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by Bill Gibron

7 Sep 2010

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?

by Bill Gibron

6 Sep 2010

It’s clear that Ken Russell hates organized religion. From his deft deconstruction of the Church in The Devils to his blasphemous repurposing of sacred iconography throughout his career, he has been a one man directorial critic of the clergy ever since he first put pretense to celluloid. It’s also obvious that Russell adores music. Most of his oeuvre has been in the service of pushing classical composers to the fore, albeit in his own unique, revisionist manner. So it’s no surprise then that at the height of his fame as Britain’s artist enfant terrible, he would use his extraordinary visual acumen to bring The Who’s seminal Tommy to life. Not only did the noise being made by Pete Townshend and the boys fit directly into his ‘sound as inspiration’ designs, but the premise of the performance piece easily endeared itself to his “we’re not going to take it” taunts on faith as fraud.

For those unfamiliar with the celebrated ‘60s rock opera, Tommy centers on a little boy who, thanks to a horrific childhood trauma (changed in the movie from the original LP origins), is suddenly struck death, dumb, and blind. His mother (here played brilliantly by Ann-Margaret) and his “Uncle” Frank (another knockout from Russell fave Oliver Reed) are angered by his sudden affliction and do everything in their power to find an answer. This includes seeking out the help of huckster healers (Eric Clapton and Arthur Brown), drug pushers (Tina Turner as ‘The Acid Queen’), family (Paul Nicholas’ Cousin Kevin, Keith Moon’s pedophilic Uncle Ernie), and a renowned, if suspect doctor (Jack Nicholson). When his propensity for pinball is discovered, Tommy (a mesmerizing Roger Daltrey) takes on the champ (Elton John) and soon becomes world famous and wealthy. Indeed, with his growing celebrity comes a cult willing to do anything the newly fashioned messiah says - up to a point.

by Bill Gibron

30 Aug 2010

Sometimes, a title is all you need. Within said moniker, everything and anything is possible. Coming up with the perfect label is never easy, but when you do, it does almost all of your narrative heavy lifting. You can even throw logical and esoteric wrenches into the mix, and as long as your tag takes care of the counterbalance, you’re home free. Such is the case with Jeffrey Lieber, Damon Lindelof, and J.J. Abrams’ absolutely brilliant Lost. Not only did said brand indicate the basic premise of his complex castaway drama but it suggested the level of depth viewers could expect in the sometimes arcane path toward enlightenment.

It’s a feeling carried over to the recently released multi-disc Blu-ray package of the complete six seasons. Within its world of known conspiracies and series secrets are a wealth of hidden extras that make the return trip through Series One through Six a breathtaking reexamination of the entire Lost legacy. In fact, it’s safe to say that this seminal TV show was always more interested in the journey than the eventual answers found along the way. Those revelations kept fans riveted, but just like the name “Lost” suggests, the real purpose was to propose realities outside the rhetoric, to reduce the survival of a bunch of plane crash victims into a matryoshka of multi-layered meanings.

by Bill Gibron

24 Aug 2010

They call it a “maternal instinct”.  By its assumed inherent nature, it suggests nurturing and protection. Taken to extremes, however, it could mean suffocating and domineering - after all, it’s not called “smothering” someone for nothing. Still, when her resolve is against the wall and her offspring are threatened, the female of any species will bristle and battle back with murderous precision. In a fascinating follow-up to his glorious 2006 giant monster movie The Host, Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho has decided to combine familial dysfunction with a quirky whodunit to create Mother. Featuring a fabulous lead performance from Asian TV star Kim Hye-ja and a twisting turning narrative that never gives away its intricate secrets, the results transcend the type to literally rewrite the genres being referenced.

Our harried heroine works in a medicinal herb shop. She also does a little illegal acupuncture on the side. As a single parent, she worries about her mentally challenged son Do-joon. He’s slow, quick to forget, and easily taken advantage of - especially by his ne’er do well best buddy Jin-tae. One night, after some drunken fun, Do-joon follows a frightened school girl down a dark back alley. The next day, she is found dead, and he is the lead suspect. Thanks to police incompetence, a open and shut investigation, and a shady high profile lawyer, Do-joon is framed and sent to prison. For her part, his mother believes he is innocent, and proceeds to follow-up forgotten leads and legitimate red herrings in a quest for the truth. What she’s not prepared for, however, are the many secrets she herself is keeping, or the depths she will sink in order to save her only son.

by Bill Gibron

22 Aug 2010

It’s tough being Miley Cyrus nowadays As the last vestiges of her phenom status grow up and head off to middle school, as the blatant backlash to her meteoric rise settles in and becomes precedent, as her attempts to leave a certain Ms. Montana behind for bigger and better things stalls and stumbles, there are those who still cop to her place as a relevant pop culture figure. Part of this perplexing process involves finding the proper “adult” roles to help the Southern fried 17-year-old make the grand media leap. This past year, two such examples struggled into cinemas worldwide. The most recent was a blink and you’ll miss it bit in the atrocious Sex and the City sequel. The first was an attempt to build on the bank already established by schmaltz expert author Nicholas Sparks with yet another adaptation of his work. The Last Song, however, is a poor representation for all involved - star and scribe.

Billy Ray’s baby plays Veronica “Ronnie” Miller, the typical angry teen being shipped off to dad by a distant, disconnected mom. Once a piano prodigy and student at Julliard, our heroine naturally shuns the instrument and the paternal influence that pushed her in that direction in the first place. As Dad (Greg Kinnear) deals with his disgruntled adolescent and her younger brother, Ronnie runs into local hottie Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth) and the attraction is immediate. Of course, Miss Thing is too cool for this Georgia rube and she rejects his initial advances. Eventually, they become close, which helps Ronnie deal with her complicated feelings toward her father. Just when things seem to be improving, illness hits the Miller home. Then Will leaves for college. Struggling to keep it together, Ronnie must grow up and help realize her dad’s final dream - an unfinished song for his beloved daughter.

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