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Archive for December, 2019

by Sam Juliano

The cataract surgery on my right eye is set for this coming Friday (December 13) at a Fair Lawn, New Jersey eye center.  Aside from that frightening date I will be attending that appointment with confidence based on the routine nature of this procedure.  I’m 65 now and this the medium age when cataracts invade our vision.

J.D. Lafrance published a splendid review on the 1989 Canadian film Roadkill by Bruce McDonald this past Tuesday.  Jim Clark’s new essay will be posting soon.

Lucille, Sammy and Jeremy and I saw two films in theaters this past week:

Trey Edward Shults’ docudrama “Krishna” was a stunning achievement, but with “Waves” the young director has expanded his talents more dramatically. Armed with an electrifying performance by Kelvin Harrison Jr. and two other masterful turns by Taylor Russell and Sterling K. Brown, Shults is in full commend of an emotionally searing screenplay about unspeakable tragedy, familial disconnect and the intricacies of the healing process from within and with the support of those who work to break through a barrier of the deepest grief. The hybrid experimental, R & B score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is one of the most stunning and perfect attuned to the film’s mood and themes of any in years and the visceral presentation is sure to move even the hardest of hearts. The film’s structure is sometimes disorienting and it sometimes appears you are looking at connecting short films but in retrospect this brilliant devise connecting the dots in numerous ways is a directorial masterstroke. A 5/5 rating and without any doubt one of the 2 or 3 very best films of the year.

Seen at the Claridge in Montclair, “The Two Popes” directed by the gifted Brazilian Fernando Meirelles, features two extraordinary performances by Anthony Hopkins (as Pope Benedict) and Jonathan Pryce (as Pope Francis) in a drama that focuses on their friendship and meetings before the latter was chose as the new pontiff after the former resigned unexpectedly. Monochrome flashbacks of Jorge Bergolio (Francis’) turbulent years as an Argentinian cardinal amidst political unrest, kidnap and murder are effectively woven into the meeting segments and the philosophical differences between the German conservative and progressive South American make for engrossing conversations, and Meirelles makes excellent use of lush cinematography as well as news footage and re-enactments of the monumental elections and coronations of both men in front wall to wall people in Vatican City. The film captures pomp and circumstance, intimate reflection and historical events that shaped this most unlikely shift in church policies. It seems fitting that the film was directed by a devout Catholic. An easy 4.5 of 5.0 and a sure end-of-year “Best of” placement. (more…)

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by J.D. Lafrance

Growing up in Canada I never fully appreciated Canadian cinema. Oh sure, I liked the films of David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Strange Brew (1983). They were able to break out of the ghetto that is Canadian cinema and actually make an impact in the United States and the rest of the world. It took being in another country to finally appreciate what I took for granted so many years ago. Whenever I got homesick I put on a film like Roadkill (1989), which is fiercely proud of its Canadian culture, and it reminded me of home. Roadkill is the first part of a loosely connected rock ‘n’ roll/road movie trilogy by Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald. The film was something of a breath of fresh air when it debuted as Canadian cinema had, up until then, been traditionally known as notoriously boring or, worse, derivative of its American counterpart. McDonald managed to fuse the low budget aesthetics of the emerging U.S. indie film movement with a distinctively Canadian take on the road movie genre.

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by Sam Juliano

I would not be just a muffin’,
My head all full of stuffin’,
My heart all full of pain           -E.Y. Harburg, Harold Arlen, The Wizard of Oz (1939)

The inveterate bird-scarer known as the scarecrow has been a boon to farmers around the world dating back over 2,500 years to ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece.  In feudal Japan they were front line protection for the rice fields, affording security for both newly-planted seeds and the maturing crop.  Inevitably over the years the scarecrow has been the prime protagonist in horror films, where its frightful visage has induced writers to re-imagine this rural symbol as a purveyor of supernatural terror.  Yes children today and those from past generations have a far more benign perception, one based exclusively on the beloved character played by Ray Bolger in the 1939 American film classic The Wizard of Oz.  Based on the first in a children’s series by L. Frank Baum the scarecrow is a good-hearted and intelligent character who wishes he had a brain in a plot where his quick-thinking is vital to the success of the trip to the city where the titular character rules over. In Baum’s book, the famed film version and practically all personifications the scarecrow is initially perceived as one of the loneliest of guardians.  Like Trent in the original Outer Limits’ most celebrated episode “Demon with a Glass Hand” where the robotic creation of mankind must stand watch over the earth’s population who are stored on a glass hand as electrical impulses, he is seemingly doomed to seclusion.  In the poetic new picture book masterwork The Scarecrow by Beth Ferry this all-weather mannequin constructed with straw and work clothes is virtually programmed with one purpose, unencumbered by dual-tasking and unchallenged by anyone or anything looking to complicate his sole mode of existence. (more…)

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Screen cap from fabulously stylish murder-mystery “Knives Out”

by Sam Juliano

I trust that everyone stateside had a fabulous Thanksgiving Day as we did in a grand gathering in Butler, New Jersey on Thursday.  Now we move fast steam ahead to the “Happy Holidays” time of the year and all the frantic preparation with a keen eye for what Mother Nature may throw our way.

Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I saw four films in theaters over the past two weeks, and aside from the mediocre, though reasonably engaging “Frozen 2” it was a solid batch methinks. Not a single five star movie, but three receive the excellent 4.5 rating, one received the very good 4.0 and one a fine 3.5. “Knives Out” is a stylish murder mystery with mostly terrific performances and red herrings aplenty that is one of the best in its genre in quite a while; “Queen and Slim” is a powerful drama of prejudice, police brutality and betrayal; “Dark Waters” directed by Todd Haynes is for the most part a searing legal drama about the Dupont chemical fiasco that caused the death of numerous people and contaminated the environment, and it features Mark Ruffalo and an impressive cast; “Ford vs. Ferrari” is rather a lightweight affair, but the leads are captivating and film is an undeniably entertaining sports-themed race car movie; “Frozen 2” is a far cry from its beloved predecessor, but still captures some of the general appeal even with a weaker plot.

We visited theaters in northern New Jersey and Manhattan to access this impressive batch:

Knives Out **** 1/2   (Wednesday, Secaucus multiplex)
Queen and Slim **** 1/2  (Friday, Teaneck multiplex)
Dark Waters ****   (Saturday, Cineopolis)
Frozen 2 ****  (Saturday afternoon, Secaucus multiplex)

Jamie Uhler offers up two more superlative entries in his gloriously ongoing 2019 Horror Fest series of capsule reviews: (more…)

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