The Wolverine: Pain is For Chumps, Bub

by Ethan Alter July 26, 2013 6:00 am
<i>The Wolverine</i>: Pain is For Chumps, Bub

If nothing else, The Wolverine is the first superhero movie released this summer that actually seems proud of its comic book origins. Shane Black's Iron Man 3 snarkily tweaked the genre's conventions… at least until the final act, when it became a traditional punch-punch-boom-boom affair, while Zack Snyder's Man of Steel plugged its hero into an alien invasion scenario that was more in the vein of Independence Day (minus that movie's good humor) than a Superman comic. If those directors seemed intent on running away from the source material, Wolverine helmer James Mangold is all too eager to embrace it. Freely adapted from a 1982 miniseries written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Frank Miller, The Wolverine could almost be released in print form as an arc in the character's ongoing solo title. Mangold's frames frequently resemble comic book panels and the story neatly unfolds in 22-minute chunks, each containing a mixture of intrigue and action and almost always ending on a cliffhanger setting up the next issue.

<i>This is the End</i>: Seeking Six Friends For the End of the World

It's not a spoiler to say that the world really is ending in the all-star comedy This is the End. This isn't an artificial apocalypse or a meta mega-disaster designed to complement the movie's already-heightened level of reality that comes with its cast -- including Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride -- playing themselves (albeit slightly tweaked versions of themselves) rather than fictional characters. The film, which Rogen wrote and directed his longtime creative partner Evan Goldberg, takes the end of days seriously... so seriously that the level of violence (to say nothing of the body count) is higher than you might expect for a warm weather comedy. Fortunately, much of what's unfolding in the shadow of the apocalypse is also seriously funny, so even though the world as we know it is over, it's ending with laughter rather than a whimper.

The Internship: Google Crashers

by Rachel Stein June 7, 2013 6:01 am
<i>The Internship</i>: Google Crashers

The Internship is quite literally a two-hour commercial for Google. It's ridiculously racist and sexist, and every character who's not played by Vince Vaughn or Owen Wilson is at best an archetype. The plot developments and beats are almost directly ripped from Wedding Crashers. The film has enormous plot holes, essentially no stakes and a resolution that barely solves anything; to say it makes any sense at all is an overstatement. And yet, thanks to its stars, it is also ridiculously charming, and very, very funny.

Five Things to Know About The Hangover Part III

by Ethan Alter May 23, 2013 9:00 am
Five Things to Know About <i>The Hangover Part III</i>

Much like an actual hangover, the Hangover franchise has lingered around multiplexes long after the pleasant buzz of the original hit has passed. The Hangover Part III, then, is the cinematic equivalent of the two aspirin and/or special cocktail of Tabasco sauce, raw eggs, peanut butter and whatever the hell else is in the fridge that you knock back in order to rid yourself of that queasy feeling that accompanies the morning after a long night of binge drinking. The only difference is that those miracle cures generally improve your mood, whereas this movie will likely leave you more nauseous. In the interests of AA-inspired group sharing, if you're planning to spend Memorial Day weekend in the company of the Wolf Pack, here are five things you should know:

Star Trek Into Darkness: Boys and Their Toys

by Ethan Alter May 16, 2013 6:00 am
<i>Star Trek Into Darkness</i>: Boys and Their Toys

After turning it over in my brain a bit, I think I've come up with an analogy for why Star Trek Into Darkness proves so disappointing as the second entry in J.J. Abrams's rebooted Trek film franchise. Bear with me a moment while I set this up: (Warning: Spoilers Follow)

Pain & Gain: Pump It Up

by Ethan Alter April 26, 2013 8:00 am
<i>Pain & Gain</i>: Pump It Up

As improbable as it might sound, Pain & Gain is Michael Bay's attempt a Coen Brothers picture -- his Fargo or Burn After Reading if you will. Like both of those films (which rank amongst my own personal favorite Coen-made movies), Pain & Gain is a dark comedy about a group of very dumb, very greedy, very selfish and all-around not very nice people who apply their distinct lack of smarts and skills to crime and wind up failing spectacularly. But where the Coens were only kidding about Fargo being based on a true story, Pain & Gain's claims to legitimacy aren't manufactured. The crime dramatized here really did go down in Miami in the mid-'90s and while details have almost certainly been altered to fit Bay's glossy, hedonistic vision, Pain & Gain is, funnily enough, probably more historically accurate than the director's recreation of Pearl Harbor.

Evil Dead: Back to the Cabin in the Woods

by Ethan Alter April 5, 2013 8:01 am
<i>Evil Dead</i>: Back to the Cabin in the Woods

I don't have much to say about the Evil Dead remake that's opening in theaters today. It's a film that Hollywood has been threatening to produce for years and finally did and the final result is... fine. Neither an epic fail nor a bold reimagining that tops the original, Evil Dead 2.0 is content to go about its business with minimal fuss and maximum gore for its slender 91-minute runtime. And I suppose that's all Sam Raimi -- who produced the film along with fellow Evil Dead veteran Bruce Campbell and personally handpicked its director, Fede Alvarez -- really wanted from this unnecessary remake of the 1981 bloodbath that launched his career: a movie that kept the brand name alive without taking any significant creative risks that might scare away mainstream audiences and studios. I walked out of the movie moderately entertained, but also wondering "Is that all there is?"

Olympus Has Fallen: And It Can’t Get Up!

by Ethan Alter March 22, 2013 6:02 am
<i>Olympus Has Fallen</i>: And It Can’t Get Up!

It's been awhile since we've had a good old-fashioned blockbuster premise-off -- a duel between two high-concept, high-intensity action movies with the exact same premise. Who can forget the great Deep Impact vs. Armageddon asteroid-destroying-Earth battle of '98? (Winner: Armageddon by a country mile.) Or how about the epic Dante's Peak vs. Volcano exploding-volcano confrontation of '97? (Winner: Neither.) Well, this year we're getting a pair of flicks where the White House becomes the setting for a Die Hard-like game of cat-and-mouse between a terrorist organization that's seized control of the place and the lone Secret Service agent who takes it upon himself to stop them. The week before America celebrates its 237th birthday, moviegoers can watch this disturbing scenario play out in the Roland Emmerich-directed, Channing Tatum-starring White House Down, scheduled to hit theaters on June 28. But why wait 'til then when you can watch the Antoine Fuqua-directed, Gerard Butler starring Olympus Has Fallen this weekend? Well, here's one good reason -- Olympus is awful

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.

Spring Breakers: There’s Beauty in the Breakdown

by Ethan Alter March 15, 2013 6:02 am
<i>Spring Breakers</i>: There’s Beauty in the Breakdown

I've been trying to come up with a pithy way of describing the experience of watching Harmony Korine's much-hyped beachsploitation picture Spring Breakers and here's what I've come up with: If Terrence Malick and Sofia Coppola had a baby and that baby grew up to be Britney Spears who began every performance of "...Baby One More Time" by taking a gigantic hit of cocaine, that's Spring Breakers. Much of the pre-release hype has centered on the casting of former tween superstars Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens as spring break-bound girls gone wild and that bit of stunt casting is obviously a publicity-friendly coup for a filmmaker who has mostly worked on the fringes of the industry. But the bigger coup that Korine pulls off is using those actresses and their rowdy "spring break forever" mantra as window dressing for a highly stylized art film that brutally (and, at times, brilliantly) sends up a society and (pop) culture that enables and enhances all the things it claims to bemoan, from the oversexualization of young women to glamorizing thug life. Spring Breakers doesn't pretend that it has any solutions to offer or that it's not, to a certain extent, part of the problem; like Natural Born Killers (another obvious stylistic inspiration), it's attempting to be both a critique and the thing its critiquing.

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