New Releases

Review: R.I.P.D.

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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.

Review: The Conjuring

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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

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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.

Review: Turbo

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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.

Review: Pacific Rim

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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

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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.)

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

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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

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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

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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.

Review: Despicable Me 2

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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.

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