Archive for October, 2016


by Sam Juliano

O, my luve’s like a red, red rose…..            -Robert Burns, 1794

The final years of the Georgian Age brought great industrial and technological advancements to England, but the rapid and unregulated growth came at a price.  Medical breakthroughs lagged fatally behind and social impoverishment was never so pronounced.  As one of the world’s most celebrated authors was to pen in one of his most famous works during the upcoming reign of Queen Victoria, It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.  The story of one of the era’s most underappreciated intellectual adventurers is one wrought in equal measure with sagacity and tribulation, revelation and dominion, and opulence and calamity.  That it was played out in the household of one of the most revered literary figures in history isn’t at all especially surprising, though the machinations that paved the way for it and the hybrid flowering that set the stage make it one of the most remarkable accounts for those fascinated by the beginnings of a technology that now has become a dominating force in our daily life.

Three picture books on the same subject have appeared in the last few years, with two of those releasing in 2016.  Ada Lovelace: Poet of Science  beautifully written by Diane Stanley, with illustrations by Jessie Hartland first appeared months ago, and it was followed recently by Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson.  In just over twelve months ago Laurie Wallmark and the wonderful illustrator April Chu collaborated on Ada Byron Lovelace and the Thinking Machine.  Ms. Robinson’s book is the only one of the three done by a single person and as such it is bolstered by a singular vision of how to connect the economically applied prose with the sumptuous art that places it squarely in the Caldecott equation.  Robinson is a first-rate artist who for this book has created Japanese watercolor on Arches paper, then in an intricate process the paintings were cut out and glued to achieve depth and 3D before finally being photographed. (more…)

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Danny and Jillian as Lurch and Uncle Fester in Cliffside Park High School play “Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family”

by Sam Juliano

Halloween is here, and any sorry sucker who is reading this post, and not planning their ghoulish garb for this evening deserves to be Count Dracula’s next victim.  Reinvent yourself.  Be the talk of the town.  And don’t go to sleep until you watch at least one Hammer horror and one of the Universal gems from the 30’s.  For those with a more acute taste for the extreme try an Argento.  For those with a Gothic hankering put in a Bava.  For true horrific greatness, we offer you Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, John Carpenter’s Halloween, and The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock.  For those who tilt towards pure cinema, we have Nosferatu, Eyes With A Face, Dead of Night (1945), Onibaba, The Haunting, Don’t Look Now.  Films like The Exorcist, The Hills Have Eyes and City of the Dead fit the bill too. Those desiring definitive horror lists can refer to stellar round-ups from Jamie Uhler and Roderick Heath.  This isn’t a time to hold back my friends!  Heck even Boris Karloff’s Thriller and Rod Serling’s Night Gallery would make your day complete.  But be careful when you go out trick or treating.  There are some crazies out there, and we all want your safe for next Halloween.  Oh, and by the way, put on a jacket over your costume.  Temperatures in the New York City metropolitan area are expected to hover around 50 degrees.

Lucille and the rest of the brood – or at least those not participating attended a Cliffside Park High School Halloween production of “Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family” on Saturday afternoon.  Our darling Jillian played Uncle Fester, our enterprising Danny impersonated Lurch, and Jeremy worked on the lighting.  We also attended a book lauching at the Stories Bookshop in Brooklyn for the new book in the “Witches of Benevento” series by John Behmelmans Marciano and Caldecott Medal winner Sophie Blackall. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The homey burrow and the star-gazing rabbit seen on the cover of Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s edifying  The Knowing Book fleetingly evoke three literary classics – Robert Lawson’s Newbery winning Rabbit Hill, the epic-themed Watership Down by Richard Adams and the Uncle Remus story Brer Rabbit by Joel Chandler Harris.   But first impressions -like the arc of the theme in Dotlich’s book- often scatter into disparate directions, and The Knowing Book is as much about rabbits as Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is about donkeys.  The solo protagonist of The Knowing Book is more like Chuck Jones’ greatest creation on steroids, though he is one in an endless line of humanized animals who are called on in children’s books to replicate the setbacks and breakthroughs, the mysteries and discoveries, the charges and the retreats of everyday life.  Bunnies vie with bears as the the most encored of wildlife denizens in children’s books, and recently we had one in subversive mode in Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett’s Battle Bunny, and another  getting spooked in the Caldecott Honor winning Creepy Carrots.  Yet the rabbit has always moved with a kind of reckless abandon, seemingly unfettered by even the daily obstacles associated with survival, benign in spirit, temperament and movement and agile enough to change course at the bat of an eyelash.

Dotlich’s hare -closer to the magnanimous spirit of the one in Eric Rohmann’s Caldecott Medal winning My Friend Rabbit – is one that quickly strives to connect with the outside world, immediately establishing the sky above as a matter of eternal permanence, and a starting point for all meditative ruminations and the directions one will ultimately embark upon.  Robert Frost urged that we go on a completely different journey, charting our own course, re-inventing ourselves and establishing ourselves as true originals.  In the spirit of Frost, Dotlich implores adventurers to grasp the concept of permanence while taking full advantage of the freedom that will define the manner that change the parameters and raise the bar.

The book’s illustrator Matthew Cordell is a veteran of several collaborations and works he has completed solo.  His spirited anarchic drawings last year for Philip C. Stead’s Special Delivery ranked among 2015’s most distinguished and this year he is back for a book with a completely different tone and philosophical slant.  His sketch board watercolor art for The Knowing Book evinces a metaphysical aura, and in keeping with Dotlich’s New Age histrionics his style throughout is abstract and undisciplined,  yet he reaches the essence of the book’s themes by sending a subtle message to his readers that square can be beautiful too.  Cordell is one of those artists whose work speaks to children by emulating their own prospective art at a lower grade school age, yet for adults his canvasses are dazzling and suffused with diversity and style – quite a treat for art lovers. (more…)

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by J.D. Lafrance

The assassination of American President John F. Kennedy is a watershed event in American history. For Baby Boomers and beyond, it has been the fuel that provoked them to question their own beliefs and those of their government. Yet, for such a highly publicized affair, there is still a myriad of uncertainties that surround the “actual” incident. Countless works of fiction and non-fiction have been created concerning the subject, but have done little in aiding our understanding of the assassination and the events surrounding it. Oliver Stone’s film, JFK (1991), depicts the events leading up to –and – after the assassination like a densely constructed puzzle, complete with jump cuts and multiple perspectives. Stone’s film presents the assassination as a powerful event constructed by its conspirators to create confusion with its contradictory evidence, to then bury this evidence in the Warren Commission Report, which in turn manifests multiple interpretations of key figures like Lee Harvey Oswald. JFK offers a structured examination of the conspiracy from multiple points of view where everything fits together to reveal a larger, more frightening picture, implicating the most powerful people in the United States government.

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by Sam Juliano

The just-concluded Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown will always be the one project in the site’s history that will leave the most aching afterthought – it was after all staged during the most tragic period in the site’s tenure, and its maturation last Spring was one wrought with controversy and ever-changing parameters.  In the end, it turned out to be remarkably successful, though as always legitimate questions could be raised about the numerical placements of a number of films, as well as the actual inclusions and omissions.  Where this project really took flight was in the actually essays themselves.  The writing was unceasingly first-rate – exhaustive, scholarly, eloquent and displaying an astonishing array of genre knowledge and unbridled enthusiasm.  The Australian film writer extraordinaire Roderick Heath copped poll position honors for his countdown-leading ten essays, all spectacularly exhaustive and executed in his inimitable dense, scholarly, high-octane style .  Heath is a horror-science fiction specialist, so focusing on this front for nearly four months produced some of the most spectacular essays one could hope to lay eyes on.  His capstone pieces on Metropolis and Solaris from this moment forward must be seen as definitive.  And yet, Mr. Heath was not remotely the only contributor who brought this blood, sweat and tears project to glorious fruition with top-drawer reviews.  Robert Hornak, Stephen Mullen, Duane Porter,  John Greco, John Grant, Lee Price, Brandie Ashe, Adam Ferenz, J. D. Lafrance, Sachin Gandhi, Aaron West, Pat Perry, Pierre de Plume, Jamie Uhler,  Jaimie Grijalba, Marilyn Ferdinand, Anuk Bavkist, David Schleicher, Ed Howard, Pedro Silva, Christianne Benedict and of course our beloved Allan Fish (with seven re-publishings) brought all kinds of definitive expertise to their subjects, and a number of their individual posts could well be considered among the very best of this entire venture.  Bob Clark, Joel Bocko and Jamie Uhler collaborated on a series of sensational podcasts that brought further appreciation to the genre, and provided discussions that could well be referenced many years forward.  And then of course…….there is…..Dean Treadway.  This amazing film lover and superlative writer wrote several essays, but it was his grand finale – a staggering 12,000 word essay on the film that finished in the Number 1 position – 2001: A Space Odyssey that moved mountains.  It was one of the greatest of all film presentations and a fitting capper to this grand four month journey.  The 2001 essay also drew the most comments in the countdown with a whopping total of 45, but this was rather fitting.

Many thanks to John Grant, Jamie Uhler,  Jon Warner, Duane Porter, Tony d’Ambra, Frank Gallo, Peter M., Adam Ferenz, Robert Hornak, Tim McCoy,  Aaron West, John Greco,  J. D. Lafrance,  Maurizio Roca, Joel Bocko, Bob Clark, Pat Perry, Dean Treadway, Marilyn Ferdinand, Celeste Fenster and Ricky Chinigo especially for their prolific daily contributions to the daily comment sections for the countdown which allowed for some fabulous threads, gloriously contentious or of the pat on the back variety.  Page views throughout the project were uniformly solid, if not quite spectacular.  I have to say that Jon Warner is an amazing guy.  He took a pass on writing essays this time around due to uncertainty with his full grasp of this particular genre, but that did not stop him from placing comments on the vast majority of the post, much as he has for each and every countdown.  Thank you my friend!

The countdown is dedicated to Allan Fish, our incomparable friend who taught all of us what it meant to live and breathe something we were passionate about and never to approach anything half hearted.  He will continue to inspire us all to the end of our own days. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The 2014 picture book Draw! by Raul Colon is one of my all-time favorites.  The sumptuous safari expedition book landed on the New York Times Top Ten list and won praise from virtually every children’s book site.  The wordless title’s wide popularity with teachers and their students and the ravishing beauty of its art  emboldened the pre-Caldecott prognosticators to forecast it would soon be wearing a shiny gold or silver sticker after the early February announcement by the American Library Association’s Youth Media Awards.  Alas, in a very competitive year the committee bypassed the book, leaving many in disbelief.  To be sure there were several others that were MIA when the record-breaking lineup of seven books were announced, but Draw! was in poll position on so many lists, that it wasn’t easy to reconcile the omission.  At the end of the day awards are contingent on a number of factors – timing, competition, consensus and of course taste.  The committee actually did a fine job that year, but the absence of Draw! was truly unfortunate.  I am tempted to frame Draw! as Colon’s picture book piece de resistance, as it is possesses a purity of theme, an emotional core and the matter of a singular vision exclusive to books crafted by one person.  But in a prolific career marked by remarkable uniformity in style and polychromatic splendor  Colon is all about consistency whether he is working solo or for a writer seeking the services of an illustrator.  Some years he has even treated the book community to multiple books as illustrator, leaving fans to assume the unenviable task of choosing.  In 2016, Colon crafted sumptuous art for Jonah Winter’s Hillary, a biography of the Democratic nominee for President that commenced from her student years.  He also brought pictorial elegance to Fearless Flyers: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine written by Heather Lang, which is the subject of this Caldecott Medal Contender review.  Both of Colon’s books this year are about women who achieved fame in contrasting venues, and both are exquisite, but Fearless Flyer: Ruth Law and Her Flying Machine in particular is especially Caldecott worthy.

Ruth Law was undaunted by failure and the danger that came with it.  Even with the most careful preparation and mechanical expertise disaster could strike down a flyer in the early days of aviation if the weather did not cooperate.  The early planes were flimsily constructed with bamboo, wire and cloth – meaning the most talented aviator could easily enough be undermined by matters out of their control.   A modern day parallel is the famed French born tightrope walker Phillipe Petit, who defied the feasibility of turbulent wind currents when crossing between the two World Trade Center towers in the early 70’s.  All the talent in the world couldn’t insure success if meteorological conditions grew hostile.  Yet Petit like Law persevered as a result of dedication, resilience and a fair degree of luck.  Ms. Lang’s soulful and exciting prose pares down an epic flight to the most heart-stopping episodes, which keeping acute focus on the renowned aviator’s state of mind.  Some of Law’s most integral feelings are presented by way of enlarged cursive script. (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      The films of Jim Jarmusch tend to entail bemusingly limited figures harboring what they believe to be a passport to the fabulous. Many of the interactions pertain to travel in the public domain, where protagonists make their moves in face of people they are meeting for the first time and are unlikely to ever see again.

Having mined within such structures three amazing veins of contemporary concerns and whimsy, in the fourth vehicle, Night on Earth (1991), he felt it was time to convene an array of urban regulars giving an account of themselves in that quintessential sounding board, a taxi on a long run.Attentive to the varied and rich disturbances such a site can reveal, our guide has put into play a series of 5 cabs in 5 modern cities, shaking things up on the same shift. (A first of many caveats as to the many revelations is that whereas the customers may blurt out self-disclosures in the rather unfamiliar venue as something they seldom run with, the complement of drivers may not infrequently tend to let those on the paying end hear about pet concerns distilled by solitary and stressful lives. A second alert catalyzing the front-seat/ back-seat dramas is the graphic design framework of an atlas showing many lands, many cultures, as coming to close-ups introducing, in turn, each region of the specific sagas, along with itemization of the correct time from one of five identical clocks arrayed on a wall.)

Added to the zoom from the general to the particular, the city itself is represented as a flashing light bringing to mind old radio-show movies (this first centre being LA, after all) as well as ushering in the far from old verbal magic of this cinematic windfall. Before loaded words hit the fan, however, there is the first driver, Corky, a young LA woman trying to derive enjoyment from smoking and chewing gum at the same time, with a couple of stoners in the back seat and power chords on her tape deck. Also on display, at the Executive Terminal of LAX, where the brain-dead rock stars were to be shipped out to thrill the nation, is incoming nation-thriller, Victoria Snelling, checking in by phone to the film studio for which, in her capacity of casting agent, she has found (would the term promiscuously be apt?) 10 hitherto middling young lovelies, one of which headed for silver screen sublimity. Victoria is not simply promiscuous for the sake of impressing her studio bosses but she is ballistically promiscuous on hitching her Grace Kelly-blonde, white (and black)-tailored, middle-age presence to Brian De Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980), whereby the actressGeena Rowlands’ Victoria becomes stalked by Angie Dickinson’s promiscuous Kate (another Grace Kelly-blonde in a white suit that doesn’t stay white very long). This leaves Winona Ryder’s cabby, Corky, having the very tough act of Nancy Allen’s hooker, Liz, to follow, inasmuch as the latter traces to the inspirational better-half of Giuliana (played by super-tailored, super-blonde, super-cool, Monica Vitti, in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert (1964). (more…)

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