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Review: Young Adult

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Young Adult

The latest film from director Jason Reitman (Up in the Air), Young Adult, is incredibly hard to review. It's not often that a movie can be a very great one centered on a character so vile, yet so damned relatable that you might find yourself questioning either your current status in life, or your status at some other point in your life. The brilliant Diablo Cody has proven once again that she can write a film tackling issues that force the viewer to think about them rather than just sit in a theater with a turned-off brain.

Different people will see Young Adult and gain different perspectives on the film. Is it a love story? Yes, albeit an extremely twisted one. Is it a story about depression? Yes, but you could argue it isn't clinical depression as much as an intentional unwillingness to let oneself be happy. All of these are true, but for me, the heart of the story is a simple one about the proverbial "one that got away" told from a woman's perspective.

Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron) is a slacker. True, at first glance she doesn't look like a slacker, but this very beautiful woman very obviously has some issues. Despite being a successful author of a popular children's series, she wakes up in a stupor every day, usually hung over. Stumbles over to her fridge where she chugs two-liter bottles of Diet Coke like she hasn't had a drink for days. She's got a cute Pomeranian that she feeds and then leaves out on the balcony while she gets her Wii Fit workout on. This is her life, and there's not much to it.

Review: Shame

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Shame

It's a bit early to make Oscar predictions, but I'll make one anyway: Michael Fassbender will not garner a Best Actor nomination for his role as Brandon Sullivan in Shame.

I make this prediction because although Fassbender arguably deserves to win the award for his gut-punching performance, the Academy simply won't go near a film like Shame, a frank, raw and unnerving look at sexual addiction. Of course, plenty of dark films have found Oscar success, as have actors in cringe-inducing roles. But Shame lays bare so many ugly truths about human relationships that to reward its brutal honesty with Oscar gold would be to admit that yeah, human nature really is this messed up.

No, Fassbender and Shame won't be Oscar darlings -- but no matter, because Shame will be this year's most memorable movie. We'll be talking about it and Brandon Sullivan long after we've forgotten the Oscar winners.

Their Holiday Favorites: Jesse Trussell and the Magic of 'Fanny and Alexander'

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still from Fanny and Alexander

Welcome to Their Holiday Favorites, a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. This one is from Jesse Trussell, film programmer at Paramount Theatre.

My favorite holiday film has to be Fanny and Alexander by Ingmar Bergman. While not an obvious first choice, since only part of it is set at Christmastime, the film premiered on Swedish TV on Christmas Day 1982 and I can see why.

I don't think any film has better captured the magic (both joyful and terrifying) that childhood can contain, and for me that magic of childhood is exactly what the holidays are all about.

Our Holiday Favorites: The Man Who Came to Dinner

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Bette Davis and Monty Woolley in The Man Who Came to Dinner

Bette Davis in a breezy, holiday comedy -- why, yes! In The Man Who Came to Dinner, she plays secretary Maggie Cutler to Monty Woolley's acerbic blowhard Sheridan Whiteside. The film is based on the 1938 play by Kaufman and Hart, and is so full of then-contemporary pop culture references, it's almost like I Love the '30s (and Early '40s). Jimmy Durante plays a character based on Harpo Marx, fictional Beverly Carlton (played by Reginald Gardiner) is shaped on Noel Coward, and Ann Sheridan's Lorraine Sheldon is formed on legendary actress Gertrude Lawrence.

The 1942 movie runs like a play at times; most of the action is based at the home of the wealthy Stanley clan, which you almost pity and dislike at the same time. Whiteside is the "Man" of the title, a radio host and public speaker unafraid to speak his mind to anyone that will listen. On a winter train stop tour, he slips on the Stanleys' front steps, and promptly takes over their house for the next few weeks.

I don't know of another film with quite such a combination of comedy (of the dry, biting kind), romance, pop culture references and Jimmy Durante singing ridiculous songs. To think The Man Who Came to Dinner was almost made without Monty Woolley, who originated the role on stage! It's difficult to imagine anyone else in the role, despite how much Bette Davis wanted John Barrymore instead.

See 'The Artist' for Free on Wednesday 12/21

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The Artist

Free is good. Good and free is better. So Slackerwood is making it easier for you to see the film The Artist for free next Wednesday night at the Regal Arbor.

There is a reason The Artist is getting so much buzz; it's simply one of the most delightful films I've seen in a long time. It's got all the charm of the classics from the 1920s and 30s from the leading man's mustache to the comic relief dog. George Valentin is a silent film star with the world at his feet ... only to have the world change on him. As George's career fumbles, his protégé's career takes off, and where does that leave George? The cast is fantastic and the score is delightful, and anyone who ever appreciated the structure and panache of vintage films will enjoy every minute.

So here's what you need to know:  

Their Holiday Favorites: 'Swingin' Trio' Filmmakers Love 'Jesus Christ Superstar'

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Jesus Christ Superstar

Welcome to our latest entry in Their Holiday Favorites, a series in which members of the Austin film community tell us about movies they enjoy watching during the holiday season. This one is from Kelvin Phillips and Carla Jackson, who made their feature film debut this fall at AFF with A Swingin' Trio

Kelvin: Though technically more of an Easter film because of its story, we love going back to Jesus Christ Superstar -- the original 1973 film directed by Norman Jewison -- for repeated viewings, particularly around the holidays. Firstly, there is the music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, plus there's the witty lyrics and controversial book (story) that presents Judas's argument in a sympathetic light.

But the thing we REALLY LOVE is the singing -- everyone is great, but special shoutouts have to go to Carl Anderson as Judas, Ted Neely as JC, and Bob Bingham as the bass-singing Caiaphas. The film itself is gorgeous to look at (would love for the Alamo to present it on the big screen!). It was shot in Israel, using widescreen photography of the desert vistas and ancient ruins that are spectacular.

Lone Star Cinema: What's Eating Gilbert Grape

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Gilbert Grape

With the Oscar nomination buzz surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio for his titular performance in J. Edgar, it's a good time to take another look at a Texas-made movie from early in DiCaprio's career, the terrific What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Released in 1993, director Lasse Hallström's highly praised film follows the Grape family, a close-knit but intriguingly dysfunctional clan living in the fictional Iowa town of Endora (although actually shot in Central Texas). Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) spends much of his time watching over his mentally retarded younger brother, 17-year-old Arnie (DiCaprio, in an Oscar-nominated performance), while his sisters, Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) slave away in the kitchen. Ruling the roost is the siblings' widowed, depressed and morbidly obese mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates), whose girth and mental state have prevented her from leaving the family's rural house for years.

Our Holiday Favorites: Little Women

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Little Women 1994

I love to watch Little Women in December. Perhaps because the story begins at Christmas, when the genteel-y poor March girls decide to give their Christmas feast to a family even poorer than they are, and use their Christmas money to buy presents for their dear Marmee. That does sound uncharacteristically sentimental of me, doesn't it? I confess I always cry at That Tragic Scene in the movie, too. (I won't spoil it for the few Joey Tribbianis out there who haven't read the book or seen any of the films.) Really, I like Little Women because Jo is so very wonderful.

But which movie version of Little Women to watch? My favorite Jo is Katharine Hepburn in the 1933 adaptation of the Louisa May Alcott book, directed by George Cukor. Hepburn is convincingly boyish and delightful, I could watch her in this role for twice as long. But in recent years, I've turned to the 1994 Little Women, starring Winona Ryder as Jo. Ryder is fine -- not the best Jo, but part of an excellent ensemble cast, including Susan Sarandon as Marmee, Kirsten Dunst as the young Amy, and Claire Danes as Poor Beth. Gillian Armstrong directed this adaptation from a script by Robin Swicord.

Film on Tap: 3, 2, 1 Lift-off!

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IMG_9184

Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

One of the newest local breweries is Austin Beerworks, located in North Austin. This microbrewery blasted out this summer with a firm grasp on the sparsely populated canned craft beer market, winning a silver medal in the English-style summer ale category at the Great American Beer Festival for their Peacemaker Extra Pale Ale. Austin Beerworks has redefined the term "river beer" --  beer that will quench the thirst while floating down the Guadalupe and adhering to the no-glass restrictions. No more "sex in a canoe" beer of American light lager selections, but instead a more diverse selection of beer styles is available for packing in on camping and float trips.

A growing trend in the craft beer industry is collaboration beers, whether between brewers or local businesses. Austin Beerworks brewer Will Golden is a friend of local filmmaker Mike Woolf of Beef and Pie Productions, and a fan of Woolf's documentary Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission (my review). To commemorate beer for the movie's theatrical release in January, the brewers including Michael Graham (seen above) decided to create a Russian Imperial Stout aptly named Sputnik, after the first artificial satellite launched into orbit by the Russian space program. During my SXSW 2010 Spotlight interview with Woolf, I learned he also homebrews and so was naturally enthusiastic about collaborating with Austin Beerworks.

Our Holiday Favorites: Fitzwilly

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Barbara Feldon and Dick van Dyke in Fitzwilly

Fitzwilly is an underrated, oft-ignored Delbert Mann film from 1967. It might be a cult classic if slightly more people knew about it! I first heard about the comedy through a family friend eight or nine years ago, and I loved it at first viewing. The movie can be watched year-round, but I prefer to wait until December.

Dick Van Dyke plays butler Fitzwilly to Miss Vicki (Edith Evans), a generous benefactress who has no idea of her true financial standing (she's almost broke). He leads her doting staff, compiled of fantastic character actors (John McGiver as Albert is a particular favorite of mine) and soon-to-be-big-names (Sam Waterston plays the chauffeur in one of his first film roles). To keep Miss Vicki in the style to which she is accustomed, Fitzwilly is running several con games. One thing may throw a wrench in his plans -- Miss Vicki decides to write a dictionary for people who can't spell and hires a secretary from Columbia, Juliet (Barbara Feldon, aka 99 from Get Smart).

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