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Wednesday, Jan 16, 2013
Between now and the Oscars, we will be revisiting the films that make the 2012 Awards Season sizzle. This time out, we look at Kathryn Bigelow's amazing follow-up to her previous Best Picture Winner, The Hurt Locker

In 2008, Kathryn Bigelow’s career was at a concerning crossroads. Her last film, 2002’s poorly received K-19: The Widowmaker was considered a major box office bomb, and the heyday of such classics as Near Dark (and for some, Strange Days and Point Break) were decades past. Life is hard enough for a female filmmaker in the male dominated dominion of Tinseltown, let alone for a perceived failure whose best work was a distant memory. Then came The Hurt Locker, and things changed dramatically. Bigelow went from pariah to pioneer, becoming the first woman EVER to win the Oscar for Best Director. Some argued her nomination and victory were part of some calculated mea culpa conspiracy on the part of paternalistic Hollywood. With her stellar follow-up, the amazing Zero Dark Thirty, such silliness should be put to rest once and for all. It’s a brilliant thriller by a more than capable moviemaker, gender be damned.

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Wednesday, Nov 28, 2012
The twist ending in recent films: Delightful? Or Disingenuous?

There is nothing new about the trick or “twist” ending. Long before Pam Ewing ‘dreamt’ an entire season of Dallas or the Ape Planet turned out to be Earth all along, filmmakers and novelists were pulling the rug out from under unsuspecting readers/viewers with their last act switheroos. In general, people like a good plot ploy. Being able to see events in a totally differently light can bring both clarity and a sense of calm. Suddenly, the weird way a character was acting is explained away. Similarly, a side element not easily recognizable quickly comes into focus, arguing for its ability to con you just as easily as the creative wizard working behind the media scrim.

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Monday, Oct 15, 2012
Like science fiction, which requires a solid suspension of disbelief, horror has its inherent limits. It cannot and will not appeal to each and every member of the audience.

It was intriguing to watch. For those of us who love the genre, we knew it was inevitable. Still, with such a strong showing from the international community, it looked like the Ethan Hawke horror film Sinister was going to be something special. Insidious special. The Cabin in the Woods special. Heck, maybe even [REC] good. As it sat in the high 90s on Rotten Tomatoes, it looked like the often maligned movie category was about to score that rarity - a real critical hit.

Then it started. Slowly, then snowballing. As more and more ‘journalists’ added their voices, as the aggregate system over at Rotten Tomatoes started to show its already flawed stripes, the total score for Sinister dropped. First into the ‘80s, then drastically into the high 60s. By the end of the 12 October weekend (where it placed third at the box office), it had landed at a weak 63%. While that’s good in the overall scheme of the genre, it once again argues for a critical constant. Horror remains one of the most consistently marginalized and maligned categories in the history of the artform. More so than any other.

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Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012
So where does the wickedness really come from? Is it nothing more than a combination of factors, an internal weakness fueled by far more malevolent outside sources? Well, yes and no.

They say humans aren’t inherently evil. They argue that people learn their malevolent behavior at the hands or influence of another, or through the systematic brainwashing of (or reaction to) the world around them. People can’t be born bad, yet we often argue that they can be blessed with talent, insight, or specialized physical ability. No, evil is left to the specious and supernatural, a place where wicked little children kill their rivals, bad seed style, and the maladjusted take to machetes and murder as a means of making sense of their darkest inner fantasies. There is barely room for the misguided, or in the case of some, the mean-spirited and manipulative.

The notion of bad, and the byplay between right and wrong come to the fore in the two films that arrive at number five on the Sight & Sound list of the Greatest Films of All Time. On the director’s side is Martin Scorsese’s mesmerizing Taxi Driver, the tale of a disillusioned loner who becomes a social vigilante by way of his affection for a teen prostitute. Within the overall collection comes F. W. Murnau’s amazing Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. There, a callous gal from the city twists a poor country farmer into plotting to kill his wife. His reaction to such a challenge changes his life forever. Oddly enough, in each case, the threat of violence (or the actual arrival of same) propel the characters forward. Equally intriguing is how faith in humanity is restored once the true villain is vanquished and morality makes a case for its continuing purpose.

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Wednesday, Aug 22, 2012
Hitchcock believed in the power of images, of mixing light and shadow, color and composition to provide subtext to his characters' concerns. Dziga Vertov wanted, way back at the dawn of the artform, to push the boundaries of what the medium could be.

They say that art imitates life. Sometimes, life itself is the art. Then there is that grey area known as cinema, a format founded on bring reality to the screen and capturing the world around us filtered through fiction, fireworks, and the vision of those behind the lens. No one would ever argue that all genres are the same, but you can link many of them through the medium being mentioned. Take the documentary. While it is almost always an accurate reflection on the world around us, creativity and craftsmanship are typically applied to render the ordinary anything but. On the opposite side of things (one assumes) is something like Vertigo by the legendary Alfred Hitchcock. For the mighty Master of Suspense, the thriller format was nothing but a vessel, a means of channeling his obsessions and imagination into a viable construct that wavered from beautiful to the bizarre.

Yet few in the film critic community would argue a connection between the brilliant murder mystery (currently holding the number one spot and Sight & Sounds overall list) and the early Russian experiment Man with a Movie Camera. You can, however, see how one influenced the other, even if the authority is cursory and indirect. Hitchcock believed in the power of images, of mixing light and shadow, color and composition to provide subtext to his characters’ concerns. For him, the movie was in the making, not in the eventual outcome. Similarly, Man with a Movie Camera‘s Dziga Vertov wanted, way back at the dawn of the artform, to push the boundaries of what the medium could be. He wanted to experiment with visuals and editorial variables, to see if the lens could capture more than the regular everyday existence of his Russian comrades. For both, the end result was art imitating life, and visa versa.

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