Divergent: The Road Not Taken

by Ethan Alter March 20, 2014 3:06 pm
<i>Divergent</i>: The Road Not Taken

Even by the standards of most wanna-be franchise-starters, which focus almost as much on setting up sequels as they do on the movie at hand, Divergent contains an absurd amount of throat-clearing in place of actual story. Imagine the Capitol training sequence that constitutes roughly 30 minutes of The Hunger Games's screentime stretched out to almost two hours -- with about twenty minutes left over for a chaotic battle sequence... and you've got the basic narrative arc of this launching pad for a new YA-adapted blockbuster trilogy that hopes to succeed where so many (The Mortal Instruments and Beautiful Creatures among them) have failed.

Indie Snapshot: The Spectacular Now

by Ethan Alter August 2, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>The Spectacular Now</i>

If movies could be released as cassette singles (remember those?), some enterprising producer could make a killing putting out a tape with last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower as the lushly orchestrated A-track and The Spectacular Now as the stripped-down flip side. Taken together, these are two of the best examples of the John Hughesian coming-of-age high school drama since… well, since the heyday of John Hughes. What’s interesting, though, is that while they cover similar ground and inspire the same heady mix of emotions in the audience, they go about the task in significantly different ways. Perks is sweeping and swoony, filled with the kind of grand passions and gestures that mark adolescence. As the title suggests, The Spectacular Now is rooted in the moment, depicting the ordinary experiences of its teenage characters in ordinary ways. But its within that ordinariness that both the characters and the audience can occasionally catch a glimpse of the spectacular.

The Descendants: Blue Hawaii

by Ethan Alter November 16, 2011 6:00 am
<i>The Descendants</i>: Blue Hawaii

Writer/director Alexander Payne, the darkly comic mind behind Election and Sideway, returns after a seven-year hiatus with The Descendants, which easily ranks as his most heartwarming feature to date. It's also his least provocative and prickly, but hey, we all get a little sentimental in our old age. And because this is the guy who made Election after all, his version of "sentimental" isn't the usual gooey Hollywood treacle like The Bucket List or The Help. The Descendants still has a certain bite to it, dwelling, as it does, on the characters' all-too-human foibles and frailties. It's the kind of movie where no one is beyond reproach... even the woman that's lying in the hospital in a coma from which she'll never wake up.

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