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Archive for July, 2018

Cannery Row

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By J.D. Lafrance

Expectations for the cinematic adaptation of John Steinbeck’s famous novel Cannery Row were high. It marked the directorial debut of David S. Ward, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Sting (1973) and starred Nick Nolte and Debra Winger. He was coming off the disappointing Heart Beat (1980) while she was fresh from the modestly successful Urban Cowboy (1980). However, Steinbeck purists were upset that the film was a fusion of Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday with an emphasis on the latter, jettisoning the darker tone of the former for a more upbeat vibe. The film’s image was tarnished by a highly publicized lawsuit launched by Raquel Welch who had been fired after only five days of filming and replaced by Winger.

Critics and movie-going audiences were put off by the film’s stylized look (it was shot mainly on two massive soundstages) and optimistic tone resulting in poor box office results. However, time has been kind to this intriguing film, which has aged surprisingly well, anchored by sweet, funny performances from Nolte and Winger, and featuring incredibly detailed set design and absolutely gorgeous cinematography. This hermetically-sealed world recalls other stylized throwbacks to the classic Hollywood era fused with the Movie Brat sensibility that came out around the same time, chief among them Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York (1977) and Francis Ford Coppola’s One from the Heart (1982) that, like Cannery Row (1982), were costly flops, but have enjoyed critical re-evaluation over the years with the exception of the latter, which remains criminally overlooked.
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Solid psychodrama “The Captain” from Germany seen at the Quad Cinema in Manhattan

by Sam Juliano

We are only a hop, skip and a jump from August 2018, confirming the certainty that time is flying by and that the last state of the summer is upon us.  For the second year in a row my family will be traveling down to Sunset Beach, North Carolina for an eight-day trip (12th to 20th) to a beautiful vacation condo, only a half hour’s drive from Myrtle Beach, SC where our good friend and Voting Tabulator Extraordinaire Angelo A. D’Arminio Jr. presently resides.  At the site we will basically be featuring Jim Clark’s continuing and superlative Ingmar Bergman series and the essays on other figures that will follow it.  Other writers like Dennis Polifroni, J.D. Lafrance and myself will also be publishing reviews and the 2018 Caldecott series will resume in mid-September.  A Greatest War Films Countdown is being planned for April or May of 2019.  Voters will be asked to choose in order their 50 top war films.  Prior to that project we will again be staging the Third Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival with Jamie Uhler at the helm.  Jamie will also be leading up a horror film lead in as we crawl closer to Halloween.

My lifelong friend and author Peter Danish will be shooting his first film, an anti-Trump feature titled The Blind Date sometime in mid-August.  His banner leads up the MMD.  Stay tuned for more on that exciting venture. (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

      Now, as we open a third can of worms installed by the inimitable, Ingmar Bergman, we need to open our eyes to the seriously bizarre communication these films consist of. Unlike the catch-as-catch-can opportunities to turn a buck by fulsome cinematic and mainstream cultural techniques, Bergman puts to himself and his clients two simultaneous and contradictory presentations. Why did he work like that? He didn’t want to starve. And, moreover, he was obliged to maintain—with reservations—that the mainstream has much to recommend.

The works, in question now, introduce with silent-film-optics-brilliance, figures variously galvanized by the resources of the history of Christian assurance. Though the most overt aspects of the narratives very convincingly appear to sustain the integrity of loyalty to a Christian power, there coincides an ambush exploding the entire enterprise and mooting the uncanny ways of fearlessness.

The era when Bergman displayed such an impressive changeup pitch was perhaps less experimental and volatile than our own. But his assumption that he was on to a crucial singularity resonates—to those with advanced reflective skills—in our own millennium. The films, Through a Glass Darkly and The Seventh Seal, subtly found much amiss in insisting that strong but fabricated personalities could put one on easy street. In our film today, The Virgin Spring (1960), only a last minute convulsion cements that whimsy. But, all the better from our point of view, the drama concerns a very flesh-and-blood problematic, namely, distemper. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Thanks to all who followed and supported the Greatest Television Countdown Part 2.  the long-running project concluded on Friday and will be the final group project at the site until April or May of 2019 when a proposed Greatest War Films Countdown may be staged after the group voices their position, and if there are enough writers.

In the heart of the summer the quality movie scene has been light as usual, but before long the fall and the better releases will begin to appear.  Otherwise James Clark continues on with his Ingmar Bergman series with another full review set to publish this week on Wednesday.

Lucille and I saw only a single film in theaters this past week, but it was a very fine documentary titled Three Identical Strangers. (more…)

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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 baby 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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