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Movies This Week: February 6-12, 2015

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 Two Days, One Night

The Austin Film Society has another Free Member Friday tonight at the Marchesa and will be featuring the 2014 Belgian thriller Alleluia (Debbie's review). It won Fantastic Fest jury prizes for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress. On Tuesday night, AFS joins forces with the Austin Chronicle to celebrate their "First Plates" issue by screening The Kings Of Pastry by acclaimed filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. Wednesday evening will bring Robert Greene's Actress, one of last year's most acclaimed documentaries, to the Marchesa. There will be a post-film Skype Q&A with the director.

Thursday night's Essential Cinema selection begins a new series called "Children Of Abraham/Ibrahim 9: Films Of The Middle East Diaspora." Looking For Muhyiddin is a 2012 feature from Nacer Khemir wherein the filmmaker "journeys to many lands to listen attentively to the interpretations of those scholars who have studied the teachings of the 13th century Andalusian Muslim mystic." 

Over at Violet Crown Cinema, the "'Round Midnight" series continues this weekend with another screening of Danny Boyle's stylish debut Shallow Grave, which screens tonight and tomorrow. The theater will be offering $2 off all draft beers starting at 11 pm each night before the film begins at 11:30. One of my favorite films of last year, Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin (Jette's review), will be at Violet Crown on Wednesday night for CineBrew. Lead actor Macon Blair will be in attendance for a post-film Q&A and each ticket includes an 8 oz. souvenir glass of Greenhouse IPA #13 from Hops & Grain. Finally, on Thursday night, the theater hosts a special "Pay What You Want" screening of Hits, the directorial debut from comedian David Cross. Tickets for this screening are cash only, available at 11 am Thursday, limited to 4 per person only at the box office. 

Slamdance Review: Clinger

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Clinger Still Photo

Houston-shot comedic horror film Clinger premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival with full houses for both screenings. This quirky feature directed by Michael Steves (Hello, Cruel World) and co-written by Gabi Chennisi (Dark Water), Bubba Fish, and Steves is entertaining horror that turns the rom-com genre on its head, both literally and figuratively.

Jennifer Laporte stars as Fern Peterson, a high-school girl who aspires to receive an athletic scholarship to MIT. She experiences her first love with classmate Robert Klingher (Vincent Martella), who overwhelms Fern with adoration and gifts. Just as Fern admits to Robert that they should end their relationship, Robert dies in a freak accident and returns from the dead as a love-sick ghost. With the aid of her track coach and semi-retired ghost hunter Valeria Kingsley (Alicia Monet Caldwell), Fern must overcome Robert's attempts to ensure their everlasting love.

Clinger is a refreshing departure from a typical high-school romantic comedy, with strong characterization of lead and supporting actresses. While Fern clearly appreciates the affection from Robert, there's a reluctance that can be seen in her expressions -- especially in a photo where Robert grasps her in an overly affectionate stranglehold. Laporte is phenomenal in her role of a young woman conflicted by her emotional attachment to her first love and its impact on her chosen path in life.

Lost in the Awards Rush: The Paper

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"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

Birdman (2014) has certainly been the most breakthrough of indies this past awards season. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's tale of a former action movie star (Michael Keaton) whose artistic comeback is marred by a variety of personal and professional crises (much of it courtesy of a pitch-perfect ensemble that includes Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Naomi Watts), has wowed virtually every major critic since its release. The praise has carried Birdman from offbeat indie to the most Oscar-nominated release of 2014 (Mike's review).

At the center of Birdman's acclaim is a magnificent and mesmerizing performance from its leading man. Having had a somewhat spotty filmography over the past decade or so, Keaton has landed a role most actors only dream of. His Riggan is a man struggling to overcome his movie past in an effort to amaze the theater world with his genuine talent. Truth be told, it's a role that Keaton could pull off, due to both his own past cinematic history and the seemingly effortless commitment he brings to every character.

After watching Birdman, I immediately thought of another Keaton-led film made 20 years earlier, The Paper (1994). Keaton re-teamed with his Gung Ho (1986) director Ron Howard for this look at the fast-paced world of tabloid journalism. Like Birdman, The Paper is set in New York, has a real-time feel, an unconventional brand of comedy and features Keaton leading a top-notch ensemble of Oscar winners and nominees including Glenn Close, Marisa Tomei, Randy Quaid and Robert Duvall.

2014 in Review: Matt's Top Ten

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Obvious Child

As each year ends, I hear from friends who say, "It was a really mediocre year for movies." While I know I watch more movies than your average person, I never understand that argument when it's presented to me. There's no question that I'm spoiled by living in Austin and being able to attend several film festivals a year, but even when I tried to make a Best of 2014 list, I struggled to put together anything less than a Top 30. For this post, I've narrowed it down to just my Top Ten. If you're curious to see my picks beyond this, you can check out my "Favorite Films of 2014" list on Letterboxd. 

To be eligible for my list, a film had to be released in the U.S. in some capacity in 2014. As a member of the Austin Film Critics Association, I was fortunate enough to be able to screen films like Selma, Inherent Vice and A Most Violent Year early, even though they didn't actually open in town until January.

10. Obvious Child -- Director Gillian Robespierre adapted her 2009 short film into this comedy that truly walks a fine line, creating an often hysterical film that deals with the life-changing topic of abortion. Jenny Slate is perfectly suited for a lead role that requires such a tightope act. When she's performing as a stand-up onscreen, her material is not just edgy, it's frequently over the edge. Some viewers may find the movie to be as well, but I loved the way it approached the subject matter. It's not easy to create a melancholy romantic comedy about a woman who has decided to terminate an unexpected pregnancy, but Obvious Child turns this very difficult decision into a relatable (and gleefully offensive) comedy without reducing it to an "issue" movie. (Elizabeth's review) (available now on home video and Amazon Prime streaming)

Sundance 2015: Partying with the Lone Star State

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Texas Film Commission with RESULTS star and Dallas Commissioner

The number of parties in Park City, Utah, during Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals can be overwhelming for any festgoer who wants to experience more than just the extensive film programming available. To balance between screenings, interviews and parties, I select a few events to attend each year.

Most important are the film commission events, which provide a great opportunity to network with industry colleagues and learn about movie projects supported by the film associations. The Texas Association of Film Commissions hosted their annual Film Texas reception last week, with representatives from various film commissions including Kim LeBlanc from the Texas Film Commission and Janis Burklund, director of the Dallas Film Commission, both seen above with Results star Tishuan Scott.

The San Antonio Film Commission also hosted an event with director Drew Mayer-Oakes in attendance. Both events provided a great opportunity to discuss the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program. Many of the conversations that I took part in focused on filmmakers expressing their concern about the impact of legislative changes that could come about in the upcoming legislative session under a new governor. A reduction or elimination of the incentive program could result in the relocation of film projects that are currently on hold.

Movies This Week: January 30-February 5, 2015

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 Amira & Sam

After a successful run last of week of "In Case Of No Emergency: The Films Of Ruben Ostlund," the Austin Film Society is adding an encore screening of last year's acclaimed Force Majeure this evening at the Marchesa. This is likely your last chance to catch it on the big screen, so don't miss out before the film is released February 10 on home video.

On Sunday evening, fans of Euro exploitation will want to head to the AFS Screening Room where longtime film collector Fred Frey will screen a secret double feature of rare 16mm films from his private collection. The films "will interest those who relish obscure delights." The Jacques Rivette "Essential Cinema" series closes out on Thursday at the Marchesa with a 35mm print of 1981's Le Pont Du Nord. 

Over at the Violet Crown Cinema, the "'Round Midnight" series continues this weekend with Danny Boyle's stylish debut Shallow Grave, which screens tonight and tomorrow. The theater will be offering $2 off all draft beers starting at 11 pm each night before the film begins at 11:30. 

The Alamo Drafthouse is having several Groundhog Day dinners on Monday night. You can buy tickets for Lakeline, Ritz or Slaughter Lane and enjoy a menu of "Pie Three Times." The theater chain is also offering several free screenings of Blade Runner: The Final Cut this week exclusively for Alamo Victory members. Get details here.

Review: Amira & Sam

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Amira and Sam 

Romantic comedies are not exactly known for being rooted in realism. Movies in this genre always include an element of fantasy, whether it is minor or major, to make viewers wonder if it could ever happen to them. There are elements to Amira & Sam that feel surprisingly authentic and even when it begins to feel a little contrived, I do think its heart is in the right place. 

Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks) is Sam, an army solider who has recently returned home and is struggling to reassimilate. He returns to civilian life by working security as a doorman for a highrise apartment building. One night, he makes the mistake of chastizing an elevator full of privileged assholes after seeing one of them urinate outside the front door. They mockingly call him a "redneck cop" and dare him to do something about it. Sam lets the elevator doors close, but quickly shuts down the elevator banks, trapping them while he grabs a mop to clean up the mess. 

Sundance Review: Tangerine

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Tangerine Still Photo

Tangerine captures a seedy side of Los Angles rarely seen on film, in the bowels of a subculture that was not of personal interest until I watched this crudely engaging tale at Sundance Film Festival.

Transgender prostitute Sin-Dee (Kiki Kitana Rodriguez) has just been released from jail on Christmas Eve when her best friend and fellow sex worker Alexandra (Mya Taylor) reveals that Sin-Dee's pimp boyfriend Chester (James Ransone) has been sleeping with a meth addict "fish," Dina (Mickey O'Hagan), during Sin-Dee's incarceration. Sin-Dee strikes out with Alexandra in tow to find both Chester and Dina so she can settle matters.

"There is nothing out here but the hustle," states Alexandra, and that's what the pair do as they embark on a fast-paced journey through the streets of Los Angeles. Their stories are intertwined with that of Armenian cab driver Razmik (Karren Karagulian), who has a weakness for transgender prostitutes, and especially for Sin-Dee. Days spent dealing with difficult customers and nights with his overbearing mother-in-law have Razmik desperate for his own release through carnal pleasure.

Slamdance Review: Bloodsucking Bastards

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Bloodsucking Bastards Still PhotoThe 2015 Slamdance Festival opened on Friday night with a splash -- or rather copious amounts of blood -- in Bloodsucking Bastards, a horror comedy directed by Brian James O'Connell and penned by Ryan Mitts and the Dr. God comedy group. The well-attended opening-night party included the cast and crew in attendance, and plenty of complimentary libations for attendees.

Not since the Spierig brothers' 2009 vampire horror movie Daybreakers have I witnessed such a deluge of fake blood, but the action and humor keep the gag reflex at bay in this film that has been aptly described as "Office Space meets Shaun of the Dead," but with vampires instead of zombies.

Fran Kranz stars in Bloodsucking Bastards as Evan, the acting sales manager in a regional office of a big corporation. He is frustrated with his current work situation with his co-worker and ex-girlfriend Amanda (Emma Fitzpatrick), as well as his slacker buddy Tim (Joey Kern) and the rest of the underperforming sales team. When his boss (Joel Murray) brings in his old nemesis Max (Pedro Pascal) to take on the sales manager position, officemates begin acting strangely and some even go missing. It's up to Evan to convince everyone that an evil force is taking over the office and more than just their jobs are at stake.

Lost in the Awards Rush: Nine

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"Lost in the Awards Rush" is a new weekly series Slackerwood is running during the awards season, to suggest lesser-known but excellent alternatives to popular frontrunners for big movie awards.

Upon its Broadway debut in 1987, Into the Woods was praised as an innovative, dark, bold and musically astounding work that, to this day, remains unequaled. Naturally, a movie version had to follow of this re-imagining of classic fairy tales and what happens after "happily ever after." Though there were plans for a Rob Reiner-directed movie adaptation featuring Cher, Goldie Hawn, Elijah Wood and Robin Williams in the early '90s, that sadly fell apart -- the notion of bringing a project so well regarded and towering in both story and scope seemed virtually impossible.

Enter Rob Marshall, who successfully brought Chicago (2002) (another seemingly un-adaptable Broadway sensation) to the screen and had set out to work similar wonders with what was possibly the most daunting project of his career. Though there were some gripes by theater purists concerning changes that made the story more Disney-esque, Into the Woods proved a smash hit with critics and audiences, while earning Oscar nominations for the film's costumes, production design and supporting actress Meryl Streep.

The film added much-needed luster to Marshall's movie musical resume when recalling his lavishly mounted yet unfairly dismissed adaptation of the Broadway musical Nine (2009). Nine follows celebrated Italian film director Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) as he prepares to shoot his eagerly awaited ninth film. However, Guido finds himself in a creative and personal crisis, which prevents him from creating the grandiose masterpiece everyone is expecting. At the heart of Guido's turmoil are the frustrating relationships he has with various women in his life including his wife (Marion Cotillard), mistress (Penelope Cruz), mother (Sophia Loren), muse (Nicole Kidman), costume designer (Judi Dench), an American journalist (Kate Hudson) and a scandalous woman from his childhood (Fergie).

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