Indie Snapshot: The Raid 2

by Ethan Alter March 26, 2014 3:13 pm
Indie Snapshot: <i>The Raid 2</i>

It brings me no great pleasure to report that the The Raid 2 is to The Raid as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was to the first Transformers: it's longer, flashier and bloated well past the point of tedium.

The Grand Budapest Hotel: Welcome to the Hotel Europa

by Ethan Alter March 7, 2014 6:00 am
<i>The Grand Budapest Hotel</i>: Welcome to the Hotel Europa

Not since the Overlook has there been a cinematic hotel as immaculately constructed as The Grand Budapest Hotel, the titular lodging glimpsed in Wes Anderson's latest confection. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone even remotely familiar with the director's work, which consistently features some of the most lavish, yet carefully precise production design seen this side of an Architectural Digest layout. Still, even by Anderson's standards, the Grand Budapest is a honey of a setting: a rustic 1930s-era retreat perched amidst the picturesque hills of Zubrowka, the Eastern European nation that, on a map, would probably be located somewhere between Freedonia and Latveria. A private funicular deposits you on the hotel's stoop and, once you pass through the front doors, you're inside an opulent, high-ceilinged lobby, with the well-trained staff buzzing about, directing you to the dining room, spa, outdoor deck or your own quarters. Though it overlooks the outside world, the Grand Budapest functions as its own little universe where time itself seems to stand still.

Book Watch: <i>Film Firsts: The 25 Movies That Created Contemporary American Cinema</i>

What was the first film to kick off the current CGI-boom? How about the first film to turn the Sundance Film Festival into independent cinema's premiere event? Or maybe the first film to take full advantage of the Internet as a marketing tool? All of those film firsts -- plus many more -- are covered in the new Praeger-published book Film Firsts: The 25 Movies That Created Contemporary American Cinema, written by TWoP's lead film critic, Ethan Alter.

Why The Ice Harvest Is One of Harold Ramis’s Best Movies

by Ethan Alter February 24, 2014 5:11 pm
Why <i>The Ice Harvest</i> Is One of Harold Ramis’s Best Movies

Many of the testimonials about the life and career of Harold Ramis, who died Monday morning in his native Chicago, will deservedly highlight his involvement -- as either a writer, director or actor (and occasionally all three) -- in such superior, generation-defining comedies as Caddyshack, National Lampoon's Vacation, Back to School, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day and Analyze This. There's one deserving movie that may be left out of the conversation, though and that's The Ice Harvest, a wicked, witty little thriller that Ramis directed in 2005.

Pompeii: Snow Versus the Volcano

by Aly Semigran February 21, 2014 6:00 am
<i>Pompeii</i>: Snow Versus the Volcano

I'm not entirely sure what the hell the makers of Pompeii were thinking when they decided to turn a bona fide natural disaster picture (not to mention the first real big screen treatment of famous ancient Roman tragedy-turned-tourist attraction) into a regurgitated, by-the-numbers, and ultimately very boring gladiator tale, but it certainly seems like something of a wasted opportunity.

Happy Anniversary: Jimmy Fallon — From Taxi to The Tonight Show

by Ethan Alter February 19, 2014 12:16 pm
Happy Anniversary: Jimmy Fallon — From <I>Taxi</i> to <I>The Tonight Show</i>

Monday night marked the beginning of Jimmy Fallon's career as the host of NBC's venerable The Tonight Show, a job that -- based on his predecessor -- he'll either have for three decades or nine months. In an amusing bit of timing, Fallon's promotion to late night's top spot arrives exactly ten years after his bid to become an A-list movie star. That's right, 2004 was the year Taxi zoomed into theaters… and then zoomed out again just as quickly, effectively ending Fallon's big-screen career. In case you don't recall (and honestly, why would you), the wacky buddy comedy cast the then recent-Saturday Night Live refugee as a bumbling cop with a deep-seated fear of driving who teams up with a road crazy taxi driver (Queen Latifah) to take down a crew of smoking hot bank robbers… because that's what happens in wacky buddy comedies. To mark the occasion of Fallon's new gig, I watched Taxi and his maiden Tonight Show episode back-to-back to see how they stacked up against each other.

The Monuments Men: It’s History, Man

by Ethan Alter February 7, 2014 6:05 am
<i>The Monuments Men</i>: It’s History, Man

The obit for George Clooney's latest directorial effort was written when this World War II period piece unceremoniously bumped from its original awards season berth and slotted into an early February release alongside other postponed 2013 rejects like Labor Day and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. So let's not spend too much time piling more dirt on its coffin. The Monuments Men is a dud: a nobly-intentioned feature that lacks the discipline and focus to unite its disparate elements -- among them a heavy-hitting cast, picturesque European settings and a great subject -- into an effective whole.

The Lego Movie: A Whole Lotta Awesome

by Ethan Alter February 7, 2014 6:05 am
<i>The Lego Movie:</i> A Whole Lotta Awesome

I adore The Lego Movie for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that directors Chris Lord and Phil Miller -- the team that proved there was a great movie that could be made out of 21 Jump Street -- are obvious fans of The Matrix. And I'm not just talking about the first film in that franchise, which provides this one with its central narrative spine, i.e. an ordinary guy learning that there are worlds beyond his own and that he may be the chosen one with the power necessary to defend them from extinction. I'm also referring to the lesser-loved (undeservedly so) sequels, which venture to narrative realms and traverse thematic ground uncommon for a spectacle of its type. Not to spoil anything specific here, but The Lego Movie has more than a few strands of Reloaded and Revolutions woven into its DNA, particularly as our tiny, yellow Neo stand-in Emmett (exuberantly voiced by Chris Pratt) grasps his way towards a rousing victory as well as a state of higher consciousness about his place in a carefully constructed multi-verse.

Indie Snapshot: The Pretty One

by Ethan Alter February 7, 2014 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>The Pretty One</i>

When an actor hits it big on a TV series, he or she oftentimes tries to parlay that success into an A-list feature film career, following in the illustrious footsteps of George Clooney, Jennifer Aniston and Tina Fey. So it's been interesting to see how breakout New Girl star Jake Johnson has so far used his increased visibility to become a major player not in Hollywood, but Indiewood. He started off by stealing scenes in the offbeat low-budget Aubrey Plaza vehicle Safety Not Guaranteed and then went toe-to-toe with a rejuvenated Olivia Wilde in Joe Swanberg's more polished mumblecore talkathon, Drinking Buddies last year. Now he's the leading man in the romantic comedy The Pretty One, which boasts a high-concept, studio-ready premise that's been translated into the indie realm. That means that the film goes for quirky comedy over big laughs, features a soundtrack filled with indie rock instead of Top 40 pop and stars Zoe Kazan instead of Zooey Deschanel.

Super Bowl 2014: Judging the Movie Trailers

by Ethan Alter February 3, 2014 11:43 am
Super Bowl 2014: Judging the Movie Trailers

We recap the big, blowout movie trailers glimpsed during last night's big, blowout game.

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