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Review: Melancholia

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Melancholia

The most aptly titled film I've seen this year is undoubtedly Melancholia.

Lars von Trier's latest movie is dark, dreary and relentlessly dour, as we would expect from a story about family discord and the end of the world. There is, however, a striking beauty to Melancholia, a film full of memorably surreal imagery.

Melancholia follows the strained relationship of two sisters, newlywed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and scandalously wealthy Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who has the unenviable task of coordinating a highly overproduced wedding reception for Justine and her husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). The film's first half focuses on what is mostly a party from hell: As if the fancy festivities aren't enough of a logistical challenge, Justine is your basic depression-addled bridezilla, wandering in and out of the party as she wanders in and out of various moods. (At one point, she disappears on a golf cart to commune with nature; at another, she locks herself in a bathroom for a prolonged soak in the tub.)

Ready, Set, Fund: Help Austin Cinematheque Relocate

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Austin Cinematheque crew, courtesy of Daily Texan

"Ready, Set, Fund," is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects. Contact us if you've got a film fundraising project going on you'd like us to know about.

If you weren't in Austin in the late 80s or missed the Live Your Cinema! Austin Media Arts documentary that screened during the 2010 Austin Film Festival, then you may not know about the significance of Austin Media Arts. This cramped space above Quackenbush's Coffee Shop on the Drag was the first venue that Austin Film Society (AFS) actually owned and operated. Formerly a psychedelic ice cream parlor, Austin Media Arts was the screening room of AFS founder Richard Linklater and Lee Daniels as they projected eclectic and diverse films by Ingmar Bergman, Michael Snow, Stan Brakhage, Michelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard for eager film fans.

Austin Media Arts is long gone, but its spirit and intent has carried on in younger generations of film enthusiasts who drew inspiration from repertory programs including the defunct CinemaTexas. The most well known is Austin Cinematheque, the only free, 35mm retrospective film series in town, founded in 2005 by three University of Texas Radio-Television-Film students. Since their first self-funded screening of François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows in the Texas Union Theatre, they have screened over 75 films from sixteen different countries spanning nine  decades.

Unfortunately, due to the upcoming remodeling scheduled at the Union Theatre, Austin Cinematheque will be temporarily homeless while working toward expanding their free repertory film series. Find out how you can help them and other film-related projects after the jump.

The Archivists Are in Town: Free Movies for All!

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Nothing Sacred

I can't be the only one thrilled to hear the Association of Moving Image Archivists (AMIA) is holding its 2011 conference in Austin this week. If you're not thrilled, you don't know what this means: Fascinating and well-restored movies screening at the Paramount, all free to the public. The last time AMIA held its annual conference here was 2005, and for me it was as though the circus was in town. In fact I was tempted to run away with them and become an archivist myself, except a) I don't want to go back to school, b) I don't think I'd be good at it and c) it's not a profession with many job opportunities in Austin. (As opposed to film criticism? Well ...)

The fun kicks off tonight at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, with the AMIA "Reels of Steel" competition at 11:30 pm. Film buffs and archivists will be bringing all kinds of rare and interesting film and video clips from their personal collections to screen. Admission is free and first-come, first served.

More free movies are screening all day long on Saturday, November 19 at the Paramount -- you could get down there early and stay all day, paying only for parking and a meal or two. At 9 am, they'll show Nicholas Ray's 1976 film We Can't Go Home Again. At 10:45, the 1966 film Passages from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Grab some lunch and go back for a collection of home movies from around America at 1 pm. Then at 3 pm, you can see a restored version of the 1977 documentary Word is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives.

The 'Sinister' Side of Local Writer C. Robert Cargill

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C. Robert Cargill

Ethan Hawke stars as a true crime writer who moves his family into the house of murder victims while researching their murders for a new book in Austinite C. Robert Cargill's feature screenwriting debut, Sinister.

I spoke with Cargill a few weeks back while he was on location for Sinister in NYC. At the time of the interview, he said there was not much he could say about the movie, except that "weird, creepy shit" happens.

But he's just playin' it cool.

Cargill began writing movie reviews under the name Massawyrm for Austin-based film website Ain't It Cool News in May 2001. His first review was of Jon Favreau's directorial debut, Made. Over the years, he's also reviewed movies for Spill.com and Film.com.

AFS Tackles the Classic Comedy of Remarriage

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The Palm Beach Story

Back in my grad-school screenwriting days, my master's report was about the comedy of remarriage, a kind of film genre cousin to the classic screwball comedy. The comedy of remarriage had its heyday in the 1930s, with movies like The Awful Truth -- something drives apart a married couple and amusing machinations occur to potentially bring them back together. And in the Thirties, the machinations were generally not only amusing but witty, and it was pretty much a done deal that the couple would reunite in the end. I always felt that the comedy of remarriage died out somewhere in the late 1940s myself, although when Knocked Up came out a few years ago, I wondered if we might be due for a reworking of the genre.

You don't want to hear me go on and on about the comedy of remarriage. I know, because sometimes I start to do it in person and everyone around me remembers that pressing dental appointment or emergency meeting they have to rush off to catch. Instead, I invite you to see a couple of classic examples of the genre, as well as the evolution of such films right up to the 21st century, in the new AFS Essential Cinema series, "And It Feels So Good: Comedies of Remarriage," which starts next Tuesday night (11/22) and runs through mid-December.

The series is being guest curated by Austin Chronicle film critic Kimberley Jones, who's picked out a half-dozen fascinating features, some obvious and some surprising. I honestly would never have thought of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, myself, and I can't wait to hear her thoughts about how it ties into Stanley Cavell's original definition of the comedy of remarriage. I'm most excited about the first two films -- The Awful Truth and The Palm Beach Story (pictured above) -- but hope to see all of them. (I'm hoping since Jones is curating, no one will put any conflicting press screenings on those nights. Please.)

Quick Snaps: Catch 'Five Time Champion' This Week

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Dallas International Film Festival Erza Venetos and Brendt Mader Five Time Champion Magnolia TheaterNelly Safavi

While Natural Selection may have taken home many awards at SXSW this year, the Austin movie at the fest that Slackerwood contributor Don Clinchy raved about, both in his review and in person, was Five Time Champion. I mean, the review begins with "Oh, if only all movies were such a pleasure to review; the greatest challenge in reviewing Five Time Champion ... may be finding enough superlatives to describe its many charms without being repetitive." And you know Don is not inherently kind to all movies, especially if you read his review of Jack and Jill last weekend.

Fittingly, Don will be moderating the Q&A with filmmaker Berndt Mader tomorrow night, when Five Time Champion returns to Austin. Austin Film Society is screening the film as part of its Best of the Fests series, Wednesday, 11/16 at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Village. Tickets are still available online. The film is about a teenage boy dealing with school decisions, love interests, and family problems. The cast includes Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Jon Gries and Betty Buckley. Nicholson's in the above photo with Mader and other cast and crew -- the photo was taken at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival, where Five Time Champion won the Texas Filmmaker Award.

Over on Flickr, Russ Photography has a huge set of photos from the Five Time Champion production; they're not only good photos but give you a fascinating look at a typical day on a movie set. And below, I'm using this excuse to share my favorite photo I've taken of Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, from the Extract premiere in Austin in 2009. She almost made it into the theater unseen; no one recognized her at first with the different hair color.

Get Tickets to 'My Week with Marilyn' Sneak Preview

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My Week with Marilyn

Slackerwood has a special deal that will give you the chance to see the upcoming movie My Week with Marilyn this week at a free sneak preview. There's nothing quite like seeing a movie before it opens in theaters ... and without having to pay for the tickets too. The preview screening will take place tomorrow night, Tuesday 11/15, at 7:30 pm at AMC Barton Creek (the one in the mall).

My Week with Marilyn is based on the memoirs of the same name by Colin Clark, who worked as an assistant on the Marilyn Monroe film The Prince and the Showgirl. It's about Clark's interactions with Monroe in England during the shooting of that movie. Michelle Williams stars as Monroe and Kenneth Branagh as Prince and the Showgirl co-star Sir Laurence Olivier. The cast also includes Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson. We at Slackerwood haven't seen it yet -- it opens in theaters on Nov. 23 -- but some of us will be there Tuesday night to check it out.

After the jump, you'll find a promotional code and a link to the Gofobo website where you can enter that code to get an admit-two pass for the screening. Bear in mind this is a first-come, first-served pass and seating is not guaranteed. If you've been to preview screenings, you know that often more tickets are given out than there are seats in the theater, so you'll want to arrive early to stake out a good spot in line.

Review: Immortals

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Immortals

Through a summer of great action movies and superhero films, there was one title I eagerly anticipated: Immortals. I couldn't wait for Henry Cavill, Stephen Dorff, Kellan Lutz, Daniel Sharman and Joseph Morgan among others in the best-looking male cast ever assembled. I couldn't wait for Tarsem Singh, creator of the visually stunning The Cell and the legendary The Fall, to right the wrong of last year's Clash of the Titans remake.

Sadly, that was not to be. Immortals is best described as a disastrous mess. Visually amazing, yes, absolutely worth at least a regular ticket price ... though maybe best seen in 2D. The faults with Immortals radiate entirely from a titanically bad script. While last year's Clash of the Titans suffered from script rewrites and bad editing, the Immortals script seems to be the product of inexperience. Screenwriters brothers Vlas and Charley Parlapanides have one unknown feature film writing credit between them, from 2000.

The characters in Immortals seem to jump between older and modern vernaculars. They are missing any sort of backstory. Burgess Meredith -- oops, I mean John Hurt -- gives a pointless and melodramatic narrative that bookends the film. "The Gods Need a Hero" is the tag line on the movie's posters, but the hero never does anything to help the gods. That is, exactly the same narrative could have played out without Henry Cavill's Theseus. In fact, the chosen hero of Zeus could have averted disaster simply by dying at the beginning of the film.

The most egregious problem with the script is Mickey Rourke's character, King Hyperion. Not only is there no backstory, there is never any explanation of his motives, nor even his ultimate goals. He is written almost as a caricature of Heath Ledger's role as The Joker in The Dark Knight: sowing chaos and destruction, at war with the gods, hinting at a reason, but never telling.

Review: Jack and Jill

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Jack and Jill

(The following is an open letter to Al Pacino.)

Dear Al,

At this stage in your long and celebrated career, I'm sure you have your pick of great roles. After all, you are one of the finest actors in the history of American cinema. You are widely revered Hollywood royalty, and the world of film is your oyster.

So, in light of your place in the pantheon of cinematic deities, I must ask you why you found it necessary, desirable, or somehow advantageous to star in a "film" (please note the use of quotes to indicate sarcasm) that undoubtedly will hasten the downfall of Western culture.

I am referring, of course, to Adam Sandler's latest assault on all that is good and decent about movies, Jack and Jill.

Before I go on, let's review Sandler's generally miserable track record: one aberrantly high-quality film that was a critical darling and thus a commercial flop (Punch-Drunk Love), a few lowbrow but not quite insultingly stupid comedies (The Wedding Singer comes to mind), and countless exercises in complete unmitigated idiocy (there are so many, but a fine example is I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry; also, refer to my scathing and cathartic review of Grown Ups).

Movies This Week: Crazy Immortals Jack and Edgar

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It's a busy week for special screenings. On Saturday, Austin-shot film Mars plays the Austin Film Society Screening Room as part of the Texas Independent Film Network's touring series. On Sunday, the Paramount is screening two Chris Marker films, Sans Soleil and La Jetee, in conjunction with Arthouse/AMOA's current exhibit "The Anxiety of Photography."

Wednesday is especially crazy: Cinema 41 is showing Agnes Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7 at the Hideout. Doc Nights is screening Nostalgia for the Light at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. At Alamo Village, Best of the Fests brings Berndt Mader's Five Time Champion back to Austin, and Slackerwood's Don Clinchy will moderate the Q&A. And Cine Las Americas wraps up its "Literature in Mexican Cinema" series with Santa, based on Federico Gamboa's novel.

And if that's not enough, Don Hertzfeldt will be at Alamo South Lamar on Wednesday and Thursday to screen a number of his shorts, including his entire "Bill" trilogy that ends with his latest film, It's a Beautiful Day. Read Marc Savlov's profile of the animator/filmmaker in the Austin Chronicle.

Movies We've Seen:

J. Edgar -- This biopic "delves deeply into Hoover's personal life, skillfully walking the line between established facts and unsubstantiated rumors," according to Don's review. (wide)

Like Crazy -- This romantic tale of young lovers separated is "beautiful to watch, almost entrancing at times, and John Guleserian's cinematography and Doremus' direction have a lot to do with that," according to Elizabeth. Read her review for more. (Arbor)

The Skin I Live In (pictured at top) -- Pedro Almodóvar's latest is based on a Thierry Jonquet novel. I found it overly contrived and melodramatic, but Debbie says in her review, "It's quite easy to understand why this film has been nominated for its production design and composer in the upcoming European Film Awards."  (Alamo Lamar, Violet Crown, Arbor)

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