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Archive for April, 2016

Midsummer-masthead

midsmmer

by Sam Juliano

The unconscionably horrific events that unfolded in idyllic Newtown, Connecticut on the morning of December 14, 2012 left a world in cathartic disbelief.  Three and a half years later a mere reference rekindles the darkest memories that can be envisioned.  Inevitably some brave -some might frame them in a much more unflattering light- documentary filmmakers sought to painfully recall the specifics and wider implications of a crime so unthinkable that many choose not to deal with it in conversation, much less in any comprehensive medium that will bring numbing grief left in a holding pattern a renewed potency.  The human stories surrounding the families who lost children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on that fateful day dominated the internet for many months, and the killer whose name is often unspoken was leading search engine inquiries, and typically unrestrained local tabloids.  Indeed to this date in time there remain unsettled lawsuits on behalf of the victims’ families -20 first graders and six adults including the school’s principal were gunned down after the killer shot his way through glass panels at the building’s entry point, from which point he randomly stalked and shot at classes scurrying for cover.  The deranged 20 year-old who lived on the other side of town on Yogananda Drive, had killed his mother in her sleep with one of the cadre of weapons kept in the house and later turned the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle on himself as the first responders entered the school.  There were heroes, teachers who sacrificed their own lives for their students, and a few others -students fleeing after the killer’s weapon apparently jammed and one first grader who played dead- who were on the right side of luck, and there are forever shattered families who can never move beyond the utter senselessness of the tragedy.   The horror particularly -and understandably- brought the calls for gun control to deafening levels, with the New York Daily News leading a continuing crusade against anyone sympathetic to weapons providers or legislators sympathetic to their cause.  Just a few weeks ago Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was strongly criticized for his failure to hold gun store owners responsible, in what seemed to be a very dubious position for the Vermont Senator to make at this time. (more…)

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© 2016 by James Clark

      For the past while we’ve been trying to unlock surprising nuances in current films and those from the middle distance. But here we are, far back with the work of that of that fading comet, Jean-Pierre Melville, with a view to his always valuable coverage of the labyrinthine ways of integrity. After being away for a while from our auteur’s mastery of the magic of sensibility, I’ve come to realize the importance of that mantra, amongst cognoscenti, to the effect that all the commotion boils down to the remarkableness of zeal for mutual loyalty amongst thugs, needing serious recasting. Due to Melville’s telegraphing his unique commitment to American film noir, we tend to overlook the territory of “human relations” (in the vernacular of that Ridley Scott whose Thelma and Louise [1991] has a kinship to Le Doulos [1962]) in effect over and above the world of lawbreakers.

In this context of confusion, Le Doulos may be uniquely equipped to lead us into Melville’s true metier, in relation to which the crime gratifications are but a rewarding foretaste of dawning surreal intensity. Le Doulos introduces us to a couple of protagonists so palpably lacking those bona fides of grace and charm—assets on the order of Bob le flambeur, Jef the samouri, and Corey, contending with a red circle—from out of which claims of sensitivity could actually pull the wool over our eyes. Our two fast friends in the underworld here, namely, Maurice and Silien, are audacious punks on the order of Gu, having a discouraging form of second wind, Philippe being an insubstantial functionary on board an army of shadows and even Leon Morin a smart, but half-baked, con artist. Whereas Gu, Philippe and Leon circulate amongst associates with cogent integrity whereby fine feelings make some sense, Melville has crafted this current display with such minimalist barrenness as to prompt the viewer to consider that mysteries are afoot which far supersede the mysteries of stealing, murdering and eluding arrest. (more…)

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children

Beautifully filmed African (Ghana) picture “Children of the Montain” is Tribeca at its finest.

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Spirited dramedy “Little Boxes” is a splendid fusion of inde art house and commercial entertainment.

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Documentary on autism, “Life Animated” is one of Tribeca’s most irresistible and heartfelt works in the festival

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Brooding and atmospheric dystopian romance “Equals” is one of the most underrated films in years.

by Sam Juliano

The eleven day Tribeca Film Festival ended yesterday, bringing final closure to a wild and exhausting ride, one that spurred Lucille and I to take in 35 feature films at three different locations.  Our prime hot spot was the Bow-Tie Cinemas on 23rd Street, but we were also at the SVA auditoriums down the block and down at the Regal Cinemas multiplex adjacent to the World Trade Center Freedom Tower.  Once again the annual fest included some outstanding documentaries and narrative works, many of which will surely secure commercial openings in the coming months.  The most difficult challenge was to piece together a schedule that would include films about subjects we were greatly interested with some others that were highly touted in advance by critics and festival insiders.  It was always tricky to schedule the screenings to coincide with the time windows that were possible to us.  Even with the high total we managed there were still films we were unable to negotiate.  We made of a list of those that we will watch for in theaters and on DVD release.  Like all other festivals of high repute there were some forgettable titles and/or films we had less interest in, but this year’s venue includes a comparatively high number of good to excellent works. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

For a very long time chess was a niche interest in the west, a competitive sub genre in the sports world, distinguished of course by its unparalleled level of intellectual acumen.  The first world champion was the Austrian-turned-American William Steinitz, who even now has openings named after him.  It is generally speculated that the game originated in India, though most of the champions of the last sixty or so years have hailed from Russia.  The west, and the United States in particular though, did not embrace the game with the kind of euphoria afforded other sports until 1972 when the famously eccentric Brooklynite Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in a then Cold war confrontation that is now regarded as the “match of the century,” and the series of games that is most often studied by aspiring masters and aficionados of the game worldwide.  Each game was studied during live television broadcasts in the states by a man who later became known as the “Julian Child” of chess – Shelby Lyman.  Because of Fischer, chess became all the rage in the US, with clubs taking root in high schools and colleges, and chess volumes flying off the shelves of bookstores, many collection of prior tournament games and studies of openings.  As a a lifetime chess player, I fondly remember my term as Vice President of my University club back in the mid 70’s, and have maintained my interest.  Yet I can only marvel at the level of brilliance reached by this master intellect and the complexities that can only boggle the mind.  Some degree of interest waned after Fischer refused to defend his title federation rules, and went into seclusion, later taking up residence in Reykjavik, Iceland, the site of his match with Spassky. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

At the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival former President Bill Clinton introduced the documentary Bridegroom, which was directed by his good friend Linda-Bloodworth Thomason.  Funded by kickstarter, the film garnered the coveted Audience Award for Documentary, and deeply moved many with its story of a shunned gay lover by the family of the partner who died in a tragic accident.  An assistant film professor in a Florida college, and the niece of a gay man who died of AIDS in 1987, Cecelia Aldarondo opens up a proverbial can of worms in her own examination of her uncle’s past, while both outing him and finding his demonized lover for a vital contribution for the work.  Like the Thomason documentary, Aldarondo has also relied on kickstarter for funding and has told her story with aching poignancy, divulging some guarded secrets and misconceptions that have long dogged the perceptions of family members.  Aldarondo and her kin, all born in Puerto Rico to a rigid Catholic upbringing, were told that Miguel died of cancer.  When his story is told it is clear the cause was AIDS related.  One comes away with not only an understanding of what tore apart a once solid family dynamic, but also how religious and culture bigotry are brought to bear on a lifestyle rejected by familial traditions and the conviction it violates the tenets of Catholicism.

Miguel’s sexual leanings were given free reign after he moved from his Caribbean home to New York City, where he found gleeful refuge in the theater.  He met “Robert” and embarked upon a gay relationship kept under the wraps of long distance cover.  In the film’s major irony, Robert has served as a clergyman, but abandoned the pursuit during the years of his relationship with Michael, only to return years later as the only way to achieve peace of mind.  When Aldarondo finally tracked down Robert after some initial failures, the surviving partner was as candid as he was unrepentant for the relationship that was fueled by mutual passions.  In a telling phone conversation he informed Aldarondo that Michael’s mother -the director’s grandmother- never abandoned her belief he was responsible for her son’s altered sexual orientation.  No attempt by Aldarondo to interpret the long impasse between her grandmother and her uncle’s lover as a “misunderstanding” changed Robert’s perception that he was seen as a morally injurious influence on an unwitting accomplice, and in the initiating phone conversation he candidly confirms the long running hostility. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The weather has been warming up, and on the movie front Lucille and I are pounding the mat at Tribeca, having seen thirteen films over the past four days after taking in the new release Midnight Special on the Monday before the festival began.  It appears that we will be able to work in twenty-one more feature films over the next and final seven days of the festival beginning with the two for this evening.  Otherwise we are still in the preparation stage of the science-fiction countdown, which is clearly getting much less interest than the five previous genre projects.  Still, I won’t give up the ship until or unless it becomes conclusive it won’t be flying.  Group e mails have been sent out and deadlines have been set, and completed ballots are awaited.

On the political front we have the huge New York primary set for tomorrow.  Hillary Clinton appears to have a stranglehold in the pollings, though Bernie Sanders has made up some ground.  Donald Trump should win the state in a landslide, though his opponents may be able to sneak off with a few of the ninety-five up for grabs.  I will be voting in the New Jersey Democratic primary on June 7th.

(more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The central conceit in newcomer Justin Tripping’s visceral Kicks hearkens back to one of world cinema’s most venerated classics.  Vittorio DeSica’s 1948 neo-realist Bicycle Thieves spent nearly its entire running time on the wrenching pursuit of a stolen bicycle that represents economic survival at a time of war ravaged economic impoverishment.  The final twist in the Italian film was meant to imply that desperation reeks violation of the very tenets of fair play that launched what initially seemed like a hopeless search.  In Kicks the theft of a handsome pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers doesn’t remotely change the survival dynamic, but it is a generational concern that can’t be solved by moving on – these S.E. Hinton types are born and bread on violence and confrontation, and an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth is the prevailing mindset.  Tripping’s film, which recalls Francis Ford Coppola’s Hinton adaptation of Rumble Fish is saturated in style, symbols and a lyrical bent, often leaving the narrative without direction or logical development.  This borrowing from Peter to pay Paul might sink most other films in wallowing self-absorption, yet Kicks works by embracing a Terrence Malick school of film making, understanding that film is a visual medium that doesn’t always have to stay abreast of script and narrative logistics.  To be sure Tripping’s work is often undisciplined and experimental, but it is simultaneously gripping and suggestive.  And like all memorable coming of age films it boasts a magnetic lead character, which in this film yields an electrifying performance. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

A high school diploma is now seen as a given in lower middle class America, as opposed to a time decades ago when education took a back seat to survival necessities.  Education at that time was a luxury many simply couldn’t afford.  The difference today isn’t that there aren’t poverty-stricken neighborhoods or families with more life-defining priorities, but rather that there is still hope for missed opportunities, and that as people move through their lives they develop a sense of self-worth and direction, aiming to make up for what was lost to life’s unavoidable, inordinately difficult challenges.

Today there are opportunities for those who have succeeded in uncovering a time window in hectic schedules that helped to foster a more mature outlook on what it might mean to have a career instead of a job aimed solely at a paycheck to paycheck existence.  For his stirring documentary Night School director Andrew Cohn  travels to Indianapolis where he focuses his magnifying glass on three people in an area that registers a dubious distinction of having one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.  This is not remotely a one-off for inner city environs, and what Cohn means to imply here a la The Naked City is that three scene specific stories are merely a microcosm of a building nationwide phenomenon allowed by educational advances that nonetheless in any case fails to hide the deplorable state of education in areas of economic deprivation and bad luck for being born on the wrong side of the tracks.  Night School rightly means to point a finger at urban school districts and the unequal allotment of scholastic opportunities and benefits, but it also accentuates the old adage “where there is a will there is a way” and those willing to psychologically adapt a “water under the bridge” mindset will come to understand their own capabilities are far more pronounced now than when they were toiling in isolation, minimum wages and criminal activities. (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      The career of Ridley Scott offers a fertile sense of the glories and the pitfalls of contemporary film. Most particularly, his connoisseurship of conflict, resentment and equilibrium meets in the workplace and marketplace a bizarre and bruising dismissiveness, notwithstanding superficial salutes.

Feeling to be at his best when giving a consummate twist to the products of others, Scott unveils works tending to be remarkably at odds with the inceptions, stories and screenplays of those populating the credits. Having a keen eye (and heart) for natural and historical incidents significantly pertaining to the preparations on hand, he very subtly provides his rip-roaring, usually quite winning, dazzlements with far less plebeian ranges of nourishment, far more aristocratic ranges of problematics and sufficiency, than the public would suspect. As we make our way through Thelma and Louise (1991), being equipped by feminist screenwriter, Callie Khouri, we must be on our toes to comprehend why such exclusivity strikes him as the way to go. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Tribeca Film Festival begins this coming Thursday, and Lucille and I will be busy for the eleven (day) duration of the affair, save for Wednesday the 20th, a day we have another commitment for.  I project we will somehow see around 30 to 34 films, which will come close to the 37 we saw last year, though nothing will ever match the 52 do we managed in 2014.  We are busy now piecing together a schedule for the event.  We are very proud that one of Melanie’s films will be screened this coming Tuesday at the famed Manhattan revival house, the Anthology Film Archives, and we will be there too with bells on.  I will have reports on the first part of the Tribeca Festival and Melanie’s screening on next week’s Monday Morning Diary.

The entire family (and our friend Broadway Bob) made an encore trip to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania over the weekend, sleeping at a Day’s Inn on Saturday night.  This was our second visit to the splendidly rustic and historical location in the past year, and I’m afraid we now addicted to this scenic and fascinating enclave.  We again completed a comprehensive tour of the battlefield, and survived a 28 degree frigid ghost tour at night, which included a stop in front of the famed Jennie Wade House, where the 20 year old woman lived and became the first civilian casualty of the coming historic three day battle.  We had a wonderful meal and Gettysburg Eddie’s on the main road, Steinwehr Avenue.  On the way back east we spend Sunday afternoon in the Amish Country, located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, ate at Good and Plenty’s (fantastic Pennsylvania Dutch family meal with deserts) and toured the amazing countryside where the mode of transportation is horse and buggy. (more…)

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