Archive for February, 2016



Screen capture from Oscar Best Picture winner “Spotlight”

by Sam Juliano

The 2016 Oscars are now in the record books.  The winning film in a mild surprise is Spotlight, which previously won the Los Angeles Film Critics, Boston Film Critics Awards for Best Picture and the National Society of Film Critics.  To be sure Spotlight is a very fine film, and it is hard to dispute its selection.  I prefer some others -like Brooklyn more, but this is a solid work, and one I think will be considered one of the Academy’s best choices in recent years.  I was most delighted to see Italian film composing icon Ennio Morricone, now 87, finally win an Oscar and it was a great move to hand over the Best Supporting Actor prize to Mark Rylance for Bridge of Spies.  I found it amazing that Mad Max: Fury Road came away with six technical Oscars.  The foreign language choice – Son of Saul was the right one.  As far as host Chris Rock and the overkill of African American satire I have mixed feelings.

Super Tuesday is here, and it should be quite an interesting primary day, though Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appear headed for crushing wins across twelve states casting ballots. (more…)


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tolstoy 2tolstoy

by Barry Germansky

From a thematic perspective, Tolstoy is the master chronicler of the “everyday” human dilemma. No matter whatever else happens in our lives, Tolstoy understands that we will always be plagued by our competing material and metaphysical desires, one prominent source of which is our limited, contradictory sexual imagination. He is also the greatest aesthetic synthesizer in prose literature, supremely merging external descriptions, historical asides, psychological insights, philosophical fragments, and spiritual conflicts into a singular, multilayered narrative. In my estimation, this makes him the most compulsively “readable” of prose fiction writers.

Dostoyevsky, on the other hand, is an almost unparalleled chronicler of the “everyday” human dilemma. Thematically, he is less original than Tolstoy, for the grotesquerie upon which he relies is borrowed from a multitude of other authors, most notably Edgar Allan Poe. Dostoyevsky’s thematic uniqueness comes from applying this inherited grotesquerie to the realm of the everyday. In aesthetic terms, his prose is immensely readable, but it is less readable and less unique in its readability than Tolstoy’s prose. Dostoyevsky shares with Tolstoy a penchant for compartmentalization, but each author has a different method of accomplishing this feat. While Tolstoy synthesizes his individual areas of focus together, Dostoyevsky keeps his individual areas of focus separate from one another. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

More moderate weather has given us Metropolitan area residents a few very nice days, though I understand a rainstorm is heading our way late Sunday night.  We are moving closer to the end of February and the Spring season.  This coming Sunday we will be holding our annual Oscar bash at the Tiger Hose Firehouse in Fairview.  The affair is an Open House to all.  Catering again will be from Dante’s -the finest Italian Deli in town, and both hot and cold food will be offered, and plenty of it!

The science fiction voting and countdown inches closer, although no plan has yet been reached to contact the e mail chain of prospective voters and/or writers.  For a number of reasons we will only go with a Top 50 for this particular countdown.   Political followers like myself have been watching the primaries with great interest.  I am a Sanders supporter, but I think it will be Hillary vs. Trump at this point, though things could still change. (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      I love film stories where the protagonist is not simply haunted by an oversight but is palpably surprised by rare traces of insight, due to his or her carnal strengths. Fortunately for me and, as I see it, for all of us, there are quite a few cinematic virtuosos who excel in conveying such singular moments. Today, however, instead of trying to put out there the often easily missed treasures, I want to draw attention to the phenomena of film products which, on paper, seem likely to be handling such golden matters but in fact are largely intent upon quantity of approval as against quality of output. My reason for straying away from the usual excitements is a recognition that several such films might harbor their own kind of significant beachhead (or provocation) where surprises may well up for audiences in unpredictable ways.

This is a storm-tossed interpretive venture. But the increasing fate of important work being denied fanfare and serious distribution seems to demand some kind of account by which to get a grip on what might be in store. I think that the undiluted popular triumph of Inorittu’s The Revenant(2015)spreads much farther than the cash flow of a facet of the entertainment industry. While it is true that that auteur (manqué) has now become a darling of the awards self-service of the Gucci corporation, we must not lose sight of the passion from which his enterprise has gone ballistic. (Nor should we overlook the subterranean current of innovation running through an industrial and fashion design concern like Gucci.)

The Revenant unleashes a relentless spree of desperate agitation. What does it hope to accomplish by way of its hyperventilating screenplay (by Inorittu and Mark L. Smith) couched in lovely, but not shatteringly so, landscape cinematography by cameraman, Emmanuel Lubezki? Before tackling that very challenging question, there is a third clarion call in this mixture to be measured very carefully, namely, the protagonist’s frequently looking back to a life of affection with a woman and their young son steeped in the priorities of her aboriginal spirituality, if not to say, mysticism. Mystic, mysterious shards from this quarter do definitely have a role to play in this panorama. The question is, however, how steadily does that asset (closely linked to the remarkably tentative landscape) reach its potential? (more…)

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final-days-wolfe-tone-16 (1)

by Sam Juliano

An arctic vortex descended on the Metropolitan area over the last few days, sending temperatures that bottomed out at -1 F Sunday morning in what is being called the coldest Valentine’s Day in a hundred years.  Yet  tomorrow we are expecting 50 degrees F in an extreme swing that is mind boggling.  Yet a bright sun was out in all its resplendent glory on Sunday.  Today is President’s Day in the US and banks and post offices -not to mention schools for the entire week in some districts including our own- are closed.  In my hometown of Fairview, New Jersey Lucille and I will again host our annual Oscar party on February 28th at the Tiger Hose Firehouse at 6:00. P.M. As always it is an Open House, and all our friends, online or in person are encouraged to attend.  Dante’s will be catering for the third year in a row, and as everyone who is familiar with their food, they know it is phenomenal.  Six hot items and their legendary six foot heroes along with a salad and beer and beverages will be offered.  Usually around 40 people attend, though some years that number has gone higher.

I am still experiencing lower back pain -some days severely- but will be visiting a local chiropractor this week.   I am planning to send out a group e mail to the previous participants of the site’s genre polls within the coming weeks to discuss the tentative launching of the “Science Fiction Films Countdown” in the late spring.

Lucille and I one film in theaters this week, a Valentine’s day screening of the Michael Moore documentary WHERE TO INVADE NEXT, and we also attended the Friday night staging of Peter Danish’s one act play THE FINAL DAYS OF WOLFE TONE in Suffern, New York.   Wolf Tone, was the leader of the United Irishmen and is considered the Father of Irish Republicanism.  While the son of a privledge Protestant family, he saw the scourge of government sponsored sectarianism and prejudice for the tool of oppression it was and formed the United Irishmen to establish an independant republic where all Irish men and women could live in peace and freedom. “The Final Days of Wolfe Tone” tells the tale of his last days in prison leading up to his execution – days spent writing the chronicle of his life, that gave birth to the Irish Revolution that would inevitably lead to the Rising of 1916.  The three actors who compromised the full cast was exceptional. (more…)

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turandot 2

by Sam Juliano

Football fans were treated to a defensive match between the favored Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, who triumphed in an error prone Super Bowl game that wasn’t always pretty to watch.  Still for those of us who traveled to the homes of relatives, where betting pools were run, or stood home to watch the big contest, it offered up a measure of entertainment to close out the nearly six-month football season.

The DGA (Director’s Guild Association) award this past week was handed out for the second year in a row to Alejandro Innaritu, whose The Revenant must now be seen a strong candidate for the Best Picture Oscar, in what is apparently a close race with The Big Short (PGA) and Spotlight. (SAG).  The Academy Awards as always are a shameless rat race with building insignificance, but it gives Lucille and I the opportunity to stage our annual awards bash, which this year like last will happen at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse, with catering again from Dante’s.  The affair is an open house.

This past week we attended two movie theater presentations, one the new Coens’ brothers film HAIL CAESAR, and the other the encore HD broadcast of Giacomo Puccini’s TURANDOT, seen at a local multiplex.  Lucille and I had seen TURANDOT live at the Met three times prior over the years during our season ticket days.   Remarkably, this is the same lavish Franco Zeffirelli production that has been there for over 20 years. (more…)

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© 2016 by James Clark

      The Hateful Eight (2015) is suffused with such a dazzling and challenging vein of cinematic bounty as to momentarily stop us in our tracks when setting out to convey it in all its bushwhacker severity. Tarantino’s work here is indeed a delicious entertainment; but it is also a cornucopia wherein very little is in fact what it seems to be.

Proceeding on that premise, we’ll tap the film’s vital signs by way of two scenes seemingly miles apart. The first has to do with a factor eclipsed here by the movie’s more disconcerting virtues, namely, that of our host’s comedic genius. In the wake of our accompanying four characters on a stagecoach ride through a snowbound Wyoming countryside a few years after the official end of the Civil War—a quartet revealing themselves therewith to be steeped in murderous violence of various kinds—they reach a stopover point just as a blizzard hits. That ride had been marked by a bounty hunter, John Ruth, having handcuffed to himself his prisoner, Daisy Domergue, en route to the regional hangman, repeatedly smashing her face and head while the bloodied captive persistently referred to another bounty hunter on board, Major Marquis Warren, as a nigger who should not be in the coach, and defiantly ridiculed her captor. His penchant for beating up Daisy, notwithstanding, Ruth, as his name rather quaintly telegrams, is a mainstream, rather doctrinal, John Locke liberal (referring to Warren as “Black fella”), whose well-known (to Warren, for instance) nickname, “The Hangman,” pertains to his eschewing the “dead” part of the “wanted dead or alive” prescription. Warren’s three frozen corpses on the stage’s roof declare that he is all for the “dead” clause. His referring to himself as “a servant of the Court” introduces a touch of chivalry which might be lingering in his kindly eyes and resonant voice. Daisy, a Southern girl, to judge from her accent, blows a nostril full of snot in Warren’s direction and spits on his letter from Abraham Lincoln which has left Ruth deeply touched (“That gets me”). In smashing her for that latter impudence, he brings both of them crashing outward into the snow. When he catches up with her and his letter, Warren spits on Daisy, smashes her and then she remarks, “That nigger like to bust my jaw… Is that the way niggers treat their ladies?” A fourth member of the party, the son of a notorious leader of a rebel, post-War vigilante gang, “Mannix’s Marauders,” enters into a heated quarrel with Warren—each citing lurid, well-known details of slaughter perpetrated by the other, with firmly anti-slaver Ruth siding with the dishonourably discharged Black fella and putative friend of Lincoln. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Note:  This review by Allan Fish considers a seminal work of the late Jacques Rivette.  Though it was previously published, it reappears to pay homage to the great director, and will be followed by a few others in the coming weeks.

(France 1961 140m) DVD2

Aka. Paris Belongs to Us

The star Absinthe approaches earth

p  Roland Nonia  d  Jacques Rivette  w  Jacques Rivette, Jean Gruault  ph  Charles Bitsch  ed  Denise de Casablanca  m  Philippe Arthuys

Betty Schneider (Anne Goupil), Gianni Esposito (Gerard Lenz), Françoise Prévost (Terry Yordan), Daniel Crohem (Philip Kaufman), François Maistre (Pierre Goupil), Jean-Claude Brialy (Jean-Marc), Jean-Marie Rohain (De Georges), Jean-Luc Godard, Brigitte Juslin, Jacques Demy,

It was only a few weeks ago.  The 11th Doctor crash-landed on earth, David Tennant had finally turned into Matt Smith.  The latter had promised a little girl he’d be back in five minutes but it turns out to be twelve years.  He comes back only to bashed over the head with a cricket bat, handcuffed to a radiator and come round to find the first thing he sees is Amy Pond’s endless legs.  She doubts his existence; four psychiatrists in twelve years have told her he can’t exist.  Then he asks her a question.  “On this floor, how many rooms?”  She’s incredulous but finally responds “five.”  After all, she should know; she’s lived there for over a decade.  The Doctor replies “six”, Amy is even more incredulous, and then the Doctor tells her to look where she’s never wanted to look, in the corner of her eye.  There, slowly looking back over her shoulder, she sees it.  “How is that possible?” she protests.  “Perception filter”, the Doctor says, of an entire room she never knew existed. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The ferocious blizzard of last week has been followed up with some moderate temperatures, which have enabled much of the snow on the ground to melt away.  We now move to February, another winter month with a nasty track record, so we can’t be too complacent. The science-fiction countdown at the site draws closer, and all prospective voters are urged to give the venture some thought, if not some re-viewings.  Several weeks down the line I plan to send out an announcement to our e mail chain.  Pretty much similar to the last five genre polls all readers are urged to cast ballots, even if they are unable to write any of the essays.  January has been an awful moths for passings, the latest of whom is French New Wave master Jacques Rivette, a long-time favorites of this site’s writers and associates.

Our great friend and site countdown writer Stephen Mullen (Weeping Sam) has waxed lyrical on Rivette at The Listening Ear and it is well worth re-printing here at WitD:  “Jacques Rivette has died. He was 87, and apparently has been suffering from Alzheimers disease for the past few years – I had heard he was ill, and so am not surprised. Still; saddened. The news come the day after I finally finished paying my 88 pounds for the new Out 1 collection – unfortunately, before this object crossed the ocean to my front door, so I can’t spend the next week watching it… But it is coming…

He is One of the Great Ones. I haven’t posted any kind of list of favorite directors lately, but if I did, he would be up there – top 10 somewhere. I came to him late – most of my favorites I discovered in the mid and late 90s, when I started watching films obsessively. I saw some Rivette in that period, but didn’t see enough until 2007, when I saw a whole series – that immediately elevated him to his place among the greats. I do remember when I first heard about him – when La Belle Noiseuse came out – that was before I was an obsessive filmgoer, and the main thing I remember about it is that it was a very French film about a painter that had some actress naked for 3 hours. Some time after that, probably around 1998 or 99, I finally saw a Rivette – Haut Bas Fragile – by that time I had become an obsessive filmgoer, I knew who Jacques Rivette was, in a general sense (historically), and had seen some films obviously influenced by him – Pascal Bonitzer’s Encore, possibly, or some of the Assayas or Desplechins films that call Rivette to mind… I liked it – quite a bit in fact, though I don’t know if I could have explained it at the time. Later, Va Savoir got a bit of an American release, and I saw that in the theaters. And I tried renting the Story of Marie and Julian, though the DVD copy I got was damaged and I missed the opening 15 minutes or so of the film – which made it even more incomprehensible… Though still enjoyable. I liked Va Savoir very much – liked The Story of Marie and Julian well enough. It meant that Rivette had gone into that pile of directors whose films are just too hard to see – so you have to wait for your chance and take it. (more…)

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