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by Bill Gibron

25 Apr 2012

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.

by Bill Gibron

18 Aug 2011

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.

by Bill Gibron

9 May 2011

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.

by Bill Gibron

3 May 2011

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.

by Bill Gibron

17 Mar 2011

The aliens are coming! The aliens are coming! Actually, they’re already here. This weekend (18 March), Greg Mottola and writers/stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are bringing Paul, their geek ET comedy, to big screens nationwide, while just seven days before, Marine officer Aaron Eckhart and his ragtag group of grunts tried to save California in an epic Battle: Los Angeles. As long as there have been Halloween radio broadcasts, there has been media talk of invading spacemen and the destruction they leave in their interstellar path. Cinema has long championed the alien overthrow, using the concept for everything from comedy to commentary, action to awkward cautionary tales. Of the dozens directed at drive-ins and theaters around the world, few made the grade. The good ones stand out. The subpar simply drift off into the stratosphere.

One title destined to slip the bonds of this planet and pass into infamy, 2010’s Skyline, is about to make its debut on DVD and Blu-ray (available: 22 March), and it got the staff at SE&L thinking… what are the best alien invasion movies of all time? What war of the worlds got us thinking about the fate of the planet, and our precarious place among the others? In compiling this list, we did make a few conscious decisions. First, we discounted any movie where the confront occurred while airborne or off planet (this leaves out titles such as Alien, Aliens, and the like). We also restricted our choices to films where the outer space clash (or infestation of same) was the most important plot part. Finally, this is all a matter of opinion, though one has to admit that, when taking a look at all the possible entries, many are pretty poor.

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