Blogs

The 'Sinister' Side of Local Writer C. Robert Cargill

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C. Robert Cargill

Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves his family into the house of murder victims while researching their murders for a new book in Austinite C. Robert Cargill's feature screenwriting debut, Sinister.

I spoke with Cargill a few weeks back while he was on location for Sinister in NYC. At the time of the interview, he said there was not much he could say about the movie, except that "weird, creepy shit" happens.

But he's just playin' it cool.

Cargill began writing movie reviews under the name Massawyrm for Austin-based film website Ain't It Cool News in May 2001. His first review was of Jon Favreau's directorial debut, Made. Over the years, he's also reviewed movies for Spill.com and Film.com.

AFS Tackles the Classic Comedy of Remarriage

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The Palm Beach Story

Back in my grad-school screenwriting days, my master's report was about the comedy of remarriage, a kind of film genre cousin to the classic screwball comedy. The comedy of remarriage had its heyday in the 1930s, with movies like The Awful Truth -- something drives apart a married couple and amusing machinations occur to potentially bring them back together. And in the Thirties, the machinations were generally not only amusing but witty, and it was pretty much a done deal that the couple would reunite in the end. I always felt that the comedy of remarriage died out somewhere in the late 1940s myself, although when Knocked Up came out a few years ago, I wondered if we might be due for a reworking of the genre.

You don't want to hear me go on and on about the comedy of remarriage. I know, because sometimes I start to do it in person and everyone around me remembers that pressing dental appointment or emergency meeting they have to rush off to catch. Instead, I invite you to see a couple of classic examples of the genre, as well as the evolution of such films right up to the 21st century, in the new AFS Essential Cinema series, "And It Feels So Good: Comedies of Remarriage," which starts next Tuesday night (11/22) and runs through mid-December.

The series is being guest curated by Austin Chronicle film critic Kimberley Jones, who's picked out a half-dozen fascinating features, some obvious and some surprising. I honestly would never have thought of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, myself, and I can't wait to hear her thoughts about how it ties into Stanley Cavell's original definition of the comedy of remarriage. I'm most excited about the first two films -- The Awful Truth and The Palm Beach Story (pictured above) -- but hope to see all of them. (I'm hoping since Jones is curating, no one will put any conflicting press screenings on those nights. Please.)

Quick Snaps: Catch 'Five Time Champion' This Week

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Dallas International Film Festival Erza Venetos and Brendt Mader Five Time Champion Magnolia TheaterNelly Safavi

While Natural Selection may have taken home many awards at SXSW this year, the Austin movie at the fest that Slackerwood contributor Don Clinchy raved about, both in his review and in person, was Five Time Champion. I mean, the review begins with "Oh, if only all movies were such a pleasure to review; the greatest challenge in reviewing Five Time Champion ... may be finding enough superlatives to describe its many charms without being repetitive." And you know Don is not inherently kind to all movies, especially if you read his review of Jack and Jill last weekend.

Fittingly, Don will be moderating the Q&A with filmmaker Berndt Mader tomorrow night, when Five Time Champion returns to Austin. Austin Film Society is screening the film as part of its Best of the Fests series, Wednesday, 11/16 at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Village. Tickets are still available online. The film is about a teenage boy dealing with school decisions, love interests, and family problems. The cast includes Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Jon Gries and Betty Buckley. Nicholson's in the above photo with Mader and other cast and crew -- the photo was taken at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival, where Five Time Champion won the Texas Filmmaker Award.

Over on Flickr, Russ Photography has a huge set of photos from the Five Time Champion production; they're not only good photos but give you a fascinating look at a typical day on a movie set. And below, I'm using this excuse to share my favorite photo I've taken of Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, from the Extract premiere in Austin in 2009. She almost made it into the theater unseen; no one recognized her at first with the different hair color.

Get Tickets to 'My Week with Marilyn' Sneak Preview

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My Week with Marilyn

Slackerwood has a special deal that will give you the chance to see the upcoming movie My Week with Marilyn this week at a free sneak preview. There's nothing quite like seeing a movie before it opens in theaters ... and without having to pay for the tickets too. The preview screening will take place tomorrow night, Tuesday 11/15, at 7:30 pm at AMC Barton Creek (the one in the mall).

My Week with Marilyn is based on the memoirs of the same name by Colin Clark, who worked as an assistant on the Marilyn Monroe film The Prince and the Showgirl. It's about Clark's interactions with Monroe in England during the shooting of that movie. Michelle Williams stars as Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Prince and the Showgirl co-star Sir Laurence Olivier. The cast also includes Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson. We at Slackerwood haven't seen it yet -- it opens in theaters on Nov. 23 -- but some of us will be there Tuesday night to check it out.

After the jump, you'll find a promotional code and a link to the Gofobo website where you can enter that code to get an admit-two pass for the screening. Bear in mind this is a first-come, first-served pass and seating is not guaranteed. If you've been to preview screenings, you know that often more tickets are given out than there are seats in the theater, so you'll want to arrive early to stake out a good spot in line.

Review: Immortals

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Immortals

Through a summer of great action movies and superhero films, there was one title I eagerly anticipated: Immortals. I couldn't wait for Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Kellan Lutz, Daniel Sharman and Joseph Morgan among others in the best-looking male cast ever assembled. I couldn't wait for Tarsem Singh, creator of the visually stunning The Cell and the legendary The Fall, to right the wrong of last year's Clash of the Titans remake.

Sadly, that was not to be. Immortals is best described as a disastrous mess. Visually amazing, yes, absolutely worth at least a regular ticket price ... though maybe best seen in 2D. The faults with Immortals radiate entirely from a titanically bad script. While last year's Clash of the Titans suffered from script rewrites and bad editing, the Immortals script seems to be the product of inexperience. Screenwriters brothers Vlas and Charley Parlapanides have one unknown feature film writing credit between them, from 2000.

The characters in Immortals seem to jump between older and modern vernaculars. They are missing any sort of backstory. Burgess Meredith -- oops, I mean John Hurt -- gives a pointless and melodramatic narrative that bookends the film. "The Gods Need a Hero" is the tag line on the movie's posters, but the hero never does anything to help the gods. That is, exactly the same narrative could have played out without Henry Cavill's Theseus. In fact, the chosen hero of Zeus could have averted disaster simply by dying at the beginning of the film.

The most egregious problem with the script is Mickey Rourke's character, King Hyperion. Not only is there no backstory, there is never any explanation of his motives, nor even his ultimate goals. He is written almost as a caricature of Heath Ledger's role as The Joker in The Dark Knight: sowing chaos and destruction, at war with the gods, hinting at a reason, but never telling.

Review: Jack and Jill

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Jack and Jill

(The following is an open letter to Al Pacino.)

Dear Al,

At this stage in your long and celebrated career, I'm sure you have your pick of great roles. After all, you are one of the finest actors in the history of American cinema. You are widely revered Hollywood royalty, and the world of film is your oyster.

So, in light of your place in the pantheon of cinematic deities, I must ask you why you found it necessary, desirable, or somehow advantageous to star in a "film" (please note the use of quotes to indicate sarcasm) that undoubtedly will hasten the downfall of Western culture.

I am referring, of course, to Adam Sandler's latest assault on all that is good and decent about movies, Jack and Jill.

Before I go on, let's review Sandler's generally miserable track record: one aberrantly high-quality film that was a critical darling and thus a commercial flop (Punch-Drunk Love), a few lowbrow but not quite insultingly stupid comedies (The Wedding Singer comes to mind), and countless exercises in complete unmitigated idiocy (there are so many, but a fine example is I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry; also, refer to my scathing and cathartic review of Grown Ups).

Movies This Week: Crazy Immortals Jack and Edgar

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It's a busy week for special screenings. On Saturday, Austin-shot film Mars plays the Austin Film Society Screening Room as part of the Texas Independent Film Network's touring series. On Sunday, the Paramount is screening two Chris Marker films, Sans Soleil and La Jetee, in conjunction with Arthouse/AMOA's current exhibit "The Anxiety of Photography."

Wednesday is especially crazy: Cinema 41 is showing Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 at the Hideout. Doc Nights is screening Nostalgia for the Light at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. At Alamo Village, Best of the Fests brings Berndt Mader's Five Time Champion back to Austin, and Slackerwood's Don Clinchy will moderate the Q&A. And Cine Las Americas wraps up its "Literature in Mexican Cinema" series with Santa, based on Federico Gamboa's novel.

And if that's not enough, Don Hertzfeldt will be at Alamo South Lamar on Wednesday and Thursday to screen a number of his shorts, including his entire "Bill" trilogy that ends with his latest film, It's a Beautiful Day. Read Marc Savlov's profile of the animator/filmmaker in the Austin Chronicle.

Movies We've Seen:

J. Edgar -- This biopic "delves deeply into Hoover's personal life, skillfully walking the line between established facts and unsubstantiated rumors," according to Don's review. (wide)

Like Crazy -- This romantic tale of young lovers separated is "beautiful to watch, almost entrancing at times, and John Guleserian's cinematography and Doremus' direction have a lot to do with that," according to Elizabeth. Read her review for more. (Arbor)

The Skin I Live In (pictured at top) -- Pedro Almodóvar's latest is based on a Thierry Jonquet novel. I found it overly contrived and melodramatic, but Debbie says in her review, "It's quite easy to understand why this film has been nominated for its production design and composer in the upcoming European Film Awards."  (Alamo Lamar, Violet Crown, Arbor)

Review: J. Edgar

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J Edgar Hoover

Justice is incidental to law and order. -- J. Edgar Hoover

There are few more controversial figures in American history than J. Edgar Hoover. The longtime FBI director (he served from 1924 to 1972) was credited with building the bureau into a modern and successful crime-fighting agency. But he is probably better remembered for abusing his power by harassing political dissenters, collecting evidence using illegal methods, and amassing secret files on politicians and activists. Hoover's private life was no less intriguing; thanks to widespread rumors of his closeted homosexuality and penchant for cross-dressing, he remains a larger-than-life figure decades after his death.

It's little surprise, then, that the enigmatic Hoover has been portrayed in many movies. But few if any cinematic depictions of Hoover can match Leonardo DiCaprio's stellar performance in J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood's equally stellar new biopic of America's most famous G-man. The film is everything you would expect in an Eastwood-DiCaprio collaboration, an artful study of Hoover's public and private lives.

Review: Like Crazy

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Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones in Like Crazy

It's fall of 2006 -- or perhaps it's spring of 2007, dates are unclear -- and British exchange student Anna (Felicity Jones, Brideshead Revisited) leaves a note on a windshield for her crush Jacob (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek). Thus, the romance that forms the basis for Like Crazy is initiated.

Jacob is an aspiring furniture designer, Anna wants to be a journalist, and they both love Paul Simon's Graceland. The sparks between these two are, umm, crazy as we see their relationship bloom. Suddenly it's the end of the school year and Anna's visa is up, and the decision she makes at this point leads to the immigration debacle that keeps the lovers apart for months at a time.

Years pass, I think (like I said, dates are unclear in this movie) and Anna and Jacob break up and get back together because long distance relationships are hard, y'all. Especially when communication is so difficult -- well, at least between these two twentysomethings, it is. Yelchin and Jones are destined for great things, and this film serves as an excellent showcase for their talent. While their characters make stupid mistakes (as we humans are wont to do), Anna and Jacob remain likeable and relatable.

Review: The Skin I Live In

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The Skin I Live In still photo

Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar is internationally known for his darkly humorous and often perverse explorations into gender and sexuality, but even more so about relationships between women and the men who love (while still often hating) them. His latest film, The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito), is no different in its general themes, but is the most stylized and visually and emotionally impacting of all his movies. Based on the novel Tarantula by Thierry Jonquet, The Skin I Live In effectively blends so many genres -- thriller, erotica, drama, horror and sci-fi -- that it will hopefully appeal to a wide audience.

Secured in his operating lab at his isolated home El Cigarral, plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas) has made a breakthrough in his research to improve methods of repairing disfigurement of burn victims. Through transgenesis -- the process of introducing an exogenous gene, from a hog in this case -- Dr. Ledgard has created an extremely resilient skin that can be grafted onto damaged tissue. However, colleagues and superiors are horrified, proclaiming his research as a violation of their bioethics. They prefer the less controversial practice of using El Cigarral's operating room for transgender operations from well-paying clients who require discretion. 

Dr. Ledgard isn't prepared to welcome his colleagues into his home, however, as he has a private patient locked in the premises. A young woman known as Vera (Elena Anaya) spends her days in solitude, reading and creating figures out of torn scraps of fabric, watched over by Dr. Ledgard's fiercely loyal housekeeper, Marilia (Marisa Paredes). When Marilia's brutish criminal son Zeca (Robert Alamo) arrives, demanding his mother hide him from law enforcement, violence explodes the idyllic calm and exposes the true horrors hidden within. No one is safe from the madness and destruction, including Ledgard's daughter Norma (Bianca Suarez) and her suitor Vicente (Jan Cornet).

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