by Sam Juliano
Wonders in the Dark reached another plateau this past Saturday when the nearly four year-old blog passed the two million mark in page views. Congratulations are in order to the many writers and loyal friends who have helped boost and sustain this place of ceaseless activities. As I prepare this diary on the evening of a very hot Memorial Day Monday in the New York City area, I join with other WitD staffers in wishing Allan Fish a Happy 39th birthday! As always with a new week we inch closer to some upcoming projects, including Richard (R.D.) Finch’s “William Wyler blogothon” at The Movie Projector and WitD’s own “Comedy Countdown” which will move into high gear on July 1st, the day final ‘Top 50’ ballots are due.
At Manhattan’s Film Forum, an Erich Von Stroheim Festival kicked off on Monday with an evening screening of Greed with piano accompaniment. Upcoming festivals on spaghetti westerns and the 100th Anniversary of Universal at the same theatre are offering some great classics, many double and even triple features for the price of one.
Lucille and I were quiet for much of the week, until the four-day weekend when we saw three films in theatres and a high-profile Harold Pinter stage play at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Broadway Bob attended the play and one of the three film screenings. By way of sheer quality, this was the strongest week of 2012, with a masterpiece, a near-masterpiece, a film pushing that level, and a memorable night at the theatre.
We watched and experienced:
Harold Pinter’s maddeningly ambiguous and enigmatic The Caretaker is actually unforgettable for those very qualities, much as Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot is for the same reasons. Jonathan Pryce plays Davies, a homeless transient who is invited to live in a rather dilapidated London boardinghouse by Aston (Alan Cox). The action is exclusively staged in a cluttered room that is also visited by Aston’s threatening bother Mick (Alex Hassell). Davies is a contradiction of bravado and and subservience, and seemingly knows the lower level he occupies on the class divide. By degrees he becomes demanding and finally tyrannical after he is offered the position of caretaker. Davies is weak, yet predatory, seemingly a pathological liar and suffering from delusions of grandeur. The exceptional Pryce captures the nuances in this role compellingly, even if at times his Welch accent is difficult to negotiate. A highlight is Ashton’s arresting monologue of his past experiences with electro-shock therapy, used to treat hallucinations. The play is really Ashton’s tragedy, and the most intricate drama involves his plight. Cox is passable, but hardly compelling, and effective enough to convince the audience he was ever a different person. The stage design, while traditional is eye-catching and balanced. The many questions the play leaves you with (i.e. Why does Ashton invite such an unsavory old bum into the house? What is the dual purpose of Ashton trying to befriend and frighten the old bum? Who is the real owner of the house, Ashton or Mick? The answers are given or hinted at by Pinter himself in i9nterviews, but it’s clear enough the brothers wanted a father figure to both take care of an reject. But hovering over this play is the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ championed by Beckett and Ionesco, and embraced in fair degree by Pinter. But the characters, interactions, and humor in The Caretaker prove searinga nd unforgettable, and despite some diction clarity issues because of accents and staccato delivery in parts, this production was well-staged and resonant, and a triumph of sorts for Christopher Morahan. (**** 1/2)
The three movies:
Elena **** 1/2 (Sunday afternoon) Film Forum
Oslo, August 31st ***** (Sunday afternoon) Film Forum
Moonrise Kingdom **** 1/2 (Saturday evening) Union Square Cinemas
Danish-Norwegian director Joaquim Trier, whose first film REPRISE deservedly won awards and accolades has gone even further with OSLO, AUGUST 31ST, which is the third film in 2012 I have gone the distance with rating-wise. This is the wrenching personal journey of an intelligent and cynical young man who is out of a rehab to reassess his perceptions of whether life is worth living. It’s a lyrical jorney and an introspective one, complete with the director’s affections for Oslo, and with a singular voice and vision, negotiated by a searching camera and the astonishing performance by Anders Danielsen Lie, who also anchored Trier’s earlier film.
Another director who is fondly remembered for an earlier film (in this case The Return in 2004) Russian Andrey Zvyagintsev is back with a Putin era Russian New Wave fatalistic thriller, ELENA, that displays the worst side of human nature in survival mode, while examining the laws of Russian inheritance, and a society with a disturbing dearth of morality. Zvyagintsev does’nt conform to the ‘what goes around comes around’ formula, instead implying the new world order is one that takes no prisoners. In the name of blood relation, there can be no limits. This is a wholly riveting drama, beautifully framed in widescreen and acted by the impressive cast.
Wes Anderson may well have made his finest film yet in a career (for me) that has been as uneven as some of his individual films. But in this story of captivating settings, titled MOONRISE KINGDOM, and an irresistible coming-of-age romance, the director is able to poke fun at institutions and family rigidity by applying his illustrative stylistic bravado and clever humorous set pieces and quirky sensibilities to the fleeting nature of this engaging time period and delightful cast of characters. Anderson is truly in his element here, and his use of the great English classical opera composer Benjamin Britten is sublime and funny.
The limited link scroll this week includes the following:
Judy Geater at Movie Classics enthusiastically announces two upcoming blogothons: one we are all excited about on William Wyler at The Movie Projector and another on June 1 through 3 on Mary Pickford: http://movieclassics.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/blogathons-coming-up/
Patricia at Patricia’s Wisdom has penned an inspiring review on “The Best Marigold Hotel” and asks for the readers to chime in with their latest movie conquests: http://patriciaswisdom.com/2012/05/the-best-exotic-marigold-hotel-for-the-elderly-and-the-beautiful/
Jon Warner has penned a terrific, perceptive review of William Wyler’s “The Heiress” at Films Worth Watching: http://filmsworthwatching.blogspot.com/2012/05/heiress-1949-directed-by-william-wyler.html
Film preservation is again the worthy theme in Marilyn Ferdinand’s tremendous piece on John Huston’s 1946 documentary “Let There Be Light” at Ferdy-on-Films: http://www.ferdyonfilms.com/?p=14547
Tony d’Ambra’s new post ‘Two Colored Red’ takes a look at the 1947 Edward G. Robinson reputed noir and an engaging 1996 documentary at FilmsNoir.net: http://filmsnoir.net/film_noir/summary-noir-reviews-two-colored-red.html
John Greco offers up a terrific review of Mario Monicelli’s Italian classic “The Organizer” at Twenty Four Frames: http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/the-organizer-1964-mario-monicelli/
Laurie Buchanan’s new post on her ‘favorite writing tool’ again proves why Speaking From The Heart is such a spectacularly popular stop for so many who feel the inspiration on it’s threads: http://holessence.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/squishy-buns-my-favorite-writing-tool/
Joel Bocko has made quite the triumphant return at The Dancing Image with a marvelous piece on Robert Altman’s “The Long Goodbye”: http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com/2012/05/long-goodbye.html
Roderick Heath has posted “an academic piece” on the film “Gallipoli” at This Island Rod, and it truly looks like spectacular stuff: http://thisislandrod.blogspot.com/2012/05/civic-mythology-sequence-from-gallipoli.html
Richard R.D. Finch has posted a definitive piece on Virrorio DeSica’s neo-realist masterpiece “Shoeshine” at The Movie Projector: http://themovieprojector.blogspot.com/2012/05/shoeshine-1946.html
‘Mayne Island May Day Celebrations’ show the Islanders in prime form with festive costumes, a swirl of color and the best weather imaginable. It’s over at the Creativepotager’s blogsite, man by the indomitable Terrell Welch: http://creativepotager.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/mayne-island-may-day-celebrations/
At Cinemascope the amazingly prolific and resilient Shubhajit Laheri keeps up the pace with a fabulous capsule on John Ford’s “The Searchers”: http://cliched-monologues.blogspot.com/2012/05/searchers-1956.html
At Mondo 70 Samuel Wilson talks about Depression era focus in his review on 1932’s “Faithless”: http://mondo70.blogspot.com/2012/05/dvr-diary-faithless-1932.html
Ed Howard has just posted yet another masterful Hitchcock review at Only The Cinema on “Under Capricorn”: http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.com/2012/05/under-capricorn.html
Jaime Grijalba has come through big-time for the Film preservation blogothon with a terrific essay on “Psycho” at Exodus: 8:2: http://exodus8-2.blogspot.com/2012/05/alfred-hitchcock-presents-psycho-1960.html
At Doodad Kind of Town Pat Perry’s splendid contribution to the For the Love of Film Preservation blogothon is on Hitch’s “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”: http://doodadkindoftown.blogspot.com/2012/05/hitch-does-rom-com-for-love-of-film.html
At Scribbles and Ramblings Sachin Gandhi takes a fascinating look at two high-profile Spanish films at ‘Euro 2012′: http://likhna.blogspot.com/2012/05/spanish-films.html
David Schleicher is proud to announce that ‘Issue Two’ of the Stone Digital Literary Magazoine’ is now available. It’s over at The Schleicher Spin: http://theschleicherspin.com/2012/05/15/issue-two-of-the-stone-digital-literary-magazine-now-available/
Just Another Film Buff has penned a terrific capsule on Satoshi Kon’s 1997 “Perfect Blue” at The Seventh Art: http://theseventhart.info/2012/05/19/ellipsis-61/
At The Last Lullaby, the ever delightful filmmaker Jeffrey Goodman takes a look at part sixteen of his long running quartet series: http://cahierspositif.blogspot.com/2012/04/favorite-four-part-sixteen.html
At Vermillion and One Nights Murderous Ink has written a towering analytical and superbly referenced essay on the appearance of the piano in Japanese cinema: http://vermillionandonenights.blogspot.com/2012/05/88-keys.html
There’s plenty of good stuff up at The Long Voyage Home by way of capsules and screen caps courtesy of Peter Lenihan: http://thelongvoyagehome.blogspot.com/
Stephen Russell-Gebbett at Checking on my Sausages again offers up a thoughtful post, this one titled “The New Cinema of Shattered Minds”: http://checkingonmysausages.blogspot.com/2012/05/new-cinema-of-shattered-minds.html
Greg Ferrara at Cinema Styles has written a splendid essay on Alfred Hitchcock: http://cinemastyles.blogspot.com/2012/05/i-have-nothing-new-to-say-about-alfred.html
A notable artistic collaboration leads the way at Michael Harford’s heartening Coffee Messiah’s blog: http://coffeemessiah.blogspot.com/2012/05/collaborations.html
At The Blue Vial Drew McIntosh asserts “It’s in the Eyes!”: http://thebluevial.blogspot.com/2012/05/its-in-eyes.html
J.D. offers up a fascinating essay on “In Case You Didn’t Feel Like Showing Up” at Radiator Heaven: http://rheaven.blogspot.com/2012/05/in-case-you-didnt-feel-like-showing-up.html
Adam Zanzie has posted a superlative review of Lawrence Kasdan’s “Dreamcatcher” at Icebox Movies: http://www.iceboxmovies.blogspot.com/2012/05/dreamcatcher-2003-lawrence-kasdans.html
Dave Van Poppel has a tremendous batch of short reviews up at Visions of Non Fiction on the Toronto Film Festival: http://visionsofnonfiction.blogspot.com/