The Sunday evening screening of the aGLIFF closing-night narrative film, Appropriate Behavior, was a great way to wrap up my time at the festival.
It’s no surprise that the movie was a hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival; it's a terrific debut feature from writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan. I'm generally not a fan of romantic comedies, but Appropriate Behavior is so thoroughly snarky -- and often so defiantly anti-romantic -- that it's a rom-com even a cynic could tolerate.
Akhavan stars as Shirin, a young Brooklynite who's something of a poster child for the angst of young adulthood. She's still smarting from a hard breakup with her ex-girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). She struggles to be part of her perfect Persian family and is afraid to tell her parents she's bisexual. And her filmmaking career exists only in theory; the closest she comes to making movies is teaching her art -- more like attempting to teach it -- to a class of hyperactive 6-year-olds.
The Fantastic Fest schedule just went live here, and more than ever, it looks to force audiences into making some tough decisions between the films they most want to see. As always, some films appear on the schedule only once. This may be due to various technical or contractual reasons or (hopefully) because a second screening simply hasn't yet been slotted. While most selections have at least two screenings, you'll find that sometimes those are up against each other and a third one can upset the mix.
On top of the already full slate of screenings and parties this year, the debut of MondoCon may demand some of your attention at the Marchesa with most if not all of the Mondo artists manning booths, original art, new music releases, panels, screenings and more. Although tickets for the MondoCon screenings were released last week on Eventbrite and very quickly sold out, that was before the Fantastic Fest schedule went live. In addition, many people were able to reserve two tickets for the Mondocon events though they may need only one. In short, if you really want to attend one of the Mondocon events, you'll likely have a chance to enter via standby line.
So how do you even begin to plan for the insanity to come? How do you make sense of it all? My schedule planning usually involves first attempting to lock in those choices that have only one screening, then fitting as many of my choices around that. Sometimes elaborate planning can be undone when the schedule changes, or perhaps you hear good buzz on a film and decide to add it to your schedule.
Everyone knows that places like Torchy's Tacos and In-n-Out Burger have secret menus, for a given definition of "secret." Slackerwood has done much in-depth research (okay, I asked on social media) and can now offer you a guide to customizing the Alamo Drafthouse menu. This can definitely come in handy during film festivals when you don't have time to rush over to a nearby fast-food joint and find yourself facing the same menu for the fifth day running. Especially if you are a Drafthouse regular anyway.
The best advice I have: Order off the kids' menu. It's okay for grownups to do this. The chicken strips are especially flavorful and you can add more if two aren't enough. The milkshakes come in simple flavors, like chocolate and vanilla. It's not the most healthful food on the menu (although you can get fruit as a side!) but I really like the smaller portion sizes.
aGLIFF's lineup is heavy on documentaries, and on Saturday I saw two outstanding ones: Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo and Regarding Susan Sontag.
Queens & Cowboys is an enlightening look at 2011 season of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), following a group of cowboys and cowgirls as they compete to qualify for the association's World Finals.
The most enlightening aspect of the film may be the way it portrays the gay rodeo circuit as, well, rodeo; the circuit emphasizes the sport more than the cultural politics. The men in drag and rainbow paraphernalia give the festivities their own personality, but they're a sideshow to the real business at hand: bull and bronc riding, calf roping and the usual assortment of bone-jarring competitions. Aside from allowing women to compete in all events, a gay rodeo is essentially the same as any other rodeo.
A dark and dour documentary about male sex workers in Providence, Rhode Island, Invisible is a reminder of why so many moviegoers avoid documentaries. Not for its quality; it's competently made and tells a compelling story. But that story is one most people don't want to hear, a grim tale of tragic and mostly hopeless lives. Invisible is a window on a world many of us pretend doesn't exist.
Filmmaker Dio Traverso's documentary centers on Richard Holcomb, an activist and former sex worker whose mission is to improve male sex workers' lives and help them avoid contracting HIV/AIDS. Holcomb roams the gritty streets of Providence, handing out condoms and helping his clients find medical care, counseling, and whatever else they need to survive. He also lobbies the local and state governments to support long-term solutions to the sex workers' problems. (Not surprisingly, the government officials promise a lot but do very little to help.)
Filmmakers Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, who have teamed up for Land Ho!, have individually premiered all of their previous features at SXSW Film Festival. They're each known for films where characters are deep in exploration -- about themselves but also perhaps, a mystery (Cold Weather, Passenger Pigeons) or even a landscape (Brooklyn in Quiet City, Kentucky in Pilgrim Song). In Land Ho! (which premiered at Sundance this year), the same type of exploration takes place -- this time in Iceland -- with two primary characters who are gentlemen in their retirement years. It's a change for Katz, whose characters are usually in their late teens/early twenties.
No matter what the age of the characters, however, Stephens and Katz sustain the audience's interest in the type of story that sounds terribly slow and dull when explained in print, but is very rewarding as it unfolds onscreen. Two retired brothers-in-law, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), couldn't be more different. Mitch is a brash New Orleans doctor who loves talking to people -- and he has no filters -- smoking pot and unabashedly admiring women. Colin is a quiet, thoughtful Australian, frequently embarrassed or annoyed by Mitch. The two embark on a trip to Iceland together, beginning in Reykjavik and heading to less populated locales.
The focus of Land Ho! is the relationship between the Mitch and Colin, and how they affect one another, and where that leads over the course of the movie. The chief entertainment value is Mitch's dialogue, which is often outrageous and eye-opening (I had never heard steak compared to the female anatomy before). Of course, the film's best moments occur when he's not that way, but the conversation is never dull.
After two successful sold-out screenings of opening night film Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine on Wednesday, aGLIFF continued Thursday with a full day of programming.
Short films usually offer a fun way to dive into a festival (they let you explore a lot of ground in an hour and a half or so), so I decided to go the Dramatic Shorts Program #1 and the Comedy Shorts Program #1.
The dramatic program included eight shorts from six different countries. Half focused on teens and pre-teens learning to navigate a world that's less than welcoming to their sexual orientation, while the other half showed that adults still struggle with internal and external factors in their relationships, as well.
The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is turning the spotlight on some of their favorite films of the year this week by bringing in The Dance Of Reality, The Grand Budapest Hotel (Don's review), Obvious Child (Elizabeth's review), The Raid 2 and We Are The Best! (my review) for select showtimes. Each screening is just $5 and these films are all worth checking out on the big screen if you missed them or just want to see them again.
Also at the Ritz this week: Broadway Brunch returns with The Music Man in 35mm on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Howard The Duck screens on Sunday with a live Q&A featuring Val Mayerik (a co-creator of the original comic), the original 1987 Robocop on Sunday for Tough Guy Cinema, a rare 35mm screening of The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford on Tuesday and A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in 35mm for Terror Tuesday's "Fredtember."
Alamo Slaughter is bringing back Chef this weekend. They've also got Singin' In The Rain on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday (as does the Alamo Lakeline). Alamo South Lamar will be hosting aGLIFF (Caitlin's preview) all weekend. Individual tickets for most shows can be purchased if you don't have a festival badge, capacity permitting. The Alamo is also teaming up with the Austin Classical Guitar Society for a very special screening this evening of The Unknown. This silent classic stars Lon Cheney Sr. and Joan Crawford and it is going to be presented with a live score composed by the European duo Les Freres Meduses for two guitars and violin. They'll be performing it live in the theater with William Fedkenheuer from the Miro Quartet.
Set in a gritty Brooklyn neighborhood during a cold, gray January, The Drop is a twisty crime drama that glooms along at a measured pace. The somber experience is elevated by the skillful performances of the lead actors, and it must be said, by the presence of a pit bull puppy who helps drive the action and counterbalance the moral decay around him.
Don't worry, director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) hasn't turned sentimental on us. The world he shows us here is a mean one. Justice comes in the form of bad things happening to bad people, but since nothing good really happens to anyone, these moments are hollow victories.
In his last film performance, James Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a bar manager bullied into misery by Chechen crime bosses. Tom Hardy is Bob, a stoic bartender, and Noomi Rapace is Nadia, a down-on-her-luck waitress. Life is far from ideal for any of them (there are very few smiles in this movie), but all have strong survival instincts and are doing their best to get ahead.
That's where wildcard Eric Deeds comes in. Played by Matthias Schoenaerts with a truly frightening combination of unpredictability and charisma, Eric's presence and actions pull everyone into a defensive pattern of starts and stops. Though physically much different than he was in Bullhead, Schoenaerts is just as intense here -- he and Roskam make a good team when it comes to skillfully pummeling an audience with a dark story.
Oh, what a difference a year can make, especially for aGLIFF.
The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival has reclaimed its original name -- retiring its short-lived Polari moniker -- and moved back to its most successful venue, the newly reopened (and debatably improved) Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. And while not all change is good, these changes certainly are; if the crowd at aGLIFF's opening night on Wednesday is any indication, the festival has regained much of its footing after a couple of sparsely attended years.
aGLIFF couldn't have chosen a better opening night film than Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, a powerful and poignant documentary about the titular Wyoming college student who was tortured and murdered in 1998. Shepard's killers admitted killing him because he was gay, and his murder became one of America's most notorious hate crimes.