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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:

by Bill Gibron

13 Mar 2012

All right, all right. We get it. Swashbuckler is no longer the nomenclature for a certain kind of swordsman (it’s pre-pirate legacy). Thanks to a surreal fascination with all things Jolly Roger, the word has become the almost exclusive claim of the seafaring rogue. Of course, throughout history, there have been many famous names that have taken up the cutlass for the cause. Heck, until gunpowder became the explosive du jour, a finely honed piece of metal was the answer and cause of all of life’s problems. So it goes without saying that, when you mention something cinematic in connection with this category, fans will immediately flock to the Bluebeards while avoiding…well, practically everything else.

For us, however, the category remains wide open - with one caveat. Because it is so much a part of their heritage, the basis for as many of their myths and histories as anything else, we will keep the Asian approach to this topic under wraps for the time being. There are just so many amazing examples of Chinese/Japanese swordplay that to pick only a few would force us to single out several sensational examples. We’ve also tried to narrow down the choices to those best representative of the various subgenres and archetypes. For example - just this past year, a new 3D update on the classic Three Musketeers (now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Summit) arrived in theaters. Featuring Milla Jovovich and helmed by her husband Paul W. S. Anderson (Event Horizon), it may not be the best translation of the famed book, but its action sequences are indeed sensational - by 2011 standards.

by Bill Gibron

8 Mar 2012

With his passing this past week, veteran songsmith Robert Sherman enters those most hallowed of music halls—the myth. Even beyond his personal life—he was with the platoon of American troops that liberated the German concentration camp Dachau during World War II—and his many achievements and accolades, he will always been known by the sound he left behind, the lingering melodies and razor sharp lyrics that would keep generations humming and singing along. After a challenge from their Tin Pan Alley icon father Al, Robert and his brother Richard became a duo, delivering an early hit for Disney’s reigning sweater girl, Annette Funicello. Their 1958 collaboration, “Tall Paul,” got the attention of Walt, and he soon hired the duo as resident House of Mouse composers.

And thus the legacy was born. Over the next few years, the Shermans would craft some of the most memorable music in the history of the studio. They also ventured beyond the celluloid, coming up with material for Disney’s theme parks (“In the Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room,” “Making Memories”) as well as the TV and theatre. When the venerable cartoonist died in 1966, the Brothers took their talents freelance, coming back from time to time to work on projects they deemed worthy. Nominated nine times for the Academy Award, he would pick up two for the family favorite Mary Poppins. In his later years, Robert would oversee the conversion of his work to the stage. In the final few years, and in failing health, he spent most of his time living in London and painting, a lifelong passion.

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