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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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Thursday, Sep 9, 2010
In fact, almost all the juvenilia and scatology, all the toilet humor and sexual slapstick, become part of this movie's maniacal world.

When Not Ready for Prime Time Players Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi decided to turn their love of blues into a running performance piece musical spot on Saturday Night Live, no one could have predicted that the long running sketch comedy showcase would end up spawning several hit or miss cinematic efforts. But in 1990, producer Lorne Michaels secured a first look deal from Paramount, and from that point on, every possible popular bit from the program was seen as big screen fodder. From fan favorite Wayne’s World to cinematic abominations like It’s Pat and A Night at the Roxbury there was a belief that SNL was a hotbed of possibilities just waiting to be exploited.


However, after the less than successful returns of Superstar in 1999 and The Ladies Man in 2000, studio suits placed a moratorium on said small screen ideas. After all, without a major commercial value, there were seen as self-indulgent and unnecessary. Now, a decade later, comes the rebirth of the category with MacGruber (new to DVD and Blu-ray in an “Unrated” version - more on this later). Based on the famed ABC action adventure series MacGyver and turning its non-violent secret agent who can find an out in everyday objects into the most accidental of heroes, it hopefully signals a comeback for SNL based burlesque. The results here definitely signify the potential for a rib-tickling renaissance.


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Tuesday, Sep 7, 2010
Being dark and dour doesn't translate into being delightful. While successful in reinventing other genres, the Italians really blew it with this bland crime saga.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s, they were champions of neo-realism while dabbling in the occasional epic muscleman movie known as the ‘peplum’. In the ‘60s, they shocked the world with their brazen depictions of sexuality as well as their revisionist mindset toward the Western.


Indeed, from the grandeur of its production designs to the earthiness of its vision, old school Italian cinema remains a careful combination of spectacle and schlock, its masterpieces frequently marred by bad dubbing, dull acting, and a careless, continental flair for the illogical and the insipid. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the rote gangster films coming out of Rome during the heyday of such foreign film appreciation. After all, what does it say about the country that ‘created’ the mafia that America consistently surpasses it in dense, dramatic artistry?


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