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Archive for January, 2011

Tommy Jones and Ben Affleck in surprisingly-decent “The Company Men”

by Sam Juliano

Jets fans have been brought down to a somber state of reality, after Gang Green fell behind 24-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers, relegating an inspired late rally fail that narrowed the score to 24-19, to also-ran status.  It’s the Steel Men against the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.

Extreme cold has moved in to the northeast, with temperatures expected in the single digits during mid-week.  And another storm is being watched for Tuesday night.  In any case, it’s business as usual at Wonders in the Dark, with the past week producing a mega-thread under Jim Clark’s extraordinary two-prongued review of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish.  Jamie Uhler’s exceptional “Getting over the Beatles” continued on this week, while Bob Clark penned another marathon science-fiction essay on a DVD series.

I managed myself to see three new film releases in theatres, one Film Forum classic and a popular off-Broadway play.  The films are:

Johnny Mad Dog  *** 1/2    (Friday night)  Anthology Film Archives

The Company Men  *** 1/2   (Sunday afternoon)  Edgewater multiplex

The Way Home  ** 1/2            (Sunday afternoon)   Edgewater multiplex

The Leopard   *****                (Wednesday night)    Film Forum (more…)

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By Bob Clark

There’s something about the loneliness of space that begs for a family. Like mariners out to sea or pioneers trailblazing in padded wagons, the sheer emptiness of all those wide open spaces can’t help but stir a hungry longing for human connection, prompting us to look for whatever den we can fall into and call it home, no matter if it’s thick with thieves. There’s little wonder why so many space-operas all center their orbits around some kind of family unit– Captains Kirk or Picard on their Enterprises, where the needs of the many only outweigh the needs of the few until one of their own falls into bad luck; the rises and falls of the Skywalker clan and all the assorted knights errant, rebel scum and fussy droids that followed along in their wake; even the motley crew of the Serenity, souls on the losing sides of war, faith and the law who band together just to keep flying in their sky a little longer. In all of those cases, our desire as an audience for the warming confines of a comforting social unit is mirrored by the vagabond travelers on-screen, each of them bonding together like so many strands of yarn in a knitting circle, each with their own stories to add to the tapestry of patch-work narratives as they journey amidst the stars. But knitting is always at its strongest in the marrow of a bone that’s broken into pieces, and more often than not the families we watch tracing their paths among the constellations happen to be dysfunctional ones, by some measure. Even the Robinson crew of Lost in Space had to reconcile their differences with the traitorous Dr. Smith, and adopt him into the very band he’d tried to sabotage. Whether forged by genetics or bad circumstances (blood’s a part of the picture either way), a family’s a family because you can’t choose them. Sooner or later, like the gravitational pull of a heavenly body, they’ll always draw you back in.

This all has something to do with the crew of the Bebop, somehow, but I’m not quite sure. Oh, they’re certainly a family of some crazy sort, but you’d never know it to watch most moments of it. After all, like many a classic anime, the major cast of Cowboy Bebop never assembles in full until nine episodes in, out of twenty-six– that’s how long it takes for hipster bounty-hunters Spike Spiegel and Jet Black to team up with con-artist Faye Valentine, master-hacktress Radical Edward and smarter-than-the-average-dog Ein. And even when everybody’s on board for their rollicking adventures throughout a colonized solar-system only several decades hence (Isn’t it lovely how quickly the best sci-fi outlives its own dating?), hardly anybody ever gets along with each other long enough for you to think there’s anything keeping these people together other than bad luck and worse habits. For a ship-full of would-be heroes-for-hire, they manage to do an almost uniformly terrible job about the actual business of catching criminals for top-dollar rewards– if Chuck Jones’ classic cartoons with Wile E. Coyote were best understood as all the best ways not to catch a Road Runner, then Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop might easily be described as twenty-seven lessons (including the movie) in how not to be a bounty hunter. And yet somehow it endures as something more, just as the the travelers on the Bebop find ways against all odds to put up with each other and live together, even when they weren’t earning a living. The fact that they spend most of their time arguing, betraying or weirding one another out only helps to strengthen those bonds all the more– it’s what also makes that slow descent into seeing them break apart feel so much more sad and inevitable. In space, there may be no one to hear you scream, but that only makes you want someone’s shoulder to cry on that much harder.

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by Allan Fish

(France 1923 87m) DVD2 (France only, no Eng subs)

Aka. Coeur Fidèle

Love can make you forget anything

p  Jean Epstein  d  Jean Epstein  w  Jean Epstein, Marie Epstein  ph  Léon Donnot, Paul Guichard, Henri Stuckert  ed  Jean Epstein 

Gina Manès (Marie), Léon Mathot (Jean), Edmond van Daële (Little Paul), Claude Benedict (Monsieur Hachon), Madame Maufroy (Madame Hachon), Marie Epstein (the crippled girl), Madeleine Erickson (port prostitute),

He’s most remembered now for his The Fall of the House of Usher in 1928, and even then it’s more famous for its assistant director being Luis Buñuel.  By then, however, Epstein was becoming disillusioned with his art, for only a few years earlier he’d been one of the giants of the French silent cinema, a titan admired by all his peers, helped by his devoted wife Marie, who in turn has become better known for her restoration of Gance’s La Roue.  Abel Gance was one of Epstein’s closest friends, his feelings on his drift into obscurity summed up perfectly in a quote from Georges Sadoul; “he preferred to die a victim rather than live by prostituting his art.  I still see his so expressive rhomboidal face whose hair seemed to burn like a black flame from his forehead. I hear his slow singular voice, chary of words, picking his listeners.  Must not this voice still be heard from the depths of the abyss?(more…)

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Screen capture from Tim Burton's "Edward Scissorhands"

 Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

      Film audiences tend to be remarkably observant of the ways of soldiers of fortune. Even as they might come to eschew such aggrandizement, protagonists (and their acolytes) maintain a bull market for striking self-assertiveness, namely, that of sacrifices on the way to becoming legends. Those movies moving outside of such a box become generally regarded as “weird.” There are filmmakers of that latter persuasion who manage to thrive professionally by virtue of the kind of seductiveness, in being “mysterious” and “exceptional,” exercised upon his new neighbors by Edward Scissorhands in Tim Burton’s widely-enjoyed film of the same name, from 1990. That they come to fear and hate Edward and form a mob to have him put away for good, in order to resume lives of unforgettable pleasure and virtue, speaks to a communicative void the desperation of which endows such vehicles with their drowning-entity grip. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France 2001 154m) DVD1/2

Aka. Who Knows?

Tempus fugit, manet amor

p  Martine Marignac  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Christine Laurent, Jacques Rivette, Pascal Bonitzer  ph  William Lubtchansky  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  art  Manu de Chauvigny

Jeanne Balibar (Camille), Sergio Castellito (Ugo), Jacques Bonnaffe (Pierre), Marianne Basler (Sonia), Hélène de Fougerolles (Dominique Desprez), Bruno Todeschini (Arthur Desprez), Catherine Rouvel (mother), Claude Berri (book antiquarian),

Take six people, three men, three women.  Take a Pirandello play, ‘As You Desire Me’, and take that play as the starting point for a plot in which the six characters act as if in said Pirandello play.  Take a director, past seventy now, returning if not quite to his roots than at least to the tree that flowered from them, to memories of Paris nous appartient and L’Amour Fou.  To be fair, he’d returned several times in the interim, but Va Savoir shares a theatrical sense that those earlier two milestones had.

            Here we take Camille, a French actress who is returning to Paris for the first time in three years to appear in an original Italian language production of Pirandello’s play put on by her director lover, Ugo.  On her return to Paris she has a yen to see if her one-time lover Pierre still visited his daily park bench to read his newspaper, which he does.  They meet, she says her goodbyes.  Ugo meanwhile is a man on a mission, to find a missing unpublished play by Goldoni, ‘Il Destino Veneziano’, which leads him to the house of a family who have a private library full of rare treasures, and to the daughter of the family, Dominique, who he had previously met in a library.  Dominique is researching fastening devices on Roman garments in Italian and American films of the sword and sandal era, and has a half-brother, Arthur, who is a gambler now reduced to thieving his way to funds, either in the form of petty larceny from the family library or valuable rings, the latest of which belongs to Sonia, the wife of Pierre, Camille’s ex-.  (more…)

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Cap from Romanian prison drama "If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle"

by Sam Juliano

The Golden Globes, the American Library Association and the National Football League were heard from in a very big way over the past week, and some of the results were most unexpected.  Sure, the Globes handed out their top awards to The Social Network, David Fincher, Natalie Portman and Colin Firth, but with only the Oscars left to report in, every group in America has been pushing the same buttons.  On the other fronts, some surprises materialized.  For one, the New York Jets eliminated the high-flying New England Patriots from the playoffs up in Foxboro, leaving the heart-stopping Gang Green a victory from the Super Bowl.  At least one WitD alumni has good reason to be disappointed with this 28-21 result, which catapults the Jets into the AFC title game with the Pittsburgh Steelers next week.

The Caldecott and Newbery Medals were announced last Monday morning by the American Library Association at their mid-Winter meeting in San Diego, and at least three illustrators on the Caldecott front must surely be seeing red.  David Weisner’s Art & Max, Sarah Birdsong and Matt Phaeger’s Flora’s Windy Day and Bill Thomson’s Chalk were snobbed, though Phillip and Erin Stead’s A Sick Day For Amos McGee was a rightly popular choice for the Caldecott Gold.  The “honor” books were limited to two: David Ezra Stein’s Interrupting Chicken and Bryan Collier’s Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave, while the Newbery Gold went to Claire Vanderpool’s Moon Over Manifest.  Four honor books were named as well.  I plan to cover the awards soon in a future post, as this has been much of a lifetime obsession in acquiring all the winners for use in my classes, as well as to collect the great art and stories. (more…)

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Bob’s 2010 Top Ten

Making a top-ten list for the films of any given decade is always a fairly tricky affair, for any number of reasons. Do you wait until you’ve seen all the critically acclaimed films out in release, even the ones you’re sure to be as diametrically opposed to as much as everyone else is enthusiastically in favor of? Do you include late releases from one or two years ago, those international films which are sometimes slow to reach the art-house circuit, which is nowadays so busy with relatively mainstream fare? Do you even limit yourself to a mere count of ten, or perhaps try to find some more personal frame of reference that doesn’t rely on the metric system so much? In the end, the only answers worth anything are the films you decide to list above all others, even if they aren’t popular, up-to-date or neat and tidy. For what it’s worth, here are the releases from the past year that I was most struck by.

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by Allan Fish

(France 1976 144m) DVD2 (France only, no Eng subs)

Aka. Northwest Wind; Noroit (une vengeance)

The Judas of the hours

p  Stéphane Tchalgadjieff  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Jacques Rivette, Marilu Parolini, Eduardo de Gregorio  play  “The Revengers Tragedy” by Cecil Tourneur  ph  William Lubtchansky  ed  Nicole Lubtchansky  m  Daniel Ponsard, Jean Cohen-Solal, Robert Cohen-Solal  art  Eric Simon  cos  Renée Renard

Geraldine Chaplin (Morag), Kika Markham (Erika), Bernadette Lafont (Giula), Babette Lamy (Regina), Élisabeth Lafont (Elisa), Danièle Rosencranz (Celia), Carole Faurenty (Charlotte), Anne-Marie Fijal (Fiao), Humbert Balsan (Jacob),

A woman is grieving over the body of her lifeless brother.  He’s washed up ashore on a beach across the bay from a peninsular at the end of which stands a castle.  She turns in the direction of the castle, barely visible through the dusky light, and invokes a curse in clipped English; “O thou goddess of the palace, mistress of mistresses, to whom the costly perfumed people pray, strike down my forehead unto undaunted marble, mine eyes into steady sapphires, turn my visage and, if I needs must glow, let me blush inward.”  The very opaque inscrutability of such a curse sums up Noroit’s appeal. 

            Essentially what we have is a series of vignettes, of almost tableaux, acted out much as if in a dream state, like a cinematic flipside to a Poussin painting entitled ‘A Dance to the Music of Death’.  There is a plot, of said grieving sister getting revenge on those who killed her brother, yet this is somewhat incidental to the events that take place.  This is the cinema of make believe, the acting is deliberately overstated and when death does strike it does much as it may in a school play, with an almost hypnotic sense of the surreal.  Nothing can be taken for granted; even the cause of vengeance is blurred, for though she intones as if over her brother, he may actually be her lover, or even both, as when she cries out later in the piece “O hour of incest”.  (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Once again I part from my literature endeavours to talk about something that you must watch and take under consideration as one of the best movies or audiovisual projects of the year. The biggest problem this time, in comparison to my earlier ‘installment’ is that this work is from 2010, and that year has just passed, we are in 2011, a new year, a year we look at with optimism and joy, expecting it to be a better year than that dreadful (for me) 2010. But I don’t care, if this is a work from 2010, you still can see it and make a last minute ammendment to your top 10-20-25-30-50-100 movies of 2010, it even counts if you put it as a special or honorable mention, even better if you’re like me and do your top 10 around February, but I think that’s just me and my attempt to make a list as complete as possible, complete meaning after seeing every movie I was interested in seeing at the start of the year.

Ah, but there’s another thing to be worried about. This is a short film, almost 6 minutes long, and sometimes people don’t consider short films in their lists, yet they don’t have trouble considering ‘L’Àge D’Or’ one of the best films on 1930, even if it’s 60 minutes long, same thing goes to the other Buñuel short ‘Un chien andalou’. On this site we had not so long ago an overload of short films in the splendid animation countdown, and nobody complained (I was the happiest with this selections, specially with ‘Destino’), so I think that if you see a short film of the year you are in (well… kinda), it  should have a shot at being in your list as much as the latest european religious drama, an english minimalist BBC miniseries or the usual big budget action Hollywood movie. At least, that’s what I do.

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When I decided to make my top-ten for 2010′s best films, I was struck by how many movies I either wasn’t holding in common with other critics, or how many of my own little-loved favorites I could even find space for in my highest estimation. Sometimes you don’t love the same things that everybody else does, and sometimes you don’t love something quite enough to recommend it as highly as everything else. Still, both things are just as worthy of some short consideration as even the most personal of favorites, so here are my immediate runners up for the past year’s most interesting fare.

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