SXSW 2015 Preview: Remember the Ladies

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Sofía Espinosa in Gloria

After covering SXSW for the past several years, I felt a sort of aimlessness upon seeing the slate of films this time, like maybe I should shake things up as far as my viewing selections go. In the past year I've tried to watch more films made by women, even starting a feminist film club with a couple friends. Why shouldn't I try to carry that focus into SXSW?

So I am aiming to see films at SXSW 2015 made by female filmmakers, or based on work by women screenwriters. Spy, directed and written by Paul Feig, is the only film in my schedule that doesn't follow my rule, but I really want to see it at the Paramount!

I am also a little over-excited to hear directors Ava DuVernay (Selma, Middle of Nowhere) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, Love & Basketball) speak at the conference.

Here are some of the movies I'm most looking forward to at SXSW:

Movies This Week: February 27-March 5, 2015

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The biggest Austin Film Society event for this week (an advance screening of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) is already sold out, but It still has some gems on the calendar. The org is hosting a secret double feature at the AFS Screening Room on Sunday afternoon with Fred Frey, a film collector who specializes in European exploitation and crime films. He'll be screening two rare 16mm prints from his private collection.

On Wednesday night, AFS is teaming up with IndieMeme for Katiyabaaz (Powerless), a documentary about the Indian city of Kanpur and the limitations of their electrical grid to power over 3 million residents. Filmmaker Fahad Mustafa will be in attendance for a Q&A. Thursday night brings another installment of Essential Cinema. This month's theme "Children Of Abraham/Ibrahim 9: Films Of The Middle East Diaspora" and this week you'll get a 35mm print of the 1997 Miramax release My Son, The Fanatic starring Akbar Kurtha, Om Puri and Rachel Griffiths. 

Cinapse is celebrating their second anniversary on Saturday night with a 35mm double feature at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex (1156 Hargrave Street) called "NYC Is Effed." Walter Hill's 1979 The Warriors will be paired with John Carpenter's 1981 Escape From New York. Doors for this special event are at 6:30 pm with the first movie kicking off at 7. 

On Sunday night, The North Door is hosting a special screening of The Return of Draw Egan: An Ennio Morricone Tribute with a live score. Okkervil River keyboardist Justin Sherburn and his group Montopolis return for this silent western that has had its old title and dialogue cards replaced by material from novelist Elizabeth Jackson and Foleyvision's Chad Nichols.

What's Streaming: Flawed But Still Very Very Funny

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A New Leaf

With the slightest excuse, I can go on and on about how Some Like It Hot is truly the perfect comedy if not the perfect movie. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's script has a perfect symmetry -- every setup is paid off, every gag is repeated bigger, better and often with a kind of lyricism ("we have the same type blood, type O"). The timing of the maracas scene is breathtakingly brilliant. People like to gossip about director Wilder's difficulty in working with Marilyn Monroe but you see none of that onscreen. Most importantly, I've seen the movie countless times but it's still funny, every single time.

Recently I've been interested in -- and vastly entertained by -- comedies that aren't perfect, and that don't quite work for one reason or another. The thin, ridiculous plot is just an excuse for strings and strings of gags. You can see the joins where the movie was recut for one reason or another. Casting choices threw the movie out of balance. You get the idea. And yet they are still marvelous in many ways.

For example, a few years after Some Like It Hot, Wilder directed Kiss Me, Stupid, a film that provided a sharp and smutty contrast to the pastel-colored "sophisticated comedies" of the time. Instead of Rock Hudson and Doris Day flirting on gorgeous sets, you get Ray Walston and Kim Novak in harsh black-and-white, bargaining in a quote-roadhouse-unquote.

'5 to 7' Proves Romantic Comedy Still Exists

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5 to 7

I've never been particularly fond of romantic comedies on the whole. For me, it is the one genre of film that I've found to be the most blatantly straightforward and unsurprising. The standard setups, usual characters and typical obstacles are always present and accounted for, regardless of how some filmmakers try to dress things up. And while such romantic comedy blueprints have given vast amounts of joy to countless movie lovers for ages, it seemed that there was always something lacking for me within that world.

It's true, you may find a title or two in my DVD collection that bears the romantic comedy stamp, but those specific titles tell stories of love from different angles. Take for example the little-seen Til There Was You (1997), a small film about two adults who experience a number of failed romances over the course of two decades, only to finally meet each other in the last few minutes of the movie. It's a funny and thoughtful comment on romance and the journey most people must take towards finding the one they are meant for.

If there was any film that would be a game changer for me in this regard, it's definitely 5 to 7 (2014). Upon viewing the film at the Austin Film Society pre-Valentine's Day screening, I can say that I have finally seen a film which truly embodies the term "romantic comedy." Produced by 2015 Texas Film Awards honoree Bonnie Curtis and written and directed by Victor Levin, 5 to 7 is loaded with sharp comedic moments and a compelling story squarely focused on the transformative power of love on the individual.

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2The phrase "Hot Tub Time Machine" was such an insane concept I couldn't wait to see the 2010 release. (Debbie's review) Sure, it was a fratboy movie, but it was fresh and edgy at a time when the nation was just learning to laugh again a decade after 9/11, and I loved it. Five years was a long time to wait with such anticipation for this sequel.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a wet hot mess, with bad jokes as frequent as jacuzzi bubbles, and good jokes popping like farts in a tub. It has the same writer (Josh Heald), the same director (Steve Pink) and largely the same cast (John Cusack is replaced by Adam Scott), but it failed to capture the same magic for me. I can't say I hated it, but somehow it felt ... different, like I was watching an elaborately extended Super Bowl commercial.

The original movie was tight, with a relatively narrow scope, but this one felt like Seth MacFarlane had an advising role on set. The characters are not just juvenile and drug-addled. They are absolutely moronic. In particular, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 suffers from too much Rob Corddry, way too much, physically speaking. I don't know if the man deserves recognition for being willing to go so far for a laugh or instead pity for being the guy who will go that far.

The story concerns the fate of the original characters, now returned to a weirdly altered timeline in which they have lived out their lives with future knowledge becoming rich and famous by pre-plagiarizing hit songs and founding their own version of Google. When Lou (Corddry) is shot by an unknown assailant, the group of friends must use the hot tub to again travel back to the past to fix the future. Hmmm.

There really are a number of good gags, and Adam Scott has great chemistry with Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Corddry, better chemistry in fact than Cusack. Chevy Chase is a bright spot for the moment he's there. His appearance feels as if much more of it was left on the cutting-room floor. (Between Chase, Scott, Corddry and Gillian Jacobs, this was practically a Community/Parks & Recreation crossover.) The real heroes of this film are the digital artists, costumers and set designers who designed and executed a really insane version of the present and a far-out version of the near future.

Movies This Week: February 20-26, 2015

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The Austin Film Society kicks off a busy week of programming at the Marchesa tonight with the AGFA Endangered Fest II. The event will feature four films from the vaults of the American Genre Film Archive. Everything Is Terrible! is swinging by the Marchesa on Saturday night on their new "Legends" tour to bring you the best discoveries from the VHS era.

From Elizabeth: "AFS is also bringing back 'The Sepia Screen' this weekend, a showcase for some of the movies made for black audiences during America's segregated past. The films shown in July were from SMU's collection; the selections for this month are not part of that bunch. Series co-programmers Lars Nilsen and Dshanya Reese are certain to talk about the historical relevance of the works they selected and the people involved. The show starts at 2 pm on Sunday [tickets. Perhaps this would be a good option for counterprogramming on the day when the whitest Oscars in years occurs."

Over at the Alamo Drafthouse, multiple quote-along screenings of The Princess Bride are happening at the Slaughter and South Lamar locations. Check their online listings for showtimes on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Alamo Ritz is showing a 4K digital restoration of Funny Girl for Broadway Brunch on Saturday and Sunday, a 35mm print of 1998's Khrustalyov, My Car! on Monday night, and Girlie Night presents Pretty Woman on Tuesday.

2014 in Review: The Slackerwood Top Ten

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Nightcrawler

Just in time to be entirely irrelevant in terms of Oscar predictions, the Slackerwood contributors have voted on their top ten 2014 films. I think our picks are much better than the ones the Academy nominated for Best Picture (they didn't even pick ten this year, did they).

Our criteria were very laid-back -- it is called Slackerwood, after all. Eligible films included movies released in Austin in 2014 and movies that had a limited release for awards purposes in 2014. Ten contributors (including myself) each submitted a top ten list, and I tallied up the votes. No, I did not stuff the ballot box, as you can see by the absence of Snowpiercer on the list.

The first and second movies on this list were one point away from one another in the final tally. And of the ten films on the list, only two had votes from five contributors -- the first and fourth. Everything else had four or fewer votes. The list includes one movie shot in Austin, one movie directed by a former Texan, and one movie co-starring/produced by a former Austinite. Here we go:

10. Nightcrawler (pictured at top)

"... a slick thriller, even though it plays out like a gritty B-movie. ... The world of Nightcrawler is not exactly firmly grounded in reality, but it takes a slightly elevated, pitch-black look at a world where having questionable morality is celebrated as long as it increases the bottom line." -- Matt Shiverdecker (full review)

Lost in the Awards Rush: Best Picture Edition

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This year's list of Best Picture Oscar nominees for me has been one of the most eclectic lineups in years. While some of the choices (not to mention some of the omissions) have caused some stirring, the fact remains that each film is a unique peek into areas of society and life that are never anything but true and compelling. Though I feel there were a couple noticeable snubs (Gone Girl, A Most Violent Year, Nightcrawler), this is one of the few years where it could be said that every film on the list has earned its place. In celebration of these movies' triumphs, I've compiled a list of additional viewing choices made by some of the actors, actresses, directors, writers and producers who were responsible for this year's nominated films.

The Words (2012)

Few films surprised this year in terms of both acclaim and box office impact the way American Sniper (2014) did. The ferocious true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle was a testament to the passion and drive of director Clint Eastwood and producer/star Bradley Cooper. The film has earned Cooper his third consecutive Oscar nomination, furthering his profile both in front of and behind the camera. Yet his most unheralded work as both producer and actor comes with the highly involving drama The Words.

Equal parts mystery, romance and period piece, The Words (J.C.'s review) features Cooper as a struggling author who discovers a long-lost manuscript which he presents as his own; leading to instant success and an encounter with a haunting older gentleman (Jeremy Irons). Films such as The Words simply do not exist anymore, which is a shame because this intricately crafted tale about destiny features not only features stellar acting and an exquisite screenplay, but also reinforces the notion owning up to the choices each person makes in their life.

2014 in Review: Jette Says Check 'Em Out

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Blue Ruin

My criteria for movies to include in "best of the year" lists are very loose, as compared to various critics' organizations and other film-awards groups. For example, I would never disqualify Birdman from Best Score because it includes music from other composers. (Otherwise I'd never be able to qualify my all-time favorite score, from The Bad News Bears, but I digress.) The point is to present an interesting list of notable movies I saw in/around 2014, not to nitpick.

So my "notable films of 2014" list includes movies that were released in 2014, no matter when I saw them, as well as movies I saw in 2014 even if they haven't had a theatrical release. And, you know, whatever the hell else I want. If I'd done a 2013 list I probably would have topped it with A New Leaf (1971) because that was by far the best movie I saw that year. (It's on Amazon Prime and Blu-ray. It's funnier than anything else I'll mention in this article. Go watch it now.)

I planned to only include a few films because I never feel constrained by "top ten" or other numbers, but excellent and enjoyable movies kept popping onto the list. These are sort of in order -- my favorite is the one at the top -- but once we get past that, I can't really quibble about whether this one is better than that one. I'd recommend every one of them, is the point.

Lone Star Cinema: The Rookie

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Still from The Rookie

My alternate Super Bowl programming this year was a DVD of The Rookie I checked out from the library. I had first seen the baseball drama closer to its original theatrical release in 2002 and remembered enjoying the story, but hadn’t really thought of the Disney film in the past ten years.

Dennis Quaid (Frequency, The Day After Tomorrow) leads the movie based on the true story of Jimmy Morris, a Texas high-school baseball coach who makes a deal with his team that he will try out for the major leagues if they win district and go on to state. Rachel Griffiths (Muriel's Wedding) plays his wife Lorri, the school counselor. I had forgotten that before he started the sitcom mega-hit Two and a Half Men, Angus T. Jones played the adorable son here. See how young he is in the still posted above.

We are shown the origins of the strained relationship between adult son Jimmy and his father Jim Morris Sr. (Brian Cox, only about seven years older than Quaid). It feels like this is something that might have been compounded more in the screenplay than in real life. Still, it is an interesting contrast to the relationship Jimmy has with his own young son, who helps in team practices and is almost a little shadow to his dad.

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