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Archive for July, 2018

by Sam Juliano

One of my fondest childhood memories dates back to the summer of 1967.  At that time television was all the rage for the bay boomer crowd especially programs that spoke directly to adolescent tastes and sensibilities.  Invariably this meant re-runs of the Man of Steel, the Swiss Family Robinson in space, an exciting new series set on a star-ship guided by a dynamic captain and his pointy-eared communications officer and underwater adventures negotiated from a high-powered submarine.  Each of these fantastical shows enthralled us as we followed uncompromising schedules where not even a single miss was conceivable.  Many of us found no trouble connecting with characters whom by the sheer power of their personalities stoked our imaginative embers.  The small screen infatuation ascended to an interactive plateau after I was invited to join a “Batman Fan Club” by an enterprising friend and classmate who is now a famous heart specialist.  The meetings for this fledgling fraternity were held in young Richard Palu’s basement in a meticulously maintained and manicured suburban one-family, where a family dynamic comparable to that played out in Leave it to Beaver made for some happy experiences.  Patricia and Nello were model parents who brought up their two sons (at the time 13 and 11) dotingly, imparting in them purpose and responsibility.  The patriarch was active in the community, coaching sports’ teams and serving a scout master, while the brood’s dedicated housewife was active in community and church groups.  (In a remarkable aside, Patricia is now entering her 97th year and continues to live in the very same Fairview, New Jersey home where the specters of the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder once inhabited, and she’s as sprite and as sharp as ever, even maintaining an active Facebook account).

The mid-week meetings of the club were held at 4:00 P.M. and could be described as disciplined talk sessions.  Each of the eight or nine members would discuss the current week’s episodes and what they liked best about the airing.  A favorite related activity as I recall involved the group dressing up as the villain of their choice, though the selection wasn’t limited to the show aired that week, but rather to all the shows seen over the first year and beyond.  This included the Riddler, the Penguin, the Joker, Catwoman, Mr. Freeze, the Mad Hatter, King Tut, the Puzzler, the Sandman, Zelda the Great, Minerva, Ma Parker, Olga, the Clock King, False Face, Bookworm, Minstrel, Louie the Lilac, the Archer and others in a lineup that eventually numbered 34 Caped Crusader adversaries.  Since the membership was exclusively male, the Catwoman never had a taker, and there was always heated competition for the Big Three, particularly the Joker, the most iconic nemesis of all, and the character boasting the best portrayal on the 60’s show than any other subsequent incarnation – better than Jack Nicholson, better than Heath Ledger and Jared Leto.  On Batman 66 Joker often had the best episodes because the shows he starred in usually had the most appealing story-lines.  Villainous ambition was never as elaborately conceived and staged, and Cesar Romero in an inspired updating of Gwynplaine from Paul Leni’s The Man Who Laughs rigs a high school basketball game so he can bet money on the underdog, invents a machine that can stop time and place and even in one show builds a flying saucer.  Romero’s vitality matches Frank Gorshin’s acrobatic Riddler, and his defining high camp was always perfectly attuned to the unique vibe of the show. The Riddler is a criminal genius capable of extraordinary lateral thinking in decoding and formulating puzzles of all kinds was of course a membership favorite as was the Penguin, portrayed by one of the series’ most renowned stars, Burgess Meredith.   The actor’s trademark purple hat, monocle, cigarette holder, umbrella and signature voice, when he mimicked the squawk of his polar namesake.  His thugs wear black bowler hats and dark clothing adorned with names of various animals of prey, such as birds (“Hawk”) or fish (“Shark”), or sometimes simply “Henchman.” (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

One of the best examinations of life, during the teen years or otherwise, that television has ever aired. The 18 episodes that exist are treasures, each and every one. A period piece, set in the early 80s in a small town in Michigan, this is the story of two groups. One, made up of younger boys, constitute The Geeks, while the older group, including two female members, would be The Freaks. The titles are only glancingly referenced in the series itself. Instead, this is a story about a brother and sister, and their friends and family, finding their way in a world that they suddenly need to understand anew. For the brother and sister, this is because their beloved grandmother died, and the sister-Lindsay Weir, played by Linda Cardellini-has stopped being a Mathlete and started wearing an old army jacked. She is obsessed with Daniel Desario, and decides to become one of their group. And her entry into that group, along with her brother and his friend’s entry into high school, is the audiences introduction to the stories and characters of this delightful gem.

One of the aspects of the series which is most talked about is the launching pad this served as for so many stars. In addition to Cardellini and Franco, there was also Jason Segal, as Nick Andopolis-a sweet yet meatheaded drummer, who falls for Lindsay-and Seth Rogan as Ken Miller. There was also Busy Phillips, as Daniel’s girlfriend, Kim Kelly-one of the series most complex characters, as it turned out-as well as John Francis Daley as Sam Weir and Martin Starr as Bill Haverchuck, joined by Samm Levine as Neal Schweiber. This rounded out the kids, while the adults were portrayed by Becky Ann Baker and Joe Flaherty as Sam and Lindsay’s parents. Indeed, it is Flaherty’s delivery of the line “this isn’t good” when Harold and Jean meet Lindsay’s new friends, that seals the series as both a comedy and a drama. Claudia Christian, Thomas F. Wilson, Ben Foster and Shia LaBeouf were also among the recurring cast. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1964 1,040m) DVD2

This business may last a long time

p  Tony Essex, Gordon Watkins  w  John Terraine, Corelli Barnett, Anthony Jay, Ed Collins  ph  various  ed  Barry Toovey  m  Wilfred Josephs  narrated by  Michael Redgrave (with Ralph Richardson (Field Marshal Haig), Emlyn Williams (Lloyd George), Marius Goring, Sebastian Shaw, Cyril Luckham)

The Great War is the sort of television event that truly deserves the epithet milestone.  It’s the first truly great documentary series produced not only by the BBC but arguably anywhere in the world.  It really has, the best part of half a century later, stood the test of time.  And time itself is very much to the forefront here; the achievement all the greater for contriving to remain in the British public consciousness for the forty years it was unseen on TV after its first broadcast.  It was the template from which such later documentaries as The World at War and even Ken Burns’ The Civil War took their cue, but it was more than that.  The most remarkable thing about it is that, for all the black and white interviews with the survivors of the calamity, it’s an incredibly modern achievement. 

The series covers, over twenty-six episodes, with suitably sombre narration from Michael Redgrave, and in enthralling detail, the story of the greatest calamity the world had yet seen (and, to these eyes, would ever see).  It discusses the events that lead up to the war, the uneasy peace of the Belle Epoque and the shaky alliances that would soon be tested to hitherto undreamt of levels; as we are told, “the peace of Europe in 1914 was a fragile thing.”  All the events and battle places that have gone down in horrific infamy – the Marne, Ypres, Champagne, Verdun, the Somme, Passchendaele – are here, along with extended sequences involving such factors as the home front, the role of women in the war, the war in the middle east, the Russian withdrawal, the Italian/Austro-Hungarian front and, of course, the ultimate personification of the pointlessness of war, the Western Front.  More than that, however, is the illustration of the little things that made this war the most poignant of all; the 24 hour armistice of Christmas 1914 where the notion of fighting for freedom becomes all the more blurred, the soldiers hardened by the experience of Passchendaele singing “we’re here because we’re here“, images of ant-like armies crawling out of the crater-infested mud baths, the sardonic singing of “hangin’ on the old barbed wire“, and the description of how soldiers on leave thought the outside world was the one that wasn’t real.  It’s a war that has always captured the imagination, and the screen has done it justice, at least in spirit if not in reality, with the likes of The Big Parade, The Last Flight, Paths of Glory, Verdun, Les Croix de Bois, La Grande Illusion, and All Quiet on the Western Front.  Most touching of all, perhaps, is how we are shown how both sides not only shared a “companionship of mud“, but grew to feel solidarity with the enemy far more than their own brass hats and politicians, for here was the ultimate expression of what Shakespeare once called a “fellowship of death.”  Though it does offer possible underlying reasons for the war’s beginning and end, in the end it could be argued that Edmund Blackadder summed it up by saying “it was too much trouble not to have a war.” (more…)

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by Allan Fish
The Son of Hades
p Robert Papazian, Eleanor Moran, Frank Yablans, Marco Valerio Pugini, John Milius d Michael Apted, Allen Coulter, Julian Farino, Jeremy Podeswa, Alan Poul, Mikael Salomon, Timothy Van Patten, Steve Shill, Adam Davidson, Alik Sakharov, Roger Young, John Maybury, Carl Franklin w Alexandra Cunningham, David Frankel, Bruno Heller, Adrian Hodges, William J.MacDonald, John Milius, Todd Ellis Kessler, Mere Smith, Eoghan Mahony, Scott Buck ph/ed various m Jeff Beal art Joseph Bennett, Christina Onori, Anthony Pratt cos April Ferry
Kevin McKidd (Lucius Vorenus), Ray Stevenson (Titus Pollo), James Purefoy (Mark Antony), Ciarán Hinds (Julius Caesar), Polly Walker (Atia of the Julii), Kenneth Cranham (Pompey Magnus), Lindsay Duncan (Servilia), Kerry Condon (Octavia), Max Pirkis (younger Octavian), Simon Woods (older Octavian), David Bamber (Cicero), Lyndsey Marshall (Cleopatra), Tobias Menzies (Brutus), Indira Varma (Niobe), Alice Henley (Livia Drusilla), Nicholas Woodeson (Posca), Karl Johnson (Cato), Haydn Gwynne (Calpurnia), Suzanne Bertish (Eleni), Paul Jesson (Scipio), Guy Henry (Cassius), Pip Torrens (Metellus Cimber), Allen Leach (Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa), Lorcan Cranitch (Orestes Pulman), Zuleikha Robinson (Gaia), Ian McNeice (Forum announcer),
It’s with a certain amount of regret one comes to acknowledge Rome. It’s a series that ultimately falls just short of the heights scaled by The Wire, Deadwood and Game of Thrones, but while Deadwood was left cut off mid-stream a season early, one was left with imagining what season four might have brought. With Rome we have an idea what season three and four would have brought, for the writers, told early in Season 2’s production that it would be the last, crammed as much of the next two lost seasons in before it ended, creating a rush effect that went against the intricacy and plotting of the first series.
Needless to say, some complained at the excessive sex and violence – little did they know what was to come in Spartacus: Lust in the Sand – perhaps dreaming of the glories of The Caesars and I,Claudius, forgetting the latter had its share of nastiness, too. It did play around with history a little, having characters hardly age after 20 years and largely fictionalising the pivotal rival characters of Atia and Servilia, while centring on two Roman legionnaires, Titus Pullo and Licius Vorenus. They are to their times rather what Dumas’ Musketeers were to 17th century France, fiction based on actual characters (mentioned in Caesar’s writings). It gave it a personal heartbeat that made us care about the events unfolding around them, and were helped by the wonderful interplay between the two actors playing them, Ray Stevenson and Kevin McKidd, who form its very soul.

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by Sam Juliano

Yes I adore France for their films, literature, music, food and history as much as I do any other country in the world. However, on Sunday my heart was with the Fairview, New Jersey and area Croatians and the Cinderella soccer team who have captured the hearts of the world with their inspirational, improbable run! The silver medal and the top player in the World Cup tournament is no small achievement for a small nation of four million and fans have every reason to cheer!

The long-running Greatest Television Series Countdown Part 2 will conclude in a few days.  I’d like again to thank all the writers, followers and those leaving comments.  It really has been quite a ride and a learning experience.  We will be breaking from any further polling countdowns for quite some time, though we do have a proposed Greatest War Films Countdown shaping up for April or May of 2019.

We saw two films in theaters over the weekend. Both were extraordinary. The first – an Israeli production “The Cakemaker” thematically recalls Lubitsch’s ‘Broken Lullaby” and Ozon’s “Franz” but the love triangle examined in a quietly enveloping style is the best of its kind since “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and the culture class (Israel and Germany) is finely delineated as passions simmer in a culinary-attuned work that re-imagines the delectable prowess of “Babette’s Feast.” Tim Kalkhof, the German baker and lover of the Jewish man married to Sarah Adler are exceptional in a film that eschews the grief experienced by the two to examine instead a primal instinct that fuels an unlikely association. The sublime piano-laden score by Dominique Charpentier is one of the best of the year. The film competes for my own favorite of the year ***** (5 of 5) (more…)

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by Dennis Polifroni

Most movie-goers see film as an exclusively visual medium.  We marvel at what’s splayed across the screen, particularly the fantastic, and we allow the visuals to transport us to places and times, both past and future, we will never experience or live to see.

So often we take sound for granted.  To most, it “just comes” along with everything that is shown up on the screen as it flickers past the light of a projector.  Because of this, often times the sonic landscapes that the filmmakers kill themselves to create to enhance the imagery is pushed to the side and never discussed when evaluating the greatness or the failures of a film.  Charlie Chaplin was a filmmaker that lived in a time when silent movies slipped into obscurity due to the advent of “talkies”, and when creating further chapters of the adventures of his most famous character, “The Little Tramp”, he realized that by still keeping him and his surroundings silent, and punctuating the visuals with key sound effects, he could jolt the audience in moments of high comedy or the most tender moments of pure pathos.  Chaplin was, by and large, a silent film director. However, knowing full well that he could not fight the onslaught that sound movies were mounting against his perfected form, he decided to make sound work for him in ways that other silent filmmakers didn’t and saw the death of their careers. Today, even though sound is still considered a given, the sound fields that movies use to help three-dimensionalize the visuals add to the experience, pull us into the experience of seeing movies almost as if we are stepping over the lower border of the screen and entering the world depicted.

Steven Spielberg and James Cameron are masters of using sound to their advantage.  Imagine what films like JURRASIC PARK or AVATAR would feel like if the stereophonic sound that envelopes us were only coming out of a single speaker directly behind the screen?  The music, voices and effects would all jumble into one annoying mish-mash of undescernable sound. Frankly, it wouldn’t make any sense, become annoying, and the filmmaker would be forced to choose what he felt was most important to hear in each specific sequence.

The beauty of John Krasinski’s horror/thriller, A QUIET PLACE, is that the visuals are secondary to the sounds that propel the story and individual sequences.  Sound, both delicately minute, or accidentally explosive, can mean the difference between living and dying. Frankly, I cannot recall a film, at least since I started writing about them (or since Francis Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION), that uses sound so effectively, so perfectly placed and timed, and so startlingly.

A QUIET PLACE plops the viewer in the near future, about two years from now (2020), and our planet has nervously settled after a destructive attack from an alien race from another planet.  The remaining survivors of the attack, strewn across states in small familial groups, go about their days scavenging canned food and medicine from abandoned stores and warehouses, fishing and tending to backyard crops.  We follow one of these families, the Abbott’s (two adults and their three children) as they quietly go about their daily routine in a ghost town that they used to call home. For an end-of-the-world chiller, these actions and depictions are nothing new.

Yet, as this all goes down, we notice something immediately unfamiliar (even for a horror film).

No one member of the family is wearing shoes or socks.

There are no boots, no sneakers, no stiletto heels a woman of class would wear out for a night on the town.  The children tip-toe down the aisles of a drug store placing canned goods and small boxes gently into their packs as their mother, Evelyn (the ever sensational Emily Blunt), delicately turns a bottle of pills so they don’t rattle in the slightest.  No one says a word, and they are all communicating with each other in sign language for the hearing impaired. Even the smallest and youngest of the Abbott clan, 4 year old Beau (the adorable Cade Woodward), talks to his sister in the exaggerated hands signs.

Whatever is out there, it becomes immediately and abundantly clear in these first few moments, bases its reactions, and actions, on sound.  Even the most minute tinkle or whisper can summon them and, as we will see in one of the most shocking and unexpected sequences of these first few moments, they come in lightning fast and furious.  These new conquerors are a flash of razor like talons and row after row of teeth.

You kinda gotta take your hat off to writer/director John Krasinski.

Nothing in his past as a film director could have possibly pointed to A QUIET PLACE.  Known mostly as an actor/director of comedy films, the mild-mannered Krasinski (as well as co-screenwriters Bryan Wood and Scott Black) is an avid lover and fan of silent cinema.  Upon reading an early draft of A QUIET PLACE (again, by Wood and Black), Krasinski went into discussions about creating a film that would resemble a modern version of those movies he loved.  The spec script, tightened by the director, relied on almost no spoken dialogue and, like Chaplin practiced in the early years of “talking pictures”, would present only the most necessary sound to raise tension, fear and, occasionally, a tender moment.  A QUIET PLACE uses it’s sonic aspects as way of communicating the dangers of this new world and the reasons behind each characters movements and personal/inner conflicts.

 

One sound that is always there is the background score.  Marco Beltrami’s boiling, stirring strings whip the careful movements of the performers into a frenzy of desperate action while simultaneously sending out a warning to the viewer that the dread is on the move and, most likely, quickly heading our way.  Beltrami’s score is one of the most effective compositions for a horror film I’ve had the intense pleasure of listening to (between my body jolts and verbal whimpering) since John Williams chugging piano motifs for the shark in Spielberg’s JAWS (1975) and Jerry Goldsmith’s demonic, gothic choir for THE OMEN (1976).  It’s a score that knows, perfectly, when to punctuate the frenetic tracking of an action sequence, and when to know how to slowly dissipate in a tender moment.


The film is a series of sequences that raise the prospects of danger involved with every move the characters make.  In the quiet moments, we see how the family prepares for the possibility of an attack, the lengths they go to to sound-proof their lives.  But, for all of the precautions they take, the screenplay throws monkey-wrentches into the narrative machinery that will have the audience wondering “if this or that happens, how will they survive?”


I have to admit, no set piece in A QUIET PLACE is without danger and, yet, I don’t think I was prepared, either mentally or physically, for the detail of Evelyn’s pregnancy.  The sheer hint that this woman is walking through this nightmare landscape with child (that will start screaming the moment of its birth) immediately puts the viewer on edge even when we find out that the birth won’t happen for some time.  Every turn she makes, every step down a flight of stairs, has the viewer holding on for dear life and Krasinski, with his ever roaming camera, and Charlotte Bruus Cristensen’s lightning fast editing, knows where to point our eyes in the life saving, delicate silence that may, or may not, house a demon.  Something as simple as an errant carpentry nail had me gasping for air as the camera passes it in a fleeting shot that, at the moment, might not seem ominous at all. But, that’s the genius of A QUIET PLACE. It’s a film that tells us to notice everything and take nothing for granted, that every sound we make is important for the characters survival and our movie-going sanity.  This film is a meticulously perfect foray into pressed upon desperation and ingenuity.


The performances are the icing on the cake.  Keeping largely silent throughout the film, the physicality of the performers becomes tantamount to telling the story.  Communication is given to us by expressive eyes and wild movement of the hands. A particular stand-out in the performing pool is 14 year old Millicent Simmonds.  This 14 year-old, deaf actress, playing the Abbott’s oldest daughter, a deaf-mute, almost single handedly conveys the familiarity the characters have with their dangerous and bizarre landscape.  She walks through the sets and locations of A QUIET PLACE with an authority that hints at a world that only she can truly survive in, and the emotions her lack of hearing robs her of. Her moments during the finale with Krasinski (perfect as the father desperately trying to teach his kids how to survive long after he’s gone) relay a kind of pent up release that says more without words, and much through tears and quivering lips, than reams of dialogue would have.  Simmonds is the performance heart and soul of A QUIET PLACE, and her presence is to remind us that perseverance and determination to live free, even under the most horrifying of situations, is a rite that no conqueror can take from us.


A QUIET PLACE unnerved me in the best possible ways.  It’s a superior film that brings its scares on us through the simplest of set ups.  It’s relentless, explosive, gut-wrenching horror that works because of the delicate humanity that lies at stake.  The Abbott’s are very real people that work and live and love together, to help each other and hope to keep safe, even when hope seems to be fleeting.


This one earns its body jolting scares and is a contemporary classic that is destined to frighten, and refrighten, generations of filmgoers to come.


One of the VERY BEST films of 2018.

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A QUIET PLACE

(USA 90 mins) DVD/Blu Ray


p. Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Brad Fuller  d. John Krasinski w. Bryan Woods, Scott Beck, John Krasinski  e. Christopher Tellefsen photo. Charlotte Bruus Christensen m. Marco Beltrami


Emily Blunt (Evelyn), John Krasinski (Lee), Millicent Simmonds (Regan), Noah Jupe (Marcus), Cade Woodward (Beau), Leon Russom (man on the road)

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An appreciation by Brian E. Wilson
arrested1
“Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together.”–Ron Howard’s opening narration on the first 3 seasons of Arrested Development.
Okay, first things first. I must apologize for something: I haven’t seen seasons 4 and 5 yet, but I have seen the first 3 seasons two times. Sammy asked this past weekend (on July 7) if I could step in and write this blog entry…by July 13. Whoa! (Sammy: in all seriousness, thanks again for inviting me along on this wild epic ride.) So fans of these two seasons, please feel free to share your thoughts on them in the comments section. I tried watching season 4 in 2013 and couldn’t quite get into its rhythm, but some friends assured me that it’s decent, that I should give it a spin. Someday.
Also, I know I’m going to leave a lot of funny stuff out. The first 3 seasons of Arrested Development, which aired on Fox and ran a total of 53 episodes, pop and burst with jokes and gags galore. Each episode zips along with manic energy, with many recurring bits. Arrested Development rewards those who pay close attention to its oddball scenarios. The show can tire you out, but when you are on its absurd screwball wavelength, you start feeling a giddy high while watching. If you have seen the show, you know a 1,200 word blog post will hardly scratch the surface.
Created by Mitchell Hurwitz, and with a gifted team of writers and directors on board, Arrested Development follows the mockumentary style format of movies like Real Life, This Is Spinal Tap, and Christopher Guest’s many zany comedies, as well as the British TV version of The Office that started in 2001 (the US version of The Office and Parks and Recreation, among others, would also be filmed in this style). Using a handheld camera that whips around from character to character, as well as an earnest-sounding but sometimes snide and contradictory Ron Howard as narrator, the show has a wacky urgency and immediacy as it chronicles the misadventures of a troubled family named Bluth.

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