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Indie Snapshot: K-11

by Ethan Alter March 15, 2013 11:27 am
Indie Snapshot: K-11

Usually the way nepotism works is that the offspring of some famous celeb is able to use his or her prestigious family name to help score the opportunity to write, director or act in their own feature (witness the careers of Scott Caan, Jaden Smith, Sofia and Roman Coppola, etc. etc.). K-11 can be viewed as a case of nepotism in reverse, as it marks the feature filmmaking debut of Jules Stewart, mother of Kristen "Bella" Stewart. A longtime script supervisor, Mama Stewart wrote and directed this micro-budgeted prison drama, which stars Goran Visnjic as a hotshot record producer who ends up in the slammer following a serious bender. But this isn't your ordinary garden variety prison -- no sir, it's a loony bin straight out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, one that's overseen by a cruel prison guard (D.B. Sweeney) and packed with kooky characters played by an odd assortment of semi-famous actors, from Kate del Castillo and Portia Doubleday to Tommy "Tiny" Lister and Jason Mewes.

Stoker: All in the Family

by Ethan Alter March 1, 2013 6:00 am
Stoker: All in the Family

Here's how I like to imagine the way that the making of Stoker, the only vaguely indie-ish new thriller from Fox Searchlight, went down: Screenwriter Wentworth Miller (yes, the same Wentworth Miller who got Mariah Carey all hot and bothered in a music video and then spent four seasons breaking out of various fake prisons on television) turned in his script, and then the studio took one look at it and realized its wannabe Hitchcockian tale of a twisted family was never going to fly if played straight. So they bought playfully perverse South Korean director Park Chan-wook a plane ticket from Seoul to the movie's Tennessee set, whereupon they handed him the screenplay and told him to just go nuts with it. The result is one of the most beautifully directed bad movies I've seen since the immortal Brian De Palma trifecta of Snake Eyes, Mission to Mars and Femme Fatale (known unofficially as De Palma's Trilogy of Awesome Awfulness). Thanks to Park's endless creativity behind the camera, it's impossible to look away from Stoker, even when what's happening on the screen is truly risible.

Side Effects: Steven Soderbergh’s Five Most Underrated Movies

By the time Steven Soderbergh retires (we're still waiting to find out whether it'll be temporary or permanent) from filmmaking following the release of his final theatrical release Side Effects and the HBO premiere of his last film, Behind the Candelabra, he'll have helmed more than 25 features and a handful of shorts. And while many of those movies have deservedly received extensive acclaim and awards attention, some great ones have slipped through the cracks and still remain misunderstood and/or unappreciated. (Others, meanwhile, have deservedly languish in obscurity... looking at you, The Good German.) Here are our picks for the retiring director's five most underrated movies, in order of release; with no new Soderbergh features on the horizon for the foreseeable future, maybe these will finally get some attention.

Hitchcock: A Real Psycho Drama

by Ethan Alter November 23, 2012 6:00 am
Hitchcock: A Real Psycho Drama

So far Alfred Hitchcock biopics are batting 0-for-2 this year, with Fox Searchlight's anemic Hitchcock opening in limited theatrical release on the heels of HBO's crummy The Girl. Thanks largely to its skilled ensemble cast -- including Anthony Hopkins as Hitch, Helen Mirren as his wife Alma and Toni Collette as his long-suffering assistant, among others -- this film isn't quite as unpleasant and misguided as its small-screen predecessor, which strained to turn the Master of Suspense into one of the obsessive creeps that populated his movies. Hitchcock, which was directed by Sacha Gervasi (the guy who made that Anvil documentary a few years back), also deserves credit for paying more attention to its subject's formidable skills as a filmmaker, whereas The Girl seemed inordinately interested in his clumsy stalking of his leading ladies. Indeed, the narrative thrust of the movie concerns Hitchcock's own fears and doubts about his career as he seeks to reinvent himself in an industry that prefers the status quo. In a way, Hitchcock aspires to be another -- a self-aware portrait of an artist at a crossroads, unsure of which road to take next.

Fun Size: The Scariest Tween Comedy This Season

by Rachel Stein October 26, 2012 6:00 am
Fun Size: The Scariest Tween Comedy This Season

The only thing more clichéd than young ladies dressing ultra-sexy for Halloween are jokes about young ladies dressing ultra-sexy for Halloween -- and unfortunately for Fun Size, the latest PG-13 venture directed by The OC/Chuck/Gossip Girl mastermind Josh Schwartz, there's a new joke about how girls sure like wearing tight costumes every other scene. There is also a strange amount of gags about pedophiles, lots of horribly obvious product placement, several instances of 18-year-old girls existing only as sex objects and... Johnny Knoxville getting blown up by fireworks. You're not exactly going to see Seth and Summer 2.0 anytime soon, is what I'm trying to say. (Though there is a character dressed as Spiderman for 90 percent of the film.)

The Master: Master Class

by Ethan Alter September 17, 2012 4:36 pm
The Master: Master Class

Five years after its release, Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood is looking more and more like one of the few genuine masterpieces of the young century, a film of such remarkable formal discipline, graceful, intensely dramatic storytelling and rich thematic content that it reminds you what cinema is capable of as an art form, as opposed to merely an entertainment delivery service. It's difficult for a filmmaker -- no matter how talented he or she is -- to make a movie that scales those lofty heights more than once during the course of their careers, let alone on back-to-back productions. So when I say that Anderson's latest movie The Master isn't as good as There Will Be Blood, that's somewhat akin to rating Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" just behind the "Mona Lisa." If The Master doesn't resonate as deeply as Blood -- a movie that burrowed so deeply into my mind, I felt compelled to see it at least four or five times in theaters and could probably watch on a 24/7 loop at home if I didn't have to worry about little things like eating and sleeping -- it's still a remarkable film, one whose stature may only grow through the years and multiple re-watches.

The Campaign: Ain’t that America?

by Rachel Stein August 10, 2012 6:00 am
The Campaign: Ain’t that America?

First things first: if you like Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, you'll enjoy The Campaign, in which they play rival North Carolina candidates competing for a congressional seat in the nation's capital. Going in, the big fear was that the movie would essentially be Ferrell's George W. Bush fighting with Alan from The Hangover for 90 minutes, but Cam Brady (Ferrell) and Marty Huggins (Galifianakis) are their own men for the most part. The two stars clearly have comic chemistry together and they each have shining moments that show off their individual brands of humor.

Beyond The Dark Knight Rises: Five Other DC Comics Superhero/Director Match-Ups We Want

When Christopher Nolan was first tapped to reboot the Batman franchise in 2005, few people could have accurately predicted how well that pairing of filmmaker and material would work out. After all, at that point, Nolan had only one big studio credit to his name (2002's Insomnia) and no experience at all in the comic book realm. But the one-two punch of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight proved that he was more than up to the task. Fusing his own specific interests with familiar Batman iconography, Nolan crafted a distinct take on the character that pleased both comic book fans and general audiences... to the tune of over $700 million at the domestic box office combined.

The Five Best Essays in Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion

From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Cabin in the Woods, writer/director Joss Whedon doesn't just create entertainment that can be enjoyed in the moment -- it can also be discussed and analyzed for years after its finished its television or theatrical run. Case in point: Titan Books' newly released Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion, a weighty compendium of short retrospective pieces (every section begins with a "Joss Whedon 101" to the particular work at hand), academic essays and interviews with such collaborators as actor Alexis Denisof and writers Jane Espenson and Tim Minear. Collected by the pop cultural survey site PopMatters, the pieces included in this tome span Whedon's entire career from the small screen to the big screen to the four-color pages of comic books. As with all anthologies, not every entry here is a winner. Some essays cross the line from admiring to flat-out hagiography, while others offer rote summary in place of interesting analysis. But combing through the book, we found five essays that are definitely worth a read. Check out our picks below and click here to order the book for your own personal Whedon library.

The Three Stooges: Don’t Be a Wise Guy

by Rachel Stein April 13, 2012 6:00 am
The Three Stooges: Don’t Be a Wise Guy

There are so many questions we can ask about the very existence of a Three Stooges reboot in 2012. But rather than wax philosophical and for the umpteenth time make fun of the pointlessness of this film or analyze its quality in the context of the decades it took the Farrelly Brothers to make it, let's get right to it: It's not that bad. It's certainly not worth going out of your way for, unless, of course, you truly love the Stooges, know someone who has a deep affinity for them or have a curious child who is just dying to see it. And if you do find yourself with a hankering to see Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes) and Curly (Will Sasso) on a '90s kids-movie style adventure (complete with evil villains and a fight with a lion!), here are three solid reasons to indulge:

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