July 2013

Alamo Spotlights Women in Westerns


Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in Johnny Guitar

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz will showcase kick-ass women in Westerns in August, under the theme "She Died with Her Boots On: Women and the West." While my favorite female-led Western Cat Ballou didn't make the cut, the four films chosen look like a good blend of the slightly unusual, the bizarre and the more traditional, all featuring tough broads.

The movies will screen at Alamo Ritz at 7 pm on Wednesday nights:

Westward the Women (1951) -- Wednesday, August 14
Robert Taylor leads a large group of women from Chicago to meet their new husbands in California. The typical trail problems (rivers to cross, illness) beset them, along with other difficulties they must face as women (such as having a baby during the journey or being sexually assaulted).

Interview: Maggie Carey, 'The To Do List'


AFF 2010

When interviewing filmmakers and actors for upcoming new releases, journalists like me usually get ten minutes. It can be very limiting. There are the interviews where the subject has his/her answers down pat and will launch into answers when you've barely asked the questions. There are the assembly-line interviews where the actor is getting bored because you're the dozenth person he or she has spoken with that day. After some of these, I wonder if I'm bringing anything different to an interview feature than the 40 other articles that will appear in print and online around the movie's release.

But some interviews feel like real conversations, and 10 minutes aren't enough. I wish Maggie Carey and I could have easily taken a half-hour to chat about Austin and indie filmmakers and strong female characters in film (I had some great questions we never got to). I wish we could have chatted at Kerbey Lane (but not at 4 am), which you will understand if you read this whole article. What I needed was 20 more minutes and a couple of beers.

As a result, this interview doesn't feel like the same one a dozen other people had with the writer/director of The To Do List, which opened in Austin on Friday and which I found delightful (my review). I think you'll enjoy the read, especially if you live in Austin.

Experience 'Jazz on a Summer's Day' This Week


Jazz on a Summer's Day

If you lived in New York City or anywhere else along the East Coast in the 1950s, the place to go to fix your "jazz jones" was the funereal old-money resort town of Newport, Rhode Island. Started in 1954 by socialites Elaine and Louis Lorillard, the Newport Jazz Festival had grown by 1958 into a four-day event attracting 60,000 music lovers ready to snap their fingers and bob their heads to the sounds of America's top jazz artists. Fortunately, that same summer Bert Stern and a small filmmaking crew captured the essence of those performances on 35mm color film accompanied by impeccable sound recordings.

In the 1950s, Bert Stern was best known as the photographer who combined art with advertising, as seen in the recent Austin FIlm Society Doc Nights presentation: Bert Stern: Original Mad Man. The gifted artist also created TV commercials, took fashion photos for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and uncovered hidden aspects of celebrities in studio portraits. In 1962, he would create the famous "Last Sitting" series of revealing photos of Marilyn Monroe, only a few months before her death.

But on July 4, 1958, Stern was only into the Newport Jazz Festival. He wasn't a filmmaker (other than TV commercials) and he didn't know a lot about jazz, but with his artist's eye for composition, movement, color, and lighting, Stern and his team created the first experimental music documentary, Jazz on a Summer's Day. AFS Avant Cinema is screening the film this Wednesday, July 31 at 7 pm in the AFS screening room (1901 E. 51st St, Gate 2).

Slackery News Tidbits: July 29, 2013


Here's the latest Austin film news. 

  • Investors are suing Central Texas filmmaker Terrence Malick's Sycamore Pictures over disputes on a contract to produce two 45-minute IMAX films and a 90-150-minute feature film titled Voyage of Time, about the history of the universe, Austin Business Journal reports. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in New York, alleges that Malick didn't devote the time needed to complete the films and says his production company has spent $3.3 million of funds from investor Seven Seas Partnerships Ltd. The filmmaker hasn't commented on the lawsuit, but according to reports, a Sycamore Pictures representative says the investor's claims are groundless. 
  • In festival news, many films with Austin ties will screen at both the Venice International Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival, according to Austin Movie Blog. The movies include Alex Gibney's documentary The Armstrong Lie, which follows the Austin cyclist as he trains for his eighth Tour de France; the JFK assassination drama Parkland; the Matthew McConaughey-fronted Dallas Buyers Club; Austinite David Gordon Green's Joe, about an ex-con, played by Nicolas Cage, and his relationship with a 15-year-old boy; and the astronaut drama Gravity, starring sometimes-Austinite Sandra Bullock
  • Fantastic Fest news continues with the announcement of its first films, which includes the Keanu Reeves-fronted and directorial debut Man of Tai Chi, which tells the story of young martial artist whose skills land him in a lucrative underground fight club. Reeves is scheduled to make an in-person appearance.
  • Fantastic Fest Audience Award-winner I Declare War, about a deadly summer game among neighborhood kids, will open in select theaters Aug. 30. The film is currently available on VOD, iTunes and digital download.

Review: The To Do List


The To Do List

The 80s and 90s brought us numerous coming-of-age comedies about the innocent young man who wants to gain experience with young women and finds himself in the middle of any number of raunchy and/or outrageous situations.

With The To Do List (it's killing me not to put a hyphen in there) the scenario is reversed, and this time a young woman seeks sexual experience and adventures. Set in the early 1990s, the movie intentionally calls back to those male-centered raunchy sex comedies, but this time a female actually experiences sexual gratification onscreen. 

It is a refreshing change. When was the last time you watched a movie in which a female character had an orgasm? (Sorry, Mom.) And not a pretend one in a deli, either. I am talking about a woman who enjoys sex and isn't punished for it by being eaten by a shark or knifed by a serial killer or the victim of a fatal disease. It grows very tiresome.

Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) is her high schools' valedictorian, graduating with every academic honor under the sun ... but knowing nothing about sex or intimate relationships. She finds this out the hard way (no, that's not a pun, stop it) and addresses her lack of knowledge and experience in a way that any brainy teenage girl might: She compiles a list of activities that will prepare her for being sexually comfortable and experienced when she arrives at college.

Interview: Emily Hagins and the Producers of 'Grow Up, Tony Phillips'


The last time Austin-based filmmaker Emily Hagins went trick-or-treating was her senior year of high school, when her friends wanted to show a French foreign exchange student what the holiday was like in America.

That was two years ago. 

"(I)t was really, really weird because we were getting weird looks, but the (French) girl was having a blast," Hagins said. "She had no idea that we were too old to be doing this."

The idea that certain childhood passions have no expiration date is explored in Hagins' fourth feature film Grow Up, Tony Phillips (Elizabeth's review). Because age, after all, is just a number. The movie is scheduled to hit VOD platforms this Halloween and later home video through Rogue Arts, an indie distributor that first approached the film's creators after its SXSW Film Festival premiere this year. 

Despite setbacks, which included the casting loss of Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator) due to scheduling conflicts, the film raised $80,001 through its Kickstarter campaign. 

Movies This Week: July 26 - August 1, 2013


Four Lions

This week is one of intriguing new releases. As a perpetual Pedro Almodóvar groupie, I can't help saying I'm so excited about I'm So Excited. I'm even more excited about Fruitvale Station; I've never met a gritty, thought-provoking urban drama about poverty and racism I didn't like. The To Do List also has my attention, if only because the hilariously deadpan Aubrey Plaza tops my current list of fantasy friends with benefits.

No less intriguing are the special screenings. At the Marchesa Hall & Theatre, the Austin Film Society presents three movies from Austin's own Drafthouse Films. The terrorism comedy (yes, you read that right) Four Lions (pictured above) screens on Friday, the dark Australian classic Wake in Fright screens on Sunday, and The Act of Killing -- a startlingly imaginative statement against genocide -- screens on Wednesday.

Hitchcock fans, this is your week: the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series offers four nights (Monday through Thursday) of Hitchcockian double features. Among the eight classics are The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder and, of course, Psycho, so every night promises to be a ... wait for it ... good evening. Refer to the Paramount calendar for details.

Review: The Wolverine


The Wolverine

This is the Wolverine movie we've been waiting for, and waiting for, and waiting for... mostly. Not long after the poorly-received (yet still wildly profitable) X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009 it became clear that a sequel was likely to be made. Unfortunately, with a completed script by Christopher McQuarrie and Darren Aronofsky announced to direct, the project was subjected to delays after the departure of Aronofsky, a script rewrite by Mark Bomback, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

Directed by James Mangold, Hugh Jackman returns as The Wolverine in a film that explores the character's personal history and most difficult struggle after a mysterious enemy blocks his healing ability and renders him powerless. The Wolverine takes place after events in X-Men: The Last Stand forced Wolverine to kill his love, Jean Grey. Now dreaming of her every night and vowing to give up his Wolverine persona to never again hurt anyone, Logan has exiled himself to the Yukon to live in isolation. We find him here at the conclusion of an introductory scene, where he dreams of surviving the bombing of Hiroshima and saving the life of a Japanese soldier there.

This was one of my favorite scenes, not only for the vivid and horrifying depiction of nuclear devastation but also because it presents a selfless heroic moment from Logan. It was a powerful way to reacquaint the audience with the character and set the stage for the rest of the film. The strength of that scene gives way, however, to the first of several weak points in the movie.

After coming upon the remains of a hunting party and finding the grizzly who attacked them suffering from poison, Logan is forced to put the bear out of its misery and then immediately abandons his vow to never again hurt anyone. He travels to the nearby town and confronts the lone surviving hunter in a bar. He is soon on the verge of killing everyone in it before being stopped by a mysterious Japanese girl who takes him away, explaining that she was sent by her employer Yashida, the soldier he had saved in Hiroshima.

From this point on, the story is a difficult to follow jumble of characters given too little screen time and who fade out and reappear with shifting motivations and loyalties. Logan is offered the chance to give up his immortality in order to save his dying friend, but he declines the offer. Almost immediately, he finds himself without his healing ability, fighting to save Yashida's granddaughter from Yakuza, who disrupts his funeral to kidnap her.

This is a more personal story that draws heavily (but not without alteration) from the Wolverine comics. Even without his healing ability, Wolverine is still incredibly tough, strong, and wearing an adamantium skeleton. He's almost the only mutant in the movie, but the smaller-scale action and fight choreography are superb. In spite of the few weaknesses in the story and somewhat overdone summer-blockbuster nature of the final-act battle, this is one of the better entries in the X-Men franchise. Be sure to hang around during the credits for a tease a la the lead-ins to The Avengers.

Review: I'm So Excited!


The title of the film alone had me from the get go. I first discovered Pedro Almodóvar when I was in high school -- by accident. Back in the days of Blockbuster rentals, 18-year-old me decided that I was done with the typical goofball comedies and romcoms; I was ready for films of "substance." Of course I wasn't quite sure what I meant by that, but I decided the best way would be to look for films with actors I liked. I then stumbled into the Foreign Film section and spotted a glorious cover of Gael García Bernal dressed as a woman. 'A Film by Almodóvar' read the top of the DVD case, and I have followed those four words ever since that rental.

A friend and I once discussed how Almodóvar has a knack for making films that seem unrealistic, yet you can't help but believe them because they are so well done. This is exactly how I'm So Excited! (Los amantes pasajeros) felt to me: slightly unrealistic, but engaging the entire time. 

It's hard to say who the star of the film is because it features the filmmaker's typical ensemble cast. We meet the three zany flight crew members (led by the always hilarious Javier Cámara of Bad Education and Talk To Her), the pilots, and a handful of eccentric passengers. We get the sense that something is wrong, and our hesitation is confirmed when Bruna (Lola Dueñas), a self-proclaimed psychic traveling on board, tells the flight crew that something big is going to happen to everyone on the flight. Whether or not it is impending doom is to be determined, but everyone on board decides to cut loose anyway with drugs and alcohol. Because, if you're going to die, why not live it up? 

Review: Fruitvale Station


Fruitvale Station Still PhotoWith the advent of video technology that is now so commonplace in cell phones, anyone can document an event and share footage on the Internet or even to a media outlet as a citizen reporter. This ability often brings police incidents that may be a blip across the police blotter into the public eye, fueling public reaction.

Such was the case in the first hours of 2009, when New Year's Eve revelers were returning from the Embarcadero in San Francisco to their homes in the East Bay. After a fight on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train, several passengers, including 22-year-old Oscar Grant, were detained on the platform of the Fruitvale Station by BART police. Other passengers who witnessed the incident used their phones to film the interaction between police officers and the detainees, later testifying in court that they did so because they believed BART officers "were acting too aggressively" toward Grant and his companions.

As tensions rose with shouts from both the detainees and train passengers, more officers arrived on the scene. During the chaos, BART officer Johannes Mehserle attempted to use his Taser on Grant but drew his gun instead. Grant was shot through the back; the bullet ricocheted off the concrete and punctured his lung. Grant left behind a four-year-old daughter when he died the following morning. His death and the ruling of involuntary manslaughter in Mehserle's trial fueled protests in the Bay Area and heated debate across the nation about race and the use of force by police.

Summer Films Antidote: August 2013


 Little Trip to Heaven

August is usually seen as the "dumping ground" month by some due to the fact that most of the bigger summer films have already come and gone. This month will see the studios release their latest inventory of titles and stars that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the July cut yet still have late-summer hit potential. As usual however, there are always alternative choices to beat those August movie blues.

In theaters: 2 Guns (8/2)

One of the few star vehicles of the summer, 2 Guns sees Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg compete for screen time in this bullet-ridden crime caper about drugs and stolen money, which plays off of both stars’ box-office personas.

Antidote: A Little Trip to Heaven (2005)

From 2 Guns director Baltasar Kormákur, A Little Trip to Heaven is the Icelandic filmmaker's little-seen English-language debut starring Forest Whitaker as an insurance investigator sent to a small town to explore the death a $1,000,000 policy holder and question his surviving sister, played by Julia Stiles. The film may have bypassed most theaters during its release, but it has certainly earned its place in the tradition of modern-day noir. The atmosphere is appropriately chilling, small details stand out in virtually every scene, and Kormákur’s knack for carving out suspense never wavers. Most impressive of all are the three leads (which also includes Jeremy Renner as Stiles’ husband); each one is morally corrupt and fatally flawed. While certain elements could have been tweaked (i.e.  Forest Whitaker’s Irish accent,) A Little Trip to Heaven is one of the more impressive American debuts from a director whose best is still to come. 

Ready, Set, Fund: Community and Comedy


David Anderson Archive PhotoReady, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

Local non-profit Cinema Du Cannes Project was created to empower "at risk" teenagers in Austin by involving them in the art of cinematic digital storytelling and digital media production. Youth-led teams produce films for submission into film festivals across the nation and world, including the Cannes Film Festival Court Metrage. In addition, participants learn valuable skills and support the community by producing public service announcements and videos for other local non-profits.

This summer the organization is producing a documentary, 40 Years - On the Air, which is currently funding on Kickstarter through August 4. This hour-long documentary features local media icon David Anderson -- seen above in an archive photo-- whose radio broadcast career has spanned over 40 years.

An exciting local film-related project funding on Kickstarter through Saturday, August 17 is the Capital City Black Film Festival (CCBFF) founded by UT alumni Winston Williams and filmmaker Harrell Williams. This new Austin film festival, which takes place at the Stateside Theatre at the Paramount September 26-28, will feature films from black filmmakers as well as panel discussions with film veterans. The festival is raising funds to cover venue space rentals, with extra funding to go towards awards for film competition winners.

'The School of Rock' 10-Year Reunion with Richard Linklater, Jack Black and Mike White in Attendance

I was 12 years old when I first saw The School of Rock, about a cash-strapped, wannabe rock star who poses as a substitute teacher at a prep school. I saw it with a few of my cousins who are of similar age, and the Jack Black-fronted comedy inspired us to start our own short-lived Partridge Family-esque rock band. Those four years of piano lessons and my desire to be the next Stevie Nicks (the Fleetwood Mac years, before she started sounding like a goat) proved to be beneficial in both delighting and annoying my family members during holiday get togethers. This is the reason I'm now a writer. (Being a traveling musician would have worn too much on my mother's conscience, anyway.)

So, imagine my surprise when I heard about the AFS and Cirrus Logic-sponsored 10-year reunion of The School of Rock, which takes place at 7pm on Aug. 29 at the Paramount Theatre. Besides feeling really old, I'm debating whether or not I should dust off those ivories and re-think my career choice. (I knew I should have taken that college radio DJ up on his offer to play tambourine for an obscure traveling rock band instead of graduating with degrees in English and mass communication this May.) Maybe I should ask Jack Black what he'd do in my situation, since he's scheduled to be in attendance at the reunion along with the film's Austin-based director Richard Linklater, writer/co-star Mike White and some of the cast members who made up the fictional band. 

Essential Cinema Celebrates Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck in August


Barbara Stanwyck and David Manners in The Miracle Woman

I was overjoyed to hear that Austin Film Society has picked one of my favorite actresses as their focus next month. Tuesday evenings in August, four films that Barbara Stanwyck made before the Hays Code was in effect will be shown at AFS at the Marchesa.

These pre-code movies have attention-grabbing storylines. Unlike films produced under the code, there isn't necessarily any punishment for the naughty or driven woman. And, boy, does Stanwyck play the naughty woman well! She also portrays working-class women with aplomb.

I asked AFS programmer Lars Nilsen why he chose Stanwyck for August's theme and he told me, "The idea for the series came to me when I was rewatching Ladies They Talk About. I had seen many other Stanwyck pre-code films, but on this viewing I began just admiring everything about Stanwyck's gifts as an actress and as an especially authentic individual, even in an age that prized personal authenticity in its stars. I could feel the love that contemporaneous viewers must have felt for her in these early films... She's like a female Cagney, a little tough guy, with the advantage of glamour that she can turn on and off as it suits her. Her personal charm and character are all her own. She earned them."

Photo Essay: A Peek at Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline


I was lucky enough to take a tour of the newest addition to the Drafthouse family: Alamo Lakeline, just past where the old Alamo Lake Creek used to live. The theatre itself opened its doors on Monday, July 22, but a few members of the press got to walk around the building last week with Tim League, CEO and founder of the Drafthouse franchise. Tim let us know that this will be the largest Drafthouse in the country: The building is just shy of 36,000 square feet, will have 250 employees, 944 seats, 10 screens, 2 micro theatres, stadium seating -- the list truly goes on.

The interior theme of the new location is based on the original 1968 Planet of the Apes film. Film posters and foreign artwork from the movie line the halls of the lobby, giving it a modern sci-fi feel. Tim and General Manager Stephen Mason were most excited to reveal a piece of film history that Drafthouse moviegoers will appreciate: an exact replica of the Great Lawgiver statue, created and cast by Hollywood special effects creator Greg Nicotero. League and Mason said they think it will be a great photo opportunity for guests at the theatre (so get ready to see a lot of "POTA selfies" on social media).

APL Invites You to the Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Bad Film Festival


attack of the crab monsterOn Mondays and Wednesdays starting today (July 22) through August 5, Austin Public Library's Carver Branch invites you to watch some wonderfully terrible movies. The library is calling it the Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Bad Film Festival. These screenings are free and open to the public, showing in the Carver library's meeting rooms [map] at 6:30 pm. Do you dare to partake?

Here's the lineup:

  • Monday, July 22, Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) -- Directed by Roger Corman, this film has folks stuck on an island under the control of giant crabs who happen to eat brains.
  • Wednesday, July 24, The Thing with Two Heads (1972) -- Ray Milland plays a bigot who has to share a body with convict Rosie Grier.  Here's the trailer:

Slackery News Tidbits: July 22, 2013


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • More Machete film incentives news: Austin director Robert Rodriguez says he doesn't support the lawsuit filed by producers of his 2010 film against the Texas Film Commission, Joe M. O'Connell's blog reports. Rodriguez appears in the recent commercial Gov. Rick Perry is promoting that urges businesses to move to Texas. Perry signed film-incentive legislation at Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios in 2009. Incentives potentially would have provided the action/thriller with $8 million to produce the movie in Texas, but incentives were denied in late 2010 (Jette's recap) after the commission determined that the Austin-shot film contained "inappropriate" content that disqualified it from the funds. 
  • Do you have no game? Neither does Scott, the overweight and overbearing fantasy role-playing gamer in the Austin-shot movie Zero Charisma (Jette's review), starring Sam Eidson (Mike's interview) as the titular character. At San Diego Comic Con last week, Tribeca Film and Nerdist Industries announced they will distribute the comedy from filmmakers Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews Zero Charisma, which made its world premiere at this year's SXSW Film Festival, will be released Oct. 8 on cable and satellite VOD platforms and most major online streaming outlets, followed by a theatrical release on Oct. 11 theatrical release. 
  • In production news, HBO has ordered a new half-hour comedy series from former Austinites Jay and Mark Duplass, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The filmmakers will write, direct and executive produce Togetherness, their first small-screen writing gig, with former Austinite Steve Zissis. Zissis will co-star, write and serve as consulting producer. The actor has appeared in a number of the Duplass brothers' films, including Baghead and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Production on Togetherness, about a woman who's considering moving to L.A. from Houston to be closer to her sister and an aging aspiring actor (Zissis) who has recently been left homeless, is scheduled to begin early next year. 

Review: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me


Big Star: Nothing Can Stop Me Now

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me is the latest of a recent crop of buzzworthy documentaries that introduces viewers to talented artists who struggled to find mainstream success when their music was originally released. The story of Memphis rockers Big Star includes incredible artistic achievements followed by snowballing bad luck. When band members Alex Chilton, Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel formed in 1971, Chilton was reinventing himself a few years after having a #1 hit single at the tender age of 16 with "The Letter" (by his previous band The Box Tops).  

Everything about the early days of Big Star predicted great things to come. After recording their debut album, the cheekily titled "#1 Record", at Ardent Studios in Memphis, the album's release was set to be distributed as one of the first rock albums on Ardent's record label deal through the legendary Stax Records. That label had just signed a deal with Columbia Records, which should have provided Big Star with nationwide distribution through a major label with plenty of marketing power. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Stax went bankrupt, Columbia never promoted the record, and it quietly sold 20,000 copies in markets where it had radio airplay and could be found in a handful of stores. 

Co-directors Drew DeNicola and Olivia Mori bring this heartbreaking struggle to the big screen with plenty of archival footage combined with present-day interviews with music journalists, surviving band members, extended family members and musicians who were influenced by the band. The film was partially funded with the help of Kickstarter, which illustrates just how rabid the fanbase for Big Star remains even all these years later. With only three albums under their belt, they may not have ever had Billboard chart success, but they inspired a lot of people who somehow found their way to the music to start their own bands. 

One of the interview clips that perfectly captures the essence of Big Star comes from Robyn Hitchcock, who says that discovering the band's music was like "a letter that was posted in 1971 that arrived in 1985, like something that got lost in the mail." The success of this film will come not just from fans, but also hopefully from people just discovering their new favorite band over 40 years after their inception. 

Review: Red 2


Red 2 posterThe grouping together of a cast of great actors like Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich and even Mary-Louise Parker would seem like a sure-fire way to generate a hit movie. In 2010, that was the case with Red. Based on a graphic novel from DC Comics, the action movie put some older actors in a position to do some pretty heroic and badass things.

With the moderate success of that film, plus its star power, obviously a sequel had to happen. But did it, really? Red 2 places a lot of faith in you the viewer being a huge fan of the original, and doesn't deliver on much else. If you are a fan of Red, though, this might just be an enjoyable trip to the movies for you this weekend.

In Red 2, we're catching up with Frank (Willis) and Sarah (Parker), who are in a relationship rut since there doesn't appear to be anyone trying to kill them anymore. That safety won't last long, though, when Marvin (Malkovich) tries to get Frank to come along with him to kill the people who are now trying to kill them both over a botched mission from the late '70s when they worked for the CIA.

Multiple governments are out to kill Frank, Sarah, and Marvin, and the U.S. even hires the world's most dangerous assassin, Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee). Han Cho Bai still harbors a lot of anger towards Frank over being double-crossed long ago. The old gang's journey to clear their names -- and save the world in the process, of course -- takes them to many places and they cross paths with a lot of interesting people along the way.

What Red 2 does incredibly well is film action and fighting scenes. They're some of the best you'll see all year, especially seeing Byung-hun Lee do his thing. He should be a much bigger star in the United States than he is. Thankfully, he's a big star in Korea and he is in some truly fantastic movies there. No one else in the cast seems to be mailing it in, which is reassuring because for a sequel like that, it's almost expected that a lack of effort would be evident on screen.

What's frustrating about Red 2 is that it isn't a bad movie. Far from it, actually. But it's just so bland and inconsequential that it feels as though a sequel wasn't needed at all. It's not good enough to create the kind of word-of-mouth buzz that will sustain a good box-office run. Despite the effort by the cast, it still feels like something no one put much of an effort into creating.

Review: R.I.P.D.


RIPDBased on the Dark Horse comic of the same name, R.I.P.D. is a spectacular wild and whimsical buddy-cop action/adventure that critics will excoriate but despite that, will likely find an audience. If the previews and trailers have reminded you of Men in Black, the movie will feel like a trip down memory lane. Directed by Robert Schwentke (Red, The Time Traveler's Wife), R.I.P.D combines elements of MIB with flavors of Beetlejuice, Ghost and hints of many other popular films.

The film plays as if it hopes that by being entirely derivative of hits it will likewise be a hit, and that's what sets off alarm bells in a critic's mind. But try as I might, every time I started to think "Here's where it starts to suck," the movie did something to make me laugh in spite of myself. That's quite an accomplishment for a writing team responsible for flops like Clash of the Titans and Jack the Giant Killer.

Ryan Reynolds stars as Nick Walker, a narcotics detective who during a bust stumbles onto a pile of gold artifacts that he splits with his partner Bobby (Kevin Bacon). The movie begins with Nick burying his half of the loot for safekeeping, but he changes his mind about becoming a dirty cop because of his love for his wife, Julia (Stephanie Szostak). After he tells his partner his plan to drop out and turn in the evidence, both are called to a major drug bust where Nick is murdered.

Transported to the afterlife, Nick lands immediately in front of Mildred Proctor (Mary-Louise Parker), his new commanding officer and orientation advisor in the R.I.P.D. She introduces Roycephus Pulsipher (Jeff Bridges) as his partner, and the two head back to Earth to collect the bad spirits who refuse to stay dead, instead hiding out disguised as humans. Naturally they uncover a larger plan and the fate of the world is in their hands (just like Men in Black).

Bridges affects an exaggerated Texan accent not unlike his role in True Grit, played here for comedic effect. Sample it in this Adult Swim prequel video. He and Reynolds are an unusual team, but they come to work well together. One might also consider them partners with their alter egos (they're not visible to humans as themselves) played by Marisa Miller and James Hong. A number of jokes and visual gags center on this pair, especially the extremely talented Hong.

Movies This Week: July 19-25, 2013


Ryan Gosling stars in "Only God Forgives"

When you combine all of the titles that are opening wide in theaters this weekend with the specialty screenings in Austin, you have almost an overwhelming amount of titles to choose from at the movies. Hopefully, this summary will help you nail down a schedule and get out there to see as much as humanly possible. 

For my money, the most exciting choice in town is the Austin Film Society booking of Louis Malle's Viva Maria! You'll get the beauty of Bridget Bardot and Jeanne Moreau in 35mm as members of a cabaret act who accidentally invent the striptease. Upon its original American release in 1965, the film was dubbed in English, but these screenings will be in French with English subtitles. This is one I've always intended to see and I can't imagine a better way to catch it for the first time than in a 'Scope print at the Marchesa. It's playing tonight and again on Sunday evening. 

This week's selections for the Paramount Summer Film Series include The Pink Panther and A Shot In The Dark on Saturday and Sunday. The early show on Saturday features a Scavenger Hunt that gets underway at 11:30 am. A double feature dubbed "Naughty, Bawdy 1933" also takes place on Tuesday and Wednesday with Dinner At Eight and Design For Living. All titles at the Paramount are presented in 35mm. 

Review: The Conjuring


The Conjuring

The formula for making a horror movie might be considered fairly simple. You combine one or more ingredients into ye olde film cauldron, mix in some practical effects, scary atmosphere and wolfsbane, and out comes the next blockbuster horror movie. You know the ingredients: creepy dolls, old houses, doors that could stand a good dose of WD-40, dusty basements, creaky floor boards, demons, ghosts, ghost hunters, psychics, priests, young newlyweds, kids and anything else that might go bump in the night. More often than not the concoction crafted by the grandest of film wizards turns out to be nothing more than snake oil, but once in a while the wizard is successful in causing the dead to rise or turns lead into gold. This time that wizard is James Wan of Saw fame, and the splendid potion of a film is The Conjuring

The Conjuring tells the story of the Perron family, who move into an old musty farmhouse and soon realize that the "seller's disclosure" for their home failed to mention the "presence" already occupying it. The story slowly unfolds as the children discover that this charming country home is anything but. The kids hear mysterious voices, see things in the shadows, and experience the piece de resistance of scary things: something under the bed. 

Review: Only God Forgives


Only God Forgives

When a filmmaker is present at a screening of his or her movie, often the audience is extra-passionate with their applause at the end of the film. But as the end credits rolled for Only God Forgives, a stunned silence fell. After a few moments, some audience members recalled themselves and applauded enthusiastically, but when the house lights were raised I could still see many dazed and confused faces.

What is Only God Forgives? What goes on in the brain of filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn? If you're expecting Drive, shut that down right now. If you're hoping for another Bronson ... no, but you might be partially prepared for the surreality. Only God Forgives isn't like anything else I saw this year. Did I like it? I have no idea. Was it good? It was vivid and disturbing enough to stick with me for days, and you can't discount a film that does such a thing.

Only God Forgives opens with the scenario that Julian (Ryan Gosling) is running a Bangkok boxing club as a front for some drug smuggling, which he's been doing since he killed someone ten years previously. His brother is murdered, and their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in Hong Kong demanding that Julian avenge him.

AFS Presents 'The New Voice: Drafthouse Films' Series


The Act of Killing

[Editor's note: Please welcome new contributor Caitlin Moore to Slackerwood.]

It's clear that Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of Alamo Drafthouse launched in 2010, is serious about being a major player in the film world. More specifically, the world of film that many of us are particularly interested in -- the one filled with movies that are smart and a little off-kilter, or in their own words, "provocative, visionary, and artfully unusual."

Drafthouse Films has a few hits behind them and they show no sign of slowing down, so now would be a good time to catch up if you're a little behind. Beginning next week, Austin Film Society will offer some assistance when they present The New Voice: Drafthouse Films series, which consists of three of the distributor's most acclaimed titles thus far as well as an advance screening of The Act of Killing, a much buzzed-about documentary that will be more widely released later this summer. All four movies are worth your time, so take a look at the schedule if you're interested in watching, or rewatching, some of the more challenging film releases of the past couple years. 

Bullhead -- Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, Michael R. Roskam's Bullhead (Don's reviewDebbie's review) is a dark Belgian drama that explores the corrupt world of cattle farming. The narrative rests on the hulking, steroid-dependent shoulders of anti-hero Jacky (played by the incredible Matthias Schoenaerts), whose personal pain brings delicacy to what would otherwise be a traditional crime story. Tragic, gritty and intense, this memorable film showed early on that Drafthouse Films was serious about bringing strangeness of the highest quality to its audiences. (Wednesday, July 24 , 7:30 pm at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre)

Extra Slackery News Tidbits (Plus Shameless Plug): July 17, 2013


It's a heavy Austin film news week, so here are some other news tidbits, courtesy of Mike and Jette.

  • Right on the heels of Jette's Cinematic Guide to Texas Politics, news hit yesterday that the producers of the Austin-shot film Machete (Jette's review) have filed suit in Travis County District Court against the Texas Film Commission. After being awarded $8 million in incentives to produce the film in Texas, the budget of Robert Rodriguez's film was increased, but the funds were pulled after the commission determined that "inappropriate" content of the film disqualified it from the grant. A sequel to the film, Machete Kills, also filmed in Texas, is opening Fantastic Fest this year. [MS]
  • Drafthouse Films announced its acquisition of the North American rights to the Danish hit comedy series Klown. The complete 60-episode TV series, which ran from 2005-2009, is now available on Hulu and Hulu Plus, and will be downloadable from www.klown.tv starting Tuesday, July 23. Drafthouse Films also has distribution rights to the film Klown (J.C.'s review), based on the series, which premiered at Fantastic Fest in 2011. Warner Brothers is  planning an English-language remake. [MS]
  • Violet Crown Cinema will host a benefit screening of Prince Avalanche (Elizabeth's SXSW review), David Gordon Green's film shot in Central Texas. The event will take place on Thursday, July 25 and will include a cocktail party and post-film Q&A with Green and local composer David Wingo. Fittingly, the proceeds will go to the Heart of Pines Volunteer Fire Association, which still needs help after the Bastrop wildfires in 2011. Tickets are available through Violet Crown. [JK]
  • On Thursday night, Austin short filmmakers Umar Riaz, Brian Scofield and Tomas Vengris will screen several of their short films at Alamo Drafthouse Village. The lineup includes two Student Academy Award finalist films, Last Remarks and Kalifornija. You can buy tickets through Tugg. [JK]

Finally, a reminder from Jette: The Austin Chronicle 2013 "Best of Austin" poll is open for you to vote through Monday, July 22. Please do vote, and remember Slackerwood when you are considering the categories of Film Critic, Local Non-Chronicle Publication, News Website and Local Blog. (Or any other category where you think we might fit.)

Review: Turbo


TurboThough Pixar has an army of fans ready to support it as the animation studio producing the best movies, Dreamworks now has a string of productions that show the Pixar is no longer in a class by itself.  Though some wildly popular Dreamworks properties (Shrek, Shark Tale) don't draw critical acclaim, the studio continues to release franchises (Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar) and one-offs (Rise of the Guardians, Monsters vs Aliens) enjoyed by critics and audiences alike. This week along with the teaser announcement of the sequel to the studio's greatest hit, How to Train Your Dragon, comes a surprising little gem best described as something like "Cars meets Charlotte's Web."

With an unknown director (David Soren, in his feature debut) and writers responsible for films like Jack the Giant Slayer and Shrek Forever After, I didn't expect much from Turbo. It turned out to be a surprisingly good time. Ryan Reynolds voices the title character -- Theodore, a young snail obsessed with auto racing who prefers the nickname Turbo. When a wish on a star and a DNA-altering freak accident give him the speed he has always desired, Turbo finds a new home among snails more appreciative of his talents.

Reynolds is joined by an enormous lineup of acting talent that includes Paul Giamatti, Michael Pena, Luis Guzman, Bill Hader, Richard Jenkins, Ken Jeong, Michelle Rodriguez, Maya Rudolph, Ben Schwartz, Kurtwood Smith, Snoop Dogg and Samuel L. Jackson.

Turbo is a contemporary story set in a visibly recognizable Los Angeles, but the script doesn't rely on force-feeding the audience current pop-cultural references for its humor. However, the tagline for the poster, "He's fast. They're furious," however is brought to life in the movie when Turbo finds himself dropped into the middle of a race straight from that franchise.

This scene lands Turbo a spot on my growing list of "3D movies worth watching in 3D," as throughout the film, the technology strongly helps illustrate and enhance the sense of difference in scale between the world of the snails and the humans with whom they come to interact.  It's a gorgeous film. Visually, the world of Turbo is much much richer than the simple mollusk characters would lead you to believe.

Film on Tap: 'Crafting a Nation' Here in Texas


Courtney Cobb of Crafting a Nation

Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

Registration for breweries participating in the 2013 Great American Beer Festival held annually in Denver opened last week, and the 600-plus slots sold out in a record time of less than two hours. Despite the efforts of host organization Brewers Association to increase the number of participating breweries for this year's three-day event, over 300 breweries and brewpubs are currently on the waitlist. This overwhelming demand is indicative of the incredible growth of craft beer across the United States.

Two beer documentaries that capture this growth, featuring Central Texas craft breweries I covered in my January 2012 Film on Tap column, are finally screening in Austin. Chris Erlon hosted a cast and crew screening of his Brewed in Austin in June, and is in discussion about more screenings as part of the Alamo Drafthouse's "Meet the Brewers" special event series.

Alamo Drafthouse continues to support local craft brewers with the Austin premiere of beer documentary Crafting a Nation as the opening feature for this summer's Rolling Roadshow series at Jester King Craft Brewery on Thursday, July 18. This film features many craft beer-related individuals and businesses in Central Texas as well as across the nation that are part of the current American craft beer movement.

A Cinematic Guide to Texas Politics


Along Came Kinky

Over the past few weeks, many people in Texas and out are being exposed to Lone Star political and legislative processes and quirks for the first time. It can be puzzling, rage-inducing and sometimes hilarious. (Occasionally, all three.)

Fortunately, many filmmakers have documented both the broad -- often as in comically broad -- and fine points of Texas politics over the years. So if you want to figure out what's been going on over there in the Capitol, perhaps some of the movies on this list might help you out. Or they'll give you a good laugh to help distract you from what's going on. Or you can treat them like old-fashioned melodramas and boo and hiss some of the villains. (This really has happened during some screenings of political movies I've attended.)

I'm sorry these all aren't available through streaming -- you might have to buy a DVD through the movie's website. Local filmmakers, please follow the lead of David Hartstein, who was motivated when I told him about this article to put Along Came Kinky (pictured at top) on Vimeo video-on-demand.

Incendiary: The Willingham Case (Don's review) -- The SXSW 2011 screening I attended was one with a lot of booing, mostly of Gov. Rick Perry. It's about the battle of science versus folklore -- with a strong assist from politics. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 after being convicted for the 1991 deaths of his two children in a fire. Perry declined to issue a stay of execution despite evidence that showed the arson theory, which was the basis of the conviction, was faulty. (Available on DVD, iTunes, and through Tugg.)

Slackery News Tidbits: July 15, 2013


Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood

Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Austin Film Society's "AFS at the Marchesa" campaign was a success, raising 104% of the goal amount. The donated funds will soon be put toward improvements at the Marchesa venue, such as a digital projector, a 35mm changeover system, and setting up the theatre for Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Donations are still welcome if you haven't pitched in yet.
  • In other AFS news, Carol Pirie has joined the staff as Executive Administrator. Pirie comes with decades of experience from her work at the Texas Film Commission. Stephanie Baker, Austin Film Society's Marketing Director, says, "As we go to expand Austin Studios with the acquisition of the former National Guard Armory, using $5.4 million from the 2012 bond election, we'll be doubling, at least, the number of tenants at Austin Studios. Carol will be instrumental in the many transactions and details involved in the expansion. We created this position to prepare for the expansion, and Carol, with her 23 years of experience at the Texas Film Commission, is the first person who came to mind. Carol brings many relationships along with her that will be beneficial as we grow. Her position will also play a key role in all matters that keep the Film Society going, including strategic planning, fundraising and stakeholder relations."
  • Locally-made movie Zero Charisma is set to have its international premiere at Fantasia Fest. The narrative feature (Jette's SXSW review), about Dungeons and Dragons player Scott who doesn't deal well with change, will screen July 20 and 27 in Montreal.

Review: Pacific Rim


Pacific Rim

In the middle of the summer movie season, it's always a delight to find that one movie that handles its blockbuster premise with some degree of intelligence, that turns out to be an escapist movie for smart people, that offers the surprise of some cleverness or well-earned emotional depth even if the movie is flawed.

Pacific Rim is not that one movie.

Despite being directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, a filmmaker who has brought us some intelligent and emotionally moving stories (Pan's Labyrinth among them), Pacific Rim is fun in the same way as a rickety rapid-fire rollercoaster ride -- and afterwards, you walk away with the same slight dizzy feeling, perhaps leading to mild headache.

Pacific Rim is a movie where robots fight monsters, and if that excites you greatly, details like character development, plot, dialogue and even empathy aren't important. Unfortunately, even that level of enjoyment is tempered in 3D, which causes the screen to look muddy and the monsters to appear as little more than brown blobs with a few pretty lights attached.

In the near future, kaiju-like creatures (see: Godzilla and that crowd) appear from under the Pacific Ocean in a dimensional rift and rampage the planet. Mankind develops giant robots called Jaegers, each operated by a pair of fighters, to combat the creatures. Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) was involved in a terrible tragedy when his Jaeger was damaged in battle, and resolves not to fight again until years later, his old commander (Idris Elba) persuades him that he's needed to save the world. He joins a bunch of other guys and one smart, determined woman (Rinko Kikuchi) in one last grand attempt to keep the monsters from conquering Earth.

Review: Grown Ups 2


Grown Ups 2

Due to a heavy workload at his day job, Adam Sandler fan Don Clinchy was unable to review Grown Ups 2. Instead, Slackerwood is publishing the following open letter to Texas State Senator Dan Patrick from guest contributor Jimmy Don Dimmit. Dan Patrick appears briefly in the film.

Dear Sen. Patrick:

I must express my grave concerns about your appearance in the new Hollywood movie Grown Ups 2.

Senator, I am your humble admirer for all the honorable work you do on behalf of faith, freedom and fetuses. And so I was greatly shocked and saddened to see you in such a crude and unholy work as this movie. I know your role as a gym teacher was minor, but although you were on screen for only a minute or so, it was a minute or so too long.

At first I didn't recognize you. The Hollywood makeup artists obviously tried to conceal your appearance, as Hollywood tries to conceal the truth about America's greatness. But the makeup people could not hide your face completely. I was sure I'd seen you on TV before, and the "Gym Teacher -- Dan Patrick" credit at the end of the movie confirmed that you did indeed play that foul character. (I watched the entire movie only because the people on either side of me were generously proportioned, and I could not leave my seat without touching them inappropriately.)

Movies This Week: July 12-18, 2013


The Way, Way Back

[Editor's note: Please welcome our newest contributor to Slackerwood, Matt Shiverdecker.]

There's an incredibly diverse slate of repertory films in town over the next week, starting with the continuation of the Traveling Circus series from the Austin Film Society. You'll want to head to the Marchesa for Max Ophuls' Lola Montes, a gorgeous Cinemascope spectacle bursting with colors that will leap off the screen in 35mm, tonight and Sunday night (Elizabeth's preview). For those of you who recently watched HBO's Love, Marilyn documentary, you won't want to miss out on Tuesday night's Essential Cinema selection of The Prince And The Showgirl, also screening at the Marchesa in 35mm.

The Paramount's Summer Film Series continues to serve up an eclectic batch of films over the next week including Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire and a digital screening of Truffaut's new wave classic The 400 Blows at the Stateside, both happening tonight. Also on deck, an Audrey Hepburn double feature Saturday and Sunday with Breakfast At Tiffany's and Roman Holiday. If that's not enough for you, they have a "Swingin' Britons of the 1960's" theme Tuesday and Wednesday nights with Casino Royale and What's New Pussycat, and the lesser-known Pulp and The Ipcress File on Thursday. All Paramount screenings are in glorious 35mm.

The Alamo's Beasts Vs. Bots series brings you multiple options this weekend at the Ritz, including the 1955 creature feature It Came From Beneath The Sea on Saturday and Sunday afternoon, a 35mm screening of Godzilla Vs. King Ghidorah on Sunday afternoon and late night Monday and even a rare 35mm screening of the animated Transformers: The Movie from 1986 on Sunday night. If you're looking for a Ritz experience with decidely less monster action, you may want to have a drink or two at Sunday's Cinema Cocktails booking of Billy Wilder's The Apartment (which will be presented in a new digital restoration).

Interview: Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 'What Maisie Knew'


Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel with Onata Aprile on set of WHAT MAISIE KNEW

The bittersweet drama What Maisie Knew opens today in Austin theaters, and you can read my review here. Co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel -- seen above on-set with star Onata Aprile -- were in town earlier this week for an Austin Film Society special screening and Q&A at the Marchesa Theatre.

I met McGehee and Siegel before the screening to talk about the script-to-screen process. The directors shared that they weren't initially attracted to the story based on its description alone. McGehee mentioned that to make a movie about a childhood custody battle could be "maudlin and heavy and difficult."

What attracted them to What Maisie Knew, McGehee said, was that "the script had a lightness of touch with the material. The story was told elliptically from Maisie's point of view, and how to translate that into cinematic terms seemed a challenge."

Review: What Maisie Knew


What Maisie Knew Still PhotoFilms that rely on kids as central characters may be off-putting to many adult viewers. However, last year's multiple award nominee Beasts of the Southern Wild proved that success can be found with an engaging story and talented cast and crew. The directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel have taken on that same challenge with the drama What Maisie Knew, which opens in Austin today. The screenplay, penned by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, is based on the 1897 novel by Henry James, which focuses on a young girl impacted by her parents' irresponsible actions and bitter divorce.

With quite a bit of modernization, the story of Maisie is quite relevant to the current state of family issues. Maisie (Onata Aprile) is caught between her mother Susanne (Julianne Moore), a rock star who's obviously past her heyday, and her father Beale (Steve Coogan), an art dealer who spends more time abroad then at home with his family. Most of the parental responsibilities seem to fall to Maisie's nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham), who tries to shield Maisie at times from the bitter fights between Susanne and Beale.

Review: The Way, Way Back


The Way, Way Back

I was a bit skeptical of The Way, Way Back when, a few days before the movie's press screening, I sat in a beach-themed Austin bar where the waitstaff wore The Way, Way Back T-shirts and handed out swag to the mostly indifferent customers. Great films are seldom promoted with cheap sunglasses.

Fortunately, The Way, Way Back is better -- if not way, way better -- than its marketing campaign. Not a great film, but a likeable if forgettable summer comedy with a terrific cast and some very funny gags.

At the center of The Way, Way Back is 14-year-old Duncan (Liam James), a shy and awkward teen whose mother, Pam (Toni Collette), drags him kicking and screaming on an extended summer trip to the Massachusetts coast. Joining them are Pam's kind-of-a-jerk boyfriend, Trent (Steve Carell), and his snotty teen-queen daughter, Steph (Zoe Levin).

When they arrive at the quaint beach town, Duncan is bored immediately and feels alienated from his mom and Trent. Fortunately, a new friend ends his boredom: Susanna (AnnaSophia Robb), a brainy, stunning older woman of 16 or so who is staying next door with her hilariously blunt mother, Betty (Allison Janney), a friend of Duncan's mother. The two teens share a common bond: their families are unbearable.

Alamo Lakeline Ready to Host Grand Opening -- and 'Machete Kills'

Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline under construction

Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline has announced its grand opening for the week of July 22. The new location, near Lakeline Mall on 183 North, is the largest Drafthouse so far with ten screens and seating for almost a thousand attendees.

Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek shows its last movie on Sunday, July 21, with programming at Lakeline set to start Monday, July 22. About the closing of the Lake Creek location, founder and Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League says, "I built the original Lake Creek Alamo with my own two hands... I am excited that more skilled craftsmen than myself have replaced it with a brand new state-of-the-art cinema for the neighborhood."

The special programming for Lakeline's grand opening includes a screening of Planet of the Apes on Friday, July 26 [info], with moviegoers encouraged to wear primate-inspired clothing in honor of the ape-themed lobby in the new facility. A Girlie Night advance screening of The Spectacular Now will take place Thursday, July 25 [info], a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed pizza party on Saturday, July 27 [info], and a Curious George family red-carpet event co-sponsored by KLRU [info] late Saturday morning.

Lone Star Cinema: Terms of Endearment


Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment really scored at the 1983 Academy Awards, winning Best Picture plus statues for actress Shirley MacLaine, supporting actor Jack Nicholson and director James L. Brooks (in his feature-film debut). Along with the award for direction, Brooks also won for his screenplay, based on the novel by Texas author Larry McMurtry. 

Widow Aurora (MacLaine) is all frills and composure, whereas her only child Emma (Debra Winger) is goofy and nonchalant. Before Emma's marriage soon after high school, Aurora warns her daughter, "You are not special enough to overcome a bad marriage." Which probably isn't the best way to tell your daughter to look more closely at her choices, but there you go. Terms of Endearment covers a span of about 15 or so years in the lives of mother and daughter.

Aurora stays in Houston, where she has gentleman callers (including Danny DeVito with a not-great attempt at an accent) and flirts/argues with the past-his-prime astronaut (Nicholson) next door. The fact that she is aging bothers her no end. Meanwhile, Emma and young hubby Flap (Jeff Daniels) move from Texas to Iowa to Nebraska, wherever Flap can get a quality teaching position at a decent college. Wouldn't you know it, Emma starts doubting Flap's fidelity. Even with two boys and a baby, she heads into her own affair with a small-town bank worker (John Lithgow).

AFS Brings Back Classics with 'History of Television' Series


You know when someone asks if you are familiar with a certain actor, and you recognize the name but can't quite place the face? That was my first impression of Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca. I of course recognized Caesar from a few films, but my knowledge of the duet's history was lacking.

This is also how I approached the Austin Film Society's "History of Television" series last night: familiar, but ready to learn more. This month's screening focused on the 1950-54 television show Your Show of Shows, starring Caesar, Coca, Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Thrill Of It All) and Howard Morris (The Andy Griffith Show, Splash).  

When I walked into the screening room, I was surprised to discover I was one of the younger attendees there. Even though I was not entirely familiar with the actors, I'd heard of the show and knew others who were familiar as well. Nonetheless, the house was packed with folks ready to laugh.

What's Streaming: Home of the Brave



July has always been a favorite month for me. June kicks the summer off, but in July you realize you have an entire month of swimming, cookouts, milkshakes and (if you're me) watching summer flicks. It is also the birthday month of our lovely country, which leads me into our theme for this month.

I considered going the route of the "American Hero." I love a good action-hero flick as much as the next person, but I then considered what we really celebrate on the Fourth of July: everyday heroes. We celebrate the working American, those men and women who might not have had the best education but are fighting to earn their living. We think of those who stand for good, not because a job requires them to, but because they believe in what is right. Those who went from rags to riches, who saved every penny they earned, who fought for our country or even the kids in their school district. These are the types of heroes you don't always see in a movie.

This month has thus led me to choose a few films and television shows that I think are worth watching to root for the underdog, the unsung hero that no one believes in.


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- Does this choice need an explanation? When I heard about Senator Wendy Davis's 11-hour filibuster against the dramatic limiting of abortion rights for Texas women, I immediately thought of the hope I felt watching Jimmy Stewart's performance as Jefferson Smith, and how badly I wanted him to triumph for the good of the people. Smith plays an average guy trying to keep his head above water while surrounded by political sharks, and he shows us how a fight does not always have to be physical. Although this does not have a direct connection to Texas, I feel it does ring true with what has been going on in our great state recently. (Available on Amazon Instant and iTunes)

AFS Brings 'About Sunny' to Austin This Week


"About Sunny"

Amid the desolate Las Vegas skyline, a young single mother must decide what sacrifices need to be made in order for the survival of herself and child in writer/director Bryan Wizemann's feature-length debut film About Sunny, which Austin Film Society will screen Thursday at 7:30 pm in the AFS Screening Room as part of its Best of the Fests series. 

The drama, which premiered on the festival circuit under the less emotional and more unfocused title Think of Me, is based on Wizemann's childhood experiences with his single mother in Las Vegas. 

As a child of a single mother myself, I was drawn to the relationship between Angela (Lauren Ambrose) and her eight-year-old daughter Sunny, played by newcomer and Texan Audrey P. Scott. The duo's interactions with each other involve relatively little dialogue, and when they are having a conversation it feels trite and one-sided, making it apparent that Angela is fighting to keep her head above water. But Ambrose and Scott appear to slip seamlessly into the psyche of their characters, down to the way Angela self-consciously holds her cigarette and stares longingly out of a taxi window. 

Slackery News Tidbits: July 8, 2013


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news. 

Movies This Week: July 5-11, 2013


Trash Dance

If you've had enough fireworks and barbecue and outdoor holiday fun, perhaps you'd like to spend some time in a nice air-conditioned movie theater. You've got all kinds of choices, luckily.

This is an excellent week to catch Austin movies. On Saturday afternoon, Austin Film Festival hosts a special screening of family-friendly Holes, which local author Louis Sachar adapted from his novel, at the Texas Spirit Theater in the Texas State History Museum. Trash Dance (Don's review), the delightful doc about the choreographed Austin Waste Services project (pictured above), screens at Alamo Ritz on Tuesday night. And AFF teams up Wednesday night with the Texas Film Commission to screen the locally made film Holy Hell (AFF 2009 review) at the Texas Spirit Theater, as part of the Made in Texas series.

The Paramount and Stateside movie calendar is full this week. One of my all-time favorite movies screens Tuesday at the Paramount: the 1940 film Ball of Fire, starring Barbara Stanwyck -- directed by Howard Hawks and written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. I can't recommend it enough. It's on a double-bill with the 1932 Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers. And the lovely and amazing Wings of Desire, a film I adore, screens next Friday nighs, a double-feature with Bicycle Thieves. (Originally I had written that it screens on Thursday night too, but it has been pre-empted by a preview of The Conjuring. Imagine my reaction.)

Austin Film Society has a treasure-trove of programming this week. In a circus mood? The French comedy Yoyo screens Sunday at the Marchesa as part of the Traveling Circus series. Want Marilyn Monroe? Catch Bus Stop Tuesday night at Alamo Village. Or you might enjoy the 2012 documentary Bert Stern: Original Mad Man on Wednesday night at the Marchesa. And Thursday night, AFS brings the indie drama About Sunny to Austin as part of its Best of the Fests series.

Review: Despicable Me 2


Still from Despicable Me 2

In the 2010 animated comedy Despicable Me, villain Gru (Steve Carell) adopts three girls and learns how to be a father. They become a family, including his cute yellow minions and the elder Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).

But this wasn't enough. Despicable Me 2 has neighborhood moms trying to match Gru up with their friends, a frazzled Gru running a birthday party on his own, and motherless daughter Agnes preparing a monotonal speech for a Mother's Day program at her school. It seems Gru needs a woman and these girls need a mom, because God forbid a man should raise his children alone.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this animated sequel, but along with the abovementioned gendered thinking, the film throws a smidge of racial/ethnic stereotype (plus a tiny dash of misogyny!) into the mix. Gru suspects that the Latino man who owns a shop in the mall is a former baddie, El Macho (which, honestly, is a great villain's name). This imposing figure, Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), speaks with a thick accent, owns a restaurant called Salsa y Salsa and wears a tattoo of the Mexican flag on his chest. Eduardo asks Gru and his spunky Anti-Villain League partner, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), in the midst of their investigation into a missing serum, to bake treats for his Cinco de Mayo party. After their cover is blown, Gru and the girls attend the party, with little Agnes even wearing a too-big-for-her sombrero and poncho.

Review: The Lone Ranger


The Lone RangerDo you know what "Tonto" means in Spanish?  Apparently in Disney it means "Native American Jack Sparrow," because Johnny Depp's character in The Lone Ranger is a carbon copy of the colorful captain from the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Strange, kooky demeanor, operates based on mysterious motives, always has a plan, scorned by his peers, works alone, manipulative, always making trades -- all these traits describe both characters.

There are many other ways director Gore Verbinski appears to have been working from his own notes on the Pirates series: fight choreography like swinging from a rope around a pole, a character playing with a watch much like Sparrow played with a compass, both characters end up in jail cells early in the movie, characters fight atop trains on parallel tracks reminiscent of ships, one of the bad guys likes to dress in women's clothing. If all that weren't enough, Tonto wears a bird on his head, as if to say "Get it? It's a bird, like a sparrow." (Entertainment Weekly has the skinny on the actual inspiration for the character design.)

As a childhood fan of the Lone Ranger, I enjoyed this adaptation scripted by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (two of whom also happen to be veterans of the Pirates series). The Lone Ranger is receiving no love from critics, but in spite of several weaknesses -- including a runtime of 149 minutes --I found much to enjoy. The film may find appreciation at the box office this holiday weekend -- after all, it's working from a well-established formula.

First, the movie is beautifully shot, from the opening scene in 1933 San Francisco (including an homage to The Red Balloon) all across the Old West. Armie Hammer, who is second-billed though playing the title character, is passable but generally unremarkable in the role opposite William Fichtner, who is doing some of his best work as the fiendish ringleader Butch Cavendish, one of the more compelling villians seen in a Disney film.

Interview: Brad Bell, 'Husbands'


Since its 2011 premiere, the online series and recent CW Seed addition Husbands, a twist on the classic newlywed sitcom that's been dubbed the "world's first marriage equality comedy," has been gaining a loyal following. And its showrunner and star, Dallas native Brad Bell, has been making a cheeky name for himself in L.A. and beyond.

Bell recalled an instance where he was sitting at a coffee shop doing the usual headphone/laptop thing when an attractive man approached him. Sadly, he said, the man didn't want his phone number, but ended up boosting his ego anyway by asking him if he's the person who plays Cheeks, the controversial tabloid personality in the show who can wear sparkly necklaces like it's no one's business. 

I might have guessed it: the name for Bell's alter ego spawned from what he described as people's "polite" way to describe him.

"I was a little unrefined then," he said. "...Depending on how people know me, people tend to see different aspects of Cheeks." 

The character of Cheeks has given Bell a platform to satirize celebrities while showcasing his writing talent. All of this for some reason made me nervous to talk to him. 

But it's all for the cause. 

Summer Films Antidote: July 2013


The Lone Ranger

Summertime at the movies typically spells excitement for some and skepticism for others. With most films coming from some previously existing property, it seems like audiences don't seem to have much cinematic choice during prime moviegoing season. So rather than just accept whatever the studios force upon you this month, here are some alternative choices to help make it through.

In theaters: The Lone Ranger (7/3)

Adding to the list of Johnny Depp's wacky assortment of characters this summer is his big-screen take on Tonto, the Native-American sidekick from the TV series The Lone Ranger. Starring alongside Armie Hammer (The Social Network) as the titular crime-fighter, Depp and the filmmakers seem determined to transform a beloved classic about the West's take on law and justice into 21st-century summer gold.

Antidote: Dark Shadows (2012)

If Depp is content on producing/starring in movie remakes of his favorite TV shows, then its best to revisit 2012's harshly judged Dark Shadows (Elizabeth Stoddard's review). Based on the campy supernatural 60s soap opera, the film tells the story of Barnabus Collins (Depp), an 18th-century playboy who is transformed into a vampire after breaking the heart of a witch, and is entombed for two centuries before being released. Many were no doubt exhausted by Depp's collaborations with director Tim Burton, yet Dark Shadows provides them with their most entertaining vehicle in years. While the film temporarily loses focus during the second act, its many virtues save it. The production design is a true wonder, the tongue-in-cheek humor is ripe, the chance to see Depp act opposite some of today's foremost leading ladies (Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green) doesn't disappoint and the ending is delightfully overblown gothic soap opera.

Slackery News Tidbits: July 1, 2013


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The SXSW Film PanelPicker goes live today. Participants have until July 26 to complete an online application for 2014 film conference content, including which panels, workshops and conversations, as well as speakers they would like to see. Proposals will then be made viewable to the public for voting and commenting from Aug. 19 through Sept. 6. 
  • Former Austinite Jacob Vaughan's SXSW 2013 feature Milo (Mike's review) has been renamed Bad Milo! and given an August 29 On Demand release and Oct. 4 theatrical release by distributor Magnet Releasing. Fellow former Austinites Jay and Mark Duplass serve as executive producers on the horror comedy about a man (Ken Marino) who, after experiencing intense stomach pains, discovers a creature inside of him. Vaughan previously worked with the Duplass brothers as an editor on Jeff, Who Lives at Home. His previous filmmaking experience includes collaborations with Bryan Poyser on the locally shot features Dear Pillow and The Cassidy Kids.
  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that Austinite Jeff Nichols (Mud), Texas Film Hall of Famer Catherine Hardwicke and Longview, Texas native John Lee Hancock are among its 276 new members, according to IndieWire
  • Nearly seven years after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Austin-shot horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane may see U.S. theaters. Film School Rejects reports the Weinstein Company has announced a September 6 VOD release and an October 11 theatrical release date for Jonathan Levine's first feature (he's made three since then). The cast includes Amber Heard, Anson Mount (my interview) and musician Robert Earl Keen.