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Movies This Week: October 10-16, 2014

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Kill The Messenger 

Austin Film Society continues their "Art Horror" series this month at the Marchesa with a 35mm print of Masaki Kobayashi's 1964 ghost story anthology, Kwaidan. Tonight's screening is actually a Free Member Friday event, so if you're an AFS member you won't have to pay a dime for this horror classic. It will also screen again on Sunday at noon. Also on Sunday, you can check out the 2013 documentary The Sarnos: A Life In Dirty Movies, which examines the life and career of sexploitation director Joe Sarno and his wife Peggy. It will be paired with Joe's 1966 feature Moonlighting Wives on Sunday evening

There is a lot of rep activity at Alamo Drafthouse theaters this week and we'll start off by looking at what is going down at the Ritz. You can catch Guys And Dolls in 35mm for "Broadway Brunch" on Saturday and Sunday, and Kubrick's big-screen classic 2001: A Space Odyssey will be screening in 70mm on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. A "Cinema Cocktails" screening of Death Becomes Her on Sunday night in 35mm (if it's the same beautiful print that played during "MerylThon," it's well worth scoping a ticket), a digital restoration of The Astrologer fresh from Fantastic Fest also on Sunday evening, a very rare screening of In The Land Of The Headhunters from 1914 for its 100th anniversary on Monday night, and what could be an oddly perfect double feature: Little Monsters and Phantasm in 35mm on Tuesday night.

Alamo Slaughter Lane quite appropriately has Sofia Coppola's scrumptious Marie Antoinette for "Afternoon Tea" on Saturday afternoon and quote-along screenings of Shaun Of The Dead will be happening on both Sunday and Thursday nights. Alamo Village will screen Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby on Sunday night and the anime classic Ninja Scroll (presented with subtitles) on Thursday. Alamo South Lamar goes back to 1948 for their Halloween pick this weekend with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. They'll also host sing-alongs for Little Shop Of Horrors on Tuesday and Thursday. South Lamar will also be hanging on to limited evening screenings of the new Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days On Earth and the excellent thriller The Guest all week long, both are worth catching on the big screen. 

Review: Kill the Messenger

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Kill the Messenger

'Tis the season for dark dramas, and Kill the Messenger may be this year's darkest, a film all the darker because it's based on a demoralizing true story.

The titular messenger is Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter who in 1996 writes a series of articles alleging a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan cocaine smugglers in the 1980s. According to Webb's Dark Alliance series, the CIA knew that huge amounts of Nicaraguan coke were sold as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, and the profits were funneled back to the Contras, CIA-backed rebel groups fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

Webb does not allege that the CIA was directly involved in smuggling or selling crack. Instead, he says the agency aided the Contras by looking the other way, withholding evidence from the Justice Department and Congress, and shielding the smugglers and dealers from prosecution. Webb also alleges that the Nicaraguan cocaine sparked the crack epidemic that spread to many U.S. cities.

Fantastic Fest Review: Alleluia

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Alleluia

Freely adapted from the "stranger than fiction" true tale of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez (aka the "Honeymoon Killers" of the late 1940s), the movie Alleluia is a dark and twisted love story comprising four chapters titled for its female characters and centering around a specific crime. This is the second film in Fabrice du Welz’s trilogy about the Belgian Ardennes -- the first being the 2004 horror film Calvaire.

Gloria (Lola Dueñas) lives a fairly solitary life with her young daughter, with her primary companions ibeing the corpses that she prepares as a nurse in the morgue at a local hospital. Her friend Madeline (Stéphane Bissot) convinces her to go out with the handsome and charismatic Michel (Laurent Lucas), who she has found through an online dating site. It is quickly revealed that Michel is even worse than the men your friends warned you about on the Internet -- not only is he a gigolo taking money from women, but he is also psychotic.

Fantastic Fest 2014 Wrap-up: An Epic Adventure

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Keanu Reeves and Adrianne Palicki

The tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest was a memorable and thrilling rollercoaster ride full of familiar faces including diehard genre film fans, filmmakers, and stars including Keanu Reeves and Adrianne Palicki -- pictured above at the John Wick Q&A. Perhaps the mark of a decade of this film festival that continues to please its attendees fueled everyone's excitement, but I can confirm that the film slate and scheduled events were better than ever. My one complaint to Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League? "It's difficult to decided between so much in one time slot!" Between MondoCon, signature events, and films from all over the world and across several genres I was hard pressed to decide what to do. Not a bad problem to have.

The layout of the new Alamo Drafthouse along with sporadic rainstorms made moving around and taking breaks between screenings somewhat daunting in the first few days, but Fantastic Festival director Kristen Bell and her staff were quick on their feet to adjust the crowd-control process. Quite a bit more social interaction took place between attendees this year than ever before, with a designated smoking zone reminiscent of my high school's non-official smoking zone behind our football field bleachers.

Fantastic Fest Quick Reviews: When Animals Dream, In Order of Disappearance

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When Animals DreamHere are a couple of capsule reviews from my time at Fantastic Fest this year: When Animals Dream and In Order of Disappearance. Both movies are set in winter in Nordic regions, so an overly air-conditioned movie theater is the ideal viewing experience (at least if you're in Austin).

When Animals Dream (Når dyrene drømmer)

I went into When Animals Dream almost completely blind, and it's hard not to encourage you to do the same. The Danish film premiered at Cannes and is the feature directorial debut for Jonas Alexander Arnby

Sonia Suhl stars as Marie, a teen girl just starting her first job in a fish-processing facility. She's drawn to a cute boy, and getting pranked by a total jerk. Her mom is nearly comatose, for reasons that slowly become evident. Marie has found a rash on her body and as the movie progresses, hair grows on the rash and in other incongruous places, and she has spells of snarling short temper. No one ever uses a word like "werewolf" ... because no one has to. 

This movie unwinds very carefully, giving the audience pieces of information one at a time, presenting the tale in a spare way. Everything feels stripped down: Marie's unmade-up face, her economy with dialogue, the barren atmosphere of the small port town. And yet the movie is almost mesmerizing.

I've heard people comparing the movie to Let the Right One In, possibly because both are deliberately paced Scandinavian films about the undead's effect on everyday life -- a minimum of fantasy in what is often harsh reality. And yes, it's a fair comparison, although When Animals Dream does not feel derivative. 

Review: Gone Girl

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This review contains vague plot spoilers.

Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl is a modern horror story about a marriage that goes dangerously, fascinatingly awry. A fast and satisfying read, the book’s smart dialogue and clever structure keep it from landing in trashy thriller territory even though the subject matter largely revolves around sex and scandal.

Flynn also wrote the screenplay for the film Gone Girl, doing an admirable job of keeping the guilty pleasure essence of the book intact while rearranging and splicing when necessary. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but she does it skillfully.

David Fincher is the well-chosen director of the film. Topics like obsession, manipulation and society’s continuous decay are right up Fincher’s alley, and his slick style and precise attention to detail are perfectly channeled into a story where every word and action carries weight and meaning. 

Movies This Week: October 3-9, 2014

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 20,000 Days On Earth

While the first of two weekends of the Austin City Limits Festival will create an influx of out-of-towners and even more traffic than usual, local theaters offer more choices than ever for those of you not braving Zilker Park. There are no less than 10 new releases opening, but first I want to focus on this week's specialty screenings. 

The Austin Film Society is kicking off their "Art Horror" series for October with Andrzej Zulawski's Possession. Released in 1981, the film stars Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani and plays out like a paranoid fever dream. Beautifully shot with an incredible score, it's screening in 35mm at the Marchesa tonight, Sunday afternoon and again on Tuesday evening so there's no excuse for missing this one! On Wednesday, Doc Nights will feature Las Marthas with director Cristina Ibarra in attendance for a Q&A and Essential Cinema's "The Films Of Satyajit Ray" series this month will turn to 1964's Charulata (The Lonely Wife) on Thursday night. 

Highlights of the specialty programming at our area Alamo Drafthouse locations this week: a few great horror films selected for October including Shaun Of The Dead (screening in 35mm) at Ritz on Saturday and Sunday, The Thing at South Lamar on Sunday and Tuesday and The Exorcist at Village on Sunday. The Village also has Jackie Chan's Supercop on Tuesday for their "Eastern Fury" series. Also of note this week: the Ritz will be screening a real rarity on Saturday afternoon called Corn's-A-Poppin'. Co-written by Robert Altman and shot in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, this is a 1955 musical comedy that the Drafthouse site calls "a singularly quirky exercise in regional filmmaking." 

Review: Annabelle

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AnnabelleA number of films have been inspired by the cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, most notably The Amityville Horror. The most financially successful was 2013's The Conjuring, in which the couple played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga assist the Perron family (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) with the demonic presence troubling their home. That film, which made over $318 million worldwide, is bookended with the tale of another of their cases. In it, the Warrens help a young nurse dealing with the sinister presence inhabiting a doll given to her by her mother. The film closes with a scene set in the basement room where the Warrens keep demonically possessed curiosities, the doll "Annabelle" in her glass case reigning as the most evil and feared. It serves as a perfect introduction for this week's prequel, Annabelle.

I did not expect the studio heads in their mad rush to capitalize on The Conjuring's success to shit all over it, but of course, this is New Line, the company that brought us the Val Kilmer career-killing abortion The Island of Dr Moreau. They cut a $20 million budget to $5 million and replaced venerable Conjuring director James Wan with John R. Leonetti, whose hottest previous credits were Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2. They hired an uncredited script polisher from the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street who clumsily crafted an origin story set on the other side of the country, a script full of anachronisms, with no connection to the original film other than a vague mention of the Warrens as "some couple the church works with back east." And they replaced Farmiga and Wilson with younger lookalikes.

From Richard Linklater to Jon Stewart: Texas Films and Lineup Additions at AFF 2014

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hardy still

The full lineup and schedule have now been announced for this year's Austin Film Festival. Along with buzzy Marquee Selections like Wild and The Imitation Game and a few exciting late additions, including Jon Stewart's debut film Rosewater, The Humbling (starring Al Pacino) and dramedy/musical The Last 5 Yearsdozens of world and regional premieres are slated to screen, too -- many with Texas ties.

You can take a look at the full lineup and conference schedule (they're using Sched this year) and start planning your own path, but for now here's a quick overview of the films appearing at the festival made by and about Texans. 

21 Years: Richard Linklater -- Austin is the perfect place for the world premiere of this documentary, as it covers the first 21 years of the local director's career. The film features interviews with some of Linklater's regular collaborators, including Matthew McConaughey, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. You can bet this Friday night screening at the Paramount will be packed with proud local film fans. 

TAMI Flashback: Technology in Texas

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The Computer Tutor

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

This month's TAMI Flashback videos feature cutting-edge technology -- cutting-edge more than 40 years ago, that is. Produced by Dallas-based Bill Stokes Associates, the three videos highlight the state of the art in late Sixties and early Seventies computers and electronics. The technical details may appeal only to your inner nerd -- but with their innovation-a-go-go vibe, the videos are entertaining looks at an era when most people had little exposure to high-tech equipment.

Made in 1966, The Computer Tutor is a cheery and sometimes amusing look at a then-new technology that still isn't perfect: optical character recognition, or OCR. The video sings the praises of an "electronic retina computing reader," which greatly improved OCR accuracy. Invented by Dallas-based Recognition Equipment, the device could read up to 2400 characters per second (or so the video claims) with less than one error per 100,000 characters, while simultaneously processing the data. By scanning in text, the device eliminated the need for the slow, expensive and error-prone process of transferring the information to punch cards.

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