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Archive for August, 2015

shane1

by Jon Warner

Note:  This is a slight revision of Jon Warner’s western countdown review of the film posted last summer at WitD.  It is unquestionably one of the author’s grandest essays and is again offered up here to readers.

There are westerns with greater size and scope (The Searchers). There are westerns that are more taut and suspenseful (High Noon). There are westerns that are more pure (Seven Men From Now) and filled with more psychological depth (The Naked Spur). But there is no other western that is as emotionally resonant as Shane. Weaving throughout its running time is a point of view of a young boy, perhaps not so dissimilar from young boys over the last 150 years or so, brought up first on dime novels and cheap western stories and then eventually silent films and the boom of Hollywood cinema, pushing a brand of western and selling a mythology that continued to further the daydreams of millions of youth across this nation. I too fall into that group. I can remember playing in the backyard with my brother when we were kids growing up in the 80’s. Inevitably we would end up playing cowboys and Indians or some sort of old west themed adventure, utilizing things we’d picked up in movies, tv, and books in order to build a repertoire of dialogue and action, that in our minds resembled some sort of reality, when in fact we were recalling a western mythology, and even though this mythology has basis in reality, it became larger than life through stories and lore that were told and retold generation upon generation. Shane is in fact a film about the mythology itself, taking an examination of our western hero worship and adding incredibly rich layers of emotion which remain remarkably effective in their ability to maintain an honest sweep, unchallenged by any other film in the genre, with everything seemingly put together to achieve a definitive emotional arc.

Taking Jack Shaeffer’s novel “Shane” from 1949 and improving it for the screen, was director George Stevens and screenwriter A.B. Guthrie Jr. The plot actually resembles stories of chivalrous knights in shining armor, roaming the countryside in search of people in need of help. Shane begins at this sort of moment, as a lone gunfighter rides down from the mountains into a valley, where a young boy named Joey Starrett (Brandon De Wilde) is watching him from his family’s farm. Shane meets Joey, and his parents, Joe (Van Heflin) and Marian (Jean Arthur), but before he can be properly welcomed, Joe mistakes him for being part of the Ryker gang, a group of bullies who happen to arrive to Joe’s claim moments later. They charge that the Starret’s land belongs to them. Joe nearly runs Shane off his land. But, Shane senses trouble, hanging around the back of the house as the Rykers catch a glimpse of the mysterious stranger and ride off. Joe realizes his mistake and invites Shane to stay for dinner, and soon asks Shane to stay on as hired help. From the word go, young Joey and Marian are in love with Shane: Joey, idolizing his gun and mannerisms and Marian showing off for Shane, bringing out her fanciest china for dessert and enlivening her femininity. It’s not long before Shane becomes a family favorite and entrenched in the local atmosphere, trading in his white buckskin and gun for farm clothes. This attempt at normalcy for him is continually threatened, as the Rykers to try to push Joe and all the other homesteaders off the land, finally resorting to hiring a cold-blooded gunman out of Cheyenne named Jack Wilson (Jack Palance) to do the dirty work. As one character remarks, “That’s the trouble with this country. There isn’t a lawman for 100 miles.” Joe is soon prodded to come to town one night to meet with Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer), but Shane realizes this is a suicide mission for Joe and comes to grips with the fact that he’s the only one equipped to save the Starretts and the other families in the valley, strapping on his gun and white buckskin, heading into town for a final showdown with Wilson and the Rykers. (more…)

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a-i-21

by Sam Juliano

The idea behind A.I. was originally conceived by Stanley Kubrick, who subsequently entrusted the proposed project to Steven Spielberg.  When Kubrick died suddenly in 1999, his widow successfully persuaded Spielberg to assume complete artistic control of the film, including the direction.  Set in a future time when progress in robotics poses a conceivable menace to the human species, David (Haley Joel Osment), a robotic boy, is the artificial life form who is capable of experiencing love.  As a prototype, he is given to a couple whose real son is mired in what appears to be an irreversible coma.  After a discordant initiation David and his mother bond, at which point the “real” son miraculously awakens from the coma, rejoins to the family, and tricks David into engaging in dangerous things.  The father concludes that they must return the robotic boy to the manufacturer for destruction, but the mother arranges for his escape via abandonment.  For the duration of the film David seeks to be reunited with his mother, and for a time is joined by “Gigolo Joe,” a robot designed to function as a male prostitute.  David becomes frozen I an the ocean, and millennia later–long after the extinction of the human species–robots of the future rescue him and allow him to reunite with his mother for one day that will last in his mind for eternity.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence, fueled by some profound philosophical themes and issues of motherhood, is arguably one of Spielberg’s masterworks, and for this writer it ranks with Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun and E. T. on the short list of the director’s greatest achievements in cinema.  Like the other three, it is extraordinarily moving, and it paints yet again a piercingly provocative view of childhood and of the human condition, tinged with an overwhelming sense of sadness.  The film is based on a short story by Brian Aldiss entitled “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” published in 1969, and it draws considerable influence from Disney’s Pinocchio.  

(more…)

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blackhat-1

 © 2015 by James Clark

      Though it could not be called a pleasure, the other day I was afforded the chance to see Michelangelo Antonioni’s first feature film, Story of a Love Affair (1950). A text-book caution about screen writing by committee, only the architectural, fashion, landscape and industrial designs and control of light were a promise of mastery. The performance roughly based on the American novel and film, The Postman Always Rings Twice, was a non-stop lunge in some kind of mad homage to 19th century melodrama. Fortunately, no one shot him for it, and he went on to produce amazing films.

Next day I started to deal with a film about which any number of critics and viewers seem to believe that shooting the auteur is the only answer, namely, Michael Mann’s Blackhat (2015). The rootless posturing making Antonioni’s debut a lost cause may, however, be a very different thing from the power failures of Blackhat. But to understand the difference one must have done more than detect that most of the players are disappointing wimps, even, to some extent, a square-jawed, sharp-eyed protagonist, Nicholas Hathaway, who enjoys a season of kicking ass. By the time his Blackhat had put in an appearance, Mann had mined a mother lode of dynamical phenomena pertaining to that bad form the experts decry. Rather than howling like myopic puppies, attempting to fathom those disconcerting phenomena staring them right in the face could derive an art work deserving more than inane noise. But it must be acknowledged that “right in the face” can still be a long shot when it comes to tracking down the mysteries of motion. (more…)

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willy_wonka

by Sam Juliano

I first met the future Lucille Mancini Juliano in March of 1991, when she volunteered to assist me in directing a third grade play of Roald Dahl’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at a time when we both worked at the now razed English Neighborhood School in Fairview, New Jersey.  Now one of the district’s three school principals, the then 28 year-old teacher specialized in the neurologically impaired.  When she heard of my plans to feature students from my third-grade class, she readily came aboard as a stage line prompter, and later doubled as coordinator of scenery and props.  The late veteran instructor Marion D. “Mitzi” Steup made it a three-person creative team, imparting her considerable artistic skills by constructing the sets, with able assistance from ‘gifted and talented’ fifth graders.  It’s been upwards of twenty-five years now, but I am reminded of this adventure to this very day, and have a wonderful video of the production for posterity.  320 people crowded into the two story building’s second floor auditorium on a cool Saturday evening to attend the community event, and some had to squeeze into hallway entrances.  A smoke machine was utilized, an intricate sound system allowed the show’s music to blare, and colored lighting helped set the proper mood.  It was an event wrought with intense enthusiasm and devotion, and even included a contentious episode with the Borough’s Board Secretary, who attempted to cancel the show on the very day it was scheduled. Because of the size of the crowd, and some concern over safety as a consequence of the school’s age (80 years) and a failed state report that concluded with pointed orders to the district to make immediate repairs or face a shut down, the event was seen as chancy.  But after I dispatched Mr. Caufield with an angry eviction notice on the staircase, and advised him to leave or I would “physically” remove him, I was publicly supported by the Board of Education’s then president, Mr. Frank Pizzichillo, who attended the production with bells on.  It was a huge success, and one that is fondly remembered by two now-married young men, Eddie Slodiska and Jason Romano, who played Charlie and Willy Wonka, respectively.  Perhaps most importantly, however, it was the fuel that ignited a romance that led to a July, 1995 wedding and a big family.  And all the credit goes to Roald Dahl.  Or does it? (more…)

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the-miracle-worker-anne-bancroft-patty-duke-1962

by Lucille Juliano

Biography, Drama

Director……Arthur Penn

Screenplay…….William Gibson (based on his stage play)

Starring…..Anne Bancroft, Patty Duke, Victor Jory, Inga Swenson, Andrew Prine

The Miracle Worker tells the story of Annie Sullivan’s struggles to teach the blind and deaf Helen Keller how to interact in her world.  Despite this subject matter, Penn does not give into manipulating the viewer’s emotions.  He made the story very realistic.  The use of black and white cinematography adds to the simplicity of the sets and locations.  The background music helps to carry the story to a degree but is quite nonintrusive.  The film draws much of its power from the performances of Anne Bancroft (Annie) and Patty Duke (Helen).

This realistic portrayal features an 8-minute sequence of Annie trying to teach Helen table manners.  Most critics agree that this segment may just be one of the most electrifying and honest sequences ever committed to film.  This is just one example of the physicality of Bancroft and Duke’s performances.  There are many other confrontations between the two throughout the film as Annie and Helen are what you might call spirited.

Annie uses humor, compassion, and a large dose of stubbornness as she deals with Helen’s behavior.  Annie was virtually blind as a child and went through 9 surgeries to regain most of her sight.  Light sensitivity is what remains and causes her to wear tinted lenses.  She grew up in an asylum with her younger crippled brother, which taught her many life lessons.  She attended the Perkin’s School for the Blind in Massachusetts where she gained experience working with the blind and the deaf. (more…)

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G1

G 2

by Sam Juliano

And now when we croon the refrain of the The Happenings’ I’ll See You in September, we can be rest assured that moment is nearly upon us.  Late vacationers are either embarking on their final reprieves or are arriving back home.  Those who count themselves as big fans of the NFL, music and the best part of the movie season have reason to be heartened of the coming months.  Others who just want to feel comfortable when outdoors can dream of the heat going on sabbatical.

The Childhood/Adolescence Films Countdown will be approaching the halfway point this week on Wednesday.  This is very hard to believe as it seems we only started it a few weeks ago.  The page view and comments totals have not broken any site records to be sure (nor have come anywhere close to) but everything is moving forward nicely.  The only mild contentiousness concerning the venture have been voiced behind the scene in e mails among site staff members, and they have nothing to do with the stellar reviews, but rather with opinions as to what should not be considered “childhood” or “adolescent.”  While a few films didn’t not receive endorsement by several, the countdown choices have been and will be largely embraced.  The polling will continue into the middle of October.

Lucille and I saw two new released in the theaters this past week, and I also managed some at-home viewings, two of which were seen several years back.

I escorted my family on a day trip to Gettysburg on Saturday.  The three-and-a-half hour ride was draining, since it had to be repeated later in the night after all the festivities.  We purchased the CD tour set at the Visiting Center gift shop, and followed through to all the battlefield stops and at other historical stations throughout this famed town in south-central Pennsylvania – the place where the bloodiest multi-day battle in American history took place.  The CD was superbly narrated by a historian who gave the tour the proper discussion.  A scorching hot day near 90, but the air conditioned car kept everything comfortable, even with the numerous forays outside during the tour.  We spend a few hours strolling the main street in town, which featured souvenir shops, museums and eateries.  The kids loved the trip, and asked if we could return, since one day is hardly enough to take in everything.  We have tentative plans to return in the fall.  Now I’m itching to re-read James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom and Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox.   (more…)

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shoeshine - Edited

by Richard Finch

We are the people who, in pursuit of our passions, abandon our children to fend for themselves. And our children are alone. All alone.

In the 1940s Vittorio de Sica directed three of the best and most moving films about children ever made—The Children Are Watching Us (1942), Shoeshine (1946), and Bicycle Thieves (1948). In each of these films, children find themselves in a world where the behavior of adults makes little sense to them, where they are powerless to control their own lives, and where they are unable to protect themselves from disappointment and hurt. It’s a sad, mystifying world for children, de Sica seems to be saying, and we adults are too self­ involved to feel their pain and confusion and help them through it.

In Shoeshine two boys, Pasquale and Giuseppe, live in poverty just after the end of the Second World War in Italy, shining shoes for American servicemen to finance their dream, to own a horse. They’ve been making payments on the horse for a while but can’t claim him until they make one large final payment. When Giuseppe’s older brother offers them a way to make part of the money they need for that payment, they jump at the opportunity, even though it involves doing something shady, delivering stolen American blankets to an elderly fortune teller for resale on the black market. While at the apartment, Giuseppe’s brother shows up with two men who identify themselves as policemen. The boys appear to have been set up as pawns in a sting operation but are lucky to escape and are able to keep all the money from the transaction as well, enough to make the final payment on their horse.

The boys are so ecstatic that they spend the night in the stable with their horse, only to find the next day that their good fortune has turned sour. Picked up by the police, they are accused of being accomplices in the robbery of the fortune teller, for the two men were not policemen at all. The most damning evidence against them is that large sum of money they used to make the final payment on the horse. The boys cannot explain where they got the money without implicating Giuseppe’s brother, and their sense of honor won’t let them do this. Unable to convince the police that they had no prior knowledge of the robbery, Pasquale and Giuseppe are sent to a juvenile prison to await trial. (more…)

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long-day-closes-1

by Allan Fish

(UK 1992 85m) DVD2

Shining a torch into the night sky

p  Olivia Stewart  d/w  Terence Davies  ph  Michael Coulter  ed  William Diver  md  Robert Lockhart  art  Christopher Hobbs  cos  Monica Howe

Marjorie Yates (mother), Leigh McCormack (Bud), Anthony Watson (Kevin), Nicholas Lamont (John), Ayse Owens (Helen), Tina Malone (Edna), Jimmy Wilde (Curly), Robin Polley (Mr Nicholls),

Watching Terence Davies’ autobiographical piece was, to this reviewer, rather like flicking through a family album, heralding from a family barely removed from that depicted in the film, in location, time and spirit.  It isn’t a prerequisite to be acquainted with the north, or with Catholicism, or remembrances of the 1950s, but it certainly helps.  And though those who cannot tick those boxes can and do enjoy and celebrate the film, they do miss something in the translation.

It’s more than merely an exercise in nostalgia, critics both professional and amateur have talked of it being like a stream of the subconscious, and in many ways they’re right, with remembrances of different years and moods taking place seemingly at the same time.  Essentially, the viewer is transported much like Scrooge by the spirits of Christmas into the childhood remembrances of Bud, an 11 year old from the terraced streets of Liverpool.  All the expected reminiscences are present and correct, from canings to show the kids who’s boss and visits to Nitty Nora the Bug Explorer to the mind-numbing tedium of assembly and warm welcomes to black men who mistakenly come to the door to begging for a shilling for the pictures and neighbourly gatherings on the doorstep.  It really is a different world, and one so dreamlike that one is not surprised when seemingly otherworldly voices ring in one’s ear, reminiscences not just of Bud’s but of our own collective movie-going subconscious.  Those with ears to hear will recognise choice sound-bites from Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Happiest Days of Your Life, Meet Me in St Louis, The Ladykillers, Private’s Progress, Great Expectations and, several times, The Magnificent Ambersons, mixed with songs from Nat King Cole, Doris Day and Debbie Reynolds (Tammy, naturally).  To this, add several choice snippets of hymns known to anyone who’s suffered through a Catholic primary education, Waltons-like ‘goodnights’, and a friend of the family who lives to do Cagney and EGR impressions.  To this add a truly stunning visual sense, which bathes the film in a romantic, nostalgic glow despite actually being very gloomy in its surface aesthetics.  Rain, as befits the wet North-West, is never far away, and the reflection of rain patterns on windows on wallpaper in darkened rooms adds a further ethereal touch.  And not for nothing does the film open with a credit time lapse shot of a bowl of roses slowly wilting and dying, a simple but telling metaphor for the fleeting nature of those happiest days of Bud’s, and Terence’s, lives.  (more…)

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mon 1

by Allan Fish

(France 1958 116m) DVD1/2

Aka. My Uncle

Mind the fountain!

p Louis Dolivet d Jacques Tati w Jacques Tati, Jacques Lagrange ph Jean Bourgoin ed Suzanne Baron m Alain Romains, Franck Barcellini art Henri Schmitt

Jacques Tati (Monsieur Hulot), Jean-Pierre Zola (Charles Arpel), Adrienne Servatie (Madame Arpel), Alain Becourt (Gerard Arpel), Yvonne Arnaud (Georgette), Jean-François Martial (Walter), Betty Schneider (Betty, Hulot’s landlord’s daughter), Dominique Marie (neighbour), Adelaide Danieli (Madame Pichard),

If I’m being honest with myself, Mon Oncle is the one of Jacques Tati’s seminal quartet that in some ways I have problems including here. The problem is it sets up a paradox, a comedy that actually doesn’t have many laugh out loud moments. It’s clever, of course, but we don’t laugh at Tati’s look at modernism as we laugh at, say, Keaton’s The Electric House or Chaplin’s Modern Times. We smile, we sort of laugh, but it’s always subdued. And between the jokes, not a lot happens at all. It’s a problem that many people have with Tati, that gags come and go, often without beginnings and nearly always without ends. Many one can see coming, others one wishes we didn’t. Yet still, for all that, it’s hard to find fault on a technical level with Tati’s film.         (more…)

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lilika 1

by Allan Fish

(Yugoslavia 1970 80m) not on DVD

A tale of two slippers

d  Branko Plesa  w  Dragoslav Mihailovic, Branko Plesa  novel  Dragoslav Mihailovic ph  Aleksandr Petkovic  ed  Bojana Subota  art  Miodrag Hadzic

Dragana Kalaba (Milica Sandic), Blanko Plesa (counsellor), Ljerka Drazenovic (Aunt Jelena), Danilo Stojkovic (Poocim Sandic), Lilijana Kontic (Djurdjica), Vladimir Pevec (Peca),

We all know the final freeze frame of Truffaut’s Les Quatre Cents Coups; Jean-Pierre Léaud looking not so much at the camera as beyond it, to a free future.   It’s one of the most iconic closing shots in movie history.  Take another 13 or 14 year old child, this time a girl, with blonde hair, tiny freckles and blue eyes.  She’s seen in colour, not in black and white, and this ending has the opposite effect.  Where Antoine Doinel ran away from the equivalent of borstal to the freedom of the sea, this girl, Milica, is being taken from the freedom of the coast to the confinement of, in her own words, “a prison for children.”

In actual fact there was nothing much liberating about the beach for Milica.  The times we see her there it’s in a flashback, just her and her infant little brother playing with a ball on the beach.  Or else she’s running around, screeching, chased by her aunt, like a headless chicken with no sense of direction.  It’s a scene that acts as a metaphor for her whole existence.  She’s never had a sense of direction.  She lives at home with a brutish father who beats her and a mother who seems to spend her days in bed in her negligee, slapping Milica for not attending school.  The reason she doesn’t is that she feels equally unloved there, and has to bunk off regularly to do laundry, spied on by her idiot savant best friend, Peca.  She’s also caught stealing and had up in front of counsellors.  The only one in her family who does have any time for her is her aunt, but she’s a whore and has to pay for her board and can’t have a teenage girl staying when she brings home clients. (more…)

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