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Archive for January, 2018

 © 2018 by James Clark

      Playwright, and now auteur, Martin McDonagh, brings to the screen—in his film Three Billboards (2017)—a close encounter with obsession we’ve all seen; but not like this. Fashion and industrial designer, and now auteur, Tom Ford, recently (in 2016) constructed a fascinating study of obsessive revenge, titled, Nocturnal Animals, wherein a writer plots revenge upon his former wife by way of disclosing to her the script of a protagonist who was unable to protect his wife and adolescent daughter from being viciously raped and murdered. The latter filmic locomotiveknows of only the single gratification of destroying an attacker at great heights of physically painful violence.

McDonagh’s vehicle,it seems to me, regarding the aftermath of a vicious rape, murder and immolation of an adolescent girl, does not so much give an accounting of baptism for the sake of decisively taking a stand in a malignant world. Instead, the disclosure upstages apparently sterling personality by way of a weave of sensibility intrinsically on the order of a roller coaster.

A striking and fertile instance of the phenomenon in question pertains to the British lady enclosed in small-town Missouri in the capacity of the wife of the Chief of Police who is facing incurable cancer. We first see her, her two young daughters and her husband maintaining remarkable joie de vivre while pierced with imminent catastrophe. This unmistakably secular group makes its way to a forest and stream attraction, the children eager to cast their lines in that idiom so complementary to a rural home. The happily situated father, Billy Willoughby, orders the little ones—with gentle, jocular gruffness—not to stray from the picnic blanket where they were to ply the stream at its bank. Meanwhile, Billy and the missus depart for a round of coitus in the deep woods. Back home, the lady of the house warmly congratulates the lawman for his “great fuck.” She chafes a bit, burdened with what he calls her “Chardonnay headache” and his having to tend to a couple of saddle ponies in the barn, but the moment of not liking the rural South is readily stanched. Bill goes to the lovingly maintained barn, places a bag over his head—on which we read, “Don’t Remove the Cover”—and he shoots his head with a hand gun. The next step is the three girls comforting each other on the bed. The following morning the brave and dutiful mom visits a souvenir shop and confronts the clerk on duty, namely, Mildred Hayes, a taciturn, anxious middle-aged lady with a youthfully erect presence. The visit is far more angry than unhappy, a situation giving us a start. She hands over a sealed envelope addressed by Billy to Mildred. She cannot resist berating Mildred for her campaign of ridicule and fury regarding—a year after her daughter’s horrific murder—the local police (and particularly Billy) failing to apprehend the culprit or culprits. Billy’s widow, with virtually the whole town backing her, adopts a murderous hatred that Mildred had so unfairly ambushed the harmonics of her family’s remarkableness. (more…)

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Martin Ritt’s Hud

hud1

By J.D. Lafrance

It has been said that Paul Newman was a character actor trapped in the body of a movie star. He had matinee idol good looks but was unafraid to tackle challenging roles in films like The Hustler (1961), Slap Shot (1977), and Road to Perdition (2002), but perhaps his riskiest role was that of the titular character in Hud (1963). Based on Larry McMurtry’s 1961 novel Horseman, Pass By, it depicts the conflict between an aging cattle rancher and his arrogant son with the nephew torn between his admiration for the former and his fascination with the latter. The film is a revisionist western, depicting a way of life that was becoming increasingly marginalized. Hud was a critical and commercial success while also being nominated for seven Academy Awards and winning three of them. It is also one of Newman’s signature roles and is a powerful example of his fearlessness as an actor.
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by Jared Dec

Io Island – Ki-young Kim

South Korea 1977 112m

p Woo-seok Lee d Ki-young Kim w Yu-sang Ha ph Il-seong Jeon ed Dong-chun Hyeon art Myeong-su Lee m Sang-gi Han

Hwa-shi Lee, Jeong-cheol Kim, Yun-seok Chul, Mi-hye Kwon, Jeong-ja Park

Come eat your food!

Many in the cinema world at large have now heard the name of Ki-young Kim. Most however are really only aware of a single one of his films, The Housemaid, largely due in part to the critical accolades it has received from both critics of its native country and to Western film giants such as Martin Scorsese. What one will soon discover upon investigating deeper into Kim’s filmography is that he was anything but a one-hit wonder. Kim was a dentist by trade but somehow made a complete career shift into making films off of expired film stock left over by the american propaganda units after the Korean War. Kim can be credited with giving Korean cinema its first true auteur, developing a signature style that was reminiscent of Hitchcock but remains distinctly his own. Large portions of Kim’s filmography are unknown in the West, with all but one of his films made prior to The Housemaid being lost to the ages. However, of those that have survived, Io Island is a standout indeed now blessedly available on a passable DVD release from the fine folks at the Korean Film Archive.

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by Sam Juliano

The baby boomer era was a time when trading was all the rage.  Whether one wanted to swap eight cent stamps because the design on one was cooler, or a Mickey Mantle for a Roger Maris baseball card, because the latter had just broken the all-time single season home run record.  Bulging Halloween trick or treat bags after almost four hours of ringing bells and knocking on doors usually yielded prime candy items set for brokering.  How about a snickers bar for a mounds almond joy?  Maybe a chunky for a Forever Yours bar?  Those living near Palisades Amusement Park in northern New Jersey across the Hudson River from Manhattan engineered major trades every June when their free strip of tickets to the park included nine rides and a frozen custard.  The adventurous kids who couldn’t get enough opportunities to ride the Himalaya or the dizzying Round-Up gave up their ice cream to those with a sweet tooth.  Then there were those colorful marbles, matchbox cars and Universal monster models.  The girls were always moving dolls around, and swapping accessories for their houses.  And how many don’t remember hearing “I’ll give you New York Avenue and Mediterranean Place for Marvin Gardens and five-hundred in cash?  The general rule of thumb was to hold fast to anything that someone else wanted badly.  Usually the owner did that as confirmation that their possession was more valuable than the item being offered to obtain it.

This dogged conviction is the central conceit in Ariel Bernstein’s I Have A Balloon, a dialogue driven picture book about an owl and a monkey living in a forest who play rhetorical tug of war over a mighty appealing red balloon owned by the hooter.  The owl’s initial ambivalence about the celebratory object undergoes change when a an envious monkey tries to con him out of it.  The owl launches the discourse with a simple sentence that is so deadpan that it easily segues into humor.  I have a balloon.  The money swings in on a branch parroting the owl’s statement of ownership.  The owl then repeats the same four words to emphasize territorial rights to that which he holds by a string.  The book’s illustrator, Scott Magoon, an acclaimed veteran of several popular and critically lauded titles renders the book’s art via the digital medium.  His work is attractive, bold and vividly attuned to the changing dynamics in a story about youthful fickleness and intense desire which is probably the beginning of obsessive compulsive disorder.  The monkey starts to make observations about the balloon, that unbeknownst to the owl are the precise reason he would love to the ownership of it change hands.  That is a big balloon.  That is a shiny red balloon.  The owl steadfastly corroborates the monkey’s disguised yearning. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Long time Allan Fish friend and protege Jared Dec, an amazing college student from the Bay area in California has resuscitated a cherished Wonders in the Dark institution by adding to The Fish Obscuro series with some intriguing rarities.  Today marks the second week running that Dec has unearthed a hard-to-find title, and is graciously making it available for those interested with another stellar assessment.  Jared’s new series is a real boon to the site and its erstwhile discerning cineastes.

Today the annual Mock Caldecott voting will be conducted in the Number 3 School Annex, where around 230 first and second grade students will be casting ballots for their favorite picture books of the year after months of scrutiny.  As always I will post the results on next week’s MMD. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Wendell Minor has boarded a time machine back to the Revolutionary and Civil War eras, has accessed nature sanctuaries in remote locations like the Galapagos Islands, the Sequoia rain forests and Waldon Pond, has profoundly interpreted the work of some of America’s greatest artists, has transcribed the iconographic essence of our nation’s literary past, and has even journeyed to the moon with one of the most famous of astronauts.  This erstwhile purveyor of some of our country’s most cherished moments and the great outdoors has stood tall as an indefatigable champion of endangered species, ecological vigilance and a glorious past too often obscured by technological advancements.  Yet for all his epic concerns, and cultural homages the simple intimacy on display in the books he crafted with his wife, the author Florence Friedman Minor have maintained a remarkable staying power with his young readers, and remain among the most popular titles in what may well be the most varied catalog of any artist of children’s books.  Florence Minor’s If You Were A Panda Bear and If You Were A Penguin have been abiding favorites in classrooms, and prime examples of effective language and pictorial rapport.  Early in 2017, the Minors again collaborated on How To Be a Bigger Bunny a charming tale of fortitude.

How To Be a Bigger Bunny is adorned with pastel Easter-time colors, though aside from the prohibitive attendance of a cast brought to intrepid fame in a beloved classic novel by Richard Adams, its message isn’t secular but more of the life-affirming variety.  Still, it would seem disingenuous to omit it from any collection of notable children books about Christianity’s holiest day essentially because of its conforming palette and its kinship with that holiday’s fluffy mascot.  Indeed the book’s eight and a half by eight and a half square trim size invites nocturnal placement in any young child’s Easter basket before the break of dawn.  As to the quadrilateral trim, the Minors know well it denotes amenity and contentment or if you will a strong desire not to “leave the box.” Yet if a young reader proceeds with comforting assurance, young Tickles, the smallest bunny in her family is no Ferdinand the Bull, regardless of the pastoral allure of daffodil patches and how appealing it is to engage in extended meditative sessions.  Bigger Bunny turns out to be a kind of “hot box” where lessons are learned through trial or tribulation and a newfound level of respect follows a timely act of bravery. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Honey, I am seven fox years old. My father died at seven and a half. I don’t want to live in a hole anymore, and I’m going to do something about it.       -Mr. Fox, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, 2009.

Marco had it made really.  In his woodland habitat among his own kind he could have all the chicken stew his heart desired.  In the food chain his species were sitting pretty.  All he needed to do was to play the game by the rules.  Don’t make any waves.  Don’t ask any questions.  Don’t take any unnecessary risks.  And above all be pragmatic.  Leaving the box and trying to find out the way of the world could lead to some life-threatening consequences.  In the open wild it was survival of the fittest.  Now if he were to come upon a tree that talked like those indignant apple tossers on the yellow brick road or find out why there wasn’t any uniformity in a song’s temperament, or receive evidence of the sun’s heat and light going through a nocturnal metamorphosis only to be resuscitated daily, perhaps he’d own some bragging rights among his peers, but in the long term his dogged inquiries seems ill-suited for contentment, and his naivete that others of his kind would know some of the world’s well-kept secrets would leave him further in default.  But as little can really be predicted, some surprises can quickly change the status quo, allowing long unanswered questions to go through a period of trial and tribulation.  Marco’s  existential dilemma may have gone unaddressed for a long time if it weren’t for the fantastical arrival of a ship rather spectacularly showcasing two carved wooden antlers, protruding from its bow.  This was Marco’s opportunity to connect with others of his kind, and even perhaps others of a different species who shared his inquisitive mind-set.

The deep-thinker Marco is the creation of a travelling adventure seeker named Dashka Slater, who presently resides in Oakland, California.  Slater’s numerous sea excursions on both coasts no doubt inspired her to conjure up this free spirited woodland Prince of Denmark, one she then turned over to a pair of illustrator American-born brothers, Eric and Terry Fan, who for the time being are working out of Toronto, Canada.  Slater is posing a few adages in this story mirroring Dorothy’s in the immortal L. Frank Baum story-turned-into-beloved-film, one where what you strive to obtain may be right under your nose or that spending time together can alone forge the most indomitable bond.  By the very end of the aptly-titled The Antlered Ship Marco’s questions haven’t abated, but he comes to understand that answers aren’t spoken, but are transcribed by others’ actions.  When Ms. Slater writes:  There were so many questions left to answer.  And so many more to ask she intimates that further sea journeys will bring a deeper understanding of life and human nature.  Slater’s philosophy clearly implies there is no substitute for experience and human interaction and she imparts it persuasively in The Antlered Ship.  Rarely in a children’s picture book has anthropomorphism been so profoundly employed, nor as sagaciously consummated. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Robinson by Peter Sis is the ultimate fix for those stoked to say that blue is their favorite color.  Classroom teachers preparing to introduce it can supplement the presentation by displaying the the opening end papers of Isabelle Simler’s French import The Blue Hour, another sublime, recently released picture book.  Thirty-two blue colored ovals, each exhibiting a different shade of blue are labeled with the corresponding color.  Even  the instructor will be hard pressed to immediately recognize some of the eclectic variations, such as “porcelain,” “cerulean,” “Maya” and “periwinkle.”  But the human eye can differentiate between shades and the bonanza of blue on the cover and in the text of Robinson can be spotted in Simler’s identifiable ovals.  “Turquoise blue” is an especially ravishing palette and it is showcased in all its eye-filling splendor on the cover, perhaps the most resplendent in the artist’s picture book career.  The Czechoslovak-born Sis is a children’s book author and artist, but his work on a number of fronts is known worldwide where some count him as one of their absolute favorites.  He has already won three Caldecott Honors for The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain; Tibet: Through the Red Box and Starry Messenger, and virtually each of his other picture book releases have been posed for similar annointment in pre-Caldecott discussion forums and at prediction sites.  He is a master in minutiae, where others like Caldecott Medal and Honor winner Peter Spier and Japanese artist Armo have excelled, and his seamless integration of maps, graphs,  intricate patterns, myriad colors and diverse modes have hit sitting alone when picture book complexity is under consideration.  Each of Sis’ new works is an adventure and his latest book by the very nature of its subject is epic.  Yet, an argument can certainly made that Robinson is his simplest work with more straight forward and unencumbered art.  It also may well be his most sublime work of them all.

Sis in that inimitable artist who makes each and every one of his illustrations speak to the reader, every one multi-faceted and spurring the gamut of emotions and crossing the line from reality to the fantastical realm.  His work, especially Robinson exhibits some fascinating artistic kinship to some of the most distinguished cinematic Czech luminaries, directors like Karel Zeman, Jaromil Jires and the animation giant Jan Swankmajer.  Every tapestry in itself tells a story and requires studied examination for the fullest appreciation.  A compelling example of this propensity is showcased immediately in Robinson’s opening duel page canvas, where nine various sized vignettes establish the young protagonist as an adventure lover, and a pirate at heart whose engagement toward that pursuit is diverse and imaginative.  Whether it is setting up a pirate tent in the courtyard, dressing as pirates in the tub (a little King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub anyone?), watching a movie about pirates or climbing scaffolds to build a stone pirate, these are intrepid kids who never do things halfheartedly.  When the school announces a costume party the ensuing intentions are of the no-brainer variety, until young Peter is convinced by his mom to dress up as Robinson Crusoe, the hero of the boy’s favorite adventure story.  Peter can’t dispute his affection for the Daniel Dafoe classic novel of the same name, and readily agrees to her proposition.  Sis’s mastery of design and thematic enhancement is showcased in two pages chronicling this change of plans.  His mother is shown holding a copy of the Dafoe book, which is pictorially transcribed in  a brown tinted square border illustrating scenes from the book and cursive writing made to appear as segments from the text.  The mother’s crafting of the costume is similarly framed by a fabulous abstract and visceral circular arc documenting its construction.  The various stages in dressing is pure illustrative bliss, and the walk to school under the adoring eyes of mom is is framed by architectural expressionism. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

One of Cuba’s most distinctive if even defining anachronisms – highways populated with classic American cars from the 1950s – appears set to fade into history following the most sweeping relaxation of vehicle imports since the revolution.  For most of the past half century, Havana’s traffic has been jammed with Pontiacs, Studebakers, Oldsmobiles, Chevrolets and Soviet imports as a result of tight domestic controls and US sanctions that made it difficult to buy parts and fuel. But in the latest of a series of economic reforms, the council of ministers headed by his brother – the current president, Raúl Castro  abolished the need for permission and opened up the car market to all citizens.  The Communist party’s official newspaper, Granma, related that the new regulations would “eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state”.  The measure was largely designed to erase public frustration at the previous directives, which afforded an unfair economic edge to those who could purchase cars and push them on the black market, often at several times the original price.  The end of the import ban however came at a price, and the long overdue modernization will effectively eliminate the world’s largest automobile museum for good, closing a time portal that for many allowed a bygone era to maintain a presence in an age where other technological advances like the cell phone, lap tops and social media allowed the 50’s to break bread with the new millennium.

A celebration of the car culture permeating Cuba in the baby boomer years and the resilience of the island’s natives is gloriously brokered in All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle and her illustrator Mike Curato.  As related by the renowned Cuban-American author and poet, life during the era seemed to revolve around the vital use of the car, which after trial and tribulation gave Cubans pride of accomplishment.  The car in those days was nearly equal to the home, carrying family members to visit other relatives, to run errands, and especially to head into the steaming metropolis of Havana, the country’s capital city, where the major roads were a living embodiment of what some will fondly recall from movies like American Graffiti, Tucker and Heart Like A Wheel.  Keeping an automobile in running condition was often equaled by cosmetic attention, the results of which defied age, mileage and excessive use.    All the Way to Havana is about pride, perseverance and responsibly, and the car with its inherent physical grandeur is the vassal of those fiercely maintained propensities.  The encapsulation of the daily diligence is a sensory road trip to the capital where the sounds of other cars, street performers and people buzzing attest to the indomitable spirit of those who are high on life. (more…)

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Stranger1

By J.D. Lafrance

The Stranger (1946) is generally regarded by Orson Welles aficionados as a standard thriller done for money, and to prove to studio executives that he could work within the system (it had been four years since his last directorial effort). He even said as much in interviews, and criticized the studio for cutting approximately thirty minutes from the beginning of the film that he wrote himself. Admittedly, it is not in the same league as, say, Touch of Evil (1958), but the film does have its merits. The Stranger is a tightly plotted and well-acted thriller that bears his unique stamp, in spite of it being a director-for-hire project.
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