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Archive for August, 2020

by Sam Juliano

And now September.  The summer seemed to drag on indeterminably but we have reached the end of August and now are moving closer to the fall season.  Our hometown school system will be opening on September 8th but it will be virtual until further notice.  Teachers will attend to instruct students (who will stay home) on computers.  We are moving closer to the fourth quarter of what is probably the worst year of all out lives.  This past week J.D. Lafrance posted a terrific review of the classic Chinatown.

My Night Gallery countdown continues on Facebook:

Top 27 Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery’ segments (presented in reverse numerical order)
 
Segment Number 21 “The Devil is Not Mocked” (Season 2) 11:15
 
The most benevolent vampire in television history is undoubtedly Barnabus Collins, but the Count of a Balkan Castle during the Second World War, who performs his “patriotism” in a unique evil vs. evil scenario must surely rate a close second, the principal players of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” notwithstanding. The short Season 2 segment “The Devil is Not Mocked” is basically a flashback told by the elderly blood-sucking protagonist to his admiring grandson who in turn is proud that his family played a vital role in defeating the Third Reich. The black-humored spoofy segment, written and directed by Gene Kearney is aimed at enlisting viewers to the best side of vampirism, a surefire alternate to military might. Though the segment received strong reviews and is still considered to be a classic by many, a minority have inexplicably faulted it for not developing characters, though it only ran fifteen minutes. That criticism has always induced me to guffaw.

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Chinatown

By J.D. Lafrance

Chinatown (1974) is a rare example of a collection of artists at the height of their powers coming together to produce a masterpiece born out of conflict and strife. Fresh from his success on The Last Detail (1973), screenwriter Robert Towne wrote a mystery inspired by the California Water Wars that took place in Southern California at the beginning of the 20th century and involved a series of disputes over water with Los Angeles interests securing water rights in the Owens Valley. Studio chief and producer Robert Evans bankrolled the project and Towne wrote the screenplay with his good friend Jack Nicholson in mind. The actor, coming off the critically-acclaimed The Last Detail, asked Roman Polanski to direct. The two men had been looking for a project to work together on and chose this one. The end result is a wonderfully complex and nuanced tale of greed and corruption whose deeper meanings and rich attention to detail reveal themselves upon subsequent viewings.

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by Sam Juliano

September is right around the corner.  The uncertainty with school openings seems headed for an “at the wire” edict.  In the meantime politics continues to dominate the daily new cycle and is captivating all Americans, most of whom are not compromising their feelings.  The Democratic National Convention was a most inspiring affair.  Jim Clark published a masterful essay on Ingmar Bergman’s 1969 The Rite this past week, and J.D. Lafrance chimed in with a fantastic essay of his own on Wong Kar-Wai’s classic Fallen Angels.

As promised I will now post my Rod Serling’s Night Gallery reviews that so far have appeared on Facebook, but obviously I have plenty more to go:

Top 27 Rod Serling’s ‘Night Gallery’ segments (presented in reverse numerical order)

Countdown Segment Number 22 “A Fear of Spiders” (Season 2) 21:48

A Kafkaesque tale of acute arachnophobia featuring excellent performances, “A Fear of Spiders” is a sometimes chilling, black comedy extraordinaire where the main protagonist, a cruel and arrogant narcissist receives a just comeuppance from a hairy arachnid who craves human flesh. Night Gallery’s quintessential snob (though William Sharsted from “Camera Obscura” is a very close second) Justin Walters is a prissy sadist who relishes berating all human contact with heartless bravado, and he seems to reserve the worst repudiation he can summon us for his upstairs neighbor, a pushy librarian named Elizabeth Croft whom he took out for dinner a few times for selfish reasons. Written with an acerbic edge by Rod Serling from a short story “The Spider” by Elizabeth Walker, this theatrically negotiated segment was fabulously directed by John Astin, but is perhaps more famous for who didn’t direct it after a zero hour exit by Steven Spielberg, who at that time was adverse to the grind of network television. Spielberg of course did helm the pilot segment “Eyes” starring Joan Crawford. (more…)

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 © 2020 by James Clark

      The films of Ingmar Bergman present a double dilemma. First of all, their dramas pose a very seldom recognized alert. Moreover, when in fact recognized, the intimacy almost always proves to be unwelcome. Secondly, those players actually game for the dare, find themselves unable to maintain serious coherence. Our film today, namely, The Rite (1969), is somewhat unusual in as much as all four of the characters (of this cameo production) are significantly in-the-know. But they perform poorly amidst others, and also amidst their self. (That we have declared the film, In the Presence of a Clown [1997] to be Bergman’s swan song, does nothing to end more instances of absorbing volatility.)

Whatever blood feuds Bergman might have embroiled himself in, toward the bureaucracy of the theatre and the bureaucracy of the law, his raison d’etre here was to spotlight the care and carelessness of disinterestedness. He had had from the very early outset of his endeavors, in the film, Summer Interlude (1951), a deep concern for those few with an instinct for attaining to a sensibility of kinetic disinterestedness being trampled by hordes of selfish, cowardly brutes. Accompanying that debut was a galaxy of optics and sonics intent upon interrupting theatricals hitherto seeming unassailable. The church of Bergman, thereby, tasted with pleasure the atmosphere for its pristine spirit, while clutching, as if a mathematical truth, melodramas of domestic nefariousness and nothing else but scraps of integrity, because the “something else” would take real guts. Seeing that those early communications might as well be Hollywood, by the end of the sixties there came to pass another ingredient to open a closed door. On the heels of two films, now-homicidal, in their destructiveness (in the form of Hour of the Wolf and Shame [both in 1968])—and just before the mass murder movie of The Passion of Anna (1969) rounding off a trilogy—the helmsman saw fit to up the ante in the form of a strange and yet mundane touch, namely, silently pushing with hands and fingers. This could be called a form of rite, with the proviso that rites take many forms. The display of this action features three millionaire experts in making a splash, along with one bungler killed by the trio. The former wends its sort-of merry way. The bungler alone has lived, despite largely missing the boat. Here’s how it went, in a nine-day production hustle, that no one chose to take seriously. (more…)

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by J.D. Lafrance

Wong Kar-Wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) isn’t as beloved as some of his other films, most notably Chungking Express (1994), as the characters that populate it aren’t as inherently likable. They are more standoff-ish or too cool or just plain odd to invite audience identification like the ones in Chungking. As a result, Fallen Angels is a film that is admired rather than loved, which is a shame as there is a lot to love in it. Made a year after the much-celebrated Chungking, it also consists of two separate stories one of which was originally intended to be in the 1994 film but when Wong found it was getting too long removed it and saved it for Fallen Angels.

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by Sam Juliano

August 17th is my Mom’s Birthday. She passed away in 2002 at the age of 72.  She would have been 88 this month.  Hard to believe that this normally torrid summer month is winding down and many of us are left wondering what September will bring.  The last few days I have spent my hours arguing with Trump supporters politely but with teeth on some comments.  I have come to the conclusion you cannot and will not alter the way someone thinks.  Families are even split in their political preferences.  Frankly, God willing that we make it through this pestilence I can’t wait for the madness to end.  It creates stress and tension and deprives us of so many more fruitful pursuits.  Meanwhile the pandemic remains a fearful challenge and it continues to restrict us in more ways than we would like to ponder.  Wishing everyone continued safety and relative peace of mind. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

I would like to thank Bobby Jopsson, Peter Morose, Celeste Fenster and Frank Aida for their concerned messages after the missed Monday Morning Diary this past week.  As I explained on Thursday in my “All is Well” post I got caught up and then we lost power.  It was a maddening week and what with the continuing pandemic woes one of the worst seven days periods I can remember.  We are still in the dark on school openings as it seems experts are envisioning a surge in cases by October.  We remain in a bad way and aren’t remotely out of the woods, neither here in the Metropolitan area, nor in the rest of the country.  I have been busy on my anthology projects on FB and am commencing the latest one on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. (more…)

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All is well!

I received a few e mail messages inquiring about the missing MMD this week.  My family and I are well, but I was overwhelmed by the FB The Twilight Zone project which ended on Monday with a three-review flourish.  Then we were hit by a major storm and power outages on Tuesday when I planned to post a replacement Tuesday Morning Diary.  I will be back will bells on on Monday and much appreciate the kind words, support and concern!

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