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by Sam Juliano
     As we are halfway through September we are inching closer to Halloween and Election Day as if the past few months haven’t been constantly reminding us of the latter.  This past week Jim Clark published another banner essay in his long-running Ingmar Bergman series on The Touch and J.D. Lafrance a stupendous review of Christopher Nolan’s new film Tenet.  We are still and will be for quite some time experiencing the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19 which stateside still remains the major story every minute of the day.  Wishing all our friends and readers continued safety.  As part of Jamie Uhler’s HalloweenFest 2020 I offer up his capsules from a few weeks ago in his introduction, which were not posted before the actual longer reviews.  I have followed his extraordinary report with my latest Night Gallery reviews in my winding-down FB countdown:
Jamie:   But in regards to film watching, some of my favorite genres have been attacked to keep it loose and fun, many of which I don’t regularly do as I’ve picked the bones of their canons clean long ago. Obviously, it’s been really fun getting back to these joys. For Horror, I’ve done 10 already, and I’m considering many of these watches then to be for this season, so I’ll note them here with a really brief description should any of you want to watch them.

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 © 2020 by James Clark

We live in a time when there are many who bid to confound the orthodox. Great gobs of rebels roam the town, threatening to install jurisdictions putting an end to the easy days for what is left of a mainstream. Our entertainments, for instance, smack of concussion. All these game-changers never doubt that their look and ways are destined to happily rule.

There is the possibility, however, that all of that critique will slip back to the defaults of religion and science (and their minions of humanism). It’s one thing to feel that something very important is not in play. It’s quite another thing, it seems to me, to define and embrace what that elusive phenomenon is.

One remarkable effort in that area is the output of the films of Ingmar Bergman (1919-2007). The latter’s career was not without renown and homage. But looking for responses, in such a direction as we’ve mentioned, have not found cogent takers amidst film enthusiasts.

    There was a quite unique showdown, as to this silence—within the trilogy of three extremely violent films, namely, Hour of the Wolf (1968), Shame (1968) and The Passion of Anna (1969)—which embedded itself on the heels of the production of Shame and the overtaking of The Passion of Anna, namely, The Rite (1969), with its remarkable emphasis upon deploying the motions of hands and fingers to open the elements which have been imprisoned for so many centuries. The Rite was a prototype, and yet a rich study of the vagaries of depending upon exotic and flawed rebels. A subsequent film, having more completely delivered the imperative of taking upon one’s self to find the riches of sensibility, namely, The Touch (1971), our film today, runs a gamut for all to see, while being doubly ignored within its drama and being known to the world as the worst film Bergman ever created. Continue Reading »

By J.D. Lafrance

Christopher Nolan is an ambitious filmmaker that with every movie he makes sets out to challenge himself, whether its an unconventional narrative with Memento (2000) or making a non-franchise movie like Inception (2010) at a time when studios rarely greenlight projects not already based on an established property. He is a rare Hollywood studio filmmaker capable of making original big-budgeted movies that make hundreds of millions of dollars. This has given him the clout to make his boldest movie yet – Tenet (2020), a sprawling spy thriller that explores the manipulation of time.

This movie is a testament to the kind of juice Nolan has within the industry. He is able to command a budget over $200 million starring John David Washington, whose casting as the movie’s lead must have raised eyebrows with studio executives as he has no experience with a project of this magnitude or the kind of drawing power of someone like Leonardo DiCaprio or Matthew McConnaughy – actors who helped sell Nolan’s previous ambitious fare. Even the casting of Robert Pattinson as Washington’s co-star was something of a risk as he is no longer the bankable Twilight heartthrob he once was having rejected Hollywood for the most part to appear in foreign and independent films.

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by Sam Juliano

Labor Day 2020 and still we have COVID-19 with us, in some regions in a very big way.  Fairview schools are opening on Tuesday, September 8th (tomorrow) but only with teachers.  Students will remain home until further notice as districts statewide and nationwide are taking precautions.  We are also in Election Day mania and I have found myself too often embroiled with online political rows.  Though we only have eight weeks left this will surely be the longest eight weeks one can imagine.  Wishing everyone the best moving forward.  Jamie Uhler has joyously announced his annual Halloween Horror Fest and we have four of his stupendous capsule reviews posted on this MMD.  So thrilled to have this staple back again for the fifth or sixth year running!  I am followed the capsules with a few more of my recent Night Gallery segment reviews on FB.

Phase IV (S. Bass… 1974) 

The first viewing of the season was a rewatch, but the first complete one for this film, as all the previous ones had been scattershot, incomplete, or in parts, rendering Saul Bass’ only film, 1974’s Phase IV to near incomprehension. Seen in whole in one sitting, it becomes something of a highly curious, nearly great film. His graphic design background served him well for a whole slew of now iconic title sequences (mostly for Hitchcock, but he did a beaut for Scorsese too) and assistant director work (all those really cool split screens and intense croppings in the start of Frankenheimer’s interesting failure Grand Prix from 1966), but for just one film, he got to call all the shots. His background solves the first, and main, problem of the script: how to tell a monster movie where killer ants take over before the widespread advent of enhanced realistic computer effects. He has wildlife photographer Ken Middleham grab a telephoto super zoom lens and shoot all the ant sequences in horrifying close up, rendering them full screen and out of scale, adding a surreal, ominous quality as they slowly outsmart and take over the scientific compound run by our two scientist protagonists. One gets bitten and goes slowly crazy, seeing their only chance of survival in killing the queen all the others are working in service of, while the other attempts to understand their clearly brooding and growing super intelligence. The film ends mysteriously and abruptly, without the reveal of what the next step in the evolution—Phase V—would be. It only adds to the chic, ’70’s quality of it all and while the wild, arty montage was shot for this purpose it was ditched by the financiers before release. It’s quite shameful—I was able to watch it on youtube (it’s also been finally included on recent Apple 4K releases), and I must say, it adds a nightmarish cacophony of hellish blood red imagery and droning synth operatic score, showing humans living as ants under their rule in pyramid like colonies. With it, it’d be one of the era’s great cult treasures, but it’s more or less that now, but here’s to hoping most revisit it and see the correct ending. What a way to start!

The Alchemist Cookbook (J. Potrykus… 2016) 

What can I say, a single screening of Joel Potrykus’ indie-breakthrough Buzzard from a few years ago made a life long fan in me. It’s such a gloriously subversive comedy that I sat giggling at the sheer exactness of his critique of modern work life. As companies cut themselves more and more from the humans they employ their capital largely becomes a set of buzzards picking over the bones of whatever they can grab to survive. Of course, the brilliance is in the double entendre; any system that operates this way is itself a buzzard-like leech on society, itself lurching year to year cravingly trying to survive in the face of all common sense. Given the insane nature of how Potrykus renders his film, I eagerly await all his new features, pushing them on friends and strangers alike in ecstatic recommendation. Since Buzzard, I loved Relaxer, a Tarkovsky-like seance for the incel, gamer set, a nightmarish video-game playing marathon for existence, all set in an ever darkening, socially alienated world. But, again, because it’s rendered with the sharpness of a stand-up comic (itself the topic of his debut, Ape), you gleefully watch it flicker past your eyeballs. In between these two, he managed The Alchemist Cookbook, something of a spiritual Horror statement on the topic of depression. Surprisingly for me given my fandom of the earlier works, it largely forgoes humor, instead posing deep questions on what it is we’re watching here, the tale of a schizophrenic, Sean, who has taken to living isolated out in the woods, only occasionally being brought food and supplies from friend Cortez. Once Sean realizes he has only one pill left, and that Cortez has forgotten to bring more, his already tenuous mental state further erodes. Soon, he’s using his alchemy experiments to summon night demons and kill forest animals, but we’re left wondering if it’s all a lark from a (highly) unreliable narrator. A shifting time signature in the films plotting further complicates things as we’re left wondering if Cortez is Sean, them each representing physical embodiments of a mind split neatly in two. Once we learn that Cortez faces trouble back home and must live in the woods alongside Sean, the time loop exposition seems to close fully onto itself as Sean increasingly looks for ways out of his hellish, depressive mindset. Amazingly both the Horror and jet-black humor spill forth in the films last reel, again revealing Potrykus to be one of the most interesting modern American directors. It’s his most low-key film yet, but in some ways its opaque ideas offering the sense that this is a director with many, many more tricks up his sleeve.  

10 to Midnight (J. L. Thompson… 1983)

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by Sam Juliano

And now September.  The summer seemed to drag on indeterminably but we have reached the end of August and now are moving closer to the fall season.  Our hometown school system will be opening on September 8th but it will be virtual until further notice.  Teachers will attend to instruct students (who will stay home) on computers.  We are moving closer to the fourth quarter of what is probably the worst year of all out lives.  This past week J.D. Lafrance posted a terrific review of the classic Chinatown.

My Night Gallery countdown continues on Facebook:

Top 27 Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery’ segments (presented in reverse numerical order)
 
Segment Number 21 “The Devil is Not Mocked” (Season 2) 11:15
 
The most benevolent vampire in television history is undoubtedly Barnabus Collins, but the Count of a Balkan Castle during the Second World War, who performs his “patriotism” in a unique evil vs. evil scenario must surely rate a close second, the principal players of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” notwithstanding. The short Season 2 segment “The Devil is Not Mocked” is basically a flashback told by the elderly blood-sucking protagonist to his admiring grandson who in turn is proud that his family played a vital role in defeating the Third Reich. The black-humored spoofy segment, written and directed by Gene Kearney is aimed at enlisting viewers to the best side of vampirism, a surefire alternate to military might. Though the segment received strong reviews and is still considered to be a classic by many, a minority have inexplicably faulted it for not developing characters, though it only ran fifteen minutes. That criticism has always induced me to guffaw.

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Chinatown

By J.D. Lafrance

Chinatown (1974) is a rare example of a collection of artists at the height of their powers coming together to produce a masterpiece born out of conflict and strife. Fresh from his success on The Last Detail (1973), screenwriter Robert Towne wrote a mystery inspired by the California Water Wars that took place in Southern California at the beginning of the 20th century and involved a series of disputes over water with Los Angeles interests securing water rights in the Owens Valley. Studio chief and producer Robert Evans bankrolled the project and Towne wrote the screenplay with his good friend Jack Nicholson in mind. The actor, coming off the critically-acclaimed The Last Detail, asked Roman Polanski to direct. The two men had been looking for a project to work together on and chose this one. The end result is a wonderfully complex and nuanced tale of greed and corruption whose deeper meanings and rich attention to detail reveal themselves upon subsequent viewings.

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by Sam Juliano

September is right around the corner.  The uncertainty with school openings seems headed for an “at the wire” edict.  In the meantime politics continues to dominate the daily new cycle and is captivating all Americans, most of whom are not compromising their feelings.  The Democratic National Convention was a most inspiring affair.  Jim Clark published a masterful essay on Ingmar Bergman’s 1969 The Rite this past week, and J.D. Lafrance chimed in with a fantastic essay of his own on Wong Kar-Wai’s classic Fallen Angels.

As promised I will now post my Rod Serling’s Night Gallery reviews that so far have appeared on Facebook, but obviously I have plenty more to go:

Top 27 Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery’ segments (presented in reverse numerical order)

Countdown Segment Number 22 “A Fear of Spiders” (Season 2) 21:48

A Kafkaesque tale of acute arachnophobia featuring excellent performances, “A Fear of Spiders” is a sometimes chilling, black comedy extraordinaire where the main protagonist, a cruel and arrogant narcissist receives a just comeuppance from a hairy arachnid who craves human flesh. Night Gallery’s quintessential snob (though William Sharsted from “Camera Obscura” is a very close second) Justin Walters is a prissy sadist who relishes berating all human contact with heartless bravado, and he seems to reserve the worst repudiation he can summon us for his upstairs neighbor, a pushy librarian named Elizabeth Croft whom he took out for dinner a few times for selfish reasons. Written with an acerbic edge by Rod Serling from a short story “The Spider” by Elizabeth Walker, this theatrically negotiated segment was fabulously directed by John Astin, but is perhaps more famous for who didn’t direct it after a zero hour exit by Steven Spielberg, who at that time was adverse to the grind of network television. Spielberg of course did helm the pilot segment “Eyes” starring Joan Crawford. Continue Reading »

 © 2020 by James Clark

      The films of Ingmar Bergman present a double dilemma. First of all, their dramas pose a very seldom recognized alert. Moreover, when in fact recognized, the intimacy almost always proves to be unwelcome. Secondly, those players actually game for the dare, find themselves unable to maintain serious coherence. Our film today, namely, The Rite (1969), is somewhat unusual in as much as all four of the characters (of this cameo production) are significantly in-the-know. But they perform poorly amidst others, and also amidst their self. (That we have declared the film, In the Presence of a Clown [1997] to be Bergman’s swan song, does nothing to end more instances of absorbing volatility.)

Whatever blood feuds Bergman might have embroiled himself in, toward the bureaucracy of the theatre and the bureaucracy of the law, his raison d’etre here was to spotlight the care and carelessness of disinterestedness. He had had from the very early outset of his endeavors, in the film, Summer Interlude (1951), a deep concern for those few with an instinct for attaining to a sensibility of kinetic disinterestedness being trampled by hordes of selfish, cowardly brutes. Accompanying that debut was a galaxy of optics and sonics intent upon interrupting theatricals hitherto seeming unassailable. The church of Bergman, thereby, tasted with pleasure the atmosphere for its pristine spirit, while clutching, as if a mathematical truth, melodramas of domestic nefariousness and nothing else but scraps of integrity, because the “something else” would take real guts. Seeing that those early communications might as well be Hollywood, by the end of the sixties there came to pass another ingredient to open a closed door. On the heels of two films, now-homicidal, in their destructiveness (in the form of Hour of the Wolf and Shame [both in 1968])—and just before the mass murder movie of The Passion of Anna (1969) rounding off a trilogy—the helmsman saw fit to up the ante in the form of a strange and yet mundane touch, namely, silently pushing with hands and fingers. This could be called a form of rite, with the proviso that rites take many forms. The display of this action features three millionaire experts in making a splash, along with one bungler killed by the trio. The former wends its sort-of merry way. The bungler alone has lived, despite largely missing the boat. Here’s how it went, in a nine-day production hustle, that no one chose to take seriously. Continue Reading »

by J.D. Lafrance

Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) isn’t as beloved as some of his other films, most notably Chungking Express (1994), as the characters that populate it aren’t as inherently likable. They are more standoff-ish or too cool or just plain odd to invite audience identification like the ones in Chungking. As a result, Fallen Angels is a film that is admired rather than loved, which is a shame as there is a lot to love in it. Made a year after the much-celebrated Chungking, it also consists of two separate stories one of which was originally intended to be in the 1994 film but when Wong found it was getting too long removed it and saved it for Fallen Angels.

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by Sam Juliano

August 17th is my Mom’s Birthday. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 72.  She would have been 88 this month.  Hard to believe that this normally torrid summer month is winding down and many of us are left wondering what September will bring.  The last few days I have spent my hours arguing with Trump supporters politely but with teeth on some comments.  I have come to the conclusion you cannot and will not alter the way someone thinks.  Families are even split in their political preferences.  Frankly, God willing that we make it through this pestilence I can’t wait for the madness to end.  It creates stress and tension and deprives us of so many more fruitful pursuits.  Meanwhile the pandemic remains a fearful challenge and it continues to restrict us in more ways than we would like to ponder.  Wishing everyone continued safety and relative peace of mind. Continue Reading »