Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘author Sam Juliano’ Category

artificial-intelligence-1

by Sam Juliano

The idea behind A.I. was originally conceived by Stanley Kubrick, who subsequently entrusted the proposed project to Steven Spielberg.  When Kubrick died suddenly in 1999, his widow successfully persuaded Spielberg to assume complete artistic control of the film, including the direction.  Set in a future time when progress in robotics poses a conceivable menace to the human species, David (Haley Joel Osment), a robotic boy, is the artificial life form who is capable of experiencing love.  As a prototype, he is given to a couple whose real son is mired in what appears to be an irreversible coma.  After a discordant initiation David and his mother bond, at which point the “real” son miraculously awakens from the coma, rejoins to the family, and tricks David into engaging in dangerous things.  The father concludes that they must return the robotic boy to the manufacturer for destruction, but the mother arranges for his escape via abandonment.  For the duration of the film David seeks to be reunited with his mother, and for a time is joined by “Gigolo Joe,” a robot designed to function as a male prostitute.  David becomes frozen I an the ocean, and millennia later–long after the extinction of the human species–robots of the future rescue him and allow him to reunite with his mother for one day that will last in his mind for eternity.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence, fueled by some profound philosophical themes and issues of motherhood, is arguably one of Spielberg’s masterworks, and for this writer it ranks with Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun and E. T. on the short list of the director’s greatest achievements in cinema.  Like the other three, it is extraordinarily moving, and it paints yet again a piercingly provocative view of childhood and of the human condition, tinged with an overwhelming sense of sadness.  The film is based on a short story by Brian Aldiss entitled “Supertoys Last All Summer Long,” published in 1969, and it draws considerable influence from Disney’s Pinocchio.   (more…)

Read Full Post »

them2

by Sam Juliano

Throughout history, compassionate minds have pondered the dark and disturbing question: what is society to do with those members who are a threat to society, those malcontents and misfits whose behavior undermines and destroys the foundations of civilization? Different ages have found different answers. Misfits have been burned, branded and banished. Today, on this planet Earth, the criminal is incarcerated in humane institutions…..or he is executed. Other planets use other methods. This is the story of how the perfectionist rulers of the planet Zanti attempted to solve the problem of the Zanti misfits.        The Outer Limits, “The Zanti Misfits”

The 1963-4 science fiction television series The Outer Limits ran for a scant season and a half, producing forty-nine episodes until ABC cancelled it after was pitted against the Jackie Gleason Show.  The show’s moody textured look, eerieness and indebtedness to German Expressionism set it apart from its era’s other major anthology work, The Twilight Zone, which for all its narrative brilliance was shot conventionally.   Of course The Outer Limits was a one-hour program as opposed to the other which ran a half hour for all of its five seasons save for the fourth.  While such science fiction luminaries like Gene Roddenbery have admitted that the influences The Outer Limits exerted on Star Trek is incalcuable it can’t be argued that retrospectively The Outer Limits owes some of its own ideas to 1950’s sci-fi cinema.  Indeed the most celebrated episode in the run of the show is “The Zanti Misfits” which features ant-like, rat-sized aliens who exhibit human faces.  Representatives of this alien world by interplanetary communication ask that Earth provide a penal colony for its criminals.  Set in a California desert the show winds down with the complete obliteration of the creatures and expected reprisals, but Earth officials are quickly thanked for doing something that their own non-violent race cannot.  In the closing narration an alien spokesperson refers to Earthings as “practiced executioners.”

This theme of the total annihilation of a hostile force, also set in an arid southwestern terrain, and showcasing menacing ant-like invaders is the subject of Them!, a 1954 landmark film that is uniformly regarded as the first of the run of the “Big Bug” features that spooled out over the decade.  While “The Zanti Misfits” is patterned after Them!, the 1954 work was an encore of sorts to the The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, in that both share a single cautionary theme against the use of nuclear weapons.  We’ve seen a more didactic use of the theme employed in films like 1959’s On the Beach, which focused on the after effects of a nuclear war, but the science fiction umbrella allows for a far less preachy approaach and one predicated on entertainment in good vs. evil mode.  Warner Brothers studio head Jack Warner, aiming to capitalize on the spectacular finantial success of Beast –made for $200,00, and grossing 5 million- doubled the budget, lengthened the running time and even gave serious consideration to color, 3-D and widescreen, though these embellishments never materialized due to their incapatability with the F/X process. Warner attempted to make Them! like Beast in scene-by-scene manner , employing the documentary style rather than embracing the monster effects of a horror film, and he even encored Cecil Kellaway’s ironic scientist from the earlier film with the affable thespian Edmund Gwenn, who is as patient here as he was when he portrayed jolly old St. Nick, but in the end with markedly less compassion. (more…)

Read Full Post »

it! 1

by Sam Juliano

Another word for Mars is death.            

Edward Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space remains a prime example of a modestly budgeted 50’s science fiction film that was gloriously resurrected on television after a theatrical run fueled by the drive-ins.  In the New York City market it remained a staple on WPIX’s Chiller Theater, where it was rightly perceived as a horror/sci-fi hybrid, and aimed squarely at the baby bommer generation.  The original title, The Vampire from Beyond Space is a better appraisal of the movie’s central conflict, which is variation of sorts on another 1958 genre classic The Blob, but the film is now mainly celebrated as the inspiration for Alien,  a mighty acknowledgement, especially for a standard programmer in an era inundated with this brand.  Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires (inexplicably missing from this countdown) even with the decisive lean towards horror, is another film with striking similarities to It!)  The future as depicted in the film is scarely fifteen years away -1973- which is only four years after man first stepped foot on the moon.  But the Jerome Bixby (Twilight Zone’s “It’s A Good Life”; Star Trek’s “Mirror, Mirror”) penned script relied on what appeared to be rapidly advancing technology, bolstered in part by the success of Sputnik the previous year, and the Cold War space competition that could very well see the U.S. negotiated not one but two missions back-to-back amidst the tensions associated with trying to exceed the other.

The rubber-clad terror that has invariably reduced the Martian physiology to that of the title protagonist showcased in Creature from the Black Lagoon is a reptilian monster with a singular aim of killing all who come in its path.  There is nothing remotely sophisticated in both the plot and the character motivations exhibited in It! The Terror from Beyond Space, neither does the story arc veer into unexpected directions.  Yet, there can be no question that once the suspense begins to build, it has the macabre allure of something like Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, where the question isn’t “if” but “how” and “when.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

20160516_112238

Note:  Nearly three months after this review first appeared at WitD I ran into CAS financial officer Ralph Jones at the home of a very close mutual friend at a Labor Day weekend barbeque.  I asked Jones, a headstrong pedant why he never acknowledged the review, one of many done in behalf of the group where he serves mainly in a marked unartistic capacity -his choral singer wife is the reason he is involved- why he never acknowledged its publication.  He responded with an annoyed quip that I “mispelled” the director’s name.  Going back to the review I found that I spelled Martin Sedek as Martin Sedak.  I erroneously substituted the “e” in the director’s name for the incorrect “a”.  One letter spelled wrong and Jones opted not to acknowledge the review which was done as a favor, and which took me time from a  busy day to complete.  This is not the first time Jones has called me on the carpet for a review I wrote in his behalf.  A few years ago he made a major stink because I wrote “Arts Society” instead of “Art Society” though it was the very first review I had written on the group.  Truth be said Jones is easily threatened when someone comes along who has a far more vast and studied grasp of the classical canon, in my case many years of attending concerts by the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, City Opera and New Jersey Symphony Orchestra via partial season subscription.  I am also a regular at many local venues including those staged by the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra and the Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company.  Jones’ chief involvement with his wife’s choral group is a technical one, but he still struts all he can.  I have never myself been very impressed with his personal contribution, though it is clearly a no-brainer.  Here is the hitch:  Jones never tried to contact me to change the single letter typo in the 1,000 plus word review.  He knows well all he could have done was e mail me and I would have changed the single vowel immediately as the site administrator.  But Jones had no desire to do that.  He much preferred to “play the role” for his director with nose way up in the air.  He needed to impress Sedek against the affrontery of “disrespect” no doubt to prove what a  loyal guy he is.  No matter to Jones that the review praises Sedek to the high heavens, he used this opportunity to play internet police, most reprehensibly at my expense.  Too bad Jones himself hasn’t a speck of talent to conduct himself in that manner.  Instead of concerning himself with the quality of the review, the discussion of the music and glowing appreciation of the CAS he obsesses over a single letter.   As long as Ralph Jones is involved, this was the final concert by this group my wife and I will ever attend.  We’ve traveled all over to attend about eight (8), mainly out of respect for our very dear mutual lifelong friend, but I have reached the end of the line with Jonze, oh I mean Jones.

by Sam Juliano

The May 14th concert by the Choral Art Society of New Jersey featured work by some of classical music’s most iconic figures, but it was the reunion of a student playing one of his one-time mentor’s most celebrated compositions that brought a special emotional heft to the proceedings.  Performed at the acoustic-friendly Presbyterian Church in Westfield -the group’s home base for decades, the night brought CAS Music Director Martin Sedak and his previous instructor – the composer Matthew Harris – together in a glorious presentation of the latter’s Oceanic Eyes, a four part cantata commissioned in 2006 based on texts by celebrated Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and distinguished by the employment of classical guitar that allowed the work’s distinct Spanish romanticism to shine through.  The composition’s lilting metaphors and colorful imagery seems inspired by the British poet Alfred Noyes who wove undying nocturnal passions into the narrative of his arresting “The Highwayman.”  Yet it was the highly emotive, stirring and soulful reading by the committed singers of the CAS who injected Harris’ work with a sense of immediacy, aided by the prism of water, which flows through universal appreciation.Sedak’s decision to open the show with a rarely performed song by the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams proved to be a masterstroke of mood and staging.  To be sure “The Lover’s Ghost” (from Five English Folk Songs)  is one of the most sublime and haunting choral pieces from anyone, replete as the piece is with color, form, harmony and expression but especially prominent for its contrapuntal construction.  Sedak directed the singers to create two lines in the space between the central orchestra and the sides, making all the more of a powerful impression.  Though the second work is another infrequently negotiated composition, the fact that it was written by Beethoven elevates it immeasurably for classical music fans who can never get enough of one of the form’s supreme immortals.  A Calm Sea & A Prosperous Voyage is noted for the composer’s setting the text by Johann von Goethe and as an earlier example of his evocative nature writing that is strikingly evident in his later symphonic masterworks, so expertly visited by the CAS. (more…)

Read Full Post »

spock

by Sam Juliano

One of the most beloved characters ever created for a television series is one that is now become as a cultural icon, if not a worldwide phenomenon.  The Vulcan Spock was brought on to serve as science officer on the starship Enterprise for the pilot of a new futuristic series in 1966 by the show’s architect and Executive Producer, Gene Roddenberry, who insisted above network objection that his alien character be maintained beyond the debut appearance.  Spock was the only character on the show, titled Star Trek that was specifically written for an actor.  That fairly young but well-traveled thespian, Leonard Nimoy brought physical confirmation to what Roddenberry had envisioned, and with some crucial tinkering like the employment of pointed ears, Spock’s popularity even eclipsed that of the show’s central protagonist, Captain James T. Kirk, played by William Shatner.  The fascination with Spock was and continues to be his logical demeanor and lack of emotions.  Playing yang to Shatner’s ying Nimoy helped to forge one of television’s most indelible pairings, one that defined casting chemistry, and continued to captivate viewers from all walks of life in virtually all age groupings in the decades that followed the show’s three year run from 1966 to 1999. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Midsummer-masthead

midsmmer

by Sam Juliano

The unconscionably horrific events that unfolded in idyllic Newtown, Connecticut on the morning of December 14, 2012 left a world in cathartic disbelief.  Three and a half years later a mere reference rekindles the darkest memories that can be envisioned.  Inevitably some brave -some might frame them in a much more unflattering light- documentary filmmakers sought to painfully recall the specifics and wider implications of a crime so unthinkable that many choose not to deal with it in conversation, much less in any comprehensive medium that will bring numbing grief left in a holding pattern a renewed potency.  The human stories surrounding the families who lost children at Sandy Hook Elementary School on that fateful day dominated the internet for many months, and the killer whose name is often unspoken was leading search engine inquiries, and typically unrestrained local tabloids.  Indeed to this date in time there remain unsettled lawsuits on behalf of the victims’ families -20 first graders and six adults including the school’s principal were gunned down after the killer shot his way through glass panels at the building’s entry point, from which point he randomly stalked and shot at classes scurrying for cover.  The deranged 20 year-old who lived on the other side of town on Yogananda Drive, had killed his mother in her sleep with one of the cadre of weapons kept in the house and later turned the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle on himself as the first responders entered the school.  There were heroes, teachers who sacrificed their own lives for their students, and a few others -students fleeing after the killer’s weapon apparently jammed and one first grader who played dead- who were on the right side of luck, and there are forever shattered families who can never move beyond the utter senselessness of the tragedy.   The horror particularly -and understandably- brought the calls for gun control to deafening levels, with the New York Daily News leading a continuing crusade against anyone sympathetic to weapons providers or legislators sympathetic to their cause.  Just a few weeks ago Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was strongly criticized for his failure to hold gun store owners responsible, in what seemed to be a very dubious position for the Vermont Senator to make at this time. (more…)

Read Full Post »

magnus-film-1050x600

by Sam Juliano

For a very long time chess was a niche interest in the west, a competitive sub genre in the sports world, distinguished of course by its unparalleled level of intellectual acumen.  The first world champion was the Austrian-turned-American William Steinitz, who even now has openings named after him.  It is generally speculated that the game originated in India, though most of the champions of the last sixty or so years have hailed from Russia.  The west, and the United States in particular though, did not embrace the game with the kind of euphoria afforded other sports until 1972 when the famously eccentric Brooklynite Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky in a then Cold war confrontation that is now regarded as the “match of the century,” and the series of games that is most often studied by aspiring masters and aficionados of the game worldwide.  Each game was studied during live television broadcasts in the states by a man who later became known as the “Julian Child” of chess – Shelby Lyman.  Because of Fischer, chess became all the rage in the US, with clubs taking root in high schools and colleges, and chess volumes flying off the shelves of bookstores, many collection of prior tournament games and studies of openings.  As a a lifetime chess player, I fondly remember my term as Vice President of my University club back in the mid 70’s, and have maintained my interest.  Yet I can only marvel at the level of brilliance reached by this master intellect and the complexities that can only boggle the mind.  Some degree of interest waned after Fischer refused to defend his title federation rules, and went into seclusion, later taking up residence in Reykjavik, Iceland, the site of his match with Spassky. (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »