If you, like me, wait until Thanksgiving to start watching holiday movies, it's almost time to bring them out. This year (as in years past) the Paramount is showing classic White Christmas, as well as a couple more modern Christmas "classics."
White Christmas will be shown on the night of Monday, Nov. 28th at 7 pm and 9:30. A showcase for music by Irving Berlin, the 1954 film stars crooner Bing Crosby, goofball Danny Kaye, songstress Rosemary Clooney and dancer Vera Ellen. A couple of song and dance men meet up with singing sisters and decide to take their show to Vermont. Post-World War II-era jingoism, romantic miscommunication, a song called "Choreography," child ballerinas and choirboys -- this movie's got it all.
In December, the landmark theatre will pair 1988's Scrooged with 2003's Love Actually. Jesse Trussell, the Paramount's film programmer, comments, "That double bill are two more recent selections than we've typically played in the past, but one of the things I like to focus on here at the theater is to find a good mix between the perennial classics we all love and titles that haven't played on our screen. With the three films picked this year I think we cover a wide spectrum of holiday film tastes."
If you like your schmaltz laid on thick and movies where multiple couples fall in love, then you can't go wrong with the ensemble romantic-comedy Love Actually. Richard Curtis' movie has some high points -- mainly the quality cast involved. I know many people who love this movie, but I'm not one of them. The less than subtle attempts at emotional manipulation are a bit much for me. Still, Bill Nighy singing "Christmas Is All Around Me" almost makes up for the rest of the film. Almost. Love Actually shows at 4 pm on Sunday, December 18 and 2 pm and 6:35 pm on Monday, December 19.
One of the greatest (and least reverent) cinematic takes on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooged features Bill Murray as an affluent network television executive led by a trio of spirits to face the selfish man he has come to be. Alfre Woodard plays his Cratchit-like assistant, Karen Allen his lost love, Carol Kane the Ghost of Christmas Present ... this cast is packed with talent (and the cameos!). Here's hoping that the audience at the Paramount screenings will stick around to sing along with "Put A Little Love in Your Heart." I'm getting verklempt just thinking about it. Scrooged screens at 2 pm and 6:55 pm on Sunday, December 18 and 4:35 pm on Monday, December 19.
The Twilight films are a guilty pleasure. As someone who hangs with the film nerd set, it's fun to trash Stephenie Meyer's angstified hyper-romantic sparkly "cold ones" (we're forbidden to call them "vampires"). Yet, the inner 15-year-old girl in all of us can't help getting caught up in the story a little, if only because we want Bella to just get on with it and pick Edward or Jacob for god's sake.
While that choice would seem to have been made by the end of Eclipse, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 has inadvertenly picked up Bella's indecisiveness and can't decide whether it wants to be a drama or a raucous comedy. In a series where no two movies were directed by the same filmmaker, a steady evolution can be seen from Twilight to New Moon as both the mythology and the films improve. Now Bill Condon, a respectable director with such titles as Gods and Monsters, Kinsey and Dreamgirls under his belt, steps in and forces us to wonder if he's taking his work seriously.
Condon wastes no time giving everyone what they came to see: Taylor Lautner's bare chest and abs. The very first shot of the film is Jacob ripping off his shirt in a lupine tantrum set off by Bella and Edward's wedding invitation. David Slade's Eclipse joked about Jacob's persistent bare torso, but this shot appeared to be an excuse to get one more cheer from the audience that was already screaming when the title card appeared. It also seemed to be Condon's way of saying "OK, that's out of the way, now we're going to do things MY way." Unless I missed something, Lautner doesn't appear shirtless for the rest of Breaking Dawn - Part 1.
Sadly, Condon zigs when he should zag and vice-versa. Doing it his own way means Edward doesn't sparkle when in full sun, a huge break from Twilight canon. It also means we get to see what people are calling the "wolf circle," as Jacob's angry wolf pack circles up in a logging camp for us to hear human voices screaming their telepathic conversation. This was a serious moment presented so ineptly it had even the biggest Twi-hards in the room rolling in their seats. Calling it corny would be an insult to corn, and a gross understatement.
The holidaze are upon us, and the next week is pretty light on special screenings. But Saturday is making up for the dearth thanks to the Paramount and the Association of Moving Image Archivists annual conference. Film times start at 9 am and the last films starts at 8 pm -- you can read more about it in Jette's article and Paramount Film Programmer Jesse Trussell's blog. ll of these films are open to the public and free. And don't forget that the next AFS Essential Cinema series kicks off with another classic, The Awful Truth on Tuesday -- Jette's got more info (and enthusiasm) on that series too.
Also, don't forget the Les Blank retrospective screens tonight and Sunday at the Texas Spirit Theatre in the Bob Bullock Museum.
Movies We've Seen:
Melancholia -- Don says that while "Lars von Trier's latest movie is dark, dreary and relentlessly dour... there is, however, a striking beauty to Melancholia, a film full of memorably surreal imagery." Read his review for more. (South Lamar, Violet Crown)
It's taken a long time for me to be anything but suspicious of computer-animated movies coming from anyone but Pixar. The competing studios tended to favor style over substance, often eschewing character development and thoughtful storytelling for pop culture references and the flashiest animation they could manage. (And even that level of animation was often an embarrassment next to Pixar's artistry.) Recent CGI movies like How to Train Your Dragon and Rango seem to be breaking that trend a bit, but it's still kind of a crap shoot.
Happy Feet Two skirts the line between the sincere attempt to tell a story and animated showpieces for their own sake. In the latter it is highly successful -- there's a level of spectacle on display here of which any animator could be proud. In the former, sadly, the film falls short. The central dilemma -- the hero's flock of fellow penguins is trapped in a valley of ice by a wandering iceberg -- is less than thrilling, though I suppose it's difficult to find a good threat that can be conquered by applied tap dancing.
Spliced in between the scenes of penguin action are the adventures of two krill shrimp (Will and Bill, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, respectively). The existential crisis of these two shrimp learning to live outside their swarm (Will maintains that he is destined to "move up the food chain") is easily the most entertaining thing about the movie. The shrimp seem to be more or less anatomically correct and yet anthropomorphized expertly, and the dialogue between the two is sharp enough to make me believe that these scenes were written separately from the rest of the movie. Not that there should be much surprise there -- four writers are credited for the screenplay. By the end of the story I was hoping the film would leave the penguins out of it entirely and shift into all-krill mode. Alas.
The most aptly titled film I've seen this year is undoubtedly Melancholia.
Lars von Trier's latest movie is dark, dreary and relentlessly dour, as we would expect from a story about family discord and the end of the world. There is, however, a striking beauty to Melancholia, a film full of memorably surreal imagery.
Melancholia follows the strained relationship of two sisters, newlywed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and scandalously wealthy Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who has the unenviable task of coordinating a highly overproduced wedding reception for Justine and her husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). The film's first half focuses on what is mostly a party from hell: As if the fancy festivities aren't enough of a logistical challenge, Justine is your basic depression-addled bridezilla, wandering in and out of the party as she wanders in and out of various moods. (At one point, she disappears on a golf cart to commune with nature; at another, she locks herself in a bathroom for a prolonged soak in the tub.)
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If you weren't in Austin in the late 80s or missed the Live Your Cinema! Austin Media Arts documentary that screened during the 2010 Austin Film Festival, then you may not know about the significance of Austin Media Arts. This cramped space above Quackenbush's Coffee Shop on the Drag was the first venue that Austin Film Society (AFS) actually owned and operated. Formerly a psychedelic ice cream parlor, Austin Media Arts was the screening room of AFS founder Richard Linklater and Lee Daniels as they projected eclectic and diverse films by Ingmar Bergman, Michael Snow, Stan Brakhage, Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard for eager film fans.
Austin Media Arts is long gone, but its spirit and intent has carried on in younger generations of film enthusiasts who drew inspiration from repertory programs including the defunct CinemaTexas. The most well known is Austin Cinematheque, the only free, 35mm retrospective film series in town, founded in 2005 by three University of Texas Radio-Television-Film students. Since their first self-funded screening of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows in the Texas Union Theatre, they have screened over 75 films from sixteen different countries spanning nine decades.
Unfortunately, due to the upcoming remodeling scheduled at the Union Theatre, Austin Cinematheque will be temporarily homeless while working toward expanding their free repertory film series. Find out how you can help them and other film-related projects after the jump.
I can't be the only one thrilled to hear the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) is holding its 2011 conference in Austin this week. If you're not thrilled, you don't know what this means: Fascinating and well-restored movies screening at the Paramount, all free to the public. The last time AMIA held its annual conference here was 2005, and for me it was as though the circus was in town. In fact I was tempted to run away with them and become an archivist myself, except a) I don't want to go back to school, b) I don't think I'd be good at it and c) it's not a profession with many job opportunities in Austin. (As opposed to film criticism? Well ...)
The fun kicks off tonight at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, with the AMIA "Reels of Steel" competition at 11:30 pm. Film buffs and archivists will be bringing all kinds of rare and interesting film and video clips from their personal collections to screen. Admission is free and first-come, first served.
More free movies are screening all day long on Saturday, November 19 at the Paramount -- you could get down there early and stay all day, paying only for parking and a meal or two. At 9 am, they'll show Nicholas Ray's 1976 film We Can't Go Home Again. At 10:45, the 1966 film Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Grab some lunch and go back for a collection of home movies from around America at 1 pm. Then at 3 pm, you can see a restored version of the 1977 documentary Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives.
Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves his family into the house of murder victims while researching their murders for a new book in Austinite C. Robert Cargill's feature screenwriting debut, Sinister.
I spoke with Cargill a few weeks back while he was on location for Sinister in NYC. At the time of the interview, he said there was not much he could say about the movie, except that "weird, creepy shit" happens.
But he's just playin' it cool.
Cargill began writing movie reviews under the name Massawyrm for Austin-based film website Ain't It Cool News in May 2001. His first review was of Jon Favreau's directorial debut, Made. Over the years, he's also reviewed movies for Spill.com and Film.com.
Back in my grad-school screenwriting days, my master's report was about the comedy of remarriage, a kind of film genre cousin to the classic screwball comedy. The comedy of remarriage had its heyday in the 1930s, with movies like The Awful Truth -- something drives apart a married couple and amusing machinations occur to potentially bring them back together. And in the Thirties, the machinations were generally not only amusing but witty, and it was pretty much a done deal that the couple would reunite in the end. I always felt that the comedy of remarriage died out somewhere in the late 1940s myself, although when Knocked Up came out a few years ago, I wondered if we might be due for a reworking of the genre.
You don't want to hear me go on and on about the comedy of remarriage. I know, because sometimes I start to do it in person and everyone around me remembers that pressing dental appointment or emergency meeting they have to rush off to catch. Instead, I invite you to see a couple of classic examples of the genre, as well as the evolution of such films right up to the 21st century, in the new AFS Essential Cinema series, "And It Feels So Good: Comedies of Remarriage," which starts next Tuesday night (11/22) and runs through mid-December.
The series is being guest curated by Austin Chronicle film critic Kimberley Jones, who's picked out a half-dozen fascinating features, some obvious and some surprising. I honestly would never have thought of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, myself, and I can't wait to hear her thoughts about how it ties into Stanley Cavell's original definition of the comedy of remarriage. I'm most excited about the first two films -- The Awful Truth and The Palm Beach Story (pictured above) -- but hope to see all of them. (I'm hoping since Jones is curating, no one will put any conflicting press screenings on those nights. Please.)
While Natural Selection may have taken home many awards at SXSW this year, the Austin movie at the fest that Slackerwood contributor Don Clinchy raved about, both in his review and in person, was Five Time Champion. I mean, the review begins with "Oh, if only all movies were such a pleasure to review; the greatest challenge in reviewing Five Time Champion ... may be finding enough superlatives to describe its many charms without being repetitive." And you know Don is not inherently kind to all movies, especially if you read his review of Jack and Jill last weekend.
Fittingly, Don will be moderating the Q&A with filmmaker Berndt Mader tomorrow night, when Five Time Champion returns to Austin. Austin Film Society is screening the film as part of its Best of the Fests series, Wednesday, 11/16 at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Village. Tickets are still available online. The film is about a teenage boy dealing with school decisions, love interests, and family problems. The cast includes Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Jon Gries and Betty Buckley. Nicholson's in the above photo with Mader and other cast and crew -- the photo was taken at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival, where Five Time Champion won the Texas Filmmaker Award.
Over on Flickr, Russ Photography has a huge set of photos from the Five Time Champion production; they're not only good photos but give you a fascinating look at a typical day on a movie set. And below, I'm using this excuse to share my favorite photo I've taken of Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, from the Extract premiere in Austin in 2009. She almost made it into the theater unseen; no one recognized her at first with the different hair color.