I'm wrapping up a year of the nostalgic TAMI Flashback series by featuring a doubly nostalgic video. The Legends of Austin -- itself nearly a half-century old -- examines more than 70 years of Austin history that came before it.
Produced in 1962 as part of Austin National Bank's Progress Report Austin series, The Legends of Austin is a sequel to a similar program that aired a year earlier. (Sadly, the original video is not in the TAMI library.) This fascinating program presents an eclectic montage of the city's history, with plenty of old photos and stories about Austin's famous citizens.
Much of the film's content is familiar; we've all seen photos of an unpaved (and hopelessly muddy) Congress Avenue, an equally muddy Sixth Street and various long-gone courthouses, hotels and other buildings. But other images are less common, such as a shiny new Braniff airliner at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport in 1935 and a slightly erroneous sign at 11th Street and Congress Avenue marking the Chisholm Trail. (Austin was on the trail, but no one drove cattle up Congress; the herds crossed the Colorado River near the Montopolis Bridge and below Mt. Bonnell.)
The best holiday film fare for me is always a mix of the worst of humanity along with the best. What would It's a Wonderful Life be without George and that old Building and Loan having to suffer through the travails of greed and incompetence? And How the Grinch Stole Christmas would not be anywhere near as heartening if the Grinch wasn't so callous to his dog, or so feisty about making the Whos in Whoville miserable. And that's part of why The Family Stone is one of my guilty pleasure holiday traditions.
I didn't mean to make it one, but I admit I was intrigued by the particularly expressive finger on the teaser poster. The trailers featured a snarky Rachel McAdams thwacking the back of one brother's head only to get thwacked herself by another. And with the premise of ferocious family dynamics over a fiancee? That's not only comedy gold but very relatable.
Eons ago when I still lived in Boston, a family dinner introducing a step-sibling's fiancée proved to be darkly entertaining. Despite the pretense of a well-mannered gathering, many claws were outstretched and flexing on the stoically thick-skinned woman. The same is true with the Stone family, who all clearly love each other yet have no disillusions about each other’s flaws. When the eldest son brings his girlfriend home, the fur starts to fly as her neuroses alienate everyone.
Simply put, The Artist is an utterly charming homage to cinema that proves the old can be new again, and just how universal it can be.
George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is at the zenith of stardom in the silent film era; his mere presence is a spectacle. And in the case of aspiring actress Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), merely being in George's orbit can launch a career. But there's only one place to go from the top, or the bottom, especially when the revolutionary technology of sound transforms silent film into talkies.
Director Michel Hazanavicius has written a perfect film, balancing vintage tropes and pacing with familiar, beloved character archetypes. It's impossible not to fall under Valentin's spell even when being unsurprised at the consequences of his hubris. But it wouldn't be half as interesting without the alchemy of the pacing, editing, and the ever-present, equally perfect score by Ludovic Bource. Being essentially a silent movie itself, The Artist relies on Bource's evocative, often playful score to keep a modern audience from being distracted, and it does it very well.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a spy thriller based on a book by John le Carré (who serves as an executive producer of the movie). The film boasts a large cast of excellent pedigree, but a plodding pace and confusing timeline left me cold. The temperature in the theatre at Alamo South Lamar during the screening also left me cold -- perhaps it was to reinforce the Cold War-era setting?
The film opens in 1973, when Control (John Hurt) sends an operative (Mark Strong) to Budapest for a meeting with a Communist general who may turn. The operation is botched, and in the fallout, Control and his associate Smiley (Gary Oldman) are fired from "The Circus" (the British secret information service). A year later, Smiley is asked by a high-up bureaucrat (Simon McBurney, Friends with Money) to investigate Control's theory that there is a mole in the service feeding information to the Russians. Smiley is assisted by former co-worker Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock) and Mendel (Roger Lloyd-Pack, The Vicar of Dibley).
Meanwhile, there are other storylines going on. There's something called Operation Witchcraft, headed up by Smiley's former colleague Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) -- as a sidenote, I did love that at the end of the street where this operation is based, there's graffiti on a wall stating, "THE FUTURE IS FEMALE." Is this a shout out to the 1970s feminism movement? But back to the story -- there's also a scalphunter named Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy, Inception) on the run after falling for a Russian baddie's girlfriend in Istanbul.
Their Holiday Favorites is a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. Today's selection is from film composer Brian Satterwhite (Artois the Goat) whose work on the local project "Cell: The Web Series" was nominated for Best Original Score in this year's IAWTV Awards (honoring web programming). Satterwhite's "Cell" compositions really set the tone and engaged me emotionally. Don't miss the brilliant and compelling score he created for Man on a Mission, which is scheduled to be released in theaters and VOD on January 13, 2012. Here are his thoughts on a certain Tim Burton movie:
One of my favorite holiday movies is Edward Scissorhands (1990). Aside from being the film (and the score) that made me want to become a film composer, this modern-day fairy tale evokes many of the emotions, sounds and images I crave at Christmastime.
What is especially appealing to me is how successful the music is at painting such an overt wintery landscape even though the actual setting of the film takes place in a rather tepid climate. There is really no visual evidence to support the chilly crisp air the music is constantly evoking. This creates a miraculous component to the narrative when it's revealed that one of Edward's hidden talents is ice sculpture. This notion reaches its climax when Kim (Winona Ryder) dances underneath Edward's ice shavings as he passionately toils above her on a new sculpture which is revealed to be a portrait of Kim.
Given its fascinating subject matter -- the friendship, collaboration and often bitter rivalry between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung -- I had high hopes for A Dangerous Method.
After all, David Cronenberg's elegant period piece has the underpinnings of first-rate Oscar bait. Aside from its sexy true story of love, rivalry and fetishes (based on a well reviewed nonfiction book by clinical psychologist and historian John Kerr), A Dangerous Method also has a first-rate cast: Viggo Mortensen as Freud, Michael Fassbender as Jung and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, a young woman who was Jung's patient and lover as well as Freud's colleague and confidante.
But in spite of this pedigree, I'm ambivalent about the end result. Despite its sometimes startling sexuality, insights about the human mind, witty dialogue, strong performances (with one exception I'll get into later) and flawless attention to period detail, A Dangerous Method is surprisingly emotionally flat and languidly paced. A movie about sadomasochism and the birth of psychoanalysis should be more gripping than this.
Their Holiday Favorites is a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. Today, Blue Starlite Drive-in owner Josh Frank recalls a film that might not seem like an obvious choice, On Her Majesty's Secret Service:
Every holiday season since I can remember, one of the basic cable channels has at some point shown a James Bond Holiday Marathon. So James Bond has become synonymous for me with snow, cozy warm days off and in, with holiday spirit, presents and 24 to 48 hours of James Bond ... save 4 hours of infomercials in the wee hours between 3 and 7 am when even Bond must catch some shut-eye.
Move over, Noomi Rapace -- there's a new Lisbeth Salander in town. And she's as kick-ass as ever.
The relatively unknown Rooney Mara has pulled off an unlikely cinematic coup, claiming Rapace's iconic role as her own. As the tough, taut and tortured Salander, Mara all but owns the new English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with her brave and stunning performance. If there is any justice in the movie world, she has hacked, pummeled and snarled her way to an Oscar nomination.
For the rare film fan who hasn't read Stieg Larsson's bestselling Millennium trilogy of crime novels, seen the trilogy of Swedish (but energetic, and therefore not very Swedish) films, or otherwise been exposed to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's plot and characters, I'll summarize the movie as best I can without spoilers. (This isn't easy for such a dense, complicated story with plenty of surprises.)
The story opens as grizzled Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has lost a libel lawsuit over allegations he made against billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. Soon thereafter, fellow industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), patriarch of a wealthy Swedish family, hires Blomkvist ostensibly to write the Vanger family history, but actually to solve a decades-old mystery: Vanger's great-niece Harriet (Moa Garpendal) disappeared from the family's remote island home more nearly 40 years earlier, and Vanger suspects a family member murdered her. As payment, Vanger promises Blomkvist a substantial salary and evidence against Wennerström that will exonerate Blomkvist.
It's a few days before Christmas, but that just means Hollywood is finally letting us see the big contender films, and because of the holiday weekend, the new releases are starting mid-week. That means Movies This Week is running mid-week as well; unfortunately, it also means slim pickings for special film events from now through next week.
Well, not quite. Tonight you can see The Artist on us; you just have to reserve your pass and get there early enough to get a seat. You can also check out the Alamo Drafthouse calendar, as it's got an eclectic selection of holiday films at their various Austin locations including It's a Wonderful Life, Bad Santa, Home Alone (w/cheesy pizza), the Xmas Pop Sing-along, Elf quote-along, The Magic Christmas Tree, Love Actually, and their High for the Holiday selections.
Movies We've Seen:
The Adventures of Tintin -- The Hergé classics about an intrepid boy and his dog get the Spielberg treatment, and Elizabeth says the resulting movie "captures the essence and spirit of the comic, while hopefully introducing the series to many new fans." Read her review for more. (wide)
The Artist (pictured above) -- My absolute favorite film of the year, bar none. This utterly charming homage to cinema reminded me of the magic of movies in a year that desperately needed it. Look for my review when the movie opens Friday. (Starts Friday at Arbor, Alamo Lamar)
When I was a kid, it was always a treat for us when my dad would check out a Tintin comic book from the library to share with my sister and me (yes, even in the '80s, Austin Public Library had Tintin books). The Belgian comic series by Hergé, about a "boy" reporter named Tintin, was action-packed, and populated with strange and funny characters. When I heard that these comics were being animated for film, I was excited about the prospect, and worried that the movie could not match up to the books.
Under the helm of Steven Spielberg, who had tried to grab the film rights to Tintin while Hergé was still alive, The Adventures of Tintin captures the essence and spirit of the comic, while hopefully introducing the series to many new fans. The film is 3D, although I am sure it would be just as pleasant to watch in 2D. The backdrops are vast and gorgeously-rendered. Through the film's use of motion-capture animation, the characters have been humanized, to an extent. Their overall look remains true to Hergé's original drawings (a Hergé-like figure even makes a cameo in the first scene).