by Sam Juliano

I’d like to thank all those who sent private messages and placed comments at the site this past week expressing acute regret and sympathy over the untimely passing at age 70 of Paul Barnett (John Grant), a. k. a. “realthog” the very dear friend and distinguished author who made Wonders in the Dark his second home over the last seven years.  He is of course irreplaceable as a passionate supporter of so many who have written at the site and his departure leaves a hole in our hearts.  Many have rightly asserted that John -who Lucille and I met back in 2013 after another dear friend, the Australian Tony D’Ambra made a connection for us at a Montclair bookshop- has imparted his expertise to the site in so many ways including incomparable encouragement on their essays and a seasoned wit and sense of humor that has always fueled the site with perspective.  They don’t make em like Paul anymore, and as a personal friend Lucille and I have lost so much.  Paul passed barely a week before he was due to attend our annual Oscar party in Fairview, a practice he and his wife Pam maintained for several years.  On a personal note I can never thank John enough too for his remarkable interest and support of my annual Caldecott Medal Contender series, which now for me has lost a muse.  Thank you Paul for all you have given us, like Allan Fish you were that rare individual who made a difference and we are all so much poorer now that you have left us.   An outdoor photo of Paul (above as banner) will be retained as our masthead for quite a while in tribute to this unique human being.

Thank you Jim Clark for another amazing essay in your ongoing Ingmar Bergman series,

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      Way back, when Ingmar Bergman was a hack by necessity, he found himself (being an acute student of Hollywood flutter) ready at last (around 1950) to speak his piece. The vehicle he chose for this debut, namely, Summer Interlude (1951), involves all the treachery and emotional violence mowing us down for the next forty years. Although his portfolio would include marvelous instances transcending destruction, those marvels would be hedged in a way that protracted evil would seem to triumph on planet Earth. But what is planet Earth but a sick puppy in face of the infinite potential of the cosmos? In the days of Summer Interlude, however, we should not neglect the singularity of heartiness putting in a dynamic (perhaps) never to be seen from him again. This singularity is the special gift and the special task of our film today.

Whereas, at the outset of a saga like Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (1972), there is a piercingly beautiful rendition of the grounds of a large estate in early morning light, only to become promptly swallowed up by vicious interaction and horrific physical decline and death, the tyro matter goes to sheep-dog persistence to show us that an agency of uncanny love is very much in the mix. Not being able to deploy (as with the film of 1972) remarkable chromatic effects, our preamble reveals an estate of some opulence, rich foliage including daisies in bright sunlight and gentle breezes, benign white clouds and, particularly, a body of dancing water with a rocky shore to be displaced with the sea looking back toward the now distant structure, touched by a carefree flute motif. (The last detail to note here, is three chevron-form windows at the mansion’s upper floor. That they resemble jaws as well as a formation of dialectics indicates how early Bergman’s instincts for synthesis were in play.) Continue Reading »

Alas, last night’s Oscar party has yielded a tragic aftermath. For several years the author John Grant (Paul Barnett) and his wife Pamela have traveled all the way down from Hewitt (near Greenwood Lakes, NJ) to attend our annual party despite it being over an hour’s drive one way. He and Pam became very dear friends to Lucille and I and when they didn’t show up last night despite e mail assurances they were excited to attend again Lucille and I were deeply concerned. I sent on an email and it was answered by Pam who informed me she had sent me a correspondence from another address that he suffered a fatal heart attack last week. As per his wishes he was cremated. Since 2013 when we first met in a Montclair bookstore we hit it off in every sense and he was for the past seven years the most regular and and passionate commenter at WONDERS IN THE DARK, using the title “realthog.” He was a great writer and film noir expert. To say he will be missed understates our bond. I can’t imagine the world without Paul whose pen name was John Grant. A prince of a guy with a fabulous sardonic wit he was born in Scotland and is one of the most prolific writers and voracious readers of all-time. Paul was 70 years old.  We were so privileged to know you. Your legacy is deeply pronounced, but your friendship was special beyond words. (first photo of John in Montclair in 2013; second at last year’s Oscar party with Adam Ferenz in the background)  I was first introduced to Paul via my good Australian friend Tony d’Ambra who was a treasured film noir compatriot in an online connection that developed into actual meetings.

by Sam Juliano

Yes Parasite won big last night. No it was NOT my favorite film of the year, heck it didn’t even finish in my Top 10. (#16 in my Top 25) I like the film well enough but here’s the rub: I am a lifelong International film fanatic, but this past year I have SIX (6) foreign-language films ahead of “Parasite” on the aforementioned list. It is NOT the Second Coming of cinematic works, and by its very essence it is mostly emotionally distancing if deliberately so. Hence, here is my conclusion in a night that was totally predictable until we reached Best Director and Best Picture – it was great that the long maintained taboo against foreign films was broken, even if the choice was not the absolute tour de force I would have liked to break the snide. Yesterday morning I predicted 1917 to win but in parenthesis I added Parasite is gaining fast!” There are some very good trusted cinephiles who are celebrating and to them and all lovers of this good- if – not -absolutely-great-for-me film I hold up my glass for a toast.  In any event 51 people crowded into the back room of the Tiger Hose Firehouse in Fairview last night for our 43rd annual Oscar party. As always it was a soulfully ingratiating affair, one where some get to see others for the first time in a calendar year and re-institute their friendship vows. It was quite a treat to have my beloved Cliffside Park High School English teacher Patrick J. Shelley (P.J.) and his lovely fiance Patty attend after a drive down from northern Connecticut. They are pictured above with my lifelong friend Tony Lucibello and Yours Truly. What a fabulous night!

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by J.D. Lafrance

“You have to be fearless about it, you can’t go, Oh gee, am I gonna come off too this or too that? Don’t make the movie then, don’t do that subject if that’s what you’re afraid of, play a lovable teddy bear.” – Albert Brooks

Albert Brooks has always been a fearless performer unafraid to play characters that are unattractive (Taxi Driver) or arrogant (Broadcast News). In the films he wrote and directed, Brooks helped pioneer the uncomfortable comedy, which featured characters stumbling into awkward situations and off-kilter comic pacing that often involved stretches with no jokes that cleverly built-up to a punchline or joke that wasn’t always blatantly telegraphed. One can see this influence in the comedy of Garry Shandling, Ricky Gervais and Louis C.K. among others.

One of Brooks’ best films is Modern Romance (1981), a funny, wryly observed comedy about love featuring the comedian as a neurotic guy repeatedly breaking up and getting back together with his girlfriend played by Kathryn Harrold. The film famously did not test well with audiences back in the day and when he refused to make any changes the powers that be released it with little fanfare only for it to promptly die on the vine. He subsequently sunk into a deep funk only to be rescued by none other than Stanley Kubrick who told him how much he admired the film.

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by Sam Juliano

Our 43rd annual (yes incredibly that’s right!) Oscar party will be held for the fifth straight year at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse on Sedore Avenue next Sunday, February 9th at 6:00 P.M. till midnight.   As always our hot food buffet with include a number of succulent dishes buffet style-courtesy of of the awesome Gandolfo’s pizzeria/restaurant in North Bergen.  Eggplant parmigiana; chicken parmigiana; chicken francaise; sausage and peppers; fried calamari; penne vodka; meatballs; linguine, escarole and beans; cold cut antipasto; salad; beverages, beer and deserts will be served.  Many of the regulars will again be in attendance in the crowded but comforting back room and kitchen of the town’s oldest firehouse.  For those interested we also have our Oscar pool ballots ready to be filled out.

Friday night Lucille and I proudly attended “The Color Purple” touring performance at the State Theater in New Brunswick where the extraordinarily-talented 25-year-old Eric Lampmann (Lucille’s sister Elaine’s youngest son) performed as the first listed member of the orchestra as Reed 1 (alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, alto flute). The show, a Tony Award winning musical on Broadway, will be playing all over the country in coming months. Young Eric is a musical superstar!!! Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

“Don’t keep anything in your life you’re not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” – Neil McCauley

“All I am is what I’m going after.” – Vincent Hanna

For his entire career Michael Mann has been obsessed with cops and criminals and the place where their lives intersect. He began to explore it in earnest with Thief (1981) by putting an emphasis on the criminal element. With Manhunter (1986), he shifted the focus to the law enforcement side. Fifteen years in the making, Heat (1996) was an epic culmination of his fascination with both sides of the law. In some respects, the film took the obsessive profiler from Manhunter and put him up against the no-nonsense expert safecracker from Thief while also examining how their cat and mouse game, through the streets of Los Angeles, affected those around them.

Mann parlayed the commercial and critical success of The Last of the Mohicans (1992) to cast two of the most well-respected American actors – Robert De Niro and Al Pacino – as the crook and the cop respectively, ramping up anticipation as it would be the first time these acting heavyweights would to appear together on-screen. They did not disappoint, delivering iconic performances as two driven men at the pinnacle of their professions, respecting each other’s skill but also acutely aware that if it came down to it one of them would probably die at the hands of the other.

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