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by Sam Juliano

Pumpkin Day is just eight days away and area communities are busy setting the stage with seasonal adornments.  Horror film fans too are employing the month with new discoveries and revisitations, and city festivals have highlighted some genre classics.  The Caldecott Medal Contender series has been moving forward,, with five reviews so far published, and preparation continues for Part 2 of the Greatest Television Series countdown set to launch on February 13th, after being pushed back an additional two months for multiple reasons.  Stellar film scholarship from Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance continues.

Our resident horror expert Jamie Uhler has again penned a superlative capsule review on a recent horror gem, 2017’s A Ghost Story, which I am posting on this thread to continue the Halloween month celebration.  A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery is one of my own top films of the year:

A Ghost Story (D. Lowery… 2017) supernaturalPairing Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara together again, as director David Lowery had in the underrated Ain’t Them Bodies Saints previously, promised one of my most anticipated films of 2017. It more or less came and went early in the year, a small film (made astonishingly for 100 thousand) released during a time of year where big studios release their duds, or leftovers from the previous Oscar season. Some noticed it and praised it, but even then this is a film deserving of considerably more attention, a haunting work whose title implies scares, but instead burrows much deeper into an emotional center on loss and closure. 

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by Sam Juliano

Little Lamb who made thee 
Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o’er the mead; 
Gave thee clothing of delight, 
Softest clothing wooly bright;       -William Blake, 1776

The art of photography has yet to achieve recognition from the Caldecott committee, though qualification rules do embrace this most unique illustrative style.  For the fourth time acclaimed poet Helen Frost and celebrated photographer Rick Lieder have confirmed their inimitable picture book chemistry with Wake Up!, a work incorporating elements from the previous dalliances in what many know but few have seen caught in such sublime crystal clarity.  In a case of mutual inspiration this erstwhile cameraman extraordinaire brings full-bodied visualization to the probing language that in turn seems to receive a cue from the nature identity markers that serve to introduce species of tiny insects to large mammals.

With magnifying glass lucidity Lieber offers a close-up of the marble like translucent eggs that will in short order morph into gray garden slugs on the opening end papers, while simultaneously rendering a sense of wonder through a yellow-green spectrum.  The title page is a striking convergence of aquamarine and frosty white which allows a newly hatched Chinese praying mantis to needle through an English daisy.  Thematically Frost and Lieder are attuned to the natural affinity between living things and their habitats at the earliest spans of their tenure on the Earth.  Wake Up! is less scene-specific than the first three books in this series, but in the manner it urges on its readers one can conclude the message is cumulative.

Lieder’s mission is to invite readers to enter and as a result to know more about their interactions within their habitats, and the inherent possibilities in the realm of nature.  His renowned poet in residence, Frost is a master of language economy, one content to have all the human eyes focus on Lieder’s photographic miracles, yet to forge a lasting impact of language that lyrically sets the stage for some of the most glorious images the eye can behold.  This unusual wedding between rhythmical veracity and photographic authenticity bring allows those who engage with Wake Up! the chance to derive as much as Lieder did when he caught his treasures on film for posterity. Continue Reading »

prince-of-darkness

By J.D. Lafrance

“The outside world doesn’t want to hear this kind of bullshit. Just keep it locked away. They’ve already managed it for 2000 years.” – Birack

Prince of Darkness (1987) was made after John Carpenter went public with how dissatisfied he was with the studio interference he encountered while working on films like Big Trouble in Little China (1986). He decided to return to his independent filmmaking roots by signing a multi-picture deal with Alive Films. He would get a $3 million budget per film and complete creative freedom. The first result was a creepy horror film and the second installment of an informal “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with The Thing (1982) and concluded with In the Mouth of Madness (1995). Aside from being heavily influenced by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, all three films feature a higher, malevolent supernatural force that manipulates human beings against one another in order to bring about the end of the world.
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 © 2017 by James Clark

      After enjoying a number of films loaded for bear, it’s a bit of a breath of fresh air to see to it that small game must not be forgotten. Whereas the likes of Kiarostami, Jarmusch and Refn are wired for blowing the planet into outer space, filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt, has perhaps a more low-tech approach to a dispensation of overrated smart-asses.

I recall a brush with her Wendy and Lucy (2008) being haunting and prompting more studies of her work. And now, particularly in the wake of the rarefied, Shirin, her recent film, Certain Women (2016), becomes a must. Let’s not, however, fail to appreciate that Reinhardt can, when apt, throw a deadly cutter in the course of diverging from the mainstream fast balls being expected by a site like Montana. (I’m not unmindful that she has a reputation for being an expert at “slow cinema” to coincide with rural settings. But her “slowness’ has been tempered by the killer instincts of Kiarostami, Jarmusch and Refn, to name but a few of the many fireballers she sees the point of.) Near the end of our movie today, a quite empathetic lawyer, Laura, visits a former client, Billy, now in jail, who hopes to hear more often from her by mail. “Talk about anything…Doesn’t have to be a tome…” But—as part of the tide of an enterprise not so far from the lone coffee drinker in Jarmusch’s, Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), contemplating buying a large gun to deal with hordes of impasse she finds insufferable—there is no effective avoidance of playing something along lines of a tome (a multifaceted outreach, a dialectic, in fact). Earthy folks imply paradoxical struggle, and Certain Women is, in its ‘slow” ways, a deep and hard look at an American, not a German, idealism.

A first and most directly palpable thing that hits us in this film is its ponderously dead visuality. Not (very much) is Reichardt about homage toward those “Transcendentalist” boosters of peppy light coming to bear across vast spheres to kiss delicious flora, faunas and contours. Those former boy scouts taking their marching orders from European Romanticism are supplanted here by an emphatic initial distance shot of a rail bed all but swallowed up by brown and grey unlovely grasses with a mountain range miles away on the horizon, pelted by overcast more impoverished than night. A freight train approaches to complement the unfriendly wind whipping along; but the mere touch of a positive motion catches our attention, as does the train’s raspy whistle. Continue Reading »

“Shout” (1978)

by Sam Juliano

Autumn weather is trying real hard to make its presence known but summer is driving a hard bargain in these parts.  In any event mid October is usually a fun time of the year.  We Yankee fans were so thrilled when our team took out the Indians in five after an amazing comeback, but we do presently stand in a precarious situation, down two zip to the Houston Astros.  The Bronx Bombers must win tonight if they are to stand any realistic chance.  The prestige movie season is nearly upon us and many are noting what films are on the docket.  Holloween Horror is all the rage and our resident expert Jamie Uhler has penned another fantastic review of a comparatively little seen gem:

The Shout (J. Skolimowski… 1978) psychological/fantasy

Knowing the brilliance of Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski for some time now, I’ve sort of been surprised I’ve never seen a second film of his; Deep End (1970) is one of the towering works of cinema, a scathing, brilliant piece of subversion, it being so great that it stands out in an era where subversive political cinema happened somewhat regularly, a telling fact by itself. But it remained all I’d seen from him, until, last night of course, when I did his abstract piece of Horror, The Shout from 1978 (I should say, my neglect on him isn’t due to pure laziness, I’ve long wanted to see Le depart [1967] and Hands Up! [1967], but have found both to be pretty illusive to quick, or even lengthy, searches). 

 Outlining the plot reveals a little to the abstract nature of the film, while it has concrete notions of plotting—a mysterious man (Crossly; Alan Bates at his most disheveled mysteriousness) invades the otherwise tranquil, English country side life of a young couple (the beautiful Rachel [Susannah York] and avant garde musician Anthony [John Hurt]) who claims to be coming back from a time spent living with Aboriginals where he murdered his family and learned a ‘terror shout’ from a shaman that can kill anyone who hears it without proper ear protection—its abstract style reveals a film illusive and hard to pin down. It’s clearly for the better—the auditory nature of the Horror implies that you need to feel and really ‘hear’ the film as much as you see it, with much of the spoken lines being muffled or whispered somewhat, with Anthony’s time in the studio being a smorgasbord of audio invention; he plucks a sardine can with a violin bow, or he shouts in a glass box around his head, each effect adding to the scary nature of a film where a deep, bellowed scream can kill and maim. Other touches add ever more focus, Anthony’s home studio is adorned with several of the terrifying Francis Bacon paintings of the mid-century for example, images that are later quickly echoed by Rachel if you pay close enough attention. Skolimowski’s deft use of the camera also deserves mention.

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by Sam Juliano

Then it happened.  A sudden, terrible light flashed all around.  The light was bright orange – then white, like thousands of lightning bolts all striking at once.  Violent shock waves followed, and buildings trembled and began to collapse.

-Toshi Maruki, Hiroshima No Pika (1980)

Eric Schlosser’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety is a harrowing and unnerving work about the palpable prospects of a nuclear detonation, one the author believes we have so far averted because of an astounding run of luck.  Four years later the war of words with North Korea as a result of the rogue nation’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons has again brought the matter to center stage, with potential destruction as feasible as Schlosser had envisioned it.  Literature for children on this most unthinkable of viable calamities is understandably scarce, especially works on the aftermath, like the once-banned Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence and the shattering Hiroshima No Pika, a 1980 Japanese picture book by Toshi Maruki that chronicled the terrifying events and nuclear fallout after an atomic bomb was dropped on the ill-fated city.  Raymond Briggs’ Where the Wind Blows, which was also adapted into a critically praised animated feature that examined the human devastation even more acutely, and a 1983 American film, Testament is an intimate story of a family that succumbs to radiation poisoning one by one.

A cautionary picture book, The Secret Project by Jonah and Jeanette Winter, (a son and mother team) is initially set in the first quarter of 1943, when United States scientists convene in a New Mexico desert town to engage in an ultra secret enterprise, one the government has requested be completed in short order.  Though unsuspecting young readers can’t be expected to immediately identify the objective of this clandestine rendezvous in one of the most innocuous of settings, the book’s mysterious, almost sinister context is scrupulously unveiled much like the peeling off of wraparound gauze after a plastic surgery operation.  The book is directly based on the real life “Trinity Test” which was conducted on July, 16, 1945 on land part of the White Sands Missile Range.  The end payoff – preceded by a 10 to 1 countdown readers associated with a rocket launch is simultaneously spectacular and terrifying, and leaves no room to underestimate the destructive power of a mushroom cloud explosion that has long since become the physical symbol for complete annihilation.  About two years after scientists began their work in the desert atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing Japan to its knees and ending the Second World War.  Whereas Schlosser intimated it was only a matter of time before an accident will cause unthinkable devastation, Jonah Winter at the conclusion of his afterward offers hope that stockpiles of nuclear weapons will continue to erode as governments reject the dire effects tests will have on the environment and on health.  Winter refers to a 2016 statistic that there remains around 15,700 nuclear weapons in the world presently, but that with world cooperation we can eliminate this very threat of our existence completely. Continue Reading »

Blade Runner 2049

atari

By J.D. Lafrance

When Blade Runner was released in 1982, it was savaged by critics and failed to make back its budget. Over the years, however, its reputation grew, as did its influence. The look of the film’s dark, dystopian futureworld could be seen in films (The Matrix) and video games (Deus Ex) as well as the Cyberpunk movement thereafter (author William Gibson famously left a screening midway through for fear it would influence his novel Neuromancer). Despite its influence, no one was really clamoring for a sequel – certainly not the studio nor the filmmakers who ended the film on a deliciously ambiguous note that didn’t really need to be explained.

“This is a bad one, the worst yet. I need the old blade runner, I need your magic.” – Bryant

It is 2017 and here we are with Blade Runner 2049, a sequel co-written by returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher and Harrison Ford reprising his role as the titular character. However, Ridley Scott chose not to return to direct (too busy driving the Alien franchise into the ground), handing over directing duties to Canadian auteur Denis Villeneuve (Arrival). Does this new film have anything of interest to say or does it fall into the same trap that doomed Tron: Legacy (2010) – all style with little substance?
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