The Counselor: The Jury’s Out

by Ethan Alter October 25, 2013 6:00 am
<i>The Counselor</i>: The Jury’s Out

As discerning fans of underrated crime films will immediately recognize, The Counselor is the Killing Them Softly of 2013: a stylish, mean-spirited picture about amoral people doing amoral things in an amoral criminal underworld that’s being quietly dumped into theaters by its studio because they don’t know what the hell else to do with such a flagrantly anti-commercial picture. (The fact that Brad Pitt appears in both as a very un-Pitt-like crook further unites the two movies.) Unfortunately, in terms of overall quality, The Counselor isn’t quite the dark-hearted delight that Killing Me Softly proved to be. That movie was a subversive home run whose reputation will hopefully grow over the years; this one is more of a ground rule double -- it puts its talented team in scoring position, but doesn’t ultimately bring them all home.

12 Years A Slave: Of Human Bondage

by Ethan Alter October 18, 2013 12:41 pm
<i>12 Years A Slave</i>: Of Human Bondage

12 Years a Slave may be the first time that writer/director Steve McQueen has dramatized the slave trade as it was practiced in pre-Civil War America, but it's far from his first movie about the concept of slavery. Both of his previous films revolve around characters that are bound to metaphorical -- if not necessarily literal -- masters and suffered pain and torment in the course of their enslavement. McQueen's debut feature, Hunger, is a portrait of imprisoned Irish Republican Army volunteer Bobby Sands (played by the filmmaker's regular muse, Michael Fassbender) who starves his body in service of the higher ideals preached by his cause. The director followed that up with Shame, in which Fassbender plays a well-heeled New York businessman whose daily routine is dictated by his various addictions. Both films also depict their characters' predicaments with a bracing lack of sentimentality and overt moralizing, qualities that are similarly instrumental to the success of 12 Years, which may not be McQueen's best movie overall (I'm still a big booster of the undervalued Shame), but nevertheless remains an exceptional piece of art that brings this period in American history to life in a horrifyingly -- but necessarily so -- vivid way.

Five Questions for 12 Years a Slave Director Steve McQueen

by Ethan Alter October 14, 2013 6:00 pm
Five Questions for <I>12 Years a Slave</I> Director Steve McQueen

Since it first screened before rapt audiences at the Telluride Film Festival, Steven McQueen's 12 Years a Slave has been this fall season's leading Oscar contender. Based on the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man sold into slavery in 1841, the film is a sober, frightening and deeply emotional depiction of the horrific institution and unfortunate legacy of the American slave trade. In New York recently for the film's local premiere at the New York Film Festival, McQueen discussed how the movie came to be and the experience of working with his favorite leading man, Michael Fassbender (who plays one of Solomon's masters), for the third time.

Prometheus: It’s Lost… in Space

by Ethan Alter June 8, 2012 6:00 am
<i>Prometheus</i>: It’s <i>Lost</i>… in Space

Few collaborators have seemed better matched than the minds behind Prometheus, writer Damon Lindelof and director Ridley Scott. After all, both men are big picture guys who enjoy building worlds that viewers can lose themselves in for two hours or six seasons. In movies like Blade Runner, Legend and even the otherwise lackluster Robin Hood, Scott paints on a giant canvas, transporting audiences to the past, the future or a fantasy realm. Meanwhile, throughout the run of Lost (particularly in its early seasons), Lindelof and his co-executive producer Carlton Cuse successfully created an environment where mysteries and secrets seemed lurked around every corner and down every hatch. So unleashing these two on a tentpole sci-fi blockbuster, with an apparently limitless amount of resources and money at their disposal, sounds like a recipe for an enormous spectacle of epic proportions -- one of those films that's simply bigger than life. [Warning: Spoilers Ahead]

Trailers Without Pity: Prometheus

by Ethan Alter May 11, 2012 12:41 pm
Trailers Without Pity: <i>Prometheus</i>

Next to The Dark Knight Rises, no summer blockbuster has us more intrigued than Prometheus, Ridley Scott's belated return to the science fiction genre and the Alien franchise that rocketed his career into the stratosphere some three decades ago.

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

by Ethan Alter April 17, 2012 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, April 17, 2012

This DVD will fortunately not destruct in five seconds.

Haywire: She Can’t Be Tamed

by Ethan Alter January 20, 2012 6:00 am
<i>Haywire</i>: She Can’t Be Tamed

When you're dealing with a filmmaker who has had as lengthy and deliberately varied a career as Steven Soderbergh, singling out one movie to label his absolute best can be a tricky proposition. But a strong case could be made for The Limey, the 1999 thriller he made with screenwriter Lem Dobbs and star Terrence Stamp. Aside from being a terrific film, The Limey is perhaps -- out of all the entries in his filmography -- the most representative of Soderbergh's formal and narrative interests, from the way it fractures its narrative to its dry sense of humor to the morally compromised anti-hero at its center. Made right after the director's big studio breakthrough, Out of Sight, The Limey may be a less jazzy film, but it's far richer in terms of its story. One gives you a great ride, the other lingers in your memory.

Indie Snapshot: Shame and Coriolanus

by Ethan Alter December 2, 2011 6:00 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>Shame</i> and <I>Coriolanus</i>

Don't let the NC-17 rating scare you off -- Shame is one of 2011's very best movies.

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