by Sam Juliano
Last week’s miss for the Monday Morning Diary was the first such rare instance since my two week trip to the United Kingdom in August of 2013 when my family spent two weeks with Allan and his mum. The winding down of the long running Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown and some Caldecott Medal Contender review commitments convinced me for this one time to combine the activities into a single week. Therefore my round-up constitutes what I managed to negotiate in the prior two week period. Speaking of the countdown, it really has caught fire as it nears the finish line (this coming Wednesday in fact) and some of the most spectacular reviews that have ever published at the site have appeared in the person of some glorious scholarship. It is hard to believe we are nearly done, but it will be a project always remembered for the tenacity of its participants and the unconscionable darkness that hovered over it with the passing of our beloved friend and film mentor about half way through. Because of that incomparable grief and battle with depression it was an unprecedented challenge to move forward. Thoughts of cancellation nearly came to pass, but after discussion with Jamie Uhler it was deemed a better idea to divert to the subject out dear friend lived his life for, thus this countdown is devoted to Allan Fish, whose reviews were seen more times in the Top 100 than any other writer aside from Roderick Heath. Mr. Heath of course has moved mountains with numerous staggering essays that redefine the capabilities of the form. But a number of other writers have penned brilliant pieces and I will discuss those in the countdown round-up next week. The Sunday posting of J. D. Lafrance’s Blade Runner represents another case of stupendous scholarship, and earlier this week Duane Porter wrote up a storm for his La Jetee review as did Robert Hornak and John Greco respectively for Frankenstein and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Aaron West last week wrote an achingly beautiful review of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it goes on and on. And then there is Allan who needs no further commendation. I also want to thank the childrens’ book fans for their amazing support by way of comments and page views for the fourth annual Caldecott series. As soon as the Science-Fiction countdown ends I will be devoting quite a bit of time towards resuming the series, though I also would like to post some horror film reviews from some of our staff as we move closer towards Halloween.
It does seem pretty clear that the Republican nominee for President will be going down to resounding defeat, not that anyone is at all surprised. But the past weeks on that front have been as bizarre as have maligned any election. Ha, only in the US! Yes right now it does look like a Chicago – Cleveland World Series (Geez, if Jamie were a baseball fan who might he be rooting for? He grew up in Cleveland, where his family still lives, but he’s been a Chicago resident for a number of years now) I do not count out the Toronto Blue Jays just yet, but they have to turn it around fast. Jim and Valerie Clark are two of the team’s biggest fans, and I’ll be thinking of you both as the series winds down. This is the second year in a row the Jays have been knocking at the door.
Though I did see a few films at home via netyflix and DVD/blu ray for the October horror-thon, the past two weeks included four (4) newly-released films seen in theaters and several book-related presentations in the area, including a major event in my school district.
Seeing my dear friends Paul and Pam (John; realthog) at yet anough Festival in Warwick, New York was a major highlight over the past months, and this time we actually got to spend some time with our great friends.
Quand on a 17 ANS (Being 17) ***** (IFC Film Center)
Captain Fantastic **** 1/2 (Montclair Claridge Cinemas)
Birth of a Nation *** 1/2 (Edgewater multiplex)
Eight Days a Week **** (Montclair Claridge Cinemas)
Directed by the great post New Wave French director Andre Techine the new work QUAND ON A 17 ANS (Being 17) represents his strongest film since the masterful “Wild Reeds” back in 1994. The film is a wrenching gay-themed coming-of-age drama with a baptism under fire mise en scene that leaves you both shaken and moved to your core. A tug of war between repulsion and attraction that uses stares and silences to superlative effect.A five star drama for this viewer, and a top contender for film of the year.
CAPTAIN FANTASTIC features an impressive turn from Viggo Mortenson as an unorthodox parent of six children, who loses his wife to mental illness and stays the course in keeping his family sheltered away from the rest of the world. The film is aching, quirty and alltogether winning and was a huge hit at Cannes. Cinematography and score are first rate, writing and supporting performances are exceptional. I do consider this one fo the ten best films of the year.
BIRTH OF A NATION Much of the film is powerful and wrought with intense conviction, but various narrative flaws keep it from being first-rank. Has been compared unfavorably with 12 Years A Slave but these are far from similar films.
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK. Far from audacious filmmaking by Ron Howard but much of the footage that was put on his lap is electrifying. Not a definitive documentary on my favorite band of all-time but still an exceptional piece.
At home Lucille and I saw:
LAKE MUNGO (2008; Joel Anderson) Lucille was confused by it with that documentary style film within a film approach but I did find it eerily disturbing and atmospheric. The illicit sexual affair development does carry the most intrigue and viseral thrills, but the film does keep you riveted on a number of fronts. Unique and unsettling it remains thought-provoking well after it is seen. Came strongly recommended from Jamie, who as it turns out did not oversell it all all. It is different, unique and psychologically horrific.
BURN WITCH BURN – an early 60’s witchcraft film, one fo the best of its kind. I’ve seen it several times over the years and yet again it has us prisoner from opening minute till conclusion.
SON OF FRANKENSTEIN (1939) An expressionist gem by Rowland E. Lee that understandably can’t quite eclipse its predecessor (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN; 1935) but remains one of the finest entries in the Universal horror series nonetheless. Igor’s famous line when he defends the Frankenstein monster “He does things for me” is one of series’ best-remembered and the film features a spirited cast including Basil Rathbone. Seen this week again on the new Frankenstein blu-ray Legacy set.