Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The SLIFR Spring Break Movie Quiz

Or, by its full moniker: Professor Fate's Spring-Loaded Great-Racing Spring Break Movie Quiz!

Just as I was fretting over what to choose for my eight desert island DVDs (brought to my attention courtesy of Mike Lippert and You Talking To Me), my Spring-soaked cold head's snapped by a whopping thirty-seven sanity-bending questions thanks to the nefarious Professor Fate, aka Jack Lemmon, aka Dennis Cozzalio and the always brilliant Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule.

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

But enough of the stalling through linkage...let's get to the questions (pictures forthcoming)!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Binder Challenge #2: Into the Wild

Does everyone have that moment when the concrete, impossibly straight lines of our rigid lives seem too much to bear?  When we come to the realization that we've lost sight of happiness, of truth and beauty in simplest purity?  And then there's that yearning, the urge to break away with form, with the convention of our existence and just go away, pick up a rucksack, a tattered old paperback and just move.

Although I've known that feeling, it couldn't have been further from my mind when I first came upon the story of Chris McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, in John Krakauer's incredible piece of journalism.  I was still in a euphoric blur that came with the birth of my son at the end of May 2007, it was the dog days of Summer, and I read Into the Wild sitting outside on the back porch, my ass in one folding chair and my feet propped up on another with Jack, three months old,  sleeping in a tiny cradle covered with mosquito netting by my side.  Chris' story - a bright, charismatic young man who donates his savings to charity and leaves home without a word, traveling the country dealing with life on unbridled terms until he makes his way to Alaska where he vanishes for good - forced its way in my head with the first page and refused to budge.  And although I had no inclination to pack it up and just move, its impact on life hasn't subsided.  It was one of those reading experiences where the time, place, and frame of mind mattered just as much as the words on the page.

It must have mattered to Sean Penn too, because he pours a lot of care into his adaptation, using the book and interviews with McCandless's family and people he met on his travels to as a springboard to imagine the life McCandless might have led.  INTO THE WILD is ambitious, and probably Penn's work as a director.  He has a way with visuals, and in its best moments INTO THE WILD has a grace and dignity in its images, actor and environment fusing in a raw and heartfelt marriage.  His handling of actors is also fantastic - Emile Hirsch is brilliant as Chris/Alex, and the supporting cast, particularly Catherine Keener and Hal Holbrook, all feel not just realistic but real - these are people you know or have known at some point in your lives.  When it all comes together there's a magic to the film that's undeniable.

It doesn't all come together, though.  Not enough to make it a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination, but enough so that you wonder during the good parts how they couldn't have foreseen the bad ones.  The entire opening feels like a different movie, and things don't really begin to gel until Chris is on the road.  The choice to have voiceover narration by Chris's sister (played by Jena Malone) adds nothing but bland observations and backstory that feel awkward, especially since there's a huge section of the film where it's abandoned, only to return near INTO THE WILD's conclusion.  It's almost as if Penn didn't have enough faith in his images, and wanted the audience to be sure that nothing was left unspoken.  It's a shame, because left to its own devices the film conveys the sense of wonder and loss that the book captured so well.

     "...At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again."
           Henry David Thoreau

Friday, April 9, 2010

Binder Challenge #1: I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK

Small cheat: I actually started the Binder Challenge on my personal blog a few weeks ago, so as I get the latest one ready here's the kick-off, a smaller-seen "tweener" film for Korean superstar Park-Chan wook.

Coming off the heels of LADY VENGEANCE, the final entry in the critically acclaimed Vengeance Trilogy (the other two films being SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE and the global phenomenon OLDBOY), Park Chan-wook decided to travel off the well worn path of revenge thrillers and brutal violence and move in an unexpected direction: a romantic comedy. of course, this being a Park Chan-wook film, it's a romantic comedy filled with brutal violence and revenge.

Did you expect anything less?

I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK is a bit of a mouthful, barely mentioned in his Wikipedia entry, and a disappointment at the Korean box office. On the surface this seems a bit odd, as the film is filled with his signature style: everything is framed wonderfully, the camera zipping along inhabiting the world as if it's its own character. Chan-wook employs a color palette, and the film is peopled by an oddball cast that are all given their small moments to develop and shine. And of course there's the violence - played for laughs, sure, but still readily apparent. So all the boxes are checked and we're on target to be blown away. But unlike his other films, and unlike the films I'M A CYBORG... brings to mind (I was specifically reminded of the works of Terry Gilliam, Stephen Chow, and Jean-Pierre Jeunet), the images and moments fade away almost as soon as the credits roll.

It's an interesting premise: Young-goon is a timid factory worker who, in the opening scene, attempts to "charge" herself by slitting her wrist, inserting exposed copper wires and then plugging herself into a wall outlet. You see, she thinks she's a cyborg (but that's OK), and needs to charge her batteries instead of eating food. It's a gorgeously choreographed sequenced, mixing the humor of the situation with a visceral punch as the blood flows down her arm. Young-goon is admitted to an asylum where, in typical movie fashion she comes across an motley crew of misfit patients, including Park Il-sun (played by SPEED RACER/NINJA ASSASSIN/Asian singing sensation Rain in his debut film), a bunny mask-wearing kleptomaniac who "steals" the problems of his fellow inmates.

The meet cute/fall in love plot-line is confounded by Young-goon's insistence that not only is she a cyborg, but that she needs to charge up so she can fulfill her mission to kill all the "white-uns" for taking her grandmother away from her. Park Chan-wook shoots a number of fantasy sequences where Young-goon's fingertips open up to display gun barrels, allowing her to blow everyone away in the hospital as her mouth spits out empty shells. Park Il-sun, barely equipped to handle his own psychological problems, uses Young-goon's delusions to keep her safe as they both fall in love.

The film comes together in a few quiet, beautiful moments, such as Park Il-sun "implanting" a food converter Young-goon's back. Even as you acknowledge the absurdity of the situation, the care and delicate movements serve what would in another film be a bland, typical love scene. Later, both are locked in confinement, and their method of communication demonstrates a playfulness and innocence that shines in even the darkest portions of Chan-wook's other films. But those moments are few and far between, and large sections of the movie go by that, while visually dazzling and "cool" (the first time you see Young-goon go into her Terminator mode it's hard not to gasp with geek delight) don't leave much of an impression when the scene ends.

Just writing about the movie makes me almost think I liked it better than I did. The problem is, for all the dazzling visuals and comedic beats, I'M A CYBORG, BUT THAT'S OK feels flat when all is said and done. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but it's missing the spark that fused his other films together, leaving this as a footnote in an otherwise exemplary career.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Greeting 2010, and the Binder Challenge

Yeah so, um, I've been away from this site for a while.

I could list off a hundred different reasons, but the biggest was the constant indecision as to where to spend the majority of my time - over at my personal blog or here. In the end I kind of chose neither, and the last few months have been quite nice, as I shrugged off the self-imposed responsibility of writing and focused on the holidays, my family, my (new) job, and just reading and watching for the sheer joy of doing it, as opposed to having to don the "critical cap" every time I sat down to see something, not to mention the hassle of always carrying a notebook to theaters or pausing a DVD to jot down one thought or another.

I HAVE seen a bunch of films new and old, and even more, have collected a bunch of films new and old. This poses somewhat of a problem for me.

I know: "No shit, Dr. Jones," those of you that know me are mouthing to your monitors right now. "You have a lot of problems. That's why we tend to stay at least 50 yards away from you and carry pepper spray."

Ha ha...thanks. Now stop talking to your monitors and let's get back to the one I'm talking about.

I've talked before about the slowly growing pile of unwatched DVDs I have at the house. Despite being near a library, despite access to thousands of films online and a Netflix subscription since 2001, I can't help the impulse to actually go to a store and buy a film. New movies, old movies...a double-dip or two when a Special or Limited edition comes's an addiction. And it's only gotten worse since I got a Blu-Ray player over Christmas. To save space I started buying thick leather binders and getting rid of all the plastic, space-wasting cases.

Unfortunately now I have a massive pile of thick leather binders taking up even more space than the plastic cases were.

I've got to do something about it. I've been thinking a lot about the lack of writing on the site, and about the fact that I'm wasting more money that I should feel comfortable with, especially when most of it's going to something that just sits there like a lump, unwatched and unloved. So I'm setting myself a challenge that should take care of my spending, my lack of content here on Celluloid Moon, and that ominous stack of binders glowering at me in the corner of our den. Thus is born the Binder Challenge:
  1. Starting today, I will go through each binder and watch every unwatched film in the order they appear in the binder (the binders have zero order or structure to them).
  2. After watching each film, I'll do some kind of write-up on Celluloid Moon (or Geek Monkey, but I'll cross-post if that's the case). More often than not this will take the form of a review, except when it doesn't.
  3. When I'm finished with a one binder I'll move on to the next one (*duh*)
Pretty simple, right? Here are the two conditions:
  1. Every single film needs a write-up; I can't watch another movie until I've written up the one I've just watched.
  2. I cannot purchase another film until all the films in the binders have been watched.
There. Nice, structured...I'll force myself to save money, see a lot of films that have been neglected for far too long, and I'll be writing a lot more on the site. It occurs to me that if these are my biggest problems, life must be pretty good. And it is. I don't mean to belittle all the other things that are going on, both in the world at large and in my own personal existence. But my hope (glancing as it may be) is that doing something like this will allow me to express some things that have been, for whatever reason, reluctant to come out. Movies - perhaps even more than books - have always been a defining force in my life, and this might provide some sort of outlet for what I want to express.

If nothing else, you'll get a nice look at the type of movies that interest me. So here's to the start of a new journey, one that will echo other paths I'm taking in my life. Hope you hang in there with me and comment, share, predict, agree, argue...whatever your fancy.