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Archive for February, 2022

by Sam Juliano

The Scandinavian and Iceland poll has concluded and the results are hereby printed on this week’s Monday Morning Diary post.  Up next will be the greatest films of India (Top 20), which I will present as a separate post tomorrow here at Wonders in the Dark.

Prayers for Ukraine, as the world responds to the monstrous Russian invasion by the murderous Vladimir Putin.  Ukranian leader Volodymyr Zelensky will forever and rightly be seen as a hero, one of the most courageous leaders in history.

I am eternally grateful to all who have supported “Paradise Atop the Hudson,” which reached a new selling milestone this morning. Meanwhile, I am ironing out the wrinkles on the Barnes & Noble hardcover publication, which I am sure will be available in one week. Thank you a million times over for everything, including the exceedingly kind words! Kudos to the team: Bill Kamberger, Andrew Castrucci, Rob Bignell, Andrew Chin, Bruce Kimmel.

 

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by Sam Juliano

Continued thank yous to all those who have cast ballots in our still-running Scandinavia and Iceland polling.  Both on Facebook at the site here, attendance has been outstanding!

For locals, the Fairview Library Director, Kristen Nelson, sent out a memo this past week to town officials advising them of a book signing event for Paradise Atop the Hudson which will be held on Wednesday, March 30th at 6:30 or 7:00 P.M. at the Fairview Library on Anderson Avenue. Refreshments will be served and readings will be negotiated. This is a COMBINED Fairview-Cliffside Park event!

Lucille, Danny, Sammy IV and Yours Truly traveled down to the Showroom Cinemas in Asbury Park, N.J. Saturday night to (finally) see the critically-acclaimed three-hour Japanese Best Picture and Director nominee, “Drive My Car.” By far the most philosophically profound in the “chauffeur” film genre, this measured and quietly enveloping masterwork is based in part on a well-regarded collection of Japanese short stories, and incorporates Beckett and especially Chekov in this resonating study of grief, regret and resignation. Superbly acted by the principals (especially Hidetoshi Nishijima) and hypnotically photographed by Hidetoshi Shinomiya, the picture leaves a lasting impression, and provokes profound recall. Surely one of the finest films of 2021, this winner of Best Film from NYFCC, LAFCA and NSFC proved to be well-worth the outdoors negotiation of the frigid 10 degrees real-feel at the popular Jersey shore location.

The dark and markedly existential “The Worst Person in the World” (“Verdes Verste Menneske”), which was nominated for Best International Film (Norway), finally packs an emotional wallop in its last quarter, and stands as the strongest part of the absolutely superlative “Oslo Trilogy” by renowned director Joaquim Trier. The melancholic and engrossing work is structured in a dozen chapters -with a prologue and epilogue – and is powerfully performed, especially by Anders Danielson Lie in a heartbreaking turn as Aksel, and Renate Reinsue as Julie. The film is yet another recently-seen film that I consider one of the very best of 2021. Lucille and I watched it Sunday night at the recently-renovated non-profit Claridge art house cinemas in Montclair, N. J. last night at 7:30 P.M. Still deciding between 4.5 or 5.0. (more…)

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With the distinguished critic and friend Farran Smith Nehme, Saturday afternoon at MoMA for screening of Frank Borzage’s “Bad Girl”

by Sam Juliano

We are wishing our friends a Happy Valentine’s Day and hoping some mighty fine plans for this evening are in place. This past week Jim Clark published a stupendous essay on Fellini’s Amarcord in his continuing series on the maestro.  Our popular Scandinavia and Iceland films polling will continue till late in the month.  Many thanks to those who have cast a ballot or plan to.

Lucille and I met up with our good friend, the fabulous film critic and Criterion essayist and commentator Farran Smith Nehme Saturday afternoon at MoMA after the 1:00 P.M. screening of Frank Borzage’s utterly delightful depression-era romance, Bad Girl (1931) starring Sally Eilers and James Dunn, which won the director an Oscar. The ever-humble Smith Nehme served as the programmer for the pre-code series, titled “Dames, Janes, Dolls, and Canaries.”

We also saw Death on the Nile Saturday night at the Cedar Lane multiplex in Teaneck. My feelings are “mixed,” though I think we could have done far worse for an evening’s entertainment. Mind you, I am a lifelong Agatha Christie fanatic and count the reading of her full canon as one of my proudest achievements. “Death” boasts one of the Dame’s most captivating and irresistible plots, and with some curious additions (Jazz singer, World War I prelude) Branagh’s scenic version is serviceable, though by no means the equal of the one starring Peter Ustinov nor the best one out there easily, the “Poirot” installment featuring the one and only Poirot, David Suchet . Arnie Hammer’s appearance in a lead role in this Branagh interpretation brought forth some expected controversy. Rating: 3.5 of 5.0 (more…)

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Scandinavian and Iceland Polling!
The new polling will surely intrigue many classic film Lovers! As always, Voting Tabulator Bill Kamberger makes all eligibility decisions, and the polling period, starting right now, will run until 5:00 P.M. on Friday, February 25th. Jan Troell’s “The Emigrants” and “The New Land” will count as ONE SUBMISSION, not two separate films. Each voter gets twenty choices, to be presented alphabetically, chronologically or in ranked order. I found it exceedingly difficult to restrict this superlative cinema to only 20 choices, but I know most will have the same problem. It killed me NOT to be able to fit in “Sir Arne’s Treasure” (1922); “Dogville,” “Breaking the Waves,” “Melancholia,” “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence,” “Let the Right One In,” “Miss Julie,” “Patrick 1.5,” “The Match Factory Girl,” “The Hunt,” “Babette’s Feast,” “Gertrude,” and a few recent Icelandic pictures. Heck, as Bergman is my favorite director of all-time, I could have loaded this list with his films alone! Anyway, here are my twenty films, listed alphabetically:
Celebration (Festen) 1998 Denmark, Vinterberg
Cries and Whispers 1972 Sweden, Bergman
Dancer in the Dark 2000 Denmark, Von Trier
Day of Wrath 1943 Denmark, Dreyer
Elvira Madigan 1967 Sweden, Widerberg
The Emigrants/The New Land 1972/73 Sweden, Troell
Fanny & Alexander 1982 Sweden, Bergman
Haxan 1922 Sweden, Christiansen
Hunger 1966 Denmark, Carlsen
My Life as a Dog 1987 Sweden, Hallstrom
Ordet 1955 Denmark, Dreyer
Oslo, 31 August 2001 Norway, Trier
The Pathfinder 1987 Norway, Gaup
Pelle the Conqueror 1988 Denmark, August
Persona 1966 Sweden, Bergman
The Phantom Carriage 1921 Sweden, Sjostrom
The Seventh Seal 1957 Sweden, Bergman
Show Me Love 1998 Sweden, Moodysson
A Swedish Love Story 1970 Sweden, Andersson
Wild Strawberries 1957 Sweden, Bergman

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1. In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-Wai, 2000) – 275
2. Raise the Red Lantern (Zhang Yimou, 1991) – 228
3. Spring in a Small Town (Fei Mu, 1948) – 220
4. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991) – 180
5. Yi Yi: A One and a Two (Edward Yang, 2000) – 158
6. The Goddess (Wu Yonggang, 1934) – 131.5
7. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee, 2000) – 103
8. A Touch of Zen (King Hu, 1971) – 99
9. Chungking Express (Wong Kar-Wai, 1994) – 94
10. Street Angel (Yuan Muzhi, 1937) – 85.5
11. City of Sadness (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1989) – 81
12. Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997) – 79
13. Goodbye, Dragon Inn (Tsai Ming-liang, 2003) – 78.5
14. Devils on the Doorstep (Jiang Wen, 2000) – 77
15. Platform (Jia Zhangke, 2000) – 76
16. 2046 (Wong Kar-Wai, 2004) – 68
17. Boat People (Ann Hui, 1982) – 67
18. Yellow Earth (Chen Kaige, 1984) – 65
19. Ju Dou (Zhang Yimou, 1990) – 60
20. Farewell My Concubine (Chen Kaige, 1993) – 57
21. Hard Boiled (John Woo, 1992) – 57
22. The Blue Kite (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1993) – 56
23. An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo, 2018) – 53.5
24. The Killer (John Woo, 1989) – 49
25. The Horse Thief (Tian Zhuangzhuang, 1986) – 47
26. Infernal Affairs (Andrew Lau & Alan Mak, 2002) – 45
27. Center Stage (Stanley Kwan, 1991) – 43
28. Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1973) – 41
29. Feelings of Mountains and Waters (Te Wei, 1988) – 39.5
30. City of Life and Death (Lu Chuan, 2009) – 39
31. Eat Drink Man Woman (Ang Lee, 1994) – 39
32. Little Toys (Sun Yu, 1933) – 37
33. Ash Is Purest White (Jia Zhangke, 2018) – 36.5
34. Two Stage Sisters (Xie Jin, 1964) – 36
35. Election (Johnnie To, 2005) – 35
36. The Emperor and the Assassin (Chen Kaige, 1998) – 35
37. Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002) – 35
38. Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, 1986) – 35
39. The World (Jia Zhangke, 2006) – 34
40. A Chinese Ghost Story I (Ching Siu-Tung, 1987) – 33
41. Lust, Caution (Ang Lee, 2007) – 32
42. Crows and Sparrows (Zheng Junli, 1949) – 31
43. To Live (Zhang Yimou, 1994) – 30
44. The Peach Girl (Bu Wangcang, 1931) – 28.5
45. The Story of Qiu Ju (Zhang Yimou, 1992) – 28
46. A Time to Live, a Time to Die (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1985) – 28
47. The Wedding Banquet (Ang Lee, 1993) – 28
48. Fallen Angels (Wong Kar-Wai, 1995) – 27
49. Still Life (Jia Zhangke, 2006) – 26.5
50. Red Sorghum (Zhang Yimou, 1988) – 25
51. The Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1998) – 24
52. The Hole (Tsai Ming-liang, 1998) – 24
53. A Touch of Sin (Jia Zhangke, 2013) -24
54. What Time Is It There? (Tsai Ming-liang, 2001) – 24
55. A Chinese Ghost Story III (Ching Siu-Tung, 1991) – 23
56. Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2007) – 23
57. The Legend of Drunken Master (Liu Chia-Liang, 1994) – 23
58. A Simple Life (Ann Hui, 2011) – 23
59. House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, 2004) – 22
60. Postmen in the Mountains (Huo Jianqi, 1999) – 22
61. Song at Midnight (Ma-Xu Weibang, 1935) – 22
62. The Puppetmaster (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 1993) – 21.5
63. Life on a String (Chen Kaige, 1991) – 21
64. This Life of Mine (Shi Hui, 1950) – 21
65. The River (Tsai Ming-liang, 1997) – 20
66. The Road Home (Zhang Yimou, 1999) – 20
67. The Terrorizers (Edward Yang, 1986) – 20
68. Bullet in the Head (John Woo, 1990) – 18
69. Vive L’Amour (Tsai Ming-liang, 1994) – 18
70. The Arch (Tong Shu-Shuen, 1968) – 16
71. A Better Tomorrow (John Woo, 1986) – 16
72. The Big Road (Sun Yu, 1935) – 16
73. Come Drink with Me (King Hu, 1966) – 16
74. Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-Wai, 1990) – 16
75. Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, 2004) – 16
76. Rebels of the Neon God (Tsai Ming-liang, 1992) – 16
77. Stray Dogs (Tsai Ming-liang, 2013) – 16
78. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (Liu Chia-Liang, 1978) – 15
79. Pickpocket (Jia Zhangke, 1997) – 15
80. Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985) – 15
81. Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks (Wang Bing, 2002) – 15
82. Yesterday Once More (Yao Tingting, 2016) – 15
83. Five Fingers of Death (Jeong Chang-Hwa, 1972) – 14
84. The Spring River Flows East (Cai Chusheng & Zheng Junli, 1947) – 14
85. Suk Suk / Twilight’s Kiss (Ray Yeung, 2019) – 14
86. The Assassin (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2015) – 13.5
87. All About Love (Ann Hui, 2010) – 13
88. Long Day’s Journey into Night (Gan Bi, 2018) – 13
89. Not One Less (Zhang Yimou, 1999) – 13
90. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2005) – 13
91. Up the Yangtze (Chang Yung, 2007) – 13
92. One-Armed Swordsman (Chang Cheh, 1967) – 12
93. Election 2 (Johnnie To, 2006) – 11
94. In the Heat of the Sun (Jiang Wen, 1994) – 11
95. Nomad (Patrick Tam, 1982) – 11
96. Days (Tsai Ming-liang, 2020) – 10
97. Drunken Master (Yuen Woo-Ping, 1978) – 10
98. Swordsman II (Ching Siu-Tung & Stanley Tong, 1992) – 10
99. Beijing Bastards (Zhang Yuan, 1993) – 9
100. Beijing Bicycle (Wang Xiaoshuai, 2001) – 9
101. A Chinese Ghost Story II (Ching Siu-Tung, 1990) – 9
102. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2001) – 9
103. Taipei Story (Edward Yang, 1985) – 9
104. Throw Down (Johnnie To, 2004) – 9

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© 2022 James Clark

As we happily visit the confines of filmmaker, Federico Fellini, we find ourselves in a peculiar distress. Gone were days of bitter arguing about film dialogue with the perverse Antonioni. But, rather, the hospitality of a good friend and remarkable difficulty.

It is true that both Guerra and Fellini were born I the Italian district of Romagna, in the same year, 1920. They began a lifelong friendship, whereby each of them found a gusto for the arts—Guerra becoming a poet and film writer; Fellini becoming a cartoonist and filmmaker. Only many years would pass before the chums would work on a film together, that being the film here, Amarcord (1973).

I think the reason of the gulf is not hard to understand. Whereas Guerra would shoot all out the lights in his Antonioni trilogy, and beyond, garnering a reputation for deep, uncanny annoyance to the “normal,” and becoming “questionable” presentation, Fellini (surprisingly close to Antonioni in the area of “alienation”), would, by dint of superior sensibility became a powerhouse of the “new world.” That latter triumph would—”great friend or not”—see Guerra as a dangerous runaway. All the years would carry a dark question which never presents a decisive breakdown. Not only do the artists steadfastly maintain their friendship, but the wives (particularly, Giulietta Masina), sustain many decades understanding. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The Oscar nominations will be read off Tuesday morning, and as always there will be some surprises against the regular predictions we have been hearing the last several weeks.  I’ll have something to say about it on next week’s MMD.  R.I.P. Monica Vitti, the iconic Italian thespian who passed this week at age 90.  Site regular Mark Smith has long considered her one of the titans and the cinema, and I’d be hard-pressed to argue that position.

The “Three Chinas” polling concludes on Tuesday, February 8th at 5:00 P.M., so for those still wishing to cast a ballot, time is winding down.  Many thanks to all who have submitted their Top 15, in whatever manner you chose,  I believe the project has attracted around 36 or 37 ballots to this point.  On Wednesday, the next polling will commence:  Scandinavia and Iceland.   This sure-to-be-popular project will feature such revered masters as Bergman, Dreyer, Troell, Anderson, Von Trier, Vinterberg, Trier, Kaurismaki, August, Hallstrom, Moodysson, Sjostrom, Refn, Christianson, Stiller and others.  Each voter will be allowed twenty (20) choices, which of course will mean utter torture in narrowing things down.

Lucille will be watching the re-make of Nightmare Alley tonight on Hulu, so I will return here in the morning to allocate a star rating.

Nightmare Alley  ****

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