Veronica Mars: Back in the Neptune Groove

by Ethan Alter March 13, 2014 2:39 pm
<i>Veronica Mars</i>: Back in the Neptune Groove

In hindsight, it's a good thing that Rob Thomas's original plan to extend the lifespan of his low-rated teen detective series Veronica Mars by packing the title character off to the FBI was deep-sixed by CW executives, and not just because the ten minute pitch reel for that version of the character is pretty terrible. Making the ever-intrepid Veronica a Fed might have been a logical career path for her, but it also would have cut her off from the life blood of the show: the sunny, seedy town of Neptune, CA, which provided her with plenty of mysteries to solve as well as a deep bench of richly-drawn characters to befriend or bedevil her. Thomas himself clearly recognizes how important Neptune was and is to his heroine, because he smartly makes that relationship the central focus of the long-awaited, fan-funded movie, also called Veronica Mars, which continues Veronica's story by bringing it all back home.

300: Rise of An Empire — This Is… a Repeat!

by Ethan Alter March 7, 2014 6:00 am
<i>300: Rise of An Empire</i> — This Is… a Repeat!

Zack Snyder may be off ruining Superman, but his slow-mo, ultraviolent aesthetic lives on in 300: Rise of An Empire, a semi-sequel to the director's 2007 hit that's such a close replica of its predecessor, it's practically a Gus Van Sant-style remake. Though it technically tells an "original" story with "new" characters, Empire (which Snyder produced and Israeli director Noam Murro directed) shares not just the same stylistic flourishes and war-mongering tone as the original, but also several recurring faces (most notably Rodrigo Santoro's Persian god-king Xerxes and Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo, widow of Gerard Butler's butchered Spartan king, Leonidas) and a "Why We Fight" narrative that mostly runs parallel to the events of the first movie, only branching off in the final 20 minutes. Honestly, the only significant difference between the two films is the dominant color scheme; where 300 was all deep reds and golds, Rise of an Empire is a milky blue, reflecting both the shade of tunics that the Greek warriors wear, as well as the fact that the bulk of this film's CGI-enhanced action occurs at sea.

About Last Night: Sexual Predictability in Los Angeles

by Ethan Alter February 14, 2014 8:02 am
<i>About Last Night</i>: Sexual Predictability in Los Angeles

Forget Ice Cube. Based on the evidence provided by About Last Night, Ride Along should have partnered Kevin Hart up with Regina Hall. Where the rapper/actor spent the duration of that hit buddy cop comedy reacting to his co-star with barely concealed disdain, Hall, a veteran of the Scary Movie franchise along with other mid-level comedies, enters this rom-com ready to play. The result is a spirited back-and-forth of verbal volleys that both actors are clearly enjoying as much as the audience. Hollywood's been grooming Hart for some time now to be a big-screen comedy star on the level of Eddie Murphy, but this is the first time he's really been challenged to deliver an actual performance as opposed to acting out an extended stand-up routine and it's a direct result of Hall going head-to-head with him instead of letting him coast.

<I>Winter’s Tale</i>: If You Are Looking For Romance On Valentine’s Day… Look Elsewhere

Admittedly it's my fault that the only things I knew about this movie is what I'd garnered from the trailer, as I somehow missed this book when it came out in the early '80s, even though it is entirely the kind of story my pre-teen self would have adored. Perhaps if I'd even seen the book cover I'd have been more prepared for the fantasy elements of this story, as the trailer made it seem more like an epic love story about a man who stayed alive in order to see the woman he loved again. It also led me to believe this was a reincarnation tale, or something of that ilk, not a tale of a battle between good and evil. After sitting through the two hours of the movie, I feel like that time could have been better spent sitting down and reading the beloved book, because the special effects elements make this lofty tale into a silly parade through time.

Endless Love: Dare Not Speak Its Name

by Ethan Alter February 14, 2014 6:00 am
<i>Endless Love</i>: Dare Not Speak Its Name

The latest version of the teen weepie Endless Love departs so completely from Scott Spencer's 1979 novel and Franco Zeffirelli's 1981 film version, it's less a remake or adaptation than a top-down reinvention. Essentially, what writer/director Shana Feste and her co-scribe Joshua Safran (a.ka. the Smash Season 2 mastermind who gave the world the glory that was Hit List) have done is taken the material and run it through the Nicholas Sparks machine, flattening out the wrinkles that made the original story vaguely interesting and delivering up the same glossy, generic pap that passes for big-screen romance these days.

The Monuments Men: It’s History, Man

by Ethan Alter February 7, 2014 6:05 am
<i>The Monuments Men</i>: It’s History, Man

The obit for George Clooney's latest directorial effort was written when this World War II period piece unceremoniously bumped from its original awards season berth and slotted into an early February release alongside other postponed 2013 rejects like Labor Day and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. So let's not spend too much time piling more dirt on its coffin. The Monuments Men is a dud: a nobly-intentioned feature that lacks the discipline and focus to unite its disparate elements -- among them a heavy-hitting cast, picturesque European settings and a great subject -- into an effective whole.

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.

Her: Ghost in the Machine

by Ethan Alter December 18, 2013 9:31 am
<i>Her</i>: Ghost in the Machine

At first blush, the "Her" in Spike Jonze's exquisitely crafted sci-fi romance Her would seem to refer to Scarlett Johansson's Samantha, the incorporeal operating system who enters the life of lonely letter writer, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), and becomes his best friend and, eventually, lover. But when you step back and consider it for a moment, the title seems to refer not to the presence, but rather the absence of a "her." After all, when we meet Theodore, he's on the verge of becoming a divorcée, many months removed from a failed marriage to Catherine (Rooney Mara), the woman he previously assumed he'd be with forever. Though he's been encouraged to get back on the dating scene by good pals like his neighbor Amy (Amy Adams), he seems content in his self-imposed isolation. Except he's not really; as he shuffles through his small universe, which consists primarily of his warmly-lit office and his bachelor pad in a sky-high skyrise, a palpable sense of melancholy trails his every step. There's a hole in his world that he's been thus far unable to fill with another human being. So naturally, it will take a voice in his ear to do it.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: He Is Legend

by Ethan Alter December 18, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues</i>: He Is Legend

Successfully sequel-izing any film is a challenge, but the odds seem stacked particularly high against comedies. The peculiar alchemy that had audiences rolling in the aisles the first time around can very easily transform comic gold into lead when the creative team goes back for a double dip, even with all the same players in place.

Out of the Furnace: Hot in Herre

by Ethan Alter December 6, 2013 5:55 am
<i>Out of the Furnace</i>: 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.

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