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: 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.

White House Down: Your Burning Questions Answered

by Ethan Alter June 28, 2013 6:00 am
<i>White House Down</i>: Your Burning Questions Answered

A White House under attack? Channing Tatum in Bruce Willis's old Die Hard wife beater?? America actually elected Jamie Foxx to the presidency??? You must have burning questions about Roland Emmerich's old-school (by which I mean, early '90s) summer blockbuster White House Down and we've got the answers.

Monsters University: Graded on a Curve

by Ethan Alter June 21, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Monsters University</i>: Graded on a Curve

Once upon a time, when Pixar was still a relatively young studio as opposed to the family entertainment monolith it is today, it was decided by the powers that be at Disney and Pixar that Toy Story 2 -- the sequel to the 1995 smash hit that eventually made computer animation the industry standard -- would be a direct-to-video feature in the vein of such lesser Mouse House productions as Pocahontas II and Aladdin and the King of Thieves. But unhappy with the movie's creative direction, Pixar head honcho John Lasseter took back the reins of the sequel and once again steered it into theaters. I bring this piece of history up because Monsters University, the prequel to the company's 2001 romp Monsters Inc., feels like it too originated as a DTV production before being transferred to the theatrical pipeline.

Indie Snapshot: How Sweet It Is

by Ethan Alter May 10, 2013 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>How Sweet It Is</i>

We're only halfway through 2013, but it's unlikely that we'll see an odder cast than the one at the center of Brian Herzlinger's low-budget musical comedy How Sweet It Is. In fact, the movie is almost worth seeing solely so that, years from now, if you ever get asked the trivia question "What movie musical starred Joe Piscopo, Erika Christensen, Paul Sorvino and Eddie Griffin?" you'll be able to provide the answer, plus a plot synopsis and maybe a few bars of the title number, with complete authority.

I Want My VOD: It's a Disaster

by Ethan Alter April 11, 2013 10:56 am
I Want My VOD: It's a Disaster

If you've ever wanted to see David Cross, Julia Stiles and America Ferrera in the same movie... well, now you can through the magic of VOD.

Admission: Put It on the Reject Pile

by Ethan Alter March 22, 2013 6:01 am
<i>Admission</i>: Put It on the Reject Pile

As the driving creative force behind 30 Rock (and, to a certain extent, Saturday Night Live during her tenure as head writer) for its seven-season run, Tina Fey generally tried to cut against the television comedy grain, unafraid to chase after comedy that was offbeat, ambitious and downright weird, particularly for a network sitcom. Perhaps that's why Fey's feature film career has been, for the most part, so disappointing. Instead of letting her freak flag fly, she's pursued middle-of-the-road mainstream star vehicles, from the pregnancy-themed Baby Mama (which was more sitcom-y than 30 Rock), to the "zany" night-on-the-town adventure Date Night (which managed to waste the combined talents of Fey, Steve Carell, Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, James Franco) and now Admission, which feels like an American version of those refined (re: pleasantly dull) British comedies -- think Waking Ned Devine and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel -- that only people over 40 go and see. It's mostly harmless, but also pretty lifeless.

Five Questions for Admission Director Paul Weitz

by Ethan Alter March 18, 2013 6:00 am
Five Questions for <I>Admission</i> Director Paul Weitz

Tina Fey's post-30 Rock career begins in earnest with Admission, a romantic comedy set in the high-stakes world of college admissions. Don't think that qualifies as a "high-stakes" world? Then you clearly haven't had to apply to college recently. Fey plays career-minded Princeton admissions officer Portia Nathan, who enjoys a meet cute with the personable principal of a progressive New England high school (Paul Rudd). Admission's director Paul Weitz, whose previous films include American Pie, About a Boy and last year's Being Flynn, spoke with us about collaborating with Fey and his own experience with higher education.

Four Surprising Things About Snitch

by Ethan Alter February 22, 2013 6:00 am
Four Surprising Things About <i>Snitch</i>

Given that it's being dumped into theaters at the tail end of February right before Oscar night, one would expect for Snitch to be yet another disposable Dwayne Johnson action programmer where the content is as generic as the one-word title -- think Faster and Doom. But in this case, looks are somewhat deceiving, as the film turns out to be one of Johnson's stronger star vehicles, one deserving of a better box office fate that awaits it this weekend. If you do decide to drop a dime on Snitch either now or, more likely, on cable a few months from now, here are four things about the movie that will surprise you.

Identity Thief: Five Reasons Not to See this Movie

by Rachel Stein February 8, 2013 12:51 pm
<i>Identity Thief</i>: Five Reasons Not to See this Movie

I find few things more frustrating than wasted potential and director Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses) has such a mess on his hands with Identity Thief, despite committed leads Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, that Wasted Potential may as well be the alternate title for this movie. Even the premise seems straightforward enough of a vehicle to get us to the raunchy jokes and slapstick humor we're to expect of this kind of comedy -- a mild-mannered Colorado-based businessman, Sandy Patterson (Bateman), travels to Florida to confront Diana (McCarthy), the psychotic woman who has stolen his identity and maxed out his credit card -- but the set-up is held back with so many inconsistencies that asking us to suspend disbelief for the first 30 minutes of the film (and intervals of ten minutes throughout) in order to get Bateman and McCarthy on a cross-country road trip that serves as an inward journey for them both is too much to bear.

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