Archive for November, 2017

by Sam Juliano

“Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.

-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

     She is the second woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court as an Associate Justice.  At 84 she is the oldest member of the court and generally regarded as the leader of the liberal wing.  A strident feminist and strong advocate for women’s rights she fought discrimination through much of her life, and in her younger years was an actual victim.  As she approached eighty, this demure grandmother, weighing only ninety pounds, was looked on as a cultural icon for her audacious stands against a conservative male majority.   Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs Equality by Jonah Winter, with illustrations by Stacy Innerset is a picture book biography of a seminal figure in the judicial ranks that chronicles her earliest years, the influence of her beloved mother, through her college years where she met the love of her life and broke through long standing barriers connected to race, gender and role.  With the combination of concise and riveting text and some of the most exquisite art in Innerst’s picture book career a biographical milestone has been achieved.  It all begins as Winter presents the book with a judicial bookend which is in tune with what Ginsburg eventually became.  She is seen as a little girl who hasn’t a clue of what her life would bring. Winter announces that the future Supreme Court Associate Justice endured a difficult life at a socially turbulent time, and these, alas are “the facts of the case.”

The early 1930’s saw a large influx of Jewish immigrants as a result of anti-Semitic persecution in Germany, and a prime place for relocation was none other than Brooklyn, New York.  Some set up business in the Borough while others commuted to the garment district in Manhattan daily.  Young Ruth’s earliest years were spent in a small apartment in a building with few furnishings, comparable to the fictional Kramdens of Bensonhurst.  Ruth’s father never finished high school, but was still enterprising enough to have owned a fur shop before declining business forced him to become an employee in the same profession.  Innerst’s drab maroon-gray decor and subdued tints signify near impoverishment, though a copy of The New York Times and a familial embrace and family portrait imply a tightly knit unit and a measure of literacy confirmed over the ensuing pages.  Ruth’s intellectual role model is unveiled as her enterprising Mom, a high school graduate, prone to multi-tasking, an arduous domestic servant, who, much like the bibliophile Elizabeth Brown in Sarah Stewart and David Small’s 1995 picture book The Library, succeeded in reading and mopping floors simultaneously.  Living at a time when women were highly discouraged from college enrollment, Ruth’s mother secured a job at fifteen years old to help pay for her own brother’s education before settling in to conform to her husband’s edict that “a woman’s place was in the home.”  Yet, this homebound directive gave Ruth’s mom the opportunity to instill in her ever receptive offspring a love of books, imparted daily while the cookie jar was utilized for future education funding. (more…)


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© 2017 by James Clark

      Among the many and rare skills of filmmaker, Kelly Reichardt, I think the one that most defines her work is the remarkable attentiveness to mood. From time to time we all experience how difficult it is to read the real angle coming to us by figures we have a close and clear bead upon. Often a full disclosure can only be attained by discerning a panoply of incidents (overt and covert), perhaps tracing back to a distant past.

Possessed of very high-powered disclosure in that strategic area, she has memorably deployed those resources in order to, in the film, Old Joy (2006), produce sophisticated havoc upon conventional, politically correct assumptions about the sacred cows of our orbit, for the sake of initiating the neglected, very difficult and crucial task of sensuous coherence.

Old Joy directly purports to cover a reunion of Kurt, an itinerant, getting in touch with a former friend, Mark, living, as always, in Portland, Oregon, and now married to pregnant, Tanya, in their environmentally lush home sustained by intellectually demanding jobs. Here we should note a glaring irregularity about each of them. Along the way of this saga we learn that Kurt, the self-styled, not to mention unctuous, “people person,” has waited until his considerable stay in the venue was no longer tenable before leaving on Mark’s answering machine, “I’m in town and I’m just hoping you’re in town.” As to Mark (a mark?), as the film opens, his eyes are closed as he sits in his rather overrun, “authentic” yard, staving off a nervous breakdown, with a Tanya who is pretty much fed up.

This seeming conjunction of ardent, youngish searchers benefits (if that is the word) from the eyes of the “indie” stalwarts who constitute for Reichardt a force needing shock treatment they are unlikely to like. What’s not to love about a counter-cultural rogue, drug addict and homosexual predator catching up with an academically-secured humanitarian, addicted to that liberal radio gospel hour, Air America? Let’s see.


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by Sam Juliano

Let’s go fly a kite
Up to the highest height!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring
Up through the atmosphere
Up where the air is clear
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!       -Richard B. and Robert A. Sherman,  Mary Poppins (1964)

Elaine Magliaro’s interpretation of the essential activities facing both living and inanimate objects is governed by a subjective point of view.  Though her intended readers can assume the role of each one of her subjects before and after she applies her delightful free verse to a diverse array of what we encounter on a typical day, it is best to submit to the sensory allure of a book fully committed towards erasing the pangs of ennui by way of a spirited tour chronicling the expected manner each chosen article plays in a scene-specific situation.  Magliaro sets a desired tone by instructing her gifted illustrator Catia Chien to enlarge and color code key words in her verse, which are not restricted to any single part of speech.  Appropriately enough the book launches with the responsibilities of dawn, which “shoos away night” and “wakes up the sleeping sun” while simultaneously inducing songbirds to do their thing and letting “dreams drift away.”  A young girl and dog are first seen in an impressionist spread documenting the arrival of  a new days as light filters through an open window in a living room dominated by delicate rendered purple hues.

Birds know well the consequence of missed opportunities and the likelihood of a second chance not availing itself anytime soon.  Magliaro implores our feathered friends to take full advantage of the unfaltering mantra, “Fist come, first served” by descending down to a lawn where feed has been offered up.  A delay will undoubtably result in other birds “seizing the day.”  When breakfast has been negotiated the poet advocates airborne tenacity:  Stretch out your wings on the brightening sky.  Morning’s upon us.  Get ready to fly!  Chien’s overhead capture is an impressionist gem, featuring the metaphorical image of a bird sporting the wing span and tail of an airplane in a now busy sky of many other airborne creatures evoking Richard Bach’s line from his famed 1970 novella:  and the word for breakfast flock flashed through the air, till a thousand seagulls came to dodge and fight for bits of food.”  The artist makes lush use of saturated acrylic red and green projecting out from the flicked brown and tan cross strokes in a scene witness by the intrepid young girl and her inveterate canine. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Thanksgiving Day provided my family with a mighty fine time, and we trust our readers could attest to the same in every regard.  Now the focus is suffused with the spirit of Yuletide, though the hectic pace is certainly a daunting proposition.  In the meantime movie lovers are being treated to a period of prestige and quality as many are gathering together their traditional year-end lists.  This past week was also the time to take advantage fo Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales for blu rays, DVDs and the like, providing one’s wallet could sustain such hits.

The Caldecott Medal Contender series soldiers on, with the fifteenth entry set to post later today.  Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance continue to make stupendous contributions, and the 2018 installments of the Allan Fish Online Film Festival and Part 2 of the Greatest Television Countdown draw closer.

Lucille, Douglas McCartney, Broadway Bob and our full brood attended all or some of the three movies we took in over the weekend in theaters, and we treked up to the Sparta/Franklin region as per tradition to purchase our freshly cut Christmas tree.  We saw: (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

 Classics Illustrated first appeared in 1941.  Over the ensuing thirty years a total of 169 titles were published.  This comic book format brought great works of literature to elementary school age children by way of a rudimentary condescension of epic storylines, and a comic book format that made the experience enjoyable.  While some academic purists found the venture as appalling as the Cliff Notes, others of equal pedagogical distinction deemed the series an ideal method to coax reluctant readers to take on the genuine article after their interest was notably piqued by this pictorially attractive beginner course of sorts.  Of far more recent vintage is the “Babylit” collection that has so far eclipsed thirty titles, several of which have spotlighted seminal works by the Bard, Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Leo Tolstoy and the Bronte sisters.  Published by Gibbs Smith Inc., which poses the books as “a fashionable way to introduce your child to the world of classic literature”, this remarkably passionate and prolific enterprise is a collaboration between author Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver, both of whom are resolved to sow the seeds of literary identification and appreciation for a pre-school set capable and willing to connect sensory dots.  These stage setting primers are designed to fuel proper triggers that will lead to the deeper levels of appreciation at the time they enter grade school and later taken on the deeper contexts that may have been inaugurated by the Babylit entries.  Adams has been on a sustained mission to promote literary awareness, and one of her previous works in her Edgar Allan Poe series, Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart with illustrations by Ron Stucki was given a Caldecott Medal Contender review in the 2014 roundup.  Some of us holding English literature degrees can only wished we would have had such an inauguation to some of our most beloved works.

The exquisite tapestries gracing the board pages of her literature projects are by extraordinarily talented New York-based artist Alison Oliver whose remarkable profligate propensity is exceeded only by her breathtaking canvases inspired by Adams’s sagacious discernment of what type of pictorial strategy should be employed with each of the titles.  In 2017 the pair have pooled their gifts for several books.  One on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is billed as a “dancing primer” and the swirling colors are strikingly attuned the dancing and costumes that would of course attract the initial and continued attention of the very young.  Another sublime book, released in the first quarter of the year is a “sound primer” on Aladdin and His Lamp.  For their partnership on Anne of Green Gables, by “Little Miss” (Lucy Ward) Montgomery the concentration is on the breathtaking beauty of Prince Edward Island, a Canadian island province off the coast of Nova Scotia that has long been celebrated as the pastoral setting of the Anne of Green Gables books by Canada’s most beloved writer.  The plucky and cerebral red-haired, freckled Anne Shirley -Canada’s answer to Huckleberry Finn- is seen only once in the book on a front cover frolic in the fields, but since the book is pointedly a “Places Primer” there isn’t a need to employ her likeness again. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.         -William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

Though the commercialization of Thanksgiving can never compare to the yuletide celebration of a month later, the late November depletion of the nation’s turkey population has come to be an occasion too often taken for granted.  To be sure much good comes out of the annual rendezvous with beloved family members and a dinner more often than not that’s fit for a king.  What is too often lost for children is the meaning of the day, the reason why school calendars always include two successive days off late in the month that usher in the ensuing weekend.  The big irony of course is that the title of the holiday says all we need to know about the significance of a festive occasion also crassly referred to as Turkey Day, yet even that ubiquitous labeling fails to cut through the pleasures many have come to anticipate with hedonist fervor.  No one is as routinely attuned to the Thanksgiving rituals as children, who are understandably showered with parental affection and all the cheer those special times of the year can engender.  Some family dinner gatherings are prefaced with prayers, or non denominational expressions of appreciation, but it all makes for a kind of blanket statement and a sweeping generality for kids who are accustomed to receiving, but less likely to identify the sources of their gratitude nor the origin of their sustenance and shelter.

Picture book artist Toni Yuly aims to set the record straight in Thank You Bees, a lower level work that could equally be categorized as an invocation or a scene-specific applause for the planet’s natural elements.  While this soulful homage to Earth’s invaluable resources was not designed to honor a holiday, its spirit and auspices make it an attractive addition to books about one of America’s most beloved single days.  Aside from the titular kinship the pervasive theme of Yuly’s book is one of unmitigated gratefulness, and the realization that without even a single one of her fundamental, indispensable acknowledgements, life as we know it could not exist.  While Yuly’s environmental homage is devoid of any replete secular reference, comparable to a work like the 1945 Caldecott Medal winner Prayer for a Child by Rachel Field and Elizabeth Orton Jones, there is nonetheless a spiritual vantage point of a child coming to terms with life’s essentials, via land, water and air.  There is certainly a plethora of fiction that addresses the appreciation process, but Yuly’s inspired primer is as close as a direct ecological plea to youngsters at the most impressionable of ages.  The author-artist doesn’t directly request a measure of conservation, but the implications are clear, and a positive consequence of first knowing what we were blessed with on the planet. (more…)

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by J.D. Lafrance

In 1989, up-and-coming screenwriter Steve Kloves wrote and directed The Fabulous Baker Boys, an engaging and insightful look at two piano-playing brothers working the lounge circuit. The film was a critical hit, but barely made back its modest budget. A few years later, he wrote and directed Flesh and Bone (1993), an under-appreciated neo-noir that also failed to connect with a mainstream audience. Its commercial failure must have hit Kloves hard as he wouldn’t have another screenplay made until Wonder Boys in 2000. Since then, he has been the go-to guy for the Harry Potter franchise, which hopefully has given him enough clout within the industry to write and direct again – it would be a shame if he squandered the promise showed on his first two films.

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