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Our Holiday Favorites 2014: It Happened on 5th Avenue

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Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Not many remember, or even know of, this touching holiday comedy's existence. I suppose that's fair enough since the release date for this Christmas-set film was actually Easter. It also didn't help that It Happened on 5th Avenue (1947) was released in between future classics It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Miracle on 34th Street (1947). As if this weren't enough, the movie went out of circulation in 1990 without even a single TV airing until a low-key DVD release several years ago saved it from holiday movie obscurity.

It's a real shame, since It Happened on 5th Avenue is not only just as good an offering as those other two classics, but it is also one of those rare films with a blend of humor and pathos that washes over you without warning. Each winter when millionaire Michael O'Connor (Charles Ruggles) leaves his 5th Avenue mansion for his home in Virginia, a warm-hearted drifter named Aloysius T. McKeever (Victor Moore) moves in and makes the large estate his own for the duration of the season. This season however, Aloysius has taken in a young war veteran (Don DeFore) as well as two of his fellow soldiers and their families. When circumstances force Michael back to his New York mansion, he is appalled, but proceeds to conceal his identity as he finds himself spending the holidays with his unexpected guests.

Other Worlds Austin 2014: Science-Fiction Shorts

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In my book, short filmmakers (not judged by their height but the length of their movies) were the true guardians of the Galaxy -- Galaxy Highland 10 Theatres, that is. 

My attendance Friday at the inaugural Other Worlds Austin science-fiction movie festival will be saved in my mental hard drive; not only was this Austin's first dedicated science-fiction movie festival, but my first attendance at one. Oh, I've had many informal science-fiction movie fests on my couch in front of the TV (alone because none of my friends or family members enjoy science-fiction, they're more into rom-coms). 

The Other Worlds Austin Cthulhu-like logo sold me instantly. It brought back many memories, like when I first heard about H.P. Lovecraft, author of the short story "The Call of Cthulhu." I was in middle school, stuck at home sick and bored, so I dug around in a box of a family member's belongings and found a DVD of the first episode, Dreams in the Witch-House, of the now sadly defunct Showtime series Masters of Horror. This led to me scrounging my local public library for anything associated with Lovecraft, who, despite his sexism and racism, probably has the coolest last name. Ever. My anthropoid homie Cthulhu and I have been tight ever since. 

This "passage to the unknown" lines up well with the short movies I saw at OWA for its second shorts program (aptly titled "Passage to the Unknown"). One short even almost made me cry. 

Other Worlds Austin Review: The Well

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The Well still photoA recent New York Times article reports that droughts are intensifying across the United States western and southwestern regions, with California, Nevada and Oregon bearing the brunt. Texas is also experiencing drought across much of the state, and prolonged dry conditions put a considerably strain on water supplies for all uses. Many states are using innovative technologies -- aquifer storage and recovery, desalination, water "scalping" -- but are still forced into placing restrictions on water use, with fights over water rights ensuing between local government, landowners and consumers.

This contemporary scenario supports the premise of production designer Thomas Hammock's (The Guest, You're Next) writing and directorial debut The Well, a "science factual" post-apocalyptic film thattakes place in a barren Oregon valley ten years after the last rainfall. Seventeen-year-old Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) hides away in the attic of The Wallace Farm for Wayward Youth caring for fellow orphan Dean (Booboo Stewart), venturing out to check on the few remaining neighbors while scavenging for resources including water from their well and a vital piece of equipment to power an abandoned Cessna. Kendal and Dean dream of escaping in the plane, but they are thwarted by Dean's ailments and both vagrants and hunters that roam the valley in search of any remaining water.

Movies This Week: December 5-11, 2014

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Listen Up Philip

Talk about a calm before the storm. This is one of those rare weekends where there are no new wide releases hitting multiplexes, but that means there are a lot of specialty films taking advantage of that fact and sneaking into area theaters. You can see all of this week's new releases below, but first we'll take a look at some of the unique repertory screenings booked around town over the next week. 

The Austin Film Society is starting a three-week series turning the spotlight on comedian Jerry Lewis. It begins tonight at the Marchesa with one of his biggest hits, 1963's The Nutty Professor. Screening from a DCP (digital print), it also plays again on Sunday evening. On Wednesday, they'll feature Rodrigo Reyes' Purgatorio for Doc Nights. The AFS website describes it as a "lyrical meditation on the border between the US and Mexico." Thursday night brings another "Essential Cinema" pick from the current series focusing on contemporary Filipino cinema. Magkakabaung (The Coffin Maker) is a 2014 feature from Jason Paul Laxamana, who also wrote and edited the film. 

The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is hosting a Silent Comedy Cavalcade on Saturday afternoon with four silent short films on 16mm featuring a live score by DJ Amelia Foxtrot! You'll get 1925's His Wooden Wedding starting Charley Chase, Charlie Chaplin's 1916 Behind The Screen, Buster Keaton's The High Sign from 1921 and Zasu Pitts and Thelma Todd starring in Hal Roach's On The Loose from 1931. On Monday night they've got another great pick from 1999: Steven Soderbergh's incredible film The Limey in 35mm and Tuesday brings another edition of "Experimental Response Cinema" with Yvonne Rainer's 1980 film Journeys from Berlin/1971 screening in 16mm. 

Holiday Favorites 2014: Claudette Godfrey Can't Resist 'The Christmas Toy'

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Still from The Christmas Toy

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Today's pick is from Claudette Godfrey, Short Film Programmer and Operations Manager for SXSW:

My job requires that I watch movies every day for 6+ months of the year, but I can honestly say my favorite time to watch movies is around the holidays. So, while there are so many movies from my childhood I love to re-watch each year. Like Home Alone! Scrooged!! The Santa Clause!! And of course Nutcracker: The Motion Picture, which is the creepiest and best Nutcracker ever because of Maurice Sendak's amazing brain.

BUT, the one that truly speaks to 6-year-old Claudette the most is The Christmas Toy. Made in 1986, a few years before Jim Henson passed, it first appeared on TV just before my first birthday. Thankfully, my mother is a Henson fanatic (and a recording-things-to-VHS fanatic) and taped it off TV at some point so we could watch it (multiple times) each year.

Bears Fonte Inaugurates Other Worlds Austin Festival

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Bears Fonte Still PhotoScience fiction has long been a favorite genre for me in literature and film. At Texas A&M, I was a member of Cepheid Variable, a student group devoted to science fiction, fantasy, horror, science and technology. I first saw John Carpenter's cult classic Dark Star at a Cepheid Variable B-Movie Night, and Something Wicked This Way Comes as part of Cepheid's 1984 AggieCon, the largest student-run fan convention in the world.

My insatiable appetite for science fiction has me often yearning for more of it at local festivals, so I was ectastic to discover that Austin's first science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin, will be held at Galaxy Highland from Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6. Even more exciting is that former Austin Film Festival programmer Bears Fonté is the fest's founder and director of programming. I've long been a fan of Fonté's programming and we share a passion for short films. Fonté has written and directed his own films including the thriller iCrime and the sci-fi dramatic short The Secret Keeper.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Fonté over lunch at our neighborhood pub. We discussed how the late Housecore Horror Fest founder Corey Mitchell encouraged Fonté to start his own science-fiction festival, and offered him support and advice. Five percent of all proceeds from Other Worlds Austin ticket sales and merchandise will be given to the foundation that was started to fundraise for Mitchell's family.

Here's what Fonté had to say about what attendees can expect at the inaugural Other Worlds Austin Film Festival this week.

Looking Back at the Film Class of 1999

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Virgin Suicides

Back in 1999, I was a teenage film geek sneaking into R-rated movies. Without question, one of the titles I saw that year which left a lasting impression was The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), the superb adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's psychological thriller novel starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. The camera moves, performances, costumes, cinematography -- all of it took me on a cinematic journey I had not experienced until then. However, that movie was only a taste of the varied class of movies that made up 1999 at the cinema.

From edgy comedies like Election (1999), to haunting dramas like The Virgin Suicides (1999) (pictured at top), the lead up to the millenium brought forth a year full of one celluloid gem after another. In honor of the Alamo Drafthouse's 12-week tribute to 1999, which runs through mid-December, I thought I'd revisit the year in question and examine how such a vibrant burst of filmmaking touched many aspects of the moviemaking world.

The year saw many high-profile directors temporarily abandon their trademark genres in pursuit of projects which allowed them a chance to spread their directorial wings. Slasher maestro Wes Craven directed Meryl Streep to an Oscar nomination as an inner-city violin teacher in Music of the Heart (1999 -- one of the better "inspirational teacher" movies). David Lynch took a break from the dark and subversive for a softer, reflective tone in the beautifully moving drama The Straight Story (1999) while Joel Schumacher stepped away from the heroics of Batman and John Grisham to film 8mm (1999); a creepy inside look at the snuff film underworld. Clashes with Adrien Brody didn't stop Spike Lee from exploring one of the most bizarre serial killer cases in New York's history with Summer of Sam (1999). And though it may have featured Johnny Depp and vivid production qualities, the usual trademark whimsy and playful offbeat touches were absent from Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999); making it the director's sole true horror film.

Holiday Favorites 2014: Jennifer Harlow and Mark Reeb Head for 'Home' and 'Rent'

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Still from Rent (2005)

Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

Today's Holiday Favorites are from a couple active in the Austin film community. Filmmaker Jennifer Harlow's most recent movie, the feature The Sideways Light (my review, my interview), premiered at the Austin Film Festival in October. Her husband, actor Mark Reeb, has appeared in a number of local films, including The Overbrook Brothers, Eve of Understanding and the short Happy Voodoo ... as well as The Sideways Light.

From Jennifer Harlow:

There are lots of movies I watch every year at Christmas: Love Actually, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harold and Kumar. Here I make my case for Christopher Columbus's Rent as the best Christmas movie ever, or "Jesse L. Martin Jesse L. Martin Jesse L. Martin."

"December 24, 9 pm, Eastern Standard Time. From here on in, I shoot without a script." Thus begins the story of Mark, Roger, Mimi, Maureen, Joanne, Tom (Jesse L. Martin!!!) and Angel. These friends and lovers, artists all, are trying to survive in New York's East Village in the face of drug addiction, AIDS and poverty. They struggle with being an artist versus selling out, lack of inspiration, and fear of attachment, loss and death. Their mantra at a support group meeting has long been a favorite quote.

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. 

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