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Archive for February, 2014

Sam, Dennis, Pierre de Plume, and Sammy give their predictions for the 2014 Oscars.

Note:  Pierre de Plume appears at the 1:05 (one hour and five minute) mark.

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by Sachin Gandhi

2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the Sundance Film Festival, a festival that has been the launching pad for many exciting cinematic voices over the years. The festival’s importance in discovering new directors was nicely highlighted by the trailer shown before all the films which gave a glimpse of some of the stellar titles that played at the festival. The first Sundance was held in 1985 but it is acknowledged that the festival shot into the limelight in 1989 with Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies and Videotapes which changed the perception of the festival. Besides being the launching pad for Soderbergh, Sundance ushered the discovery of many other American directors including Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, 1992), Kevin Smith (Clerks, 1994), Kelly Reichardt (River of Grass, 1994), Paul Thomas Anderson (Hard Eight, 1996) and Darren Aronofsky (Pi, 1998). All of these directors, plus many more, have made the jump from Independent to Commercial cinema thanks to their discovery at Sundance. Even James Wan’s Saw premiered at Sundance before it transformed into a multiplex franchise.

The success of certain Sundance films or genre means the media attention seems to gravitate towards a similar subset of the festival’s output. One hears plenty about how a certain work is a “Sundance film”, words which paint the festival in a single light. In recent years, that term has been associated with Little Miss Sunshine or Sunshine Cleaning, two films that seem to embody the kind of films that Sundance loves. But these films are not representative of the entire body of carefully programmed films that make up the Sundance film festival. Over the years, documentaries and a growing list of foreign films have premiered at the festival. Although, one would not know that from the media coverage. As this year showed, the films at Sundance represented a multi-tiered global outlook, not only in terms of the foreign film selections but the topics covered in many American films as well. Even though many films were American productions, they were shot in foreign locations or featured topics that were universal in theme. And as it turned out, through a series of intriguing choices, I ended up with many films which were tied together despite coming from different parts of the world. The 13 films I saw can be grouped together in the following 5 categories. (more…)

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SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Sam with Horn Book editor-in-chief Roger Sutton after panel discussion at Simmons College in Boston on Thursday, Feb. 20.

by Sam Juliano

The past week’s spotlight event was staged on the fifth floor penthouse of the management building at Simmons College in Boston on The Fenway, just a stone’s throw away from the famed baseball stadium.  Or maybe just a bit further than that.  The 90 minute panel discussion “Why did that book win?” was moderated by longtime Horn Book editor-in-chief Roger Sutton.  His co-panelists included executive editor Martha Parravano, Lesley University children’s literature professor Julie Roach and Kirkus Reviews book critic Vicky Smith, all of whom vigorously promoted a spirited discussion centering around the recent awards given out by the American Library Association.  Ms. Roach expressed gleeful surprise that children’s author extraordinaire Kate Di Camillo’s profusely illustrated Flora & Ulysses won the Newbery Medal despite the general aversion to books that veer away from the generally all-prose format.  A subsequent question from the audience later on addressed the confusion that sometimes emanates from the indecision of whether to honor words or pictures in a book that is seemingly divided equally, as was the case with the Caldecott Honor book Bill Peet: An Autobiography in 1990.  Mr. Sutton pointed to a similar perception in 2008 when Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret won the Caldecott Medal despite the marked division of prose and pictures.

While Ms. Smith was delighted with Brian Floca’s  Caldecott Medal triumph for Locomotive (“the author is no longer a bridesmaid”) there was some disappointment with some of the omissions, a sentiment that prompted Sutton to quip that the title of the discussion should have more in tune with “why certain book’s didn’t win?”  Sutton bemoaned the failure of Kirkpatrick Hill’s Bo at Ballard Creek to achieve recognition in the awards process, while Ms. Perravano was amazed and disappointed that Cynthia Kadohata and Julia Kuo’s National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck didn’t figure in the final Newbery line-up.  The panel addressed the matter of certain books that win the subsidiary awards (Pura Belpre, Coretta Scott King) but fail to win Caldecott or Newbery mention because the perception is that they have their own category.  This has always been the mind-set of the Oscars, where a nomination or win in the animated film and/or foreign language category always always results in being passed over in the major categories.  One spirited questioner talked about the specific perceptions and expectations of certain books aimed at a minority audience, and how those perceptions might be different among a more general reading audience.  Another commenter, an artist and designer, appeared to intimate that some of the committee members should have a more artistic background, and that such a reform would result in different books winning the awards.  This was not a position that others in the group (myself included) shared, and the panel and another commenter with an artistic background argued against such a narrow qualification. (more…)

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Our longtime friend and cinematic colleague Shubhajit Lahiri has happily announced that he and his lovely bride Riya were wed in a beautiful ceremony in India on January 21st.  We at Wonders in the Dark were thrilled beyond words to hear of this surprising but most welcome news, and we wish this perfect couple the very best in the years ahead.  So much seems to be coming together for the “king of the capsule” as of late and this ultimate final piece to the puzzle is one of supreme magnificence.  Here’s to a life of love, success and eternal bliss! (click on ‘continued reading to see second photo) (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

There is something about the Scandinavian sensibility that seems to infuse their artistic output with a pervading sense of melancholy and darker themes.  It is easy to understand when one considers the shorter days, colder climate and generally more austere and cerebral mind set (cliches to a degree, but this has always been the perception) and the tendency for their arts to reflect a more pensive and philosophical mood.  One may immediately think of the brooding death-obsessed master filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, the playwright extraordinaire August Strindberg, who explored naturalistic tragedy, the iconic painter Edvard Munch, whose masterpiece The Scream, is a prime example of evocative treatment of psychological themes.  Carl Theodor Dreyer, whose  VampyrThe Passion of Joan of Arc and Day of Wrath rank among the greatest of all films was another who examined state of mind in harrowing terms, and a long string of contemporary filmmakers like Thomas Vinterberg have relentlessly examined family strife and depression.  In music there has always been a melancholic undercurrent in the nature-infused work of Jean Sibelius and Edvard Grieg. (more…)

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© 2014 by James Clark

 When we come to a film as bizarre as Nicolas Refn’s Valhalla Rising (2009), we are, perhaps unbeknown, placed within large demands to get to the bottom of its expressive design. The work appears at first glance to be a study of sorts concerning the ways of Nordic tribes in the late medieval period (say, 1000 AD) where a pagan (Viking?) ethos finds itself troublesomely confronted by the clerkish circumspection of bands galvanized by Christianity. At the outset, we are put on notice, along such lines, by this signage: “In the beginning there was only man and nature. Men came bearing crosses and drove the heathen to the fringes of the earth.” Judging from the Scottish dialect of the non-heathens here, we would seem to be dipping into the ethnology of early Britain. (Valhalla Rising was in fact filmed in Scotland, spilling our way as concentrated a swatch of disturbing atmosphere as you’re ever apt to see—unremittingly dark and damp and stark, with winds close to blowing the cast off of the planet, reminding us of the inclement features of Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, filmed in another weather hell, Canada.)

    But if the concern of Valhalla Rising were at all driven by the romance of history, we would not, surely, see so much Gothically chic wardrobe—not unlike the garb on display in expensive, media-zone restaurants. Nor would we have a camera-angle, during a tense confrontation, where the protagonist’s battle axe is poised like a big pistol in a holster. Nor would we have a Man with no Voice, unmistakably giving off a (highly inflected, of course) version of the Man with No Name. (Actor, Mads Mikkelsen, provides a similarly handsome tautness of skin and expressivity of eye.) The protagonist’s loyal companion, a young boy with Scandinavian hair, tells him, during one of the myriad tight spots they occupy, “You need a name. You’ve only got one eye…” This near-banter within a narrative plunge so heavily steeped in violent death, while seeming to fit nicely within the glory days of Clint Eastwood, does, in fact, bring us to the point of realization that Valhalla Rising no more closely stalks early film than it stalks early history. (For good measure, Refn has apparently done his bit to muddy the waters by referring to this movie as “science fiction,” especially thrilled by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.) (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The indefatigable “Mr. Hulot”, who appeared in four of Jacques Tati’s films is one of the cinema’s most venerable creations.  First published in France under the title Hello Monsieur Hulot David Merveile’s sublime and utterly delightful picture book Hello Mr. Hulot is a labor of love by a lifelong fan of the iconic character, Jacques Tati’s tragic-comic alter ego.  A pace gone awry, technological advancements and the inevitably complex transportation system make life difficult for  the gauche and blundering Hulot, whose most distinctive attributes center around his dress.  His short trousers and wrinkled coat, striped socks and trademark pipe, hat and umbrella have established a singular identification.  While never matching the universal love and recognition afforded Chaplin’s tramp or Keaton’s stone face, he has persevered in the shadow of the cold and inhuman modern society he mocked with a unrepentant quixotic glee, as one of the greatest comic creations in the history of the cinema.

Hulot was featured successively in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953),  Mon Oncle (1959), Play Time (1967) and Traffic (1971).  Author Melville claims he caught Hulot fever in 2004 after hiding a drawing of the iconic character in one of his illustrations, and then getting many responses from fans.  Merville adds: “Translating Tati’s films into the genre of the picture book seemed very logical to me: I could actually silhouette the behavior and gestures of Monsieur Hulot.  It’s ideal for a paper copy.  The great film posters from Pierre Etaix demonstrated this.  Also, Tati’s access to film, his love for details, his keen powers of observation, his interest in things, his feelings about architecture, his economical use of dialogue, and his visual jokes have all encouraged me to develop Monsieur Hulot on paper.” (more…)

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One of the most extraordinary animated short film line-ups ever to compete for the Oscar

Henry Fonda as ‘Young Mr. Lincoln’ screened at Film Forum on Sunday

by Sam Juliano

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December’s bareness every where!

-William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 97”

Every state in the nation has been visited by the ultimate barometer of winter -that once welcome, but now tiring and meddlesome white marauder- over the past week, except for Florida.  In the now beleaguered northeast it has been a conveyor belt of storms and frigid temperatures, and the latest word is that we may not yet be done.  Certainly our dear Midwestern brethren have suffered through the darkest season in many a year, and there has been some catastrophic weather in parts of the United Kingdom.  March inches closer, but can anyone feel safe until April Fool’s Day or even then in this season of uncertainty and vulnerability.  Amidst all the mayhem, some school districts -including our own in Fairview- are closed for President’s Week, allowing for some recovery and/or meditative time.

The e mail chain for the Romantic Film Countdown polling will be sent out to all e mail members this coming Wednesday, February 19.  Those casting ballots will have until April 1st to vote and send on to the network.  While it has admittedly taken quite a bit of time to get this project off the ground for various diversions and considerations, I am (personally) ready to move forward and am very excited.  Hopefully a good number of friends and readers are of the same mind-set. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Wonders in the Dark crossed the finish line for 3,000,000 page views earlier today.  This feat is a testament to the site’s sustained popularity as a meeting place for movie loving bloggers and many others who have come to expect the current diverse attention paid to all the arts including live theater, literature, television and music and opera.

The two most traveled threads -and both continue to get hefty hits each day- are The 50 Best Movies of the 2000’s and The 25 Greatest Opera Films with 161.000 and 26,000 hits respectively.  I am proud of both those posts, especially the one on opera which continues to amaze me with its resiliency.  Both the recent Best Westerns countdown and the extended series on the Caldecott Medal contenders attracted remarkable numbers as well.  The most page views ever for any countdown was the one for The 70 Greatest Musicals, while the weekly voting thread that ran for almost two years achieved solid numbers as well.

I would like to thank my very dear friend Dee Dee for the miracles she has performed for this site since its inception all the way back in September of 2008.  I would also like to thank dear friends like Pierre de Plume, Laurie Buchanan, Frank Gallo, Maurizio Roca, Jon Warner, Sachin Gandhi, Jim Clark, Peter M., John Greco, Pat Perry, Samuel Wilson, Jeffrey Goodman, Jaimie Grijalba, Stephen Mullen, John Grant, Mark Smith, Dean Treadway, Judy Geater, Patricia Hamilton, Terrill Welch, Murderous Ink, Tim McCoy, David Noack, Ed Howard, Bob Clark, Brandie Ashe, Duane Porter, Shubhajit Lahiri, David Schleicher, Jason Marshall, Mike Norton, Celeste Fenster, Joel Bocko, Dennis Polifroni, Marilyn Ferdinand, Roderick Heath, Peter Lenihan, Stephen Morton, Just Another Film Buff, Jason Giampietro, Drew McIntosh, Michael Harford, R.D. Finch, Adam Zanzie, Hokahey, J.D. La France, Dave Hicks, Stephen Russell-Gebbett, Kaleem Hasan, Pedro Silva, Anukbav, Movie Fan, Kevin Deaney, Longman Oz, Troy and Kevin Olson, Rick Olson, Jason Bellamy, Joe, John R., Karen, Broadway Bob, Jeff Stroud, sirrefevas, Dave Van Poppel, Jeopardy Girl, Greg Ferrara, Marco and of course to Allan Fish for collectively bringing this place sustained activity and prominence.  My longtime friend from Down Under, Tony d’Ambra has helped this site above and beyond and has remained an unwavering and dependable friend all the way to the time we first unveiled this place to the public eye. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

There’s no getting around it.  Caroline Kennedy’s recently-released collection Poems to Learn by Heart breathes life into a literary genre has has lost some relevance in an age of i-phones and college curriculums that have cut back on classes examining poetry.  Caroline Kennedy traces her own affection for poetry back to her own reading sessions with her grandmother Rose Kennedy, who purportedly quizzed them on American history and some of the story poems that captures specific events.  One, Longfellow’s beloved “Paul Revere’s Ride” was a favorite of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, who recited the marathon poem at public events.  The tradition of reading poems as a family though, goes back to Jacqueline Bouvier, who met with her grandfather at least once a week to examine and recite the classics.  The love for poetry was also evident at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration when he looked to Robert Frost for inspiration.  Caroline herself of course published the volume A Family of Poems, a 2005 best-seller, one in which she collaborated with ace illustrator Jon J. Muth.

She and Muth again teamed up for this new volume of poetry, and the work represents some of the finest work the illustrator has ever done in a career that already has amassed some picture book classics.  Muth’s magnificent Zen Shorts won a Caldecott Honor in 2006, and the talented illustrator moved on to some other distinguished picture books such Blowin’ in the Wind, a pictorial rendition of the Bob Dylan treasure, and the moving City Dog Country Frog, a collaboration with Mo Willems.  Muth’s work brings fresh new visualizations to some venerated poems that date back hundreds of years.  Poems by Tennyson, Shakespeare, Beckett, Chaucer, Shelley, Melville, Lincoln, Browning, Crane, Dickinson, Melville and many others are given some lovely new clothes that vividly broaden and accentuate the various interpretations, and offer the art lover some glorious watercolor paintings in this vast 200 page book that is aimed more for the higher middle school and Jr. High School students.  Indeed, this collection could not be appreciated by the youngest, even if the illustrations would still captivate the gifted students in the lower age group. (more…)

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