Archive for February, 2017


By J.D. Lafrance

Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987) is a film that asks the burning question: is police brutality ever justified? It is when you’re dealing with the likes of Al Capone and Frank Nitti – gangsters that had no problem blowing up children and killing nebbish accountants to get what they wanted. The film doesn’t exactly adhere to historical fact opting instead to go with John Ford’s famous credo of printing the legend and in doing so raising the characters and their exploits to mythic status. De Palma’s adaptation of Eliot Ness’ 1957 memoir of the same name had all the makings of a powerhouse production destined for greatness. It featured a screenplay written by legendary playwright David Mamet, expert cinematographer Stephen H. Burum was behind the camera, master composer Ennio Morricone was scoring the film, and Robert De Niro and Sean Connery were signed on to play larger-than-life characters. The result was an exciting, action-packed epic that helped revitalize De Palma’s struggling career (after the critical and commercial failure of Wise Guys) and earned Connery his first Academy Award.


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by Sam Juliano

Well, well, well. So in the end those who bashed the Academy for the likely choice of “La La Land” for Best Picture can now take all their shameful conspiracy theories and inane cultural blight crap and bury them. I don’t always agree with the Oscars but I respect them. And this year they chose a great film -Moonlight- one of my own Top 10 of the year as the Best Picture, after that embarrassing envelope snafu that has since been owned up by Price Waterhouse, the accounting firm. And our own insightful voters on this very page last week also chose “Moonlight” as Best Film of the Year. No need for “La La Land” rooters to cry though. The beloved musical copped 6 Oscars including Best Director and Best Actress, and many other awards from critics’ groups.

What a great night we had at the Tiger Hose Firehouse, where 36 guests dropped in and out for the six hour window of the event.  Seeing John Grant and his lovely wife Pam drive in all the way from West Milford about one hour away still has Lucille and I gratefully amazed.  Great food, great talk, great entertainment, and all things considered a great show with the hair raising conclusion.  My 86 year old father is seen from back in bottom photo near center, and John and Pam are in top photo talking with yours truly. (more…)

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by Jamie at attractive variance

With yesterday’s post, I started the countdown of my favorite 50 records from last year, with today seeing the conclusion of the final 25. Looking over the two days, I’m amazed at the fact that very little separates the two days, with a wealth of wonderful records coming in 2016.

My Top 5 is unranked, and instead merely listed alphabetically, per usual.  (more…)

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by Jamie at attractive variance

Given that 2016 was such a turbulent year, it’s no surprise that any sampling of the years standout records would produce a rather noisy, loud affair. Political content often mixed with the chaos, with even our greatest hip hop records getting into the act. With 2017 already offering the Uniform’s Wake in Fright and the Priests tremendous debut, it looks like we can expect more of the same over the next 10 months and change. Hooray for that. I’ve attempted to remain clear of ‘Best’, as though I do feel these 50 to be just that, I can’t hide the fact that within popular music I have heavy predilections toward noise, feedback and heaviness. Granted, that is where forward leaning rock n’ roll is at now, but still, I feel a caveat is warranted. Enjoy the tunes, most of these picks can be listened to on spotify, or on the individual artist bandcamp pages by a simple google search. Today will countdown 50-26, with an additional offering of my favorite compilations, while tomorrow will see the final 25. Happy listening.


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 © 2017 by James Clark


    The paths to Surrealist love and decadence are many and varied. Although the phenomena were incubated in Paris, the long-standing kinship between France and the USA in repelling (particularly British) sensible calculation has provided reverberations streaming out to very recent times. There is a quite pervasive volatility about those two national enterprises for which there is scant interest in a place like Canada (despite its quasi-French ingredient).

That brings us to our now upping the ante toward the more dangerous sensibilities being brought to a showdown of sorts in the movies. Surrealism—coursing through the works of David Lynch, Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, the Coens and Jim Jarmusch, to name a few—has always been our business here. But rather than put it into play as a historical, evolutionary going concern, we’re now pulling ourselves together (I hope) to consider its confinement to lives with no real purchase in sight upon a mainstream; but rather consisting of sensual momenta staging largely invisible, self-contradictory revolutions.

We’ll begin with a film by that master of minutiae, Brian De Palma, namely, Carrie (1976), who in this case has to deal with the footsteps of not only horror author, Stephen King, whose 1974 novel by the same name offers a point of departure, but also King’s wife, Tabitha, who (rescuing his unfinished and despised [by him] draft of this vehicle) saw fit to reach back to Jean Cocteau’s 1929 novel, Les Enfants Terribles (The Terrible Children) and the subsequent movie incarnation, in 1950, by another filmmaker more about pores than portents, namely, Jean-Pierre Melville, with Cocteau looking over his shoulder and keeping the faith as far as his opium addiction allowed. Cocteau/ Melville lead off with a high school boy, Paul, being felled in a snowball fight by a good friend (though not so friendly as to desist from couching his missile with a rock). De Palma, no doubt delighted by the wit of the Kings, fires off in his film, to perfect effect, the early moment where Carrie, a high school girl hamstrung by a mother staging a religious war against menstruation and thereby exposing her to shock, begins to bleed, for the first time, in her school-gym-shower, and her panic elicits not only raunchy ridicule from her far more secular classmates but a snowball fusillade of tampons, accompanied by the far from helpful, “Plug it up! Plug it up!” She is not concussed like Paul; but her sense of this world not working for her is even more pronounced. (more…)

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By J.D. Lafrance

The 1970s was a fertile time for challenging, politically charged movies. Thanks to Easy Rider (1969) a lot of riskier material was getting made by the major Hollywood studios and, in some cases, they were commenting on the current political climate and being socially conscious. One of the best examples from this decade is All the President’s Men (1976) – the Citizen Kane (1941) of investigative journalism films. It’s the benchmark by which all other films of its genre are compared to, from The China Syndrome (1979) to State of Play (2009) to Spotlight (2015). Its influence can be felt in the films of Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and David Fincher (Zodiac).

All the President’s Men was immediate and topical, dramatizing Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s investigation of the Watergate Hotel burglary and the resulting scandal that would rock the White House and forever taint President Richard Nixon’s tenure there, effectively sending him home packing before his term was up. Alan J. Pakula’s film struck a chord with audiences of the day (and continues to do so) and is credited with inspiring future generations of journalists. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the film starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, two of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood at that time. Fortunately, they left their egos at the door to deliver thoughtful and intense performances. These are complemented by Pakula’s no frills direction and Gordon Willis’ moody, atmospheric cinematography.

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by Sam Juliano

Oscar night 2016 will again be celebrated in an annual party at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse on Sunday evening, February 26th from 6:00 until midnight.  Dante’s Italian Market will again be called upon to provide the hot and cold buffet for the open house event.  Roast beef, eggplant and mozarella, turkey and swiss and salami, ham and provolone sandwiches will be offered along with an array of hot food trays:  chicken parmigiana, eggplant parmigiana, meatballs, sausage and peppers, cavatelli and broccoli, pasta with marinara sauce, salads and desert.  Anyone in the area is urged to stop in.  As always a big screen television will be carrying the events, and we will be conducting out annual Oscar pool.

Spring weather has suddenly replaced the cold of the past month, though it is far too early for this meteorological adjustment.  But for those who appreciate temperatures in the mid 60’s to low 70’s this is ideal.

Lucille, a few of the kids and I have had a busy week hopping for theater to theater catching the last of the unseen 2016 films and the new 2017 crop.  We saw: (more…)

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The esteemed Brian Wilson, Chicago librarian, film aficionado and member of this year’s Caldecott Medal committee, has posted his fabulously eclectic and high-quality list after his usual banner year of film watching.  Wonders in the Dark is deeply honored to publish it for readers and the film community:

1. Moonlight
2. Paterson
3. Krisha
4. Don’t Think Twice
5. Indignation
6. La La Land
7. Manchester by the Sea
8. Kubo and the Two Strings
9. The Salesman
10. Fences
11. Jackie
12. Things to Come
13. Sieranevada
14. Lion
15. I, Daniel Blake
16. Other People
17. The Lobster
18. 20th Century Women
19. Hidden Figures
20. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki



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By J.D. Lafrance

From early on in his career, Clint Eastwood has been interested in taking the path less traveled when it came to his career, taking on roles and making films that often subverted his Hollywood icon image. In particular, the films he has directed explore the darker side of humanity with topics ranging from stalking (Play Misty for Me), drug addiction (Bird), violence (Unforgiven), and child abuse (Mystic River). White Hunter, Black Heart (1990) is no different. Based loosely on Peter Viertel’s experiences working with legendary film director John Huston on The African Queen (1951), Eastwood plays John Wilson, a filmmaker more interested in hunting down and killing a wild elephant then making his next motion picture. He becomes fixated on this quest and Eastwood uses this story as an opportunity to explore the notion of obsession and how it can consume someone at the expense of everything else in their life.

White Hunter, Black Heart played several prestigious film festivals around the world and was admired by many critics but was never a commercial hit with audiences perhaps expecting an exciting adventure. What they got instead was something more akin to an art film that saw Eastwood yet again subvert the Dirty Harry persona that has defined his career for many years. White Hunter has become something of a forgotten effort in his filmography and considered a minor work but I’ve always felt that it was one of his more interesting pictures.

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 by Sam Juliano
For the very first time since I began composing lists back in 1973 (as the film critic for the Bergen Community College Monitor-Jan Troell’s “The New Land” was #1 that year) 44 years ago I have decided to go with a Top 20. Including the 38 films I saw at Tribeca this year I have seen 173 films with the vast majority of these in movie theaters. For about twenty of the full total I have had to avail myself of Amazon Prime, DVD or blu rays. I had also added seventeen (17) films that I really like, but just couldn’t fit them in my Top 20 proper. After serious contemplation I have decided to include The Salesman, The Witch and Embrace of the Serpent on these lists. In the case of the first, I saw it before making my list and it was nominated for the foreign film Oscar meaning it did get an opening in 2016 theatrically. Some will continue to argue the other two are really 2015 films, but they didn’t open in NYC until early 2016, meaning that NEITHER film could make my list last year. These lists are not designed for on the spot posterity, just to gauge what was seen in a calendar year by the writer. I have the option down the line to restore films to their proper year to be sure. As this is my own list, I have the right to enact my own “rules.” Having said that I see so many others pretty much do the same thing. But I am wasting time on “dates” when I should be naming the films. The Chilean Pablo Larrain astonishingly has two films in the Top 20. Here we go:

1 Indignation (USA; James Schamus)
2 La La Land (USA; Damien Chazelle)
3 Manchester by the Sea (USA; Kenneth Lonergan)
4 Jackie (USA; Pablo Larrain)
5. Quand on a 17 ANS (France; Andre Techine)
6. The Salesman (Iran; Asghar Farhadi)
7. O.J. Made in America (USA; Ezra Edelman)
8. Paterson (USA; Jim Jarmusch)
9. Fences (USA; Denzel Washington)
10. Moonlight (USA; Barry Jenkins)
11. Under Sandet – Land of Mine (Denmark; Martin Zandvliet)
12. The Red Turtle (France; Michael Dudok de Wit)
13. Love and Friendship (USA; Whit Stillman)
14. Krisha (USA; Trey Edward Shults)
15. Neruda (Chile; Pablo Larrain)
16. Aquarius (Brazil; Kleber Filho)
17. My Golden Days (France; Arnaud Desplechin)
18. The Arrival (USA; Dennis Villenue)
19. The Witch (USA/Canada; Robert Eggers)
20. Lion (Australia/India; Garth Davis)

Runners-Up: (in no particular order)

American Honey
Things to Come
Captain Fantastic
Toni Erdmann
I Am Not Your Negro
Cemetery of Splendor
Hell or High Water
Sing Street
The Handmaiden
Midnight Special
Little Men
I, Daniel Blake
A Man Called Ove
Hacksaw Ridge
Little Sister
Nocturnal Animals
Hidden Figures
Embrace of the Serpent


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