Archive for June, 2017

by Sam Juliano

Note:  I came on board late for this assignment, and needed to spend quite a bit of time with my Avengers holdings.  I even just acquired the three blu ray sets out there from the most pivotal seasons.  Though I have always appreciated the show over the decades since it first made its debut, I dare say that this late life reviewing has yielded the best results ever for me, and I now profess a newfound love for this beloved British institution and the celebrated stars that moved mountains in its behalf.  I will continue my exploration over the summer.  Alas my pocket is now suddenly lighter.

Those who are asked to explain the phenomenon of the 60’s British espionage show The Avengers invariably come up with something along the lines that it was a unique if unrivaled hybrid bringing together wit, imagination and style.  The show ran over six seasons from 1961 to 1969, and later inspired the well regarded spin off  The New Avengers, a 1998 film, a stage play and of course the obvious contextual and stylistic parallels not to mention carry over cast members with the James Bond films.  Like those later Ian Fleming extravaganzas, The Avengers was and remains on re-visitation one of the most flat out entertaining television shows ever conceived and executed, a fact that in hindsight is easy to fathom in view of the eccentric scripts, bold set designs and perhaps most significantly the creation of strong identities for the show’s leads.  It goes without saying of course that the foundation of the series was Patrick Macnee’s dapper and urbane John Steed, who once developed over the earlier shows was markedly mysterious, suave and flirty (especially with his female assistants) and a trademark appearance, one adorned by a bowler hat, pinstripe suit and umbrella.  Macnee’s part was intended for Ian Hendry -then as Jonathan Steed- who departed after the initial season- and the rest as they say is history.  Just as famous as Steed though are the glamorous female partners played alluringly by Diana Rigg, Honor Blackman and Linda Thorson, all of whom in various degrees injected the proceedings with a sturdy measure of sexual energy, even if the chemistry was strictly platonic in a show committed first and foremost to keeping the world a safe place to live in.   The especially seductive and super-intelligent Emma Peel – no subject seemed beyond her comprehension, from nuclear physics to ballroom dancing – could dash the ambitions of any megalomaniac with a single leather-clad karate chop.  Rigg remains both for vintage fans of the show as well as those coming upon it for the first time as Macnee’s quintessential companion. (more…)


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by Brandie Ashe

Oh, for the good old days, when almost every theatrical release was preceded by a cartoon. Nowadays, we pretty much have to rely on the folks at Disney and Pixar to get our theatrical cartoon fix, but in the 1930s and 40s, it was guaranteed that going to the movies—to see any feature—meant also seeing the latest adventures of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, Tom and Jerry, Superman, Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang, Mr. Magoo, Woody Woodpecker, and dozens of other animated troublemakers.

Things began to change with the so-called “Paramount Decision” of 1948, in which the Supreme Court decided that movie studios could no longer force theater chains to accept the practice of “block booking” a studio’s “lesser” products (short films and animated cartoons, namely), sometimes sight unseen, and exhibiting those shorts with feature-length studio productions. In other words, studios no longer had any sort of guarantee that their cartoons would actually be seen by audiences, so what was the point in producing cartoons anymore? It was the beginning of the end of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood animation. Many studio animation departments began to suffer in the wake of the decision, and animators at those troubled and soon-to-close studios began to find refuge in television.

In 1957, MGM, home of the Tom and Jerry series of cartoons, closed its animation division, despite the continued popularity of the duo. Tom and Jerry’s “parents,” animation directors William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, soon decided to try their luck at the still (relatively) new medium of television, and started their own animation company, H-B Enterprises (eventually rechristened Hanna-Barbera Productions). They found early TV hits with two new characters: a drawling, Southern caricature of a canine named Huckleberry Hound, and a horsey Old-West sheriff called Quick Draw McGraw. But Hanna-Barbera’s greatest television success came when the duo decided to move to primetime, introducing the world to a “modern Stone-Age family” whose lives, funnily enough, came right out of the most familiar of situation comedies.

That fabled family, The Flintstones, debuted on ABC on September 30, 1960, at 8:30PM. Its timeslot competitors? On CBS, the anthology drama series Route 66, and on NBC, yet another entry in the TV cowboy sweepstakes, The Westerner. Neither of those dramas was exactly lighting up the ratings, and so The Flintstones, perhaps by default, not only won its timeslot that year—it would go on to be the eighteenth most popular show of the 1960-61 television season and be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, becoming the first animated program to ever receive a nod for that award.

Yet it did this largely without support from television critics, who dismissed the show as an unexceptional novelty. And even today, the position of The Flintstones on any countdown such as this can be expected to produce debate about the merits of the show. There’s a tinge of nostalgia to the show, especially for baby boomers who grew up watching Fred and Barney’s antics—my own father, born in 1953, counts this show among his favorites of all time, and introduced my brothers and me to its dubious charms in the 1980s via the joys of syndication. But does “nostalgia” equal “quality?”


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Note:  “Our Hitler” actually finished nine points ahead of the #79 show, but to avert mass chaos after the results were tabulated and posted, I thought it best to just place the work in the #80 spot.  Considering that many of the voters haven’t seen it, the fact that it placed at all is a welcome miracle.

by Allan Fish

(West Germany 1977 429m) DVD1/2 (Germany only)

Aka. Hitler, ein Film aus Deutschland

You are the executioner of the western world

p  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  d/w  Hans-Jurgen Syberberg  ph  Dietrich Lohmann  ed  Jutta Brandstaedter  m  Gustav Mahler, W.A.Mozart, L.Van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Joseph Haydn  art  Hans Gailling

Heinz Schübert, Andre Heller, Helmut Lange, Amelie Syberberg, Harry Baer, Peter Kern,

When debating the masters of modern German cinema, most critics would concentrate on the canonical trio, Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog (with a passing nod to Reitz and Schlöndorff).  And yet arguably the most individual, ingenious and undoubtedly the most demanding, was Hans-Jürgen Syberberg.  His films are hard to see, largely unavailable on DVD anywhere in the English speaking world, but in a film that parallels Arthurian legend, the Grail analogy is a worthy one.  To see your first Syberberg is a life-changing experience, and if his entire oeuvre cannot mean as much as it would to one of his nation, his films remain idiosyncratic treatises of incredible complexity, individual “J’accuse” testimonies to provoke outrage, anger and, occasionally, a nod of acknowledgement.

Syberberg’s masterpiece consists of four parts, and was shown as such on West German television in the seventies; “The Grail”, “A German Dream”, “The End of a Winter’s Tale” and “We Children of Hell.”  Each part probes, examines, and generally performs a post-mortem on the reasons behind the rise and fall of Hitler, his doctrine and iconography, the psyche of the German people and even turns the accusation on the individual viewer.  As the narrator observes, it wasn’t Hitler’s ideals that were beaten but his army.  The ideals stood fast to the very end. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

In the manner of Allan Fish, whose routine was to post a section devoted to “nearlies” prior to the launch of any countdown he chaired, I wanted to list a number of  the shows that did receive votes on multiple ballots, though I don’t have an official count nor any kind of a concrete vote total to make reference to.  What I do know is that the shows I name here came close to landing on the Top 80, and perhaps would have with the help of perhaps one more mention.  Obviously, if the countdown went to a Top 100 or beyond many would have placed.  I would have loved to add the date of the runs, but just couldn’t sort out the research at this time.  Also, they are listed in no particular order, as the vote totals would reveal them all bunched up.

Batman (original)

Wolf Hall (UK)

Simon Schama’s Power of Art (UK)

I Dream of Jeannie
Sanford and Son
Green Acres
One Step Beyond
Gilligan’s Island
Absolutely Fabulous (UK)
The Perry Mason Show
Penda’s Fen (UK; Alan Clarke)
Son of Man (UK)
Elephant (UK)
Late Night with Conan O’Brien
The Adventures of Superman
Hogan’s Heroes
Get Smart
My Three Sons
The Age of Kings (UK)
The Hollow Crown (UK)
Battlestar Gallactica
The Time Tunnel
Lost in Space
F Troop
Our Friends in the North (UK)
Cranford (UK)
Gormanghast (UK)
Bleak House (UK)
Freaks and Geeks
A History of Britain (UK)
Dance of the Seven Veils (UK; Ken Russell)
Elgar (UK; Ken Russell)
Soul Train
The Ed Sullivan Show
60 Minutes
Scenes from a Marriage (Sweden)
Little House on the Prairie
The Great War (UK)
Up Series (UK)
Heimat 2 and 3 (Germany)
In a Land of Plenty (UK)
1984 (1954; UK)
Mildred Pierce
The Walking Dead
Six Feet Under
The Red Riding Trilogy (UK)
Cathy Come Home (UK)
The Gilmore Girls
Queer as Folk (USA)
Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple
Star Trek Voyager 
Hawaii Five-O
Elizabeth R (UK)
Arrested Development
Leave It to Beaver
Siskel and Ebert
Bob’s Burgers
St. Elsewhere
Barney Miller
The Paper Chase
World on a Wire (Germany)
The Forsythe Saga
Crime Story
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
ABC Wide World of Sports
Kolchak: the Night Stalker
Police Squad!
The Kingdom
House of Cards
The French Chef
Prime Suspect
The Rockford Files
Jewel in the Crown
The Munsters
Mary Hartman Mart Hartman
Doctor Who (UK)
The History of Scotland (UK)
Upstairs Downstairs (UK)
Hill Street Blues
Batman: The Animated Series
Kids in the Hall
Will and Grace
Everybody Loves Raymond
Family Affair
Mission Impossible
Boardwalk Empire
The Abbot and Costello Show
The Ascent of Man (UK)
The Newsroom (Canada)
Murphy Brown
Downton Abbey (UK)
The Courtship of Eddies’s Father
Dennis the Menace
To Tell the Truth
The Beverly Hillbillies
The Young and the Restless
Mister Ed
My Favorite Martian
The Caesars


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by Sam Juliano

The Greatest Television Shows countdown launches this coming Wednesday, June 28th with a treasured essay by Allan Fish set to get the ball rolling in what is now a Top 80.  New additions to the series will be added every single day up until the late September unveiling of the #1 finisher.  Assignments are in place, and amazingly nearly every one has been claimed.  Stay tuned!

Lucille and some of my kids have joined me in attending the Bertrand Tavernier Retrospective in Manhattan, a unique venue that even has the 76 year-old icon introducing and moderating a Q & A from Tuesday through Sunday. Though Tavenier left for France Sunday afternoon the festival will continue through Thursday.  In addition to his full catalog, four other French treasures were screened at the behest of the director who considers the four among his favorite films of all time.  I managed to attend three of the four, with the fourth a title I own on a Region 2 blu ray.

We saw:

Beatrice (1987)   **** 1/2       (Wednesday)  dir: B. Tavenier

The 317th Platoon (1968)  *****   (Thursday)  dir: P. Schoendoerffer

Coup de Torchon (1981)   *****    (Thursday)  dir: B. Tavernier

La Verite sur Bebe Donge (1952)  **** 1/2  (Friday)  dir: Henri Decoin

Round Midnight (1986)        **** 1/2        (Friday)    dir: B. Tavernier

Hotel du Nord (1938)          *****             (Sunday)   dir: Marcel Carne

A Sunday in the Country (1964) *****    (Sunday)   dir: B. Tavernier

The Judge and the Assassin (1976) **** 1/2 (Sunday)  dir: B. Tavernier (more…)

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By J.D. Lafrance

Trainspotting flew out of the gates in 1996 and took the world by storm, first causing a sensation in the United Kingdom, and then moving on to the United States bolstered by a soundtrack that mixed classic rockers (Lou Reed, Iggy Pop) with contemporary ones (Blur, Primal Scream). Audiences couldn’t get enough of this gritty, often funny, sometimes harrowing tale of Scottish heroin addicts. Based on Irvine Welsh’s edgy cult novel of the same name, Trainspotting was adapted by a trio of filmmakers – director Danny Boyle, screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald – who had previously collaborated on the nasty suspense thriller Shallow Grave (1994).

They chose just the right passages from the novel and proceeded to capture the spirit of what Welsh was trying to say without judging the characters. This resulted in the film getting into trouble as some critics felt it glorified drug addiction. The film takes an unflinching look at the lives of a group of drug addicts and shows why they do drugs — the highs are so unbelievably amazing. However, Trainspotting also shows the flip side: death, poverty and desperation, which lead to stealing, lying and cheating just to get more drugs. Regardless, the film was a commercial and critical success, spawning all sorts of imitators and influencing countless other U.K. filmmakers to go through the door that it kicked open.

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by Sam Juliano

I can already hear the piano billowing forth with the all-too-familiar strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance this evening at the Cliffside Park High School gymnasium where my middle child Danny will be graduating in an indoor venue now being utilized because of the expected heavy rain expected tonight.  Three down and two to go!

The Television countdown has really taken off in a huge way, and I for one am so thrilled at the enthusiasm from the many writers who are gearing up for the massive project set to launch now on Wednesday, June 28th, and to finish on Saturday, September 23rd.  There will be a brief hiatus from August 4th till August 12th, when my family and I will be at a Carolina seashore condo.  In order to properly administer this project I need to break for that roughly one-week juncture, but it actually will help in one sense to allow for a writing regroup, falling as it does close to the halfway point.  The results have been announced by Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr., and have been released to the e mail chain of voters and writers, but will only be reported here peace meal in the traditional reverse countdown order.  Nearly all the writing assignments have been claimed to this point.  I am proud to announce that the opening essay (#80) will be written by our beloved Allan (Our Hitler), on that opening Wednesday, which will be featuring his favorite television miniseries/film of the 1980’s. (more…)

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Our longtime friend and site contributor Peter Lenihan’s superlative appreciation of John Ford’s Wagonmaster is up on You Tube:

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 © 2017 by James Clark

      Although Song to Song (2015/ 2017) adopts the design priority of a pell-mell rout by an army of short-lived wild things being long-term softies, there does emerge, for our sense of counter-attacking against the nearly non-stop jumpiness, a pair of visitations from sagas less spasmodic. The first is the silent, black and white, white-hot film melodrama of massacre, ripping into the midst of a palatial, ultra-modern household owned by an Austin music producer, Cook, besotted by the capacity to marshal hookers to his bed and thus drive his wife, Rhonda, to suicide. Along that so-called life to the fullest, he tells himself, “I can’t take this life straight.” He goes on to ask his former-waitress, former-Kindergarten teacher wife, part of an unstable harem, “What’s your fantasy? What are you afraid of?” She tells herself and whatever else could read her thoughts, “When I was a girl I loved everything. You killed my life…” [in the course of a marriage which delivered a nice house to her destitute mother]. That wild premonition including axe-murder and flowing blood reminds us of a jaded screenwriter, Rick, in Malick’s Knight of Cups (2015), who disregards a video in the foyer of a chic office tower, a decorative production in black and white whereby several women blend into each other from their long, jet-black hair, apparel, make-up and eyes. Rick’s sidelined, spent force may not be going anywhere, but the surreal artwork along his retreat becomes part of a rescue mission which speaks to the defunct Rhonda’s once loving everything, to no avail. (The two marital casualties meet when she is his server in a diner. “I have a condition,” he quips. “I can’t be left alone…” [“Help Me, Rhonda”]. The distance between Song to Song’s death-spiral and Knight of Cups’ going swimmingly in an infinity pool (like the one Rhonda OD’d in) gives us to understand that a very different consideration has become necessary. (more…)

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all for one - friendship rituals in Husbands

By J.D. Lafrance

Many films have been made about men experiencing a midlife crisis, from the good (About a Boy) to the painfully awful (Wild Hogs). With Husbands (1970), John Cassavetes made what is arguably the greatest film, not just about men going through a midlife crisis, but what it means to be a man – something that seems to be missing from a lot of contemporary male-centric movies. Husbands was a labor of love for Cassavetes and his two co-stars – Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk – both of whom enjoyed working with the filmmaker so much that they appeared in more of his films. At times, Husbands is a mess of a film with scenes that go on too long and acting that sometimes comes off as indulgent, but it is also brilliant and fearless as it transcends the men behaving badly cliché (see The Hangover movies) to show how men really behave around each other and how they communicate (or don’t) with each other. It’s a film that can test your patience, but also features some of the best acting ever put on celluloid.

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