By J.D. Lafrance

“The outside world doesn’t want to hear this kind of bullshit. Just keep it locked away. They’ve already managed it for 2000 years.” – Birack

Prince of Darkness (1987) was made after John Carpenter went public with how dissatisfied he was with the studio interference he encountered while working on films like Big Trouble in Little China (1986). He decided to return to his independent filmmaking roots by signing a multi-picture deal with Alive Films. He would get a $3 million budget per film and complete creative freedom. The first result was a creepy horror film and the second installment of an informal “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with The Thing (1982) and concluded with In the Mouth of Madness (1995). Aside from being heavily influenced by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, all three films feature a higher, malevolent supernatural force that manipulates human beings against one another in order to bring about the end of the world.
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 © 2017 by James Clark

      After enjoying a number of films loaded for bear, it’s a bit of a breath of fresh air to see to it that small game must not be forgotten. Whereas the likes of Kiarostami, Jarmusch and Refn are wired for blowing the planet into outer space, filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt, has perhaps a more low-tech approach to a dispensation of overrated smart-asses.

I recall a brush with her Wendy and Lucy (2008) being haunting and prompting more studies of her work. And now, particularly in the wake of the rarefied, Shirin, her recent film, Certain Women (2016), becomes a must. Let’s not, however, fail to appreciate that Reinhardt can, when apt, throw a deadly cutter in the course of diverging from the mainstream fast balls being expected by a site like Montana. (I’m not unmindful that she has a reputation for being an expert at “slow cinema” to coincide with rural settings. But her “slowness’ has been tempered by the killer instincts of Kiarostami, Jarmusch and Refn, to name but a few of the many fireballers she sees the point of.) Near the end of our movie today, a quite empathetic lawyer, Laura, visits a former client, Billy, now in jail, who hopes to hear more often from her by mail. “Talk about anything…Doesn’t have to be a tome…” But—as part of the tide of an enterprise not so far from the lone coffee drinker in Jarmusch’s, Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), contemplating buying a large gun to deal with hordes of impasse she finds insufferable—there is no effective avoidance of playing something along lines of a tome (a multifaceted outreach, a dialectic, in fact). Earthy folks imply paradoxical struggle, and Certain Women is, in its ‘slow” ways, a deep and hard look at an American, not a German, idealism.

A first and most directly palpable thing that hits us in this film is its ponderously dead visuality. Not (very much) is Reichardt about homage toward those “Transcendentalist” boosters of peppy light coming to bear across vast spheres to kiss delicious flora, faunas and contours. Those former boy scouts taking their marching orders from European Romanticism are supplanted here by an emphatic initial distance shot of a rail bed all but swallowed up by brown and grey unlovely grasses with a mountain range miles away on the horizon, pelted by overcast more impoverished than night. A freight train approaches to complement the unfriendly wind whipping along; but the mere touch of a positive motion catches our attention, as does the train’s raspy whistle. Continue Reading »

“Shout” (1978)

by Sam Juliano

Autumn weather is trying real hard to make its presence known but summer is driving a hard bargain in these parts.  In any event mid October is usually a fun time of the year.  We Yankee fans were so thrilled when our team took out the Indians in five after an amazing comeback, but we do presently stand in a precarious situation, down two zip to the Houston Astros.  The Bronx Bombers must win tonight if they are to stand any realistic chance.  The prestige movie season is nearly upon us and many are noting what films are on the docket.  Holloween Horror is all the rage and our resident expert Jamie Uhler has penned another fantastic review of a comparatively little seen gem:

The Shout (J. Skolimowski… 1978) psychological/fantasy

Knowing the brilliance of Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski for some time now, I’ve sort of been surprised I’ve never seen a second film of his; Deep End (1970) is one of the towering works of cinema, a scathing, brilliant piece of subversion, it being so great that it stands out in an era where subversive political cinema happened somewhat regularly, a telling fact by itself. But it remained all I’d seen from him, until, last night of course, when I did his abstract piece of Horror, The Shout from 1978 (I should say, my neglect on him isn’t due to pure laziness, I’ve long wanted to see Le depart [1967] and Hands Up! [1967], but have found both to be pretty illusive to quick, or even lengthy, searches). 

 Outlining the plot reveals a little to the abstract nature of the film, while it has concrete notions of plotting—a mysterious man (Crossly; Alan Bates at his most disheveled mysteriousness) invades the otherwise tranquil, English country side life of a young couple (the beautiful Rachel [Susannah York] and avant garde musician Anthony [John Hurt]) who claims to be coming back from a time spent living with Aboriginals where he murdered his family and learned a ‘terror shout’ from a shaman that can kill anyone who hears it without proper ear protection—its abstract style reveals a film illusive and hard to pin down. It’s clearly for the better—the auditory nature of the Horror implies that you need to feel and really ‘hear’ the film as much as you see it, with much of the spoken lines being muffled or whispered somewhat, with Anthony’s time in the studio being a smorgasbord of audio invention; he plucks a sardine can with a violin bow, or he shouts in a glass box around his head, each effect adding to the scary nature of a film where a deep, bellowed scream can kill and maim. Other touches add ever more focus, Anthony’s home studio is adorned with several of the terrifying Francis Bacon paintings of the mid-century for example, images that are later quickly echoed by Rachel if you pay close enough attention. Skolimowski’s deft use of the camera also deserves mention.

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by Sam Juliano

Then it happened.  A sudden, terrible light flashed all around.  The light was bright orange – then white, like thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once.  Violent shock waves followed, and buildings trembled and began to collapse.

-Toshi Maruki, Hiroshima No Pika (1980)

Eric Schlosser’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety is a harrowing and unnerving work about the palpable prospects of a nuclear detonation, one the author believes we have so far averted because of an astounding run of luck.  Four years later the war of words with North Korea as a result of the rogue nation’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons has again brought the matter to center stage, with potential destruction as feasible as Schlosser had envisioned it.  Literature for children on this most unthinkable of viable calamities is understandably scarce, especially works on the aftermath, like the once-banned Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence and the shattering Hiroshima No Pika, a 1980 Japanese picture book by Toshi Maruki that chronicled the terrifying events and nuclear fallout after an atomic bomb was dropped on the ill-fated city.  Raymond Briggs’ Where the Wind Blows, which was also adapted into a critically praised animated feature that examined the human devastation even more acutely, and a 1983 American film, Testament is an intimate story of a family that succumbs to radiation poisoning one by one.

A cautionary picture book, The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, (a son and mother team) is first set in the first quarter of 1943, when United States scientists convene in a New Mexico desert town to engage in an ultra secret enterprise, one the government has requested be completed in short order.  Though unsuspecting young readers can’t be expected to immediately identify the objective of this clandestine rendezvous in one of the most innocuous of settings, the book’s mysterious, almost sinister context is scrupulously unveiled much like the peeling off of wraparound gauze after a plastic surgery operation.  The book is directly based on the real life “Trinity Test” which was conducted on July, 16, 1945 on land part of the White Sands Missile Range.  The end payoff – preceded by a 10 to 1 countdown readers associated with a rocket launch is simultaneously spectacular and terrifying, and leaves no room to underestimate the destructive power of a mushroom cloud explosion that has long since become the physical symbol for complete annihilation.  About two years after scientists began their work in the desert atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing Japan to its knees and ending the Second World War.  Whereas Schlosser intimated it was only a matter of time before an accident will cause unthinkable devastation, Jonah Winter at the conclusion of his afterward offers hope that stockpiles of nuclear weapons will continue to erode as governments reject the dire effects tests will have on the environment and on health.  Winter refers to a 2016 statistic that there remains around 15,700 nuclear weapons in the world presently, but that with world cooperation we can eliminate this very threat of our existence completely. Continue Reading »

Blade Runner 2049


By J.D. Lafrance

When Blade Runner was released in 1982, it was savaged by critics and failed to make back its budget. Over the years, however, its reputation grew, as did its influence. The look of the film’s dark, dystopian futureworld could be seen in films (The Matrix) and video games (Deus Ex) as well as the Cyberpunk movement thereafter (author William Gibson famously left a screening midway through for fear it would influence his novel Neuromancer). Despite its influence, no one was really clamoring for a sequel – certainly not the studio nor the filmmakers who ended the film on a deliciously ambiguous note that didn’t really need to be explained.

“This is a bad one, the worst yet. I need the old blade runner, I need your magic.” – Bryant

It is 2017 and here we are with Blade Runner 2049, a sequel co-written by returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher and Harrison Ford reprising his role as the titular character. However, Ridley Scott chose not to return to direct (too busy driving the Alien franchise into the ground), handing over directing duties to Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve (Arrival). Does this new film have anything of interest to say or does it fall into the same trap that doomed Tron: Legacy (2010) – all style with little substance?
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By J.D. Lafrance

I’ve seen George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978) enough times that when I watch it, I pay more attention to things that go on in the background or margins of scenes because I’ve always been fascinated with the world he created in the Dead films. Unlike the many imitators and wannabes, he took the time to develop the protagonists, giving them flaws and vulnerabilities so that we care about what happens to these characters while still delivering the goods in the gore department. The end result is a smart, exciting and horrifying masterpiece that has more on its mind than killing zombies.
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by Sam Juliano

He’s so fine
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)
Wish he were mine
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)
That handsome boy over there
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)
The one with the wavy hair
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)      -The Chiffons, 1963

The last time a crown was part and parcel to a picture book, there was a resulting Caldecott Medal celebration.  Javaka Steptoe’s electrifying 2016 biographical Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat won the American Library Association’s highest annual award for a picture book and by extension a glowing acknowledgement for the symbol that represented power, strength and a sign of respect.  The meaning of this triumphant representation has hardly changed in the recently released Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, in fact the connotation in this work is more intimate and scene-specific.  This anti-Kafka tale of a young boy’s cathartic experience after a visit to the barber is a study of building confidence, and a full embrace of the belief that when people believe in themselves they can accomplish just about anything.  In a rebuff to those who consider a haircut as annoying as getting their teeth cleaned, Barnes suggests there is so much more than exiting the storefront with the helical striped pole than just the sudden ability to feel a breeze around your ears.  Indeed the seemingly innocuous twenty-minute duration under the care of a hair stylist can result in a life-changing experience, one that eradicates low self-esteem, and creates one ready to go out and conquer the world.  A fresh cut performed by an expert hair stylist can convert uncertainty to aplomb, timidity to assertiveness, melancholy to unbridled glee.  The crown of the title is synonymous with its root connotation.  While reading through this celebratory esteem builder one may recall Greer Garson’s advice to her Latin teacher husband Robert Donat, who is up for headmaster at the English Brookfield School:  “Never be afraid, Chips, that you can’t do anything you’ve made up your mind to. As long as you believe in yourself, you can go as far as you dream.” Continue Reading »