What's Streaming: We're Back!

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A new year, a new you and a new Slackerwood! I took a break from this article for a while, but now I'm back and ready to bring you  recommendations of films you might have overlooked.  

In looking through my Netflix history, I discovered that 2014 was a big TV year for me. It seems like the website stepped its game up this past year, cranking out the latest season of current shows faster than before. (Except for Downton Abbey -- get on it, Netflix!) Here are a few television shows that came across my radar these past few months.

Twin Peaks -- When I learned writer/director David Lynch was creating a new season for the now 25-year-old show, I saw this as the sign to bring it up from the bottom of the list. FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is sent to the town of Twin Peaks to investigate the mysterious death of a teenage girl. His journey along the way takes him through a slew of oddball characters, creepy places and out-of-this-world situations. Although a little confusing towards the end, the story leaves you wanting more. I'm excited to see what Lynch will bring back in the new season! Available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus.

The Stars at Night: Desk Set

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Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall and Katherine Hepburn in DESK SET

By the 1950s, Texas-raised actress Joan Blondell (see earlier column) must have resigned herself to filling supporting roles in film. In 1952, the former Miss Dallas received her lone Oscar nomination for her work as supporting actress in The Blue Veil. Five years later, she appears as Katherine Hepburn's wisecracking best friend, Peg Costello, in Desk Set. Her character may not be the focus of the comedy, but Blondell helps make the movie memorable.

I chose Desk Set for this month's column as a sort of counterbalance to the hoopla surrounding the 2014 film The Imitation Game (Marcie's review). This movie is a more humorous take on the early days of computing machines, and actually includes more than one woman in its plot -- whereas the British biopic ignores the many women who worked at Bletchley Park.

In the 1957 film, four reference librarians work for the fictional Federal Broadcasting Company, answering random questions that come up in TV productions. Hepburn’s Bunny Watson is the managing librarian, stuck in a static years-long relationship with a network executive (Gig Young, That Touch of Mink, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?). Spencer Tracy plays a curious older man named Sumner whom the women assume is preparing to cancel out their jobs and replace them with a machine.

Lost in the Awards Rush: Grand Piano

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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.

Whiplash's journey to the big screen is the kind of stuff indie dreams are made of. From a short at Sundance to one of the most acclaimed films of 2014, writer/director Damien Chazelle's passion project about a young drummer (Miles Teller) at a prestigious music academy and his tyrannical instructor (J.K. Simmons, in a career best performance) who pushes him beyond all limits, has been hailed by critics' groups everywhere.

In the rush to praise the near-perfection that is Whiplash, its easy to forget Chazelle's script for the taut and stunning thriller Grand Piano (2013), which was released earlier this year and screened at Fantastic Fest 2013 (Jette's review). Directed by Eugenio Mira from Chazelle's original screenplay, Grand Piano stars Elijah Wood as Tom Selznick, a once-revered concert pianist who entered semi-retirement after a crippling bout with stage fright. Shortly after beginning his comeback concert, Tom discovers a note on his sheet music stating that unless he gives a flawless performance, the note's author (John Cusack) will shoot him.

Ready, Set, Fund: Life and Death in the New Year

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Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent film projects.

It's a new year, which means resolutions, like finally writing that screenplay or making that movie you've been talking about since college. (Trust me, your family and friends will thank you when you stop threatening to defame your hometown in a movie.) This month's "Ready, Set, Fund" recognizes a few Texas filmmakers who are asking you, the general public, to help make their New Year's Resolutions come true, whether that's through financial support or promotion, as their crowdfunding campaigns come to a close. (If not for the filmmakers, then for their family and friends.)

Help bring Mr. Meow to life by contributing to his Kickstarter campaign. The plush rabbit is the costar of The Adventures of Dr. Blah-kman & Mr. Meow, an Austin-made animated series that could become a reality if its campaign goal is reached by Jan. 31. If the campaign is successful, a 22-minute pilot episode will be created, along with the first batch of Mr. Meow plush toys. How purrrfect.

Movies This Week: January 9-15, 2015

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 Selma

As we head into a chilly weekend, it may be tempting to curl up at home with a stack of rented movies or fire up Netflix streaming. That would be a great idea if it weren't for the fact that two of the most acclaimed films of 2014 are getting nationwide releases and hitting area theaters: Selma and Inherent Vice.

As if that wasn't enough, Austin Film Society is ramping back up with their January programming and it starts in fine fashion this evening with phenomenal Canadian documentarian Ron Mann (Grass, Comic Book Confidential) visiting the Marchesa with his movie Altman (which recently premiered on Epix). Several rare Robert Altman shorts will play before the feature and then you're also encouraged to buy a ticket for a 35mm screening of Altman's California Split, which follows.

Speaking of incredible documentary filmmakers, National Gallery focuses on the London-based museum and is the latest effort from Frederick Wiseman. AFS is featuring it Sunday afternoon and then has a sneak preview screening of Two Days, One Night exclusively for AFS members in the evening. Marion Cotillard is getting a lot of awards buzz for this new drama from the Dardenne Brothers, which isn't opening in town until January 30. Essential Cinema closes out the week with a 35mm screening of Jacques Rivette's 1974 French classic Celine And Julie Go Boating

Review: Selma

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Colman Domingo, David Oyelowo, Andre Holland and Stephan James in SELMA

"What we do is negotiate, demonstrate, resist."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma

Director Ava DuVernay and a combination of other talent create in Selma a deeply emotional, standout work about a short moment in history: the early months of 1965. The historical drama, attributed to screenwriter Paul Webb although DuVernay herself rewrote most of it, revolves around Martin Luther King, Jr. (British actor David Oyelowo, Lincoln, Middle of Nowhere) and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as they plan nonviolent protest in Selma, Alabama.

At this point in history, segregation had been outlawed, but county clerks continued to turn away black Southerners who attempted to register to vote through "literacy" tests and other deceptive means. In the movie, activist and preacher King pleads with President Lyndon Baines Johnson (British actor Tom Wilkinson, Belle, Michael Clayton) to enact voting rights legislation.

Sounds Like Film: The Cinematic Legacy of KVRX

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KVRX 20 Years on FM Radio Logo

Last month, current and alumni volunteer staff of 91.7 KVRX, the University of Texas at Austin's student-run radio station, gathered for a reunion to celebrate 20 years the station began broadcasting on the FM dial. Part of Texas Student Media, KVRX streams online 24/7 and is on the air from 7 pm-9 am weekdays and 10 pm-9 am on weekends, sharing the frequency with KOOP community radio.

Over the years, KVRX has provided opportunities for students to receive practical experience in radio news, sports and entertainment programming and in broadcast management, and served as a source of campus information for students, faculty and staff as well as an outlet for alternative programming unavailable in the Austin market. Any UT student can volunteer at the station.

Quite a few KVRX alumni have gone on to careers in television and film industry. The reunion provided the perfect opportunity for me to chat with them about how their student-radio experiences impacted their careers.

Holiday Favorites 2014: A Cinephile's New Year's Eve

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In 2011, Garry Marshall directed the all-star holiday comedy New Year's Eve (2011), a film so shamelessly sentimental (although I still think the Michelle Pfeiffer/Zac Efron storyline was charming and deserved a movie of its own) that it's destined to be played every December 31 for many years to come. Though it wasn't a critics' favorite, enough people liked New Year's Eve to think it the ultimate film about the holiday. Not so.

Its true that Christmas movies may be a dime a dozen, while movies celebrating New Year's tend to be given the short end of the stick. As someone who loves seeing people during this time of year, but enjoys holiday movie marathons just as much, I've always been rather let down by the slim cinematic offerings available for this particular holiday. Therefore, for the movie lover celebrating New Year's at home this time around, here are a few titles to help ring in 2015.

The Apartment (1960)

A bit racy for its day (especially considering its two leading men), The Apartment tells the story of a mid-level businessman (Jack Lemmon) who lets his coworkers and bosses use his bachelor apartment for romantic dalliances. It's not long before an encounter with a quirky elevator girl (Shirley MacLaine) however, changes his outlook on life and love.

Holiday Favorites 2014: Steven DeGennaro and '29th Street'

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29th Street Still PhotoWelcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Today's pick is from seasoned sound designer turned writer/director Steven DeGennaro, whose short film First Date premiered during the AFS ShortCase at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival. DeGennaro successfully wrapped a crowdfunding campaign and raised over $35,000 for his first feature, Found Footage 3D. Here's his holiday favorite:

There’s only one holiday movie in my family, and that’s 29th Street. The movie tells the sort-of, almost, but not-really "true" story of the first winner of the New York State Lottery, Frank Pesce (who wrote the film and plays a supporting role). Danny Aiello plays the domineering father of the clan, whose son, played by Anthony LaPaglia, is supposedly the luckiest man alive. So lucky, in fact, that it turns out to be a curse. It’s funny with just a touch of schmaltz, as every good Christmas movie should be.

Review: Big Eyes

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Cristoph Waltz and Amy Adams in Big Eyes

Twenty years after his only other biopic (Ed Wood), director Tim Burton returns to the genre with the movie Big Eyes. Co-writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (who also wrote Ed Wood) combine elements of the fantastical with the all-too-real story of a man taking credit for a woman's work. Amy Adams (American Hustle, The Muppets) stars as Margaret Keane, whose paintings of haunted-looking children were all the rage in 1960s America ... but her husband Walter (Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained) passed them off as his own.

Burton tells Keane's story using a bright palette, giving a smooth look to his 1960s San Francisco setting, growing even bolder in color when the setting moves to Hawaii. There's a blithe feeling to Big Eyes, even as the movie tackles serious issues of the male-dominated mid-century canon of modern art and this female artist's loss of power in the face of her smooth operator/con artist husband. Adams as Margaret speaks with a soft Southern cadence opposite a strident Waltz, whose own bizarro accent here signals that he can't decide which part of the States his character is supposed to be from. 

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