November 2014

Our Holiday Favorites 2014: 'The Holiday' Cheers Up Elizabeth

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Jack Black, Eli Wallach and Kate Winslet in The Holiday

Welcome back to Slackerwood's annual Holiday Favorites series. Over the next month or so, we'll talk about our favorite movies to watch in the winter holiday season, and ask various friends in the film community to share their favorites with us too. 

When actor Eli Wallach died earlier this year, I immediately thought of his work in Nancy Meyers' The Holiday. Certainly he appeared in more notable pictures, but The Holiday is near and dear to my heart (as is How to Steal a Million, in which he also appears). A romantic comedy only vaguely related to end-of-the-year festivities, the "Holiday" here represents the short breaks Brit Iris (Kate Winslet) and American Amanda (Cameron Diaz) take from their regular schedules as they trade homes for a couple weeks.

Wallach plays an endearing remnant from Classic Hollywood, the kind of old codger who will namedrop Cary Grant at the same time as he describes what a "meet cute" is. I'm not one to gloss over the deficiencies of the studio system, but as his character of Arthur serves as a way for Iris to finally get some "gumption," I can appreciate his role here. Jack Black and Jude Law (in glasses!) are the love interests for our two leading ladies.

Movies This Week: November 26-December 4, 2014

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The Homesman

As we head into the Thanksgiving weekend, there are a few new releases that are hitting area theaters. The only other major change from last week is that the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory Of Everything (Don's review) is expanding to new locations today. It continues to play at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Regal Arbor and Violet Crown, but also turns up at the Alamo Lakeline, Alamo Slaughter Lane, AMC Barton Creek and the Cinemark Hill Country Galleria.

It's also worth mentioning, especially if you're in South Austin, that a brand new entertainment complex called EVO has opened up down in Kyle and it's the first theater in our area featuring an auditorium with Dolby Atmos sound. The EVX screen there is apparently 60-feet wide and Atmos can feature an audio mix that has up to 128 channels (as opposed to a 5.1 or 7.1 surround mix). They're currently screening The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 on the EVX screen!

The Austin Film Society's "Essential Cinema" series celebrating Contemporary Filipino Cinema is taking a break this Thursday for Thanksgiving, but returns on Thursday, December 4 with Norte, The End Of History. The epic four-hour movie was just nominated this week as Best International Film at the Independent Spirit Awards and it is the Philippines' official entry for the Acadamy Awards Best Foreign Language Film category. 

Review: Horrible Bosses 2

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Horrible Bosses IIWhen you have something that really works you don't fuck it up. Horrible Bosses 2 doesn't make the mistake of screwing with the perfectly "horrible" premise of the original movie. Bateman, Day and Sudeikis are an unbeatable comedy team not equalled since Moe, Larry and Curly.

When studios land a hit comedy, the massive return on relatively miniscule investment guarantees a sequel. The Hollywood machine depends on finding a formula that works and milking it dry. Sticking as close to the established formula while changing things up enough to keep it fresh is the magic trick, and sometimes a production team can fail to pull it off. I was worried that would be the case here, that like The Hangover II, the laughs would fall flat for me.

I'm quite happy that my expectations for this film were not met. Director Sean Anders (Sex Drive) shares writing credits with John Morris (Hot Tub Time Machine), Jonathan Goldstein (Horrible Bosses), and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses), who's retired from his TV acting gig on Bones (as Dr. Sweets) to pursue writing and directing with a reboot of Vacation coming next year. Returning from the original cast are Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey, and Jamie Foxx with the pleasant additions of Christoph Waltz and Chris Pine.

The script follows the trio Nick (Bateman), Kurt (Sudeikis), and Dale (Day) as they have quit their jobs and seen their bosses sued, imprisoned or even killed and now set out to be their own bosses in the new company they've formed. Starting a business is a lot tougher than they planned, however, and the trio discovers their own ways to be horrible at being bosses.

As expected, the humor is very R-rated, crass, gross and outrageously funny. Right off the bat the characters find themselves in terribly embarrassing situations, and the tried and true method of "Tell, don't show... then show" works well. Stay at home for your turkey but then head to the theater, because this movie is well done.

Sounds Like Film: 'American Hustle' Soundtrack Expanded for Vinyl Release

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American Hustle

A brand new expanded vinyl edition of the American Hustle soundtrack is hitting select independent record stores across the country this week. Many record colecting nerds are already familiar with Record Store Day (RSD), an event that happens every April featuring exclusive pressings to encourage people to support indie retailers. With vinyl sales surging globally, this program has extended to Black Friday each year, when a new batch of limited-edition releases hit stores. These aren't things that you'll find at national retailers, but rather indie stores like Austin's Waterloo Records and End of an Ear

While RSD titles are not guaranteed to be in stock at every store across the country, I think it's a safe bet that you'll be able to find this new American Hustle vinyl release at both stores if you're an early shopper on Friday. The soundtrack was first released on CD and digitally last December, but this expanded version makes it available on vinyl for the first time and features six songs not included on the original release. Packaged in a gatefold sleeve featuring a brand new ilustration of the film's poster artwork illustrated by Michael Gillette, the records are pressed on 150-gram red and blue vinyl with "2-eye" stereo labels that replicate 1960s pressings from Columbia Records. 

Movies This Week: November 21-25, 2014

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The Theory Of Everything

This is an abbreviated version of our Movies This Week roundup because there will be some turnover at area theaters on as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. I'll be back with an early post on Wednesday to let you know about what will be changing. In the meantime, here's a quick look at what is on tap for this weekend and early next week.

At Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, they are continuing on with 70mm screenings of Interstellar, but those are currently only confirmed through Tuesday night. It's possible that it will keep playing, but if you've been meaning to catch it there on film, you may want to squeeze it in this weekend. The Ritz has added a Saturday afternoon matinee of Florian Habicht's outstanding documentary Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets. They've also got a Mad Max trilogy marathon on Sunday and Monday night will feature a 35mm screening of Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut for the "1999" series as well as the Sichel Sisters' 1997 lesbian romance All Over Me. Originally released by Fine Line Features and never available on dvd, this is a rare chance to see this remarkable queer classic. 

The Alamo South Lamar is presenting Evolution Of A Criminal for its only Austin-area theatrical screening on Sunday. The documentary about a teenage bank robber made its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year and the director (who is also the subject of the film), Darius Clark Monroe, is going to be there for a post-screening Q&A. The "1999" series also stops by Lamar on Tuesday night for Scorsese's outstanding drama Bringing Out The Dead in 35mm. The Alamo Lakeline serves up the seductive Dangerous Liaisons again this weekend for Afternoon Tea while The Fifth Element plays there on Sunday evening. 

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay pt 1The movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 continues the series, taking it into darker, more adult territory. Fans of the books will not be disappointed. The third film sticks quite close to the events of the Suzanne Collins novel's first half, though the movie is slightly less bloody. Directed by Catching Fire's Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine), Mockingjay is both faithful to the source and also timely commentary on the use of media to influence a revolution.

Peter Craig and Danny Strong penned the screenplay, which picks up immediately after the events in Catching Fire. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) has been evacuated to the lost District 13, hidden in a vast complex of underground bunkers. As the clampdown by the government of evil President Snow (Donald Sutherland) on the rebelling districts continues, her best option to contribute to the revolution is to assume the role for which she has unwittingly been groomed and become the Mockingjay, an inspiration and example to the repressed peoples of Panem broadcast in propaganda videos over hijacked airwaves to all the districts. At the same time, her love and fellow Hunger Games champion Peeta is trapped in the Capital, used as an opposing figure begging for an end to violence in official broadcasts.

Until now, the series has always been told first-person from Katniss' perspective. For the first time here, we see just a few scenes with other characters: President Snow and his staff, District 13 President Coin (Julianne Moore) and Game Master Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) that set up the film as more of a direct conflict between Katniss and Snow. "Moves and counter-moves," muses Snow at one point, to emphasize that this is a chess match between the two, himself in white and Katniss in black. Caught up in the conflict between them, the districts are all in gray, and the grayest among them is 13.

Review: The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of Everything

There is surprisingly little science in The Theory of Everything, a film about famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking's personal life. There is, however, a lot of kissing.

Well, maybe not that much kissing -- at least compared to other romantic films -- but the movie contains far more romance than science. Want to learn about Hawking's groundbreaking work? Skip the deceptively titled The Theory of Everything, which focuses on Hawking's relationship with his first wife, Jane Hawking, and barely touches on his brilliant scientific ideas.

Based on Jane Hawking's memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, The Theory of Everything opens as grad students Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane (Felicity Jones) begin dating at the University of Cambridge in 1963. All is well with their courtship at first. But within a few months, Stephen is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), a progressive disorder that causes motor neuron degeneration and muscle weakness and atrophy.

HRC Brings Molly Haskell to Austin Tomorrow to Talk 'GWTW'

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Gone with the Wind concept painting

Have you been to the "The Making of Gone with the Wind" exhibit at the Harry Ransom Center yet? Whatever your opinion of the film, it is truly amazing. I've been once and I feel like I caught about 60 percent of it before my feet gave out -- I need to go back again. The exhibit runs through Jan. 4, and admission is free (although parking near UT probably won't be), so take a long lunch break and check it out. Your mom's visiting for Christmas vacation? Bring her there for a treat.

Tomorrow night (Wednesday, Nov. 19) at 7 pm, head over to HRC to hear author and film critic Molly Haskell discuss her book Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited. It focuses on both the novel and the movie. Haskell is probably best known for her book on women in film, From Reverence to Rape. I've heard her speak before and can't recommend it enough. If you can't make it to the HRC, a live webcast will be available.

I've read Frankly, My Dear and enjoyed it very much -- in fact, I bought the book at HRC after visiting the exhibit. I've read maybe a half-dozen books over the years about Gone with the Wind, because back in high school I was a huge raving fan of the novel. I'm less so now -- over the years the racism has bugged me more and more, and I've always felt Scarlett is essentially an overgrown teenager. But somewhere around here I believe I even have a book of producer David O. Selznick's infamous memos (he would have loooved social media and email), many of which concerned his great 1939 epic film. So I went into the exhibit, and Haskell's book, with plenty of background information.

Movies This Week: November 14-20, 2014

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Rosewater 

It's a very busy weekend for cinema lovers in Austin. First up, you've got the Austin Asian American Film Festival at the Marchesa. It's a welcome return for the festival, which was last held in 2009. The fest aims to turn the spotlight on films from Japan, South Korea, Myanmar Thailand, Taiwan, India, the Philippines, Vietnam and the United States. It kicked off last night and will run through Sunday. Tonight, you can catch a Taiwanese drama called Ice Poison and Pee Mak, a horror film that is the highest grossing film in the history of Thailand. Saturday's lineup includes a Vietnamese comedy called Funny Money and the festival's centerpiece, Andrew Lay and Andrew Loo's Revenge Of The Green Dragons, a film that features Martin Scorsese as an executive producer. Sunday will include the Indian documentary Tomorrow We Disappear and the Japanese comedy Cicada. The full lineup and ticket information can be found at the festival's website linked above.   

The Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar will be welcoming the second annual Forever Fest this weekend. Tonight they've got a quote-along screening of Mean Girls with stars Jonathan Bennett, Daniel Franzese and Daniel DeSanto in person for a Q&A. Your ticket for the movie also gets you into The Spring Fling dance at the Highball where they encourage you to come dressed as your favorite Mean Girls character! Saturday's featured film is a local premiere for Amira & Sam, an indie drama Drafthouse Films will be releasing next year. Forever Fest will be hosting a live Q&A with the film's stars Martin Starr, Paul Wesley, Dina Shihabi and director Sean Mullin. 

The Austin Film Society has limited programming this week since the Marchesa theater is being utilized by the Austin Asian American Film Festival, but they've still got a few great events on the calendar. They'll be hosting the Austin premiere of Stop The Pounding Heart on Wednesday night. Shot in rural Texas, this 2013 selection of the Cannes Film Festival introduces us to a "teenage girl coming of age on her religious family's goat farm." Also screening this week is 2013's On The Job on Thursday night. It's the Essential Cinema pick from a new series on contemporary Filipino cinema. 

Review: Rosewater

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RosewaterWhen you browse to the CNN website, you can choose between US and international editions of the site. While both feature current news items, one edition is focused more heavily on stories about celebrity gossip, xenophobic fears and sports. The other focuses on stories about foreign politics, military activities and human-rights figures. I probably don't have to tell you which is which. The fact is, a majority of Americams don't care about what is happening in other countries. If they did, those stories would be the ones featured in the US edition of CNN, and you would already know the story of Maziar Bahari, the Iranian Canadian journalist imprisoned by the Iranian government for 118 days in 2009 accused of being a spy.

If you have the slightest interest about happenings outside the US, especially in the Middle East -- an area typically ignored and/or misrepresented by most public education here -- you should consider Rosewater essential viewing. Jon Stewart, comedian, actor and host of the perennially popular The Daily Show, has brought Bahari's tale to the big screen after numerous appearances on his program, one of which figured heavily in his incarceration; the Islamic Republic used as evidence against him an appearance in which Jason Jones appeared dressed as a "spy" for comedic effect.

The import of this movie lies in its ability to help bridge the gaps in understanding that result from the holes in our knowledge and direct experience with Iranian culture. Stewart is new to filmmaking, and at times the feature looks more like a TV program than a film. Much of this is owing to the use of footage from various sources, news clips, even footage shot by friends of Bahari in Iran itself. Stewart edits it into a cohesive experience, but the mood shifts irregularly -- it shifts from documentary to drama and even to comedy. Throughout, however, runs a clear message: Governments control their citizens through information, and with the free flow of communication people can overcome an oppressive regime.

Rosewater's first act puts into perspective some things we take for granted. We have unlimited access to information, news, and culture unfettered by government interference, if we only seek it out. Gael Garcia Bernal as Bahari encounters an educated group of youths operating a "satellite university" where through illegal hidden satellite dishes, they access the world outside Iran's state-controlled media. As Bahari documents the 2009 election, voters swarm the polls, knowing little about the opposition candidate they support ... other than they'll vote for anyone who isn't Ahmadinejad. Before the polls are even closed, state-run media announce an overwhelming majority of the vote for Ahmadinejad in the rigged election. Bahari's mother Moloojoon (Shohreh Aghdashloo) represents the typical voter, unhappy with the Islamic regime but confused by the rampant propaganda on her TV. Meanwhile, rioting breaks out in the streets, and Bahari captures the violence on camera as guards begin firing on civilians, a video that results in his arrest.

Ready, Set, Fund: Creepy and Cool November

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found footage 3D crew

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

It's a busy month for local films in the making, and you have plenty of chances to help your favorite (or future favorite) Texas filmmakers bring their stories to the screen. 

Into fun, artsy horror movies? Slow Creep by Jim Hickcox is about a "rad-as-hell 15-year-old girl" who, in an act of revenge, goes after a monster made of garbage. This project recently received an AFS Kodak Grant but still needs to raise a few thousand dollars so that the filmmaker can properly create the 90s aesthetic and scary details his monster movie requires.

Find out more in this trailer:

AFF Review: 61 Bullets

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61 Bullets

I grew up in the greater New Orleans area, I have minors in political science and history from LSU ... I even worked in the Louisiana State Capitol for awhile. But it wasn't until I saw 61 Bullets at Austin Film Festival that I heard a viable alternative theory about Huey Long's death. (Sure, I heard speculation, but I gave it as much credence as alternate Kennedy assassination theories.) 61 Bullets not only presents the case for this theory compellingly, but it brings in the personal -- the family of Dr. Carl Weiss, accused of assassinating then-Senator Long.

For those of you who haven't had to learn this for a pop quiz, who haven't poked their fingers in the bulletholes in the State Capitol wall, here's the background: In 1935, former La. Gov. Huey Long was shot in the State Capitol. The story we learned is that Weiss leaped out from behind a pillar and started shooting. Long's bodyguards peppered Weiss's body with 61 bullets (thus the documentary's title), and rushed Long to the hospital, but he died several days later. The rationale generally provided for why Weiss did it is that he was mentally unhinged, and perhaps had a beef with Long over Weiss's father-in-law possibly losing a judgeship.

However, many of Weiss's relatives have never quite accepted this theory, it seems. They believe the political ambitions of the Long family (which indeed are legendary) are a big reason behind the concealment of the facts. For example, a federal investigation of the incident never took place -- everything was handled locally, information is missing, etc. Long's body is buried under so much concrete in the Capitol that an autopsy would be impossible, and his surviving descendants/relatives still believe Weiss assassinated him.

The Stars at Night: Three on a Match

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Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak in Three on a Match

Fearless editor Jette has indulged my love for classic film by allowing me to look into older movies which have Texas connections -- mostly through the people involved in making them. We'll call this new column The Stars at Night (thanks to my sister for the title idea). For my first selection, I chose a Joan Blondell film. Blondell's family lived in Texas during her teenage years -- she was even crowned Miss Dallas once upon a time.

The beautiful blonde with big eyes and a wry delivery tended to be placed in supporting roles during the half-century of her career. I hoped that with her top credit in 1932's Three on a Match, Blondell would have a larger role here... but no such luck. The melodrama includes such notables as Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, along with Blondell, in the cast. However, it is early enough in their careers that they are all stuck in side roles.

Blondell plays actress Mary, introduced as "not a bad girl ... just not serious enough." Davis is secretary Ruth, and Ann Dvorak overacts as wealthy wife Vivian. Three on a Match speedily runs us through their days together in primary school up through the current year. Montages of obscure news events and headlines are shown between segments to set the year. Giving the screenwriters some credit: Film was still in its early days in 1932, so it's not as if they knew a better way to show the passage of time. Or maybe they just loved the idea of montages. Director Mervyn LeRoy shot five other movies that year (including the much better-known I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang), so it's doubtful he had much extra attention to give Three on a Match.

AFF Review: Wild

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Reese Witherspoon in Wild

Cheryl Strayed, author and former Dear Sugar advice-giver, wrote a bestseller based on journal entries she kept as she hiked the Pacific Crest Trail as a young adult in the '90s. Her Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is deeply felt, harsh in its openness about her past drug use and infidelities, and a loving ode to her mother. When I heard Reese Witherspoon would play Strayed in the cinematic adaptation, I was hesitant to get too excited. Then I saw the trailer and started counting the days til the movie's release. The screening at Austin Film Festival was packed, so I wasn't alone in my eagerness to see Wild.

Author/screenwriter Nick Hornby (About a Boy, An Education) adapted Strayed's original work; in the hands of director Jean-Marc Valee (Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria), the author's story is told in a type of stream of consciousness. After a cold open with Witherspoon as Cheryl frustratedly throwing a boot off a mountain, we are shown a truck (driven by the real Strayed) dropping our main character off at a less-than-reputable hotel. Before she starts the journey and throughout her long hike -- which seems as much a penance as a form of self-discovery -- quick edits take the viewer through flashes of her memory.  In this non-linear manner, scenes from her childhood, college experience, and young, troubled marriage are interspersed in the timeline of her months-long trek.

Review: Force Majeure

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Force MajeureWhen faced with starvation, some animals eat their young. When facing death, the wisdom goes, nature rewards parents who protect themselves at the expense of their children as, after all, they can always have more children if they survive. There is also a theory that in times of great stress and danger, instinct can take over our actions and override the conscious brain. This week's release at the Arbor, Force Majeure, explores both of these.

Written and directed by Ruben Östlund, the Swedish submission for Best Foreign Language Film in the next Academy Awards won a jury prize at Cannes and audience praise at Fantastic Fest. Peppered with humor at times so subtle I felt it got lost within the drama, Force Majeure reminded me in some way of Escape From Tomorrow. Both films find dark humor with a family of four on holiday when things begin to go nightmarishly wrong.

In this case, that scenario takes the form of a controlled avalanche that proves a little more energetic than expected, threatening the lives of Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke), Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) and their children Vera and Harry (siblings Clara and Vincent Wettergren) as they lunch during their ski trip in the French Alps.

Instead of protecting his family or helping get his children out of the situation, Tomas flees the actually harmless snowdrift. Ebba, shocked by the revelation her husband has failed in a moment of weakness to live up to his role as protector, begins to question their marriage. The children are helpless in the face of the very real possibility that their parents may break up the family as their mother obsesses over an action their father patently denies.

Movies This Week: November 7-13, 2014

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Big Hero 6

With the Austin Film Festival now in our collective rearview mirrors, the local film calendar is going to start turning more actively towards some of the biggest films of the year. Most of them will not be blockbusters (although Interstellar certainly is), but many titles will be hopefuls for awards season. As far as Christopher Nolan's new film goes, we are very fortunate to live in a market where it's playing in all available formats. While you can see it in 4K digital or even digital IMAX, the preferred format for this one is actual film and you can catch local screenings in 35mm, 70mm (at the Ritz) and even a proper 15-perf 70mm IMAX print at the Bob Bullock (where the screen towers six stories above you). Sadly, this will be the final movie screened on film at the museum before they convert to digital projection, so I'd encourage you to take in the experience there.

Birdman (Mike's review) expands to the multiplex this weekend as Fox Searchlight adds screens at the AMC Barton Creek and Cinemark Hill Country Galleria (while continuing on at Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, Alamo South Lamar, Regal Arbor and Violet Crown) and Sony Pictures Classics is taking Whiplash to the Alamo South Lamar (while it continues at Regal Arbor and Violet Crown). 

The Austin Film Society has a special screening tonight of Austin Film Festival alum Winter In The Blood at the Marchesa. Local filmmakers (and twin brothers) Alex and Andrew Smith (The Slaughter Rule) had their latest feature picked up for distribution this fall by Kino Lorber. Featuring a score by Austin rockers Heartless Bastards, Alex Smith and some of the cast members will be in attendance for a Q&A after tonight's screening.

Review: Big Hero 6

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Big Hero 6The Walt Disney Animation Studios team continues to knock hits out of the park, following up Wreck-It Ralph and Frozen with this weekend's adaptation of the Marvel comic Big Hero 6. Directed by Don Hall and Chris Williams (Bolt), Big Hero 6 is perhaps a first in presenting modern Asian-American leads as positive role models in a major Hollywood studio production for children. 

Young Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter) is something of a robotics savant, hustling cash in the underground world of robot fighting a la Real Steel. He's encouraged by older brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) to apply himself and join him in the advanced robotics program led by Roberto Callaghan (James Cromwell). There he meets fellow students Go Go (Jamie Chung), Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), and Fred (TJ Miller).

An unexpected disaster leaves Hiro reeling, and with the help of his friends and Baymax (Scott Adsit), his brother's helpful medical robot, Hiro transforms the group into superheroes in order to fight the evil threatening their city of San Fransokyo.

The screenplay by Jordan Roberts, Robert L Baird and Daniel Gerson is fun for kids, presenting science as a cool way to create fun things. It also treads into some darker subject matter, including how to responsibly deal with grief. Nevertheless, Big Hero 6 is clever and funny with entertaining characters (though fans of the comic will note some changes due to the rights to two characters being owned by 20th Century Fox).

Each character in Big Hero 6 has unique and useful powers fitting their personalities and skills, and everyone is sure to choose a favorite. (Mine was TJ Miller-voiced Fred, who loves to pretend he is a kaiju and gets many of the funniest lines as they are improvised by the actor-comedian.) "Come early, stay late," is the rule for this so that you won't miss the absolutely brilliant short Feast playing along with it or the hilarious post-credits stinger.

AFF Review: The Suicide Theory

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Suicide Theory Still PhotoTo what length would a desperate and grief-stricken person go to end their life? Several failed attempts at suicide drive Percival (Leon Cain) to hire a professional hitman to kill him in The Suicide Theory, an Australian thriller written by Michael Kospiah and directed by Dru Brown.

Steven Ray (Steve Mouzakis) is dealing with his own personal tragedy -- his pregnant wife Annie (Zoe de Plevitz) was killed in a hit-and-run accident while crossing the street. He's developed such a phobia that he is stricken with seizures any time he attempts to step off a street curb, to the extent of taking cabs just to cross the block. The two men meet when Percival literally jumps from a building and lands on a cab that Steven is in, casing his next victim. What appears to be a chance meeting to Steven is fate to Percival, who appears to be delusional. However, as Steven repeatedly attempts yet fails to kill Percival, he begins to believe and even identify with Percival's desperation.

As the story of The Suicide Theory further unfolds, we learn that the tragic bond which brings these two unlikely friends together is much darker and complex than can be imagined. As the pieces of the puzzle are revealed and put in place, I found myself on the edge of my seat and engrossed in the revelations. Just enough comedic writing is woven in to help alleviate nervous tension from the seriousness of this film's main plot.

Review: Interstellar

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InterstellarTake the theory of relativity, theories about space and time, and quantum physics; combine them with intense emotions and exploration of relationships, both personal and familial; write a 169-page screenplay about it all, then bring said screenplay to life. While this task sounds like something way over my film-school brain, Christopher Nolan makes it seem easy as cake with his latest movie, Interstellar.

I've watched many a film buff get into heated debates about Nolan's work. There are those who argue his work is flashy, dazzling you with inexplicable knowledge and plot while melting your eyeballs with IMAX cinematography. On the other hand, there are those who argue his work is brilliant, each camera move and plot point an intricate dance filled with depth and emotion. I tend to fall into the middle of this arguement.

The basic premise is this: Cooper (played by Texas favorite, Matthew McConaughey) is a former-engineer-turned-farmer living with his young daugher Murphy and teenage son Tom. We understand right away that Earth is in trouble: All its resources have been utilized and the world is running out of time to find food and water. By some happenstance of the universe, Cooper finds his way over to a secret NASA location, learning about a secret mission to find another planet for humans to live on ... and of course, Cooper is the only man to pilot said ship to save the human race.

While there is no doubt that Nolan's work is (inter)stellar, it can definitely be cumbersome.  I found myself losing focus toward the middle of Interstellar, unsure of what the end result of this 169-minute saga would be. Thankfully, the story reeled back around and left for a compelling (and quite thought-provoking) third act.

One of the few downsides to the movie was the scientific jargon thrown around between characters. Poor line delivery made me wonder (in just a few instances) what the final theory actually was. This film also features a fun game of "Guess how many Hollywood celebs you can spot in space!"

AFF Review: The History of Time Travel

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The History of Time Travel Still Photo

“If you think Hitler with an atomic bomb is bad, imagine Stalin with a time machine.”

As discussed in Austin Film Festival panel "Science Fiction Versus Science Fact," much of fiction is driven by the "What if?" In his feature directorial debut The History of Time Travel, Stephen F. Austin State University student filmmaker Ricky Kennedy takes on the high concept of time travel and the consequences of its use on both personal and world events. Kennedy wrote, directed and edited this fictional documentary, which premiered at AFF.

Filmed entirely on location in Nacogdoches, Texas, The History of Time Travel is presented as a well-constructed docudrama, relating the fictional story of the Indiana Project and the biography of a key contributor, physicist Edward Page (Daniel May). This project is the United States response to reports that Hitler was less interested in nuclear weapons after his scientists began exploring time travel as an ultimate power. Page works long hours for decades, neglecting his wife Anne (Elizabeth Lestina) and son Richard in the hopes of achieving one of man's greatest desires: the ability to travel through time and alter events in one's favor.

AFF Review: The Texas Promise

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texas promiseIn 2011, the Texas Legislature voted to remove $5.4 billion from the state's education budget. Vanessa Roth's intelligent and informative documentary, The Texas Promise, examines some of the reasons behind this decision as well as various effects it had on Texas public schools.

The film opens with a series of hopeful young students talking about what they want to be when they grow up, but the narrative quickly moves into the nitty gritty of the matter at hand. Thanks to the people in charge at the governmental level, these students probably have a challenging path ahead of them for reasons that have more to do with money and politics than their own academic skills and goals.

Roth helps to explain the situation by relying on quite a bit of footage captured during the legislative debates leading up to the 2011 decision, and these moments help to provide a summary of the players on either side of the issue (though you may not have realized "funding public schools" could be such a divisive idea). Dan Patrick and Wendy Davis are both featured, making The Texas Promise relevant to this week's elections, also.

Roth also interviews teachers, parents, academics and analysts to provide greater scope, and through the eyes of these individuals it becomes clear how dire the situation is for so many Texans. It isn't just overcrowded classrooms and overworked teachers, it's the misplaced priorities among those who hold power that makes the future seem grim, especially for the non-wealthy.

Throughout the film, Roth does an excellent job of balancing emotion with facts, and she succeeds in illuminating a complex issue without resorting to oversentimentality or oversimplification. It's practically impossible to simplify such a mess, anyway, but it's heartening to see that enough people were outraged enough to protest and ultimately sue the state to try and recover some of the lost funds. 

Mondo Gallery Hosts 'Batman 75th Anniversary' Show

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 Mondo Gallery Batman 75th Anniversary

Just a week before Halloween, Mondo launched its "Batman 75th Anniversary" gallery show featuring prints and original works from dozens of artists including Martin Ansin, Craig Drake, Jason Edmiston, Kilian Eng, Francesco Francavilla, Brandon Holt, Alex Pardee, JC Richard, Kevin Tong, Tom Whalen, and many others. Check out my photos below from opening night.

AFF Review: The Sideways Light

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Lindsay Burdge in The Sideways Light

Last Sunday, after a day at Austin Film Festival packed with a lackluster panel, a surprisingly well-done foreign shorts program, and the screening of a Reese Witherspoon film I've been keen to see for months, I closed the evening with The Sideways Light at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.  The thriller was a chilling cap to the night.

In her large house, sextuagenarian Ruth (Annalee Jefferies, Ain't Them Bodies Saints, The Girl) putters around and talks to herself (or so we and her daughter assume). Worried about her ailing mother, Lily (Lindsay Burdge, A Teacher, Frances Ha) has moved back home for the interim. Daughter Lily uneasily slips into the role of caretaker as her mom becomes more childlike. She takes breaks offered by her brother Sam (Mark Reeb, Eve of Understanding, Sun Don't Shine) to visit and flirt with bar owner Aidan (Matthew Newton, Queen of the Damned, Farscape).

Ruth has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, but that's not all she's dealing with. She hates to leave the house because "they look after me." Lily comes to realize who "they" are as the film progresses.

Review: Nightcrawler

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Nightcrawler

Over the last several years Dan Gilroy has made a name for himself in Hollywood as a screenwriter. After a few misses, he struck gold with The Bourne Legacy, a script that really put him on the map and ended up giving him the power to jump behind the camera. His directorial debut, Nightcrawler, is a slick thriller, even though it plays out like a gritty b-movie. Robert Elswit, Paul Thomas Anderson's frequent cinematographer, captures the streets and vistas of Los Angeles in an alluringly dangerous way instantly during the opening credits.

We're seduced by the city and then introduced to Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who seems to have at least some level of Asperger's syndrome (or, at bare minimum, is not good at communicating with other people). We cannot really discern much about his life initially. Living in a small apartment and seemingly without a job, he drives around the city late at night looking for things he can steal and sell for scrap money. On the expressway, he comes across an accident site right as the police are beginning to assist. He gets out of his car and is transfixed by the scene, even more so when a fast moving van pulls up alongside him and runs toward the cops with video cameras in their hands, capturing the accident which has now turned into a dramatic police rescue before the car engulfs in flames.