Five Things To Know About Mama

by Ethan Alter January 18, 2013 6:00 am
Five Things To Know About <i>Mama</i>

With Mama, horror movie maestro Guillermo del Toro continues to give back to his favorite genre, using his significant influence within the film industry to give new directors the opportunity to freak audiences out. Mama, the feature filmmaking debut of Spanish director Andrés Muschietti, is the third scary movie to be released under the "Guillermo del Toro Presents" banner after 2007's The Orphanage and 2010's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. It's also the first horror movie for dramatic heavyweight (and current Best Actress Oscar nominee) Jessica Chastain, who gets a Goth makeover to play the edgy rocker chick-turned-reluctant guardian of two little girls recently returned to civilization after five years spent living like animals in a cabin in the woods, with only the ghost of a long-dead mental patient for company. Even if del Toro's name by itself is enough to lure you into the theater, here are five additional things you should know about Mama:

Lawless: Your Burning Questions Answered

by Ethan Alter August 29, 2012 10:46 am
<i>Lawless</i>: Your Burning Questions Answered

At the tail end of last summer, The Weinstein Company made a bet that adult audiences weary of sequels, comic-book movies and other blockbuster fare would turn out for a straight-up, grown-up thriller distinguished by a cast of respected character actors and a historical hook. That movie was The Debt -- which told the story of a group of retired Israeli Mossad agents who flash back to an operation from the '60s that changed all of their lives -- and it wound up doing solid business, solid enough that the Weinsteins are pulling the same late-summer counterprogramming stunt today with Lawless, a Prohibition-era crime thriller about a trio of bootlegging brothers in Virginia who refuse to bend to the new law of the land or the crooked businessmen who want in on their operation. Directed by critical darling John Hillcoat (best known for the Down Under Western The Proposition) and featuring a heavy-hitting ensemble that includes Tom Hardy, Jessica Chastain (who also appeared in The Debt), Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and... um, Shia LaBeouf, Lawless certainly has the pedigree to be this summer's token prestige picture, but is the whole as great as the sum of its parts? I'll answer that -- and more of your burning questions -- below.

The Debt: Keep On Playing Those Spy Games

by Ethan Alter August 31, 2011 6:00 am
<i>The Debt</i>: Keep On Playing Those Spy Games

The Debt has one of the worst endings to an otherwise well-crafted thriller in recent memory. It's not just that the final 10-15 minutes are full of illogical contrivances (though they are) -- it's that they fundamentally contradict the movie's intended message. As star Helen Mirren informs us in a voiceover that precedes the closing credits, our takeaway is supposed to be that lies -- even the well-intentioned variety -- will inevitably be uncovered and the guilty may not always be brought to justice. But while she's soberly intoning those words, the events occurring onscreen tell a very different story, one that tries to put a positive, crowd-pleasing spin on what's otherwise a darker, more emotionally complex story. (Don't worry -- as much as I'd like to prepare you for the silliness of the ending, I'll restrain myself from giving it all away.)

Zero Dark Thirty: Ooh-Rah!

by Ethan Alter December 19, 2012 6:00 am
<i>Zero Dark Thirty</i>: Ooh-Rah!

It's hard not to watch Zero Dark Thirty without drawing comparisons to Homeland and not just because both Kathryn Bigelow's new movie and that hit Showtime drama both revolve around a doggedly determined, socially awkward female CIA agent (Jessica Chastain's Maya on the big screen and Claire Danes' Carrie on the small) dedicating herself to bringing down America's most wanted terrorist, no matter the personal and professional cost. Beyond that, both the film and the series are shot through with a profound ambivalence -- and even skepticism -- about the way the nation's chief counter-terrorism agency operates, not to mention the moral compromises individual agents make in service of what they perceive to be their duty. But at the end of the day (and as the Season 2 finale made abundantly clear), Homeland is first and foremost a skillfully written soap opera, which uses the War on Terror as a backdrop to the twisted love story at its center; the show's "realism" exists entirely within quotation marks. Zero Dark Thirty, on the other hand, aspires to near-complete authenticity; while the decade-long CIA manhunt for Osama bin Laden almost certainly didn't proceed in precisely the manner that Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal present here, it's the closest we're probably going to get without being granted clearance to review the Agency's classified files.

Take Shelter: The Storm is Threatening

by Ethan Alter September 30, 2011 4:23 pm
<i>Take Shelter</i>: The Storm is Threatening

Writer/director Jeff Nichols' first feature, Shotgun Stories, ranks as one of the finest filmmaking debuts of the past decade. Now, following an acclaimed run on the festival circuit, his second effort Take Shelter blows into theaters and instantly jumps to the top of the list of 2011's very best films. A family drama, a psychological horror story and a rich character study all rolled into one, Take Shelter is a beautifully assured work of art that doubles as an up-to-the-minute portrait of the country's mood. When future generations study this specific period in American history, this film will function as an evocative look at the Way We Lived Then.

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