By J.D. Lafrance

If Michael Mann were to ever direct a racing car film it would probably resemble Le Mans (1971), a passion project for its star Steve McQueen, himself an avid racing car enthusiast. Much like Mann’s recent work, Le Mans eschews conventional narrative storytelling in favor of an impressionistic approach with an emphasis on visual storytelling and a lack of backstory in favor of its characters living in the present. In some respects, McQueen is the auteur of the film, committing so much time and resources that it bankrupted him because the actor refused to compromise the vision he had for it – the beauty and a sense of purity in racing. McQueen believed in the relationship between man and machine and the notion that you’re not only racing against an opponent, but also yourself in terms of mental and physical endurance, which Le Mans explores in fascinating ways.

Known as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it is the oldest active endurance racing sports car race in the world. It began in 1923 near the town of Le Mans, France and occurs during the European summer in June. The race starts in mid-afternoon, runs through the night and finishes the next day at the same time it started. Racing teams maintain a tricky balancing act between speed and the car’s capacity to run for 24 hours. Also, the drivers are put to the test, often spending more than two hours racing before stopping in the pits to switch control over to a relief driver.
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Screen cap from Francois Ozon’s hauntingly beautiful “Frantz”

by Sam Juliano

I certainly got my Chuck Berry fix this past week both in the house and in the car.  The Great Twenty Eight compilation remains one of the rock’s defining works, and I was active on the repeat button!  He was incomparable and an innovator.  I am saddened at all the smut that has greeted his passing, though I’d be foolish to think that the extreme nature of his offenses hasn’t tarnished his image with many.  We much had the same kind of thing upon the death of Michael Jackson, but Berry’s past is being posed as far more criminal and sordid.  What we all need to do however (and Richard Wagner fans take note!) is to separate the man from the music.  Is Chuck Berry a personal role model and are his issues relatively minor? No and no.  But his music is in a different sphere methinks.  There have been some heated debates online, and for the most part I have defended this legend, much as I did Michael Jackson in 2009.

Time marches on, and in a few days April is upon us.  For Lucille and I this means a torrid nine-day attendance at the Tribeca Film Festival starting on April 19th.  The day before we have a gleefully anticipated book signing with director John waters scheduled in Clinton, New Jersey.  Upon the completion of Tribeca, the annual Montclair Film Festival commences, and then the school trip to Washington D.C., a three day tour I regularly engage in.

The author Marilyn Singer staged a unique event on Sunday afternoon at the Creative Arts Studio on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, in the spirited service of a book launch for her fabulous dance poem picture book “Feel the Beat,” illustrated by Kristi Valiant. An impressive throng were on board for actual floor dancing that included the various dances depicted in the book. Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I stopped in for a signed copy of the book, chatted with Ms. Singer and milled around. Nice refreshments were offered up in another room too!

We saw two new releases in theaters (yes both films technically are 2016 with their selections for Cannes consideration, with the Assayas film actually winning Best Director there) but with March US openings they are firmly in the 2017 camp. Continue Reading »


© 2017 by James Clark

      The many films of Michael Mann seem to be all of a piece in exuberantly delivering that cinematic Midas Touch of “action adventure.” Hardly a subscriber to settling differences with quiet and surgically elegant precision, there is about his shootouts, in a film like our present concern, Public Enemies (2009), World- War emphaticness.

You could leave Public Enemies at that, and go on to sprinkle biographical, political, ethical and cinematographical appreciations. Or, you could allow the overt but tangled delivery of poetics to bring about a lifetime of delicious toil. In the opening passage where bank robber and gangster, John Dillinger, is introduced to an Indiana penitentiary, that world of ignored drama is alive and well. We might have known that something special was up, when being drawn into the delivery of the prisoner-protagonist from a long-distance perspective such that the tiny vehicle and its complement (one handcuffed and one not handcuffed) could be likened to a visit to the Bonneville (speedway) Salt Flats. Coming closer to the pair, we—who were not only moving upon a lunar surface but sky having more to do with an astronomical observatory than a neighbor of the Gary steel mills—see them approaching the entrance, which could have been constructed by Charlemagne in the 8th century. This mix of the past and the future carries far more perceptual weight than the subsequent (not this again?) jail-break, prepped by the new-con’s contingent of long-termers but requiring that functional violence about which the man of the hour (accompanied by a fake, one-man police detail) excels. That prompt exit of figures easily overtaking normal activity involves a reprise of the uncanny, unearthly surround, before the interior of the getaway car hits us with almost full-scale schemers congratulating themselves. Johnny greets the powers-that-be in that dungeon with the rebel yell, “I’m John Dillinger. My friends call me John. But a son of a bitch like you better call me Mr. Dillinger.” That trash-talk is soon undergoing an antithesis whereby our leader, shown in close-up within the cramped confines of the Model-T, evinces that the road ahead will be a tortuous test. He clasps by the hand a seriously wounded partner sprawled on the running board.; and as the latter dies his face shows not simply the loss of a pal but the loss of coherence within his cogent mission. Prying loose the death grip, he watches the body impact the dusty terrain, with its bedrock in the mix, and feels a distinct absence of the lyricism by which he has navigated for a long time, his 9-year hermitage at that pen being an excellent place for an exceptional spirit to deal with intentional conundrums. (To emphasize how fluent he is with crisis, there is a second passenger flying off that iron-age car, someone within the gang who behaved badly during the escape. Johnny slugs him and then throws him out. We are struck by our protagonist’s effort to regain the savoir faire of the earlier part of the day.) A rally of sorts occurs for him on the dirt farm road where a sanctuary has been engendered. The spare, dark, earthy grassland brings about a calm we must not forget in the ragged hours ahead. (An a capella, Eastern European men’s chorus adds crisis in the form of straining for a disinterestedness which can’t be manhandled.)  Nor should we lose sight of the young woman being the lynch pin of the advent of the safe-house on the pragmatic grounds of which the escape succeeds. As Johnny heads for the car to get underway with his perhaps overthought-approach to other people’s money, that sombre but still beautiful factor, precipitating a camera angle showing a firmament, calls to him. And in a whispery voice corroded with harsh disappointment—disappointment that the promise of a long-term life out on that piercingly-true backwater (or elsewhere) turned out to be a cruel ruse—she makes scant verbal sense but towering physical impact notwithstanding. Johnny may be officially an ex-con but our filmic momentum is about to disclose that he’s pretty much all con, especially conning himself. (During his 9 years behind bars, he seems to have mastered a rhetorical sub-genre of preachy fondness about the meek, in the course of happily crippling the rich.) “OK, Doll, I’m sorry,” is the simplism he offers, while getting down to his real register in the car: “Let’s go to Chicago… make some money!” (Somewhat more convincing humanitarianism surfaces during the breaking out of the pen. He forcefully orders an inmate to stop beating a guard; and he’s, momentarily, at least, dismayed that another struggle ended in a low wage-earner’s death.) Continue Reading »



By J.D. Lafrance

“What I’d like to do today is get your version of what happened,” says a mild-mannered, middle-aged attorney (Jerry Hardin). “Oh? You mean the truth,” replies a rather small, aging Chinese man who identifies himself as bus driver, Egg Shen (Victor Wong). The attorney remains skeptical as his potential client calmly describes his belief in Chinese black magic, and other supernatural phenomenon. As if to prove his point, the man holds up his hands so that they are parallel to one another. Suddenly, small bolts of blue electricity begin to flow from each palm, much to the attorney’s amazement and Shen’s bemusement. “That was nothing,” Shen states. “But that’s how it always begins. Very small.” And with this intriguing, tell-me-a-scary-story teaser, John Carpenter’s film, Big Trouble in Little China (1986), takes us on a ride into the heart of ancient Chinese lore and mythology.

Carpenter, always the maverick director with a knack for exploring offbeat subject matter (see They Live and In the Mouth of Madness), created a film that simultaneously parodies and pays homage to the kung-fu genre. This often-maligned genre is given a new level of respectability that is rarely seen in Hollywood. Gone are the ethnic slurs, the insulting stereotypes and that annoying quasi-Chinese music that always seems to accompany representations of Asians in past mainstream features. Big Trouble takes great care in presenting funny and intelligent characters without caring whether they are Chinese or not. What is of paramount importance to Carpenter is telling a good story. He created an entertaining piece of fantasy that cleverly manipulated the conventions of the action film with often-comical results.
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by Sam Juliano

The rock critic Robert Christgau considers Berry “the greatest of the rock and rollers”, while John Lennon said, “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” Ted Nugent said, “If you don’t know every Chuck Berry lick, you can’t play rock guitar.”  Bob Dylan called Berry “the Shakespeare of rock ‘n’ roll.”  Berry, one of the greatest guitarists of all-time passed away at the miraculous age of 90 sometime on Saturday, leaving behind a legacy few musicians can or have matched.  Songs like “Maybelline,” “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” and “Rock n Roll Music” are among the most famous and beloved ever written, and the Chess label has long defined Berry’s output.  I fondly recall his later gimmick song “My Ding-a-Ling” which for many inspired a renaissance of his classic tunes.  A cultural icon and incomparable innovator  is gone and music has lost a giant.  R.I.P.

One of the most unforgettable evenings for our family was staged on Thursday night at the Venetian Catering Hall/Restaurant in Garfield, New Jersey where my youngest brother Paul, age 46, was honored as the “Man of the Year” by the Fairview Chamber of Commerce.  750 people were on hand to hear a bevy of speakers (including Yours Truly in a keynote address) honor my brother, a town leader in every capacity.  It was a night of great buffet food, speeches and meeting friends, many not seen in years.  This will be a cherished memory for all-time.  The week as a whole was engineered in overdrive, as our area was hit with a major snowstorm on Monday evening after midnight as Lucille, Sammy and I were heading back from Binghampton, New York after spending time with our dear friend Angelo D’Arminio, who shockingly lost his wife last week.  The four hour ride brought us in the start of the blizzard, but we made it home safely before the blizzard accelerated.  On Saturday morning we traveled down to Toms River near the Jersey shore to attend the funeral of a dear cousin, Mary Barbara Bunero.

Once again Terrence Malick has crafted an unforgettable cinematic meditation-a modern day intimate love triangle (“Song to Song”) negotiated in elegiac, sensual and spiritual strokes, one contrasting the beauty of nature with the bullying cityscapes. Malick trots out many themes, employing his patented tone poem with propulsive energy. A breathtaking work by this towering master of the cinema. Lucille, Sammy and I took in the 7:15 P.M. screening last night at the Landmark Cinemas in Manhattan. Continue Reading »


by J.D. Lafrance

In the 1980s, I was obsessed with the Vietnam War. My gateway drug, as it was for a lot of people I suspect, was Platoon (1986). After seeing Oliver Stone’s film, I wanted more information. I read all sorts of books about the subject, from fiction like Going After Cacciato, about a soldier who goes AWOL, to memoirs like Chickenhawk, about a helicopter pilot’s experiences during the war. Hell, I even read the TimeLife books, collected Marvel Comics’ groundbreaking series The ‘Nam and watched television shows like Tour of Duty and China Beach. This fascination extended to depictions of the fallout of the war – how it changed the people that came back, men that suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder or from the effects of being subjected to Agent Orange while over there.
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Most of the critics loved “Raw” but not my brood and I, that’s for sure.

by Sam Juliano

A blockbuster mid March nor’easter is nearing the New York City/northern New Jersey region, and practically all predictions are calling for 12 to 24 inches to be followed by several days of frigid temperatures that will hold the area in a winter grip, and will surely make traveling extremely difficult.  This is one projected wide swath of a storm that is sure to drop as much blustery snow on our friends John and Pam (Grant) as it will on us in Fairview (just across the Hudson from Manhattan).  This is no doubt the kind of event that makes former New Yorkers like John Greco grateful of the Florida re-location.  But heck, we all do love the white stuff, no?  Some are saying the number estimation is rather conservative, so who knows what is in store.

Our deepest condolences to my longtime dear friend, the erstwhile Voting Tabulator Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr., who lost his 64 year-old wife Kathy suddenly in her sleep this past week, after no known sickness.  While Angelo had relocated this past year down in South Carolina, the wake and funeral will be held in Binghampton, New York Tuesday night (Kathy’s family lives there, and she lived nearly her entire life in that region) during the projected height of this ferocious blizzard.  Lucille and I are planning to take the three-hour drive up there, but I am hearing from some that they think highways could well be shut down. Continue Reading »