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by Dennis Polifroni

We all know the two of them by now.  Fox Mulder, Special Agent and care-taker of the the F.B.I.’s most embarrassing and confusing case studies, “THE X-FILES”, is a believer in everything that goes bump in the night and all those things that raised fingers pointed at the sky supposedly represent.  His sister was an abductee of a UFO kidnapping and he’s never been the same since he witnessed it happen.  He believes that “the truth is out there” somewhere and his fascination isn’t limited only to the possibility of flying saucers.

Dana Scully, on the other hand, is the skeptic.  A devout Catholic whose work as a medical doctor and psychologist have put her in the upper epsilon of agents trying to make a big splash in the bureau, she needs hard proof, on everything, to even remotely bend towards Mulders way of thinking.  She doesn’t believe in UFO’s, ghosts, little green men or Bigfoot, and that skepticism is tested in every episode of the series.

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By J.D. Lafrance

In the 1980s and 1990s, late night talk shows ruled the airwaves with the likes of Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno making America laugh before bedtime. These shows would come on after the 11 o’clock news and start with the host delivering a monologue poking fun at the popular news topics of the day followed by a couple of celebrities pushing their movie or television show and ending with a musical act or a stand-up comedian. It’s a format that continues to this day as a new generation of talk show hosts vie for eyeballs in our increasingly fragmented popular culture.

The Larry Sanders Show took a look behind-the-scenes at a fictional late night talk show featuring its vain, neurotic eponymous host (Garry Shandling), his weasely sidekick Hank Kingsley (Jeffrey Tambor), the gruff, ass-kissing producer Arthur (Rip Torn), and the other long-suffering staff members that cater to his selfish needs as they try to get a show on the air. Larry lives in constant fear, either worrying about if he’s funny every night or if the show’s getting good enough ratings to justify its existence, and do almost anything to achieve both.
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© 2017 by James Clark

 This film (from 2016) is as devoted to the undeclared war, between old world-history and something beyond that, as Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (1997). The latter, in its denouement, pours out a Bronx cheer upon an oldie for the sake of its overwhelmed eccentrics, knowing all too well that victories will be very scarce and very incomplete. Elle shows us what such victory of the “selfish” self-starters is apt to look like.

Our more than unusual protagonist, Michele, on being raped one evening in her house by a figure pleased to look like Spider-Man, has her doctor arrange a STD blood test next day—a “full panel”—and, in line with the physical and financial authority she exerts, the specialist suggests a new medication, PEP. She has already covered that avenue and declares, “Too many side-effects… I can’t miss any work.” She adds, metaphorically blowing the roof off the tony clinic devoted to classical science, “I guess we roll the dice…” Albert Einstein, a master of pushing the envelope the better to hide out, poured forth a Bronx cheer of sorts upon youthful researchers in the early days of quantum studies, who were struck by a creative field shot through with uncertainties, by, that is, unpredictability in the ways of nature as crucially including humans. He capsulized his contempt for those renegades by declaring, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Immediately after that appointment she and we are in the midst of the first of a series of locales (at Christmas time) where chains of small white lights flash about, approximating elemental phenomena soaring in electrodynamic outbursts. That such heady take-offs are far from carefree is announced—truth to tell, with nearly as much shock as the oddly truncated sexual assault—at a lunch bar (lights in its doorway and visible through the whole scene) where a splenetic diner dumps the dregs of her tray all over Michele’s shoulder and sleeve, along with the denunciation, “Scum! You and your father!” Her still and silent response is a reprise of her undemonstrative rally after the rape.

Although several melodramatic narratives seem to be vying for attention which would pay dividends, we might find that the outcomes very closely approximate that inconsequentiality of the suicidal obsessive in Taste of Cherry; and that it is the major-league (which means far from perfect) coordination of Michele amidst myriad cons and a few pros which lifts the proceedings to regal stature. (Isobel Huppert’s performance as Michele, though marvellous, constitutes another distraction by which those not having a clue about what is going on can invest the action with a shot of the “powerful,” which can mean anything they want it to mean. This is, in fact, a film [like so many of Kiarostami’s works, and those of Jarmusch] to embrace, not to pigeonhole.) Continue Reading »

by Allan Fish

(Japan 1995-1996 579m) DVD1/2

Definitely not something to do to kill time

p  Yutaka Sugiyama  d  Hideaki Anno & Kazuya Tsurumaki, Masayuki, Hiroyuki Ishido, Tsuyoshi Kaga, Tensai Okamura, Keiichi Sugiyama, Masahiko Otsuka  w  Hideaki Anno, Akio Katsukawa, Shinji Haguchi, Yoji Enokido, Hiroshi Yamaguchi  m  Shiro Sagisu

Let’s follow in Hideaki Anno’s footsteps and, just as in episode 25 and 26 he took a detour to an ending at best described as Nietzschean, because he didn’t have room (in this case, the money) to film the ending he had in mind, so I will leave the cast out of this entry.  We’ll save them for overleaf.  Anno’s almost legendary anime series seems the definition of all that makes anime so foreign to the western world.  All those mechas, offspring of so many Saturday morning shows on children’s telly, adolescent protagonists barely old enough to recognise their own sexual awakening let alone save the world.

So a few weeks later I come back to it.  In the interim I have seen the two rebuild films from 2007 and 2009, but they were little more than polished prunings; gorgeous to look at it, but not necessarily offering us anything new.  It’s appropriate watching it now, 15 years after the original run ended, for here was a show that lived 15 years in the past.  It’s set in 2015, but it’s 2000 that is in everyone’s mind.  Then there had been what the cover up told us was a Second Impact from a meteor, wiping out much of civilisation and leaving an apocalyptic wasteland.  From this hell on earth emerge the terrifying Angels, creatures out to take over the world, and their only serious challengers, the saviours of mankind, are three fourteen year old kids operating Evas, giant robots programmed to be piloted with maximum synchronisation.  The whole defence strategy is operated by NERV, but they are part of a darker purpose to bring about a new end of the world and a new beginning.       Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

The dog days of August are approaching, and many of us are doing what we can to stay clear of the oppressive heat.  Others couldn’t be happier to indulge in outdoor pursuits.  The Greatest Television Series Countdown moves ahead triumphantly with all the writers and comment section regulars making for an astoundingly successful venture.  Another great week for essays, comments, page views, likes and diversity.  The countdown will be taking a brief break from Friday August 4th until Friday August 11th, but will resume on Saturday, August 12th, continuing on till the final day, September 23 when the Number 1 finisher will appear.  Thanks to all who have been placing the comments, with a special shout out to Jeff Stroud, Jon Warner,  Dennis Polifroni, Frank Gallo, Ricky, Bobby J., Adam Ferenz, Celeste Fenster, Robert Hornak, Karen, Peter, John Grant, Tim McCoy, Pierre de Plume,  Maurizio Roca, David Schleicher, Patricia Hamilton,  and David Noack for your regular engagement.

Lucille and I managed two films in theaters this past week.  The total would have been higher, but viewing writing time for countdown entries and other responsibilities, prevented anymore than that.  We saw: Continue Reading »

by Sam Juliano

More documentaries, narrative films and volumes have been made or written about the cataclysmic event known as World War II, than about any era in world history.  It is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 85 million people were erased during the six years the conflict was fought in theaters around the globe making it the most widespread war in history, and directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.   Because the war affected so many and was fought on so many continents, historians and those who remain endlessly fascinated if deeply disturbed by the conflict’s long ranging implications, there are many who prefer to focus on different aspects of the war. i.e. the Holocaust, the war in the Pacific, the European front, the Battle for Stalingrad, the Battle of Britain and so on.  Any attempt to encapsulate this unconscionably horrific event via an overview will almost always result in the need for expansion or studied elaboration.  Because there have always been new revelations, there will always be new stories to tell, maiden reports of facts freshly unearthed, and changing perspectives connected to this most heinous paradigm of human suffering and mass degradation in the whole pantheon of human existence.  What we have confidently concluded is that if such an all-encompassing epic struggle had been fought today, what with the advance weaponry, and ability to forge precision strikes, a doomsday scenario would be almost impossible to dispel.  War historians continue to explore the various political, psychological and social instabilities that triggered the calamity, and will no doubt continue to well into the future or until the time when another event of equal or greater ferocity will make such a study a moot point.

The list of books connected to the Second World War comprise the most populated literary sub-category in existence, and any attempt to list them all or even a representative selection would prove a futile exercise.  Like other World War II buffs, I’ve ready many over the years, but will restrict my inclusions here to William H. Schirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Anna Reid’s Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, Donald L. Miller’s The Story of World War II; Alan Bullock’s Hitler: A Study of Tyranny,  Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, not to mention several works by William Manchester on Churchill, MacArthur and the economics of the war and of course the beloved The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Ellie Wiesel.  There have been more documentaries on the subject than you can shake a stick at, with enduring works like Shoah, The Sorrow and the Pity, Listen to Britain, Auschwitz and Fires Were Started perhaps the most venerated of all.

The cinema never seems to lose focus for the subject either, and some of the most highly regarded motion pictures about the subject include Schindler’s List, Atonement, Night and Fog, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Come and See, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Hope and Glory,  Patton, From Here to Eternity, Rome Open City, Army of Shadows, Letters from Iwo Jima, Ivan’s Chilhood, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Closely Watched Trains, The Train, The Pianist, Downfall, The Bridge over the River Kwai; Aopocalypse Now, Full Medal Jacket, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and the Hungarian Fateless among countless others.  The subject is largely and understandably the most austere of any filmed, so almost as a necessity to offer some levity, we have guffawed uneasily at the likes of  Ernest Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be, Mel Brooks The Producers, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards and the television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.  The animation masterwork from Studio Gibli, The Grave of the Fireflies also made its point most powerfully.  For all the great works that have been created in the arts though and the war as an ever aching reminder of the worst horror people can survive to recall did serve as the basis to some of the most emotional works ever- there is one that in terms of condensed scope, archival footage, newsreels, interviews, and historical reportage and analysis that is the one that stands tallest as a permanent record of that most terrible of times, one that brings all aspects of the war from the storm clouds and events that set the stage for unrest and mistrust, culminating in nefarious plotting, armed aggression, mass murder and devastation that hasn’t been seen before or since. Continue Reading »

by Lucille Juliano

It’s a simple fact, that throughout show business history, there has never been such a success story.  Who in the world has had thirty years in one spot? It never happened before.  There’s nothing to compare it to.  Sometimes old-timers hang on and they’re not so good, but the audience likes them and forgives.  You don’t have to forgive him.  He’s as good as the day he started.                                      -Phyllis Diller                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                     

I loved being on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Nobody listened as good as Johnny.  He’s also a great actor.  He laughed at my jokes like he’d never heard them before.

-George Burns

He is, he was, and will always be the best there was.  It’s been thirty years of the best television we will ever have.  There is not another Johnny Carson . . . unless there’ll be another Charlie Chaplin.

-Jerry Lewis

I have nothing but the greatest admiration for him.  I think that when he quits, it’s kind of an end of an era.

-Jack Paar

(taken from the foreword of Here’s Johnny! revised edition by Stephen Cox, 1992, 2002)

 

Johnny became the host of The Tonight Show about a year or so before I was born.  My parents watched him religiously and as soon as we were old enough to stay up late, my sister and I became regulars as well.  Apparently, Johnny had become an institution in our lives just as he had for countless Americans around the country. Like clockwork, he returned each night and we as admirers, banked on it.   When I think about it, he was always there right after the 11 o’clock news on NBC for more than half my life.  My family and I watched him every night Monday through Friday no matter where we were at home, visiting family or friends or on vacation.  For three decades, Johnny was seated behind the desk and entertained us in so many ways. He was more than just an anchor to late-night audiences.  He was the “King of Late-Night Television”.  It has been said that Johnny had some of the greatest comedy writers around.  His timing and delivery aged like fine wine and only got better.   It could be that we just got so used to him that any errors really didn’t matter.  We went easy on him because even his blunders were amusing.   During his reign, seven presidents passed through the White House and the country moved through wars, victories, and taxes.

I can still remember watching his last show on May 22, 1992 with guests, Robin Williams and Bette Midler.  Robin was his typical crazy self and had Johnny in stitches not knowing what he would do next.  Bette was his official last guest.  During the show, she sang three times including a duet with Johnny himself.  Her rendition “You Made Me Love You” or should I say “You Made Me Watch You” was absolutely hysterical and a real roast of Johnny and his career.  During the finale, Bette came out and sang her own rendition of “One More for My Baby (and One More for the Road) which was so touching and sentimental that there was not a dry eye on either side of the camera.  You could see that Johnny was holding back tears as she sang and hear it in his voice as he said goodnight to his audience.   Continue Reading »