Indie Snapshot: Women on the Verge

by Ethan Alter August 30, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: Women on the Verge

Kristen Bell and Kathryn Hahn just can't seem to get it together in the women-in-crisis movies, The Lifeguard and Afternoon Delight.

Indie Snapshot: Short Term 12

by Aly Semigran August 23, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Short Term 12</i>

It's rare that a film can leave such an indelible mark on your spirit that it not only reaffirms your faith in why we go to the movies, but in the human race itself. It's even rarer that that very same magic can happen the second time around, if not more so. When I first saw Destin Daniel Cretton's Short Term 12 at the SXSW Festival back in March, it was far and away the best movie I'd seen at the festival. Seeing it again five months later, it's the best film I've seen so far this year.

Indie Snapshot: Drinking Buddies

by Ethan Alter August 23, 2013 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Drinking Buddies</i>

After seven years and some 14 features, Drinking Buddies marks prolific writer/director Joe Swanberg's inevitable graduation from no-budget mumblecore to low-budget indie. What's the difference between the two? Well, both are primarily focused on the relationship travails of attractive twenty and/or thirtysomethings and consist largely of the characters hanging out in a series of ordinary, nondescript locations -- bars, apartments and sterile offices -- yapping endlessly about their lives and loves. But where homegrown mumblecore features often star the filmmaker's friends and family and tend to wear their technical scruffiness like a badge of honor, indies use their ever-so-slightly higher budgets to present a more polished face to the world and attract professional actors looking to up their cred. That's precisely why Drinking Buddies, which otherwise mines some of the same dramatic territory as many of Swanberg's mumblecore flicks, is his glossiest-looking film to date and boasts his highest-profile ensemble of actors, including Olivia Wilde, Ron Livingston, Anna Kendrick and, best of all, Jake Johnson, who gets the feature film equivalent of his New Girl breakout turn here.

Indie Snapshot: Prince Avalanche

by Ethan Alter August 9, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Prince Avalanche</i>

Fans of David Gordon Green’s early features like George Washington and All the Real Girls have been hoping for some time now that the writer/director would end his dalliance with Hollywood -- a dalliance that yielded the widely-liked Pineapple Express, the widely-misunderstood Your Highness and the widely-ignored The Sitter -- and return to the indie world from whence he came. That particular prayer has now been answered; although it stars two familiar Hollywood faces, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, Green’s newest film Prince Avalanche is otherwise the kind of small-scale slice-of-life regional story that defined the first part of Green’s career. It also happens to be the least interesting film he’s ever made, so the moral is be careful what you wish for, I guess.

Indie Snapshot: The Spectacular Now

by Ethan Alter August 2, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>The Spectacular Now</i>

If movies could be released as cassette singles (remember those?), some enterprising producer could make a killing putting out a tape with last year’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower as the lushly orchestrated A-track and The Spectacular Now as the stripped-down flip side. Taken together, these are two of the best examples of the John Hughesian coming-of-age high school drama since… well, since the heyday of John Hughes. What’s interesting, though, is that while they cover similar ground and inspire the same heady mix of emotions in the audience, they go about the task in significantly different ways. Perks is sweeping and swoony, filled with the kind of grand passions and gestures that mark adolescence. As the title suggests, The Spectacular Now is rooted in the moment, depicting the ordinary experiences of its teenage characters in ordinary ways. But its within that ordinariness that both the characters and the audience can occasionally catch a glimpse of the spectacular.

Indie Snapshot: Fruitvale Station

by Ethan Alter July 12, 2013 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Fruitvale Station</i>

The facts are these: just after midnight on January 1, 2009, a 22-year-old black man named Oscar Grant and several of his friends were detained by transit police offices while taking a BART train home from San Francisco to Oakland under suspicion of having participated in a fight aboard the train. While passengers looked on -- many filming the ensuing events with their cell phone cameras -- the suspects and the authorities traded heated words and eventually Grant was held down by two cops, one of whom drew his gun and shot him in the back. (During the ensuing trail, the officer claimed he confused his gun for his Taser.) Taken to a nearby hospital, Grant died of his wounds several hours later. Ryan Coogler's much-lauded Sundance favorite Fruitvale Station (named after the station where the shooting occurred) opens with actual cell phone-shot footage of this tragic incident, before rewinding time to the morning of New Year's Eve and dramatizing the hours leading up to Grant's fateful train ride in a noble effort to contextualize the life of a man who would become famous for the way that he died.

Indie Snapshot: Love Times Two

by Ethan Alter July 5, 2013 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: Love Times Two

Love is the word this holiday weekend, as Stuck in Love and The Look of Love both open in limited release.

Indie Snapshot: Byzantium

by Ethan Alter June 28, 2013 1:39 pm
Indie Snapshot: <i>Byzantium</i>

A mother/daughter story trussed up in vampiric garb, Neil Jordan's Byzantium has the same gloomy atmosphere that suffused his previous bloodsucking tale -- 1994's Interview with the Vampire, based on Anne Rice's genre-redefining favorite -- but adds some notable tweaks to vampire legend. For starters, sunlight isn't a problem for ageless 18th-century hooker Clara (Gemma Arterton) and her teen offspring Eleanor (Saorise Ronan), her actual biological daughter whom she converted to vampirism two hundred years ago. Although the two do most of their "work" after hours, they can and do move about in the daytime without fear of going up in flames. Additionally, their bite only delivers death rather than a second chance at life. The only way a new vampire can be born into the world is for the candidate in question to make the pilgrimage to a cavern on a remote island, where they'll be met by a demon that satiates its centuries-long thirst with their hemoglobin, turning the waterfalls that rain down outside the cave blood-red in the process.

Indie Snapshot: I’m So Excited

by Ethan Alter June 28, 2013 12:12 pm
Indie Snapshot: <i>I’m So Excited</i>

It's been a good two decades since Pedro Almodóvar has attempted one of the zany farces that first put him on the world cinema map in the mid-'80s -- think movies like Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Labyrinth of Passion. And while I wish I could say that I'm So Excited was worth the wait, this strained, resoundingly unfunny comedy instead emerges as one of the Spanish director's few creative misfires. Remember Woody Allen's painful mid-2000s run of laugh-free bombs like The Curse of the Jade Scorpion and Hollywood Ending? Well, I'm So Excited is basically Almodóvar's Jade Scorpion -- a trip down memory lane that leaves you wishing the filmmaker had never tried to go home again.

Indie Snapshot: Maniac

by Ethan Alter June 21, 2013 5:55 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Maniac</i>

Did Elijah Wood come home from New Zealand with the One Ring still safely tucked away in his pocket? That's one possible explanation for the actor's ongoing fascination with playing dark, messed-up characters since going on his heroic journey in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There was Sin City's Kevin, Wilfred's Ryan and now Maniac's Frank, the most messed-up of the bunch. How messed up? Well, try this on for size: since the death of his mother -- a mannequin saleslady and sometime-hooker -- Frank lives by himself in her old store, surrounded only by plastic ladies. Small wonder he has trouble relating to flesh-and-blood women, an emotional problem he works through by -- what else? -- killing them. C'mon, this movie is called, Maniac after all.

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