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stanford prison

by Sam Juliano

The Childhood/Adolescent Countdown registered its strongest numbers yet this past week, so I can only assume the scorching weather kept people inside and on the PC.  Ha!  The biggest day of all was Thursday, when the post on Ordinary People attracted over 30 comments and around 160 page views.  The post on Stand By Me (published Tuesday) scored around 150 page views and over 20 comments.  The reviews for Dead Poets Society and Careful, He Might Hear You also registered impressive numbers.  Hopefully this is proof that the countdown has taken hold with readers, and will continue to thrive.  The venture as stated previously will run into October, ending with the essay for the Number 1 film.

Congratulations are certainly in order for Allan Fish (and for Wonders in the Dark) for the ‘thank you’ comment from Philippine actress Hazel Orencio, who played one of the female leads in the Lav Diaz review he posted late Saturday.   The comment was entered on the comment thread.  Just fantastic.

Lucille and I attended a 50th anniversary party for the 1965 Fairview Babe Ruth League baseball championship team at La Fortuna Restaurant in town on Friday night.  It was thrilling to see people I hadn’t seen in decades, though these men are five years older, and my memories are strained.  We only saw one movie in theaters, but managed to see quite a few more on blu ray or DVD on out 4K flat screen.  Some were repeat viewings of films I reviewed for the countdown this past week, and are huge personal favorites.

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by Sam Juliano

The upcoming week has been diagnosed as a real scorcher with temperatures expected in the 90’s, but the previous seven day span was marginally more tolerable.  As always it seems for most that the summer is moving along as a brisk pace, and the month of August lies on the horizon.  Many in our fraternity are away or are close to vacation departure.  I am myself engaged in the annual summer school program, which is now halfway complete.  Friday, August 7th will be the last day.

I have uncharacteristically curtailed theater movie viewings this summer for two reasons:  First off, the quality of the releases is disappointing (though summer is traditionally the weakest time of the year cinematic for films) and secondly I have taken on too heavy a burden for the Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown that has caused a problem with setting aside time to write.  Just this coming week for example I have reviews due up for three successive days (Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) will with plenty more in the coming weeks.  While I was happy to take on some films I love, I simply went overboard and am now paying the price.  It is virtually unheard of for Lucille and I to skip a Saturday night out.  The original plans as per Friday were to trek up to Joey’s in Hewitt to see one of our favorites musicians again, but my responsibilities interfered.  Ah well.

The countdown is moving along quite nicely with solid numbers and decent support.  As always the quality of the presentations has been first-rate, and the diversity of the choices as voted on by many impassioned film buffs has made for an enthralling show. (more…)

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66. A Christmas Story

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By Patricia Perry

Without Jean Shepherd, there would be no Christmas Story—and the movie resonates so strongly because he had a unique talent for making his audience feel like his stories were their own.” –  Chris Heller writing In The Atlantic, 12/24/2013.

With that observation, Heller sums up the lasting appeal of A Christmas Story in a neat little nutshell.  Sheppard was the screenwriter and, just as memorably, the voice-over narrator of this 1983 holiday favorite which was loosely based on his own Depression-era Indiana childhood. But his radio shows, stories, and their PBS American Playhouse adaptations had already earned him a devoted cult following in the years before A Christmas Story found its widespread audience.

Certainly, the Perry family always felt as if Shepherd and his stories belonged especially to us.

My brother and I spent our childhood absorbing my father’s enthusiasms for a select group of cultural icons  in whose work we were so thoroughly immersed that they felt almost like members of our family.   It was a distinguished fraternity, including the likes of Peter Sellers, John Cleese, Stan Kenton, Louis Armstrong, and – in a very special place of honor – Jean Shepherd. Dad’s affinity for his stories was largely rooted in their common life experience; he and Shepherd were born just a few years and few miles apart in the northwest corner of the Hoosier state and, in way or another, had covered a lot of the very same ground.  But it was also rooted in Dad’s unfailing instinct for finding and appreciating good comedy. Sheppard’s style and voice – folksy, funny, given to wild exaggeration and barely suppressing a giddy enjoyment of his own storytelling talents – was infectious comedy gold. (more…)

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Screen cap from Bernard Wicki’s masterful German war film ‘The Bridge’, recently released on Criterion blu ray.

by Sam Juliano

Depending on your taste in weather the past week has either been excrutiatingly hot or markedly beautiful in and around the Big Apple. Certainly, for the most part the humidity has been low, allowing a scorching hot sun to exert minimal discomfort for those spending much of their time outdoors.  For those less adventurous, there is always the allure of air conditioned at home film viewings, or local trips to the theaters.  In any event, it does seem like the summer is moving along with mid July imminently at hand.  Some in our fraternity are preparing for their long awaited vacations, and I wish all a great time.

Here at Wonders in the Dark the Greatest Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown has completed three full weeks.  Comments and page views have been consistently fine, with a few instances of excellence.  As was the case with past countdowns, there was one film that remained unclaimed, meaning no review was posted.  It doesn’t appear that this are instance will be happening again during the countdown.  The writing has been first-rate and the films themselves an honor to consider for any countdown.

Lucille, Sammy, Danny and I attended the ‘First Annual Children’s Book Celebration” in the Queens Museum, located in Flushing on the grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair (which I attended as a ten-year old Lincoln School student) on Saturday afternoon from 12 to 4. The museum is situated a very short distance from CitiField and the Corona Park Tennis Courts. We met the renowned author illustrator and FB frie Sergio Ruzzier and the Caldecott Honor winning artist David Ezra Stein among others, and strolled the grounds near the famed World’s Fair Unisphere. Danny, an aspiring artist himself, drew on the public canvas inside. A fabulous NYC map was displayed along a wall. Ruzzier’s new fantastic work TWO MICE is due out in September! (more…)

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69. City of God (2002)

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Note:  Unfortunately, the review for this film was not claimed by anyone, despite some efforts for enlistment.  ‘City of God’, a cinema-verite styled crime film, made in Brazilian, and directed by Fernando Meirelles, was an intense and harrowing examination of drug-related neighborhood violence, and the unconscionable involvement of kids in this bleak, impoverished scenario.  As always interested bloggers are invited to engage in the comment section.  Perhaps at a later time Wonders in the Dark will showcase a review of the film.

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oskar eli

By Stephen Mullen

Adolescence can be a terrible time. It can be very painful. It is a time when you lose yourself, lose what you have been, and become a new person in spite of yourself. For most of us, this happens surrounded by others going through the same thing at the same time – is it any wonder how horribly 12 and 13 year olds can treat one another? Let the Right One In is a vampire movie, and a bit of a social satire (if that’s the word) – but mostly, it is about that time when you stop being a child and start to become something else (not quite an adult – but not a child). It is about loss – the loss of childhood, of identity, though also other losses (losing connections with other people, through death or changes in you and them) – but also about what you become. Change is loss, but also gain – you lose who you were, you become someone new. It is about the effects of these changes on groups of kids – about their cruelty, their pain, about how they cope, and perhaps escape.

The main story is about Oskar, a 12 year old living in a particularly horrifying suburb of Stockholm in 1981 (a period promising transition itself – Brezhnev was on his last legs; Reagan was rattling sabers across the sea – the Cold War itself was starting to change, but it wasn’t sure what it was going to change into, and Sweden was right there between the two of them). Oskar lives with his mother, who is seldom home; his father lives in the country and is something of a refuge for the boy (except when he’s drinking). He goes to school, where he is too clever for his own good, with an excessive interest in police matters; his classmates torment him mercilessly, and he goes home and imagines bloody vengeance on them. There don’t seem to be any other kids in his apartment complex; then one moves in – Eli, a strange girl about his age who doesn’t seem to dress appropriately for the cold, who seems about as lonely and suspicious as Oskar. It doesn’t take them long to become friends – they bond over a Rubik’s cube, and they are soon very close. (more…)

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The tragic life of British jazz singer extraordinaire Amy Winehouse is chronicled in exceptional documentary, AMY.

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Pixar’s INSIDE OUT may not be the staggering masterpiece that most critics are saying it is, but still it is wonderful.

by Sam Juliano

Local fireworks events and some glorious weather defined July 4, 2015 in the New York City area, but reports across the country happily conveyed much the same.  Here is Fairview, New Jersey it is business as usual with administrators on duty through much of the hot season, and the creative writing/literature enrichment program that I teach is running through August 7.

The Childhood/Adolescent Films Countdown at the site is moving along quite nicely with two full weeks of entries complete.  The project will continue into October.  Both page view and comment totals are solid, as as was the case with our past multi-writer genre pollings (musicals, comedies, westerns and romances) the quality of the writing is consistently first-rate.  J. D. Lafrance, Jamie Uhler, Patricia Perry and Allan Fish wrote magnificent essays this past week.   Mr. Uhler’s staggering piece on the harrowing 1985 Russian war film Come and See ran over 4,000 words.  Lucille and I enjoyed a comparatively relaxing week after the previous madness associated with end-of-the-year milestones and heavy June bookings (just kidding of course, I truly loved every minute!), though we still managed a few outings over the weekend.

Surprise!  After a very long absence, I have brought back site links this week, though the future of this long-abandoned practice will strictly be week to week, contingent on available time.

On the theatrical movie front I watched Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali for the second time in three weeks at the Film Forum as a result of a close friend wanting to see the stunning 4K restoration for the first time.  Lucille and I also saw two new releases with various members of our brood (my daughter Melanie is a huge Amy Winehouse fan, and urged a viewing of the documentary about her sadly brief life as a titanic jazz singer in the UK).  I also re-watched several blu-rays at home including Arrow’s terrific spaghetti western Day of Wrath, and the Roger Corman horror film The Tomb of Ligeia.  Watching the rousing holiday musical 1776 again on a 4K restoration was utter joy!  We saw: (more…)

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