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Strange Days

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By J.D. Lafrance

Mainstream popular culture’s flirtation with the Cyberpunk genre reached its cinematic zenith in 1995 with Johnny MnemonicJudge DreddVirtuosityHackers, and Strange Days. They all underperformed at the box office for various reasons and with varying degrees of success managed to convey the aesthetics and themes of the genre. The most satisfying film from the class of ’95 was Strange Days, an action thriller directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron and Jay Cocks. Bigelow had already dabbled in the Cyberpunk genre by directing an episode of the sci-fi television miniseries Wild Palms in 1993. She was clearly testing the waters for what would be a full-on treatment with Strange Days. Anchored by strong performances from Ralph Fiennes and Angela Bassett, the film explores some fascinating ideas, addresses topical issues and comes closest of any film at that point since Blade Runner (1982) to translating the ideas of Cyberpunk authors like William Gibson onto film despite a disappointing ending.
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by Sam Juliano

Few things in life are as nagging and uncomfortable as a stuffy nose.  More often than not your breathing is negotiated through the mouth after a runny nose and the ensuing mucus impede the normal coordinated mode.  Taste and smell are mitigated and the voice can be comically compromised.  Usually, the person maligned with the most severe of colds loses interest in doing anything until they are given some measure of medical reprieve.   For a young boy the latter restriction can bring an entirely new meaning to domestic communication when signals are crossed, causing a normally welcome visitor immediate access to one’s unwanted list.  The African American protagonist who is the center of a markedly intimate domestic rhubarb in Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick’s tumultuous Bob, Not Bob! has undergone an attitude and behavioral metamorphosis, one completely reliant on a mother’s unbridled attention.  In Bob, Not Bob! by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, with illustrations by Matthew Cordell, a boy is forced to suspend his favorite activities and rely on parental doting.  Alas not everyone is in his shoes.

Though Little Louie’s prominence in this tale of nasal congestion and all the bedlam it can cause in a household is  abundantly clear on the book’s three member front cover dynamic and end papers of the bawling tot clinging to his mom’s leg he is pictured confidently standing on a rock with one leg on the first page of the text, where the writing duo declare: Little Louie wasn’t all that little.  It wasn’t like he needed his mom every minute of the day.  But all bets are off after a single ah-Choooo! launches perhaps the most memorable sick time spent in a house since Camilla Cream came down with the strangest of maladies in the 1998 Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon.  As a clock ticks and tocks Louie’s mom is shown attending to her charge, carrying a bowl of soup, measuring a dose of medicine and taking his temperature in three minute intervals. Cordell shows Louie in several stages of congestion, but as is the case with just about everyone in the grip of a head cold, it always comes down to the havoc it wreaks on Pinocchio’s most ubiquitous feature.  In such a  lamentable state all normally welcome activities such as coloring, watching television or even shooting baskets with his own wadded up tissues had zero appeal to an especially unhappy camper.  Though a tiny concession to his fondness for hot chocolate   Cordell’s sublime, trademark uncluttered scratch board pen and ink, watercolor minimalism is the perfect tonic for such a “poor baby” scenario.  The exclamatory request for “Bob!,” which readers of course will understand it really for “Mom” because of the heart shaped “O” but also because all young kids with a bad cold want mom around 24-7. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

Martin Luther King Day is one of historical reflection for all those who rightly counted this towering civil rights activist as one of the great Americans.  Most schools are closed though in my New Jersey hometown the teachers are in for workshops, while the kids have a day off.  The movie Selma would be an ideal choice for though looking for a tie-in.

The Caldecott Medal Contender series continues with the twenty-sixth entry set to publish later in the day.  The winners won’t be announced until February 12th, so it is likely in the neighborhood of a dozen more reviews will be posted.  Specification for Part 2 of the Greatest Television series countdown are upcoming, though it seems now like we won’t be underway any earlier than March 1st.  The Allan Fish Online Film Festival will commence on friend’s birthday in late May, meaning the television project will take a break until the AFOFF is completed.  James Clark’s incomparable films essays continue, with the most recent a towering piece on Ruben Ostlund’s Swedish satire and Palme d’Or winner The Square.  J.D. Lafrance also moves forward with a terrific review of Tony Scott’s Domino. Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

A brief survey of the end papers confirms Stephanie Graegin’s Little House in the Forest as something unique.  On the spine of each book on a single shelf shared with a bevy of stuffed animals are titles that reveal the myriad narrative and pictorial structure of the book, which will include a woodland mystery, mythological creatures and a magical unicorn, a preponderance of flowers, forest creatures, a study of bears, birds and the heavens and a primer in animal illustration, the last of which could be equally applied to the story’s central young protagonist and Ms. Graegin herself.  Last year’s Christmas offering The Lost Gift is an underrated gem that received a review for this series, and a few year’s before that Graegin reviewed wide acclaim for the illustrations she crafted for Water in the Park by Emily Jenkins.

The title page, showcasing a young girl of color sleeping with her stuffed animal and including a wall picture of her holding hands with her “little fox” under hearts, makes it clear there is special bond between human and object.  Upon morning wake-up on school mornings the girl places her beloved object back on the shelf, where it remains when she is out of the house.  After dressing she walks to school, sneaks up behind her bespectacled friend and covers his eyes no doubt uttering “Guess who?” though of course Graegin is leaving each reader their own manner of artistic license.  After the students settle in their teacher points to chalk board in a two-third sized canvas..  A show and tell is scheduled for the following day and the specifications are that the choice should be “something old” and “something treasured.” In a thought bubble the girl happily plans her own presentation, one that will feature her adored little fox.  The remaining third of the single page canvas depicts dismissal where the girl is clearly excited over the welcome assignment.  Back at home she takes down her most revered possession and then a box of pictures showing her and the little fox in an array of activities.  It appears that the most memorable times in her young life were spent with the absolute favorite resident of her bedroom bookshelf. Continue Reading »

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By J.D. Lafrance

Tony Scott has had a wildly uneven yet fascinating career that has seen him dabble in art house horror (The Hunger), jingoistic propaganda (Top Gun), and the buddy action film (The Last Boy Scout). He has always lived in the shadow of his older brother, Ridley, who makes epic, prestige films with A-list movie stars. Tony, on the other hand, has a more B-movie sensibility but is able to realize his films with large budgets and marquee names like Kevin Costner, Brad Pitt, and Denzel Washington. The studios like him because of the talent he attracts and his films consistently make money. In the 2000’s, he reinvented the look of his films with Man on Fire (2004) in an attempt to stay relevant with younger audiences with limited attention spans and raised on music videos, but risked alienating fans of his past films. The result was an intensely fractured editing style that propelled action thrillers like Domino (2005) and Déjà Vu (2006). It got to the point where this hyperactive editing began to distract from the narratives of his films. However, with Domino, this approach oddly enough works because the film’s style attempts to approximate its protagonist’s stream of consciousness. After all, she narrates her own story and so most of the film is told from her point-of-view.
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by Sam Juliano

The following is a transcript of a discussion between  children’s literature Professor Elaine Painter and an undergraduate, Melanie Rodriguez, a major in education at Jersey City State University recorded on December 18th, 2017 during a class session conducted at Rossi Hall at the close of the fall semester.  All sixteen students enrolled were assigned a project to propose a book they felt deserved consideration for the 2018 Caldecott and Honor book citations.  A short interview, where the student speaks about the book and its artistry conducted as a one-on-one with the instructor will represent a major grade for the fall semester.  The basic aim of the interview is for the student to talk about the book he or she has chosen to “sponsor” for the Caldecott Medal.

Professor Painter:  Greetings Melanie!  As per our discussion at the end of last week’s class, I gather you understand the mission of today’s interview.  I’ll begin by asking you to identify your chosen picture book, the author, illustrator and publisher,  and any facts connected to the book you’d like to open with.

Melanie:  My chosen title is Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre, released by Beach Lane Books.  It is the most recent in a series Ms. Sayre has published that showcase the seasons.  The book is non-conventional when compared to the vast majority of the books that are eligible and are being scrutinized over the course of the year by the real Caldecott committee.

Professor Painter:  Melanie, you state that Full of Fall is “non conventional” when compared with 2017’s picture book crop.  Can you elaborate on that?

Melanie:  Yes of course Professor.  Full of Fall, like the creator’s previous seasonal works was not illustrated, but rather, photographed.  Though many of the spreads in the book bear a remarkable resemblance to illustrations, they were all created by the camera much like the photos taken for the artist’s previous and exceedingly beautiful Best in Snow and Raindrops Fall. Continue Reading »

 

© 2018 by James Clark

      Seeing Ruben Ostlund’s film, Force Majeure (2014), where a husband and father runs away from his family when faced with an avalanche about to hit (which in fact doesn’t), we were clearly in the hands of an artist who had much to say about the indispensability of courage. His recent film, The Square (2017), finds him elaborating upon the earlier film’s domestic crisis coming to bear when being safely on the sidelines (like Ostlund’s Sweden in being “neutral” in face of a violent Germany amidst World War II) sows a deadly nightmare.

Let me inject some local color perhaps necessary when the locale is a backwater clouded in a distant and precious past. (Force Majeure, on the other hand, takes place in the well-known cosmopolitan French Alpine playground.) For the purpose of being on the same (target) page as Ostlund, we must know that the Swedish populace has for centuries been rigidly homogeneous as to race and culture, and overseen by the Evangelical Lutheran Church and its ardent and benevolent social priorities as to the vulnerable and incompetent. In the years immediately after World War II, the owner/ manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team (and a military zealot), namely, Conn Smythe, molded the team’s culture as opposed to appeasement, a priority one of his more virulent successors, Harold Ballard, honed into hatred of Swedish players, assumed to be cowards. One of my school chums, Don Baizley, was to go on to work as a lawyer/ hockey agent, with a special mission to introduce Swedish skills to the National Hockey League. I think. on the basis of The Square, there is little doubt that Ostlund follows Smythe and Ballard’s, not Baizley’s point of view. However, this film’s imbroglio is far more a search into difficult skills few have ever mustered, than simply kicking ass. Continue Reading »