Slackerwood: Where We're All Going (We Hope)

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Slackerwood contributors 2013

I originally said that today -- Wednesday, May 27 -- would be the last day Slackerwood would publish new content. But we're going to finish tomorrow instead. As I've said often, well, it is called Slackerwood after all. So please come back on Thursday for a farewell and one final Lone Star Cinema that I always said I would write and never did (until now).

I'm very pleased that we'll still get to enjoy writing from Slackerwood contributors at other websites. Of course, this list is subject to change, but here's what I know right now:

Debbie's Fantastic and Favorite Film Memories

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Debbie with Jim JarmuschFive years and 51 weeks -- that's when I was added to the Slackerwood website, although my official first article about a beloved made-in-Texas film, True Stories, was actually published on June 24, 2009. Coincidentally, my first Slackerwood-related article, "Coffee and Cigarettes at the Alamo," was written two years earlier on June 25, 2007 for the Alamo Downtown Blog-a-Thon, co-hosted by Slackerwood and Blake Ethridge of formerly of Cinema is Dope and now the Museum of Cinema.

Sharing my personal experience of handling the Coffee and Cigarettes director Jim Jarmusch at the original Alamo Drafthouse (on Colorado) during SXSW Film Festival 2004 was truly a defining moment in my career in film journalism. That same year I recall Louis Black assisting at the door at a special midnight screening of Hellboy at the Paramount, with star Ron Perlman talking to fans outside the theater until the wee hours of the morning.

I truly believe that without the efforts and support of local film industry vanguards like Louis Black of Austin Chronicle and SXSW, and Tim and Karrie League of Alamo Drafthouse, I would not have met Slackerwood's founder and editor Jette Kernion. Most if not all of my initial conversations with Jette about film took place on the outdoor patio at Alamo South Lamar either during subsequent SXSW and Fantastic Fest film festivals.

On that special night in 2004 that I blogged about, I was introduced to writer and director Jonathan Demme by Black, and assisted Crispin Glover and Canadian filmmaker Ron Mann (Go Further, Know Your Mushrooms) in and out of the screening at the personal -- and quite polite -- request of Jarmusch. Over the years of writing for Slackerwood I've encountered Mann on his annual visits to Austin for SXSW, and enjoy hearing about his latest film projects. Additionally he graciously gave Courtney Cobb (Crafting a Nation) and me some documentary filmmaking tips while we were in pre-production for Pushing Cadence.

Fantastic Fest, SXSW Film Festival and Austin Film Festival provided me with great opportunities to cover great independent film and network with filmmakers, actors and industry representatives from around the world. Six years ago I never would have thought that I would cover a film festival outside of Austin such as Dallas International Film Festival, let alone Sundance Film Festival. And yet I've made it to Park City for the last three years to cover both Sundance and Slamdance Film Festivals simultaneously to the best of my capability.

Film on Tap: Pass the Bubbly

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The HighballFilm on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

Pursuing multiple and consecutive careers in film, water and craft beer can be quite challenging to juggle more often than not, so I'm extremely appreciative for the patience, understanding and support that Slackerwood founder Jette Kernion has given me over the last six years. One of the columns that I've been most proud of is "Film on Tap," launched during Austin Craft Beer Week in October 2011.

Born out of Slackerwood's "How to Drink Like an Austinite" guides, I've enjoyed sharing memorable experiences of well-crafted beer and film -- as well as skillfully mixed cocktails and film curation.

While waiting out the torrential rains last Saturday evening, I enjoyed a delectable cherry-infused bourbon Old-Fashioned at The Highball and observed the crack bar staff as they served theatergoers, bar patrons and karaoke enthusiasts. Of all the bars and restaurants in town, there's probably no crew that can match the high frenetic pace and demands of a diverse crowd in the skillful manner that The Highball team handles nightly.

Review: The Connection

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The Connection Still photoWhereas in many crime dramas the difference between the good guy and the bad guy is painted in black and white, writer and director Cedric Jimenez brings the more complex nature of both sides in the emotionally gripping movie The Connection. Based on the true story of French law enforcement's battle with the heroin-dependent drug traffic among France, New York and the rest of the world, this award-worthy film focuses more on the characterization of key players in the battle rather than rely on hyperviolence.

Despite his reluctance, French magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) is transferred from the juvenile to the organized crime division in the middle of mob wars in Marseilles, France. As a former gambling addict, Michel channels his obsessive nature into getting to the bottom of the complex network of drug lords, discovering that corruption exists at the top and around him.

The cornerstone to all the corruption is Gaëtan "Tany" Zampa (Gilles Lellouche), a racketeer who offers "protection" through the violent persuasive nature of his gang: Bimbo, Franky Manzoni (Moussa Maaskri), and Le Fou (Benoit Magimel). Zampa's expansion from prostitution and gambling into manufacturing and selling heroin places him at the top of the Marseilles crime scene, making him a target as well for the police and competitors.

Box-Office Alternatives: Deep Impact

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Deep Impact

Its been a while since we've had a worthwhile disaster movie at the cineplex. Back in the 1970s, the genre was a staple of the summer movie season with audiences devouring multi-strand plots, which saw stars both old and new struggling for survival against any and every catastrophe an ambitious movie producer could think of.

Despite giving audiences some bona fide classics such as The Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Towering Inferno (1974), the genre has been rather dead as of late with lackluster offerings such as Poseidon (a weak 2006 imitation of the far better original) and the overly confident 2012 (2009). Yet this week, the genre hopes for a resurgence with the impressive looking San Andreas (2015). Starring Dwayne Johnson, San Andreas details a rescue pilot’s frantic search for his family following the most powerful and devastating earthquake ever to hit the West Coast.

One of the few noteworthy offerings following the post-70s boom of disaster movies was the thoughtful and still entertaining Deep Impact (1998). A high-school astronomy student (Elijah Wood) discovers a random comet that's headed directly for Earth, promising  destruction of cataclysmic proportions. While the President (Morgan Freeman) tries to maintain order in the land, a team of experts led by a famed astronaut (Robert Duvall) attempts to stop the comet and an ambitious journalist (Tea Leoni) resolves to come to terms with her past.

Ready, Set, Fund: Preserving Austin's History

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AD Stenger Home"Ready, Set, Fund" is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

It's hard to believe that it has been over 3.5 years since the first "Ready, Set, Fund" column appeared here on Slackerwood. This recurring column has served as an incredible vehicle to immerse our writers in local film productions. From set visits to personal interviews with cast and crew, we are all grateful for getting a behind-the-scenes perspective and following film projects from "cradle to grave" over these last few years. Even when a campaign falls short of its funding goals, many filmmakers find other creative avenues to accomplish their film production goals.

One such creative talent is Austinite and local performer Troy Dillinger, who has been championing the preservation of historical homes in the hills of west Austin and around Barton Springs and Town Lake. Dillinger has been quite active at Austin City Council meetings as well as on social media to alert Austinites of the pending destruction of several mid-century modern custom homes built by Arthur Dallas "A.D." Stenger throughout his 55-year career. Each home was custom designed for the lot they were built on, often built with repurposed stone from each lot.

Photo Flashback: Rodriguez Pop-Up Museum at SXSW 2015

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One of the many interesting events to spring up around South by Southwest in recent years is the Robert Rodriguez Museum, a pop-up gallery first appearing in 2014 in which Rodriguez exhibits pieces from his collection and the Frazetta family collection, which he now curates. Most people know Rodriguez only as a director, but film is only one of his creative outlets, and the tours he conducted at SXSW this March provided an enlightening peek into his creative process.

Review: In the Name of My Daughter

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In The Name Of My Daughter

All I knew in advance about In the Name of My Daughter was that it was based on a true story, just like another of French auteur Andre Techine's recent films, The Girl On The Train. I've been a fan of his work for almost as long as I've been watching world cinema. Rendez-vousMy Favorite SeasonWild Reeds and Changing Times represent some of the best that French cinema has had to offer in the last 30 years.

It really says something about the strong fashion sense of the French (or the fact that I watched it from a screener instead of on the big screen) that I didn't even realize this movie was set in the 70s until I glanced over at the press notes about 15 minutes in to verify an actor's name. There just wasn't anything to indicate the time period at all, I presumed it was a contemporary tale. I was very wrong, although the film does end up spanning over 30 years before the end credits roll. 

With In The Name of My Daughter (whose original title, L'homme qu'on aimait trop, oddly translates as The Man Who Was Loved Too Much), Techine teams up with legendary actress Catherine Denueve for the seventh time and gives her the juicy role of Renee Le Roux -- a casino magnate on the French Riviera who has inherited the Palais de la Mediterranee from her late husband. The film, based on her memoirs, gets underway on the shores of Nice in 1976.

Review: Poltergeist

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PoltergeistOn Thursday, I saw the Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember)-directed movie Poltergeist, a remake of Tobe Hooper's 1982 masterpiece. David Lindsay-Abaire (Oz the Great and Powerful, Rise of the Guardians) re-adapted the script from the original film, which had been conceived and co-written by Steven Spielberg. I expected the new movie to completely suck, so I'm surprised to disagree with many of my fellows and say that it's not great, but it's sort of okay.

If you haven't watched the 1982 Poltergeist, which stars Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams and Zelda Rubinstein, do yourself a favor and stop reading now. Find it on disc or online. It's the apex of family horror films and the greatest haunted house movie ever made, so it's little surprise Kenan would be chosen to direct the remake, based on his earlier Monster House. Hooper's original figures heavily in this review, and you should be familiar with the story before you continue.

The differences in this version are immediately obvious. It's 21 minutes shorter, and everything feels rushed. Hooper's version was a slow burn that began with odd, whimsical events and descended into terrifying madness. The script Kenan directed jumps immediately into malicious attacks, before the family even moves into the house.

Before I dig into the weaker points of the new Poltergeist, I want to address the things I liked. I enjoyed Sam Rockwell more in this role than Craig T. Nelson in the original. Rockwell is more likable, more easygoing and more fallible. His chemistry with Rosemarie DeWitt is spot-on, and the kids are phenomenal. They play a larger role in this script, and they are all more believable characters. (Though I wonder why bother renaming them all?) Kenan uses light and shadow to great effect, and he doesn't shy away from the use of modern technology, so it's clear he's not trying to reproduce the original.

There are a few things I feel were missteps. While 3D is de rigueur for most studio releases lately, a number of shots are staged as if to specifically prove that you're seeing the film in 3D. A car placed immediately in the foreground of a wide shot of the house, early in the film, was annoying and distracting. Kenan cut the scene I found scariest in Hooper's version, but he spends a large portion of the film taking the camera into the "other side" breaking the rule of "don't show, tell."

Movies This Week: May 22-28, 2015

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 In The Name Of My Daughter

It's time for my final Movies This Week post here at Slackerwood. I just want to thank Jette for bringing me on to contribute to this site over the last two years. I've really had a great time covering the local repertory scene and highlighting each week's new releases here in Austin. I've got one last review that will run over the weekend and then next week this site will cease publishing new material. I hope that you've found this a valuable resource and I'm going to leave you with a new one. 

My good friend Zack McGhee is one of the biggest cinephiles I know. We met many years ago when we both lived in the Dayton, Ohio area and he worked not only for the Dayton Daily News, but also was a projectionist at the Little Art Theatre. Somehow, both of our jobs brought us here and we've been loving the film scene in Austin for years now. Not only does Zack host the My Favorite Movie podcast (on which Jette was a recent guest), but he also just launched the Austin Rep Calendar online. If you bookmark his site, I guarantee you that it will make your moviegoing life in Austin a more enjoyable experience, especially since it allows you to sort by screenings projected on film and gives you three weeks of listings so you can plan ahead. 

A cursory glance at the calendar shows that there is plenty to be excited about, this week and beyond. The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is, of course, kicking off another season tonight. Casablanca and Manhattan both screen in 35mm this evening and everything screening at the Paramount itself is projected on film (the Stateside screenings, however, are all digital). Tomorrow afternoon, they've got Brad Bird's The Iron Giant as a preview of their Family Film Festival and then evening shows of Sunset Boulevard and Chinatown for Saturday and Sunday. 

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