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Archive for the ‘Sam on Movies’ Category

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…)

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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…)

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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…)

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MEMORIES-OF-A-PENITENT-HEART_Original_1_web

by Sam Juliano

At the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival former President Bill Clinton introduced the documentary Bridegroom, which was directed by his good friend Linda-Bloodworth Thomason.  Funded by kickstarter, the film garnered the coveted Audience Award for Documentary, and deeply moved many with its story of a shunned gay lover by the family of the partner who died in a tragic accident.  An assistant film professor in a Florida college, and the niece of a gay man who died of AIDS in 1987, Cecelia Aldarondo opens up a proverbial can of worms in her own examination of her uncle’s past, while both outing him and finding his demonized lover for a vital contribution for the work.  Like the Thomason documentary, Aldarondo has also relied on kickstarter for funding and has told her story with aching poignancy, divulging some guarded secrets and misconceptions that have long dogged the perceptions of family members.  Aldarondo and her kin, all born in Puerto Rico to a rigid Catholic upbringing, were told that Miguel died of cancer.  When his story is told it is clear the cause was AIDS related.  One comes away with not only an understanding of what tore apart a once solid family dynamic, but also how religious and culture bigotry are brought to bear on a lifestyle rejected by familial traditions and the conviction it violates the tenets of Catholicism.

Miguel’s sexual leanings were given free reign after he moved from his Caribbean home to New York City, where he found gleeful refuge in the theater.  He met “Robert” and embarked upon a gay relationship kept under the wraps of long distance cover.  In the film’s major irony, Robert has served as a clergyman, but abandoned the pursuit during the years of his relationship with Michael, only to return years later as the only way to achieve peace of mind.  When Aldarondo finally tracked down Robert after some initial failures, the surviving partner was as candid as he was unrepentant for the relationship that was fueled by mutual passions.  In a telling phone conversation he informed Aldarondo that Michael’s mother -the director’s grandmother- never abandoned her belief he was responsible for her son’s altered sexual orientation.  No attempt by Aldarondo to interpret the long impasse between her grandmother and her uncle’s lover as a “misunderstanding” changed Robert’s perception that he was seen as a morally injurious influence on an unwitting accomplice, and in the initiating phone conversation he candidly confirms the long running hostility. (more…)

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kicks_press_1

by Sam Juliano

The central conceit in newcomer Justin Tripping’s visceral Kicks hearkens back to one of world cinema’s most venerated classics.  Vittorio DeSica’s 1948 neo-realist Bicycle Thieves spent nearly its entire running time on the wrenching pursuit of a stolen bicycle that represents economic survival at a time of war ravaged economic impoverishment.  The final twist in the Italian film was meant to imply that desperation reeks violation of the very tenets of fair play that launched what initially seemed like a hopeless search.  In Kicks the theft of a handsome pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers doesn’t remotely change the survival dynamic, but it is a generational concern that can’t be solved by moving on – these S.E. Hinton types are born and bread on violence and confrontation, and an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth is the prevailing mindset.  Tripping’s film, which recalls Francis Ford Coppola’s Hinton adaptation of Rumble Fish is saturated in style, symbols and a lyrical bent, often leaving the narrative without direction or logical development.  This borrowing from Peter to pay Paul might sink most other films in wallowing self-absorption, yet Kicks works by embracing a Terrence Malick school of film making, understanding that film is a visual medium that doesn’t always have to stay abreast of script and narrative logistics.  To be sure Tripping’s work is often undisciplined and experimental, but it is simultaneously gripping and suggestive.  And like all memorable coming of age films it boasts a magnetic lead character, which in this film yields an electrifying performance. (more…)

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Night-School_web_1

by Sam Juliano

A high school diploma is now seen as a given in lower middle class America, as opposed to a time decades ago when education took a back seat to survival necessities.  Education at that time was a luxury many simply couldn’t afford.  The difference today isn’t that there aren’t poverty-stricken neighborhoods or families with more life-defining priorities, but rather that there is still hope for missed opportunities, and that as people move through their lives they develop a sense of self-worth and direction, aiming to make up for what was lost to life’s unavoidable, inordinately difficult challenges.

Today there are opportunities for those who have succeeded in uncovering a time window in hectic schedules that helped to foster a more mature outlook on what it might mean to have a career instead of a job aimed solely at a paycheck to paycheck existence.  For his stirring documentary Night School director Andrew Cohn  travels to Indianapolis where he focuses his magnifying glass on three people in an area that registers a dubious distinction of having one of the lowest graduation rates in the country.  This is not remotely a one-off for inner city environs, and what Cohn means to imply here a la The Naked City is that three scene specific stories are merely a microcosm of a building nationwide phenomenon allowed by educational advances that nonetheless in any case fails to hide the deplorable state of education in areas of economic deprivation and bad luck for being born on the wrong side of the tracks.  Night School rightly means to point a finger at urban school districts and the unequal allotment of scholastic opportunities and benefits, but it also accentuates the old adage “where there is a will there is a way” and those willing to psychologically adapt a “water under the bridge” mindset will come to understand their own capabilities are far more pronounced now than when they were toiling in isolation, minimum wages and criminal activities. (more…)

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ketzel-the-cat-who-composed 1

by Sam Juliano

Cat lovers will be utterly charmed.   Classical music aficionados will be transported.  Those who profess an affinity for both will find Leslea Newman’s Ketzel the Cat Who Composed nothing short of a revelation, though few would ever fathom the story’s central conceit was a factual one.  Though it is the kind of thing that would sit comfortably as a miraculous one off in the Guinness World Book of Records, it is story steeped in humanism and its conceivable sphere of possibilities.  One could easily enough conclude that the book’s central event was just a lucky occurrence, a triumph over the law of probability or a validation of fate.  Either way, Ketzel the Cat Who Composed is a life-affirming work with a deeply emotional center.  While preparing for this series I came upon it by accident.  After securing a planned purchase of another title at Manhattan’s Books of Wonder, I quickly browsed the shelves, and was taken by the cover and the subject.  You see I am one who did find the book a lightening bolt of sorts, as a lifelong multiple cat owner and classical music fanatic.  Such a story was too irresistible to ignore.  Then there were the amazing illustrations.  I have since discovered that the book had received fabulous reviews and strong word of mouth by online picture book lovers.  And it was even named by some as one of the year’s recommended titles.

Moshe Cotel lives in solitude on the third floor of an apartment building on a cacophonous street in a city that never sleeps.  Yet sounds of all variety are music to the ears of a composer, which is in effect what his own teacher had taught him.    Moshe began his day sitting at his piano listening the sounds outside and inside himself, and turned them into rapturous music.  His routine was always to leave the apartment when his composition session was complete, not only for exercise but to listen to all the sounds for possible inspiration.  One day after hearing an unusual, more intimate sound Moshe came upon a black and white kitten nestled in a box around a corner.  He named him Ketzel and took him back to his apartment, where he sat the small creature down on the top of the piano to witness his work in progress, sharing the advice that the teacher had given Moshe. (more…)

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