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Sunday, Oct 3, 2010
Undeniably quirky, but also very effective from a straight dramatic standpoint, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? argues for Herzog's continued viability as one of the great filmmakers of the post-modern age.

For most of his career, director Werner Herzog has been struggling with the narrative themes of man vs. nature vs. man vs. his own nature. In brilliant films like Aquirre: The Wrath of God, Fitzcarraldo, and documentaries like Little Dieter Needs to Fly and Grizzly Man, the German auteur has positioned the practical human condition against the hurdles - natural, social, or psychological - that would stand in their way. Even his recent deconstruction of the police procedural, the brilliant Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, offered a contextual discourse on individual evil up against perceived public good, all set within a post-Katrina landscape beset by the unleashed elements of a hurricane devastated terrain.


His latest collaboration with producer/genius David Lynch, a self-described attempt to get back to “essential filmmaking” reflects this life long battle between the various forces of that effect our lives. Given the unusual title My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? and based upon the true story of a young man inspired by Aeschylus’s Oresteia to brutally kill his own mother, it’s yet another example of the visionary maverick’s undying need to expand his own artistic and professional horizons. Collecting a group of actors he longed to work with and aided in the script writing by Greek mythology expert Herbert Golder, the result is another delightful genre reinvention, Dog Day Afternoon where the standoff isn’t just between police and protagonist, but is instead intertwined with our killer and his kindly, understanding friends.


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Sunday, Oct 3, 2010
Never Sleep Again won't be winning any awards as the kind of documentary that changes and rearranges the genre. Instead, it is a wildly informative summary of a seminal horror icon - and the people who populated his dark, disturbing dreamscapes.

Christian Slater and Brad Pitt were almost cast in the role that propelled an unknown Johnny Depp to semi-stardom. The second movie is often called “the gayest” horror sequel ever made (and it may have been intentional on the part of the filmmakers). Part three saw future fright masters Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont deconstructing the entire franchise mythology, while director Renny Harlin was hired to direct Part Four mostly because the suits at New Line thought he could use a job…and a bath.  From the baby oriented angle forced on the fifth installment to the decision to ‘end’ the series with a surreal 3D send-off, the dream demon child molesting pedophile created by horror maestro Wes Craven anchored one of the most successful and unprecedented macabre monopolies in all of horror.


So naturally someone would eventually come along hoping to celebrate all seven movies that make up the series proper (including a nice nod to mash-up Freddy vs. Jason), relying on the talking head anecdotes of those directly involved in the Nightmare on Elm Street dynasty to fill in the blanks that fans and fellow Fred Heads already know by rote. Thus we have Never Sleep Again, Daniel Farrands and Andrew Kasch’s well intentioned four hour walk through of everything Krueger. From humble true life origins to a mid ‘80s merchandising blitz that had parents and pundits in an uproar, this point by point breakdown of each and every step in the claw hand’s canon is inherently interesting and purist obsessive. But it’s more than that. It’s also an oral history of New Line Cinema and the film franchise that turned the outsider midnight movie distributor into a moneymaking mini-major studio.


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Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010
While Newell does do a great job of giving us a cursory establishment of the relationships...and a basic goal-oriented conceit, there's just not enough happening between the battles.

At a crucial moment in Jerry Bruckheimer’s wannabe mega-blockbuster, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (now out on DVD and Blu-ray from the House of Mouse), an expert knife wielder working with the shady Sheik Amar (a spirited Alfred Molina) turns to the cheery chatterbox and says “Has anyone ever told you that you talk too much?” In one important way, the character could be addressing everyone in the cast. From its expositional overdoses to its desire to spell everything out - emotion, conspiracy, threat - in reams of repetitive dialogue, this is one of the talkiest popcorn films ever, so conversationally driven in fact that it almost derails and disintegrates under the weight of its words.


Luckily director Mike Newell found a cast capable of making up for the endless blather, building a strong bond between themselves and the audience. Then, he added some expert action to seal the deal. Sure, the constant careening off walls and pillars and rooftops is more District B13 than Disney, but when you’ve got the man who made Pirates of the Caribbean into an entertainment zombie (read: almost impossible to kill), and a video game basis to guide your spectacle, we should expect a little unrealistic bravura. Luckily, Prince of Persia has action o’plenty, and excellent actors to see us through the occasional silliness.


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Thursday, Sep 16, 2010
Delicatessen may have a deeper meaning as a social commentary or a serio-comic allusion, but the true nature of this beast is how magnificent Jeunet and Caro's visions meld and coexist.

At first, it seems like a lot of little disconnected elements fused together, a twee combination of eccentricities and events that play like a fairy tale flailing in the boiling brain of one of the fevered Brothers Grimm. The rules of this weird dystopian society struggle to be understood, from the obsessive fascination with food (including the use of corn as a commodity) and the post-nuclear haze to the Luddite like vegetarian resistance movement known as the “Troglodistes”.


In between, we meet ex-circus clowns, smoking school kids, blustery busybodies, inventors, and a man living in his own personal frog legs/escargot factory. Together they form a smorgasbord of unusual pieces—a Delicatessen of demented delights—finally brought into focus by the brilliance of artists/directors Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro. As a benchmark for its creative duo, a team that would go on to craft the equally brilliant City of Lost Children, this cracked cautionary tale offers us an iconoclastic glimpse into man’s inhumanity to man.


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Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010
Red Riding is a series of minor victories, each rotten apple uncovered helping to remove the unrelenting stink from almost a decade of ethical decay.

We hate to think that the world is an ugly place. Even with a bleak landscape of cynicism and jaded social community surrounding us, we long to believe that people are basically good and that existence, albeit bested by tragedy and pain, is more or less moral.  Unfortunately, crime and other hideous acts against humanity rear their all too frequent head to remind us of those well worn ethical cliches: that there is not greater monster than man, that individuals, when not looking for ways to undermine each other, are actually plotting sickening acts of serial madness, and that those empowered with protecting us and who find duty in such deliverance may have ulterior intentions themselves.


Thus we have the Red Riding Quartet, a powerful collection of fiction by UK writer David Peace (an ironic name, indeed). The four novels, each named after a year (Nineteen Seventy-Four, Nineteen Seventy-Seven, Nineteen Eighty, and Nineteen Eighty-Three), center around the infamous “Yorkshire Ripper” case that spooked the seemingly sedate English countryside in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s—though it’s really only part of a multi-layered approach. Within each individual narrative, we get subtexts involving personal ambition, police corruption, abuse of power, and that most well worn of “ugly underneath” archetypes—the small, secluded, close knit community rife with redolent secrets. Instead of arguing for crime and punishment as a neat and tidy affair, Peace parlays our already ripe skepticism into a noir of gratuitous grimness.


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