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by Bill Gibron

24 Apr 2012


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:

by Bill Gibron

10 Apr 2012


So, what happens after the invasion? What happens to mankind once the alien overlords finish destroying our major metropolises and render our resolve hopeless? Do we fight back? Are we enslaved? Does the extraterrestrial conqueror suddenly become a victim of a bumbling world bureaucracy? Maybe they are killed off by the flu? Or a standard staph infection? Or St. Vitus Dance. Whatever the case, the intervening days/weeks/months are often filled with the kind of action movie magic the cinema specializes in. Between the villainous visitors from another world and the steely response by some still hopeful neighbors, the ability for ET to overrun the rest of the population is always predicated on the available technology and the type of hero wielding it.

With the release of the critical lambasted Winter 2011 release, The Darkest Hour, on DVD and Blu-ray, it’s time to look back over the entire history of the people vs. planet invaders genre and determine the best examples of same. Instead of focusing on those films where massive motherships eject hundreds of smaller vessels into the Earth’s atmosphere, the better to wipe out the indigenous population and suck up all the natural resources, we are talking about those titles were homo sapien goes after extra-terrestrial, toe to… whatever an alien might have for feet. The result is a list that comes dangerously close to mimicking one we did back a few months ago, though it’s clear where the Independence Days end and where something like our number two selection step in. Indeed, the difference can be best described as more ‘hands’ on. 

by Bill Gibron

3 Apr 2012


Damn you, X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Had your meaningless mediocrity not stepped in to soil an otherwise decent trilogy (Hey! Cut the homophobic Brett Ratner a break, okay?), we’d be celebrating the brilliant X-Men: First Class right now. Indeed, it’s rare when a longstanding film franchise can keep up a level of artistic (or even commercial) viability. For the most part, the initial offering sets the tone, while the second finds a way of modifying the magic and still make it work. By number three, we are in water treading mode, the material long exhausted and the final box office tally meaning more than any creative achievement…and once you get beyond the trilogy, things rarely improve. In fact, it’s the rare fourth (or fifth, or ninth) film in a franchise that adds up to anything other than a meaningless cash grab.

That’s why fans of American Pie should enter this week’s fourth feature film installment (yes, yes, we know there have been other ‘entries’ trading on the brand for some minor direct-to-DVD effect) with the prerequisite grains of unnecessary sequel salt. After all, most of the cast have gone on to bigger—if not necessarily better—things and the entire enterprise looks like a means of making a few more bucks out of an otherwise DOA dynamic. Of course, this could be said of many misguided continuations, from George Lucas’ jerryrigging of the Indiana Jones franchise to that putrid Pirates trip across Stranger Tides. Luckily, we’ve found 10 examples where a fourth film was not only welcomed, but warranted. Given the genre they exist in and the overall flow of the series, this list reflects the possibility that awaits Stifler and the gang. It also shows the thin line between acceptable and awful, beginning with:

by Bill Gibron

28 Mar 2012


On 27 March, 49 years ago, a filmmaker was born who, initially, showed little promise in his soon to be celebrated career. He originally wanted to be an actor and, when industry offers were less than forthcoming, he started creating his own projects. Famously, he worked in a video store, absorbing every ounce of knowledge he could from the myriad of movies on the retail racks. Along with friends like Roger Avary, he would obsess over form and formula, reworking old school Hollywood (and foreign film) tropes into terrific new experiences. After getting recognized for his work, he managed to make his own movie - a little something called Reservoir Dogs - and the rest is new cinema history. Indeed, along with such celebrated auteurs as David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick, Martin Scorsese, and Terrence Malick, Quentin Tarantino is an often misunderstood genius. Critics like to complain about the very things that make his efforts so long lasting and memorable.

With his birthday in mind and ten titles to choose from, it’s time to rank Tarantino’s best. Granted, we are cheating a bit. He’s only directed six actual releases (the lost My Best Friend’s Birthday doesn’t count) and produced countless others. So we’ve decided to focus on the films where he either wrote or wrote and directed the final product. This allows us to include the scripts he sold hot on the heels of Dogs success without only sticking solely to the ones where he was behind the lens. As usual, final position reflects more opinion than consensus, but in the world of Quentin Tarantino that’s not unusual. Few can argue his influence and importance. Many can nitpick his sometimes self-absorbed approach, but in the end, his work will live on a lot longer than the mediocre muck clogging up your local Cineplex. Let’s begin with what is arguably his worst work in the creative chair:

by Bill Gibron

20 Mar 2012


If man is the most dangerous animal on the planet, then hunting man is the most dangerous game. That’s the basis for the longstanding entertainment trope known as the survivalist or human prey genre. Began by an infamous short story and extrapolated out across numerous categories both realistic (action, thriller) and silly (comedy???), the tracking and killing of other people has come to symbolize everything that’s wrong with society. From the desire to destroy to the acknowledgement of taboo, titles like the one’s listed below always spark controversy. Only cannibalism and child sexualization are more scandalous in substance and subtext.

So it’s odd that a big screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ hugely popular young adult book series, The Hunger Games, is viewed as the most mainstream of materials. With its kids killing kids core and rich vs.l poor patina, it should be garnering protests, not praise. And yet, right now, the film is poised to be a massive hit, marking the moment when a bestselling phenomenon on a touchy subject became the stuff of everyday praise. For our money, there are at least 10 examples where the main narrative theme plays out better, and more bravely (for all its provocation, Games keeps much of its violence off screen). As a result, here is our collection of cold blooded sadism passing as social commentary, movies that make it very clear that, in the battle between individuals, surviving is the least important outcome, beginning with:

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Double Take: The African Queen (1951)

// Short Ends and Leader

"What a time they had, Charlie and Rosie. They'll never lack for stories to tell their grandchildren. And what a time we had at Double Take discussing the spiritual and romantic journey of the African Queen.

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