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Review: The Help

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Viola Davis in The Help

Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help has been discussed in many book groups since it was published in 2009. Given some of the controversy the book has stirred up, I went into the film adaptation of the novel with some trepidation. I needn't have worried. In the hands of the expert actresses involved, aided by a touching screenplay and dedicated direction from actor/writer/director Tate Taylor, The Help is one of the best movies I've seen this year.

I won't go into much detail about any way the film differs from the book, because I only remembered main plot points and the strong female characters involved in the novel. Although the book is told from three different viewpoints, the movie The Help is narrated by maid Aibileen (Viola Davis). Aibileen works as a nanny/maid to a middle-class family in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. She loves her charge Mae Mobley fiercely, but knows that she can only do so much to make up for the lack of love the girl receives from her mother Elizabeth (Ahna O'Reilly). She lives alone in a small home where a photo of her son holds a place of prominence.

Aibileen's best friend Minny (Octavia Spencer) used to work for dotty Missus Walters (Sissy Spacek), but now suffers under her tyrannical daughter Hilly Holbrook (Bryce Dallas Howard) ... until Hilly fires Minny for using the house toilet (instead of her own "special" Jim Crow toilet outside). Minny is down and out until nouveau riche Celia Foote (Jessica Chastain) hires her.

Photo Essay: A Night of Sommelier Cinema

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Wine and Cheese at Sommelier Cinema

I finally made it to the Alamo Drafthouse Sommelier Cinema last week to see The Seven Year Itch for the first time. Yes, I'm admitting that I'd failed until now to see the Billy Wilder film that inspired the most iconic image of Marilyn Monroe, standing with her dress being blown up by a subway grate. It was interesting to observe that the full-length image did not actually appear in the film. Despite the hype and humor of The Seven Year Itch, the film is my least favorite of Wilder's work. I found the lead character's habit of verbalizing his internal monologue to be rather annoying and unattractive. By far my favorite Wilder movie starring Marilyn Monroe is Some Like It Hot with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, a rip-roaring funny film that I never tire of watching.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for The Seven Year Itch, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience thanks to the great program put together by Alamo Drafthouse Sommelier Cinema host Daniel Metz. The guest sommelier was Eric Pelegrin of Travis Heights Beverage World, who paired the wines to the film. Pelegrin was joined by Kendall Antonelli of Antonelli's Cheese Shop, who matched tasty American cheeses to the wines. My favorite pairing of the evening was the Caves de Sancerre "Les Rochettes" 2009 with the Uplands Cheese Company Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese. The refreshingly light and modestly sweet Selbach Riesling Kabinett 2008 won me over, and I also enjoyed the Central Coast Creamery Seascape, a firm cow/goat cheese. Check out more photos from Sommelier Cinema after the jump.

Slacker 2011: John Bryant Overdoses on Conspiracy Theories

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Slacker 2011

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. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with John Bryant, a local filmmaker who seems to specialize in jaw-dropping scenes. Most recently I was delightfully stunned by The Good Neighbor, a short he wrote that played SXSW 2011. He expanded his 2006 short Momma's Boy into the feature The Overbrook Brothers, and is also responsible for unleashing the short film Oh My God upon us, which played AFF in 2004 and Sundance in 2005, and is now available online for your viewing pleasure (warning: it's not for the faint-hearted).

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

John Bryant: I think the segment we reshot was officially called "Conspiracy A-Go-Go" -- in the original film, it's the part where the guy (John Slate) is talking about all the JFK assassination conspiracy theories.

Horror Film Writers Share Their Secrets at AFF Event

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Tom Holland and Alvaro Rodriguez

One of the most frequent questions in panels at Austin film festivals I've attended is, "What is available here for writers?" My advice on where to find the best content at a local film festival is the Austin Film Festival (AFF). During the mentoring sessions, roundtables and panels, emerging writers and filmmakers interact with veterans of the television and film industry.

You don't have to wait until AFF in October to catch great writers and filmmakers talking about their craft. AFF hosts Conversations in Film throughout the year. Their most recent event, "Words That Go Bump in the Night: Writing Horror Films," brought together screenwriters Tom Holland (Fright Night, Cloak and Dagger) and Alvaro Rodriguez (From Dusk Til Dawn 3: The Hangman's Daughter, Machete) to talk about how they started in the film industry and the state of genre filmmaking. The conversation turned into more of an interview of Holland by Rodriguez, who seemed as enthused as the audience members to ask Holland questions. I would like to have heard more from Rodriguez, but his well-thought-out questions and style kept the conversation lively -- especially when it came to talking about Anthony Hopkins and favorite horror movies.

Holland was in town to screen a new 35mm print of the original 1985 version of Fright Night at the Alamo Drafthouse. With the Dreamworks remake of Fright Night starring Colin Farrell due in theaters later this month, there's a lot of buzz for the original movie as well. I'm especially excited to see that the remake special effects were handled by K.N.B. Effects Group -- Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger's SFX house that also handled the From Dusk Til Dawn series in addition to hundreds of television and film projects. Find out after the jump what Holland had to say about the state of Hollywood, how he got into film and insights into writing.

Quick Snaps: 'Bellflower' in Austin

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SXSW 2011: Medusa shows off

The indie film Bellflower has drawn a lot of attention since I caught it at SXSW earlier this year. Some people consider it this most fabulous movie they've seen in years; others found it repellant. I thought certain scenes were beautifully done but I had to fight the urge to want to give the characters a smack on the head to jump-start their common sense. And like most people who have seen the movie, no matter how they felt about it overall, I loved the cars.

Bellflower opens in Austin theaters this Friday; look for Don's review here on Thursday. In the meantime, I wanted to share some of my photos from the SXSW screening I attended. Writer-director Evan Glodell and some cast and crew members were there and held a Q&A afterward. But again, what got people even more excited was the presence of one of the cars from the film, Medusa, which emits actual flames.

After the jump, check out photos of Medusa showing off its flames, as well as the car-free Q&A. Sadly, I have no photos frrom the after-party, which featured a cricket-eating contest similar to the one in the movie.

Slacker 2011: Bob Byington Re-Creates Papa Smurf

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Papa Smurf

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 (TFPF). The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project -- check out our interviews so far.

Today's interview is with Bob Byington, who has been making movies in Austin since the mid-1990s. At the 2009 Traverse City Film Festival, he won the Stanley Kubrick Award for Innovative Filmmaking for Harmony and Me (my review) and RSO [Registered Sex Offender], both of which are available on Netflix Watch Instantly now. He's also acted in other filmmakers' movies, such as Beeswax and The Color Wheel. Byington has received multiple TFPF awards for various film projects, most recent in 2010 for a new feature film.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

Bob Byington: The "Papa Smurf" scene at Les Amis.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: August 2011

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Spy Kids 4

Summer's winding down as kids head back to school in a couple of weeks, so the theatrical releases are tapering off. There's still plenty of summer fun in local movie theaters (I took my daughter to see Winnie the Pooh last weekend and had a pleasant time), so take advantage of the glut of kids' movies out there while you can.

Notable Theatrical Releases:

Glee: The 3D Concert Movie (August 12, PG) - Not one for the younger kids, but it's not tough to imagine there will be 8-to-10-year-olds begging to see the Glee cast in concert. It's all the auto-tuned karaoke you can shake a stick at. Watch the trailer for a fun Jane Lynch cameo. (She's the only thing I miss about watching this show.)

Movies This Week: Another Planet Key Change

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Another Earth

August is here, which means the summer blockbuster season is starting to wind down. School will start soon and that means the end of many of the series in Austin's Free (and Cheap) Summer Movies, although you can still find plenty of free movie opportunities around town.

The Paramount Summer Classic Film series is still going strong: this week's selections include Peeping Tom, Playtime and Amarcord. One of my favorite movies to re-watch on DVD, Clerks 2, is screening at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz on Saturday with actor Brian O'Halloran in attendance. Blue Starlite Drive-In is showing Valley Girl on Wednesday and American Graffiti on Thursday. And Cinema East will bring SXSW selection The Dish and the Spoon back to Austin on Sunday night on the French Legation lawn.

One more thing: To prepare us for the Slacker 2011 premiere at the end of this month, Austin Film Society has teamed up with Alamo Ritz for two screenings of the 1991 film Slacker: this Wednesday (8/10) and next (8/17). Some Slacker 2011 filmmakers will show previews of their scenes, and the proceeds benefit the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. If you haven't been reading our Slacker 2011 interviews, you've been missing a lot of fun.

Movies We've Seen:

  • The Change-Up -- Mike says in his review that this comedy about Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds "doing a Freaky Friday" is okay but unmemorable, not to mention full of scatological humor. I'm with him on pointing you all at Friends with Benefits instead, which I saw earlier this week and enjoyed very much. (wide)

Review: The Change-Up

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The Change-Up"An overworked lawyer and his best friend have grown apart. When they switch bodies, each is forced to adapt to the others life for one freaky Friday."

Actually, the characters played by Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds in The Change-Up spend weeks trying to undo the personality swap wrought by the mysterious (and vengeful) fountain in which they drunkenly pee together after a night of boozing and sports. Each is dissatisfied and envies the other's life, so they both make an ironic wish that the lady of the fountain is too happy to grant.

There's little to say about this comedy from The Hangover writers Scott Moore and Jon Lucas and Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin. The script lives up to neither of those hits and feels like it was peppered with jokes rejected from both, perhaps written in the spare time the pair had between weekends photocopying the script from The Hangover to make The Hangover Part II. Fortunately, the majority of the excessive poo-humor is confined to the first few minutes, and then The Change-Up settles into generic movie territory.

Reynolds' Mitch Planko settles into life as Bateman's Dave Lockwood, and vice-versa. While fumbling his way through pretending to be a high-stakes corporate lawyer, Mitch manages to jeopardize the deal of Dave's career. Dave, meanwhile suffers through an "acting" gig that goes where no man should ever go. Most of the screen time is spent on Bateman, as Mitch inside Dave's body (confusing, right?) though Reynolds as Dave-inside-Mitch gets to live out his fantasies concerning his assistant Sabrina (Olivia Wilde). There is also a small subplot involving Mitch's estranged father (Alan Arkin). Naturally, they can't switch back until each learns the grass isn't greener on the other side, track down the missing fountain, and mictorate in public. But all's well that end's well, et cetera.

Slacker 2011: Sam Wainwright Douglas Decides to Hitchhike

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Chris Trew, Christopher Lee and Adam Parks in Slacker 2011

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 (TFPF). The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Sam Wainwright Douglas, documentarian and director of Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio, as well as The Holy Modal Rounders: Bound to Lose. He also acted in 2010's The Happy Poet.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

Sam Douglas: I shot Scene 12, known as the mechanic scene. It's the one where the conspiracy buff annoys the guy working on his car, the mechanic's buddy shows up, they talk cars, they head to the junkyard, swipe some auto parts, pick up an angry, grumpy hitchhiker, he rants for a while as they drive him around and then they drop him off.

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