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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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Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010
Like a compelling novel, Serling's brainchild is the video version of a page turner. Not every chapter is a pot boiler, but when it does start to simmer, it's hard to make it stop.

For many, the tolling bells of News Year’s Eve mean one thing and one thing only. No, not unreachable resolutions or drunken dates with last minute mates. Not a rapidly degenerating Dick Clark (or his proto-replacement, Ryan Seacrest), the Big Apple, an illuminated crystal ball, and a mass Manhattan countdown. It’s has nothing to do with champagne, toasts, drunken mishaps, DUIs, and/or endless off-key choruses of “Auld Lang Syne”. In fact, for many of the more sane members of the long past-partying population, New Years is a time to reflect on something a tad more sinister - of traveling through another dimension—a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination.


That’s right, the annual signpost up ahead is the SyFy Channel’s delightful decision to run every episode of Rod Serling’s seminal Twilight Zone series as part of a twice yearly marathon (Fourth of July weekend being the other usual genre showcase stopping off point). From 1959’s “Where is Everybody?” to 1964’s “The Bewitchin’ Pool” the cable place for all things otherworldly presents all 156 slices of sobering speculative fiction from this Golden Age of Television classic. Featuring the writing of such literary luminaries as Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, and Serling himself, it (along with The Outer Limits) would form the benchmark for how fantastical material was handled within the limited scope of the small screen.


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Thursday, Sep 9, 2010
Se7en is a work of remarkable vision played out in a classic cat and mouse game, but with far too few heroes and way too many villains.

It’s been so glamorized and creatively undermined in the years since first striking cinematic gold that it’s almost impossible to remember a time when the serial killer was actually considered a viable heavy. Not just some smooth talking terror with a tendency toward the classics and fine cannibal cuisine, but a true blue horror movie menace that inspires fear, not a fanbase. All throughout the ‘90s, the FBI profiling potential of such a psycho was exploited and overexposed, creating a vacuum where something vile and reprehensible should be. Few filmmakers understood the underlying power of such a human social disease and even fewer wanted to journey down the dark and disturbed road toward unveiling such a sicko.


That’s why, some 15 years after its initial release, David Fincher’s extraordinary Se7en (now on Blu-ray) remains a grim gloomy masterpiece. It’s a work of remarkable vision played out in a classic cat and mouse with far too few heroes and way too many villains. As envisioned by screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, it’s a bleak world where good is trampled on, evil endures, and the inescapable stench of death is everywhere. Balanced between the gratuitous and the always open Gates of Hell are two dichotomous policeman - the bitter and soon to be retired William Somerset and the emotional and eager to advance David Mills. As they roam the nameless urban decay which passes for a city, they act like two sides of the same coin—resignation mixed with rage, the need to escape vs. the urge to run headstrong into the fray.


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