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Archive for November, 2019

 © 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…)

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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.

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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!

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“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.

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By J.D. Lafrance

The 1970’s saw the rise of the Movie Brats, a collection of filmmakers that had grown up watching and studying films. They made challenging films that reflected the times in which they were made and were revered by cineastes as much as some of the actors appearing in them. Directors like William Friedkin, Francis Ford Coppola, Hal Ashby and Martin Scorsese made intensely personal films that blended a European sensibility with American genre films. The one-two punch of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) and the failure of expensive passion projects like New York, New York (1977) and Heaven’s Gate (1980) ended these directors’ influence and saw the rise of producers like Joel Silver, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer; and movie star-driven blockbusters in the 1980’s and beyond. It got harder and harder for the Movie Brats to get their personal projects made. Most of them went the independent route, making films for smaller companies like Orion and doing the occasional paycheck gig with a Hollywood studio.

For years, Scorsese had been trying to fund a personal project of his own – an adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ. It was a tough sell and he ended up making After Hours (1985) and The Color of Money (1986) as a way of keeping busy while he tried to get Last Temptation made. At the time of The Color of Money much was made of it being Scorsese’s first movie star-driven film and some critics and fans of the director felt that he was selling out. It would not only be promoted as a film starring Paul Newman and Tom Cruise (and not as a Martin Scorsese film), but was a sequel (something that the director was never fond of doing) of sorts. Newman had been interested in reprising his famous role of “Fast” Eddie Felson from The Hustler (1961) for some time but he had never met the right person for the job – that is, until Scorsese.

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by Sam Juliano

Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
Well Saturday-spend ’til the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend
We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on    -The Sandpipers, 1969

Picture book wunderkind Oge Mora, a master of collage and familial immersion, won a Caldecott Honor last year for her maiden work Thank You Omu!, a stirring tribute to her beloved Grandmother.  Omu, a miracle of acrylic collage, china markers, pastels, patterned paper and old book clippings is a story of magnanimity, gratefulness and the adage that in the end one will be treated as they treat others.  To be sure the book is a study of sacrifice and how the most noble in our ranks will think of themselves only after they’ve thought of everyone around them.  Mora has followed her magnificent debut with another exploration of the family, again with an acute focus on a special relationship and again using the same style and materials that made the first book so resplendent.  Disavowing the common conviction of the week’s sixth day, Mora paints a picture of plans gone awry on the one day when mutual freedom should set the stage for blissful negotiation to complete appointments and unique entertainment.  In the end of course bad luck does nothing to impact the only things that really matters:  synergy and love.

End papers sporting varying shades of violet showcase a monthly calendar featured X’d off dates, with only Saturday the 30th left to be completed.  Big bright stars connote planned activities for for the titular weekend day, and the planned content is auspicious as is the wish list printed by a youngster.  A busy double page title spread launches Saturday’s story arc, with a young girl rising from bed as her mother greets a new day with coffee.  Plenty of collage cut outs signify familial bliss, one where positive energy greatly outweighs economic limitations.  This basic premise is accentuated by the revelation that Ava’s hard-working mom even works on Sunday in a six-day schedule.  Only Saturday, the reprieve so many baby boomers relied on for early morning television, trips to the local library, outdoor basketball and baseball games and for some the certainty they’d sleep way past their normal wake-up time.  In a quartet of paper cut vignettes, Mora depicts a diverse itinerary, involving story-time at the library, a trip to the beauty salon, outdoor quality time at the local park, and as a special finale for this particular penultimate day of the week. Mora the illustrator frames the happy anticipation in bumblebee yellow which allows the collages to jump off the page in three-dimensional sublimity.  Mora the author encapsulates the cheery expectations with a circular frenzy of Mom and and daughter in preparatory mode. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Veteran’s Day (November 11) means a day off from our school positions and a welcome panacea from all the stress experienced the past few days.  Lucille’s “gamma-knife” laser procedure went down perfectly on Thursday at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. We picked her up at around noon, had lunch and then went home where she rested a few hours.  As is normal for this treatment, one must wait about six months to see the benign meningioma’s disabling via an MRI, but success usually greets the vast number of these procedures. The bottom line is that doctors are confident they achieved what they sought to do and we are more than relieved to have this episode behind us. We can never thank everyone enough for their exceeding kindness, concern and support.  Of course some people opt to do nothing with their benign tumors, and a good number go 15 to 20 years before even addressing them, but Lucille opted to play it safe.  Typically, she attended several events after the procedure much as I have despite spending several hours on Saturday in the emergency room at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck after I seem to have lost my vision in my right eye.  All was a blur and I thought I may have had retina detachment.  Alas it was diagnosed as a cataract (and a profoundly clouded one at that!) which I now must have replaced with the usual artificial lens as soon as possible, perhaps within the coming week.  It seems like something is always going on.  Cataracts of course are normal, and most people have relatives who have had one or both eyes done.  My own father had them done to both his own eyes about 20 years ago as I recall.

Lucille and I will be attending a 75th Anniversary celebration at the Fairview Public Library this afternoon in the building where I serve on the Board of Trustees.  Young Sammy and Jeremy will be joining us.

Jim Clark’s last stupendous work of film scholarship, a mega-essay on Claire Denis’ High Life was published last week, and J.D. Lafrance’s terrific review on the Coens’ Miller’s Crossing posted this past Tuesday.

Democrats Sweep Bergen County!!!

It was an off year election, one without a Presidential, gubernatorial, Senate or House of Representatives candidate. Normally this kind of contest heavily favors traditional Republican turnout but yesterday Bergen County Democrats again dominated, with all three freeholder candidates (Germaine Ortiz, Thomas Sullivan and Mary Amoroso) coasting to 10 point wins. Democrats held their seats in State legislative districts 35, 36, 37 and 38 and six new Democratic Mayors unseated GOP incumbents in Bergenfield, Dumont, Rutherford, River Edge, Maywood and Tenafly. It was a big night for Democrats nationwide with the shocking gubernatorial win in Kentucky, and the complete takeover by Dems in Virginia, but the Bergen County dominance dates back six years, which was the last time the GOP even held a single seat on the freeholder board! Congratulations Chairman Paul Juliano and the Bergen County Democratic team for their resounding victory, which was celebrated last night at the Hasbrouck Heights Hilton! Bergen is the state’s most populous county. (more…)

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