Archive for November, 2015

mummy cat 1

by Sam Juliano

               Death is only the beginning.      -Imhotep

At the halfway point of Karl Freund’s classic Universal horror film The Mummy it is revealed that around 3,000 years ago the high priest Imhotep, during the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep fell in love with Princess Ankh-es-en-amon, a priestess of the goddess Isis.  She came down sick and died, causing her devastated lover to enter the temple and abscond with the Scroll of Troth, subsequently breaking in to his lover’s tomb, hoping to resurrect her with its properties of eternal life.  But soldiers broke into the tomb before he could set the ritual into motion, and he is summarily sentenced to death by being buried alive for his sacrilege along with the forbidden scroll.  The subject of eternal love spanning hundreds of years is also the premise of an exquisite picture book by Marcus Ewert and Lisa Brown titled Mummy Cat.  The love in the book is between an Egyptian queen named Hat-shup-set and her cat. regarded by her more as a hero than a pet. Both are fatally stung by a scorpion, and mummified.  After hundreds of years the mummy cat awakens and looks for Hat-shup-set.  Along the way he chances upon striking paintings of the great times many years before when he stood by the side of his beloved master drawing, making music and playing jackals.

Mummy Cat, like Freund’s film features a story within a story, as the awakened cat gazes upon ornate murals of the glorious life he once led alongside his queen while roaming the tomb covered by gauze.  After a wind-swept double page spread showing a sphinx and a pyramid Ewert establishes the mise en scene:  Deep within this maze of stone/a creature wakes up, all alone./For the first time in a hundred years/he shakes off dust/He flicks his ears./From head to tail, dry strips of cloth softly russstle like a moth.  The implication is that the mummy cat awakens every one hundred years or so to seek out the love of his life.  A Cat who moves without a breath: a mummy cat/Who’s passed through Death.  The reason for his his single night return from the dead every century was to re-unite with his “loving friend” who can bring his “lonely time to an end.”  The vivid murals show the wondrous life he had, one where he posed as a miniature sphinx, clawed a miniature boat on the riverbank  and sat on the lap of his queen on a couch.  Still the lively reminders of a time long gone also included the most painful re-enactment of all – the bite from the scorpion and the quick spread of poison, culminating with the most horrific aftermath of all:  An end to dances, games and feasts/two small bodies wrapped by priests.  It is clear enough the scorpion bites were not accidents, but the result of betrayal from within. (more…)


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wait cover

by Sam Juliano

Wait is one of two picture books released in 2015 that includes the titular root word in its title.  The connotation of its meaning is literal.  The other book, Waiting by Kevin Henkes is to some degree existential.  In the former work by Antoinette Portis, there is a constant tug of war between a mother and her young son, both of whom see the practical value in their obstinate posturing.   The mother recognizes that a busy street will hamper efforts to make time, so she implores her boy to “hurry,” and holds him tightly by the hand as she heads for the transportation hub.  At first siting she eyes her watch while her observant toddler affectionately regards a dachund being walked by a woman behind them.  He stalls to pet the dog briefly, but mom rallies to issue another make haste proclamation as she heads back down the street past a fire hydrant and coming up to some road marker, boy in tow clutching a cell phone.  Her Hurry! is yet again met with resistance as the boy exchanges salutations with a cement mixer outside the entrance of a park.

Again, mom urges her charger to Hurry! but he is smitten with the prospect of feeding bread to pond ducks wanting to follow the lead of an older man who is well armed for the cause.  Alas, on the next page he is seen getting that chance, even while being pulled away by his exasperated guardian, who by chance happens to pass an ice cream truck.  Inevitably the boys stops to examine the selections.  The mother manages to squelch that aspiration, but again is challenged while passing a pet shop displaying tropical fish in the large front window.  The boy, taking his cue from the halting trigger word, is awed as he looks at a loaded aquarium.  Coming up on the train station the boy is again waylaid by some greenery where he sees and holds a butterfly.  Then the weather intervenes, and mom urges him to Hurry! so they can remain dry, while helping him into some yellow rain gear, as the boy samples some rain drops with his tongue.  They hurry up the stairs amidst  a row of people with umbrellas, as the boy looks for yet another reason to delay.  As they move forward on the platform to approach the open train doors the boy again begs his mom’s indulgence as he sees a colorful conflagration behind tall buildings.  The boy then tugs as the flustered matriarch, imploring her to Wait as he points to something.  The mother looks and they both observe a spectacular two pronged rainbow across the sky.  Faced with such a ravishing visual scheme mom finally agrees with her son: Yes.  Wait, and the rites of passage have been achieved. (more…)

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brooklyn 1

Brooklyn 2

John Crowley’s aching coming of age drama “Brooklyn” starring Saoirse Ronan may well be the film of the year.

by Sam Juliano

While prognostications of a mild winter have surfaced in recent weeks, stateside we are now immersed in the atmospheric glories of the autumn season with colorful leaves, brisk temperatures and Thanksgiving preparations in full swing.   Football fans are engaging in the heart of their season, while denizens of the arts are at the height of their obsessions.  The past few days have been unconscionable on the world stage, what with the barbarism in Paris, but there are no words that can accurately gauge what we are all thinking.

A final decision has finally been reached on the manner of administration that will be applied to the execution of the late Spring/early Summer Greatest Science Fiction films countdown.  After discussing the matter with some others at the site and reviewing the general sentiments of the likely writers we have decided to stay the course.  That is we will have an open vote for all those on the current e mail chain, and any others attending the site who wish to cast a ballot.  No doubt this will mean there will be in upwards of 35 to 40 ballots in the final mix and an open schedule for all writers to claim.  This method will follow in the footsteps of the hugely successful musicals, comedies, westerns, romances and childhood/adolescent countdowns that been staged at Wonders in the Dark over the last four and a half years.  I urge all prospective participants at their convenience to survey the science fiction field in the coming months.  I plan to send out some copies of relative rarities to the interested parties as soon as I begin to take this project more seriously after the holiday season.  Ballots will be accepted on the chain beginning on April 1st, and ending on the final day of that month, at which point they will be tabulated by Angelo D’Arminio Jr.  The projected starting date for the countdown will be May 21st.  We are figuring for this poll, a Top 50.  This would mean the project would run till around mid August or so.

The Caldecott Medal Contender series has been moving forward quite nicely, with several of the reviews being posted and shared enthusiastically with the author-illustrators on Facebook and other channels.  I am not sure how many reviews will actually be written at this point, but I will sort that out as it progresses.  The page view totals have spiked dramatically over the past two weeks, in large measure because of the reviews of Ida Pearle’s The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House and Sergio Ruzzier’s Two Mice.  The former review has amassed a total approaching 400 page views in the three days since it published. (more…)

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i walked 2

by Sam Juliano

Ah, woe/Woe is me/Shame and sorrow for the family.

It has been argued in scholarly cinematic circles that “there are two Lewton masterworks: I Walked With A Zombie (visually the more eloquent and elegant) and The Seventh Victim (the more poetic and profound).”  It has furthermore been alleged  that “Neither film employs a conventional narrative structure although the subjects, voodoo and devil worship, are the stuff of traditional horror movies.”  For both films Lewton formulated a mosaic-like structure that doesn’t so much as present a full story than suggest it’s “possibilities.”  Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthasar  would be an example of this practice, as it eschews conventional narrative for the exploration of a specific theme.

The same theme seems to prevail in Lewton’s films: the power of reason vs. the power of obscurity.  The concerns are given the same attention, but Lewton, a studied man with a literary slant, is in essence a measured artist whose greatest gift was always reveling in the humanity of his characters, a gift that once won effusive praise from the great critic James Agee.  Hence it is assumed that the powers of darkness will in the end be negated by rational thinking.  Perhaps the most startling element in I Walked With A Zombie, the second in his famous low-budget horror series, is that diabolical forces emerged victorious at the film’s conclusion.


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addy's house 1

by Sam Juliano

“The Moon is Going to Addy’s House’ is visual storytelling at its very best. The emotional journey of the children is beautifully expressed through Ida Pearle’s stunning use of collage, color, texture, and movement.”—Martin Scorsese

Certainly there isn’t another children’s picture book about our luminous nocturnally-visible satellite that is as resplendent nor as intimately immersive as Ida Pearle’s The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House, and not since Marcia Brown’s paper collage work in the Caldecott Medal winning Shadow has an inanimate object or presence been as pervasively all-enveloping.  Renowned filmmaker Martin Scorsese, a visual storyteller extraordinaire, knows what it is like to bring a visceral children’s picture book to the cinema, and asserts the aesthetic kinship between page and screen when it comes to elements like color, texture and movement.  Acclaimed award-winning illustrator Brian Selznick, who wrote the book upon which Scorsese’s Hugo was based, is attuned to Brown’s 1983 work by opining that Pearle’s “cut-paper collages dance and play and come to life” in an equally spectacular response to the book.  Yet Brown’s specter is one that unflinchingly shows the side in us we’re afraid to confront, whereas Pearle’s celestial spheroid is as reassuring as a guardian angel, one that engenders both glowing cognizance and a measure of celebratory veneration.  Whereas the poet Alfred Noyes once wrote “the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” its role in The Moon Is Going to Addy’s House is far more thematically benign, one that recalls the friendship between the young French boy in Albert Lamorisee’s The Red Balloon, who evinces a human connection to a supposed lifeless entity. (more…)

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 © 2015 by James Clark

      Jean-Pierre Melville was active in the French Resistance during World War II. That fact entails a long freight train of supposition running from laudatory to immaculate. In 1969 he brought to light a fastidious and elegant film, Army of Shadows, dealing with that subject he knew so well and, presumably, wanted to say a lot about.

One nagging disclaimer within that envisaged march of social progress at heavy cost concerns the extensive track record, up to that date, of Melville’s works ardently conveying that, far from an army, the kind of integrity absorbing him takes the form of catastrophically isolated and almost utterly ineffectual partisans of a current of power not only precluded but not even noticed. To spotlight Melville’s endeavors, as inhering in his films, being positioned within that troubled but triumphant rise of so-called social justice is, it seems to me, to allow rhetoric to strangle (a most shadowy) reckoning. The title of our film today wields the upbeat term, army, and the downbeat term, shadows. Let’s try to comprehend what our remarkable guide was up to in linking those strange bedfellows. (more…)

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dragon 1

by Sam Juliano

Note:  This is the fifth review in the 2015 Caldecott Contender series that will be published at this site over the coming months, up until the January 11th scheduled awards date.  The books that will be examined are not necessarily ones that are bonafide contenders in the eyes of the voting committee, but rather the ones this writer feels should be.  The order they will be presented is arbitrary as some of my absolute favorites will be presented near the end.

It happens all the time.  When book, film, theater and music awards are handed out there is head-scratching, disappointment and second-guessing among those who take these matters seriously.  Most award historians agree it is largely a matter of the right timing, the depth of the competition and factors connected with the potential recipient’s standing in their respective industry and their years of service.  For children’s books the gold standard are the American Library Association’s Newbery and Caldecott Awards, which are given out early in the calendar year to the most distinguished works published during the previous twelve months.  A small committee of sixteen or so librarians, who were elected by the association’s membership spend a year painstakingly evaluating the full crop, and at the end of an arduous process settle up on the gold medal and honor book winners.  Though mainly reliable, like all other groups there is sometimes an inability to speculate whether their choices will hold up well into the future.  Though there are ample examples that raise eyebrows, none is as startling as the 1953 Newbery Medal awarded to Anne Nolan Clark for her book Secret of the Andes.  Some libraries don’t even possess a copy of it anymore, while the “second place” honor book Charlotte’s Web is now seen by many as the greatest children’s work ever written by an American.  Still, at least we can conclude that Charlotte’s Web did win an Honor that year.  A number of exceptional artists and illustrators over the years have not been so lucky.  Some are veterans who have enjoyed prolific careers, yet for one reason or another have failed to gain the attention of the award givers.  One of these is Brooklyn poet/illustrator Douglas Florian, whose resume includes at least a half dozen books that fall under the category of would have, should have, could have.  His work has repeatedly been lauded by critics and his peers, and has been given numerous citations from other year-end groups.  But so far the prestigious Caldecott Medal has eluded this distinguished craftsman and classroom favorite. (more…)

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