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Archive for December, 2018

by Sam Juliano

New Year’s Eve 2018 is upon us.  As always we think along the line that the new year will be better than the one expiring, but as we get older this will always be the melancholic swan song.  In behalf of James Clark, J.D. Lafrance, Jamie Uhler and myself I’d like to wish all a Happy New Year’s Day and better than ever 352 day upcoming span to all.  Thank you to all our readers, and those who place comments and likes, dear friends like John Grant, Laurie Buchanan, Don Haumant, Ricky Chinigo, Patricia Hamilton, Duane Porter, Celeste Fenster, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pat Perry, Brian Wilson, David Schleicher, Frank Gallo, Sachin Gandhi, Peter Marose, Adam Ferenz, Timmy McCoy, MaddyLovesClassic Films, Wendy Wahmann, Marco Tremble, Jamie Hogan, Dennis Polifroni, Stephen Mullen, Dean Treadway, John Greco, Joel Bocko, Richard Finch, David Noack, Aaron West, Jared Dec, Maurizio Roca, Kimbrak, Brandie Ashe, Robert Hornak, Broadway Bob, and Lucille Juliano, though the same to all our other visitors who have done the same over the past year and well before.  This past August the site celebrated, amazingly, the 10th year of his run.  Always thinking of our beloved Allan Fish, who is smiling down on us.

The captivating and mysterious Italian fairy tale “Happy as Lazzaro” by Alice Rohrwacher evokes some favorite pastoral settings of director Ermanno Olmi but this beautifully filmed and heartbreaking tale about a subservient, wide-eyed young man imbued with positive energy who makes an abrupt turn away from the central Italy home (“Inviolata”) of poor tobacco sharecroppers where Lazzaro befriends a controlling Tancredi, to an anarchic modern city where the film’s magic realism reaches full flower. As Lazzaro Adriano Tardiolo gives one of the year’s most unforgettable performances……..In the Brazilian “Araby” a teenager without much direction comes upon a journal which flashbacks into the life of a recently deceased man named Christiano, chronicling the alternately vibrant and mundane existence including a love affair in a quietly enveloping Bressonian work brilliantly acted by Aristides de Sousa and impressively co-directed by Joao Dumas and Alfonso Uchoa……….Peter Jackson’s monumental achievement “They Shall Not Grow Old” humanizes the soldiers’ experience on the war front through deft digital restoration and colorization of worn footage. The result in a visceral work, both vital and immediate, with dubbing that places it in a modern context. The unpredictability of combat is seen through a lens which passes no judgement politically, just asserts that all involved are in the same fateful boat. Jackson spoke on how he assembled the footage before the film and at length afterwards.  (more…)

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By J.D. Lafrance

The mark of a truly gifted filmmaker is when their work is able to transcend the times in which they were made and continue to be highly regarded, beloved and is still relevant to subsequent generations. Such is the case with Frank Capra who made not one but two timeless classics with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), one of the most highly regarded films about American politics ever made, and It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), the quintessential Christmas movie. Meet John Doe (1941) is not as popular as these two films but it is just as important. Like the aforementioned motion pictures, it features an everyman character exploited by both corporate interests and the media, which makes it just as timely today as it was back when it was first released.

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by Sam Juliano

While staying at the farm of Richard Garrett, Federal troops searching for President Lincoln’s killer arrived on their search but soon rode on. The unsuspecting Garrett allowed his suspicious guests to sleep in his barn, but he instructed his son to lock the barn from the outside to prevent the strangers from stealing his horses. A tip led the Union soldiers back to the Garrett farm, where they discovered assassin John Wilkes Booth Booth and accomplice David Herold in the barn. Herold came out, but Booth refused. The building was set on fire to flush Booth, but he was shot while still inside. He lived for three hours before gazing at his hands, muttering “Useless, useless,” as he died.    In the poignant British film drama Whistle Down the Wind a fugitive hides out in a barn and is befriended by children in the village who believe him to be Jesus Christ.  In William Faulkner’s 1939 short story “Barn Burning” a father named Abner Snopes is accused of burning down a barn and is told by the judge to leave the country.  The barn is a place of sexual secrets in Steinbeck’s East of Eden, yet in E.B. White’s beloved Charlottes’s Web the barn is where miracles happen and friendships that last a lifetime are forged.  In such a seemingly innocuous setting, a place where farm animals are sheltered and fed, high drama has rarely been played out in such a no-holds-barred way whether for deception, execution or coming-of-age.  The cozy environs of Margaret Wise Brown’s A Home in the Barn, however, is acutely attuned to White’s barn, where geese, a literate spider and emotional pig live in relative harmony, but this late and great children’s literature icon has rarely been served with such sensory overload as she has here by another icon, the much heralded Jerry Pinkney who does far more than pictorially document the activity in this rustic institution, but invites readers to smell, hear and feel the farmyard symphony contained in communal domesticity. (more…)

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I tweak how I present my top 50 every year, sometimes picking a top disc and then offering the next dozen or so unranked. Other years I merely put the 50 selections in three tiers, and then separate out a definitive, standout top 5. Sometimes, I’m straightforward, and do a full 50-1 ranking in the best order I can manage. In attempt to always mirror what I feel is most appropriate given the years output, this year, I’ve found a clear top favorite, but also a number of terrific EPs. Thus I’ve included many EPs this year in an otherwise strictly albums list. The additional twist this year is I’ve gone all the way to 90, since I listened to so much new stuff this year, and attempted to include most of what I thought was truly exemplary. Then, I tried to thanklessly rank it all, knowing full well that after about 10 or 20 it’s all pretty arbitrary, and I hope that the small right ups will provide enough information for listeners to potentially hone into stuff they might find particularly agreeable.   

Happy listening. Protect your ear drums boys and girls, you only get one set. 

My Favorite Album of the Year, 2018:

1. IDLES – Joy as an Act of Resistance

Merely attacking toxic masculinity is low-hanging fruit, but discussing its systemic roots in song is altogether more illuminating. But why IDLES second is so tremendous is that they also offer ways out, or refuge for the victims of such an environment. That it is often heartbreakingly touching and always at the cusp of noisy, brilliantly performed rock n’ roll music, it was places it at the top of my list. The best songs—the pro-immigration ‘Danny Nedelko’, the depression lifeline ‘Samaritans’, the tense ‘Colossus’, and the body image drenched ‘Television’—are some of the best of the year, and after their triumphant display on their Jools Holland introduction, you’re in for the next of the great English rock bands. They’re here.   (more…)

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 © 2018 by James Clark

 Our film today brings to mind ancient Greek theatre (often regarded as “tragedy”), inasmuch as it is concerned with an odyssey of no mean weight. In accordance with this template, there is a chorus, a number of mainstream busybodies galvanized by a unique and self-destructive protagonist. True to form, these lesser lights have much to say; and what they say is often more than they realize.

Their modern apparition appears in the story’s very first chapter, where a test pilot, Neil, let’s rip with an aircraft not for the general public. In the midst of his struggles with the untamed beast, the bureaucrats in the picture radio to him a series of complaints. “We show you wobbling, not turning… You’re bouncing off the atmosphere… He’s a good engineer, but he’s distracted…”

The do-nothing perfectionists do manage to dissuade Neil’s seeming to be on a roller coaster from hell. Of course he’s in elaborate protective gear, but the caveats unintentionally direct us to the regions of death and where to thrive there before disappearing into those abysses having given to us a startling physical introduction. (Our latter-day Odysseus has been branded a First Man [2018]; and we’ll be tested to recognize whether he deserves such a vaunted reputation.) Our Homer, here, befitting the métier of cinema in perhaps its dying days as an adult pursuit, is Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), who, as it happens, was a devotee of dynamics as wild as it gets. Coming upon First Man, therefore, we are provided with, in addition to what that chorus distinguishes itself by carping, Bergman’s very self-aware steering apparatus, “acrobatics” and “juggling.” (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

This week’s installment of the Monday Morning Diary falls squarely on Christmas Eve 2018.  I’d like to wish all our friends and readers a peaceful evening and a Merry Christmas.  I’ll save next week to extend New Year’s greetings especially since we have a week ahead that is sure to bring much joy to everyone.  It always seems that time is rushing by, so now more than ever is the need to savor every precious moment with our loved ones.

Allan, dear friend, I know you are up there smiling and sending us your best.  We will spend much of our holiday thinking of you wearing that grumpy Santa Claus outfit.  Love you.

I want to thank all who have continued the tradition at the site with a particular salute to my co-editor James Clark who has given film scholarship continued brilliance and to our ace film reviewer J.D. Lafrance.  Also best wishes to Jamie Uhler, who coordinates the annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival in May and the yearly Halloween Fest and all those who comment and contribute mightily to our countdowns.

Though the wholly enchanting “Mary Poppins Returns” received mostly excellent reviews as did the film’s titular star Emily Blunt, what surprised me most was the terrific score by Marc Shaiman which is anything but unmemorable. “Nowhere to Go But Up,” “A Conversation,” “Trip a Little Light Fantastic,” “Underneath the Lonely London Sky,” “The Place Where Lost Things Go,” and “Can You Imagine That?” lead a spirited, lyrically accomplished array of songs that make this homage to one of the screen’s most beloved musicals in its own right an effervescent confection that also forges its own path. Splendid cameo numbers from Dick Van Dyke, Angela Lansbury and Meryl Streep add to the unbridled merriment.

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by Sam Juliano

She didn’t like to play with dolls, She didn’t like to skate.She learned to read quite early, And at an incredible rate.  She always took a book to bed,  With a flashlight under the sheet.  She’d make a tent of covers  And read herself to sleep.

                                                                –The Library, 1995, Sarah Stewart

America’s role as the leader of the free world and the guiding light of opportunity for those smothered by impoverishment hangs in the balance.  President Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexico border sends a toxic message to one of our two closest neighbors, a country on whose cooperation the United States’ national security and economic prosperity depends.  The “Land of Enchantment” is the United States’ third-largest trading partner and our common border is 1,970 miles long. Mexico collaborates on efforts to guard against extra-regional terrorists hypothetically using its territory to enter the United States. After twelve years of steadily declining migration, more Mexicans the United States than enter it each year. In January, it extradited its most notorious drug lord, “El Chapo” Guzman to the United States.

It makes no sense to undermine this relationship by building a permanent barrier along our border with Mexico. It is counterproductive to jeopardize badly needed cooperation by portraying Mexico as a sinister source of threats that should foot the bill for the wall (which, the 2018 appropriation makes clear, it will not have to do). Mexico certainly has problems, particularly corruption and human rights abuse. But these are aspects of the relationship the United States must work on, rather than push Mexico away with an aggressive construction project.  Above all a barrier at its essence reeks of inhumanity and nationalism and successful implementation of it would represent a return to a medieval mindset.

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