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by Bill Gibron

5 Oct 2010

It’s the moment that made believers out of those who thought animation automatically meant cloying kid’s stuff. As our earnest heroine, Belle, begins to fall for her capture, the domineering and horrific Beast, the fragile voice of an old china teapot sets the tone. As performed by Broadway and film veteran Angela Landsbury and illustrated by a new breed of Disney artists, the title song to the House of Mouse’s 1991 masterpiece Beauty and the Beast proved that the pen and ink designs that drove the company for nearly 80 years could transcend the genre and turn into something seminal…something special…something sensational. A few months later, when the supposedly unthinkable happened, that singular sequence was constantly referenced as one of the reasons why.

That’s because, like it or not, Beauty and the Beast was a trendsetter. It pushed industry envelopes and defied categorical limitations. Up until its release, part of the late ‘80s rebirth of the company’s creative fortune, no animated film was deemed worthy of Best Picture consideration. While they had snuck into certain categories (score, song and some of the technicals) and even warranted their own class of recognition, “cartoons” just couldn’t cross over and compete for the Academy’s highest honor. Beauty and the Beast changed all that. While Aladdin would become a huge commercial hit and The Lion King would tap into a whole different demographic (read: boys) who typically avoided such “girly” goings-on, it was the classic fairytale reimagined that brought an aesthetic and critical shot in the arm to the genre.

by Bill Gibron

4 Oct 2010

(Special thanks goes to fellow critic and Village Voice contributor Lance Goldenberg for the premise of this piece).

At some point, The Human Centipede (new to DVD and Blu-ray from IFC Films) will be made into an opera. Not in the non-traditional sense, meaning someone will come along and covert the sadistically sick foreign horror film into some manner of mainstream US morality play. No, what we are talking about is a literal musicale, with acts and solos and a score (perhaps penned by someone like Philip Glass) which captures all the clinic cruelty of Tom Six’s sensational shock fest in all its harrowingly heightened dramatics. Imagine the singular moments: Dr. Heiter singing for his beloved 3-Hund; an American girls duet as they are lost in the woods. Another fabulous passage as our mad scientist explains the medical procedure; Katsuro’s glorification of the Asian male, and his shame when - as the lead in the centipede - he must defecate. Characters dying. The police arriving. 

Ever since it hit the festival circuit last year, Six’s experiment in repugnance has been the stuff of heated discussion and dismissive scandal. It’s been called everything from a “masterpiece” to a “miscreant pile of self-indulgent garbage.” If it’s art, it’s the kind without any real redeeming social or political value (though a certain subtext can be read into it) and if its exploitation, it often fails to deliver the debauchery one expects from the genre. Landing somewhere solidly in the middle, this is an unforgettable cinematic experience that’s also unforgiveable, unfathomable, and unseemly as Hell. Movies aren’t supposed to make you feel this dirty, this polluted, this…disturbed.

by Bill Gibron

3 Oct 2010

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.

by Bill Gibron

3 Oct 2010

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.

by Bill Gibron

21 Sep 2010

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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