sequoia 3

by Sam Juliano

If we are to consider what author Tony Johnston asserts in an afterward to her new picture book Sequoia, the towering giants nearing the end of their existence today were rooted in the earth’s soil at a time that pre-dates ancient Rome by several hundred years, ran concurrent with Saul’s rule over the Hebrew tribes and the time when the Celtic migrations were launching.  In North America, Indians were setting up camp, diverging into their own cultures.  This incredible species would have seen one hundred generations come and go, and would have survived damaging storms, fires, earthquakes and climate changes.  Their bark is known to be as much as three feet in thickness, the base at its widest twenty-seven feet and some other startling figures directly from Johnston: “With a distance around the base of 102.6 feet and a volume of 52, 500 cubic feet, the grand old man, General Sherman sequoia, is one of the largest living things on earth”, and without question the one with the longest longevity. Continue Reading »



by Sam Juliano

Boyhood was awarded Best Picture and Best Director from coast-to-coast critical fraternities in New York, Boston, Los Angeles and New York Online this past week.  Richard Linklater’s remarkably successful experiment of filming over a period of years as the characters age was initially recipient to the most spectacular set of reviews of the year, but the biggest plaudits lie ahead.  It is expected to win a bevy of critics’ awards still upcoming and will cap it all off with Golden Globe and Oscar wins in the Best Picture categories.  As the film is one of my own favorite two films of the year, I applaud the groups for their excellent taste.  I am looking forward to the inevitable re-release so I can see this on the big screen again.  I will be casting my own vote in the coming weeks for the annual Muriels, and Linklater’s masterpiece will figure prominently on my ballot.  The numbers the film earned at Meta Critic are the highest in the history of the site.  Using the favorable, mixed and negative categorization, the numbers are at 49-0-0, with an absolutely unbelievable 40 of those 49 assigning it a grade of ‘100.’

Ironically, the two films that I did manage to see this past week were done by way of some unexpected “screeners” I came into through the help of a friend.  Both featured critics’ award winning performances.  Timothy Spall won Best Actor from the New York Film Critics Circle for his superlative turn in Mr. Turner, while Julianne Moore was named Best Actress from the National Board of Review for her moving performance in Still Alice.   Continue Reading »

farmer 1

by Sam Juliano

Surely a prime reason why odds makers never set betting lines for the Caldecotts and the Newberys is that they are noted for being notoriously unpredictable, not to mention there being something rather unsavory about plopping down money on childrens’ book awards.  But heck, there is active wagering on who will become the next Pope, and that contest is pretty much just as difficult to call.   Sure there have been instances where front runners have emerged (The Lion and the Mouse, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, Flotsam were all seen as ‘favorites’ in their release years for generally held logic that went beyond speculation).  While all three are extraordinary picture books, the deal was sealed when one author-illustrator was deemed overdue for decades, another book visited the hallowed grounds of our worst national tragedy, and the other was the absolute masterpiece by one of the profession’s most venerated and awarded artists.  Yet, recent gold medal wins by Brian Floca, Jon Klassen, Chris Raschka, Brian Selznick and Simms Taback were not a sure thing according to the book pundits, in fact a few -Selznick’s and Raschka’s (A Ball For Daisy) seemed to come out of left field, though I’d be hard-pressed to name a more worthy winner than the former’s towering The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  In any case, if such a system were in place, I’d venture to predict that Marla Frazee’s spare, loving and creative The Farmer and the Clown would be established as the favorite for several most significant aspects. Continue Reading »


by Alan Fish

This review, aimed at honoring the star of this year’s ‘Mr. Turner’, is the thirty-second in the continuing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series at Wonders in the Dark.

(UK 1999 182m) DVD1/2

The Gadarene Club

p  John Chapman  d/w  Stephen Poliakoff  ph  Bruno de Keyser, Ernie Vincze ed  Paul Tothill  m  Adrian Johnston  art  John-Paul Kelly  cos  Susannah Buxton

Lindsay Duncan (Marilyn Truman), Timothy Spall (Oswald Bates), Liam Cunningham (Christopher Anderson), Emilia Fox (Spig), Billie Whitelaw (Veronica), Arj Barker (Garnett), Blake Ritson (Nick), Andy Serkis (Styeman), Sheila Dunn, Jean Channon,

It’s time for a personal favourite here, one of the great achievements of either screen in the last two decades, but also typical of the way television is overlooked for its bigger brother.  And yet look at films such as Dekalog, BerlinAlexanderplatz, Heimat, Das Boot and Fanny and Alexander.  All are works that are listed in film guides and yet were originally made for the small screen.  Of writers at their peak around the time of the millennium, surely the best would have to be Stephen Poliakoff, whose delights have ranged from the enigmaticFriends and Crododiles to the affecting Gideon’s Daughter, from the intricatePerfect Strangers and the less successful but still memorable The Lost Prince.  All of which leads one to beg the question, why go for this? Continue Reading »


by Sam Juliano

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

Trees as a subject for picture books began to take root in the children’s literature community after a 1956 collaboration between author Janice May Udry and illustrator Marc Simont -A Tree is Nice- resulted in a Caldecott Medal for the latter.  Eight years later Shel Silverstein’s now classic The Giving Tree released, and was translated into a number of languages.  The ever-creative artist Lois Ehlert a number of years later chronicled maple tree maturation from seed to sapling with watercolor collages and leaf shaped die cuts in Red Leaf Yellow Leaf.  Diane Muldrow and Bob Staake joined forces a few years back for the delightful We Planted a Tree, and in 2014 picture book aficionados were treated to a trio of high quality tree-themed works, two of which are Tony Johnston and Wendell Minor’s arresting Sequoia, and As an Oak Tree Grows by G. Brian Karas in Virginia Lee Burton mode.  Both of those titles will be examined in the present series later in December. Continue Reading »



by Sam Juliano

December has arrived without much fanfare, and at least on the east coast with moderate temperatures for this time of the year.  This is the time of the year when ten best lists will start to appear -and frankly I always find that a lot of fun for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that it is a time to celebrate cinema in the context of the year’s most notable achievements.  A ten-best list is not an arrogant declaration of what said person declares pompously as the ‘best’ but a happy remembrance of the films that meant the most to, dazzled or moved the viewer critic.  After a year of seeking out movies that I think it is fair that anyone who has seen a great many films should publish what he or she thinks are their favorites.  I also think the movie going readers look forward to and expect such lists.  It is always fun to compare what  one reviewer says with what another says and often the differences are mind-boggling.  It all comes down to tastes.  I’ve done lists since 1971, when I was 17, and I suppose I will do then till I die.  Ha!  Lists are the ultimate way to celebrate a given year’s cinema, literature, music, art and theater and any attempt to compromise that fun, well……it is being grinch-ish.  Lists evolve and change, and are only good for the short term, obviously.  That fact alone should tell the nay-sayers that the authors are intending for them to be taken seriously.  They are FUN, in that for the author they given the persona  chance to frame the experiences that meant the most to them, the ones that inspired them.  Is there anything more noble than that?  Isn’t the many, many hours we invested into this art worth more than just a grudging salute. Thanks, but no thanks. I take my movie going seriously. Continue Reading »

Scarlett Johansson Under the Skin

This review, originally published in March of this year, is the thirty-first in the continuing Allan Fish Bonanza Encore series at Wonders in the Dark.

by Allan Fish

(UK 2013 108m) DVD1/2

The girl who fell to earth

Nick Wechsler, James Wilson  d  Jonathan Glazer  w  Jonathan Glazer, Walter Campbell  novel  Michel Faber  ph  Daniel Landin  ed  Paul Watts  m  Mica Levi art  Chris Oddy

Scarlett Johansson (Laura), Paul Brannigan (Andrew), Jessica Mance (alien), Krystof Hádek (swimmer), Scott Dymond, Michael Moreland,

After watching Under the Skin Mark Cousins tweeted “if movies hadn’t evolved out of other art forms, like the novel or theatre, what would they have looked like?  Like Under the Skin.”  Ne’er a truer word was tweeted, and yet it’s a statement that also gets to the heart of why the film was always going to be so divisive.  Many film writers, critics and commentators and the vast majority of audiences are set in their ways.  They like their films to have a linear narrative.  They can jump forward and back in time, so long as they explain everything by the end credits.  Under the Skin is a film that is happy to explain nothing.  It revels in its ambiguity.  To appreciate it one has to take a quantum leap, not to wonder what will happen next but to wonder what we will see next.  Continue Reading »


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