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Archive for the ‘Sam on Movies’ Category

Daylight 1

by Sam Juliano

Though much of his picture book output was produced in collaboration with some exceedingly high profile award winning authors, Wendell Minor sometimes traversed his outdoor habitats solo.  The inspiration for his latest solitary foray has produced an uncommonly beautiful book, one that focuses on the animals that live around us while we engage during the day and also while we sleep.  There is nothing obscure or geographically specialized in Minor’s new work, rather he seeks to sponsor an open house tour – a zoo without physical parameters that is dictated only by what terrain the readers reside in.  Excluding those living in the urban centers or the desert, most would readily identify Wendall’s benign array of wildlife wonderment, either because they encountered some of the animals or were long familiar with the sounds they make.  The renowned author-illustrator enticingly broaches how a day turns into night (and vice-versa) and how motherhood is at the center of activity for all mammals.

     At the very start Minor sets up the different cast of players that inhabit the diurnal and nocturnal landscapes of chosen locations.  His opening spread depicts a wooded clearing framed by a fence, tree trucks and a flat stone pathway.  There is pictorial continuity in the design, yet the left panel, subtly lit, shows the creatures we might see in the daylight, while the right shows the ones only seen or heard when the stars are twinkling.  Minor asks his young readers to identify those who inhabit his ravishing tapestries, by posing an innocuous inquiry.  No wildlife artist captures the soaring majesty of a hawk in flight like Minor, and the bird is promptly presented  in detailed close-up that is as arresting as it is radiant: (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

One of the crowning glories of 50’s science-fiction, Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, based on a short story by Jack Finney, still enthralls both genre buffs and those riveted by the notion of the fantastic seeming perfectly credible.  The story of seed pods replicating living people and changing them into emotion-less conformists who communally work towards a world order without love or compassion, offers no obstacles to believability, and leads to the most unthinkable of nightmares.  Allied Artists were themselves so caught up in the hopelessness of this “psychological siege” that they forced Siegel to add a prologue which intimated that mankind would be saved.

The film was re-made in 1977, with Phillip Kaufman at the helm, but it lacked the original’s brilliant pacing, which has the excitement building all the way to the denouement.  Siegel employs a number of devices that keep the film in full-throttle, like characters always in motion, racing their cars, and spying each other through windows, blind and glass doors and reaching a level of unbearable tension in the scenes in the cave where the two lead characters hide beneath the wooden boards, after being chased up the steps of a long and very steep hill.  Siegel employs subtlety to great effect too, like the scene when the fleeing couple attempt to feign transformation to the soulless beings that are taking over the small town, only to be betrayed by one’s scream as a dog is about to be struck by a car.  The race against time and in the instance of this film, the struggle to stay awake, is woven into the fabric of it’s sense of urgency.  No less an authority than Jean-Luc Godard quotes the film in his futuristic Alphaville, and Francois Truffaut makes reference to it in Fahrenheit 451.  It is even suggested by UCLA Film Professor Maurice Yacowar (whose running commentary on the Criterion laserdisc in the early 90’s was one of the famous and controversial ever recorded) that maybe even the great playwright Eugene Ionesco was thinking of the film’s fearful “pods” when he wrote his absurdist masterpiece Rhinoceros, where humankind turns into thick-skinned, insensitive, conformist rhinos–pods on the hoof. (more…)

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A.I. 2

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. (more…)

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blizzard cover

by Sam Juliano

As I sit down to pen my review of John Rocco’s wildly popular picture book Blizzard, a swirling snowstorm is setting in on the northeastern New Jersey outside of Manhattan, where my family and I reside.  While the projected numbers may not quite equal the 1978 super storm Rocco chronicles, this is a major event that will have people digging out for days, not to mention all the severe travel restrictions that lie ahead.  Nightmare scenarios that include late-arriving plows, the inability to drive to a store for food and supplies, and the effects of cabin fever are part of the blizzard experience.  Always a fun time for the kids, who see the arrival of snowflakes as a passport to scholastic absence, it is that relatively rare time to ride sleds, throw snowballs and build snowmen and igloos with reckless abandon.  It is a time when nature plays the role of the great equalizer, neutralizing parental authority, as a result of the communal task at hand.  The arrival of a blizzard brings on a divergent but amenable mix: excitement, consternation, uncertainty and claustrophobia, though the perceptions of kids widely differ from that of the more responsible adults.  One thing is certain: whatever plans one had in place are all left on the back burner when a blizzard strikes.  The priorities are down to one. (more…)

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starlight cover

by Sam Juliano

There is a defining moment in Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper’s A Dance Like Starlight that coaxes comparison with Italian neo-realism.  After an aspiring young ballet dancer completes a backstage recital performance she recoils sheepishly, lacking all measure of self-confidence.    A ballet master witnesses both her lovely turn and the embarrassment she is unable to conceal from being watched, and poignantly reassures her:

I turned away when I saw him watching, ashamed how he saw me trying to do their dance./But he took my face in his hands and looked into my eyes./”Brava, ma petite,” he told me.  “Brava.”/That’s when hope picked my dream up from the floor of my heart, just like Mama said,/and it started growing.

starlight 4

The mixed media application (referred to as a “subtractive” process that yields sensory textures) of the girl’s face in close-up is incredibly powerful – her dreams and nightly wishes to the stars that never appear, and the opportunities that are seemingly within the realm of fiction paint a picture of intense yearning and the sadness that results from unrequited hope.  This is the face of someone who has worn herself out, one of innocence and conviction, one of someone who tearfully has seen the implausibility of what she imagines.  This is the face one associates with many other talented African-Americans from that period, many of whom were as gifted as any in their field, but were denied equal opportunity because of their color.  It is a face that would melt the hardest of hearts, and is is one of the most unforgettable single illustrations in any picture book released in 2014. (more…)

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Brief Encounter 7

brief encounter 1

by Sam Juliano

A steady drizzle and overcast sky suffused the late morning hours of Saturday, 17, August, 2013, in the town of Carnforth, part of the northwestern county of Lancashire, England.  The gloomy weather is pretty much normal for that region and that time of year, but somehow it atmospherically accentuated the twenty or so mile trek we embarked on from our home base of Kendal in the county of Cumbria.  Our destination was a seemingly sedate and rustic train depot on the outer fringes of a parish populated by barely five-thousand, and geographically distinguished by hilly terrain and its close proximity to the sea.  The Carnforth Railway Station, which has a history dating back to the mid 1800’s was used as a waylay station for soldiers during both World Wars, and served as a junction on the London, Midland and Scottish railways.  It was refurbished in 1938, and subsequently entered the movie history books after it was chosen as the primary setting for one of the most famous films ever made – David Lean’s timeless classic of repressed emotion – Brief Encounter, which was filmed during the last stage of World War II in early 1945.  The location was chosen by film executives, because it was far enough away from major cities to avert blackouts which were common during the war years.  Said Lean: “the war was still on and the railway people said, ‘there may be an air raid at any moment, and you’ll have time to put out the lights in that remote part up in the north.  We’ll know when the planes are coming.’  We were a blaze of lights from filming.’  More recently renovations were completed to the Brief Encounter refreshment room (the tea room in the film) and the “Heritage Center” that are now places of pilgrimage for the film’s fans.

Upon entering the station proper, my tourist party -which included my wife Lucille, son Sammy, and site colleague Allan Fish and his maternal aunt and driver Ann Cafferkey – we were all taken with the imposing overhead platform clock,  a powerful icon in the film.  It did send shivers down my spine to contemplate that one of the greatest films of the British cinema, and surely one of the two or three most celebrated screen romances was filmed around that very spot.  A further investigation of the station unveiled a Brief Encounter souvenir shop, the beautifully restored former tea room, where much of the film’s drama was staged, and lovingly adorned open-ended screening room that offers up a continual showing of the film from start to end and them over and over for the duration of the station’s hours of operation. Alas it was here, while sitting down with Sammy while the others engaged in another room that featured an elaborate miniature train –Brief Encounter epitomizes David Lean’s lifelong fascination with and affection for trains-  and other film memorabilia, that I nodded out after a sleepless night into a dream world of David Lean’s poetic masterpiece, one that commenced over seven decades ago…..  (drifts into sleep) (more…)

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gone-w-the-wind

by Sam Juliano

The following is the transcript of an interview held on August 12, 2013 with the last surviving lead performer of the 1939 Hollywood landmark ‘Gone with the Wind.”  Olivia de Havilland, who lives alone in the U.K., decided to grant a rare interview in deference to her continuing interest in WitD’s Romantic Films Countdown.  Ms. de Havilland was 97 years old at the time, but sprite to a fault.

SJ:  Ms. de Havilland, I want to thank you so much for allowing this interview, especially as I know you need your rest, and rarely grant one-on-ones anymore.

OD:  Well, Mr. Sam, I am pleased to be of some assistance.  Your site’s Greatest Romantic Countdown has attracted my interest, and it is one of the places I have been visiting during my limited on line sessions.  I have been mightily impressed with many of the reviews by a bevy of writers.  You people have really taken this project seriously, and should be proud of what you have accomplished.  I read somewhere that a man named John Grant suggested that you seek a publisher for the whole lot.  I must say I heartily agree with the bloke.  And please call me Olivia young man.

SJ:  Thanks for the compliment Olivia, but I am not so young anymore.  I think Mr. Grant came up with a very good suggestion there, and I will certainly be looking into it.

OD:  Before we go on could I order you any refreshments?  There’s a good fish n chips shop two blocks to the south, and they deliver.

SJ:  Thanks so much Olivia, but I did have something about an hour ago.  I’m good.  I was told you lived in Paris since 1960, but I was told by a reliable source you moved to London eight years ago.

OD:  That’s right Mr. Sam.  I was being heckled by the paparazzi.  They always want to exploit my non-relationship with my sister Joan, and frankly it is none of their business.  A friend helped me to secretly make passage from Paris to London using a disguise and a fake passport.  Only my daughter Giselle and a few very close friends know I am here, and one was your contact.  (editor’s note: Joan Fontaine passed away four months later in December of 2013 at the age of 96)

SJ:  Absolutely Olivia.  I can’t say that I blame you at all.   I guess you know what film I am here to talk about then, right? (more…)

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