Frank Calvillo's blog

Drafthouse Staff Will Take Over the Screen in New Film Series

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You know those shadowy figures in the dark who bring you your milkshakes and pizzas every time you go to the Drafthouse? They’re getting their chance to share their own film-geek tendencies with audiences in a new film series at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.

Titled Staff Picks, the monthly series will allow Drafthouse employees to showcase their favorite movies. The series kicks off Sunday night with a screening of the Patrick Swayze movie Road House (1989), with the 1990s baseball film The Sandlot planned for May.

The series is the brainchild of Nuclear Salad contributor Jason Dubinsky, who also works as a server at the Drafthouse. He felt the random film choices amongst fellow co-workers/cinephiles was ripe for prime Alamo viewing.

Box-Office Alternatives: Passion

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Child 44 (2015) opens Friday and features one of the darkest plots of any Spring release opening wide in recent memory. Focusing on a string of unsolved child murders in soviet Russia, the grim mystery features the always-watchable Noomi Rapace as the film's female lead.

Since hitting it big with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009), Rapace has deservedly enjoyed a steady career in a variety of complex film roles. It's never anything but a pleasure seeing an actress of Rapace's talent at work, yet I can't help but notice that in so many of her projects, including Child 44, she is usually second fiddle to her male co-stars.

One of the few exceptions is Rapace's work alongside Rachel McAdams in Brian De Palma's sexually charged thriller, Passion (2012). After advertising executive Christine (McAdams) takes credit for an idea from her associate Isabel (Rapace), a personal and professional tug of war between the two women begins, leading to mind-bending consequences.

Adapted by De Palma from a 2010 French film (Crime d'amour), Passion is one of the few De Palma films to feature two female leads as central characters. While they might not have been the focus of his films in the past, the filmmaker has always had a knack for portraying strong and confident women onscreen. Michelle Pfeiffer's ice queen in Scarface (1983), Nancy Allen's streetwise call girl in Dressed to Kill (1980) and even Melanie Griffith's ditzy socialite in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) each mixed strength and sexuality in a way which suggested they were not merely an object in a man's world, but rather an equal player.

Drafthouse Films Pays Tribute to Forgotten 'Roar'

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When Drafthouse Films announced that it had acquired Roar for distribution, and that the 1981 feature would have a limited theatrical run in Austin, I couldn't help but take the opportunity to write about the film taglined "the most dangerous movie ever made."

Roar tells the story of Hank (Noel Marshall), who lives on a game preserve with a variety of wild animals including lions and cheetahs. When his wife Madelaine (Tippi Hedren) and children (including Hedren's real-life daughter Melanie Griffith) come to stay, the question of whether humans and wild animals can co-exist is put to the test with highly gripping results.

Not many people know about Roar today except for a handful of film enthusiasts. For them, Roar exists as one of the most problem-plagued productions in cinematic history, rivaling the likes of both Heaven's Gate (1980) and Cleopatra (1963) in terms of behind-the-scenes catastrophe. Factors such as financial issues, intense weather conditions and the overall unpredictable behavior of many cast members resulted in a production that lasted over a decade.

Box-Office Alternatives: The Four Seasons

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It seems the time is upon us once more for another Nicholas Sparks adaptation. The master of the sentimental once again sees another one of his novels featuring lovesick characters overcoming the complexities of life translated to the big screen with The Longest Ride (2015). The story depicts two different small-town romances (one from the past, the other from the present), which share life-altering links.

If there's one thing a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel does very well, it's giving seasoned pros plum roles to sink their teeth into and remind fans what exactly made them legends. Paul Newman, James Garner and Gena Rowlands all enjoyed scene-stealing parts in Sparks adaptations that earned them raves, even if the films themselves floundered.

Alan Alda fills that category this time around, playing a bedridden man with regrets over his past. With so few film appearances these days, Alda's performance just might be reason enough to catch The Longest Ride. In any case, it gives me the perfect excuse to write about my favorite Alan Alda movie, The Four Seasons (1981).

Box-Office Alternatives: Hitchcock

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Helen Mirren is perhaps the only actress of her generation who can come close to matching Meryl Streep in terms of still finding quality film roles and delivering spellbinding performances. This week, she takes on the role of a real-life Austrian immigrant, seeking justice for her family by reclaiming a lost piece of art stolen during WWII, in the drama Woman in Gold (2015). Early reviews have been mixed, yet Mirren, as usual, has been showered with praise for another stunning portrayal from the Oscar winner.

For all the nuance that Mirren no doubt brings to Woman in Gold, it surely won’t be able to hold a candle to her finest post-Queen role, as the wife of the master of suspense in Hitchcock (2012). Based on the book by Stephen Rebello, Hitchcock chronicles Alfred Hitchcock’s (Anthony Hopkins) long journey in bringing the now-classic Psycho (1960) to the screen. The film depicts the legendary director’s battles with studio heads, censors and actors over the shocking content of the movie as well as the strain it put on the relationship between his wife/collaborator Alma Reville (Mirren).

Like many films based on the making of Hollywood movies and the people behind them, Hitchcock spent many years in development (with the two leads firmly attached) while producers decided which story they wanted to tell. In the end, they opted for both.

Box-Office Alternatives: Idiocracy

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If there's one thing a movie starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart guarantees, it's mixed-to-negative critical reception and decent-to-stellar audience reaction. Both seem like strong possibilities this Friday with the release of the duo's new comedy Get Hard (2015), in which a wealthy tycoon (Ferrell) insists that his employee (Hart) show him the ins-and-outs of how to survive in prison after he himself is sentenced. Early screenings of Get Hard have brought claims of homophobia and racial stereotyping, yet the popularity of the movie's two stars should be enough to potentially carry the comedy to a healthy run at the box office.

Should Get Hard succeed, it will be another victory for director and co-writer Etan Cohen, who has found success writing such hits as Tropic Thunder and Men In Black 3. Yet for a select few, his collaboration with Mike Judge on the hilarious and somewhat horrifying Idiocracy (2006) remains his best work.

Judge's second live-action film and Cohen's first, Idiocracy told the story of an average army officer named Joe (Texas Film Awards honoree Luke Wilson), who unwillingly becomes the guinea pig for a top-secret experiment. Joe and a local hooker named Rita (Maya Rudolph) are cryogenically frozen for what they believe is a full year. Yet when the pair awaken, they soon realize 500 years have gone by and the world they once knew has been replaced with a corporate-driven society where everyone is quite literally, an idiot. With the help of an "attorney" named Frito (Dax Shepard), Joe and Rita attempt to make sense of the new and mind-numbingly dumb world where they find themselves.

Box-Office Alternatives: I Am Sam

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This week sees the release of The Gunman, an actioner starring Sean Penn as a sniper on the run for his life after the assassination job he was hired for goes awry. The film will surely draw in the parents of teens seeking out Insurgent, thereby affording The Gunman a decent performance at the box office.

In looking back through Penn's filmography before writing this, it became evident to me that the incredibly fearless actor has only anchored a number of films throughout his many years in the movies. Moreover, his selectivity toward leading projects and the diversity of his choices make him one of the most chameleon-like actors in film.

Among all of Penn's leading turns, my favorite still remains his Oscar-nominated work in the drama I Am Sam (2001). Penn spent many hours studying the developmentally challenged (to compelling and magical effect) in order to play Sam Dawson, a man with the mind of a child who finds his young daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning) taken from him after he is declared an unfit parent due to his disability. Through a series of events, Sam meets a high-powered attorney Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer) who agrees to help Sam prove that, regardless of his limitations, he does indeed have the ability to be the father Lucy deserves.

Box-Office Alternatives: Dead Again

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I've always found Kenneth Branagh's directorial career to be one of the most wildly unpredictable and diverse of any filmmaker around. Each project he takes on yields impressive and fascinating results. Who else could successfully pull off the Shakespearean power of Henry V (1989), the heart and terror of Frankenstein (1994), the comedic charm of A Midwinter's Tale (1995) ... and the operatic comic-book action of Thor (2011)?

This week, Branagh adds yet another footnote to an already remarkable directing career with his live-action feature adaptation of the classic fairytale Cinderella (2015), starring Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. Knowing Branagh's respectful approach to well-known material, not to mention a collection of positive reviews and solid audience interest, Cinderella will no doubt turn into another cinematic victory for the actor/director.

With the release of Cinderella this week, I couldn't resist the opportunity to write about my favorite Branagh film, Dead Again (1991). Made on the heels of his triumph with Henry V, and released at a time when the early nineties neo-noir genre was at its peak, Branagh directed and starred with then-wife Emma Thompson in this stylish thriller about romance and murder.

Texas Film Awards: The Honorees and Their Best Work

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TFA posterThe Austin Film Society hosts its annual Texas Film Awards, one of the most high-profile events in the city, on Thursday night, March 12. This year marks the awards' 15th year and to celebrate its "crystal anniversary" of honoring the best in Texas film, honorees include some of the biggest names in the industry from actors to producers to writers. Local filmmaker Mike Judge is this year's emcee.

The event itself is sold out, but a few tickets are still available to The Texas Party, the after-party featuring a DJ set by Wooden Wisdom, aka Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie.

In anticipation of Thursday's event, I thought a spotlight on each of the honorees and some of their finest contributions to the cinematic world was more than in order.

L.M. Kit Carson -- The American Dreamer (1971)

Precious few screenwriters in the history of film have been gifted with a voice as unique and diverse as Carson's. Helping to realize the masterpiece that is Paris, Texas (1984) may have put him on the cinematic map as one of the premiere screenwriters in film, but it is Carson's portrait of rebel actor Dennis Hopper in his documentary The American Dreamer that remains one of his most fascinating works.

Box-Office Alternatives: California Suite

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When The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) was released to stellar reviews and major box-office in the superhero-heavy summer of 2012, it became inevitable that a sequel would follow. Nearly three years later, audiences are being treated to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), which journeys back to everyone's favorite hotel in India where the walls are crumbling and the residents are aging in ways both hilarious and heartfelt. The cast, which includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, all seem game for a second round with the material and their characters. This appears true in particular of Smith, who seems to be having more fun than ever playing the eternally sarcastic Muriel Donnelly.

Smith's turn in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel looks like definite fun, yet I wouldn't be surprised if it failed to reach the heights of her work in another hotel set comedy, California Suite (1978). Directed by Herbert Ross and adapted by Neil Simon from his play, California Suite takes a hilarious look at four sets of vacationers staying at the Beverly Hills hotel, each of whom arrive for different reasons and find themselves in different predicaments. An uptight East Coaster (Jane Fonda) has an tense yet comic reunion with her ex-husband (Alan Alda), two best friends (Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby) encounter every kind of mishap possible while exploring the golden state with their wives, and a man (Walter Matthau) must try to find a way to hide a drunken hooker from his befuddled wife (Elaine May).

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