New Releases

Movies This Week: February 27-March 5, 2015

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The biggest Austin Film Society event for this week (an advance screening of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) is already sold out, but It still has some gems on the calendar. The org is hosting a secret double feature at the AFS Screening Room on Sunday afternoon with Fred Frey, a film collector who specializes in European exploitation and crime films. He'll be screening two rare 16mm prints from his private collection.

On Wednesday night, AFS is teaming up with IndieMeme for Katiyabaaz (Powerless), a documentary about the Indian city of Kanpur and the limitations of their electrical grid to power over 3 million residents. Filmmaker Fahad Mustafa will be in attendance for a Q&A. Thursday night brings another installment of Essential Cinema. This month's theme "Children Of Abraham/Ibrahim 9: Films Of The Middle East Diaspora" and this week you'll get a 35mm print of the 1997 Miramax release My Son, The Fanatic starring Akbar Kurtha, Om Puri and Rachel Griffiths. 

Cinapse is celebrating their second anniversary on Saturday night with a 35mm double feature at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex (1156 Hargrave Street) called "NYC Is Effed." Walter Hill's 1979 The Warriors will be paired with John Carpenter's 1981 Escape From New York. Doors for this special event are at 6:30 pm with the first movie kicking off at 7. 

On Sunday night, The North Door is hosting a special screening of The Return of Draw Egan: An Ennio Morricone Tribute with a live score. Okkervil River keyboardist Justin Sherburn and his group Montopolis return for this silent western that has had its old title and dialogue cards replaced by material from novelist Elizabeth Jackson and Foleyvision's Chad Nichols.

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2The phrase "Hot Tub Time Machine" was such an insane concept I couldn't wait to see the 2010 release. (Debbie's review) Sure, it was a fratboy movie, but it was fresh and edgy at a time when the nation was just learning to laugh again a decade after 9/11, and I loved it. Five years was a long time to wait with such anticipation for this sequel.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a wet hot mess, with bad jokes as frequent as jacuzzi bubbles, and good jokes popping like farts in a tub. It has the same writer (Josh Heald), the same director (Steve Pink) and largely the same cast (John Cusack is replaced by Adam Scott), but it failed to capture the same magic for me. I can't say I hated it, but somehow it felt ... different, like I was watching an elaborately extended Super Bowl commercial.

The original movie was tight, with a relatively narrow scope, but this one felt like Seth MacFarlane had an advising role on set. The characters are not just juvenile and drug-addled. They are absolutely moronic. In particular, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 suffers from too much Rob Corddry, way too much, physically speaking. I don't know if the man deserves recognition for being willing to go so far for a laugh or instead pity for being the guy who will go that far.

The story concerns the fate of the original characters, now returned to a weirdly altered timeline in which they have lived out their lives with future knowledge becoming rich and famous by pre-plagiarizing hit songs and founding their own version of Google. When Lou (Corddry) is shot by an unknown assailant, the group of friends must use the hot tub to again travel back to the past to fix the future. Hmmm.

There really are a number of good gags, and Adam Scott has great chemistry with Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Corddry, better chemistry in fact than Cusack. Chevy Chase is a bright spot for the moment he's there. His appearance feels as if much more of it was left on the cutting-room floor. (Between Chase, Scott, Corddry and Gillian Jacobs, this was practically a Community/Parks & Recreation crossover.) The real heroes of this film are the digital artists, costumers and set designers who designed and executed a really insane version of the present and a far-out version of the near future.

Movies This Week: February 20-26, 2015

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The Austin Film Society kicks off a busy week of programming at the Marchesa tonight with the AGFA Endangered Fest II. The event will feature four films from the vaults of the American Genre Film Archive. Everything Is Terrible! is swinging by the Marchesa on Saturday night on their new "Legends" tour to bring you the best discoveries from the VHS era.

From Elizabeth: "AFS is also bringing back 'The Sepia Screen' this weekend, a showcase for some of the movies made for black audiences during America's segregated past. The films shown in July were from SMU's collection; the selections for this month are not part of that bunch. Series co-programmers Lars Nilsen and Dshanya Reese are certain to talk about the historical relevance of the works they selected and the people involved. The show starts at 2 pm on Sunday [tickets. Perhaps this would be a good option for counterprogramming on the day when the whitest Oscars in years occurs."

Over at the Alamo Drafthouse, multiple quote-along screenings of The Princess Bride are happening at the Slaughter and South Lamar locations. Check their online listings for showtimes on Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The Alamo Ritz is showing a 4K digital restoration of Funny Girl for Broadway Brunch on Saturday and Sunday, a 35mm print of 1998's Khrustalyov, My Car! on Monday night, and Girlie Night presents Pretty Woman on Tuesday.

Review: Fifty Shades of Grey

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Fifty Shades of Grey

Ouch!
-- Anastasia Steele, far too infrequently in Fifty Shades of Grey

Oh, Hollywood, why do you tease me so, only to leave me sorely disappointed?

I'm referring, of course, to your tepid cinematic treatment of my most favorite kinky novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. I longed for ecstatic screams of agony and agonized screams of ecstasy, but the film delivered little more than one-percenter fu and some really lame spanking scenes.

I know that many a fine novel has suffered greatly in its journey to the big screen; such is the nature of turning books into movies. But your treatment of the brilliant Fifty Shades of Grey is downright disrespectful and, dare I say, deserving of a sound thrashing.

Before I get to the thrashing, I'll give those unfamiliar with Fifty Shades a Grey a two-sentence plot summary: College student Anastasia "Ana" Steele (Dakota Johnson) meets kinky billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), who wants nothing more in life than to tie her up and beat her. Initially shocked, she finally submits to him -- and to the wanton desires of the naughty girl she truly is. That's really all there is to the story; great literature need not be complicated.

Review: Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Kingsman: The Secret ServiceFilmmaker Matthew Vaughn's already well-established catalog (X-Men: First Class, Kick-Ass) gains a new entry this week with the release of his comedy spy adventure and arguably best film to date, Kingsman: The Secret Service. This James Bond meets Attack the Block romp was scripted by Vaughn and frequent collaborator Jane Goldman, and is based on the comic The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

Taron Egerton stars as Eggsy, a study in wasted potential due to bad influences and an unsteady home environment who's recruited to a secret organization of upper-crust spies by Harry Hart, aka Galahad (Colin Firth). Only one recruit can complete the training, and Eggsy is at a disadvantage competing with his well-heeled rivals. This theme of class warfare is reflected in the larger story as quirky internet billionaire Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) carries out an evil world-wide plot that the Kingsmen must foil.

Let's talk about Jackson for a minute. He is prolific, to say the least, and diverse, but his character Valentine is something entirely, hilariously different, with a comical lisp and vague OCD tendencies. The character is something of a clothes horse, always sporting stylish threads but wearing the same leather baseball hat in different colors to match his outfit. Valentine is an obsessive movie buff and as much a product of pop culture as a shaper of it. He rationalizes his twisted views with grade-school logic, and he's at once the most unique and memorable character Jackson has ever brought to life.

Jackson isn't the only character playing against type. Mark Strong, usually at home as the villain, appears here as Merlin, the technical expert. Firth, however, is as usual the perfect, polished English gentleman. The picture of refinement and class, he explains to Eggsy the origins of the Kingsmen among the elite tailors of London and the virtues of manners and a bespoke suit.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is exactly what you have come to expect from Vaughn. He cleverly riffs on spy films with satire, not spoof, delivering a continuous stream of laughter on top of an action story you can really sink your teeth into. I loved little throwaway lines like the mention of a shoe phone that call back to other spy properties, and spectacular fight choreography and effects lead to an explosive climax that is more over-the-top than anything Vaughn has done in his career.

Review: Still Alice

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It's hard to begin to review a film like Still Alice. I was warned that this movie might be considered a modern horror film, as it depicts the life of one woman with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. Although the film doesn't shed any positive light on getting older, it does take a deeper look at the importance of memory and family.

Alice (Julianne Moore) has just celebrated her 50th birthday surrounded by a loving husband (Alec Baldwin) and three grown children. She thrives on both her family and teaching at Columbia University, reknowned for her work in linguistics and communication. Life seems on track until she begins to forget words and people's names rather suddenly. A trip to the doctor reveals a rare form of familial Alzheimer's Disease and a life of slow but sure decay for Alice.

Still Alice is painful to watch; not because the film is poorly done, but because it's so truthful all the way through. Alice's decline in memory and basic functioning evokes a real fear in its audience, especially when you realize it's capable of happening to you or someone you know. Perhaps the saddest truth is watching Alice's frustration at her everyday loss, little by little. Her character is most relatable in the way that she tries so hard to cling to her memories, as many of us often do as we age.

No other actor could have played this role like Moore. Others could have portrayed it, but Moore brings a depth to Alice that is both hopeful and heartbreaking. A pleasant surprise is the complex relationship Alice has with her youngest daughter Lydia, played by Kristen Stewart. The role sheds a new light on Stewart, one of a larger acting scale not previously seen. It's perhaps the first role I've actually enjoyed her in.

The best bit of hope the story provides is learning to live in the moment. In a heartfelt speech midway through the film, Alice explains that although having this disease is a struggle, she must learn to live with her loss. What a difference it makes, she explains, to learn to be present in a single moment. That speech, that thought, echoed in my head long after the credits rolled.

Review: Jupiter Ascending

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Jupiter AscendingLana and Andy Wachowski are two of my favorite current filmmakers. The Matrix rocked my worldview, and Cloud Atlas expanded my worldview, claiming a place as my very favorite movie. We've come to expect the very best from them, but not every movie can rock your world. Sometimes we have to settle for just "really damned good."

Jupiter Ascending encompasses the Wachowskis' grand visions of galactic empire within the confines of a relatively small action-adventure story. Their aesthetic, with a dreamlike quality, seems to draw on influences from every big science-fiction film of the past but mixes them together in new and original combinations. Immediately after it screened for press, Facebook and Twitter feeds were full of complaints from critics calling the movie a mess. It may not be for everyone. It misses a few beats, but it gets more right than it does wrong. If you're on the same wavelength as the Wachowskis, you should enjoy Jupiter Ascending as much as I did.

The story follows a Russian immigrant girl, named Jupiter because of her astronomer father's obsession with the planet, as she is attacked and aided by competing alien forces due to an accident of her birth. Her DNA is a perfect match for the eons-dead queen of a galactic empire, and the queen's heirs, her three children, each approach Jupiter in attempts to woo or threaten her and gain control of her now vast resources.

Mila Kunis is perfect for the role of Jupiter, with her combination of dark gorgeous looks and childlike innocence. In their interview with Hitfix's Drew McWeeny, the Wachowskis discuss their goal to make her a particularly feminine heroine rather than a female character who acts like a male hero. This is one goal I feel they failed to achieve, as time and again they place Jupiter in the position of damsel in distress so she can be rescued by Caine (Channing Tatum). This happens with such frequency that he becomes the hero of the story.

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. 

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. 

Review: A Most Violent Year

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Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac in A Most Violent Year

We may currently be in the midst of a pop-cultural infatuation with the antihero archetype, but A Most Violent Year presents us with a more elusive figure. Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis) is surrounded by those who want to bring him down to their level, where firearms and shady business practices abound. A wealthy owner of a heating oil company in 1981 New York, his trucks are carjacked, his workers attacked, and his business investigated by a power-hungry DA (David Oyelowo, Selma). Morales is determined to stay above it all, working hard to respond in a way that’s legal and yet still gets results.

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