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Review: Tower Heist

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Tower Heist

Eddie Murphy was once the funniest man in America. Then something happened, and he just lost it. I don't know what it was, a bad agent or maybe having kids and wanting to make movies they could watch. But since the 90s, he has had a solid string of releases that made big money largely because of their family-friendly PG-13 ratings. The Nutty Professor, Doctor Dolittle, Holy Man, Bowfinger, Shrek, I Spy, Daddy Day Care, The Haunted Mansion, Norbit are all rated PG-13 or even PG. His last R-rated film was Metro in 1997, 14 years ago.

Therefore, I approached Tower Heist with hope for the potential I saw for Murphy to get back to the edgy, offensive, adult mode that made him famous. The trailer gave me hope that his first R-rated film in more than a decade wouldn't be a total flop. I'm happy to report that while he's not back to 100 percent, at least he's in fighting shape in Tower Heist.

However, Tower Heist isn't just a vehicle for Murphy or for Ben Stiller. This comedy, which owes much to heist films such as Ocean's Eleven, assembles a great ensemble cast. (Co-writer Ted Griffin also scripted Ocean's Eleven, which might explain the resemblance.)

Stiller and Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Judd Hirsch, as well as Tea Leoni, Matthew Broderick and Gabourey Sidibe all have memorable lines. The last three are the real standout characters: Broderick with moments of self-effacing charm he hasn't pulled out since Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Sidibe with lusty no-nonsense pushiness, and Tea Leoni the picture of sexy, forceful authoritah.

There are no surprises in the plot of this Brett Ratner-directed farce. It's all in the Tower Heist trailer: The staff of a NY high-rise is screwed out of their pension investments by a Wall Street scammer. They set out to rob him back, enlisting the help of Murphy's street thug Slider. Hilarity ensues, and everyone gets what they deserve. However, there are some surprises in how it all happens.

Movies This Week: A Very Heroic Tower, Martha

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The 6th annual Austin Polish Film Festival is underway as of last night and continues through next Saturday. Tonight it includes two films at the Texas Spirit Theater (Texas State History Museum), Stone Silence and Joanna, which include Q&A with the directors. Check out the APFF website for the full schedule and locations.

Cine Las Americas is showing The Colors of the Mountain at Alamo Village on Sunday. And in keeping in the international theme of the week, the always-free Austin Cinematheque is showing Andrey Tarkovskiy's The Sacrifice on Monday. Tarkovskiy was described by Ingmar Bergman as "the most important director of all time," which is about as strong an endorsement any director can get.

Movies We've Seen:

Martha Marcy May Marlene -- Elizabeth saw this taut, simmering thriller and says in her review, "With his debut full-length feature Martha Marcy May Marlene, director Sean Durkin has created a truly original work. Olsen pulls off the title character in an understated performance." (Arbor, Alamo Lamar)

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas -- Jette reviewed this movie and calls it, "completely offensive, even appalling at times ... and I enjoyed myself thoroughly. It's also a rather sweet end (I hope) to the series." (wide)

Austin Film Festival 2011: All Our Coverage

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Updated November 4, 2011.

Slackerwood has several contributors covering Austin Film Festival this year. Here's all our coverage to date. We'll update this list as we publish more reviews, interviews and features during and after AFF.

Review: A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

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A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas

My husband and I share a special fondness for a particular kind of movie. While we dislike blatantly sentimental films ("triumph of the human spirit" is a taboo phrase in our home), we love films with a sweet but not sentimental heart surrounded by a completely offensive, shocking, even outrageous exterior. The films have to have at least a little cleverness and can't be too gross. One filmmaker whom we agree does this very well is Bobcat Goldthwait -- we both really liked World's Greatest Dad. Bonus points are earned when these movies tie into a holiday and still avoid treacle, as with Bad Santa.

And now, one of our favorite appalling-yet-delightful comedies has spawned a holiday sequel: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. We don't like 3D, we don't like syrupy holiday movies, and yet this film had him laughing loudly and me spontaneously bursting out with my trademark "Oh, dear God" along with a few expletives of amazement. In the press row, natch. I apologize to my colleagues, although I heard some of them reacting with humor and disbelief as well.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas opens on Christmas Eve, with the title characters estranged. Harold (John Cho) is working on Wall Street (there are protestors, how timely), he and Maria are married and trying to start a family, and his in-laws descend upon their fancy suburban home en masse, led by Maria's dad Carlos (Danny Trejo). Kumar (Kal Penn), on the other hand, is living in a crappy apartment, drowning his sorrows in weed after his girlfriend Vanessa left four months ago, saddled with an annoying roommate who's even less responsible than Kumar.

Slackery News Tidbits, November 4

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Here's the latest Austin and Central Texas movie news.

  • Former Austinite and Fantastic Fest Programmer Coordinator Blake Ethridge will consult on programming and acquisition efforts for the inaugural Oak Cliff Film Festival, which will take place June 14-17 in the Dallas neighborhood. (Ethridge co-hosted Slackerwood's Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon in 2007.) OCFF will focus on screening movies previously shown at prestigious film festivals, from Sundance to SXSW to Cannes. Movies will play at the Texas Theatre  -- whose owners are also the fest coordinators -- as well as the Kessler Theater, the Bishop Arts "TeCo" Theater (formerly the Bluebird Theater) and the Belmont Hotel in Dallas. Festival submissions open November 7.
  • The Austin Polish Film Festival starts today. Anne Lewis at the Austin Chronicle has written an excellent preview.
  • Actor Johnny Depp and director Bruce Robinson didn't just visit Austin Film Festival last month, but also spoke with and answered questions from UT RTF and journalism students about their movie The Rum Diary, currently in theaters. RTF instructor John Pierson moderated the panel event. Austinite Amber Heard stars alongside Depp in this action/comedy about an American journalist's exploits in Puerto Rico, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson. 
  • Another AFF 2011 selection opens in theaters today: winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Directing Award for Best Drama, Martha Marcy May Marlene (Elizabeth's review). Former Austinite John Hawkes stars alongside Elizabeth Olsen in this drama about a woman trying to re-connect with her family after fleeing an abusive cult. Hawkes spoke with Austin360 last week about his time in Austin and his acting experiences.

Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Before the Martha Marcy May Marlene press screening started, my friend and I joked about the name of the film and how difficult it was to recall all the "M" names in it. After seeing the movie, however, it's quite doubtful the viewer will forget the film's title. Twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Olsen -- sibling of those Olsens, who really looks like a younger Maggie Gyllenhaal -- stars as Martha/Marcy May.

Olsen's Martha is confused and currently dependent on her older sister Lucy's (Sarah Paulson) generosity, such as it is. She refuses to confide in Lucy about what she's been up to the past two years.

Before deciding to reach out to her much older sister, Martha lived a couple years at a farm in upstate New York headed by a David Koresh-like figure named Patrick (former Austinite John Hawkes). The farmworkers/cultmembers are all twentysomething lanky, attractive folk who share a wardrobe. Patrick renames our protagonist Marcy May and initiates her into the group by raping her after she's been drugged. Another woman in the group assures her after the awful event that this was a "truly good" thing.

AFF 2011 Photo Essay: Hair of the Dog Brunch

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Kat Candler with Carla L. Jackson and Kelvin Z. Phillips of A Swingin' Trio

Austin Film Festival provides great opportunities to meet and mingle with filmmakers, but the most laid-back social event where new friendships are forged and ideas sprout is the annual Hair of the Dog Brunch. It's great to see seasoned veterans of Austin's local film scene such as Kat Candler (Jumping Off Bridges), seen above with Carla L. Jackson and Kelvin Z. Phillips of A Swingin' Trio -- check out Jenn Brown's interview with Jackson and Phillips and her review of their first feature film. 

See more photos of filmmakers including the Texas Monthly "Where I'm From" film contest finalists after the jump.

AFF Review: Thank You for Judging

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Thank You for Judging poster

If you enjoy watching the National Geography Bee and love the 2002 film Spellbound, but wonder, "Where is the love for kids who do speech and debate?" you will likely enjoy Thank You for Judging. Texan actor Michael Urie (best known for his work on Ugly Betty), one of four credited directors on this movie, took a camera crew to spend a weekend at the Texas Forensic Association's state competition in 2008, resulting in this documentary.

Thank You for Judging follows teens from Plano Senior High School (Urie's alma mater) as well as students from Creekview High in Carrollton as they go through the stages of the tournament in Coppell, Texas. Neither ice nor sleet nor snow will keep these determined teens from competing, althoughwintry weather almost delays the competition. To give the viewer an idea of what they're in for, Plano coach Karen Wilbanks states, "All art is competitive."

AFF 2011 Interview: 'Restive'

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Jeremiah Jones and Marianna Palka of Restive

A mother's challenge to her abusive husband sends her family into an unsettling journey through the woods in Austin-based first-time filmmaker Jeremiah Jones's feature film Restive. The movie screened to a sold-out audience the first night of AFF. Jones and lead actress Marianna Palka (pictured above) were there too.

A lot has changed for writer/director Jones, who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin where he was a three-year football letterman.

How did Jones transition from football to filmmaking? "It might sound odd, but the skill sets are the same," he said. "Directing is coaching, and casting is recruiting. You try to get everyone on the same page and give them the support that they need to get to a goal. You treat them like family."

Photo Essay: Tarzan and Arab at Alamo Ritz

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Tim League Introduces Tarzan and Arab

Last Wednesday, October 26, the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz hosted a very special presentation of an incredible pair of Palestinian artists, along with two related films. Above, Drafthouse founder Tim League introduces the show and explains the enormous task of bringing them to Austin.

Twin brothers and filmmakers Tarzan and Arab (Ahmed and Mohammed Abu Nasser) hail from Gaza, where the last movie theater was destroyed in a bombing two years before they were born. The sons of an art teacher, they conceived an art project where they would create movie posters for imaginary films with titles based on codenames for Israeli military operations.

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