Indie Snapshot: Blancanieves

by Ethan Alter March 29, 2013 5:59 am
Indie Snapshot: Blancanieves

If last year's effects-laden blockbuster Snow White and the Huntsman (or, for that matter, ABC's ongoing Once Upon a Time) isn't your ideal re-telling of the classic fairy tale about a beautiful princess, an evil queen and a poisoned apple, you might fall under the spell of Blancanieves, a black-and-white silent version of the oft-told legend, written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger. Transported from medieval times to Seville circa 1920, the film also recasts Snow White's royal characters as bullfighting royalty, an alteration that, in execution, isn't as strange as it might initially sound.

Indie Snapshot: Starbuck

by Ethan Alter March 22, 2013 11:47 am
Indie Snapshot: <I>Starbuck</i>

If it weren't already being remade as a Vince Vaughn star vehicle (look for it this fall under the new, more generic title, The Delivery Man), the French-Canadian comedy Starbuck could have easily been retrofitted into a TV sitcom. Just take a gander at the premise: in his youth, fortysomething slacker-with-a-heart-of-gold David Wozniak (Patrick Huard, one of French-speaking Canada's biggest comedy stars, which is akin to being the biggest stand-up act in Des Moines) made frequent and copious donations to his local sperm bank under the alias "Starbuck." Just as he's weighing whether or not to settle down his girlfriend, who is carrying their child, he's informed that his vintage seed was exceptionally popular amongst the bank's clientele and he's now the father of over 500 grown children, a significant chunk of whom now want to meet him. Not wanting to openly admit his parentage (both due to the humiliation factor and the fact that he owes money to some thugs), he pays one-on-one visits to some of his offspring and -- without revealing his true identity -- helps them out of various jams. It's like My Name is Earl crossed with Guys With Kids! Coming this fall to NBC.

Stoker: All in the Family

by Ethan Alter March 1, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Stoker</i>: All in the Family

Here's how I like to imagine the way that the making of Stoker, the only vaguely indie-ish new thriller from Fox Searchlight, went down: Screenwriter Wentworth Miller (yes, the same Wentworth Miller who got Mariah Carey all hot and bothered in a music video and then spent four seasons breaking out of various fake prisons on television) turned in his script, and then the studio took one look at it and realized its wannabe Hitchcockian tale of a twisted family was never going to fly if played straight. So they bought playfully perverse South Korean director Park Chan-wook a plane ticket from Seoul to the movie's Tennessee set, whereupon they handed him the screenplay and told him to just go nuts with it. The result is one of the most beautifully directed bad movies I've seen since the immortal Brian De Palma trifecta of Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale (known unofficially as De Palma's Trilogy of Awesome Awfulness). Thanks to Park's endless creativity behind the camera, it's impossible to look away from Stoker, even when what's happening on the screen is truly risible.

Indie Snapshot: No

by Ethan Alter February 15, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>No</i>

Mad Men goes to Chile in the Oscar-nominated No. Also, our takes on Shanghai Calling and A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III.

The Impossible: Swept Away

by Ethan Alter December 21, 2012 5:58 am
<i>The Impossible:</i> Swept Away

Viewed purely as a ripped-from-the-headlines survival story, Spanish director J.A. Bayona's new film The Impossible is an often harrowing experience, depicting the devastation caused by the Indian Ocean tsunami that engulfed South Asia in December 2004 through the eyes of one family, who are left separated in its wake. On holiday in Thailand when the tidal wave sweeps through, British couple Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three adorable boys -- who are, in order of age, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) and Thomas (Samuel Joslin) -- abruptly go from lounging about the pool at their high-end resort to fighting for their lives as the current rockets them along. When they're finally becalmed, Maria and Lucas are miles from the hotel, while Henry, Simon and Thomas manage to find safe harbor closer by, and each group believes that the other is likely dead. Henry refuses to abandon all hope, however, and goes hunting for his wife and eldest son at the same time that Lucas is bringing his severely wounded mom to an overcrowded hospital where she joins the ranks of the hundreds and hundreds of people in immediate need of medical attention. Will her husband find her? And, if he does, will she still be alive?

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.

Red Dawn: Why the Remake is So 2009

by Ethan Alter November 21, 2012 6:00 am
<i>Red Dawn</i>: Why the Remake is <i>So</i> 2009

If there was ever a good reason to remake the '80s chestnut Red Dawn, it would be to bring John Milius's teenage action movie kicking and screaming into the 21st century in a version that didn't resemble such a Cold War relic. And that seems to have been the motivating idea behind this new, updated Dawn that's finally opening in theaters a full three years after it wrapped production in 2009. (The movie fell victim to the bankruptcy of its original studio MGM -- the same plight that delayed the release of Joss Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods, which was made around the same time and received a belated theatrical release last April.) Funnily enough, in the relatively short amount of time, the new Red Dawn already seems as dated as its 1984 predecessor. Her are four ways that this largely pointless remake feels so 2009:

Anna Karenina: Train in Vain

by Ethan Alter November 16, 2012 4:06 pm
<i>Anna Karenina</i>: Train in Vain

As with any new cinematic adaptation of a frequently-filmed Great Novel, the biggest challenge facing the makers of Anna Karenina -- the umpteenth film to be derived from Leo Tolstoy's enduring 19th century romance -- is convincing moviegoers that they really need to see the same story told again. Director Joe Wright and screenwriter Tom Stoppard's method of persuasion is to inject a surfeit of audacious theatricality into a novel that modern audiences might consider stodgy and old-fashioned (wrongly, of course, but that's a separate issue). In their conceit, the woeful tale of the titular Russian socialite (played by Keira Knightley, in her third collaboration with Wright) plays out within the confines of a period-appropriate theater, which constantly morphs and changes to become its own world. The motivating idea seems to be that since Anna's tragic story unfolds on a very public stage, the other characters function as both players in -- and spectators to -- her downfall. It's an intriguing approach that's executed with impressive showmanship, but it also inadvertently misses what's at the core of the book: passion.

Argo: Fake It Til You Make It

by Ethan Alter October 12, 2012 6:01 am
<i>Argo</i>: Fake It Til You Make It

Your average, conventional thriller probably wouldn't build its big climactic set-piece around a bunch of people waiting in line at the airport trying to catch a plane, but then Argo most certainly isn't your average, conventional thriller. Instead, Ben Affleck's third feature film as a director is a loving throwback to the political procedurals of the '70s -- think films like All the President's Men and Three Days of the Condor -- where the "action," such as it is, chiefly involves government (or government-adjacent) guys in suits talking, scheming and plotting instead of running around firing off their guns. In fact, the film's central hero, CIA agent Tony Mendez (Affleck, handing himself the starring role as he did in The Town two years ago) never wields a firearm once during the course of the movie, even when he's in the most desperate of circumstances. He's on a mission where stealth matters more than a show of action movie strength.

Indie Snapshot: Four Comedies and A Drama

by Ethan Alter August 3, 2012 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: Four Comedies and A Drama

Laugh it up at this weekend with four indie comedies, including The Babymakers and Celeste and Jesse Forever.

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