Call for Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Thursday, Nov 13, 2014
This spaghetti western is clearly a prelude to Sergio Bergonzelli's later sexploitaiton films.

I’m sure there are others, but The Last Gun is the only Spaghetti Western I can think of that begins with voice-over narration. “The fast draw holds the law in its hands, and the big gun was boss,” says a friendly cowboy voice that would be better suited for a Disney animation. “Now being boss wasn’t just a matter of opinion. You had to be fast, real fast—faster than Jim Hart’s left hand.”

We then see some washed-up old man who should be holding a pitchfork instead of gun challenge Jim Hart (Cameron Mitchell) to a duel. Hart fails to talk the guy out of it, so he has no choice but to use his left hand to draw a gun and shoot him down dead.

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Wednesday, Nov 12, 2014
I Live My Life is a film that lands in the lineage of the '30s films about the screwball comedy derived from marital bickering.

Here are the rules for a film like I Live My Life: a man and woman must spend the whole movie arguing in order to prove they’re made for each other, and a headstrong woman must ultimately give way to what the man wants. In the wake of the 1934 classics It Happened One Night and Twentieth Century (which are more even-handed), Hollywood unleashed a flood of bickering screwballs, of which Joan Crawford and Brian Aherne play their parts as Kay Bentley and Terry O’Neill in I Live My Life.

Kay, a spoiled heiress of self-parodic lapels, literally stumbles into Terry’s archaeological dig on the island of Naxos. The smug archeologist is excavating a Venus, and he compares himself to Pygmalion, leading Kay to call him Pyg. Their literary and articulate repartee is courtesy of writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. He erects a three-part structure that wobbles in the last act (when Terry tries to be an executive vice-president) but makes up for it by getting louder. Crawford fans will enjoy the fire when she unleashes her anger, as she’s far more interesting in those scenes than when politely apologizing or casting down her face and making cow-eyes, though she always retains a fierce sense of control.

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Tuesday, Nov 11, 2014
Not every cinematic bomb remains forgettable. Sometimes, a failure is just a gemstone in disguise that will only reveal itself well past the release date.

Movies usually bomb because they are bad. Uber bad. Can’t be redeemed by acting, directing, or scripting terrible. In those cases, the write-off is obvious. As the medium moves on, the truly awful fall by the wayside, brought up only when discussions of the worst of the worst are warranted.

Sometimes, however, a film failure isn’t. Instead, it’s a victim of circumstances; the culture of the moment, the counterintuitive perspective of the final product, the star/director choices. And then there are those cases where a movie is literally ahead of its time, unable to be enjoyed in its own temporal moment but, once removed, is revitalized and reevaluated. Some may argue that this is a current phenomenon, home video and the internet allowing for such reassessment. In reality, as long as there have been film critics, there has been such scholarship.

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Monday, Nov 10, 2014
All of the climbers in White Tower allegorize their treks up the mountain to some extent.

“A mountain can be a symbol of the obstacles that you encounter in life. To conquer it is to gain self-confidence and courage. You understand that, don’t you?” speaks a patrician British codger (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), spelling it out for the practical American ex-soldier Ordway (Glenn Ford), who doesn’t quite understand why he’s tramping up a mountain in the Alps known as The White Tower.

Sometimes a mountain is only a mountain, perhaps, but Ordway’s doing it to impress a woman: the lovely and aloof Carla (Alida Valli). The mountain symbolizes her lost father, and she won’t let go of it until she finds somebody to replace him in her emotions. This is also spelled out bluntly in Paul Jarrico’s script from James Ramsey Ullman’s 1945 novel.

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Friday, Nov 7, 2014

While fans of the possible franchise might feel cheated, Big Hero 6 proves that Disney did the right thing by bringing Marvel into its multi-billion dollar, multinational film fold. While concepts like The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy will continue to hold weight up and until the moment superheroes fall out of favor, the kid-friendly refashioning of this comic book property argues that the House of Mouse’s current creative approach has some incredible legs. Fiercely entertaining and unafraid to dabble in adult ideals, the end result rockets to the top of 2014’s array of age-appropriate titles.

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