January 2011

Movies This Week: Biutiful Prada Mechanic Inside Rite

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Oscar season is finally here. And now you can see, or see again -- some of the nominated films. And Lemmy is doing well enough that it's moving from Lamar over to the Village through Feb. 3, so catch it while you can.

Movies We've Seen:

Biutiful -- Deliberately slow, Alejandro González Iñárritu's "road to redemption" tale features the always watchable Javier Bardem. And yes, it's nominated for Outstanding Foreign Language Film (Mexico -- even though the story takes place in Spain). Read my review for more.

Inside Job (pictured above) -- When Oscar nods, films that have already left the cineplexes suddenly find themselves back in theaters, and Inside Job is no exception. This is the type of documentary that just may change your attitude about the shell game companies and governments play with money. So if you have been ostriching over the apparently rather avoidable $20,000,000,000,000 global disaster that no natural disaster can top, this is your opportunity to catch up. it's also a great "hub" film for several other recent documentaries that dive deeper into some of the tangents. If you have ever invested, or bought a house, this is one doc you must see. I didn't catch this until the "For Your Consideration" screener arrived in December, but I'm definitely glad I saw it.

The Mechanic -- Remake of the 1972 Charles Bronson film of the same name and co-starring Jan-Michael Vincent, director Simon West (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) takes an updated version of Lewis John Carlino's script and uses Jason Statham, Donald Sutherland, and the always watchable Ben Foster and let's them take on the action tale featuring professional assassins hell-bent on revenge. Read Debbie's review to find out more.

Review: The Mechanic

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The Mechanic

I hope this confession doesn't impact my credibility, but I have no shame in admitting I enjoyed the action film Con Air with veteran actors Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich and John Cusack. Despite the over-the-top Velveeta cheesiness and explosions, this film has just the right balance of action, violence, and melodrama that it continues to entertain me even today. A lot of credit goes to director Simon West, and therefore I was excited to see how West would handle a remake of a Charles Bronson action movie. The result is The Mechanic, another testerone-charged film that lacks the balance and strengths of West's previous film projects.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) answers vague advertisements for a mechanic, which translates to fixing things by cleanly taking out targets as a professional elite assassin. His assignments come from a company that is partly controlled by his close friend and mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). Bishop has no difficulties remaining detached from his targets until his assignment is to eliminate Harry. The company is not happy with Harry after a botched job in Capetown, and his ailing health and wayward drug-addicted son Steve (Ben Foster) isn't helping matters. With his skills and close attachment to Harry, Bishop accomplishes his mission quite easily and cleanly -- until Steve shows up on his doorstep. Steve wants to seek revenge on the "carjackers" that killed his father, and he is determined to have Bishop teach him the skills of the trade. Whether out of guilt or loyalty to Harry, Bishop takes on the impulsive hot-headed student who jeopardizes Bishop's typically deadly silent method and things get messy. 

Slackery News Tidbits, January 28

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Here's the latest Austin movie news:

  • Freestyle Releasing has announced that the SXSW 2010 movie Skateland will hit theaters in Austin, Houston and Dallas on April 1. The movie is set in a small Texas town in the 1980s, and although shot in Louisiana, the director, writers and producer all have Austin ties. Read Debbie's SXSW review or check out her photos from the fest of the movie's star, Ashley Greene.
  • Joe O'Connell has news about an adaptation of Turk Pipkin's story When Angels Sing, which will start filming in Bastrop shortly. The movie is being directed by Tim McCanlies with Elizabeth Avellan producing, and stars a variety of local and national well-known faces -- nearly all musicians, it seems. It looks like it could be one of those warm-hearted holiday films, but hopefully the excellent local production team will steer it away from potential treacle and sap.
  • The Long Center is screening the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks silent film The Mark of Zorro on Sunday at 4 pm in the big Dell Hall, with musical accompaniment by Rick Benjamin's Paragon Orchestra. I noticed on Twitter yesterday that if you enter the code "AFF" when buying your tickets, the tickets are discounted to $20 and $5 of that cost will benefit Austin Film Festival.
  • When Jenn and I wrote about Lovers of Hate for 2010 in Review, we both lamented the fact that Bryan Poyser's Austin-shot film was currently unavailable to watch. But we've just learned that you can rent the dark comedy from SundanceNow. Check out my SXSW review of the film to learn more about it.

Review: Biutiful

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Believe it or not, early in his career Javier Bardem was known for his smouldering good looks, and not his outstanding performances; he didn't even get credited for being in No News From God (an underrated gem of a film starring Penelope Cruz). In the last decade, that's all changed, and his latest Oscar-nominated performance in Biutiful is no exception, a movie seemingly made for someone who can entrance an audience just by his presence.

Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel, 21 Grams) has a penchant for examining the less glamorous aspects of the human condition and finding incredible beauty in it, in the send of a flower that forces its way through cracked pavement to produce a small, startling bloom.

In Biutiful, Uxbal (Bardem) is a man doing what he can to care for his family, a middle man on the edge of legality and realities. Uxbal sees what most of us don't: people struggling to make a living in sweatshops, selling knockoffs on the street, and even the souls of the recently passed. He makes a living from those he tries to help, and the irony does not quite competely escape him. When Uxbal gets unwelcome news, it seems every decision in his life is coming back to haunt him, from helping the employers of illegal immigrants find work, to his schizophrenic ex trying to return to the family she abandoned.

Quick Snaps: Jason Eisener, Filmmaker with a Shotgun

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Jason Eisener

Many people think of Sundance Film Festival as a place to watch rarefied, slow-paced indie films that may never make it to theater screens outside of Park City and maybe New York. And there may well be a few of those at the fest. But on the other hand, you have Hobo with a Shotgun, which is officially premiering at Sundance before Magnolia gives it a theatrical release later this spring. The movie is directed by Jason Eisener, shown above at Fantastic Fest 2008. He won an award for his Fantastic Fest bumper Report Card, and the award included, quite fittingly, a shotgun.

Hobo with a Shotgun may have been filmed in Eisener's hometown of Nova Scotia, but the movie has a number of Austin ties. It's based on a 2007 fake trailer that Eisener submitted to a contest sponsored by the movie Grindhouse ... and won. I saw the trailer (embedded after the jump) at its first public showing, in a SXSW 2007 panel Robert Rodriguez held on grindhouse/exploitation films. Alamo Drafthouse showed the Hobo with a Shotgun trailer before its Grindhouse screenings, as did some Canadian theaters.

Finding Austin in the Academy Award Nominations

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John HawkesLast year, the Austin connections at the Oscars were easy to spot: actress Sandra Bullock and musician Ryan Bingham, both of whom brought home the little gold guys. This year, Austin is a little less obvious in the Academy Award nominations, but you can still find local connections if you poke around a bit. Let's hope some of these folks walk away with awards next month:

  • John Hawkes: Supporting Actor, Winter's Bone -- Hawkes (pictured at right) started his career in Austin before his role in this excellent movie, which played SXSW 2010. You can find him in a couple of Austin-shot movies, too: he's in Eve's Necklace and going back a few years, plays a liquor-store clerk in From Dusk Til Dawn.
  • Dogtooth: Foreign Language Film, Greece -- One of the film's producers is Athina Rachel Tsangari, a filmmaker who divides her time between Greece and Austin. She was an executive producer on Bryan Poyser's film Lovers of Hate, and her 1997 film The Slow Business of Going won a Texas Filmmakers Production Fund grant in 1997. Dogtooth played SXSW in 2010.
  • True Grit: 10 nominations including Best Picture and Directing -- This Western was partially shot in Austin, as well as in nearby Granger. In addition, co-director Joel Coen attended grad school at The University of Texas at Austin (after which he and Ethan Coen shot Blood Simple in Austin). (Mike's review)

Slackery News Tidbits, January 25

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Well, we may not be at Sundance in Park City, but it's a beautiful sunny day with lots of Austin film news. Here's the latest:

  • Over at Austin Movie Blog, Charles Ealy is keeping an eye on how the Texas Legislature has been addressing film incentives during the current session. The House and Senate budgets as they stand now have an extremely severe cut in the tax rebates, allowing only $10 million for two years total. In addition, the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute, headed by state Sen. Tommy Williams and Rep. Warren Chisum, would like to end the program that gives tax rebates to movies filming in Texas ("acceptable" movies, that is). 
  • The University of Texas is hosting a collection of short animated films, curated by local filmmaker Geoff Marslett. The Visual Arts Center (aka the old Blanton building) will project the films onto its windows in the evenings, so they're visible from the outside, from Jan. 28 through March 12. Stop by at 8 pm on Friday, Jan. 28 for the opening of this exhibit. You can stop by any time at night to watch -- the gallery doesn't have to be open -- and it's free. The 42 films include shorts by Marslett, by some of his UT students, and by other filmmakers such as PJ Raval, Don Hertzfeldt and Emily Hubley.
  • Filmmaker Kevin Smith announced at Sundance on Sunday night that he is self-distributing his latest movie, Red State. The Austin Film Society Advisory Board member said that he will take his horror film on a roadshow trip around the country starting next month, then the movie will go into wider release in October. Austin is one of the stops on the Red State tour, screening on March 28 at the Paramount with Smith and unspecified cast in attendance. Tickets go on sale to the public Friday through the Paramount website, ranging in price from $55-70 (pre-sale for donors   started today).

A Unique 'Food Design' Mini-Feast at Alamo

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If you ever thought it was just the American food industry that was mercenary about marketing and selling food, think again.  Apparently it's no different in Europe. 

Earlier this week Edible Austin and Austin Museum of Art teamed up with Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar for a mini-feast and dialogue on Food Design, a 2009 Austrian documentary about the science behind food marketing and commercial research.  And in under 40 minutes, chefs John Bullington and Chris Kincaid (pictured above) managed to send out three courses with five separate preparations on each, making the film an interactive experience.

Pictured above are the chefs plating the first course; despite the poor quality of the picture you can get a sense of the frenetic pace they kept to keep the food moving.  And while we didn't see any of the courses in full light save the first and most monochromatic,  the fact we couldn't really see the food enhanced the tasting experience. it was quite a learning experience all the sensations of each different preparation.

Review: No Strings Attached

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No Strings Attached

Ivan Reitman has a directorial history of examining hypothetical, but impossible situations. He's brought us professional ghost hunters, a male pregnancy, a regular guy breaking up with Supergirl, and now in No Strings Attached he looks at the mythical conceit of friends having sex outside the bonds of a relationship, aka "friends with benefits."

I'm not sure I could have thought of a more unlikely pair than Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Each plays a caricature of their own personalities. Portman is a serious, studious, and no-nonsense personality. Kutcher is, well Ashton Kutcher. Meeting first at summer camp as teens, the pair run into each other again and again in random places and become friends, with Kutcher's Adam having a solid crush on Portman's Emma the entire time.

When they finally, inevitably, end up in bed together, the sex is great, and Emma, who has always had a fear of emotional attachment, offers Adam an arrangement to become sex buddies. It is clear by this point that the two are already in a relationship, but they refuse to admit it. Through the continuing emotional ups and downs, they grow closer until it finally reaches a breaking point, and they each have to deal with their feelings.

Movies This Week: Lemmy Strings Back Somewhere

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This weekend, Austin Film Society's Bryan Poyser finds out if his second nomination for a Spirit Award means he needs an acceptance speech. Poyser wrote and directed Lovers of Hate, which is up for the prestigious Cassavetes Award. I'm fully in the "honor just to be nominated" camp, but I would love to see Poyser and the film get more exposure and recognition. But in the meantime, there are new movies coming out this week.

Movies We've Seen:

No Strings Attached -- Going from an Aronofsky masterpiece to an Ashton Kutcher vehicle is not what I expected from Natalie Portman, but perhaps she needed something light after such heavy material? This romantic comedy is about the complications of a strictly physical relationship, and is directed by Ivan Reitman. Look for Mike's review this weekend. (wide)

Somewhere -- Sofia Coppola's latest is an overdue coming-of-age for a not-so-young anymore actor (Stephen Dorff) when he starts spending more time with his tweenage daughter (Elle Fanning). This serviceable character study will likely satisfy Coppola's fans, but might be too studied for others. Elizabeth reviews. (Alamo Lamar, Arbor)

Lemmy (pictured above) -- Motorhead's lead singer gets the biopic treatment in this eponymously titled documentary. Jette reviewed this movie when it played SXSW in 2010 -- it was her first exposure to Motorhead, and she was delighted. (Alamo Lamar)

DVD Review: Machete

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Machete videoFans of Machete now can see Robert Rodriguez's brilliantly overdone homage to exploitation flicks on the small screen, and it loses none of its gleefully gory and sexy charm in the translation. The new Machete Blu-ray captures every severed limb, explosion and naked female body part in glorious HD video and superb sound. (If you don't have a Blu-ray player, you can enjoy Machete's brand of heartwarming family entertainment on DVD.)

For an exploitation film, Machete has a surprisingly complex and coherent plot, not that this matters terribly much amid all the mayhem. Set in Austin, south Texas and Mexico, the story follows Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo), an ex-Federale turned immigrant day laborer hired by sinister political operative Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a Texas state senator, John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro).

Meanwhile, immigration agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) stakes out taco truck owner Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), the suspected head of The Network, an organization that helps Mexican immigrants cross the border and find jobs. The two storylines intersect when Machete befriends Luz at a day labor site, and Rivera suspects he is part of The Network also.

Things go horribly wrong during the assassination attempt, and Machete is the victim of a double cross. He finds himself on the run from several parties, including the cops, Rivera, Booth and Machete's old nemesis, a Mexican drug lord named Torrez (a perfectly miscast Steven Seagal). Vowing revenge on those who double crossed him, Machete sets out to give them their bloody comeuppance with the help of Luz, Rivera and Machete's brother, a well-armed priest named Padre (Cheech Marin).

This synopsis leaves out plenty of details involving a vigilante group, political corruption, shifting alliances, incriminating videos, drug smuggling, impressive weapons caches, lesbian incest, scores of dead bodies, way-cool lowriders and online porn, but to say more would spoil some of the surprises and all of the fun. It suffices to say that Machete delivers most every flavor of fu, all presented with great wit and style.

Review: Somewhere

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Elle Fanning, Stephen Dorff in Somewhere

I tend to smirk when I hear about producers who've said a movie won't play well in Middle America. But if there is a movie to which such a ridiculous generalized statement might apply, it's Somewhere. I say this as a fan of director Sofia Coppola's early work (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation).

Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a fortysomething action movie star who dwells in the famed Chateau Marmont hotel in LA. He doesn't instigate much in the film -- things just happen around him or to him. A friend throws parties in Johnny's suite, female hotel-dwellers flirt ceaselessly with him, and work-wise, his assistant/agent arranges everything for him: he just shows up.

For a film directed by a female, it's strange how dominant the male gaze is in Somewhere. Johnny sleepily watches pole-dancing strippers from his bed, women flash their breasts at him at various points of the film, and the only long-term relationship Mr. Marco has with any female is with his tween daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). It's too bad Cleo doesn't stick around for the whole film -- the scenes between her and her father are the liveliest this movie gets.

Slackery News Tidbits, January 20

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Here's the latest Austin film news -- yes, there certainly seems to be a lot of it lately. I blame SXSW.

  • And let's start with SXSW, which has announced a special "Film Lounge" for SXSW Film badgeholders for this year's fest at The Hideout. I don't know whether the lounge will take up the entire two-story Hideout, just the theater area, or employ the upstairs rooms. It may mean that The Hideout is off-limits to film passholders and ordinary folks during the first part of the fest, and it may also mean that The Hideout won't be a venue this year for shorts collections put together by various groups, as has been traditional. We'll keep you posted as we get more information.
  • Looks like one of the movies screening at SXSW this year will be a documentary about SXSW, commissioned by the fest for its 25th anniversary.
  • Another film festival is going on this week: Sundance, in Park City. Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) is there with his latest feature, Take Shelter. Before the film even plays the fest, its distribution rights have been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. The movie stars Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Kathy Baker.
  • Kobe Bryant is The Black Mamba? A Robert Rodriguez film? Matthew Odam has the scoop -- and the trailer -- over at Austin360.

Review: The Man Who Never Cried

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Jess Weixler of The Man Who Never Cried

Amongst the many short films that I enjoyed at Austin Film Festival 2010 was I Love You Will Smith by local writer/director Bradley Jackson. This amusing film depicted how a casual office conversation about Will Smith’s latest movie can lead to a psychological breakdown -- and physical beatdown -- for some fans. I've found myself referencing Jackson's short in conversations with co-workers about movies so I'll admit I'm hooked. I Love You Will Smith was a Doorpost Film project finalist last year and can be watched on the Doorpost Film Project website here.

After seeing Jackson and his filmmaking crew in action on his latest short film The Man Who Never Cried during a set visit last fall, I was curious to see how the final film would turn out. The Man Who Never Cried has just received a $10,000 Audience Choice Award from the Doorpost Film Project, a prize that was determined by number of online votes through the Doorpost website. You can watch it in full at the end of this review.

The movie's central character, Ralph "it's pronounced Rafe" Winston (Keir O'Donnell), has never cried in his life, not even during his birth or as an adult when his former wilfe has a miscarriage. His inability to express grief and loss through tears has distanced himself emotionally from others. Ironically, his job as a clown enables others to express joy and laughter.

TAMI Flashback: 'Automobile Thefts' and 'No Chance'

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Allandale Village

This article is the third in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

The classic noir thriller The Naked City ends with a memorable line: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them."

There aren't quite as many stories in the River City, but Austin has plenty of crime nonetheless. And crime in Austin is the subject of two priceless TAMI videos featured in this article, Automobile Thefts -- A Police Training Aid and the provocatively titled No Chance.

Made in Austin c. 1953, Automobile Thefts is exactly the sort of mundane but now fascinating film that makes TAMI so special. Produced by the National Automobile Theft Bureau and the Texas Department of Public Safety, it's a training aid to help law enforcement more effectively combat car thieves. Thrilling it's not; its dry explanations of theft techniques and investigative procedures aren't exactly gripping entertainment. But like so many TAMI videos, Automobile Thefts captures mid-century life like no narrative film ever could.

2010 in Review: Austin Film, in Photos

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Before we wrap up 2010 in review (you can read all the articles here), I wanted to share some of my favorite photos with you from local movie-related events. Click the photos for articles about them. Special thanks to Paul Gandersman for our Machete red-carpet photos (including the one below of Danny Trejo) and Tate English for the Dobie photo below. The other photos are mine, for better or worse.

TXFHOF 2010 #124

Slackery News Tidbits, January 17

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SXSW 2009

Here's the latest Austin film news:

  • Governor Rick Perry has just filmed a cameo for the movie Deep in the Heart, in which he plays himself circa 2006. The film is being shot in Austin and stars Jon Gries, still best known as the uncle in Napoleon Dynamite (although he directed Pickin and Grinnin', which played AFF in 2010). And yes, it does qualify to receive film incentives for shooting in Texas. Is this going to be a new way that filmmakers ensure they can actually get the tax rebates?
  • Also at the Austin American-Statesman, Matthew Odam interviews Ryan Long, the new film programs manager at Austin Film Society. You may remember Long as a co-founder of Screen Door Films. Now he is working with AFS on their new Best of the Fests series. Long's also established the Texas Independent Film Network with Louis Black, in which they'll travel around the state screening notable movies from Texas.
  • AFS has announced the latest film in its Doc Series: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, Gerald Peary's documentary about movie critics. You can see it on Feb. 10 at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. Peary will be in attendance. After the movie, UT professor Tom Schatz will moderate a Q&A with Peary and a panel of local critics. No word on which critics, but since Ain't It Cool's Harry Knowles is actually in the documentary, I'm sure he'll be there if it's feasible. The above photo is from the SXSW 2009 panel related to the film, which sparked a very lively discussion, especially about online film criticism and movie blogging. That's Peary with Austin Chronicle lead film critic Marjorie Baumgarten.

Review: The Dilemma

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The Dilemma

When previews for The Dilemma aired on TV, I had little interest in seeing what appeared to be the latest bromantic comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. I typically enjoy this style of comedy, and James's performance alongside Will Smith in Hitch is one of my favorites in the genre. However, I was apprehensive about whether there would be enough chemistry between James and Vaughn to believe an almost brotherly bond. I decided to take a chance after I learned that producer and director Ron Howard (Parenthood, The DaVinci Code) was heading this project. With his directorial talent, I expected The Dilemma to be well developed and more complex than the standard bromance.

The Dilemma starts off harmlessly enough as we meet confirmed bachelor Ronny (Vaughn) and happily married Nick (James). Buddies since college, they're partners in an auto design firm and are set on taking their company to the top with an innovative project to produce muscle-car sounds in environmentally friendly electric cars. Supporting them in their endeavors -- and in past trouble of Ronny's gambling addiction -- are Ronny's girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), and Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder).

Movies This Week: The Green Rabbit Valentine Dilemma

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It may be chilly outside, but the award season is heating up in movie theaters. Now, finally, Austin audiences get to see the "smaller" arthouse award contenders that were previously only screened at festivals. And we've got a couple examples of small films grappling with emotional concerns, along with movies that are pure diversion. Which will you see?

Movies We've Seen:

Blue Valentine -- Raw and sporadically affecting, this AFF selection starring two outstanding actors (Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling) reveals the unravelling of a relationship. Bring a hanky or three if your heart is feeling a bit fragile. Read Don's review for more. (Alamo Ritz, Arbor, Barton Creek)

The Dilemma -- Do you tell your best friend their significant other is cheating on them? That's the plot, at least in theory, but from the trailers it just looks like an excuse for bad pratfalls and inanity and Vince Vaughn. Look for Debbie's review on Saturday morning. (wide)

The Green Hornet -- Michel Gondry takes on the 1960s TV series, with Seth Rogan and Jay Chou starring as the unlikely superhero and his more popular sidekick, Kato (played on TV by the late Bruce Lee). And woohoo, you have a choice of 3D or 2D. Jette reviews. (wide)

Rabbit Hole (pictured at top) -- John Cameron Mitchell always knows how to break my heart in the most profound and watchable ways, without being melodramatic. This time the director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus takes on the limbo between tragedy and healing, as a couple tries to deal (and not) with an unspeakable loss. Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire from his original screenplay. Elizabeth reviews. (Arbor)

Review: The Green Hornet

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The Green Hornet

I'm growing tired of superhero movies and think it's time for a break, not that the Hollywood or comic-book honchos will listen to me. Superhero films, especially the first in a series, tend to be inherently predictable. And I don't much enjoy the final big showdown at the end, especially when they're CGI-ified and you're not even watching real people fight, like in martial-arts movies (which I do continue to love). The battle of the men in the metal suits was easily for me the dullest part of the otherwise amusing Iron Man.

Director Michel Gondry  -- yes, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- tries to mess around a little with the genre in The Green Hornet, but "mess" is sadly the operative word. The movie is an uneven jumble of comedy and the typical Nobility of the Superhero. The climactic fight scene might be set in a pretty cool environment, but it is so confusing and poorly choreographed that it isn't even fun on a kinetic gut level. Fortunately, the lighthearted and comic moments made this movie surprisingly likeable.

Slackery News Tidbits, January 14

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Austin film news has been cropping up all week, getting bigger and better as the week progresses. Here are the highlights:

  • The biggest news: SXSW Film just announced a half-dozen more titles for this year's festival (two months away!) -- no Austin connections (update! see comments below) but certainly all interesting. Jodie Foster's movie The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson and scripted by Austinite Kyle Killen, will have its world premiere, as will Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, a documentary about the comedian's tour during his recent break from television; Ti West's latest movie, The Innkeepers, about amateur ghost hunters trying to prove a hotel is haunted; It's About You, a documentary on John Mellencamp; and Square Grouper, a movie set in the 1970s about pot smuggling in Miami. The latest movie from Greg Mottola (Adventureland) will also be shown at SXSW -- Paul, a movie about a hitchhiking alien, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. If those aren't enough details, visit the SXSW Film site for more.
  • Austin Film Society has just announced the next film in their new, cool Best of the Fests series: local filmmaker Geoff Marslett's animated film Mars, which we mentioned in our 2010 in Review feature earlier this week. Jenn reviewed it after its debut at SXSW last year. Now you have a chance to catch this movie at Alamo Village on Feb. 16. Better still, it'll be shown along with Lucas Martell's delightful animated short Pigeon: Impossible, which you can watch online but looks even better in a theater.
  • Speaking of Austin filmmaking: The City of Austin has issued a call for entries in its Faces of Austin multimedia program. Selected short films will be shown on the widescreen video displays in the City Hall atrium. The shorts will also be made available online, and some of them will screen at the opening of the city's People's Gallery exhibit on Feb. 18. The deadline for submitting your short film is January 28. You can watch the previous Faces of Austin selections on the City of Austin YouTube channel.

Review: Blue Valentine

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Blue Valentine

A five-word line of dialogue near the end of Blue Valentine sums up the film's central relationship. It is a line said with resignation and mild disgust: "Ah...you must be Dean."

A coworker of the film's lead female character, Cindy (Michelle Williams), utters the line when Cindy's drunk and agitated husband Dean (Ryan Gosling) arrives at Cindy's workplace to confront her about their latest marital meltdown. From the coworker's flat and frustrated tone, it's obvious that Cindy and Dean's marriage from hell is no secret, and Dean is taking most of the blame.

But laying all the blame on Dean isn't quite fair, and we know why by this point in Blue Valentine. A brutally honest, harrowingly real and strikingly nuanced look at an unlikely relationship that was probably DOA from the start, Blue Valentine wags a finger at both Cindy and Dean for the bad choices they've made. But it also explains with great empathy what motivated those choices.

Review: Rabbit Hole

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Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole

In Rabbit Hole, director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) captures a period of time in the life of a married couple in suburban New York, months after their young son has died. Given this set-up, you might expect the film to be maudlin and depressing. Miraculously, even as the film deals seriously with some unhappy issues, it is able to do so without pulling the audience through the emotional wringer. 

Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett's (Aaron Eckhart) son Danny was hit by a car in front of their house. To help cope with his death, they attend support group meetings -- where they meet Gaby (Sandra Oh) and her husband -- but neither seem to benefit from them.  

Becca has a rather fraught relationship with her younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard, The Good Shepherd), and is annoyed that her mom Nat (a magnificent Dianne Wiest) keeps comparing Becca's current situation to her own. She begins a sort of friendship with Jason (Miles Teller), the high-school student and aspiring comic-book artist involved in the accident that killed her son.  

2010 in Review: The Year of Doubek

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Chris Doubek

While you might not recognize his name, Chris Doubek has turned into one of the most visible local actors in Austin, and this year he's owned the Austin indie scene with no less than four films featuring his diverse talent. He may be hamming it up in the picture above from SXSW 2010, but Slackerwood has declared 2010 the Year of Doubek for good reason.

If there was an Austin Film Actor of the Year award, Doubek would have annihilated the competition. At SXSW 2010, it was impossible to turn around without bumping into Doubek as he was running around between premieres of his movies including Clay Liford's Earthling, Paul Gordon's The Happy Poet, and Brian Poyser's Lovers of Hate. He's so good, he has had at least one role written just for him.  

2011 Off-Centered Film Fest Submission Open

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OffCenteredFilmFestivalSamCalagione

As a craft beer enthusiast, my favorite show on the Discovery Channel this season is Brew Masters, which follows innovative and always entertaining Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione as he travels across America and around the globe, exploring new ingredients and techniques for the next great brews often based on ancient traditions.

Calagione is no stranger to Austin -- he annually teams up with the the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to host the Off-Centered Film Fest short film competition in Austin every April. This year is no exception and promises to be bigger than ever, with submissions for the festival currently being accepted. The early bird deadline is January 29, with a final deadline of March 1 to enter.

2010 in Review: Memorable Austin Movies, Part Two

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Skateland

Check out Part One of our collection of Austin-related films that Slackerwood contributors found memorable in 2010. In addition, keep an eye out for Jenn's article later this week focusing on an Austin actor who was especially prolific last year. Here's the rest of our list:

Machete
What was the best time to be had at the movies in 2010? Machete, but of course; no other 2010 film kicked ass with more wit, style and subversive glee than Robert Rodriguez’s riotous, Austin-shot homage to '70s exploitation flicks. (Jette's review) From Danny Trejo's glowering take on the anti-hero Machete Cortez to Michelle Rodriguez's heat-packin' halter top, every detail about this exploitation extravaganza is dead on. And beyond all the murder, mayhem and gloriously gratuitous nudity, Machete also has a lot to say about politics, racism and the immigration debate. As I said to Jette after we watched Machete, "Now, that was the movie Eat Pray Love should have been." --Don Clinchy
How you can see it: Available on Blu-ray and DVD.

2010 in Review: Memorable Austin Movies, Part One

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Echotone

Fishmonger by day, blues musician by night. Entrepreneur turned astronaut. Notoriously foul-mouthed potential Winnebago salesman in retirement. Loser taking a shower at the Genie Car Wash. Another loser trying to learn to harmonize musically and socially. A third loser who may have found the woman that will help him get over his ex-wife ... but has to deal with her horrible son. Poet with a dream of selling vegetarian sandwiches. The most stubborn, determined 14-year-old girl in the history of American film. A soldier returning from Iraq to West Texas. A machete-wielding ex-Federale fighting bigotry and seeking revenge. A man, a woman, a goat, and a dream of superb cheese.

Austin films don't fall into a predictable genre or pattern, whether they're indies that were shot locally on a shoestring or Hollywood films that happened to be shooting here in town. Amid the banquet of Austin and Central Texas-connected movies that were released in theaters or on video this year, or that hit the film-fest circuit, everyone at Slackerwood has their favorite movies and moments. We'd like to share a few of them with you below -- then head over to Part Two for more.

Artois the Goat
Although Artois the Goat first screened in town during SXSW 2009, the Austin-shot romantic comedy wasn't officially released until its DVD in 2010. In my DVD review, I said that Artois the Goat "shyly sparkles with a little romance, a combination of broad and subtle humor, some delightful characters ... and some mouth-watering cheeses." Jenn Brown called it "a little cheesy, but it's supposed to be, and in the best way." --Jette Kernion
How you can see it: Available to watch online for free on Hulu, or buy the DVD.

2010 in Review: Don's Top 10 and Other Lists

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Machete

Here are my top 10 and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my list, a movie had to release in 2010 and screen in Austin in 2010 also. (Some well reviewed 2010 releases, such as Blue Valentine, have not yet been released in Austin.)

1. The Social Network
No matter how you feel about Facebook (I love it enough to marry it), this flawlessly crafted yarn about the birth of the world's largest social network is the must-see film of 2010. With its snappy, snarky Aaron Sorkin script and zippy David Fincher direction, The Social Network is a razor-sharp blend of legal thriller, dark comedy, cautionary tale and social commentary. In a crowded field of strong contenders for best film, I give The Social Network the nod because of its relevance to our increasingly hyperconnected times. (Jette's review)
How to see it? Still playing at Regal Metropolitan this week. Will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on January 11.

2. Black Swan
A harrowing psychothriller about artistic rivalry and obsession with perfection, Black Swan is the year's most visually stunning film. Natalie Portman gives the best performance of her career as the neurotic ballerina Nina Sayers, the most memorable cinematic psychochick in many years. Mila Kunis is also captivating as Nina's frenemy and rival, Lily. (Let the record show that while Black Swan's schwangerrific ballerina-on-ballerina action definitely got the attention of my inner heterosexual guy, it in no way influenced my overall opinion of the film. Black Swan is a terrific piece of cinema in every way.) (Jenn's review)
How to see it? Still playing in Austin theaters.

Review: Season of the Witch

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Season of the Witch

Nicolas Cage continues a string of performances in genre films including Kick-Ass, The Sorceror's Apprentice and Drive Angry with Season of the Witch, which opened on Friday. Along with Cage are Ron Perlman and a strong cast of supporting characters including Stephen Graham (Snatch, Doghouse), Ulrich Thomsen (The World is Not Enough), Claire Foy ... and  a fantastic cameo by Christopher Lee. Not unlike Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, this is a swashbuckling Middle Ages action adventure that discards any pretense of historical accuracy. Also like the Kevin Costner romp, this left me walking out of the theater with a smile on my face.

I've never been a Nicolas Cage fan, but I'm starting to warm to him with roles like these, and of course everybody loves Ron Perlman. Together, they make a crack buddy fighting team as they kill and plunder through the various Crusades, until Cage realizes they're not really doing God's work, just killing innocent people. So, they set off to find their own way and return home to find the land decimated by plague and the people in terror.

Movies This Week: Country Made in Summer Casino Season

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How 'bout that cedar fever? Me, I've managed to avoid allergies for over a decade, but this week they are kicking my sinuses to kingdom come and back. Thank goodness there are theaters to hide in where the pollen count is hopefully lower.

Movies We've Seen:

Casino Jack -- I wish I liked this biopic from Austin Film Festival better, it's got all the makings: Kevin Spacey in an outrageously real role in a contemporary cautionary tale about a man who helped contribute to the current financial and political climate. Read Don's review for more. (Arbor)

Country Strong -- Gwyneth Paltrow and Tim McGraw headline this country music drama. Of all the film formulas, the aspiring country star has got to be one of my least favorite. Will this (along with TRON: Legacy) help Garrett Hedlund become a star? Read Mike's review to find out. (wide)

Made in Dagenham -- This perfect serviceable period piece is about an equal rights strike that brought Britain to its knees in the 1960s, but there are two things you should know. First, the fact that it got made is a testament to its relevance. Second, Sally Hawkins gives an outstanding performance that will be robbed if she doesn't win awards. Read Elizabeth's review for more. (Arbor)

Review: Country Strong

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Country Strong

They say if you play a country song backwards, you get your job back, you get together again with your wife, your dog comes back to life, and your truck starts working again. Well, if you take a couple of up-and-coming actors, throw in an Oscar winner, have them record the above and then play THAT backwards, you get Country Strong, which opens today in theaters. This is a rumpled mess of a movie that I kinda liked, expected to hate, but just couldn't find much to love.

The story ostensibly covers Gwyneth Paltrow's down-and-out country superstar Kelly Canter as she attempts a comeback tour after leaving rehab a month early. Garrett Hedlund's Beau Hutton accompanies her as her "sponsor" and opening act along with her husband James Canter (Tim McGraw) and Leighton Meester as former beauty queen Chiles Stanton.

Review: Casino Jack

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Casino Jack

Jack Abramoff isn't known as a funny guy, and his story -- an infuriating tale of fraud and political corruption -- isn't funny, either. The former high-rolling lobbyist arguably is one of America's most hated public figures, and his scandalous tenure as a Washington power player only deepened the American public's cynicism about politics.

Given Abramoff's notoriety, mining his story for darkly comic gold is risky. And taking this risk has only a modest payoff in Casino Jack, a stylish and busy movie that's sometimes very funny but isn't quite the smart political satire it could have been.

Casino Jack, which first screened in town on Austin Film Festival's closing night in partnership with The Texas Observer, is a reasonably accurate portrayal of Abramoff's money-fueled machinations, in least in the general sense if not in some of the details. The longtime political operative (and onetime film producer who sullied many a multiplex with the Dolph Lundgren dreckfest Red Scorpion) became an über-lobbyist in the mid 1990s, using his ties to Tom DeLay and other powerful Republicans to help pass business-friendly legislation for his clients. His client list included the usual corporate conglomerates, but also governments such as The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and several Indian tribes with gambling interests.

Review: Made in Dagenham

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Geraldine James, Sally Hawkins and Andrea Riseborough in Made in Dagenham

Opening at the Arbor on Friday, the British movie Made in Dagenham is a feminist film, and doesn't hide it. It's also quite hilarious, with deft performances and witty writing.

Based in 1968, Made in Dagenham tells the true story of the female workers at the Ford of Britain motor plant in Dagenham who protest when they are re-graded as unskilled workers. This change in pay class means they are paid less, of course. The plant's union rep Albert (Bob Hoskins) helps convince plant seamstress Rita O'Grady (Oscar nominee Sally Hawkins, Happy Go Lucky) to represent the ladies for union talks with Ford leadership. Rita and Albert, along with another plant seamstress and usual union rep Connie (Geraldine James), head to London to speak to the bigwigs. Eventually a strike for equal pay is called that impacts the female plant workers as well as the males.

2010 In Review: Mike's Top Umpteen Lists (Part Two)

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Hatchet 2

Read Part One for my top films and top flops of 2010.

I have also compiled two lists for flicks I think were overrated and underrated this year. Some of them would be in my top films or top flops except for their inclusion here. These movies either received too much love or in my estimation, too much hate from critics or audiences.

TOP UNDERRATED FILMS

#10 -- Shrek Forever After
I watched this with family on Christmas Day and was surprised at the critical vitriol that almost kept me from seeing it this year. It worked MUCH better for me than either Shrek 2 or Shrek 3. Not worthy of my top ten (or 20) but definitely not one of the worst things I've seen this year. 58% from critics and 64% from audiences. (Jenn's review)
How to see it? Available on Blu-ray and DVD.

#9 -- Legion
I really enjoyed this for scenes that were evocative of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead. Not the greatest, but I've suffered through much, MUCH worse. Only 18% from critics and 36% from audiences.
How to see it? Available on on Blu-ray and DVD.

Slackery News Tidbits, January 6

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Kristoffer Aaron MorganIn New Orleans, January 6 is the first day you can buy a king cake before Mardi Gras ... it's the Feast of Epiphany, or Three Kings' Day. So all I can think about today is cake. Fortunately, I'm distracting myself with a lot of local film news, some of which is really good.

  • My favorite news this week: Local filmmaker Kristoffer Aaron Morgan's upcoming film production The Home has been picked up by Dimension Films (the Weinsteins' horror-movie company). Morgan and Eric Vespe wrote the script for this horror movie. Morgan is someone I always see at Alamo Drafthouse movies and film fests (I took the photo of him at right at Fantastic Fest 2009), and lots of you probably know Vespe under his pen name of Quint at Ain't It Cool News. The Home will be shooting in Austin soon, and will star Cloris Leachman, Louise Fletcher, Brian Cox and Ed Asner. Elizabeth Avellan and Elijah Wood are among the film's producers.
  • Speaking of Avellan, the Austin American-Statesman has more news on Machete and the state's denial of tax breaks for the film. Apparently the governor's office and Texas Film Commission received more than 500 letters demanding the incentives be denied. Maybe those who want to support incentives for a specific movie need to start bugging the TFC about it?
  • Over at Austin 360's Out and About blog, Michael Barnes has been keeping track of a recent spate of movie celebrity sightings in Austin. You may want to keep your eyes open for Johnny Depp, Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Reynolds and Drew Barrymore, among others. Somehow I don't think they're hanging out in my neighborhood.

2010 in Review: Elizabeth's Favorite Film Scores

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Inception

I've both read and heard it said recently that the best film score is one the viewer doesn't notice. I disagree fervently with this statement. The best film score complements the film perfectly and doesn't distract from the action onscreen, but is still distinct enough to stand on its own. Shoddy film music can ruin a movie (for me, at least), but a great film score serves to make a good movie even better. That being said, here is some of my favorite soundtrack work for movies I saw in 2010.

5. Federico Jusid, El secreto de sus ojos (The Secret in Their Eyes). A simple, plaintive theme is used in Jusid's score for the 2009 Best Foreign Film Oscar winner. Since the Argentinean suspense film opened in American theaters in 2010, I’m including it in my list. [Don's review]
How to see/hear: The film is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and the soundtrack is available on CD.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: January 2011

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Summer Wars

The New Year doesn't start out with a bang for kids' movies. It's kinda like facing the refrigerator at this time of year -- a lot of leftovers from the previous month of debauchery. Maybe they're not as wonderful the second time around but still tasty.

Notable theatrical releases in Austin (January)

Looking out over the new release list for January I can honestly say there isn't a single new theatrical  release that looks appropriate for kids. Disappointing, certainly, but not at all surprising. If you absolutely have to go out to see a movie with your kids, might I suggest Tangled for a third time? Or maybe it's time to give the new Narnia movie a try. There are a few events below you might want to check out.

Summer Wars (Jan. 10-12, Alamo Ritz, subtitled) – This Fantastic Fest 2010 selection pictured at top is a delightful animated movie from director Mamoru Hosoda (check out The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and is appropriate for older kids (think PG -- mostly for romantic innuendo). The best way I can think to describe this is as a Japanese animated science-fiction romantic family comedy. It's surreal, entertaining, and just a ton of fun. Highly recommended for adults as well. The dubbed version will be coming to the Lamar location for a week-long run. Read Jette's fest review for more info.

2010 in Review: Mike's Top Umpteen Lists (Part One)

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Daybreakers

Looking back at this year's releases, I can say 2010 was a surprisingly prolific year. The sheer number of interesting titles released this year and the overall quality of them, even the duds, was impressive. Some have said Hollywood is dying, but if that's the case, its death throes are glorious. I'm going to list and comment on 75 of this year's releases that I've grouped into various categories. About half I've seen. The other half, I want to see. Here goes ...

TOP FILMS

#15 -- Piranha 3D
There was nothing I didn't love about Piranha 3D. This movie didn't try to be anything other than balls-out stupid fun. It's the best-looking 2D-3D conversion I've seen, and it managed to one-up itself with each new scene. 51% on Rotten Tomatoes and 74% from critics.
How to see it? Will be available on Blu-ray and DVD on January 11.

#14 -- Despicable Me
Many of my favorites this year were children/family friendly. Steve Carell and Jason Segel are just as funny animated as they are in person. Brillian animation, great story, loved it. 81% from both Rotten Tomatoes audience and critics. (Jenn's review)
How to see it? Available on Blu-ray and DVD.