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Archive for June, 2021

Stripes

By J.D. Lafrance

Watching Stripes (1981) again after all these years makes me nostalgic for the early comedies of the first generation of Saturday Night Live cast members: Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980), Fletch (1984), and so on. They were goofy and silly but they also had an engaging, anarchistic attitude that is so much fun to watch. This is definitely the case with Stripes, a film that pits a “lost and restless generation,” as the film’s main protagonist (Bill Murray) puts it at one point, against rigid authority that is only interested in producing, lean, mean, killing machines, to paraphrase another character. Much of the film’s humor comes from the clash of these two ideologies.

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by Sam Juliano

A short while before Allan Fish’s untimely passing we discussed his book.  I suggested to him that I publish a batch of his reviews not yet ported over to the site.  He told me that I had his files and could proceed if his book was held up from publication for a lengthy period.  As his passing is now approaching five years, and his book remains sadly in limbo I feel it is time to introduce some of his reviews, which I will select at random with an eye to diversity.  I can never hope to publish even a fraction of what remains, but I’ll treat our readers and fans of his work to reviews not yet seen.  I think that is the least we can do to keep his legacy alive.

This past week Jim Clark published a brilliant essay on Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev.

Summer school in my district begins on Thursday, and I will again be teaching a class.  At age 66 I am still plugging way.  Ha!

Lucille and I saw a film in a Manhattan theater on Sunday night.  This marks the first time in the city since March of 2020. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

Christmas in July (USA 1940 67m)  Note:  this is the first of a number of Allan Fish reviews that have not previously been published at Wonders in the Dark.  I plan to add two per week.

Grand to the last gulp

p Paul Jones d/w Preston Sturges ph Victor Milner ed Ellsworth Hoagland m Sigmund Krumgold art Hans Dreier, Earl Hedrick

Dick Powell (Jimmy MacDonald), Ellen Drew (Betty Casey), Ernest Truex (Mr Baxter), Raymond Walburn (Dr Maxford), William Demarest (Bildocker), Alexander Carr (Shindel), Franklin Pangborn (Don Hartmann), Al Bridge (Mr Hillbeiner), Jimmy Conlin (Arbuster), Torben Meyer (Schmidt), Rod Cameron (Dick), Adrian Morris (Tom), Julius Tannen (Zimmerman), Georgia Caine (Mrs MacDonald), Lucille Ward (Mrs Casey), Robert Warwick (juror),

When the writer of Mitchell Leisen’s Easy Living and Remember the Night was offered a chance to direct one of his own scripts it was a turning point in Hollywood history. Preston Sturges may have beaten Orson Welles to the writer-director’s chair, but the likes of Rowland Brown had been there before him. But who remembers Brown now? Both Sturges’ first two efforts have the feeling of sketches compared to his later masterpieces, like a master chef experimenting with a new dish. The Great McGinty is now more of interest as a precursor to The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, while Christmas in July seems an off the cuff frivolous piece. One could imagine Sturges sitting in the Paramount studio canteen, ordering a coffee, seeing a typical slogan and then proceeding to sketch out its outline on the back of a cigarette packet.

So enter Jimmy MacDonald and Betty Casey, lovebirds on a New York rooftop, arguing over their intentions to get an apartment, and even over whether a one room place is an apartment at all. Jimmy’s tetchy because he’s awaiting an announcement on the radio, an announcement from Maxford House coffee to see who wins the $25,000 first prize for writing their new slogan. Millions of others across the country are listening impatiently, but in Jimmy’s case it’s an obsession. He can’t stop entering contests, and his latest effort ‘If you can’t sleep at night, it ain’t the coffee, it’s the bunk!’ is hardly one to make Don Draper adjust his tie. His enthusiasm is kept on ice because the grand announcement is delayed; the twelve jurors are locked, eleven to one. And while Jimmy waits with the 2,947,582 other hopefuls, his anxiety leaves him open to pranks at his place of work. His colleagues send a telegram telling him he’s won the first prize. He proceeds to go out to the biggest department store and splash the works on gifts for his mother, neighbors and an engagement ring for Betty. (more…)

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 © 2021 James Clark

     The film, Andrei Rublev (1966), does so much more than shatter a routine. A veritable chronical of ancient Russia, we come to see how bad political power gets, not that contemporary power lacks massive dilemma. A wall of savagery, having to be reckoned with.

But our film has grasped upon a horror even more demanding than culture. It is that concern which Tarkovsky wants us to embrace in this masterpiece, which opens with two fearless men dying in vastly different circumstances.

What they have in common, is a thirst to plumb the intensities of their courage, a courage finding no resemblance among their companionship. The first endeavor consists of two massive stitch works from large beasts, linked to be introduced with hot air and thereby buoyancy. The most crucial element would be a pilot both skillful and intrepid. His supervision of the take-off affords understanding his vision and his daring. (The apparatus would be a mass of ropes, amidst which to possibly catch the heavens.) “Arkhips,” give me the strap!  Hold it!” Much confusion becomes the prelude of a short but intense understanding. He had been cheered by the otherwise mundane. “Come and help! Pull the rope! Hold on a second. Come on, quick! Come on fast! Lift it!” He rushes back into the church (being a take-off point with the town). “Lord, let it go right!” A horse goes passed the open doorway of the church. Another great heart. Untie it now!” Several men holding ropes for the unusual balloon. “The rope is tangled!” the fretful flyer declares. “Hold it!”/ “We won’t have enough time!”/ “I’m ready!” the risk-taker calls./ “Archipushkant! You try to hold them! Just a second… I’m here! Cut the rope, man! I’ll show you. Cut the rope!” (Cut to the four faces on the church wall.) “My God!” (Cries of shock and joy!) “I’m flying! I’m flying!” (Excitement on the ground. Pan over many boats. Pan over many militants.) “Hey! Chase me! Chase me!” (The speed of covering the areas. The tiny failing to look down on others. Sheep and goats… he laughing…) “My God! What is it?” (Shooting downward to death.) (more…)

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Screen cap from my favorite film of Tribeca this year, “The Last Film Show”

by Sam Juliano

Father’s Day was ushered in with gorgeous weather in and around New York City.  Mask wearing has greatly diminished as the USA, Canada and most of the world is moving forward with confidence.  We have finally turned the corner.

Lucille and I watched several more Tribeca films this week as the festival draws to a close on Sunday (June 20, the day of this writing).  Next year everything should be back to normal, and God willing Lucille and I will be able to appear in person as we did for eight year prior to COVID 19.  This evening we will finally watch the acclaimed musical IN THE HEIGHTS.

Thank you many times over to Valerie Clark for her cherished glowing response to “Paradise Atop the Hudson,” which is crawling along now with a commissioned artist and editor at work.  Next up, a graphic designer for the titles, spine and back cover work.  This project is still months away from finality, though if I opt to wait for a traditional publisher, it will be even longer.

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by Sam Juliano

Lucille and I received our virtual pass to this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.  We managed to watch seven features in the first few days, with many more lined up for the coming week.  It is safe to say next year with be in person attendance again, as this current year came very close.  My ratings for the seven films are as follows:

Kubrick by Kubrick (documentary) 4.0
The First Step (documentary) 4.0
See For Me (narrative) 3.0
7 Days (narrative) 3.0
Mark, Mary & Some Other People (narrative) 3.0
The Kids (documentary)  3.0
All the Streets Are Silent (documentary)  4.0

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by Sam Juliano

The Fifth Annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival was a huge success, in fact the biggest triumph of any we’ve hosted.  One of the reasons was the re-emergence of veteran Australian film writer Tony D’Ambra who did all that was humanly possible to inspire discussion, embolden analysis and resurrect the spirit of the old days, when Wonders in the Dark was the place to be for cinephiles.  We still have plenty going for us here – even if nothing like the glory days – because enthusiasm does surface several times during the year.  Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance have been brilliant constants and Jamie Uhler has always come up big for the horror festival and for the just-completed AFOFF.  Thank you Tony!  Your generosity and inimitable scholarship was just what we needed!  Somehow I feel Allan is up there saying “Well done, Tony!”  The sublime Ozu post is of course one of the greatest ever published at the site, and I had the great privilege of seeing it during incubation.  What many probably don’t even know or remember is that Tony was crucially instrumental in getting the site launched.  And his philosophy on not changing what has worked for over a decade has been heeded.  Tony is the most modest of men and will demure from taking any serious credit, but I know what happened back in the day, and his scene-specific involvement allowed us to survive.  Both Tony and I have Italian blood, meaning we both can sometimes exhibit tempers.  But I had no right to show this side of me, ever, considering this man has given so much of his time, efforts and expertise in behalf of this site.  There is nobody online I have ever known as good-hearted as this man, and few as resilient.  His return is truly a Godsend and I want to thank him from the bottom of my heart for what he has done for the lion’s share of our nearly fourteen years as a blog-site.  I was thrilled to see that superlative action in the comment section under his post too!  So well deserved!

Thank you Jamie Uhler.  Thank you Jim Clark.  Thank you Roderick Heath.  Thank you Sachin Gandhi.  Thank you Jon Warner.  Thank you J.D. Lafrance.  Thank you Joel Bocko.  All of you contributed astounding posts.  To all those placing comments like Duane Porter, Rick Chinigo, James H., Celeste Fenster, Todd Sherman, as well as the writers, thank you.  What a great project this was!  One to next year God willing! (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Note:  This was originally scheduled as the final post in this year’s festival.  However, We may yet be getting one more from Adam Ferenz.  Stay tuned!  Scheduling rules do not apply this year!

Dearest Allan:

     This business of wearing masks and social distancing would have had you regaling us with your satirical prowess, though watching from up there I’m sure you have had your fellow angels in stratospheric stitches.  But let’s face it.  You watched all your world cinema masterpieces and wrote your incomparable capsule reviews indoors anyway so there would be little opportunity for you to ever obscure your face or worry about standing in a line.  Feeding your beloved ducks at the pond around the corner from your house wasn’t subject to any protective compromise either.  In any case, our own close friendship would have gotten even closer as during this covid infringement on our liberties you would have had me at your beck and call.  My e mail would be inundated with orders to watch this and that, and my life would basically have been spoken for.  All the frustration you suffered for the better part of a decade in trying to reform the most renowned of philistines would have finally paid dividends. 

      I saw several outstanding films this past year via streaming.  It is purely a guess, but I am thinking the film I wrote here to pay homage to you is one you would have showered with a fair degree of praise.  As always I want to express how much we love and miss you.  Time has not been kind in dimming the grief on your untimely departure.  Still, all of us who benefited from your ornery passion and irresistible persona remain guided by you in spiritial and metaphysical terms as we will for the remainder of our own lives.

 Love,  Sam

     The acute realization of hearing loss is wrought with shocking consternation as one sits in a booth where perfunctory queries are made to a patient reduced to guesswork.  Hearing loss is largely an inevitable consequence of age and genetics but it could also be brought on by bad living choices or a profession that increases the odds of long-term or as in the case of Sound of Metal an all-too-speedy sensory breakdown negotiated by aural bombast.  In the surprisingly unsentimental film, directed by Darius Marder and written by Marder (and his brother Abraham) a punk-metal drummer recovering from drug addiction lives in a time and age where there are some promising options.  Initially “Ruben” defies the advice of an ear doctor who sensibly warns against further exposure to loud noises by staying the course on the performing circuit.  His girlfriend and band-mate “Lou” who travels with him in a recreational trailer is fearful his newfound disability may reverse his sobriety so she helps to arrange a move to a remote rural shelter for recovering addicts who have also lost their hearing.  The commune is run by recovering alcoholic “Joe” whose own ability to negotiate sound-waves was destroyed during the Vietnam War.  At first Ruben refuses to come to terms with their edict that Lou cannot live there with him and that ultimately all he is seeking are cochlear implants which are not covered by insurance but are reachable after he later sells his possessions including the trailer.  Lou persists in convincing Ruben to return to the shelter while she puts their relationship on hold by moving to her father’s residence in Europe.
     Ruben readily becomes acclimated to his new group home and learns sign language.  Joe encourages him to write and to be comfortable with silence, and Ruben administers drumming lessons to the young members.  After Joe reveals that Ruben’s tenure at the home was sponsored by a local church, he offers the brooding tenant a degree of permanence by taking on a job, but restless to his core Ruben is more interested in what Lou is doing and learns online she is experimenting with her own music.  While awaiting the activation of his implants, made possible by the aforementioned pawning of his holdings, Ruben asks Joe for a loan so he can re-but his vehicle, but is denied by Joe who then asks that Ruben leave the home on the philosophy that deafness is not and should not be considered a handicap.  The activation of the implants brings mixed results, though in view of the drummer’s professional pedigree even less, since severe distortion connected with the end result of the procedure can never be satisfying.  He flies to Belgium to move in with Lou and it greeted by the father who tells him he has had an about face in his feelings about his daughter’s boyfriend since the bottom line is that he made Lou happy.  Further realizations that hearing distortion will never allow him a real measure of sensory appreciation coax Ruben into leaving Lou, and some visualized meditative uncertainty.

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Yasujirô Ozu's resting place

The gravestone at Yasujirô Ozu's resting place
is of large black granite with the only inscription
the Japanese character for void

by Tony D’Ambra

“A little girl is returning from the beach, at dusk, with her mother. She is crying for no reason at all, because she would have liked to continue playing. She moves off into the distance. She has already turned the corner of the street, and do not our lives dissolve into the evening as quickly as this grief of childhood?”
– Patrick Modiano, Missing Person (2004 Prix Goncourt)

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by James Clark

 

      

For her sagas of crime, the films of Kelly Reichardt dedicate a remarkable wealth of ardor. Such tutelage becomes not only a gift but a confusion, a fertile confusion.

Seemingly of no significance to the zealots, she was the daughter of both parents working as police officers. Could there be a lacuna in that market which makes all the difference? There seems to be in play that the rigors of contemporary life are so beyond coherent management that appalling outrage can coincide with gentle ways and seem a fine validity. Seem. But not, in fact, for a moment. And Reichardt, so West Coast and so donnish, knows very well that that turkey won’t fly, as such. (In another of her films, Certain Women [2016], a construction business owner allows one of her workers to be injured for life, due to careless management. She suckers the victim to throw away, in a pittance, his worker’s compensation rights and, after long and reckless pleading his case, ends up in jail. The owner has a case of insomnia.) As we enter, once again, that precinct of presumptuousness, now namely, First Cow (2020), our work cut out for us becomes the whereabouts of courage. Like the frequent bathos and very rare pathos in Certain Women, we are on the hook to measure what Ingmar Bergman would think of the coterie of the new film. And where our guide today could find her footing.

This astounding film poses many possibilities of entry. I’ve settled upon the treasure of foliage here, for its foundational (and nostalgic) powers, in the form of Oregon Territory in 1820. Our protagonist, namely, Cookie, first appearing in deep forest, unearthing mushrooms in the capacity of providing food for a crew of fur hunters, has been provided by a world of beautiful uplift and a world of deadly violence. At this point, positivity is in ascendence. So concentrated is the growth, that Cookie becomes far from a mundane toiler, and instead part of nature itself. In the murky atmosphere, close-up snippets of his body meld with the forest itself. (more…)

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