Archive for September, 2015

18. Los Olvidados (1950)

olv 3

by Allan Fish

(Mexico 1950 88m) DVD2

Aka. The Young and the Damned

The lucky tooth

p Oscar Dancigars d Luis Buñuel w Luis Buñuel, Oscar Dancigars, Luis Alcoriza ph Gabriel Figueroa ed Carlos Savage m Gustavo Pitaluga

Alfonso Mejia (Pedro), Miguel Inclan (The Blind Man), Estela Inda (The Mother), Roberto Cobo (Jaibo), Jesus Navarro (The Lost Boy), Alma Fuentas (Mechte), Francisco Jambrino (The Principal), Hector Portillo, Salvador Quiros, Victor Manuel Mendoza,

Luis Buñuel became a Mexican citizen in 1949, and immediately set to work on his first major film in over a decade. Admittedly the budget was spare and it had to be wrapped up inside of three weeks, but what emerged on screen in 1950 was a revolutionary film, one which captured the essence of the 20th century’s greatest tragedy, poverty, better than virtually any other film before or since.

Pedro and Jaibo are two teens who live in Mexico City’s pestilent urban slums. Jaibo is a vicious, irredeemable creature who enjoys picking on those even less fortunate than himself, while Pedro occasionally betrays a goodness out of place and at odds with his surroundings. One of Jaibo’s favourite targets is a local blind beggar, though he also sets his sights on one of his gang’s younger sister, Mechte. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown is now down to the final three-and-a-half weeks after a lengthy run that began back in mid-June.  The essays throughout have been first-rate and all the barometers of measurement have been most impressive as of late after it lagged a bit in the middle stages.  Upon completion, the site will go back to a wider focus, what with an assortment of film and music reviews and the late November launching of the Caldecott Contender series.  The latter project will be pared down from last year when 51 reviews were published over ten weeks.  There are a number of reason why that kind of volume will not be happening again.

Today is officially the first day of autumn, but nothing about that brisk and colorful season is anywhere near fruition, what with unrelenting heat and summer like aspects till in full force.  This is a great time of year for movie, opera, music, baseball and football fans, as well as for those who look forward to the annual book festivals.  I was so disappointed that I erred on the date for the Princeton Book Festival, which was held this past Saturday as I always look forward to it each and every year, but this coming Saturday I will attend the equally celebrated one in Warwick, New York (where I’ve never attended) and then to the one in Chappaqua, New York on October 3rd.  Later this week the renowned illustrator Frane Lessac and her equally celebrated author husband Mark Greenwood will be doing book presentations at our own Lincoln School.  I arranged for this long-awaited visit, and it will be a great day for sure.

On the domestic front everything remains hectic, what with the college commuting and weekend back and forths on the schedules of my son Sammy and daughter Melanie.  Nothing will be changing anytime soon.  On Friday Lucille and I will be seeing Pope Francis in Central Park, as the result of an incredibly generous offer from a benefactor friend.  Certainly something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

I am presently reading the superb Pulitzer-prize winning Charles Sumner and the Coming of the Civil War by David Herbert Donald. (more…)

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Photo-1-SlippersHeels (1)

By far the most successful adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s 1900 fairy tale about a Kansas girl thrust into a land of enchantment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “The Wizard of Oz” achieves an iconography unique to Anglo-American culture. The film also catapulted its star, Judy Garland, to a career of legendary proportion.


by Pierre de Plume

The first time a movie made me cry was in 1957 when I was 6 years old. I remember like yesterday sitting in the kid-sized rocking chair that my dad, whose hobby was carpentry, had built of oak for our Midwestern home. Because my first emotional reactions to the film remain vivid in my memory, I decided recently to take advantage of a rare 35mm Technicolor screening of “The Wizard of Oz” at a lovingly restored movie venue, the Heights Theater near Minneapolis. There, I thought, I might revisit the experience of seeing Oz as a child and report back to readers at Wonders in the Dark about why this Depression-era musical fantasy has continued to capture the hearts of so many children — young and old alike.

What I encountered on the night of the screening was a sold-out crowd of diverse ages, from parents with eager children to gray-haired elders. A patron sitting next to us in the 400-seat Beaux Arts–style theater, a thirtysomething woman waiting for her special date, soon was joined by her salt-and-pepper-haired dad. Under the glow of the grand chandeliers, we waited as the Wurlitzer pipe organist played songs from the movie we soon would relive.

My experience of seeing Oz on the big screen — in 35mm Technicolor for the first time — left me not just in tears (again) but also wishing to know more about the literary origins of Dorothy Gale’s fantastic odyssey. (more…)

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CP 1

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.

The movie that was screened on that final day was the 1988 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, the Italian-made Cinema Paradiso, a sentimental feature about a venerated Sicilian movie house that entertained small town denizens before and during the war, and then again when it was resurrected after a fire.  Like its modern day Garden State counterpart, and like so many other treasured movie palaces that were forced into closure because of dwindling profits, the fictional Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, a metaphor for theaters everywhere, was finally razed after it was sold to developers.  The Rialto was not blasted by dynamite as the theater in the movie was, but was left for a Korean group to build a planned mall.  Ironically the inside of the theater was gutted, but has been laying dormant for six years, making this picture even more lamentable.


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by Aaron West

Warning: this review contains spoilers.

Zéro de conduite is the most fully revealed of Vigo’s “social cinema.” Even though his anarchist politics were complicated, Zéro de conduite helps clear them up. In some respects it is a blueprint for exactly the type of anarchic revolution that Vigo longed for, yet it takes place in the unlikely setting of a young boy’s school.

The children in the boy’s home are characters that many can relate to. They push the boundaries of authority, and try to get away with whatever they can. They are into hijinx, practical jokes, and overall misbehavior. They are not a peaceful bunch, and they give it to their teachers at every opportunity, whether to their face or behind their backs. The only exception is Monsieur Huguet, who they find as an ally and a character that understands them.

The other teachers are impatient for any mischievousness, and they rule with an iron fist. “Zero for Conduct” is the punishment for any transgression. It means that they are not given their freedom on Sundays to visit family or friends, and instead are required to stay in school at detention. Furthermore, the teachers dole out the punishment arbitrarily and unfairly. Vigo is intending to portray this as a totalitarian state where the lower class’ (or children’s) rights are being impeded.

The children may be the goats, but they also get to be the heroes. With some assistance from the friendly teacher, they lay out plans for rebellion. The planning is carefully orchestrated and is not put into action until the authority tries to compromise one of the oppressed. It begins with an expletive, continues with a rowdy food fight, and the revolt is in progress. The children hoist their flag and march with exaltation. The sense of freedom and liberation is palpable, just as Vigo expects that it would be in reality. Even though the film is of revolution, it is combined with the exuberance of childhood merrymaking. (more…)

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 © 2015 by James Clark

      The films of Michael Mann glow and growl with extreme sensual punch in the service of enveloping the viewer within a realm the likes of which most folks have never visited. On seeing one of these insurrections, most of the more or less attentive visitors have things to say—pro and con—with regard to this retailing of a species of Impressionism (also courtesy of a series of very fine cinematographers like Dion Beebe and Stuart Dryburgh). Though the works do include often highly detailed narrative content, few viewers ever reach the point of crediting Mann as being more than a perfunctory writer, and most see him also as an onset of vaguely annoying repetition of story lines that were not much good even the first time around.

I want to, first of all, get down to refuting that latter misconception at the outset of examining one of his most physically impressive films, namely, Miami Vice (2006), because it is crucial to establish (in the face of that context) that this filmic output is much more than a full-frontal feast for the eyes and ears and nerves. Mann is very much a rad ride designer, no doubt; but he’s not a midway engineer and to choose that he is is to lack any trace of what his films are about. A production like Miami Vice, I hope to convey here, is much more about cosmic failure than regional success. And such an imbroglio cannot be effectively disclosed without a degree of discursive articulation crackling to life from out of those fiery cauldrons. We are not merely touched by vividly beautiful and exciting endowments of primal kinetic phenomena offset by close- and restricted-range ugliness that is readily discounted and consigned to brighter days or eons ahead. Those ambushes of violent idiocy take place as crucially fortified by long-standing institutional facilitators and as such they carry the same intensive weight as cosmic inspirations—only, whereas the latter tend to be fleeting, the former tend to be massively entrenched and opportunistically versatile. The players in Mann’s films—so often struggling within and without specific crimes—do reach moments of articulating at some level the storm system driving them nearly crazy. Those moments point to dimensions en route to effective but maddeningly difficult combat with exponents of infinitely entrenched cultural viruses. (more…)

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by Stephen Mullen

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood begins with the sound of a cuckoo, and a shot of a boy standing behind a tree, looking up at us through cobweb. It ends with the same boy chasing a little girl along a beach, the two of them circling a dead black tree, that seems to keep forcing itself into the image. Both are dreams: the boy, Ivan, is in the middle of a war, dreaming of the world before the war, his childhood. He is still a child in the present of the film, but his childhood is long gone.


Ivan’s Childhood, like Germany Year Zero, is a war film about childhood that is also a childhood film about war, using each side of the equation to heighten the emotion of the other. Ivan is already a hardened veteran when Ivan’s Childhood begins – orphaned, a partisan, now working for the regular army as a scout. That is where he is when the film’s story begins – but that is not how the film begins. It begins with the dream, Ivan walking, running, flying, through fields and forests, coming to rest at his mother’s feet, drinking from a bucket of water. It begins with the childhood he has lost, before waking him to the war he is living in. But it is a very thin line between waking and dreaming. The difference may mean everything to Ivan, but it is very permeable for Tarkovsky’s filmmaking. In Ivan’s dream, Tarkovsky’s camera soars and swirls, almost gleefully defying gravity and rules of space. But when Ivan wakes in a ruined windmill and goes out, the camera remains as vertiginous as in the dream, swinging around, taking extreme angles, cutting up his experiences into flashes of imagery. Real life is immediately established as being as disorienting and strange as any dream. (more…)

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

by Patricia Perry

At the age of 12, I first pulled down a copy of Betty Smith’s beloved novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from a school library shelf.  Like many a sensitive young reader had done, before and since that day, I fell in love with Smith’s poignantly detailed account of tenement life as experienced by one struggling family, and claimed its central character, Francie Nolan, as a literary soulmate.

Seventy-two years after its initial publication, Smith’s semi-autobiographical work remains cherished and widely read, routinely included in lists of great American novels and “Books to Read Before You Die.” And the opening credits of this 1945 adaptation clue us into its literary pedigree right away: the name “Betty Smith” entirely fills the first title card, before we ever see the words “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

The film’s other claim to fame is that it was director Elia Kazan’s first feature-length film, and it is an impressive debut. In its honest, unsentimental depiction of the Nolans’ struggles, we can see the first seeds of the socially conscious filmmaking that Kazan would come to be known for.

Francie Nolan, a character created from Smith’s own experiences growing up in the immigrant slums of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood, is a sensitive, starry-eyed bookworm – the type of child who presses a favorite book to her chest while sighing in ecstasy or makes impassioned, teary-eyed declarations in the classroom that confound her exasperated, overworked teachers.  She deeply loves her charming alcoholic father, Johnny, responding to his flights of imaginative fancy and his gregarious personality with wholehearted affection. Still a child, she cannot yet grasp the toll her father’s drinking and unreliable employment have taken on his marriage and the family’s finances.  Late in the film, after her father falls ill and dies while looking for work, Francie sobs out loud to God that “no one else loved him like I did,”  which is both true and untrue.  Francie’s love for her father is idealized and untainted by disappointment, while her mother’s deep love of her husband is complicated by her resentment at being the family’s breadwinner and ‘granite rock.’ (Both Johnny and his wife, Katie, want their ‘nice kids’ to have opportunities and do well in life, but only Katie is clear-eyed and realistic about their chances.) (more…)

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goodnight mommy

Capture from taut Austrian horror film “Goodnight Mommy”

by Sam Juliano

As we approach the mid-way point of September, we are still mired in oppressive heat, though some rain in the metropolitan area has managed to cool things off a bit on Sunday.  Still, temperatures in the mid 80’s are predicted for the coming days.  While summer refuses to relent, other ninth month habits are unfolding: the baseball season moves closer to the playoffs, the NFL season has begun, the movie season is starting to heat up and various film and book festivals that annually stage at this time are close to launching.  As always we will be heading down to Princeton and across to Brooklyn for the children’s book Festival in a few weeks, and I hope to see something at the New York Film Festival.

The past week at Wonders in the Dark yielded some of the very best reviews in the on-going Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown.  Kudos to Lee Price, Brian E. Wilson, Aaron West and Stephen Mullen for their brilliant writing.  I also would like to extend my deepest thanks to the site readership who provided a barrage of glowing comments and page views under my review of Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea.  The piece was as dear to my heart as anything else I have ever written at this site in over seven years, and I was moved by the extraordinary response.  The countdown has suddenly come alive in a very big way over the last two weeks, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Lucille and I saw two films in theaters this past week, and interesting enough both were in the horror genre.  I also completed the marathon Shakespearean series AGE OF KINGS, and hope to offer up a detailed round-up soon.  The series winds up with a five-star rating.  I also saw a few other films, two of which are directly connected to the countdown. (more…)

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anne green gables

by Sam Juliano

Note: This review is dedicated to the memory of Jonathan Crombie, who passed away earlier this year in New York City at the age of 48 of an unexpected and tragic brain hemorrhage. The beloved actor was, is, and forever will be the world’s only Gilbert Blythe.

I don’t want sunbursts or marble halls.  I just want you.

Anne Shirley to Gilbert Blythe, “Anne of Avonlea”

Mark Twain once described freckled-faced and incorrigible Anne Shirley as fiction’s dearest child since Lewis Carroll’s Alice.  While such a glowing contention would be difficult to contest, it might be harder yet to deny she is the most famous character in all of Canadian literature, and that her creator, Lucy Ward Montgomery  is often referred to as the “American Mark Twain.”  The author’s young heroine was the subject of an eight book series that brought great fame to Montgomery in her lifetime, giving way to translation in twenty-five languages, and bringing sustained scrutiny to the author’s diaries, letters and full body of work.   This brought bringing lasting fame to her birthplace, homes and grave site on the extraordinarily beautiful Prince Edward Island, a tiny province of Canada off the shore of Nova Scotia that now owes much of its prominence to Montgomery and her venerated Anne.  Tourism is a one of the island’s most lucrative assets, and for decades a “Green Gables Tour” has been a godsend for fans of her novels.  Canadian tourism officials report that in excess of 125,000 visitors a year descend on the paradise hamlet to behold the literary landmarks and partake in the related festivities.  It could well be argued that Prince Edward Island can’t be even contemplated without a thought for Anne and the author who best extrapolated on the place’s special and incomparable allure.  To this end there can be no doubt that the mid-80’s television adaptations have taken the franchise to places never seen before.

Though the beloved first book in the series – Anne of Green Gables – was made into a successful RKO film in 1934, its extremely short length didn’t give opportunity for a well-rounded look at Anne, nor at the many narrative and character complexities in the novel.  Some stage plays followed, but not until Kevin Sullivan acquired the rights in 1984 did the book receive the kind of treatment that not only exhibited fidelity to its source but brought an exceeding level of warmth and humanity that has continued to hold thrall with viewers around the world.  Sullivan’s battles in court to defend his acquisition of the rights and the lawsuits connected to them have reached all the way to the shores of Japan, where ironically the most passionate Anne of Green Gables fans reside.  Sullivan took full advantage of the loveliest of rural settings, filming on the island and assembling a dream cast that to this day represents a rare chemistry that is achieved through luck, timing and talent.  Sullivan co-wrote the script for Green Gables with Joe Wiesenfeld and handled the direction, and for all the film’s exemplary components it remains the key ingredient in the work’s enduring appeal.  When the great success of the 200 minute film was assured -Sullivan moved forward on a sequel, which is titled Anne of Avonlea, and as written and adapted solely by him based on three books in the series – Anne of Avonlea (Book Two); Anne of the Island (Book Three) and Anne of Windy Poplars (Book Four) it represented a unique hybrid.   Again the writing was exceptional, and the addition of several characters and sub-plots were woven in successfully.  Avonlea also featured a hefty running time at 230 minutes, though as fans and critics have glowingly attested it remained engrossing throughout.  Following up on the heels of its revered predecessor, Avonlea in short order became the highest rated drama to air on network television in Canadian broadcasting history.  It spawned a spectacularly successful television series Road to Avonlea, which was activated by some of Montgomery’s short stories and novellas.  At 93 episodes it remains the longest running, most popular and lucrative drama series ever produced in Canada.   A third film, Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story arrived in 2000, though to weak reception.  But the first two films, which are the subject of this review, will be considered as a single work, though with the dividing specifications.  Together they comprise what is arguably the most magnificent television work based on fiction ever produced in the western hemisphere.  Sullivan later added an animated Anne of Green Gables, which was fairly well-received, and then a fourth film a few years back that was lesser regarded. (more…)

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