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Archive for July, 2017

by Sam Juliano

More documentaries, narrative films and volumes have been made or written about the cataclysmic event known as World War II, than about any era in world history.  It is estimated that anywhere between 50 and 85 million people were erased during the six years the conflict was fought in theaters around the globe making it the most widespread war in history, and directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries.   Because the war affected so many and was fought on so many continents, historians and those who remain endlessly fascinated if deeply disturbed by the conflict’s long ranging implications, there are many who prefer to focus on different aspects of the war. i.e. the Holocaust, the war in the Pacific, the European front, the Battle for Stalingrad, the Battle of Britain and so on.  Any attempt to encapsulate this unconscionably horrific event via an overview will almost always result in the need for expansion or studied elaboration.  Because there have always been new revelations, there will always be new stories to tell, maiden reports of facts freshly unearthed, and changing perspectives connected to this most heinous paradigm of human suffering and mass degradation in the whole pantheon of human existence.  What we have confidently concluded is that if such an all-encompassing epic struggle had been fought today, what with the advance weaponry, and ability to forge precision strikes, a doomsday scenario would be almost impossible to dispel.  War historians continue to explore the various political, psychological and social instabilities that triggered the calamity, and will no doubt continue to well into the future or until the time when another event of equal or greater ferocity will make such a study a moot point.

The list of books connected to the Second World War comprise the most populated literary sub-category in existence, and any attempt to list them all or even a representative selection would prove a futile exercise.  Like other World War II buffs, I’ve ready many over the years, but will restrict my inclusions here to William H. Schirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Anna Reid’s Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, Donald L. Miller’s The Story of World War II; Alan Bullock’s Hitler: A Study of Tyranny,  Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, not to mention several works by William Manchester on Churchill, MacArthur and the economics of the war and of course the beloved The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Ellie Wiesel.  There have been more documentaries on the subject than you can shake a stick at, with enduring works like Shoah, Night and Fog, The Sorrow and the Pity, Listen to Britain, Auschwitz and Fires Were Started perhaps the most venerated of all.

The cinema never seems to lose focus for the subject either, and some of the most highly regarded motion pictures about the subject include Schindler’s List, Atonement, Night and Fog, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line, Come and See, Au Revoir Les Enfants, Hope and Glory,  Patton, From Here to Eternity, Rome Open City, Army of Shadows, Letters from Iwo Jima, Ivan’s Chilhood, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Closely Watched Trains, The Train, The Pianist, Downfall, The Bridge over the River Kwai; Aopocalypse Now, Full Medal Jacket, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and the Hungarian Fateless among countless others.  The subject is largely and understandably the most austere of any filmed, so almost as a necessity to offer some levity, we have guffawed uneasily at the likes of  Ernest Lubitsch’s To Be or Not to Be, Mel Brooks The Producers, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards and the television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.  The animation masterwork from Studio Gibli, The Grave of the Fireflies also made its point most powerfully.  For all the great works that have been created in the arts though and the war as an ever aching reminder of the worst horror people can survive to recall did serve as the basis to some of the most emotional works ever- there is one that in terms of condensed scope, archival footage, newsreels, interviews, and historical reportage and analysis that is the one that stands tallest as a permanent record of that most terrible of times, one that brings all aspects of the war from the storm clouds and events that set the stage for unrest and mistrust, culminating in nefarious plotting, armed aggression, mass murder and devastation that hasn’t been seen before or since. (more…)

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by Lucille Juliano

It’s a simple fact, that throughout show business history, there has never been such a success story.  Who in the world has had thirty years in one spot? It never happened before.  There’s nothing to compare it to.  Sometimes old-timers hang on and they’re not so good, but the audience likes them and forgives.  You don’t have to forgive him.  He’s as good as the day he started.                                      -Phyllis Diller                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                     

I loved being on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Nobody listened as good as Johnny.  He’s also a great actor.  He laughed at my jokes like he’d never heard them before.

-George Burns

He is, he was, and will always be the best there was.  It’s been thirty years of the best television we will ever have.  There is not another Johnny Carson . . . unless there’ll be another Charlie Chaplin.

-Jerry Lewis

I have nothing but the greatest admiration for him.  I think that when he quits, it’s kind of an end of an era.

-Jack Paar

(taken from the foreword of Here’s Johnny! revised edition by Stephen Cox, 1992, 2002)

 

Johnny became the host of The Tonight Show about a year or so before I was born.  My parents watched him religiously and as soon as we were old enough to stay up late, my sister and I became regulars as well.  Apparently, Johnny had become an institution in our lives just as he had for countless Americans around the country. Like clockwork, he returned each night and we as admirers, banked on it.   When I think about it, he was always there right after the 11 o’clock news on NBC for more than half my life.  My family and I watched him every night Monday through Friday no matter where we were at home, visiting family or friends or on vacation.  For three decades, Johnny was seated behind the desk and entertained us in so many ways. He was more than just an anchor to late-night audiences.  He was the “King of Late-Night Television”.  It has been said that Johnny had some of the greatest comedy writers around.  His timing and delivery aged like fine wine and only got better.   It could be that we just got so used to him that any errors really didn’t matter.  We went easy on him because even his blunders were amusing.   During his reign, seven presidents passed through the White House and the country moved through wars, victories, and taxes.

I can still remember watching his last show on May 22, 1992 with guests, Robin Williams and Bette Midler.  Robin was his typical crazy self and had Johnny in stitches not knowing what he would do next.  Bette was his official last guest.  During the show, she sang three times including a duet with Johnny himself.  Her rendition “You Made Me Love You” or should I say “You Made Me Watch You” was absolutely hysterical and a real roast of Johnny and his career.  During the finale, Bette came out and sang her own rendition of “One More for My Baby (and One More for the Road) which was so touching and sentimental that there was not a dry eye on either side of the camera.  You could see that Johnny was holding back tears as she sang and hear it in his voice as he said goodnight to his audience.   (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

It all comes down to preference.

When a tried and true property takes on an over-haul, it’s natural for purists to bitch and buck at anything that doesn’t follow the rules by the book.  Sherlock Holmes purists are no different from those that have seen new incarnations of old favorites.  Sometimes the overhaul works (as with Barry Sonnenfeld’s ADDAM’S FAMILY movies) and some just never seem to catch on (as with the current guises this new slew of films has decided to paint onto Batman and Superman).  Yet, even with the naysayers ranting, there also comes a slew of viewers that jump at the offerings of something new, something different.

Whatever the case may be, there will be naysayers against Mark Gattis and Steven Moffat’s updated take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved sleuth, and the world he created around him.   Gone are the horses and carriages that toted the super detective and his assistant, the ever watchful Dr. Watson (a wonderfully toned down turn by comedian, Martin Freeman), from crime-scene to crime-scene.  Gone is the double billed hat that illustrations of Holmes, and every filmic incarnation of the character since, has seen him sport.  The time and place is no longer Victorian-age England.  The time and place is England, NOW! (more…)

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by Sierra Fox and Nicholas Perry

It was the Star Trek program that wasn’t Star Trek: The Next Generation. The space station centered tv show that wasn’t Babylon 5. (Now, it’s the show Ron Moore worked on before Battlestar Galactica.) Despite never quite getting out of the shadows, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was one of the big three sci-fi shows of the ’90s (Babylon 5 and The X-Files filling out the trio.)

A spin-off of Star Trek: The Next Generation, DS9 represented a significant departure from the established formula. Where Next Gen had an episodic structure with almost all problems solved within the episode, DS9 was increasingly arc-based and focused on consequences. Where Next Gen‘s main cast was all but forbidden to argue with each other, DS9‘s was designed for interpersonal conflict. Plot threads (and characters) were carried over from Next Gen and refashioned into a new, complicated picture of the Star Trek universe.

The series starts shortly after the end of the Cardassian Occupation of Bajor (depicted as something of a cross between the Holocaust, European colonialism, and the Japanese occupation of China in World War II). When the provisional Bajoran government reluctantly turns to the Federation for protection against further attacks by the Cardassian Empire, the Federation agrees to send personnel to help staff and upgrade the abandoned Cardassian space station Empok Nor, newly christened Deep Space Nine. After a stable traversable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant is unexpectedly discovered near Bajor,  Deep Space Nine and its crew is placed at the center of a series of geopolitical conflicts that eventually threaten the entire Alpha Quadrant.

{Note from the writers: Nick watched Next Gen and started watching DS9 from its beginning. Sierra started watching with “The Way of the Warrior,” the opening two-parter of season 4, which functions as something of a second pilot. Either approach works, but it does affect our view of things. We’ll mention those effects as we go on.}

Led by Commander (later Captain) Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) and his second in command, Bajoran liaison officer Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), the main cast also includes Starfleet officers Lt. Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), Chief Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney, reprising his Next Gen character), Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), the shapeshifting Constable Odo (Rene Auberjonois), Ferengi bartender Quark (Armin Shimerman), and Sisko’s teenage son, Jake (Cirroc Lofton). They are eventually joined by Lt. Cmdr. Worf (Michael Dorn, also reprising his Next Gen role) in season 4, and Counselor Ezri Dax (Nicole de Boer, replacing Terry Farrell) in season 7. (more…)

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Prior

by Bob Clark

There’s a passage in Scott McCloud’s graphic novel (or perhaps the better term is “graphic essay”) Understanding Comics in which the cartoonist examines the ways in which new artistic mediums sometimes rely on the principles of past forms in order to gain their footing. When films began, they were often little more than stageplays recorded on celluloid until directors began to take advantage of the newborn disciplines of camerawork and editing, and when television started out it chiefly resembled radio with a visual component, or films reduced to living-room screens (depending on who you ask they’ve never stopped being that). He didn’t directly mention the live playhouse experiments of the early 50’s where neophyte creators like Rod Serling and John Frankenheimer got to cut their teeth as professional writers and directors before graduating to feature films or their own series, but in the best examples of that form you can sometimes see the idea that McCloud was referring to come to life– the sometimes shaky, sometimes graceful first steps of a genuinely new and potential-rich creative medium, born of the clumsy and hodgepodge marriage of more established peers.

The fact that Tony Kushner’s landmark play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes would find its home on television can in some ways be recognized as a sort of artistic destiny, reaching back to the close relationship that newborn, cinematic television had with the stage in its early days. But it shouldn’t go overlooked just how unlikely and revolutionary it was for this work to thrive in such a mainstream forum, for reasons ranging from the political to the dramatic, to the purely aesthetic. It all looks so easy, fourteen years out from Mike Nichols’ saintly production of the epic-length Tony winning play– spanning two three hour installments and detailing, among other things, the catastrophic effect of AIDS on the gay communities of New York in the 1980’s and a whole host of legacies revolving around the worst abuses of America’s power throughout its lifetime. The fact that it was made with an Oscar winning director and flamboyantly scenery-chewing Oscar winning stars, the fact that it was made on HBO, ground-zero both for prestige television and the sometimes derided subgenre of AIDS dramas (sandwiched between the star-stutted And the Band Played On and The Normal Heart), or even the fact that its writer would since go on to become a dependable scribe for no less than Steven Spielberg on Munich and Lincoln (a fact that would probably make every single character in this play gag for multiple reasons)– it’s all very tempted to take Angels in America for granted and simply move on to the next celebrated bit of 00’s television and leave it at that.

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by Samuel Juliano IV

Note:  This is the first published review by 20 year-old Samuel “Sammy” Juliano IV.

Joey:  “Why do you call him Gandalf?”

Ross:  “Gandalf the Wizard.  Hello, didn’t you read Lord of the Rings in high school?

Joey:  “No, I had sex in high school.”

This is a classic exchange in the hit sitcom Friends which aired on NBC from September 22, 1994, to May 6, 2004 with 10 seasons and 236 episodes.  The show revolves around a group of six friends during their twenties and thirties living in Manhattan, New York City.  The creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman went through several different titles for the show such as:  Insomnia Café, Six of One, and Friends Like Us before landing on the, Friends.

The filming of the show took place at Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California.  Each of the ten seasons of the show all got ranked within the top ten of the final television season ratings with the eighth season getting the number one spot.  The series finale of Friends, which aired on May 6, 2004, was watched by about 52.5 million American viewers, making the series have the fifth most watched series finale in television history and the most watched television episode of the 2000s decade. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

“When you enter the darkness…  The darkness enters you…”

I think what separates TRUE DETECTIVE from all the other crime shows and movies of the past two and three decades can all be boiled down to one word: PERCEPTIONS.

Perceptions are what we take into a thing when we feel that thing will follow a tried and true blueprint of design.  We think the characters and plot points will resemble those shows and films of the past.

Let’s be honest, though.

When TRUE DETECTIVE premiered, didn’t most of us think that HBO, normally a haven for artistic creativity and freedom on the tube, was readying to give us another clone of NYPD BLUE and IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT?  We pretty much feared that the show was only using superstar names, like Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughy, as a ruse to make us tune in and provide enough, in the way of ratings, to fuel a simple clone of TV past as a lure for even more subscribers to the pay-TV outlet.

What we got, as we know now, was something wholly different and, most of the time, utterly brilliant in both design and in its ability to slap preconceived perceptions in the face.

The backdrop of the series is the hot and sticky backwoods regions of Louisiana.  Our perceptions of the area, as illustrated in contemporary crime noir films like Alan Parker’s ANGEL HEART, are that of seedy hotels and taverns where conservatism meets superstition and those not from the area are warned to make sure they keep enough gas in there tank as a breakdown on the road would surely result your disappearance at the hands of VooDoo practitioners and weirdos like the ones found in THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE.  To an extent, TRUE DETECTIVE does have all of these pinnings but, it’s the preconceived PERCEPTION we have to immediately add stigmas that often go with these things, and then not find them, that differentiates TRUE DETECTIVE from every other crime show and movie of the recent past, and inspires every crime show and movie that followed. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

You could have practically fried eggs on the sidewalk this past week with some oppressive heat, but things at Wonders in the Dark are similarly in scorching mode.  The Greatest Television Series Countdown has proven a monster hit, with an explosion of comments this past week that matches the site’s finest times.  In fact we’ve had sixteen entries and both the comment and page view totals have been spectacular.  The fabulous quality of the comments has also made the activity here endlessly rewarding.  I want to thank everyone -including a brace of newbies for supporting the venture and for keeping the positive energy flowing.  At this juncture there can be no doubt it is one of the most attended projects we’ve ever run in every sense.  A special thanks for all those -for the second time- who descended on my Anne of Green Gables/Anne of Avonlea post with unbridled passion, wonderful anecdotes and artistic appreciation.  The comments for my other pieces, Poirot included, and for the splendid essays by Adam Ferenz (latest thirtysomething), Dennis Polifroni (Star Trek: TNG and True Detective), Brian Wilson (The Muppet Show), David Schleicher (Fanny and Alexander) and my dear Lucille (The Waltons and Bewitched) and Jillian (Orange is the New Black) have been cause for celebration.  We are having tons of fun here while honoring the art in television in a very big way.

Our longtime Chilean friend Jaimie Grijalba has informed me of a worthwhile fundraiser being conducted  in his behalf for the Locarno Film Festival , and I want to share it here with everyone.  It does include a video.  Jaimie is asking for help:

https://www.fundmytravel.com/campaign/bNZ51YJL5T

Lucille and I with family members attended two films this weekend, both on Sunday in fact:

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by Sam Juliano

It all began as a harmless curiosity.  A few of my seventh-grade friends clued me in on an afternoon soap opera they had been watching daily.  Mind you, they didn’t initially volunteer the information, almost as if to keep this new discovery a private matter that might be compromised if it became too popular.  But when I got frustrated that our after school stickball games had lost the majority of the players, I pressed harder for the cause.  I was told the half hour show, known as Dark Shadows, which ran between 4:00 and 4:30 from Monday through Friday on ABC, had recently introduced a vampire among its characters.  His named was Barnabus Collins, and it seemed that his first appearances on the show brought what was initially a rather tepid affair a new prominence, one that turned into quite a sensation – certainly the equivalent of a present day online viral.  After I got over the shock that some of my teenage jock friends had actually been seduced by a soap opera, I decided I must investigate before damning the practice.  I was after all a big horror fan from the day I can first remember availing myself of the likes Chiller Theater and the re-runs of 1950’s science fiction/horror B flick re-runs.  Like so many of my friends I adored the Universal horror films, and had just at that very time developed an appreciation for the atmospheric productions from Hammer Studios.  In early 1966 I vividly recall walking down to the Embassy Theater about twenty-seven blocks from my home to see Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors.  It was love at first site, or more aptly, love at first bite, since the vampire and werewolf tales were at center stage.  Still, I had a problem believing it was hip for a thirteen year-old boy to be watching a soap opera.  These shows were for my mother and those weeping middle-aged women, who enjoyed getting a good cry out of their daytime programming.  After all Dark Shadows was running side-by-side on the schedule with As the World Turns and One Life to Live.  Vampire or not, the target audience couldn’t be little old me, especially during prime outdoor athletic immersion.  No, I was certain this irksome proposition would end up a certain bust.  But, alas, the proof would be in the pudding.

What I could have never foreseen is that afternoon stick ball was in some serious danger.  A few weeks with this quietly enveloping Gothic soap permanently relegated our post-school day games to the weekends, or to be more specific to any free time when Dark Shadows wasn’t enthralling us.  Like the best television, this was a show we not only were entertained by, but one where we became intimate with the characters, and were so entwined with the drama, that we were infuriated every Friday afternoon when we were left hanging, in the manner of soap opera formula.  Of course this narrative design was aimed at keeping people aboard, but we were probably a bit too young to fully understand the nature of ratings and network scheming.  We needed to know immediately what would happen to Dr. Julia Hoffman after she got bitten by Barnabus or what would happen after Barnabus hires Sam to age the portrait of the witch Angelique.  When Julia embarks to hypnotize Willy, what will he reveal?  After Julia locks Barnabus in the basement, we need to know then and there if Barnabus will find a way to escape.  And it went on and on.  Almost every day the show ran they left you in the lurch, causing us to accuse the creators of dragging out a plot line for the full duration of the episode so they could hold back a major revelation for the next day.  That of course is the very business of soap opera, but we thought this show – the show we grew to love- would not be playing by those rules. (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

Remakes and reboots don’t fare well.  Often, the best intentions are squashed by high anticipations and a kind of hopeful euphoria that occurs when a beloved property is seemingly resuscitated for a new generation of watchers and/or listeners.  At the movies, STAR WARS fans are, for the most part, still reeling over the newest installments in the franchise and, oft times than not, bitching that there was never really a need to contaminate the memory of the series first trio of classic adventure films.  Is there really a need for 2017’s BLADE RUNNER 2049?  Haven’t we said farewell to the amnesiac JASON BOURNE?  Most of the time, repeated visits to the well yield pretty dirty and murky drinking water.

However, lightning sometimes does strike twice (and even a third or fourth time), and, in the cases of the big screen adaptations of Batman and James Bond, even reemerge with tremendous results (who can really argue with Daniel Craig’s 007 or Christian Bale’s Dark Knight?).  But, television?  It had never really been tried.  That is, until STAR TREK.

STAR TREK (1966-1969) was a problem series in it’s initial run on the tube.  While it was often hailed as “creative” and “visionary” for its time, the show was constantly on the verge of being cancelled because of low ratings and “select audience” viewership.  The adventures of the crew of the Starship U. S. S. Enterprise seemed to appeal only to Sci-Fi and Horror geeks and to a select few who would take the chance on something completely different from the generic cop dramas, doctor shows, westerns and new “Lucy” incarnations that inundated the three big networks of the time.  As dazzling, creative, daring and original as some of the episodes were, the general perception of STAR TREK was that it was for kids and junkies of the genre.  By 1969, even after surviving a first-to-second season, write-in plea to keep the show on the air, the head honchos at NBC finally pulled the plug.

Yet, time can be funny.  Sometimes the legend of a thing absolutely outgrows the actual facts about it and something that was long thought of as “forgotten” grows to legendary status in the minds and imaginations of those that remember that thing fondly.  STAR TREK’s fans never stopped thinking and talking about it.  When the series started making its rounds on the syndication circuit in the form of “re-runs”, those fans became talking heads that urged and inspired even more people than initially watched, to watch, and the legend of STAR TREK grew like a snowball rolling down a white covered mountain.  The success of several theatrical films based on the original series didn’t hurt in helping the series gain it’s “Classic” status.  By the time the third film (STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK) was released in 1984, STAR TREK fever was spreading across the globe like wild-fire. (more…)

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