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Tuesday, May 22, 2012
It's rare when a critic can go back and reevaluate their previous passions. Here are 10 examples of highly praised films that demand a personal reevaluation.

As of this month, May of 2012, I will have been a “professional” film critic for a grand total of ten years. Ten years. I can remember the first reviews I ever wrote, my entrance into the biz built on the back of Something Weird Video and their desire to bring old school exploitation to the early Ought masses. Initially hired (somewhere else) to be “Mr. Sh*t”—a title given to the writer in charge of all the bad films found in the site’s inbox—my responsibilities eventually broaden toward more mainstream (read: quality) fare. I still maintained by connection to the grindhouse, but soon realized that I had entered the fray just as the format, DVD, was coming into its own. Like a window on a world I had never known before, the influx of outsider titles, as well the changes in technology, meant almost anyone could make a movie…and it showed. Often. 


Over the years, I have been lucky enough to watch the growth of several significant artists. I’ve also experienced the flash in the pan passing of many should-have-beens. With the anniversary on my doorstep, I decided to go back through my 3,000-plus reviews and pick 10 movies I really need to revisit. Oddly, I had started this process at the beginning of the year and realized more times than not, I was right in my original fawning praise (or instantly dismissal) of efforts I hadn’t seen in a very long time. Listed in alphabetical order, here is a collection of seven strange and three mainstream movies that I need to personally go back to and reevaluate. In each case, my reaction was strong, instantaneous, and powerful. Rarely does an opinion change upon review, but when you’ve stayed this course as long as I have, nothing is ever set in stone.


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Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Their combined names are synonymous with creative risk-taking within a mainstream movie dynamic. Here's how we rank the eight (and counting) collaborations between this eclectic duo.

Throughout the history of film, there have been several successful actor/director collaborations - Jimmy Stewart/Cary Grant and Alfred Hitchcock, Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese…even Jerry Lewis and Frank Tashlin. From John Ford and his western icon muse, John Wayne to Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon, the results usually remind viewers of the special bond between cast and crew. Nowhere is this more true than in the work of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. While he has also used his wife Helena Bonham Carter in his last seven films, the eight this filmmakers has made with the former teen idol stand as an important linking verb to today’s Hollywood. After the ultra-high concept days of the ‘80s, Burton and Depp have managed to make material otherwise deemed weird or eclectic into a brazen box office bonanza. They haven’t always succeeded wholly, but their attempts consistently borderline art.


So how does one rank such a divergent collection? How do you place a noble adaptation of a time honored Broadway masterwork alongside a silly slice of fairy tale reinterpretation. Oddly enough, quality overwhelms many of the more mundane reasons. While he is often criticized for his storytelling skills and lack of a successful third act, Burton can bring out the best in his partners. As seen in the determination below, the eight efforts (with, one assumes, more to come) guided by the duo defy easy explanation or examination. Like the men who made them, they are complicated, easily misunderstood, and often dismissed without a desire to dig deeper. When viewed through a less arch aesthetic, we discover that, overall, Burton and Depp have triumphed. Not always in the ways viewers might want, but definitely within the designs that keep their teamwork tantalizing. Let’s begin with their most recent revision:


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Tuesday, May 8, 2012
These are 10 filmmaking talents whose work can only be truly appreciated on a canvas 70-feet high. They visualize their ideas in larger than life swatches, switching gears and driving their designs to the very edges of imagination.

For film, summer is the season of hyperbole. Everything is bigger, better, and more groundbreaking than what came just a short nine months before. Critics complain about the lack of originality and then soil themselves whenever a motion picture product proves beyond the middling and mediocre. One of the mantras you hear over and over, from the latest installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman revision to another Michael Bay explosion-fest is: ‘make sure you see it on the big screen’ - as if watching worlds collide and robots ransack the planet demands an experience 70-feet high. Sure, visual splash sells better when not compacted onto a home theater system, but for the most part, video assist has guaranteed the experience will always feel format friendly. In fact, few filmmakers today really ‘get’ the notion of playing to the silver, not the smaller venues.


There are directors, however, who comprehend the needs of the epic. They visualize their ideas in larger than life swatches, switching gears and driving their designs to the very edges of imagination. Sometimes, their narrative demands such range. In other instances, possibility and its motion picture presence are measured out in vast, viable inventions. For us, these filmmakers represent some of the best optical experts ever. Their conceits demand the kind of Herculean housing that only a movie theater can provide. While there are many more one can name (and feel free to do so in the comments section), we’ve picked the 10 that we believe best exemplify the careful balancing act of storyline and scope. If you can, catch them during their often celebrated retrospectives. You and your waning cinematic aesthetic will be glad you did.


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Tuesday, May 1, 2012
The good were very good indeed. The bad? Like a flaming love letter from Satan himself.

If the first four months of this year are any indication, 2012 will be marked by significant highs and a whole lotta lows. Nothing in between. No pure middling movies or mere mediocrity. In fact, going over the list of films released between January and April, it seems like Hollywood has got a handle on turning out either gems, or junk. Nothing sort of stuck in the center. We critics complain all the time about the seemingly static creative aplomb applied throughout Tinsel Town. We argue that for every great effort, there’s dozens of disappointing ones. But whether it was Haywire or Mirror, Mirror, the phenom known as The Hunger Games or the recent Jason Statham vehicle Safe, most Spring releases were decent. The duds, on the other hand, were like flaming love letters from Satan himself.


Though we’ve already mentioned a few of our honorary entries, there are a few more worth considering. Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie might not have been everyone’s cup of crude tea, but it sure made us laugh. Similarly, Steve Harvey’s self-help tome Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, tapped into the mainstream market in a way Tyler Perry could only wish to navigate. On the other side of the cinematic situation, crap like American Reunion, The Lucky One, and The Three Stooges proved that going back to a recognizable source time and time again only leads to one thing - disappointment at the box office. So with Summer about to start officially and the annual battle for ticket sales supremacy underway, here are our choices for the best and worst of the new year. So far, so bad/good.


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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2012
No medium can exist without them... and here are 10 examples of how important the writer and/or writing is to the overall artistic process.

While his or her position as part of the process is often romanticized all out of proportion, it’s the rare medium that can exist wholly without the input of the writer. From lyrics to dialogue, character cues to stage direction, the man or woman of letters plays an integral role in the realization of almost every artistic dreamscape. And yet, for some odd reason, they are consistently marginalized, made to seem irrelevant to a process that basically cannot thrive without them. Perhaps that’s why films featuring writers and writing have become benchmarks in the war on words. Without their constant cerebral reminder of what life is like for those ensconced in scribbling, the poor author would be far worse off. Heck, even real life examples of the skill frequently suffer in the comparison.


A good example is the upcoming serial killer thriller, The Raven. Supposedly centering on the troubled last days of Edgar Allan Poe and a murder’s fascination with his works of macabre fiction, the end result is more bluster than believability. Even worse, the famed frights created by the man from Baltimore are little more than gimmicks in a Se7en styled stunt. Poe’s problematic interpretation did get us thinking about his fellow cinematic scribes, leading to this list, the 10 Greatest Movies About Writers and Writing Ever. Sure, we left out a few that may or may not actually apply (is Sunset Blvd. really about putting pen to paper?) and the ancillary nature of some situations kept us from including other heralded works. In the final analysis, however, these ten terrific titles help explain the movie’s fascination with their own makers, beginning with:


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