by Sam Juliano
As we approach Christmas Day 2012, many of us with faith and optimism can look ahead to a much better year than the past one has yielded. While we at WitD feel the right candidate won the presidential election and the movies were generally better this year than they were in 2011, the past twelve months brought us far more tragedy than any any year since the 9-11 attacks over a decade ago. Hurricane Sandy inflicted massive damage and human loss, the movie theatre killings in Aurora, Colorado, shocked and traumatized a nation, and just a little over a week ago an unspeakable act of depravity at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut has darkened the holiday season, broke so many hearts, and left many of us feeling guilty for going on with our lives. We must go on of course, and we need to stress the positive and think of all the lovely people we know and interact with, and the knowledge that the vast majority of people are good, loving and supportive. The week’s wrenching funerals in Connecticut have affected so many of us, and while we move forward with our plans, hobbies and interests we do it with the heaviest hearts, knowing that others not so fortunate will be grieving for the rest of their lives, with their babies taken from them. As I stated on last week’s MMD, everything we do is meaningless in the wake of this most horrifying of deeds. I want to again thank the site’s own angel, Dee Dee, for posting the sidebar link on a way to show support for those who survived this unconscionable terror.
The site’s long-running comedy countdown concluded this past week in triumphant form, with some of the finest essays of the 20 week venture appearing appropriately enough right before the final bell. For the second year in a row Wonders in the Dark hosted a highly-successful community project that attracted some of the best film writers out there, and some of those scribe’s finest work. First of all I want to thank Maurizio Roca for his painstaking efforts in compiling and posting the weekly voter placement scrolls that appeared at the end of each individual review. This was a massive undertaking, and was sustained for well over four months. Richard R.D. Finch, one of the net’s finest writers, was incredibly supportive, and typically posted some of the most insightful comments day after day, usually in the very first spot after the review appeared. Jon Warner didn’t miss a single post, and as always his contributions were astute, informative and enthusiastic. Several others were there nearly every day and each have been invaluable at this site from Day One: Judy Geater, Pierre de Plume, Pat Perry, Dennis Polifroni, Frank Gallo, Sachin Gandhi, Peter M. and Shubhajit Lahiri. The writers of course gave this countdown some of the most exceptional writing an analysis the site has ever hosted and posted, and each one should be applauded: Jon Warner, Pat Perry, Judy Geater, Richard R.D. Finch, Ed Howard, John Greco, Tony d’Ambra, Brandie Ashe, Allan Fish, Mark Smith, Marilyn Ferdinand, Sachin Gandhi, Roderick Heath, Joel Bocko, Allan Fish, Shubhajit Lahiri, Maurizio Roca, Jamie Uhler, Pedro Silva, J.D. LaFrance, Dean Treadway, Jaimie Grijalba, David Schleicher, Jim Clark, Samuel Wilson and Bob Clark. I also want to offer my deepest gratitude to my dear friends Laurie Buchanan, David Noack and Frederick for their impassioned support for my own writings on the countdown. Needless to say Dee Dee was there a number of times as well to offer insights, support and vital technical assistance.
Speaking of Dee Dee, I again want to mention that the sidebar link to the “John Garfield petition” continues to attract support, as she just this past weekend has reported in an update. Over at Movie Classics Judy Geater continues her wonderful “Dickens in December” series, one that has treated cineastes to newly-resurrected rarities and some of the great cinematic adaptations from this literature icon.
Lucille and I (with Sammy for two, Broadway Bob for one, and Danny for one) saw five films over the past week, as the movie reasons reached it’s traditionally December climax. Over the coming days, the remainder of the A line releases will be opening: Les Miserables, Tabu and Django Unchained. In any case, I am sure I will catch some flak for this week inordinately high ratings, but heck this is the time of the year all the great films have ben held back for in the hopes of garnering some awards attention.
Zero Dark Thirty ***** (Wednesday night) Regal E Walk Cinemas
Amour ***** (Thursday night) Film Forum
Barbara ** 1/2 (Friday night) Angelika Film Center
The Impossible **** 1/2 (Friday night) Landmark Cinemas
The Perks of Being A Wallflower **** (Sunday) Landmark Cinemas
Katherine Bigelow’s extraordinary ZERO DARK THIRTY, a thriller/detective story hybrid that chronicles the real life revenge enacted against Islamic terror master Osama bin Laden can also be defined as a non-partisan intelligence procederal with some serious moral implications. The latter concern, documented with uncompromising and searing authenticity over the first 20 minutes or so of the film chronicles the torture of “Ammar” by American CIA and security operatives, one of whom is “Maya” played with ferocious intensity by Jessica Chastain in one of the year’s greatest performances. Bigelow’s refusal to take sides has attracted the outcry of some politicians, but there is nothing here that leaves one believing that anything has been fabricated or enhanced. And it’s clear this kind of intense interrogation led to the wipe-out of the world’s most wanted figure in a brilliant green-tinted end piece in the Pakistani bunker the world is now familiar with. The film opens with a dark screen, withall the audio panic of 9-11, and contains a speculative period, where lead-in events bring the SEAL teams and the CIA closer to their target. Brilliant script by Mark Boal, and videography by Grieg Fraser. A strong contender for film of the year on a Top Ten list I plan to finalize for publication at WitD on Monday, January 7.
The fragility of life and the inevitability of old-age check out is given austere treatment in an emotionally powerful film by Michael Haneke, AMOUR, which won this past year’s Palme d’Or, and has received some of the year’s most glowing reviews. Haneke makes no judgement on the deterioration of a relationship between two retired musical teachers, brilliantly played by Jean-Louis Trintigant and Emmanuele Riva, and with his customary clinical dissection he keep music out of the equation and leaves bare his examination of the last days of life. This is not a film one would probably want to see more than once, and it immersed in despair and the physical deterioration of old-age. As the daughter the great Isabelle Huppert, a past Haneke collaborator, tries to add some sense into the downward spiral, but the film makes it clear that there can never be a happy ending. There are some jolts here that will leave one disturbed, but there is no question this is filmmaking of the highest order, and one of the most wrenching depictions of old age on the screen.
BARBARA, a critically-praised German film by Christian Petzold that won the director top priced at Berlin, has an interesting visual style and a striking lead performance by Nina Ross as a chain-smoking introvert, but the film is excrutiatingly dull and Ross’ character is extremely detached and unlikeable. Set in 1980’s Germany, there is an accurate air of oppression, but there is nothing to allow for emotional connection, including a resistance to music, which in this case may have helped to establish what was ultimately missing.
THE IMPOSSIBLE, a wrenching drama about a real-life tsunami that delivers a lethal blow to Southeast Asia chronicles the separation and final reunion of five members of a family who miraculously survive, despite the high death doll. Naomi Watts gives a performance of exceeding physical endurance, while newcomer Tom Holland as the 14 year-old son delivers a scene-stealing turn as the pillar of strength in the nearly-apocalyptic aftermath that continues the separation. Spanish director J.A. Bayona pulls off the big set piece near the biginning with effective special effects, and while he uses Caucasians to fill in for a Spanish family (to conform with his preference to shoot the film in English) and thus violates the authenticity, I think it’s the spirit and resilience surrounding separation and the obsession for re-union that he is really after here. The composer Fernando Velazquez has contributed one of the most affecting musical scores of the year, and a vital component to this deeply-moving emotional equation.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER, written and directed by Stephen Chbosky is a deeply affecting coming-of-age drama set in Pittsburgh with a trio of exceptional performances by Logan Lerman (as the lead, playing a nervous and isolated high school freshman) Emma Watson and Ezra Miller. The film revolves around the lead’s opening up, after connected with his supportive English teacher Mr. Anderson, and after getting stoned on a spiked brownie. Various revelations and humor come through in the inspired script (a major plot point is revealed at the end) and the film makes excellent use of Bowie’s “Heroes” and the cult film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Though the film received excellent reviews I still found it a major surprise.
I have offered up a scroll today of 22 links, each a brand new update! I would have liked to go beyond this total, but I had to stop somewhere, as already the time invested was substantial:
Judy Geater’s magnificent “Dickens December” series continues with a profile of Orson Welles as a radio “Scrooge” at Movie Classics: http://movieclassics.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/orson-welles-as-a-very-young-scrooge-on-radio/
Jon Warner has penned a fabulous review on Melville’s “Le Cercle Rouge” at Films Worth Watching: http://filmsworthwatching.blogspot.com/2012/12/le-cercle-rouge-1970-directed-by-jean.html
At Speaking From The Heart Laurie Buchanan offers up another marvelous post, this one on “The Key of Sea-A Music Playlist to Write By”: http://holessence.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/the-key-of-sea-a-music-playlist-to-write-by/
Pat Perry speaks eloquently about the ‘unspeakable tragedy’ at Doodad Kind of Town: http://doodadkindoftown.blogspot.com/2012/12/this-is-not-post-i-had-planned.html
Samuel Wilson has crafted a terrific essay on Costa-Gavras’ “Z” at Mondo 70: http://mondo70.blogspot.com/2012/12/z-1969.html
At Vermillion and One Nights Murderous Ink has posted a spectacular piece on “Evangelion After Fukushima” (Part 2): http://vermillionandonenights.blogspot.com/2012/12/evangelion-after-fukushima-part-2.html
At Lost It at the Movies Movie Man Joel Bocko offers up a splendid screen capo display of “Leap of Faith”: http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2012/12/leap-of-faith.html#more
Fimmaker Jeffrey Goodman has several updates at The Last Lullaby, including his latest a splendid quartet of capsules that includes “The Breaking Point,” “Senna” and “The Edge of the World”: http://cliched-monologues.blogspot.com/2012/12/beau-travail-1999.html
David Schleicher has written a creative essay on Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” at The Schleicher Spin: http://theschleicherspin.com/2012/12/23/evolutionary-melodrama-and-triumph-of-the-human-spirit-in-rust-and-bone/
Richard R.D. Finch is leading up with his spectacular comedy countdown essay on “Sullivan’s Travels” at The Movie Projector: http://themovieprojector.blogspot.com/2012/12/sullivans-travels-1942.html
Shubhajit Lahiri has penned a superlative capsule piece on Claire Denis’s “Beau Travail” at Cinemascope, claiming ‘style over substance': http://cliched-monologues.blogspot.com/2012/12/beau-travail-1999.html
John Greco has a marvelous review of 1951’s incomparable “A Christmas Carol” up at Twenty-Four Frames: http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2012/12/21/a-christmas-carol-1951-brian-desmond-hurst/
Roderick Heath’s already legendary mega-essay on “Dr. Strangelove” is presently leading up at Ferdy-on-Films: http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/2012/dr-strangelove-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb-1964/17040/
Ed Howard’s magnificent review of Jean Rollin’s “Fascination” is leading up at Only the Cinema: http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.com/2012/12/fascination.html
Craig Kennedy has posted one of his greatest interviews ever at Living in Cinema, with Samantha Barks, the lovely young actress who plays Eponine in “Les Miserables”: http://livingincinema.com/2012/12/20/samantha-barks-flies-the-flag-for-eponine-in-les-miserables/
Tony d’Ambra leads the way at Films Noir.net for a terrific piece on the little-exposed Italian noir ‘La Bionda': http://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/la-bionda-the-blonde-italy-1992.html
At Overlook’s Corridor Jaimie Grijalba continues his intricate study of Chilean cinema: http://overlookhotelfilm.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/chilean-cinema-2012-16-stefan-vs-kramer-2012/
A moving post at the Creativepotager’s blog celebrates the three years since Terrill and David were marries at a quaint little church on Mayne Island in the Pacific northwest: http://creativepotager.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/celebrating-the-day-we-eloped/
Weeping Sam’s “Fall Film Round-Up No. 3″ at The Listening Ear includes superb capsules reviews of “Killing Them Softly,” “Holy Motors” and “Cloud Atlas.”: http://listeningear.blogspot.com/2012/12/fall-film-round-up-3.html
At The Blue Vial Drew McIntosh is leading up with a superb screen cap presentation of Otto Preminger’s “Whirlpool”: http://thebluevial.blogspot.com/2012/12/whirlpool.html
At Patricia’s Wisdom the ever-spirited proprietor offers up “10 Steps to Finding Your Happy Place-My Gift to You”: http://patriciaswisdom.com/2012/12/10-steps-to-finding-your-happy-place-my-gift-to-you/
Dean Treadway’s new post “Cinema Gallery: 30 Scenes of Loneliness” is essential for all passionate film lovers. It’s over at Filmicability: http://filmicability.blogspot.com/2012/11/blog-post_6.html