Don Jon: Jersey Boy (and Girl)

by Ethan Alter September 27, 2013 6:05 am
<i>Don Jon</i>: Jersey Boy (and Girl)

Before it flies off the rails in the final act, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first self-penned, self-directed star vehicle, Don Jon, is an uncommonly provocative spin on familiar rom-com tropes, one that challenges the "love is all you need" message of so many films of this type. It doesn't hurt that, as screenwriter, Gordon-Levitt has written himself and co-star Scarlett Johansson the best roles either of them have had recently, characters that start out as broad cartoons straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit, but gradually reveal emotional layers that alters our perception of them. And behind the camera, the actor's direction is crisp and confident, establishing a fun, freewheeling rhythm from the jump that captures the audience's attention. So yeah, Don Jon is a great coming out for a new filmmaker… at least until it isn't.

<i>Much Ado About Nothing</i>: A Joss Whedon Fan’s Early Summer Night’s Dream

As devoted Joss Whedon acolytes know, the Geek God has long had a relationship with the Immortal Bard, staging regular readings of classic Shakespeare plays in his humble home with various cast members from his various TV shows stopping by to speak Shakespeare's speech on their days off from mouthing Whedon's lines. Though these readings were sadly never taped for public consumption, it was a thrill for Buffy, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse fans (yes, there really are some of the latter -- I'm one of them) to imagine the possible actor/role match-ups that went on behind the closed doors of the Whedon homestead. How about Eliza Dushku and J. August Richards as Juliet and her Romeo? Or Anthony Stewart Head holding court as Falstaff with Nathan Fillion's Prince Hal sitting at his feet? With Much Ado About Nothing, Whedon finally invites audiences into his living room... literally. This contemporary version of Shakespeare's comedy of (mostly bad) manners was filmed entirely on the grounds of the director's home and features a rash of familiar Whedon faces trading in his pop-culture laced quips for the flowery language of another era. It's a delight for Whedonites, but -- I'm sorry to say -- a rather mediocre production of Shakespeare.

Indie Snapshot: <i>Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey</i>

Remember the Mark Wahlberg movie Rock Star where he played the heavy metal fan who wound up belting out the tunes for his favorite hair band? That film was based on the true story of Tim Owens, who became the frontman for Judas Priest after Rob Halford bailed. A similar tale played out in 2007 when the arena rock group Journey plucked a total novice, Filipino rocker Arnel Pineda, out of obscurity and put him center stage. Instead of inspiring another fictional feature, this particular piece of rock history has been turned into the documentary, Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey, which pulls double duty as both a Journey retrospective and the unlikely rags-to-riches story of an untested singer who goes from belting out signature tunes like "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Open Arms" in bars to sing them in front of packed stadiums.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt Describes the Rush of Making <i>Premium Rush</i>

Before he co-starred in The Dark Knight Rises as Batman's cop sidekick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt played a hero who zips though a major metropolis on his own version of the Batpod: a single-geared, brakeless bike. The hero in question is Wilee, the speed-addicted bike messenger at the center of Premium Rush, which was shot on the streets and roads of New York two years ago and is opening in theaters tomorrow. Co-written and directed by David Koepp (whose past credits include the screenplays for Jurassic Park and the first Spider-Man and director of Stir of Echoes), the movie finds Wilee trying to complete an express delivery of a valuable package while staying one bike line ahead of a corrupt cop (Michael Shannon) who is on his tail. Don't let the lack of bat ears or Batarangs fool you; Wilee's superb bike skills practically make him a superhero in his own right. We spoke with Koepp and Gordon-Levitt about what it was like to shoot such a fast-paced thriller, what lessons the actor learned from 3rd Rock From the Sun and why Die Hard With a Vengeance is one of the best New York movies ever made.

The Five Best Essays in <i>Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion</i>

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.

I Don’t Know How She Does It: And I Don’t Care

by Ethan Alter September 16, 2011 6:00 am
<i>I Don’t Know How She Does It</i>: And I Don’t Care

A poster child for First World Problems syndrome, I Don't Know How She Does It asks moviegoers to invest in the trials and tribulations of a well-off investment manager who shares a lovely Boston townhouse with her architect husband, their two young children (the eldest of whom attends private school) and a part-time nanny to boot. Considering the troubled state of the economy these days, the amount of privilege on display might be too big a hurdle for some viewers to get over. At the same time though, it's worth remembering that families like this one do still exist in America (in smaller numbers, to be sure) and some of the challenges this particular character faces -- including juggling work and family time, making her marriage work and being there for the kids when they need her -- cut across social and economic divides. Would a movie about an exhausted mom forced to work two jobs in order to support her malnourished kids and out-of-work husband whose unemployment benefits just expired be a more up-to-the-minute reflection of what's going on in the country right now? Of course, but good luck trying to get a major Hollywood studio to greenlight it. If you're in the market for that kind of movie, you're better off waiting until Sundance comes around in January.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Leave the Lights On

by Ethan Alter August 26, 2011 6:00 am
<i>Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark</i>: Leave the Lights On

One of the things that distinguishes Guillermo Del Toro's horror films from the rest of the genre rabble are their formal elegance, to say nothing of their narrative discipline. Where a movie like the recent Fright Night remake demonstrates a short-term memory for scares -- cramming multiple jolts into every scene with little regard to the overall arc of the film -- Del Toro takes his time establishing a compelling mood, intriguing characters and a distinctive setting before getting down to the spooky stuff. The setting plays a particularly important role in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, a haunted house chiller that takes place almost entirely within the walls of a 19th century manor. From the minute we lay eyes on the place, we know there's something not quite right about it -- beautiful Gothic architecture and to-die-for closet space notwithstanding -- and part of the fun of the movie lies in watching the house's hidden horrors slowly bubble to the surface. The difference between Fright Night and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is like the difference between a novice poker player and an experienced card shark; the former tips his hand too quickly, while the latter bides his time before revealing what he's holding.

From <i>Amityville</i> to <I>Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark</i>: Flip This (Haunted) House

In the Guillermo Del Toro-produced horror film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, an architect moves his girlfriend and young daughter into Blackwood Manor, a centuries-old mansion that he's trying to restore to its former glory. In the course of their stay, the trio is shocked to discover that this house is -- gasp -- haunted! That won't come as a shock to any of us in the audience; the minute we lay eyes on the manor's dimly lit rooms, Gothic decor and dark, dank basement, we know that there are some serious supernatural shenanigans going on in there. Chalk that up to years of observing other cinematic haunted houses and learning to recognize the tell-tale signs of ghosts, monsters and other creatures that go bump in the night. Now we're putting that knowledge to the test, imagining the way real estate agents might try to sell novice buyers on some famous poltergeist-ridden properties and the things we'd tell them to be wary of.

Don LaFontaine, 1940-2008

by Zach Oat September 4, 2008 10:13 am
Don LaFontaine, 1940-2008

When watching movie trailers, audiences are usually so entranced by the images they're shown that few people think about the voice that's telling them what the movie's about. Of course, if the voice is doing its job right, you don't have to think about it; only a bad voice-over jars you out of the scenes you're watching. A good voice-over will make you think some omnipotent deity is inside your head, filling you in on the details, and more often than not, Don LaFontaine was that omnipotent deity. Sadly, he passed away on September 1, which means he just got a lot more omnipotent, and one step closer to deification.

I Want My DVD: Tuesday, December 31, 2013

by Ethan Alter December 31, 2013 6:00 am
I Want My DVD: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 JGL heats NJ, OK?
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