Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for November, 2019

by Sam Juliano

Just a little over three years ago an entry in the 2016 Caldecott Medal Contender series featured a resplendent picture book biography on Ana Lovelace titled Ada’s Ideas who was dubbed the world’s first computer programmer.  The work’s author-illustrator Fiona Robinson, a Brooklyn based author-artist, has this past year again explored a prominent female living in a male-dominated age who is widely credited for being the very first person to publish a book of photography.  Robinson’s wholly sublime release The Bluest of Blues: Anna Atkins and the First Book of Photographs bears a number of similarities to the earlier book contextually and in a thematic sense (Anna like Ada was basically reared by a single parent, both of whom ignored the ways of the time by encouraging her education) but Robinson has upped the ante, instilling a profound sensory air to the world’s most popular color.  To achieve the authenticity she sought, Robinson walked through actual English meadows where she took photographs for their initial stage in her amazing illustrative process.  While she developed into a master botanist her claim to fame is the cyanotype,  photographic printing process that produces prints in a distinctive dark greenish-blue. The word “cyan” comes from the Greek, meaning “dark blue substance.” The process was invented by Sir John Herschel, a brilliant astronomer and scientist, in 1842 but Anna expanded to become the first person to publish a book illustrated with photographic images in addition to, according to some, the first woman to create a photograph.  In the latter half of The Bluest of Blues and in some exceedingly useful end notes Robinson painstakingly defines the process, with stunning end paper shell and seaweed replications that bleed over onto the frontispiece. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

Jim, J.D., Jamie and the rest of the staff here at Wonders in the Dark would like to extend to our friends and readers Thanksgiving Day wishes.  Though Jim and J.D. are Canadians who reside near Toronto, they are no doubt influenced by the stateside infectiousness of this very special time of the year.  As always Lucille and I will be driving up to Butler, New Jersey with the rest of our family on Thursday to her sister’s mansion-sized home to join over fifty other guests for a veritable Turkey Day bonanza.  I am looking forward to the apple and pumpkin pies.  Hoping everyone has their own plans set and will have a safe and relaxing day.

This past week Jim published a brilliant essay on Ingmar Bergman’s The Passion of Anna and J.D. posted a fantastic review on Clint Eastwood’s 1993 A Perfect World.  I also would like to thank the Caldecott series readers for responding in a big way via comments and page views to my recent review on Field Trip to the Moon. 

Lucille and I saw one movie in theaters this past week:  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks in Ridgefield Park on Saturday evening.  My rating is 4.5 of 5.0.  Haunting and beautiful work with a most unique approach.  And I saw it all with only my left eye!

Jamie Uhler’s latest  Horror Fest 2019 review is another jewel: (more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

On Star Trek it is referred to as “the final frontier” but humankind has barely scratched the surface in regard to space exploration, and only rarely has an American set foot on our lunar neighbor, the closest celestial sphere to our planet.  Still, it is not at all remotely difficult to envision a time in the not so distant future when Gene Roddenberry’s fantastical vision is no longer inconceivable, even if we are still a very long way from the context of the classic cartoon Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2 Century.  In a captivating wordless picture book titled Field Trip to the Moon by newcomer John Hare a class embarks on a routine venture that is no more startling in concept and execution than a trip to the Stature of Liberty or a science museum.  While destination and mode of transportation are incredulous the time spent on the moon suggest that the native inhabitants bear far more similarities to earthlings than our typical hostile stereotypes would pose.  At its most basic the wholly chimerical Field Trip to the Moon is a story of friendship in one of the last locations one would think it could surface.

The front dust jacket cover, one replicated on the inside hardcover, depicts a smaller-sized class leaving a space station to board a shuttle craft for their day trip to the moon.  One student, later identified as a girl lags behind seemingly mired in deep thought.  First time illustrator Hare negotiates acrylic paints to craft a rich outer space tapestry, with the yellow shuttle at the forefront of the black space, punctuated by the stars.  A “Slow- school zone” marker serves as an amusing retro to the time when such an expedition was unthinkable.  The cover is one of the most striking of any 2019 picture book.  After a dedication/copyright canvas denoting the shuttle approaching its lunar destination the class and its single chaperon gather in a  line to explore as the space craft anchors itself.  The teacher and the eleven students pass through a rocky hamlet, with the extra-inquisitive girl lagging somewhat behind to look at the surrounding more closely. (more…)

Read Full Post »

 © 2019 by James Clark

      Why do the films of Ingmar Bergman concentrate upon difficulties so few people care about? Some might rush to claim that his genius was all over the most pressing dilemmas of modern life. But although the works do touch upon well-known malaise, what, I think, he was driven to show has never been a serious concern for very many.

Though I recently claimed that all three of the films in the “Island Trilogy,” comprising, Hour of the Wolf, Shame, and The Passion of Anna, could appear with no damage being caused in released or viewing at any order, there is about the third entry, namely, The Passion of Anna (1969), which does go significantly even further into the savagery of cultural venom than the other two. There, Bergman’s dramatic depth finds a hitherto hidden dimension of perversity to imbue us with an added weight going forward. And as we unravel this difficult construction, let’s face the facts about how many viewers are apt to find it compelling; and, therefore, what comportment is valid for these few and besieged seers who do find it riveting.

Andreas Winkelman (“winkel,” denoting a “corner” or “being enclosed by woods”) is a protagonist who, when we first encounter him in the opening scene, we could say that his name is very suitable. He lives in a farm setting, with neither crops nor salient livestock. (A few sheep is all we glimpse.) A voice-over gives his name, and his age, 48. Also, we hear, “He has lived alone for a while in this house on an island out at sea. His roof has been in bad repair for a long time.” (The metaphorical involvement here should not be ignored, particularly as a matter of invasion is about to spring forth.) We find him on that roof, with slate and mortar, clearly not being a gifted roofer. His face is contorted; and then another demand brightens his day. The winter sky delivers to his unsteady perch a sun comprising the fireball, but also a complementary flare involving a small cloud of rose and grey hue. We never again see him appreciating such a mystical moment. But we’ll have myriad opportunities to understand that Andreas, though a middling construction worker, is a devotee of the uncanny—unlike the easily distracted musician couple in Shame and the painter in Hour of the Wolf. (more…)

Read Full Post »

by J.D. Lafrance

In 1993, Clint Eastwood was enjoying a resurgence in popularity. His revisionist western Unforgiven (1992) won three Academy Awards and he received critical and commercial acclaim for his performance in the action-thriller, In the Line of Fire (1993). When he was approached with the screenplay for A Perfect World (1993), he was still making Line of Fire and doing promotion for the Academy Award nominations for Unforgiven. As a result, Eastwood anticipated only directing A Perfect World. When Kevin Costner came on board, however, he felt that Eastwood would be perfect for a smaller role in the film. Eastwood agreed as it wouldn’t require him to spend a lot of time in front of the camera.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

by Sam Juliano

You wouldn’t think I would be facing a laser iridotomy for normal “narrow angles” in my left eye on Monday morning, Nov. 18th and cataract surgery on my right eye on December 13th by the way I have been running around, seeing movies and fulfilling my regular work schedule.  In any case I have completed a bunch of appointments involving a retina specialist, a measurement expert (my cataract eye was too dense for my physician Dr. Geller to ascertain as a result of my waiting too long) and my primary care physician for clearance not to mention two more visits to Geller.  It has been truly a hectic time.

An amazing time was had at the Nitehawk Cinemas in Brooklyn Tuesday night where the first of our two festival-hopping 2019 short films “Best Picture”, about our annual Oscar party at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse, was screened in front of a sold out house in the complex’s main theater. I joined the film’s director Jay Giampietro on stage for a fabulous post-film discussion. What a bunch of astounding shorts were in last night’s lineup, including one starring Ethan Hawke’s daughter (Memory Experiment). After posing with Jay, his wife Leah, cast member Bart Talamini Jr. and family members who appeared in the film, we watched the nine shorts and engaged in the aforementioned discussion where I revealed the advent of our 42 consecutive Oscar party ritual. Jay spoke of his budding involvement with the annual event, and in responding to an audience question I asserted that this coming year’s best picture Oscar will go to either “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” or “The Irishman.” Programmers and festival patrons were all over us after the event in the lobby. Temperatures may have been freezing outside but indoors we witnessed positive energy in every sense. The Nitehawk Festival, in its eighth year, is one of NYC’s premiere shorts venues.

We saw four films in theaters this past week.  Actually one of those – Ford vs. Ferrari – will be seen tonight (Sunday), so I will revisit this post in the morning to insert the grade if not also a brief assessment:

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” one of 2019’s greatest masterpieces!

The sometimes funny, but ultimately devastating “Marriage Story” featuring Scarlett Joahansson, Adam Driver and Laura Dern in extraordinary form is a coast-to-coast divorce drama that probes deeply and depicts the complexity of incompatibility in a relationship where both warring parties still love each other. The perceptive and nuanced screenplay is one of the year’s finest and three other supporting performances by Alan Alda, Julie Hegarty and Ray Liotta also hit the mark. Rating 5/5. The film is another netflix release that will go streaming after a few weeks in theaters. I count it surely as one of the top 2 or 3 films of the year. We saw it last night at the Claridge in Montclair.

Star grades and very brief commentary on two recently-seen theatrical films – “Honey Boy” and “The Good Liar”

“Honey Boy” is a raw, intense and powerful autobiographical account of Shia LaBeouf’s childhood that is uniformly well acted and an an effective fusion of humor, dysfunction and heartbreak. I did get a big laugh at Rex Reed’s personal John Simon-like assault on LaBeouf as a “no talent” and the film as “despicable” but again such juvenile film criticism tells us much more about the person writing the review than about the subject. That said the reviews overall were excellent. 4.5 of 5 “The Good Liar” is extremely well acted by Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, and it is reasonably entertaining, but the screenplay is hopelessly convoluted 3.0 of 5.

James Clark’s new essay will be posted in the very near future.  J.D. Lafrance’s excellent review of Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money published this past week.

Jamie Uhler’s brilliant Horror Fest 2019 series continues with two new superlative capsules.  Though both are stupendous, the one he penned on the recently-released masterwork The Lighthouse is stunning!

(more…)

Read Full Post »

“The Bat” (1959)

by Jamie Uhler
Another year down, but I’m not stopping. I say that every year and generally do get to most, if not all. This year though, I do want to eventually complete all and do all my write-ups, even if I have to go into 2020 to do it (so long as you guys don’t mind your inboxes getting occasionally bombarded). As such, I did two recently with a sad fact ringing true: this was the first year in decades that on the actual day of Halloween—October 31—I didn’t watch a Horror movie. I had a late one from work and I came home from the office in a mood. Oh well, I hang my head in shame and vow to complete my list (and start the ‘Horror recents’ list I’ve been collecting) as retribution. A mea culpa to the Halloween Horror gods if you will.
Arena (P. Manoogian… 1989)

I’m really at a loss how this steaming piece of trash and I crossed paths. What would have prompted me to add this to my list this year? It’s not Horror in the slightest, more something of a Bloodsport meets the Star Wars Cantina sequence, but made on the budget of three 1980’s Battlestar Galactica episodes. That’s pretty much it, it’s a hellish world set in the year 4038 depicting the intergalactic arena fighting of alien beasts, some of which wear metal robot suits. The hellishness is implied, mob money runs (and ruins) the sport, making it so that no human can really hope to compete and succeed, with the previous human fighter being some 50 years prior. The only problem though is that the ‘hellishness’ is only if you think what this world should be, we don’t actually see it on screen, instead we see cheap sets and B-acting, and a lightness of the PG-13 rating, no doubt heavily indebted to the George Lucas train of thought that if you make sci-fi dumb enough, the children will pack the seats and it’ll do gang-busters in toy sales, but no sensible adult will want to be caught dead within 50 feet of a screen playing it. Oh well, ones that are screening it show the tale of lanky pretty boy Steve (he’s like a blond Christopher Reeve right down to the nearly identical voice!) who does eventually get to fight in the arena because he needs money to pay off a debt or he and his little 4 armed buddy get killed. He eventually wins, just as you expect he would, and you get all fuzzy inside (or is that nausea?).
This is the worst one I’ve watched this year—a shame as I’d started to assume that moniker was safely in the hands of Spookies—but that made me laugh heartily several times. This–thanks PG-13—had nothing for us weirdos. Epic pass. In fact, burn all the surviving copies.
The Bat (C. Wilber… 1959)

This one is pretty fondly remembered in classic Horror circles as an effective, low-budget chiller, and it’s easy to see why. It boosts two good, quirky central performances from real pros—Agnes Moorehead as successful mystery writer Cornelia, and Horror legend Vincent Price as small town doctor Malcolm Wells. It’s no doubt Price’s inclusion that’s made the film last in the minds of aficionados (well that and the fact it’s now in public domain, making it easy to see in nice prints) and it’s an odd duck of a movie, almost worthy of watching as a curious oddity, even if the results on screen pack little actual wallop.
Today’s audiences would think the title implies a masked avenger in comic book fare, while older ones no doubt would have envisioned a blood-sucking romantic from Romania. It’s weird then that both are wrong, but only slightly so—The Bat is a man who dresses in a costume to lurk about at night (his costume design is certainly the real highlight of the film) and does prey on young women, but he’s really just your garden-variety serial killing creep who just so happens to have a bit of panache in glovewear. So once we realize he’s not sucking anyone’s blood and from an early kill we’re actually thrust into a whodunnit mystery, where we’re supposed to guess who is The Bat from a grouping of likely candidates, we settle in for light entertainment of a Horror trope. Bodies start mounting up in and around Cornelia’s annual vacation stay in local banker John Fleming’s family estate, but you see he’s recently embezzled a cool million from the bank on the idea that him and Dr. Wells can posit a body in his place on a hunting trip so he can fake his death. Fleming reveals he’s totally fine if the body is Wells’ if push comes to shove, a fact Wells responds in kind by killing him (in apparent self-defense). When Wells doesn’t alert authorities, we begin wondering if he’s The Bat in search of the loot stashed somewhere in the old Fleming home now inhabited by Cornelia and her three girlfriends and a suddenly suspicious (to us) new chauffeur from Chicago (via England apparently by his accent).
The horror is light, but the movie’s a breeze at 80 minutes. Price’s inclusion alone probably warrants the slightest of recommends, but it is fun, so long as you don’t think too hard about the whodunnit plot they try hard to maintain. You solve the mystery quickly and gape at the plot holes wide enough for semi’s to pass through. What do you want though, it made me laugh. If this scared ‘em in ’59 I’d have loved to be around then, seems like heaven.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »