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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.

by Chris Barsanti

6 Mar 2012


As much as people want to categorize him, Martin Scorsese has never let himself be boxed in. More so than almost any of the other members of the “movie brat” generation who reshaped Hollywood in the 1970s (Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola, De Palma), he established a style and a favored subject matter within in a few years and then spent much of the rest of his career kicking those preconceptions to pieces. For every Goodfellas there’s a New York, New York, for every Casino, there’s a Kundun. Although the curious but nevertheless inflexible rules of public memory ensure that he will be remembered forever as a chronicler of gangsters, Scorsese has spent the past three-odd decades proving that he’s not a filmmaker who likes to be told what he can’t or shouldn’t do. Music videos, kids’ films, documentaries, religious dramas, historical epics – there’s hardly a genre that he hasn’t dipped into and that hasn’t been enriched by his attention.

by Chris Barsanti

1 Mar 2012


Although just about everything has changed about the film business in the past couple of decades – the rise of CGI and 3D technology, the precipitous decline in the influence of marquee stars, the curious appeal of Adam Sandler – the Academy Awards continue to grind on as though nothing has changed. Every year there are the same stories written about how this year’s Oscars will either skew younger so that they can appeal to a less geriatric sensibility or how the ceremonies are going to recall the industry’s glory days of yore.

This year managed to be neither: a safe host thrown in at the (somewhat) last minute and a welcome shrugging-off of many of the trips down nostalgia lane that have cluttered up so many of these things. Certainly, there was bloviation laid on thick and pompous – Morgan Freeman’s sonorous introduction referencing “this magnificent event” didn’t bode well – but at least the ceremonies didn’t bother (except for the odd iPad reference) trying to be relevant as a piece of television. Which it never has been. The curious part is really that so many of us watch the thing.

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