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Wednesday, Jun 6, 2012
So what do you need to know about the Alien films before lining up for 8 June's Prometheus? Well, not much, actually.

Prior to its release, extraterrestrials were viewed in a calm if complicated light. Unless they were part of some schlocky ‘50s/‘60s sci-fi romp, they were revered as ancient astronauts, early explorers of Earth, and anything else Erich von Däniken and his ilk could come up with. Even Me Decade “It” boy Steven Spielberg added his own talented two cents into the mix with his epic “what if” Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Yet bubbling under the surface of our look to the skies obsession was the desire to go back to the dark. Invaders might be just that, went the concept, laying the groundwork for high tech retellings of those man in suit drive-in monster movies.

When it was announced, it seemed that the simply named Alien had little going for it. The director, a guy called Ridley Scott, was a cinematic novice. He and his brother Tony had started a production company back a decade before, but had mostly dabbled in commercials and a little seen first feature—The Duellist. The script was by Dan O’Bannon (with some un-credited help by David Giler and Walter Hill) and revolved around a basic haunted house in space dynamic. H.R. Giger, an artist best known for his controversial bio-sexual horror designs (and the cover of an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album) was brought on to visual the title creature. Early teasers suggested something mysterious, if not exactly menacing.

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Wednesday, Apr 25, 2012
For today's consumer, access is more important than aesthetics. They would gladly trade the perfectly projected image of a legitimate theatrical screening for a pocket filled with possibilities.

Age doesn’t necessarily define a person. Attitude does. In equal measure, complaints don’t teach us about our world. They teach us about ourselves. When you combine the two, you end up with a myriad of misleading indicators. Curmudgeon. Coot. Angry old man. These are just a few of the terms used to describe the 51 year old, ten years in the business writer typing these words. Coming from a decidedly old school, five decades plus in the making, one is often regarded as out of touch and far too crotchety. Part of the problem is the tired “cultural contradiction” cliche - you know…the one that usually starts out “Music was better in my day” or “Movies were better in my day.“Add in the appropriate medium and the standard miserable message and you’ve got someone who feels lost in a world that, at a previous point, they helped make and maintain. 

After reading how James Cameron and George Lucas are pushing theater owners to covert to digital (and with it, 3D), I am reminded of my first big battle with technology. As an early adopter of VHS, I was shocked to see my friends going Beta. As they crowed about their superior image and relative cost, I bit my lip and bought copies of current movies for up to $90 a pop (I still have the original Easy Money, starring Rodney Dangerfield, that I paid $80 to own). My future father in law even came back from New York City with the just released VHS of Star Wars. At $120, it seemed like a bargain. As my VCR continued its late ‘70s/early ‘80s dominance of the market, the slaves to Sony finally succumbed. In this battle between prototypes, I was on the winning side. It’s been that way ever since…up until now, that is.

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Thursday, Aug 18, 2011
When he started, all he wanted was respect. Now, Robert Redford's career behind the camera is constantly viewed with reverence. But his work has slipped from intriguing icon to shill.

He was rarely taken seriously as an actor. Even with extensive credits in theater and television, Robert Redford was regularly cast as the patented pretty boy for a medium, film, always desperate for a strikingly handsome leading man to lure the ladies. Even as he worked through formidable dramas and comedic pairings with pal Paul Newman, the golden boy with superstar status found industry respect incredibly hard to come by. The public loved him, making many of his movies throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s certified hits. But the ability to be something more than a pre-tabloid presence, and punchline, always appeared to elude him.

So imagine the stifled snickers when Redford announced he intended to direct. In 1978, he helped launch the original Sundance Film Festival (and later Institute) and longed to move from in front of the camera to behind it. After reading Judith Guest’s devastating novel of suburban angst, Ordinary People, he immediately bought up the rights. He hired Oscar winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent to adapt the book and went about securing Paramount’s support in financing and distribution. As major league names such as Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro prepared to take the ‘80 awards season by storm, Redford snuck in with his tale of a suicidal teen and the tragedy which reshaped his weak-willed WASP family, walking away with many of the year’s most important accolades in the process.

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Monday, May 9, 2011
One of the biggest issues a comic book movie adaptation has to overcome is staying/not staying "true" to the source. However, when there are multiple configurations of same, such creative reverence becomes harder and harder.

For many of us, the only Batman is…Adam West. Yes, those of us old enough to remember the original Caped Crusader phenomenon recall when ABC would actually air its successful TV show TWICE a week, just to satisfy public demand. We smile when considering how campy and kitsch it all was, how our pre-teen personalities melted whenever our superhero donned the cowl, gathered up his “ward” Dick Grayson, and went “SMASH!”, “BANG!” “ZAP!” on aging celebrity supervillians. With his paunchy belly and less than flattering tights, this version of Batman came directly from our collective memory, of a time when characters were carried across generations of ‘funny book’ readers and straight into the mind’s eye.

Now, there are “versions” of Bruce Wayne’s crime fighting alter ego, each with its own considered cult of preference and personality. For many, it’s Tim Burton’s take derived in part from Batman’s late ‘80s graphic novel renaissance.  For others, it’s Christopher Nolan’s modern businessman as genius vigilante update. With each adaptation, new inspirations are added, ways of making old properties “new” for a fading readership. Yet with each one of those changes comes an entire cult of adoration, a personal connection that can thwart even the most noble efforts. Indeed, one of the biggest issues a comic book movie adaptation has to overcome is staying/not staying “true” to the source. However, when there are multiple configurations of same, such creative reverence becomes harder and harder.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Our picks for the Top 5 films of the Spring...and yes, we are prepared for the inevitable blowback.

Now, for the controversy. Now, to stir up a spit storm or two. You can’t have ‘Worsts’ without ‘Bests’, and you can’t have either without some manner of aesthetic argument. Right now, there are lovers of a certain cotton-tailed character from a month or so back that can’t believe some cynical old jerk thought his merry little movie was one of 2011 animated abominations. Similarly, the minute this list of “likes” takes shape, there will be many admonishing the choices at numbers five and four (at least). It’s all part of the game, part of the process of trying to wrap one’s critical brain around what Hollywood hands us every January through April. Some years, selecting a group of good movies is not all that hard. In others, the pickings are slimmer than a supermodel.

In 2011, what we got the most of was promising if not completely successful content. Paul, for example, had the brilliant Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the leads (and with the script) and the always interesting Greg Mottola behind the lens. Yet the alien on the lam with two UK geeks comedy really didn’t deliver on its percolating nerd potential. Similarly, a movie like The Green Hornet tweaked a ton of comic book conventions (pissing off the funny book fanbase in the process) and yet couldn’t quite bring together its clever combination of superhero and satire. The Mechanic was a fine action effort…and that’s about it, while Fast Five did a direct job of addressing the franchise’s often obvious weaknesses…and little else.

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