Welcome 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 Holiday Favorites are from a couple active in the Austin film community. Filmmaker Jennifer Harlow's most recent movie, the feature The Sideways Light (my review, my interview), premiered at the Austin Film Festival in October. Her husband, actor Mark Reeb, has appeared in a number of local films, including The Overbrook Brothers, Eve of Understanding and the short Happy Voodoo ... as well as The Sideways Light.
From Jennifer Harlow:
There are lots of movies I watch every year at Christmas: Love Actually, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harold and Kumar. Here I make my case for Christopher Columbus's Rent as the best Christmas movie ever, or "Jesse L. Martin Jesse L. Martin Jesse L. Martin."
"December 24, 9 pm, Eastern Standard Time. From here on in, I shoot without a script." Thus begins the story of Mark, Roger, Mimi, Maureen, Joanne, Tom (Jesse L. Martin!!!) and Angel. These friends and lovers, artists all, are trying to survive in New York's East Village in the face of drug addiction, AIDS and poverty. They struggle with being an artist versus selling out, lack of inspiration, and fear of attachment, loss and death. Their mantra at a support group meeting has long been a favorite quote.
Welcome back to Slackerwood's annual Holiday Favorites series. Over the next month or so, we'll talk about our favorite movies to watch in the winter holiday season, and ask various friends in the film community to share their favorites with us too.
When actor Eli Wallach died earlier this year, I immediately thought of his work in Nancy Meyers' The Holiday. Certainly he appeared in more notable pictures, but The Holiday is near and dear to my heart (as is How to Steal a Million, in which he also appears). A romantic comedy only vaguely related to end-of-the-year festivities, the "Holiday" here represents the short breaks Brit Iris (Kate Winslet) and American Amanda (Cameron Diaz) take from their regular schedules as they trade homes for a couple weeks.
Wallach plays an endearing remnant from Classic Hollywood, the kind of old codger who will namedrop Cary Grant at the same time as he describes what a "meet cute" is. I'm not one to gloss over the deficiencies of the studio system, but as his character of Arthur serves as a way for Iris to finally get some "gumption," I can appreciate his role here. Jack Black and Jude Law (in glasses!) are the love interests for our two leading ladies.
As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, there are a few new releases that are hitting area theaters. The only other major change from last week is that the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything (Don's review) is expanding to new locations today. It continues to play at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Regal Arbor and Violet Crown, but also turns up at the Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter Lane, AMC Barton Creek and the Cinemark Hill Country Galleria.
It's also worth mentioning, especially if you're in South Austin, that a brand new entertainment complex called EVO has opened up down in Kyle and it's the first theater in our area featuring an auditorium with Dolby Atmos sound. The EVX screen there is apparently 60-feet wide and Atmos can feature an audio mix that has up to 128 channels (as opposed to a 5.1 or 7.1 surround mix). They're currently screening The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 on the EVX screen!
The Austin Film Society's "Essential Cinema" series celebrating Contemporary Filipino Cinema is taking a break this Thursday for Thanksgiving, but returns on Thursday, December 4 with Norte, The End Of History. The epic four-hour movie was just nominated this week as Best International Film at the Independent Spirit Awards and it is the Philippines' official entry for the Acadamy Awards Best Foreign Language Film category.
When you have something that really works you don't fuck it up. Horrible Bosses 2 doesn't make the mistake of screwing with the perfectly "horrible" premise of the original movie. Bateman, Day and Sudeikis are an unbeatable comedy team not equalled since Moe, Larry and Curly.
When studios land a hit comedy, the massive return on relatively miniscule investment guarantees a sequel. The Hollywood machine depends on finding a formula that works and milking it dry. Sticking as close to the established formula while changing things up enough to keep it fresh is the magic trick, and sometimes a production team can fail to pull it off. I was worried that would be the case here, that like The Hangover II, the laughs would fall flat for me.
I'm quite happy that my expectations for this film were not met. Director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) shares writing credits with John Morris (Hot Tub Time Machine), Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses), and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses), who's retired from his TV acting gig on Bones (as Dr. Sweets) to pursue writing and directing with a reboot of Vacation coming next year. Returning from the original cast are Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx with the pleasant additions of Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine.
The script follows the trio Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) as they have quit their jobs and seen their bosses sued, imprisoned or even killed and now set out to be their own bosses in the new company they've formed. Starting a business is a lot tougher than they planned, however, and the trio discovers their own ways to be horrible at being bosses.
As expected, the humor is very R-rated, crass, gross and outrageously funny. Right off the bat the characters find themselves in terribly embarrassing situations, and the tried and true method of "Tell, don't show... then show" works well. Stay at home for your turkey but then head to the theater, because this movie is well done.
A brand new expanded vinyl edition of the American Hustle soundtrack is hitting select independent record stores across the country this week. Many record colecting nerds are already familiar with Record Store Day (RSD), an event that happens every April featuring exclusive pressings to encourage people to support indie retailers. With vinyl sales surging globally, this program has extended to Black Friday each year, when a new batch of limited-edition releases hit stores. These aren't things that you'll find at national retailers, but rather indie stores like Austin's Waterloo Records and End of an Ear.
While RSD titles are not guaranteed to be in stock at every store across the country, I think it's a safe bet that you'll be able to find this new American Hustle vinyl release at both stores if you're an early shopper on Friday. The soundtrack was first released on CD and digitally last December, but this expanded version makes it available on vinyl for the first time and features six songs not included on the original release. Packaged in a gatefold sleeve featuring a brand new ilustration of the film's poster artwork illustrated by Michael Gillette, the records are pressed on 150-gram red and blue vinyl with "2-eye" stereo labels that replicate 1960s pressings from Columbia Records.
This is an abbreviated version of our Movies This Week roundup because there will be some turnover at area theaters on as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I'll be back with an early post on Wednesday to let you know about what will be changing. In the meantime, here's a quick look at what is on tap for this weekend and early next week.
At Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, they are continuing on with 70mm screenings of Interstellar, but those are currently only confirmed through Tuesday night. It's possible that it will keep playing, but if you've been meaning to catch it there on film, you may want to squeeze it in this weekend. The Ritz has added a Saturday afternoon matinee of Florian Habicht's outstanding documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets. They've also got a Mad Max trilogy marathon on Sunday and Monday night will feature a 35mm screening of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut for the "1999" series as well as the Sichel Sisters' 1997 lesbian romance All Over Me. Originally released by Fine Line Features and never available on dvd, this is a rare chance to see this remarkable queer classic.
The Alamo South Lamar is presenting Evolution Of A Criminal for its only Austin-area theatrical screening on Sunday. The documentary about a teenage bank robber made its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year and the director (who is also the subject of the film), Darius Clark Monroe, is going to be there for a post-screening Q&A. The "1999" series also stops by Lamar on Tuesday night for Scorsese's outstanding drama Bringing Out The Dead in 35mm. The Alamo Lakeline serves up the seductive Dangerous Liaisons again this weekend for Afternoon Tea while The Fifth Element plays there on Sunday evening.
The movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 continues the series, taking it into darker, more adult territory. Fans of the books will not be disappointed. The third film sticks quite close to the events of the Suzanne Collins novel's first half, though the movie is slightly less bloody. Directed by Catching Fire's Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine), Mockingjay is both faithful to the source and also timely commentary on the use of media to influence a revolution.
Peter Craig and Danny Strong penned the screenplay, which picks up immediately after the events in Catching Fire. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been evacuated to the lost District 13, hidden in a vast complex of underground bunkers. As the clampdown by the government of evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) on the rebelling districts continues, her best option to contribute to the revolution is to assume the role for which she has unwittingly been groomed and become the Mockingjay, an inspiration and example to the repressed peoples of Panem broadcast in propaganda videos over hijacked airwaves to all the districts. At the same time, her love and fellow Hunger Games champion Peeta is trapped in the Capital, used as an opposing figure begging for an end to violence in official broadcasts.
Until now, the series has always been told first-person from Katniss' perspective. For the first time here, we see just a few scenes with other characters: President Snow and his staff, District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Game Master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that set up the film as more of a direct conflict between Katniss and Snow. "Moves and counter-moves," muses Snow at one point, to emphasize that this is a chess match between the two, himself in white and Katniss in black. Caught up in the conflict between them, the districts are all in gray, and the grayest among them is 13.
There is surprisingly little science in The Theory of Everything, a film about famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking's personal life. There is, however, a lot of kissing.
Well, maybe not that much kissing -- at least compared to other romantic films -- but the movie contains far more romance than science. Want to learn about Hawking's groundbreaking work? Skip the deceptively titled The Theory of Everything, which focuses on Hawking's relationship with his first wife, Jane Hawking, and barely touches on his brilliant scientific ideas.
Based on Jane Hawking's memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, The Theory of Everything opens as grad students Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane (Felicity Jones) begin dating at the University of Cambridge in 1963. All is well with their courtship at first. But within a few months, Stephen is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), a progressive disorder that causes motor neuron degeneration and muscle weakness and atrophy.
Have you been to the "The Making of Gone with the Wind" exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center yet? Whatever your opinion of the film, it is truly amazing. I've been once and I feel like I caught about 60 percent of it before my feet gave out -- I need to go back again. The exhibit runs through Jan. 4, and admission is free (although parking near UT probably won't be), so take a long lunch break and check it out. Your mom's visiting for Christmas vacation? Bring her there for a treat.
Tomorrow night (Wednesday, Nov. 19) at 7 pm, head over to HRC to hear author and film critic Molly Haskell discuss her book Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited. It focuses on both the novel and the movie. Haskell is probably best known for her book on women in film, From Reverence to Rape. I've heard her speak before and can't recommend it enough. If you can't make it to the HRC, a live webcast will be available.
I've read Frankly, My Dear and enjoyed it very much -- in fact, I bought the book at HRC after visiting the exhibit. I've read maybe a half-dozen books over the years about Gone with the Wind, because back in high school I was a huge raving fan of the novel. I'm less so now -- over the years the racism has bugged me more and more, and I've always felt Scarlett is essentially an overgrown teenager. But somewhere around here I believe I even have a book of producer David O. Selznick's infamous memos (he would have loooved social media and email), many of which concerned his great 1939 epic film. So I went into the exhibit, and Haskell's book, with plenty of background information.
It's a very busy weekend for cinema lovers in Austin. First up, you've got the Austin Asian American Film Festival at the Marchesa. It's a welcome return for the festival, which was last held in 2009. The fest aims to turn the spotlight on films from Japan, South Korea, Myanmar Thailand, Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and the United States. It kicked off last night and will run through Sunday. Tonight, you can catch a Taiwanese drama called Ice Poison and Pee Mak, a horror film that is the highest grossing film in the history of Thailand. Saturday's lineup includes a Vietnamese comedy called Funny Money and the festival's centerpiece, Andrew Lay and Andrew Loo's Revenge Of The Green Dragons, a film that features Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. Sunday will include the Indian documentary Tomorrow We Disappear and the Japanese comedy Cicada. The full lineup and ticket information can be found at the festival's website linked above.
The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar will be welcoming the second annual Forever Fest this weekend. Tonight they've got a quote-along screening of Mean Girls with stars Jonathan Bennett, Daniel Franzese and Daniel DeSanto in person for a Q&A. Your ticket for the movie also gets you into The Spring Fling dance at the Highball where they encourage you to come dressed as your favorite Mean Girls character! Saturday's featured film is a local premiere for Amira & Sam, an indie drama Drafthouse Films will be releasing next year. Forever Fest will be hosting a live Q&A with the film's stars Martin Starr, Paul Wesley, Dina Shihabi and director Sean Mullin.
The Austin Film Society has limited programming this week since the Marchesa theater is being utilized by the Austin Asian American Film Festival, but they've still got a few great events on the calendar. They'll be hosting the Austin premiere of Stop The Pounding Heart on Wednesday night. Shot in rural Texas, this 2013 selection of the Cannes Film Festival introduces us to a "teenage girl coming of age on her religious family's goat farm." Also screening this week is 2013's On The Job on Thursday night. It's the Essential Cinema pick from a new series on contemporary Filipino cinema.