Archive for May, 2018


By Roderick Heath

This essay is offered as part of the Allan Fish Online Film Festival, a festival founded by Jamie Uhler and hosted by Wonders in the Dark, held to honor the memory of the late cineaste extraordinaire Allan Fish.

Rudolph Valentino. Over ninety years since he died aged 31, his name is still familiar to people who have never watched any of his movies. As the first great heartthrob of Hollywood film, his impact lingers like background radiation in pop culture. Valentino was the defining archetype of the Latin Lover and icon of silent film’s budding cosmopolitan promise, and is still the subject of legend and feverish speculation, particularly in regards to off-screen escapades and omnivorous sexual tastes. Young Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d’Antonguella acted out the essential myth of early Hollywood. He arrived in America as an eighteen-year-old immigrant, struggling in his early days in New York and skirting the outer edges of a scandalous tragedy before taking to the road as a travelling actor. Valentino took the advice of movie actor Norman Kerry to go to Hollywood and try his luck there, but found himself initially typecast as a villain for his dark, exotic looks. Then he was cast in the lead of Rex Ingram’s adaptation of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez’s bestseller, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, produced by Metro Pictures and released in 1921. Valentino was catapulted to stardom, and in spite of the film’s seriousness as a World War I drama, what everyone remembered afterwards was Valentino’s tango scene.


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Screen capture from French gem “The Guardians.”

by Sam Juliano

The second annual Allan Fish Online Festival is  underway as of this morning with a fabulous post from project founder Jamie Uhler on a satiric 1989 Italian film.  The endeavor will run through June 8th with daily posts resuming tomorrow.  The television countdown will follow-up for its final leg in the weeks after the AFOFF is completed.  Many thanks to all who have come on board for what will surely be another memorable chapter for the ten-year old Wonders in the Dark.

For those living in and around Manhattan, I would like to alert you to the upcoming ten-film Ruth Prawer Jhabvala/Merchant-Ivory retrospective at the Quad in June. The big highlights will be the Q & A by 90 year-old James Ivory himself after the screenings of “A Room with a View” (June 14th) and “Mr. & Mrs. Bridge.” (June 11th). He will also introduce “The Golden Bowl” and “The Guru.”

Lucille and I saw two films in theaters this past week:

The Guardians    *****     (Sunday afternoon)     Quad Cinemas

Summer 1993     ****      (Saturday evening)       Eleanor Bunin Theater, Lincoln Center

One extraordinary French drama set in the lush countryside (The Guardians) and one very fine and observant Spanish film (Summer 1993) set in the Catalan countryside seen in Manhattan this weekend. (more…)

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The Allan Fish Online Film Festival was conjured up as a way to remember the passion of Allan’s fervent cinephilia, and the online tie that bound so much of us to him like flies to a glowing lightbulb, and then built this community at large. So let me begin by saying to everyone: thanks for participating and following along for a second straight year. We’re truly keeping the flickering image alive!

As I did last year with Final Cut: Ladies and Gentlemen, György Pálfi’s 2012 collage romp through film history, I’ve tried to again imbue my pick with Allan’s love for cinema, pick a film very much about films. (more…)

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by Aaron White

(the brevity of this review perhaps reflects the sketch-like nature of the gags in the series)

In March of 2018 Matt Stone and Trey Parker were invited to receive the Freedom of Expression award from a group headed by Norman Lear. The award is generally considered to be a prestigious artistic award for liberal artists and thinkers. While Stone and Parker were accepting the award they said “we’re Republicans.” The group laughed uproariously. They said, “no, seriously.” They fact that this was news, and that we still don’t know whether it’s true or not, or to what extent it is true is one of the reason’s that their South Park is one of the greatest television satires ever made. For a show to be coming into it’s 22nd season and for it to feel as fresh and vital as it ever has speaks to their abilities as writers and performers. Of course, their famous 6 days to air (a deadline that they have only missed once as of this writing) philosophy helps keep things fresh, but it also shows the immense amount of work Matt and Trey put into their art and the dedication that they have to bringing fresh, topical political and social satire to the screen 10 times a year…forever? Well, for now anyways.

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Starting Monday, May 28th Wonders in the Dark will be hosting a 12 day Allan Fish Online Film Festival (Allan Fish OFF 2018). The rules are simple; each day will see a new chairman host the festivities and select a film that is available to be watched by anyone, online for free from a popular streaming site (youtube, vimeo, dailymotion, etc.). The host for that day will decide how the film they chose will be presented; an essay, a sparse teaser introduction, or ‘other’ (the creativity seen on the blogosphere for film commentary knows no bounds as we all know). Thus, conceivably the film festival could be nearly real; people anywhere on the globe watching the same film, at roundabout the same time. It’s named in honor of our dear friend and film scholar Allan Fish, whose birthday was May 28th, and will be an annual event, with this years being the second one. He found so many of his treasured Obscuro’s doing just what we’re setting out to do with this Festival, so it seemed the most fitting way to remember him. 


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by Adam Ferenz

A simple premise, this. In the first half of an episode, the police investigate a crime and in the second, the courts sort out the mess. In Dick Wolf’s legendary series, which is currently tied with Gunsmoke as the longest running dramatic series in US primetime history-it will be equaled by the spinoff, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit-this is a formula that held up, as did the idea of “ripping the stories from the headlines” and frequently rotating the cast. Lawyers and police come and go, and New York City is always there, a backdrop that is never quite a character but certainly felt.

The cast is likely what most people will remember, aside from the formula. Audiences will think of Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy, or Steven Hill as his boss at the DA’s office. They will think of Jerry Orbach, as Detective Lennie Briscoe, and maybe also Chris Noth as Mike Logan, Benjamin Bratt as Rey Curtis and Jesse L. Martin as Ed Green. They might recall S.Epatha Merkerson as Lt. Anita Van Buren. These are just a few of the-longer tenured-faces to pass through the halls of justice on NBC’s venerable offering.

The show could be prone to gimmicks-stunt casting, crossovers, though the ones with Homicide: Life on the Street worked-and, prior to a late run creative rebirth, recycling stories and beats. That last cast, with Merkerson still there as Van Buren, Waterson now in the big chair at the DA’s office, aided by Linus Roache and Alana De Le Garza’s Michael Cutter and Connie Rubirosa, helped the show regain the luster lost during a good half decade in the wilderness. They were joined by Anthony Anderson’s Kevin Bernard and Jeremy Sisto’s Cyrus Lupo. It was good to see the series close out the final three years without any turnover, and to regain a creative high it had not achieved in over a decade. Alas, it was not enough to save the series and, once it tied Gunsmoke as the longest lived US dramatic series in primetime, NBC pulled the plug. (more…)

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by Lucille Juliano

This drama series was based on the classic and beloved “Little House” book series written by Laura Ingalls Wilder and published HarperCollins.  The first publication of the Little House on the Prairie novel was in 1935 and has won the hearts as well as the imaginations of young people around the world.  Laura’s books are a memoir of her real-life experiences growing up during the trying times of the Midwest during the late 1800s.  They tell a story of when life was much simpler. A time when your neighbors would lend a helping hand and obliging communities would work together to prevail against ill fortune. The stories had family values, were inspirational, and told about connections, love, courage, optimism, and happiness.  Since the “Little House” book series has had legions of fans for generations, it should be no surprise that the television series remained on the air for nine seasons and had three TV movies during its tenth year. “Little House on the Prairie” can be found on television today and is broadcast in many countries worldwide.  The complete series is available on DVD and individual seasons are available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital HD.

The Ingalls Family was introduced to millions of viewers in March of 1974 in a made-for-TV movie entitled, “Little House on the Prairie:The Pilot”  and was picked up as a series in September of 1974 on NBC. The show was considered a top-rated series and earned several Emmy, Golden Globe, and Western Heritage Award nominations and wins.  It also has two international awards to its credit.

At the show’s inception Charles and Caroline Ingalls (played by Michael Landon and Karen Grassle) had three young daughters, Mary (Melissa Sue Anderson), Laura (Melissa Gilbert) and Carrie (Rachel and Sidney Greenbush).  These girls literally grew up on the show and were a part of many coming of age stories. Caroline and Charles were also the center of some of the episodes and let us not forget the family’s lovable mutt, Jack, who was also a part of the mix. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

A series that is blacker than coal, moody, depressing and yet with an ending that will leave a viewer out of breath while also (slightly) comforted that it is all over. Based on a series of books, and loosely inspired by the Yorkshire Ripper murders of the 1970s and 1980s, this story of police and political corruption and cover up in the north of England is set in three different periods, focusing on mostly different casts of characters, with each episode of the trilogy revolving around a new character, including journalists and police on both sides of the crimes depicted.

One noteworthy aspect of the series is that each episode is shot using a different technique and camera, including 35mm and a Red One digital camera. Each seems perfectly suited to the mood, particularly the Red One, which is used for a story where everything comes into focus, but still, somehow, does not feel real, as though truths are just out of reach. It is not just the camera that impresses. It is the way the entire production evokes a mood, and creates atmosphere and tension that is rarely found on television.

Split into three parts, the first section, set in 1974, concerns, initially, the story of reporter Eddie Dunford, played by Andrew Garfield, who winds up in a very dark place when his investigation in local real estate magnate, John Dawson, played by Sean Bean, indicates ties to local criminal activities. Including, of course, potential cover for a series of missing girls. Along the way, he meets crooked cops and politicians, some of whom return for the next two parts, set in 1980 and 1983. The series quickly becomes something more, and largely leaves these characters in the rear view mirror. (more…)

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By Stephen Mullen

Somewhere in Los Angeles are two people who hate each other – or at least one of them hates the other one. Maybe we will see them together; maybe we will see them separately; maybe we will just see one of them, going about some strange ritual. Maybe they’ll talk – maybe they will be, or act, friendly, but more likely they will quarrel. Either way, one of this is going to kill the other. Maybe we see the killer covering up the crime; maybe we now recognize that their rituals were aimed at hiding the crime. By the time the first commercial comes, it looks like they will get away with it. When we come back, the police are on hand. Among them is a dumpy looking guy in a raincoat, who putters around, and notices things; he sticks his nose into conversations; he looks at the bodies; he talks to the relatives. He probably talks to the killer, and he’ll probably notice something when he does. By the end of the first scene we know there’s more to this guy than meets the eye. Over the next hour, he’ll keep running into the killer, and it’s going to take the killer longer to catch on that there’s more to him than meets the eye, but he will – but by then it will be too late.

That is Columbo, and for my money, it’s the best show ever made on network television in the USA. Columbo ran 7 years in the 1970s, came back for a couple more seasons and string of TV movies in the 80s and 90s, and every episode (except one or two here and there) fit that description above. The shows were a series of little movies, 90-100 minutes long, airing in rotation with a number of other shows (McCloud and McMillan & Wife, later Hec Ramsey too) in its first run – the longer production schedules (a show a month, instead of a show a week) meant episodes were made with a lot more care than the average TV show of the time. They looked it. It starred Peter Falk, and brought in high profile guest stars, writers and directors, as prestige television has always done. Columbo’s early years boast Steven Bochco and Steven Spielberg at the start of their careers; later years featured people like Jonathan Demme, and along the way, any number of Hollywood veterans and actors got a shot behind the camera – Richard Quine and Leo Penn; Ben Gazzara and Patrick McGoohan. And of course a parade of guest stars, to kill and be killed, or sometimes to offer dubious advice in the role of lawyers or uncles or ex-husbands and wives. (more…)

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