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Friday, Nov 25, 2011
Blood, bodice ripping, and bodybuilder physiques...just a few reasons why we love these 10 muscle and magic epics.

Film goes through phases. Sometime, digital animation rules. Then we get a heaping helping of gross out comedies. A gimmick like 3D can come along and set the standard for a while only to make way for something even more stunt-like. The cyclical nature of cinema can be sparked by the times (the post-modern movement of the ‘70s) or the arrival of a game changing concept (the sci-fi blockbuster bonanza post-Star Wars). In Italy, at the end of the ‘50s, filmmakers were looking for a way out of the gloomy authenticity of neo-realism. They wanted more entertainment value and less social commentary. Enter the peplum, the sword and sandal epics that saw stars like Steve Reeves reinvent their image as mighty gladiatorial warriors.

With the success of the genre came an entire new realm of action and adventure. Filmmakers around the world embraced the concept and then decided to expand its elements. They found new and often exciting ways to reinvent it for their own needs, looking to both the distant past and the far off future. Thus, we had variations such as the historical period piece, the barely costumed cautionary tale, and of course, the sci-fi influenced sword and sorcery take. Over the last four decades there have been dozens of attempts to take the material out of its comic book/pulp fiction orientation and turn it into something magical. For the most part, they are often considered nothing more than bumbling b-movies.

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Tuesday, Nov 22, 2011
Holidays are a time for reflection. Here are 10 films (actually, 11) we are thankful we saw in 2011.

We’re almost done. For critics and film people worldwide, the prickly PR push toward a general Best of consensus is well underway. Mailboxes are overflowing with “For Your Consideration” calls, screeners piling up like publicity messages in many email accounts. With several press circles preparing to announce who they believe deserves recognition for their work in 2011, minds throughout the media are trying to get a grip on what made their job so enjoyable over the last 11 months. Sure, the surge of last minute invitations and interview opportunities may change a few minds, but for the most part, those empowered to provide such perspective have been thinking on these things for weeks now.

For us, the final call is never made until all the suspects are in. However, we can recognize some reasons to be thankful this holiday season. Readers often forget that for every great experience in a darkened theater (or with a watermarked check disc), there are literally dozens of depressing dives into mediocrity. So when something good comes along, it’s not only worth celebrating but repeating ad nauseum. Sure, some of the titles mentioned below have been the subject of blog fever pitching since they first arrived on the scene. Still, when faced with an onrush of micromanaged junk, it’s hard not to go back and give props one more time.

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Friday, Nov 18, 2011
It's time to end this entire Twilight twaddle, and here are ten reasons the phenomenon should go out with a chuckle, not a cheer.

As critic proof as the product from Pixar or the latest in a long line of unnecessary Underworld/Resident Evil/ Saw sequels, Twilight is getting ready to spin its final endgame in the two-part trial known as Breaking Dawn. Why a film focusing on the marriage of vampire Edward and his mope-about gal pal Bella and their eventual offspring requires four hours to tell its tale will always remains a Harry Potter inspired mystery (Deathly Hallows was a massive finale, book wise). What’s even more shocking, however, are the ridiculous lengths that author Stephanie Meyers will go to maintain her disaster-piece’s market share. Having already taken the slight premise of her initial novel and blown it up to all manner of illogical proportions, Breaking Dawn drives the over the top elements into the stratosphere, creating a conclusion that’s so clueless it’s like a teenager taking an Algebra II exam.

While there are dozens of dopey decision made throughout the course of this nutty narrative, at least ten stick out as more misguided than usual. Perhaps they tread all over established cliches only to embrace the truisms later on, or spend their weak-willed ingenuity like so much birthday money before going bankrupt. Whatever the case, we have chosen to preview this piecemeal entertainment by highlighting this collection of laughable logistics. While one assumes a bit of stupidity when it comes to Twilight - scratch that, a LOT of stupidity - the concepts here are more than pathetic. Instead, they show how thin an already wafer-like franchise can be expanded in order to earn more of that sweet, sweet international box office sugar, beginning with some beefcake for the shameful soccer moms in the audience:

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Tuesday, Nov 15, 2011
Today's List This features 10 tell-all tomes that will give you the scoop on some of Hollywood's most notorious films... and filmmakers.

Before the days of DVD, when commentaries and behind the scenes featurettes were restricted to the occasional Criterion laserdisc, the only way to get the making-of scoop on your favorite troubled production or flamboyant film personality was to actually pick up a book and read. Indeed, this sort of non-fiction reportage had the specific goal to lifting the lid on major motion pictures (especially highly publicized fiascos and flops) and the people who made them, providing the insider information that studios fought so stridently to restrict. Even today, in the tell-all tabloid nature of the media, there are many untold stories, onset situations and backstage dramas that never get divulged. So it’s up to the willing journalist to smoke out the scandal and discover the real reasons why a tripwire talent implodes, or a promising production ends up causing chaos – both critically and commercially.

However, the low down dirt is not always found in a detail-oriented dissertation or an interview-laden overview. Instead, several famous faces have decided to expose themselves, giving incredible insight into the mechanics of moviemaking – the dizzying highs and the Hellish lows. Even the standard biography, crafted by someone on the outside looking in, can offer a wealth of worthwhile context. It’s just a matter of picking through the glorified love letters and pasted together products to find something that supplies both substance and spice. While the following list is far from all inclusive, it does represent the kind of benchmark these books should strive for. Indeed, after paging through any or all of these varied volumes, you’ll be a much more qualified film fanatic. Without them, you’re just a sham cinephile. Let’s begin with:

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Thursday, Nov 10, 2011
by Susan King - Los Angeles Times (MCT)
War films have always been a staple of cinema -- providing the inspiration for some of the greatest and most honored films ever.

LOS ANGELES—War films have always been a staple of cinema—providing the inspiration for some of the greatest and most honored films ever.

During the silent era there were D.W. Griffith’s controversial The Birth of a Nation (1915), King Vidor’s The Big Parade (1925) and William Wellman’s Wings (1927), which won the first best film Oscar. The 1930 antiwar film All Quiet on the Western Front was the first sound film to earn the best picture Oscar. The academy also gave its highest honor to 1970’s Patton, about World War II Gen. George Patton, 1978’s The Deer Hunter, one of the first films on the Vietnam War, and 2009’s The Hurt Locker, set during the Iraq war.

On Veterans Day on Friday, the U.S. pays homage to the military men and women who have served our country in past and current conflicts. For this occasion we asked writer and film producer Steven Jay Rubin, author of the book Combat Films: American Realism, 1945-2010, to select Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam combat films he most admires.

Susan King - Los Angeles Times (MCT)

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