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Review: Cars 2

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Cars 2In 2006, Pixar released a film that uniquely celebrated America's automotive culture and the small communities that were displaced by the interstate freeway system. Not only did Cars shine a light on a dying piece of Americana, it also had a dramatically unique visual presentation where everything in the world, including insects, was an automobile.

Five years later, after giving us Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3, Pixar returns with Cars 2, only their second film to get a sequel. It's not a surprise given the popularity of Cars, especially the rustbucket tow-truck character Tow Mater (voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy), that it would be chosen for the sequel treatment with "Mater" at the center of the story. I would be willing to bet the merchandise sales for Cars double that of any other Pixar movie. If that means this is a Pixar cash grab, I'm willing to accept it given the money will go into creating more original works like Up.

The entire cast of Cars returns with the exception of two greats. It's sad that in the last five years we've lost not only George Carlin, who was replaced in the role of Fillmore by Lloyd Sherr, but also Paul Newman, whose Doc Hudson receives a poignant memorial in the beginning of Cars 2 (indeed, Cars was Newman's last feature film appearance). New to the cast are the fantastic talents of Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro and Bruce Campbell, as well as a great number of celebrity cameos.

While Cars was a classic story full of nostalgia that resonated with an older audience even as it entertained the kids, Cars 2 is an enjoyable spy spoof that may appeal more to a younger crowd. The story follows Mater as he stumbles into the clandestine world of espionage due to a case of mistaken identity, leaving very little time spent with his fellow residents of Radiator Springs. Worse, depending on your viewpoint, the world is not populated just with cars, but also now with boats and planes, a change in style that is necessary for the places the film goes in a bigger world, but counter to the autos-only spirit of Cars.

Movies This Week: Bad Buck Beginners Cars

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Cars 2Right now I would easily pay $10 -- hell, even 3D rates of $15 -- to watch a rainstorm in person here in Austin. (I know one happened Tuesday night but I was asleep.) While I wait for such a diverting entertainment, I'll have to settle for watching movies instead. Do any of them have scenes of precipitation? Probably not. I may just have to settle for a very good documentary, a top-notch performance from Christopher Plummer or a raunchy comedy instead.

My plans for this week include finally seeing Midnight in Paris (Debbie's review) -- you all have talked me into it, since even non-Woody Allen fans are recommending it heartily. On Sunday night, Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz brings local filmmaker Ben Steinbauer (whom Elizabeth just interviewed) to Cinema Club to screen the Mayles brothers' documentary Salesman. I may have to sneak over to Alamo on South Lamar at lunchtime next week since the Kids' Club movie is The Muppet Movie. And tomorrow night, if there's no rain, it might be the perfect time to head over to Deep Eddy Pool for their Splash Party Movie Night screening of Grease. (I hear they have spiffy new projection equipment and a new screen too.)

Movies We've Seen:

Bad Teacher -- Look for Elizabeth's review this weekend. In the meantime, here's a sample: "A hilarious and somewhat raunchy view of the world of education, the film follows Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) as she tries to save money for a boob job." The movie, directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard), also stars Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch and Jason Segal. (wide)

Beginners -- Don claims in his review that this SXSW 2011 feature "shouldn't work at all" because it combines so many different elements in a story that jumps around in time and space ... but surprisingly "works well, smashingly well, so well that it's among my favorite films of this year." Christopher Plummer's performance is apparently the best reason to check it out. (Alamo South, Arbor)

Buck -- Another SXSW film returns to Austin, this time a documentary about "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman. In his review, Don says it's "a rare family-friendly film that will please arthouse audiences also." I'm not a fan of horse movies but I've heard so many good things about this movie that I'm planning to see it soon. (Arbor, Violet Crown)

Review: Beginners

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Beginners

According to the laws of coherent filmmaking, Beginners shouldn't work at all. The movie combines disparate elements unlikely to work together -- two love stories, a coming-out comedy, a withering statement about bigotry, a tragic death, a commentary about art versus commerce and even an oh-so-cute dog. And while juggling all these moving parts, the story constantly jumps from now to then and here to there and back again, taking us from modern-day Los Angeles to 1930s Germany to a half-dozen worlds in between.

But Beginners works well, smashingly well, so well that it's among my favorite films of this year. Much of the credit goes to Christopher Plummer, who blesses Beginners with one of the finest performances of his career.

Beginners is told from the point of view of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a young artist whose father, Hal (Plummer), has recently died of cancer. When Oliver's mother,Georgia (Mary Page Keller) died a few years earlier, Hal announced he was gay, having been not quite totally closeted through more than 40 years of marriage. In funny and sympathetic flashbacks, we see that Hal's coming out was both awkward and profoundly liberating. Freed from the bonds of a pointless marriage and in a new relationship with a much younger man, Andy (Goran Visnjic), Hal never was happier.

Review: Buck

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Buck

"A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems," says Buck Brannaman, "I'm helping horses with people problems."

The subject of the documentary Buck, horse trainer Brannaman travels America teaching horse owners positive ways to communicate with their animals. He is the gentlest of gentle souls, a skilled cowboy whose believes the best way to train a horse is through leadership and sensitivity, not brutality and punishment. Buck is as gentle as its subject, a finely made, ever thoughtful film that shows us how Brannaman's approach applies not only to horses, but to people as well. The movie opens Friday in Austin.

Brannaman's skill with horses is amazing. As he transforms a frightened, unruly horse into a calm, obedient one in a matter of minutes, it's as if he has unique insight into the equine mind. But Brannaman would be the first to say that while he has many well honed skills, he has no special relationship with horses. He merely understands that the best way to work with a horse -- or a human -- is to instill trust, not fear.

DVD Review: True Grit

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True GritI didn't review True Grit when it opened in theaters late last year because I did something film critics should never, ever do: I watched the movie and then I read the book before writing my review. Details from the book jumbled with the movie and I couldn't always remember which was which. Fortunately, Mike was happy to write a review for Slackerwood instead.

So I'm pleased to have the chance to see True Grit again, now on DVD and Blu-ray, and start over with a clean slate. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have brought us an excellent movie that plays very well on home video, although the visuals aren't quite as breathtaking as they might be on a theater screen. It's a movie I not only like but could watch with a mature adolescent or with my parents, and how often can you say that?

I enjoyed the Charles Portis novel more than the film adaptation (the narrator is a hoot), but this doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie, primarily due to the admirable performances. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is able to hold her own as Mattie Ross up against Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon's Redford-esque turn as LeBoeuf. The Coens focus their movie of True Grit on Steinfeld's character (despite what the DVD cover implies), as in the novel and as opposed to the 1969 movie, which was more of a vehicle for John Wayne.

For those of you who don't know the story from the novel or the earlier movie, Mattie Ross is a headstrong teenage girl who wants to hire a U.S. marshal to help her track down Tom Chaney, to bring him to trial for killing her father. She sets her sights on Cogburn, a hard-drinking U.S. Marshal with a determination she finds appropriate for the job. However, Texas Ranger LeBoeuf also wants to track down Chaney and bring him to Texas for a significant reward. The men might be amenable to working together but neither wants a 14-year-old girl on his hands. They find out quickly that Mattie Ross is one of the stubbornest characters ever to grace the page or screen, and she insists on having things her way.

Slacker 2011: Ben Steinbauer Can't Return to Les Amis Cafe

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Still by Ben Steinbauer

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the Austinites participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Ben Steinbauer, director of the 2009 acclaimed documentary Winnebago Man (Don's review), which won the Austin Film Critics Association Award for Best Austin Film in 2010.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film are you reshooting?

Ben Steinbauer: I'm re-shooting the scene with the angry hitchhiker who gets interviewed by a young video crew outside Les Amis Cafe. The hitchhiker is bumming cigarettes off the people sitting on the patio and gets approached by a video crew who inadvertently give him the opportunity to rant directly into their camera.

Share Your Panel Ideas for SXSW 2012

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SXSW 2012 Panel Picker

It may seem hard to believe that planning for the 2012 SXSW Festivals and Conferences has already started, but that's how SXSW is able to offer a staggering amount of programming every year. The PanelPicker entry process for SXSW 2012 opened this week, and SXSW welcomes ideas for their daytime programming from the community.

Proposals will be accepted now through the end of the day on Friday, July 15. Are you knowledgeable on a particular film, music, or interactive related subject, or can come up with a panel of experts? Enter a proposal for a solo presentation, workshop or panel via the PanelPicker and your idea could possibly be included in the 2012 SXSW Festivals and Conferences.

SXSW is particularly looking for daytime programming to include the future of new media, music and filmmaking. To learn more about this year's panel submission process, read the PanelPicker FAQ, which contains answers to just about any question you can think of.

Slacker 2011: Alamo's Daniel Metz Revisits the Continental Club

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Still by Peter Simonite

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the Austinites participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Alamo Drafthouse film programmer Daniel Metz, who programs Alamo Cinema Club and other series. Metz is the producer for the Alamo Drafthouse segment of Slacker 2011.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film are you reshooting?

Daniel Metz: We're filming the "anti-artist" scene that takes place in the Continental Club. Originally the scene features the iconic Austin band Ed Hall playing in the background, and local personality Wammo plays the bartender. Instead of trying to re-unite Ed Hall, we decided to try to find a band that is to Austin now what Ed Hall was to the city then; after a bit of soul searching, we came up with the Invincible Czars.

Slackery News Tidbits, June 20

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Here's the latest Austin movie news.

  • The Austin/Texas films at Los Angeles Film Festival are gathering plenty of attention and critical acclaim. The opening-night film on Thursday was Richard Linklater's latest feature, Bernie, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, and based on a Texas Monthly article. Austin Movie Blog has a good roundup of reviews and responses, plus photos.
  • Also at LAFF, former Austinite Steve Collins' film You Hurt My Feelings premiered over the weekend. The cast includes Collins regulars John Merriman, Courtney Davis and Macon Blair. IndieWIRE has an email interview with Collins about the movie. Check out Paul Sbrizzi's thoughtful review at Hammer to Nail.
  • And last night, LAFF screened An Ordinary Family, from local filmmaker Mike Akel (Chalk), which has a local cast/crew including a brief appearance from Merriman. It's still early for reactions, but Moving Pictures Network has a review.
  • Speaking of film fests, congrats to the filmmakers and crew of local film Sushi: The Global Catch, which won the Documentary Special Jury Award at the Seattle International Film Festival last week. The doc about the effects of sushi popularity on the environment was directed by Mark Hall, edited by Sandra Adair and Catie Cacci, and had a score composed by Brian Satterwhite. Looking forward to seeing it in Austin (and hoping it doesn't make me feel guilty about my sushi love).

Movies This Week: Green Submarine Penguin Art

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Trollhunter

It's Father's Day weekend, and why not take your dad or other father figure to the movies? Submarine includes a couple of lovely father-son scenes. Or perhaps your dad would like a comic book movie like Green Lantern? Probably not a children's book adaptation unless he's a fan of Jim Carrey or penguins, though.

If my dad lived in town, I'd wait until Thursday night and take him to the Paramount for a movie we loved watching on TV when I was growing up: the 1974 Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedy Uptown Saturday Night. It's paired with Stir Crazy, which I wasn't allowed to watch at that age. Or we could drive out to Waxahachie on Sunday night for the Rolling Roadshow screening of Tender Mercies.

I may head over to Austin Studios next Wednesday night for an outdoor screening of Slacker with filmmaker Richard Linklater in attendance -- free for AFS members. If it's not too hot, I might go to Blue Starlite this weekend, where they're showing The Blob, The Mummy and Young Frankenstein.

Movies We've Seen

Green Lantern -- Mike tells us in his review that the audience at the screening he attended was extremely underwhelmed with this latest comic-book movie. He also recommends you pick the 2D version this time. I hear Peter Sarsgaard is in it but I think I may find one of his earlier movies to watch instead. (wide)

Submarine -- This is the kind of movie that reminds you of other movies, but in a good way ... possibly because what we're watching may be one character's internal movie of his life. Read my review, then go see the movie. (Arbor)

TrollHunter (Trolljegeren) -- Debbie saw this at Fantastic Fest, and here's her reaction: "I loved it -- kept me on the edge of my seat. The writer/director creates a plausible life history of trolls while at the same time the audience engages with the protagonists (troll hunter and documentary film crew). Should not be dismissed as a "Blair Witch" hyper-realism film. I look forward to seeing it again. (Alamo South Lamar)

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