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Archive for May, 2014

unbearable

By Dean Treadway

Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being arrived in 1984 when the author, then and now based in France, was approaching his 10-year anniversary in exile from Czechoslovakia, his homeland. In Eastern Europe, his books–often baldly critical of the Communist regime that had taken over his country in 1968–had routinely been banned from publication, and Kundera himself was in fact stripped of his Czech citizenship in 1979 (he has since insisted on being considered a novelist of French origin). The Unbearable Lightness of Being, the last of his works to have an overtly political bent, was a fin de siècle which followed in a non-linear fashion the lives of five European citizens: Tomas, a 50-ish brain surgeon and womanizer; Sabina, the strong-willed artist with whom he has a iron-clad erotic connection; Tereza, the meek yet floridly emotional photographer who captures his heart (even perhaps against his will); Franz, the Swiss professor who naively falls for Sabina upon her escape to Geneva following the Prague Spring of 1968; and Simon, Tomas’ estranged son from a previous marriage.

When producer Saul Zaentz–who had won two Oscars producing films by Czech émigré Milos Forman–settled upon Kundera’s novel as his follow-up to the immensely successful Amadeus, he opted not with Forman’s services at the helm, but instead with Philip Kaufman, who was perhaps still reeling from the box-office drubbing that greeted his adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff. One wonders why Zaentz settled on Kaufman rather than Forman, who certainly would have been able to lend more Eastern European authenticity to this adaptation. However, given that Kaufman had already successfully transferred Wolfe’s “unfilmable” book to screen and that Kundera’s work was similarly afflicted with such a label, Zaentz’s decision made sense. Furthermore, the hiring of master screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière as Kaufman’s co-screenwriter was another encouraging stroke. Carrière had already built an unparalleled career working with some of the world’s finest directors (Luis Bunuel, chief amongst them) on pieces focusing in on the delicate, often dark romantic dance between men and women, so he was perfect for this assignment. The screenwriters first jettisoned the novel’s non-linear structure in order to center in on the real story at its core: the love triangle between Tomas, Sabina and Tereza. They made Tomas a much younger character and, in doing so, eliminated the need for Simon, Tomas’ son. And, most wisely, they reduced the amount of political commentary, except as it related to the physical and emotional actions of the three lovers. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Ghost is a trap for snobs.  A big 1990 Hollywood release with marketable stars normally starts off with a strike against it, and the supernatural premise of featuring a man being murdered, returning as a ghost, and then watching invisibly over his lover was certain to have some critics out impersonating ghostbusters.  And despite a majority of favorable notices, there remains to this day some who deride this popular comic fantasy with John Simon-styled venom, dismissing it as trite, sophomoric, and cloyingly sentimental.  But square can be beautiful too, and Ghost has gloriously survived the lambasting from the intelligentsia to stand today as a romantic favorite among audiences who largely find bliss in all shapes and varieties in re-visitations.   The film was the second biggest grosser worldwide in its release year, trailing only Home Alone.

Featuring three popular actors who in this film give their very best performances (to be sure Swayze is not much of an actor at any rate), Ghost,  directed by cinematic laughmeister extraordinaire Jerry Zucker is reliant on its eccentric fabric to overcome what some believe is a ghost story that for all its built in deceits is still exceedingly difficult to believe.  The film alternates between the somber and broadly comic, yet the entire enterprise is held together by the emotional glue of romance that would even go as far as to have the lovers make pottery while engaging in a steamy make-out.   The early scenes of the film are idyllic and amorous, chronicling the young couple’s move into a Big Apple apartment, though the film’s deftly measured screenplay (sure there is some hokey dialogue, but it comes with the turf) by Bruce Joel Rudin issues some dire warnings that include the hoisting of an angel into a window, Molly’s wish to see a performance of Macbeth, and a news flash of an airplane crash.   (more…)

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Powerful Moroccan film “Horses of God”, about Islamic extremism showing at Film Forum

by Sam Juliano

May weather has taken hold, as some in our midst have been pondering vacation options.  Our good friend Laurie Buchanan has settled in her new Pacific northwest paradise in Idaho, while three of our other esteemed kindred spirits are presently in Europe immersing themselves in all the cultural and sensory locations that many of us see only in our dreams.  Pat Perry has been in Germany the past ten days or so, and even reported she saw the new Godzilla over the weekend.  Tony d’Ambra’s spectacular European trip has recently included a stop in Paris, where he and his wife have experienced the Lourve, the Notre Dame Cathedral, Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph as well as other renowned sites, while artist extraordinaire Terrill Welch and her husband David have been all over Italy, offering up magnificent photos of her forays into Florence, Venice and other beautiful places in one of the continent’s most favored cultural meccas.

The romantic countdown begins today with the posting of the Number 101 choice, and will continue every Monday through Friday until the Number 1 essay is unveiled on Monday, October 6.  As always it is hoped that the comment sections will add to the celebration, but even if comments are limited, the presentation will still provide a stellar reference archives for the future.  Thanks to all the writers who have worked so hard to get this project off the ground. (more…)

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roma-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      As the metropolis of a high-impact socioeconomic power, Roma—like New York, London, Tokyo and Paris—has been cinematically scrutinized for the better part of a century. Invariably the City would have come into play in the course of a clearly defined protagonist (or two) bidding for plenitude in a world making plenitude a long shot. On the subject of Rome, we have, for instance, Roberto Rossellini’s, Rome, Open City (1945), wherein a woman, played by Anna Magnani, is destroyed by a home turf poisoned by fascist distemper. Seventeen years later, Pier Paolo Pasolini, in his film, Mamma Roma, starring, Magnani, seeks to rain all over the post-War Italian (economic) miracle—depicting Rome as a vicious arena of self-serving money-madness and cruelty. But the star has other ideas and injects into Pasolini’s pedantic slam-dunk some tough de-fence of the elusive improvisational treasure she lives for. Joining this play of contentious cityscape, we have an installment with Magnani once again present, namely, Federico Fellini’s aggressively branded, Fellini’s Roma (1972). Scant months before her succumbing to a cancer she would have known to be terminal, she speaks to Fellini (who is off-camera) for only a few seconds; but that is enough to have her (this time with the full encouragement of the auteur) once again part of a game-changing force.

Magnani’s at death’s door and Fellini is far from the attention-getter he was in 8 ½. So who’s minding the store? Definitely it’s no one captured on camera. Fellini’s Roma is a cinematic singularity insofar as it dares to be almost absolutely awash in dismissive perversity—the better to capture a real state of affairs of arguably terminal oblivion. Unlike more conventionally-structured film narratives, there is no persona to marvel or even care about; but rather a seemingly endless stream of largely farcical dissolution. Before engaging specific events, therefore, with a view toward what is at stake here, we have to pick the lock maintaining a hegemony of seemingly Eternal nihilism. This we can begin to effect by noticing that a child and then a young adult, both passively floundering within the action’s early scenes (in the 1930s) of virtually clownish waywardness, go unnamed but are clearly the same person. (We see the little boy wide-eyed as a train departs a little station; then, on the heels of that, we see a train arriving and a wide-eyed young man tastes his first moments as an adult in Roma.) We can travel from there by noticing that the stacked deck of Mussolini’s 1930s as depicted by that transfer (that would be XVI, in view of the godsend that occurred in 1922) is overtaken (though putting in a few other spicy recurrences) by various stages of a film shoot in the early 1970s, wherein, over and above the brief interview with Magnani, there are a couple of Hitchcock-quick comings on the scene on the part of Federico (Fellini) himself, leaving us to understand that he is the outnumbered and invisible protagonist and that the entire film in its multifaceted interplay with the Eternal City is the action of struggling for the necessary new, in the spirit, if not the intentional register, of Mamma Roma. (more…)

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100_0186

Allan with the kids on observation deck of the Empire State Building on August 30, 2008.

by Sam Juliano

I returned home from my annual three-day school trip to Washington D.C. late Friday night to some very shocking news from Allan.  The information initially left me unable to speak, but after rationally reviewing the situation, I am 100% all will be well in the end, and Allan will look back at this time years later and chalk it up to experience.  Allan made the following announcement on Facebook:

OK, no easy way to say this, but on Thursday I went for an endoscopy and a small tumour was found at the join between the oesophagus and the stomach. It’s fairly certain to be malignant but it is all localised and the specialists tell me they have caught it early. So long as the CT scan I’ll be having within 2 weeks says it hasn’t spread beyond that area, I should be OK for an operation and removal, but obviously distressing times. I was going to wait until after the CT scan to share, but I didn’t want anyone to find out and wonder why I hadn’t said. I’m keeping positive as much as possible and it’s just a question of waiting until we know the exact extent of the damage.

Needless to say, even with the overwhelming prospects of a complete recovery and permanent elimination, this is a frightful episode for Allan, who at 40 is a very young man, and shouldn’t have to deal with such grief even of the temporary variety.  All of us here at Wonders in the Dark are profoundly concerned for Allan, while simultaneously confident that he will be smiling again very soon.  My wife Lucille, and children Melanie, Sammy, Danny, Jillian, and Jeremy, all of whom spent two week last August with Allan and his mum in London and Kendal extend our deepest concern over this bump Allan is crossing on his way through life.

Understandably Allan will be away from the blogging scene at WitD and elsewhere for the foreseeable future. (more…)

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ida a

by Allan Fish

Ida (Poland 2013 80m) DVD2 (Poland only)

Travels With My Aunt

Piotr Dzieciol, Eva Puszczynska, Eric Abraham  d  Pawel Pawlikowski  w  Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Pawel Pawlikowski  ph  Ryszard Lenczewski, Lucasz Zal  ed  Jaroslaw Kaminski  m  Kristian Eidnes Andersen  art  Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska, Marcel Slawinski

Ageta Kulesza (Wanda Gruz), Agata Trzebuckowska (Ida Lebenstein), Dawid Ogrolnik (Lis), Jerzy Trela (Szymon), Joanna Kulig (singer), Adam Szyszkowski (Feliks), Halina Skoczynska (mother superior),

The critical and financial failure of Pawel Pawlikowski’s misjudged 2011 film The Woman in the Fifth, coming after seven years after his previous film (the much better received My Summer of Love) could have been enough to have some commentators wondering if he could recover from it.  So when Ida was announced for the London Film Festival in the autumn of 2013, I was trying to put his last misfire to the back of my mind.  Unable to attend the festival, it was on DVD that I was always likely to see it first.  But nothing could really prepare me for what I was about to see.

Ida is really several films in one; not narratively speaking, but thematically.  Set in 1962, it follows young Ida, an orphan at a convent who is informed that she must speak to her only living relative before she is able to take her vows.  This relative, her Aunt Wanda, is a former state prosecutor well respected inside the party but who has turned more and more to promiscuity and drink.  She tells Ida that her parents were actually Jewish and died during the war, murdered before they could even be sent to their deaths at the Nazis’ factories of death.  Ida and Wanda agree on a trip to see the primitive house where her family once resided and there come up against a wall of silence from those now living there.  They are sent on a wild goose chase, during which time Ida meets a young musician.  Finally they learn the truth about Ida’s parents’ death, but how will the two women react to this final act of closure? (more…)

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Prodigy Justin Kauflin, 91 year-old jazz legend Clark Terry and “Keep on Keepin On” director Alan Hicks pose at Tribeca Film Festival press conference.

by Sam Juliano

You know the routine.  Every ‘ten best’ list I have ever compiled, whether it be for a year, a decade or a special event like the Tribeca Film Festival always has a caveat.  My tenth place slot is regularly occupied by two films that means to accentuate the eternal difficulty in culling down a list of films to just a tenspot, but beyond that it allows me to sneak in an extra film to better frame the quality of a particular group of films or event.  Tribeca 2014 was without any question the finest since Jane Rosenthal and Robert DeNiro founded the hugely-successful venture in response to the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Center towers.  The festival launched in 2002, evolving from its initial base in the Tribeca section downtown to its present base in Chelsea, and the programming has steadily gained in prestige.  Tribeca is one of the most comprehensive festivals for documentary fare, and some of its features are premiered here.  Other films arrive from Cannes, Sundance and Toronto, and more and more each year are winning distribution a short time after there first appearance at Tribeca.  As per my usual manner of preference I concentrated solely on the features that comprise better than 90% of the offerings, leaving the shorts go completely.  This year’s event was mainly staged at the Bow-Tie Cinemas and SVA Theater on 23rd Street and am the AMC Loews Village 7 on Third Avenue and 11th Street.  It was a challenge to criss cross Manhattan mostly by car, but in some instances by cab and subway when time was really tight.  When three online viewings and two Tribeca films I watched at the Montclair Festival are factored in, the total number of films seen is 54, and it is from that vast poll that I choose my Ten Best list and honorable mention list.  Like every year there are duds and some other films that fail to live up to expectations, and the frustration that accompanies a wrong decision in opting for one film over another when they run at the same time.  And when its over there is frustration that a few films were inexplicably missed completely.  2014 represents the first time I am confident I managed to see nearly every must film, hence my ‘Best of’ list is presently with a degree of satisfaction.  I find it hard to imagine that each and every film in my ten best will not be receiving distribution in the coming months.  Though we saw nearly every single “essential” film screened (we caught two that I did miss this past week at the Montclair Film Festival) there are a few that did escape our grasp: Slaying the Badger, This Time Next Year, This is Illmatic, The Newburgh Sting, Just Before I Go, I Won’t Come Back and Night Moves.  The latter opens wide in two weeks. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Mid 70’s degree weather and one sound drenching have ushered in May with at least a parting salute to April in the long-anticipated weather transition in the northeast and midwest.  Speaking of transitions, the WitD hierarchy would like to extend our very best wishes to Laurie and Len Buchanan, who have recently relocated from Crystal Lake, Illinois (outside of Chicago) to their new beautiful home in Boise, Idaho.  After twenty years paying their dues in one of the toughest winter zones in the US, I’d say it’s high time our good friends have moved on to more hospitable environs, at least in terms of more benign atmospherics.  May is normally a fabulous month for those who love gardening and the outdoors, and the preparations are on for proms, graduations, and closing exams in college classes.  In the Juliano household, it has always been amusing to note that four of our five kids have May birthdays (Sammy on the 15th, Danny on the 17th, Jeremy on the 27th and Melanie on the 30th).  Always tough when you want to stage parties, and yes I have played those numbers repeatedly with little success.  Only our dear Jillian who turns 14 in December is the odd one in this scenario.  I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my very best wishes to my friend Craig Kennedy of Living in Cinema who will be attending the Cannes Film Festival for the second year in a row.  I hope he has a great time, sees some extraordinary films, and enjoys the acclaimed food and weather in the beautiful French resort.

Our very dear friend Pat Perry is heading over to Germany this week, while other dear friends, the artist Terrill Welch and her husband David are touring Europe in the vacation of a lifetime.  The very best to them all.  I am greatly looking ahead to pictures. (more…)

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