Friday, September 23, 2011

All My Blogs Come Home to Roost*

(Upon review I kinda buried the lead.  Moving to a new blog: Stranded Below Nirvana.  Thanks.  Keep reading.)

Sometimes you take a break without even knowing you needed it.

The last few months were spent enjoying the things I've been writing about for years, on this blog and others, without the feeling that I was under some sort of self-imposed deadline to get it down, to cogitate and consolidate my thoughts on a movie, a novel, or music into some semblance of structure for publication.

It was nice.

I've always suffered from the problem of wanting to write about too many things, and thinking I needed to compartmentalize those thoughts into different blogs.  One one blog became two, two became three, and combined with writing gigs for other web zines and it got to the point where I wasn't enjoying what I was seeing, or hearing, and the act of putting words down lost its passion.  Here at Celluloid Moon it became particularly hard, since it's been this blog more than many others where I've come to find and share thoughts with dozens of good and decent people who love movies with the same verve and enthusiasm I do, and better yet, can write like a bunch of muthafuckers on fire about the French New Wave, Italian giallo, the New Hollywood of the 70s and the tent-pole spectacles of today with a fierce intelligence and spark that rallied me to be a better writer, and moreover, a better viewer, of films.

It was that better viewer that sat down over the summer delighting in equal measure things like CAPTAIN AMERICA and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, the astonishing Blu-rays of Lucas's STAR WARS and Cocteau's ORPHEUS, and perhaps my favorite memory, the feeling of my son sitting in my lap as we watched our first movie in the theater together, the fantastic WINNIE THE POOH.  But this feeling of delight didn't end with films, the experience of reading books - any books - again without worrying about when the review was due or if it fit with the audience's tastes at the web zine I was writing for was exhilarating.  And music?  Music sounded better than it had in years: it felt like everything old was new again, and everything new was hitting just the right spots to make it my favorite album for however long I was listening to it until the next most amazing thing ever blasted from my speakers.

And in the middle of it all, the itch started to come back.  Not all at once, but was a simple prickling near my ankles grew, became more agitated, until I started looking at all the places I had been writing, and decided to just start fresh, with a place I could ramble about anything I wanted to, whether it was the new batch of DVDs and Blu-rays sitting forlornly in my binders, the waiting books on my nightstand, both physical and virtual, and the literally dozens of albums from every genre imaginable straining to jump up and be heard.

So starting officially and approximately October 1st (though there is five years of content nestled and waiting), I'll be writing pretty regularly about everything under the sun over at my new home, Stranded Below Nirvana.  Those who know me will say, "hey, that looks like your old site Geek Monkey."  And they'd be right.  I didn't want to waste the site, and I really enjoy the extras that come with a Squarespace account, so a fresh coat of paint later and there you are.

If you were kind enough to link to Celluloid Moon, I hope you'll make the switch and point over to Stranded Below Nirvana.  I still plan to talk (probably a lot) about the movies I see and love, but also about a lot more.  For those I link to here, fear not:  Stranded Below Nirvana has a links page where you'll all be linked to once again.

Thanks for reading.  See you all soon.  I'm sure there's something we can talk about.

* Title bastardized from the excellent short story by Harlan Ellison, "All the Birds Come Home to Roost"

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Winter's Bone (2010)

Despite the great performances, the first thing I thought about WINTER'S BONE after the credits rolled was just how economical it was. A shade under 100 minutes, the film wastes very little time driving you into the heart of the story - 17-year old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) has to find her father, a crank cooker named Jessup awaiting trial who put the family house and land up for his bond. Knowing he'll never show up for court, and having to raise her younger brother and sister alone (her mother spends most of the film in a trance-like state), holding on to the the house and land is the only thing keeping Ree and her family from disintergrating.

Everything you need to know about Ree, her family, and the various players who will fade in and out of the story come from this search, and it's a beautiful piece of storytelling from writer/director Debra Granik and her writing partner and producer Anne Rosellini. Set in the Ozark region of Missouri, WINTER'S BONE takes a very simple premise (daughter searches for lost father) and imbues it with a haunting, otherworldly atmosphere by grounding everything in a reality that few mainstream moviegoers are familiar with. The poverty and familial culture represented in the film feels almost classical at times - Jessup Dolly, the missing father; the mysterious Thump Milton, who runs the crooked kingdom of drugs that the town turns a blind eye to; and of course the vengeful, outcast Teardrop, Jessup's brother and Ree's eventual partner in the search for Jessup, who may not even be alive.

I know it was a foregone conclusion that Christian Bale was going to get the Oscar for best Supporting Actor, but John Hawkes as Teardrop turns in an amazing, subtle and brooding performance, alternating between physically terrifying and introspective, holding every scene he's in with a haunting stare that is captivating to watch. It's as much as transformative performance as Bale's especially when compared to the first film I saw him in, ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, where he played a lovesick nebbishy shoe salesman whose arm catches fire. Here he has a presence similar to Dennis Hopper, and the climactic scene where the town sherrif pulls Teardrop over is incredible: one of the best fight sequences of the year (Alison Willmore brought this up in her 2010 wrap-up on the IFC News Podcast) without a single punch.

It feels like Jennifer Lawrence sprung out of nowhere to give life to Ree Dolly, a young girl forced to grow up much faster than anyone should have to, raising her siblings and caring for her mother all while to trying to keep food on the table and the influences around her from infecting herself and her family. Her voice is worn with experience, tired and tough, with no room for negotiation or excuses. In a film where every face is lined with a million stories, it's impossible to turn away from hers, and Lawrence manages to be carry the plot of WINTER'S BONE without having to rely on anything other than her determinedness, her drive to find her father and save her family.

Filmed with a striking grace, with a tight screenplay anchored by two excellent Oscar-nominated performances, WINTER'S BONE may have been the big surprise at the awards ceremony this year (it scraped up four nominations including Best Picture), but to anyone who saw the film it should have come as no surprise at all. Great movie, and definitely one of the best of 2010.

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.