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Insider's Guide: Giving the Gift of Membership

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happy christmas everybody! by allerleirau

Wondering what to give the cinephiles in your life? Tired of buying them DVDs they've already got in their film library, or resisting the urge to give a generic gift certificate? Then consider the gift of membership to any of several deserving film organizations in Austin.

You'll not only give a refreshingly different gift that has year round benefits, you'll be supporting the local film community. Most membership programs are tiered and cumulative; each level of membership also includes the benefits of all the previous levels in most cases (not to mention it's usually tax deductible).

Austin Film Festival -- AFF hosts a number of sneak-peek screenings throughout the year as well as the Made in Texas and Family Film Series. The writers on your list will appreciate the discounts on the screenplay coverage and Final Draft, and all film fans will appreciate the two free rentals at Vulcan Video. Higher levels of membership include discounts on badges for AFF, and one (or more) free passes to AFF as well.

Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival -- Membership includes festival badges, and higher levels include a ticket to their annual Red Carpet Gala (the one that happens in February on the same day of the biggest film awards event of the year, hint hint), and other events.

Their Holiday Favorites: David Hartstein's Annual 'Christmas Vacation'

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National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

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. Austin filmmaker/producer David Hartstein (Along Came Kinky, Where Soldiers Come From) has been traveling out of the country recently to work on his Untitled Israeli Football Documentary, but was able to take a minute to tell us about a certain Christmas movie he can't miss.

I'm Jewish and there are no Hanukkah movies worth your time. So until Mel Gibson's Judah Maccabee project sees the light of day and despite marrying a Lutheran last year, I still feel like a Christmas movie interloper. But sure, like anyone else I do have a go-to list of Christmas movies that put me in the holiday spirit: It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, Die Hard, Eyes Wide Shut and Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (technically TV).

The one standout for me, however, is and always will be National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. I first saw Christmas Vacation at the (now boarded up) Rockville Center Twin on Long Island. I owned the Vacation trilogy on VHS (pre the very underrated Vegas Vacation) but it was stolen from me in college. Sort of like a parent, I love all of the Vacation movies fiercely and equally (perhaps I'll be asked back by Jette for that guest column in the future?) and I can't pick a favorite, but when I found out my wife had never seen Christmas Vacation I went out that very day and bought the Blu-ray, which immediately won her over to its charms.

Review: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

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Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol

Films from this summer such as Fast Five and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and this weekend's holiday release Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, have proven that sometimes going back to the well can produce great results. Studios aren't always content to throw some actors in front of a camera, put up a familiar title and hope droves of movie fans come out to support the franchise -- in these cases, they're actually hiring great directors to create some truly exciting films. For Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, filmmaker Brad Bird was given the task of shooting not only his first ever live-action feature, but the first Mission: Impossible film in five years, when it seemed like the series definitely wrapped up in 2006.

Opening in the middle of a mission, we see an agent running from armed assailants and escaping in a pretty spectacular manner. In typical spy film fashion, this circumstance will be explained later -- the opening of the film is mostly an elaborate prison break where Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) has been for some time after his retirement. He is given a mission to infiltrate the Kremlin in Russia and obtain files that contain launch codes for a nuclear missile strike. Ethan and his team are set up and blamed for an explosion that occurs at the Kremlin and it is up to them to not only clear their own names, but help stop a start to nuclear war between Russia and the US.

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Robert Downey Jr. returns to the big screen this week in Guy Ritchie's sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Fans of the 2009 Sherlock Holmes should enjoy this action-adventure movie, which doesn't stray from the moneymaking formula of the previous outing.

Hot on the trail of his arch-nemesis Moriarty (Jared Harris), Holmes and Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) reunite for one last adventure on the eve of Watson's wedding. Aiding them in their quest are a gypsy fortuneteller (Noomi Rapace) and Holmes' brother Mycroft (Stephen Fry).

Did I enjoy Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows? Yes, absolutely. THe movie had better pacing, more interesting visuals and more intriguing characters than its predecessor. Would I call it a great film? Unfortunately, no.

For every good new idea, Ritchie has an equally bad or irritating bit of directing going on. The largest of these was a scene involving characters being chased through the woods. The camera jumps back and forth from normal speed to bullet-time slow motion to show, in dramatic detail, the bullets chopping up the trees. My least favorite shot, perhaps in any movie, this served no purpose other than to bore me and make me impatient for something relevant to happen.

Characters disappear with no plot resolution, and the "Holmes-o-vision" feels overused. Perhaps the heart of the problem for me with Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is that this reimagining of the Holmes character is an action hero, who uses little to none of the deductive reasoning popularized by Doyle's character. This version of Holmes is not at all cerebral. There are a couple of good gags, but Holmes spends most of his time fighting his way out of bad situations.

Movies This Week: Young Sherlock Shame Ghost

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Shame

It's been a bit dismal this month for new releases, hasn't it? Never fear, that changes this week. And because of that, there are several great special screenings, too.

On Tuesday, AFS Essential Cinema is showing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. On Wednesday there's a sneak peek of my favorite film of the year, The Artist. You can grab passes here at Gofobo (use code "SLACK07C6" if it asks for it). On Thursday, AFS is hosting a special sneak screening of The Darkest Hour; you can RSVP for free if you're an AFS member.

Movies We've Seen:

Shame (pictured above) -- Despite what you've heard about the NC-17 rating, this isn't a titillating film. Don says in his review, "Even in its darkest moments Shame never blinks or averts its gaze from the unpleasantness." (Regal Arbor, Violet Crown)

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows -- If you liked the first one, you'll probably like the second one. If not, there's always the chance to appreciate what Jude Law does for facial hair. Mike says, "More action than thought, Holmes is up to his old tricks, with very few new ones." Look for his review on Saturday morning. (wide)

Young Adult -- Usually the anti-hero in a film is a man, but not this time. J.C. saw it and says, "It's not often that a movie can be a very great one centered on a character so vile, yet so damned relatable." Read his review for more. (wide)

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:  

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