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Review: Gone Girl

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This review contains vague plot spoilers.

Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl is a modern horror story about a marriage that goes dangerously, fascinatingly awry. A fast and satisfying read, the book’s smart dialogue and clever structure keep it from landing in trashy thriller territory even though the subject matter largely revolves around sex and scandal.

Flynn also wrote the screenplay for the film Gone Girl, doing an admirable job of keeping the guilty pleasure essence of the book intact while rearranging and splicing when necessary. It’s a tough trick to pull off, but she does it skillfully.

David Fincher is the well-chosen director of the film. Topics like obsession, manipulation and society’s continuous decay are right up Fincher’s alley, and his slick style and precise attention to detail are perfectly channeled into a story where every word and action carries weight and meaning. 

Movies This Week: October 3-9, 2014

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 20,000 Days On Earth

While the first of two weekends of the Austin City Limits Festival will create an influx of out-of-towners and even more traffic than usual, local theaters offer more choices than ever for those of you not braving Zilker Park. There are no less than 10 new releases opening, but first I want to focus on this week's specialty screenings. 

The Austin Film Society is kicking off their "Art Horror" series for October with Andrzej Zulawski's Possession. Released in 1981, the film stars Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani and plays out like a paranoid fever dream. Beautifully shot with an incredible score, it's screening in 35mm at the Marchesa tonight, Sunday afternoon and again on Tuesday evening so there's no excuse for missing this one! On Wednesday, Doc Nights will feature Las Marthas with director Cristina Ibarra in attendance for a Q&A and Essential Cinema's "The Films Of Satyajit Ray" series this month will turn to 1964's Charulata (The Lonely Wife) on Thursday night. 

Highlights of the specialty programming at our area Alamo Drafthouse locations this week: a few great horror films selected for October including Shaun Of The Dead (screening in 35mm) at Ritz on Saturday and Sunday, The Thing at South Lamar on Sunday and Tuesday and The Exorcist at Village on Sunday. The Village also has Jackie Chan's Supercop on Tuesday for their "Eastern Fury" series. Also of note this week: the Ritz will be screening a real rarity on Saturday afternoon called Corn's-A-Poppin'. Co-written by Robert Altman and shot in his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, this is a 1955 musical comedy that the Drafthouse site calls "a singularly quirky exercise in regional filmmaking." 

Review: Annabelle

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AnnabelleA number of films have been inspired by the cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, most notably The Amityville Horror. The most financially successful was 2013's The Conjuring, in which the couple played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga assist the Perron family (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) with the demonic presence troubling their home. That film, which made over $318 million worldwide, is bookended with the tale of another of their cases. In it, the Warrens help a young nurse dealing with the sinister presence inhabiting a doll given to her by her mother. The film closes with a scene set in the basement room where the Warrens keep demonically possessed curiosities, the doll "Annabelle" in her glass case reigning as the most evil and feared. It serves as a perfect introduction for this week's prequel, Annabelle.

I did not expect the studio heads in their mad rush to capitalize on The Conjuring's success to shit all over it, but of course, this is New Line, the company that brought us the Val Kilmer career-killing abortion The Island of Dr Moreau. They cut a $20 million budget to $5 million and replaced venerable Conjuring director James Wan with John R. Leonetti, whose hottest previous credits were Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2. They hired an uncredited script polisher from the 2010 remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street who clumsily crafted an origin story set on the other side of the country, a script full of anachronisms, with no connection to the original film other than a vague mention of the Warrens as "some couple the church works with back east." And they replaced Farmiga and Wilson with younger lookalikes.

From Richard Linklater to Jon Stewart: Texas Films and Lineup Additions at AFF 2014

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hardy still

The full lineup and schedule have now been announced for this year's Austin Film Festival. Along with buzzy Marquee Selections like Wild and The Imitation Game and a few exciting late additions, including Jon Stewart's debut film Rosewater, The Humbling (starring Al Pacino) and dramedy/musical The Last 5 Yearsdozens of world and regional premieres are slated to screen, too -- many with Texas ties.

You can take a look at the full lineup and conference schedule (they're using Sched this year) and start planning your own path, but for now here's a quick overview of the films appearing at the festival made by and about Texans. 

21 Years: Richard Linklater -- Austin is the perfect place for the world premiere of this documentary, as it covers the first 21 years of the local director's career. The film features interviews with some of Linklater's regular collaborators, including Matthew McConaughey, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. You can bet this Friday night screening at the Paramount will be packed with proud local film fans. 

TAMI Flashback: Technology in Texas

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The Computer Tutor

This article is part of a series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article.

This month's TAMI Flashback videos feature cutting-edge technology -- cutting-edge more than 40 years ago, that is. Produced by Dallas-based Bill Stokes Associates, the three videos highlight the state of the art in late Sixties and early Seventies computers and electronics. The technical details may appeal only to your inner nerd -- but with their innovation-a-go-go vibe, the videos are entertaining looks at an era when most people had little exposure to high-tech equipment.

Made in 1966, The Computer Tutor is a cheery and sometimes amusing look at a then-new technology that still isn't perfect: optical character recognition, or OCR. The video sings the praises of an "electronic retina computing reader," which greatly improved OCR accuracy. Invented by Dallas-based Recognition Equipment, the device could read up to 2400 characters per second (or so the video claims) with less than one error per 100,000 characters, while simultaneously processing the data. By scanning in text, the device eliminated the need for the slow, expensive and error-prone process of transferring the information to punch cards.

Fantastic Fest Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

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Princess KaguyaMy favorite Fantastic Fest 2014 selection easily won the audience award for best film. Studio Ghibli's latest, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, is also my pick for the best feature from the Japanese animation studio. Directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, it is at the surface a straightforward retelling of the 10th-century folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, perhaps the oldest Japanese story. That simple description, however belies a work of enormous artistic depth evoking powerful emotions.

A bamboo cutter working in the forest finds a glowing stalk of bamboo with a blossom that opens to reveal a tiny princess. He takes her home to raise her with his wife, and she grows with amazing swiftness from an infant into a girl of exceptional beauty and limitless talents. Believing her sent by the gods along with the gold he finds in the bamboo, the old man's vision of Kaguya's future involves a life at court and marriage to a wealthy high-ranking official. She would be happier, however, back home in the hut she first knew, playing in the forest and fields.

Kaguya is enchanted with the simple beauty of nature, finding as much joy in plants and frogs as in the beautiful colors of her fine silks, but there is a mournful sadness in her song. When she plays the koto, the emotion conveyed is overpowering. The success of this film is in no small part due to composer Joe Hisaishi's work. Hisaishi's numerous credits include all of Ghibli's biggest films: The Wind Rises, Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

The very few complaints about The Tale of Princess Kayuga regard its length and pace. At 137 minutes, it exceeds the length of Princess Mononoke by three minutes, but little could be trimmed from this emotionally dense film. Takahata packs a lifetime's worth of experience raising a child into that running time, celebrating and reaffirming the meaning of human experience and lamenting how swiftly it passes. Along with Kaguya's parents, we experience the joy of new life, hope for a bright future, disappointment as she makes her own, contrary choices ... and finally acceptance.

Fantastic Fest 2014 Wrap-up: 26 Ways to Party

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Arm Wrestling

Fantastic Fest 2014 came to a close last week, and the tenth iteration of the festival was as packed with great films and events in the second half as in the first.

A highlight of the festival was I Am A Knife With Legs, the micro-budget comedy written, directed, edited by, and starring Los Angeles comedian Bennett Jones who answered audience questions in character as the existential Europop star Bené. The heavily musical film brings to mind creations such as Borat, though considerably cleaner, stranger and more inventive.

Tuesday night's Secret Screening was introduced by Alamo Drafthouse owner and festival co-founder Tim League, who toyed with the audience, providing nebulous background on the film but dimming the house lights without telling attendees what to expect. The German title Ich Seh, Ich Seh was of little help as well, and it was revealed only after playing that the English title of the film is Goodnight Mommy. This is one film best seen knowing as little as possible about it. Audience opinion was divided but generally positive. 

Movies This Week: September 26-October 2, 2014

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The Skeleton Twins

We're in full-blown recovery mode from another amazing year of Fantastic Fest, but there is truly no rest for the wicked around here. Not only do we have a handful of intriguing new releases, but plenty of specialty screenings will have you racing back into the theater, no matter how many films you saw last week. 

Tonight, the Austin Film Society is hosting a selection of eight short films from this year's Sundance Film Festival. With a mix of fiction, documentary and awardwinning short films, this 94-minute program includes the acclaimed debut from actress Rose McGowan entitled Dawn. You can catch it this eveing at the Marchesa. Head back there on Sunday afternoon as programmer Lars Nilsen schools you about Lee Tso Nam's The Hot, The Cool & The Vicious and screens it in a 35mm print. Essential Cinema dives into the "Films Of Satyajit Ray" for October and it begins on Thursday with 1963's Mahanagar (The Big City).  

At the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, Sunday night brings us a special "Cinema Cocktails" screening of An American In Paris with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, while Key Largo will screen in 35mm on Monday night wrapping up the "Bogart & Bacall" series. A brand new 4K digital restoration of Jaws is headed back to the Alamo Lakeline and Slaughter Lane locations this Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. Tickets are still available for a double-feature feast of The Godfather on Sunday. Check this link for menu & tickets. Alamo Lakeline will be hosting Afternoon Tea on Saturday afternoon with Agnieszka Holland's beautiful 1993 adaptation of the classic children's tale The Secret Garden. It's a mother-daughter themed event with appetizers and tea provided by Austin's own Zhi Tea.

Review: The Boxtrolls

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The BoxtrollsI am always eager to see the latest Laika release. Output is slow from the animation studio due to the time-consuming and meticulous nature of its handmade stop-motion films, but bottling magic is no easy task. There is an ineffable tone in the studio's films -- perhaps because of its complete attention to details, perhaps because of some way natural lighting works compared to digital renderings -- that instills a sense of realism.

With The Boxtrolls, Laika takes on steampunk, creating a Victorian-looking village populated by hundreds of unique, charming (and some not so very) characters. Based on the children's book by Alan Snow, Here Be Monsters, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi bring to life Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright, aka Bran Stark from Game of Thrones) and Winnie (Elle Fanning) as they fight to save their misunderstood friends from the evil designs of wily exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley).

I found the script somewhat less engaging than Laika's previous two movies, Coraline and ParaNorman, as it felt more appropriate for a younger audience. However, the film was never boring and often uproariously funny. The town of Cheesebridge is full of puns, especially in the character names like Lord Portley-Rind or Snatcher. ("My favorite was The Briehemoth.") There is also an oddball musical number, "The Boxtrolls Song," written by Eric Idle. Kingsley's villainous Mr. Snatcher steals the show (along with the trolls), as he performs with an accent that had me thinking he was Michael Caine.

Lone Star Cinema: A Mighty Heart

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Archie Panjabi and Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart

While working as a journalist in Karachi, American Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded in early 2002. It seemed timely to watch the 2007 film A Mighty Heart, based on his wife Miriane's memoir of the experience, as similar attacks by ISIS have been in the news in recent weeks.

The main reason I'd been hesitant to see A Mighty Heart is the casting of Angelina Jolie. Nothing against her as an actress, but having a white actress play a mixed-race woman continues a long history of "whitewashing" in film. Jolie does a fine job here, mimicing well Mariane Pearl's French accent and cadence. She plays Mariane as contained and determined during the search, then fierce and raw when she receives the tragic news of her husband's death. Logically I know that if Jolie hadn't been involved, the movie might not have ever received wide release. Yet I couldn't help wondering what qualities an actress of color might have brought to the role.

Jolie anchors the film, which includes a cast so large that it's nigh impossible to keep track of all their names. Reporters Mariane and Daniel Pearl look forward to leaving Pakistan as they prepare for their first child. The night Daniel (Dan Futterman, actor in Judging Amy, but also screenwriter of Capote and Foxcatcher) disappears while working on a story, Mariane hurriedly begins calling his contacts and the authorities. A team of sorts is formed to search for her husband, including acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan (The Lunchbox, Life of Pi) as a Pakastani officer, and two familiar faces from The Good Wife -- Archie Panjabi and Denis O'Hare -- as an Indian-American writer and a Wall Street Journal editor, respectively.

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