Kasi Lemmons, director of Eve's Bayou and Talk to Me, chose a play by poet Langston Hughes as the basis for her new movie. Black Nativity is first and foremost a musical, featuring original pieces of music as well as new arrangements of familiar hymns and carols. Lemmons even co-wrote some of the songs, with Raphael Saadiq producing the music (he shares the "Music by" credit with composer Laura Karpman).
The music is the best thing about Black Nativity. Without the songs it would likely be a far more disappointing movie, as you can see plot lines coming from a mile away. There are a couple times when a character says something that punches you in the gut with its earnestness, but otherwise the story is as ridiculous as it is predictable.
Langston, a fatherless kid from Baltimore played by young Jacob Latimore, is sent to live with grandparents he's never met. His rhyming narration kicks off the movie, and his singing voice has a light tone. Singer/Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson plays his financially-strapped mom who sings more often than she talks. Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are the grandparents living in Harlem (and both of them sing in the movie!). Bassett's tentative alto harmonizes nicely with Hudson's more assured voice for a duet in "He Loves Me Still."
Tyrese Gibson (Baby Boy, Transformers) shows up as a gritty man Langston meets in NYC, and his performance of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" late in the film is simply beautiful. A homeless couple -- obvious Joseph and Mary stand-ins as soon as they appear onscreen -- are played by R&B singer Luke James and newcomer Grace Gibson. Mary J. Blige is an angelic figure with startlingly white hair, and Nas is... himself, I guess?
Some aspects of Philomena can be the stuff of films that critics loathe: It's a crowd pleaser, the central characters are borderline cinematic clichés, they form an unlikely friendship (I wish there were more films about unlikely animosities), and the story's morality isn't complicated.
But thanks to a smart, funny script, a likeable vibe, direction by the esteemed Stephen Frears and superb performances by Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, Philomena avoids all these potential pitfalls. It's a great movie that may be a hit with audiences for all the right reasons.
Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the film is based on the true story of the titular Philomena (Dench), an Irish woman who spends nearly 50 years wondering what became of her long-lost son. As a teenager in 1952, she becomes pregnant and, like many "fallen" girls and women in Catholic-dominated Ireland, is sent away to a convent. After she gives birth, the proudly cruel nuns force her to sign away her parental rights to the baby, Anthony, who lives with her at the convent until he's adopted at age three. Knowing nothing about Anthony's adoptive parents, Philomena loses touch with him.
Here's the first of our 2013 Holiday Favorites (see 2011 and 2012), a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.
We're starting off with this selection from Samantha Rae Lopez (@sraelopez), producer of short film The Book of Joe and program coordinator at Latinitas, a local organization working to empower young Latinas through usage of tech and media. Here are her thoughts on a Christmas favorite:
If you are a frequent Slackerwood reader, chances are you have some familiarity with Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. If you haven't seen this film, stop what you're doing and find it on DVD, iTunes or Amazon streaming. Despite the fact that many would argue that this movie is an "American Christmas Classic," in reality the holiday itself is merely referenced and not crucial to the plot progression. Much like films such as Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black seems to love Christmas) and Trading Places, It's a Wonderful Life can also -- arguably -- fall into the "anti-Christmas movie" sub-genre.
George Bailey, played by a post-war James Stewart, is a small town business man with a strong stake in the town of Bedford Falls. When his business is held captive by the greedy Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), Bailey has suicidal thoughts which reach his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers). Bailey is granted a rare glimpse at what the community would be like without him and gets a new found appreciation for everything he has worked for; his friends and family.
Now that it's Thanksgiving week, it's time to get to watching holiday movies! Here to help, the Paramount Theatre is showing a variety of films during the month of December. As you watch these older and more recent Christmas classics, you can imbibe the free hot chocolate provided (discounted "extra toasty" beverages will also be available).
For something different this year, the downtown Austin landmark will be running a special deal for marriage proposals on Sunday, December 8. In between the Love Actually showtimes that day, the marquee will read "Will you marry me?" and couples can reserve times to pop the question in front of the theatre.
I asked Paramount programmer Stephen Jannise how this idea was conceived and whether this is the first time something like this has been done at the historic venue. His response:
"One of my coworkers actually came up with the proposal idea after I had already programmed Love Actually. Apparently we get tons of calls from people wanting to use the marquee to propose, and of course we just can't accommodate all those requests (a majority of the time we're using that marquee to promote our shows). So we figured we'd take a whole day to give people an opportunity to get photos with the marquee, along with all the other awesome benefits of that package. And what better movie to pair that experience with than Love Actually! To my knowledge, this has never been done at the Paramount."
Here's the schedule for seasonal movies at the theatre:
Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.
- IndieWire's "Sundance wishlist" includes Austin-based filmmaker Richard Linklater's long-awaited Boyhood, which chronicles the life of a child from age six to 18 and stars native Texan Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette; University of Texas lecturer Kat Candler's feature-length version of Hellion, about a seven-year-old who falls prey to his older brother's mischievous ways in a small Texas refinery town; Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter from Austinites David and Nathan Zellner; and Austin-based Hammer to Nail magazine editor and filmmaker Michael Tully's Ping Pong Summer, starring Susan Sarandon. We'll be keeping our fingers crossed that these movies really do get into Sundance 2014.
- MovieMaker named the Austin Film Festival as one of the top 25 coolest general film festivals, as voted on by their readers. Austin-based Fantastic Fest was also honored by readers as one of the top five coolest horror/sci-fi film festivals.
- The Central Texas-shot indie-comedy Cinema Six (Jette's dispatch), about the hijinks of three longtime small-town movie theater employees, is now available on cable VOD (check your local provider for availability), according to Devolver Digital.
This is an abbreviated, pre-Thanksgiving edition of Movies This Week. While everything pretty much got out of the way of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire this weekend, some new movies will open mid-week to take advantage of the holiday. As such, we're just going to cover what is playing over the next few days and then return on Wednesday with a new post so you can plan your moviegoing accordingly.
The Austin Film Society only has one event lined up before the holidays and that is tonight's special presentation of The Unspeakable Act. It's happening at the AFS Screening Room and online ticketing closes at 3pm, so you'll want to plan ahead to attend.
The Alamo Ritz has a couple more screenings of To Kill A Mockingbird for their "Tough Ladies" series happening this Saturday and Sunday. On Monday night, you can catch a very rare screening of Taxi Zum Klo (also at the Ritz) for this month's installment of Homo Arigato and Anime fans will want to head to the Alamo Lakeline on Tuesday for a 25th anniversary celebration of Akira on the big screen, although you should be aware that the distributor is only providing the English-dubbed version.
It's been almost a year now since Jennifer Lawrence has captured the collective hearts of America with her adorable quality and humility paired with her humor. To look at anything Lawrence did in early 2013 you'd think she could do absolutely no wrong. As is typical of American culture, her illustrious shine is still amazingly bright, but now we're ready to see what she can do onscreen again. Can she impress us, still? Her first major release of 2013 is the sequel to the hugely successful franchise, The Hunger Games.
In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lawrence's character Katniss Everdeen remains a polarizing figure in the dystopian society of the future. Her success in the previous year's Hunger Games, a competition held annually in which a tribute from every district is randomly selected to participate in a fight to the death where only a single winner is to remain, elevated her status as a living example of the type of courage that is present in the poverty stricken districts of the country.
Her victory didn't come easily, and without controversy though. Her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) also came away from the previous year's Hunger Games as a victor due to some clever posturing by Katniss. Now that she has fully grabbed the attention of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), forces are conspiring to eliminate Katniss from causing any more trouble, but there are also forces looking to join Katniss and her fight for survival and survival of her people.
The strengths that were present in the first film are more pronounced in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Lawrence's character seems to carry the world on her shoulders now, and it's appropriate since, on a weird parallel scale, Lawrence seemed to always be on everyone's mind in the last year in a way similar to Katniss in the film's universe. Her combination of ease and uneasiness with the burdens that are now ever present is handled beautifully. When Katniss has to act confident and complacent, she does so with a smile on her face that seems genuine, but is able to maintain that uneasiness in her eyes.
If you've not had a chance to attend a Comic Con, this year would be a great opportunity to check out this jam-packed multi-day event right here in Central Texas this weekend, from Friday, Nov. 22 through Sunday, Nov. 24. Wizard World has not only expanded the number of Comic Cons held each year, but also the content to include more television and film-related programming.
This weekend at Austin Comic Con, stars available for photo and autograph sessions range from Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Readus of The Boondock Saints fame to The Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno -- seen above at the 2012 Austin Comic Con. Star Trek captains William Shatner and Scott Bakula will also be in attendance, with Shatner accepting his "Honorary Austin Citizenship" from Mayor Leffingwell on Friday evening at 5:30 pm at the Austin Convention Center.
Speaking of The Hulk, Marvel will be debuting its new animated film Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United on Saturday, with a special appearance by Hulk voice actor Fred Tatasciore as he introduces the film and hosts a Q&A.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
Local nonprofit festival Lights. Camera. Help. is changing it up a bit for the 2014 Reel Change Film Frenzy through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to support their ten filmmaking teams in sharing stories about local nonprofit organizations. Backers can become a producer of their very own cause-driven film by donating as little as $10. The goal is to raise $10,000 to be split between the teams to cover their costs.
At higher levels, backers are eligible to receive tickets to the Reel Change Film Frenzy screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, a cameo appearance in one of the films, or video coaching sessions by Lights. Camera. Help. educators. Even if the campaign does not reach its goal, the filmmakers have agreed to split evenly any funding received through January 4.
Stuntwoman Patty Dillon has taken on a new role in the film industry as a documentary filmmaker with There Will Be No Stay, the personally intimate story of the men faced with the unbearable act of taking another person's life on behalf of the criminal justice system. Austin-based Arcanum Pictures (Grow Up, Tony Phillips) producers Paul Gandersman and Peter Hall support this salient documentary, which was filmed across the nation from South Dakota to Texas and North Carolina.
The film, which provides a rare glimpse into a difficult profession, is currently funding through Wednesday, December 11 on Kickstarter, for funds to cover post-production including final film and sound editing as well as music licensing and film festival application fees.
Watch the thought-provoking preview of There Will Be No Stay after the jump.
Oliver Stone isn't known for subtlety. From the sledgehammered anti-greed message of Wall Street to the relentless nihilistic violence of Natural Born Killers, the director seldom is guilty of understatement.
Stone's most ambitious film, JFK, is no less over-the-top than his other works. Released in 1991, JFK is an orgy of Stone's signature style, a movie saturated (really, oversaturated) with visual and sound effects, artsy segues, and themes repeated too often. It's also one of the most important films made in Texas, a hugely successful and controversial movie by one of the most popular directors of its era.
As its title implies, JFK is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but it's less about the tragic event than the countless conspiracy theories surrounding it. The film is based on the real-life story of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), whose suspicions about Kennedy's murder led him to conduct a years-long investigation.