Blogs

Movies This Week: May 22-28, 2015

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 In The Name Of My Daughter

It's time for my final Movies This Week post here at Slackerwood. I just want to thank Jette for bringing me on to contribute to this site over the last two years. I've really had a great time covering the local repertory scene and highlighting each week's new releases here in Austin. I've got one last review that will run over the weekend and then next week this site will cease publishing new material. I hope that you've found this a valuable resource and I'm going to leave you with a new one. 

My good friend Zack McGhee is one of the biggest cinephiles I know. We met many years ago when we both lived in the Dayton, Ohio area and he worked not only for the Dayton Daily News, but also was a projectionist at the Little Art Theatre. Somehow, both of our jobs brought us here and we've been loving the film scene in Austin for years now. Not only does Zack host the My Favorite Movie podcast (on which Jette was a recent guest), but he also just launched the Austin Rep Calendar online. If you bookmark his site, I guarantee you that it will make your moviegoing life in Austin a more enjoyable experience, especially since it allows you to sort by screenings projected on film and gives you three weeks of listings so you can plan ahead. 

A cursory glance at the calendar shows that there is plenty to be excited about, this week and beyond. The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is, of course, kicking off another season tonight. Casablanca and Manhattan both screen in 35mm this evening and everything screening at the Paramount itself is projected on film (the Stateside screenings, however, are all digital). Tomorrow afternoon, they've got Brad Bird's The Iron Giant as a preview of their Family Film Festival and then evening shows of Sunset Boulevard and Chinatown for Saturday and Sunday. 

Review: Tomorrowland

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Tomorrowland posterThe last 10 minutes of a movie are often what shapes our opinion most -- a strong ending can soften our feelings about a bad movie, and a weak, tone-deaf ending can spoil a filmgoing experience far more thoroughly than any overly revealing trailer or review. Tomorrowland is often a breathtakingly gorgeous movie with charming performances, but the ending is so unabashedly lesson-driven and heavy-handed that it's difficult to remember anything but its flaws and missteps.

The movie's opening and closing scenes are meant as bookends, but these are bookends created by your clumsy kid brother in shop class on the day the nails ran short. The first scenes in particular feel like a hurried reshoot/restructure to get George Clooney onscreen earlier. Frank (Clooney) and Casey (Britt Robertson) are speaking directly into the camera, making a video for an unknown audience. With interruptions from Casey, Frank begins setting up the story through flashbacks to his childhood.

Young Frank (Thomas Robinson) visits the 1964 World's Fair -- which includes the Disney "It's a Small World" exhibit, natch -- to win an inventors' contest with his jet pack that doesn't ... quite ... work. He fails to impress the judge (Hugh Laurie) but young Athena (Raffey Cassidy) manages to sneak him access to a hidden, magical land, aka Tomorrowland (based on the Disney theme park).

The movie then abruptly shifts gears to Casey's story, which seems to be set in the near future -- her father is a NASA engineer, and she keeps trying to sabotage attempts to close Cape Canaveral down. Her unbounded optimism, interest in science and desire to fix everything catches Athena's attention, and she decides to introduce Casey to Tomorrowland too ... in the hopes that she can convince Frank, who's become even more you-kids-get-off-my-lawn than Clint Eastwood, to help them solve drastic problems affecting Tomorrrowland and the contemporary world.

Unfortunately, the entire concept of the Tomorrowland world feels weirdly Ayn Rand-ian and the movie feels at times like a pro-STEM propaganda piece aimed at kids. Filmmaker Brad Bird has never been subtle about messaging in family films such as The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille, but stellar storytelling with compelling characters took front and center. In addition, Tomorrowland is hampered by obvious Disney brand marketing, as off-putting as it was in Saving Mr. Banks.

Box-Office Alternatives: Intolerable Cruelty

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It's so rare to find a summer blockbuster that isn't based on a comic book or video game, that when one comes along, I'm immediately drawn to it. I'll admit that is my primary reason for wanting to check out Tomorrowland (2015), which stars George Clooney as a former boy genius who embarks on a quest to a fictional world where science and imagination know no bounds.

Tomorrowland also looks to give Clooney a role unlike any other he's taken on as a paranoid recluse with powerful secrets lurking inside his head. In honor of Tomorrowland's release, I thought I'd revisit one of my favorite Clooney roles which, although unknown to many, remains loved by those who have seen it.

Written and directed by the Coen Brothers, Intolerable Cruelty (2003) stars Clooney as Miles Massey, Los Angeles' most cunning divorce attorney, who is able to make any cheating spouse in town look like the most innocent of victims. When he encounters the beautiful Marilyn Rexroth (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Miles' views on love, marriage and divorce change forever.

TAMI Flashback: In Memory of Lost Austin

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Austin the View from Here

This article is the last for Slackerwood in a series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article.

As Slackerwood ends its long and successful run, so does my favorite Slackerwood beat, the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) Flashback series. In this final installment, TAMI Flashback returns to the place and time where it started: mid-20th century Austin, with two videos that capture the River City in two very different eras.

Produced by the Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1943, Austin the Friendly City shows us a friendly city, alright. The film opens with scrolling text that only someone drinking the Chamber of Commerce Kool-Aid could have written:

Austin is one of the loveliest and most advanced cities in the nation. So outstanding, indeed, that each year, hundreds of families move here in order to benefit from her fine schools, her excellent business conditions, her friendly atmosphere and to enjoy the spell of beauty which the enchanting tower lights cast over the towering oaks and moss-covered walls of a city rich in historical heritage.

A Classic Movie Fan's Dream: 2015 Summer Film Classics at the Paramount

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Stills from Pariah, When Harry Met Sally, Singin' in the Rain, Shadow of a Doubt and The Awful Truth

I've compiled a list of my favorites from the Paramount Summer Film Classics schedule for Slackerwood since 2012, so it's with this post that the upcoming end of the blog really hits me. It's been a great run, folks.

This 100th year of the Paramount Theatre means there's quite a schedule in store for us this summer. As in years past, films will screen at both Paramount and Stateside. Tickets are $12, which you can purchase online or at the venue. If you plan to see more than a few of these movies, it's probably worthwile to invest in FlixTix (a pack of 10 tickets for $60) or become a Film Fan.

And don't forget your admission covers double features! Without further ado, my last Paramount Summer Classics roundup for Slackerwood:

  • The Iron Giant (1999) -- The animated science-fiction story of a boy and his giant metal alien friend, which I reviewed last year for Lone Star Cinema, is a lead-in to the theater's Family Film Festival in July. (Sat 5/23 @ Paramount)
  • Female filmmakers -- Pariah played the 2011 Austin Film Festival and the coming-of-age drama was one of the best films I saw that year [Don's review]. The Dee Rees film will be paired with Agnes Varda's Cleo From 5 to 7 (1962) on Thurs-Fri, 6/25-26 at Stateside. It's all Penny Marshall at the Paramount that weekend, as her baseball classic A League of Their Own (1992) and the comedy Big (1988) play Saturday evening, 6/27, and Sunday afternoon, 6/28.

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

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<em />Mad Max: Fury RoadThe bar is set this week for top action flick of the summer, and Mad Max: Fury Road is the one to beat. It has been an improbable 30 years since the last entry in the Mad Max series, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but director George Miller returns with a joyride so big, so incredibly over-the-top, it's got the potential to redefine what we expect in an action film.

Miller immerses us in the post-apocalyptic world he established through the previous films, which we can now see has never stopped devolving and increasing in madness, chaos and destruction as the last vestiges of life continue to die off. The title "Mad Max" in fact is something of a misnomer, as Max Rockatansky, now played by Tom Hardy, is clearly the most sane person left in what has become the outer circle of Hell.

The world in Mad Max: Fury Road is the phenomenally stunning product of concept and art direction. The fully realized society is based on a religion devoted to its leader, who presides over warriors who feed on milk harvested from human slaves and who wish only to die in his service. Great machines powered by human feet lift vehicles from the bowels of his stronghold -- vehicles that might drive on stage at the heaviest of heavy-metal concerts, smoking frankencars pieced together, covered in skulls, with men chained to them spitting gasoline into their intakes to increase the RPMs.

Character names are just as ostentatious: Toast the Knowing, Rictus Erectus, The People Eater and The Splendid Angharad ... to name a few. Every detail of this fantasy is magnified, hyperbolized to an explosive extent. Michael Bay is no longer the director I refer to as the "best at blowing shit up."

We don't need another hero, but we get one in the bad-ass form of Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron). This is her story, and on Fury Road, Max is just along for the ride. There is no attempt to be subtle about the strong feminist message in the film, and that's A-OK. I would have been every bit as happy if this film had left out the Max character, and I'd love to see a set of movies in this world with Theron taking the lead.

Movies This Week: May 15-21, 2015

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 Pitch Perfect 2

The Violet Crown Cinema has an encore screening of its Arthouse Monthly series Sunday night with the acclaimed new documentary I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story. In her review, Jette says it's a "pleasant and sometimes touching profile of Caroll Spinney, who has spent decades portraying both Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street and elsewhere." Tickets are on the verge of selling out, but if you miss out on this one-time local screening, the film is available now on cable and digital VOD from Tribeca Film. In addition, Violet Crown is holding over Austin-shot indie Arlo and Julie (Elizabeth's review) for another week, with daily screenings.

The Austin Film Society kicks off the weekend with Jess Franco's 1971 avant-garde horror film Vampyros Lesbos, which screens tonight at the Marchesa. On Sunday afternoon, AFS is teaming up with the Austin chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for a 35mm benefit screening of the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, a 2005 profile of the local musician/artist.

On Wednesday night, Richard Linklater is presenting one of his favorite films of the 80s, Tim Hunter's River's Edge in 35mmHe'll be on hand for an introduction and then to lead a post-film discussion for the "Jewels In The Wasteland" series. The AFS "Songs Of The South" Essential Cinema series is featuring Intruder In The Dust on Thursday night. This 1949 feature from Clarence Brown tells the story of a black farmer falsely accused of murder in the South and is presented in 35mm.

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

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Still from Pitch Perfect 2

The Barden Bellas, with their zany vocal antics, are back.  Elizabeth Banks, who produced Pitch Perfect the first, directs the new sequel -- as well as returning to her role as a cappella commentator Gail. Pitch Perfect 2 shows the collegiate group three years after their win at nationals.

So much is packed into this two-hour musical comedy, but I'll try to break it down for you. Beca (Anna Kendrick), with dreams of being a music producer, snags an internship at a studio and doesn't tell her friends. Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) ruins a Bella performance at Lincoln Center and the group's performing duties as current national titleholders are stripped away. New freshman/legacy Bella Emily (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit) joins the group and they plan to compete in an international a cappella competition in Denmark.

Pitch Perfect 2 skips from situation to situation -- it's more like a longform sitcom than any other movie I've seen recently. Unfortunately, the script includes some lazy and ridiculous writing. A Latina Bella (Chrissie Fit) is relegated to stereotype, stuck with cringeworthy comments to the other girls about her brother trying to barter her for a chicken, or her likely being deported after college and coming back illegally. Besides her flipping skills, her character is basically a caricature. The limitations of the first film haven't been improved on in this regard.

HCFF Review: Mount Lawrence

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Mount Lawrence posterImagine cycling more than 6,000 miles cross-country, mending dozens of popped tires, camping out in thunderstorms, coping with unexpected injuries ... and documenting it with video cameras. Filmmaker Chandler Wild takes on the challenge in the documentary Mount Lawrence, and includes the audience in his experience in an engaging, almost intimate way. The film recently won the Best Documentary award at the Hill Country Film Festival.

Wild, a former Texan living in Brooklyn, decides to embark on this adventure to honor the memory of his dad, who loved taking his family on adventurous camping and other outdoor trips ... and eventually committed suicide. He plans to cycle from New York City through California and up to Alaska, and he has to do it within a fairly limited timeframe so the weather will be okay for travelling by the time he gets to Canada. His goal is to reach Homer, Alaska and climb an as-yet-unnamed mountain that he'll hopefully be able to officially name after his father (thus the title).

From Brooklyn, Wild starts the bicycle trek with his friend Connor Lynch, who has never tried cycling of any real distance, or outdoor living, or any of this kind of thing. While it's a rough start for Lynch, having him accompany Wild is a great entryway for the audience to empathize with the situation. Eventually they hit a rhythm as they travel west and deal with all kinds of unpredictable difficulties, as well as some truly lovely moments on the road and in places like Detroit and Yellowstone Park.

Mount Lawrence follows the obvious structure of the lengthy road trip, but Wild adds more of a personal note by framing his voiceover narration as a letter to his dad. It sounds a little stiff and forced at first, but as the documentary really gets rolling and we get to know him better, his inflections sound more natural. Music from The Bones of J.R. Bones complements the odyssey very well.

For a movie shot with GoPro cameras mounted crazily on bikes and other rough-on-the-road shooting, Mount Lawrence looks especially good on a big screen, but will carry over well to home video. The opening credits sequence, designed to look like a family vacation slideshow, is a real visual highlight. At this time, the film is touring the film-fest circuit and no distribution deals or plans have been announced ... but it's hard to imagine a documentary about an adventure of such magnitude won't make it at least to online streaming outlets soon.

Texas connections: Filmmaker Chandler Wild grew up in the Houston, Texas area.

Box-Office Alternatives: The Witches of Eastwick

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Mad Max: Fury Road is one of those sequels many were hoping would become a reality, yet few actually believed would see the light of day. The continuation of what is undoubtedly Australia's most popular film franchise at last comes to the big screen in a dark yet sprawling apocalyptic action piece just ripe for summertime audiences.

Without question the biggest plus in Mad Max: Fury Road was in bringing back the series' original director, George Miller. The director made his name helming the previous movies in the franchise before creating one of the most unpredictable filmographies in Hollywood, with features ranging from Lorenzo's Oil (1992) to Happy Feet (2006). However, no choice Miller made in his post-Mad Max days remained as standout as his first Hollywood outing, The Witches of Eastwick (1987).

Based on a novel by John Updike, The Witches of Eastwick centered on three women (Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer) in a small New England town, who dream up what they believe to be the perfect man while on a drunken girls' night. Almost immediately, a mysterious stranger (Jack Nicholson) movies into town and sets his sights on enchanting the three women, who are so captivated by him that they fail to realize that he is actually the Devil.

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