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by Sam Juliano

Is is that time of the year again.  Everything is hectic, too much on the schedule and not enough time to negotiate all the plans.  On this end it has been school transportation, a retirement dinner and early Christmas party, home movie viewings, decorating, bookstore presentations and writing the new entries to the marathon Caldecott Medal Contender series.  (I want to thank all those who have left comments for the series, and have shown so much support)  The temperatures have been conforming to the calendar in the Northeast, with several days presently or upcoming in the mid to high 30’s.  But the white stuff hasn’t made its debut yet.  Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance have written some fabulous film reviews to keep the cinematic focus going, and over the weekend Adam Ferenz has posted a fascinating Top 100 television list.

A fantastic Christmas-themed panel discussion and book signing was staged on Sunday afternoon at Manhattan’s BOOKS OF WONDER. Lucille, Sammy and I finally met the lovely and talented Lori Nichols, (Maple & Willow’s Christmas Tree), Stephanie Graegin (The Lost Gift), Rosemary Wells, Kat Yeh,, Chuck Groenink and Brian Russo. So wonderful to again meet children’s literature luminary Joanna Marple.

There are still a few vital films for me to see (Toni Erdmann, The Silence, Paterson, Elle, Fences) but after seeing the electrifying, phantasmagorical, visceral and silhouette laden “La La Land” Saturday night at the Union Square Cinemas, I am convinced the New York Film Critics Circle got it right when they named it the Best Picture of the Year earlier this month. The usual naysayers and musical haters will no doubt be looking to take down the singing voices of Gosling and Stone, but they are most serviceable and authentic towards the film’s aims. One of the most stylishly exuberant films in years, the audition number is an exhilarating showstopper, and the film’s spirit and soaring emotions are projected with sophistication and aching melancholia. Ms. Stone gives the most unforgettable lead performance for a female, and Gosling is mighty fine. The original score is enchanting and includes several musical forms. A holiday love letter for all who negotiate their days with hope and positive energy. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

This post is the first in what will become an occasional series of posts as I work on a long-term project. What I am posting today is the first 100 of a list of 300 Television programs from around the world, ranked from 1-100. I have been working on this project for about a year, to date, and will continue to work on it for at least another two years. The late, great Allan Fish greatly assisted me in the months before his passing, suggesting many programs I had either not considered or even heard of. Many of those are reflected on this list-including some that are in the next two tiers. Today, what I am presenting is the one year anniversary edition of my list of the greatest programs from around the world. Currently, the essays I will eventually be providing for each entry are in rather nascent form for the most part-I do have a few of them roughly completed-but those I will hold off on presenting until later.

Why do I call it programs? Because I am not limiting myself to regular, ongoing series. I have included specials, such as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, as well as miniseries, movies and documentaries. I decided to omit news broadcasts, though ongoing documentary series like Nature and Nova are represented. You will also find no game shows or reality series.

The rules I set myself were simple: Did the material hold my interest? Did it make me think? Did I ever laugh? Did I have to think in new ways? How was the acting? The direction? Did it have good production values, or ones which managed not to embarrass themselves given budget limitations? What sort of rewatch value does it hold?

What I am looking for is feedback. Let’s discuss this, in all its facets. I would also love suggestions of programs that are not on the list, especially those from outside the United States. If there is a program you are concerned is not on the (full) list, this is for one of two very simple reasons: either I did not see it/haven’t seen enough to judge it, or I saw it and considered it unworthy of the list. So, without further ado, here is the list as it stands today. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

With Turkey Day 2016 now part of history we move on to the Christmas season and a month of year-end awards and lists in all the arts.  Concurrently this is for most the busiest time of the year, one dominated by store and on-line shopping and traffics jams all over the place.  The Caldecott Medal Contender series continues to move forward, and I wished to thank all those who have placed comments and/or have read any of the seventeen essays that have been published so far.  The project will continue until the last week of January.

Lucille, Jeremy and I attended two book presentations in Manhattan on Saturday that featured author-illustrators Jerry Pinkney, Melissa sweet, Evan Turk, Pamela Zagrenski, Ron Barrett, Kuniko Y. Craft. Eric Dominguez and Julie Fogliano.  We also saw one new movie release in theaters, and traveled up to Sussex County to pick up our Christmas tree at a farm.  As always a fun family experience. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Happy Turkey Day 2016 to all our friends and readers stateside.  For some a time to catch up with music, films, theater and literature, for others a time to unwind and meditate.  Sports fans have the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving Day and those preferring to take advantage of the extra time have a plethora of quality new film releases in the theaters.  We at Wonders in the Dark would like to wish everyone stateside a happy and healthy Thanksgiving and those overseas a great week in every regard.

On Sunday at the Bank Street Bookstore in Manhattan Lucille, Sammy, Jeremy and I met up with esteemed author Heather Lang and famed illustrator Raul Colon to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ruth Law’s record-breaking plane flight. The duo treated an impressive gathering to a theatrical book reading of the masterful FEARLESS FLYER (a Caldecott Contender series review was posted on it weeks back at WitD) along with some original sketch drawings by Colon for the audience to enjoy.  On Friday night Lucille, Sammy and I attended the first concert of the 2016-17 season by the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra on Friday night at the West Side Presbyterian Church on S. Monroe Street. Under the baton of Conductor Diane Wittry, the ensemble performed spirited readings of Tchaikovsky’s celebrated Fifth Symphony and Violin Concerto (on original instrument) and Rimsky-Korsakov’s seminal “Russian Easter Overture”. (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      Just as we have to resist Jarmusch’s Dead Man being seen to be a Johnny Depp movie, we have to resist that remarkable artist’s Broken Flowers (2005) being palmed off as a Bill Murray movie. Roger Ebert regards the latter work as creating “a gentle cloud of happiness,” due to its providing a banal sense of life being short. That would be as close to absolutely wrong as you can get. Notwithstanding the film industry’s survivalist zeal to wrap up their products as various kinds of deluxe candy, the upbeat dimension of Broken Flowers traces to a far from infantile context the neglect of which puts one forever in the dark about the gift at hand.

Don, the protagonist, one of the nouveau riche IT Klondike powers, receives a letter purporting to bring him up to speed that the writer—unidentified and of unknown address—has, after 19 years of raising a child of theirs which had never been brought to his attention, suddenly felt the need to put him on her Friends list. Before she can finalize the dropping of the other shoe, Don has, with the urging and information provided by a sleuthing-besotted neighbor, turned up at her door. If this so-called Penny ever was worth more than her name, she surely isn’t now. “Donny, so what the fuck do you want coming here? I don’t remember any happy ending…” Amidst a rural eyesore cluttered with motorcycles and motorcyclists, the distaff gives Don a seasoned -brawler’s Offensive Tackle’s block leaving him reeling off the Halloween porch. A couple of soft-spoken intimates (sort of sounding like Dead Man’s Charlie just before the killing commenced) beat him senseless and, with multiple facial wounds, he wakes up in his car in the middle of a harvested field you can be sure having nothing to do with Penny’s profit centers. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Ah well.  One of the biggest political upsets of all time has transpired and many are shaking their heads in disbelief.  I predicted Donald J. Trump would win the Republican nomination months ago and I faced quite a bit of scorn and opposition.  I had a perverse side that was actually rooting for him to KO such “progressive luminaries” like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, especially since I was certain a win in November could never happen.  Then things got tighter, and I stated on last week’s MMD that Trump could well stage an upset.  This election will be discussed over and over and over again, and its implications will last a lifetime.  This is not a political site of course, though the diverse MMD is the place to share views, complaints, expectations and general lamentations.  In any case, I am happy this madness has finally ended,  so focus can now be arts exclusive.  or can it be?

The Caldecott Medal Contender series has been moving forward without a hitch and I want to thank everyone for the comments and support.  The series is doing quite well by every barometer, and authors and illustrators have been sharing them on FB.  Jim Clark and J.D. Lafrance have written some fantastic films reviews, and will continue well into the future.

Lucille and I managed to see five (5) new releases over the weekend.  This was quite a strong line-up, though for now I have resisted going the full five stars with any.  This could change down the line.  We also attended a children’s book event at Books of Wonder in Manhattan.  Bob Shea, Jason Carter Eaton, Ruth Chan, Tim Miller and Greg Pizzoli presented their new books. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

The story of the extraordinarily perspicacious fifteen-year-old German/Dutch girl Anne Frank, enshrined in a diary she maintained during two years of Nazi occupation, has remained a staple in classrooms, has been translated into seventy languages, and according to some accounts has a wider circulation worldwide than any book other the Bible.  It is hardly a wonder that such a treasured document would hold such emotional sway in view of its brilliant young writer’s tragic end, yet her her life-affirming resilience in the face of this impending doom has inspired and moved readers to their cores. Volumes upon volumes of critical studies of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and the continued research into her short life have been the bane of historical scholars, and there can be no doubt this impassioned life force has moved mountains across the globe, no doubt precipitating more tears than any document ever written.  Stage plays, films and documentaries on her life and the twenty-five months she spent holed up in a series of tiny rooms, sealed off by a bookcase have been plentiful and sustained, yet there are other angles that haven’t been explored both as a narrative aside or as a symbolic extension.

In the achingly poignant picture book, poetically written by Jeff Gottesfeld and illustrated by the Caldecott Honoree Peter McCarty, The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window, a horse chestnut tree standing outside a secret annex that shields eight people from concentration camp doom during the height of the Holocaust takes on the dual role of guardian and as a gateway to the sealed off outer world.  In an afterward Gottesfeld confirms that young Anne made reference to the tree three times, though it is clear enough from the most stirring entry -the one the author showcases on the book’s opening page- that there is a metaphysical kinship with this venerable gateway to the outside world, one that encompasses beauty in its most unadulterated incarnation:

“The two of us looked out at the blue sky, the bare chestnut tree glistening with dew, the seagulls and other birds glinting with silver as they swooped through the air, and we were so moved and entranced that we couldn’t speak.” (more…)

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