the causal need for state sanctioned murder. John Gielgud is a reluctant undercover British agent sent to Switzerland to find and kill a notorious German spy. He’s aided by a scene stealing Peter Lorre as an amoral devil doll sidekick. There’s no low ebb in this amped up performance; he’s a walking id leering at all the ladies or dead set on enemy homicide. The cooly beautiful Madeleine Carroll—the proto “Hitchcock Blonde”—is also on hand as the third spy assigned to the case. She’s Gielgud’s marital cover, slowly falling for her faux hubby, but also swatting away the advances of a charming American tourist, Robert “Marcus Welby” Young. The cast effortlessly handles the witty dialog and espionage derring-do, while Hitchcock cannily exploits the Teutonic locale. You get loads of Alps, mountain climbing, cute Dachshunds, and a sinister chocolate factory, but more importantly, a thoughtful meditation on the price of human life during wartime. Best of all, you can catch this gem on YouTube, watch it here.

—Ron Castillo

You can read more of Ron’s choice picks, penchants, and caprices at The Celluloid Zealot

Streaming on Netflix: The Nightmare

The-Nightmare-Poster-350x517To highlight one of the many movies we’ve covered in the past that’s now currently streaming on Netflix, we are reposting our 2015 feature on The Nightmare. The interview below features one of the stars of The Nightmare, Kate Angus who recently published her beautifully realized debut book So Late to the Party.

“There’s nothing we can do when it chooses to visit us, but to breathe, keep our eyes open, and wait for morning.”
—Kate Angus

Sometime last year my dear friend Kate Angus sent me a random text announcing that she was going to appear in a documentary about sleep paralysis. I soon forgot about it, then months later she sent me another text: “they’re coming over to shoot the documentary at my apartment—OMG, I’ve spent the whole day cleaning!” “Who is the director,” I asked. “Rodney Ascher. He did some documentary a year ago that got good reviews.” I replied, “That’s awesome!” It was then that I took this thing more seriously. However, knowing that Asher is the director of Room 237, I thought, God I hope he doesn’t make her look like a nut case! Over the following months, I kept my thoughts and fears to myself, and did as any good friend would, telling Kate that she would be fine and most importantly—if she did come off a little crazy—I was certain she would, at least, look pretty.

In Rodney Ascher’s 2011 documentary Room 237, he assembles a collection of slightly off (I’m being kind) interviewees who discuss their various conspiracy theories around the film The Shining. This time, in The Nightmare he assembles a collection of similarly likable if not awkward interviews where the victims of a disorder known as sleep paralysis retell their worst nightmares. The disorder, where a patient is stuck in a conscious, dream-like state while physically paralyzed, is accompanied with terrifying nightmares and the specific visit of a shadowy figure—sometimes sporting a Freddy Kruger like hat.

Kate was approached by Ascher, a confessed victim of the phenomenon himself, after he found an article in The Toast that she wrote in 2014 titled “The Dark Thing Beside You: Night Hags and Sleep Paralysis,” where she recounts her own experiences related to sleep paralysis.

The Nightmare opens this weekend in theaters and on VOD. Of course I had to take advantage of my friend’s “fifteen minutes,” and so we met at a crowded East Village wine bar for drinks, an interview, and a chance for me to go on the record by saying, “Kate, I’m so relieved that you don’t look or sound crazy.”   —John David West

“The word nightmare originates from sleep paralysis and its accompanying hallucinations. The Anglo-Saxons believed in a ghastly nocturnal visitor known as the mare (from the Old Norse mara); a night hag who would sit on sleepers’ chests and strangle them.”Kate Angus

 West: How did Rodney Asher find you?

Angus: Somebody from his production team, emailed me, and said that Rodney was coming to NY to interview a couple people and would I want to be one of them.

West: Did you know what you were getting into?

Angus: I didn’t think about it. I googled him, and I saw that he had one documentary out (Room 237), which got good reviews—but which I did not actually watch. I didn’t do my due diligence.

West: [Laughs] Had you watched it, you might not have wanted to do the interview.

Angus: But I have so many friends making docs, so when I see them go through the long process—Marah Strauch (Sunshine Superman), and my friend Barak who has been working on a documentary about a band [Silver Apples] for a number of years. So, I’ve been watching two friends that I adore go through the lengthy process of making a doc, trying to get people to talk to them, so now I have this inherent and ingrained desire to help somebody making a doc. So, I was like, well he seems reputable, he got good reviews. Here’s a man making a documentary and I want to be helpful. I didn’t really think about it all that carefully. I’m currently in a stage where I’ll say yes to whatever—we live in an unpredictable world, it might be fun! So I said yes and I kind of forgot about it.

West: How did you prepare?

Angus: I didn’t. I forgot. Then a few days before they were due to interview me, they called. Then I freaked out. Because they were going to film in my apartment. So instead of watching his other movie, I freaked out about cleaning my apartment. I just didn’t think about the fact that this is a documentary and that anything I say can be in the movie.

West: So you didn’t do any prep for the interview?

Angus: What is there to prep, David? It’s my life. They were going to ask me about my experiences. My preparation was cleaning my apartment. Oh, and deciding what to wear and putting on some eyeliner before they came over.

West: Did you think about that fact that it might be a movie that’s released in theaters?

Angus: I didn’t really think about that. I didn’t realize how much trust I had given to them until well after the fact. Then I was, oh, god, what if I look like a crazy person in this sleep paralysis documentary—they could make me look like a lunatic.

West: I remember when you texted me that you had been asked to do the movie. It wasn’t until long after you agreed [to be in the film] that I did my own due diligence and realized that this was the same director of Room 237—a movie I very much enjoyed—and that the interviewees were a bit kooky. Some were really kooky. Did you worry how you might sound?

Angus: Not really, I didn’t think about it at the time. I wished that I had. When I teach I have a teaching filter, so I don’t swear that often. But I don’t generally use—[laughs] what they call blue language—in my teaching. If I had thought about it, I would’ve remembered not to swear. Because that’s what bothers me the most about being in this documentary is, “oh, no I swear so much! My mother will be appalled.” [laughs] It’s shameful. I use bad language. I’m a failure as a WASP. I’m a WASPY failure.

West: But, Kate, you do swear in person.

Angus: But not on film, David.

West: They didn’t do any reenactment with your story.

Angus: No. Because I’m the most boring.

West: [laughs] Thank god!

Angus: I know.

West: Ascher didn’t interview any scientist or psychologist. You’re actually the closest thing to that.

Angus: I am the closest thing to a scientist or psychologist that they used and that’s not my normal hat. I’m glad I didn’t’t get a reenactment like the spiders, or the giant claw or the woman who had sex with her creature. I was glad that my sleep paralysis is so normal.

West: Is it stress related.

Angus: The last time I had it was when I saw a guy killed on the L train so yes.

West: When you in experiencing sleep paralysis are you aware that you’re in it?

Angus: Yes, I know it now. I mean the first time that it happened; I didn’t know what it was. I thought somebody broke into my building and they were going to rape and murder me. Then I looked up what I experienced on the Internet the next day and I found sleep paralysis. So I thought, “Oh, that’s what I have” and then ever since that first time, it wasn’t scary to me. It became sort of a metaphor, that’s how I rationalize it: in life, the few times I’ve had it have happened during times where I was figuratively paralyzed—during a stretch after grad school when I couldn’t find a job or when I saw someone die and couldn’t help them. Awake, I couldn’t change the external circumstances around me, so in sleep, I had sleep paralysis.

West: That’s why you didn’t get a reenactment! Yours wasn’t horrifying to you or the viewer.

Angus: Yeah, it was weirdly comforting; it was like, “Hey, there! Hi, Sleep Paralysis.”

 “Only New Guinea legend offers sleep paralysis not as thing to be feared, but rather as something potentially beautiful.” –Kate Angus

West: You touched upon the similar sleep paralysis shadows appear in different cultures.

Angus: Yeah, I really like the one [Asher] featured from New Guinea, tribe that believe paralysis comes from sacred trees, they need to feed on human essence to keep going, but they’re polite so they don’t want to do it while you’re awake, so they paralyze you while you’re asleep and feed on you then. But, sometimes you wake up in the middle [of a feeding] and that’s why you have sleep paralysis.

West: It’s a nice spin on it. But of the shadowy figures are terrifying to the interviewees.

Angus: I’m such an optimist about the world, so naturally I see a weird dark figure and I think “why wouldn’t it be nice?”

West: Hm? I’m from the Midwest too and I have to say that I don’t think I would react the same way. I mean some of the interviewees had really dramatic, life changing, reactions to their shadow figures. One girl turned to Christianity.

Angus: Yeah, well, OK, this is me speculating—I don’t know these people—and it’s probably unfair of me to speculate but I also wonder if they’ve had additional trauma in their lives.

West: Most people have some horrors in their past.

Angus: True, yes, everyone has something in the past that affects them and it can cause trauma, but my life was really – not – that – bad. I don’t mean to impose. I mean it not fair of me to put a narrative on other people.

West: The people in Room 237 appear a bit more crazy and weird than they are in this movie.

Angus: HOW?

West: They are, well with their wild—although entertaining, conspiracy theories and odd obsessions on [Kubrick’s] The Shining.

Angus: I believe Rodney interviewed a lot of people, and I’m sure there were a fair amount of people with boring stories like mine that didn’t make it into the film. But, since I’m a teacher, I’m pretty good at presenting boring material in an entertaining manner. It’s what I’m paid to do, with my meager little teaching salary.

West: But you didn’t embellish your story or experience

Angus: No, no, no, in fact it’s pretty boring, so clearly not.

West: Did your shadow figure wear a hat?

Angus: No. He didn’t have a hat. He was like Death from the Seventh Seal, but he didn’t have a face—or a hood, just that shape. It didn’t really have arms.

West: Oh my god. That’s scary. Wait, what makes him masculine?

Angus: It didn’t feel especially gendered but I guess it was masculine.

West: But what makes it masculine?

Angus: I don’t know. Maybe there’s more appeal in the masculine, maybe I have a patriarchy default setting.

West: Actually a lot of the [interviewees] saw masculine figures. There didn’t seem to be any women shadows.

Angus: Well, how do you know? I mean they weren’t chanting “I’m a man, I’m a man!” Or holding up a Playboy centerfold.

West: [laughs] They weren’t shadow lady figures with big racks either.

Angus: I’m a little offended by that. Even in the shadow world, you’re imposing cultural norms of beauty on women, you monster.

Our server, Marianne arrived just in time to check on us. After some polite customer-server talk we learned that Marianne was a wine and spirits specialist and asked her to create a drink for us. Something with cardamom, yuzu and gin.

West: Would you ever appear as an interviewee in a doc again?

Angus: Yes.

Marianne brought our drinks especially created for us,  to which we toasted documentaries and shadow spirits.

West: Kate, what would you do differently?

Kate took a generous sip of her icy cocktail of yuzu, gin, orange juice, and ginger and cardamom bitters

Angus: I wouldn’t swear as much!

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The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978)

Laura Mars1Director Irvin Kirshner did something pretty special with The Eyes of Laura Mars. He captured the visceral pulsating atmosphere of the dying days of that immoral Me Decade, the 1970’s, and the cultural nexus where all that grime, grit, glitter, and glamour was in full swing, the scary and wonderful New York City that President Ford had written off with a tart ‘drop dead’, but was still a thriving hothouse of creativity and social taboo busting. It’s all wrapped in a so-so thriller, but the plot, pure Hollywood twaddle,  is beside the point. It’s all about the visual milieu, the dirty streets, downtown discos, and pre-mall-ified SoHo. Faye Dunaway is a high fashion photographer who’s work is a mixture of style and violence, sex and danger. Gorgeous models are coldly impassive in tableaux vivant with guns, blood, fire, wrecked cars, and barking Dobermans. It’s Helmut Newton gone even more gonzo. But just like that she starts suffering from psychic spells where she’s seeing through the point of view of a crazed killer’s eyes. Everyone around her is getting bumped off. Dunaway pulls off the balance of strong career gal and vulnerable victim admirably, and she probably never looked better on film. Those cheekbones and stiletto heeled long legs were made to play a couture ice goddess. An earnest Tommy Lee Jones shows up as the hunky detective assigned to crack the implausible case and to save (and bed) Dunaway. If you don’t see the identity of the murderer coming from a mile away you’re more blind than Laura Mars. Just revel in the time capsule nature of the film and take yourself into that exciting pre-scrubbed-up Manhattan of yesterday where the dangerous mixed with the chic, and the result was decadently stimulating.

—Ron Castillo

You can read more of Ron’s choice picks, penchants, and caprices at The Celluloid Zealot

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Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)

Madding crowd 1The 1960’s It Girl, Julie Christie has a star turn in this very fine adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s proto-feminist 19th century novel. She’s a headstrong young woman who comes into a substantial inheritance, her wealthy uncle’s working farm. In good time she manages to beguile three different suitors all at once, making her the Goldilocks of the English countryside. One is too cold, the older and stuffy land baron next door (Peter Finch); one is too hot, the smoldering army sergeant (Terence Stamp) who, ahem, makes good use of his broadsword; and the last, the earthy farmhand (Alan Bates) may be just right. It’s all set in the achingly beautiful English countryside of Dorset and Wiltshire and the film feels as if it’s looking ahead to the style of the best ’70s cinema, it has a modern sensibility despite being a period costumer. Richard Rodney Bennett’s score is a big plus too.

—Ron Castillo

You can read more of Ron’s choice picks, penchants, and caprices at The Celluloid Zealot

Stamp Madding Crowd 1

The Witness: A Myth revealed

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I have to confess, lately I’m a a little burned out on documentaries. But after some feet dragging–I just wasn’t in the mood for more true stories of brutal murders of innocent people.  The Witness proved to be more than just a depressing expose on an infamous crime, but a thoroughly engrossing documentary. This eye-opening work by director James Soloman (The Conspirator, 2010) unpacks the details and misinformation surrounding the events and iconic death of Kitty Genovese, who in 1964 was reportedly killed in front of 38 witnesses in Queens, New York.

The Witness is a powerful look at the devastating results of irresponsible journalism. Over the years, the Genovese murder became the subject of numerous books, news reports, themes on episodic TV crime shows, and case studies; her brutal murder shocked the country and its myth has remained alive through the world over the last half century. What is most refreshing in The Witness is how the film brings Kitty to life and reveals the person behind the grotesque murder. For the first time in 50 years, we see her as a beloved sister, popular friend, and a never-forgotten lover. This is definitely a documentary that is worth your time. 

—John David West