Archive for April, 2015


 © 2015 by James Clark

      Mastery comes in many forms. A few nights ago we were rocked by a master at work, namely DeMar DeRozan. Who?! That night he put on a show the value of which could be doubted—but only by the blind. Professional basketball isn’t often included in avant-garde questions; nor, for that matter, are the films of Michael Mann. But let’s see if we can move the ball into that “new unknown” so palpably in the air but so hard to take seriously.

DeRozan’s righting that night a Raptor ship that had for weeks resembled a suicide/terror affair ineluctably headed for a murderous obstacle was a vivid case of shaking off protracted depressive blahs. The first 8 or 9 minutes our man of the moment was dogged but middling and generally easily squelched by a very good Houston Rockets quintet. His body language was more on the register of desperation than self-possessed poetry. But thereabouts the real DeMar smashed through that cockpit barrier and the sky became the limit. Kinetic dimensions of agility and authority (offensive and defensive) began to eclipse the ubiquitous and never-ending rock soundtrack rather mechanically groping for pizzazz. There was, for all to see (and possibly retain), a stunning enactment of self-control and precision lifting the proceedings to not only a fun victory but a fund of well-being going way beyond the NBA. (Pressed to play with few breaks, near the end of the game his now-exhausted performance became ragged—even free throws were missed, very rare for him. But a clinching 3-pointer in the last minute—he suspended in space, at one again with elementary particles—gave us to understand something unusual about the imperative of guts.

Whereas De Rozan’s patter in the post-game interview was standard jock taciturnity, the live-wires in Michael Mann’s Heat (1995), putting all their might into both career-level performance and careerist travesties, are seldom at a loss to articulate (for better or worse) a world-view so far from the optics and sonics of the history of planet Earth and yet deemed to be so necessary. A figure in that theatre of very big migration, master criminal, Neil McCauley, intones—almost in the function of a Zen chant—“Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel heat around the corner.” He flashes this proud shocker of a maxim (a sort of steroid-enhanced version of the old trench coat guy who would whip open his garb to reveal naughty pictures) in our presence on a couple of occasions. But I think the entryway to that self-serving bravado beckons to us during the instance of his right-hand man, Chris, being distraught and put off his game by conflict with his wife about his crime and gambling obsessions. Here Neil not only whips out the ruthless loner vision, but refers to it as having been the brainchild of another transgressor, Jimmy McIlrain. Chris had declared with good-old-boy sentiment (almost as if he were in the maelstrom of the actress [Ashley Judd] portraying his wife, Charlene, an implication in the country-western Judd franchise), “To me the sun rises and sets for her…” Thus, in such multiple setting in relief of an instinct to ape perhaps dubious players we are provided a means of fathoming this film’s in fact remarkable multi-media disclosure and coup. (more…)


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by Sam Juliano

Eleven days of glorious Tribeca madness, and the 2015 installment of this exceedingly popular Big Apple venue has concluded.  Lucille and I did have a whale of a time, even though our stamina took a major hit.  We watched a total of thirty-six (36) feature length films with this final weekend of five-six-five proving the most frantic sequence of all.  But in reality the festival is not quite over, when you consider that four or five of the Tribeca films I had wanted to see but couldn’t quite work them into an already wall to wall schedule  engineered around my full time teaching position, are now playing at the nearby Montclair Film Festival that is set to launch this coming Friday.  I have every intention of seeing the likes of Jackrabbit, Slow West, Dream/Killer, (T) error, and perhaps The Armour of Light and Kurt Cobain: the Montage of Heck over the first several days of the festival.  I will then be able to complete my “Best Films of Tribeca” post by next Monday.  With a doctor’s confirmation that I have a torn miniscus in my left knee, I know now the source of all my discomfort and pain over the last few months.  This issue will require orthroscopic surgery, but not until sometime in mid-May,m as I have a three-day Washington D.C. trip with the school set to go on May 6th.  I will resquire a shot of cortisone for the trip.

The Tribeca Festival included many highlights, but none more thrilling than meeting and shaking hands with Monty Python icon John Cleese and the rest of the troupe after a screening of The Life of Brian and before the presentation of the splendid documentary Monty Python: The Meaning of Live.  To futher the celebrity glee, we sat on the next table to the troupe at a Chealsea Restaurant.  This year’s Festival was a most impressive one artistically, and the star ratings and subsequent ‘Best Of’ post will reflect this happy re-cap.

The Festival for the most part was staged in three places: the sprawling Regal Cinemas near the World Trade Center, the Bow-Tie Cinemas on 23rd Street, and the SVA Theatre down the block from the Bow-Tie.  For a number of reasons the 23rd Street location were vastly preferred, but still we took in several vital films at the Regal, which does boast excellent screens and seating. (more…)

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terayama 2

by Allan Fish

(Japan 1971 120m) not on DVD

Aka. Sho o suteyo mchi e deyou

Goodbye cinema

p  Eiko Kujo, Shuji Terayama  d/w  Shuji Terayama  ph  Masayoshi Sukita  ed  Keiichi Uraoka  m  Kuni Kawachi, Ichiro Araki, Itsuro Shimoda, J.A.Seazer  art  Seiichi Hayashi

Hideaki Sasaki (boy), Masahiro Saito (his father), Yukiko Kobayashi (Setsuko, his sister), Fudeko Tanaka (his grandmother), Sei Hirazumi (football captain), Keiko Nitaka (Midori, the prostitute), Maki Asakawa (other prostitute), Akihiro Miwa (Maya at the hell),

Considering my general love of Japanese film, I have to admit there are some directors whose films have not had the impact on me they might have had.  Take a look through the fortunate selected films here and you will find nothing by Kei Kumai, by Kazuhiko Hasegawa, Juzo Itami, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takeshi Kitano, Koichi Saito, Yoshitaro Nomura or, perhaps most shamefully of all, by Yoji Yamada.  Some of them I have admired individual films, but not to the level required for admittance, and in some cases admit it’s probably a deficiency on my part, not theirs.  (more…)

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Screen grab from superb and exhilarating Italian documentary “Palio”

king jack

Capture from excellent American youth drama about bullying, KING JACK.


Capture from extraordinary Japanese documentary “The Birth of Sake”

by Sam Juliano

The 2015 installment of the Tribeca Film Festival has been moved in good measure downtown to the Regal Battery Park Cinemas directly across West Street from the majestic new Freedom Tower on the World Trade Center grounds in order to conform to the original specifications of the event’s founders.  Yet, the old reliable 23rd Street Bow-Tie Cinemas and the School of Visual Arts Theater on 23rd Street are still hosting about 35 to 40% of the screenings, and it is at that location Lucille and I have done the lion’s share of our viewings.  The downtown Regal is a beautiful place for sure, but for matters of parking, dining variety, accessibility and general convenience it cannot remotely compare to the 23rd Street theaters.   The walking at Regal is prohibitive, and I am nursing what appears to be a slight misiscus tear on my left knee.  Lucille and I managed ten (10) feature films in the first four days of the fest -Thursday night through Sunday- and my report is generally a most favorable one.  But more on that and my star ratings in a bit.  The rest of the festival (including tonight) will come down to eighteen (18) more films over the next seven days, as well as an acquired screener of the Tribeca film Good Kills, and a theatrical viewing at the IFC Film center on the day after of the festival ends of the Kurt Cobain documentary, which will bring the grand total to thirty (30).  Last year I saw around 51, but I really wanted to get through this year’s festival without collapsing from exhaustion, so we set up a manageable itinerary.  As it is I have made sure to include all the perceived ‘must-sees’ according to many in the know.  There could well be a few last minute changes with the schedule as well. (more…)

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hos 4

by Allan Fish

(UK 2008-2009 590m) DVD2

The spirit of Calgacus

p  Richard Downes, Tim Niel, Sarah Barclay, Clara Glynn  d  Tim Niel, Andrew Downes, Sarah Barclay, Clara Glynn, Bill MacLeod  w  Neil Oliver  ph  Neville Kidd  ed  Jonathan Seal  m  Paul Leonard-Morgan  art  Ewen Duncan  presented by  Neil Oliver

Considering the reputation of British television documentaries dealing with history, art and/or politics worldwide, it may seem unthinkable that a time may come when those series would be a thing of the past.  John Romer has been retired from the screen for over a decade, while David Starkey, Simon Schama and Michael Wood now qualify as pensioners.  We’re reliant on a new generation of presenters to take their place.  Only a year or so ago, I remember Neil Oliver tweeting that whoever took the presenting of a remake of Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation, as had been mooted, would be receiving a poisoned chalice.  Only someone sensible enough to refuse the offer to be considered.  (more…)

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© 2015 by James Clark

      True to form, Paul Thomas Anderson’s screenplay and production of The Master (2012) powers away in a foreground that seems all about personal gain and prestige while investing heavily in shadings which put to shame all semblances of Yankee sweat and know-how. But still we must touch upon this almost Wellesian melodrama from a unique perspective. This peculiarity derives from the narrative’s being suffused with the actions of a purveyor of what is purported to be unprecedented enlightenment. A filmmaker of such fare (and those further conveying the fare in the spirit of radical discovery) cannot but find that very daunting communicative singularities swirl up when such a cast of characters comes on board. It’s one thing to run circles around oil tycoons, cops and robbers, folk singers, show girls and the like. But a figure like this film’s Lancaster Dodd, a go-getter about reconfigurating sensibility and the cosmos for one and all, treads painfully close to dilemmas, if not imperilling, making monstrously complicated the very substance of a film like that and a commentary like this.

It’s never, to reiterate, such a problem when protagonists flounder in roles having no direct relation to the very fabric of the film project. Painter, William Turner’s foibles, in Mr. Turner, could never apply real heat to Mike Leigh’s procedures as a contemporary filmmaker. Robber Neil and cop Vince in Heat would, despite being closet metaphysicians, say nothing about Michael Mann’s métier (a subject for the near future). But when Dodd, with his prep-school good bones and patrician patina holding forth in an Upper East Side salon in the form of inducing a once-upon-a-time deb to pursue a reverie (“I think I was a man…”/ “Laughing is good…”), comes to be interrupted (in his homily about “spirit”) by another prep-school grad who declares, “Some of this sounds like hypnotism… I still find it difficult to see the proof with regard to past lives… You claim to be able to cure leukemia… This seems to be about the will of one man… a cult,” the skepticism also beams out to the argument-averse disclosures of the heart of Anderson’s project. The Ivy League voice of venerable rationality goes on, in his debating-team-rhetorical-points-leader form, “I’m sorry you’re not able to defend your ideas.” That’s trouble for Dodd (Dud?); but it’s also trouble for Anderson (and me; and anyone else who comprehends that, as all of alert reflection in art, science and design over the past hundred or so years has discovered, there are areas of disclosure that go far beyond classical intellection). And The Master is first and foremost about the exposure of far more sophisticated rebellion never being a hot ticket where big ticket classical training and capitalization (advantage) comprise a rock-solid cult. (For all his inchoate sense of a time ripe for change, the tenets of Lancaster’s vision [heard in one of his indoctrination labs] are as obsolete as the airplane the name of which he’s tagged with: “Every man back to his inherent state of perfect. Man is not an animal. We are far above that crowd. We are spirits. It is not only possible, it is easily achieved…”) (more…)

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trapped 4

by Sam Juliano

The team that dazzled picture book aficionados with last year’s Edward Hopper Paints His World, and a series of other non-fiction titles over the years have again collaborated on a splendid work based on an actual event.  Robert Burleigh and Wendell Minor’s engaging documentation results in a breathtaking rescue story that yields the same kind of crowd-pleasing denouement that made Jerry Pinkney’s Caldecott Medal winner The Lion and the Mouse so unforgettable.  Burleigh’s narrative follows the food-seeking journey of the largest mammal on the earth from the icy waters of the arctic to coastal California, where the hump back whale is after a massive volume of krill.  Burleigh’s exclamatory descriptive language (i.e. “She spanks the cold blue with her powerful tail, Bang!; Down in the depths, her call echoes.”) is perfectly wed with Minor’s magnificent aquamarine gouache paintings.

The event, as described in a “Behind the Story” afterward occurred on December 11, 2005, when fisherman detected a hump back whale struggling to free itself from rope entanglement near the coast of San Francisco.  Quick notification was sent on to whale specialists and rescue divers, who then performed aquatic miracles in averting a tragedy, but for the endangered mammal and the would-be human saviors it was a tenuous and harrowing episode that from the start posed an enormous risk.  The crisis is laid out in compelling terms by Burleigh:

The whale feels the tickle of thin threads/She plunges on./She tosses.  She spirals sideways as spidery lines tighten around her./The struggle begins./The web of ropes cuts into her skin.  She flails, starts to sink, fights for sir. (more…)

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max-45664 (1)

Neil Oliver of “The History of Scotland”

by Sam Juliano

The 2015 edition of the Tribeca Film Festival will be staged at three Manhattan locations from Thursday, April 15 to Sunday, the 26.  For the fourth consecutive year, Wonders in the Dark will be covering the event, armed with the usual pair of press badges, that will get us into to any and all of the screenings.  Lucille and I will be in overdrive, though I really don’t envision anything like last year, when I somehow managed 52 films in eleven (11) days.  I see a more relaxed pace this time around.  In addition to the normal Bow-Tie Cinemas and SVA Theatres on 23rd Street, the venue will for the first time include the Regal Cinemas complex near the World Trade Center.  In fact, that location will be hosting the majority of the showings.  I am just now trying to put all the pieces together, but no doubt I won’t know for sureuntil Wednesday afternoon.  I plan on covering the event on the next two weekly MMD’s.

Due to e mail requests from a few of the regulars, the Greatest Childhood Films countdown will be starting a few weeks later than originally planned.  Ballots should now be sent in from May 15th till May 25th, with a June 1st launching of the countdown, after the results are tabulated by Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr.

Lucille  and I saw one film in the theater this week, though at-home viewings occupied us for many hours as I will note below: (more…)

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fanfare 1

by Allan Fish

(Netherlands 1958 86m) not on DVD

13 against 12

p  Rudolf Meyer  d  Bert Haanstra  story  Jan Blokker, Bert Haanstra  ph  Eduard van  der Enden  ed  Ralph Sheldon, Bert Haanstraa  m  Jan Mul  art  Nico van Baarle  cos  Hanka Roeloffsen

Hans Kaart (Geursen), Bernard Droog (Krijns), Ineke Brinkman (Marije), Wim van den Heuwel (Douwe), Andrea Domberg (Lies), Albert Mol (Schalm), Ton Lutz (Altena), Herbert Joeks (Koendering), Henk van Buuren (Valentijn), Johan Valk (Van Ogten), Jan Mol (Hulpje van Geursen),

When The Ladykillers finally issued in the end of the Ealing comedy cycle in the mid-fifties and British film comedy turned to the Boultiing brothers’ satires and the Carry On farces, it was always likely that their flag would be taken up elsewhere.  Most obviously their influence can be seen in the whimsical comedies of the Czech new wave – imagine the various comic masterpieces of Vojtech Jasny, Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel had Michael Balcon’s celebrated cottage film studios not been there before.  Owing more to Ealing than any of those Bohemian classics, however, was a film from the Netherlands by a director of documentaries, Bert Haanstra, making his first fictional feature. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1973 300m) not on DVD

For all the Mrs Fiddymonts in the world

p  Paul Bonner, Leonard Lewis  d  David Wickes, Gilchrist Calder, Leonard Lewis  w  Elwyn Johns, John Lloyd

Stratford Johns (Det.Chief.Supt.Barlow), Frank Windsor (Det.Chief.Supt.Watt), Gordon Christie (Abberline), Hilary Sesta (Catherine Eddowes), Basil Henson (Charles Warren),

Just type ‘Jack the Ripper’ into Youtube’s search engine and stare into the abyss; dozens of videos of all kinds, from Screaming Lord Sutch to video phone recordings of Ripper walks to video game menus, plus a host of documentaries on various suspects.  None run longer than an hour and a half, and all look into the matter in such cursory detail as to make one wonder why no-one has had the idea to look into the events properly.  The main reason, naturally, is that the myth is always preferable to the facts, and any documentaries shown on TV on the subject these days assume the attention span of the viewer to equate to that of a gnat, and are often about new suspects where the evidence has been selected to fit the suspect rather than the traditional reverse of this process.  (more…)

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