Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Time Flies Right By

Wow.  has it really been that long since I posted that METROPOLIS review? I blame the holiday season, which seems to just suck the time right out of you. 

Lots of interesting films watched, including BLACK SWAN, VALHALLA RISING, the stunning Criterion Blu-ray editions of CRONOS and selections from AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY, which gets my prize for best DVD release of the year, and in a few short hours I'm off to see TRUE GRIT, where I'll probably be thinking as much about my father as I will about the film itself.

But before all that I'm wrapping up my contribution to The Spielberg Blogathon, jointly hosted by Icebox Movies and Medfly Quarantine.  The post should be up by tomorrow, and takes a look at the intersections Spielberg's films have had in my life.  It's a bit more personal than simply reviewing or analyzing the man's work, and because of that it's taken a bit more time. 

After that it'll be back to regular programming here at Celluloid Moon, including reviews of some of the above-mentioned films, all of which I enjoyed to one degree or another.  Until then, go watch something with someone you love, huh?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Metropolis Restored (1927, 2010)

I suspect many of us knew METROPOLIS before we ever had a chance to actually see it.  I know my first exposure to it as a complete (or as close as it was considered to be then) film came some time in the early 90s, with the color tinted, Giorgio Moroder version, edited and scored by the electronic music pioneer.  But the images - those stark, expressionistic cityscapes rising to the heavens, the iconic "Other" Maria sitting under an inverted pentagram as rings of electricity pulsed around her and, perhaps for me, the brand most burned upon the brain: a solitary man fighting to maneuver two rods attached like the hands of some nightmarish clock (with only ten hours to squeeze in an extra work day I'd learn years later), vainly aligning them to flickering bulbs that never stay for more than an instant -these images that have been etched in my movie memory far longer than I have any right to claim to them.

Watching the new "complete" version of METROPOLIS on Blu-ray, featuring over 30 minutes of additional footage recently unearthed in a vault in Buenos Aries, and boasting a gorgeous 5.1 recording of the original score brings those images vibrantly back to life, feeling as new and striking as the memories I hold of them.  The difference being that those singular visual memories are now tied together in a coherent structure, acting as signposts on a road where the story, long held to be a shortcoming of the film, comes to the forefront.  Running just under two and a half hours, it's surprising that METROPOLIS actually feels shorter, as the additional footage brings a depth to the story that engages the viewer as much as the overall design and effects did in the past.

The Epigram that starts METROPOLIS reads: "THE MEDIATOR BETWEEN BRAIN AND HANDS MUST BE THE HEART!" and this message, seemingly so on the nose for 21st Century viewers, echoes the tone the rest of the film will take.  The colossal city of Metropolis is actually two cities: the sprawling, dreamlike upper city where the white collar executives (the Brain) run everything, building gargantuan gardens and stadiums for the delight of their young, brash sons, and the underground city of the the workers (the Hands), who sweat and starve and toil to keep everything running for those privileged who live above.  The city is run by Joh Fredsersen, who has no time for anything other the running of the city, much to the dismay of his son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), who after meeting the saintly Maria who intrudes with a mass of children into the Eternal Gardens to introduce Freder to the plight of his "brothers" below decides to head into the Underground to see for himself how the city lives and breathes.  He finds that Maria is the one thing holding the workers in check from rioting, and his heart goes out to both the workers and the beautiful woman who hopes for a brighter future.  Throwing a wrench into the works is Joh Fredersen, who likes things the way they are, and he enlists the assistance of the evil Dr. Rotwang, who uses his newly created Machine Man to take the form of Maria, and incite the workers to revolt, thereby allowing Fredersen the leeway he needs to put the workers down once and for all.

Although the earlier cuts of METROPOLIS were more than enough to show the visual genius of Fritz Lang, the restored, complete version takes his directing prowess to another level entirely.  Entire subplots are revealed, showing a deft hand at parallel storytelling and artful cross-cutting between events.  We see the fate of Worker 11811, the poor man at the clock machine who Freder replaces.  He takes Freder's place, only to fall prey to the vices Freder himself is escaping.  We see the mysterious Thin Man (most assuredly not Nick Charles), hired by Joh Fredersen to find out where his son is and to expose what's going on with the workers.  The climactic flooding of the underground Worker City is much more substantial, and as Lang cuts from one set of action to another we that METROPOLIS is not only the progenitor of much of our now classic science fiction imagery, but it also works as a phenomenal action film, ratcheting up tension as fine as anything that would come a quarter of a century later from more modern masters like Alfred Hitchcock (who was reportedly a visitor to the set, according to the excellent documentary that is included with the DVD/Blu-ray).

I mentioned earlier how much better the restored film plays as a whole, even though it's substantially longer than it was before.  This comes at a small cost to some viewers: due to the conditions of the newly found footage (a 16mm reduction taken from an original 35mm print) the new section are very rough - no amount of digital re mastering can take away the lines of age and missing section of the frame due to size.  Small price to pay, however, to see a true film masterpiece as close to its original format as we can get - there's so much in METROPOLIS that stands out throughout the language of cinema - the excellent documentary included on the disc opens with the direct influence the film's architecture had on Ridley Scott's BLADE RUNNER.  Roger Ebert, in his Great Movies essay on the film, remarks on influences as far reaching as DARK CITY, BATMAN, and even DR. STRANGELOVE.  And after watching the stunning Blu-ray transfers of the BACK TO THE FUTURE films, I can't help but see some of mad Dr. Rotwang in good ol' Doc Brown.

In its truncated form, METROPOLIS was a grand achievement in filmmaking.  Seeing the crisp, clear images now, being able to grasp the story as a whole, and reveling in the sheer joy of the technical effects on display, what was a towering work is made even more colossal, even more grand and enormous.  And even better, the storytelling on display is as fresh, as engaging, as it must have been to people experiencing its like for the first time, over 80 years ago.

* The complete restored METROPOLIS is available in HD on Netflix Instant Streaming service.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Lieu of Reviews (returning shortly), My Movie Thought of the Day


Having spent an evening watching the in-depth documentaries The Beast Within and Superior Firepower on the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY Blu-ray set, I've come away even more impressed with Ridley Scott and ALIEN, and even less impressed with James Cameron and ALIENS.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Welcome to My Surreal Nightmare: House (1977) in Images

Being a (belated) Film #12 in Hail Horror 5.


I actually watched HOUSE, the 1977 Japanese freak-fest by Nobuhiko Obayashi before either HABIT or SOMBRE, picking it up the day it was released in a typically gorgeous Criterion edition.  The back of the DVD describes the film, a truly inventive visual tour de force by Obayashi (who after a series of similar in aesthetic short films got his start in crazy commercials like the infamous MANDOM spots with Charles Bronson) as "An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava" and that's not too far off the mark.  Seven quirky school girls travel into the country to stay with lead girl Gorgeous's aunt, who has been alone in her house with just her cat ever for years.  Turns out Auntie is more than just an eccentric spinster, and the trip turns into a surreal nightmare complete with man-eating pianos, flying decapitated heads, musical numbers, animation, some terrific matte painting and martial arts.

The best comparison I can make is to Sam Raimi's EVIL DEAD 2, a "horror" film that was so exuberant and fun you were smiling more than you were screaming.  So rather than go into more detail, here are a few shots to whet your appetite:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sombre (1998)

Being Film #11 in Hail Horror 5.  Thanks to Leaves for the recommendation.


Extra Note:  One week later this movie still sits like a bad meal in my gut, proof (perhaps) that there's more to the film than my experience and consequent write-up get across.  Leaves came back with a lengthy comment that goes into detail why he thinks the film works, and it's a great counterpoint, so I link to it here and heartily recommend checking it out.

SOMBRE, the debut film by experimental artist Philippe Grandrieux, eschews straight narrative, opting instead to provoke visceral reactions in the viewer.  It succeeds in its goal.  Everything is dark and oppressive, even in daylight.  Images are either ramped up or slowed down to such a degree that even the most innocent activity - children being delighted by a puppet show - turns into a Lynchian nightmare.  The story centers on Jean, a serial killer who preys on prostitutes until a chance encounter with two women in a broken down car on the highway provides a new diversion and a chance to consummate the act whose failure seems to drive jean to his murderous acts.  There is the barest hint of fable in this, but its glow is dampened by enough abuse and violence to take any artistic message SOMBRE has and leave it by the film's end abandoned on the side of the road.

Or at least that's my impression.  I knew after about 15 minutes I was going to hate this movie, although part of that reaction could conceivably be Grandrieux's whole point.  Unlike the stylized (though equally brutal) acts of violence perpetrated by Mario Bava or Dario Argento, there's a depravity and bluntness to Jean's sadistic acts that leaves you sick in the stomach.  This feeling is only enhanced with numerous dead scenes of driving on highways, evil looking children, and sickly pale yellow light when there's any to be found.

So, yeah...not a movie I even remotely enjoyed or recommend.  However I'm open to the chance that I'm just not the target audience for this kind of thing (my tastes running more classic Universal, Hammer, and giallo) so in the interest of fairness there's an in-depth review of the film available at d+kaz which really picks the film apart.  I can definitely see all its points, but it doesn't do anything to improve the experience I had with SOMBRE.

That's it.  One more quick review done in pictures, and then a final 13th review for one of the most anticipated horror television series in a long time...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Habit (1995)

Being Film #10 in Hail Horror 5.  Thanks to J.D. at Radiator Heaven for the recommendation.  


You ever keep hearing about someone, a director or a writer, someone that people keep telling you to check out, and you want to, only somehow it never seems to happen?  And then when you finally do you can't understand what took you so long to do it?

Well, for me that's Larry Fessenden, and HABIT, his 1995 re-working of an independent video he shot back in 1982 is kind of an indie revelation.  Fessenden wrote, directed, edited, and stars in HABIT as Sam, a lost soul in New York City - a witty, nice enough guy who unfortunately is so far down in the drink his entire life is a crumpled heap.  All of this is communicated in a few short sequences as Sam arrives at his friend's Halloween party, "costumed" as a vagabond Cyrano de Bergerac.  It's there that he meets Anna, a mysterious beautiful woman with who he shares an immediate attraction.  She seems to come and go, leaving him after a party in the street but suddenly behind him a few days later at a street fair.  Their first night together leaves Sam in a daze the next morning in a park, his lip bloody...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Survival of the Dead (2009)

Being Film #9 in Hail Horror 5.  Thanks to Sean at Spectacular Views for the recommendation.


Is there a horror fan left on the planet that isn't at least familiar with George A. Romero's DEAD films?  Both NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD influenced entire schools of horror, and established the rules by which hundreds of zombie films adhere to.  Romero's game - both in his zombie movies and in his other films like MARTIN, KNIGHTRIDERS and THE CRAZIES - is to address larger societal themes under the guise of horror, more often than not showing the real horror to be the "normal" folks trapped in whatever scenario Romero devises for them.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Don't Look Now (1973)

Being Film #8 in Hail Horror 5. Thanks to Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder and Captain Blake of The October People for the recommendation


Cut away the non-linear structure, the running visual cues and kinetic editing, and DON'T LOOK NOW would probably still be a good, if fairly predictable movie.  But fortunately for us we don't have to do that, and the fact is that Nicolas Roeg in only his second feature as a director has crafted a masterpiece of mood and tone, and DON'T LOOK NOW stands as an achievement of the presentation of pure dread, and a stunning example of how a director can directly engage the audience in his vision.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Splice (2010)

Being Film #7 in Hail Horror 5


There comes a point about three quarters of the way through Vincenzo Natali's SPLICE, his 21st century cross-bred homage to the Frankenstein story that significantly changes the stakes of what you've seen up to this point.  And you're going to make a split-second decision in your head as to whether you can accept that this is actually happening and carry on, or if you think a line's been crossed and you turn it off.  There's a small chance that you might think, "What's the big deal?  That's not so bad," and just keep watching, never giving it a second thought.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)

 Being Film #6 in Hail Horror 5

Before writing this I went back and read the previous reviews I've written on Dario Argento films (for those curious, TENEBRE, PHENOMENA, and FOUR FILES ON GREY VELVET), and the same theme crops up again and again: even when things don't make a lick of sense, Argento is such a visually striking director it becomes easy to fall into his films and enjoy the ride.  So far I've been lucky in my selection of his work: besides the above, I've luxuriated in the saturated colors of SUSPIRIA and marveled at the ingenuity on display in works as early as THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and the Godfather of giallo films, DEEP RED.  But that was the trick; Argento has a large enough discography you can bounce around and find classic after classic and take a while before you bump into a clunker like THE MOTHER OF TEARS.  The general rule seems to be, stick to the early stuff - anything in the last twenty years and you're in danger of some serious crummery.

But I had heard a lot of good things about THE STENDHAL SYNDROME, the first Italian film to use CGI, and it certainly didn't hurt that Argento cast his lovely daughter Asia as the lead, and since it was available in HD on Netflix Instant Streaming I curled up in bed Saturday morning and checked it out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Meme: 15 Directors


Ah, the Internet Meme.  If it weren't for the proliferation of these dastardly virtual viruses we'd probably all be a lot more productive but not nearly as entertained.  I caught this particular bug from J.D. over at Radiator Heaven, who apparently was infected after seeing the kickoff over at Films From the Supermassive Black Hole and the most righteous posting over at The Dancing Image.

The easy part is coming up with the list.  From J.D.'s post:
List off the first 15 directors that come to your head that have shaped the way you look at movies. You know, the ones that will always stick with you. Don't take too long to think about it.
After about a minute or so I had about 20 directors.  This list is simply the first 15 I scribbled down, with the bonus 16th cleverly concealed in the image above (try and figure it out!).

The harder part was deciding how to visually present the list.  I'd love to take some time and care with this and use video clips like MovieMan0283 did (seriously, his entry is a crash-course in film and should be checked out), but for now I'll follow J.D.'s steps and use simple images of the people themselves:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

My Two Cents on The Social Network (2010)

It's a good movie.  A really good movie, entertaining as hell and filled with great acting, spectacular direction and a score that is so perfectly attuned to the action on the screen it's almost eerie.

That being said, it's not my favorite film of the year, and I cringe a little whenever I see the words "masterpiece" or "game-changer" tossed about.  Like any movie (or every movie), there are choices I don't agree with, things that are clunky or don't work, but none of that should take away from what is a excellent look at the lengths people will go to to try and connect, to fit in within a larger circle, and the things they may lose along the way.

There are many excellent reviews out there in the film blog community: I went into a lot more detail regarding what I did and didn't like in the comments on Ryan Kelly's excellent post on Medfly Quarantine. I also referenced Tony Dayoub's review from Cinema Viewfinder, equally outstanding.  Clicking on the comments from both sites will lead to many more great opinions on THE SOCIAL NETWORK, some positive, some negative, but all informed, intelligent, and well worth your time whether you agree with the findings or not.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Gothic (1986)

Being Film #5 in Hail Horror 5. Thanks to Tony Dayoub of Cinema Viewfinder for the recommendation.

"Russell provides you with your money's worth. Why he would have wanted to make this film is another matter. This is the kind of movie that Roger Corman was making for American-International back in the early 1960s, when AIP was plundering the shelves of out-of-copyright horror tales, looking for cheap story ideas."

-Roger Ebert, in his review of Russell's LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988)
A similar thought ran through my head as I sat and "experienced" the hallucinatory nightmare that is Ken Russell's GOTHIC, a film loosely based one of the most famous events in horror history - the night poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Dr. John William Polidori, and Mary Shelley spent at Lord Byron's estate, and the challenge to create a work of horror that ultimately led to the creation of Polidori's Vampyre and, more famously, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.  That thought was that this would have been perfect fodder for Corman and AIP, or even Hammer Films back in the early 60s.  The pairing of this type of story, told with the visual flair and camp that is a signature of Russell's work, must have seemed to be a perfect match to the film's producers.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Monsters (2010)

Being Film #4 in Hail Horror 5


Turns out the surprise was on me. Not because MONSTERS, the micro-budget (reportedly made for $15,000) debut from British visual effects artist Gareth Edwards is a bad movie - it most definitely isn't - but it also definitely isn't a horror movie.  You wouldn't necessarily gather that from the trailers, however, which try to push the "dangerous thing hunting down the young couple" aspect a bit more than I think serves the film.  Despite all that, though, MONSTERS is a incredible example of what one can do with limited funds but boundless amounts of passion.


Saturday, October 9, 2010

War Within the Mind: Two Looks at the Climax of Village of the Damned

Being a Hail Horror Interlude, and the second of two contributions to Radiator Heaven's John Carpenter Blogathon.


Wolf Rilla's 1960 adaptation of John Wyndham's The Midwitch Cuckoos known around filmdom as the wonderful VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED remains one of my favorite SF/Horror movies, a film I can easily slide into any time of the year.  Boasting a clever "what if?" premise and a gaggle of eerie children, its climax is a classic of suspense: one man's will to shield his thoughts from the evil around him, and the slow disintegration of that will beautifully interpreted as a crumbling wall.

I'd be lying if I said John Carpenter's 1995 remake fared as well.  In an effort to update the threat to appeal to  the audience of the time, I think it loses some of the original's grace and simplicity.  That being said, Carpenter can still wring out a tense sequence with the best of them and also knows that, like Howard Hawks, if something worked the first time, best not to mess with it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Prince of Darkness (1987)

Being Film #3 in Hail Horror 5, and also one of two contributions I'll be making to Radiator Heaven's John Carpenter Blogathon.  Thanks to J.D. for inviting me to participate.


"What is it?
"A secret that can no longer be kept."

Like many people, I was slightly disappointed the first time I watched John Carpenter's PRINCE OF DARKNESS when it was first released to VHS (man, am I old).  This was not a horror film for a 14 year old kid who grew up on larger than life monsters both on the screen and in his own head.  Watching now over 20 years later I'd love to smack that 14 year old in the head, but although PRINCE OF DARKNESS hits a sweet spot for me now, I can kind of understand why I was disappointed that first time - it's a really slow build: the terror, like SESSION 9, comes from a growing sense of unease and random unexplained instances rather than ferocious, dripping monsters with tentacles and acid blood (in 1986 I was forever changed when at 13 I saw my first rated R film in the theater - ALIENS) and when you do get to the climax, instead of the titular Prince of Darkness in all his glory you get part of his hand - and even that lasts a fraction of a second.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Session 9 (2001)

Being Film #2 in Hail Horror 5


SESSION 9 is an odd, unsettling transitional film from Brad Anderson, who had a small independent hit with the romantic NEXT STOP WONDERLAND in 1998.  Falling between the quirky romantic comedy of 2001's HAPPY ACCIDENTS and the paranoid thriller of 2004's THE MACHINIST, SESSION 9 is Anderson's move into darker territory, a haunted house story where the "house" in question is an abandoned mental institution and the focus is on the madness that infests a small team of asbestos workers attempting to clean out the building.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Horror of Dracula (1958)

Being Film #1 in Hail Horror 5



Happy October, folks.

With the release of LET ME IN, Hammer Films, that wonderfully blood-saturated UK production company looks to be getting its foot back into the world of horror. To celebrate Hammer's reintroduction into the spotlight, I decided to kick off the fifth year of Hail Horror with Hammer's version of the Bram Stoker classic, DRACULA, or HORROR OF DRACULA as it was known upon its release in the United States.  Filmed with lush, vibrant urgency by Terence Fisher, who was responsible for many of Hammer's best films such as THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, THE MUMMY, and THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, (the latter two films solidifying, along with DRACULA, the powerhouse pairing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing), HORROR OF DRACULA offers all of the earmarks that typify a "Hammer" film, and provides a few pleasant surprises for those familiar with the source material.


Truer Words


"I think of a good film as like a favorite record album that I might listen to time and again. In a sense, a movie is a place for me. I go there. Just as I return time and again to London, I return to "Fitzcarraldo," "Dark City," "Late Spring," and Bergman's trilogy "Through a Glass Darkly," "The Silence," and "Winter Light.""
 
 - Roger Ebert, from his introduction to The Great Movies III

----------------------------------

And that, written much more eloquently than I ever could have, perfectly captures the sense of excitement, expectation and nostalgia that fills me up every time I sit down in the dark of a theater or a living room and make my compact to believe, to be transported for the duration of what it is I'm watching.

Read the entire introduction over at Roger Ebert's blog here.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Machete (2010)


My life-long question of "what would a movie based on a fake trailer made for another movie look like" has finally been answered.

Now to think about whether I actually needed the question answered.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hail Horror 5: Recommendations, Please!


Sure, I could do this all on my own, rifling through my DVD collection, moving items up and down in my Netflix queue, checking out the shelves at my local Best Buy...basically loading up on horror films I've been interested in checking out for whatever reason.

But where's the fun in that?  I know I'll eventually get around to those films in due time.  No, what's really great about doing the Hail Horror thing every year are the great recommendations I get from you all out there in Virtual Land, turning me on to things I wouldn't have given a second glance to.  Without your recommendations I would never have seen the twisted wonder that is Donald Pleasance's performance in RAW MEAT (thanks to Dennis Cozzalio and SLIFR), or the phenomenal Hammer classic CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (thanks to Tony Dayoub and Cinema Viewfinder) and even the mediocrity that was HATCHET (thanks to Sean over at Spectacular Views).

I already have a couple recommendations in, plus a few special entries to celebrate Radiator Heaven's John Carpenter Week, but all the same, if there's anything out there you think I should check out, let me know in the comments section.  As always:
  1. It can't be a movie I've already reviewed.
  2. It has to be readily accessible - either at the local theater, store, rental house, or Netflix. I'm not adverse to spending a few bucks to see, rent, or purchase a film, but I'm not going to shell out $49.99 for an obscure Asian bootleg with no subtitles.
For those curious, here's where we left off after the first two three four years:

TENEBRE / MR. FROST / GRACE / PHANTASM II / MARTYRS / FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II / DEAD SNOW / BAY OF BLOOD / DEADGIRL / RAW MEAT / TRICK 'R' TREAT / THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF /THE SHINING / MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN / BRAM STOKER'S DRACULAC.H.U.D. / HATCHET / RE-CYCLE / DANCE OF THE DEAD / THE SIGNAL / KAIRO / PHENOMENA / THE HOWLING / NOSFERATU (1922) / PHANTASM / THE HAPPENING / [REC] / THE WOODS / DIARY OF THE DEAD / THE MONSTER SQUAD / FROM BEYOND / RE-VISTING PLANET TERROR / THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) / MAD LOVE / 28 WEEKS LATER / SUBLIME / RE-VISTING DEATH PROOF / NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1990) / DEAD SILENCE / SEVERANCE / RESIDENT EVIL 3: EXTINCTION / SCANNERS / THE DESCENT / GRINDHOUSE / THE EVIL DEAD / BROKEN LIZARD'S CLUB DREAD / THE MASK OF FU MANCHU / RINGU / FEAST / HALLOWEEN (1978) / HELLRAISER / A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET / DEAD AND BREAKFAST / FRIDAY THE 13TH / THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2005) / DAY OF THE DEAD / CAT PEOPLE (1942) / HOUSE OF WAX

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Looking Back While Looking Forward to...Hail Horror 5


In a few short weeks the sky will once again fold in upon itself.  The air will bite, the leaves will color and die, and the sun will lose a little more of its breath each day to the moon, perpetually bloated and full in anticipation of what is now, after four years without fail, an Autumn blood ritual.

Yup, it's HAIL HORROR: YEAR 5.  For the fifth time in as many years I will be devoting the month of October to visiting and, in some cases, revisiting, that most visceral of film genres, horror.  In what has become Hail Horror tradition I'll fail to review even half of what I see or even plan to see, but the joy is in the planning, so in the end it all shakes out.

This year feels more that a little bittersweet.  Last year a few days before I was set to officially begin reviewing I received the call that my father had suffered three heart attacks in the span of about 12 hours.  My relationship with my father was and is the foundation for my tastes in movies, and colors everything I see.  When I wrote about it last year I mentioned how, strangely, it was horror that comforted me during the times we waited for phone calls that could deliver anything at any moment:
...That was Monday. Now it's Wednesday, and things are the same. He flat-lined yesterday, and was resuscitated. Today they're going in to see what's going on. And I've had a little time to come to grips with what's going on, and the weird thing I found myself going to the stack of horror movies sitting on top of the television cabinet...
...Maybe the real draw of horror is that at times we're compelled to wipe away the pain and terror in our lives, and one way to do that is to expose ourselves to something even more gruesome and terrifying. Maybe it's a chance to escape, to see someone handle the unknown and unexplainable so that we can better cope with our own hurdles....
This October will mark six months since my father died, and I honestly don't know how that realization will affect what films I ultimately watch or how I ultimately approach writing about those films.  A few days ago I read a post from Mike Lippet over at You Talking to Me? about the extent to which we insert ourselves into what we write, and I realize that everything I write about contains in some form or another the totality of my existence.  Each choice of phrase springs forth from the combination of what I've seen, read, and experiences during my 38 years on this Earth.  My perception of what I watched and wrote last year could not help but be  informed by the events around my father, just as this year will be done on the shadow of his absence from my life.  This morning I have to take my three-year old son to an eye specialist, and the results of that will surely add as much to my perception of the films as will my frustrations at work, the intimate moments with my wife and family, and even the music playing at I gather and express my thoughts on this blog (currently The Very Best of Curtis Mayfield). 

All of which goes a long way to say that my favorite month of the year is fast upon us, and we're never so much alive as in the moments when our screams are about to be ripped from our throats.  Rather than go over the guidelines and archives like I tend to do every year, I'll save that for another post.  I'd rather let this one stand on its own.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Quick Hit: Shine a Light (2008)


It was never my intention to watch SHINE A LIGHT, Martin Scorsese's 2008 document of The Rolling Stones' show at the Beacon Theater in NYC.  But life, or more specifically Netflix Instant Streaming, has a way of throwing a wrench into the works, and so after adding STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN to my queue I saw this recommended, saw it was available for streaming, clicked the Play button and wound up laying in bed watching the whole thing.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Revisiting Crash (1996)


Originally written for and posted on Cinema Viewfinder for Tony Dayoub's David Cronenberg Blogathon.

Discussion around the films of David Cronenberg typically fall into two categories: the early "body horror"/SF films, up to and including his brilliant 1986 re-imagining of The Fly, and the late 2000s resurgence into the mainstream, marked by 2005's A History of Violence and 2007's EASTERN PROMISES.  Poke around a bit and you'll find a few places extolling the virtues of Dead Ringers (1988) and Naked Lunch (1991), which (rightly) have their devoted followings.  1998's eXistenZ has been getting a fair amount of play lately, perhaps due to the renewed argument of video games as art, but generally speaking when it comes to David Cronenberg there's talk a-plenty about his early work and almost as much about his most recent output.

That leaves a pretty substantial gap that, taken as a whole, shows a director bravely modifying his style, searching for new ways to express his obsessions and over-arching themes:  the transformation of the physical body both as a response to and as a reflection of the mind, the nature and question of identity, and the fascination with the grotesque and the forbidden.  The films in this transitional period like Spider (2003), M. Butterfly (1993), and the aforementioned Naked Lunch and Dead Ringers all to varying degrees show Cronenberg shifting away from straight genre where his ideas could more easily be expressed and into a more realistic universe where the trick becomes harder but, because he's working in a world we readily recognize, more effective.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The SLIFR Labor Day Movie Quiz

Once again we are beset upon all sides by twisted, nefarious, penetrating queries, queries that suck the marrow from our very bones.  The culprit?  The diabolical Dennis Cozzalio, ANIMAL HOUSE extra and film blogger extraordinaire whose site, Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule, has some of the sharpest film writing this side of the Mississippi.

This Labor Day our host doffs his cap and turns his lectern over to BRINGING UP BABY's David Huxley, who in between missing dinosaur bones and missing feline of larger-than-your-typical-domestic proportions, was able to conjure up thirty questions that at this moment lovers of film all over the country (dare I say world? By George I will!) are diving into with abandon.

For the curious, my answers to some of SLIFR's previous quizzes can be found here (April '10), here (Summer '09), here (Christmas '08), here (Summer '08) and finally, here (Memorial Day '08).

But I tarry too long...to the questions!

Cronenberg Blogathon and a New SLIFR Quiz!

Happy Labor Day, folks.  Lots of interesting things going on (though you'd wouldn't think it based on how long I've been away from this site).  Lots of films seen, lots of good ideas to write about.



First off, over at Cinema Viewfinder Tony Dayoub is hosting a Labor Day blogathon examining the works of legendary filmmaker David Cronenberg.  He's already posted two excellent pieces: a wonderful video essay from Jim Emerson over at Scanners, and an in-depth examination of Cronenberg's adaptation of NAKED LUNCH courtesy of J.D. Lafrance from Radiator Heaven.  I submitted a piece revisiting 1996's controversial CRASH, a film that's only grown in my estimation over the years which (hopefully) will be up sometime during the week, and then will find its home here.  If this year's batch of articles and reviews is anything like last year's Brian de Palma blogathon, we're all in for a great week, regardless of your interest in the subject.
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An awesome blogathon carried out by a slew of top-notch writers (I'm not so arrogant or bold to include myself in that clause, BTW) during any other time would be cause enough for celebration, but couple that with another fantastic Labor Day Movie Quiz from everyone's favorite Movie Blog Dean, Dennis Cozzalio and Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.  This year Dennis has brought in Professor David Huxley (pictured, right) to present Professor David Huxley's Laborious, Licentious Spotted-Leopard Labor Day Film Quiz. The only thing more enjoyable that spending ridiculous amounts of time figuring out my answers to the questions is reading everyone else's.

My answers to the quiz will be up here later today.  In the meantime, check out what everyone else is writing.  Comment, contribute, get engaged and have a great holiday no matter what you do!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What I Watched on Vacation Part I: Inception

* Note: this was actually going to a single entry discussing three different films, but INCEPTION (surprise, surprise...) took a little more space than I anticipated.  So I'm breaking it up over the next couple of days.

** 2nd Note:  I didn't realize until after posting how much the picture of my son, above, matched the opening shot of INCEPTION.  I love coincidence!
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...And this time I mean an actual, physical vacation, complete with airplanes, sunny beaches, greasy restaurant food and scampering kids, as opposed to the breaks I've taken from blogging.  Various members of the family converged on Ormond Beach in Florida for a week-plus of no Internet, no television, and lots of sun and sand.  But as much as I wanted to disconnect myself from all the techno-babble that surrounds me on a daily basis (going so far as to pack those ancient relics known as paperback books), I couldn't escape the pull of the popcorn, not to mention the stack of DVDs I brought with me (just in case, you know?), so in the spirit of that laid back week, here are a few thoughts on some of the new and old movies I caught during my time away:

Despite not being connected it was nearly impossible to get away from all the talk about INCEPTION.  There are some great arguments - both for and against the film - all over the Internet and in print, but for all the arguing around the ambiguous ending, hidden meanings and metaphors, and the numerous battles over Nolan's literal-or-not interpretations of dreams and how INCEPTION stacks up as a "dream film" against others as disparate as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, MULHOLLAND DRIVE, and the entire filmography of Luis Buñuel, I didn't see a lot written about what I saw as the main pleasure of the film, and that's a classic noir/heist template, similar in set-up (if not in execution) to the types of movies I grew up watching with my father.  Every beat is present: broken man takes one last job in order to get home, the classic picking of the team, the plan, the new guy tagging along only to be shot later - it's all there, complete with the ticking clock and the femme fatale, in this instance plated by Marion Cotillard, looking more beautiful every time I see her.

The cast in general is excellent, especially Tom Hardy and Joseph Gordon Levitt, who provide the only spots of some much-needed humor.  I definitely have some quibbles: similar to THE DARK KNIGHT the editing feels a little too choppy and disorienting, not giving enough sense of space - this is especially apparent in the chase sequence in Mombassa, where I almost saw Leonardo DiCaprio jump, run against a wall and leap over a car.  or maybe I didn't, since everything happened so fast.  And then there's the aforementioned tone, which gives the movie the impression of taking what is essentially a crime thriller way too seriously.  Each spot of humor - from the various examples of what a "kick" is, to Joseph Gordon Levitt's stealing a kiss from Ellen Page (who is wonderfully but poorly used as an exposition device in the film) - feels like a breath of fresh air, and reminded me of how much fun the movie could be.  And then there's the obligatory ambiguous ending: I know that if you have a movie about dreams that you're almost required by law to end your film with "Is it or isn't it?" but I think Nolan would have made a stronger statement had he landed definitively one way or the other.

But here's the rub. Despite all that, I genuinely enjoyed INCEPTION, so much that I went back a second time, which I also enjoyed.  But the questions I asked myself each time I read another lengthy essay expounding on the utter failing of the film or the evidence that points to a work of genius on multiple levels, is this:  Why are we so insistent on one extreme or the other?  Can it be enough to say the film is solid?  It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it works enough for me to unequivocally recommend it?  And am I allowed to see it simply for what the movie shows me - an inventive heist film with the shades of noir that bring me back to those weekend afternoons on the couch, devouring those black and white images that flitted across my tiny tube television?

I wonder if Christopher Nolan feels the same way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Quick Hit: The Crazies (2010)

Stripping away a lot of the more overt political/counterculture message that permeated George A. Romero's original film, the Breck Eisner re-make of THE CRAZIES is a surprisingly tense, thrilling and fun movie.  Timothy "Justified" Olyphant plays David Dutten, the sheriff of a small Midwestern town that has the unfortunate luck of a having a military jet carrying a "population de-stabilizer" crash into a lake, poisoning the town's water supply.  Pretty soon people start acting strange, and before you know it the town's run over by its now bat-shit insane citizens, who are compelled to kill anyone who's not (for reasons the film doesn't make clear, but who cares) a "crazy" as well.

Sounds pretty bad for Dutten, his doctor wife, his deputy and another young women who so far have not been affected, but things get exponentially worse when the government comes in to quarantine the town.  The question of who's more crazy: the monsters or the military still plays into things, but takes a back seat to the intense set pieces, including a great chase through a car wash and a standoff in a bedroom that ends in a hilarious burst of violence.  There's nothing in THE CRAZIES you haven't seen before, but the combination of good acting, a plot free of convolution and a tone that takes itself seriously (but not too seriously) makes this one of the big surprises of the year for me.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Snippets: Black Narcissus and Armond White

The films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have been a blind spot in my film watching for years, so when my local Best Buy slipped up and put both THE RED SHOES and BLACK NARCISSUS on the Blu-ray shelf for sale a week early, I had to indulge myself in the name of furthering my film education.

I'm still reeling from my viewing of BLACK NARCISSUS, which will be written up over the next week as a quasi-Binder Challenge (I cheated and bought something new, but it's too damn good to review in a quick write-up), but I wanted get out there that the new print courtesy of Criterion (which, btw, is having a 50% sale over at Barnes & Noble) is absolutely stunning: as much as is discussed about the erotic overtones of the film and the lush visuals, I think there's so much there that addresses the old saying, "you might be through with the past, but the past's not through with you."  Just all around a great film, and one you should check out if you're unfamiliar with Powell and Pressburger's work*.
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I wonder how many people are familiar with Armond White's actions and controversies as a film critic without actually having read any of his reviews?  Over the past few weeks I've been catching up on his work to better understand his point of view.  At this point I'm no closer to understanding the man, although I did laugh out loud to see him favorably compare the Adam Sandler comedy GROWN UPS to Jean Renoir and Paul Mazursky.  I do think, however, that he shouldn't be as easily dismissed as I often see him him be in comments and posts online.  I'll be writing a little more clearly about him in the next couple of weeks, but first I'll be listening in as he's tentatively scheduled to be on the /Filmcast tonight to discuss INCEPTION.  Knowing the tone of Dave Chen and the gang over at /Film (which I love), this might be the closest we get to a direct confrontation between White and those typically aligned against him.

*A lot of people might be inclined to recommend a different P&P film as a good starting place - please do so.  I chose BLACK NARCISSUS for the simple reason that unlike THE RED SHOES or THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, it's reasonably short - so if you don't like it (although how could you not), you won't feel like your day's been wasted

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Techincal Glitches and More to Come

A volatile combination of alcohol, rage, work on another website and a storm that knocked out my internet connect at just the right time caused me to lose the entire template for Celluloid Moon.  And those two killers of free time: "work" and "family" have stopped me from really getting things back to something legible.

So apologies.  I'm working on getting everything fixed over the next couple of days, and have a slew of stuff to talk about, including:
  • Binder Challenges #3 and #4, which are BEING THERE and BLACK NARCISSUS
  • Quick takes on THE CRAZIES, THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, and YOUTH IN REVOLT
  • Articles about, among other things: critics slamming other critics, the state of film criticism from a reader's perspective (as opposed to a critic's perspective), something than manages to combine HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON and DRESSED TO KILL (really) as well as probably a lot more puerile nonsense.
We'll get there, and sooner rather than later.  See you then!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Binder Challenge #3: Masculin, Féminin (1966)


After two or three aborted attempts to watch CONTEMPT (a film I plan to revisit sooner rather that later) I decided to continue both the Binder Challenge and my Jean-Luc Godard education with MASCULIN, FÉMININ, his 1966 portrait of the youth culture in Paris in the months leading up to the 1965 presidential election. Working from his own screenplay, a loose interpretation on two short stories from Guy de Mauspassant, MASCULIN, FÉMININ is a flurry of different visual and aural ideas cut together and framed in a off-kilter documentary style whose purpose isn't anything like a straight narrative, but rather an empathetic if distanced view of the lives of the young men and women Godard found himself surrounded by in Paris. As my third Godard film, after the wonderful BREATHLESS and BAND OF OUTSIDERS (reviewed here and here), MASCULIN, FÉMININ feels like a change of gears - although many of the same pieces are in place from those earlier films, the intent here is more observation than to participation.

The scenes have that improvisatory ring that are a benchmark of Godard's writing style: get the idea, work it out on the spot - either right before or during filming of the scene in question. Paul is a young, idealistic kid, obsessed with revolution and the larger questions of his day, even though the majority of the movie finds him worrying and depressed because of his love for Madeleine, a sweet young Yé-yé girl who admits in an early scene that she is the center of her world, a world where her biggest concern is where her single will land on the charts. During the course of the movie Paul (played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, the lead in François Truffaut's Antoine Doinel films beginning with THE 400 BLOWS, as well as a Godard regular) expounds regularly on socialism, the elitism of the upper class, and the plight of the workers, and patronizes those around him with questions that serve little purpose other than to show that people don't know as much as he does.  Yet for all that, Paul's actual action seems to consist of little more than spray-painting slogans on walls and cars, and moping over his relationship with the carefree Madeleine.


In fact, most of the characters are divided according to their sex - Paul and his friend Robert talk all day of revolution and politics, thinking little of the skirts they chase - Madeleine for Paul, Elizabeth (who coincidentally likes Paul) for Robert.  The girls, on the other hand - Madeleine, Elizabeth, and their friend Catherine, are hardly impressed by all the lofty intellectual talk, preferring what they can see and hear around them.  But instead of this coming across as shallow, or the boys coming off as tortured and lofty, Godard sits back and observes everyone for what they truly are - kids trying to find their place in the world that makes little sense to them.

The film hammers this point home in a number of different ways.  Certain scenes are punctuated with violence that springs out of nowhere.  Early on, when Paul and Madeleine meet for the first time, a woman storms out of the cafe with a man and child after a loud argument.  She suddenly shoots the man, drops the gun and goes off with the child with no explanation or follow-up.  Later, on a train ride, Paul and Madeleine witness a woman shoot the two black passengers she's been arguing with.  In perhaps the most bizarre scene, a man threatens Paul with a knife in an arcade, then without warning stabs himself in the stomach, leaving Paul to carry him off the street.  These sudden bursts of violence are accentuated by piercing bangs on the audio track, and served to express (to me, anyway, I have no idea if this is correct or not) the unseen violence that was permeating the world at the time, in Vietnam, in China, in Cuba, and at home.


Then there's the matter of MASCULIN, FÉMININ's subtitle: 15 Precise Facts.  Title cards with sayings are spread throughout the film, the most famous of which refers to the characters and the Parisian youth in general as "the children of Marx and Coca-Cola."  It's a perfect summation of youth - not just during the moments of Godard's film but for most kids around the world - that fragile when you're armed with enough knowledge to begin the slow process of really defining who you are, a large part of which are those sweet, sugary things you grew up with - music, the movies, the boy or the girl you saw on the bus that day, or in the cafe sitting next to you.  To these kids, everything - regardless of content - is vitally important to their being, whether it's the chart position of a new single, the correct aspect ratio for framing a film (in a classic moment), or the petty jealousies and insecurities about a trip to the country.

The end of MASCULIN, FÉMININ comes as a bit of a shock, as we get a small taste of Paul and Madeleine's future. There's no real resolution of any story points, since the story wasn't the thing in the first place.  Is Godard commenting on the future of the generation he's observing?  Does it speak to the eventual demise of the ideals and juxtaposition of, as the card says, Marx and Coca-Cola?  I don't really know, and although MASCULIN, FÉMININ didn't leave me with the instant love BREATHLESS or BAND OF OUTSIDERS did, it left me more intrigued to re-visit, to see and understand the film better or, at the very least, differently than I do now.  And that's a very good thing.

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When I finished writing this and began to snag some screenshots, I realized I didn't mention anything about the acting, particularly of Chantal Goya, the real life Yé-yé girl who plays Madeleine in the film.  MASCULIN, FÉMININ comes off the heels of Godard's divorce from Anna Karina, the petite beauty who starred in a number of his films.  Goya has much of same easy charm, although there's a depth in Karina's eyes that Goya can't replace.  One of the things I've noticed watching Godard is his incredible eye for casting, particularly (again) women.  I don't know that she went on to do much after this, but she,along with everyone else in the film, fits in to Godard's vision perfectly.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Very Quick Review of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra


Well, yes...it was pretty awful.  But not nearly as awful as I thought it would be.  The action scene with Duke and Ripcord running through the streets of Paris in their accelerator suits was actually kinda fun, and Joesph Gordon Levitt's role is so over the top ridiculous that I couldn't stop laughing every time he was on the screen.

But other than that?  Yeah...atrocious.  It's level of unintentional silliness can best be summed up by one decision that having seen the film I can't imagine how anyone thought it could be a good idea:  Snake-Eyes, the ninja who doesn't say a word the entire film, has lips molded into his mask (you can kind of see them in the image above).

Big, bold, luscious lips.

Do I ever want to see it again?  No.  Am I glad I saw it at least once?  Not really.  But it looked like it might be pretty on Blu-ray, and that was the reason I rented it.


Coming soon: having lost all reason, I rent 2012.  It can't be all that bad, right?

Right?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

At its heart THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS beats with the essence of what makes Terry Gilliam stand out from his peers: a fierce, uncompromising visual palette, stand-out acting performances, and a solid foundation in mythic storytelling.  And when left alone to pursue his distinctive vision, you get images that feel ripped directly from that tiny place in your brain reserved for the imagination of your youth.  It's what makes THE CRIMSON PERMANENT ASSURANCE, the short film that precedes the "proper" film within MONTY PYTHON'S MEANING OF LIFE one of the most indelible 15 minutes put to film.  It's what makes the best moments of TIME BANDITS and, to a lesser extent THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN stand out in our minds, capturing those afternoon daydreams as I sat on a large rock next to the house, playing pirates and cops and robbers in a universe that was wider than the borders of my yard.

But like MUNCHAUSEN, which in terms of overall tone seems the closest relative to PARNASSUS, the film struggles but ultimately fails as a complete story. Of course by now the production disasters that plague Terry Gilliam on so many of his pictures are near mythic proportions.  Natural disasters and lack of funding are par for the course on a Gilliam production, and one of the biggest (but not the biggest, obviously) obstacles in the movie is how small it seems in relation to the subject matter.  PARNASSUS never seems like an open world: everything is cramped and narrow; even when we're in the streets of modern London there's something artificial and askew when it comes to the scale of the environment.  MUNCHAUSEN, for all its issue seems gigantic in relation to PARANASSUS.  I fully realize this has more to do with funding than anything else, but even smaller pictures like TIDELAND felt larger on screen.  Now this could also have been a stylistic choice on Gilliam's part, but watching it on the screen I couldn't help but feel compressed.


No review of PARNASSUS would be complete  without mentioning the tragic death of Heath Ledger, and it effect on the film.  His presence, and subsequent absence, leave a huge watermark on PARNASSUS that never manages to fade into the background.  The idea to have his unfinished scenes performed by a trio of great actors - Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell - is inspired in theory but in execution damages things beyond repair, particularly Farrell's performance.  It's fine on its own, but having to carry a significant portion of the film - including the climax - it acts as a reminder of how things could have been had Ledger lived to complete Gilliam's vision.

Normally I wouldn't lead off with my criticisms of a film, and it would be a lie if I said I didn't find a lot to like in PARNASSUS.  As usual, Gilliam is inspired in his casting choices, particularly in his pairing of Christopher Plummer and Tom Waits in the lead roles.  I'd be hard pressed to think of a bad Christopher Plummer performance, but here he's stretched into playing someone who's lived for hundreds of years, and damn if he doesn't make you feel every single year.  Tom Waits can only really play himself but, that being said, I can't believe it took so long for someone to cast him as the Devil, or Mr. Nick as he's called here.  One of the delights of PARNASSUS is watching the purposefully nonsensical way continuously meddles in the affairs of the Doctor Parnassus.   Even with victory seemingly his, Mr. Nick can't help but throw it all away on one more bet, one small wager, even one he knows he'll ultimately lose.  There's an entire other story here about the reason why Mr. Nick is so infatuated with Parnassus, and the way Gilliam refuses to provide the reasons (their initial meeting in the monk's temple provides no answers, merely the opening exchange) is both typical of his storytelling technique (admittedly sloppy, but I think sometimes purposely so) and a welcome change from the exposition that would have mandatory in another film.

Even when I don't like a Terry Gilliam film (BROTHERS GRIMM, TIDELAND), there's always something that leaves me breathlessly waiting for the next film.  THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS is better than both those films; despite the issues there's enough wit, style, and good performances on display that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend at least one viewing.  And it ultimately makes me even more excited to see how he manages to re-tool and re-launch THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE, which sounds like his personal white whale and another unique vision perfectly in place with the rest of his filmography.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Scream, Rinse, Repeat

Over at You Talking to Me, my entry in the Movies That Made Going to the Movies Suck for SCREAM is up and open for comments.  It's posted below with some additional thoughts.

You see, it's a lot scarier when there's no motive, Sid."

Horror was having a bad time of it in the 90s. The grisly slashers of the late 70s and early 80s were gone, and unless your last name was King or Barker, chances are most American horror up until 1996 was relegated to home video.  Despite sticking to genre in 1995's IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS and 1996's CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED, John Carpenter wasn't having any success at the box office.  Wes Craven was faring even worse.  After trying to mix genres in THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS (1991) and his return to Elm Street with WES CRAVEN'S NEW NIGHTMARE (1994) he hit a personal low point with the Eddie Murphy vehicle VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN.  Things clearly needed to change.

Enter SCREAM.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

And Here is Why

My earliest memories of the movies don't take place in a drive-in or a crowded theater.  They're not filled with lightsabers and light-cycles, they don't have explosions, stereo sound, or even color.

My earliest memories of the movies all start with a small, brown, corduroy pillow just a little larger than my head.  If I close my eyes and focus I can still smell the combination of dust and sweat that does more to remind me of my childhood than photographs I can't recall being taken, than toys I can't remember playing with.

We lived in a raised ranch in upstate New York, which means the lower level of the house was partially underground.  It was split between my bedroom, the laundry room and the den, where we had an enormous television built into a cabinet that never worked except as a make-believe computer for me when I was pretending to be an astronaut or a scientist.  Its other function was to hold up the smaller television that actually worked.  And it was that television, and that pillow, nestled up against my father in the darkness of the den, that I recall my earliest memories of movies.

My father wasn't around very much during my childhood. His job required a lot of travel, and when he was back in town he tended to hang out at the local bar more than the house. But when he was around, there was little he liked doing more than settling down in the dark of the den and watch movies. We watched everything, my father P.T. Barnum, masterminding my exposure to all of his (and consequently) my heroes.  The curtains would part, and with a wave of his whip (or beercan in this case), we both became the same age, reveling to the exploits of Bogart (our favorite), Wayne, Flynn, and Grant. I fell in love with the cool cynicism of Sam Spade, the "true grit" of Rooster Cogburn, the merriment of Robin Hood, and the suave sophistication that was the trademark of so many of Cary Grant's characters.

But more than the larger than life characters and witty rejoinders, it was the shine in my father's eyes as he watched the screen, explaining to his nine year old son who everyone was, what was going on. And all the while I soaked this in, I nestled my head in that brown pillow, that tiny pillow that was always at my father's side.

Last week after a short and sudden illness my father died. I flew to Florida to see him and say my goodbyes.  When I got to the hospital they told me he couldn't really respond to me other than with some twitches in his fingers, but that he could hear me.  For reasons which in retrospect seem monumentally stupid I hadn't seen or spoken to my father in about two years, and the time I had to say goodbye, to say all the things that should have been said but weren't, was simply too short.  But I did the best I could, and one of the last things we talked about, or I talked about, was the movies I grew up loving because of him, and how it won't be the same seeing anything now.

Over the years my taste in films have been informed, expanded, and enlightened my many sources, some of which I'll point out in the next few weeks.  But none had even a tenth of the impact my father had on me, and now that he's gone it's almost painful to sit in front of a screen and feel the light on my face, my head falling back onto a small brown pillow that's no longer there.