It's so rare to find a summer blockbuster that isn't based on a comic book or video game, that when one comes along, I'm immediately drawn to it. I'll admit that is my primary reason for wanting to check out Tomorrowland (2015), which stars George Clooney as a former boy genius who embarks on a quest to a fictional world where science and imagination know no bounds.
Tomorrowland also looks to give Clooney a role unlike any other he's taken on as a paranoid recluse with powerful secrets lurking inside his head. In honor of Tomorrowland's release, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite Clooney roles which, although unknown to many, remains loved by those who have seen it.
Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, Intolerable Cruelty (2003) stars Clooney as Miles Massey, Los Angeles' most cunning divorce attorney, who is able to make any cheating spouse in town look like the most innocent of victims. When he encounters the beautiful Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Miles' views on love, marriage and divorce change forever.
As Slackerwood ends its long and successful run, so does my favorite Slackerwood beat, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) Flashback series. In this final installment, TAMI Flashback returns to the place and time where it started: mid-20th century Austin, with two videos that capture the River City in two very different eras.
Produced by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1943, Austin the Friendly City shows us a friendly city, alright. The film opens with scrolling text that only someone drinking the Chamber of Commerce Kool-Aid could have written:
Austin is one of the loveliest and most advanced cities in the nation. So outstanding, indeed, that each year, hundreds of families move here in order to benefit from her fine schools, her excellent business conditions, her friendly atmosphere and to enjoy the spell of beauty which the enchanting tower lights cast over the towering oaks and moss-covered walls of a city rich in historical heritage.
I've compiled a list of my favorites from the Paramount Summer Film Classics schedule for Slackerwood since 2012, so it's with this post that the upcoming end of the blog really hits me. It's been a great run, folks.
This 100th year of the Paramount Theatre means there's quite a schedule in store for us this summer. As in years past, films will screen at both Paramount and Stateside. Tickets are $12, which you can purchase online or at the venue. If you plan to see more than a few of these movies, it's probably worthwile to invest in FlixTix (a pack of 10 tickets for $60) or become a Film Fan.
And don't forget your admission covers double features! Without further ado, my last Paramount Summer Classics roundup for Slackerwood:
- The Iron Giant (1999) -- The animated science-fiction story of a boy and his giant metal alien friend, which I reviewed last year for Lone Star Cinema, is a lead-in to the theater's Family Film Festival in July. (Sat 5/23 @ Paramount)
- Female filmmakers -- Pariah played the 2011 Austin Film Festival and the coming-of-age drama was one of the best films I saw that year [Don's review]. The Dee Rees film will be paired with Agnes Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962) on Thurs-Fri, 6/25-26 at Stateside. It's all Penny Marshall at the Paramount that weekend, as her baseball classic A League of Their Own (1992) and the comedy Big (1988) play Saturday evening, 6/27, and Sunday afternoon, 6/28.
The bar is set this week for top action flick of the summer, and Mad Max: Fury Road is the one to beat. It has been an improbable 30 years since the last entry in the Mad Max series, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but director George Miller returns with a joyride so big, so incredibly over-the-top, it's got the potential to redefine what we expect in an action film.
Miller immerses us in the post-apocalyptic world he established through the previous films, which we can now see has never stopped devolving and increasing in madness, chaos and destruction as the last vestiges of life continue to die off. The title "Mad Max" in fact is something of a misnomer, as Max Rockatansky, now played by Tom Hardy, is clearly the most sane person left in what has become the outer circle of Hell.
The world in Mad Max: Fury Road is the phenomenally stunning product of concept and art direction. The fully realized society is based on a religion devoted to its leader, who presides over warriors who feed on milk harvested from human slaves and who wish only to die in his service. Great machines powered by human feet lift vehicles from the bowels of his stronghold -- vehicles that might drive on stage at the heaviest of heavy-metal concerts, smoking frankencars pieced together, covered in skulls, with men chained to them spitting gasoline into their intakes to increase the RPMs.
Character names are just as ostentatious: Toast the Knowing, Rictus Erectus, The People Eater and The Splendid Angharad ... to name a few. Every detail of this fantasy is magnified, hyperbolized to an explosive extent. Michael Bay is no longer the director I refer to as the "best at blowing shit up."
We don't need another hero, but we get one in the bad-ass form of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). This is her story, and on Fury Road, Max is just along for the ride. There is no attempt to be subtle about the strong feminist message in the film, and that's A-OK. I would have been every bit as happy if this film had left out the Max character, and I'd love to see a set of movies in this world with Theron taking the lead.
The Violet Crown Cinema has an encore screening of its Arthouse Monthly series Sunday night with the acclaimed new documentary I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. In her review, Jette says it's a "pleasant and sometimes touching profile of Caroll Spinney, who has spent decades portraying both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street and elsewhere." Tickets are on the verge of selling out, but if you miss out on this one-time local screening, the film is available now on cable and digital VOD from Tribeca Film. In addition, Violet Crown is holding over Austin-shot indie Arlo and Julie (Elizabeth's review) for another week, with daily screenings.
The Austin Film Society kicks off the weekend with Jess Franco's 1971 avant-garde horror film Vampyros Lesbos, which screens tonight at the Marchesa. On Sunday afternoon, AFS is teaming up with the Austin chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for a 35mm benefit screening of the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a 2005 profile of the local musician/artist.
On Wednesday night, Richard Linklater is presenting one of his favorite films of the 80s, Tim Hunter's River's Edge in 35mm. He'll be on hand for an introduction and then to lead a post-film discussion for the "Jewels In The Wasteland" series. The AFS "Songs Of The South" Essential Cinema series is featuring Intruder In The Dust on Thursday night. This 1949 feature from Clarence Brown tells the story of a black farmer falsely accused of murder in the South and is presented in 35mm.
The Barden Bellas, with their zany vocal antics, are back. Elizabeth Banks, who produced Pitch Perfect the first, directs the new sequel -- as well as returning to her role as a cappella commentator Gail. Pitch Perfect 2 shows the collegiate group three years after their win at nationals.
So much is packed into this two-hour musical comedy, but I'll try to break it down for you. Beca (Anna Kendrick), with dreams of being a music producer, snags an internship at a studio and doesn't tell her friends. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) ruins a Bella performance at Lincoln Center and the group's performing duties as current national titleholders are stripped away. New freshman/legacy Bella Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit) joins the group and they plan to compete in an international a cappella competition in Denmark.
Pitch Perfect 2 skips from situation to situation -- it's more like a longform sitcom than any other movie I've seen recently. Unfortunately, the script includes some lazy and ridiculous writing. A Latina Bella (Chrissie Fit) is relegated to stereotype, stuck with cringeworthy comments to the other girls about her brother trying to barter her for a chicken, or her likely being deported after college and coming back illegally. Besides her flipping skills, her character is basically a caricature. The limitations of the first film haven't been improved on in this regard.
Imagine cycling more than 6,000 miles cross-country, mending dozens of popped tires, camping out in thunderstorms, coping with unexpected injuries ... and documenting it with video cameras. Filmmaker Chandler Wild takes on the challenge in the documentary Mount Lawrence, and includes the audience in his experience in an engaging, almost intimate way. The film recently won the Best Documentary award at the Hill Country Film Festival.
Wild, a former Texan living in Brooklyn, decides to embark on this adventure to honor the memory of his dad, who loved taking his family on adventurous camping and other outdoor trips ... and eventually committed suicide. He plans to cycle from New York City through California and up to Alaska, and he has to do it within a fairly limited timeframe so the weather will be okay for travelling by the time he gets to Canada. His goal is to reach Homer, Alaska and climb an as-yet-unnamed mountain that he'll hopefully be able to officially name after his father (thus the title).
From Brooklyn, Wild starts the bicycle trek with his friend Connor Lynch, who has never tried cycling of any real distance, or outdoor living, or any of this kind of thing. While it's a rough start for Lynch, having him accompany Wild is a great entryway for the audience to empathize with the situation. Eventually they hit a rhythm as they travel west and deal with all kinds of unpredictable difficulties, as well as some truly lovely moments on the road and in places like Detroit and Yellowstone Park.
Mount Lawrence follows the obvious structure of the lengthy road trip, but Wild adds more of a personal note by framing his voiceover narration as a letter to his dad. It sounds a little stiff and forced at first, but as the documentary really gets rolling and we get to know him better, his inflections sound more natural. Music from The Bones of J.R. Bones complements the odyssey very well.
For a movie shot with GoPro cameras mounted crazily on bikes and other rough-on-the-road shooting, Mount Lawrence looks especially good on a big screen, but will carry over well to home video. The opening credits sequence, designed to look like a family vacation slideshow, is a real visual highlight. At this time, the film is touring the film-fest circuit and no distribution deals or plans have been announced ... but it's hard to imagine a documentary about an adventure of such magnitude won't make it at least to online streaming outlets soon.
Texas connections: Filmmaker Chandler Wild grew up in the Houston, Texas area.
Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those sequels many were hoping would become a reality, yet few actually believed would see the light of day. The continuation of what is undoubtedly Australia's most popular film franchise at last comes to the big screen in a dark yet sprawling apocalyptic action piece just ripe for summertime audiences.
Without question the biggest plus in Mad Max: Fury Road was in bringing back the series' original director, George Miller. The director made his name helming the previous movies in the franchise before creating one of the most unpredictable filmographies in Hollywood, with features ranging from Lorenzo's Oil (1992) to Happy Feet (2006). However, no choice Miller made in his post-Mad Max days remained as standout as his first Hollywood outing, The Witches of Eastwick (1987).
Based on a novel by John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick centered on three women (Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer) in a small New England town, who dream up what they believe to be the perfect man while on a drunken girls' night. Almost immediately, a mysterious stranger (Jack Nicholson) movies into town and sets his sights on enchanting the three women, who are so captivated by him that they fail to realize that he is actually the Devil.
The documentary I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is exactly what you'd expect it to be, if you're a Muppet fan ... and also exactly what you'd hope it would be. Tonight's Violet Crown screening is sold out, but you can watch the film via online streaming outlets such as Amazon, iTunes and Vudu.
The film is a pleasant and sometimes touching profile of Caroll Spinney, who has spent decades portraying both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street and elsewhere. It's traditionally structured, primarily by time sequence -- beginning with his childhood and early puppet and acting gigs, and heading for the present. Interviews with Spinney help form the backbone of the film -- he tells us his own history, supported by other interview from his family to Sesame Street colleagues such as Frank Oz, Joan Ganz Cooney and Norman Stiles.
Naturally I Am Big Bird includes a great deal of vintage Sesame Street and Muppet footage, starting from the days when Oscar was orange and Big Bird didn't have quite so much plumage. The footage is delightful but also occasionally poignant -- it's impossible to talk about Big Bird without mentioning the episode about Mr. Hooper's death, and it's impossible to talk about Muppet history without mentioning Jim Henson's death.
Although the structure is fairly traditional, filmmakers Dave LaMattina and Chad N. Walker manage some excellent segues that cover a lot of ground. For example, after showing scenes from Jim Henson's memorial, Spinney and Oz discuss Steve Whitmire taking over Kermit's character, which naturally leads to addressing what will happen when Spinney retires, and introduces his Big Bird apprentice, Matt Vogel. An early sequence about the filming of Big Bird in China pays off later in the film in a way that may be predictable but is no less affecting.
There was a definite sadness on Sunday, the third day of Noir City Austin, as I made my way to the seat at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz that I had occupied all weekend. The film festival was coming to a close and my trip to Noir City was almost over. The crowd had shrunk, but those who remained were hungrier than ever for more Cornell Woolrich adaptations.
The first selection of the day featured another standout performance by Edward G. Robinson, an actor I always tend to typecast, yet am continuously surprised by his strong range and characterizations. In Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948), Robinson plays John Triton, a phony psychic who one day realizes he has developed actual powers. As his ability to predict accidents and deaths grows stronger, his newfound gift becomes a curse, which starts to eat away at him.
I'm always intrigued when I encounter a noir offering which plays with the supernatural a bit. In fact, two of last year's selections -- (Repeat Performance (1947) and Three Strangers (1946) -- balanced the two worlds perfectly and have since become two of my favorite noir selections. Night Has a Thousand Eyes fits perfectly into that mold by playing with ideas of chance, fate and whether ordinary beings have any say in such areas. There are no typical villains or dangerous women per se in this movie, which delves into the supernatural. Yet films such as Night Has a Thousand Eyes contain their own kind of special darkness, which is both menacing and fascinating all at once.