Labor Day: Trapped In Utero

by Ethan Alter January 31, 2014 6:00 am
<i>Labor Day</i>: Trapped In Utero

I'm all for directors attempting to break out of their comfort zone, even when those initial steps end in a stumble. After all, had Woody Allen not taken a hard left turn into Bergman territory with the dry, dour Interiors, we might never have gotten superior dramatic efforts like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Husbands and Wives. Similarly, Steven Spielberg's first brush with comedy, 1941, was an abject disaster that almost ended his career, but the lessons he took away from that film paid off with Catch Me If You Can, one of the fleetest, funniest pictures in his filmography. (On the other hand, The Terminal is still a chore to sit through.) So in the potentially not-to-distant future, when he makes a wrenching, beautiful film that wins every Oscar in sight, I hope to look back on Jason Reitman's Labor Day as the bad drama he had to make before he could produce a good one.

Riddick: Assault on Planet 13

by Ethan Alter September 6, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Riddick</i>: Assault on Planet 13

With the re-energized Fast and the Furious franchise having returned him to pop culture relevance (however briefly), Vin Diesel and his regular collaborator, writer/director David Twohy, are seizing the opportunity to take one more run at Richard B. Riddick, the intergalactic, night vision-enhanced bad-ass they originated in 2000's surprise hit Pitch Black and effectively killed off (metaphorically, though not literally) in 2004's not-so-surprise bomb The Chronicles of Riddick. The secret to Pitch Black's success is that it plays like a lean, mean John Ford Western dressed up in sci-fi clothing, Stagecoach in outer space if you will, with Riddick functioning as its Ringo Kid -- the cool-as-hell antihero who is technically part of the larger ensemble, but gets the best lines and the best bits of action. The bigger-budgeted sequel, on the other hand, proved to be as muddled and convoluted and the original was clean and elegant, tying Riddick up in a confounding mythology that tried and failed to position him as some kind of Conan figure. The third film, simply titled Riddick, tries to split the difference, once again embracing a stripped-down approach to genre filmmaking (one that shares a lot in common with another filmmaker named John… Carpenter, rather than Ford), but still trying to show how its title character fits into the larger futureverse Diesel and Twohy are laboring to create.

Ten Things to Remember About the Total Recall Remake

by Ethan Alter August 3, 2012 6:01 am
Ten Things to Remember About the <i>Total Recall</i> Remake

As I write this, it's been roughly 24 hours since I walked out of the Total Recall remake and damned if I can remember a thing about it. Actually, my memory started to fail me before the movie was even over; after a decent first half-hour, the Len Wiseman-update of Paul Verhoeven's enjoyably silly 1990 original grew less and less interesting. By the final act, I was so bored that I could barely remember what movie I was watching; based on what was happening onscreen, it may as well have been called Generic Sci- Fi Action Movie Starring Colin Farrell instead of Total Recall.

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, June 12, 2012

by Ethan Alter June 12, 2012 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Just in time for summer, here's a healthy dose of Meatballs.

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, May 8, 2012

by Ethan Alter May 8, 2012 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Channing and Rachel, sitting in a tree...

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

by Ethan Alter April 10, 2012 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Any chance she hails from the Iron Islands?

Contraband: Hit the Snooze Button

by Ethan Alter January 13, 2012 6:00 am
<i>Contraband</i>: Hit the Snooze Button

In the new action picture Contraband, Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a retired smuggler who's forced back into the life when his brother-in-law commits a colossal screw-up by dumping a drug shipment that belongs to small-time hood Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) with a highly combustible temper and an itchy trigger finger. In order to secure the funds he needs to cover his relative's debt, Chris makes one last run to Panama, where a shipment of counterfeit money is awaiting him to transport back stateside. Meanwhile, back in his New Orleans home, his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their two sons are being menaced by Tim, so Chris calls upon his old friend and partner Sebastian (Ben Foster) to keep an eye on them. But it turns out that Sebastian has a few secrets... ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Straw Dogs: Unleash the Hounds

by Ethan Alter September 16, 2011 6:00 am
<i>Straw Dogs</i>: Unleash the Hounds

Released in 1971, Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs is one of the more controversial entries in that noted provocateur's filmography. No stranger to upsetting audiences -- after all, this was the guy who filmed Hollywood icons William Holden and Ernest Borgnine being shot to bloody pulps at the end of the 1969 Western The Wild Bunch -- Peckinpah pushed the envelope even further in this story of dorky mathematician David (Dustin Hoffman) who is forced to man up and defend his wife Amy (Susan George) and their remote English homestead against a gang of thugs with murder on their minds. But that wasn't the shocking part.

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