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millenium-mambo-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      After exploring a number of films where protagonists seem to have brought down on their head difficulties so weighty as to suggest a mission impossible, I think it’s time for Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Millennium Mambo (2001) to make the case that it’s easy as pie. Well, maybe not exactly as easy as pie, but wisely and effectively circumventing grating levels of peevish mayhem and clueless paralysis.

Apparently this is a Hou Hsiao Hsien movie which the partisans love to hate, inasmuch as it steadfastly refuses to pay the usual tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, in his setting in relief hard domestic times (and their socio-political framework) whereby decorum of the most incisive poignancy can rule. There is no doubt that such salt-of-the-earth sweethearts have left the building in the 2001 odyssey on tap (and I’m as insatiable about seeing the graces of Setsuko Hara [and her skilful followers] as anyone). But rather than shoot first and pile on reasons later, there are rewards to be had—rewards of decorum, no less—in this apparently attention-deficient, rude scramble of a movie (which reminds one a bit of Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels [1995] as taking place where gun-control is not just a saying). What is needed, I think, to come to realize that Hou Hsiao Hsien has, taking to heart the newness of the new millennium—which had been eating away at nostalgic gems for some time before the year 2000—improved not dumbed down his craft, is to (like Wong) pay close attention to the lava flow of contemporary sensuality onscreen, as only at a first and lazy glance devoid of serious content. Continue Reading »

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Mark Rylance as Cromwell in masterful WOLF ALL.

by Sam Juliano

Spring is here, but the temperatures have still yet to comply with this fact of nature.  As we move closer to April, we can only anticipate comfortable weather, but we shall see what we shall see.  Otherwise the baseball season will start later this week, and Easter Sunday is coming up next weekend.

The Childhood Films countdown venture is underway with e mails going out and many already engaged in viewing and re-viewing some of the ideal prospects.  It is expected that ballots will begin appearing in early May.  Any WitD readers not on the chain, but wanting to be just reach me at The Fountain26@aol.com, and I’ll include you.

Lucille, Broadway Bob and I attended the stage work GREAT KILLS on Saturday night.  The drama offers a good deal of laughs, and featured three actors – one of them the renowned Joe Pantoliano of Cliffside Park and Fairview upbringing.  The famed actor was the sole reason to see this decent play, and meeting him afterwards was a treat.  The huble and friendly Pantoliano graduated Cliffside Park High School, and is well-remembered for his roles in The Sopranos, Empire of the Sun, The Goonies, Midnight Run, Memento and La Bamba among others.  GREAT KILLS staged at the Theater For The New City on First Avenue.  I will run into the second week in April. Continue Reading »

farre 2

by Allan Fish

(France 1946 90m) DVD2 (France/Belgium only)

Aka. Farrebique, ou les quatre saisons

A world untouched

d/w  Georges Rouquier  ph  André Danton  ed  Madeleine Gug  m  Henri Sauguet

In 1983 Georges Rouquier made a return pilgrimage to Aveyron and Goutrens.  It was 38 years since he’d first gone to the region in 1945 to make Farrebique.  His new film would be called Biquefarre.  It’s an important document in itself but few would argue that it was as good as its predecessor.  Biquefarre marked a sort of diaspora, a leaving behind of the old ways of farming life documented in Farrebique.  It felt like we were watching something slipping by, while Farrebique was about continuation, a tale of the four seasons as they had been for countless generations.  Biquefarre opens with a shot of the old Farrebique farmhouse, now closed up, its family now moved into a purpose built modern house on adjoining land.  Even Biquefarre is now being sold up by its owner because maintaining it is no longer practicable. Continue Reading »

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by Allan Fish

(Turkey 2014 196m) DVD1/2

Aka. Kis Uykusu

Flowers of the Steppes

p  Zeynep Ozbatur Atakan  d  Nuri Bilge Ceylan  w  Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan  ph  Gökhan Tiryaki  ed  Böra Göksingöl, Nuri Bilge Ceylan  art  Gamze Kus

Haluk Bilginer (Aydin), Melisa Sözen (Nihal), Demet Akbag (Necla), Serhat Mustafa Kilic (Hamdi), Ayberk Pekcan (Hidayet), Nejat Isler (Ismail), Tamer Levent (Suavi), Emirhan Doruktutan (Ilyas), Rabia Özel (Fatma), Ekrem Ilhan (Ekrem), Mehmet Ali Nuroglu (Timur), Fatma Deniz Yildiz (Sevda),

Despite the efforts of Yilmaz Güney in the seventies and eighties, surely no director has so succeeded in putting Turkish cinema on the world map than Nuri Bilge Ceylan.  The Turkey we feel we complacently know in the west is a Turkey long gone, the heritage of Anatolia, Asia Minor and Byzantium, of the golden city of Constantinople, of the prized Hellespont and of the Troy brought back from myth by Heinrich Schliemann.  In Once Upon a Time in Anatolia Ceylan gave us a different Turkey, and he arguably goes further in this, perhaps his greatest film to date.  Continue Reading »

seymour

red army

by Sam Juliano

Spring arrived without much fanfare this past week but was suddenly dispatched on Friday when five inches of snow fell on the metropolitan area, again proving that one can’t be comfortable in this season from hell.  As we know from the past, even April is unpredictable.   Baseball season inches closer for those inclined, and for Lucille and I the Tribeca Film Festival is a little more than three weeks away.  No doubt that will be quite a torrid eleven day span!

The initial group e mail for the upcoming Best Childhood Film countdown has been sent out to the voters and writers, and a spirited discussion has commenced.  Ballots will be sent in starting on May 1st and ending on the 14th, with the results to be posted shortly thereafter by Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr.  The actual countdown will begin near the end of May and will run Monday through Friday for ten weeks.  Any Wonders in the Dark readers wishing to participate, please reach me at TheFountain26@aol.com.   My latest capsule review for a Terrill Welch painting was sent on yesterday:

Terrill Welch’s arresting impressionistic oil painting “Trail Along the Bridge” showcases a domestic refuge, one that is ideal for meditation and creative inspiration.  There is a pneumatic quality to the seemingly clandestine vantage point overlooking mountains and a wooden valley that would surely give pause for sensory reflections.  The glorious blue sky, bright textures, summer shadows and joyful ambiance define the scene, yet there is a mystique in the central almost intimidating image of the Douglas Fir, which is rooted tenuously near the edge of the ridge, a sitting duck for a storm, yet evincing a look of having survived its share of atmospheric ravages.
 
Everyone can lay claim to a place and a setting they revered since childhood – and the experience is a kind of Stopping by Woods on a Lovely Day, when everything comes to a halt, and there is a fusion with nature.  Welch’s painting isn’t without a more somber context – the tree’s slant suggests that such days are in limited number, and are mainly available during late spring and summer, yet there is scenic bliss and inspiration, not only attested by the creator, but to be seen by generous brush strokes of color and a wonderfully serene landscape.  It would be hard to fathom that a hike up this trail wouldn’t stoke the happiest of memories and expectations.  This is Ms. Welch in radiant mode, and it would bring any room to life, transporting its onlookers to an idyllic hamlet in this island paradise.

Continue Reading »

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by Allan Fish

(Belgium 1944 115m) DVD2 (Belgium/France only) Aka. Boerensymfonie Four seasons and a wedding p  Henri Storck  d  Henri Storck, Maurice Delattre  w  Henri Storck, Jacques de Schryver, Marie Gevers  ph  Henri Storck, Maurice Delattre, Charles Abel, François Rents  ed  Henri Storck  m  Pierre Moulaert Even today, into the 21st century, the cinema of what have been long described, rather disparagingly, as the Low Countries, has been at best marginalised and, at worst, almost completely unacknowledged.  The lands that gave us Van Dyke, Rubens, Vermeer and especially, Rembrandt, who was playing with light and shadow centuries before the Lumières, treated like cinematic orphans. Before Paul Verhoeven came on the scene in the seventies, Dutch cinema was confined to the documentaries of Joris Ivens and Bert Haanstra.  And then what of its neighbour Belgium?  Sure, we now have the Dardenne brothers, but they’re seen as French, and André Delvaux was treated the same.  As both made French language films it was perhaps understandable.  Before Delvaux only really one name stands out, and he, too, like Ivens and Haanstra, was a documentarist; Henri Storck.

Continue Reading »

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© 2015 by James Clark

      I want to begin dealing with this fairly recent film, having already attained to august singularity status in the eyes of legions of film folks, by committing the heresy of, while recognizing it to be a very fine product, identifying it as a witty and ardent contribution to a long-standing vigil by a large crowd of filmmakers many of whom have brought to us even more fertile overtures which have gone largely unnoticed. One of those devotees not having been ignored was Stanley Kubrick. One of his contributions to that comprehensive concern, namely, 2001, Space Odyssey (1968) finds itself right up there with There Will Be Blood (2007) as an object of flat-out worship. There Will Be Blood is essentially a remake of Space Odyssey. It takes a run, in light of Kubrick’s Dave coming up short despite Herculean intensity, within a panoramically vast imperative bearing down on all of us, not only Americans and their difficulties with couth (perhaps the germ of the huge love affair for this film deriving from its brush with satanic materialism and inefficient Christianity).

The writing and cinematic force behind this love-fest turns out to be an inspired explorer of the rich lodes of headway buried in the more or less accessible vaults of art works from recent and distant times. So it is that Anderson sends to us, in There Will Be Blood, a scenario that opens with a barely discernible but soon palpably urgent ringing which reveals more complex structure on the order of that increasingly higher volume and an increasingly high pitch, culminating in an eruption of sound. That jolt lifts the initial entropic optics of dull rocky desert to the point of far more radiant light and touches of green and yellow in the hitherto grim terrain, in addition to which showing the grey hills nearby to have texture and subtle appeal. The high tension aural motif continues over a cut to a creature powerfully chopping away with a pickaxe at the enclosing walls of a dark rocky cave. His historical position, as far as we can see at this murky point, lies somewhere between frantic primeval apes and authoritative high-tech high-flyers. The pit where he toils is untouched by speech—he being, in contrast to those apes we know, alone—and after the ringing subsides we find a similar function arising in sparks shooting from the collision of steel and rock, from the carnal effort. The intensity of his eyes (as he examines a rock), picking up what light has made his way down, is arresting. His beard is full, his hair thick and long and his tan-colored hat (which he puts on after the digging is done and he heads upwards, clambering and pulling powerfully on a rope) gives his head a roundedness. On the surface, night having fallen, he squats morosely and pulls a blanket across his chest. Wisps of his fire show at the bottom of the screen. The wind howls, there is thunder and lightning in the distance and then the date 1898, in neo-Gothic style, appears. Back to work, now by candle light, he with hammer and crowbar dislodges a small piece and examines it, finding there traces of silver. He places a stick of dynamite at the promising area and the flame of the explosive challenges the inert rock. Climbing up he encounters radiant sunshine and blue sky (giving us pause). He struggles to bring up his samples by pulling and failing twice to manage the load. (The dark vertical container being somewhat, in shape if not size or texture, like the monolith administering to the apes. A distant aftermath of this early struggle delivers to us another such arresting configuration—an oil well tower exploding and sending up a huge shaft of black smoke, and then being superseded by raging, devastating, angry flames.) The explosion, far down, suspends that focus and after the dust clears he heads down to check the vein. In his haste he misses a rung and plunges downward. We see his fall from below with an intense light in the zone of the opening to the sky—a fiery figure melding for a microsecond with the play of light. All goes black as his falling body covers our outlook. He wakes up crying in pain with a deep, wild animal timbre. He gasps and a sound like “No” comes through. Looking upward his eyes catch whatever light is to be had in his bind—a link to the apes and that leopard. The low growl of his pain also brings them onstream.) Soon he’s dragging himself up by a rope (this bid invested with more strength than those bids at the surface.) Just before that he has the presence of mind to spit on one of the rocks broken off by the explosion. The silver there braces him and he places a small rock into his shirt near his heart. Agile as an ape, his three long functioning limbs at full capacity, he heads upward. And as he does, he’s joined by steadily heightened and modulated calling, becoming increasingly excited as he negotiates the terrain on his back, pulling himself along with his uninjured leg and his two arms and hands. This crescendo develops from ringing to a siren, revealing traces of conscious imploring. The sonic apparition not only intensifies into jangling high notes, but there is a harmonic quality, elements of high and low somehow rewarding him for his courage. This new component touches upon voices, wild and resonant. At the assayers, while the staff checks out his finds and he remains on his back on the floor, the song of tribute and encouragement continues. There is a human-like sensibility in the lower registers of this extraordinary patterning linking to an extraordinary feat of heart. (Most viewers, it seems, see the protagonist as entirely lacking heart, apparently stricken with an American virus, and thus an opportunity to wallow in hatred and smug self-righteousness.) Continue Reading »

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