The Austin Film Festival keeps the typewriter smoking this summer with its recent announcement of this year's second round of conference panelists, which includes DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) and Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries).
From October 24-31, Lowery and Rivera (and maybe even you) will join the minds behind such films as the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, (500) Days of Summer, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club and television shows like Veronica Mars, House of Cards and Breaking Bad.
There wouldn't be panelists if there weren't panels. AFF will continue its "Conversation With..." series, which joins filmmakers and moviegoers for in-depth, one-on-one discussions about their experiences in the industry.
Participants include this year's AFF Outstanding Contribution to Filmmaking honoree, director Jonathan Demme, who won an Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs; creator/executive producer of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, who is this year's Outstanding Television Writer honoree; writer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind); Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man); Robin Swicord, whose writing credits include Memoirs of a Geisha, Matilda and Little Women; and Beau Willimon, executive producer/showrunner/creator of the Netflix series House of Cards.
Tragic news in our community derailed my week: Walt Powell, Vice President of Operations at Hospitality Investors, Inc. and co-founder of Flix Brewhouse, passed away unexpectedly on June 4 at age 33. On Tuesday, June 18 at 1 pm, Flix Brewhouse will host a memorial service for Walt. The event is open to anyone and everyone who was affected by the loss, to share stories and raise a pint to Walt, self-proclaimed beer geek.
I find myself struggling between the professional responsibilities of covering a local newsworthy film community event and processing the loss of a dear friend. I've repeatedly had the impulse to vet my facts through the source -- Walt himself -- with the realization that he's gone. The most difficult part of writing this memoriam was not being ready to write in the past tense, something anyone can identify with after the loss of a loved one. However, the importance of memorializing a valuable and well-respected man in our local film and beer communities far outweighs these difficulties.
Walt and I were vaguely acquainted many years ago when he was general manager at Main Event Entertainment in northwest Austin. Being a Dave and Buster's alum myself, I teased him about it being a "D&B wannabee." Walt's reaction was to brag about his staff, ask me for my feedback, and challenge me to compete in skeeball.
Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.
- Texas is set to offer $95 million in incentives to bring film productions to the state over the next two fiscal years, Austin Business Journal reports. The money's in the state budget that's yet to be signed by Gov. Rick Perry.
- An attic in Pflugerville caught fire last week during filming of the as-yet-untitled fourth Transformers movie, according to Austin Movie Blog. The minor blaze was ruled as an accident by the Pflugerville Fire Department Lieutenant Tim Wallace. It started while the crew was filming a scene outside and caused significant damage to the attic, which is now back in the hands of the owners.
- The latest Transformers flick also transformed small town Taylor, Texas. KXAN reported that parts of the city's West Second Street were shutdown for production. Mark Wahlberg and a silver Dodge Challenger spottings ensued.
- Only God Forgives, the latest movie to receive the "Drafthouse Recommends" title by the Alamo Drafthouse, will have a pair of advance screenings on June 19 at Alamo Slaughter with director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and composer Cliff Martinez in attendance. Ryan Gosling fronts this film about a drug smuggler in Bangkok whose life is further complicated when his mother asks him to kill the person responsible for his brother's recent death. Only God Forgives opens in theaters July 19.
At long last the highly anticipated return of America's favorite (and first) superhero has arrived. Scripted by David S. Goyer from a concept he developed with Christopher Nolan, the movie Man of Steel is a retelling of Superman's origin story that draws familiar elements from a number of the comic's modern print storylines. Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) is no stranger to comic-book adaptations, but this is by far his best work and will prove to be the summer film to beat.
Henry Cavill dons the tights this time around, but not before a couple of steamy scenes showing off a physique that is nothing short of... well, super. Though Snyder's film is in many ways the strongest adaptation of the comic books, Cavill is the most realistic portrayal of Supes as a young man, torn with indecision, largely directionless, and unsure of his potential. He still has the unerring moral compass, but his invulnerable skin can't protect his psyche from the emotional pain every time he is ridiculed for being different.
And there is no question he is different. Rather than the perfectly anonymous Clark Kent that might have grown up in 1950s Smallville, the realistic take in Man of Steel shows there are some things just too difficult to hide completely. Everyone knows he's different, but nobody suspects the true story. His early years are played out in nostalgic, contemplative trips he takes down memory lane whenever he is knocked out. Snyder uses this technique to bookend his action sets and provide insight on Clark's mood.
Into this world pops Lois Lane (Amy Adams), likely the strongest example of female empowerment in all comic-book filmdom. Already a Pulitzer Prize winner, the character is an investigative reporter who will put herself in harm's way to get a good story. Finally, we have a Lois who is in character every bit as strong as Superman, a woman who knows the danger she faces and still volunteers for the mission, and who is pivotal in the outcome of the movie's plot. There should be some kind of award for Lois Lane in this movie. Adams is strong but never hard, capable but not forced to fight for recognition. She never has to trade on her looks to get what she wants, and there is never a hint that she would need to.
This weekend finishes up the East/West selections of the Paramount summer classic film series, with two fantastic movies for Sunday at Stateside: Wong Kar Wai's heartbreakingly beautiful In the Mood for Love (pictured above) paired with the impeccably sweet romance of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. Come say hi if you spot me at the Monsoon Wedding screening.
Four Daniel Day-Lewis films show Monday and Tuesday, split between the Paramount and Stateside venues. The Paramount Theatre is actually hosting a blood drive to coincide with the Monday night screening of There Will Be Blood. Check it out!
As part of their "summer free-for-all," Austin Film Society will screen A Hero Never Dies on Friday and Sunday evenings (free, but you should RSVP). Tuesday night continues the AFS Marilyn Monroe series with tense drama Niagara [tickets]. Monroe and Joseph Cotten star as mismatched honeymooners.
"As if!" Girlie Night at the Alamo Ritz Tuesday night features the '90s classic Clueless. You can quote along with Tai (the late Brittany Murphy) as she calls Cher (Alicia Silverstone) "a virgin who can't drive." Plus, cutie Paul Rudd!
Yes, I agreed to cover the red carpet of The East, this year's SXSW closing-night film, for my campus radio station because I wanted to meet actor Alexander Skarsgard (Eric Northman on True Blood). And it's tempting to go on about my reaction to meeting Skarsgard briefly and shaking his hand and how I made him laugh, but I'll spare everyone the details. I wasn't so much there on the red carpet to profess my like for him as I was to watch The East, in which he plays Benji (yes, like the dog, and with his Jesus-like beard throughout much of the movie he doesn't look that different), the charismatic leader of the eponymous group out to give corporate America the finger through "jams" -- targeted eye-for-an-eye-style attacks on the people they feel are responsible for destroying the environment.
Corporate negligence aside, I'm one to believe that not one, two or even a handful of people are to blame for, say, pollution of a community's water source that may have caused or been a cause of a person's cancer diagnosis. Members of The East have complicated rationales for their crimes that contradict their actions, and much of the dialogue incorporates fallacies that would make even philosophy majors balk. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The East is actress/writer/producer Britt Marling's sophomore effort with writer-director Zal Batmanglij (whose brother is the keyboardist for the band Vampire Weekend). The duo previously collaborated on 2011's Sound of My Voice, which explored similar themes about Stockholm Syndrome and cults.
Midnight's Children is based on a novel by Salman Rushdie, who also narrated, wrote the screenplay and executive produced this film by Deepa Mehta. Canadian director Mehta is known for her emotional elements trilogy (Earth, Fire and Water) depicting the lives of women in her native India. This new film aspires to be epic in scope, and lacks the intimacy and depth of her earlier works.
The movie's title refers to the children who were born at the stroke of midnight on the date of partition in 1947, when Pakistan and India split. Because of their auspicious birthdate, these kids have powers which cannot be understood by others. The story is told by Saleem (played in the last hour by Satya Bhabha, New Girl) -- from the first meeting of his grandparents in 1917 Kashmir through India's 30th anniversary in 1977.
By Ciara Gee
Recently, screenwriter David Magee sat down with Barbara Morgan, co-founder and executive director of the Austin Film Festival, to discuss his first screenplay, Finding Neverland (2004). The event was part of AFF's ongoing Conversations in Film series. Magee's discussion about how he ventured into screenwriting hit several topics of interest to writers.
In addition to adapting the play Finding Neverland, Magee has worked on two other adaptations: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) and last year's Life of Pi. Magee started the discussion by sharing how he came to write screenplays.
"I took an unusual route," he told the Austin audience. He meant that he started as a theatre actor and then began doing voiceover work for abridged audiobooks. It was during this time that he encountered a rather difficult project.
"One night, after reading an awful abridgement of a novel, I said to the producer, 'I can do better than this.'" The producer called his bluff, suggesting that Magee try his luck at writing his own abridgement to the piece. He came through and, over the following five years, succeeded in abridging more than 80 audiobooks.
Chancing upon a project
During this time, Magee had the opportunity to become acquainted with a producer who introduced him to Allan Knee, a playwright who had adapted Little Women into a musical for the stage. Knee had recently written "The Man Who Was Peter Pan," a story about the life of playwright J. M. Barrie, which he expanded into a play of the same name. The producer, aware of Magee's knack for successfully abridging novels, encouraged him to adapt the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan for the screen. Always open to trying his hand at something new, Magee agreed.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and at what more fitting location than a drug-and-booze-filled housewarming at James Franco's fortress in the Hollywood Hills would the damned be found? Based on their original short film, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, writers Jason Stone, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen expand on how Rogen and pal Jay Baruchel -- playing characters named Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel -- come to terms with one another during the Apocalypse in the bromantic comedy, This Is the End. Only this time, they are holed up and trying to survive on the last Milky Way and crackers with James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, while also dealing with the likes of Danny McBride and Emma Stone (all also playing "themselves").
You don't have to be a fan of these celebrities to enjoy this scary rollercoaster ride, but you do need a strong constitution for the explosions of profanity, nudity, gore and bodily fluids. With that said, I found This is the End to be a sidesplitting raunchy ensemble piece that draws strength from a cornucopia of humor ranging from immature to witty self-referential, as well as razor-sharp timing of physical jokes.
This Is the End begins with a simple premise -- in Los Angeles for a visit, Jay just wants to hang out with pal Seth at his place, playing games and smoking weed like old times. However, Seth insists on meeting up with his new group of pals including James, Jonah and Craig. Jay reluctantly goes to the party full of celebrities, which includes a coke-infused, butt-slapping Michael Cera, as well as Mindy Kaling, Emma Stone, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and many other familiar faces from the big screen and comedy stage.
In Greek mythology, Icarus is given a pair of wings constructed out of wax and feathers by his father, with the advice that he is to follow his flight path and not to fly too close to the sun or the sea. Icarus ignores his father's advice and, through his curiosity, unknowingly flies too close to the sun, which melts his wings and sends him falling to his death in the sea. The popular understanding of this tale is the consequence of not minding elders and of personal over-ambition. But maybe filmmaking legend Stanley Kubrick had it right during his 1997 D.W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech: The moral really is to build better wings.
Austin filmmaker Craig Whitney has taken Kubrick's advice to heart. Instead of searching for film projects to suite his taste, he "built better wings" and started Better Archangel Pictures in 2008 to coincide with the release of his first short film, the award-winning Harvest Home. The University of Texas alum, who was quick to point out that he had no formal filmmaking training, has swiftly navigated his way through the industry (Harvest Home premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival's Short Film Corner). His second short, The Garden and the Wilderness, was recently chosen by the Houston Film Commission to represent the state at this year's Texas Filmmaker's Showcase on June 30 in L.A.