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by Sam Juliano

He’s so fine
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)
Wish he were mine
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)
That handsome boy over there
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)
The one with the wavy hair
(Do-lang, do-lang, do-lang)      -The Chiffons, 1963

The last time a crown was part and parcel to a picture book, there was a resulting Caldecott Medal celebration.  Javaka Steptoe’s electrifying 2016 biographical Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat won the American Library Association’s highest annual award for a picture book and by extension a glowing acknowledgement for the symbol that represented power, strength and a sign of respect.  The meaning of this triumphant representation has hardly changed in the recently released Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James, in fact the connotation in this work is more intimate and scene-specific.  This anti-Kafka tale of a young boy’s cathartic experience after a visit to the barber is a study of building confidence, and a full embrace of the belief that when people believe in themselves they can accomplish just about anything.  In a rebuff to those who consider a haircut as annoying as getting their teeth cleaned, Barnes suggests there is so much more than exiting the storefront with the helical striped pole than just the sudden ability to feel a breeze around your ears.  Indeed the seemingly innocuous twenty-minute duration under the care of a hair stylist can result in a life-changing experience, one that eradicates low self-esteem, and creates one ready to go out and conquer the world.  A fresh cut performed by an expert hair stylist can convert uncertainty to aplomb, timidity to assertiveness, melancholy to unbridled glee.  The crown of the title is synonymous with its root connotation.  While reading through this celebratory esteem builder one may recall Greer Garson’s advice to her Latin teacher husband Robert Donat, who is up for headmaster at the English Brookfield School:  “Never be afraid, Chips, that you can’t do anything you’ve made up your mind to. As long as you believe in yourself, you can go as far as you dream.” Continue Reading »

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by Sam Juliano

Summer temperatures are back as we approach mid-October, but I can hardly attribute this to any kind of climate change, right?  After all, our ever-insightful Chief Executive has told us as much!  This is the month of horror movies and festivals, as Halloween approaches.  I’d like to share Jamie Uhler’s excellent capsule on the 1938 Dracula’s Daughter to get in the proper spirit here:

The film is a wonderfully concise and poetic bit of classic Universal Horror filmmaking; perhaps for the first time ever I saw beyond the gloomy, death atmospherics and saw the ‘other’ film resting within in. It’s a dark film to be sure, long I’ve been reminded of some of The Seventh Victim’s suicidal yearnings, but here I saw the clear playfulness ode to The Thin Man between Otto Kruger’s Dr. Jeffrey Garth and Marguerite Churchill’s Janet. A particularly tense scene, for example, is undercut by Janet pranking Jeffrey on the telephone midway through, with their mixture of light to heavy ribbing gleefully reminding me of Myrna Low and William Powell’s antics from two years prior. It also adds a dollop of sincerity to the films close, when Jeffrey is quickly willing to trade his life for Janet’s. Another sly bit of subverting of the traditional Dracula template is pitting our usual hero, Professor Von Helsing in Scotland Yard’s custody at the beginning of the film for the murder of Dracula. It’s a fresh way to set the plot in motion; it springs the titular daughter of the slain Dracula, Countess Marya Zaleska (the alluringly gothic Gloria Holden, giving Siouxsie Sioux a template to work off of 40 years later) into action. If you’ve been made a vampire by a vampire that has just died, you can break its hold over you, thus Marya dreams of being a normal, living breathing human, complete with the realities that that brings with it. Essentially, she wants to love again and be desired, making her eventual fall, and the entirety of the film itself, fated to a sad, tender end.
It’s often deemed a flawed film coming near the end of the run of original Universal masterpieces, but for my money it’s right there, and in many ways a perfect bridge from the Universal Monsters to the rapidly approaching, atmospheric, literate masterpieces of Val Lewton and company. For Horror this is obviously tremendously important, and when you add that contemporarily it’s been given a new reading for its homosexual (or perhaps better put, bisexual) subtext, (Marya is draw to young females throughout the film) you see that this is a film that, like Marya herself, deserves a much better fate.  
 
The Caldecott Medal Contender series is underway and will continue into early February.  The Greatest Television Series Countdown Part 2 has been pushed back two months for a number of reasons, one of which is I simply will not be able to write for two projects at the same time.  The launch date for Part 2 will be Wednesday, February 14th.  Obviously this means the second annual Allan Fish Online Film Festival will be later, but it will happen, and just a few days after the end of the television venture.

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by Sam Juliano

Side by side with your loved one/You’ll find enchanted here/The night will weave its magic spell/When the one you love is near.       -“Bella Notte”, Lady and the Tramp

The dictionary definition of a “bucket list”  asserts a written enumeration of all the goals you want to achieve, dreams you want to fulfill and life experiences you desire to fulfill before you die.  For many it might mean enjoying a meal at a world-class restaurant, attending a concert of a venerated performer or traveling to a foreign country.  For some it might mean publishing a novel or a meeting a famous person.  Some may work hard to secure a promotion at firm they’ve spent a lifetime serving.  The possibilities are infinite.  In the wrenching and extraordinarily beautiful picture book Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List, sisters Kate and M. Sarah Klise have explored this premise with the kind of intimate camaraderie that has long defined the special friendship between humans and their canines.  The artists make it clear in their gentle story of domestic alliance that the most enduring episodes in life are the most seemingly innocuous and the ones most often taken for granted.  Dog owners have long known the dreadful, indeed unbearable aspects of growing to love an animal with a twelve to fifteen year lifespan.  Such a lamentably brief tenure does lend itself to bucket list scrutiny, however, and the author-illustrator have handled the narrative’s inevitability with grace and the indomitable power of love. Continue Reading »

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By J.D. Lafrance

The 1980s was a fertile period for fantasy films and Disney tried to capitalize on this in the early part of the decade with an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. This was a turbulent time for the Mouse House as they struggled with making commercially successful live-action and animated movies. So, they decided to take a chance on a few projects that did not originate in-house and were not typical Disney fare, including Tex (1982), Tron (1982) and this Bradbury adaptation (1983). The author adapted his own work and legendary director Jack Clayton (The Innocents) came on board, but the project was plagued with several post-production problems that threatened its integrity. This is apparent in the amped up, special effects-laden finale, but it does little to diminish the power of the film.

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Part 2 of our wildly popular Greatest Television Countdown, originally eyed for mid December will now be pushed back until late January.  The reasons are two-fold:  I have received a few e mails from writers who understandably need more time for this marathon venture, and I simply will be unable to write my Caldecott Medal Contender reviews at the same time I pen my massive workload for the television countdown.  The idea to do it the first place was rather ludicrous.

However, Part 2 will now cross over into the general calendar span I had envisioned for our Second Annual Allan Fish On Line Film Festival.  Though we ran it this past year at a juncture around his birthday, I realized too late that his birthday was actually at the very end of May.  In any case, the most important matter is that we do conduct the Allan Fish Festival in 2018 and we will absolutely do so.  It may now be in late June or early July, but it will definitely happen and will tentatively run for two weeks.  Jamie Uhler will once again be chairing the project and will at the right time send the rules out at the site.  The way I am figuring it now there will be a three day break between the television project and the opening day of the Allan Fish venture.  Assuming this site is still viable a few years from now I think the Allan Fish project can happen anytime from May until August, but probably in May.  Only because of the length of the television venture are we jockeying the dates a bit.

I will soon send the official schedule out to our e mail group and will be exact as to the date with our readers.

 

 

Reports of the carnage in Las Vegas broke after I had already posted the Monday Morning Diary.  The news was as horrific as it was unconscionable.  Duane Porter tellingly frames this depravity with another call to law makers in a comment he placed at the MMD yesterday.  The site of course is in complete and utter agreement:

Monday morning, appalled by the carnage in Las Vegas. A man is able to fire 1000 rounds out of a hotel window before he can be stopped. All this horror and suffering would not have been possible were it not for the inane free access to high-capacity automatic weapons in this country. Are we never going to wake up?

R.I.P. Tom Petty of Travelling Willburys and Heartbreakers fame.  Another musical icon has left us.  My wife Lucille has always been one of his biggest fans.  I wonder what our resident rock music guru Jamie Uhler thought of his work.  Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney among other icons held him in the highest regard.

by Sam Juliano

There’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.                                          -Sarah Kay

There are few settings on the planet to match the shoreline when it comes to sensory overload.   A splashing trek though the sand as the ankle is gently nudged by the foamy caress of an expiring wave, and more often than not the traveler will taste the salt from the water particles that permeate the air at the place where land and water converge.  The splashing sound that provides the audio accompaniment for the most ravishing of sight lines fully validates what the esteemed Japanese-American poet Sarah Kay meant when she describes this singular elemental rendezvous.  Of course the renowned author of The Seashore Book, Charlotte Zolotow employs her own inimitable measure of lyricism to one of life’s more invigorating experiences, one first encountered during childhood and then recalled later in elegiac terms.  Zolotow, who passed away nearly four years ago at the age of 98 is a seminal figure in children’s literature, one who famously collaborated with Maurice Sendak on the Caldecott Honor winning Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present, brings a descriptive delicacy and unobtrusive prose to a wholly intimate immersion of nature, armed with her masterful similes and expert delineation of size, color and temperature.  Zolotow invites the reader to feel what her fictional protagonists are experiencing, helping them along with pitch-perfect words, which are more than ably enhanced by the remarkable watercolor art by national treasure Wendell Minor.

Minor did the original art for the first release of the book in the early 90’s.  He has revisited the work with a kind of carefree wistfulness, imbuing his realistic tapestries with the impressionist grandeur he is known for.  The design of this aquatic encore is fittingly negotiated in shades of blue, aquamarine and cresting whites, all subject only to the time of day.  The famed illustrator has long specialized in nature settings, though the variety and breath of his work has featured artists (Edward Hopper Paints His World), presidents and astronauts, literary figures (Willa Cather and Thoreau), animals and holidays.  His breathtaking canvasses have appeared in best-selling works by David McCollough and Harper Lee, and some of his most popular titles are in collaboration with his wife Florence Friedman Minor (2017’s magnificent How to Be a Bigger Bunny among them).  Though his books have been wildly popular with children, adults and collectors, and have received superlative reviews from Kirkus, The Horn Book, The School Library Journal and numerous other publications, he has yet to score with the American Library Association’s Caldecott committees.  Much like Cary Grant, who despite being one of the greatest actors in movie history, failed to receive an Oscar due to bad timing, competition or competing against himself in a calendar year, Minor, who has created over fifty children’s book in his illustrious career is still looking for the lucky break that has in some instances propelled a number of artists with far less prolific catalogs. Continue Reading »