Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


by Sam Juliano

There can be nothing more disconcerting to a young child than finding out that their latest book find is well beyond their sphere of negotiation.  The exasperated yellow duckling with the pink beak in veteran artist Sergio Ruzzier’s latest innovative creation, This is Not a Picture Book is initially ecstatic when he comes upon a book with a bright red cover.  Soon enough the anticipated eye candy is exposed as a tome, one indecipherable to an ankle-biter, whose sphere of enlightenment has up until now been in the most stringent visual terms.  Gloriously framing this pained encounter between this impressionable tyke and the latest step in learning are the first set of end papers that reveal that words by themselves are indecipherable at the earliest stage, in fact they project to said prospective reader the futility of a foreign language.  After the exclamatory titular pronouncement on the double page spread that sets off the deceit with Duck Amuck bravado our offended protagonist rejects his latest acquisition, rethinks his action, and finally atones in a series of delightful vignettes that make striking use of white space.  The duckling picks up the book again and is approached by a cricket who asks “What is that?”  The duckling repeats the central dilemma, and the cricket deems it “Wacky” and asks if his new friend is able to read it.  Surprisingly the duckling doesn’t rule out the possibility just before the book enters a new dimension.

Ruzzier, the Italian born classicist who is unwaveringly in the Caldecott hunt for the fourth consecutive year has produced what is probably his picture book masterpiece, and by any artistic and conceptual barometer of measurement one of the finest works of 2016.  Like all the best creations, This is Not A Picture Book is thought-provoking, elegant, and invested with the most vital, if rudimentary measure of advocacy for our youngest readers.  The book celebrates the power of reading and the unlimited boundaries of the imagination. Once again Ruzzier’s colorful and sumptuous otherworldly tapestries evoke a European sensibility and some of his eccentric carnival scenes envision the surrealist cinema master Alejandro Jodorowsky, though framing the art as Felliniesque seems just as appropriate.   (more…)

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By Bob Clark

It’s time for my last installment in the Wonders in the Dark Sci Fi countdown, George Lucas’ seminal 1977 film, Star Wars. Joining me for the discussion is Joel Bocko of Lost in the Movies, while I share my thoughts on whether or not there’s any hope left for the state of cinema in the wake of a summer of movies and an upcoming awards season that includes the German equivalent of an Adam Sandler comedy.



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by Sam Juliano

A painstaking performing art that requires years of training, unwavering application and physical stamina, ballet is a highly technical form of dance that has over the years taken on its own vocabulary, based on the French parlance.  It requires skill and inherent aptitude, but as a number of recent picture book authors and illustrators have attested to in rapturous and soulful works, desire and passion mean more than any talent, latent or flowering.  A pair of 2014 works about balletic aspirations in the Big Apple, Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper’s A Dance Like Starlight and Christopher Myers’ Firebird include pointed racial overtones. The former traces the path from insecurity to self-assurance for an African-American dancer at a time when opportunities were limited, and the latter depicts how an unsure girl is boosted by a towering professional.  In large measure Molly Idle’s Caldecott Honor winner from 2013, Flora and the Flamingo, a wordless book about self-discovery, basically explored the same themes.  Employing a parallel narrative structure renowned veteran author-illustrator Barbara McClintock in her latest ravishing work, Emma and Julia Love Ballet tells a story of infatuation and immersion from both sides of the aisle – a story that implies that whether you succeed or are headed towards that vital plateau you are basically operating on the same wave length.  McClintock, a master of the subtle detail,  initially establishes the common lifestyle elements by chronicling a seemingly typical day from an early morning yawn to a late night revelation.  The young girl Emma sleeps in a bedroom dominated by varying shades of pink.  She advertises that there is just about nothing she loves more than being dressed up in her ballerina costume.  Even her miniature night lamp pays homage to her great passion.  Her costume hangs on a hook over her bed, and the rest of the objects – teddy bears, dolls, oversized books, a flower adorned yellow hat all scream elementary school age, while the older girl Julia is the caretaker of a far more spare, ordered and mature room, complete with professional dancing shoes, a pager photos that confirm her balletic prowess.  Their age disparity is again evident in the manner of independence at breakfast time and in their clothes – Emma wears her pink dress with matching backpack lorded over by a teddy bear, while Julia prepares in minimalist surroundings, which McClintock reveals through open doors as a suburban single story home and a town house condominium.  Emma gets a ride to he ballet school, while Julia left to her own devices boards a bus.  The pervasive, all-encompassing specter of ballet is even evident on a poster inside the bus shelter.


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by Stephen Mullen

Alphaville is the first Godard film I ever saw, way back in the mid-80s. I saw it on a double bill with Alexander Nevsky, if my memory is accurate after 30 odd years. I remember liking Nevsky, though finding it all a bit strange; but Alphaville was a revelation. I had ideas about what Godard was supposed to be like – he was supposed to be difficult, possibly blasphemous (this is back around the time of Hail Mary – which I think was the second Godard film I ever saw, and came a bit closer to what I had been led to expect.) Instead, I saw this astonishing science fiction noir…


It is a beautiful film, with its rich play of light and dark, its bodies in rest and motion in overlit antiseptic spaces and dingy dark hallways, its faces, its eyes, especially Anna Karina’s face and eyes. It’s an overpoweringly romantic film – I walked out enthralled by Eluard and the staging of his poetry, Anna Karina’s voice, the light and dark, hands and faces, the strange contrast between Karina and Eddie Constantine – that sequence is, by itself, one of the most romantic, achingly sensual, passages ever put on film. I had never seen anything like it then, and haven’t seen much like it since. But what might have been even more surprising was how funny the film is. Full of jokes, full of wit, visual, verbal, jokes coming out of the material, the references, the performances, staging, the setting. (That machine that asks you to insert a coin, then gives you a thank you token.) It’s always serious, but never takes itself seriously – a pretty universal trait in Godard’s films. They are funny – they are full of serious things, conversations, ideas, images – but they are packed with jokes, visual and verbal puns, in jokes, references and allusions that become comical in context. (And it gets even funnier when you start spotting the things Monty Python stole – it’s tattooed on the back of their neck!) It was a fine introduction to Godard – it conditioned me to look for beauty, romanticism, sensuality and wit, as well as Deep Thoughts and Art. (Which it has; don’t discount that.) (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) is a strange and brilliant delight, but it presents, to the unwary, death-dealing pitfalls. Tackling it, as Roger Ebert chose to do (in the course of hating a ridiculing it), as a self-sustaining offering, is tantamount to rock climbing in flip-flops.

Looking for the direction of this film without a strong sense of the films preceding it is, in fact, expository suicide. Jarmusch, we must never forget, is not just another wizard of the weird (and wonderful). He is, instead, a very accomplished writer of interpersonal theatre whereby discursive gambits send off shock waves demanding close and repeated investigation. Dead Man opens with a foppishly clad young man, William Blake, riding a mid-nineteenth-century train for the sake of commencing work in a Rocky Mountain steel plant in the capacity of an accountant. His trip had begun in Cleveland. As far as the bare, immediate facts go, we have to come to terms with this protagonist, whom we have never seen before, being disappointed in his expectation that he has a job to go to—and from there entering a dark and violent misadventure and puzzling entanglement in Native American lore. During the ride out, we hear that his parents had died recently in the Cleveland homestead. But, far more importantly, there is no direct information about why a fragile-looking youngster would travel 2000 miles to seek employment in a Wild West frontier town. As it happens, a very definite and developmentally overt source of enlightenment does supplement the raw narrative. The catch is, this tip-off comes packaged in previous Jarmusch films. In his first full-fledged feature, Stranger than Paradise (1984), a young Hungarian girl travels far more than 2000 miles to obtain work in the form of a Cleveland hot-dog diner. After a year of this, she tells some visitors, “… kind of a drag here…” William, then, in this light, enters the enterprise—seldom elucidated, and never elucidated by our traveller-of-the hour—of turning one’s back on a family heritage (the hot-dog worker comes in for a lot of heat and obscenities from the immigrant aunt who sponsored her). Other versions of quiet renegades getting not only bruised but also assisted by traditionalists appear in the films Down by Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989). In the latter vehicle two young Japanese tourists have their differences about what constitutes the glorious rebellion of vintage Rockabilly; but they both agree the Mountain West is something to be merely and briefly endured (that, even a hundred years after William giving it a go). One other thing about the consequentiality of Cleveland, and the wider deadness you will never explicitly pick up from Dead Man, is that the dash to fulfilling mystery is, in itself, a difficulty factor heavier than those mountains. (The boss at the metal works, totally indifferent to the snail-mail snafu leaving William destitute and desperate, ridicules, “Where did you get that suit? In Cleveland?” But though he is an early detractor of a place much-maligned for being somehow unsatisfactory, he shows in his every move that he doesn’t at all see The Best Location in the Nation the way Jarmusch and many of his creations see it.) (more…)

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By Dean Treadway

My first viewing of Close Encounters, in the winter of 1977, is etched into my mind, so much so that I cannot let this brief review go without referring back to it.

My parents and I were devoted drive-in goers at the time, but I insisted on seeing Spielberg’s movie at a fancy four-walled Atlanta theater, the Phipps Plaza Penthouse (where it was showing in 70mm). I had been unfailingly intrigued by the mysterious ad campaign, with the image of a bright apparition exploding at the horizon of a two-lane highway. It felt scary and unknowable, and the trailer didn’t let us in on much else. I knew it was a film about UFOs—a particular popular obsession in the 1970s—bur I knew little more about it. Even Spielberg’s name, post-Jaws, didn’t come with the cachet it’s earned since. Standing in a long line for this cinematic treat further enhanced my eagerness. In fact, I was more thrilled by seeing this film than I had been by the more obviously appealing Star Wars the preceding summer.


I remember sitting in the theater, enveloped by darkness, as the film began. John Williams’ brilliant score began, screeching against a black screen, and then surprisingly exploding with a boom as the film opened with a bright orange image of an overwhelming desert sand storm, where WWII bombers are discovered nearly new by a shocked investigatory team. From that moment on, I was taken with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (even the title captured me—what are the other kinds?). I found every one of my necessary buttons pushed by it, to the point where I still see it as one of Spielberg’s most essential works. The first half of it almost plays like a horror film, keeping its “villains” benevolence under wraps. I recall being particularly intrigued with its riveting one-scene sideshow involving the confused reactions of an air-traffic control team as they try to suss out what’s happening to a pair of passenger flights bedeviled by a UFO appearance (it’s still the best scene in the film, with actors radically committed to their scenario). (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

We have crossed the October threshold and with that some serious progress into what is traditionally the most rewarding span for all the arts.  The award worthy film season has now commenced, though for this viewer the best stuff has yet to surface.  Halloween watchers are now in their glory and horror film aficionados (including Yours Truly) are again visiting the genre with remewed abandon.  The prevailing colors are normally orange and brown, but so far the summer season has refused to clear out completely.

The long-running Top 100 Science Fiction Countdown is down to its final three weeks, and all things considered it has done reasonably well.  In every barometer of measurement it can’t hold a candle to the musical, comedy and romance genre polls, but by way of the quality of writing it is right there.  The site’s overwhelming tragedy has cast a pall over the proceedings, but we are working our way tail up to the finish line.  After studied deliberation I have decided to launch the 2016 installment of the Caldecott Medal Contender series earlier than usual, opting not to wait for the end of the science fiction countdown.  The first post went up mid week, and there will be several more before October ends.  The series of course will run until the awards are announced in late January, but I am unsure at this point how many essays it will involve. (more…)

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