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Archive for June, 2011

Sam with British actress Carey Mulligan and Broadway Bob outside New York Theatre Workshop after staging of "Through A Glass Darkly" based on Ingmar Bergman's 1961 masterwork

by Sam Juliano

Those summer denizens looking for beach weather got more than they bargained for this past week as temperatures in the big apple broke 100 on one day, and reached the high 90’s on two others.  Needless to say air conditioners were running 24/7, and air levels outdoors were deemed unsafe, sending many flocking to multiplexes and other indoor cultural refuges.  Here at Wonders in the Dark the comment threads have been sizzling, especially an escalating discussion on the valididity of film criticism and art in a protracted takedown of Jean Luc Godard’s Film Socialism.  Godard supporters and detractors have helped make the thread one of the most popular in the site’s close to three year run.  Jim Clark’s latest essay (on No Country For Old Men) and Jamie Uhler’s latest installment in his incomparable “Getting Over the Beatles” series were very well-received, and Allan’s ‘Fish Obscuro’ entries and Bob Clark’s excellent work on anime continue to lead the way.  The musical countdown draws closer, but a good seven weeks of preparation remains fro Pat Perry and myself to sort out.

On a personal note I am nearing the end of my 25th year teaching in the Fairview Public school system (after two years starting out as an English teacher in a vocational high school) and am preparing for the summer program, which will run from June 27th till August 6th.  Retirement?  As Margaret Hamilton asserts: “I wouldn’t hear of it!”  With five young kids, I will need to teach until I drop, and am physically removed from the classroom.  It’s either that or sell my DVD collection!  Ha!  At 56, I could see myself teaching ten more years, providing I make it that far.

This past week yielded some highlights on the cultural scene, including an off-Broadway stage play based on and titled after Ingmar Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly.  The 90 minute drama featured celebrated British actress Carey Mulligan (as Karin) Chris Sarandon, Jason Butler Harner and impressive newcomer Ben Rosenfield in extraordinary form.  This claustrophobic work, adapted by Jenny Worton from the first part of Bergman’s early 60’s “Faith Trilogy”adaptation of the Swedish auteur’s 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly – a dark, psychological exploration of madness and artistic creation by the sea.  The theatre has never succeeded in capturing escalating madness as well as the cinema, which has at it’s disposal the use of the close up, visceral editing, and the orchestration of sound and visual elements which can’t quite be replicated on the stage.  The play, faithful to the film’s story arc, depicts Karin’s return to her family’s Swedish island home after a stay in a mental institution. She’s joined there by her slightly older physician husband Martin, her hack novelist father David, and her brother Max, a lonely soul who’s taken up playwriting in an effort to emulate his father’s creative efforts. As the family’s old resentments resurface and Karin’s father reveals the extent of his cold creative impetuses, Karin’s madness worsens until it reaches its breaking point.  Mulligan is raw and riveting in trying to emulate the great Harriet Andersson, and within the form’s limitations is often electrifing.  Ben Rosenfield nearly matches her as Max in a portrayal of stark intimacy.  Two major contributions come from set designer Takeshi Kata and lighting supervisor David Weiner, but the spare music from David Van Tieghem gives the film some added emotion.  David Leveaux’s direction tries to isolate the intense dramatics, but there’s a cold and distancing quality to the adaptation that makes it only intermitantly effective.  Basically Through A Glass Darkly is a series of vignettes based the film that recapture much of the wrenching emotionalism, but only a hint of the film’s explosive power.  Note:  It was wonderful to again meet our great friend and site colleague Phillip Johnston, who joined Lucille, Broadway Bob and myself for this production and a late night meal at The Dish.  Phillip and Lucille enjoyed some steak, while Bob and I opted for veal parmigiana. (more…)

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In revisiting the anime of my youth, I’ve been finding just how much it’s managed to color my judgement and personality in ways I’d always sort of taken for granted, especially where my appreciation of other works of cinema are concerned. From elementary to high-school I wound up devouring a steady diet of Japanese animation, such to the point that it became one of my default modes of entertainment growing up, and would’ve likely supplanted live-action fare had there been more of it available on cable during my years in junior-high. As it stood, I contented myself with renting or buying whatever I could get my hands on in VHS and sitting through edited broadcast-versions of racy and violent films, series and OVA on the Sci-Fi channel, letting it all form the defining filters of my early preferences without my ever being entirely aware of it. As a teen of the late 90’s, I can recognize now how it forms the foundation for a kind of generational appreciation of works that older viewers may not always get entirely, and younger ones may not realize the importance of. When I sat in the theater enraptured by The Phantom Menace, part of my enjoyment lay in the fact that I was watching something that at times didn’t resemble Star Wars as it did some kind of Star Wars anime, thanks to Doug Chiang’s sleek but opulent designs and George Lucas’ digitally unleashed action set-piece design.

Specifically, there was something about the work I saw on the big screen in 1999 that reminded me of a little-known OVA from earlier in the decade, home to a galaxy full of its own out-of-this-world designs and master-and-apprentice characters. When it aired on the Sci-Fi channel, Iria was almost a completely unknown entity in the United States, put out on the modest scale that OVA VHS releases used to enjoy in the days before widespread DVD and Internet distribution. Few would’ve been aware of the work that Testuro Amino had previously made as one of the anonymously talented journeyman directors of anime projects, never quite rising to the same stature of beloved mainstream and cult auteurs of the medium but still finding genuine ways to make his talent shine above mere entertainment. Even fewer would’ve been aware of the project’s connection to the live-action Zeiram films in Japan, much less that this animated project was of all things a precursor to an entire franchise they’d never been exposed to. Those films, written and directed by Keita Amemiya, were largely inspired by the costumed hero-and-monster theatrics of various kaiju and Ultraman style movies and television shows  made up the staple of Japanese youth entertainment in the 70’s and 80’s.

(more…)

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Copyright © 2011 by James Clark

 

 Cleaving to the studious determinism of a novel by think tank player, Cormac McCarthy, the Coen brothers, in producing the film, No Country for Old Men (2007), give us a splendid—if difficult—taste of the libertarian vintages coming out of their own, less bruited, think tank.

 

    The West Texas locale (and it’s 1980), bristles with Vietnam War veterans, signing on and off to each other, and a law-component lamenting the apparently unprecedented hardness of sensibility that package has sent screaming through its erstwhile fetching, wide-open and quiet spaces. Shuffling through its midst, the worst bad-ass of them all (if statistics are to be honored), namely, “Chigurh,” provisioner of whole military cemeteries by himself, puts out a bit of thought-provoking give-and-take with a soft-spoken little guy running a convenience store in the middle of nowhere. Trying to make pleasant small-talk with the invasively sloe-eyed stranger, the quiet grandpa asks about the weather in Dallas (he having inferred that place from the customer’s plates [on a car that had in fact been stolen, from a driver losing much more than that]).The wispy-voiced crime wave hardens those eyes a shade, and asks with a soupçon of belligerence, “What business is that of yours? Is there something wrong with anything?” The low-critter on the food chain pauses with some malaise, but, appreciative of conversational flow, explains that he’s “just passin’ the time.” We notice with some surprise a bit of a pleasant smile coming across the face of a figure who has already—just minutes into the history—shown himself to be quite dazzlingly unpleasant. He rallies his new acquaintance (whom he had, at the outset, referred to as “Friendo,” during the friction over Dallas), all the while patiently chewing on newly-purchased confections, one-by-one, by asking, “Have you lived here all your life?”/ “Only four years… This store belonged to my wife’s family…”/ Now definitely having some taciturn fun over and above a baseline of the macabre, the stranger, having nearly choked on his gum-drop, asks, “You mean you married into it?”/ Pausing to think about this, the old man smiles and drones out, “You could say that.” As if feeling the ice has been broken, he gently comes back with (a “listen carefully to this one” twist in his voice) in terms of, “What hour do you close?”/ “At dusk.” Definitely emanating tingles of illuminative concentration where, till now, there seemed to be nothing but a black hole, it is the buyer who shifts into a seller’s mode. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, do you? … What time do you go to bed?”/ “Um…about 9:30…”/ “I could come back then…”/ “But no one would be here…” With a game face not without a sprinkling of camaraderie, Chigurh, like a game-show host at getting-to-know-you time, asks, “What’s the most you ever lost in a coin toss?”/ “What do you mean…?”/ “This coin has been travelling twenty-two years to get here…”/ “What could I win?”/ “You stand to win everything… Just call it”/ “I didn’t put nothin’ up.”/ “You been puttin’ it up your whole life, you just didn’t know it… You need to call it.”/ “Heads…”/ “Well done!… Don’t put it in your pocket! It could get lost among the other coins…It’s your lucky quarter!” (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(France/Taiwan 2009 146m) DVD2 (Franceonly)

You are so pretty

p  Marianne Dimoulin, Jacques Bidou, Tsai Ming-Liang  d/w  Tsai Ming-Liang  ph  Liao Pen-Jung  ed  Jacques Comets  m  Jean-Claude Petit  art  Patrick Dechesne, Alain Pascal Housiaux

Laetitia Casta (Salome), Lee Kang-Sheng (Kang, director), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Antoine, Herod Antipas), Jeanne Moreau (Jeanne), Nathalie Baye (Nathalie), Fanny Ardant (producer, Herodias), Mathieu Amalric (man in bushes), Lu Yi-Ching (Kang’s mother),

Perhaps the best way to describe Tsai Ming-Liang’s purposefully indecipherable and divisive film is to say that I hate it but with an adoring heart.  A contradiction, an anomaly, a pretension; yes, all the above, but it’s a film truly unlike any other yet released and one that demands to be seen in a different way to all those that have gone before.

            Those that know Tsai’s oeuvre will of course have an advantage over the rest, and those who read the only other Tsai piece in this selection, written when it was the only one, will know I have problems with him in general.  Visage made it in by the skin of its teeth, through the tiniest crack in the wall illuminated by candlelight.  It was the first partnership between ARTE distribution and the Louvre, the palace turned gallery.  Visage was premiered at Cannes, but not only could it not have had a worse reception, it also couldn’t have had a worse choice of opening. 

            So take the film as it is, about Taiwanese director Kang who is invited to France to make a film superficially on Oscar Wilde’s Salome.  It is also about the state of mind of the actors called on to play Salome, her licentious uncle Herod Antipas and his scheming wife Herodias, the latter played by the film’s producer.  Also in attendance and playing themselves yet also not themselves, are Jeanne Moreau and Nathalie Baye.  (more…)

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Screen cap from opening cruise ship segment of Godard's "Film Socialism"

by Sam Juliano

Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu film.”
– Werner Herzog

“I’ve never gotten anything out of his movies. They have felt constructed, faux intellectual and completely dead. Cinematographically uninteresting and infinitely boring. Godard is a fucking bore. He’s made his films for the critics. One of the movies, Masculin féminin: 15 faits précis (1966), was shot here in Sweden. It was mind-numbingly boring.”
-Ingmar Bergman

“I’ve never understood the Godard fascination. Contempt is one of the worst
films ever made.” But that’s only the beginning.” 
 –Woody Allen
80-year old Jean Luc-Godard has divided the movie-watching establishment like no other in the five decades he’s worked as a filmmaker.  Some have proclaimed him as the Second Coming among film artists, while others have cursed the sidewalk he’s walked on.  However, it does seem fashionable in the blogging community today to stand by him, no matter what he comes up with, and to issue endless defenses for his seeming penchant to stick his middle finger at audiences, especially those who have grown wearisome with his unconventional style.  Though I’ll admit I respect films like Contempt, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, Weekend and Breathless, I have found the majority of his work (especially his output from the late 80’s onward) a major chore to sit through, and in large measure a merciless assault on any attempt we might make on understanding what the incredibly self-indulgent director is attempting to pose.  Such is certainly true of his Film Socialism, which opened this week at the IFC Film Center.  As incoherent, and as unattainable as any film ever released, Godard has still managed to inspire some of his most impassioned supporters to make claims of relevence and artistic validity in his mishmash of images  and disjointed rhythms and translations.  At Only the Cinema the ever-thoughtful Ed Howard, as devout a Godard deciple as exists, makes a remarkable case both for the film’s elusive meanings, particularly the various stylistic distortions of the images and the deliberate attempts to attain lucid interpretations from his jarring presentation.  In one instance a young boy is busy painting an Auguste Renoir masterpiece; Godard shoots over the boy’s shoulder, distorting the image with digital color manipulation, and everything comes off as artificial and distancing.  Howard argues that “Godard seems to be suggesting that art distorts, art lies, art dodges reality” and that “disconnect between what the boy is looking at and what he’s painting suggests that the art of the past, like Renoir’s landscapes, is a way of avoiding engagement with reality as it really is.  This seems to me as a clear instance of reading into something that may not have even been intended, much less achieved.  But that’s the job of the critic and the admirer, and Howard is as good as any in making his readers see and feel as he does.  Some of the interpretations out there are more impressive than the actual work at hand.  Am I suggesting that Howard’s findings are wrong?  Or perhaps the hopeful pontifications of a Godard groupie?  Not quite.  I believe Howard and/or any other Godard fan genuinely interpret the work of their man as planned and achieved.  (more…)

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Classic British satire "Went the Day Well?" ran at Film Forum for two weeks

by Sam Juliano

It’s looking and feeling more and more like summer out there, and soon a number of us will be begging for the cold again.  Such is weather’s take on the “What have you done for me today?” philosophy.  You know the dog days are here too when you see the sequels appearing in multiplexes, the latest of which is the third installment in the X Men saga.  Here at Wonders in the Dark, discussion was at it’s zenith this past week under The Tree of Life thread, where commenters wrestles each other on their own views of the long-anticipated film and Terrence Malick’s career.  To boot, a passionate discussion erupted on individual beliefs and religious doctrine.  Yep, here at WitD there’s almost something sizzling, even when summer isn’t part of the mix.  With the musicals countdown slated for August, there will be two months of free-wheeling here, and the much cherished continuations of Jim Clark’s essays, Allan’s “Fish Obscuro” series, Jamie’s “Getting Over the Beatles” project, and Bob Clark and Jaime Grijalba’s continuing dissection of anime.  The site’s look continues to evolve thanks to the remarkable work by Dee Dee.  Her sidebar updates have focused on movies from all angls and places.  Good luck to John Greco on the sale of his photography at his new sites, which will very soon be added to the blog links.

This week (shortened to six days because of last week’s Tuesday overlap) allowed for the viewing of one interactive stage play, one war years British film classic, and three new openings, including two rare multiplex appearances with the family.

The stage play H4 utilyzes television segments aired on the background movie screen to tell the story of the Bard’s Henry the Fourth parts I & II and it’s connection and relevency to today’s governments.  It’s a noble attempt, but it loses steam and gets lost in all kinds of dramatic convolution and careless integration.  In Theatre Row’s Clerman Theatre which seats 60, there were about 17 people in the audience on a primetime Saturday evening spot.  That pretty much tells where this one is going as per word of mouth, and the reviews have been practically non-existent.  I wish this company well, and lament the missed chance here with some obviously great material.  Some of the performances were fairly good, and the duel scene was well choreographed. (more…)

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by Jaime Grijalba.

Last week, monsieur Bob Clark had for you an essay-review on one of the Tetsuro Amino’s most famous OVA, ‘Starship Troopers’, which you can check out here, and it was splendid, just as monsieur Clark has us used to: splendid writing and giving some light into unknown anime and directors. Now, for complete unrelated reasons, I finished about the same time another OVA from the same director, and monsieur Clark asked me to do something about it, and here I am, writing for Saturday Anime once again, talking to you about the latest anime I’ve seen: ‘Jewel BEM Hunter Lime’ (1996), directed by Tetsuro and written by Kenichiro Nakamura. Now, before delving in into the matters of plot and artistic evaluation, I have to explain why I decided to watch this first. Well, it’s a kind of a strange story, but at my personal blog (which you can enter by clicking my name up above) I’m visiting some PlayStation videogames from its first releases, and one of the games was called ‘Houma Hunter Lime Special Collection Vol. 1’, which follows a similar if not entirely identical plot of this OVA (in fact, I’m not entirely sure of what came first, but they must’ve been around at the same time), but with the only difference that it has no subtitles whatsoever, making it difficult to understand, so I decided to watch the OVA (which did have subtitles). At the end of the day, it didn’t matter, the game was unplayable, even after I watched the episodes, and my frustration can be read here.

(more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 2011 399m) DVD1/2

Following the least line of resistance

p  Johann Knobel, Charles Pattinson, Hugo Blick  d/w  Hugo Blick  ph  Tat Radcliffe  ed  Jason Razucki  title song  “Pause” by Emily Barker

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Jonah Gabriel), Christopher Eccleston (Joseph Bede), Kierston Wareing (Lia Honey), Stephen Rea (Gatehouse), Rafe Spall (Jay Wratten), Richard Lintern (Patterson), Robert Pugh (Bob Harris), Lesley Sharp (Julie Bede), David Schofield (Sgt. Foley), Antony Sher (Peter Glickman), Malcolm Storry (Maurice Crace), Eve Best (Petra Mayler), Clare Calbraith (Laura Gabriel), Freddie Fox (Ratallack), Tobias Menzies (Ross McGovern), Sean Gilder (Beatty), Stanley Townsend (Bulkat Babur), Ace Bhatti (Khokar), Charles Kay (Sir Richard Halton), Penny Downie (Caroline Monroe),

Perhaps it was the advertising or what I had come to expect; yet another gangster thriller at a time when British screen has been saturated with them.  Or even worse, another cop show just as Trevor Eve’s shouting in Waking the Dead had been put to rest.  Yet here was a series borne out of something altogether different; the mood, the pacing, the eclectic cast, all far beyond the remit of the average crime genre series.  And then there’s that enigmatic title, out of Conrad, which can mean what you want it to mean; the line between good and evil, the line of enquiry that you just know will be the end of you. 

            In the opening scene a body is discovered by police in the back of a car.  We see this was no ordinary shooting but a gangland contract and the professionals are brought in to look into it.  The victim, one Harvey Wratten, had just that day been released from prison after receiving a pardon, along with his psychotic nephew Jay.  News eventually gets to the underlings in Harvey’s gang, who meet in his cover florist’s business.  On one side we have Jonah Gabriel, cop not long out of a coma and with a bullet still in his head, trying to trace where the line of shooting really came from.  On the other, Joseph Bede, a comparatively good man who just happens to be a crime lieutenant, wants to look into the killing but also wants out, organising one last drugs deal with which he can retire to look after his wife Julie, prematurely suffering from Alzheimer’s and deteriorating fast.    (more…)

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