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Archive for January, 2021

by Sam Juliano

While so many of us are tying hard to re-focus on what has always mattered the most to us in our lives, we continue to be diverted by the political fireworks, the latest of which centers around the coming impeachment and the truly deranged right wing Georgia congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has fueled heinous conspiracy theories, even one denying the Newtown massacre really ever happened.  Meanwhile the vaccine situation has been complicated further by variants from other countries, making full protection, even for those who took or are taking the Pfeizer or Moderna much more uncertain at this time.  As we await a snowstorm set to hit in our parts in the wee hours of Monday (the day of this MMD) our local school system continue to operate virtually with no set date for the physical return of students and their teachers.  Lucille needs to have a second meningioma attended to perhaps as early as March via the non-invasive radio surgery.  Like the other she had done and like most meningiomas it is non-cancerous and the preponderance of second or third occurrences after the first is very high.

As I have stated numerous times, 1971’s The Last Picture Show is my favorite American movie of the last 50 years and my sponsorship of it is unrelenting. One of it’s great stars, Cloris Leachman who played jilted lover Ruth Popper (an Oscar win) passed away today at age 94. She was also well remembered in TZ’s “It’s a Good Life” and in many other roles including of course The Mary Tyler Moore Show.  The following day another acting icon, Cicely Tyson, who was nominated for Best Actress in Sounder also passed away.

J.D. Lafrance published a masterful essay on Robert Siodmak’s The Killers this past Thursday at the site.

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The Killers

By J.D. Lafrance

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “The Killers” was first published in Scribner’s Magazine in 1927 and featured two hitmen sent to kill a man who makes no attempt to run or defend himself. Producer Mark Hellinger bought the screen rights for $36,750 and the screenplay was written by John Huston (uncredited), Anthony Veiller and Richard Brooks. The Killers was released in 1946 and featured Burt Lancaster in his film debut, pairing him up with a young Ava Gardner after five years of minor roles. The end result is a classic film noir featuring a doomed protagonist and an alluring femme fatale intertwined over a large sum of money.

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by Sam Juliano

And so it came to pass.  Inauguration day 2021 has installed some reason and hope in the White House, while the isolated former Chief Executive stews in his Florida estate, still in denial as he faces an impeachment trial for the second time, even though he is out of office.  The nation faces some extraordinarily difficult challenges in the days, weeks and months ahead in negotiating the raging pandemic and how to administer vaccines to a population still largely unattended on the inoculation front.  Our new President the ever-reasonable and confident Joseph R. Biden Jr. has signed a slew of executive orders, practically every one a huge step in the right direction, especially the return to the Paris Accord and the WHO.  The prior President of course put us at odds with the rest of the world during his divisive four year tenure and our government needs to reverse so many dubious or outright terrible decisions. Meanwhile the arrests continue as the FBI zero in on the criminal perpetrators of the unconscionable assault on our Capitol building on January 6th. (more…)

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by J.D. Lafrance

After the smash box office success of A Better Tomorrow (1986) in its native country of Hong Kong and other Asian territories, the film’s producer Tsui Hark convinced its director John Woo to quickly crank out a sequel imaginatively titled A Better Tomorrow II (1987). The two men had a contentious relationship during production and this spilled over during the editing phase where they argued over the length of the film. It got so bad that a mediator had to step in, allowing Hark and Woo to each edit a half of the film. The end result is a flawed yet fascinating mess of a film that divided Woo fans but helped popularize what became known as the Heroic bloodshed movie, a genre of Hong Kong cinema distinctive for its overtly stylized action sequences often involving excessive gunplay and melodramatic themes consisting of brotherhood, honor, duty, and ultimately redemption.

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by Sam Juliano

Happy Birthday to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and speeches seem more relevant today than they were since the civil rights marches of the mid 60s.  Sadly his inspiration has been violated by the extreme right and their Qanon, neo-Nazi minions whose violent riots at the Capitol on January 6th were fueled by the Big Lie, promulgated by Demented Don who as of this writing has less that three full days left in his unconscionably failed four years tenure in the White House.  At around noon on the 20th Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as President and Vice-President, thereby re-instituting hope at a time when we are besieged by extremists and the still out-of-control pandemic.  This past week I benefited from a scheduled error that allowed me to get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a community center in Teaneck, New Jersey, where I will return for doe #2 on Thursday, February 4th.  More importantly for me is my wife Lucille (who must be cleared by an allergist ASAP as she has that qualifying autoimmune issues) and so many of my family and friends who are still waiting to receive their own shots.

This past week our resident film scholar Jim Clark continued his monumental Ingmar Bergman series with a stellar essay on the director’s early-career Waiting Women. (more…)

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 © 2021 by James Clark

      Our film today, Waiting Women (1952), will forever be understood as only a “minor” effort due to being an early film in Ingmar Bergman’s history and therefore supposedly lacking in the full sophistication of those titles having convinced the ‘experts’ to be the best. Here’s the difficulty of that position. There is no evolution of his gifts. They began exploding world history from day one, and have marched across many decades in hopes that his dramas would find those aware that a catastrophic myopia has left planet earth to remain a “minor” phenomenon.

Within such strictures, the artist has shown that even a dying planet can supply light years of fruition. The way of such supply is truly majestic. As we touch upon our early hope today, we soon realize that one of Bergman’s most rich manifolds has spread its dark and persistent invitation to us at this site. Three women, waiting in a fine Swedish summer cottage for the annual arrival of the spouses, they being Marta, Rakel and Karin, have a mind to entertain their friends with vignettes of their past. (Before hearing this remarkably candid series of earthquakes, we have, for the asking, other such women occupying those names, in other films by Bergman. Another Marta, having been a professional symphonic musician, and going on to [feebly] transcend the pitfalls of showy skills, appears in the film, To Joy [1951]. Another Rakel, having been a professional actress on the stage, and going on to declare that the theatre is shit and sees fit to commit suicide, appears in the film, After the Rehearsal [1984]. A Karin, having resisted heavy pressure from her family to become a solo cellist, opts for being a very small-town classical orchestra player, which leaves her a pariah and seen to be responsible for her father’s suicide, appears in, Saraband [2003]. All three films are discreetly shot through with incest.) Waiting Women, deletes the arts in favor of big business. But incest races apace  there, and its malignancy brings corporate advantage and pedantry to a fresh critical perspective. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Wednesday, January 6th will live in infamy, Much as FDR noted the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  Provoked and inspired by a deranged President who for weeks had been spreading lies to brain dead supporters about an election he lost by 7 million votes, thousands of neo-Nazis and right wing extremists stormed our nation’s Capital Rotunda in a shocking assault that resulted in six deaths, destruction and unlawful trespassing that its perpetrators had intended to include kidnapping.  Arrests are now being made by the FBI as more and more identifications are being made in response to the national call out and as I write this post the worst President in American history – a man with blood on his hands – is being impeached for a second time by the House of Representatives. Deeply disturbing videos of the Capitol breech, an officer being crushed between a door, a man proudly displaying his Camp Auschwitz shirt and another waving a Confederate Flag confirmed the radicalization of those loyal to a President who deserves jail time along with members of his own family and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who are just as complicit in the coup attempt.  In the meantime the coronavirus is worse than it has ever been as vaccines under the corrupt inept administration are not being distributed anywhere near the level envisioned.  Dark Days in America. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

2021 has at all last arrived.  Rarely does one wish ahead in fear of making short shrift of their own lives, but as 2020 was by all estimation the year from hell, one can only hope that the calendar can help with dire situations that reality have not.  On the political scene the resident White House psychopath continues his deranged schemes, aided by a political party destined to become synonymous with sedition and treason years down the line (if not before) and more importantly the immediate panacea to the raging pandemic that continues to compromise life as we have known it since we entered the world.  It has seemed for the longest time that we have been living in a kind of alternate reality and that there will never be a true return to things as we knew.  In any case some of us are hoping to get our chance at the vaccine stateside and in other countries, enabling protection and our role at “herd immunity.”

In any case we trust our treasured friends had a memorable holiday week despite the inherent stress and uncertainty and welcome all to our 13th year of Wonders in the Dark.  Who would have thought it possible this modest, mainly film venture would have persisted as long as it has.  But here we are.  Many thanks to my co-editor James Clark and to writer J. D. Lafrance (both Toronto-area Canadians) for holding the fort on the film end for the past year.  Jim’s monumental Ingmar Bergman series has been a Godsend of scholarship and J.D.’s reviews of American cinema of the past few decades have enlivened these halls immeasurably.  His terrific Popeye review this past week garnered much attention for one.

R.I.P.  Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) on Gilligan’s Island and Gary Marsden of Gary and the Pacemakers.

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