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by Sam Juliano

The cataract surgery on my right eye is set for this coming Friday (December 13) at a Fair Lawn, New Jersey eye center.  Aside from that frightening date I will be attending that appointment with confidence based on the routine nature of this procedure.  I’m 65 now and this the medium age when cataracts invade our vision.

J.D. Lafrance published a splendid review on the 1989 Canadian film Roadkill by Bruce McDonald this past Tuesday.  Jim Clark’s new essay will be posting soon.

Lucille, Sammy and Jeremy and I saw two films in theaters this past week:

Trey Edward Shults’ docudrama “Krishna” was a stunning achievement, but with “Waves” the young director has expanded his talents more dramatically. Armed with an electrifying performance by Kelvin Harrison Jr. and two other masterful turns by Taylor Russell and Sterling K. Brown, Shults is in full commend of an emotionally searing screenplay about unspeakable tragedy, familial disconnect and the intricacies of the healing process from within and with the support of those who work to break through a barrier of the deepest grief. The hybrid experimental, R & B score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is one of the most stunning and perfect attuned to the film’s mood and themes of any in years and the visceral presentation is sure to move even the hardest of hearts. The film’s structure is sometimes disorienting and it sometimes appears you are looking at connecting short films but in retrospect this brilliant devise connecting the dots in numerous ways is a directorial masterstroke. A 5/5 rating and without any doubt one of the 2 or 3 very best films of the year.

Seen at the Claridge in Montclair, “The Two Popes” directed by the gifted Brazilian Fernando Meirelles, features two extraordinary performances by Anthony Hopkins (as Pope Benedict) and Jonathan Pryce (as Pope Francis) in a drama that focuses on their friendship and meetings before the latter was chose as the new pontiff after the former resigned unexpectedly. Monochrome flashbacks of Jorge Bergolio (Francis’) turbulent years as an Argentinian cardinal amidst political unrest, kidnap and murder are effectively woven into the meeting segments and the philosophical differences between the German conservative and progressive South American make for engrossing conversations, and Meirelles makes excellent use of lush cinematography as well as news footage and re-enactments of the monumental elections and coronations of both men in front wall to wall people in Vatican City. The film captures pomp and circumstance, intimate reflection and historical events that shaped this most unlikely shift in church policies. It seems fitting that the film was directed by a devout Catholic. An easy 4.5 of 5.0 and a sure end-of-year “Best of” placement. (more…)

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Screen cap from fabulously stylish murder-mystery “Knives Out”

by Sam Juliano

I trust that everyone stateside had a fabulous Thanksgiving Day as we did in a grand gathering in Butler, New Jersey on Thursday.  Now we move fast steam ahead to the “Happy Holidays” time of the year and all the frantic preparation with a keen eye for what Mother Nature may throw our way.

Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I saw four films in theaters over the past two weeks, and aside from the mediocre, though reasonably engaging “Frozen 2” it was a solid batch methinks. Not a single five star movie, but three receive the excellent 4.5 rating, one received the very good 4.0 and one a fine 3.5. “Knives Out” is a stylish murder mystery with mostly terrific performances and red herrings aplenty that is one of the best in its genre in quite a while; “Queen and Slim” is a powerful drama of prejudice, police brutality and betrayal; “Dark Waters” directed by Todd Haynes is for the most part a searing legal drama about the Dupont chemical fiasco that caused the death of numerous people and contaminated the environment, and it features Mark Ruffalo and an impressive cast; “Ford vs. Ferrari” is rather a lightweight affair, but the leads are captivating and film is an undeniably entertaining sports-themed race car movie; “Frozen 2” is a far cry from its beloved predecessor, but still captures some of the general appeal even with a weaker plot.

We visited theaters in northern New Jersey and Manhattan to access this impressive batch:

Knives Out **** 1/2   (Wednesday, Secaucus multiplex)
Queen and Slim **** 1/2  (Friday, Teaneck multiplex)
Dark Waters ****   (Saturday, Cineopolis)
Frozen 2 ****  (Saturday afternoon, Secaucus multiplex)

Jamie Uhler offers up two more superlative entries in his gloriously ongoing 2019 Horror Fest series of capsule reviews: (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Jim, J.D., Jamie and the rest of the staff here at Wonders in the Dark would like to extend to our friends and readers Thanksgiving Day wishes.  Though Jim and J.D. are Canadians who reside near Toronto, they are no doubt influenced by the stateside infectiousness of this very special time of the year.  As always Lucille and I will be driving up to Butler, New Jersey with the rest of our family on Thursday to her sister’s mansion-sized home to join over fifty other guests for a veritable Turkey Day bonanza.  I am looking forward to the apple and pumpkin pies.  Hoping everyone has their own plans set and will have a safe and relaxing day.

This past week Jim published a brilliant essay on Ingmar Bergman’s The Passion of Anna and J.D. posted a fantastic review on Clint Eastwood’s 1993 A Perfect World.  I also would like to thank the Caldecott series readers for responding in a big way via comments and page views to my recent review on Field Trip to the Moon. 

Lucille and I saw one movie in theaters this past week:  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood starring Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks in Ridgefield Park on Saturday evening.  My rating is 4.5 of 5.0.  Haunting and beautiful work with a most unique approach.  And I saw it all with only my left eye!

Jamie Uhler’s latest  Horror Fest 2019 review is another jewel: (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

You wouldn’t think I would be facing a laser iridotomy for normal “narrow angles” in my left eye on Monday morning, Nov. 18th and cataract surgery on my right eye on December 13th by the way I have been running around, seeing movies and fulfilling my regular work schedule.  In any case I have completed a bunch of appointments involving a retina specialist, a measurement expert (my cataract eye was too dense for my physician Dr. Geller to ascertain as a result of my waiting too long) and my primary care physician for clearance not to mention two more visits to Geller.  It has been truly a hectic time.

An amazing time was had at the Nitehawk Cinemas in Brooklyn Tuesday night where the first of our two festival-hopping 2019 short films “Best Picture”, about our annual Oscar party at Fairview’s Tiger Hose Firehouse, was screened in front of a sold out house in the complex’s main theater. I joined the film’s director Jay Giampietro on stage for a fabulous post-film discussion. What a bunch of astounding shorts were in last night’s lineup, including one starring Ethan Hawke’s daughter (Memory Experiment). After posing with Jay, his wife Leah, cast member Bart Talamini Jr. and family members who appeared in the film, we watched the nine shorts and engaged in the aforementioned discussion where I revealed the advent of our 42 consecutive Oscar party ritual. Jay spoke of his budding involvement with the annual event, and in responding to an audience question I asserted that this coming year’s best picture Oscar will go to either “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” or “The Irishman.” Programmers and festival patrons were all over us after the event in the lobby. Temperatures may have been freezing outside but indoors we witnessed positive energy in every sense. The Nitehawk Festival, in its eighth year, is one of NYC’s premiere shorts venues.

We saw four films in theaters this past week.  Actually one of those – Ford vs. Ferrari – will be seen tonight (Sunday), so I will revisit this post in the morning to insert the grade if not also a brief assessment:

Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story” one of 2019’s greatest masterpieces!

The sometimes funny, but ultimately devastating “Marriage Story” featuring Scarlett Joahansson, Adam Driver and Laura Dern in extraordinary form is a coast-to-coast divorce drama that probes deeply and depicts the complexity of incompatibility in a relationship where both warring parties still love each other. The perceptive and nuanced screenplay is one of the year’s finest and three other supporting performances by Alan Alda, Julie Hegarty and Ray Liotta also hit the mark. Rating 5/5. The film is another netflix release that will go streaming after a few weeks in theaters. I count it surely as one of the top 2 or 3 films of the year. We saw it last night at the Claridge in Montclair.

Star grades and very brief commentary on two recently-seen theatrical films – “Honey Boy” and “The Good Liar”

“Honey Boy” is a raw, intense and powerful autobiographical account of Shia LaBeouf’s childhood that is uniformly well acted and an an effective fusion of humor, dysfunction and heartbreak. I did get a big laugh at Rex Reed’s personal John Simon-like assault on LaBeouf as a “no talent” and the film as “despicable” but again such juvenile film criticism tells us much more about the person writing the review than about the subject. That said the reviews overall were excellent. 4.5 of 5 “The Good Liar” is extremely well acted by Helen Mirren and Ian McKellen, and it is reasonably entertaining, but the screenplay is hopelessly convoluted 3.0 of 5.

James Clark’s new essay will be posted in the very near future.  J.D. Lafrance’s excellent review of Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money published this past week.

Jamie Uhler’s brilliant Horror Fest 2019 series continues with two new superlative capsules.  Though both are stupendous, the one he penned on the recently-released masterwork The Lighthouse is stunning!

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“The Bat” (1959)

by Jamie Uhler
Another year down, but I’m not stopping. I say that every year and generally do get to most, if not all. This year though, I do want to eventually complete all and do all my write-ups, even if I have to go into 2020 to do it (so long as you guys don’t mind your inboxes getting occasionally bombarded). As such, I did two recently with a sad fact ringing true: this was the first year in decades that on the actual day of Halloween—October 31—I didn’t watch a Horror movie. I had a late one from work and I came home from the office in a mood. Oh well, I hang my head in shame and vow to complete my list (and start the ‘Horror recents’ list I’ve been collecting) as retribution. A mea culpa to the Halloween Horror gods if you will.
Arena (P. Manoogian… 1989)

I’m really at a loss how this steaming piece of trash and I crossed paths. What would have prompted me to add this to my list this year? It’s not Horror in the slightest, more something of a Bloodsport meets the Star Wars Cantina sequence, but made on the budget of three 1980’s Battlestar Galactica episodes. That’s pretty much it, it’s a hellish world set in the year 4038 depicting the intergalactic arena fighting of alien beasts, some of which wear metal robot suits. The hellishness is implied, mob money runs (and ruins) the sport, making it so that no human can really hope to compete and succeed, with the previous human fighter being some 50 years prior. The only problem though is that the ‘hellishness’ is only if you think what this world should be, we don’t actually see it on screen, instead we see cheap sets and B-acting, and a lightness of the PG-13 rating, no doubt heavily indebted to the George Lucas train of thought that if you make sci-fi dumb enough, the children will pack the seats and it’ll do gang-busters in toy sales, but no sensible adult will want to be caught dead within 50 feet of a screen playing it. Oh well, ones that are screening it show the tale of lanky pretty boy Steve (he’s like a blond Christopher Reeve right down to the nearly identical voice!) who does eventually get to fight in the arena because he needs money to pay off a debt or he and his little 4 armed buddy get killed. He eventually wins, just as you expect he would, and you get all fuzzy inside (or is that nausea?).
This is the worst one I’ve watched this year—a shame as I’d started to assume that moniker was safely in the hands of Spookies—but that made me laugh heartily several times. This–thanks PG-13—had nothing for us weirdos. Epic pass. In fact, burn all the surviving copies.
The Bat (C. Wilber… 1959)

This one is pretty fondly remembered in classic Horror circles as an effective, low-budget chiller, and it’s easy to see why. It boosts two good, quirky central performances from real pros—Agnes Moorehead as successful mystery writer Cornelia, and Horror legend Vincent Price as small town doctor Malcolm Wells. It’s no doubt Price’s inclusion that’s made the film last in the minds of aficionados (well that and the fact it’s now in public domain, making it easy to see in nice prints) and it’s an odd duck of a movie, almost worthy of watching as a curious oddity, even if the results on screen pack little actual wallop.
Today’s audiences would think the title implies a masked avenger in comic book fare, while older ones no doubt would have envisioned a blood-sucking romantic from Romania. It’s weird then that both are wrong, but only slightly so—The Bat is a man who dresses in a costume to lurk about at night (his costume design is certainly the real highlight of the film) and does prey on young women, but he’s really just your garden-variety serial killing creep who just so happens to have a bit of panache in glovewear. So once we realize he’s not sucking anyone’s blood and from an early kill we’re actually thrust into a whodunnit mystery, where we’re supposed to guess who is The Bat from a grouping of likely candidates, we settle in for light entertainment of a Horror trope. Bodies start mounting up in and around Cornelia’s annual vacation stay in local banker John Fleming’s family estate, but you see he’s recently embezzled a cool million from the bank on the idea that him and Dr. Wells can posit a body in his place on a hunting trip so he can fake his death. Fleming reveals he’s totally fine if the body is Wells’ if push comes to shove, a fact Wells responds in kind by killing him (in apparent self-defense). When Wells doesn’t alert authorities, we begin wondering if he’s The Bat in search of the loot stashed somewhere in the old Fleming home now inhabited by Cornelia and her three girlfriends and a suddenly suspicious (to us) new chauffeur from Chicago (via England apparently by his accent).
The horror is light, but the movie’s a breeze at 80 minutes. Price’s inclusion alone probably warrants the slightest of recommends, but it is fun, so long as you don’t think too hard about the whodunnit plot they try hard to maintain. You solve the mystery quickly and gape at the plot holes wide enough for semi’s to pass through. What do you want though, it made me laugh. If this scared ‘em in ’59 I’d have loved to be around then, seems like heaven.

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by Sam Juliano

Veteran’s Day (November 11) means a day off from our school positions and a welcome panacea from all the stress experienced the past few days.  Lucille’s “gamma-knife” laser procedure went down perfectly on Thursday at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. We picked her up at around noon, had lunch and then went home where she rested a few hours.  As is normal for this treatment, one must wait about six months to see the benign meningioma’s disabling via an MRI, but success usually greets the vast number of these procedures. The bottom line is that doctors are confident they achieved what they sought to do and we are more than relieved to have this episode behind us. We can never thank everyone enough for their exceeding kindness, concern and support.  Of course some people opt to do nothing with their benign tumors, and a good number go 15 to 20 years before even addressing them, but Lucille opted to play it safe.  Typically, she attended several events after the procedure much as I have despite spending several hours on Saturday in the emergency room at Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck after I seem to have lost my vision in my right eye.  All was a blur and I thought I may have had retina detachment.  Alas it was diagnosed as a cataract (and a profoundly clouded one at that!) which I now must have replaced with the usual artificial lens as soon as possible, perhaps within the coming week.  It seems like something is always going on.  Cataracts of course are normal, and most people have relatives who have had one or both eyes done.  My own father had them done to both his own eyes about 20 years ago as I recall.

Lucille and I will be attending a 75th Anniversary celebration at the Fairview Public Library this afternoon in the building where I serve on the Board of Trustees.  Young Sammy and Jeremy will be joining us.

Jim Clark’s last stupendous work of film scholarship, a mega-essay on Claire Denis’ High Life was published last week, and J.D. Lafrance’s terrific review on the Coens’ Miller’s Crossing posted this past Tuesday.

Democrats Sweep Bergen County!!!

It was an off year election, one without a Presidential, gubernatorial, Senate or House of Representatives candidate. Normally this kind of contest heavily favors traditional Republican turnout but yesterday Bergen County Democrats again dominated, with all three freeholder candidates (Germaine Ortiz, Thomas Sullivan and Mary Amoroso) coasting to 10 point wins. Democrats held their seats in State legislative districts 35, 36, 37 and 38 and six new Democratic Mayors unseated GOP incumbents in Bergenfield, Dumont, Rutherford, River Edge, Maywood and Tenafly. It was a big night for Democrats nationwide with the shocking gubernatorial win in Kentucky, and the complete takeover by Dems in Virginia, but the Bergen County dominance dates back six years, which was the last time the GOP even held a single seat on the freeholder board! Congratulations Chairman Paul Juliano and the Bergen County Democratic team for their resounding victory, which was celebrated last night at the Hasbrouck Heights Hilton! Bergen is the state’s most populous county. (more…)

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With New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy Sunday morning in Fairview.

by Sam Juliano

Lucille will be undergoing “radio surgery” this coming Thursday (November 7) at Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan for the intended obliteration of a benign tumor (mengioma) on the side of her brain.  While the procedure is routine and she will be out same day, not to mention it is radiation based and non invasion with no cutting, this is still a matter of some concern, or at least it is my mind set at present, even with assurances all will be well.  I will keep some close friends abreast of the situation and will follow up with a post-report next week.  I again want to thank all those who have expressed their heartfelt condolences on the passing my Dad, and also for the loss of my favorite house pet, my Prince of Princes Dylan.  I am trying very hard to focus elsewhere but it remains a challenge.

Jim Clark’s latest great film essay features Clair Denis’ unusual High Life and J.D. Lafrance published a superlative review of the science-fiction classic Them! this past week.

As Election Day approaches all eyes in New Jersey were on Fairview Sunday morning at event attended by 740

Governor Phil Murphy led a gold dust Democratic contingent at Fairview’s La Fortuna Sunday morning in urging voters to get out on this off year election, while simultaneously praising Fairview as a town of leaders and unique political excitement. Bergen County Democratic Chairman Paul A. Juliano, the event’s master of ceremonies announced the Bergen County endorsement of Democratic State Chairman John Currie, who was clearly overwhelmed by the nod, as many other public office holders like State Sen. Nick Sacco, Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco, freeholders, Mayors and state assemblyman among an astounding 740 in attendance for the pre-election brunch.  (more…)

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