Movies This Week: May 10-16, 2013


How to Survive a Plague

It's not a banner week for new releases. Ardent Baz Luhrmann groupies may revel in his loud and gaudy take on The Great Gatsby. But the other new films -- a draggy period piece about Renoir, an artsy but lackluster comic drama about escaping one's past and a rom-com that bravely goes where many have gone before (don't they all?) -- make for a yawning time at the cinema.

Not to worry, film fans. As usual, Slackerwood's friends at the Austin Film Society offer some interesting alternatives. The AFS Spotlight on John Cassavetes series kicks off today with A Woman Under the Influence, the great director's 1974 drama starring a devastating Gena Rowlands as a woman who breaks down under life's pressures and Peter Falk as her well-meaning but loutish husband. The film screens tonight and Sunday at the Marchesa Hall and Theatre.

AFS also presents an Essential Cinema screening of revered Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert on Tuesday at the Marchesa. One of Antonioni's most memorable films, this classic 1964 drama captures an alienated woman's existential angst as she tries to survive in a bleak industrial landscape.

Political activists and documentary fans shouldn't miss How to Survive a Plague (pictured above), a gripping look at ACT-UP and TAG, two activist groups that worked tirelessly to expedite drug tests and find treatments for HIV-AIDS. How to Survive a Plague screens Wednesday, also at the Marchesa (a very busy venue these days).

Mom might appreciate a little appreciation on Mother's Day, so why not take her to brunch and a movie? You can do both at once courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse. If mom is the more traditional sort, she might enjoy The Sound of Music and a brunch menu inspired by the film at the Alamo Slaughter Lane. Is her view of Mother's Day is a bit snarkier? Then Mommie Dearest at the Alamo Ritz (with free wire hangers for the audience) might be more her style. If brunch is too early, Alamo Lake Creek is serving the 1994 version of Little Women along with afternoon tea (organic, but of course).

Movies We've Seen

The Great Gatsby -- Are Baz Luhrmann and F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel a good match? Yes and no -- I found Luhrmann's adaptation of this cautionary 1920s tale of greed and decadence to be intriguing and watchable but generally overblown. The garish 3D visuals, hyperactive pacing and odd (but oddly suitable) modern soundtrack often clobber what should be a character-driven story. Fans of Luhrmann's gloriously unsubtle style won't be disappointed, but fans of the novel may be. Look for my review this weekend. (wide)

Renoir -- In this lush French drama set in 1915, Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir's son Jean returns to his French Riviera home to recover from his war wounds. The elder Renoir's latest model, Andrée, inspires both father and son. Debbie has mixed feelings about the film, saying in her review that while it may appeal to Renoir's fans, "with a running time of almost two hours, the film suffers from a lack of brevity with not much happening throughout much of the film." (Arbor)

Other Movies Opening in Austin

Arthur Newman -- Colin Firth and Emily Blunt star in this story of a man who fakes his own death, assumes a new identity and meets a woman who also tries to leave her past behind. (Arbor)

Peeples -- Sparks fly in this romantic comedy when a man crashes a wealthy family's reunion in the Hamptons to ask for a woman's hand in marriage. The cast (Craig Robinson, Kerry Washington) is excellent, but the limited critical response has been so-so. (wide)