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  • October 5, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: The Letter

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Bette Davis’ classic films, directed by William Wyler.


    The Letter (1940)

    When Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis), mistress of a rubber plantation in Malaysia, shoots and kills a male friend who pops in and makes advances, trusting husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) wants to protect his shaken bride as best he can. But close friend and lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) is suspicious of Leslie’s story, owing to the existence of an incriminating letter in the possession of the victim’s Eurasian widow (Gale Sondergaard).

    Why I Love It:
    Adapted from a story by W. Somerset Maugham, “The Letter” is a taut, riveting suspense picture. After the huge success of 1938’s “Jezebel,” director Wyler was asked to helm another Davis picture- and again he hit pay dirt, crafting a dark, sultry atmosphere that complements all the scandalous intrigue. Davis is tops as the lady we love to hate, and Sondergaard’s wordless turn as the wronged woman nearly steals the show. (Trivia note: Wyler, Davis, and Marshall would all reunite the following year for “The Little Foxes”).

  • September 26, 2012

    New York Film Festival’s 50th Anniversary, the Director’s Last Hurrah

    by Perry Santanachote for NYC-ARTS

    The 2012 New York Film Festival begins Friday, Sept. 28 and marks the 50th anniversary of this influential film series produced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It’s also the last lineup Program Director Richard Peña will shape. The life-long movie buff has headed the festival’s selection committee for the past 25 years, watching it grow, evolve and adapt to the digital age. He’ll continue teaching Film Studies at Columbia University and host Reel13 on THIRTEEN, but his next summer will most likely be spent in Brazil instead of the Upper West Side. Here he talks with NYC-ARTS about what’s in store for the big 5-0, how the American audience has changed, and how this shift in movie culture creates the biggest challenge films have ever faced.

    Continue reading at MetroFocus.

  • September 23, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: Henry V

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the exceptional adaptation of Shakespeare’s finest historical play, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh.


    Henry V (1989)

    What It’s About:
    When a flap-up with King Charles of France (Paul Scofield) escalates into full-blown war, England’s hotheaded soldier-king Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) assembles an army to invade the Gallic homeland. Drastically outnumbered, Henry rallies courage and leads his men to victory at the Battle of Agincourt, all the while wooing France’s comely Princess Catherine (Emma Thompson).

    Why I Love It:
    With this exceptional adaptation of Shakespeare’s finest historical play, English upstart Kenneth Branagh proved himself worthy of the heights set by Sir Laurence Olivier, whose own 1944 production still shines. Branagh updated the look and feel of the Bard’s drama for modern film-going audiences, making Prince Hal a ferocious, charismatic hero of the battlefield and giving his mud- and blood-soaked war scenes a visceral punch. Plus, how can you argue with a cast that includes luminaries like Dench, Holm, Jacobi, and a who’s who of British theater?

  • September 16, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: A Raisin in the Sun

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Sidney Poitier’s magnificent films, directed by Daniel Petrie.


    A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

    What It’s About:
    Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier) is a proud but frustrated young man counting on his recently widowed mother, Lena (Claudia McNeil), to let him invest her $10,000 life-insurance check in a business which could lift him and his family out of their dead-end existence. Despite her son’s entreaties, Lena plans to buy a home and leave Chicago’s South Side for good, stoking Walter’s anguish and resentment.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play, Daniel Petrie’s magnificent “A Raisin In The Sun” provides an ideal star vehicle for young Poitier’s explosive talent. The actor projects barely suppressed rage as he pleads with Claudia McNeil’s resolute matriarch, who wants to use her money to buy a new home. Poitier’s raw desperation is palpable as his one chance to better himself slips away. See this for Poitier’s intense performance, and McNeil’s equally powerful turn as his mother. Ruby Dee also scores as Ruth, Walter’s long-suffering wife.

  • September 9, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: In A Lonely Place

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Humphrey Bogart’s great movies, directed by Nicholas Ray.


    In A Lonely Place (1950)

    What It’s About:
    Volatile screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart) finds himself in hot water, needing to clear himself of a murder rap. Fortunately his new sexy neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) is on-hand to supply Dixon with an alibi. Then, as she gets to know him more intimately, Laurel begins to second-guess her own memory. Has she helped a murderer go free?

    Why I Love It:
    Nicholas Ray’s first-rate noir entry defines everything a whodunit should be. Bogie seems tailor-made for the role of the tortured, enigmatic writer, while Grahame lends a sultry, heavy-lidded allure to the character of Laurel. (Trivia note: Grahame was actually married to the director at the time, but they split soon after.) Probing, literate and atmospheric, this is one “Place” very much worth visiting.

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