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Wednesday, Apr 3, 2013
Can something considered a masterpiece be overrated, or is such a reaction merely the height of crass critical insularity?

A debate has been raging on the Internet over the past two weeks, a war of words between a certain select group of critics and their equally astute peers. It all centers around a recent poll by Indiewire (as part of their Criticwire brand) dealing with, and we quote, “Overrated Masterpieces.” Now, if that tag isn’t confusing enough (if something is considered a “masterpiece,” can it really be “overrated?”), many of the answers were. As pointed out by Calum Marsh in his Film.com response “The Movie Isn’t ‘Overrated,’ You’re Just Lazy” several of the opinions offered were nothing more than dismissals and assertions. While the framework of the piece may have allowed for such shortcuts, Marsh argues that many of the conclusions can be summed up in the following way: I’m right, everyone else is wrong.


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Friday, Feb 22, 2013
Our picks for who will win, and who should win, the Oscars for the year in cinema, 2012.

It could be one of the more interesting Oscar years ever. When the Academy decided to snub both Ben Affleck and Kathryn Bigelow for their highest directing honors, it seemed to suggest a desire to move beyond the slow, steady slog of ceremonies and given accolades (and their accompanying predictability) to actually acknowledge something beyond the rote and the routine. Complicating matters further was the desire to include a formidable foreign film entry among the other Best Picture nods. Yet even within that anomaly, the same old malaise sets in. By Sunday night, the 24th of February, 2013, we will learn if an upstart indie set against the backdrop of a Katrina like Gulf Coast can really compete against a blood slavery exploitation revenge flick, as well as the usual end of year fare.


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Wednesday, Jan 23, 2013
In the eighth installment of Michael Apted’s epochal documentary series, his aging participants (one of cinema’s greatest assemblage of living characters) provide not just a telescope into the past but also a kind of primer for how to live, even as the specter of mortality starts to cast its shadow.

This was a film series that should have been nothing but a gimmick. 1964’s 7 Up was a short and none-too-serious look at a gaggle of 14 English schoolchildren from a variety of backgrounds. The narrator made a lark of it, intoning about the children’s styles of play and pointing them out after the other (“there’s Nicholas…and Tim”) as though he were identifying different species of animal in some amusing wildlife short. What ideology existed in the short seemed to come from the filmmakers’ reflexive expectation that the rich kids would be assured of powerful places in society, while the poorer kids would have a harder time of it. The three prep-school boys reciting in plummy tones the list of exclusive institutions they were sure to attend were set in direct contrast to the orphanage boy asking a simple question: “What is a university?” There were hints of something deeper here, particularly its version of the old Jesuit maxim: “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.” But it didn’t seem to be anything made for longevity.


Eight films on, director Michael Apted (who worked as a researcher on the first film) has created something for the ages. The Up series is like a living, breathing cinematic experiment. (More than a few of the people appear to feel they are being watched under a microscope, and resent it.) But after each seven-year delay, when Apted and his crew returns to interview those of the original 14 still talking to them, the drama of it increases in small increments almost scientific in tone. We see person turn not just from children into adults, but from characters into people. By the time that the current installment, 56 Up, comes around, most of those involved have left so much of themselves on the screen that the impending clouds of sickness and mortality begin to carry an almost unbearable weight.


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Monday, Nov 19, 2012
Perfectionist or pariah, cad or creative genius, Alfred Hitchcock is, was, and remains a cinematic legend... one that's perhaps too big to encase in a single, celluloid statement.

He began in Britain, working his way up from title card designer for silent films to director, over the course of five frustrating years. Then, various production and financing snafus delayed his eventual status as one of England’s motion picture best. Over in Hollywood, producer David O. Selznick was looking for new blood, and based on his UK rep, the unknown was signed to a seven year contract. Thus began his time in Tinseltown, a four decade redefining of who he was and would eventually be known for. By the end, he was a true auteur, the Master of Suspense, and an unfairly dismissed, Oscar-less superstar. But who was the “real” Alfred Hitchcock. Which of the many rumored personalities did he offer to his cast, crew, and confidants when the media wasn’t manipulating his future myth?


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Friday, Nov 16, 2012
Sam Mendes’ tough, relationship-focused Bond film is really about leadership in extremis, with towering and isolated icons fighting tooth-and-nail to keep society together amidst the growing chaos of modernity.

Whatever romanticism was left in the hoary old Bond franchise, in Skyfall Judi Dench’s M does her best to put a bullet in it. The standard opening chase sequence sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a motorbike over the roofs of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul before putting him onto the top of a speeding train to do battle with an assassin who gunned down an MI6 agent and stole a datafile holding the identities of covert agents. First, M instructs Bond to leave his wounded cohort behind. Then, since agent Eve (Naomie Harris) can’t get a clear shot to take out the assassin without also risking hitting Bond, M tells her to fire away anyway. Result: one big bloody hole in Bond’s trim suit coat and one escaped assassin.


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