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by Sam Juliano

Presidents Week 2019 as always results in a full week off for area schools as a kind of winter recess.  The Oscar party at the Tiger Hose Firehouse will be staged starting at 6:00 P.M., though the show itself never gets underway before 8:20 P.M.  Lucille and I are greatly looking forward to seeing many friends including some site blogging regulars for this cherished annual gathering dating back 38 years.  A revolt by the film community resulted in a reversal this week of the tentative plans to consign the Cinematography, Editing and two other categories to commercial breaks, which in essence was another preposterous plan in a year when AMPAS has bungled numerous decisions.  Yet in each case they were overturned.  J.D. Lafrance penned a terrific essay this week on The Warriors.

We saw two new releases on Thursday and Friday evenings at premium Manhattan art houses. Ciro Guerra’s Birds of Passage is a violent drug cartel drama which focuses on an indigenous community (Wayuu and Spanish language) governed by stringent traditions and spiritual beliefs. Tensions over business and family insults lead to an epic assault on a practically surreal while fortress in desert terrain in a film with gangland repercussions. Brilliantly filmed and scored, if a bit slow getting out of the gate. Christopher Honore’s deeply personal and melancholic trans-formative if doomed gay romance Sorry Angel, set in 1990’s Paris amidst the AIDS crisis brings a rare authenticity into searing relationships among bohemians who click on chance encounters and no-holds-barred physicality that ensues. This is the uneven Honore’s finest film to date. Continue Reading »

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By J.D. Lafrance

When The Warriors came out in 1979 it was a modestly budgeted film made by an up-and-coming director named Walter Hill and featured a then-unknown cast. With its nightmarish vision of New York City, the film certainly wasn’t going to be used in any of the city’s tourism ads extolling the virtues of the metropolis. Like many films from the 1970s, New York is presented as a dirty, dangerous place filled with jaded, cynical people (see Taxi Driver and The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three). The film performed decently at the box office but reports of gang-related violence at a few screenings caused the studio to panic and downplay promotional advertisements. But the film had left its mark and over the years it has quietly cultivated a loyal following thanks mainly to regular screenings on television and the occasional midnight showing at repertory theaters. 

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by Sam Juliano

The Grammys were staged on Sunday night, but I don’t yet have a full report.  R.I.P. Albert Finny, one of the greatest of all film actors.  Our annual Oscar party will be held at the Tiger Hose Firehouse on Sedore Avenue in Fairview on Sunday, February 24th.  The BAFTAs were also held on Sunday night with Roma scoring yet again for Best Picture and The Favorite racking up the most overall wins.  James Clark’s latest mega-essay in his ongoing Ingmar Bergman series, Smiles of a Summer Night was posted this past week.  In addition, J.D. Lafrance published his weekly film review on Keith Gordon’s 2000 Waking the Dead.  Another superlative essay from J.D.

Lucille, Sammy, Danny and I took in the three-hour-plus latest masterwork, The Wild Pear Tree,  from the brilliant Turkish writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan Wednesday at the Film Forum. This fascinating barrage of extended dialogues, examining complex musings on philosophy, theology, politics, and ethnics all transcribed through a cynical haze includes the usual ravishing visual tapestries of seasonal resplendence that showcase again why Ceylan is one of the world’s most singular talents. 2019 now has its set-the-bar cinematic work, one that begs for repeat viewings. The Wild Pear Tree is stunning.

The final of the five films nominated for the Foreign Film Oscar, the German Never Look Away was watched last night at the Angelica Film center with film and TV writer/blogger and friend Adam Ferenz, who is in from Michigan for a few weeks. The epic film about art, love and politics set over three decades in Germany spanning the Nazi era was set in Dresden, Dusseldorf and Berlin was loosely based in part on the life of painter Gerard Richter. Both Adam and I were stunned and surprised at how extraordinary this often powerful and emotional film panned out to be, though we were all most familiar with director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s previous Oscar masterwork “The Lives of Others.” As “Never Look Away” did not open in 2018 in USA theaters as did the other four nominees, the film which rates a strong 4.5 of 5.0 (perhaps I’ll go the limit as I ponder further) will count for 2019. Great score and Oscar nominated cinematography from Caleb Deschanel. 

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 © 2019 by James Clark

      Like the Bergman film, Winter Light (1963), Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), threatens, at first blush, to be a pain in the ass. Instead of the former film’s protagonist’s death march through rootless theology, we have a veritable general assembly of gluttons for winning advantage over everyone else, so smug and fatuous in their ridiculous “sophistication” as to seem not only from several centuries past but obviously headed for embarrassment. However, just as we were rewarded by putting up with the first hour-plus in the first-mentioned film, there is, in the latter (our film today), after quite a long while, something delicious turning the tables—which is not to say, becoming dominant.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a high-profile Stockholm actress, Desiree, presses her mother—an elderly dowager—to stage a summer weekend for a number of her associates, in order to create a fracas that will wrest away from his very young wife a lawyer  whom, as once before, she finds herself in love with. Whereas the jockeying amidst various cynical patricians is hectic and not particularly witty—one scene recalling the Three Stooges—(making for Bergman a much-needed state of solvency and continued career), it is the non-amorous octogenarian who makes the occasion truly sexy.

There is a prelude to this romp, where Desiree bursts into her mother’s bedroom (interrupting the latter’s game of Solitaire, at 7 a.m.) to have her write out the invitations. While the daughter drinks a lot of coffee and then skims over a novel, the owner of the estate has more to say about the state of the nation than the progressions of her flakey daughter. On Desiree’s describing her event as doing a “good deed,” the rather frail but very alert intruded-upon declares, “They [good deeds] cost far too much” (the recipient not likely to seriously respond, leaving the donor nonplussed). She goes on to elaborate upon her being fond of Solitaire. The social convener/ daughter asks, “Is anything really important to you?” Her mother, not needing to think it over, shoots back, “I am tired of people. But that doesn’t stop me loving them… I could have had them stuffed and hanging in long rows, any number of them [fine as a decorative possibility; disastrous as actuality]. One can never protect a human being from any kind of suffering [the level of grotesque perversity being like a self-satisfied plague]. That is what makes one so tremendously weary…” Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

Keith Gordon began acting at a young age, appearing in films by legendary directors like Brian De Palma and John Carpenter but when he found acting in films, like the Rodney Dangerfield comedy Back to School (1986), unfulfilling, he decided to try his hand behind the camera, tackling a series of literary adaptations on modest budgets but managing to entice actors like Nick Nolte and Gary Sinise to appear in his films. In his Senses of Cinema interview with Gordon, Peter Tonguette best sums up the director’s body of work as having: “moral gravity and their aesthetic richness.” Arguably his most successful and sincere film to date is Waking the Dead (2000), a heart-wrenching story about love and loss spanning two decades.

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by Sam Juliano

From an arctic vortex to 60 degree temperatures we’ve experienced winter-to-summer over the last week, what with Mother Nature sending on a markedly bi-polar message.  In any event the big event of the week was staged in the Deep South and the comfortable numbers were evident at halftime when the lead singer of Maroon 5 was bare-chested.  In any event those of us who have had our full of Tom Brady, Bill Belachick and those hated New England Patriots could only watch incredulously as one of the most boring Super Bowls on record.  The Patriots won their sixth NFL title, tying them with the Pittsburgh Steelers for most ever.  I’m not the biggest football fan in the world (baseball is my main sports fix) but like most I follow the playoffs and have a favorite team leading up to the annual playoffs.

On the film scene Alfonso Cuaron won the Director’s Guild Award en route to a seemingly unstoppable win from AMPAS as the capper on all he’s won so far from nearly every critics’ group.  ROMA is a masterpiece for sure and my own #5 film of the year.  Our annual Oscar party will be held on Sunday, February 24th at the Tiger Hose Firehouse in Fairview, New Jersey.

Over the past week, Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I took in “Arctic,” a tense, quietly enveloping survival drama set in the punishing tundra near the North Pole, where a man manages to stay alive despite numerous obstacles. Anyone who has read Brian Paulsen’s Newbery Honor book “Hatchet” will understand the mighty odds faced by the non-speaking Mads Mikkelson, who turns in his best performance ever.. Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

In retrospect, Days of Heaven (1978) can be seen as a transitional film for its director, Terrence Malick, whose first film, Badlands (1973), was a fictionalized account of Charles Starkweather, a young man who went on a killing spree with his teenage girlfriend. Malick’s follow up to Days of Heaven was an adaptation of James Jones’ World War II novel, The Thin Red Line (1998). While Badlands was a fairly straightforward film, Days of Heaven marked a significant evolution in Malick’s thematic preoccupations as he explored man’s relationship with the environment and the resulting effect. The filmmaker also examined the destructive relationships between people. This is all depicted in an observational style reminiscent of a documentary albeit with some of the most stunning cinematography ever put on film.

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