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Archive for October, 2018

 

© 2018 by James Clark

 Our film today is, even by the standards of Bergman’s shoot-out-all-the-lights iconoclasm, over the top. Whereas his other films hop to it to embed, near the beginning, uncanny startlements sending out for those on the wild side a shot in the arm for the duration, Winter Light (1962)—its very title a threat to creativity—dares us to keep viewing a tedious melodrama dribbling toward soap opera.

Of course, those few who have found their way to the mother lode of the work’s endeavor, could apply the acrobatics and impossible juggling apparent in absentia. But there is no getting past the thunderous deadness on display, seemingly intent on entrenching an insurrection. Thereby, the viewer has been obliged to muster tons of patience toward the bad old days, in the expectation that this nightmare will end. And end it does, but only at the narrative’s very last scene, where a meek hunchback sexton, Algot, takes aside the reigning clergyman, Tomas, and tells of his discovery that the Bible’s real sense pertains to one sensibility, Jesus, whose sensual virtuosity was never grasped by anyone as realizing that the spirit driving it all has nothing to do with human immortality. After hearing this mountainous and—from the point of view of exegesis, totally daft—heresy, the pastor finds it right on! The only thing left to do with Bergman’s structural acrobatics here is to go back to the beginning in order to savor the singular passion of Tomas.

Let’s start, though, with Algot’s surprising and incisive amateurism. We hear him first, not as a revisionist metaphysician but fussing about his prosaic caretaker duties, which almost magically manage to run to poetry—no small accomplishment, in the wake of our being pelted, over the preceding hour, with routine disappointments. “Those bells rang for twenty seconds too long. Unfortunately I was busy replacing the candles” (seen on-screen to be disorderly but still a feast for sore eyes in the dark church). “ I usually turn on the bells, light the candles and make it back on time. But today I bungled it. An unfortunate mishap. But those candles were tricky to light,” [trickiness being a trope for this campaign—particularly in view of the virtual impossibility of reaching another, importantly; reaching, in a process of “juggling” between prose and poetry, on a basis of uncanny sensual timbre, “acrobatics,” reaching a startling level in the form of Elisabet’s ceasing to speak, in Persona [1966]]. The sexton continues his generous lament, with, “Probably a factory defect,” [the trick that matters not apt to be found on an assembly line]. “And I guess my broken-down body is slowing down my actions. The reason hardly matters.” You’d have to say his broken-down body is doing very well. But “reason,” and its factoids, are—stellar results, notwithstanding— not doing well in their imperial guidance. “I leave the temple in semi-darkness until just before the bells start… I believe electric lights disturb our spirit.” (Algot, an impressive practitioner of “spirit,” would have spent long hours about the timbres of fire and the timbres of electricity. Perhaps his reading of the latter has compromised something new and useful as to “juggling.”) (more…)

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22-michael-at-house

by J.D. Lafrance

I never saw John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) at a young, impressionable age so it never imprinted on my psyche like The Birds (1963), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and Jaws (1975), which continue to this day to creep me out as they make me regress instantly to the little kid who saw them through fingers barely covering my eyes. That being said, Halloween is still an unsettling experience because Carpenter created such a well-crafted scare machine.
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by Sam Juliano

Eleanor Estes won a Newbery Honor in 1945 for a deeply poignant work about bullying, immigration, intolerance and forgiveness titled The Hundred Dresses.  The timeless classic, illustrated in striking minimalist watercolors by Louis Slobodkin is as relevant today as ever.  The book’s central character is a young Polish girl, Wanda Petronski, whose odd name, foreign accent and impoverishment make her the object of ridicule to the students in her small town Connecticut classroom.   Maddie, a fellow classmate realizes, too late, that she has been unkind to one of her fellow pupils. Led by Peggy, Maddie’s best friend and the most popular girl in school,  take acute aim at her preposterous mendacious claim that she possess one hundred beautiful dresses, when she wears the same tattered dress to the school everyday.   It is only when Wanda wins the class drawing contest, for her one hundred pictures of various beautiful dresses, that Maddie and Peggy realize what Wanda was talking about.  Though Wanda’s family moves her to the city because of the bad treatment she received, she wins a drawing contest and demonstrates generosity to her tormentors.  The Hundred Dresses suggests that bowing to peer pressure cab lead to profound regret and missed opportunities.  In the 1955 Caldecott Honor winning Crow Boy by Yaro Yashima a young boy is isolated from other children but is taken under the wings of his teacher Mr. Isobe, who brings out Chibi’s creativity and knowledge in their Japanese village schoolhouse.  Numerous other picture books and young adult novels have examined this theme, with a popular new millennium entry The Brand New Kid by Katie Couric and Marjorie Priceman a soulful study of tolerance in the case of a boy evincing physical and behavioral disparities.

A valuable lesson is achieved in one of the most distinguished picture books of 2018, Adrian Simcox Does Not Have a Horse by Marcy Campbell with illustrations by Corrina Luyken.  A boy wearing shoes with holes and securing free lunches at school is seen by his classmates as a teller of tall tales, a modern day counterpart of the perjurer Samantha in Eveline Ness’ 1966 Caldecott Medal winner Sam, Bangs and Moonshine, who declares she owns a pet kangaroo among other deceits.  Adrian waxes lyrical about his proud ownership of a horse, often elaborating in wildly descriptive terms, and quickly rallying to mitigate the feasibility of such a claim.  Yet, Campbell poses that Adrian’s innocuous contentions lead to inventiveness in this veiled tale about the power of the imagination that transcends it’s seeming insurmountable obstacles.  In mostly sedate, autumnal hues master artist Corinna Luyken, whose previous picture book debut The Book of Mistakes won a spate of starred reviews has brought astonishing and controlled resplendence to a minimalist narrative of mutual realization and budding friendship in a terrain where some will never in economic terms have what others do.  Young adult novelist S. E. Hinton would assert Adrian’s type comes from the “other side of the tracks” but Campbell and Luyken know well that inspiration can come from the most unlikely of places. (more…)

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Star (Amanda Stenberg) in shattering “The Hate You Give”

by Sam Juliano
Another Halloween is upon us and with it legions of trick or treaters descending on our chilly suburban streets in wearing that outlandish garb we wait all year to see.  It is a time that makes the most ildellible memories and it is over far too fast.  Unless you are in the path of Mischief Night revelers you should accumulate happy memories and even if you do attract a few eggs or flour socks, it is all in good fun.  At least I think so.  The unspeakable act in Pittsburg leaves up all shocked to our cores, which on the political scenes it is all about a climate of hate.  There will be one more Monday Morning Diary before the November 6th elections, so I’ll address expectation on that next week.  It also seems our friend Stephen Mullen will be pleased as punch as the Boston Red Sox are nearing another World Series title.  Congrats to the Bosox!
Jamie Uhler is nearing completion of another fantastic Horror Fest and this week we have two extraordinary capsules on a bonafide Universal classic, an eclectic gem and an Australian masterpiece.

The family and I were busy on the children’s book front this past week, meeting Brian Selznick, Tomie DePaola and new author Caron Levis.    Lucille, the three boys and I met up with famed author-illustrator and Caldecott Medal winner Brian Selznick early this evening at Books of Wonder where a Harry Potter event was staged. Selznick was to be joined with artist and Caldecott Honor winner Mary Grandpre, who drew the original Harry Potter covers, but she was ill and had to cancel. The three boys including Danny holding “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” are pictured with Selznick.   We were thrilled to meet and chat with towering children’s literature icon Tomie dePaola this evening at Manhattan’s Books of Wonder. DePaola, whose Caldecott Honor winning “Strega Nona” is one of the most beloved picture books of all-time, spoke to a class and signed books (including his newest work “Quiet”) for those in attendance. Danny, Jeremy and I are pictured with dePaola.

A weekend rainstorm didn’t derail author Caron Levis as she continued her October bookstore appearances, today presented her bonafide Caldecott contender “Stop That Yawn” one of the year’s most magnificent picture books, with the sublime and delightful art by LeUyen Pham. Levis is shown suppressing a yawn with Lucille this morning at The Book Mark in Brooklyn.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (C. Barton… 1948) horror comedy  (Jamie Uhler)
It was probably the release of the first two Evil Dead movies that gave most Horror fans the urge to so openly consider comedy intentional in the Horror genre, what with their stated intention to use the aesthetic of the Three Stooges to mine laughs. Previously the attempts were always in spoof—Carry On Screaming! (1966) being perhaps the most famous, and best example—rarely inducing actual scares when laughs were being had as it poked fun at the low hanging fruit of the sometimes gloriously camp Hammer films. It was the most unlikely of guys, Don Knotts, who had perhaps the spookiest funny film, made coincidentally in the same year, 1966, when he hit with The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, a film I like a lot. But Evil Deadbirthed, or helped birth, the Splatterstick idea, where outlandish over-the-top gore, was as funny as any joke or comedic performance (because let’s be honest, Ash isn’t that funny in those films). Since then, most Horror Comedies have essentially followed this central conceit; sight gags on dismemberments or oozing, volcanic blood spurts. From Shaun of the Dead to Cemetery Man to the best in my opinion, Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead Alive), they all, in their own way up the ante while also tying closely to those early Sam Raimi works. But, this all amounts to the history of laughing at murder and mayhem to being within the last 35 years or so, when in fact, one of the earliest examples, if not the earliest, is still easily the high water mark to these eyes (and funny bone) in the field.
Here we get comedy duo Bud Abbott and Lou Costello playing their established personas; Bud is the straight man Chick—though he gets dozens of sly, quick bursts of clever lines to work with, while Lou is Wilber, a lovably childish scaredy-cat who is dating Dr. Sandra Mornay (the beautifully exotic Lenore Aubert), who apparently loves him for his ‘brains’. It’s all a set up of course, when packages arrive for McDougal’s House of Horrors wax museum containing the coffin of Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi wonderfully reprising the role), the hibernating Frankenstein’s monster and our working stiffs have to deliver them (they’re railway clerks), they inadvertently help spring both to life setting in motion the central plot of Dracula and Dr. Mornay wanting to insert Wilber’s brain into Frankenstein’s monster so that he can forever be Dracula’s loyal manservant. The swiftness of the plot, how it perfectly articulates every character and action in a plausible way while clipping along with literally no fat on the edges speaks to the now mostly lost craft of story-telling in the classic Hollywood style. By the time Lon Chaney Jr. appears as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man—his performance is perhaps the best, most touching work in his whole career, and his inclusion drives so much of the action so it’s central—we’re clipping along beautifully (his flying ’tackle’ of a bat at the end in full Wolf Man garb is downright hilarious). Of course, the laughs keep coming, feverishly now, each scene nearly a mini-setup comedy short, often with a spooky edge to never undermine the genre and Monsters it so clearly loves. Jason Voorhees, long a clear manifestation built around much of Frankenstein Monster’s mythology, gets an ending here that the Friday the 13th series would borrow liberally from for several of its middle films, specifically Part VI: Jason Lives (1986). There a fire around the dock in the lake created from poured gasoline temps and burns the monster, similar to the manic closing on display here. Really, everyone gets a funny offing—while I earlier spoke of the greatness of the ‘bat tackle’, perhaps my favorite is Dr. Sandra Mornay’s. She’s unceremoniously picked up by Frankenstein’s monster, lifted overhead and chucked through a glass skylight. It’s the death of a tertiary, nothing character usually, but here one for one of the top billed performers. But it’s funny, and we’re thrilled that that’s is all that matters to this gem.
I’ve long loved the film, it’s usually the first choice out of my mouth when people ask me where they should start a young child in the Horror genre. Haven’t not seen it in my 30’s, hell even late 20’s I realize it was probably around 15 years since the last viewing, and I respect and understand cinema more, so I’m more than happy saying this is easily one of the 50 greatest Horror films ever made. I was totally bowled over last night, forever wishing that I had cinephile parents that put this one on for me as I munched Captain Crunch on a lazy saturday morning in 1989. Oh well, my parents were great nonetheless. I got to it eventually.

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by Sam Juliano

A picture paints a thousand words.

In some instances an accomplished poet may only require a few words to evoke an image, while others negotiate greater length and an abundance of detail to paint a convincing picture.  Yet for all the power of language and suggestion, there are occasions where the former, no matter how ornate or grandiloquent can equal the power of the illustration, which only the sense of sight can negotiate, setting the foundation for word corroboration.  There is validity to the old cliche “I must see it with my own eyes to believe it” though when communicative prowess is compromised by language incompatibility the visual image takes on universal significance, setting the bar for storytelling that eschews written interpretation for the unique power of the artist.  In Drawn Together by Minh Lee, with illustrations by Dan Santat, an Americanized grandson and an Asian patriarch find in short order that there is an irreconcilable cultural gap which can’t be bridged by language or interests but can be summarily erased by illustrative creativity.  To that end this assumed octogenarian and grammar school student engage in a shared activity that transports the mind’s eye to fantastical places ensconced in their common heritage.

After a dedication-copyright page where a mother watches her boy head off under a dazzling multicolored title Santat offers up eight rectangular vignettes in wordless mode, chronicling the boy’s chagrined if respectful arrival at Grandpa’s townhouse, a visit that appears to be far more appreciated by the elder, who sports the kind of glowing smile reserved for loved ones.  A cultural divide is introduced at the dinner table, where the erstwhile aficionado of traditional cuisine opts for a noodle dish while the boy’s main course is an American staple, a hot dog and french fries.  Grandpa will use chop sticks, the boy a fork to further differentiate Asian and Western preferences.  The boy’s rhetorical entry point is a line he’s no doubt employed many times in the past, one where his expectations are always the same.  So…what’s new, Grandpa?  The response is indecipherable for the boy, who in all probability has little felicity in the tongue mastered by his elders, so briefly unable to respond to each other the two eat quietly pondering their next move.  Thinking his grandson will connect with Asian sci-fi the two watch from a couch, but soon the boy is bored and requests that the channel be changed.  Grandpa eyes his charge wearily, but stays the course.  The boy rises and walks over to his knapsack under the inquisitive eye of Grandpa who remains briefly unable to figure out what the boy is up to.  The youngster soon draws a boy wizard, which the target readers may equate to a variation on Harry Potter, but the arc of Drawn Together heads off into a wholly original realm.  Finally Grandpa understands the proposal and in no time picks up the gauntlet.  This time it is the boy who is incredulous as Grandpa is more than equipped to respond in kind.  His own mode of transport is a black covered sketch book which he sets beside the boys paper short stack.  Le sets the central mise en scene as an innocuous equivalent of a warrior taking up the challenge of an opponent.  Right when I gave up on talking, my grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words.   (more…)

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curiousgoods

by J.D. Lafrance

In the late 1980’s, Frank Mancuso Jr., then caretaker of the popular and profitable Friday the 13th series of films, decided to branch off into a television series but without the hockey mask-clad killer Jason, much like John Carpenter’s decision for Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) to not feature Michael Myers. Of course, we all know how well that went over with fans of that particular franchise so most were expecting history to repeat itself with the Friday the 13th show. After much publicized growing pains, the show hit its stride towards the end of the first season as it followed the adventures of a trio of antique store owners searching for cursed objects. It became the second highest rated first-run syndicated show for the much coveted male 18 to 49-year-old demographic, just behind Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show went on for two more season before being cancelled and now enjoys a dedicated cult following.
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by Sam Juliano

Chilly temperatures have suddenly arrived, though the calendar has been hinting at such a wake-up call for a few weeks now.  Halloween is in full regalia in schools, homes and at parties, and some are already adored with multi-colored hair and masks.  Horror film fans of course will not have a better time of the year to engage in their passion, and on the new release front plenty genre staples are slated to appear in the coming two weeks, most with new transfers.  Of course at this time of the year political signs and adds are all the rage, and I’m urging all to support the Democratic candidates nationally and locally.  James Uhler’s Horrorfest 2018 continues with two more from the timeless Universal series:

The Ghost of Frankenstein (E. C. Kenton… 1942) Universal monster

House of Frankenstein (E. C. Kenton… 1944) Universal monster

Recently, when Universal announced that in an attempt to compete with the ever expanding cinematic universe of Marvel that they would bring back their great legacy of Monsters in a series of original, new stories, and eventually build to a series of mashups and combinations, something of a Horror equivalent to the The Avengers and Infinity War, most saw it as a great idea. The studio badly needed a cagey move to expand their revenue across a bunch of different avenues as most media conglomerates had operated under since at least the 1990’s, and given that they didn’t have a franchise themselves (like Marvel, DC or Star Wars) it was only seen as even more sound in judgment. 

Of course, there was a whole other set of people who saw it merely as a rejiggering of an idea they’d done half a century earlier. Once the initial run of Universal Monsters had run their course—I briefly discussed this during my The Wolf Man (1941) piece—they started a series of mashups and meet-ups, squeezing every drop from characters they’d given birth to a decade prior. You can see Universal’s turn to franchise now as them following current trends, but us Horror fans know Batman v. Superman (2016) first saw its cinematic home in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). 

That’s a good place to start, as the franchises starting crossing over by now; with these two E. C. Kenton films sandwiching Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Thus, the first one, The Ghost of Frankenstein and the first sequel after the official Bride of Frankenstein James Whale sequel classic, starts things in reboot fashion. Really both films do; each of these begin by castled walls being destroyed to free imprisoned monsters from ‘earlier’ movies (I use quotes as both use characters we’ve never seen before). Marauding angry villagers start the destruction of a castle in The Ghost of Frankenstein that free Ygor (Bela Lugosi) and the Monster (who eventually looks to get struck by lightning intentionally to reinvigorate himself, not unlike so many Jason rebirths as the beginnings of several Friday the 13th offerings), while House of Frankenstein sees a storm destroy the castle, freeing our sadistic, revenge minded Dr. Niemann (Boris Karloff) and his hunchbacked servant Daniel. The Ghost of Frankenstein then moves to Ygor’s story essentially, him trying to maneuver to force Dr. Frankenstein (a descendant of the original Victor who knows his secrets but is reluctant to use his brilliance for evil ends) to put his brain into the Monster so that he can live forever. It’s a decent film—often recalled for its wonderful score now—but it lags too, even at 67 minutes your attention is often checking your watch. Part of it is restarting the series with wholly new characters in key spots—Chaney Jr. is an inert and lifeless Frankenstein Monster—part of it is the poetry of Ygor’s ultimate demise being as much fulfilling for us to see a baddie die than being anything emotional (thus robbing the film of some of its purpose). But, haunting images abound, the sulfur/concrete prison that Frankenstein’s Monster is resurrected from in the beginning is tremendous for example, and much of the camp—the series moves from A status to B here—offers fun, odd sets and character choices.  (more…)

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