New Releases

Movies This Week: July 25-31, 2014

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 Lucy

The Austin Film Society begins a very rare series this Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa called "The Sepia Screen." They'll be spotlighting 35mm "race" films from a special collection at Southern Methodist University from the days when movie theaters were segregated. This weekend, they'll be screening a 1946 short called Vanities, a 1946 feature called Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A. and 1949's feature Souls Of Sin. Elizabeth's preview has details plus some insights on the series from AFS programmer Lars Nilsen.

On Tuesday evening, AFS is hosting Two Step, a locally-shot SXSW 2014 favorite (Don's review). Director Alex R. Johnson and composer Andrew Kenny (The Wooden Birds, The American Analog Set) will be in attendance for a Q&A. The current AFS Essential Cinema series is closing out on Thursday evening with Liv and Ingmar. After filling the Marchesa's screen over the last few weeks with some of their greatest collaborations, now you'll get to see this 2012 documentary that examines the relationship between Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman. The film is presented from Liv's point-of-view, interviewed in the house that she lived in for many years with Bergman. 

Over at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, tomorrow morning you can check out a free Kid's Club screening of the Disney classic Pete's Dragon in 35mm at noon. Later in the afternoon, they'll also be paying tribute to the late James Garner with a 35mm screening of 1964's The Americanization Of Emily, which also stars Julie Andrews.

Review: Lucy

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lucy posterIn Luc Besson's unfortunately dumb latest film, Scarlett Johansson plays a character whose brain is suddenly more powerful than anyone else's on earth. The events that unfold don't require much thinking, though; Lucy is a schlocky sci-fi that never lives up to the talent involved or the sense of anticipation it tries to establish.

The trouble starts when Lucy (Johansson), a young American going to school in Taiwan, gets caught up with an obnoxious cowboy who drags her unknowingly into a dangerous situation. With lightning speed, she's forced to act as a drug mule by a vicious crime boss (Oldboy's Min-sik Choi) aiming to hook people on a new conscious-altering synthetic substance.

Things take a turn when Lucy ends up absorbing a large amount of the strange drug herself, and from there she is no longer a normal human. Increment by increment (noted by in-your-face title cards along the way), she finds herself in possession of more and more of her brain's capacity (regular people supposedly only use 10 percent of their brains, and she's hurtling towards 100 percent). With each step she becomes better able to manipulate her surroundings through telekinesis as her human qualities fall away.

Part revenge fantasy, part science puzzle and a whole lot of nonsense, Lucy never stops to take a breath as it jumps from Taiwan to Paris and picks up speed as the heroine's brain continues to evolve. Terrible one-liners and illogical plot points prevent the movie from being anything close to immersive, however, and even Johansson's confident and dedicated performance isn't enough to save the fact that this movie is a mess of cliches and artlessly violent interactions between robotic Lucy and the cartoonish bad guys.

Over-the-top nature sequences (Tree of Life minus the subtlety) are jarringly intercut with standard action scenes, and the presence of Morgan Freeman as a professor who is Lucy's only hope of explaining what's happening to her is either very cheeky or extremely lazy. His scientist character explains what's going on like he's narrating a PBS nature show, but his booming voice and calm, comforting presence end up feeling like one of a million shortcuts taken to reach a payoff that never materializes.

Movies This Week: July 18-24, 2014

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Boyhood 

Over the next week, your only real duty as a film lover is to see Richard Linklater's Boyhood. Yes, it's almost three hours long. Yes, the reviews are mindblowingly great. Yes, it's the real deal. I attended last weekend's Austin Film Society Q&A screening with Linklater, Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane in attendance and I'm definitely ready to see it again. It's that good. 

Speaking of special screenings, AFS is bringing the SXSW hit Road To Austin (Mike's review) to the Marchesa tonight. The documentary examines how Austin became the "Live Music Capital Of The World" and features live performance footage from Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely and over 40 other artists. If that sounds up your alley, so will the Sunday afternoon screening of Tommy Hancock: West Texas Muse. Following the leader of West Texas's premiere western swing band, the film features many Texas musicians including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Lloyd Maines. Hancock lives in Austin and will be on hand for a Q&A. Thursday night's Essential Cinema brings us Ingmar Bergman's 1973 masterpiece Scenes From A Marriage. This screening will be the 169-minute theatrical version, although if you go and really enjoy it, you should track down the 295-minute television miniseries version as originally aired in Sweden. 

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz has a lot of great music programming on tap again as part of this month's "The Alamo Goes To '11" feature. A new digital restoration of Stop Making Sense plays twice Saturday, with Wattstax in the mix on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and a sneak preview of the new Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days On Earth. That is sold out at the Ritz on Sunday, but also plays at the Village and Slaughter Lane locations that afternoon, and tickets are still left at the Ritz for Music Monday. A 35mm print of John Woo's extraordinarily violent Hard Boiled screens at the Ritz on Sunday night for Tough Guy Cinema and The Complete David Lynch series enters its fourth week with a handful of Blue Velvet screenings in 35mm. 

Review: Sex Tape

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Sex Tape poster Sex Tape, a goofy new movie from director Jake Kasdan (Bad Teacher), teams Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel up again. This time, they're married parents longing for the actively passionate days of their nascent romance. The film opens with narration from mommy-blogger Annie (Diaz), who laments the loss of time and energy for sex with her husband Jay (Segel).

Hoping to shake things up, Annie suggests they make a sex tape for themselves using Jay's new iPad. And thus the trouble begins.  Jay uses an app called Frankensync that  syncs media on any iPad/laptop he's owned (if you're wondering, GQ checked with AppleCare and nope, it's not possible). The whole plot hinging on this fictional tech is laugh-out-loud preposterous, so Segel and Diaz deserve some credit for making it seem even slightly plausible.

The couple tries to delete the video from any iPads they've passed on to others. Their ridiculous romp leads them to the home of their best friends (Rob Corddry and Ellie Kemper) and to the mansion of the prospective buyer of Annie's blog (Rob Lowe, whose character is like Chris Traeger from Parks and Recreation, if he did coke and loved Eazy-E).

Diaz and Segel are game for whatever the script throws them, be it equal-opportunity nudity, physical comedy or acting frazzled on cocaine. There are a few sappy minutes involving a Jack Black cameo, but until that point, Sex Tape is continuously hilarious. 

Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

It took 12 years to make Boyhood. After seeing it, it took me about 12 seconds to declare it one of the best films ever made.

That's right, gentle Slackerwood readers -- one of the best films ever made.

Read on only if you're fond of superlatives, for this review is laden with them. And Boyhood deserves every one -- it is nothing less than a monumental cinematic achievement, a movie that may redefine what is possible in the world of filmmaking. It is stunning and amazing and mesmerizing, and I could go on and on about it -- and will.

Boyhood's story isn't complicated. It follows a boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and his family as he grows from age six to 18. Along the way, Mason experiences the wonders of youth as well as the heartbreaks, while his family tries to remain functional despite its dysfunction. Mason's life story isn't remarkable, but it's wonderfully told and deeply meaningful thanks to writer/director Richard Linklater's terrific script.

Review: Life Itself

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Life ItselfThe documentary Life Itself, currently in theaters and on VOD outlets, is a valentine to its subject -- the late Roger Ebert -- but avoids oversentimentality or blind hero-worship. Steve James deftly balances a biography of the film critic and author with a moving look at his last days.

James is a little more present as a narrator in this documentary than in his other films (Hoop Dreams, Reel Paradise), explaining the situation surrounding the most contemporary footage. He and Ebert planned an ambitious series of interviews and other location shooting, but Ebert was hospitalized and both his time and energy became more limited. James works capably with what he can get -- a few meetings in the hospital, questions emailed one at a time. Watching Ebert as he struggles to get through each day is heartbreaking.

The shots of what we know are Ebert's last days are interspersed with a generally linear biography of his life, told through archival footage, interviews with friends and colleagues, and excerpts from Ebert's 2011 autobiography, also called Life Itself. The excerpts are read by an actor who successfully catches the rhythms of Ebert's voice, which is disconcerting. Also, the movie didn't make it clear that the chapter-titled segments were book excerpts, which is slightly confusing if you didn't realize it going in.

In addition, James interviews family members -- Chaz Ebert and their grandchildren, old friends and colleagues, and a number of filmmakers who were close to Ebert. The interviews are beautifully realized, emotional and complementary to the sequences in which they appear.

This is the paragraph where I, like everyone else reviewing Life Itself, am supposed to tell you my big moving Roger Ebert story -- that one time I met him, or wrote him, or how his TV shows made me want to review movies, or how the indie films he spotlighted broadened my horizons and changed my life.

Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes posterEvery type of writing has its set of rules -- not as strict as a sonnet or even a haiku, but still necessary to keep content focused and readers engaged. A standard movie review is no exception. Over the years, I've amassed a strong list from writing reviews, editing other people's reviews and discussing review quality with other editors.

I think it's important to know all the rules for your particular arena of art or craft ... so you can break them when necessary. And the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is causing me to break damn near all the rules. I'll show you what I mean.

Summarize your overall opinion of the movie within the first or second paragraph.

Broke that one, but let me make it simple for you now: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a disappointing, dull movie with amazing set pieces dimmed by 3D and a storyline that is sledgehammer-subtle.

A decade after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the apes have formed their own quite impressive colony and fallen into a regular-guy (ape) pattern of existence. Caesar (Andy Serkis) still leads the community while raising his nearly grown son, and awaiting the arrival of his newly-born son.

But humans appear seemingly out of nowhere, brandishing (and using) guns, and destroying the colony's peace. Caesar is willing to work with them, especially the leader of the team, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who has a teenage son of his own tagging along. But Scar, oops, I mean Koba (Toby Kebbell), mistrusts all humans and their weaponry. His human counterpart is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), who sees the apes as merely animals and is ready to destroy them in the name of human survival. You can see the trouble brewing -- it won't take much to start a human-ape war.

In fact, the problem is that not only can you see the trouble brewing, you can see every plot point in the movie as it hurtles toward you, and you can predict most of the terribly cliched lines of dialogue.

Movies This Week: July 11-17, 2014

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Life Itself

The Austin Film Society is kicking off the weekend with another Free Member Friday event. Tonight, AFS Members can enjoy a program of short films at the Marchesa for free, including Kat Candler's original 2012 short Hellion (recently adapted into a terrific feature) and Todd Rohal's Rat Pack Rat, which won a special jury prize at Sundance this year. Come on out even if you're not a member for $10 general admission tickets.

AFS is also hosting some special advance screenings of Richard Linklater's acclaimed new film Boyhood (Debbie's review) this weekend. The 1 pm screening on Sunday at the Marchesa is already sold out, but a 7 pm show still has VIP tickets available that include a private dinner with the director and cast. The acclaimed documentary Manakamana is screening at the Marchesa on Tuesday evening while Sweet Dreams folows on Wednesday. Essential Cinema closes out a busy week with a 35mm print of Ingmar Bergman's Cries And Whispers on Thursday night. 

Fresh off a Presidential visit, the Paramount's Summer Classic Film Series gets back on track with King Vidor's silent classic The Big Parade tonight at the Stateside. The Paramount will fire up the 70mm projectors this weekend as Lawrence Of Arabia returns in all its big-screen glory tomorrow night and twice on Sunday. On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, the Paramount will pay tribute to Montgomery Clift with a 35mm double feature of Red River and The Heiress and then the Stateside will have a couple of great Westerns on Thursday night with a double feature of The Magnificent Seven and The Misfits.

Review: Coherence

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Coherence still photo

Schrodinger's cat is an imaginary illustration of a paradox: "When does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other?" Writer/director James Ward Byrkit explores this thought experiment and various results in his first feature, Coherence, which adds a new dimension to the typical dinner party film.

Coherence evolves at an intimate dinner gathering of four couples: former dancer Em (Emily Baldoni) and Kevin (Maury Sterling), former Roswell actor Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and his introverted wife Lee (Lorene Scafaria), older couple Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), and Amir (Alex Manugian) who brings his new girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher).

It's quickly revealed that Laurie has an intimate history with Kevin, which leads to awkward moments, but Em is more concerned about something she's heard -- the astronomic event of a lifetime taking place that same night. Miller's Comet is due to pass near Earth, and reports of strange occurrences during previous passings are a discussion point after Em's phone inexplicably cracks.

Summer Indies to Catch: July 2014

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By Frank Calvillo

Though it may sound a tad far-fetched, there will be a number of theaters not showing the latest installment in Michael Bay's juggernaut Transformers film series. Likewise, there are no doubt a good many cinephiles wishing a break from the continuing saga of those deceptacons. Luckily, the indie film world has come to the rescue with one of the most diverse July arthouse lineups ever Liam Neeson in a rare non-action role, an anticipated LaCarre adaptation, a celebration of one of the movie world's most prolific figures and the unveiling of Richard Linklater's coming-of-age opus.

Third Person (currently in theaters)

Boasting one of the most impressive and eclectic casts of the year, Paul Haggis' Third Person looks to inject some much-needed human drama into a summer dominated by special effects. A writer in Paris (Neeson) is torn between his mistress (Olivia Wilde) and his estranged wife (Kim Basinger) -- while in New York, a lawyer (Maria Bello) helps a single mother (Mila Kunis) fight for rights to the child she had with an artist (James Franco) as a traveling businessman (Adrien Brody) in Rome is pulled into a con game by a beautiful, desperate woman (Moran Atias). The cast has been praised for the weight they bring to their challenging, and tricky roles (in particular Basinger, who manages so much in just a couple of scenes) and the production values are quite stunning. Haggis is certainly no stranger to the ensemble film, but rather than survey the social and political as he has in the past, in Third Person, the director focuses on the personal and complex nature of human behavior.

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