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Out of the Furnace: Hot in Herre

by Ethan Alter December 6, 2013 5:55 am
Out of the Furnace: Hot in Herre

With Gotham City in his rear view, Christian Bale ventures down Appalachia way in Out of the Furnace, the sophomore feature from actor-turned-would-be-auteur, Scott Cooper. Like his debut film, Crazy Heart, Furnace is a ruggedly regional film about working-class men who have long since let go of any youthful ambition and are now just looking to get by, wringing whatever modest pleasures out of life that they can. Also like Crazy Heart, Furnace is simple and straightforward to a fault. You spend the whole movie expecting it to lead someplace challenging or, failing that, genuinely interesting, only to arrive at the end credits without it having ventured any further than surface-level.

Blue Jasmine: Oh, Streetcar!

by Ethan Alter July 26, 2013 5:50 am
Blue Jasmine: Oh, Streetcar!

If you want to see what capital-A Acting looks like, take a gander at Cate Blanchett in Woody Allen's latest feature, Blue Jasmine. As the title character, an absurdly wealthy New York socialite forced to drastically downsize her life after her swindling husband (Alec Baldwin) is unmasked as a Madoff-like fraud, Blanchett is a whirlwind of nervous tics and harried mannerisms, having clearly embraced the "more is more" -- as opposed to "less is more" -- school of film performance. In that respect at least, she's carrying on the tradition of the broadly neurotic hero that Allen used to portray in movie after movie. But where Allen's persona was generally of sound mind despite his occasionally questionable behavior, Jasmine's general flibbertigibbet-ness comes from her increasingly shaky hold on reality in the wake of her fall from societal grace. As the movie continues and Blanchett's performance grows more manic than comic, the dark secret of her character is laid bare: we're not watching Jasmineā€¦ this is Blanche freakin' DuBois!

The Place Beyond the Pines: Daddy Dearest

by Ethan Alter March 29, 2013 9:00 am
The Place Beyond the Pines: Daddy Dearest

Based on his two narrative features to date, Blue Valentine and now The Place Beyond the Pines, writer/director Derek Cianfrance is fascinated by consequences and the various ways in which a person's past actions inalterably shape the present and future for themselves and the people around them. In Valentine, this theme was explored through a narrative structure that bounced back and forth in time, contrasting the exciting rush of first love for its central couple (played by Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling) with the pain and heartache generated by their failing marriage years later. Pines's timeline only moves in one direction -- forwards -- but it covers far more ground than Valentine, spanning almost 20 years in the lives of two upstate New York-based families whose fates become intertwined by an almost random moment of chance.

Indie Snapshot: The Girl

by Ethan Alter March 8, 2013 10:55 am
Indie Snapshot: The Girl

Next to a Dane Cook comedy, few genres inspire less enthusiasm than the social issues drama -- movies that set out to make an impassioned statement about some kind of local, national or global problem, but neglect to do so in a dramatically compelling way. David Riker's The Girl would seem to fall into this category, given that it's been specifically rigged to address a topic that's very much in the news today: illegal immigration across the U.S./Mexico border. Fortunately, the film has a solid grasp on character and story to accompany its strong social conscious.

Indie Snapshot: Promised Land

by Ethan Alter December 28, 2012 10:02 am
Indie Snapshot: Promised Land

Matt Damon gets a crash course in the dangers of fracking in Promised Land. Also, read our reviews of Amour and West of Memphis.

Killing Them Softly: With His Song… Uh, Gun

by Ethan Alter November 30, 2012 6:00 am
Killing Them Softly: With His Song… Uh, Gun

Five years ago, New Zealand-born director Andrew Dominik sought to explode the myth of the noble outlaw in his admirable, but dramatically uneven Western The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Now he's back to expose the seedy truth behind another figure of American legend: the noble gangster. Based on the novel Cogan's Trade by George V. Higgins, Dominik's new film Killing Them Softly relocates the 1974 Boston-set crime story to New Orleans circa September 2008, right after the historic financial meltdown that left the United States reeling. The effects of that crisis are heard -- via a steady stream of news reports that blare from TV screens and talk radio stations -- and felt throughout the movie, which presents depicts organized crime as a soulless racket, populated by profit-minded lowlifes who are only separated from the similarly unscrupulous Wall Street fat cats by their dressed-down wardrobe. Forget the old canard about "honor amongst thieves" -- for many of the men who populate Killing Them Softly, honor is a thing that can easily be sold for the right price.

Flight: On a Wing and a Prayer

by Ethan Alter November 2, 2012 6:00 am
Flight: On a Wing and a Prayer

According to the trailers, Robert Zemeckis's latest film (and his first live-action effort since Cast Away over a decade ago) Flight is about a daring pilot (Denzel Washington) who manages to land a free-falling plane with a minimal loss of life. Once he's on the ground, though, reports emerge that he may have been drunk as a skunk while flying, which means he might have caused the crash. So what's the truth? Is he a hero or a villain? The ads pose this question in the context of a thriller, playing up the notion that Washington is struggling to clear his name. The actual film, however, is something quite different and discussing it any substantial detail is going to involve discussing some key story points that aren't part of the trailers. So for those who prefer to remain at the boarding gate while I go on a ride with Flight, here's your Spoiler Warning.

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