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by Bill Gibron

15 May 2012

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:

by Bill Gibron

8 May 2012

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.

by Bill Gibron

1 May 2012

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.

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. 

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