November 2011

Our Holiday Favorites: Love Actually

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"Before the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate and revenge -- they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaking suspicion you'll find that love actually is all around."

And therein lies the brilliance of Love Actually, a movie I fell in love with upon first viewing. An introductory voiceover, normally one of the most annoying cinematic tricks, establishes not only the focus of the film but the darker context when many of us needed it. By autumn 2003, we were no longer reeling from the September 11 attacks, but we hadn't yet adjusted to the post-attack realities, and cynicism was rampant. 

Using footage of actual arrivals at Heathrow airport in the credits, Love Actually reinforces that message: in paradox of the holiday season and all the stress that goes with it, what matters most.

Quick Snaps: Tarzan and Arab in Austin, Updated with Video

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Tarzan and Arab at the Ritz

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on a special night when two filmmakers from the Gaza Strip, Tarzan and Arab, traveled to Austin to see their first movie in a theater, as well as screen their short film Colorful Journey. Thanks to Alamo Drafthouse, you now can watch video from the event, which we've embedded after the jump.

In addition, Alamo founder Tim League and Ain't It Cool founder Harry Knowles have established a Kickstarter campaign where you can donate to help Tarzan and Arab fund their first feature film. With 20 days left, they have raised more than 25 percent of their goal.

Our Holiday Favorites: Elf

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Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel in Elf

For some of us, the moment we saw Elf in the theatre it became an instant classic. My sister and I adore this movie. Quotes from the 2003 film have become part of our lexicon, as we refer to things as "ginormous" and call each other to randomly announce, "Good news! I saw a dog today."

Directed by Jon Favreau post-Swingers, pre-Iron Man, the film focuses on Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell), told by his papa elf (Bob Newhart) that he is really a human (gasp!) and that his biological father (James Caan) is on the naughty list (double gasp!).  Buddy makes his way to New York City where he gets to know his father's family and falls for a sarcastic Gimbels worker named Jovie (Zooey Deschanel).

I know people who refuse to see this movie because they don’t like Will Ferrell, but they are missing out. His childlike glee in this movie is infectious, and I can’t imagine anyone else pulling the character off. With its excellent cast and the deft screenplay by David Berenbaum, Elf is a perfect combination of the silly and the sweet. I've seen it multiple times and each time I can't help getting a little teary-eyed as the crowd sings "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" toward the end. 

Extra Credit: My Life as An Extra

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My Sucky Teen Romance

Austin Diner. A university-area co-op. The La Quinta on 35 and Oltorf. The Ramada Inn on 35 and 290. A local entertainment writer's home.

What do all of the above sites have in common? Are they gathering places for movie geeks, crime scenes, or places where I have crashed? If you answered yes to any of these, you would be wrong. These are all places in Austin where independent filmmakers have shot movies. They are also places where I've worked as an extra.

The process of making movies has always fascinated me. I grew up in California, specifically in the Antelope Valley, which is popular with filmmakers. Hundreds of movies have been shot in the desert where I lived, from Duel to Terminator 2. It was not uncommon to come across film sets while driving the backroads.

Our Holiday Favorites: White Christmas

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Still of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in White Christmas

[Welcome to Our Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors talk about the movies they watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.]

The Thanksgiving holidays are over, which means that Christmas is storming in, ringing in a barrage of holiday songs for the next four weeks. I grew up surrounded by music, and so the holidays were full of Christmas carols and sing-alongs. However, I was an adult before I ever watched White Christmas (1954), the title song of which is the number one performed secular holiday song, with more than 500 versions, according to ASCAP. It's actually the second movie to feature Irving Berlin's song -- I've yet to see the 1942 film in which it premiered, Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Crosby recorded the song, which went on to win the Best Song Academy Award of 1942.

In 1954, the film White Christmas was developed to further promote the popular song. What came about was a musical comedy featuring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as Bob Wallace and Phil Davis, ex-army buddies who partner together for a song and dance act --becoming successful producers -- and later to save their retired general's failing Vermont inn from bankruptcy. While scouting for new acts they meet the Haynes sisters, Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) and romance blossoms -- despite the obligatory miscommunication to ensure comedic and melodramatic mix-ups.

Review: My Week with Marilyn

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My Week with Marilyn

Without a doubt Marilyn Monroe is one of the most iconic figures in American cinema. In fact, it's an injustice to limit the magnitude of her legend to just film. She was a star, plain and simple. Her presence would bring any man to his knees and falling in love with her wasn't even a choice, it was a certainty. To know her on that level is something very few people who are alive today can attest to, but My Week With Marilyn, based on memoirs by Colin Clark, gives us a glimpse at Marilyn the person, as well as the fragile and sensitive artist she really was. The movie opens today in Austin.

Clark was an avid film lover who came from a family of means. Despite his love of movies, he grew up working in the family business and had no business performing silly little jobs on film sets. But his tenacity and determination as a young man in 1956 landed him a job as a third assistant director on Laurence Olivier's The Prince and the Showgirl starring Marilyn Monroe. Despite his willingness to learn the craft of becoming a filmmaker, Clark was drawn to Marilyn in a way that many at that time were all too familiar with. She needed constant reassurance and praise, almost always had moments of self-doubt and couldn't be considered a reliable performer because of these issues.

But My Week with Marilyn isn't about how legendary the appeal of Marilyn Monroe was, it was about the effect she had on one man, and how her guard around him was, from his perspective, let down a bit. Michelle Williams does a great job portraying a side of Marilyn Monroe that I don't think anyone alive has ever seen. To play someone whose star power is that huge in such an intimate role takes talent and Williams really owns up to the task. It isn't enough to just look beautiful, or be able to sing and dance and talk like her, but to carry yourself with the kind of humility Marilyn had, while still being obviously aware of her star power ... and that's where the movie really steps up beyond a simple retelling of a week in someone's life. This might be the only time this side of Marilyn Monroe has ever been written and fans of hers owe it to themselves to get to know her on this level.

Review: The Muppets

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The Muppets

It dawned on me earlier this week that I've seen every single Muppet movie in a theater on its original theatrical release, from The Muppet Movie (which I love) to The Great Muppet Caper (my very favorite) to Muppets From Space (oh, dear). I couldn't believe it myself, but it's true. And now actor/writer/Muppet fan Jason Segel has brought us The Muppets, a new movie starring every Muppet he could find, including a new one, and his own non-Muppet self. While it's a fun outing, I would have liked it better with less Segel and more Muppets, but again, look where I'm coming from -- a child who was told when she was growing up that she was the exact same age as Sesame Street (which I found out later wasn't quite true), and who thought that was awesome.

Those of you who are familiar with the felt folk -- and apart from my Muppet-hating husband, I'm assuming the Slackerwood demographic includes many old-school Muppet fans -- might be surprised to learn that it takes 20 minutes or so for the old familiar Muppets to appear onscreen in the movie, except indirectly. The story opens with a focus on two small-town brothers, Gary (Segel, again with the man-child) and Walter, an Anything Muppet performed by Peter Linz. Walter -- who believes he's human -- is obsessed with the Muppets, and when Gary and his longtime girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) decide to take a romantic trip to Los Angeles, Walter tags along so he can visit the famous Muppet Studios.

Review: Hugo

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Hugo

The last Martin Scorsese film I saw was Shutter Island, a movie that garnered great critical acclaim, but which I felt suffered from an all-too-predictable ending. Thus, I have little interest in revisiting it. I hardly dared hope that Hugo would live up to the promise hinted in the teaser trailers I'd seen. But it did in fact far exceed my expectations.

John Logan (Rango, The Last Samurai) has created a superlative adaptation of Brian Selznick's novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This isn't just the story of an orphan boy living in a train station in 1930s Paris. It is, as one friend described it, "Scorsese's love letter to film." The answer to each mystery unlocks another until a dramatic reveal so poignant it left the audience in tears of both sadness and joy.

There aren't enough Oscars to cover Hugo. It is a rare magical film that is almost too good for the Oscars. If they held a once-a-decade competition between all the best picture winners, it might be a worthy contest. Starting with Scorsese's direction, and adding what James Cameron says is the best use of 3D he's ever seen, including his own films. Hugo opens with a bird's-eye fly-through of a train station, a single shot so detailed, so amazing that words fail me. The steampunk aesthetic and rich recreation of Parisian characters made it almost a surprise not to see the name "Jeunet" in the credits.

Asa Butterfield has already made a name for himself in such films as Son of Rambow, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Wolfman and soon Ender's Game. He is a perfect fit for the clockmaker orphan, running through hidden steam tunnels and minding the great clockwork of the station. He finds an ideal match in Chloë Grace Moretz's Isabelle, a shy girl with an adorable quirky twisted grin. The character is so innocent and sweet, it's hard to believe this is the same girl who knocked us out as Hit Girl in last year's Kick-Ass.

Within a cast of today's best character actors including Sacha Baron Cohen, Christopher Lee, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law, Helen McCrory and Emily Mortimer, Ben Kingsley is a standout. Kingsley and Butterfield have a chemistry akin to Mr. Wilson and Dennis the Menace. His grouchy exterior gives way to much deeper emotions as the story unfolds. After flops like Prince of Persia and The Love Guru, it's good to see Kingsley in a film worthy of his talents.

Movies This Week: My Hugo Muppet Descendants Christmas

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We're running Movies This Week today to accommodate the holiday releases, so in reality this is Movies This Week and Then Some. We knew you'd understand. Besides the usual theatrical fare, on Friday you can see Planes, Trains, and Automobiles at the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in, and Blade Runner on Saturday.

Austin Film Society has a couple of events in the next week or so. The "Comedy of Remarriage" series continues on Tuesday with The Palm Beach Story by Preston Sturges. And the next evolution of Avant Cinema (version 5.2 to be specific) showcases features festive beverages and Peter Greenaway's The Fall over at the Aviary Lounge + Decor starting a week from Thursday (12/1 to be exact).

Movies We've Seen:

Arthur Christmas -- Chris says, "In today's world, any animated movie that comes along must inevitably be measured by the Pixar yardstick. It's not a stretch to say that by those standards of quality, Arthur Christmas stands tall ... even if most of its characters do not." Read his review to learn more about the latest feature from Aardman Animations. (wide)

The Descendants (pictured above) -- Elizabeth says she "walked out of The Descendants wondering, is there anything Judy Greer can't do well? Seriously." The film stars George Clooney and is directed by Alexander Payne (Sideways) -- find out more in Elizabeth's review. (Arbor, Alamo Drafthouse Lamar, Violet Crown)

Review: Arthur Christmas

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Arthur Christmas

I'm a sucker for stories that offer a fresh take on an established convention. Whether it's a new spin on the tried and true zombie tale (28 Days Later) or a re-interpretation of Sherlock Holmes (let's choose the BBC's Sherlock over the Robert Downey Jr. movies, shall we?), it's great fun to watch accomplished storytellers take familiar material and make it feel new again.

Arthur Christmas does much the same with its behind-the-scenes look at the Miracle of Christmas. No, not the forgiveness of our sins through God made flesh. Rather: how exactly does Santa Claus travel around the world to deliver all those presents on a single night, especially now that the world's population has exceeded seven billion? (Santa will be relieved to know that only two billion or so of those are actually Christian, but still.) The answer does involve magic, but in the 21st century that magic has been seriously augmented with some technological widgetry. The sleigh and reindeer have been retired in favor of a sleek spaceship with stealth capability and thousands (millions?) of ninja elves who rappel from the ship's interior to deliver the goods with a personal touch.

The embodiment of Santa himself is a family legacy -- as each Santa reaches retirement age, he passes the mantle down to his son to keep things ho-ho-ho-ing along. The man next in line is Steve (Hugh Laurie), the power behind the bumbling current Santa (Jim Broadbent, who has never bumbled better). Steve attacks the problem of Christmas gift delivery with an efficiency and technological prowess that would make Apple envious, but his Christmas spirit pales in comparison to that of his younger brother, Arthur (James McAvoy). Arthur can barely make it down the hallways of the subterranean North Pole Christmas HQ without causing trouble, but no one believes in Santa quite like he does.

Review: The Descendants

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George Clooney in The Descendants

Director Alexander Payne (Sideways, Election) has turned to Hawaii for his new movie, The Descendants. Based on the 2007 debut novel by Kaui Hart Hennings, the film is narrated by lawyer Matt King (George Clooney), who feels pulled by the past and the present at the same time.

For the present, his wife Elizabeth (a silent Patricia Hastie) is in a coma after a powerboating accident. Now Matt, who has remained fairly oblivious to his family, has to care for 10-year-old Scottie (Amara Miller) and pull 17-year-old Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) out of boarding school on the mainland. Alex admits to her father that the reason she had a falling out with Elizabeth is because she knew her mom was having an affair. King decides to find his wife's lover and tell him about her condition.

A Texas 'Homecoming' Premieres in San Marcos

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Homecoming 2The high school homecoming queen competition was stiff for Claire and her friends in the 2010 horror movie Homecoming. There could only be one winner. Those who survived the first movie return to face the same masked murderer in Homecoming II, which premiered Saturday at the Embassy Suites Conference Center in San Marcos.

Last year, Dorell Anthony and fellow Texas State University - San Marcos alumni Terissa Kelton and Caleb Straus began collaborating cross-country on the independent, low-budget movie Homecoming II.

The trio had recently graduated from Texas State when Anthony became inspired to write the sequel to Homecoming.

Anthony wrote his first feature-length screenplay, Homecoming, in 2004, during his sophomore year at Oakwood High School in Oakwood, Texas. He said he wrote the script as a form of therapy after his aunt died.

"It's weird to think that I wrote a horror script where many people die after my aunt died," he said.

Anthony said he collaborated with Texas State writers and playwrights to revise and update the original Homecoming script. The entire Homecoming cast and crew consisted of Texas State alumni.

Homecoming II executive producer Terissa Kelton met Anthony as a Texas State Alphi Psi Omega theatre fraternity member. She said she and Anthony became "quick" friends, and he asked her to critique the Homecoming script.

Kelton said she thought the Homecoming script was "great" and became a fan. Her own short film debut, Myra, screened at the Homecoming II premiere. Kelton is also an actress, who starred in the Austin-based independent production company Twitchy Dolphin Flix's films Turkey Day, Wedding Night, Abram's Hand, Look At Me Again and the 2011 Metropolitan Film Festival's honorable mention, Snatch 'N' Grab.

Aviary Lounge + Decor

Address: 
2110 S. Lamar, Austin, Texas 78704
Phone: 
(512) 916-4445

Local 'Sushi' Doc Hits Theaters Next Year

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Another Austin film, another distribution deal. You may have heard that Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission was picked up by First Run Features and will open in Austin in mid-January. And the Twittersphere positively exploded with the news that Emily Hagins' My Sucky Teen Romance was picked up by Dark Sky Films a few weeks ago. The latest news: Austin goes global with Sushi: The Global Catch, from Austin filmmaker Mark Hall.

Sushi: The Global Catch just played the prestigious International Documentary Film Festival ("IDFA") in Amsterdam last week, and has been picked up by Kino Lorber for North American theatrical release in early 2012. The documentary won a Special Jury Award Seattle International Film Festival in June.

Insider's Guide: Thanksgiving at the Movies

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While many folks will be spending Thursday around the dinner table gorging on Thanksgiving dinner, some folks go to the movies. There is no need to choose between the two. You can still enjoy the classic dishes without messing up your kitchen, whether you go with family or not. No mishaps with turkeys, no nightmarish sides and no worries about finding a million and one ways to serve leftover turkey.

Theaters do big business on Thanksgiving, which is why this week new releases are opening on Wednesday. But in Austin, only Alamo Drafthouse is combining traditional Thanksgiving fare with their films. Even Violet Crown has no public plans to do anything special for the holiday as synonymous with overindulging as it is with the bird.

Like previous years, all Alamo locations are offering the option to buy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner along with your movie ticket. This year's menu includes turkey, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, giblet gravy, cranberry sauce, dressing, Parker House rolls and pecan pie. A (very) limited number of walk-up tickets will be made available, so it's recommended to purchase your dinner in advance. The ticket option is $22, which includes your film and the dinner, but doesn't include drinks. Check out the Alamo blog for details. Just note that this year they are not promoting the leftovers that you can bring home.

It's That Time of Year (Almost): Holiday Films at the Paramount

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Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye & Vera Ellen in White Christmas

If you, like me, wait until Thanksgiving to start watching holiday movies, it's almost time to bring them out. This year (as in years past) the Paramount is showing classic White Christmas, as well as a couple more modern Christmas "classics."

White Christmas will be shown on the night of Monday, Nov. 28th at 7 pm and 9:30. A showcase for music by Irving Berlin, the 1954 film stars crooner Bing Crosby, goofball Danny Kaye, songstress Rosemary Clooney and dancer Vera Ellen. A couple of song and dance men meet up with singing sisters and decide to take their show to Vermont. Post-World War II-era jingoism, romantic miscommunication, a song called "Choreography," child ballerinas and choirboys -- this movie's got it all.

In December, the landmark theatre will pair 1988's Scrooged with 2003's Love Actually. Jesse Trussell, the Paramount's film programmer, comments, "That double bill are two more recent selections than we've typically played in the past, but one of the things I like to focus on here at the theater is to find a good mix between the perennial classics we all love and titles that haven't played on our screen. With the three films picked this year I think we cover a wide spectrum of holiday film tastes."

If you like your schmaltz laid on thick and movies where multiple couples fall in love, then you can't go wrong with the ensemble romantic-comedy Love Actually. Richard Curtis' movie has some high points -- mainly the quality cast involved.  I know many people who love this movie, but I'm not one of them.  The less than subtle attempts at emotional manipulation are a bit much for me.  Still, Bill Nighy singing "Christmas Is All Around Me" almost makes up for the rest of the film.  Almost.  Love Actually shows at 4 pm on Sunday, December 18 and 2 pm and 6:35 pm on Monday, December 19.

One of the greatest (and least reverent) cinematic takes on Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooged features Bill Murray as an affluent network television executive led by a trio of spirits to face the selfish man he has come to be. Alfre Woodard plays his Cratchit-like assistant, Karen Allen his lost love, Carol Kane the Ghost of Christmas Present ... this cast is packed with talent (and the cameos!). Here's hoping that the audience at the Paramount screenings will stick around to sing along with "Put A Little Love in Your Heart." I'm getting verklempt just thinking about it. Scrooged screens at 2 pm and 6:55 pm on Sunday, December 18 and 4:35 pm on Monday, December 19.

Review: The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1

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Breaking Dawn Part 1

The Twilight films are a guilty pleasure. As someone who hangs with the film nerd set, it's fun to trash Stephenie Meyer's angstified hyper-romantic sparkly "cold ones" (we're forbidden to call them "vampires"). Yet, the inner 15-year-old girl in all of us can't help getting caught up in the story a little, if only because we want Bella to just get on with it and pick Edward or Jacob for god's sake.

While that choice would seem to have been made by the end of Eclipse, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 1 has inadvertenly picked up Bella's indecisiveness and can't decide whether it wants to be a drama or a raucous comedy. In a series where no two movies were directed by the same filmmaker, a steady evolution can be seen from Twilight to New Moon as both the mythology and the films improve. Now Bill Condon, a respectable director with such titles as Gods and Monsters, Kinsey and Dreamgirls under his belt, steps in and forces us to wonder if he's taking his work seriously.

Condon wastes no time giving everyone what they came to see: Taylor Lautner's bare chest and abs. The very first shot of the film is Jacob ripping off his shirt in a lupine tantrum set off by Bella and Edward's wedding invitation. David Slade's Eclipse joked about Jacob's persistent bare torso, but this shot appeared to be an excuse to get one more cheer from the audience that was already screaming when the title card appeared. It also seemed to be Condon's way of saying "OK, that's out of the way, now we're going to do things MY way." Unless I missed something, Lautner doesn't appear shirtless for the rest of Breaking Dawn - Part 1.

Sadly, Condon zigs when he should zag and vice-versa. Doing it his own way means Edward doesn't sparkle when in full sun, a huge break from Twilight canon. It also means we get to see what people are calling the "wolf circle," as Jacob's angry wolf pack circles up in a logging camp for us to hear human voices screaming their telepathic conversation. This was a serious moment presented so ineptly it had even the biggest Twi-hards in the room rolling in their seats. Calling it corny would be an insult to corn, and a gross understatement.

Movies This Week: Into Happy Melancholia Dawn

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The holidaze are upon us, and the next week is pretty light on special screenings. But Saturday is making up for the dearth thanks to the Paramount and the Association of Moving Image Archivists annual conference. Film times start at 9 am and the last films starts at 8 pm -- you can read more about it in Jette's article and Paramount Film Programmer Jesse Trussell's blog. ll of these films are open to the public and free. And don't forget that the next AFS Essential Cinema series kicks off with another classic, The Awful Truth on Tuesday -- Jette's got more info (and enthusiasm) on that series too.

Also, don't forget the Les Blank retrospective screens tonight and Sunday at the Texas Spirit Theatre in the Bob Bullock Museum.

Movies We've Seen:

Happy Feet Two -- More dancing penguins. Chris says it "skirts the line between the sincere attempt to tell a story and animated showpieces for their own sake." Read his review for more. (wide)

Melancholia -- Don says that while "Lars von Trier's latest movie is dark, dreary and relentlessly dour... there is, however, a striking beauty to Melancholia, a film full of memorably surreal imagery." Read his review for more. (South Lamar, Violet Crown)

Review: Happy Feet Two

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Happy Feet 2

It's taken a long time for me to be anything but suspicious of computer-animated movies coming from anyone but Pixar. The competing studios tended to favor style over substance, often eschewing character development and thoughtful storytelling for pop culture references and the flashiest animation they could manage. (And even that level of animation was often an embarrassment next to Pixar's artistry.) Recent CGI movies like How to Train Your Dragon and Rango seem to be breaking that trend a bit, but it's still kind of a crap shoot. 

Happy Feet Two skirts the line between the sincere attempt to tell a story and animated showpieces for their own sake. In the latter it is highly successful -- there's a level of spectacle on display here of which any animator could be proud. In the former, sadly, the film falls short. The central dilemma -- the hero's flock of fellow penguins is trapped in a valley of ice by a wandering iceberg -- is less than thrilling, though I suppose it's difficult to find a good threat that can be conquered by applied tap dancing. 

Spliced in between the scenes of penguin action are the adventures of two krill shrimp (Will and Bill, voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon, respectively). The existential crisis of these two shrimp learning to live outside their swarm (Will maintains that he is destined to "move up the food chain") is easily the most entertaining thing about the movie. The shrimp seem to be more or less anatomically correct and yet anthropomorphized expertly, and the dialogue between the two is sharp enough to make me believe that these scenes were written separately from the rest of the movie. Not that there should be much surprise there -- four writers are credited for the screenplay. By the end of the story I was hoping the film would leave the penguins out of it entirely and shift into all-krill mode. Alas.

Review: Melancholia

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Melancholia

The most aptly titled film I've seen this year is undoubtedly Melancholia.

Lars von Trier's latest movie is dark, dreary and relentlessly dour, as we would expect from a story about family discord and the end of the world. There is, however, a striking beauty to Melancholia, a film full of memorably surreal imagery.

Melancholia follows the strained relationship of two sisters, newlywed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and scandalously wealthy Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who has the unenviable task of coordinating a highly overproduced wedding reception for Justine and her husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). The film's first half focuses on what is mostly a party from hell: As if the fancy festivities aren't enough of a logistical challenge, Justine is your basic depression-addled bridezilla, wandering in and out of the party as she wanders in and out of various moods. (At one point, she disappears on a golf cart to commune with nature; at another, she locks herself in a bathroom for a prolonged soak in the tub.)

Ready, Set, Fund: Help Austin Cinematheque Relocate

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Austin Cinematheque crew, courtesy of Daily Texan

"Ready, Set, Fund," is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects. Contact us if you've got a film fundraising project going on you'd like us to know about.

If you weren't in Austin in the late 80s or missed the Live Your Cinema! Austin Media Arts documentary that screened during the 2010 Austin Film Festival, then you may not know about the significance of Austin Media Arts. This cramped space above Quackenbush's Coffee Shop on the Drag was the first venue that Austin Film Society (AFS) actually owned and operated. Formerly a psychedelic ice cream parlor, Austin Media Arts was the screening room of AFS founder Richard Linklater and Lee Daniels as they projected eclectic and diverse films by Ingmar Bergman, Michael Snow, Stan Brakhage, Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard for eager film fans.

Austin Media Arts is long gone, but its spirit and intent has carried on in younger generations of film enthusiasts who drew inspiration from repertory programs including the defunct CinemaTexas. The most well known is Austin Cinematheque, the only free, 35mm retrospective film series in town, founded in 2005 by three University of Texas Radio-Television-Film students. Since their first self-funded screening of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows in the Texas Union Theatre, they have screened over 75 films from sixteen different countries spanning nine  decades.

Unfortunately, due to the upcoming remodeling scheduled at the Union Theatre, Austin Cinematheque will be temporarily homeless while working toward expanding their free repertory film series. Find out how you can help them and other film-related projects after the jump.

The Archivists Are in Town: Free Movies for All!

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Nothing Sacred

I can't be the only one thrilled to hear the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) is holding its 2011 conference in Austin this week. If you're not thrilled, you don't know what this means: Fascinating and well-restored movies screening at the Paramount, all free to the public. The last time AMIA held its annual conference here was 2005, and for me it was as though the circus was in town. In fact I was tempted to run away with them and become an archivist myself, except a) I don't want to go back to school, b) I don't think I'd be good at it and c) it's not a profession with many job opportunities in Austin. (As opposed to film criticism? Well ...)

The fun kicks off tonight at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, with the AMIA "Reels of Steel" competition at 11:30 pm. Film buffs and archivists will be bringing all kinds of rare and interesting film and video clips from their personal collections to screen. Admission is free and first-come, first served.

More free movies are screening all day long on Saturday, November 19 at the Paramount -- you could get down there early and stay all day, paying only for parking and a meal or two. At 9 am, they'll show Nicholas Ray's 1976 film We Can't Go Home Again. At 10:45, the 1966 film Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Grab some lunch and go back for a collection of home movies from around America at 1 pm. Then at 3 pm, you can see a restored version of the 1977 documentary Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives.

The 'Sinister' Side of Local Writer C. Robert Cargill

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C. Robert Cargill

Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves his family into the house of murder victims while researching their murders for a new book in Austinite C. Robert Cargill's feature screenwriting debut, Sinister.

I spoke with Cargill a few weeks back while he was on location for Sinister in NYC. At the time of the interview, he said there was not much he could say about the movie, except that "weird, creepy shit" happens.

But he's just playin' it cool.

Cargill began writing movie reviews under the name Massawyrm for Austin-based film website Ain't It Cool News in May 2001. His first review was of Jon Favreau's directorial debut, Made. Over the years, he's also reviewed movies for Spill.com and Film.com.

AFS Tackles the Classic Comedy of Remarriage

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The Palm Beach Story

Back in my grad-school screenwriting days, my master's report was about the comedy of remarriage, a kind of film genre cousin to the classic screwball comedy. The comedy of remarriage had its heyday in the 1930s, with movies like The Awful Truth -- something drives apart a married couple and amusing machinations occur to potentially bring them back together. And in the Thirties, the machinations were generally not only amusing but witty, and it was pretty much a done deal that the couple would reunite in the end. I always felt that the comedy of remarriage died out somewhere in the late 1940s myself, although when Knocked Up came out a few years ago, I wondered if we might be due for a reworking of the genre.

You don't want to hear me go on and on about the comedy of remarriage. I know, because sometimes I start to do it in person and everyone around me remembers that pressing dental appointment or emergency meeting they have to rush off to catch. Instead, I invite you to see a couple of classic examples of the genre, as well as the evolution of such films right up to the 21st century, in the new AFS Essential Cinema series, "And It Feels So Good: Comedies of Remarriage," which starts next Tuesday night (11/22) and runs through mid-December.

The series is being guest curated by Austin Chronicle film critic Kimberley Jones, who's picked out a half-dozen fascinating features, some obvious and some surprising. I honestly would never have thought of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, myself, and I can't wait to hear her thoughts about how it ties into Stanley Cavell's original definition of the comedy of remarriage. I'm most excited about the first two films -- The Awful Truth and The Palm Beach Story (pictured above) -- but hope to see all of them. (I'm hoping since Jones is curating, no one will put any conflicting press screenings on those nights. Please.)

Quick Snaps: Catch 'Five Time Champion' This Week

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Dallas International Film Festival Erza Venetos and Brendt Mader Five Time Champion Magnolia TheaterNelly Safavi

While Natural Selection may have taken home many awards at SXSW this year, the Austin movie at the fest that Slackerwood contributor Don Clinchy raved about, both in his review and in person, was Five Time Champion. I mean, the review begins with "Oh, if only all movies were such a pleasure to review; the greatest challenge in reviewing Five Time Champion ... may be finding enough superlatives to describe its many charms without being repetitive." And you know Don is not inherently kind to all movies, especially if you read his review of Jack and Jill last weekend.

Fittingly, Don will be moderating the Q&A with filmmaker Berndt Mader tomorrow night, when Five Time Champion returns to Austin. Austin Film Society is screening the film as part of its Best of the Fests series, Wednesday, 11/16 at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Village. Tickets are still available online. The film is about a teenage boy dealing with school decisions, love interests, and family problems. The cast includes Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Jon Gries and Betty Buckley. Nicholson's in the above photo with Mader and other cast and crew -- the photo was taken at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival, where Five Time Champion won the Texas Filmmaker Award.

Over on Flickr, Russ Photography has a huge set of photos from the Five Time Champion production; they're not only good photos but give you a fascinating look at a typical day on a movie set. And below, I'm using this excuse to share my favorite photo I've taken of Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, from the Extract premiere in Austin in 2009. She almost made it into the theater unseen; no one recognized her at first with the different hair color.

Podcast: 'Everyday Sunshine' with Fishbone's Angelo Moore, Norwood Fisher

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Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone Filmmakers with Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore of Fishbone, all rights reserved

Filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson were in town recently to bring the culture that shaped the personal stories of the black genre-breaking band Fishbone in the compelling film, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone -- read my review here. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, viewers are taken through a musical and intimate journey of Fishbone as they face the challenges of a band democracy, fiercely independent artists, and the music industry machine.

Personal interviews include musical artists and actors Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Gwen Stefani (No Doubt), Ice-T, and many others, including the dynamic and determined frontmen Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher. I joined the pair on their tour bus for an interview while they were in town last month for a special Austin Film Society screening and show at Emo's Austin.

Hear what Angelo Moore had to say about the impact of digital technology and his ode to Wall Street, as well as Norwood Fisher's greatest musical desire: to write more musical scores for movies.

Everyday Sunshine screens at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz tonight at 10 pm as part of Music Monday.

Get Tickets to 'My Week with Marilyn' Sneak Preview

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My Week with Marilyn

Slackerwood has a special deal that will give you the chance to see the upcoming movie My Week with Marilyn this week at a free sneak preview. There's nothing quite like seeing a movie before it opens in theaters ... and without having to pay for the tickets too. The preview screening will take place tomorrow night, Tuesday 11/15, at 7:30 pm at AMC Barton Creek (the one in the mall).

My Week with Marilyn is based on the memoirs of the same name by Colin Clark, who worked as an assistant on the Marilyn Monroe film The Prince and the Showgirl. It's about Clark's interactions with Monroe in England during the shooting of that movie. Michelle Williams stars as Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Prince and the Showgirl co-star Sir Laurence Olivier. The cast also includes Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson. We at Slackerwood haven't seen it yet -- it opens in theaters on Nov. 23 -- but some of us will be there Tuesday night to check it out.

After the jump, you'll find a promotional code and a link to the Gofobo website where you can enter that code to get an admit-two pass for the screening. Bear in mind this is a first-come, first-served pass and seating is not guaranteed. If you've been to preview screenings, you know that often more tickets are given out than there are seats in the theater, so you'll want to arrive early to stake out a good spot in line.

Review: Immortals

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Immortals

Through a summer of great action movies and superhero films, there was one title I eagerly anticipated: Immortals. I couldn't wait for Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Kellan Lutz, Daniel Sharman and Joseph Morgan among others in the best-looking male cast ever assembled. I couldn't wait for Tarsem Singh, creator of the visually stunning The Cell and the legendary The Fall, to right the wrong of last year's Clash of the Titans remake.

Sadly, that was not to be. Immortals is best described as a disastrous mess. Visually amazing, yes, absolutely worth at least a regular ticket price ... though maybe best seen in 2D. The faults with Immortals radiate entirely from a titanically bad script. While last year's Clash of the Titans suffered from script rewrites and bad editing, the Immortals script seems to be the product of inexperience. Screenwriters brothers Vlas and Charley Parlapanides have one unknown feature film writing credit between them, from 2000.

The characters in Immortals seem to jump between older and modern vernaculars. They are missing any sort of backstory. Burgess Meredith -- oops, I mean John Hurt -- gives a pointless and melodramatic narrative that bookends the film. "The Gods Need a Hero" is the tag line on the movie's posters, but the hero never does anything to help the gods. That is, exactly the same narrative could have played out without Henry Cavill's Theseus. In fact, the chosen hero of Zeus could have averted disaster simply by dying at the beginning of the film.

The most egregious problem with the script is Mickey Rourke's character, King Hyperion. Not only is there no backstory, there is never any explanation of his motives, nor even his ultimate goals. He is written almost as a caricature of Heath Ledger's role as The Joker in The Dark Knight: sowing chaos and destruction, at war with the gods, hinting at a reason, but never telling.

Review: Jack and Jill

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Jack and Jill

(The following is an open letter to Al Pacino.)

Dear Al,

At this stage in your long and celebrated career, I'm sure you have your pick of great roles. After all, you are one of the finest actors in the history of American cinema. You are widely revered Hollywood royalty, and the world of film is your oyster.

So, in light of your place in the pantheon of cinematic deities, I must ask you why you found it necessary, desirable, or somehow advantageous to star in a "film" (please note the use of quotes to indicate sarcasm) that undoubtedly will hasten the downfall of Western culture.

I am referring, of course, to Adam Sandler's latest assault on all that is good and decent about movies, Jack and Jill.

Before I go on, let's review Sandler's generally miserable track record: one aberrantly high-quality film that was a critical darling and thus a commercial flop (Punch-Drunk Love), a few lowbrow but not quite insultingly stupid comedies (The Wedding Singer comes to mind), and countless exercises in complete unmitigated idiocy (there are so many, but a fine example is I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry; also, refer to my scathing and cathartic review of Grown Ups).

Movies This Week: Crazy Immortals Jack and Edgar

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It's a busy week for special screenings. On Saturday, Austin-shot film Mars plays the Austin Film Society Screening Room as part of the Texas Independent Film Network's touring series. On Sunday, the Paramount is screening two Chris Marker films, Sans Soleil and La Jetee, in conjunction with Arthouse/AMOA's current exhibit "The Anxiety of Photography."

Wednesday is especially crazy: Cinema 41 is showing Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 at the Hideout. Doc Nights is screening Nostalgia for the Light at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. At Alamo Village, Best of the Fests brings Berndt Mader's Five Time Champion back to Austin, and Slackerwood's Don Clinchy will moderate the Q&A. And Cine Las Americas wraps up its "Literature in Mexican Cinema" series with Santa, based on Federico Gamboa's novel.

And if that's not enough, Don Hertzfeldt will be at Alamo South Lamar on Wednesday and Thursday to screen a number of his shorts, including his entire "Bill" trilogy that ends with his latest film, It's a Beautiful Day. Read Marc Savlov's profile of the animator/filmmaker in the Austin Chronicle.

Movies We've Seen:

J. Edgar -- This biopic "delves deeply into Hoover's personal life, skillfully walking the line between established facts and unsubstantiated rumors," according to Don's review. (wide)

Like Crazy -- This romantic tale of young lovers separated is "beautiful to watch, almost entrancing at times, and John Guleserian's cinematography and Doremus' direction have a lot to do with that," according to Elizabeth. Read her review for more. (Arbor)

The Skin I Live In (pictured at top) -- Pedro Almodóvar's latest is based on a Thierry Jonquet novel. I found it overly contrived and melodramatic, but Debbie says in her review, "It's quite easy to understand why this film has been nominated for its production design and composer in the upcoming European Film Awards."  (Alamo Lamar, Violet Crown, Arbor)

Review: J. Edgar

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J Edgar Hoover

Justice is incidental to law and order. -- J. Edgar Hoover

There are few more controversial figures in American history than J. Edgar Hoover. The longtime FBI director (he served from 1924 to 1972) was credited with building the bureau into a modern and successful crime-fighting agency. But he is probably better remembered for abusing his power by harassing political dissenters, collecting evidence using illegal methods, and amassing secret files on politicians and activists. Hoover's private life was no less intriguing; thanks to widespread rumors of his closeted homosexuality and penchant for cross-dressing, he remains a larger-than-life figure decades after his death.

It's little surprise, then, that the enigmatic Hoover has been portrayed in many movies. But few if any cinematic depictions of Hoover can match Leonardo DiCaprio's stellar performance in J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood's equally stellar new biopic of America's most famous G-man. The film is everything you would expect in an Eastwood-DiCaprio collaboration, an artful study of Hoover's public and private lives.

Review: Like Crazy

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Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in Like Crazy

It's fall of 2006 -- or perhaps it's spring of 2007, dates are unclear -- and British exchange student Anna (Felicity Jones, Brideshead Revisited) leaves a note on a windshield for her crush Jacob (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek). Thus, the romance that forms the basis for Like Crazy is initiated.

Jacob is an aspiring furniture designer, Anna wants to be a journalist, and they both love Paul Simon's Graceland. The sparks between these two are, umm, crazy as we see their relationship bloom. Suddenly it's the end of the school year and Anna's visa is up, and the decision she makes at this point leads to the immigration debacle that keeps the lovers apart for months at a time.

Years pass, I think (like I said, dates are unclear in this movie) and Anna and Jacob break up and get back together because long distance relationships are hard, y'all. Especially when communication is so difficult -- well, at least between these two twentysomethings, it is. Yelchin and Jones are destined for great things, and this film serves as an excellent showcase for their talent. While their characters make stupid mistakes (as we humans are wont to do), Anna and Jacob remain likeable and relatable.

Review: The Skin I Live In

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The Skin I Live In still photo

Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is internationally known for his darkly humorous and often perverse explorations into gender and sexuality, but even more so about relationships between women and the men who love (while still often hating) them. His latest film, The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito), is no different in its general themes, but is the most stylized and visually and emotionally impacting of all his movies. Based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, The Skin I Live In effectively blends so many genres -- thriller, erotica, drama, horror and sci-fi -- that it will hopefully appeal to a wide audience.

Secured in his operating lab at his isolated home El Cigarral, plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) has made a breakthrough in his research to improve methods of repairing disfigurement of burn victims. Through transgenesis -- the process of introducing an exogenous gene, from a hog in this case -- Dr. Ledgard has created an extremely resilient skin that can be grafted onto damaged tissue. However, colleagues and superiors are horrified, proclaiming his research as a violation of their bioethics. They prefer the less controversial practice of using El Cigarral's operating room for transgender operations from well-paying clients who require discretion. 

Dr. Ledgard isn't prepared to welcome his colleagues into his home, however, as he has a private patient locked in the premises. A young woman known as Vera (Elena Anaya) spends her days in solitude, reading and creating figures out of torn scraps of fabric, watched over by Dr. Ledgard's fiercely loyal housekeeper, Marilia (Marisa Paredes). When Marilia's brutish criminal son Zeca (Robert Alamo) arrives, demanding his mother hide him from law enforcement, violence explodes the idyllic calm and exposes the true horrors hidden within. No one is safe from the madness and destruction, including Ledgard's daughter Norma (Bianca Suarez) and her suitor Vicente (Jan Cornet).

Old Murder House Theatre Re-Creates 'Aliens' ... On Ice

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Old Murder House TheatreA very lucky few people in Austin have seen very unique renditions of movies like Home Alone, Die Hard and Robocop. Those few who've witnessed The Old Murder House Theatre and their hilarious brand of comedy can attest to seeing something they won't soon forget. Well, their next act is no different.

If you're reading this, it must mean you love movies, and chances are you at the very least tolerate the classic sci-fi film Aliens. As great as it would be for them to perform their usual prop driven comedy on a stage as they usually do, they're stepping up their game and taking this act not to a stage, but to a rink. That's right, Aliens On Ice. I'll say it again because it's just that damn good: Aliens On Ice. You can catch this production next weekend at the north location of Chaparral Ice.

The Old Murder House Theatre is headed by local actor Sam Eidson, whom you might have seen in Austin films such as My Sucky Teen Romance and Natural Selection. You might recognize some of the other cast and crew involved too.

We've reprinted the press release about the show below ... followed by some videos from the troupe that you won't want to miss.

Slackery News Tidbits, November 10

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Here's the latest Austin and Central Texas movie news.

  • Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse franchise, recently announced the company has entered a U.S. distribution deal with Image Entertainment, Inc. This will make it easier for Drafthouse Films to release new movies and repertory films via a number of platforms (home video, TV, etc.). The California-based company is considered a leading licensee and distributor of North American independent entertainment programming. Image Entertainment's library of licensed movie titles includes the Criterion Collection, various horror movies (they're releasing SXSW 2011 selection Little Deaths soon) and classic films like 12 Angry Men and Design for Living.
  • In addition, Drafthouse Films has acquired the North American rights to a pair of movies that played Fantastic Fest this year: the Oscar-nominated Belgian drama, Bullhead (Debbie's review), and the international hit comedy, Clown: The Movie. While Bullhead concerns itself with a shady deal between a young cattle farmer and a West Flemish beef trader, Clown is about two relatives and their wild adventure through the Danish countryside. Drafthouse Films' acquisition of the North American rights for the 1980s 3D cult film Comin' At Ya is a third Fantastic Fest 2011 selection the company will release next year.
  • The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum will host a Les Blank retrospective from 6-10 pm on Friday, Nov. 18 and Sunday, Nov. 20 at the museum's Texas Spirit Theater. The event, co-sponsored by the Austin Music Film Festival, will showcase award-winning documentarian Blank's films about music and musicians. Live music performances will be held each evening
  • The latest issue of Wholphin, a quarterly DVD magazine published by McSweeney's, features short films by several Texas directors: Amy Grappell, David Lowery, and David and Nathan Zellner. The DVD includes Grappell's Quadrangle, a documentary about her parents' relationship with the couple next door; Lowery's Pioneer, about a father's epic bedtime story told to his son (starring Will Oldham), and the Zellner brothers' short but unforgettable Sasquatch Birth Journal 2.

Shorts Wanted for Faces of Austin 2012

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Faces of Austin

The City of Austin is asking for short film submissions for 2012 Faces of Austin. Faces of Austin is a program of the Cultural Arts Division of the City of Austin Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services Office. This is the fifth year of the city's program; entries that are chosen show at City Hall, online, on Channel 6, and at other screenings throughout the year. This year's shorts will also be featured as part of a Community Screening during SXSW in March 2012.

Local filmmakers of all ages and experience-levels are encouraged to submit their original entries on DVD by January 16, 2012 to the City of Austin along with the completed application form (.pdf). The films -- no longer than 10 minutes -- should incorporate local flavor by depicting Austin characters, voices, stories, organizations, landscapes, music, events, landmarks, etc. Documentary, student film, music video, narrative film based in town -- anything along these lines is welcome. The call for entries (.pdf) has more information.

Film on Tap: From Almodovar to Mr. Creosote

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IMG_0603

Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

Since 1997, Alamo Drafthouse has set the bar high for Austin in offering moviegoers the option of enjoying libations and food during screenings. For several years this local favorite has also offered themed film-and-food pairings through their feast events, such as the Julie and Julia Feast, and Sommelier Cinema, which offers wine flights to complement classic movies. This month, Alamo Drafthouse executive chef John Bullington has joined forces with Drafthouse beverage director Bill Norris to delight the palate and test the fortitude of film fans who crave an unique and memorable film, food and drink experience.

This partnership is most notably responsible for a Spanish tapas and wine menu available at Alamo on South Lamar for the first two-week run of Pedro Almodovar's new movie, The Skin I Live In. Local media were invited to a sneak preview of the menu items last Sunday -- seen above is the tapas of tomato, leek, almonds and manchego in sherry vinegar with herbs, paired with the '06 Marques de Gelida Cava Brut Reserva Ecologico, a 100 percent organic Methode Traditionelle sparkler. I was so impressed by the wines Norris paired with Bullington's tasty tapas that I not only bought a bottle of the '09 Juan Gil Monastrell on the way home, but I plan on seeing The Skin I Live In for a third time just for the Spanish menu experience.

Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek also has some special events this month -- a beer dinner featuring Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and another "Meet the Brewer" event. Find out more after the jump about both events, as well as events taking place on the auspicious 11/11/11.

Lone Star Cinema: Dear Pillow

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Dear Pillow

Society has long had a love-hate relationship with pornography. We often condemn it for reasons both moral and aesthetic -- but the porn industry has been thriving for decades, so somebody (not us or anyone we know, of course) must be buying all those dirty magazines and movies.

This often hypocritical relationship is the subject of Dear Pillow, one of my favorite Austin-made films of the last decade. Writer and director Bryan Poyser's engaging story about a friendship between an awkward teenager and a middle-aged writer of erotica is a frank, unflinching look at how adult entertainment reflects human sexuality.

Released in 2004, Dear Pillow is the story of pudgy, mop-haired teen Wes (Rusty Kelley), whose love life (okay, his sex life) isn't exactly on fire. He's your basic flop with chicks; the closest he gets to any real action is eavesdropping on the wireless conversations of a woman selling phone sex somewhere in his apartment complex. Wes's home life isn't much better; he shares a tiny apartment with his divorced father (billed only as Dad and wonderfully played by Cory Criswell), a loving but boozy and mostly inept parent whose idea of a suitable birthday present for his son is an evening at a local strip joint.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: November 2011

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The Muppets

It's official: the holidays are here, and that means time spent with the kids. It's good to have some entertainment in your pocket -- especially if you can con a grandparent or other visiting relative into taking your urchins to the cineplex for you.

Notable Theatrical Releases

Happy Feet Two (November 18, rated PG) -- Remember when a film other than Pixar's latest release won the Best Animated Film Oscar? No? Well, it was 2006 and that film was Happy Feet, up against Pixar's Cars and Monster House. We saw the sequel to Cars this past summer and sure enough, here comes Happy Feet Two to make sure our holiday quota of dancing (and flying?) penguins is filled.

Support Local Filmmakers' 'Three Day Journey'

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Chris Todd

Local production company Rocket Crab Films (director Chris Todd pictured above) are throwing a special benefit screening of classic Austin movie Dazed and Confused on Wednesday, November 9 at 10 pm at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Rocket Crab is raising funds to shoot a short film that they hope will ultimately lead to a full-length feature based on the short.

Here's a synopsis of the short film Three Day Journey, a Western, from writer Patrick Palmer:

"Judah is dying. Stricken with tuberculosis, he has little time left on this earth. Judah has tasked Luther, his only real friend, with ending his life early sparing him the pain of his debilitating illness.

LSIFF: Catch Local Favorites in Fort Worth This Weekend

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Five Time Champion

If you're looking to combine movies and a road trip this weekend, you couldn't do better than head to Fort Worth for the fifth annual Lone Star International Film Festival. The fest kicks off Wednesday night with The Descendants, Alexander Payne's latest movie starring George Clooney (and Austin actor Nick Krause), which recently played Austin Film Festival. The festival runs through Sunday night, November 13.

Austin film-fest regulars might recognize a fair number of titles in the LSIFF lineup. In fact, this is a great way to catch up on selections you missed at AFF and SXSW this year. In addition, the lineup includes a few features that have yet to play Austin, like Rampart, Collaborator, and the Jet Li film Ocean Heaven. One of LSIFF's programmers for 2011 is Austin producer Kelly Williams, who also programmed the excellent Texas Independents category at AFF last month.

Here's a list of movies with Austin or Texas ties that will screen at LSIFF next weekend. I admit when I started this article I expected to list a half-dozen films; to end up with so many is pretty amazing. And I'm not even counting non-Texas films that played local fests, such as The Innkeepers, Butter, The Artist and Shame.

Review: Tower Heist

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Tower Heist

Eddie Murphy was once the funniest man in America. Then something happened, and he just lost it. I don't know what it was, a bad agent or maybe having kids and wanting to make movies they could watch. But since the 90s, he has had a solid string of releases that made big money largely because of their family-friendly PG-13 ratings. The Nutty Professor, Doctor Dolittle, Holy Man, Bowfinger, Shrek, I Spy, Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Norbit are all rated PG-13 or even PG. His last R-rated film was Metro in 1997, 14 years ago.

Therefore, I approached Tower Heist with hope for the potential I saw for Murphy to get back to the edgy, offensive, adult mode that made him famous. The trailer gave me hope that his first R-rated film in more than a decade wouldn't be a total flop. I'm happy to report that while he's not back to 100 percent, at least he's in fighting shape in Tower Heist.

However, Tower Heist isn't just a vehicle for Murphy or for Ben Stiller. This comedy, which owes much to heist films such as Ocean's Eleven, assembles a great ensemble cast. (Co-writer Ted Griffin also scripted Ocean's Eleven, which might explain the resemblance.)

Stiller and Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch, as well as Tea Leoni, Matthew Broderick and Gabourey Sidibe all have memorable lines. The last three are the real standout characters: Broderick with moments of self-effacing charm he hasn't pulled out since Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sidibe with lusty no-nonsense pushiness, and Tea Leoni the picture of sexy, forceful authoritah.

There are no surprises in the plot of this Brett Ratner-directed farce. It's all in the Tower Heist trailer: The staff of a NY high-rise is screwed out of their pension investments by a Wall Street scammer. They set out to rob him back, enlisting the help of Murphy's street thug Slider. Hilarity ensues, and everyone gets what they deserve. However, there are some surprises in how it all happens.

Movies This Week: A Very Heroic Tower, Martha

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The 6th annual Austin Polish Film Festival is underway as of last night and continues through next Saturday. Tonight it includes two films at the Texas Spirit Theater (Texas State History Museum), Stone Silence and Joanna, which include Q&A with the directors. Check out the APFF website for the full schedule and locations.

Cine Las Americas is showing The Colors of the Mountain at Alamo Village on Sunday. And in keeping in the international theme of the week, the always-free Austin Cinematheque is showing Andrey Tarkovskiy's The Sacrifice on Monday. Tarkovskiy was described by Ingmar Bergman as "the most important director of all time," which is about as strong an endorsement any director can get.

Movies We've Seen:

Martha Marcy May Marlene -- Elizabeth saw this taut, simmering thriller and says in her review, "With his debut full-length feature Martha Marcy May Marlene, director Sean Durkin has created a truly original work. Olsen pulls off the title character in an understated performance." (Arbor, Alamo Lamar)

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas -- Jette reviewed this movie and calls it, "completely offensive, even appalling at times ... and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. It's also a rather sweet end (I hope) to the series." (wide)

Austin Film Festival 2011: All Our Coverage

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Updated November 4, 2011.

Slackerwood has several contributors covering Austin Film Festival this year. Here's all our coverage to date. We'll update this list as we publish more reviews, interviews and features during and after AFF.

Review: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

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A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

My husband and I share a special fondness for a particular kind of movie. While we dislike blatantly sentimental films ("triumph of the human spirit" is a taboo phrase in our home), we love films with a sweet but not sentimental heart surrounded by a completely offensive, shocking, even outrageous exterior. The films have to have at least a little cleverness and can't be too gross. One filmmaker whom we agree does this very well is Bobcat Goldthwait -- we both really liked World's Greatest Dad. Bonus points are earned when these movies tie into a holiday and still avoid treacle, as with Bad Santa.

And now, one of our favorite appalling-yet-delightful comedies has spawned a holiday sequel: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. We don't like 3D, we don't like syrupy holiday movies, and yet this film had him laughing loudly and me spontaneously bursting out with my trademark "Oh, dear God" along with a few expletives of amazement. In the press row, natch. I apologize to my colleagues, although I heard some of them reacting with humor and disbelief as well.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas opens on Christmas Eve, with the title characters estranged. Harold (John Cho) is working on Wall Street (there are protestors, how timely), he and Maria are married and trying to start a family, and his in-laws descend upon their fancy suburban home en masse, led by Maria's dad Carlos (Danny Trejo). Kumar (Kal Penn), on the other hand, is living in a crappy apartment, drowning his sorrows in weed after his girlfriend Vanessa left four months ago, saddled with an annoying roommate who's even less responsible than Kumar.

Slackery News Tidbits, November 4

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Here's the latest Austin and Central Texas movie news.

  • Former Austinite and Fantastic Fest Programmer Coordinator Blake Ethridge will consult on programming and acquisition efforts for the inaugural Oak Cliff Film Festival, which will take place June 14-17 in the Dallas neighborhood. (Ethridge co-hosted Slackerwood's Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon in 2007.) OCFF will focus on screening movies previously shown at prestigious film festivals, from Sundance to SXSW to Cannes. Movies will play at the Texas Theatre  -- whose owners are also the fest coordinators -- as well as the Kessler Theater, the Bishop Arts "TeCo" Theater (formerly the Bluebird Theater) and the Belmont Hotel in Dallas. Festival submissions open November 7.
  • The Austin Polish Film Festival starts today. Anne Lewis at the Austin Chronicle has written an excellent preview.
  • Actor Johnny Depp and director Bruce Robinson didn't just visit Austin Film Festival last month, but also spoke with and answered questions from UT RTF and journalism students about their movie The Rum Diary, currently in theaters. RTF instructor John Pierson moderated the panel event. Austinite Amber Heard stars alongside Depp in this action/comedy about an American journalist's exploits in Puerto Rico, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson. 
  • Another AFF 2011 selection opens in theaters today: winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Directing Award for Best Drama, Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elizabeth's review). Former Austinite John Hawkes stars alongside Elizabeth Olsen in this drama about a woman trying to re-connect with her family after fleeing an abusive cult. Hawkes spoke with Austin360 last week about his time in Austin and his acting experiences.

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Before the Martha Marcy May Marlene press screening started, my friend and I joked about the name of the film and how difficult it was to recall all the "M" names in it. After seeing the movie, however, it's quite doubtful the viewer will forget the film's title. Twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Olsen -- sibling of those Olsens, who really looks like a younger Maggie Gyllenhaal -- stars as Martha/Marcy May.

Olsen's Martha is confused and currently dependent on her older sister Lucy's (Sarah Paulson) generosity, such as it is. She refuses to confide in Lucy about what she's been up to the past two years.

Before deciding to reach out to her much older sister, Martha lived a couple years at a farm in upstate New York headed by a David Koresh-like figure named Patrick (former Austinite John Hawkes). The farmworkers/cultmembers are all twentysomething lanky, attractive folk who share a wardrobe. Patrick renames our protagonist Marcy May and initiates her into the group by raping her after she's been drugged. Another woman in the group assures her after the awful event that this was a "truly good" thing.

AFF 2011 Photo Essay: Hair of the Dog Brunch

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Kat Candler with Carla L. Jackson and Kelvin Z. Phillips of A Swingin' Trio

Austin Film Festival provides great opportunities to meet and mingle with filmmakers, but the most laid-back social event where new friendships are forged and ideas sprout is the annual Hair of the Dog Brunch. It's great to see seasoned veterans of Austin's local film scene such as Kat Candler (Jumping Off Bridges), seen above with Carla L. Jackson and Kelvin Z. Phillips of A Swingin' Trio -- check out Jenn Brown's interview with Jackson and Phillips and her review of their first feature film. 

See more photos of filmmakers including the Texas Monthly "Where I'm From" film contest finalists after the jump.

AFF Review: Thank You for Judging

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Thank You for Judging poster

If you enjoy watching the National Geography Bee and love the 2002 film Spellbound, but wonder, "Where is the love for kids who do speech and debate?" you will likely enjoy Thank You for Judging. Texan actor Michael Urie (best known for his work on Ugly Betty), one of four credited directors on this movie, took a camera crew to spend a weekend at the Texas Forensic Association's state competition in 2008, resulting in this documentary.

Thank You for Judging follows teens from Plano Senior High School (Urie's alma mater) as well as students from Creekview High in Carrollton as they go through the stages of the tournament in Coppell, Texas. Neither ice nor sleet nor snow will keep these determined teens from competing, althoughwintry weather almost delays the competition. To give the viewer an idea of what they're in for, Plano coach Karen Wilbanks states, "All art is competitive."

AFF 2011 Interview: 'Restive'

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Jeremiah Jones and Marianna Palka of Restive

A mother's challenge to her abusive husband sends her family into an unsettling journey through the woods in Austin-based first-time filmmaker Jeremiah Jones's feature film Restive. The movie screened to a sold-out audience the first night of AFF. Jones and lead actress Marianna Palka (pictured above) were there too.

A lot has changed for writer/director Jones, who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin where he was a three-year football letterman.

How did Jones transition from football to filmmaking? "It might sound odd, but the skill sets are the same," he said. "Directing is coaching, and casting is recruiting. You try to get everyone on the same page and give them the support that they need to get to a goal. You treat them like family."

Photo Essay: Tarzan and Arab at Alamo Ritz

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Tim League Introduces Tarzan and Arab

Last Wednesday, October 26, the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz hosted a very special presentation of an incredible pair of Palestinian artists, along with two related films. Above, Drafthouse founder Tim League introduces the show and explains the enormous task of bringing them to Austin.

Twin brothers and filmmakers Tarzan and Arab (Ahmed and Mohammed Abu Nasser) hail from Gaza, where the last movie theater was destroyed in a bombing two years before they were born. The sons of an art teacher, they conceived an art project where they would create movie posters for imaginary films with titles based on codenames for Israeli military operations.

AFF Review: Below Zero

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Below Zero

AFF 2011 selection Below Zero is almost as much a performance art project as it is a film. Unfortunately, it is not a masterpiece. Writer Signe Olynyk had herself locked inside a meat freezer in an abandoned slaughterhouse in order to write a script about a hack writer who is likewise locked up in the same freezer to write a script. But Below Zero is so meta, it's meta-meta. The writer (Edward Furlong) then spends a week going insane writing a script about a guy trapped in a meat locker.

It's almost as if they were trying to make Inception, except every level of dreaming in this movie is the same (bad) dream. Even better, the film is shot in the very same meat locker. I don't want to be too negative, as the concept is interesting, and the first 80 percent of the movie is well-executed.

The story in Below Zero shifts back and forth between Jack the writer (Furlong) and Frank, the character in the script (also Furlong). Things begin happening in the room while Jack is asleep that mimic his script even as the script anticipates some of those events.

AFF Review: "Where I'm From" Texas Shorts

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Now Leaving Amarillo

Jake Silverstein, Texas Monthly editor-in-chief, introduced the "Where I'm From" Texas shorts program at Austin Film Festival by explaining how it came to be. This is the first year of the magazine's collaboration with AFF -- in previous years, the shorts contest has been online only. Out of more than 100 reader submissions (Silverstein was unclear on the exact number), there were 18 semifinalists. These were narrowed down to the 11 finalist films which screened at the festival. A panel of judges then picked the three winners, which were announced at the Saturday screening.

First on the program was Will O'Loughlin's film 254 about his travels all over the Lone Star State. While still photographs appear onscreen, O'Loughlin's (somewhat monotone) narration explains how over a span of 15 years, he has driven through every county in Texas, all 254 of them. H-Town Up & Down was the only dramatization in the bunch. A 20-something go-getter's car breaks down in the outskirts of Houston and he has to figure out a way to get to his interview with a firm downtown. Drew Lewis' short has a few funny moments, but the acting leans towards the style of "Hey kids, let's put on a show."

AFF 2011 Photo Essay: 'Deep in the Heart'

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Although out-of-town Austin Film Festival attendees may have had a difficult time attending movie premieres and screenings at the Regal Arbor in north Austin, this local doesn't mind the change of pace. With changes in the parking fees downtown and traffic congestion, I enjoy the alternate venues -- especially since the Arbor is close to home for me.

One of the AFF selections I saw at the Arbor this year was Deep in the Heart, a feature making its world premiere in the fest's Texas Independents category. Starring local festival alum Jon Gries (Natural Selection, Napoleon Dynamite) as Texan Dick Wallrath, this docudrama focuses on a man who went from a deadbeat alcoholic to a self-made millionaire and philanthropist. Wallrath is known for his generosity via the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H programs that helps fund college educations for students from rural communities. The movie was shot in the greater Austin area.

Dick Wallrath and his wife Patsy (seen above with executive producer Jay Hoffman) attended the Arbor screening, along with several of the film's stars and writer/producer Brian A. Hoffman -- read Jenn Brown's interview with Hoffman here. See more photos from the Deep in the Heart Q&A after the jump.