Sunday, September 7, 2014

Moonlight Movie Reviews - The Congress at the All-New South Lamar Alamo Drafthouse




Big doin's tonight, folks!
Checked out a new film AND a new Drafthouse!





Yep, I recently discovered the South Lamar Drafthouse redo is finally done, and it's also the only Drafthouse that was showing the recently released indie film "The Congress" today, which I had been eager to see since first viewing the trailer at the Drafthouse a handful of screenings ago. So, I headed out across town this afternoon with my currently visiting mother and roommate sister to the see this dazzling new flick and this long awaited new theater.  

As you can see below, the theater is lovely from the outside, and there beside it is the new highball.





And, it's a gorgeous theater on the inside too. All the new Drafthouses have been impressive, though a little bittersweet as we have been gradually losing old faves with their own unique qualities, like the casual and comfy lobby seating at the old Lake Creek Drafthouse, for example, or the awesome bowling alley at the old HighBall. I mean, isn't that why it was called the HighBall?

This new Drafthouse, by the way and before I go on, is a bit tricky to find, too. I mean, you can't see it from the road right now. It's surrounded by buildings under construction. I should have paid a bit more attention, but it was rather unexpected. We followed the signs to a parking garage, the Drafthouse's own parking garage, in fact. I am not a fan of parking garages, to be honest. Always feel like they are about to cave in on me and turn me into jam, among other brutal parking garage death possibilities that run through my mind whenever I'm in one. Once out of our car, we followed the directions out of the garage and to the front of the theater, which I've just shown you. I find myself wondering how the Drafthouse is dealing with the visibility situation, or if all that construction is going to play a role. It seemed like they were apartment buildings in front of the theater with Drafthouse signs all over them. Made me wonder, is Drafthouse opening up their own apartment and entertainment complex here? Are they becoming the next Disney? I don't know, but it might be cool to live right next door to a Drafthouse... 

Anyway, so, when you walk in the doors, here's what you see...




Yep, that's a "The Shining" photo-op in the center of the lobby. It's pretty cool. I should have jumped in for a picture opportunity. But, you feel less wild and crazy when you're overweight and at the movies with your mom and sister. Maybe if it's still there in a few more months, when I'm several pounds lighter (yes, I'm melting them off fairly effectively so far, a month or so in on a special plan). Now, a quick look to the left, and...



...And we have a very nice seating area. Not as communal as that old Lake Creek one, but still cozier than most. I didn't take the time to try that mega couch out, but I liked the inviting look of it. Great mural too. The theater is full of pretty awesome decor, which is really a Drafthouse tradition from what I've seen, and something that's really been stepped up in these new ones.  Love the retro sci-fi aircraft hanging overhead throughout the lobby.

Here's the ticket area, with more awesome aircraft...




To the right, just as you walk in, which seems to be par for the course with these new, elaborate Drafthouses, you'll find the aforementioned HighBall. Seems like a bit of a demotion from this view as just another new Drafthouse side-bar I never really go into (not a drinker), but perhaps it offers a bit more than the others and it does have a pretty cool look somewhat reminiscent of the old place when you take a peek inside.




Love the floors, but just makes the place scream for a small bowling alley all the more...




Not bad though... Does remind me of the old place to some degree. I've only been to it 2 or 3 times though. Once was at the Halloween Zombie Ball, or Zombie Prom, or whatever they were calling it. Ha, did I ever tell you that story? Oy...




Well, we had our look around, and then had to head over to catch our flick. Oh, there's my mom and sis, who probably didn't know they were in this shot. You know who I wish WAS caught in this shot? This one waitress who kept passing by me as I waited on these two to come out of the bathroom. The Drafthouses always have some lovely ladies in their employ, but oh, this one that was there today... She wore braids and was dressed all in black with a short skirt and black hose. She looked like a sexy Wednesday Addams, but less goth. She basically looked like the way I like to draw Wednesday Addams. Quite jawdropping. I know some Drafthouse employees are reading this. Who WAS that?! Yowza. You have to be over 18 to work at the Drafthouse, right?

Anyway, check out the cool monster movie posters and that funhouse design in the middle of the hallway! Super cool!




We got in, ordered our usual pizzas (they were perfect as ever) and enjoyed the show. Sadly, I don't think that waitress ever came into our theater. But then, I probably would have been too distracted to watch the movie if she had. She passed me in the hall. She smiled at me.



Before the show, of course, we had the usual fun preshow. This one definitely showed hints of what was to come by being very, well, experimental art-filmy. Aside from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, which was awesome and also made sense with the film we were about to watch, but wasn't as bizarre as the other preshow stuff.


 

 


And then, our feature presentation...




I just noticed how that poster says "Robin Wright AT The Congress" rather than "IN The Congress". Interesting, and it makes sense. Let me tell you what this film is about, and why it's so interesting, even to people who didn't find it wholly satisfying.

If you saw the trailer, you already noticed one of the very fascinating things about this film. Robin Wright is playing herself, Robin Wright. If you don't know her name right off, this is not surprising. And yet, you probably are more familiar with her than you think. Robin Wright played the title character in the phenomenally popular 1987 film, "The Princess Bride". She was also Jenny in Forrest Gump, but it's easy enough not to make that connection. Was she not the least likable part of that movie? Seriously. Not because of the actress though. And I shouldn't say anything about that. Often times I feel like Forrest waiting to hear from Jenny. Oh, sorry, different film all together. Anyway, Robin is playing herself here, and that's pretty interesting, because she's also playing an actress who is basically washed up due to her history of rejecting work for various reasons and choosing roles that didn't pay off. She's also had two children to raise, the younger being a flight obsessed son whose hearing and vision are gradually submitting to an incurable disease. For years, Robin has put her career second to caring for her family, and now she is being given her final offer, but it's one that could allow her to focus all her time on her family from now on. But, at what cost, man?!! At what cost?!!




Yes, the offer made to actress Robin Wright is a bizarre one. Technology is changing the movie industry, and computerized actors are finally replacing real ones completely. It's basically impossible to tell when you're watching a real person or a CGI one, unless you know which little facial tics or other things are real or just the computer animators haven't figured out yet. The public doesn't even know about this new replacement of real actors yet. Robin is among the first being offered the deal to be fully scanned and sell her identity to the Miramount movie studios. She will give up all her rights to her own identity as an actress, and she also must vow never to act again, not even in a school play. She'll get paid well for it, but it's a lot to give up, and the studio can do anything they want with her wants they own her (unless she has made specifications in her contract; Sorry guys, she does put in a "no porn" clause). Though she struggles with the decision, her son's deteriorating health and pressure from everyone else around her ultimately force her to take the deal.

Now, Fast Forward 20 years. 




In the future, Robin Wright, the CGI creation anyway, is best known as Rebel Robot Robin, an action hero in a series of sci-fi films. But the real Robin has been out of acting completely and is now on her way to sign a new extension to her contract; one that is part of a brave new world in which people can, for a few seconds, become the stars they love by inhaling a vaporized drug put out by the studios themselves.

To sign her new contract, however, Robin must travel to the Futurological Congress being held in the cartoon city of a new reality created by Miramount. It's a completely animated world that you must become an animated character to enter. But, how much of it is hallucination, and how much of it is real? And, once you're there, it's very difficult to get out...




And that's just the first two acts. Things really get crazy in the third. I mean, just look at the image above. And, yes, this is half if not more than half an animated feature. A traditional animated feature. I would go into detail on the second and third acts, but that would be major spoiler alert area. Let's just say that a lot more happens during act two, and act three starts with another jump to the future and even more bizarre animated exploits, plus a temporary return to the live-action world for a bit.

Much of "The Congress" is pretty out there visually, in the sense that there is some crazy animation reminiscent of "Cool World", but waaay better quality. Not Disney quality, ha, but it's pretty beautiful to look at, even when it's being pretty weird, and it really makes you miss hand-drawn animation for the bigscreen. There is just nothing like it. This, of course, is animation for adults. The animated parts of "The Congress" are still made as part of a mature and indie art-centric film for grown-up viewers. Yes, there's blood, nudity, f-bombs, a sex scene. If you didn't grow up watching Heavy Metal or Anime, you may be put off by it. Sad for you, ha. Animation SHOULD be treated as just another medium and not something just for kids. That's one of the reasons I wish this film was doing huge business right now, though I know hardly anyone is seeing it. And while I'd think this would be the perfect film for Austinites, the rest of the audience seemed to leave the film a bit stunned by what they just watched. That surprised me a bit. Then again, they weren't exactly, entirely the kind of crowd I'd expect to go to this kinda movie. Maybe I was just at the wrong screening, ha. The kind of folks that work at the Drafthouse, now that's the kind of crowd I can see loving this one (it's a Drafthouse release, after all), and a big chunk of Austin is that kind of crowd. 

I can say that my mother was probably a bit put off that so much of this film was animated, and definitely when the animated characters had sex, ha. And, I think some of the audience that was there today was in that camp of not being used to that kind of thing (personally, I'll take Anime porn over live-action whenever I can get it, ha). But if the rest of the film confused them, I'm not totally sure why. Okay, maybe it was just a little too difficult to get the positive out of the negative. See, this is really a dystopian future sci-fi film, and maybe it was more of one than people were expecting. If I remember correctly, the trailer is a bit vague about things beyond the first act, which could probably have led to many wrong assumptions. I mentioned the film "Cool World" before, because part of me, upon watching the film's trailer, thought, "That's a pretty interesting idea for a film," referring to the whole Robin Wright playing herself as a failed actor, and selling her identity as a computer image thing, while another part of me was thinking, "Wait a minute, I LOVE animation, but is this going to be another Cool World without the hot chicks?" It is MUCH better than Cool World though, in so many ways, and the story isn't complicated so much as it gives the illusion of being complicated, or maybe I should say it is complicated if you aren't used to dystopian future sci-fi. There's a lot of "The Matrix" here too. It's sort of "Cool World" meets "The Matrix" if it was a good indie film.

I should mention why I did enjoy this movie so much and think it is a really good film, and then mention its short comings (because that's what a review is, right? Sorry, I'm getting sleepy), which I don't think are very many. For one, this is a brave film. It is extremely ambitious. Even just using hand-drawn animation. Nobody does that anymore. It's a visually beautiful film. Though, sometimes the live-action stuff, as with a lot if not most indie films, seems to try a little too hard to be deep and beautiful. This is most troubling with some of the dialogue early on. Let me put it this way, I didn't LOVE the kid actors or some of the dialogue that was given to them in the first act (which is pretty much all they were in). It might have just been one or two scenes really, but it was the moments with the kids when I was least impressed with the film, not counting the Paul Giamatti stuff. It might have been the dialogue more than the acting. It was the kind of dialogue that makes it hard to tell, ha. That was such a small part of the film though. Most of it was Robin Wright and Harvey Keitel (who shared some POWERFUL live-action scenes together that left my actress sister in tears), Jon Hamm, Danny Huston, the always wonderful (and a personal fave) Paul Giamatti, and a few others. They were all brilliant, in animation or live-action. Some even better animators could have really made this phenomenal, but that's not to say there isn't a lot of good to be said about the animation here. There was a strong vintage quality to the designs. Very 1920's and 30's, and I really dug that. I guess when drug-induced hallucinations are the source of your animated characters, that's really the way to go. That or Mike Judge stuff. Or whoever did those older NickToons, ugh. The plot, which was basically about a dystopian future in which the worlds of filmmaking and drug use combined and took over in order to serve and survive on the masses' extreme desire to escape and be someone else, and the moral of staying true to yourself even when it means you're on your own, were both expressed pretty powerfully, I felt, though the latter may have taken some time to process due to the way it played out. The ending of the film is seems a bit torn on whether to give us a happy ending for a sad ending. I don't want to spoil it for you, but to me it seems to give us both. Or neither. Maybe that's why many people leave this film with a feeling of, "Huh?" But, really, I think the film was trying to say something positive about the core character and her children and something negative about society as a whole, and I think it succeeds in that, it just kinda leaves you, the viewer, not quite knowing what to feel. Perhaps many of us are like TinkerBell and can't feel more than one emotion at a time, at least when it pertains to the end of a film. Maybe people who are dogging this movie for being good but not great just don't like not being able to label the ending as a happy one or a downer, or whatever.

So, yeah, I think I'm fine with saying that "The Congress" is a great film. I think it's a bold and unusual film. I think it has flaws, but I think it is pretty darn fascinating. I think it makes good and worthy points, and I think it has some phenomenal performances and a lot of eye-candy scenes for those of us who love sci-fi and trippy animation, and just stuff like this in general. A lot of the concepts are really cool and worth contemplating and discussing. It's a movie you'll talk about after you've seen it, and not JUST to complain, though I'm sure there's been some of that with many viewers. It IS a movie that leaves some things up to you, I guess, and I don't always like that, but I don't think it does a lot of that, just a bit. Just that whole, "Was that a happy ending really? Or was that a downer?" question. Maybe that's something the filmmakers intended to be clearer, but I think it's great as it is. Maybe this movie isn't a masterpiece, but it's still a great movie and I recommend it if the trailer peaks your interest any at all. Just be prepared for the bulk of it being animated and the fact that this IS a dystopian future sci-fi film more than anything. At any rate, check it out. It deserves more ticket sales than I suspect it's been getting. Then again, I haven't really checked in-depth on that.

And, if you're in Austin, check out the newest Drafthouse. Also a very cool experience! Catch you guys later, and yeah, I'll be bringing back lots of the old stuff soon, including continuing with the much delayed Disney World trip review, ha. Boy, did that thing get stretched out. Sorry, half the time my computer is giving me frequent blue-screen of death attacks, and I also was in Oklahoma all last weekend and have a week in New York coming very soon... So, yeah, it's gonna be rough, but I'll be finishing that Disney report one way or the other and getting back to the crush of the week and comic postings very soon. I'm still here, no worries! Now, if only there was someone here with me! If not my own, personal "Jenny", then maybe that adorable Drafthouse waitress! Monty needs someone to hold tonight! Waaaah! Ahem, sorry, g'night, folks!

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