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Archive for October, 2017

The Hitcher

The Hitcher4

By J.D. Lafrance

It was the film no one wanted to make. It became the film no one wanted to see. When The Hitcher came out in 1986, it barely made a dent in the box office and what few critics did see the film, hated it for the unrelenting sadism and brutality that occurred with seemingly no rhyme or reason. The film was quickly relegated to home video hell and doomed to obscurity. And then a curious thing happened. The Hitcher gradually began to take on a second life through word of mouth, spawned by the riveting performance of Rutger Hauer, the actor who played the frightening yet charismatic antagonist. The film, much like its villain, is a nasty piece of work that doesn’t care if you like it or not – it just wants to scare the living hell out of you and I would argue that it does so with a refreshing simplicity. The Hitcher doesn’t beg to be psychoanalyzed – it is something to experience in all of its white-knuckled intensity. The film has gone to inspire films like Jeepers Creepers (2001) and The Forsaken (2001) and spawn a vastly inferior sequel and remake.
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by Sam Juliano

Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.

The juxtaposition of barnyard indifference and an insatiable officiousness fuels the irresistible Pony in the City, a handsomely mounted, digitally negotiated picture book by Wendy Wahman.  Otis, a permanent resident of “The Pony Paddock,” an equestrian stable serving youthful riders in a rural retreat, evokes the inquisitive demeanor of Wilbur the Pig, but who takes a markedly more hands on approach to the quest for knowledge.  Otis is the restless spirit of a quartet of fillies that includes Mosey, Whinny and Derby.  He yearns to know where his riders live, if they do the same things he does, eat the same kind of food, and maintain themselves similarly.  The intrepid Otis, understanding that there is no match for on location scrutiny a la Climb every mountain/Search high and low/Follow every byway/Every path you know mode escapes his domain, moving from rural to urban, miniature to gargantuan, uncomplicated to labyrinthine.  For the youngest readers Pony in the City bridges the gap what exists and what may be by exploring the inherent possibilities in the relationship between children and the favorite animal of John Steinbeck’s Jody Tiflin.

Wahman is a major player in the regional Pacific Northwest picture book renaissance taking place over the past decade, one that includes fellow talents such as Jessixa Bagley, Elizabeth Stanton and Toni Yuly.  Wahman and her Evergreen State colleagues have produced a run of extraordinary works, while conducting regular readings and presentations in book stores and classrooms in the region.  Wahman has specialized in books about animals, with Don’t Lick the Dog, A Cat Like That and Rabbit Stew winning many admirers in the classrooms and among the educators and librarians presenting them.  Few author-illustrators are as adept as Wahman in imbuing her animal and human characters with such a carefree similitude and the sense that there is a natural kinship between living creatures that ultimately trumps the intellectual schism.   (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Halloween 2017.  Northeast weather for the big day should accomodate the trick or treaters comfortably as mid 50’s to low 60’s seems to be the predicted span.  Down on Spruce Street in lower Fairview we usually get deluged with customers, but few days of the year make us all as happy at October 31st.  Horror movies have been dominating our home big screen DVDs and a few more enterprising than that have attended some seasonal chestnuts at local theaters, some of which offer midnight shows.  The Caldecott Medal Contender series continues on, with the seventh and eighth entries planned for later this week.  Jim Clark’s latest fabulous and comprehensive review is on Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women and J.D. Lafrance’s most recent review gem is on the horror film The Town That Dreaded Sundown.

This week’s terrific horror capsule from Jamie Uhler is on a film he admits is a ton of fun and it is offered to all those who get a special thrill of this time of the year:

Tales of Terror (R. Corman… 1962) anthology
During my capsule review of Twice Told Tales I mentioned that the disc from Netflix was a flipper disc, with this movie on the other side. Since I was feeling a little less than 100% yesterday, I thought some classic Corman, with Vincent Price at his side would be the near perfect remedy. 
Well, I wasn’t wrong. Nearly exactly Twice Told Tales quality, Tales of Terror, from a year earlier, finds its difference in being (very loosely) based on three Edgar Allan Poe stories, whereas Tales of Terror focused its lens on Nathaniel Hawthorne you’ll recall. At last years gift Exchange Bob had given me a really cool book covering all the Poe adaptations on screen. At the time after reading much of it, I’d made a mental note to revisit the masterful Corman/Poe/Price films (specifically Tomb of Ligeia and The Masque of the Red Death) and do a Poe dive in general this year. Fast forward about 10 months when I was really sinking into the creation of my list this year and I’d forgotten about the promise to myself. I thought of it when this started, and was happy that going off the script for this one, connected me to my first thought on my 2017 list last year.

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by Sam Juliano

To dream the impossible dream
To fight the unbeatable foe
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go         –Joe Darion, Man of LaMancha, 1964

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a contemporary of Shakespeare, and a pre-eminent novelist of world literature is also considered the greatest writer in the Spanish language and one of the most influential literary figures to have ever lived.  His crowning achievement, produced in two volumes, El Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha is the most celebrated work in the entire Spanish literary canon, and comparable in stature with the greatest novels by Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Dickens and Tolstoy.  The book’s titular character has become a symbol of idealistic pursuit and spirited perseverence, the antithesis of surrendering to one’s fears, insecurities and physical constrictions.

Almost as if a direct response to the dearth of historical information relating to Cervantes’ earliest years, celebrated children’s book author-poet Margarita Engle has filled a void in the Don Quixote literature with a sparkling collection of free verse poems that capture the spirit and accelerating imagination of one whose imagination erased injustice and impoverishment, adversity and censorship, vice and intolerance.  Miguel’s Brave Knight: Young Cervantes and His Dream of Don Quixote assembles fourteen sketches titled by way of feelings, emotions and events, that for young readers should prove a revelation through the cause and effect essence of the presentation.  There are surely a number of options to approach Cervantes, but Engle’s method by building story through language vignettes is precise, economical and cumulative.  Engle’s own personal passion in her subject is revealed in her afterward, where she attests to parental admiration for this heroic figure and an upbringing during social upheaval that included the civil rights struggle and feminist coming of age.  As a teenager the author traveled to the hills of La Mancha with her family to behold the windmills that fueled the most celebrated imagination in the annals of world literature and on a personal level the author’s a present day relevance of “determination, perseverance, and limitless hope” that in the end will triumph over societal adversity.  Fully attuned to how Cervantes conquered the stumbling blocks of his own upbringing Engle implores her readers to absorb his message and know that they too can aspire to and attain success through indomitable commitment.  This labor of love for the Cuban-American author represents one of her most extraordinary achievements in a career with a plethora of acclaimed works.  Though Miguel’s Brave Knight is being proffered here as a Caldecott contender, Engle’s anapestic encapsulation should be gaining the attention of the Newbery committee as well. (more…)

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25178_townthatdreadedsundown5

By J.D. Lafrance

By 1946, World War II had ended and joy and prosperity returned to the United States. However, a dark cloud hung over Texarkana (a city that resides in both Arkansas and Texas) during the spring of that year as a masked murderer known as the Phantom Killer terrorized the inhabitants of the town, killing five of them and severely wounding three others. These series of murders became known as the Texarkana Moonlight Murders because most of them occurred late at night. The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) is an unsettling dramatization of the killer’s reign of terror and the authorities’ attempts to apprehend him. It was written in just-the-facts fashion by Earl E. Smith and directed with gritty, lo-fi style by Charles B. Pierce, both of whom had worked together previously on the cult film The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972).
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by Sam Juliano

Pumpkin Day is just eight days away and area communities are busy setting the stage with seasonal adornments.  Horror film fans too are employing the month with new discoveries and revisitations, and city festivals have highlighted some genre classics.  The Caldecott Medal Contender series has been moving forward,, with five reviews so far published, and preparation continues for Part 2 of the Greatest Television Series countdown set to launch on February 13th, after being pushed back an additional two months for multiple reasons.  Stellar film scholarship from Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance continues.

Our resident horror expert Jamie Uhler has again penned a superlative capsule review on a recent horror gem, 2017’s A Ghost Story, which I am posting on this thread to continue the Halloween month celebration.  A Ghost Story, directed by David Lowery is one of my own top films of the year:

A Ghost Story (D. Lowery… 2017) supernaturalPairing Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara together again, as director David Lowery had in the underrated Ain’t Them Bodies Saints previously, promised one of my most anticipated films of 2017. It more or less came and went early in the year, a small film (made astonishingly for 100 thousand) released during a time of year where big studios release their duds, or leftovers from the previous Oscar season. Some noticed it and praised it, but even then this is a film deserving of considerably more attention, a haunting work whose title implies scares, but instead burrows much deeper into an emotional center on loss and closure. 

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by Sam Juliano

Little Lamb who made thee 
Dost thou know who made thee 
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o’er the mead; 
Gave thee clothing of delight, 
Softest clothing wooly bright;       -William Blake, 1776

The art of photography has yet to achieve recognition from the Caldecott committee, though qualification rules do embrace this most unique illustrative style.  For the fourth time acclaimed poet Helen Frost and celebrated photographer Rick Lieder have confirmed their inimitable picture book chemistry with Wake Up!, a work incorporating elements from the previous dalliances in what many know but few have seen caught in such sublime crystal clarity.  In a case of mutual inspiration this erstwhile cameraman extraordinaire brings full-bodied visualization to the probing language that in turn seems to receive a cue from the nature identity markers that serve to introduce species of tiny insects to large mammals.

With magnifying glass lucidity Lieber offers a close-up of the marble like translucent eggs that will in short order morph into gray garden slugs on the opening end papers, while simultaneously rendering a sense of wonder through a yellow-green spectrum.  The title page is a striking convergence of aquamarine and frosty white which allows a newly hatched Chinese praying mantis to needle through an English daisy.  Thematically Frost and Lieder are attuned to the natural affinity between living things and their habitats at the earliest spans of their tenure on the Earth.  Wake Up! is less scene-specific than the first three books in this series, but in the manner it urges on its readers one can conclude the message is cumulative.

Lieder’s mission is to invite readers to enter and as a result to know more about their interactions within their habitats, and the inherent possibilities in the realm of nature.  His renowned poet in residence, Frost is a master of language economy, one content to have all the human eyes focus on Lieder’s photographic miracles, yet to forge a lasting impact of language that lyrically sets the stage for some of the most glorious images the eye can behold.  This unusual wedding between rhythmical veracity and photographic authenticity allows those who engage with Wake Up! the chance to derive as much as Lieder did when he caught his treasures on film for posterity. (more…)

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prince-of-darkness

By J.D. Lafrance

“The outside world doesn’t want to hear this kind of bullshit. Just keep it locked away. They’ve already managed it for 2000 years.” – Birack

Prince of Darkness (1987) was made after John Carpenter went public with how dissatisfied he was with the studio interference he encountered while working on films like Big Trouble in Little China (1986). He decided to return to his independent filmmaking roots by signing a multi-picture deal with Alive Films. He would get a $3 million budget per film and complete creative freedom. The first result was a creepy horror film and the second installment of an informal “Apocalypse Trilogy” which began with The Thing (1982) and concluded with In the Mouth of Madness (1995). Aside from being heavily influenced by legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft, all three films feature a higher, malevolent supernatural force that manipulates human beings against one another in order to bring about the end of the world.
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 © 2017 by James Clark

      After enjoying a number of films loaded for bear, it’s a bit of a breath of fresh air to see to it that small game must not be forgotten. Whereas the likes of Kiarostami, Jarmusch and Refn are wired for blowing the planet into outer space, filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt, has perhaps a more low-tech approach to a dispensation of overrated smart-asses.

I recall a brush with her Wendy and Lucy (2008) being haunting and prompting more studies of her work. And now, particularly in the wake of the rarefied, Shirin, her recent film, Certain Women (2016), becomes a must. Let’s not, however, fail to appreciate that Reinhardt can, when apt, throw a deadly cutter in the course of diverging from the mainstream fast balls being expected by a site like Montana. (I’m not unmindful that she has a reputation for being an expert at “slow cinema” to coincide with rural settings. But her “slowness’ has been tempered by the killer instincts of Kiarostami, Jarmusch and Refn, to name but a few of the many fireballers she sees the point of.) Near the end of our movie today, a quite empathetic lawyer, Laura, visits a former client, Billy, now in jail, who hopes to hear more often from her by mail. “Talk about anything…Doesn’t have to be a tome…” But—as part of the tide of an enterprise not so far from the lone coffee drinker in Jarmusch’s, Coffee and Cigarettes (2003), contemplating buying a large gun to deal with hordes of impasse she finds insufferable—there is no effective avoidance of playing something along lines of a tome (a multifaceted outreach, a dialectic, in fact). Earthy folks imply paradoxical struggle, and Certain Women is, in its ‘slow” ways, a deep and hard look at an American, not a German, idealism.

A first and most directly palpable thing that hits us in this film is its ponderously dead visuality. Not (very much) is Reichardt about homage toward those “Transcendentalist” boosters of peppy light coming to bear across vast spheres to kiss delicious flora, faunas and contours. Those former boy scouts taking their marching orders from European Romanticism are supplanted here by an emphatic initial distance shot of a rail bed all but swallowed up by brown and grey unlovely grasses with a mountain range miles away on the horizon, pelted by overcast more impoverished than night. A freight train approaches to complement the unfriendly wind whipping along; but the mere touch of a positive motion catches our attention, as does the train’s raspy whistle. (more…)

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“Shout” (1978)

by Sam Juliano

Autumn weather is trying real hard to make its presence known but summer is driving a hard bargain in these parts.  In any event mid October is usually a fun time of the year.  We Yankee fans were so thrilled when our team took out the Indians in five after an amazing comeback, but we do presently stand in a precarious situation, down two zip to the Houston Astros.  The Bronx Bombers must win tonight if they are to stand any realistic chance.  The prestige movie season is nearly upon us and many are noting what films are on the docket.  Holloween Horror is all the rage and our resident expert Jamie Uhler has penned another fantastic review of a comparatively little seen gem:

The Shout (J. Skolimowski… 1978) psychological/fantasy

Knowing the brilliance of Polish master Jerzy Skolimowski for some time now, I’ve sort of been surprised I’ve never seen a second film of his; Deep End (1970) is one of the towering works of cinema, a scathing, brilliant piece of subversion, it being so great that it stands out in an era where subversive political cinema happened somewhat regularly, a telling fact by itself. But it remained all I’d seen from him, until, last night of course, when I did his abstract piece of Horror, The Shout from 1978 (I should say, my neglect on him isn’t due to pure laziness, I’ve long wanted to see Le depart [1967] and Hands Up! [1967], but have found both to be pretty illusive to quick, or even lengthy, searches). 

 Outlining the plot reveals a little to the abstract nature of the film, while it has concrete notions of plotting—a mysterious man (Crossly; Alan Bates at his most disheveled mysteriousness) invades the otherwise tranquil, English country side life of a young couple (the beautiful Rachel [Susannah York] and avant garde musician Anthony [John Hurt]) who claims to be coming back from a time spent living with Aboriginals where he murdered his family and learned a ‘terror shout’ from a shaman that can kill anyone who hears it without proper ear protection—its abstract style reveals a film illusive and hard to pin down. It’s clearly for the better—the auditory nature of the Horror implies that you need to feel and really ‘hear’ the film as much as you see it, with much of the spoken lines being muffled or whispered somewhat, with Anthony’s time in the studio being a smorgasbord of audio invention; he plucks a sardine can with a violin bow, or he shouts in a glass box around his head, each effect adding to the scary nature of a film where a deep, bellowed scream can kill and maim. Other touches add ever more focus, Anthony’s home studio is adorned with several of the terrifying Francis Bacon paintings of the mid-century for example, images that are later quickly echoed by Rachel if you pay close enough attention. Skolimowski’s deft use of the camera also deserves mention.

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