movies this week: why I love Austin

I noticed it last week: a particularly long listing of special screenings and film-related events in Austin. And that wasn’t comprehensive by any means. I don’t usually include movies being shown in non-theatrical venues, like at Spider House or Pedazo Chunk (is Pedazo Chunk still open? Their Web site doesn’t work). I also don’t include the TV-related stuff like Alamo’s Buffy Sing-Along, which I’m told is quite popular.
This week, the list is just as long. And it’s not going to get any shorter. The new Alamo South Lamar opens next Friday, March 4, and they have scheduled all kinds of fun film events as part of their grand opening from March 7-10. The SXSW film festival runs from March 11-19, and you can buy festival passes now at Waterloo Video. And once it warms up outside, Rolling Roadshow will start showing films in parks again.
New releases? Who cares about seeing the latest Hollywood product in a big chain theater when there are so many interesting one-time-only events going on in town? (Okay, I want to see Bride and Prejudice, but that’s about it.) Check out the film schedules for the Alamo theaters, for the Paramount, and for the Texas Union Theater. (Why didn’t anyone tell me the Texas Union showed Army of Darkness on Ash Wednesday? And Shaun of the Dead the day after? I am bookmarking that calendar.) And so many of these movies are free or cheap … you can indulge your love of seeing movies in theaters at a very low cost.
I love Austin. We’ve got everything from Takashi Miike films to The Muppet Movie playing on screens here.
On the other hand, with this incredible bounty of films around town, I think I may have persuaded myself to cancel our Netflix account. Oops.

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About Schmidt (2002)

About Schmidt: 2002, dir. Alexander Payne. Seen on DVD (Jan. 20).
I had not actually intended to watch About Schmidt. My boyfriend rented the DVD and I figured he’d watch it one night when I wasn’t around. I was around when he put it on, and I thought I would do some computer work or read in my room, but I ended up watching the movie anyway. If you think this means that About Schmidt is an absorbing and entertaining film that I would recommend … you’re wrong.
We ended up seeing About Schmidt a week or so after we saw Sideways, which was adapted and directed by the same filmmakers. The problems I encountered with Sideways were magnified in About Schmidt.

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movies at Spider House?

When I write Movies This Week entries, I don’t include movies that are being shown on non-theater screens (on TVs in bars or video stores, for example) unless the movies are unusual or hard to find. But week after week, I read in the Austin Chronicle film listings about interesting double features being shown at Spider House, the funky-cool cafe off Guadalupe at 29th Street.
This week, for example, the Spider House lineup includes double features of American Pop and Wizards, Conan the Barbarian and Pumping Iron, and Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision (about the artist who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial) and The Times of Harvey Milk.
I am curious about where at Spider House they show these movies. Do they have a big-screen TV or do they project them onto a wall? I’ve been to Spider House a few times over the years, usually sitting outside. The cafe itself is a converted house with a number of little-bitty rooms. I can’t imagine a room in the cafe that would hold more than a half-dozen or so people. So I am intrigued.
Unfortunately, the very pretty Spider House Web site contains no information about this at all. The only place I’ve found the schedule of films is on the Austin Chronicle’s site. So is there anyone out there who has been to the Spider House movie nights and can provide some first-hand information? I’d also like to know if a more complete schedule is available. Please post a comment or email me.

movies this week: what’s my demographic?

I wonder when, or if, I ever was in a target audience demographic, particularly for movies.
First of all, I am female, and we all know that women are not as important as men when you are marketing a movie. After all, women will go along with their boyfriends to see a movie the boyfriend wants to see, but men won’t go along with their girlfriends to see some damn chick-headlining movie, unless it involves Uma Thurman brandishing a sword. (Hollywood people really do think like this, I am sorry to say. And they are worse about children’s movies, which is why so few children’s movies star girls. Look at the trailers for The Incredibles, in which the little boy takes center stage, and tell me I lie.)
When I was in high school, the teen market became very desirable. Studios were falling all over themselves to make movies that would appeal to teenagers (especially teenage boys, as I mentioned above). But I wasn’t allowed to see any of the teen sex comedies, so I was limited to John Hughes. I wasn’t even old enough to get into The Breakfast Club, which was rated R, because Lakeside Theaters was enforcing the under-17 rule. So I never did get any benefit from that.
I don’t remember quite when I started getting all film geeky, but I know that the teen movie fad was still going on when I was in college, only I was too old and too film snobby to want to see any of that fare.
And now I am in an age group (let’s just say “over 30″) where Hollywood and marketers assume that I don’t go to the movies at all, despite the fact that I would love to see a movie in a theater every week if I could. I am sure we average at least two movies per month in theaters, especially if you count revival and art films.
I’ve been thinking about this because this week’s crop of movies opening in Austin all seem to be designed to appeal to some particular demographic group, but those groups don’t include me. Too old and jaded for Because of Winn Dixie. Too smart for Son of the Mask. Too allergic to black trenchcoats for Constantine. (I had some nice zingers here for Man of the House, but it doesn’t open until next week. Darn.)
But wait, there is one movie that does seem to appeal to me as a film geek: Inside Deep Throat. There’s nothing like an NC-17 rated documentary to lure me to a theater. So maybe there is something for everyone in theaters right now. Isn’t that lovely? (But what demographic group does that put me in, and should I be ashamed to admit it?)

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Jackie Brown (1997)

Jackie Brown: 1997, dir. Quentin Tarantino. Seen on DVD (Jan. 8).
This is what I get for waiting a month to write a damn review. All I can think of was, “Damn, this was a good movie, and much different than what I expected.”
A lot of people have called Jackie Brown Tarantino’s least typical film. There are a few of his trademark touches: using 1970s actors (Pam Grier), the thin and slightly crazy blonde (Bridget Fonda instead of Uma Thurman this time), nervous trigger-happy criminals, Samuel L. Jackson, odd jumps and rewinds in time, scenes in which the camera is placed oddly for stylistic effect, and so forth.
However, the storyline is stronger and the dialogue is less annoying to me than in other Tarantino films, and for that I wonder if we ought to thank Elmore Leonard. I did not know this until after I saw the movie, but it is adapted from an Elmore Leonard novel, Rum Punch (although Michael Keaton made me wonder … he plays the same character in Out of Sight). Sometimes Tarantino movies make me feel like I am supposed to stop and marvel at the wonderfulness of the director and his unique style of filmmaking, which annoys me and makes me want to throw things. That did not seem to happen in this film.

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Sideways (2004)

Sideways: 2004, dir. Alexander Payne. Seen at Arbor Great Hills (Jan. 15).
Sideways was an enjoyable movie, although I don’t see why so many people feel it ought to be raking in the big awards. But then I feel that way about most of the 2004 movies that have been nominated for Oscars and other yearly awards.
It took me awhile to get to the theater to see Sideways, and not just because I am a procrastinator and lazy and all that. I got the impression that this was a movie about two guys going through a mid-life crisis, and I could not have been less interested. But then people started talking about Paul Giamatti, whom I enjoyed very much in American Splendor. I heard further rumbling about Thomas Haden Church and Virginia Madsen. And then everyone was going on about A.O. Scott saying that critics only liked this movie because Giamatti’s character was the type to appeal to most critics, who would sympathize with such a person. Somehow I found that weirdly tempting.
And then it took us two or three weeks to see the movie because it kept selling out whenever we wanted to go.
I realized after seeing Sideways why it was that everyone was telling me to go see it for this performance or that one, and talking about the actors rather than the movie as a whole. This movie is as good as it is because of the actors in it. If it had been differently cast, it would be a much less entertaining film, if not downright unpleasant.

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movies this week: houseguests and all

My sister and her boyfriend are visiting us this weekend. As I’ve mentioned, her boyfriend is a big film geek. I tried to interest them in seeing that most underrated of 2004 films, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie, but they are oddly uninterested. He wants to rent something by Atom Egoyan. She wants to see romantic comedies.
But we’re all agreed: none of us want to see any of the movies opening in Austin this weekend. For one reason or another, these films offer no temptation to go to a theater. I wanted to take them to Dobie to see a movie in one of the amusingly decorated theaters, but I’ve already seen Sideways and The Life Aquatic, so I may have to send them off by themselves to see one of those films (both of which I liked, but not enough to want to see again soon).
I wish I could persuade all three of them (sister, her boyfriend, my boyfriend) to watch The Palm Beach Story with me. I just bought the DVD last week, a few days after it was released. It’s a delightful movie. I mean, who can resist The Ale and Quail Club? The Princess Centimillia? And of course, The Wienie King. Yeah, I know. I’ll enjoy that particular movie alone.

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Baadasssss! (2004)

Baadasssss!: 2004, dir. Mario Van Peebles. Seen on DVD (Jan. 14).
I cannot stop talking about Baadasssss! I have been urging everyone to rent it. I wish it had been nominated for some kind of award. I think it was one of the best overlooked movies in 2004.
Baadasssss! tells the story of Melvin Van Peebles trying to make a movie in 1972 in which black characters weren’t relegated to the horrible stereotypes common to Hollywood films. His movie, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, featured a character who fought back when corrupt cops tried to beat him up, and who most importantly did not get caught or die at the end of the movie. Melvin Van Peebles scraped together money from all kinds of sources, used a porn-film non-union crew because he wanted a cast and crew with a racial mix that reflected the racial mix of America, practically went blind in one eye trying to shoot and edit the film the way he wanted it, and then had to find theaters that would actually show the finished product in public.

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Million Dollar Baby (2004)

Million Dollar Baby: 2004, dir. Clint Eastwood. Seen at Galaxy Highland (Jan. 30).
It is difficult for me to talk about Million Dollar Baby without giving away some major plot elements. I saw the movie without knowing much of anything about it except that it had a lot of boxing scenes in it, and I think that was the ideal way to enjoy the film. It’s very good, very smartly written and directed, and the performances are excellent.
So. If you haven’t seen the movie, stop reading now. Go see the movie. Forget all the deprecating comments you have heard about how this is “just another formulaic Hollywood movie.” Don’t listen to the whispers about controversial this-and-that. Go now, go see Million Dollar Baby, and you can thank or strangle me later.
If you’ve seen the movie, keep reading if you want to know what I think about it beyond “This was a very good movie.”

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movies this week: bad boogie

Austin is just about caught up now on all those acclaimed movies that y’all on the Left and Right coasts got to see last year. Like the rest of the country, we’re also getting the doggy films of winter, which no one quite knows what to do with, but which might appeal to some people as an alternative to all those highbrow Oscar flicks. Bad Education or Boogeyman … the choice is yours.
If you’re not planning to watch football or football-related advertising this weekend, there are still plenty of good movies out in theaters for you to catch.
(Personally, I like to go to a nice restaurant during the Superbowl, somewhere with no TV sets. Those places are usually pretty empty while everyone is crowded around the TV at parties. It’s a great time to enjoy the places I normally like but usually find a bit noisy and/or crowded.)

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