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Archive for September, 2014

12. Annie Hall (1977)

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By Dean Treadway 

Even after watching it literally a hundred times, I still feel a sense of surprise when Annie Hall begins. It happens almost immediately, despite those regal white-on-black credits that’ve appeared in the same font (Windsor) before every Woody Allen film since. It’s the silence, actually, that messes me up. There’s no wild or even silky jazz accompaniment. The brilliant cast isn’t paraded before us. Woody Allen’s name isn’t mentioned until the final cards; instead, after the title and the producers (Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe), the editor Ralph Rosenblum gets the first credit (and rightfully so, as would later be revealed; without Rosenblum, Annie Hall would definitely not be the movie it is). And then there that is that first visage of Woody, standing alone against a reddish-brown background I always misremember as being grey. I also, over and over again, am shocked by how in-your-face his confessional here is. He appears absurdly close to us in his tweed jacket over a red flannel shirt, with those black glasses framing totally confident yet self-effacing eyes He’s completely himself, or at least completely the smart and not showy fellow he wants us to think he is. His opening monologue feels absolutely off the cuff, and in 1977, it took us all aback, even though nearly no single celebrity had spent so much time in front of audiences confessing his shortest of shortcomings as Allen had. I think it’s this: No audience is ever prepared to see another Charlie Chaplin or Orson Welles, especially one in such a nebbishy package. This was something wholly stunning: (more…)

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Eternal3

by Jaimie Grijalba

When I first saw this film, directed by Michel Gondry, I thought that it was an ok film, as I was influenced by some other people who knew it and loved it. Those people hyped it beyond any reasoning and made me weary of liking it, as they were so obsessed with it, that they thought the message of the film was something completely different than was originally intended.

People obsessed with film are all over the world, and they are kind folk, the internet community can come together to honor a filmmaker, an actor, cry and laugh together. Like Wonders, a gorgeous community of people obsessed with film, that talk through comments and pieces about every element of films, and maybe this romantic countdown has been one of the most impressive in regards of participation and how passionate people have been defending the films they like. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Ridgefield Park Rialto closed its doors on June 13, 2008.  This local institution was the last single screen theater in Bergen County, New Jersey, and the only one in that domain that had shown art house movies.  Opening in 1927 as a vaudeville showcase, it was soon enough transformed to a movie house in the late 30’s, and was purchased in the 70’s by a single owner.  That same person held ownership with his daughter all the way to the final days, showing mainstream fare until the mid 90’s, then catering to the Indian community for Bollywood features until 2001 when the schedule was comprised exclusively of foreign language and independent films.  The experiment yielded mixed results, though there were times when the 600 seat auditorium sold out, if the film was an appealing one.  The inevitable cessation of operations signified the end of an era, and left bewildered customers waxing lyrical about their own personal stories related to their attendance at the venerable institution.  The common lamentations were along the line that larger multiplexes had made it financially incompatible for the smaller operators to earn their keep, and equipment had become antiquated.  In any case the closing of the theater was an emotional time for workers and customers, and it had some regulars scurrying for souvenirs that included posters, marquee letters and actual seats that were unscrewed from the floor by employees.  Any token, big or small would provide some tangible physical evidence well into the future of   a place that helped formulate dreams and escape, a movie house mecca that in the end that left a more lasting impression than even the splendid product it served up to the public. (more…)

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Last-Year-Marienbad-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      The intricacies of Anton Corbijn’s film, A Most Wanted Man (2014), come down, it seems to me, to the readily ignored grace note of solitude. (For that matter, Jonathan Glazer’s Birth [2004] also exposes that elusive treasure.) In the Corbijn film it is only intimated by the disaster in its absence and the rumor of its presence in the sailing we hear about (once) but never see. On having, over the past four years, gathered together what sometimes seems to be a filmic mountain of exigencies painfully including that possibility of quiet, I think it is time to pay specific attention to three films from the dawn of contrarian go-for-broke, quite well-known but not widely enough cherished for their daring—namely, Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura (1960), Alain Resnais and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) and Marguerite Duras’ India Song (1975). Generally understood as instances of a filmic tsunami of ennui and distemper triggered by a World War palpably obviating the allure of the kind of heroics which had served for so long as a cogent grace note, the choreographic imperatives of those hugely alienated creations have been substantively overlooked—in itself a powerful revelation of the hardness of the crisis they address. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.

The idea was to honor the Bard’s own vision of teenagers playing the parts of his eternally popular play about the star crossed lovers.  The two leads in the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet were chosen for their physical beauty, not for any special or proven acting prowess.  In fact the performances are far more affecting because they are natural, delivered without dramatic ostentation.  The director, Franco Zeffirelli, put the cart before the horse, confident in his own ability to turn his lead players into Shakespearean thespians.  The end result was a wildly successful film version that at the time eclipsed any film version of the author’s plays in popularity by quite some distance.  Forty-six years later it still holds poll position, and remains the odds-on choice of educators aiming to supplement study of the play with a worthy film adaptation.  The film was made during the heyday of the golden reign of youth and the hippie era.  Rumor in fact has it that Zeffirelli came within a hair of convincing Paul McCartney to play the lead. An extensive talent search yielded the hiring of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, two extraordinarily attractive actors who imbue their roles with a physical intensity of first love, the kind of love that only those who have experienced it can fully decipher.  Hence there is an innocence, purity and lack of self-awareness to these performances that make them far more affecting than could have been negotiated by older actors with proven credentials.  The film’s lovemaking scenes are charged with eroticism, and there is some nudity in a bedroom scene (that at the time was considered scandalous for a PG movie) to bring consummation to the romance.  Throughout the film the lovers endlessly embrace, kiss and neck far more than in any other version based on the play, and this propensity has interestingly brought into question whether the love would morph into a union of permanence or whether this is just the hormonal awakening of teenagers.  Obviously the right answer is the latter contention, but it is fully consistent with the manner in which Romeo and Juliet are shown in the play.  They are rash, impulsive, oblivious to the consequences of their actions and blind to everything around them save for the burning flames inside them.  Some would like to believe their love is epic and definitive, immortalized as it is through suicide, and borne from the mutual hatred of their brethren, but what we have are two people stung by Cupid’s Bow, helpless to temper their incomparable potent youthful passions.  Romeo and Juliet is not an idealized romance, but rather a cautionary tale about the dire consequences of recklessness, partially facilitated by unfortunate timing and the intrusion of fate. (more…)

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Jeremy poses with the great illustrator/painter Wendell Minor, with two of his supreme masterpieces, GALAPAGOS GEORGE and EDWARD HOPPER PAINTS HIS WORLD, both remarkable released during 2014. (At Bankstreet Bookstore in Manhattan).

by Sam Juliano

Time marches on.  Mid-September and moving closer to autumn.  Nothing too extreme weather-wise over the last week in the vicinity of the Big Apple, though it does appear that even so much as a wind breaker is still some time away.  But like everything else that scenario can change in a heart beat.  Here at Wonders in the Dark it is business as usual.  The long-running Greatest Romantic Films Countdown has entered the final leg, with the Top 15 set to post starting tomorrow.  Certainly the quality of the reviews over the past week has basically matched some of the great stuff we’ve seen here in previous weeks.  What with everyone on their best behavior the site is honored to have received some of the finest writings the esteemed authors have yet composed.  True, the comment and page view totals have dropped – this has been obvious throughout – but this has more to do with the general downtrend of blogsites, all of which have taken a major hit from the likes of Facebook and Twitter.  As many here will recall the most successful countdown (or any project for that matter) at this site was the Greatest Musical Films Countdown of 2011.  That 70 Film survey not only attracted some of the greatest film writing I have ever laid eyes on, but also the most spectacular comment totals ever recorded here.  Numerous posts amassed well over 200 comments, which a bunch of others pulled in over 100.  But numbers by themselves don’t add up to much – it was the quality and the passion of the responses that made them so memorable.  A dash of contentiousness also added some color to the proceedings.  In any case, Wonders in the Dark also scored big with the Greatest Comedy Films Countdown and the Greatest Westerns Film Countdown, even if both showed a progressive downward trend.  The community aspect of the site is still thriving -certainly well ahead of the life support that taken some less fortunate blogs over the past year.  In behalf of the site’s writing staff I want to thank all those who continue to read, leave likes and comments under all the latest posts.  This is alas, our life’s blood.

Specifically I want to take this opportunity to salute Jon Warner, John Grant, Frank Gallo, John Greco, Pierre de Plume, Jim Clark, Peter M., Judy Geater, Sachin Gandhi, Pat Perry,  Jeffrey Goodman, Duane Porter, Tony d’Ambra, Laurie Buchanan, Dee Dee, Jeff Stroud, Celeste Fenster, Maurizio Roca,  Robert Tower, Jaimie Grijalba,  Dean Treadway, Tim McCoy, Marilyn Ferdinand, David Noack, Karen, Joel Bocko, Ricky, Mark Sadler, Margaret B., JacquiWine, Ed Howard, Brandie Ashe, J.D. Lafrance, Stephen Mullen,  Shubhajit Lahiri, Mark Smith, Terrill Welch, David Schleicher, Anubavkist, Pedro Silva, Broadway Bob Eagleson, Mike Norton, Lucille Juliano, Melanie Juliano, John R. Thom Hickey, smallwoodryan, girlsdofilm, Giovanni Battista, Diana and Allan Fish for their essays, their comments and their “likes,” or any combinations of those.  51 reasons to celebrate!!!  If I have missed someone who may have left a comment or a like or several in fact, please accept my apology.  I have done my best to look back at every single review and corresponding comment section, but I am no longer as sharp as I once might have been.  Ha! (more…)

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allthatheavenallows

by Ed Howard

By now, the plot of Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows should be very familiar, considering it has been adapted for both Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul and Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven. It’s the story of the lonely widow Cary (Jane Wyman), who falls in love with her younger gardener Ron (Rock Hudson), and plans to marry him despite the differences in age and social class which put external pressures on the relationship. As a satire of upper-middle-class pettiness and hypocrisy, it occasionally lays it on too thick, a hallmark of Sirk’s work that nevertheless contributes to his satire’s biting wit. As the gossip and snarky jokes and open disapproval of Cary’s friends, neighbors, and even children begin to weigh on her, the relationship seems less and less stable or possible. Sirk’s portrayal of these ungenerous souls is unremittingly caustic, with a devastatingly sharp satirical eye that never fails to capture the bitchiness and jealousy hidden beneath the ever-present phony smiles and friendly banter.

If Sirk’s satirical touch can sometimes be heavy and unsubtle, his visual sense is unfailingly exactly the opposite. Here, his style is most effective in contrasting the harshness of his high society satire with the lush warmth of his visuals, especially in the scenes set at Ron’s country retreat. Ron’s lifestyle evokes the pastoral philosophy of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which is quoted from in one scene. Ron’s true-to-himself philosophy and rugged life, continually in touch with nature, is a stark contrast to the hermetically sealed spaces of Cary’s old-money mansion, her dead husband’s ancestral home and a constant reminder of her widowhood. Her daughter Kay (Gloria Talbott), a social worker who provides some of the film’s funniest comic relief in her straight-faced presentations of Freudian psychobabble, tells her mother about the old, outdated Egyptian custom of entombing the wife with her dead husband so she might enter the afterlife with him. That custom is long gone, the daughter assures her, but Cary isn’t so sure, and with good reason. What is her house but a brightly lit tomb, with her dead husband’s possessions all around her? And the townspeople are only too glad to make sure she stays in this tomb, alone and unhappy, unless of course she decides to marry a socially acceptable man like the much older Harvey (Conrad Nagel), who lacks passion or emotion but offers her at least, in his dry way, “companionship.” (more…)

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18. Harold and Maude (1971)

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By Dean Treadway 

MAUDE: A lot of people enjoy being dead. But they’re not dead, really. They’re just backing away from life. Reach out. Take a chance. Get hurt even. But play as well as you can. Go team, go! Give me an L. Give me an I. Give me a V. Give me an E. L-I-V-E. LIVE! Otherwise, you got nothing to talk about in the locker room.

Rewatching Hal Ashby’s Harold and Maude again for the first time for what must be at least a decade, I’m struck most–in my middle age–by its naivete and glorious youthfulness. With its gorehound death fascination and breathy strivings for an actively-voiced life, it feels like a movie written by a smart, frustrated teenager (screenwriter Colin Higgins penned the piece in his mid-20s while attending Stanford University, studying alongside Taxi Driver screenwriter Paul Schrader). It is a work that assuredly cleaves to simple wisdoms, further seasoned by Ashby’s then-still nascent filmic style (Roger Ebert, who hated the film upon release, slammed it for not having a visual sense, but I strongly disagree; it’s the first of Ashby’s works sporting a creative, even meticulously designed look). To go even further–way further–I don’t think it’s out of order to declare Harold and Maude one of the most loved movies ever made. Ask anyone who’s seen it and they’ll tell you it’s among their favorites. Lots of guys adore it but women, especially, seem to respond remarkably to its charm (when I worked at video stores, 9 times out of 10 when the film was being rented, it was by a woman, and most likely one going back for seconds or thirds). I’m not usually one to react favorably to unassailably popular movies, but this is one I firmly stand behind. Even today, I see a lot of what is admired in, say, Wes Anderson’s work as totally dependent on this film both in style and emotion.

As a kid, after years of hearing about it, I pretty much fell into an immediate crush on Harold and Maude. I can easily flash back to my first time seeing it, 14 years old circa 1981, at Atlanta GA’s now-defunct Rhodes Theater. I remember the look of the deep red velvet chairs in the theater auditorium being mirrored by the warm browns and reds of Hal Ashby’s sly opening sequence, set to the first of Cat Stevens’ many contributions to the soundtrack, the gentle and ultimately vociferous “Don’t Be Shy.” I remember the vaguely cola-tinged smell of the theater, and feeling disturbed that Ashby and cinematographer John Alonzo chose not to reveal Harold’s face until way deep into its its oddly-paced, strangely-framed single-shot opening (Harold isn’t seen until he suitably blows out a match). Meanwhile, Cat Stevens’ work had long been a staple on our turntable at home, thanks to his Greatest Hits record, so hearing his voice so brilliantly used throughout must have made full impact on my rather instant love for this film (Stevens’ creaky vocal style is unmistakable). Years later, after I had tried to hunt down a soundtrack to no avail, I finally realized watching Harold and Maude was the only way I would ever hear some of these tunes (“Don’t Be Shy” and “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” were written specifically for the film, and a soundtrack has now been properly compiled here; I’m dismayed that Stevens wasn’t nearly well enough considered for the Best Song Oscar in 1971).  (more…)

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By Jon Warner

 

Back in college I got a film recommendation from a very dear friend of mine. She talked admiringly about a film that she said was basically, “two people talking and walking around the whole movie”. Before Sunrise is that…..and oh so much more. I think back on that initial viewing and recall the freshness and genuineness that the film spoke to. It was a film that held me in its romantic grip like very few films ever have. Throughout the last 20 years, this work and it’s sequels have come to gather additional weight and impact with the passing of time. As the real-time examination of a long-term bond between two people has played out, The Before Trilogy is one of the most significant film achievements of its time. In many ways, I admire each film of the trilogy for different reasons. I have passed on a love for these films to others…..my sister loves them and my wife adores them as well. In fact, both my wife and I have seen the last 2 films in theaters together, and have continually held each of these films dearly to us. If pressed into a decision, I must say that the original, Before Sunrise, is my favorite and can stand alone all by itself. It is a fully self-contained work that doesn’t necessarily need the other two films for immediate impact. Additional resonances are and insights are to be found when discussing the trilogy, but this review will focus specifically on Before Sunrise alone.

 

Before Sunrise is a film about talking and listening, of profound discussions of life, death, and love, and a relationship that is born, blossoms, and within the context of this film alone……closes within 24 hours. We’re introduced to Celine (Julie Delpy), a Parisian, on a train in Europe. She is reading a book in her seat, but is bothered by the arguing couple next to her. She picks up her stuff and moves to the back of the car and sits down on the seat across from a guy named Jesse (Ethan Hawke). He and she notice each other. He strikes up a conversation with her. This conversation will last for something like the next 24 hours. They flirt and make small talk. Then, suddenly, he convinces her to get off the train with him in Vienna where he needs to catch a flight back home, instead of her continuing on to Paris, which is her final destination. They both realize the next day they will part ways, but in between they take a spontaneous chance to see what happens. They spend the entire day, night, and next morning talking, listening, and falling in love. When he asks her to go with him to Vienna, there is no risk to him. He’s got nothing to lose. Celine’s acceptance of the improvised moment, to leave the train with Jesse, is her leap of faith to accept his trust without question. Their timid and awkward first moments after getting off the train soon lead to letting their guards down, to sharing their inner beliefs and dreams, leading to undeniably romantic passages of the film as they realize they might be each other’s soul mates. Linklater’s technique doesn’t artificially trump-up the romance or create a voyeuristic sense of preoccupation for the audience. These two are awkward with each other and don’t always have the right answers. But we feel that Celine and Jesse earn each other’s trust because they are generally interested in each other as equals. This is all done through patience and observing human nature as it unfolds: jokes to break the ice, tentatively giving complements to the other, being respectful of the situation and not taking advantage of the other. (more…)

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jules-and-jim-1

 © 2014 by James Clark

      Jules and Jim (1962) is a staple of the French New Wave and thereby we brace ourselves for a monsoon of flip self-congratulation. In doing so, however, we should not close the door on valuable surprises.

The prime mover of this filmic flare-up, Francois Truffaut, turns out to be, even by movie standards, very volatile. We might best clarify our concern here by noting a moment from the DVS’s supplementary programming. The man who coined “auteur” (only to have a posse of such colleagues outstrip his daring and lucidity) is giving a TV interview whereby he wants to maintain, to a not fully won-over host, that his film is all about “two wonderful men and a wonderful woman.” After flashing a quietly smug smile at the recollection of how thrilled was the novelist, Henri-Pierre Roche, to have his original version of the narrative forming the prototype for the film, Truffaut proceeds to assure us that the questionably odd fusion of moods he brings our way is absolutely true to the writer’s purpose. Here is the helmsman’s rendition of the heart of Roche’s autobiographical work, an account which a perusal of the original writing would clearly contradict. “This story, with its shocking situation, is never scandalous or indulgent, because it is a tale about morality. But this morality doesn’t come from the outside world. It’s invented by the characters as they go. And never out of self-indulgence, but out of necessity… All this must have been very painful back then. Yet fifty years later, it enchants him…” Under further questioning, the ingratiating man of the hour warns us not “to believe it too strongly… It had to be filmed like an old photo album…” (more…)

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