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Note: This review of ‘Melancholia’ , the third posting in the Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series, was selected by Doodad Kind of Town’s superlative film and theater writer, Pat Perry.

by Allan Fish

(Denmark 2011 139m) DVD1/2

Life is only on earth…and not for long

p  Meta Louise Foldager, Louise Vesth  d/w  Lars Von Trier  ph  Manuel Alberto Claro  ed  Molly Marlene Stensgaard, Morten Hojbjerg  m  Richard Wagner  art  Simone Grau  cos  Manon Rasmussen

Kirsten Dunst (Justine), Charlotte Gainsbourg (Claire), Kiefer Sutherland (John), Cameron Spurr (Leo), Charlotte Rampling (Gaby), John Hurt (Dexter), Alexander Skarsgard (Michael), Stellan Skarsgard (Jack), Udo Kier (wedding planner), Brady Corbet (Tim), Jesper Christensen (Little Father),

It all seems such a long time ago, that benevolent, lovely face staring back to us off a billboard at the beginning of Spider-Man 2.  Then Kirsten Dunst was one of the hottest properties in Hollywood, superb as Marion Davies in The Cat’s Meow, better than the mediocre likes of Crazy/Beautiful deserved, earning a place in the ensemble of Eternal Sunshine so she wasn’t out of her depth with Winslet, Carrey and Wilkinson.  But then she drifted, lost in the blancmange of her friend Sofia Coppola’s teen Marie Antoinette and half a dozen awful films.  All Good Things was a turning point; not an especially special film, but she was touching as the missing wife, yet still it seemed strange she would consider working with Lars Von Trier.  But Lars was a canny old sod; picking Emily Watson from nowhere, making Björk believable, getting career best turns from Nicole Kidman, Bryce Dallas Howard and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

            Then there was the title.  For those eclectic few who had seen the film on the previous page, it conjured up comparisons between two masters – Von Trier and Diaz – at opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum but both testing boundaries.  Not to mention the personal link to Von Trier’s own life, a man haunted by ghosts but at the same time welcoming them as an old friend for a glass of sherry.  He knew all about melancholia, so it’s little surprise he’d eventually make a film devoted to it.  Or not… (more…)

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Note: The second entry in the Allan Fish Bonanza encore series, ‘Brighton Rock’ was chosen by Film Noir writer extraordinaire Tony d’Ambra, who himself is a huge fan of the film.

by Allan Fish

(UK 1947 92m) DVD2

Calling Colley Cibber!

p  Roy Boulting  d  John Boulting  w  Graham Greene, Terence Rattigan novel  Graham Greene  ph  Harry Waxman  ed  Peter Graham  m  Hans May (including “The Hebrides” by Felix Mendelssohn)  art  John Howell

Richard Attenborough (Pinky Brown), Hermione Baddeley (Ida Arnold), William Hartnell (Dallow), Carol Marsh (Rose), Nigel Stock (Cubitt), Wylie Watson (Spicer), Harcourt Williams (Prewitt, the lawyer), Alan Wheatley (Fred Hale), George Carney (Phil Corkery), Charles Goldner (Collecni), Reginald Purdell, Constance Smith, Marianne Stone,

Brighton Rock is one of those great British institutions, not just of cinema, but of literature.  Of course, it’s never going to be as crucial to those who haven’t known or lived through the days just before the war, when the film is set, and especially to those who do not know Brighton well.  I myself have never been to Brighton, and all bar one of the people I know who did once live there had never heard of Greene’s novel.  One, however, did know it and know it well, and for him, Brighton Rock was something spoken of in whispers and its hero, Pinky Brown, the essence of myth.  He would say that he could almost feel The Lanes around every corner, the old quaint Brighton that would forever be lost after the war.  Here was a film that predicted both the teen violence of A Clockwork Orange and the gang warfare of the Mods and Rockers on the Brighton beaches, immortalised in Quadrophenia.  For too long, Brighton Rockhas been overlooked, looked down upon by a critical fraternity too long dominated by American sensibilities.  It should, however, be cherished as one of the truly great British films noir of the forties, superbly shot on location in the streets, piers, sea front and racecourse at Brighton.  It’s also the best film the Boultings ever made.  Ironically, their other masterwork also told of a rock,Thunder Rock.  That was a lighthouse on Lake Michigan, far from the rock hard (hence the name) confectionary so long a staple at British seaside towns.  Just as Gracie Fields’ Sing as We Go preserved the “Kiss me quick” mentality of that long gone institution for the North that is Blackpool, so did Brighton Rock for the south.  David Thomson has said that Rock contains “an authentic tang of fish and chips.”  He’s right, but it’s a tang with an unmistakably strong tang of vinegar.   (more…)

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grouch by Sam Juliano

As our good friend Allan Fish continues to recuperate from a serious operation in a British hospital, we at Wonders in the Dark will be paying tribute to him over the coming fourteen days, with a two-a-day posting schedule of some of his greatest reviews, to be chosen by you the site writers, regulars and readers.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times that Allan is the best film writer out there, with singular talents that include peerless word economy and an encyclopedic knowledge of film, sprinkled with a refreshing caustic humor and the unique ability size up a film rarity, which he ceaselessly seeks out.  He is a film fanatic of the highest order, a fervent collector, and a man who remarkably balances scholarship and entertainment in his writings.

I hereby call upon the loyal membership of our site, one Allan co-founded with me back in 2008, to identify in the comment section of this post the Allan Fish review you would like to go up for an encore.  There are so many to choose from, but best advice is to scour his personal countdown and the tags that note his name.  Keep in mind, everyone, that Allan wrote several dozen very long pieces at the site as well, and all are no less magisterial. I will begin by naming the 1966 Czech masterpiece MARKETA LAZAROVA as my own choice.  No writer anywhere has matched his piece for this, though we can say that about many of his reviews.  The plan is to post two reviews a day up until Tuesday, October 21st. Keeping Allan in our thoughts let’s celebrate his movie passion to the fullest!  When he returns he will post a glorious new batch of new, priceless writings!  Here’s to Allan!   Thank you all.

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by Sam Juliano

Lucille, the kids and I had a busy week -mostly the weekend- but nothing that we did, nor the report on the romantic countdown, nor in fact anything at all in our lives comes within a country mile of our concern for Allan Fish.  As many are aware he underwent a grueling operation at a British hospital for the removal of a malignant tumor at the base of his esophagus.  Prior to this procedure he had several months of chemotherapy.  While his prognosis looks very good, he has gone through the mill along with his lovely mum and aunt, who have gone through endless stress.  WitD would not exist in the manner it has since it was founded back in 2008 if it weren’t for Allan, but far more than that he is a personal friend, who my family have seen three times -him coming over to visit us twice for 18 days each time- and us visiting the U.K. last year for two weeks.  Allan and I have battled in public and in private during our sometimes contentious nine-year relationship, but somehow it has strengthened our bond a la Ralph Kramden – What I say about him is one thing….what I feel about him is another!  Ah, such are the trials and tribulations of life, but Allan, as I ponder you in that hospital bed going through what you are going through now, oh buddy I feel for you so much.  Please get out of that ICU as fast as possible.  The world is such a poorer place without you and out and about.  Love, Sam

The Romantic Countdown concludes today with the unveiling of the Number 1 film.  The marathon project began back on May 19th and ran Monday through Friday over the span of nearly six months.  Well over twenty writers contributed with some of the best film writing online.  Thanks again for all those who placed comments and lines, and kept abreast of the endeavor, the fourth genre countdown the site has conducted.  Two weeks ago I identified all those who contributed by name. (more…)

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night rain on cobble stones
we sheltered under eaves
of lost time and aching solitude


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Illustrator Evan Turk and Author Bethany Hegedus are flanked by Fairview’s Lincoln School faculty, administrator Dr. Dave Sleppin, and Superintendent DeLissio in center

by Sam Juliano

The Romantic Films countdown is nearing its conclusion, with the final post set to publish next week, on Monday, October 6th.  The project has showcased some of the finest writing on films online, and some effusive praise is in order for all who contributed during the duration of this twenty week project.

We’d all like to again wish Allan Fish a full and speedy recovery to the operation he faces mid-week.  Thanks to our muse Dee Dee for the lovely sidebar acknowledgement to our longtime friend.

The author and illustrator of Caldecott hopeful Grandfather Gandhi (Bethany Hegedus and Evan Turk) delivered an extraordinary presentation in my Lincoln School district last Monday.  The themes of violence and bullying were part of the fabric of this remarkable discussion and slide show from the former high teacher who wrote this acclaimed book with the grandson of Gandhi.  The 26 year-old Turk, a gifted artist helped make this show wildly engaging to the 4th through 8th graders.

Longtime friend, and former Fairview resident Peter Danish made a stellar presentation on his new novel THE TENOR at the Fairview Free Public Library on Thursday evening in front of a spirited group that included his wife Sanela.

Peter Brown and the son of children’s book luminary Richard Scarry appeared for an engaging talk about the work of Scarry’s father at THE WORD bookstore in Jersey City. Brown as always was fantastic.

We saw one film in theaters this past week, and attended the Chappaqua, New York children’s book festival on Saturday.  With the start of October, many of us are anticipating some great films in the coming months as per normal late year roll outs of the prestige pictures.  The Metropolitan Opera season also begins this week. (more…)

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Allan Fish will be undergoing an operation tomorrow morning for the small malignant tumor that has responded very well to previous chemotherapy.  Because of the early detection and localized nature of the tumor, Allan is fully expected to make a complete recovery, but will be on the sidelines until around February.  It has been a very trying time for Allan, his dear mum and aunt, but the successful end to this stress and fear is drawing to a close.  Here at WitD we all send our very best wishes to our longtime friend.    -Sam

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