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by Bill Gibron

20 Feb 2010

George Romero was a semi-hot commodity at the time. While the follow-up films, There’s Always Vanilla and Season of the Witch failed to make much of an impression, the amazing movie that started it all, his visionary Night of the Living Dead, was rapidly becoming a midnight screening phenomenon. Asked by a distributor if he had any other ‘good’ ideas, he showed around a script called The Mad People. A massive rewrite later (the executives only liked the first 10 pages of the screenplay) and Romero had his second certified hit. While similar in theme to his previous zombie masterwork, The Crazies proved conclusively that, even on a limited budget, the director could make an edge of your seat action thriller with just enough social commentary thrown in to wake up the maudlin masses.

At its heart, The Crazies is nothing more than a movie about civilization gone psychotic. It features government conspiracies, half-assed cover-ups (it came out right after Watergate, remember), abuses of power, unthinkable horrors, taboo breaking atrocities, the stereotypical clan of survivors, and enough editorial flare and moviemaking chutzpah to literally rewrite the rulebook on cinematic action. The lack of funds seems to have inspired Romero, his need to be fast, quick, and to the point illustrated in almost every sequence onscreen. There are times when one angle just won’t do. People often exchange mere exposition within a five of six shot collection of clips. It’s as if Eisenstein went to the drive-in and came out with a tale of a small town and the experimental virus that drives the populace insane.

by Bill Gibron

7 Feb 2010

When it comes right down to it, 1971 was mired in chaos. The Beatles had disbanded, the Kennedys were either dead or hip deep in career cleansing scandal, and the civil rights movement had been usurped by a basic human need among the minority classes simply to stay alive. America took weaponry against itself, as armed youths killed their “educated” alter egos at Kent State while the “silent majority” propagandized a steadfast “love it or leave it” mentality for all to conform to. The anti-war revolution had long gone Madison Avenue and Hollywood, with rebels as well known as their targets of distrust and frustration. There was still a belief that power in the people via politics could cure the country of its present ills, even as more vital men were sent off to meet their end in the rice fields and jungles of Asia.

Years later, Tinseltown just loves to explore the extremes of both sides of the peace sign path. Artists like Oliver Stone have made entire careers out of milking the militant juices from both philosophies for all their cinematic gold. But they never seem to spend time in the middle, in the eye of this ideological storm, preferring to skirt around the outside. Only one work dared to describe the psychic shift circa 1971, to try and condense the wounded spirit of a befouled generation into words and stories. Many thought it an incoherent, self-indulgent mess. The fact that, 36 years later, it is championed as a work of rare insight and power speaks for the willingness for self-examination that existed in the early ‘70s.

by Bill Gibron

6 Feb 2010

When Swingers stumbled onto the scene back in 1996, it was championed as a brilliant piece of indie smarm. With Jon Favreau providing the script and Doug Liman directing, the cast (including then unknowns Vince Vaughn, Ron Livingston, and Heather Graham) took the tale of a group of fun loving friends and, for a moment, transformed it into a one way ticket to Coolsville. While the cult didn’t last long, it catapulted the cast into the lower levels of Hollywood’s soon to be heavy hitters. In the 13 years since, Vaughn has transformed into a comedy chameleon while partner Farveau has gone on to become an A-list director, thanks in no small part to Elf and Iron Man. Now the duo are reteaming for a relationships laugher called Couples Retreat (new to DVD and Blu-ray from Universal). Sadly, it appears their sense of humor is stuck squarely in the middle of the Clinton Administration.

With their inability to have kids complicating their marriage, anal duo Jason and Cynthia are desperate for a solution. So they sign up for an exclusive couple’s retreat in a fabulous tropical locale. The only problem? In order to afford it, they have to get six more of their friends to join in. This means convincing the happily married Dave and Ronnie, the headed to divorce court Joey and Lucy, and the already single Shane (hooking up with a horny 20 year old) to come along for the therapeutic fun. Naturally, they all say “No”, that is, until Jason more or less begs. Before they know it, they’re in Eden, a gorgeous getaway that offers jet skiing, kayaking, snorkeling - and of course, endless sessions of intense analysis and soul bearing with founder Mr. Marcel. All seems to be going well until Shane’s gal pal bails, heading over to the singles side of the island for a little fun. With the rest of the group heading in that same direction, it looks like this is one marriage oasis that will result in more break-ups than make-ups.

by Bill Gibron

3 Feb 2010

It’s a sentence that strikes fear into the hearts of many a lover of independent art. “We are on hiatus” the simple phrase states, the only indication that Giuseppe Andrews is still around, making anything remotely resembling movies. This stark welcome to his current website could mean many things - the cinematic savant is truly taking a break from creating his brilliant homemade masterworks to concentrate on his many other talents: acting; music; literature. It could be something more personal, areas of interest only to the sleaze mongers and tawdry TMZ crowd. It could be technological. It could be something more sinister.

Whatever the case, it’s depressing to think that one of the most original voices in outsider creativity could be taking an indefinite leave - or worse, a more permanent one. If his latest effort Esoterica is indeed his swansong (at least temporarily) it shows that Andrews is still at the top of his game. A brilliant 27 minute short bubbling with enough volatile wordplay to give the corpse of William Burroughs fits, the Truffaut of the trailer park is definitely channeling his own personal beat poet here.

by Bill Gibron

31 Jan 2010

Parables are supposed to explain the world, not make it more complicated. We are supposed to gain insight and wisdom from religious allegory, not reel with confusion while suffering from heartburn and headaches. Yet this is the world created by Joel and Ethan Coen, the amazing American auteurs who continue to aspire to greatness while typically achieving same. Focusing on a Jewish college professor and his troubled life in the late ‘60s, what we wind up with is A Serious Man (new to DVD and Blu-ray), one long, masterful, misguided rabbinical fable as fairytale. When it comes to turning any subject - writing, parenthood, greed - into something both formidable and frightening, hilarious and hackneyed, no one does it better than the Coens. And with faith as their focus this time around, they deliver once again.

Larry Gopnik teaches physics at a small college. He is up for tenure and believes he deserves it. When an Asian student complains about a failing grade, the confrontation begins a surreal snowball of personal catastrophes for the mild mannered teacher. First, his wife leaves him for another man. Then, his useless brother is arrested for various crimes. Even worse, the Columbia Record Club keeps calling him, demanding payment. Hoping to gain some insight into his growing troubles, Larry seeks guidance from the local synagogues. Sadly, each rabbi is more perplexing than the next. With his son about to be bar mitzvahed and his interpersonal life falling apart, our hero hopes that God will show him the way. What the Lord has to offer, though, may be much, much worse.

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