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by Sam Juliano

This past Monday I failed to post the Monday Morning Diary, which is a great rarity. Various reasons connected with the Easter weekend and some pressing obligations persuaded me to hold off until today, though I will only mention here that the annual Tribeca Film Festival starts up tomorrow.  Lucille and I will be busy on that front until May 5th.  I will include the usual round-ups on the festival and other social and artistic matters as applicable on the upcoming Monday morning installments beginning on April 29th.  There will not be another MMD miss for anytime in the foreseeable future.  Thanks to all for your friendship.

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by J.D. Lafrance

The popular comic book superhero Captain America had his debut in March 1941 courtesy of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; created as a patriotic symbol in response to the actions of Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the United States’ involvement in World War II. Like any enduring comic book icon, Cap has undergone all kinds of changes over the years, but adapting him for modern movie-going audiences was considered difficult as his beliefs came across as old-fashioned. The dilemma Marvel Studios faced when making Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) was how do you make him relevant today? Made early on in the development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it and subsequent sequels are among the studio’s best as they managed to make Cap’s personal dilemmas compelling while not losing sight of his place in the larger mosaic of the MCU.

Instead of modernizing the character right away, the filmmakers wisely stayed true to his origin story and made The First Avenger a period movie. These kinds of retro comic book movies rarely do well (case in point: The Shadow and The Phantom) and part of the problem is the talent attached to them. Getting the right director and cast that understand the characters and the worlds they inhabit is crucial. Joe Johnston was wisely hired to direct. Since it was decided that the movie would be set during World War II who better to recapture that old school action/adventure vibe then the man that helmed The Rocketeer (1991) and Hidalgo (2004)? For the pivotal role of Captain America, Chris Evans was cast. He already had experience with superhero movies playing the Human Torch in the awful Fantastic Four movies, but Marvel believed that they could reinvent the public’s perception of him. The question remained, how would such an earnest, idealistic character translate in our cynical times?

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By J.D. Lafrance

The success of X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) opened the door for a new wave a comic book adaptations. In the past, studios have played it safe and only green-lighted adaptations of mainstream comic books with large followings. However, this changed with adaptations of independent fare like Ghost World (2000), American Splendor (2003), and with Hellboy (2004). Based on Mike Mignola’s comic book of the same name, the title has a dedicated cult following at best so it was a pleasant surprise to see a major studio take a big budget gamble with it.

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by Sam Juliano

With Palm Sunday nearly expired we move now forward to Good Friday, Easter Sunday and a welcome spring break for many.  Warm weather seems to have taken serious hold, while the customary rain during the calendar’s fourth month has also vied for meteorological honors.  At Wonders in the Dark, Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance have posted some superlative essays in the previous weeks, and this routine will now continue for the remainder of 2019, only intruded by the Third Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival slated for mid-May and planned to conclude on Allan’s birthday near the end of the month on the 28th.  Jamie Uhler will again be chairing this noble venture.  Yours Truly will do the Caldecott series again in September, and some other reviews in film, music, television and even pinball.  Jim Clark’s Ingmar Bergman series has been quite a success, though today the news broke that the great Swedish actress Bibi Andersson, who starred in many of the timeless Bergman films Jim reviewed has passed on at age 83.  R.I.P.

Continued best wishes to our treasured friend the author John Grant of Noirish who is coming along quite nicely after a brief health setback.  The staff would also like to wish Maurizio and his wife congratulations on the coming birth of their first child four months from now!

The Tribeca Film Festival is now only ten (10) days away and Lucille and I are again ready to attend with abandon.  Schedules are presently being pored over.

As longtime pinball fans we are quite excited about this past week’s expected announcement by Jersey Jack Pinball.  The new machine slated to ship to customers and on-location stations is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and my family will be getting the LE Edition.  It is a dream title like no other for reasons I have discussed at this site in prior film reviews and the art, call-outs, music and game play is top-drawer. Continue Reading »

 © 2019 by James Clark

  I think the film, Wild Strawberries (1957), though quite aptly described to be a paragon of hard-won affection, contains a field of sophistication which has not been noticed and needs to be unlocked. In the absence of this factor, one would tend to overplay an outset of wrongness in order to amplify the change. (One of the challenges to recognize in this matter is the litany of hearsay about the protagonist, Dr. Isak Borg, being “cold” and monstrously aggressive, in the style of Scrooge, the protagonist of Charles Dickens’ famous melodramatic novella, A Christmas Carol [Being a Ghost Story of Christmas, 1843].) Onscreen he is nothing of the sort. His lacuna would be more to the point of befuddlement in reaching for an equilibrium between his serious career and his serious heart. (An instance, in flash-back, reveals the protagonist’s young girlfriend flirting with his brother. She thought to mention that the studious one was “cold,” thereby, on her reckoning, an inferior to be duped.)

We should begin our discovery by taking seriously the fact that our film today was, remarkably, the second production of that year! The earlier entry, was that primordial bat out of hell, namely, The Seventh Seal, packing the mainspring of the Bergman cinematic reflection, namely, death-defying acrobatics and “impossible” juggling. The Seventh Seal, itself, is rooted in the oracular iconoclasm of Smiles of a Summer Night(1955), its contrarian energies still a matter of nearly complete oblivion. In light of these proceedings, we would be on strong grounds to look to Wild Strawberries’ telling us something new and amazing—not, then, reporting a geezer’s finally feeling good about himself and the world. (The dowager/ oracle in, Smiles of a Summer Night, and Jof and Marie in, The Seventh Seal, do not trade in normal gratifications. Nor, for that matter, does the protagonist’s grandmother, in, The Magician [1958].) Charming little personal moments are not what Bergman is looking for. His métier, like those scientists and artists of the avant-garde over the past 200 years, want more than that, nothing less than a new world, however small a number might convene. As we look closely at the dynamics of our saga here, we should look for gold, wherever it may come to pass. Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

I’ve never been a big fan of Steven Spielberg’s post-1980s film career as he juggled big budget box office blockbusters (Jurassic Park) with obvious bids for Academy Award validation (Amistad). It has been the more offbeat films, like Munich (2008) and Catch Me If You Can (2002) that I’ve preferred over the likes of Schindler’s List (1993) and Saving Private Ryan (1998). To me, Catch Me If You Can has a looser, more freewheeling feel to it reminiscent of Spielberg’s earlier films, like The Sugarland Express (1974) or Jaws (1975). The film is based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., a clever con man who managed to steal millions of dollars during the 1960s and 1970s by convincingly assuming the identity of a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana lawyer – all before his 19th birthday. He would become the youngest person ever placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Not only did Catch Me feature a more playful Spielberg, but demonstrated Leonardo DiCaprio’s genuine acting chops – something he hadn’t really done since What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993). The film began a terrific run for the young actor who went on to star in films directed by Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and Christopher Nolan.

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by Sam Juliano

The warmer weather is becoming more regular in the transition month that is sure to expel the chill once and for all.  The fourth month of the year often is rain-soaked while the allergy season is initiated.  In just a bit over two weeks the Tribeca Film Festival will launch and Lucille and plan to attend many screenings.  The annual school Washington D.C. trip will be staged only few days after Tribeca ends and moi will again be serving as a chaperone for the seventh year consecutively.  Jim Clark’s latest in his ongoing Ingmar Bergman series will publish this week as will the most recent J.D. Lafrance film review.  The Third Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival will be held the second week of May, and once again Jamie Uhler will serve as chairman.  We are taking a break this year from genre countdowns, so the AFOFF will be the only group project staged at the site.

We are wishing our dear friend John Grant a speedy recovery from a health issue that seems now to be mostly sorted out.

Two-time Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall and two of this past year’s Caldecott honorees, Oge Mora and Grace Lin appear at Brooklyn’s Word Bookstore for Sunday presentation!  Lucille, Jeremy and I have seen and met the great children’s literature author-artist Sophie Blackall (Hello Lighthouse) many times over the past years, but we were so honored to meet and chat with the young and fabulously talented Oge Mora and Grace Lin, who won Caldecott Honors this year for their sublime masterpieces, “Thank You Omu” and “A Big Mooncake For Little Star” at a noontime book presentation for kids and adults at the Word in Brooklyn as well. All three are not only stupendous talents, but they are humble, effervescent and lovely human beings! (All three winning books were reviewed in this past year’s Caldecott Medal Contender series at WONDERS IN THE DARK). Continue Reading »