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By J.D. Lafrance

Imagine the scene: a teenager is playing baseball. It’s his turn up at bat and he promptly strikes out. He dejectedly leaves the diamond on his bike — presumably bound for home. On the way, he spots two cars with suspicious looking men in them. The boy quickly ditches the cars and finds a younger boy by giving a dog his shoe. It does not take long to deduce that they are brothers. No explanation is given for this rather odd behavior. However, we soon find out that the boy’s name is Danny Pope (River Phoenix) and that his parents, Arthur (Judd Hirsch) and Annie (Christine Lahti) are 1960s subversives who went underground after claiming responsibility for bombing a military research lab that was developing napalm in 1971. The resulting action accidentally blinded a janitor which caused the Popes to become fugitives, roaming the country like gypsies, always trying to stay one step ahead of the law. Arthur and Annie made a choice a long time ago to live this kind of life. But their two sons are also stuck with this choice and its consequences. As Annie tells her husband at one point, “Look at what we’re doing to these kids. They’ve been running their whole lives like criminals and they didn’t do anything.”

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by Sam Juliano

We were so thrilled to get some splendid positive reviews on our short film Best Picture, perhaps most notably from the distinguished critic Steve Kopian who is well known as the most comprehensive Tribeca Film Festival scribe, but over the weekend our longtime friend and former site colleague Jaimie Grijalba of Chile has chimed in with his own superlative appreciation at the film journal “Kinoscope” where he covers the entire 2019 BAM Fest.  His capsule review, in which he correctly notes the pervading “tongue-in-cheek” aspect of this short is as follows:

On a far lighter note, Jay Giampietro’s “Best Picture” (2019) is a seven-minute documentary that glimpses at an Academy Awards viewing party taking place in a fire station. The host, film buff Sam Juliano (an enthusiastic 64-year-old man with a thick Brooklyn accent), welcomes everyone by telling stories about how his family adopted the latest animal in their house: a rooster. The faces of the people watching the Oscars telecast become the protagonists alongside Sam, who seems continually baffled and disappointed by the “upsets.” It’s a specific look at someone who’s forged his identity around the things that he loves, and building his relations (both to family and friends) around that passion. Giampietro sneaks enough inserts of people yawning to signal that there’s a tongue-in-cheek attitude to the whole endeavor intermingling with an admiration for the passion on display.

Jaimie is identified at KINOSCOPE in these terms:  “Grijalba is a Chilean filmmaker and critic, and a regular contributor to Kinoscope, Brooklyn Magazine, and film sites, MUBI and Conlosojosabiertos. He writes primarily about Latin American cinema and festival experiences around the globe, both in English and Spanish,” and the link to his full coverage of the BAM Fest is:

https://read.kinoscope.org/2019/06/22/non-fiction-at-bamcinemafest-2019-constructing-the-myth-of-the-self/?fbclid=IwAR0PEdltRX7P8uKICxhYaCbl4yudyFBAziwcr6z8UjbdcBfRxjcM19y–Eo

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 © 2019 by James Clark

       I can’t, for the life of me, regard Ingmar Bergman’s film, Autumn Sonata (1978), as the flat-out domestic clash others choose to believe. What is the real fascination and entry-point here, to me, is that the film’s protagonist, Eva, played by actress Liv Ullman, is made to look like a carbon copy of the actress, Ingrid Thulin, in the Bergman film, Winter Light (1963). Whereas Ullman generally holds forth as a flakey dreamboat, Thulin forever relishes looking and behaving scary. And, moreover, the latter’s performance, as an off again/ on again lover of a rural clergyman, looms very large in Autumn Sonata. Arguably the most contentious and demanding of all Bergman’s films, Winter Light needs to be carefully fathomed, if nonsensical soap opera is to be avoided here. Thulin’s Marta, in that 60’s puzzler, perseveres as a fatuous humanitarian infatuated by an angst-ridden atheist priest. The latter has come to detest her ugly body and her even more ugly attitude. But he is very fortunate that the sexton of the church (a retired, hunchback railway man, named Algot) is a far deeper student of spirit than he (which is to say, a far better acrobat)—quixotically larding his sense of Jesus as a misunderstood, sensualist mortal (mortal, period)—and, as such, a slow-dawning supplement of the so-called expert’s long-held, heretical orientation. It is this ironic eventuality of risk-taking which opens the door to Marta being still in the picture and now a beneficiary of a regime of that “juggling” of opposites so dear to the vision of this film series.

The return of the aura of Marta within the orbit of Eva effectively messes up the facile supposition that we are here to deal with the dynamics and possible salvation of a family. One other inspired touch, apropos of the elephant in the parlor, is the choice of career-long wayward Ullman’s adversary, namely, Hollywood star, Ingrid Bergman, a career-long, banner sentimentalist, in her swan song, as Eva’s mother—light years away from all her other pleasing roles confirming eternal feminine wisdom. As if to lend a hand in clarifying where these rather abstruse landmines lurk, the first scene ignores “timeless truths,” in order to broach something quite new. Eva is married to another clueless preacher, Viktor (no less), who idolizes her imaginative—Algot-like—zeal, and his is the sermon of the day. With Eva at her desk in the blurred distance, there is Viktor, just outside the study, addressing us, in close-up, with some good news, pertaining to her apparently significant, individual source of reflection, salient in its disinterestedness. (A preamble, to that singularity we’re supposedly to buy into by means of the acolyte/ guide, is Victor’s sense of seeming miraculousness in becoming her husband. This would constitute a sort of inversion of Jof and Marie, from the mother lode that is The Seventh Seal. It would also constitute this Norwegian backwater being a vaguely subversive agency.) Continue Reading »

by J.D. Lafrance

Zero Effect (1998) marked the auspicious debut of writer/director Jake Kasdan, son of famous filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan. The film was a quirky blend of detective story, comedy and romance – a contemporary spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia.” It also provided, for perhaps the first time, the ideal vehicle for character actor Bill Pullman. This mix of genres resulted in a lukewarm critical reaction and failure to recoup even half of its five million dollar budget at the box office. Zero Effect disappeared onto home video where it found a second life and currently enjoys something of a cult following.

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by Sam Juliano

The brilliant Jay Giampietro’s “Best Picture” which features Yours Truly as the main character and narrator screened Sunday night as part of the 2019 BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Film Festival in front of a sold out audience in the showcase 300 seat theater of the Jay Sharp Building. The short focuses on this past March’s Oscar Party at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse. Adam Ferenz, Tony Lucibello, John Grant, Bart Talamini, Cliff Bernunzio, the Lampmanns and my family appear in the film, which received a thundering reception. I appear with Jay prior to the event in the theater’s lobby by the festival press boards; similarly with my entire family.  This was an evening we’ll never forget.

His passing was imminent as he’s been ill for several years and recently turned 96, but Italian opera icon and film director Franco Zeffirelli is a maestro like few others. His 1968 “Romeo and Juliet,” lush and youthful is arguably the greatest film version of the popular Shakespeare play, and his 1973 “Brother Sun Sister Moon” is a rapturous work that was initially misunderstood but is now seen by many as a supreme masterpiece. His television mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth” is the best work of its kind and perhaps most of all his opera productions like La Boheme, Tosca, La Traviata and Turandot (all staged at the MET and seen by Lucille and I many times) remain the standards to this day. Zeffirelli was a controversial figure for sure, but what he gave to our culture will leave us eternally enriched. R.I.P. A mover of mountains, this great Italian……The past week also saw the sad demise of the great actress Sylvia Miles, whose supporting role in Midnight Cowboy will be forever unforgettable.

We spent the weekend in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, though we returned in time for our big film event.  The Gettysburg trip is taken once a year. Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

Prolific crime novelist James Ellroy has only had three of his books adapted into films (Blood on the Moon, L.A. Confidential and The Black Dahlia) while other novels continue to languish in development hell. On the surface, this is baffling as they are chock full of memorable characters, colorful period dialogue and engrossing mysteries at their heart. Dig deeper and it becomes readily apparent why his novels have largely failed to go into production; they feature large casts of characters, each with their own subplots pivotal to the main story. Additionally, the period dialogue is sometimes raw with racial epitaphs, and his lengthy tomes are quite plot heavy.

Where does a screenwriter begin in tackling one of Ellroy’s novels?

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by Sam Juliano

Many thanks to all the writers, comment leavers and page viewers for our successful Third Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival which concluded on Wednesday after an eight-day window at WONDERS IN THE DARK.  God willing we will return in May of 2020 with the Fourth Annual AFOFF.   To Jamie, Sachin, Robert, Adam, Shubhajit, Roderick and John Grant a special salute for your extraordinary submissions, each masterful and revealing for the film community.  I’ve received several e mails from members stating that thought the quality of writing was the highest level ever for this festival, a sentiment that has me so thrilled.

Next Sunday -June 16 (Father’s Day) Jay Giampietro’s short film Best Picture which features Yours Truly as the main character and moderator, will be screening in Brooklyn as part of the 2019 BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) Film Festival.  John Grant, Adam Ferenz, Tony Lucibello, Bart Talamini, Tanya and Tommy Whalen and family members and other friends are featured in this fabulous short feature about our early March Oscar party at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse.

James Clark’s magnificent essay on what is arguably Claire Denis’ supreme masterpiece, Beau Travail posted this past Thursday at the site.  J.D. Lafrance will be returning on Tuesday of this week with his newest review.

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