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The Hobbit — The Desolation of Smaug: Desolate This!

The interesting thing about The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is that while it's ostensibly meant to continue the adventure that began in the previous installment An Unexpected Journey, it's equally concerned with setting up what's to come. And I'm not talking about the third and final installment in Peter Jackson's super-sized adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's slender fantasy tale There and Back Again (coming your way next December). I mean the original three films that started his soon-to-be-six-chapter Middle-earth opus, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's not just the extended re-appearance of Orlando Bloom's elfin archer Legolas that brings to minds buzzwords like Fellowship, Towers and returning Kings: Desolation of Smaug is filled with allusions to, in-jokes about and extensive set-up for the War of the Ring that rocks Middle-earth either 60-odd years from now (movie time) or 10 years in the past (real world time). A more accurate title for the movie might be: The Hobbit: The Lord of the Rings Begins… Oh Yeah, and There's Some Dragon Named Smaug Flying About, Too.

Machete Kills: Oops, He Did It Again

by Ethan Alter October 11, 2013 6:00 am
Machete Kills: Oops, He Did It Again

If Robert Rodriguez decides to stop helming features -- and, based on Machete Kills, he really should -- he's got a big future ahead of him as a director of trailers. The guy is truly gifted at cutting two-minute assemblies of bad-ass money shots and surprise superstar cameos that get you supremely pumped for the movies, which almost inevitably disappoint by comparison. In fact, pretty much every film he's ever made (with the exception of the first two Spy Kids outings as well as his underrated high school teens vs. alien teachers flick The Faculty) plays best as a coming attraction, a format that allows him to fully indulge what he does best (cool action beats, gonzo one-shot gags and gorgeous actresses striking pin-up girl poses) without having to sweat the stuff he has little to no interest in, like storytelling or world-building.

Five Things to Know About RED 2

by Ethan Alter July 18, 2013 1:05 pm
Five Things to Know About RED 2

The 2010 action comedy RED wasn't exactly a critical favorite or box-office record beater, but a $90 million final gross gave the franchise-hungry studio Summit (the company that Twilight built) incentive to get the movie's gang of Retired and Extremely Dangerous counter-intelligence agents -- including Bruce Willis's eternally wry Frank Moses, John Malkovich's eternally paranoid Marvin Boggs and Helen Mirren's eternally hot Victoria -- back together again for another gag-friendly action picture. Before you join them on their globetrotting second adventure, here are five things you should know about RED 2.

Grown Ups 2: Nothing Will Ever Be Funny Again

I just want to make it clear I have never voluntarily seen a Kevin James movie before I watched Grown Ups. I feel it's important that I disclose this in order to maintain my integrity as a movie buff and as a human being.

Fast & Furious 6: As the Car Turns

by Ethan Alter May 24, 2013 6:08 am
Fast & Furious 6: As the Car Turns

The Fast and the Furious franchise's gradual transformation from action movie serial to full-blown TV soap opera (with occasional car chases) is at last complete with the release of the sixth installment, Fast & Furious 6. Think I'm kidding? Just watch the first ten minutes, which kick off with a few quick scenes that re-introduce us to central heroes Dom (Vin Diesel) and Brian (Paul Walker) and then flow directly into the opening credits sequence, a music-drenched montage of scenes from the previous films, followed by title cards and glamor shots of each individual member of the series' by-now large ensemble. The whole thing climaxes with a shot of the entire cast -- with bullet-headed Diesel front and center, natch -- walking directly at the camera in slow-motion as the title (which, for the record, is styled as Furious 6, despite being advertised as Fast & Furious 6 on all the ads) pops up onscreen. It's only an "Also Starring Jason Priestley" and "Executive Produced by Aaron Spelling" credit short of being a note-perfect recreation of the opening titles of any early '90s primetime soap.

Before Midnight: Talk Around the Clock

by Ethan Alter May 24, 2013 6:08 am
Before Midnight: Talk Around the Clock

It's been almost ten years since we last saw Jesse and Celine -- the chatty couple played by Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy for three movies now -- but it took me all of five minutes into Before Midnight to fall back in love with them. That's the unique power of this series, overseen by director Richard Linklater and written in close collaboration by him and his two stars. No matter how long the gap between movies has been or how completely the characters' lives have changed, when Jesse and Celine turn to each other and start one of their famously epic conversations, it feels like no time has passed at all.

Five Things to Know About G.I. Joe: Retaliation

by Ethan Alter March 28, 2013 9:00 am
Five Things to Know About G.I. Joe: Retaliation

When Paramount initially announced last year that they would be moving G.I. Joe: Retaliation -- the sequel to 2009's sort-of hit The Rise of Cobra (which earned $150 million domestically, but cost close to $200 million to make and market) -- from its mid-summer berth to the following March, the common assumption was that the studio was running from an impending flop. In hindsight though, the move qualifies as a stroke of genius. Facing a packed line-up of back-to-back blockbusters that included The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises, Retaliation was in danger of getting lost in the summer shuffle. But now at the end of March -- with A Good Day to Die Hard in the rearview and Iron Man 3 over a month away -- it has the big-budget action movie sequel playing field to itself. So the movie's financial success is seemingly assured. It's creative success? Well... that's a different story. Before you too join the ranks of the millions of moviegoers screaming "Yo, Joe!" this weekend, here are five things to know about Retaliation.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: On the Road Again

by Ethan Alter December 14, 2012 12:01 am
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: On the Road Again

It's been almost a decade since the One Ring was cast into the fires of Mount Doom, rescuing Middle-earth from the scourge of Sauron. In the wake of that triumph, Aragon reclaimed his throne, Frodo sailed off to the Grey Havens and Sam returned home to his wife and daughter with an earnest, "Well, I'm back." As for Peter Jackson -- the unlikely filmmaker who brought J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic The Lord of the Rings to life onscreen in a trio of much-loved blockbusters -- he's gone from being a New Zealand-based cult favorite to a reigning master of Hollywood spectacle, alongside directors like James Cameron and Steven Spielberg.

Skyfall: Your Burning Questions Answered

by Ethan Alter November 9, 2012 12:01 am
Skyfall: Your Burning Questions Answered

Let's start off by answering the biggest question first: yes, Skyfall really is as great as you've been hearing. The 23rd entry in the venerable James Bond franchise isn't just the best studio blockbuster of the year -- featuring a better story than The Avengers, fewer logic gaps than The Dark Knight Rises and rip-roaring action sequences that easily outclass pretenders like The Hunger Games and Battleship -- it also ranks in the top five (hell, maybe even the top three) Bond adventures that have come along in 007's now 50-year big-screen history. In a fall that's packed with awards-friendly prestige pictures, Skyfall is reminder that a smart, beautifully-crafted and, in general, kick-ass action movie can be as worthy of serious acclaim and respect as any historical biopic or weighty drama. With that out of the way, time to get to some of your other burning queries:

Four Things to Know About Paranormal Activity 4

by Ethan Alter October 19, 2012 6:00 am
Four Things to Know About Paranormal Activity 4

Another October, another Paranormal Activity sequel. Having already ended the reign of the previous premiere Halloween horror franchise (those infernal Saw movies), Paranormal Activity is now the scary movie season's big kahuna -- the film that other studios go out of their way to avoid competing against. Which is why Paranormal Activity 4 is flooding the multiplex unopposed two weeks before the trick-or-treating and/or costume party debauchery begins. Since, as always, the details of the movie have been kept shrouded in secrecy, here are four things you should know about this fourth chapter before you head off to the theater. See you back here -- same spooky time, same spooky channel -- in October 2013 for Paranormal Activity 5.

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