• My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (First Look Features) DVD Review

    Released by: First Look Features
    Released on: September 14th, 2010.
    Director: Werner Herzog
    Cast: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Chloe Sevigny, Brad Dourif, Udo Kier, Michael Pena, Grace Zabriskie
    Year: 2010
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    My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done – Movie Review:

    The first collaboration between David Lynch, here serving as producer, and Werner Herzog, handling directorial duties, 2010's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? is a weird film. You'd expect it to be, given the fact that it's from the men who gave us Eraserhead and Even Dwarves Started Small, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a remarkably odd movie not just in its quirky, surrealist fashion but also in how simple and conventional it is.

    The film follows a young man named Brad McCullum (Michael Shannon) who, we learn at the beginning of the film so this isn't in any way a spoiler, stabbed his mother (Grace Zabriskie) to death with a sword while she was having tea with the ladies who live across the street. Brad then went back home, got a shotgun, and told the cops who fast encroached on the scene that he was holding two hostages. The lead detective on the case, Hank Havenhurst (Willem Dafoe) and his partner, Detective Vargas (Michael Pena), soon meet up with Brad's fiancé, Ingrid (Chloe Sevigny), who tells him that he hasn't been the same since he got back from a trip to Peru (a subplot that has nothing to do with the story at all, really, but which allows Herzog to go back to the river where he shot Fitzcaraldo). Shortly thereafter, the man who was directing a play in which Brad was to star, Lee Meyers (Udo Kier), shows up on the scene and tells Hank about Brad's increasingly bizarre behavior over the last few weeks, including a visit he accompanied him on to an ostrich farm run by his Uncle Ted (Brad Dourif).

    As Hank tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle and figure out why Brad killed his mother, Brad orders pizza, plays old gospel music, periodically refers to himself as Farouk, and rolls canisters of oatmeal down the driveway towards the police.

    This wholly bizarre reconstruction of your standard hostage thriller is all set to an organ heavy score from Ernst Reijseger's and shot by long time Herzog cinematographer, Peter Zeitlinger, who bathes the picture in hot light and seemingly opens the camera's aperture as far as possible to basically bleach the image. As such, it's got an appropriately odd look and sound to match its bizarre story at every turn - and there are a lot of turns. Whether it's a scene in which Udo Kier's glasses are swallowed by an ostrich, one of the multiple ‘freeze frame' shots Herzog employs (which are actually the actors trying really hard to stand still), a random appearance by a midget, a montage of Middle Eastern village men herding goats or a bit in which Shannon's Brad expresses to his mother his disdain for Jell-O, this is a film that flies in the face of convention and which appears to be, like Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, a case of its director having fun with his audience.

    With a cast as strong as this you'd expect good things in terms of the acting, and on that level the film doesn't disappoint. Shannon is great as the lead, playing his part with the sort of wild-eyed enthusiasm Herzog found in Klaus Kinski, while cute Chloe Sevigny plays her Ingrid as a well-intentioned if slightly mousey and maybe slightly dim girl. Her character is the opposite of Shannon's and they make an interesting couple, showing no passion, love or lust for one another and still somehow fitting like a glove. Dafoe is strong as the detective, never going over the top as he's sometimes apt to do and delivering a smooth, restrained turn where his more experienced Hank Havenhurst plays a mentor of sorts to Pena's less experienced Vargas. Kier and Dourif are brilliant as usual in their supporting roles, with both stealing more than a few scenes and Dourif in particular delivering one of those Herzogian monologues he's perfected over the years (see The Wild Blue Yonder for proof positive), ranting about a giant chicken that he raised and then ate. At the center of all of this is Brad's mother, never named but played perfectly by Grace Zabriskie with this creepy calmness to her persona. Although she's never anything but incredibly nice to everyone in the movie, it's not that much of a stretch to see how after spending as much time with her as Brad has that she'd drive you to kill.

    My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done – DVD Review:

    The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a pretty good one once you get accustomed to the intended look of the film. As mentioned, the whole picture runs very hot and Zeitlinger has shot it in such a way that a lot of the bolder hues have been sucked out of it, giving it a very arid look. It works in the context of the story, but it might initially throw viewers a bit and make them wonder what's wrong with the colors and the black levels. Detail is pretty strong, and while there are some compression artifacts dancing around in the background of a few darker scenes, the transfer is generally well authored.

    The only audio option for the movie is an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound track, though subtitles are offered up in English SDH and Spanish. The 5.1 track on the disc is pretty strong, with some nice surround usage spreading out Reijseger's score without ever burying the performer's dialogue. Levels are well balanced and there are no problems with hiss or distortion to note, while bass response is as strong as you'd want it to be.

    The biggest and best of the extra features on this disc is a commentary track with Werner Herzog who is joined by co-writer Herbert Golder and producer Eric Bassett. It's a pretty lively track with each of the three men finding a fair bit to say about the film, though it's not surprising to find that Herzog has a bit more to offer than the other two participants. They cover the casting, the location shooting and plot ideas as well as where the inspiration came from, a bit of Lynch's involvement, various shot set ups and more.
    From there, check out the behind the scenes featurette called Behind The Madness (27:31) which includes input from Werner Herzog and Herbert Golder among others. This is a good mix of interview snippets and footage shot on the set of the film. It also gives a bit of background detail on the case that inspired this story and about Herzog's want to shoot the Peruvian footage on location in the jungle.

    Aside from that, there's also a short film directed by Ramin Bharani and narrated by Herzog entitled Plastic Bag (18:27). This odd little film traces the journey of a plastic bag as it's carried to various destinations by the wind and it's reminiscent of Bill Mason's Paddle To The Sea.

    Also included on the DVD are a trailer for the feature, trailers for three other First Look Studios properties, menus and chapter stops.

    My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done – The Final Word:

    With this film, Herzog has taken the standard police/hostage thriller and reconstructed it using a fair bit of Lynch's own technique though still stamping it as indelibly his own creation. The performances are fantastic across the board and the cinematography outstanding. It's an odd film, to be sure, but it pulls you in with its twisted sense of humor and legitimately interesting storyline. First Look's DVD is a good one, with a nice picture, good sound quality and some solid extra features.