by Dennis Polifroni

When one considers how frightening the prospects of 8 years of the Trump administation can be, with repeals of existing bills and advancements made during Obama’s time as Commander-in-Chief, it’s a wonder why more people watching television aren’t talking about the parallels of Hulu/MGM’s amazing mini-series adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s revered, dystopian novel, THE HANDMAIDS TALE, and Trump’s wannabe world-dominating regime?

Atwood’s novel has always rung slightly prophetic since it was first read by an audience in 1985. However, the authors imaginings of a world gone mad under the power of a totalitarian theocracy, and the resulting oppression of women, non-whites and homosexuals thereof, has always been kept at arms length under the guise of “speculative” fiction because, certainly, something like this would only happen in a distant future as populations swelled to hysterical proportions and government, as we know it, couldn’t handle the overflow.

Adapted into a pretty effective little film in 1990 (starring the late Natasha Richardson in the title role), Atwood’s themes, and the horrors she imagined, seemed to lose some of their potency in a time when prosperity loomed ahead of us in the guise of Bill Clinton and his smiling positivity. Simply put, audiences agreed something like Atwoods vision COULD come true, but NOT in America, and certainly not with a leader as likeable as Mr. Clinton.

Well, now, we in the States are no longer under the watchful eye of a likeable leader. Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama are gone from the White House and, now, this painstakingly faithful TV adaptation of Atwoods most celebrated and respected work is whalloping a wake-up call of a gut-punch on us with every brilliant and chilling episode.

What makes this mini-series so successful is the luxury of time. With ten one-hour episodes, Atwoods every description, character, situation and plot point gets the attention it deserves and a nightmare landscape is created before us. Like the novel, the enormity of the socio-political/religious extremism unfolds like a wilting rose. At first its a single, beautiful petal falling to the ground but, by the time the series truly hits its stride in the third, very stomach-knotting episode, the show takes on the guise of the entire flower gone ash black with decay. Frankly, and much of the shows success can be attributed to the watchful eye of head writer/series creator Bruce Miller, whose intent is to put EVERY word of Atwoods novel on the screen, I’ve rarely seen a novel-to-screen adaptation that is as concerned with creating its world as much as it is in espousing its message. In fact, its because of Miller’s meticulous eye for detail, particularly Atwood’s descriptive detail, that the world of this series is accepted by the viewer immediately and without question. There’s a sense of queasy realism in the suppositions and I can only guess that much of what is being splayed all over the papers since Trump and his thuggish cronies took the run for the big seat only inspired Miller to even greater heights of finite adaptation.

THE HANDMAIDS TALE is a chilling tale brought meticulously to life by all involved in the production. That, in and of itself, is rather chilling to comprehend.

Im sure Miller is proud of his accomplishment. I’m sure he’s thrilled with the high praise his sweat has brought him. I just wonder if his pleasure with the show is slightly tainted by the idea that what he’s portraying might be an inevitable result of stupidity and extremism that’s beginning to run rampant under the big orange orangutan sitting in the White House?


(2017 U.S.A. Hulu/DVD/Blu)

p. Bruce Miller, Warren Littlefield, Reed Morano, Daniel Wilson, Fran Sears, Ilene Chaiken, Margaret Atwood, Elisabeth Moss  developed. Bruce Miller  d. Reed Morano, Mike Barker, Floria Sigismondi, Kate Dennis, Kari Skogland.  w. Bruce Miller, Margaret Atwood, Leila Gerstein, Dorothy Fortenberry, Wendy Straker Hauser, Lynn Renee Maxcy, Kira Snyder, Eric Tuchman  based on the book by. Margaret Atwood  creative consult. Margaret Atwood  photo. Colin Watkinson   art. Julie Berghoff, Evan Webber, Sophie Neudorfer  m. Adam Taylor

Elisabeth Moss (June Osborne/Offred), Yvonne Strahovski (Serena Joy), Max Minghelka (Nick), Joseph Fiennes (Commander Fred Waterford), Anne Dowd (Aunt Lydia), Samira Wiley (Moira), Amanda Brugel (Rita), O. T. Fagbanele (Luke), Madeline Brewer (Janine/Offwarren) and Alexis Bledel (Emily/Offglen)


by Benjamin Hufbauer

Note:  Professor Hufbauer’s essay was originally published in The Artifice in July of 2017.


The 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were the golden age of Western movies and television shows in the United States. In 1960, for instance, there were more than half a dozen major Hollywood Westerns released in theaters, including The Magnificent Seven, starring Yul Brynner (who later did an ominous parody of this role in 1973’s Westworld, which today, remade, has become a major hit for HBO), The Alamo, directed by and starring John Wayne, Flaming Star, starring Elvis Presley, and The Unforgiven, starring Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn. There were also more than a dozen Westerns on television in 1960, including GunsmokeWagon TrainHave Gun-Will TravelMaverickRawhide, and Bonanza.

Why were there so many Westerns in this era? That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for decades, almost since I first started watching TV in the very late 1960s as a little California kid who was bewildered by the endless Westerns—and I almost always changed the channel when one came on. For many years I avoided Westerns, in part because they seemed politically right wing, and instead watched shows like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone. But over time I slowly realized that some Westerns are more complex than my youthful impressions led me to believe, and I’ve come to agree with George Lucas, who, influenced by Joseph Campbell, called Westerns an “American fairy tale, telling us about our values” 1.

TV Guide cover for May 4, 1963, featuring James Drury, Roberta Shore, and Lee J. Cobb of The Virginian.

The Virginian, broadcast on NBC from 1962 to 1971, was in many ways the peak of the classic television Western—and was the most politically sophisticated. CBS’s huge hit Gunsmoke, which premiered in 1955, inspired a deluge of TV Westerns in the following years. But Gunsmoke—like several other Westerns in the late 1950s and early 1960swas a low-budget, 30-minute, black-and-white show. In contrast, NBC promised in a press release at the launch of the The Virginian that it would be “the most ambitious and costly programming enterprise in network television history—one that will present television features with motion picture dimensions each week,” which would be “achieved not only by the ninety-minute length—which allows for full character development and expanded story-telling opportunities—but by color photography, location shooting, outstanding scripts and original musical scores” 2. And The Virginian came close to living up to this hype during its nine year-run of 249 episodes, each of which is like a little Western movie with continuing characters. Continue Reading »

 © 2018 by James Clark

 The singularity of Michael Haneke’s latest film, Happy End (2017), does not so much inhere in charting a disaster (near and far), nor a wrinkle as to Haneke’s soul-mate, Abbas Kiarostami. What becomes most eerie and challenging here is this film’s being a kind of binary star (revolving around a common centre) along with Ruben Ostlund’s film—from the same year—namely, The Square!

Whereas the latter’s ferocity pertains to a cave-in apropos of widely beloved humanitarianism, Happy End, literally and metaphorically, has to do with a sink hole in the form of technology and its classical-science grounds being essentially groundless, despite being hugely productive and generating a vicious idolatry. The peculiar situation of Haneke’s preferences here elicits a fireworks factory conflagration of flashes recalled in previous films having meaningfully touched upon that conundrum of all conundrums.  Actress, Isabelle Huppert, occupies a special vantage point within this evocation of personal worst inasmuch as she brings to the current film a distinguished track record of frequenting the advent of living dead, in two other recent films. In the Haneke film, Amour (2012), she plays the part of the hapless daughter of a couple of brilliant musicians on the order of technique who, in their later days, detest music. In the film, Elle (2016), by Paul Verhoeven, she portrays the owner/ director of a booming games production concern, hard as nails and following a trajectory culminating in sit-com ordinariness. In Happy End, she is the general manager of a multi-tech construction firm Her aged father, whom she has supplanted in the board room, is played by actor, Jean-Louis Trintignant, who ran his technical skills into the ground as her father in Amour. Huppert’s Anne, in Happy End, has a dysfunctional son, Pierre. Huppert’s Michele, in Elle, also has a dysfunctional son, Vincent, never to be confused with the self-unsparing painter. Actress, Elizabeth Moss, is called Anne and she forms an unsteady alliance with a PR-first museum director, named Christian, in The Square. Both Christian and Anne-the builder run into intractable difficulties in the form of Muslim refugees. Continue Reading »

By Suzanne Campbell

Every broadcasting program is a reflection of the times, the era, unto which it is born. From basic cable town hall meetings to the rich tapestry of period fantasy on premium pay, all capture an aspect, moment, or flavor of the day, interpreted by creative minds. Whether commenting upon the political climate, popular culture, new cinematic movement, or the newest geographical entry in destination art, television serves as a mirror. The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (1987—1991; NBC/Lifetime) reflected all of these.

By the mid-1980s, women’s lib was celebrating its 20th anniversary. Shows such as Cagney and Lacey and Fame were setting the tone for drama. Tama Janowitz’s “Slaves of New York” was lighting up bookshelves (and movie screens a few years later). The films After HoursHannah and Her Sisters, and Desperately Seeking Susan were defining cinema—and careers—in twin cinemas nationwide. New York’s 1970s punk was dovetailing into 1980s new wave, disco had thankfully evolved into a new genre called Hip Hop and, for the first and only time in history, stand-up comedians became the new rock stars. While creating new genres and artistic avenues, New York never lost sight of its lineage. Danceteria housed the new dance movement but smoky blues and jazz were still found a few blocks away at the Blue Note. Manhattan wasn’t the concrete insane asylum it was in the previous decade. Tip to toe, art was pouring out in the five boroughs more voluminous than ever, setting the pace and tone for cultural touchstones across the country.
Continue Reading »

by Jared Dec

Zero Day – Ben Coccio

US 2003 92 min.

p Richard Abramowitz, Adam Brightman, Ben Coccio, Barney Oldfield d Ben Coccio w Ben Coccio, Christopher Coccio photo Ben Coccio edit Ben Coccio, David Shuff

Calvin Robertson (Calvin), Andre Keuck (Andre Kriegman), Rachel Benichak (Rachel), Josh Bednarsky (Josh), Gerhard Keuck (Andre’s father), Johanne Keuck (Andre’s mother), Madelyn Robertson (Calvin’s sister), Pam Robertson (Calvin’s mother), Steve Robertson (Calvin’s father)

In high school, you’re taught you can do anything you put your mind to…

“What?!” I hear many cry in disbelief. “An American film from the 21st century? How can this be obscure enough to warrant a mention in The Fish Obscuro?” Admittedly, this film has far more ratings on imdb than other previous mentions, but I can guarantee that almost no one reading this has ever heard of this film. I remember when I sent Allan my top 100 as a senior in high school, this was the only film on it that he had yet to see nor had he ever heard of it. I remember him asking me what this film exactly was and me being far less articulate or able to come up with erudite commentary on the merits of a film on the fly, I failed to impress on him the need to see it. Perhaps I will do better this time with a larger audience, but it should be said that Zero Day deals with extremely heavy subjects. This is not a film to just be watched in a light mood. And perhaps, I am in a unique position to approach this film. As an American who grew up in Post-Columbine America, I remember from the time of kindergarten being in classes participating in ”lockdowns” where we would simulate a school shooter invading the campus. At the same time, at least once a month or so, there would be some story of some college student, high schooler, or even middle schooler somewhere in America carrying out a violent shooting and killing dozens. The fact that these events became so regular in my childhood made me more and more jaded to this concept. Perhaps that is why Zero Day holds so much power for me. Despite its micro-budget, Zero Day manages to capture exactly why a high schooler in one of the wealthiest countries in the world born to a loving middle-class family decides one day to violently massacre their fellow classmates, and to me this film is one of the most important made in modern America as a result.

Andre and Calvin are two high school seniors at a high school in America. Where doesn’t matter as we have learned such a story can happen anywhere here. The film is told entirely from the perspective of Calvin and Andre’s home video diaries of their lives in the days before “Zero Day”. Calvin and Andre are bullied and somewhat outcasts. They are young, impressionable, and confused about their position in the world. This sense of isolation causes them to lash out slowly at the rulers of their high schoolers first with innocent enough pranks like throwing rotten eggs at a bully’s house. But slowly a far more sinister plan begins to form in their minds, which is to murder as many people as possible in their high school. We see Andre and Calvin interact with their friends and family. The dialogue is incredibly authentic and convincing, which makes sense as it turns out that the parents of Andre and Calvin were played by their real parents. The rapport seems completely natural which makes the film believable to an extent that is disturbing. Andre and Calvin slowly build a collection of guns, either bought legally or taken from Andre’s father’s gun safe (to non-Americans, yes quite a few Americans have guns in their houses making this quite plausible in reality). The final 15 minutes of the film are told from the perspective of the school’s security cameras watching Andre and Calvin carrying out their destruction and facing their inevitable end.

This film’s greatest asset is how believable the whole thing is. Found footage is a mixed bag in film and fails as often as it works. However, unlike the main usage of found footage which involves horror or some supernatural element, Zero Day works because it has only realistic elements and no reason why the characters shouldn’t still be filming (unlike Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, or countless other examples). Ben Coccio casts two actual high school students and filmed the exteriors of the high school at a local high school, and as mentioned previously uses the actor’s real parents and films in their real houses. The whole element of this is just a movie and not actual found footage collapses. I will not get political in this review but I think everyone regardless of political affiliation can agree that gun violence in schools is not something that should happen, but all too frequently does. America has a problem with its youth, and though the solution is not agreed upon, the fact is both sides too often ignore the human element as to why this sort of thing happens. Youth is a period of self-discovery and emotional turmoil that comes from a lack of stability in their future. Too often, this leads to confusion and discontent. This discontent can easily lead to violence, something I can attest to being just a few years out of high school. Zero Day manages to do what Gus van Sant’s higher-budgeted and more-acclaimed film, Elephant, failed to do when it was released the same year, capture why two middle-class and comfortably well-off teenagers may throw their lives away for senseless violence. The similarities to Columbine are deep: The real Columbine shooters kept video diaries of their planning for their attacks and their daily lives which have still not been released to the public, both the character Andre and the real Columbine shooter Eric Harris worked in pizza restaurants, the characters often refer to the theory of natural selection which the Columbine shooters also did, and character Calvin and Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold attended the school prom just days before their respective massacres. However, what Zero Day has to say can apply to almost any school shooting that has happened in this country for almost twenty years, and for that is one of the most important American films of its time. The sad thing is that Ben Coccio’s film was not appreciated at the time, managing to only gross $9,000 off of its $20,000 budget, and Coccio has gone on to do almost nothing else in terms of directing films. Perhaps the lack of professional cameras throughout the runtime or maybe the fact that what this film has to say is so real, no one wanted to confront it. All I know is that Zero Day is far more horrifying than any horror film of its time, and has more to say about the reality of suburban American life than Linklater did. This film has kept me up at night and I have seen it several times over the years. Its power never wanes, and all I can say is this film is not for everyone but for those willing to brave its horrifying truths, they will find a profound statement about a major problem in America today.




  2 Attached Images

The gang with “Killer Klowns” lead cast members Grant Cramer and Suzanne Snyder in Cherry Hill for Monstermania convention.

by Sam Juliano

The Greatest Television Series Countdown Part 2 is underway with a splendid launching post by Adam Ferenz on a Danish series.  With two breaks for the Tribeca Film Festival and the Allan Fish Online Film Festival in late April and late May the project will run through mid July.  In is widely anticipated this encore will focus on shorter reviews than those posted in the first and defining countdown.  Thanks to the writers and site readers for their hard work and support for another successful endeavor here at Wonders in the Dark.

My entire family attended the Monstermania convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey on Sunday, March 11th.  We met and chatted with the two lead players of the 1986 cult classic Killer Klowns of Outer Space, and crossed paths with John Carpenter, Richard Dreyfuss, Joe Pantoliano and two of the actors who played Jason in the Friday the 13th franchise.  We paid a visit to the Asbury Park Pinball Museum on Friday night as well in a return engagement after our New Year’s Eve foray. Continue Reading »