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carrie-1

 © 2017 by James Clark

 

    The paths to Surrealist love and decadence are many and varied. Although the phenomena were incubated in Paris, the long-standing kinship between France and the USA in repelling (particularly British) sensible calculation has provided reverberations streaming out to very recent times. There is a quite pervasive volatility about those two national enterprises for which there is scant interest in a place like Canada (despite its quasi-French ingredient).

That brings us to our now upping the ante toward the more dangerous sensibilities being brought to a showdown of sorts in the movies. Surrealism—coursing through the works of David Lynch, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, the Coens and Jim Jarmusch, to name a few—has always been our business here. But rather than put it into play as a historical, evolutionary going concern, we’re now pulling ourselves together (I hope) to consider its confinement to lives with no real purchase in sight upon a mainstream; but rather consisting of sensual momenta staging largely invisible, self-contradictory revolutions.

We’ll begin with a film by that master of minutiae, Brian De Palma, namely, Carrie (1976), who in this case has to deal with the footsteps of not only horror author, Stephen King, whose 1974 novel by the same name offers a point of departure, but also King’s wife, Tabitha, who (rescuing his unfinished and despised [by him] draft of this vehicle) saw fit to reach back to Jean Cocteau’s 1929 novel, Les Enfants Terribles (The Terrible Children) and the subsequent movie incarnation, in 1950, by another filmmaker more about pores than portents, namely, Jean-Pierre Melville, with Cocteau looking over his shoulder and keeping the faith as far as his opium addiction allowed. Cocteau/ Melville lead off with a high school boy, Paul, being felled in a snowball fight by a good friend (though not so friendly as to desist from couching his missile with a rock). De Palma, no doubt delighted by the wit of the Kings, fires off in his film, to perfect effect, the early moment where Carrie, a high school girl hamstrung by a mother staging a religious war against menstruation and thereby exposing her to shock, begins to bleed, for the first time, in her school-gym-shower, and her panic elicits not only raunchy ridicule from her far more secular classmates but a snowball fusillade of tampons, accompanied by the far from helpful, “Plug it up! Plug it up!” She is not concussed like Paul; but her sense of this world not working for her is even more pronounced. Continue Reading »

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By J.D. Lafrance

The 1970s was a fertile time for challenging, politically charged movies. Thanks to Easy Rider (1969) a lot of riskier material was getting made by the major Hollywood studios and, in some cases, they were commenting on the current political climate and being socially conscious. One of the best examples from this decade is All the President’s Men (1976) – the Citizen Kane (1941) of investigative journalism films. It’s the benchmark by which all other films of its genre are compared to, from The China Syndrome (1979) to State of Play (2009) to Spotlight (2015). Its influence can be felt in the films of Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and David Fincher (Zodiac).

All the President’s Men was immediate and topical, dramatizing Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation of the Watergate Hotel burglary and the resulting scandal that would rock the White House and forever taint President Richard Nixon’s tenure there, effectively sending him home packing before his term was up. Alan J. Pakula’s film struck a chord with audiences of the day (and continues to do so) and is credited with inspiring future generations of journalists. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the film starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, two of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood at that time. Fortunately, they left their egos at the door to deliver thoughtful and intense performances. These are complemented by Pakula’s no frills direction and Gordon Willis’ moody, atmospheric cinematography.
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by Sam Juliano

Oscar night 2016 will again be celebrated in an annual party at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse on Sunday evening, February 26th from 6:00 until midnight.  Dante’s Italian Market will again be called upon to provide the hot and cold buffet for the open house event.  Roast beef, eggplant and mozarella, turkey and swiss and salami, ham and provolone sandwiches will be offered along with an array of hot food trays:  chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, sausage and peppers, cavatelli and broccoli, pasta with marinara sauce, salads and desert.  Anyone in the area is urged to stop in.  As always a big screen television will be carrying the events, and we will be conducting out annual Oscar pool.

Spring weather has suddenly replaced the cold of the past month, though it is far too early for this meteorological adjustment.  But for those who appreciate temperatures in the mid 60’s to low 70’s this is ideal.

Lucille, a few of the kids and I have had a busy week hopping for theater to theater catching the last of the unseen 2016 films and the new 2017 crop.  We saw: Continue Reading »

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The esteemed Brian Wilson, Chicago librarian, film aficionado and member of this year’s Caldecott Medal committee, has posted his fabulously eclectic and high-quality list after his usual banner year of film watching.  Wonders in the Dark is deeply honored to publish it for readers and the film community:

1. Moonlight
2. Paterson
3. Krisha
4. Don’t Think Twice
5. Indignation
6. La La Land
7. Manchester by the Sea
8. Kubo and the Two Strings
9. The Salesman
10. Fences
11. Jackie
12. Things to Come
13. Sieranevada
14. Lion
15. I, Daniel Blake
16. Other People
17. The Lobster
18. 20th Century Women
19. Hidden Figures
20. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki

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By J.D. Lafrance

From early on in his career, Clint Eastwood has been interested in taking the path less traveled when it came to his career, taking on roles and making films that often subverted his Hollywood icon image. In particular, the films he has directed explore the darker side of humanity with topics ranging from stalking (Play Misty for Me), drug addiction (Bird), violence (Unforgiven), and child abuse (Mystic River). White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) is no different. Based loosely on Peter Viertel’s experiences working with legendary film director John Huston on The African Queen (1951), Eastwood plays John Wilson, a filmmaker more interested in hunting down and killing a wild elephant then making his next motion picture. He becomes fixated on this quest and Eastwood uses this story as an opportunity to explore the notion of obsession and how it can consume someone at the expense of everything else in their life.

White Hunter, Black Heart played several prestigious film festivals around the world and was admired by many critics but was never a commercial hit with audiences perhaps expecting an exciting adventure. What they got instead was something more akin to an art film that saw Eastwood yet again subvert the Dirty Harry persona that has defined his career for many years. White Hunter has become something of a forgotten effort in his filmography and considered a minor work but I’ve always felt that it was one of his more interesting pictures.
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 by Sam Juliano
For the very first time since I began composing lists back in 1973 (as the film critic for the Bergen Community College Monitor-Jan Troell’s “The New Land” was #1 that year) 44 years ago I have decided to go with a Top 20. Including the 38 films I saw at Tribeca this year I have seen 173 films with the vast majority of these in movie theaters. For about twenty of the full total I have had to avail myself of Amazon Prime, DVD or blu rays. I had also added seventeen (17) films that I really like, but just couldn’t fit them in my Top 20 proper. After serious contemplation I have decided to include The Salesman, The Witch and Embrace of the Serpent on these lists. In the case of the first, I saw it before making my list and it was nominated for the foreign film Oscar meaning it did get an opening in 2016 theatrically. Some will continue to argue the other two are really 2015 films, but they didn’t open in NYC until early 2016, meaning that NEITHER film could make my list last year. These lists are not designed for on the spot posterity, just to gauge what was seen in a calendar year by the writer. I have the option down the line to restore films to their proper year to be sure. As this is my own list, I have the right to enact my own “rules.” Having said that I see so many others pretty much do the same thing. But I am wasting time on “dates” when I should be naming the films. The Chilean Pablo Larrain astonishingly has two films in the Top 20. Here we go:

1 Indignation (USA; James Schamus)
2 La La Land (USA; Damien Chazelle)
3 Manchester by the Sea (USA; Kenneth Lonergan)
4 Jackie (USA; Pablo Larrain)
5. Quand on a 17 ANS (France; Andre Techine)
6. The Salesman (Iran; Asghar Farhadi)
7. O.J. Made in America (USA; Ezra Edelman)
8. Paterson (USA; Jim Jarmusch)
9. Fences (USA; Denzel Washington)
10. Moonlight (USA; Barry Jenkins)
11. Under Sandet – Land of Mine (Denmark; Martin Zandvliet)
12. The Red Turtle (France; Michael Dudok de Wit)
13. Love and Friendship (USA; Whit Stillman)
14. Krisha (USA; Trey Edward Shults)
15. Neruda (Chile; Pablo Larrain)
16. Aquarius (Brazil; Kleber Filho)
17. My Golden Days (France; Arnaud Desplechin)
18. The Arrival (USA; Dennis Villenue)
19. The Witch (USA/Canada; Robert Eggers)
20. Lion (Australia/India; Garth Davis)

Runners-Up: (in no particular order)

American Honey
Things to Come
Captain Fantastic
Toni Erdmann
I Am Not Your Negro
Anthropoid
Cemetery of Splendor
Tower
Hell or High Water
Sing Street
The Handmaiden
Midnight Special
Julieta
Little Men
I, Daniel Blake
A Man Called Ove
Hacksaw Ridge
Little Sister
Chevalier
Nocturnal Animals
Evolution
Cameraperson
Hidden Figures
Weiner
Embrace of the Serpent
Tanna

 

lost-highway-2017-1

 © 2017 by James Clark

       The film world abounds with generally furtive protagonists locked into an almost hopeless and definitely endless dedication to sprucing up sensibilities that won’t do. One of the grand masters of presenting this unheralded and widely unsuspected mission is Jean-Pierre Melville (1917-1973), generally regarded (when regarded at all) as a mid-century inventor of chic crime sagas. When you have nothing else to do, the now very muted chronicling runs, check one of these out for the cinematic equivalent of a “good read.” Melville’s endeavors, however, when approached with something more than a good read, come to light as remarkably close to films like Nocturnal Animals, Arrival and La La Land.

In the spirit of reaching improved clarity about this still-buried treasure, I’ll be, near the outset of this manoeuvre, digging into Melville’s final film, Un Flic (1972); then, next, I’ll be showing that Melville’s (and Jean Cocteau’s) Les Enfants Terribles (1950) is at the heart of Stephen (and Tabitha) King’s Carrie (1974) as inducing Brian De Palma, in 1976, to get up close to what’s up with the work-load of carnal consciousness; then we’ll spend the rest of the year savoring such dare devils coming at us from many sources.

One dare devil we need to open with, however, has been virtually ignored for years at this spot, namely, David Lynch. And the delirium of his Lost Highway (1997) involves, to a distinguished level, that heart-pounding crisis of perceptual lostness which is incumbent on all who care to see what cooks. Nearly seven years ago, my take on this movie stressed the noir aspects and particularly the equations of courage and cowardice. We did, of course, have to account for its being one of the most punishing narrative pitfalls in the history of cinema. But, in lieu of a premium upon consciousness per se, the matter of the two sets of hard-pressed lovers came down to a mechanistic fulcrum whereby entities are twinned in such a way that the initial presence finds itself preceded by a presence at the opposite end of the universe. This factor of Lynch’s reckoning did play a part in the coherence of the film. (The consensus that the helmsman did not have a serious idea of what was afoot, and that therefore his film is a shambles due to a self-indulgent reach exceeding its grasp, is insulting nonsense based in ignorance of what a major artist [requiring a reputation by which to raise millions of dollars] is about.) But what now must be added is the second and more primordial polarity that a material-inertial presence paradoxically is amenable to and dependent upon finite intentional consciousness to complement the formation of reality. This state of affairs accounts for a union of Fred and Renee Madison who dare to aspire to subtleties of creative dynamics, as implicated in the rough and tumble of Pete and Alice who tend to lead a far less subtle existence. Continue Reading »