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Archive for May, 2019

HARVEY WALLINGER - title 2

By Robert Hornak

A slight detour into nonsense.

I gather that Allan, if not a Woody Allen fan, per se, at least respected his work since I see he put a dozen of the prolific filmmaker’s movies on his list of “5,000 best screen works” on this very site. This may be thin justification for my entry in this year’s AFOFF, but there’s also some justification in light of my pick’s ubiquitous omission from nearly every corner of Allenalia, a rare political jab from “not essentially a political comedian” directly to Dick Nixon’s flummoxed jowls.

Despite his sometimes claim to political agnosticism, certain moments of commentary survive in Woody lore, namely his Woody Allen Looks at 1967 television special, from that year, wherein he spars with a particularly game William F. Buckley, Jr., or any number of his standup sideswipes: “I took some time off to write. I was working on a non-fiction version of the Warren Report.”), to the stammering quip he gives rally-speaker Alvy in Annie Hall: “I dated a woman working in the Eisenhower administration and I thought it was ironic, cause…I was trying to do to her what he’s been doing to the country for eight years.” Most of Allen’s politics is scattered over just a handful of examples, while Harvey Wallinger remains his most potent concentration of full-frontal political satire.

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by Adam Ferenz

The late, great Allan Fish, to whom this festival is dedicated, was a scholar not just of film but of television, which he saw as intrinsically linked. Indeed, my ongoing work on the greatest programs in television history, owes a great debt to his encouragement and generosity, and it is because of that that I once again selected television works for my selection for the Festival.  Both of these essays have been published here before. The following films harken back to an era when the BBC was much more adventurous, yet at the same time, much more educational and cultural minded.  It is no coincidence that some of the great directors of the past fifty or sixty years, got their start on the “small” screen. We are often  reminded of people like Sydney Lumet and Sam Peckinpah. We forget that talents like Ken Russell, Alan Clarke and Peter Watkins were known as much for their television work-if not, in the case of Clarke, almost entirely their television work-as what was released in the cinemas. Here are two of the best from a bygone era in British Telly, something the subject of this festival would no doubt strongly approve. And perhaps, one day, we can see a proper release of Dance Of the Seven Veils.  Fingers crossed.

Dance of the Seven Veils

Ken Russell did many crazy movies during his career, with The Devils often cited as his most insane work, and that is hard to argue. Unless one has seen this film, which is impossible to find in an un-bowdlerized edition-as the only available copies are not properly color timed and still have time stamps on them-which makes properly assessing this somewhat difficult. Telling the story of Richard Strauss, the film was part of a BBC series of programs, directed by Russell, in which he tackled major figures from classical music. His final film for the BBC, and for television, this film can be seen as a bold “fuck you and goodbye forever” from its director. (more…)

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by Sachin Gandhi

I have selected Francesco Rosi’s 1963 film Hands Over the City (Le Mani sulla città) because it is a film that feels contemporary despite being released almost 6 decades ago. Given the film’s topic of corruption and urban sprawl, it will always feel contemporary as long as politicians spend more time slinging mud at their rivals and lying to protect their crimes while letting innocent civilians suffer. The words “urban sprawl” are part of our everyday language yet it was Rosi’s film that gave an incisive look into how such a situation could occur. The city in Rosi’s film is his beloved Naples but as the film dives into the close connection between city planners, politicians, land developers and businessmen, it becomes evident that there is a universal aspect to the film.

The opening shots of Hands Over the City begin with a few aerial shots of Naples which highlight the city as a maze of buildings. After the opening minutes, we learn that it will get worse. That is because we are shown an informal meeting between a few businessmen who all want to profit from fast land development. The city council is about to propose expanding along the city’s core, which makes sense from an urban development point of view. But these businessmen and land developers want to build outside the city because the land is cheap and they can earn more profits in the future. The businessmen can get away with this because one of the leading land developers is also on the city’s board and he has a lot of friends on the council. The promise of fast money is enough to swing the votes in his direction. (more…)

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Given that the artwork of this years festival is more personal to Allan’s taste, I figured my pick should follow suit to officially kick Allan Fish OFF 2019! ‘Kick’ seems an apt word, what with the subject matter of my pick for this year. You’ll recall that in years past I’ve used my pick not only to highlight works that I personally love, but that also say something about how I became, and remained, friends with Allan over the several years that I knew him. In 2017 it was Final Cut Ladies and Gentlemen, a kaleidoscopic film whose creation was entirely from old, classic film clips collaged together to form an entirely new narrative. Its purpose in selection obvious; Allan was a man of few peers in his encyclopedic knowledge of film history, watch the film rush past you I compared to conversing with Allan about film, his brain making seamless connections across genre, era, region, and everything in between. While last year, in selecting the Italian comedy classic The Icicle Thief, I moved more towards narrative cinema. But again, a work very much on the nature of watching and interacting with movies. It appeared that in both instances I was sticking to the object that tied Allan and I in the first place: watching movies obsessively.

But, this year I thought differently. (more…)

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Welcome to this, the third annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival (AF OFF 2019)! The festival will begin on Tuesday, May 28th (Allan’s 46th birthday) with a post by me, Jamie, and will (potentially) end on Saturday, June 8th, with a concluding post by Sam Juliano. As with the festivals for the previous two years, we’ll have additional participants honor our late, great film aficionado Allan Fish by curating their own day in the film festival hosted by the site that Allan and Sam called home (and still do), Wonders in the Dark. 

In selecting their work for their specified day, the rules will follow previous years; 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. (Note: Any type or genre of film can be chosen, as well as films of any length.) (more…)

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By J.D. Lafrance

Alexander Payne is part of an exciting wave of filmmakers who grew up during the 1970s and were subsequently influenced by the films from that era. His contemporaries include the likes of Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, and David O. Russell to name but a few. And like his fellow filmmakers, Payne eschews the Hollywood trend of placing an emphasis on special effects and trendy actors in favor of character-driven, comedy-drama hybrids populated with character actors like Laura Dern, Matthew Broderick and Kathy Bates.

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screen cap from Rudolf Nuryev biopic “The White Crow”

 

by Sam Juliano

The Third Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival will launch this week on Tuesday, May 28th (on what would have been Allan’s 46th birthday) with an opening salvo by project founder Jamie Uhler.  It will continue for the coming week with seven consecutive submissions.  Wonders in the Dark is again quite proud to stage such a noble venture in honor of our beloved friend and mentor.  Thanks to all for your anticipated attention and to the writers for their selfless positive insights and creative energy.  The Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or was won by a South Korean film, Parasite.  Monday is Memorial Day stateside.  We are wishing all our friends and readers a relaxing day.

Raunchy high school comedy “Booksmart”

The reviews have been wildly superlative, but I am not seeing this film as deserving of such glowing accolades. Yes it is refreshingly candid, emotionally honest and audaciously irreverent, nut the narrative eventually becomes tiresome and a few days after I watched the film I am finding very little of it memorable. I received a note from my revered 76 year-old former high school English teacher who reported to me that “If I were 15, 16 or 17 years old I might appreciate this film, but I am many decades removed and just couldn’t connect on any front.” While I can only stand with that criticism partially, I was only ably to muster limited applause for the presentation and most of that was for the wonderful actresses Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever and the irresistible Billie Lourd (Carrie Fisher’s daughter). A noteworthy debut for director Olivia Wilde and certainly an entertaining work, but I am not experiencing any staying power. (3.5 of 5) Seen Friday in Secaucus.

Shakespeare, Tolkien, Nuryev

William Shakespeare is my absolute favorite writer of all-time, J.R.R. Tolkien is a literary figure I greatly admire and Rudolf Nuryev is a fascinating cultural figure and spectacularly talented dancer but of the films recently made about them (“All is True”, “Tolkien”, “The White Crow”) only the latter on the volatile Russian dancer can be described as successful, though it too has some issues. Kenneth Branagh, the most dedicated and passionate Bard promoter of our time on film takes full advantage of dramatic license to re-imagine the final years of Shakespeare’s life, especially focusing in on his relationship with his daughter and his sustained grief over the childhood death of his only son, Hamnet, the twin of Judith with whom the Bard sustained domestic quarrels with. Speculation runs high but the film is dramatically cumbersome, Judi Dench is way too old for her role as Anne Hathaway and there is an odd lack of immediacy in the screenplay. Only Zac Nicholson’s autumnal cinematography hits the mark, though Branagh is an admirable Will, far more “in the skin” than his lamentable Hercule Poirot. (more…)

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