by Sam Juliano

The annual New Jersey children’s book bonanza known as the Princeton Book Festival was staged Saturday at Hinds Plaza next to the Princeton Public Library. Jeremy, Sammy IV and I were thrilled to chat with Caldecott record-holder David Wiesner, who grew up in New Jersey and presented his new book “I Got It”; with good friend Lauren Castillo, whose new work “Imagine”, authored by Juan Felipe Herrera was center stage on her table, and with Rowboat Watkins, whose latest, “Big Bunny” was his own latest offering. We also crossed paths with David Ezra Stein, Greg Pizzoli, Daniel Salimieri, Susan Verdi, Angela Dominguez and others on this beautiful day in the center of the Garden State. (Jeremy pictured with Wiesner).

James Clark and J.D. Lafrance published magisterial essays this past week on Ingmar Bergman’s The Silence and Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets at the site.

Jamie Uhler’s continuing horrorfest essays this past week included fabulous pieces on George Waggner’s 1941 horror classic The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney Jr. and Lynn Ransay’s 2017 psychological horror You Were Never Here:

“One of the last of the singularly title Universal monster films, I’ve long really liked this feature anyways. Universal’s long held, and rightly earned, ‘House of Horror’ was running on fumes as the Forties hit. Frankenstein and Dracula had already been done within 3 variations each (with a fourth Frankenstein title in 1942), and things looked bleak. None of the new enterprises seemed to add much to the stable, but with the retreads continuing to rake in the dough, who could really care to establish new (1940’s The Invisible Man Returns, for example, was a smash, prompting The Invisible Woman to be rushed into production)? It was under this that The Wolfman came, a genuine new venture, featuring a new monster not previously explored in full in quite this way. Werewolf of London, from 6 years prior, doesn’t attempt the emotional anguish of this film, as good as it is (and I’m slated to do it this season). Some works wonderfully, while some does not—Lon Chaney Jr. is a little sluggish as the sensitive, love struck wolf, but otherwise, this stands tall with the classics of the Universal monster stable.  Continue Reading »


 © 2018 by James Clark

      Ingmar Bergman’s film, The Silence (1963), is generally understood to be part of a trilogy upon the issue of an absent God. Though it does raise affinities to the film, Through a Glass Darkly (1961), it also swarms with the discoveries of the decidedly non-sixties earlier films, The Seventh Seal (1957) and The Virgin Spring (1960). Instead of packaging 3-packs like that, I think we’re well advised to notice that every one of his films (or every one of which marked his graduation from hack duties) deals with the same obsessive shock that world history has boarded a train going nowhere.

That the train going somewhere is far from transparent may be inferred by the fact that the most unlikeable figure, in The Silence, happens to be also the only one with a taste for integrity. This so-called person of interest, perhaps predictably, comes to us as totally upstaged by her sister, Ester, in the First-Class compartment of the train, they share, along with a boy, Johan, of about 10, whose mother, Anna, feeling the heat of the well-appointed but not air-conditioned cell, fans herself with a magazine. Ester does not feel that heat pressing upon her sister. She’s dressed in a tasteful suit, and she could be taken for a middle-management bureaucrat. But she feels heat nevertheless.

The nature of distribution of heat is as important as it is obscure; and it needs clear-sightedness on our part, a take going beyond the flabby pundits who slide off the rails in claiming that Ester has been stricken by a plague-like, devilish biological killer. She does have, several seconds into the first scene, some kind of fit, bending over and vomiting and needing Anna’s help to reach the washroom. But the irony of the very beautiful actress, Ingrid Thulin’s, vivid portrayal of Ester—forbidding the notion of her being eaten by microbes—never becomes a question. Anna, played by actress, Gunnil Lindblom, though having a handsome face, is overweight and has no taste in apparel. The credits have been accompanied by the loud and racing ticking of a clock. The moment of Ester’s cracking up had been accompanied by the pronounced rushing and ringing of the train. Johan had, in asking Ester the impossible question of what the signage in and out of the vehicle meant, underlined to the adults what it feels like to be visited by a range of action foreign and solidly indifferent to them. But perhaps it was the universe they had inhabited all their life. That the next station finds them stopping over to allow Ester to deal with her malaise, once again introduces a current of foreignness they seem very unprepared for. Continue Reading »


By J.D. Lafrance

Martin Scorsese’s truly great films have all had a personal touch to them. One only has to look at films like Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976) and Raging Bull (1980) to see a real vitality and energy to the action on-screen. It is these early films that convey a real sense of someone intensely in love with film — which may be due in part to the fact that Scorsese and his cast and crew were just starting out. Mean Streets, in particular, is a visceral, intimate experience that is just potent today as it was when it first came out.

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by Sam Juliano

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

-John Lennon

The Museum of Modern Art, affectionately identified as MOMA is surely the most heterogeneous all New York City art institutions.  Located in midtown Manhattan on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues this expansive mecca for modernist painting, sculpture, architecture and design is just as celebrated for its film series, dance theater and performance programs and is perhaps the most resolute sponsor of extensive illustrated children’s book exhibitions.  Among this cultural epicenter’s most treasured possessions are masterpieces by Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Rosseau and Pollack.  The most artistically intimate exploration of this highly influential tourist favorite ever attempted in a picture book is the prime focus of the wordless Imagine by Raul Colon, a fantastical adventure inspired by real life exploits from the artist’s childhood.

Colon, a critically-acclaimed author-illustrator, who also rates as one of the most prolific at his craft, lived in Brooklyn for a number of years after growing up in Puerto Rico.  His cherished experiences of Manhattan culture are conveyed in a fictional story of a boy (the artist himself) on a skateboard who gains access to the museum and other locations via the Brooklyn Bridge, a crossing of the East River just a few blocks from the “Dumbo” section of the Big Apple’s most populated Borough.  In a series of cityscape vignettes the intrepid youngster resolves to avail himself of opportunities exclusive to the region and after the proverbial hop, skip and a jump he crosses the historic steel-wire suspension bridge, eyeing the skyscraper metropolis en-route, and then scoots down the sidewalks heading to his midtown destination. Continue Reading »

Tenth Anniversary at Wonders in the Dark!
Last week we at the film/arts site WONDERS IN THE DARK celebrated our 10th anniversary. So much has been achieved that to list them here would be a Herculean task. Decade and genre countdowns, weekly Monday Morning Diaries, spectacular essays from co-editor Jim Clark, terrific reviews from J.D. Lafrance, Allan Fish Online Film Festival tributes, the annual Caldecott Medal Contender series reviews, annual horror film round-up by Jamie Uhler, podcasts, are sure highlights but the archives of course reveal so much more an spill into opera, theater and music as well.  Thank you so much Joel Bocko -a friend and affiliate since almost the beginning- for reminding us of this monumental achievement.  It all began on September 7th 2008 with the following statement from Yours Truly:
“Today, September 7, 2008, a new blog is born. The main thrust of this cultural endeavor will be the publication of reviews, which will examine films, theater, concerts and opera. Several writers will be on board to bring the steaming excitement of Manhattan culture to the internet world. In the area of film, there will also be ongoing attention to classic and contemporary cinema by some terrific writers and a tracking of new DVD releases of art house product. As the site matures, it is also anticipated that pictures and photos will be utilized. This is a most exciting project and I am thrilled with the prospect of rewarding discourse by way of posts and comments.”
Within a day of that post my dear late friend and writer extraordinaire Allan Fish came aboard and the rest they say is history. I would never have envisioned this impulsive endeavor to last for a long ten years but here we are, still moving ahead albeit without our cherished friend, but still with relevance and terrific writers. HAPPY BIRTHDAY WONDERS IN THE DARK!!!
The 2018 Caldecott Medal Contender series will begin with a post set to go later today.  This is the sixth annual project covering the year’s noteworthy American picture books and it will run until mid-January, two weeks before the awards are announced.
Jamie Uhler has launched the annual Horrorfest via e mail and this year it is quite the comprehensive affair.  Jamie has agreed to allow posting at WitD so many others can engage in these banner reports and recommendations.  Here is the first of these reports:
I’m happy to announce, with some delay my official 31-in-31 October Horror list. I say ‘some delay’ as mid year my 7 year old external hard drive crashed, vaporizing 2.5 TBs of films instantaneously. I lost thousands of riches, but who wants to dwell in that much depression (plus, fuck it was all illegally downloaded for nothing anyway!). Undeterred, I had to cobble together to the best o of my knowledge what I had been stockpiling in a Horror2018 folder (a yearly exercise ensuring that I see more obscure works. You’ll notice this year the full fledged return of the classic 31-in-31, as past years got out of control, with sometimes over 50 films attempted in the expanded, more than 2 months Horror season. Thus, I’m trying to keep this one as much in the window of October as I can, perhaps only cheating into September to lighten my daily October load. This year’s selections also started much looser, without the sectioned off ideas of years past, which alas, still found some nice, interesting buckets to contain most of the picks into.
And, most interestingly, where in years past older films would make up 4-8 picks in general, this is the first year a dedicated commitment to older Horror was made, with 17 of the 31 being pre-1950. On this point you get a vacuum sucking out much of the trash that usually is appearing on most year’s lists. This is, again, for the first time really in these marathons. I look forward to the pre-discussions (I’m really interested in if Maurizio is familiar with the Inner Sanctum films), and the eventual mini-essay write-ups that follow each viewing.

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By J.D. Lafrance

Among the many genres prolific filmmaker Sidney Lumet has dabbled in, the one in which he excels and demonstrates the most affinity for is the crime thriller. In particular, he is fascinated with police corruption and how the law and order system works (or, in some cases, doesn’t work) in New York City. In the 1970s, he told the story of an undercover cop who deals with corruption among his fellow officers with Serpico (1973). In the 1980s, he depicted the plight of a police detective that informs on his cohorts after being busted himself in the magnum opus Prince of the City (1981). In the 1990s, Lumet tackled police corruption yet again but this time via the angle of racism with Q & A (1990). Based on the novel of the same name by New York judge Edwin Torres, Lumet’s adaptation received mixed reviews from critics and was largely ignored by audiences of the day. It has become something of a forgotten, underappreciated film in Lumet’s filmography and one that deserves to be rediscovered.
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by Sam Juliano

Thanks to our film writer J.D. Lafrance for sorting out and re-starting the Twitter feed for the site.  As a result traffic has improved.  The annual Caldecott Medal Contender series is set to launch in a week to ten days and will continue until January, though the number of reviews planned to pen is a matter of uncertainty.  Our resident writers Jim Clark and J.D. continue to provide readers with extraordinary and diverse essays.

Lucille is set to have her partial kneed replacement later this morning in Engelwood where I will be holed up awaiting this stressful episode.  I’m sure all will be well and appreciate those offering their well wishes.

In a rural village in present day Zambia, an orphaned eight-year-old girl is accused of being a witch in “I Am Not A Witch”  She’s offered a choice of punishments: either accept enslavement in state-run camp tethered to a white ribbon or risk transformation into a goat. With a story formed from research on real-life African witch camps, director Rungano Nyoni (in a fantastic feature debut) and cinematographer David Gallego (Embrace of the Serpent) craft a world—and unique cinematic voice nicely mixing Kafkaesque comedy, anthropological inquiry, poignant drama, and feminist fairytale. Continue Reading »