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 © 2016 by James Clark

      Feature films being pretty high on the entertainment food chain (just spend a few minutes with what Vanity Fair magazine has become), most of us readily subscribe to the truism that each new profit centre has to come up with something “incredibly” different to please appetites forever seeking new thrills. Think of the spectacular range of David Lynch’s fireworks from Blue Velvet to Mulholland Drive. Whereas the Surrealist dictates of his muse well accommodate dazzlements from various dimensions of the vast, dark and fertile skies, it may be premature to conclude that all avant-garde commitment must embrace similar dramatic shock on the order of supernova cinematography. This consideration especially rains down on us when we contemplate the many films brought to light by the prolific Jim Jarmusch. Jarmusch and his cameraman, Robbie Muller, clearly do not go on location to distant galaxies in order to deliver their goods. Though as unique in his way as Lynch, he sustains an output which could be described as one long, repeated, low-key activation on behalf of a virtually inaccessible rightness, or law. Time drags; gloom seeps into every nook and cranny; and it’s oddly funny and amazing—that, on the basis of dialogue as a generator of generally invisible awe. From the perspective of Lynch’s sensuality, that invoking of the surreal “more” looks inside-out. The cosmic break-out imagined in so many ways by so many auteurs, comes to be tempered in ways which take quite a while to accommodate. The Surrealist thrust for the “more” than discrete advantageousness comes in for a challenge to its downplaying of the creative energies of very human, very error-prone players.

Jarmusch has strongly hinted and gone on to prove in the action of his work to be particularly absorbed with the processes of music. Notably, then, right on the heels of a film from 1984 spotlighting Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and the song, “I Put a Spell on You;” and a film from 1986 featuring a disc jockey—we have our film of today (from 1989), namely, Mystery Train, and the mystery of Elvis. And withal we have to scour the tiny portals offering access to a zone of grace (a Graceland) freighted with tons of refuse. (A very early moment has a pair of young Japanese tourists on a pilgrimage to the musical heart of America, and their train passes a striking series of garbage dumps.) An indication that the hitherto gentleness of the prospect of such shortfalls has moved into a less sanguine perception may be most incisively found in the second part of the three-part structure of Mystery Train. There we have an Italian woman, having been a resident of the U.S. for some time, returning to Italy with the coffin of the man in her life. That actress Nicoletta Braschi portrays this enduring of the school of hard knocks represents a very deliberate recall of her role in the preceding Jarmusch film, Down by Law, where she encounters and falls in love with an Italian drifter, felon and fugitive (Roberto). Roberto’s settling down with her has its ominous factor, as enunciated by one of the sayings of DJ, Zack (to be found in the earlier film), “It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop.” (Fellow-fugitive Zack [played by singer Tom Waits] resurfaces in Mystery Train as Memphis DJ, “Domino,” and his domino effect.) Now the dead man in our film, parked in Memphis during a one-day delay in scheduling, remains unnamed and the widow is Luisa, not Nicoletta. But the ongoing aura is not to be missed, in its accomplishing a fresh dimension of an inexhaustible problematic.Whereas Nicoletta was an ardent devotee to the delights of food, dancing and love of Roberto, Luisa, on the phone to Rome with the details of her voyage, covers the reversal with corporate realism: “I’m OK. That’s just the way life is.” Now that assurance precisely activates the work’s labor of love, inasmuch as it’s here to show those of us who can see that such cold-bloodedness is not the way (the essence of) life is, despite a large majority maintaining—in the words of Zack’s departing girlfriend—that “jerking people off a little” is the way to wholesomeness, to being a lawful, productive human being. Continue Reading »

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by Pat Perry

“The earth is evil. We don’t need to grieve for it.”

Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia is, in the simplest terms, the story of a wedding, two sisters and the end of the world.

At its deepest level, it presents the destruction of the earth as metaphor for a clinical depression that renders all human ritual and activity essentially meaningless and futile.

It’s a work of science fiction as well, although the science it’s based on is apparently specious. Type “Melancholia movie science” into any search engine, and you’ll find a plethora of posts by scientists (both amateur and professional) grumbling about the “implausible” planetary “dance of death” that winds a slow and sinister thread through the film to its explosive climax.(In a nutshell, they’ll tell you it’s impossible for a planet to come out of hiding from behind the sun and smash into the earth within a matter of days, per the film’s depiction. Rather, those unlikely events would play out over many years.)

As apocalyptic dramas go, Melancholia is unusually intimate in scope and decidedly low-tech. It’s not so much about the end of all mankind as it is about the end of a small, sequestered family group. The deadly approach of the rogue planet is mostly measured through a loop of wire attached to a stick.

But this is a Lars Von Trier film, and Von Trier has never played to standard audience expectations. Like all  of his best work, Melancholia is equal parts transcendent and absurd – chilling or heartbreaking in one moment, completely wack-a-doo in the next. I well remember seeing it on its opening night in 2011 at a suburban art-house theater; the audience hooted with derision throughout much of it, and many of them complained noisily all the way out of the auditorium. (What had they been expecting? Obviously these people had not been fans of Dogville or Dancer in the Dark, let alone Anti-Christ. Or even seen them, for than matter.) My boyfriend also hated it and we had a fairly rancorous argument about it on the drive home. But that’s the way it goes with the director I fondly refer to as Mr. Shaky-Cam Provocateur – he’s a divider, not a uniter. Based on my experiences of discussing his other films, I’m looking forward to some lively debate on the comments thread for this post. Continue Reading »

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By Roderick Heath

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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus is a foundation text of both the science fiction and horror genres. Born of a dull, rainy summer by Lake Geneva by the brilliant young bride in the company of her famous husband Percy, his even more famous friend George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his physician Dr John Polidori, Frankenstein still makes Mary’s name familiar to people for whom Romantic poetry might as well be Klingon. Frankenstein, a text that referenced ancient mythology, was destined to be the legend of an age still busy bring born, the industrial and scientific eras. Shelley was herself product of a revolutionary age, daughter to the feminist theorist Mary Wollstonecroft and immersed in the burgeoning Romantic movement’s spiritual and symbolic conceptualism as well as radical thinking. Many both thrilled at and recoiled from the consequences of that time, the ancient regimes falling and new concepts and hierarchies rifling their way through every familiarity, as the French Revolution had devolved from florid optimism to a grim and concerted mobile slaughter consuming Europe, and that happy, elegant party in Switzerland were contemplating what it all meant via art. Ninety-four years after it was written, Frankenstein was filmed for the first time, by Thomas Edison’s film company. But it was the 1931 film version that was to permanently transform Frankenstein into a byword, and throw up an image of the monstrous still instantly recognisable to most people.

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The most famous transposition to the screen, one that threw up an image still instantly familiar to most people eighty years after it was made, came in 1931, when Universal Studios wanted an appropriate property to follow up a smash hit, Tod Browning’s Dracula. As with that success, they chose an intermediary work, Peggy Webling’s theatrical adaptation, and hired a director who had proven himself gifted at traversing the gap between stage and screen, James Whale. Whale had come to Hollywood to adapt R.C. Sheriff’s play about the fatalism of World War I aviators Journey’s End for the movies. That film’s substantial success made Whale a major director, and he followed it up with the wartime melodrama Waterloo Road (1931). Dracula had suddenly made gothic horror popular after years when, in spite of the genre’s popularity in Europe, both Broadway and Hollywood had largely preferred jokey horrors like the semi-satirical The Cat and the Canary (1928): several years of the Depression and the harsh mood attendant in the early ‘30s had suddenly transformed the zeitgeist. With Frankenstein Whale, in spite of his comparative newness to the medium, fashioned a far more powerful work of cinema than Browning had managed, a dark fairy-tale painted in shades of grey and dusty light. Whale cast his Journey’s End star Colin Clive as the monomaniacal scientist, rechristened Henry rather than the novel’s Victor, and cast a relatively unknown English actor as his creation: the one-time William Pratt, who had rechristened himself Boris Karloff for an aura of the exotic and the sinister. Continue Reading »

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Aspiring artist Danny Juliano with renowned author/illustrator Raul Colon at Brroklyn Book Festival.

by Sam Juliano

The heartbreak of the last few weeks has taken on a surreal temperament, though there remains an aching pain that is all-too-real.  Yet we must rally and stay the course, as our colleague’s final wishes have made it clear that he wants all his friends and associates to keep that cinematic candle burning at all times.  For some, including the site’s new co-administrator Jamie Uhler, watching and reading stuff is a form of panacea, and the best way to combat the extreme grief many of us are feeling right now.  (To be sure Jamie has his own site, and is busy with more than one project at the current time, but he was exceedingly close to Allan and comes as close to the “yang” role Allan played here for over eight years).  Allan would have wanted this in keeping with his own “telling it like it is” sensibilities and I welcome the move with open arms and fully understand Jamie’s involvement in whatever capacity he is able to negotiate is fully contingent on the demands of his own ventures.  As always my esteemed colleague and very dear friend  Jim Clark remains a twice-a-month contributor, and the various projects that are being contemplated will be deliberated on with some of the other main players including Bob Clark, whose role has been heightened over the past months.  Similarly, it is expected Joel Bocko and Maurizio Roca will be part of this new allignment, but again, everyone is busy on their own fronts understandably.  As always, Tony d’Ambra remains an invaluable advisor, designer, writer and exceedingly close friend whose expertise and friendship has fueled this place from the very start.  The Caldecott Medal Contender series will again be staged at the site, beginning in late October, with a few reviews a week.

The science-fiction countdown is racing towards a glorious conclusion with one superlative piece after the other, though the black cloud of Allan’s passing during the execution of it will never be shaken or forgotten.  I urge all readers to listen to the podcast under the post on THX-1138, where Bob Clark, Joel Bocko and Jamie combine to provide a fitting testimonial to Allan as well as the film itself.

Lucille, the three and boys and I attended the annual Brooklyn Children’s Book Festival on Saturday.  Always a thrill for Danny, who has his own artistic aspirations. We also saw two films theatrically, SNOWDEN and SULLY.  The screening of SNOWDEN was originally set for the Chelsea Cinemas -just a block and a half from yesterday’s Manhattan explosion – before we changed our plans to watch the film in New Jersey.  Of course, we never made it back into the city for our weekly eatery for obvious reasons. Continue Reading »

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By Dean Treadway

A dialogue:

FUTURE ME: Why are we doing this? I have work to do.

PRESENT ME: Well, I called you two here to talk about Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain.

PAST ME: One of my favorites.

FUTURE ME: Oh, I was so young then. Not even forty. Really into anything kind of trippy and obscure.

PAST ME: How did I get so cynical in my old age?

FUTURE ME: Hey, I still like it, but I don’t ever need to see it again. I stopped watching movies I’ve already seen years ago.

PAST ME: Wow!

PRESENT ME: That’s kind of where I’m at now. I think I’m starting to agree with Pauline Kael that watching movies even a second time clues you into their tricks and faults. Only the best ones escape this. This probably means I’ve been watching too many movies.

PAST ME: I can’t see many faults in this one. I saw it on the big screen twice and it stunned me with its boldness and beauty. There’s really nothing like it.

PRESENT ME: The Fountain works most effectively on the big screen, I agree. But there’s a reason for there being nothing like it—it’s a sentimental mess, though occasionally moving. And a box office bomb–way too inquisitive and slow for the masses, even if it’s only 90 minutes long. But it’s brave and beautiful, nevertheless.

PAST ME: I love it. It just hits me, and fascinates me. And there’s part of me that sees it as Aronofsky’s effusive love letter to his wife, Rachel Weisz, whom he clearly adores. Just look at all those loving close-ups.

PRESENT ME: They’re divorced now. She remarried James Bond—Daniel Craig.

PAST ME: Aww, that sucks. Man, where’s the love? And I can’t believe Daniel Craig is James Bond now. Weird choice.

FUTURE ME: You should see who’s playing him now—Benedict Cumberbatch.

PAST ME: Cumberwhat?

PRESENT ME: Guys, guys…back on point. I still find the conquistador segment of the story transfixing, and the future bubble, with the Tree of Life being sent up into a golden nebula, remains a helluva image.

FUTURE ME: We still don’t have any flying bubbles, but we did finally get the Hoverboard down. Continue Reading »

# 33. Aliens (1986)

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by Adam Ferenz

July 18, 1986. 154 minutes (special edition)

Directed by James Cameron. Screenplay by James Cameron. Story by Cameron, David Giller and Walter Hill. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jeanette Goldstein, Al Matthews, Ricco Ross.

Aliens is not just a sequel to Alien, that late 1970s opus by Ridley Scott. It is the rare sequel that manages to improve on the original in every conceivable way. Writer and director James Cameron, hot off the success of The Terminator, made the film that may still be his crowning achievement. Others will claim it is Titanic or Terminator 2: Judgment Day-and those are fine choices-but for my money, this is the one that will always work the best for me. Particularly in the special edition, the film just feels right, and complete, in ways that none of his other works do. So, what makes it work as well as it does?

Beyond the acid spitting, chest bursting, face hugging, parasitical,  transmogrifying horror from beyond known space? Aside from the full throttle action sequences, the top notch music and editing, the moody and highly effective cinematography and the extraordinary sound design? Beyond all that?

This is a sequel in which the events of the first film are never forgotten. Each horrific event of the original film, every terror endured by Ripley and her crew, is etched on Sigourney Weaver’s face, in a towering performance that rightly earned her a Best Actress nomination. This is a performance which feels completely earned. It is both physical and psychological. You have a woman that has been stripped down because of losing everything-including the daughter she left behind, who died an old woman just a couple years before, Ripley having been in cryogenic suspension for 57 years, her daughter assuming her mother lost and dead-and who sees Rebecca, or Newt, the little girl she discovers on the colony she and the marines arrive at, as representing a second chance in life. Continue Reading »

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