Blogs

Lost in the Awards Rush: Hollywoodland

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"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a new weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

From the instant the first trailer debuted this summer, there was never any doubt that David Fincher's adaptation of Gillian Flynn's bestselling mystery novel Gone Girl would be one of the year's breakout movies. With Fincher at the wheel, Flynn's gripping tale of a missing suburban wife (Rosamund Pike) and her accused husband (Ben Affleck) was exquisitely transferred to the silver screen and resulted in huge box-office receipts as well as critical praise for Fincher, Flynn, producer Reese Witherspoon and Pike (who also collected an Oscar nomination).

While Gone Girl finally provided Pike the perfect showcase for her continuously untapped talents, it seemed a shame that her brilliant work overshadowed Affleck's quietly intense turn as a man slowly losing his already shaky hold on reality. Affleck's first-rate work in Gone Girl ranks close to what some might consider his best and certainly most acclaimed performance to date: that of late actor George Reeves in Hollywoodland (2006).

2014 in Review: Don's Top Ten and Other Lists

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Boyhood

Here are my top ten and other notable films of last year.

To be eligible for my lists, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2014 and screen in Austin in 2014 also. Some well-reviewed 2014 releases have not yet screened in Austin.

10. Joe

Nicolas Cage is at his understated best as an ex-con who hires a desperately poor teenager (Tye Sheridan, also terrific) to help clear a forest for development. Shot in Central Texas, David Gordon Green's haunting film explores the ravages of poverty and the nature of redemption. (Jette's review)

9. Thank You a Lot

Every year, I hope to discover a low-budget local indie that deserves a place on my top 10 list. This year's honoree is Austin filmmaker Matt Muir's Thank You a Lot, a poignant tale of a hard-luck music manager who will lose his job unless he signs a reclusive country music singer who's also his estranged father. In his acting debut, Austin music legend James Hand gives one of the year's best performances as a fictional (mostly, that is) version of himself. (my review)

Movies This Week: January 16-22, 2015

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 Blackhat

With the announcement of the Academy Award nominations this week, those of you who want to catch up on the nominated films are probably wondering where you can see them. The following list should help you narrow down your choices and let you know where they're playing in town or what their home video availability is:  

  • American Sniper - playing wide locally 
  • Birdman - Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Regal Arbor, Regal Metropolitan, Violet Crown Cinema
  • Boyhood - Regal Arbor, also available on home video and VOD
  • Foxcatcher - Alamo South Lamar, Cinemark Hill Country Galleria, Regal Arbor, Violet Crown Cinema
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel - available on home video, also airing this month on HBO
  • Ida - streaming free on Netflix and Amazon Prime, also available on home video
  • The Imitation Game - playing wide locally
  • Inherent Vice - playing wide locally, exclusive 70mm screenings at the Alamo Ritz 
  • The Judge - Digital HD now for purchase, rental and home video on January 27
  • Mr. Turner - currently scheduled to open only at the Regal Arbor on January 23
  • Selma - playing wide locally
  • Still Alice - expected to open in Austin on February 6
  • The Theory Of Everything - Regal Arbor, Regal Metropolitan
  • Two Days, One Night - expected to open in Austin on January 30 
  • Whiplash - Regal Arbor, Violet Crown Cinema 
  • Wild - Alamo Lakeline, Alamo South Lamar, Cinemark Hill Country Galleria, Regal Arbor, Tinseltown South, Violet Crown Cinema  

Review: Blackhat

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BlackhatAs someone whose alter-ego has a career in IT, I approach a film about hackers with lowered expectations. I don't want to dislike it, but I certainly have a heightened expectation that I will dislike it due to glaringly inaccurate portrayals of people doing things that to a trained eye are utterly ridiculous. What I never expected was that Blackhat would maintain an above-average level of accuracy in its portrayal and that my problems would mostly be the more mundane complaints a critic might have for any film that is just not very good.

My largest complaint is a technical problem that has little enough to do with computers. The film is, even to a lay person,  unfinished. A subpar audio mix makes dialogue at times difficult to understand. Poor or incomplete color correction results in inconsistency in the picture, which in the final action scenes looks exactly as if we're watching at home on a television with a 120fps frame rate enabled. This was the first movie that director Michael Mann shot completely without film, but his first digital outing is no excuse for failure to remove the "stock footage" watermark from a shot in the first five minutes of the film.

Reflecting on the experience, it seems as though Mann must have been in a tug-of-war with writer Morgan Davis Foehl, as he takes a methodical, largely boring script with uninteresting paper-cutout characters and tries to pull from late 80s and early 90s influences to liven it up. The camera zooms past a technician onto a keyboard and then inside a computer to a circuit board and then still deeper to a microscopic level where we see pulses of energy travelling through individual transistors in a chip. I could have almost thought for a moment I was watching Lawnmower Man or Electric Dreams.

"Blackhat" is a term applied to computer hackers who use their skills for good instead of nefarious purposes, staying on the right side of the law, a fact not mentioned in the film. The fact is also not precisely applicable to star Chris Hemsworth's character Nicholas Hathaway, a felon convicted for hacks that cause millions of dollars in damages to several banks. Actually, Hathaway, with skills that supposedly make him the only man capable of helping the FBI (in the form of Viola Davis) track down the bad guys, doesn't really do much in Blackhat that even qualifies as hacking. His biggest feat is tricking a director of security at the NSA into clicking an email attachment that wouldn't fool my mother.

What's Streaming: We're Back!

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A new year, a new you and a new Slackerwood! I took a break from this article for a while, but now I'm back and ready to bring you  recommendations of films you might have overlooked.  

In looking through my Netflix history, I discovered that 2014 was a big TV year for me. It seems like the website stepped its game up this past year, cranking out the latest season of current shows faster than before. (Except for Downton Abbey -- get on it, Netflix!) Here are a few television shows that came across my radar these past few months.

Twin Peaks -- When I learned writer/director David Lynch was creating a new season for the now 25-year-old show, I saw this as the sign to bring it up from the bottom of the list. FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is sent to the town of Twin Peaks to investigate the mysterious death of a teenage girl. His journey along the way takes him through a slew of oddball characters, creepy places and out-of-this-world situations. Although a little confusing towards the end, the story leaves you wanting more. I'm excited to see what Lynch will bring back in the new season! Available on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant and Hulu Plus.

The Stars at Night: Desk Set

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Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall and Katherine Hepburn in DESK SET

By the 1950s, Texas-raised actress Joan Blondell (see earlier column) must have resigned herself to filling supporting roles in film. In 1952, the former Miss Dallas received her lone Oscar nomination for her work as supporting actress in The Blue Veil. Five years later, she appears as Katherine Hepburn's wisecracking best friend, Peg Costello, in Desk Set. Her character may not be the focus of the comedy, but Blondell helps make the movie memorable.

I chose Desk Set for this month's column as a sort of counterbalance to the hoopla surrounding the 2014 film The Imitation Game (Marcie's review). This movie is a more humorous take on the early days of computing machines, and actually includes more than one woman in its plot -- whereas the British biopic ignores the many women who worked at Bletchley Park.

In the 1957 film, four reference librarians work for the fictional Federal Broadcasting Company, answering random questions that come up in TV productions. Hepburn’s Bunny Watson is the managing librarian, stuck in a static years-long relationship with a network executive (Gig Young, That Touch of Mink, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?). Spencer Tracy plays a curious older man named Sumner whom the women assume is preparing to cancel out their jobs and replace them with a machine.

Lost in the Awards Rush: Grand Piano

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"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a new weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

Whiplash's journey to the big screen is the kind of stuff indie dreams are made of. From a short at Sundance to one of the most acclaimed films of 2014, writer/director Damien Chazelle's passion project about a young drummer (Miles Teller) at a prestigious music academy and his tyrannical instructor (J.K. Simmons, in a career best performance) who pushes him beyond all limits, has been hailed by critics' groups everywhere.

In the rush to praise the near-perfection that is Whiplash, its easy to forget Chazelle's script for the taut and stunning thriller Grand Piano (2013), which was released earlier this year and screened at Fantastic Fest 2013 (Jette's review). Directed by Eugenio Mira from Chazelle's original screenplay, Grand Piano stars Elijah Wood as Tom Selznick, a once-revered concert pianist who entered semi-retirement after a crippling bout with stage fright. Shortly after beginning his comeback concert, Tom discovers a note on his sheet music stating that unless he gives a flawless performance, the note's author (John Cusack) will shoot him.

Ready, Set, Fund: Life and Death in the New Year

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

It's a new year, which means resolutions, like finally writing that screenplay or making that movie you've been talking about since college. (Trust me, your family and friends will thank you when you stop threatening to defame your hometown in a movie.) This month's "Ready, Set, Fund" recognizes a few Texas filmmakers who are asking you, the general public, to help make their New Year's Resolutions come true, whether that's through financial support or promotion, as their crowdfunding campaigns come to a close. (If not for the filmmakers, then for their family and friends.)

Help bring Mr. Meow to life by contributing to his Kickstarter campaign. The plush rabbit is the costar of The Adventures of Dr. Blah-kman & Mr. Meow, an Austin-made animated series that could become a reality if its campaign goal is reached by Jan. 31. If the campaign is successful, a 22-minute pilot episode will be created, along with the first batch of Mr. Meow plush toys. How purrrfect.

Movies This Week: January 9-15, 2015

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 Selma

As we head into a chilly weekend, it may be tempting to curl up at home with a stack of rented movies or fire up Netflix streaming. That would be a great idea if it weren't for the fact that two of the most acclaimed films of 2014 are getting nationwide releases and hitting area theaters: Selma and Inherent Vice.

As if that wasn't enough, Austin Film Society is ramping back up with their January programming and it starts in fine fashion this evening with phenomenal Canadian documentarian Ron Mann (Grass, Comic Book Confidential) visiting the Marchesa with his movie Altman (which recently premiered on Epix). Several rare Robert Altman shorts will play before the feature and then you're also encouraged to buy a ticket for a 35mm screening of Altman's California Split, which follows.

Speaking of incredible documentary filmmakers, National Gallery focuses on the London-based museum and is the latest effort from Frederick Wiseman. AFS is featuring it Sunday afternoon and then has a sneak preview screening of Two Days, One Night exclusively for AFS members in the evening. Marion Cotillard is getting a lot of awards buzz for this new drama from the Dardenne Brothers, which isn't opening in town until January 30. Essential Cinema closes out the week with a 35mm screening of Jacques Rivette's 1974 French classic Celine And Julie Go Boating

Review: Selma

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Colman Domingo, David Oyelowo, Andre Holland and Stephan James in SELMA

"What we do is negotiate, demonstrate, resist."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma

Director Ava DuVernay and a combination of other talent create in Selma a deeply emotional, standout work about a short moment in history: the early months of 1965. The historical drama, attributed to screenwriter Paul Webb although DuVernay herself rewrote most of it, revolves around Martin Luther King, Jr. (British actor David Oyelowo, Lincoln, Middle of Nowhere) and other leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as they plan nonviolent protest in Selma, Alabama.

At this point in history, segregation had been outlawed, but county clerks continued to turn away black Southerners who attempted to register to vote through "literacy" tests and other deceptive means. In the movie, activist and preacher King pleads with President Lyndon Baines Johnson (British actor Tom Wilkinson, Belle, Michael Clayton) to enact voting rights legislation.

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