July 2011

Review: Attack the Block


Attack the Block

The summer's best alien movie does not involve Harrison Ford or J.J. Abrams, but rather a first-time feature director, Joe Cornish, who's written a story that I've heard described as "Gremlins meets Harry Brown." Ridiculous, but you get the general idea. Attack the Block, produced by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) first hit Austin during SXSW, where it won the Audience Award in the Midnighters category, and the buzz was deafening. I missed the movie at the fest but found it well worth the wait.

In the area surrounding a South London housing project, Sam (Jodie Whittaker) is walking back home from work after dark and is mugged by a gang of young men. The mugging is interrupted by a strange creature thudding onto the roof of the car; gang leader Moses (John Boyega) automatically attacks the creature, kills it, and decides it's valuable. It turns out that it is, in a way -- suddenly more aliens are alighting from the sky, heading for their London neighborhood, and targeting the block of flats where Moses and his gang -- and Sam -- all live. And you should see the teeth on these creatures.

Movies This Week: Attack the Crazy Cowboys and Smurfs


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I'm pleased that one of the movies I've enjoyed most this summer is opening this weekend -- the one with the aliens. No, not the one with the cowboys and aliens, the one with teenage London hoodlums and aliens. In addition to your choice of movies featuring outer-space creatures, you can also enjoy Smurfs and Steve Carell (not in the same movie), and some good indie films.

Of course, as usual Austin has plenty of special screenings going on. On Sunday night, Alamo Drafthouse's Cinema Club brings Bell Book and Candle back to the big screen, followed by a discussion with Austin Chronicle film critic Marc Savlov.On Monday, you can head to the AT&T Conference Center to hear horror writers Tom Holland and Austinite Alvaro Rodriguez take part in an Austin Film Festival Concersations in Film called "Words That Go Bump in the Night." Then on Tuesday, Holland and Rodriguez will hold a Q&A after a screening of the original Fright Night at Alamo Ritz.

Movies We've Seen:

  • Attack the Block -- This monster-meets-London-gangs movie won a lot of fans at SXSW and is back in Austin to hopefully win some more. I saw it recently and thought it was a great summer movie. Definitely check it out. (Alamo South)
  • Cowboys & Aliens -- Jenn says in her review that the latest film from Jon Favreau (Iron Man) "plods along with too many subplots" and is ultimately disappointing. The movie stars Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde and at least it isn't in 3D. I may drag out my Adventures of Brisco County Jr. boxed set instead.(wide)
  • Crazy, Stupid, Love.  --  Steve Carell stars in this romantic comedy that Elizabeth says is neither a chick flick nor a bromance, and doesn't pass the Bechdel test. But she ends her review by noting that the movie may still be good enough for multiple viewings. Directed by the Bad Santa writers. (wide)

Review: Crazy, Stupid, Love.


Steve Carell learns as Ryan Gosling woos in Crazy, Stupid, Love

As much as I hate the term "chick flick," it has come to define a certain type of film I tend to guiltily enjoy watching -- a movie where women play a large role and a romance is likely to be in the works. That being said, although Crazy, Stupid, Love. is all about romance (budding, broken, and unrequited), this ain't no chick flick. It doesn't really count as a "bromance" either, but it does focus on men and how they relate to each other and the women in this film. Let's just call it a genre-defying romantic comedy, if that makes any sense.

There are multiple characters and relationships depicted in Crazy, Stupid, Love. The main interaction is between accountant Cal (Steve Carell), who finds out in the opening scene that his wife wants a divorce, and hunky younger womanizer Jacob (Ryan Gosling). Cal is broken-hearted after separating from his high-school sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore); Jacob pities him and takes him under his wing. Carell and Gosling are terrific in their scenes together.

Review: Cowboys & Aliens


Take scrappy Wild West folk and pit them against interstellar aggressors, and what should you get? With Jon Favreau directing, you might expect something smart, fast-paced and fun. After all, Favreau's Elf endeared Will Farrell to audiences who had no appreciation for the man -- no small feat -- and Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were both satisfying summer blockbusters. Unfortunately, Cowboys & Aliens has more in common with Snakes on a Plane than with Iron Man.

The concept of "cowboys versus aliens" couldn't be simpler, but the movie plods along with too many subplots. Understandably, archetypal western characters abound. Daniel Craig's broody, silent stranger upsets the uneasy peace of a dirtwater town run by a dictatorial cattle baron, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Townspeople like saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) suffer the patronage of Dolarhyde's spoiled, mercurial son (Paul Dano), thanks in part to worshipful ranch hand Nat Colorado (Adam Beach). The dutiful, tolerant sheriff (Keith Carradine) cares for his orphaned grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer). Gingham clad gun-toting Ella (Olivia Wilde) slouches along in the background and says even less than the preacher (Clancy Brown). After alien raiders strafe the town and steal away many townsfolk, a tenuous alliance forms to recover loved ones.

TAMI Flashback: The University of Texas Tower Shootings


UT Tower Shooting

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

August 1, 1966 may be the worst day in Austin history. On that day, 25-year-old University of Texas student Charles Whitman went on a shooting rampage from atop the university tower, killing three people inside the tower and 10 more on the ground below, and wounding 32 others. In the early morning hours before the shooting spree, Whitman also stabbed his mother and wife to death.

The horror of that day lives on in many Austinites' memories. Thanks to reporters and cameramen at Austin's KTBC-TV who covered the story at great personal risk, the horror also lives on in dramatic news footage of the tragedy.

The TAMI library includes several videos about Whitman's rampage. The best of them is Neal Spelce Collection, No. 1 - UT Tower Shooting, a 25-minute broadcast that aired on KTBC on the day of the killings. The video is a startling record of the day's events and a fascinating study in early television journalism.

Slacker 2011: Chris Eska Gets to Destroy a Camera


still from Slacker 2011

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF). The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Chris Eska, the TFPF grant-winner whose dramatic film August Evening won the John Cassavetes Award at the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

Chris Eska: The final scene where a group of friends drive around in a convertible with Super 8 cameras before running to the top of Mt. Bonnell and throwing a camera from the top.

Slackery News Tidbits, July 26


Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Filmmaker Magazine has named this year's "25 New Faces of Independent Film," and a couple of those faces are very familiar here in Austin. Local filmmaker Joe Nicolosi is the mastermind behind the very funny bumpers at this year's SXSW Film Festival, and DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery was also at SXSW 2011 this year with his short film Pioneer.
  • Speaking of SXSW 2011, local feature Natural Selection (Debbie's review), which won several awards at the fest, has been picked up for U.S. theatrical and DVD distribution by Cinema Guild. The release date is set as "this fall," and I'll let you know when more info is available about an Austin release date.
  • And have we mentioned yet that Richard Linklater's latest film, Bernie, has found distribution? Millenium Films picked up the dark comedy, which was shot in Central Texas and stars Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine. No word yet on a release date -- so far, the film has only officially screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
  • If you're fond of chess and want to see it on the big screen, you'll be happy to hear that filmmaker Andrew Bujalski (SXSW 2010 selection Beeswax) is working on a feature called Computer Chess, which he wants to start shooting in Austin next month. It's about chess players and computer programmers in the 1980s. Bujalski still needs money to use for equipment rental and post-production costs, and has set up a fundraising project. The accompanying video is amusing, especially if you know which local filmmaker is playing the "Hollywood executive."

Slacker 2011: Karen Skloss Shoots in 35mm


Slacker 2011, taken by Patrick Rusk

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Karen Skloss, whose first film, Sunshine, premiered on Independent Lens last year. Skloss also edits feature documentaries, and worked on Taken by Storm and 2004's Be Here to Love Me (streaming on Hulu).

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you re-shoot?

Karen Skloss: I re-shot the Madonna's pap smear scene and a few short scenes that followed it: the "t-shirt terrorist" and "wants to leave the country." It's about 9 minutes of the original film.

Lights. Camera. Help. Combines Filmmaking and Activism



Many film fans in Austin care as much about activism as they do about movies. If you're passionate about both, you won't want to miss the Lights. Camera. Help. Film Festival.

The third annual installment of the festival, happening July 28-30, gives non-profit and cause-driven films well deserved attention by screening them in a theater setting. The festival is a non-profit event; all films are submitted for free, and all ticket sale proceeds go directly to the organizations that produce the winning films.

Lights. Camera. Help., the first festival of its kind, is the brainchild of Austinites David J. Neff, Aaron Bramley and Rich Vasquez.

Review: Captain America


Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell & a crowd of soldiers in Captain America

Perhaps Iron Man made me expect too much from superhero movies. That Marvel film combines a great storyline and thoughtful acting along with the requisite blow-'em-up special effects. While Captain America: The First Avenger is a fun summer movie, it's far less cohesive than that related film, and far less memorable as well.

First off, I'll admit that I'm not very familiar with the Captain America canon. I happened upon this primer on NPR's Monkey See blog the day I saw the film, so I knew a little of what to expect, but there were still some surprises thrown in!

Captain America: The First Avenger is mainly an origin story of how Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) comes to be Captain America, WWII propaganda figure and hero of the Allied armed forces. Rogers begins the film a 98-pound small-statured man who keeps trying to enlist, but is continually denied because of his size and health conditions. His pal Bucky (Sebastian Stan in a vanilla performance) takes him along to a "World Expo," where we first see Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper, quite believable as Iron Man's dad).

Movies This Week: Captain Terri with Benefits



A couple of weeks ago, this looked like it would be a drab weekend for new movies: another big dopey comic-book extravaganza (in 3D) and yet another tired romantic comedy. However, it turns out that most of us at Slackerwood have actually enjoyed these films, at least a little, and would recommend them to you. This has been a great summer to learn not to make negative predictions about movies we haven't seen yet.

For those who aren't convinced, Austin once again provides plenty of options. You can head over to Ballet Austin on Sunday afternoon to watch the 2000 film Center Stage followed by a ballet class -- the last in the Ballet Austin/Austin Film Festival series. That night, Cinema East is showing locally shot movie Rainbows End (an AFF 2010 selection) on the French Legation lawn. On Wednesday night, you might like this month's Celluloid Handbag selection at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz: the original Mildred Pierce. Or you could head to the Hideout for Cinema 41's screening of Coming Apart. But what I want to do most is see Paper Moon again in a theater, and the Paramount is obliging me by showing it on Wednesday night as part of a special Iron & Wine presentation.

Don't forget our Guide to Free (and Cheap) Summer Movies for other inexpensive moviegoing options.

Movies We've Seen:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger -- I liked this movie more than Elizabeth, whose review will be published Saturday. She says, "While Captain America is a fun summer film, it's not very cohesive or memorable. If you want to see it, find a 2D showing, as the 3D adds nothing to it." I agree about the 3D, but this was my first comic-book adaptation of the summer and I think I picked the best of the lot. (wide)
  • Friends with Benefits -- Mike was annoyed that this romantic comedy with Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake screened for press on the same night as Captain America ... and then pleasantly surprised by what he calls "this year's best date movie" in his review. (wide)
  • Terri  (pictured above) -- Don caught this movie at SXSW. Check out his review, in which he notes: "A funny and entertainingly odd take on the adolescent (and adult) desire to be accepted, Terri is a modest but finely made film that will ring true with anyone who's ever felt like an outsider looking in." (Arbor)

Review: Friends with Benefits


Friends With Benefits

On Wednesday night, I missed a Captain America screening to instead enjoy this year's best date movie, at least since No Strings Attached (my review). Actually, Friends with Benefits is much better than the Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman rom-com, with a funnier script and more believable chemistry between stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Riding a similar plot vehicle, Timberlake and Kunis catapult lines of dialogue each other in the comfortable banter of best friends, a stride into which Kutcher/Portman could never quite settle.

Jamie (Kunis) is a recruiter/headhunter who attempts to woo hotshot graphic artist Dylan (Timberlake) from his LA blog to a position at GQ. After a whirlwind tour of non-touristy NYC culminating in a Times Square flash mob, he agrees to take the job. With Jamie as Dylan's only New York friend, and an immediate chemistry, they begin to spend all their free time together. While drunkenly relating accounts of their most recent exes, they decide to experiment with having sex while keeping it in a box, free of emotional demands and attachments. The result is some of the most hilarious-yet-steamy sex scenes ever caught on film.

Patricia Clarkson and Richard Jenkins as Jamie and Dylan's parents provide guidance and advice, as naturally the arrangement does result in emotional entanglements. Clarkson is always a delight, and her character Lorna is a bohemian free spirit few other actresses could play well. She delivers my favorite line of the movie, "Baby, you need to adjust your fairy tale." Jenkins' Mr Harper struggles with declining mental health and pines for a lost love. Both of these characters feel as though there is an unfinished story arc that would have connected them, perhaps left on the cutting room floor.

Robert Rodriguez Reveals Upcoming Projects at Comic-Con


Robert Rodriguez

On Thursday afternoon, Robert Rodriguez took the stage of the infamous Hall H at the 2011 San Diego Comic-Con with a plethora of announcements, and I was fortunate enough to be there to hear them all. The Austin filmmaker started his panel with an overview of a number of projects in varying states of development.

The first project he mentioned was the imminent release Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D. Rodriguez spent time explaining Smell-o-vision -- a scratch-and-sniff card that's a throwback to gimmicks of John Waters and William Castle. He also took credit for reinvigorating 3D technology. I'm not so sure I'd list this as an accomplishment, but that is just one man's opinion.

In more exciting news, Rodriguez announced Troublemaker Studios is greenlit to make two sequels to the grindhouse classic Machete (Jette's review). These sequels will be named Machete Kills and Machete Kills Again. Rodriguez joked that the last one would take place in outer space and will bring to the world (I paraphrase) "The first Mexican in space." Maybe he forgot Khan.

Could Netflix Price Change Help Local Video Stores (Please)?


Vulcan Video by David Grant on Flickr

The big movie news late last week was from Netflix: the company is restructuring its subscriptions to separate DVD rental plans from online streaming. Right now, I pay $9.99/month for one DVD out at a time plus unlimited streaming; under the new plans, I'd pay $7.99/month for unlimited streaming and another $7.99/month to rent one DVD at a time (and that doesn't include an extra fee for Blu-ray rentals).

The decision was easy for my husband and me: we can't remember how long the Netflix DVD has been sitting on top of the TV stand, nor even which movie is actually on that DVD. Therefore, we're going to refuse the DVD-only subscription and subscribe only to online streaming, which we use like crazy. And if we want something that's not on Netflix Watch Instantly, where will we get it? From our neighborhood video store, quite possibly.

I'm wondering how many other people are deciding the same thing, and if this could potentially help Austin video stores. Some people might figure if they're saving $6 a month, they could buy the occasional DVD and still come out ahead. Some might add Hulu Plus, which now has the Criterion Collection movies available for streaming, or rent streaming movies/TV from Amazon. And some might try the increasingly popular Redbox. But I like to think -- okay, I hope -- this change could give our remaining local video rental stores a little boost.

Slacker 2011: Bradley Beesley Sneaks Oklahoma into Austin


Beesley filming Slacker 2011

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Bradley Beesley, an Oklahoman documentarian (Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo, The Fearless Freaks, Okie Noodling) who now calls Austin home. He is a past winner of the TFPF grant; here's Jette's review of Summercamp! (for Cinematical, RIP).

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you re-shoot?

Bradley Beesley: My scene was "Oblique Strategies".

Slacker 2011: Berndt Mader Decides It's Not Such a Bad Idea


filming Slacker 2011

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Berndt Mader, cinematographer (Winnebago Man), and writer and director of Five Time Champion, which won the Texas Filmmaker Award at the Dallas International Film Festival. Read Don's review from the movies premiere at SXSW this year.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

Berndt Mader: I had the Jerry Deloney and Tommy Pallotta scene where Jerry accosts Tommy on his way out of a coffee shop. He follows him down the street going off about global conspiracies involving the CIA, the moon landing, and illicit Guatemalan drugs. Pretty hilarious scene.

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2


Harry Potter 7.2

Although Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was not one of my favorite novels in the Harry Potter series from J.K. Rowling, that didn't lower my expections for the pair of movies, particularly the one opening in theaters this weekend, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. After all, I didn't like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at all the first time I read it, and I thought the movie was better than the book overall (my review). And I did enjoy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1, as you can see from my review last year. Still, I was wary of how the movie would be able to represent what I considered a very jumbled and confusing set of climactic sequences, not to mention an epilogue I could have done without.

I did enjoy Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 while actually watching it -- but for days afterward, I found myself picking it apart in a way I haven't done with the previous movies, or at least not since the movie version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I found rather rushed. In fact, some of the problems I had with this latest movie are the same ones I had with Goblet of Fire: the sacrifice of character time in favor of action and spectacle. (Hell, that's the problem with the first two movies as well, now that I think about it.)

Movies This Week: Harry Potter and the Blustery Day


The Trip

It's a good weekend in Austin for juvenile films -- and no, I don't mean Adam Sandler fare, but rather movies that appeal to kids of various ages. Grownups who aren't thrilled by the gangs at Hogwarts and the Hundred Acre Wood might want to head over to Arbor or Violet Crown.

If none of the new movies are grabbing you, head over to the Paramount, where they're showing a Katharine Hepburn double feature of The African Queen and the underrated and delightful Holiday, Tuesday through Thursday. Or perhaps you'd prefer The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Sunday night.

If you like short films, Austin Film Society is bringing the Texas Filmmakers Showcase to Austin Studios for two screenings Wednesday night. The lineup includes local films The Man Who Never Cried, Sasquatch Birth Journal 2 and short doc Noc Na Tanecku (Night at the Dance); two Dallas favorites from SXSW 2011, Pioneer and 8; and two shorts from the Houston area, Fatakra and LCD Soundsystem - "Home." Find details and buy tickets on the AFS site.

Movies We've Seen:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 -- This end to the seven-book and eight-film series is review-proof; you're unlikely to care what I say when my review is published Saturday. I'm glad I saw it but it did feel like one of the weaker movies in the series, focusing more on special-effects spectacle and not enough on the characters we've come to enjoy over the past decade or so. The 3D was unremarkable; save money and go to a 2D screening instead. (wide)
  • Winnie the Pooh -- The joke is on Don and me; we thought he should see this movie with the possibility of going all Dorothy Parker in his review. Turns out it's "gentle and charming and funny and warm-fuzzily retro." We're thrilled to have our expectations exceeded. (wide)

Stage Magic Onscreen This Weekend in 'Make Believe'


Make Believe

Stage-magic documentary Make Believe screened to a packed house at Alamo Drafthouse earlier this week, so it's coming back this weekend for two afternoon screenings at the Alamo Ritz. The movie won an audience award at Austin Film Festival last year.

Quoth the Alamo synopsis:

"This amazing documentary exposes the steamy and high-stakes world of teenage magic competitions as it follows six adolescent outsiders who all share an extraordinary passion for the art of trickery. Armed with great skill and a dazzling array of illusions, these teenagers embark from all over the world to attend the annual World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas, where they each hope to be named Teen World Champion by master magician Lance Burton.  From the producers of the fabulous KING OF KONG, this film will leave you inspired and dumbfounded, as it showcases some of the most incredible, eccentric young performers working today."

I'm assured by some of the folks doing PR for the film that it's kid friendly and tons of fun.

Get details and tickets for these screenings at the Alamo Drafthouse website.

The trailer for Make Believe is embedded below.

Review: Winnie the Pooh


Winnie the Pooh

"Oh, bother," said Pooh, "I hope my new film isn't just a cynical attempt to cash in on my beloved reputation."

Silly old bear -- you needn't have worried, for your latest adventure does you great justice. Winnie the Pooh is gentle and charming and funny and warm-fuzzily retro, a 2D (yea!), old school, hand-drawn Disney throwback that celebrates everything we've loved about Pooh and his friends for more than 80 years.

A melding of several familiar Pooh stories, Winnie the Pooh follows its titular character and his Hundred Acre Wood cohorts on a day that goes typically awry. Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings, who's voiced the bear since the 1980s) awakens one morning to find he's out of honey (familiar story number one). While searching for a meal, he finds Eeyore (Bud Luckey), who's lost his tail (familiar story number two). Pooh's friends organize a contest to find Eeyore a suitable new tail, with the winner awarded a pot of honey. (Sadly, Pooh's attempt to replace Eeyore's tail with a cuckoo clock isn't terribly successful; a half-dozen other items are equally silly and no more suitable.)

First Batch of Fantastic Fest 2011 Films Announced


Fantastic FestAustin's Fantastic Fest has just announced the first 20 titles in its programming for the 2011 festival in September. I am not enough of a genre fan to know much about many of these titles, but then many of my favorite Fantastic Fest selections have been movies I knew very little about when I walked into the theater to watch them. 

The one title I recognized was one from my childhood -- and I did a double-take when I saw it at the top of the list. Comin' At Ya! was originally released in 1981 during the peak of the previous 3D movie craze in America ... back when we had to wear the red-and-blue paper glasses, remember? It has been restored with the latest 3D technology so we can watch a lot of things flying at us for two hours. Which, in my opinion, is still the most fun part of 3D. Actor Tony Anthony and producer Tom Stern will be at Fantastic Fest with the film.

The rest of the titles include U.S. and regional premieres of films from other countries including Belgium, Hong Kong, The Netherlands, Russia, Japan and Australia; digitally restored presentations of two Lucio Fulci films, Zombie and House by the Cemetery; and a Cine Las Americas co-hosted screening of the Mexican film El Infierno. I can't see any Austin or Texas films so far -- only one of the movies is from North America, the 2011 science-fiction film Beyond the Black Rainbow. I've included the list of films from the Fantastic Fest press release after the jump.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: July 2011



Here's the lowdown on family-friendly movies premiering or screening in Austin this July.

Zookeeper (in theaters now, PG) -- On a recent visit to the San Antonio Zoo, I saw a marketing team giving away t-shirts to promote this film. Even the promise of a free t-shirt didn't seem to convince the crowd. You can read Mike Saulters' review here. Based on that (he calls it "Pookeeper") I think you'll have more fun actually going to the zoo (even in these temperatures) than you will watching this movie.

Shameless Self-Promotion: Are We 'Best Of Austin' Material?


Film Fest Geek BarbieI've probably filled out dozens of ballots in various Austin Chronicle polls over the years -- only one ballot per poll, of course, even though I am from Louisiana. Looking at this year's Best Of Austin ballot, I noticed a couple of interesting categories in the Media section that I would like to point out to all of you:

  • Film Critic
  • Local Entertainment Website
  • Local Blog

I actually see Slackerwood more as an entertainment website than a blog, myself -- we have eight regular contributors, we are a Google News and IMDb News Desk site, we report on events and review movies in the same way as many other online and print media sites. But I suppose it depends on your definition of "blog."

I have no illusions about Slackerwood actually winning any Best of Austin categories -- I suspect the above-mentioned awards will go to larger publications -- but I think it would be extremely cool to at least show up on the radar. So if you have a minute and haven't filled out one of those Best of Austin ballots yet, please consider Slackerwood in the categories I mentioned above. We have a number of fine film critics here and I'm sure you probably have one you especially like reading. (I will probably have to put all the names in a hat and pick.)

Quick Snaps: 'Slacker' at Austin Studios


Slacker at Austin Studios

I meant to do an extended photo essay from the Slacker screening at Austin Studios last month, using some of Austin Film Society's excellent photos and some video I shot of Richard Linklater introducing the movie, but you know how time flies and those other cliched phrases we chronic procrastinators use. So I'll just share a few photos instead, and perhaps I can get to the video at a later time.

It was a fun evening (cooler than expected due to that crazy "rain" thing that happened the night before) with a good-sized audience that included many of the filmmakers shooting segments for the Slacker 2011 project. The gentlemen in the above photo are Alamo Drafthouse programmer Daniel Metz, who shot one of the Slacker 2011 shorts (Elizabeth's interview) and filmmaker/Austin Film Society staffer Bryan Poyser, who has been producing Slacker 2011. They introduced the Slacker 2011 trailer, which screened before the original movie. More photos after the jump.

Review: Horrible Bosses


Horrible BossesHorrible Bosses, which opened in theaters on Friday, is the best workplace comedy since Office Space. Co-stars Jason Bateman, Charlie Day and Jason Sudeikis capture a dynamic not seen since Tomlin, Fonda and Parton in Nine to Five. This movie is solid comedy that never misses a beat, destined to be the cult classic of the 20-teens.

Bateman, Day and Sudeikis, all regular guys caught in bad situations, play off one another like Larry, Moe and Curly as they land each other into ever more outrageously sticky situations. In fact, one of my favorite scenes involves simply an overhead shot of them trying to back their cars out of a parking lot -- a genius bit of vehicular choreography. The film plays out like watching the events that led up to The Hangover in real time. This is the Hangover sequel I wanted to see.

Horrible Bosses is of course about the bosses, and they are absolutely horrible. Colin Farrell is a cokehead spoiled rich bastard who wants only to squeeze every penny from the company he's inherited from his deceased father (Donald Sutherland). Jennifer Aniston takes sexual harrassment to new levels when she spices it up with a little blackmail. And finally, Kevin Spacey plays the meanest, toughest, slickest SOB to ever wield a pink slip. He makes Dabney Coleman look like Bob Newhart. These are bosses you really do kind of want to die.

To help that happen for the three leads, special recognition has to go to Jamie Foxx, playing a character whose name I can't spoil. Foxx has some of the best scenes in the movie as he instructs the trio on the finer points of murdering without getting caught. Other exceptional cameos include Ron "Tater Salad" White as a hard-hitting detective, Isaiah "Old-Spice" Mustafa, John Francis Daley and one very special cameo that steals the show.

Movies This Week: Horrible Zookeeper Queen


The Ward

It's not a great week for new movies in Austin. The two big Hollywood movies are getting mixed-at-best reviews and only one arthouse film is opening (but it does have Kevin Kline in it). Frankly, I think a better option that would let you enjoy Zookeeper actress Leslie Bibb in a dark comedy about horrible bosses would be Miss Nobody, which played Austin Film Festival last year and is now available on Netflix Watch Instantly.

If none of the new movies grab you, there are not only lots of carryover options from previous weeks but special screenings galore. I am most excited that the Paramount is showing Brazil on Sunday -- twice, although I plan to see it only once. The Paramount also has an Albert Brooks double-feature of Modern Romance and Broadcast News on Tuesday and Wednesday; check their calendar for specifics. And if you're a Sam Peckinpah fan, head over to the Texas Spirit Theater on Wednesday for The Getaway, this month's AFF Made in Texas selection.

Don't forget to check our Free (and Cheap) Summer Movie Guide for plenty of affordable moviegoing options in and around Austin.

What We've Seen:

  • Horrible Bosses -- Mike saw this movie earlier this week and says that "Horrible Bosses is the best workplace comedy this decade, joining the ranks of classics like Office Space and 9 to 5." Look for his review this weekend. (wide)
  • Queen to Play (Joueuse) -- Don is pleased with the performances in this French film about a woman learning the art of chess (the cast includes Kevin Kline) but says in his review that he finds the pacing a bit slow even for his arthouse tastes. (Violet Crown)
  • Zookeeper -- I've never seen Mike so passionately disgusted with a movie -- in his review, he claims that the movie was so terrible it gave him a headache. And that's not the worst thing he says about this Kevin James vehicle in which zoo animals reveal their powers of speech in order to help get James some nooky. (wide)

Review: Zookeeper


ZookeeperWhy don't animals talk? Well, if Zookeeper is any indication, it's because they have absolutely nothing worth saying. At the end of the year, this movie will be tops on many worst-of lists.

Two former Spin City writers who brought us Norbit a few years ago teamed up with with a few of their buddies to write one of the most worthless, predictable, groan-inducing and even objectionable talent black hole of a script Hollywood's seen this decade. That's right, it's a script so bad it sucks the talent out of more stars than were at this year's Oscars.

Cher, Stallone, Nolte, Favreau, Breuer, Apatow, Rickles -- these folks are all so big they only need one name, but as the voices of a zoo full of obsessive-compulsive furry/feathered friends, they are telling more poo and pee jokes than you could dig up from a full season of South Park. Even Ken Jeong, one of the craziest funny guys in movies lately, is reduced here in Zookeeper to a tepid, boring, creepy approximation of his screen self.

The sad thing is that beneath all the jokes of extraordinarily bad taste is a family-friendly movie about being yourself and recognizing love when you find it. Kevin James as titular zookeeper Griffin Keyes has spent five years heartbroken over the girl who turned down his marriage proposal, Stephanie (Leslie Bibb). When she suddenly appears at a reception for his brother's wedding rehearsal, his animal friends decide to help him win her back. How very Disney a premise. Indeed, many kids today can identify with the story as they've wanted to help keep their parents together or reunite them after a divorce. But Griffin is an adult so insane over his ex-girlfriend and somehow so intensely stupid, he is willing to listen to these animals as they instruct him in the finer arts of walking with his crotch thrust out and peeing to mark his territory.

Review: Queen to Play


Queen to Play

Like the thoughtful, strategy-driven game of chess that is its focus, Queen to Play (Joueuse) is not for the impatient.

A study in parallels between chess and the larger game of life, this quiet French film is many things -- sophisticated, insightful, mildly funny and generally pleasant. One thing it may not be: captivating enough to hold most viewers' interest.

Which is not to say Queen to Play is a bad movie; to the contrary, it has many hallmarks of intelligent, competent filmmaking, with a believable story, great and sometimes surprising character development, and fine acting. And its pacing arguably is appropriate for its subject matter. But depending on your tolerance for slow-paced films -- and mine is quite high -- these attributes may or may not save Queen to Play from being rather dull. I'm still undecided.

Set on the picturesque island of Corsica, Queen to Play is the story of Hélène (Sandrine Bonnaire), a middle-aged chambermaid whose boring job and marital frustration leave her longing for a more meaningful, happier life. She develops a new interest in chess (actually, it's more of an obsession); to improve her skills, she asks for help from one of her employers, grumpy American expat Kröger (Kevin Kline).

Slacker 2011: Carlyn Hudson and Reel Women Students Squeeze Into a Packed Car


Carlyn Hudson and Reel Women UT filming their Slacker 2011 scene

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Carlyn Hudson, a young filmmaker who directed the Slacker 2011 sequence produced by the Reel Women UT Chapter.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you re-shoot?

Carlyn Hudson: We re-shot the scene with Steve ("S-T-E-V-E") and three girls in a van who proceed to Blue Bayou (now Trophy's) and get rejected.

Slackery News Tidbits, July 6


Here's the latest Austin film news, as well as some other bits of news you might have missed earlier.

  • Rolling Roadshow has added one last Texas movie to its summer tour: Bottle Rocket. The Wes Anderson movie will be shown on Saturday night at the hotel in which it was partially filmed: the Days Inn in Hillsboro. It's part of an event to save the hotel from being closed down. Road trip, anyone?
  • For an excellent and thorough summary of many upcoming Austin films, check out Matthew Odam's write-up for the Austin American-Statesman ... as well as his follow-up on Paul Stekler's latest project.
  • The latest local filmmaker running a fundraising campaign for his film project is Paul Gordon, whose film The Happy Poet premiered at SXSW last year and has been making the festival rounds. Gordon is looking for pre-production research funding for Mexico Carpenter, a feature film he plans to shoot in Mexico later this year. Visit his page on the United States Artists website for more information and to chip in -- matching funds are available right now, and there are various thank-you gifts for different donation levels.
  • I'm worried about what's happening to the old Varsity Theater mural on the side of what I always think of as the Tower Records building (since that's what it was when I started UT in 1991). The Austin Chronicle reports that the mural has been damaged and partially removed to make room for some national fast-food chains that will occupy the space, which The Drag certainly needs more of, right? The architect says they're not going to renovate the mural but will instead provide "a reasonable facsimile." If we were promised a reasonable facsimile of the Daniel Johnston frog on The Drag, people would have been outraged. This is at least as iconic if not more so.

Slacker 2011: Jonny Stranger Shoots Despite the Pain


Photo of Jonny Stranger and crew

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Jonny Stranger, filmmaker and professor of cinema at Austin Film Society. Stranger has worked with the AFS education department for about five years. During the school year, he works with at-risk kids in afterschool programs all over Austin, and during the summer, the program offers weeklong filmmaking camps.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film are you reshooting?

Jonny Stranger: I am remaking the scene with the group of kids who peep on a couple I refer to as "the lovers." After encountering the frisky slackers, the kids quickly run away and steal sodas from a nearby vending machine. They then sell a Diet Coke to three guys ready to rid themselves of broken hearts in a weird ceremony involving throwing things off a bridge.

Movies This Week: Inside the Transformers Crowne


Page One Inside the New York Times

We won't see fireworks in town this July 4, because it's too darn hot and too damn dry. No rain, no fireworks, no respite. I wonder if ticket sales in Austin theaters are up this year simply because the A/C in movie theaters is so arctic. Have you been watching more movies in theaters than usual this summer?

If new movies aren't appealing to you, Austin has the usual wealth of special screenings, indoors and out. I'm tempted to see Ghostbusters at Blue Starlite tonight or Saturday; they're offering s'mores kits with "real Stay-Puft marshmallows" to enjoy with the film. Alamo Ritz brings back the documentary Queen of the Sun: What are the Bees Trying to Tell Us? on Wednesday night. Austin Film Festival's Texas Family Film Series screens Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius tomorrow afternoon at the Texas Spirit Theater, and writer/director John Davis will hold a Q&A afterward ... and admission is free.

Don't forget to check our Free (and Cheap) Summer Movie Guide for plenty of affordable moviegoing options in and around Austin.

Movies We've Seen:

Larry Crowne -- Tom Hanks co-wrote, directed and stars in this movie about a middle-aged man forced by tough economic times to return to school. Rod Paddock unexpectedly loved it; in his review, he calls it a "true gem" and says it's one of his favorite movies of 2011. I am a bit nervous of anything involving Nia Vardalos these days, but Rod's pretty convincing. (wide)

Page One: Inside the New York Times (pictured above) -- This documentary about the Gray Lady screened in Austin during SXSW this year. In his SXSW review, Rod Paddock said it "shines a light on the difficulty of real news reporting in the world of media convergence and content aggregation." (Violet Crown)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon -- The latest in the series based on childhood toys "has the attention span of a ten-year-old kid after a six pack of Yoohoo," Mike Saulters says in his review. Still, he recommends the 3D movie even to Michael Bay-haters. (wide)

Review: Larry Crowne


Larry Crowne

I love summer. I especially love the summer movie season. We go to the metroplex to watch films packed with cowboys, robots, aliens, wizards and superheroes. We go to escape from our reality. Finding quality films in this environment can be difficult but every once in awhile you find yourself seated in front of a true gem. For me this gem is a film called Larry Crowne.

Larry Crowne takes its name from its lead character, played by Tom Hanks. It opens with our protagonist being fired from his job at a Wal-Mart-like retailer. The reason: Larry lacks a college degree. Upon being fired, Larry re-evaluates his life and decides to explore returning to college via his local community college. While visiting the college, Larry is advised to him to take a couple of classes: speech and economics. The classes are taught by Mercedes Tainot (Julia Roberts) and Dr. Matsutani (George Takei). Each of these actors brings their respective characters to life in unique and amusing ways.