Archive for June, 2016

Allan, I know you are presently at the infirmary in Lancaster, and won’t be reading anything for a while. Allan, we are all shattered in this house by this latest news, though underneath all the tears and disbelief, we know you will again triumph against this latest challenge. You have proven time and again that your will and passion for life is unparalleled, that your unwavering resolve to sustain the spirit and fortitude required to emerge triumphant stands alone. You are larger than life and as such will repel this latest setback to your mortality. What you have my friend is the love and undying support of all those whose lives you have touched. No man can be richer than you, no man more blessed.


Read Full Post »


Screen capture from underrated Civil War film “Free State of Jones” directed by Gary Ross

by Sam Juliano

After months of taking small steps in behalf of the upcoming Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown we are now nearly ready to launch this amazing project.  Posting officially begins on Wednesday, July 6th, when the Number 100 film will be covered with an essay from one of the countdown’s writers.  Because we decided to go the distance with this endeavor, we will be posting every day of the week this time around.  This is the first time we have utilized the weekend for countdown purposes.  For more than three months we will be presenting the writings of twenty-four (24) authors until Thursday, October 13th, the day when the #1 film will be covered.  It is thrilling that after a lethargic reception, enthused participants have rallied around the project and as of this writing 92 of the 100 assignments have already been filled!

June is nearly spent, leaving all of us with the certainty of some scorching temperatures as we navigate air conditioning and those days trips to the seashore that are near fruition.  No doubt as I write this several in the readership are away enjoying the early weeks of the summer.  The 4th of July is only one week away as well.

Lucille attended another retirement dinner for a teaching colleague this past week, and watched two movies in theaters, one a new release, the other a musical classic perfectly timed with Independence Day.  We saw: (more…)

Read Full Post »


by J.D. Lafrance

The 1970s was an era where disco tortured our eardrums and nihilistic cinema ruled an American landscape riddled with a deep distrust of the government brought about by the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert F. Kennedy, and Malcolm X, which were still fresh in people’s minds. When The Parallax View was released in 1974, America had just come out of a long and costly war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal would soon leave the Richard Nixon presidency in tatters. It would be the second film in an unofficial trilogy of paranoid thrillers made by director Alan J. Pakula that included Klute (1971) and All the President’s Men (1976). With these films he was commenting on the times in which he lived – dark and rife with fear and loathing. And Pakula wasn’t alone. The ‘70s was an era that featured some of the best political thrillers ever made with the likes of The Conversation (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Winter Kills (1979). Arguably, The Parallax View is best of the bunch as it incorporated affectations of a surrealistic style with archetypal thriller conventions to produce a film where nothing is what it seems and good doesn’t always triumph over evil.

Senator Charles Carroll (William Joyce) is an ambitious independent politician rumored to be seeking the Presidential nomination in the coming year. It is July 4 and he’s doing a meet and greet at the Space Needle in Seattle when he’s shot and killed by two assassins dressed as waiters. One of them is killed trying to escape while the other (Bill McKinney) sneaks off in the ensuing chaos and confusion. After months of investigation, an unidentified government committee releases a report that states Carroll was killed by a lone assassin with no evidence of a conspiracy. At the time, this must have reminded people of the findings by the Warren Commission Report on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, which found Lee Harvey Oswald to be the only gunman acting alone.


Read Full Post »


by James Clark

     Life (2015), a film about a desultory movie star in tandem with an ambitious photojournalist, appears to be absorbed in the delivery of visual liveliness, charisma. Put into play by Anton Corbijn, a major photographer in his own right, dating from long before his movie work, there is one other aspect which changes everything: Corbijn’s photography has been focused upon rock and roll—videos, band promotional photos and portraits. The star, James Dean, could be treated as a glamorous, gifted “discovery” like that of so many others in the history of Hollywood, which is to say, a heart-throb in the mold of Adonis or Venus, having no significant historical mooring. However, if we keep our ears as well as our eyes open, we will, I think, have to accommodate James Dean’s being a fairly alert sensibility at the dawning of rock music, a participant of that restlessness being touted, in the words of an LA disc jockey listened to by the photojournalist, Dennis Stock, as he works in his darkroom at the film’s very beginning, “…new country blues song… everyone’s talking about…” Stock completes his processing the print, the DJ yells, “Don’t touch that dial, ’cause now we’ve got Lightnin’ Hopkins!” And Lightnin’ (a rock guitarist [“country blues” being his tag] ahead of his time and an inspiration for hordes of killer guitarists in subsequent decades) detonates a note which sets off an A-bomb flash of white void to magisterially dovetail with: the red glow of the lab (and its faintly grinding sonic atmosphere) and its glowing electrical red filament jumping into view like a nasty alien approaching a space-ship wall; and, moreover, the red flames of the title, Life. A cut to Stock’s driving along night-time LA streets includes Lightnin’s razor-sharp pop which puts to shame the tepid torch-singer polluting the event he sees fit to attend, making sure that his camera and supply of flash-bulbs are tip-top before exiting his black sedan (black sedan; and it’s the year 1955), and approaching the party mall where Hollywood director, Nicholas Ray, is staging a party with a view to future movie magic we soon doubt could withstand the Lightnin’ test. (more…)

Read Full Post »


Screen cap from Kaneto Shindo 1952 Japanese masterpiece “Children of Hiroshima”

by Sam Juliano

The first stage of the science-fiction countdown has concluded, and Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. has announced that 33 ballots have been cast.  After the results are sent on to me later this week I will immediately notify the group involved by e mail so writing assignments can be firmed up.  Everything considered the project is panning out to be far more successful than was original anticipated, and I want to thank everyone on board for their passionate attendance towards its negotiation.  After speaking to a few members of the group, I have decided to expand the actual countdown to a Top 60 – meaning the tabulation and essay writing will include 60 films, to be presented as always in reverse order.  July 1st  (Friday) will be the first day of launch, with a Monday through Friday schedule that will run through mid September.  I have received several requests from prospective writers, asking me to set aside assignments connected to films that are widely anticipated to make the final cut.  Lastly, I regret not being able to institute the element of secrecy that some in the group had suggested, as it would complicate the manner in which this endeavor will be presented.  Still, the site readers -aside from those in the e mail group- will still be in the dark as far as the results are concerned.

The tragic death of Star Trek’s Chekov, Anton Yelchin at 27 years old leaves one in a sense of disbelief.  Such a promising young actor and reputedly wonderful man has now been snuffed out to the implausibilities of fate.  R.I.P.  Anton’s work will live on forever.

Lucille, Danny and I attended Round 2 of Edward Hemingway’s new book tour at the Curious Reader Bookstore in Glen Rock, New Jersey on Saturday morning in promotion of his fabulous “Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus.”  the popular and affable Hemingway -the youngest grandson of you-know-who- charmed the large group of youngsters and adults in attendance. (more…)

Read Full Post »


Fiddler on the Roof lyricist Sheldon Harnick at Film Forum on SundayEnter a caption


by Sam Juliano

The depravity in Orlando over the weekend reduces all other discussion to below inconsequential, but life goes on in unconscionable mode, leaving us to ponder yet again how current gun laws continue to allow such events to transpire.  Of course even with revision, we wouldn’t be safe from recurrences, but it all seems much too easy.  There are no words for the horror in the Pulse nightclub.

Last night’s Tony Awards offered no surprises, with the musical Hamilton and the play The Humans dominating the festivities.  The surprisingly successful ballot stage of the science fiction countdown has now reached its final days, with a deadline of 11:00 P.M., this coming Wednesday, June 15th.  So far we have exceeded 20, and expectations are for several more than that before voting is closed, at which point Voting Tabulator extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will take over.

Another busy week for Lucille and I included a trip to the Court Bookstore in Brooklyn to attend a launch party for Edward (grandson of you-know-who) Hemingway’s “Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus.”  As always for such events, young Jeremy was with us. (more…)

Read Full Post »


 © 2016 by James Clark

 A college baseball player filled to the brim with dreams and drives about making it to the Big Leagues, creates a small riot at a club by attacking the bartender for less than Big League cocktail skills. When he and his teammates are finally chased out to the parking lot, part of the venue’s name shows on the exterior—SOUND. (The full name is the unimaginative, “Sound Machine.”) The one with the noticeably bad temper calls himself Raw Dog, seemingly dovetailing with his Detroit (Murder City, circa 1980) home, perhaps (he might hope) giving him a better chance to stomp to fame and fortune in a very competitive endeavor. The ironic little demurral on the wall brings about a circus-catch robbery of a home run so many viewers would take for granted here.

This film comes to us (after a long incubation) fully aware of general cultural and film-genre biases toward the processes of so-called coming-of-age, to the effect that late-adolescent self-indulgence is a basically life-affirming event. The boys milling about on that asphalt watching Raw Dog scream and jump up and down assertively, have begun their last weekend before classes with a view to drinking, smoking and fucking everything in sight. Most of them seem on the surface to be—in the vernacular of an even earlier era— “disturbingly healthy” specimens on the way to domestic efficacy, under the aegis of the American Dream. Whatever instability they might evince has been universally accorded that spiritedness that makes the world go round. (Still to come are the co-eds, their perhaps inordinate preoccupation with mixing adventure and domestic bliss accorded the same uncritical sunniness from that vast constituency of those unconvinced that there is anything more to life than the accolade-strewn domestic tattoo they have immersed themselves in.) (more…)

Read Full Post »


by J.D. Lafrance

In retrospect, releasing an R-rated buddy action movie at the beginning of the summer blockbuster season – amidst comic book superhero movies and children’s animated films – was probably not a good idea. The Nice Guys (2016), Shane Black’s throwback to a bygone era, has performed unremarkably. With this and the lackluster returns from his previous buddy action movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005), it is both unfortunate and obvious that mainstream movie-going audiences no longer want to see the brand of violently comedic crime movies Black helped popularize in the 1980s and 1990s. They want movies that put an emphasis on sitcom-style comedy, eclipsed by sanitized action, and starring popular comedians like Kevin Hart (Ride Along) or Melissa McCarthy (The Heat).

I suppose one could see the writing on the wall with the massive success of the Rush Hour movies. Black even seemed to acknowledge this with Iron Man 3 (2013) where he had to disguise his trademark motifs under the guise of the Comic Book Superhero genre. Black’s unique stamp on beloved material angered Marvel fans, a poisonous dose of bad luck that followed him into The Nice Guys. This is a shame because for fans of R-rated buddy action movies, The Nice Guys is pure cinematic catnip and a reminder of how excellent this genre was and could still be. (more…)

Read Full Post »


Bill Genovese, brother of murdered Kitty (in 1964) responds to questions on stage with filmmakers after screening of documentary THE WITNESS

by Sam Juliano

Those planning to submit a ballot for the Top 50 science-fiction film countdown still have eight (8) days left to do so.  So far a very impressive sixteen people have handed in their votes in a polling that started off with a distinct measure of indifference.  When voting closes Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. will tabulate ahead of the process of sorting out writing assignments.  A late june launching is anticipated at Wonders in the Dark.

Warm, though not scorching weather has settled in on the east Coast as some await all the various late June activities that define the ending of school years and for some impending retirements.  This week also marks the conclusion of the presidential election primary process, where it is a given that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be squaring off in the November election.  I did see this coming quite a while back even while some experts set the odds at 3%.  My own vote on tuesday in the New Jersey Democratic primary will be cast for Bernie Sanders.

This past week was a busy one on the domestic one for Lucille and I though movie-wise we only saw a single new release in theaters -on Saturday with Broadway Bob- on the same weekend where all my kids made good on passes to the annual Randall’s Island music concert.  Again the pace with at-home film viewings was a torrid one though. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Duane Porter

Looking back at the films of last year. Adding another chapter to the ongoing history of cinema. A history of light and shadow, color and movement, music and sounds. Trying to look directly at the screen and see what is there without preconception or bias. These are the films that meant the most to me. A history of ancient China that unfolds with all the beauty of poetry and painting. A quirky homage to the screwball comedies of the past. A story of desire playing out during a time of repression. A documentary essay on aging, mortality, and the bond between a mother and daughter. A documentary/fantasy critique of the economic-political climate of modern Portugal. An action blockbuster that appealed to both the arthouse and the megaplex and even won a few academy awards. An avant-garde recreation of lost films from nearly a century ago. A highly personal spiritual quest that moves slowly through a beautiful world. A surprising single-take afterhours spree that suddenly morphs into a heist film. And even another cerebral sci-fi contemplation on humanity and artificial intelligence.

As is always the case, there are many films that I have been unable to see. Most notably, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendor, Arnaud Desplechin’s My Golden Days, Hong Sang-soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then, Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart, Philippe Garrel’s In the Shadow of Women, and Andrzej Żuławski’s Cosmos. Any one of these might force a change in this line-up. But, as it stands today, these are my ten favorite films of 2015.

1. The Assassin directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien

1_Assassin 2015WitD

Through diaphanous veils and reflections of candle flames hanging in the air, we see Lord Tian (Chang Chin) return to the side of Huji (Hsieh Hsin-Ying), his favorite concubine, after having confronted the assassin. She shows him a jade medallion she has found in their rooms that matches his own. (more…)

Read Full Post »