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Archive for January, 2017

black_stallion

By J.D. Lafrance

The two action/adventure films that made the greatest impression on me as a young boy were The Black Stallion (1979) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). While I’ve seen the latter countless times over the years, I realized recently that I hadn’t seen the former since my parents took me to see it in theaters back in 1979. How could this be? I seem to remember liking it enough that my folks bought me Walter Farley’s 1941 novel of the same name on which it’s based. It wasn’t exactly hard to find on home video or see occasionally on television.

I recently caught up with it and was instantly taken back to when I first saw it as a child. I was also able to appreciate its artistry more now as an adult. The Black Stallion is beautifully shot – it’s basically an art house film for children, which is unthinkable in this day and age of noisy CGI animated movies and dumbed-down live-action fare. This is due in large part to the intelligent screenplay – written by Melissa Mathison, Jeanne Rosenberg, and William D. Wittliff – and the masterful direction of Carroll Ballard who got an incredibly sensitive performance out of a young boy by the name of Kelly Reno. The film was regarded as a unique anomaly when it came out and continues to be one of the most under-appreciated children’s films.
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by Sam Juliano

The latest discussions in regard to a possible new project for the late spring have revolved around the possibility of a “Greatest Television Shows of All-Time” countdown.  We were thinking of Top 60.  If the project happens it is posed to include all shows – including mini-series like The Civil War, I Claudius, The World at War and Pennies from Heaven among others.  Obviously it would mix American, British and any other shows released around the world.  This particular project has been discussed for years, and it seems 2017 may be the time to launch it.  The poll on the greatest War Films is certainly still on the table, but perhaps for another year.  The TV poll will strictly remain at 60, which is still a most formidable venture.

January weather in the Metropolitan area has been comparatively mild, though with February and March ahead it could change quick enough.  The political climate though is pretty dreadful, but I’ll save further discussion for the comment section should anyone desire to broach it.

Lucille and I have been heading to the theaters frantically to see all the essential films remaining ahead of my own Top Ten Films of 2016 posting, set for Monday, February 6th.  We saw a bunch for a second time as well, including Oscar nominated films like The Arrival, Manchester by the Sea, Moonlight, La La Land and Jackie.  If I were to add those to the two first viewings in theaters my total this past week would be seven (7) films.  And that doesn’t include several I watched on amazon prime and netflix streaming. (more…)

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© 2017 by James Clark

 

    In Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi classic, Space Odyssey (1968), one earthling, Dave, leverages his involvement in the American space program to strike up a unique and fertile relationship with a black monolith juke-box-resembling tower emitting unearthly music for the sake of an inter-species choir of lucid and ardent sensibilities. 48 years later, along comes filmmaker, Denis Villeneuve, from Quebec Canada (a place not even very good at streetcars), with a film, Arrival (2016)—also about inter-species progress—which, for the most part, exceeds expectations. Kubrick did have his Old Testament David; but unequivocally, the point was surpassing conventional relentment. What, on the other hand, are we to make of, after nearly two hours of thrilling headway, the Frank Capra denouement? Does the crashingly out of place designation, “Abbott and Costello,” for the pair of aliens they are tasked to make sense of, by a military physicist (as apparently likewised amused on the part of the protagonist, Louise, a top-notch linguistics scholar), constitute a word to the wise that, though some remnants of an obsolete world still hang around, you are welcome to regard Louise’s “triumph” as part of a vivid reverie centering upon the death from cancer of her teenaged daughter?

    Arrival, with its family-guests’ connotation of a title, is definitely sci-fi with a difference. Rather than show off the latest in deadly weapons, wielded by adventurers having been bitten by the adventurism bug since before Kindergarten, we have a central character startlingly indifferent to the day’s Breaking News that (an ecclesiastically 12) alien space ships have positioned themselves across the globe. As a teacher in a university lecture hall bemused that few students had shown up that day, she is put into the loop by one of the few faithful on hand, asking her to activate the high definition media screen to see something of compelling interest. Louise, realizing that she will not be able to get across that day the account of the peculiarities of the Portuguese language and its exceptionally fostering the art of communication, rather non-chummily intones, “Class is dismissed.” What, from her perspective, has upstaged the sensation of the century? What has impelled her to return to the ghost town of a campus next morning and drink it all in how singular she is (anticipating from the invaders either tedious violence or, at best, more of the sluggishness in her face delivered by planet Earth). Along the way, she assures her frantic mother that she has become over-excited. “Mom, please don’t watch that channel! You know they’re all idiots!”In the aura of a presumably horrific eventuation on the horizon, eclipsing the viewer’s focus on her, Louise’s being out of step is, if ever spotlighted, not merely personally bizarre but a disposition of remoteness toward human history far too gripping to ever (ever—as in that ending) turn around on a dime and become just another sentimental thrill-seeker. Miss this step and you’ve missed the movie—a film about aliens whom the protagonist comes to realize to be far closer to where she lives than the bulk of her species. This is what is truly important about this “thriller;” and this is what we’ll follow in detail. (more…)

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By J.D. Lafrance

“I can see why people are asking me about a generation I happen to be a part of, but to me Slacker owes more allegiance to cinema than to a generation.” – Richard Linklater

“It was disturbing to me that an idea or a song could become something so different from what you originally intended. It’s like if a friend took a stupid picture of you at a party on their phone, and the next thing you knew, it was on every billboard.” – Beck on the surprise success of “Loser”

Even though I know they came out years apart, I always associate Beck’s hit song “Loser” with Richard Linklater’s film Slacker (1990). The former came out in 1993 and the latter had its premiere three years prior, but both took their time finding their audience. They also were touted by the media as defining what would be known as Generation X, a term popularized by Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel of the same name, and used to describe people born in the early 1960s to the early 1980s. Also rather interestingly, both Beck and Linklater felt uncomfortable with being heralded as voices of their generation.
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 by Sam Juliano

We have a new president, and after a contentious inaugural speech, violent protests and continued rage we seem to be headed for some difficult times, to put it mildly.  But on the other hand I am happy that perhaps we can focus our attention now to the art and away from politics, which by now has run its course.

The Academy Award nominations will be announced tomorrow morning, so we can address that next week or even on this thread, should anyone wish too after the Tuesday morning announcement.  However, the Caldecott Medal winners were announced today and all five (the gold medal winner and the four honors books) are books in the masterpiece category.  They are:  Medal winner:  Radiant Child by Javaka Steptoe.  Honor Books:  Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgol; Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford and R. Gregory Christie; Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis, and They All Saw A Cat  by Brendan Wenzel.  I want to thank all those who followed this marathon sixty (60) review series since it launched in early October, for those who placed ‘likes’ both here at the site and on FB, and to the regular commenters:  Jim Clark, Frank Gallo, Laurie Buchanan, Celeste Fenster, John Grant, Peter M., Kimbra Power, Tony d’Ambra, Tim McCoy, Karen, Duane Porter, Alia Jones, Jarie Waterfall, Sergio Ruzzier, Patricia Hamilton, Sharon Lovejoy, Ricky Chinigo, Wendy Wahmann, David Noack, John R., Book Barn Steve and a number of others.  This was a taxing venture that ate up the lion’s share of my free time, or at least one that vied with film at the richest time of the year.  The authors and illustrators themselves were amazing in their own sponsorship of the series and in the many shares on Facebook and Twitter.  This year by far the series received more attention than it ever did.  So many FB people were there with likes on practically every post, or liked many of them and I want to thank as many as I can gather together here:  Fiona Robinson, Peter M., Susan Fabricant Hess, Laurie Buchanan, Sergio Ruzzier, Leon Duncan, Francy Stoller, Nancy Armo,  Lorraine Rotundo, Dennis Polifroni, Toni Yuli, Jeff Gottesfeld, Roberta Rivera, Jennifer Thermes, Raul Colon, Ed Spicer, Wendell Minor, Florence Freedman Minor, Patricia Hamilton, Stacey Innerst, Jack Marsh, Dawn Annabelle, Jordan J. Scavone, Violet Charleston, Gail Maki Wilson, Adam Gudeon, Gina Marie Harner, Rob Costello, Ann Marie Kradenski, Heather Lang, Leon Duncan, Frank Aida, Steve Mazzone, Dana Willcox,, Helen Frost, Wendy Wahmann, Salina Yoon, Lucille Juliano, Tony Pistilli, Boris Kulikov, Elizabeth Stanton, Jessixa Bagley, Theresa Juliano Lynne Rae Perkins,  Barbara McClintock, Jarie Waterwall, Denise Ann Saldutti Egielski, A. H. Taylor, Rebecca Kai Dotlich, Matthew Cordell, Eric Fan, Sharon Lovejoy, Valerie Clark, Susan Hood, Maxine Grgurev, Deborah Freedman, Jonathan Bean, Kate Hoefler,  Daniel Miyares, Stephanie Burke Bellucci, G. Gregory Christie, Sophie Blackall, Dan Richards, Jeff Newman, Anne Hunter, Lori Nichols, Lauren Castillo, Jillian Juliano, Melanie Juliano, Bart Talamini, Jason Giampietro and so many others.

Laurie Buchanan’s regular shares went above and beyond, and to her send on a special thanks!!  Patricia Hamilton shared so many as well and similarly I thank her from the bottom of my heart!  Of course the authors and illustrators shared many to the tune of about 48% of the 60 I wrote!  Thanks many times over!

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With actor Lucas Hedges in front of Lucille Lortel Theater on Wednesday night

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by Sam Juliano

The cowboy is probably the most masculine symbol of Americana, and as a result is the most unfairly vilified in the culture.  There are numerous stereotypes that are mainly perpetuated by western films, John Wayne’s uncompromising persona and a host of characters like Henry Fonda’s ruthless, back-stabbing cold-blooded Frank in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West that are veritable incarnations of evil.  In Anthony Mann’s masterpiece The Man from Laramie, which echoes Shakespeare’s King Lear, depicting a house torn asunder by murderous machinations, one of the most fallacious of all western myths -one that posed that guns were rampant when in fact gun laws back in the hey day of the push westward were more stringent than they are today- played out on an epic scale.  Just as spurious is the idea that cowboys constantly clashed with Indians and that bank-robbing outlaws in cowboy garb ruled the west.  Speaking of apparel, even the ten-gallon hat represents a case where sparse usage came to accepted as the norm, because of the distinctive intimidating aura and it took over as the most emblematic of the cowboy, much as the headdress for the Indians.  Finally, the cowboy didn’t originate in the United States, but were originally Mexican cattlemen, but the perception is no worse than one that has persisted even longer, that which contends that the earliest American settlers were “native Americans.”  With all these misconceptions it is no wonder that cowboys were for the longest time pigeon-holed as ill educated, ignorant, racist, bullying, homophobic and likely to act first and ask questions later.  More recently the accepted stereotypes have taken some hits, none as groundbreaking as in 2005 when Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, a film about two young men – Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, who carried an an elicit affair –  based on a novella by Anne Proulx, helping to lasso old stereotypes and set back the prevailing image of the cowboy on the heels of his boots perhaps for good.  The final irony of course is the labeling of these two men living in Wyoming circa 1963 as cowboys, leading some to refer to it as “that gay cowboy movie.” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Until Jason Carter Eaton and his Caldecott Honor winning Illustrator John Rocco released their fabulous picture book manual offering up tips to children hankering to find their brand of pet trucks, ownership went no further than Tonka and match box.  Mind you this was a rewarding hobby, and some were dedicated and responsible enough to amass collections of over five-hundred and upwards.  Eighteen wheelers, transports, lorries, flatbeds, pick-ups, moving vans and even tanker trucks (though after Steven Spielberg’s terrifying Duel released in 1971 the demand for that model plummeted!) took their place on every young boy’s bedroom dresser or abreast of their Lionel table.  Keeping them in mint condition was as vital it was for the baseball card collector, though some incorrigible owners couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stage accidents.  But Eaton and Rocco have set the record straight with a proposal that should have all truck lovers chomping at the bit, much as train lovers found themselves facing a deal they couldn’t resist in the critically-acclaimed How to Train a Train.  In their bold, often daunting investigative study, narrated by an Asian boy who wore out his copies of Donald Crews’s Truck and two old Virginia Lee Burton classics about a steam shovel and a snow plow, the artists were so impressed by this fervent truck aficionado that they decided to let him serve as tour guide for all others who share his unbridled passion.  Some of the more practical aims of this all-encompassing guide involve answering some of the more popular questions that confront this most specialized pursuit.   Mike told the book’s creators that his love for trucks started when he watched an old French movie classic with his father called The Wages of Fear.  Eaton researched it and conveyed the capsule plot to Rocco:  when an oil well owned by an American company catches fire, the company hires four European men, down on their luck, to drive two trucks over mountain dirt roads, loaded with nitroglycerin needed to extinguish the flames. (more…)

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