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by Sam Juliano

And so it came to pass.  Inauguration day 2021 has installed some reason and hope in the White House, while the isolated former Chief Executive stews in his Florida estate, still in denial as he faces an impeachment trial for the second time, even though he is out of office.  The nation faces some extraordinarily difficult challenges in the days, weeks and months ahead in negotiating the raging pandemic and how to administer vaccines to a population still largely unattended on the inoculation front.  Our new President the ever-reasonable and confident Joseph R. Biden Jr. has signed a slew of executive orders, practically every one a huge step in the right direction, especially the return to the Paris Accord and the WHO.  The prior President of course put us at odds with the rest of the world during his divisive four year tenure and our government needs to reverse so many dubious or outright terrible decisions. Meanwhile the arrests continue as the FBI zero in on the criminal perpetrators of the unconscionable assault on our Capitol building on January 6th. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Happy Birthday to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and speeches seem more relevant today than they were since the civil rights marches of the mid 60s.  Sadly his inspiration has been violated by the extreme right and their Qanon, neo-Nazi minions whose violent riots at the Capitol on January 6th were fueled by the Big Lie, promulgated by Demented Don who as of this writing has less that three full days left in his unconscionably failed four years tenure in the White House.  At around noon on the 20th Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be sworn in as President and Vice-President, thereby re-instituting hope at a time when we are besieged by extremists and the still out-of-control pandemic.  This past week I benefited from a scheduled error that allowed me to get my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at a community center in Teaneck, New Jersey, where I will return for doe #2 on Thursday, February 4th.  More importantly for me is my wife Lucille (who must be cleared by an allergist ASAP as she has that qualifying autoimmune issues) and so many of my family and friends who are still waiting to receive their own shots.

This past week our resident film scholar Jim Clark continued his monumental Ingmar Bergman series with a stellar essay on the director’s early-career Waiting Women. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Wednesday, January 6th will live in infamy, Much as FDR noted the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  Provoked and inspired by a deranged President who for weeks had been spreading lies to brain dead supporters about an election he lost by 7 million votes, thousands of neo-Nazis and right wing extremists stormed our nation’s Capital Rotunda in a shocking assault that resulted in six deaths, destruction and unlawful trespassing that its perpetrators had intended to include kidnapping.  Arrests are now being made by the FBI as more and more identifications are being made in response to the national call out and as I write this post the worst President in American history – a man with blood on his hands – is being impeached for a second time by the House of Representatives. Deeply disturbing videos of the Capitol breech, an officer being crushed between a door, a man proudly displaying his Camp Auschwitz shirt and another waving a Confederate Flag confirmed the radicalization of those loyal to a President who deserves jail time along with members of his own family and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who are just as complicit in the coup attempt.  In the meantime the coronavirus is worse than it has ever been as vaccines under the corrupt inept administration are not being distributed anywhere near the level envisioned.  Dark Days in America. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

2021 has at all last arrived.  Rarely does one wish ahead in fear of making short shrift of their own lives, but as 2020 was by all estimation the year from hell, one can only hope that the calendar can help with dire situations that reality have not.  On the political scene the resident White House psychopath continues his deranged schemes, aided by a political party destined to become synonymous with sedition and treason years down the line (if not before) and more importantly the immediate panacea to the raging pandemic that continues to compromise life as we have known it since we entered the world.  It has seemed for the longest time that we have been living in a kind of alternate reality and that there will never be a true return to things as we knew.  In any case some of us are hoping to get our chance at the vaccine stateside and in other countries, enabling protection and our role at “herd immunity.”

In any case we trust our treasured friends had a memorable holiday week despite the inherent stress and uncertainty and welcome all to our 13th year of Wonders in the Dark.  Who would have thought it possible this modest, mainly film venture would have persisted as long as it has.  But here we are.  Many thanks to my co-editor James Clark and to writer J. D. Lafrance (both Toronto-area Canadians) for holding the fort on the film end for the past year.  Jim’s monumental Ingmar Bergman series has been a Godsend of scholarship and J.D.’s reviews of American cinema of the past few decades have enlivened these halls immeasurably.  His terrific Popeye review this past week garnered much attention for one.

R.I.P.  Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) on Gilligan’s Island and Gary Marsden of Gary and the Pacemakers.

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by Sam Juliano

Today’s Monday Morning Diary was delayed because of a driving run to Connecticut to pick up a new in box Monster Bash pinball machine remake from the Chicago Gaming Company.  Lucille, young Sammy and Jeremy accompanied me on the 80 minute trip (160 minutes round trip) to Automated Services in Milford.  As longtime pinball aficionados it was admittedly thrilling to leave the area in view of the fact that it has been around 10 months since we last left New Jersey.  Of course we all wore our masks and maintained social distancing even as we briefly toured the establishment’s glorious game room.  Jersey Jack Pinball’s just released “Guns n Roses” machine is a real stunner, and it brings the concert experience to a machine like no other music pin ever.

Our family spent most of the past week viewing Christmas films for the umpteenth time, beloved movies such as It’s a Wonderful Life, the 1951 A Christmas Carol, the 1947 Miracle on 34th Street and the Christmas episodes of the Honeymooners, The Twilight Zone (Night of the Meek and The Changing of the Guard) and timeless shorts like Charlie Brown’s Christmas, The Snowman and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Wishing all our dear friends and longtime readers a very Merry Christmas and continues safely during this most difficult of times.  Lucille and I have been hunkered at home watching films and preparing for the holiday, though we still report to school in a building where very few are still at hand during this “virtual at home” period.  Plenty of Christmas-related classic films and decorating, though this past week squirrels bit through the wires on our outdoors holiday lights twice consecutively forcing us to leaves things be and go with the indoor displays and tree.

Though we saw four more 2020 films (unlike last week all are recommended) I am for the time being only reporting on one of them and have used my star ratings to convey where I stand on the quartet.  I am an August Wilson Broadway junkie. Lucille and I have seen six productions of his plays over the years (Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running and Radio Golf) and I consider him the finest American playwright post-Williams. However, we have NOT seen “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” on stage. Nonetheless the shattering, richly filmed and costumed film version, directed by George Wolfe is masterful and it features some of the best performances in any movie this year, especially by a tortured Chadwick Boseman and the titular character played by Viola Davis in the best turn of her career. The drama, expansively exploring black musicians fighting racism in 1927, is replete with searing monologues, and is because of swirling, textured camerawork miraculously keeps claustrophobia at a long distance is an emotional roller coaster that builds in momentum and even features several instances of drama within a drama like the segment when Ma demands several bottles of Coca-Cola before she will agree to record. The use of music is magisterial and time and place is powerfully evoked. Boseman’s work is master class.

note:  I will very soon respond to the fascinating comments on the previous MMD from Bobby J., Mark and others!

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by Sam Juliano

Vaccines have been shipped to stateside destinations and are set to be injected to health care workers as early as Tuesday.  Finally we have reason to be optimistic, though currently rising numbers remain fearful.  Hoping many of our friends and readers are planning to avail themselves of this potentially live-saving proposition.  On Friday the Supreme Court may well have put the final nail in the coffin by rejecting the absurd lawsuit filed by Texas aimed at overturning election results in battleground states in one of the most heinous assaults on democracy in our nation’s history.  Though their final decision was really a no brainer, and anything but that decision would have turned the country upside down I still commend the conservative court for doing what was right and this included the three justices Trump appointed.

This past week film scholar and longtime site friend and contributor Duane Porter published a brilliant decade list that we so proud to have in our archives.  Also, J. D. Lafrance posted a fabulous review on Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Bille August.  Lucille and I saw a slew of films this past week and though I plan on elaborating for now I will just go with the five star rating scale for each and brief commentary.  I expected so much more from Steve McQueen’s spectacularly-praised Lovers Rock, but alas I found it significantly overrated and one-note.  Conversely I was never a big Kelly Reichardt fan so many others but now have finally found one that I thought exceptional, a film beautifully capturing the raw outdoors and one quietly enveloping (First Cow).  The film adaptation of the Broadway musical The Prom, with Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman among others had its moments, but overall it was musically pedestrian and largely squandered an interesting premise.  Spike Lee’s Vietnam War era set Da Five Bloods was largely gripping but also somewhat over the top, and it features a paranoia ridden great performance by Delroy Lindo, which for me echos in theme Humphrey Bogart’s in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.  The Italian film Martin Eden, which the New York Times called the best movie of the entire year has some standout scenes and was often beautiful to look at but it was too episodic and emotionally distancing for my taste, hence again a most overrated film. (more…)

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by Duane Porter

When considering what might be the best films of the past decade it is perhaps worthwhile to think about how such films come to be. Great art doesn’t emerge fully formed on its own. Many recent films, I might even say, the best recent films have been engaged in a dialogue with cinema history. The best filmmakers of the present evoke and engage with the work of the past, building on the history of cinema. When, 125 years ago, Auguste and Louis Lumière set up a camera in front of their factory as the workers were leaving, it was then cinema happened. From this beginning evolved the nature of cinematic consciousness. It was a new way to look at the world. D.W. Griffith (True Heart Susie, 1919) used camera movement and close-ups along with film editing to stir emotions and tell a story. Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin, 1925) used film editing to create a montage of disjunctive images to arrest and hold the audiences attention. Buster Keaton (Seven Chances, 1925) enacts his comedies within a world of phenomenality, cars pass by and people walk down the street, tree branches move in the breeze and clouds float in the sky. Dziga Vertov (Man with a Movie Camera, 1929) explored perception and consciousness by disrupting in surprise the flow of expectation. The persistence of cinema, from the first film to the most recent, given an intimate experience of its continuous ambiguities, its inimitable contradictions, its convergent equivalence, its quiet moments of truth, it’s then, a single frame contains the world.

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I. Certified Copy 2010 ‘Copie conforme’ Directed by Abbas Kiarostami

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2. Goodbye to Language 2014 ‘Adieu au langage’ Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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3. No Home Movie 2015 Directed by Chantal Akerman

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4. Inherent Vice 2014 Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

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5. Melancholia 2011 Directed by Lars von Trier

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6. Before Midnight 2013 Directed by Richard Linklater

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7. A Quiet Passion 2016 Directed by Terence Davies

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8. The Other Side of the Wind 2018 Directed by Orson Welles

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9. Elle 2016 Directed by Paul Verhoeven

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10. Phoenix 2014 Directed by Christian Petzold

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11. La Flor 2018 Directed by Mariano Llinás

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12. The Tree of Life 2011 Directed by Terrence Malick

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13. Winter Sleep 2014 ‘Kış Uykusu’ Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan

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14. Film Socialisme 2010 Directed by Jean-Luc Godard

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15. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives 2010 Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul

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16. Communists 2014 ‘Kommunisten’ Directed by Jean-Marie Straub

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17. Certain Women 2016 Directed by Kelly Reichardt

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18. Mad Max: Fury Road 2015 Directed by George Miller

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19. Twin Peaks: The Return 2017 Directed by David Lynch

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20. The Irishman 2019 Directed by Martin Scorsese

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21. Personal Shopper 2016 Directed by Olivier Assayas

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22. The Assassin 2015 Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien

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23. Under the Skin 2013 Directed by Jonathan Glazer

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24. Holy Motors 2012 Directed by Leos Carax

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25. Margaret 2011 Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

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by Sam Juliano

I’d love to report on some happy developments but sadly we are not yet in such a position.  The pandemic continues to rage and numbers are on the rise daily as businesses are taking a second hit this calendar year.  Theaters are again closing their doors though I for one have stayed clear since late February.  With a lifetime of film going this hiatus is by leaps and bounds the longest ever, and I’m sure many readers can lamentably make the same claim.  In the meantime our deranged commander-in-chief continues to promote baseless claims of voter fraud in an election he lost by over 7 million votes while he is doing nothing during this most awful time in our history.

This past week our resident film scholar Jim Clark has added to his monumental Ingmar Bergman series with a probing, comprehensive account of the film master’s early career gem To Joy.  Yours Truly has finally begun to explore the films that are being touted as Oscar contenders in 2021.  We watched The Trial of the Chicago 7 by Aaron Sorkin Friday night, and I was reasonably impressed.  Strong writing and acting in this largely riveting courtroom drama of events that played out in the late 60s. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

As case numbers are surging out of control like no time before since the pandemic began its siege stateside back in March, a vaccine is on the horizon with the initial doses set to distribute to health care workers -and maybe to those at highest risk as well- in a matter of weeks.  The past Thanksgiving Day offered Americans a sobering choice which was either to risk infection with large holiday gatherings or stay solo with the immediate family.  We of course chose the latter and are doing all we can to remains vigilant during this terrifying second wave.

Meanwhile the resident White House psychopath continues to spread his scurrilous lies and baseless conspiracy theories, even as the President-elect has rightly moved on with the transition.  Sadly his equally deranged minions are all too willing to embrace and sponsor all the lies and impossibly preposterous narratives.  (more…)

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