New Releases

Review: The Congress

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poster for The CongressAri Folman, director of the bleak animated history Waltz with Bashir, adapted a novella by acclaimed Russian author Stanislaw Lem for the screen in the movie The Congress. Folman's take on Lem's The Futurological Congress is only vaguely true to the source material.  Instead of a male hero, we have actress Robin Wright... playing actress Robin Wright. If only this cinematic work didn't hold the talented actress back. While Lem's novella is (supposedly, I haven't read it) a black comedy, Folman's half-animated film is dark and troubling.

Bravo to the director for selecting an older -- by Hollywood standards, anyway -- actress to base this film around. Much is made of Wright's Texan background and decision to age naturally; actually, much is said about Wright, as she sits silently and takes criticism. To put it in terms today's teens will recognize, there is a lot of mansplaining going on here.

Conversations in the first half of The Congress happen to her, with men spouting monologues about their early lives or breaking down for her the mistakes she made in her career. The film opens to Wright quietly crying as her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) berates her for her faulty decision-making. These men want what's best for her, you see. They just want to profit off her as well.

Wright is convinced by her agent and studio head Jeff Green (Danny Huston, John Adams, Children of Men) to have herself scanned so Miramount Studios will own her image for 20 years. During that period of time, she can't act, but can do whatever else she likes. She almost refuses, worrying that "the gift of choice" is taken from her if she signs. But at no point in this film does it ever seem that she is given any choice. She signs the contract because her son is ill, falling into the archetype of the weary, long-suffering mother. Wright's character has no desires or wants for herself, no power and no real agency.

Review: The Trip to Italy

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The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy is easily the most sumptuous movie of this year, taking us to fine restaurants with stunning Italian surroundings as we listen to a soundtrack of classical music.

But like a tasty meal with somewhat stingy portions, The Trip to Italy isn't fully satisfying. Or at least not as satisfying as its predecessor, the hilarious 2010 film The Trip.

The sequel reunites Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and writer/director Michael Winterbottom for another culinary-centered road trip, this one to the Italian locales of Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. (Like The Trip, The Trip to Italy is a theatrical cut of a three-hour, six-part BBC TV series.) Coogan and Brydon once again play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour Italy in search of great food, lodging and sightseeing. To give their adventure some literary gravitas, they travel to sites visited by the English romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who spent time together in Italy starting in 1818.

Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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Marv from Sin City: A Dame to Kill ForTrue confession time -- the first time that I watched Sin City (2005), I wasn't enthused due to my naivete. However, a recent viewing with the mindset of watching a graphic novel brought to life changed my perspective drastically. I found myself engaged by the characters, and therefore I was anxious to see what co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller had in the cards with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

This film is both a prequel and sequel at the same time, as we learn more about the central characters from the first installment -- Marv (Mickey Rourke) is still bashing in heads but this time he gets called in to help Nancy (Jessica Alba) and Dwight (Josh Brolin) with their own personal vendettas. Nancy grieves for the death of her childhood hero and only love, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who keeps his promise to never leave her even if he is a tormented ghost witnessing her demise.

An interesting subplot serves as the prequel that explains why Dwight's face had been transformed after his encounter with the deceptive and psychopathic Ava (Eva Green), who leaves men in her wake including police partners Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven). We also learn more about the loyalty that Gail (Rosario Dawson) and the rest of the women of Old Town have for both Dwight and Marv.

Review: Mood Indigo

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Mood Indigo posterIf one can expect anything from Michel Gondry, it is that along with the whimsy and touch of the bizarre inherent in his work is an element of truth.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind uses erasure imagery to illustrate the pain of heartbreak. Be Kind Rewind has friendly video store employees creating their own versions of Hollywood hits for their neighborhood.  Gondry's latest film, love story Mood Indigo, however, is utterly drowning in whimsy and lacking any figment of truth.

Debonair and bearded Romain Duris (Populaire, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) stars as Colin, living off family money in a spacious Paris apartment. Audrey Tautou (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) plays cute Chloe, whom Colin meets at a party. The plot goes something like this: guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love and marry, flower grows in girl's lung.

There's also a B-plot, involving a friend (Gad Elmaleh, Priceless, Midnight in Paris) Colin loans money to court a woman (Aïssa Maïga, Cache, Bamako), which is just as confusing as the rest of the film. The fever dream of a movie is full of fantastic visions, but the story is ridiculous beyond measure. Is fate written out for us by a room full of random people on vintage typewriters? And if so, who cares?

Unpredictabilities may rule Mood Indigo, but the film still follows the overly-familiar classic "movie cough" rule. It used to be that any time someone in a movie coughed, they were terminally ill -- after all, nobody has allergies in the movies. And indeed, as soon as Chloe adorably coughs post-honeymoon, things start going downhill for the couple. 

Movies This Week: August 15-21, 2014

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Mood Indigo 

The Austin Film Society's "Films Of Roger Corman" series (Jette's preview) continues this weekend at the Marchesa with 1961's The Pit And The Pendulum starring Vincent Price. Tonight's screening is a Free Member Friday event for any members of AFS (with General Admission tickets also available). It will also screen again on Sunday afternoon. Tom Gilroy's The Cold Lands is scheduled for a "Best of the Fests" booking on Tuesday at the Marchesa and Thursday's Essential Cinema selection features Barbara Stanwyck (Elizabeth's preview) in William Wellman's Lady Of Burlesque. This extrememly rare 35mm print is on loan from the Library Of Congress, making it a night you won't want to miss! 

Austin Film Society is also presenting the Texas premiere of Sin City: A Dame To Die For in 3D on Wednesday evening at the Paramount. Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and (just announced!) Frank Miller will be in attendance for an introduction, post-screening Q&A and at the after party. Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who appears on the soundtrack, whill also be at the screening. Tickets, including VIP packages, are available on the Paramount's website

Cinema East will be hosting Above All Else (Don's SXSW review) on Sunday night on the lawn of the French Legation Museum. There's only one more film in this summer's series after this, so head out for this all-ages, BYOB-friendly event. Doors are at 7 pm and the film will begin at 9. This documentary had its world premiere at SXSW this year and examines the battle over the Keystone XL oil pipeline, introducing us to an environmental activist from East Texas who tried to block it. 

Review: The Giver

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The GiverReleased in 1993, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner The Giver by Lois Lowry has been one of the most controversial and influential novels of the 1990s. Banned from schools across the nation for being "violent" or "unsuited for younger age groups," this dystopic tale centers around Jonas, a young boy who lives in a literally colorless world of contentment.

Screenwriters Robert B. Weide and Michael Mitnick have adapted this book in the sci-fi thriller film The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Patriot Games).

In what at first appears to be an utopian society of "Sameness" with absence of pain and suffering, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) seems content with his friends and family. He lives with his parents, the dutiful nurturer Father (Alexander Skarsgard) and his more stern and unyielding Mother (Katie Holmes). His classmates Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are frequent companions, and prepare to receive their life assignment as even choices have been eliminated in this seemingly perfect society.

Jonas receives the most prestigious and ominous assignment of all -- as the Receiver of Memory, he must learn and keep the dark history of the Community to guide the Elders and prevent the tragic mistakes of the past. However, as he begans to learn from the current Receiver who is now referred to as "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges), he discovers the dark history behind his community that has led to the absence of joy, pleasure, and color from their lives as well.

Jonas is faced with the difficult choice of accepting the role that he has been given, or do what he can with the aid of others to bring the Community back to the "real" world. Either way he must deal with the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who is fearful and distrusting of human nature in his journey.

Review: Calvary

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Calvary

The Catholic Church's seemingly endless scandals have been fodder for many great films, from the searing documentary Deliver Us from Evil to the star-studded critical darling Doubt to last year's sleeper indie hit Philomena.

The latest movie to address the church's sex scandals, the Irish drama Calvary, is one of the darkest. Equal parts whodunit (actually, who will do it), character study and meditation on faith, Calvary is a thoughtful film with a cold, grim heart.

Calvary's protagonist, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), is a marked man from the film's opening scene. During a confession, a bitter parishioner vows to kill Father James as retribution for being raped by another priest decades earlier.  The parishioner doesn't accuse Father James of any wrongdoing; in fact, he singles him out for his innocence. "There's no point in killing a bad priest," says the anonymous voice in the confessional booth, "but killing a good one -- that would be a shock."

Movies This Week: August 8-14, 2014

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Austin Film Society kicks off a brand new series featuring classic films from Roger Corman (Jette's preview) with a related documentary called That Guy Dick Miller, about the famed character actor. Tonight's screening will feature a post-film Q&A with Mr. Miller via Skype. It will be followed by a 35mm screening of Corman's 1959 feature A Bucket Of Blood, which features a great lead performance by Dick Miller. The film will also play again on Sunday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Whitey: The United States Of America V. James J. Bulger (from Joe Berlinger, the director of Paradise Lost) will be featured for Doc Nights (Elizabeth's preview), and this month's Essential Cinema series with the incredible Barbara Stanwyck (Elizabeth's preview) finds her on Thursday night starring in a 1937 drama called Internes Can't Take Money, screening in a rare 35mm print. 

At the Paramount's Summer Classic Film Series, you can catch a 35mm double feature of Charlie Chaplin comedies this weekend. The Great Dictator and Modern Times will screen at the Paramount multiple times on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Marlon Brando will be featured in a 35mm double feature on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront. Ten classic thrillers from Hitchcock will be featured through the end of next weekend. You can head down for Rebecca and Notorious screening digitally on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Stateside, while Rope and The Trouble With Harry also play there digitally on Thursday night. If you'd rather catch your Hitchcock on film, Psycho and Vertigo are both featured in 35mm at the Paramount on Thursday evenng. 

Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

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Poster for The Hundred-Foot JourneyNew release The Hundred-Foot Journey is a beautifully-shot drama produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, who likely hope it will prove a hit along the lines of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Formidable British actress Helen Mirren gets top billing as strict French restauranteur Madame Mallory. Her establishment has a Michelin star and brings in big name political figures. However, Madame Mallory's work and life isn't the main focus of this colorful film from Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), adapted by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) from a novel by Richard C. Morais. 

A family of refugees, the Kadams from Mumbai, moves into the vacated building across the street from Madam Mallory's restaurant. Papa (veteran Indian actor Om Puri, Gandhi) wants to open an Indian restaurant in this quiet French village, with the help of son and aspiring chef Hassan (Manish Dayal, 90210, Switched at Birth) and other adult children (Amit Shah and Farzana Dua Elahe). Even the two much younger siblings help out.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is really Hassan's story. The film opens to his narration, and lots of exposition. As soon as cute Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon, Yves Saint Laurent, Mood Indigo) comes on the scene -- she's sous chef for Madame's kitchen, of course -- it is a given that she's the love interest for Hassan's character. The film deserves some credit for following the success of a character of color, but his plotline drags during the second half; this causes the movie to feel longer than its actual two-hour length.

Summer Indies to Catch: August 2014

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By Frank Calvillo

The final month of the summer has swiftly arrived and as tradtition dictates, this means it's time for major studios to unleash those titles that didn't either didn't quite make the grade for the earlier months, or the ones they hope will be sleeper hits that will bring in loads of cash because there's little else for audiences to watch. Apart from the heavily anticipated Sin City sequel, not only is there very little I can think of that I want to see, there's very little I can actually recall being released. It's almost a fitting end to a lackluster summer for blockbusters. On the flip side, while the studios are winding down, the indies show no signs of letting up with many standout features making their way to audiences this month.

Magic in the Moonlight (opens Aug. 8 in Austin)

Capitalizing on his love of period pieces, Woody Allen's newest offering Magic in the Moonlight will no doubt leave some moviegoers split, as early screenings and reviews have indicated. Set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Riviera, famed illusionist Stanley (Colin Firth) is brought in to debunk a young woman named Sophie (Emma Stone) whose claims of psychic visions have enchanted an upper-class family in 1920s France.

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