Archive for August, 2014

© 2014 by James Clark

Boyhood (2014), seemingly in its trailer to be nothing so much as a Disney cash cow, is a uniquely forward-looking movie. Joining a roster of contemporary films on the case of what the old Surrealists referred to as the “more,” it is decidedly and thrillingly distant from “art” films as we have come to know them. Strikingly estranged from those blue-chip sagas of horrifyingly rugged individualism with their burdens of physical carnage and emotional massacre, it dares, in the confines of the Lone Star State, to convey the subversive phenomenon (shocking in iconoclastic circles because apparently rather conventional) of slow, uncertain maturation toward something new. Adding to its pariah status within the orbit of very tough love is its gusto for discovery about how mainstream domesticity fosters, however willy-nilly, migration away from mainstream domesticity.

The boyhood of Mason, our protagonist, might be imagined to be a variation upon James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But that would be feeble imagining. Moored as he is to a channel of its own reckoning, Linklater has nothing to do with precious softies—being in fact much closer to Anton Corbijn’s sharp kick in the gut to those clever dandies, Jules and Jim, namely, his movie about the ill-starred band, Joy Division, titled, Control (2007). We’re firmly in Texas, here (Linklater’s home-state); but not the gun-crazy Texas of the Coens and David Lynch, nor the virus-paced, transcendental-mystic Texas of Terrence Malick, nor the mass-homicide-friendly Texas of Quentin Tarantino. We’re in a Texas where it’s a big deal that a sophomore co-ed (Mason’s sister, Samantha, whom we saw to be a precociously [sophomoric] smart-assed nine-year-old [her divorced mother’s pointing out the family’s needing to move to Houston, where her mother would help with the kids while she goes to college to enable supporting them financially, eliciting from her, “Fine, Mother. Do whatever you want. We’re not moving…No.No.No!” [and she makes snappy popping sounds with her lips to register as a robot]]) cannot, in contrast to other family members and friends giving droll toasts to Mason on his graduating from high school, do more than have a bit of stage fright and mumble, “Good luck…” Her succumbing to such disarray—when her brother, whom she had made the butt of so many of her self-confident barbs, was now able to face with considerable poise and eagerness the challenges of his own imminent stint in college—is arresting in its glimpse of that viscosity weighing upon the narrative’s myriad efforts to catch and control fire. (more…)

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Streetwise drifter Hal and small-town beauty queen Madge (William Holden and Kim Novak) bask in the delicious glow of sudden, explosive love at a Labor Day picnic. Because this film is based, however, on William Inge’s award-winning play about strained human relationships, the couple’s bliss gets complicated in a hurry.

by Pierre de Plume

Falling in love with love is falling for make believe,
Falling in love with love is playing the fool.
Caring too much is such a juvenile fancy,
Learning to trust is just for children in school.
I fell in love with love one night when the moon was full,
I was unwise with eyes unable to see.
I fell in love with love, with love everlasting,
But love fell out with me.

“Falling in Love With Love,” lyrics by Lorenz Hart,
from the Broadway musical “The Boys From Syracuse” (1938)

Despite the cynicism expressed in the above lyrics about romantic love, I believe most of us are nevertheless a little bit in love with love. What keeps us going, I also believe, is the hope that our lives somehow will transcend the pragmatic aspects and conjoin at some level with our idealized notions of eros and, therefore, personal fulfillment.

Picnic, the film adaptation of William Inge’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play, seems designed to encourage viewers to indulge this fantasy while at the same time showing us the dangerous pitfalls and turmoil that adventurous, even unbridled love may bring. These themes are made evident not only through the film’s central romance but also through most of its characters. (more…)

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by Shubhajit Lahiri

Manhattan came possibly as a conclusion to the most remarkable purple patch in Woody Allen’s prolific and brilliant career as a filmmaker. The phenomenal streak began with Love and Death, his first masterpiece in my reckoning and the film that, despite its farcical nature, marked his transition to serio-comic cinema. He followed that up with Annie Hall, one of the great works of American cinema and the beginning of his love affair with urban neurotic relationships and New York. Next came Interiors, a stark chamber drama that stunned the audience with its deathly serious tone and made his fascination with Bergman clear. Manhattan, which ranks amongst many as Woody’s greatest work, marked the culmination of all his great hallmarks and signatures. Though he continued to make stellar works in the years to come (Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Husbands and Wives are the ones that place highest in my opinion), the above streak ensured that cinephiles and film students start considering Woody as a serious and accomplished auteur, and hence, in turn, his elevation to the pantheon of great filmmakers, artistes and social commentators.


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Brenton Thwaites in screen capture from haunting THE GIVER, based on Lois Lowry’s 1993 Newbery Award winning masterpiece.

Capture from Lenny Abramson’s audacious and melancholy FRANK.

by Sam Juliano

Relatively mild August temperatures continue to stay the course as we move closer to the final days of the month that usually scorches.  Vacations are reaching the last leg, as September and the new school year is just about two weeks away.  A very difficult week, with the loss of a 64 year-old first cousin (mother’s brother’s daughter), Antoinette Rotundo, who suffered through a decades-long illness, and a bike accident in Toms River down the Jersey shore that required a hospital stay for my brother Thomas Juliano (Fairview Police Chief).  Concussion, broken nose and face scrapes were the result of the mishap.  After visiting my brother in the Toms River Medical Center -he will be fine but a little recuperation time at home- we all stopped down at Seaside again for their famed large slice pizzas and another brief excursion on the boardwalk.

The Romantic Countdown continues, moving closer to the two-thirds completion point.  It all ends on October 6th.

Lucille, young Sammy and I (and the others for one) managed to see three films this week around the hospital visits, several wakes and my cousin’s funeral: (more…)

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by J. D. Lafrance

Can men and women be friends without sex getting in the way? This is the question that When Harry Met Sally… (1989) asks and then wisely leaves up to the viewer to decide. Released in 1989, this romantic comedy is a classic example of the right people in the right place at the right time with Rob Reiner directing, Nora Ephron writing and Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan as the romantic leads with old standards re-interpreted by a then-up-and-coming singer Harry Connick, Jr. The results were amazing to say the least, launching the careers of the aforementioned into the stratosphere and creating a benchmark that every romantic comedy has since been judged by.

Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) meets Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) after they both graduate from university and share a car ride from Chicago to New York City. Along the way, they argue about the differences between men and women and Harry says that they can never be friends because sex always gets in the way, to which Sally disagrees. She finds him obnoxious and he thinks that she’s too uptight. Once Harry and Sally arrive in New York and go their separate ways, they figure that they will never see each other again. Over the years, Harry and Sally run into each other again during various stages in their lives and become friends. The film chronicles the development of their relationship. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Italian director Luchino Visconti began his career in the theater, directing works of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller in his home country, before moving on to film and opera.  As to the latter form he achieved a well-earned reputation as one of the greatest opera directors of his time, and worked closely with “La Divina” Maria Callas in La Vestale, just after completing his fourth film Senso (1954), a work of exceeding operatic scope, and melodramatic essence.  Like a number of the greatest operas, Senso was a disaster upon its release.  It was critically savaged in Italy as a betrayal of neorealism, and stateside it was mutilated, dubbed into English, and re-titled as the lurid The Wanton Countess.  It took Italian film aficionado Martin Scorsese and the Criterion collection to gloriously return to film to visual splendor with a terrific 2011 restoration for DVD and blu-ray.

It can be persuasively argued that Senso has an operatic structure, offering up doomed lovers, posturing soldiers, clandestine nocturnal meetings, brazen adultery and extravagant demise.  Appropriately enough, the very first scene of Senso takes place in an opera house – the historic Teatro La Fenice in Venice, which stands today still as a major operatic venue, as it was back when the film was made and even when the story was set, nearly hundred years before that in 1866.  The opera being staged is one of the great classics, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and the rousing aria “Di quella pira” is being negotiated by the work’s main male protagonist, Manrico, who in effect is urging a call to arms to his compatriots who are fighting against Austrian occupiers in a bid for Italian Risorgimento (reunification).  At the close of the aria, gallery revolutionaries drop leaflets that are colored like the Italian flag to the orchestra section, inhabited mostly by Austrian officers. (more…)

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by Judy Geater

I’m not sure how old I was when I first saw ‘Doctor Zhivago’ – maybe 11 or 12. But it immediately made a strong impression on me as the most romantic film imaginable, with its Russian setting, endless stretches of snow and central couple whirled along by violent and turbulent events beyond their control. Above all, the atmosphere is created by Maurice Jarre’s haunting score, and the sound of the balalaika. I’ve seen the film many times since then, though sadly never on the big screen as yet, and it has always cast the same spell.

Omar Sharif and Julie Christie seem perfectly cast as Zhivago and his true love Lara. So it’s strange to read in the TCM article on the film that director David Lean originally wanted to cast Peter O’Toole as Zhivago, after working with him on ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Although O’Toole was a great actor, I can’t quite imagine him giving the understated performance that Sharif gives, constantly watching others and reacting to them. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Batman’s arch-nemesis the Joker was based on the lugubrious and sinister physiognomy of German actor Conrad Veidt, who played the titular character in Paul Leni’s 1928 silent masterpiece The Man Who Laughs.  Batman creator Bob Kane confirmed this and further opined that Cesar Romero’s 1960’s original series incarnation most compellingly aped the Gwynpaine character from the silent film, much as the lead character in Roland West’s The Bat (1926) had inspired the look of Batman himself.

Leni’s film was based on Victor-Marie Hugo’s L’Homme Qui Rit – which was perennially regarded as one of the prolific and towering author’s lesser works.  In France it was significantly less popular than Notre Dame de Paris (1831) and Les Miserables (1862), in part because Hugo had sought to exploit some unusual trends among 17th Century royalty, leading to him to set “‘Homme Qui Rit (The Man Who Laughs) in England instead of France – a move that alienated a good part of the French readership.  It was hoped the tortured and deformed soul of the book’s title, much like the grotesque Quasimodo in Hunchback, would win audience empathy.  In the end the specter of the evil Comprachicos could not match birth deformity in audience sympathy.  Still, The Man Who Laughs came to be seen as one of the cinema’s great masterworks, easily trumping any of the multiple film versions of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. (more…)

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

I always like it when awarding organizations get it right, and when the Big Three of the Western film world—AMPAS, the Golden Globes, and the Cannes Film Festival—named Marcel Camus’ Black Orpheus (1959) Best Foreign-Language Film, Best Foreign Film, and Palme d’Or winner, respectively, they most certainly got it right. This Brazilian/French/Italian coproduction reimagines the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a doomed romance between descendants of freed black slaves in the hillside favelas (shantytowns) surrounding Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. In doing so, Black Orpheus connects this pre-Christian story with the Christian Passion in a place watched over by a giant figure of Christ.

The title card shows a Greek frieze from antiquity into which the figures of Orpheus and Eurydice have been chiseled. Then we are plunged immediately into a favela readying itself for Carnival. Musicians in bright, satin costumes create a pulsing African beat to which the townspeople sway, even women carrying large bundles of laundry on their heads. Soon the music gives way to the quieter rhythms of village life, scored by Luiz Bonfá—specifically, “Manhã de Carnaval,” which becomes the running theme song of the movie. We meet a smiling Serafina (Léa Garcia) watching two boys, Benedito (Jorge dos Santos) and Zeca (Aurino Cassiano), flying kites. The arrival of a streetcar pulls us into the plot. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The summer continues to hold to temperatures in the lower to mid 80’s in the New York City area, but all things together this is a blessing – in past years we’ve had much worse.  For me it’s been an uncomfortable week, what with a persistent sore throat preventing me from having all that much fun.  In any case the Romantic Countdown continues, and will be moving in the 30’s this week.  Incredible, when you consider it seemed like yesterday when it launched.  As announced on previous MMD’s the projected final date for the unveiling of the Number 1 film will be on October 6th.

In the meantime we move closer and closer to September and the beginning of yet another new school year.  We are not sure what we have lined up for the coming weeks aside from a few screenings of the Classics of Polish Cinema  series (vigorously promoted by Martin Scorsese and reviewed at FoF by Marilyn Ferdinand) in Philadelphia.  It appears that Lucille and I will be making at least two trips there, and one -on Wednesday, March 20th to see Pharaoh will involve a family ride there with the entire brood and a family friend.  If things work out I will also see Eroica and Night Train and one or two others.  The plans are all tentative.


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