Movies This Week: January 23-29, 2015

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A Most Violent Year 

The Austin Film Society is launching a new series this weekend that arrives in town straight from New York and Los Angeles. "In Case Of No Emergency: The Films Of Ruben Ostlund" aims to turn American audiences on to the work of the Swedish writer/director who earned rave reviews for 2014's Force Majeure. That breakout hit, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Golden Globe, screens tonight at the Marchesa and is followed by Ostlund's 2011 feature Play. The series continues on Sunday afternoon with his 2008 film Involuntary and closes out on Tuesday night with his 2004 debut film The Guitar Mongoloid. All films are screening from 35mm prints except for Force Majeure, which is digital.

On Wednesday night, the AFS Screening Room (1901 E. 51st St.) is hosting a selection of scenes from "Avant Garde Cinema of the 1920s" from the Soviet Union. You'll see work from Pudovkin, Eisenstein, Kuleshov and Dovzhenko. AFS closes out the week back at the Marchesa with another "Essential Cinema" selection focusing on the work of Jacques Rivette. The Duchess Of Langeais, his 2007 film that was released stateside by IFC Films, is screening Thursday night in 35mm. 

Violet Crown Cinema launches the "'Round Midnight Film Series" this weekend with 11:30 pm screenings of Terry Gilliam's 12 Monkeys tonight and tomorrow. The theater also has another installment of "Arthouse Monthly" with Johanna Hamilton's political documentary 1971 on Wednesday night. Over 40 years before the recent NSA scandal, this movie examines illegal spy programs by the FBI against American citizens. 

Review: A Most Violent Year

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Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year

We may currently be in the midst of a pop-cultural infatuation with the antihero archetype, but A Most Violent Year presents us with a more elusive figure. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis) is surrounded by those who want to bring him down to their level, where firearms and shady business practices abound. A wealthy owner of a heating oil company in 1981 New York, his trucks are carjacked, his workers attacked, and his business investigated by a power-hungry DA (David Oyelowo, Selma). Morales is determined to stay above it all, working hard to respond in a way that’s legal and yet still gets results.

TAMI Flashback: Hondo Crouch and Luckenbach, Texas

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Hondo Crouch

This article is part of a series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article.

The Texas Hill Country town of Luckenbach may be little more than a few buildings, including a general store and a dance hall. But few places are more symbolic of mythic Texas than this honky-tonk mecca, party venue and tourist destination a few miles south of Fredericksburg.

Luckenbach owes much of its fame to Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson, of course; their 1977 hit "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" introduced the tiny town to a vast audience and made it an essential part of Texas pop culture. But modern Luckenbach might not exist at all if not for another legendary Texan -- Hondo Crouch.

A satirist, writer, rancher, musician, artist, swimming coach and self described "imagineer," Crouch bought the nearly deserted Luckenbach in 1970. He proclaimed himself mayor (the three residents apparently didn't object) and pursued his grand vision for the place. Along with partners Kathy Morgan and actor Guich Koock, he quickly transformed Luckenbach into a popular hangout and venue for all manner of quirky events: no-talent contests, hug-ins, a mud dauber festival, a women-only chili cookoff and the Luckenbach World's Fair. Crouch also turned Luckenbach into a storied music venue; the town's association with country music was cemented in 1973, when Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band recorded their classic live album Viva Terlingua in the Luckenbach Dance Hall.

2014 in Review: Elizabeth's Favorite Women Onscreen

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Top: Gugu Mbatha-Raw in BEYOND THE LIGHTS, Bottom row: Reese Witherspoon in WILD, Jenny Slate in OBVIOUS CHILD, Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK

Jette asked me to reprise the theme from my post last year, so here are the female characters I found most memorable in 2014 film:

8. Mom, Boyhood

I may not have adored this Linklater movie as so many of my colleagues do, but I do find the mother played by Patricia Arquette the most layered in this cast of characters (and the best part of the film, IMHO). She stumbles through marriages, survives an abusive partner, works her way through an advanced degree, and questions her decisions all the while. (Debbie's Sundance review)

7. Mason, Snowpiercer

Tilda Swinton escapes deeply into this sadistic martinet, hungry for power and not as in control as she would like to be. (Matt's review)

Sundance/Slamdance 2015: Austin and Texas Connections

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Results Still Photo

The Sundance Film Festival begins tomorrow -- Thursday, January 22 -- and runs through Saturday, February 1. Although Texas isn't as heavily represented as the last two years I've attended, I see plenty of Texas-related content to choose from.

Local filmmaker Andrew Bujalski (Computer Chess) wrote and directed Results, which was shot in Austin and stars Cobie Smulders and Guy Pearce. The comedy is about two incompatible personal trainers who experience more challenges than usual from a wealthy client's demands.

Texas actor Tye Sheridan (Mud, Joe) continues his run of Sundance appearances with a pair of movies premiering at the festival this year. Sheridan co-stars in the historical drama Last Days in the Desert, an addition to the trials and tribulations of Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness. Jesus (Ewan McGregor) struggles with the Devil for the fate of a family in crisis that he encounters in the desert.

2014 in Review: Elizabeth's Top Scores/Movie Music

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Still from The Hundred-Foot Journey

I made up this list before the Oscar nominations (grr) came out, and strangely enough, none of my picks for Best Score received a nod, even the one I assumed was a sure thing. Nevertheless, some movies this year featured phenomenal music, and I'd like to recognize them here.

I'll repeat my standards from a 2010 post: "The best film score complements the film perfectly and doesn't distract from the action onscreen, but is still distinct enough to stand on its own. Shoddy film music can ruin a movie (for me, at least), but a great film score serves to make a good movie even better."

5. Birdman, Antonio Sanchez

It seemed a given that, along with the other recognition this frenetic film received from the Academy, the percussion score would make the cut, but alas. The music by Sanchez adds so much to the Michael Keaton film (frankly, it's the only part of the movie I could appreciate) and easily adds to the frantic feel of the story (Mike's review). Here's a taste:

Lost in the Awards Rush: Hollywoodland

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"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a new weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

From the instant the first trailer debuted this summer, there was never any doubt that David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling mystery novel Gone Girl would be one of the year's breakout movies. With Fincher at the wheel, Flynn's gripping tale of a missing suburban wife (Rosamund Pike) and her accused husband (Ben Affleck) was exquisitely transferred to the silver screen and resulted in huge box-office receipts as well as critical praise for Fincher, Flynn, producer Reese Witherspoon and Pike (who also collected an Oscar nomination).

While Gone Girl finally provided Pike the perfect showcase for her continuously untapped talents, it seemed a shame that her brilliant work overshadowed Affleck's quietly intense turn as a man slowly losing his already shaky hold on reality. Affleck's first-rate work in Gone Girl ranks close to what some might consider his best and certainly most acclaimed performance to date: that of late actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland (2006).

2014 in Review: Don's Top Ten and Other Lists

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Boyhood

Here are my top ten and other notable films of last year.

To be eligible for my lists, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2014 and screen in Austin in 2014 also. Some well-reviewed 2014 releases have not yet screened in Austin.

10. Joe

Nicolas Cage is at his understated best as an ex-con who hires a desperately poor teenager (Tye Sheridan, also terrific) to help clear a forest for development. Shot in Central Texas, David Gordon Green's haunting film explores the ravages of poverty and the nature of redemption. (Jette's review)

9. Thank You a Lot

Every year, I hope to discover a low-budget local indie that deserves a place on my top 10 list. This year's honoree is Austin filmmaker Matt Muir's Thank You a Lot, a poignant tale of a hard-luck music manager who will lose his job unless he signs a reclusive country music singer who's also his estranged father. In his acting debut, Austin music legend James Hand gives one of the year's best performances as a fictional (mostly, that is) version of himself. (my review)

Movies This Week: January 16-22, 2015

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 Blackhat

With the announcement of the Academy Award nominations this week, those of you who want to catch up on the nominated films are probably wondering where you can see them. The following list should help you narrow down your choices and let you know where they're playing in town or what their home video availability is:  

  • American Sniper - playing wide locally 
  • Birdman - Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Regal Arbor, Regal Metropolitan, Violet Crown Cinema
  • Boyhood - Regal Arbor, also available on home video and VOD
  • Foxcatcher - Alamo South Lamar, Cinemark Hill Country Galleria, Regal Arbor, Violet Crown Cinema
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel - available on home video, also airing this month on HBO
  • Ida - streaming free on Netflix and Amazon Prime, also available on home video
  • The Imitation Game - playing wide locally
  • Inherent Vice - playing wide locally, exclusive 70mm screenings at the Alamo Ritz 
  • The Judge - Digital HD now for purchase, rental and home video on January 27
  • Mr. Turner - currently scheduled to open only at the Regal Arbor on January 23
  • Selma - playing wide locally
  • Still Alice - expected to open in Austin on February 6
  • The Theory Of Everything - Regal Arbor, Regal Metropolitan
  • Two Days, One Night - expected to open in Austin on January 30 
  • Whiplash - Regal Arbor, Violet Crown Cinema 
  • Wild - Alamo Lakeline, Alamo South Lamar, Cinemark Hill Country Galleria, Regal Arbor, Tinseltown South, Violet Crown Cinema  

Review: Blackhat

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BlackhatAs someone whose alter-ego has a career in IT, I approach a film about hackers with lowered expectations. I don't want to dislike it, but I certainly have a heightened expectation that I will dislike it due to glaringly inaccurate portrayals of people doing things that to a trained eye are utterly ridiculous. What I never expected was that Blackhat would maintain an above-average level of accuracy in its portrayal and that my problems would mostly be the more mundane complaints a critic might have for any film that is just not very good.

My largest complaint is a technical problem that has little enough to do with computers. The film is, even to a lay person,  unfinished. A subpar audio mix makes dialogue at times difficult to understand. Poor or incomplete color correction results in inconsistency in the picture, which in the final action scenes looks exactly as if we're watching at home on a television with a 120fps frame rate enabled. This was the first movie that director Michael Mann shot completely without film, but his first digital outing is no excuse for failure to remove the "stock footage" watermark from a shot in the first five minutes of the film.

Reflecting on the experience, it seems as though Mann must have been in a tug-of-war with writer Morgan Davis Foehl, as he takes a methodical, largely boring script with uninteresting paper-cutout characters and tries to pull from late 80s and early 90s influences to liven it up. The camera zooms past a technician onto a keyboard and then inside a computer to a circuit board and then still deeper to a microscopic level where we see pulses of energy travelling through individual transistors in a chip. I could have almost thought for a moment I was watching Lawnmower Man or Electric Dreams.

"Blackhat" is a term applied to computer hackers who use their skills for good instead of nefarious purposes, staying on the right side of the law, a fact not mentioned in the film. The fact is also not precisely applicable to star Chris Hemsworth's character Nicholas Hathaway, a felon convicted for hacks that cause millions of dollars in damages to several banks. Actually, Hathaway, with skills that supposedly make him the only man capable of helping the FBI (in the form of Viola Davis) track down the bad guys, doesn't really do much in Blackhat that even qualifies as hacking. His biggest feat is tricking a director of security at the NSA into clicking an email attachment that wouldn't fool my mother.

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