Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Our Favorite Paramount Summer Classic Films, 2014 Edition

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Stills from The Women, Dark Victory, Bachelor Mother, Sullivan's Travels, Funny Girl and The Wizard of Oz

One of the best antidotes to a cruelly hot Austin summer is to partake of a show at the Paramount (or adjacent Stateside) Theatre. The air is cool, the Milk Duds are never melted and the movies are always great. The schedule for the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series has been released, and we are practically giddy with excitement over a number of the titles screening from late May through September.

The Paramount will be showing movies from various decades in 35mm, and Stateside will offer HD digitally projected titles. If you plan to see more than a couple of these, it's worth it to buy Flix-Tix (10 tickets for $50). Austin Film Society members get $5 off the ticket booklet if you buy at the box office. Becoming a Film Fan is also a great option for repeat customers, as it takes $5 off the GA ticket price -- a silver membership even gets you free garage parking during screenings.

AFS Series Preview: Lars Nilsen on 'Rebel Rebel'

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Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in All that Heaven Allows

Austin Film Society recently released the schedule for their next film series, "Rebel Rebel." Douglas Sirk's classic All That Heaven Allows and a 1974 John Waters film are among the five titles to be screened at AFS at the Marchesa starting Friday. To get a little more insight into the reasoning behind this series and how the chosen movies fit with the theme, I emailed Lars Nilsen, AFS Programmer.

Slackerwood: What led you to this theme of programming?

Nilsen: As much as I like doing series focusing on one director or actor or on the films of this or that country, I also like variety and the catch-all nature of a series about Rebellion or about Cool allows us to show a package of really spectacular films that might not be shown under any other context. I also think it's important that we as an arts organization celebrate rebellion because it is one of the mainsprings of our character, and I want to perpetuate the concept of rebelliousness wherever I can. It's maybe the only thing that can save our world.

Lone Star Cinema: The Trip to Bountiful

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John Heard and Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful

Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful illustrates that you can't go home again. Since it was first performed in 1953, the play remains a favorite for stage performance. Indeed, a recent Broadway revival starred a cast of Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. and was even made into a TV movie for Lifetime earlier this year.

But for many years, Foote resisted the idea of bringing his play to the silver screen. Director Peter Masterson was able to convince the Texan writer. Esteemed actress Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird of Youth, Hondo) went on to win an Oscar for her lead role of Carrie Watts in the resulting 1985 movie.

Mrs. Watts, a 60-year-old widow, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Houston with her son Ludie (John Heard, Home Alone, My Fellow Americans) and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn, Sixteen Candles, Three Days of the Condor). She fondly remembers days back at her home farm in Bountiful. In her current situation, Jessie Mae and Carrie bicker over the elder woman's near-constant hymn-singing and other habits. Compared to the space Mrs. Watts once had, the apartment is confining.

She pockets her pension check and leaves one morning while Jessie Mae is out, determined to travel back to Bountiful (a fictional town somewhere in south Texas). She befriends a young military wife (Rebecca DeMornay, demure and composed in her '50s era ensemble) on the journey and confides in her on a bus ride.

The opening credits sequence of a mother and child running through a field of bluebonnets leaves no doubt about the Texas setting of The Trip to Bountiful, and the costuming and set design perfectly reflect the time period. Page has a frumpy and careless appearance about her in the role to represent Mrs. Watts' single mindedness.  All she wants to do is go home... but unfortunately just returning to a place can't bring back past people or events.

Page as Mrs. Watts is almost constantly on the verge of tears; recalling memories of her son as a boy or failed relationships causes a choked tone to enter her voice. Carrie also has episodes related to heart problems (probably a double meaning, there) that leave her light-headed and dizzy.

The Trip to Bountiful comes off like a filmed stage play in the beginning apartment scenes, but as Mrs. Watts leaves those rooms, the film widens its scope. Masterson's direction and Foote's script give Page an opportunity to show her impressive talent, and she doesn't disappoint.

Texas connections: Writer Horton Foote was from Texas. The Trip to Bountiful was shot in Ellis County/Waxahachie, Venus and Dallas.  Richard Bradford, who plays the sheriff, was born in Tyler.  Kevin Cooney, who appears as a bus station worker, is from Houston. Director Peter Masterson, a native of Houston, also wrote the screenplay for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

[Still via MovieClips]

Spend an Animated Sunday Afternoon with AFS and the Hubleys

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Still from A Windy Day

This year marks 100 years since animator John Hubley's birth. To celebrate the work of this man and his wife/collaborator Faith Hubley, Austin Film Society will be hosting an afternoon of shorts by the team as part of the Hubley Centennial.

Their daughter Emily Hubley, an animator and creative force in her own right, will introduce the screening and then participate in an AFS Moviemaker Dialogue afterwards (a separate ticket).

You may not think you've seen any of the Hubleys' work before, but given that they worked on TV ads and public television programs such as Sesame Street and The Electric Company -- along with their singular short films -- you most likely have.  The shorts included in the Centennial programming are new 35mm prints from the Hubleys' oeuvre between 1956-1970.  Their Oscar-winning Moonbird will be screened, as well as Windy Day (still above, includes voices of daughters Emily and Georgia) and Tender Game (features music from Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson) among others. You can view the list of the shorts in the program here.

World War I Series Combines Forces of Ransom Center, AFS and Paramount

Still from Grand Illusion

100 years after the start of World War I, three Austin organizations are teaming up to showcase cinema of or about the conflict. The Paramount Theatre and Austin Film Society are joining the University of Texas Harry Ransom Center, which is holding the current exhibition "The World at War, 1914-1918," to host a combined total of 13 films running May through July.

The screenings at the Ransom Center are free (bear in mind it's not a large theater), but tickets are required for the AFS at the Marchesa and Paramount/Stateside shows. Here's the schedule, which concludes with Lawrence of Arabia shown in 70mm:

Mon, May 5, 7 pm, Stateside at Paramount
Grand Illusion (pictured above), 1937 [tickets]
This moving French classic from director Jean Renoir features Jean Gabin among others at a German POW camp.  Screens as a double feature with L'Atalante as part of Paramount's 100th birthday celebration.

Lone Star Cinema: The Girl

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Abbie Cornish and Maritza Santiago Hernandez in The Girl

David Riker, who directed independent immigrant drama La Ciudad, helmed a film in 2012 titled The Girl. This seems at first glance a far-too-general name for a movie about immigration, life on the border, motherhood and desperation. Is the "girl" of the title Ashley (Abbie Cornish, Bright Star, Sucker Punch), a young mother struggling to make money so she can get back custody of her son? The viewer wonders as we see her flustered under the keen eye of a social worker, arguing for more shifts at the grocery store, or riding along with her trucker dad (Will Patton, Remember the Titans, TV show Falling Skies) to Mexico.

Ashley becomes convinced that she can be a coyote -- she desperately needs the money this bad idea will bring her. Among the group of people she picks up in a Nuevo Laredo plaza to convey over the border is a young girl, who is definitely the inspiration for the title.  Ashley and the child (we find out three-quarters into the film that her name is Rosa) are thrown together by circumstance, and end up helping each other.

Review: Cuban Fury

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Cuban Fury posterWhat better way to charm a lady than to display your dance moves?

Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) leads the cast in British dance-comedy Cuban Fury as Bruce, a middle-management type in a mechanical design office. His boss Drew, played quite creepily by Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd, Bridesmaids), constantly picks on him and won't stop with the fat jokes (seriously, enough with the fat jokes). Both men are excited by the entrance to the company of American executive Julia (Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation, Celeste and Jesse Forever).

Bruce has a secret: He and his sister were once young Latin-dance superstars in their region, until an attack by bullies led him to put up his dancing shoes. To impress Julia, whom he spies taking salsa lessons, Bruce turns to his former dance coach Ron (Ian McShane, Deadwood) for aid. Bruce also gets help and advice from his bartender sister (Olivia Colman, Hot Fuzz, Broadchurch) and new dancing pal Bejan (Keyvam Novak, Four Lions, Syriana).

The plot is fairly predictable, with a few dance-offs thrown in. The choreography by Litza Bixler (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Shaun of the Dead) is fast-paced and fun to watch. The dance battle between Bruce and Drew looks like it took some serious preparation. 

The soundtrack is another of the better-executed facets of Cuban Fury, with Tito Puente classics and more modern Latin pop scoring the action. However, the bordering-on-sexual-harassment humor (along with the aforementioned proliferation of fat jokes) from O'Dowd's character was enough to make me grimace in my seat. 

AFS Doc Nights Preview: Blood Brother

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Still from Blood Brother

Blood Brother, which Austin Film Society will screen Tuesday evening at the Marchesa as part of the Doc Nights series, is very obviously a labor of love. Filmmaker Steve Hoover travelled to India with his best friend Rocky Braat, who was returning after a short break to his work volunteering at a rural hostel for mothers and children with HIV/AIDS. For a few months, the director documented the daily life of his friend and the kids he serves.

The documentary may sound at first like a white-guy-goes-to-a-developing-country-to-do-good story (it kind of is one, literally), particularly when Rocky says things like he went to India "seeking authenticity." But Blood Brother is a layered film, and goes far deeper than this initial premise. The film kicks off in medias res, with an older man clutching a near-lifeless child to his chest; Rocky and others are shown racing to take the girl to the hospital. In this manner, Blood Brother grabs your attention from the start. Later on, the viewer learns more about these events and the people involved. 

Review: Teenage

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still from Teenage

Filmmaker Matt Wolf's Teenage, a glossy video collage about the growth of youth culture in the early to mid-20th century, is inspired by author Jon Savage's Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, 1875-1945.  Austin Film Society hosted a screening of the film (with Wolf in attendance) last August, but Teenage returns to Austin this weekend for a theatrical run.

Opening in 1904, scenes of children at factories are shown as narrators explain how child-labor laws led to further schooling for kids. Jena Malone (Contact, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and Ben Whishaw (Bright Star, Skyfall) are two of the four voices who speak from a specific point of view.

Amid the vintage photos and footage are live-action sequences -- with color adjustments and added graininess to blend in with the older stock -- used to illustrate singular stories representing significant movements. These silent scenes, scored with ambient music and narrated by the four speakers, make Teenage appear less revolutionary and more like something you might find on PBS's American Experience. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but it’s not as original a project as the movie wants to be.

SXSW Review: Cumbres

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Ivanna Michel and Aglae Lingow in Cumbres

In the later days of SXSW 2014, I caught the movie Cumbres (English translation: Heights), which made its US premiere at the fest. A quiet film from Mexican writer/director Gabriel Nuncio, Cumbres slowly lets the audience into the world of Miwi (Aglae Lingow) and Juliana (Ivanna Michel). Their parents send the sisters on the road after something horrific happens involving older sister Juliana. We are shown a scar on her arm and told of bloody clothes in the sink. Just like the audience, Miwi is kept in the dark about the true extent of her sibling's troubles. Before they depart, Miwi's father reminds her to keep her thumbs on the outside of the steering wheel as she drives. 

The sisters forge their way to Queretaro, where they've been told a family friend will help them. On the way, they pick up and drop off friend Danny, aka aspiring rapper Danisaurio (Abdul Marcos). Most of the movie is time spent between the two young women as they converse during this road trip. The relationship between the girls is so convincing that during one scene, I wondered if the actresses actually were related. 

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