Movies This Week: April 18-24, 2014

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Under The Skin

Austin Film Society is serving up one more screening of Beyond The Hills this evening at the Marchesa as part of their New Romanian Cinema series. AFS is offering its members a special sneak preview of local filmmaker Chris Eska's The Retrieval (Don's review) Sunday afternoon. I caught this haunting Civil War drama at SXSW last year and definitely recommend seeing it on the big screen. It will open in Austin in a few weeks, but AFS members can see it free at the Marchesa this weekend with a post-film Q&A featuring cast and crew. Hang out after The Retrieval for an AFS Auteur Obscure pick: Robert Clouse's 1970 film Darker Than Amber, preseted in 35mm. Jewels In The Wasteland is taking a break this week, but will return next Wednesday with Ingmar Bergman. 

If you haven't caught Joe yet (or would just like to see it again), Violet Crown Cinema is hosting a special benefit screening of the film on Sunday evening. Director David Gordon Green and "select cast members" will be in attendance with complimentary cocktails provided by Shiner and Z Tequila. All proceeds from the screening (tickets are just $20) will be contributed to Violet Crown employee Evan West, who was seriously injured during the tragic Red River accident during SXSW.

Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self also screens at the Violet Crown on Tuesday night as part of their Texas Spotlight, series and all ticket sales for this event will also be donated to Evan's support fund. This is the first time the Dallas movie will screen in Austin.

Dallas IFF Reviews: 'Tomato Republic' and 'Cowboys of Color'

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Tomato Republic Rob GowinIn the crumbling small town of Jacksonville, known as the Tomato Capital of Texas, a speeding train is coming -- not the frequent trains residents hear almost continually, but a heated mayoral race.

That's the premise of Tomato Republic, a documentary featurette that premiered at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), where it won a special jury award. Directed by Jenna Jackson, Anthony Jackson and Whitney Graham Carter, Tomato Republic focuses on the mayoral race between three candidates -- incumbent Kenneth Melvin, outspoken restaurateur Rob Gowin, and Kenneth Melvin, the youngest candidate and first African-American to run for the (unpaid) office.

The town's colorful characters are the most engaging part of this film, whether it's the three candidates or the "Rusk Rocket Scientists," who hang out and gossip at local establishments.

I found myself most amused by the filmmaker and interviewees acknowledging the trains running past the town that would often interrupt the filming. When the trains run so often that football games and high-school graduations are impacted, it's ingenious to integrate that frequent occurrence into a documentary.

Review: Cuban Fury

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Cuban Fury posterWhat better way to charm a lady than to display your dance moves?

Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) leads the cast in British dance-comedy Cuban Fury as Bruce, a middle-management type in a mechanical design office. His boss Drew, played quite creepily by Chris O'Dowd (The IT Crowd, Bridesmaids), constantly picks on him and won't stop with the fat jokes (seriously, enough with the fat jokes). Both men are excited by the entrance to the company of American executive Julia (Rashida Jones, Parks and Recreation, Celeste and Jesse Forever).

Bruce has a secret: He and his sister were once young Latin-dance superstars in their region, until an attack by bullies led him to put up his dancing shoes. To impress Julia, whom he spies taking salsa lessons, Bruce turns to his former dance coach Ron (Ian McShane, Deadwood) for aid. Bruce also gets help and advice from his bartender sister (Olivia Colman, Hot Fuzz, Broadchurch) and new dancing pal Bejan (Keyvam Novak, Four Lions, Syriana).

The plot is fairly predictable, with a few dance-offs thrown in. The choreography by Litza Bixler (Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Shaun of the Dead) is fast-paced and fun to watch. The dance battle between Bruce and Drew looks like it took some serious preparation. 

The soundtrack is another of the better-executed facets of Cuban Fury, with Tito Puente classics and more modern Latin pop scoring the action. However, the bordering-on-sexual-harassment humor (along with the aforementioned proliferation of fat jokes) from O'Dowd's character was enough to make me grimace in my seat. 

Review: Transcendence

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Wally Pfister has spent almost fifteen years as Christopher Nolan's go-to cinematographer. From Memento to The Dark Knight Rises, he's been behind the camera capturing incredible action-packed movies. For his directorial debut he chose a cyberthriller and packed it with terrific actors, even getting Nolan to serve as an executive producer. This is all quite an impressive pedigree for a first-time director, but it's also why the finished project, the movie Transcendence, feels so disappointing. 

The story begins in the not-too-distant future with Max Waters (Paul Bettany) wandering around the chaotic streets of Berkeley, California. We learn there is no power and the phones are down thanks to an "unavoidable collision" of mankind and technology. After spending just a few moments in this dystopia, we flash back five years to try and understand why. Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall play Will and Evelyn Caster, a research team and loving couple who specialize in artifiical intelligence. 

A series of deadly lab attacks happens across the country while the Casters are in the midst of giving a big donor presentation called "Evolve The Future." The FBI blames the actions on an organization called "R.I.F.T." (Revolutionary Independence From Technology), a group of hackers and activists who believe that artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity.

Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow from The Dark Knight Rises) plays the main FBI agent who meets up at the Casters' lab with fellow researcher Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman). He's the only survivor of their lab's attack because he neglected to eat a piece of poisoned birthday cake that was placed on his desk while he was deep in thought. They all introduce the FBI agent to PINN, a super-intelligent machine that basically operates like Siri on steroids. 

Dallas IFF Review: Produce

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Produce Still PhotoFilmmaker Chris Dowling, an alumnus of the radio-TV-film program at The University of Texas at Austin, wrote and directed family drama Produce, which debuted at the Dallas International Film Festival last week. Although this film deals with some heavy-hearted issues, overall Produce is an engaging and entertaining story that should please viewers.

The opening sequence of a morning routine of breakfast, shower and a bike commute to work at first appears typical, until the camera angle widens and we see the character simply known as Produce (David DeSanctis), who has Down's Syndrome. It's this foundation that sets an important plot point for the film -- Produce is not defined by his condition despite the challenges and prejudices that he faces daily. He wants nothing more than to be employee of the month at the Value Market where he works as a produce clerk. Sadly his manager and co-workers don't respect him or appreciate his strengths.

The character who's the most challenged in Produce is Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha), a former professional baseball player who choked during a game and numbs his shame with alcohol. The real adult in the house is his daughter, 17-year-old Katie (McKaley Miller), often left to fend for herself while her dad is out drinking with his booze buddies. Calvin's self-destructive behavior threatens his relationship with his daughter, as well as a potential career as a baseball manager.

Dallas IFF 2014: Farah White, 'About Mom and Dad'

Farah WhiteIf I had to place a wager on who will "out-Mars" Austin talent Jonny Mars with the number of film projects that one Texan can possibly be associated with in one year, my bet for the top contender is Dallas-based Farah White. At this year's Dallas International Film Festival, White was involved in five films as either a member of the cast and producer.

Hell hath no fury like a Texas woman scorned in Rachel Shepard's About Mom and Dad, a comedic drama of a couple whose decades-long marriage disintegrates. White leads the ensemble Texas cast as Teri, effortlessly delivering many of the film's witty lines including, "There are no sides -- you just need to know that I am right." Dallas-based Brent Anderson stars as dad Eddie, and Austinites Heather Kafka and Jonny Mars also appear in supporting roles in the movie.

White is also executive producer for About Mom and Dad, having acted in and produced Shepard's road journey drama Traveling, which premiered at DIFF 2011. About Mom and Dad stars Reece Rios, Melissa Odom and Texan actress McKaley Miller, and was shot in Marfa as well as the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Cine Las Americas Announces 2014 Lineup

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Cine Las Americas announced their full film lineup last week in preparation for their upcoming festival, which takes place April 22-27. his is the 17th year for the fest, and the list of events includes thought-provoking and unique films from all over the world.

The kickoff will take place Tuesday night, April 22 at 7 pm with the movie Tercera Llamada (Last Call) at the Marchesa Theatre. The story is based on a play written by director Francisco Franco in which a theater group goes through a challenging process in trying to stage the play Caligula for an international theater festival.

The Marchesa is one of four venues for film screenings this year, including the Alamo Drafthouse Village, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and the Jones Auditorium at the Ragsdale Center of St. Edward's University.

Review: Joe

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Joe posterFilmmaker David Gordon Green has shot two films in Central Texas now (well, three, but only two are out yet), and he gets it. He really does. For both Prince Avalanche and now Joe, he took stories that could be set anywhere and ground them in local rural settings, with characters played by residents who weren't previously professional actors. The most affecting scene in Prince Avalanche was the one in the ruins with Joyce Payne.

In Joe, I felt like I could drive 30 miles and find the unnamed town in which the film was set, with all its characters intact. In such a setting, the lead actors fit in and feel like characters, not stars. Even Nicolas Cage

Cage plays the title character, whose job is leading a team of laborers to clear a forest for development -- hacking at trees with axes that contain poisonous liquids. He's approached by Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenager in a family of drifters squatting in an abandoned shack. Gary wants to join Joe's work gang, needing money to help his family, because his perpetually drunk-and-enraged father (Gary Poulter) can't do it.

It's a simple story when I lay it out that way, but the story isn't the point here, it's the characters and the way they reveal themselves as the movie progresses, especially Joe. He's oddly passive at times, letting matters run their course in their own way. And yet some people and things affect him like dropping a match in gasoline. Don't even ask about the dog in the whorehouse. (That's a sentence I never expected to write.)

For someone who's seen too many hysterically overdone performances from Cage, his work as Joe is amazing, reminding us that when he's well directed in a well-written role, he's a marvel. He manages to portray a man keeping his passions under wraps and even when he does let loose, it's in a way that isn't histrionic. He doesn't dominate the film, either -- Sheridan holds up against him perfectly in their scenes together. But even in scenes with his work gang, or in a small grocery, the other characters get to shine.

Slackery News Tidbits: April 14, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news. 

  • Congratulations to filmmaker/University of Texas lecturer Kat Candler (Debbie's interview) on her 2014 Dallas International Film Festival's Grand Jury Narrative Prize for Hellion (Debbie's review). Texas native Darius Clark Monroe's movie Evolution of a Criminal also won the Documentary Feature Special Jury Prize for Directorial Vision. The Texas Grand Jury Prize went to Flutter (Debbie's review), with a special jury prize to the East Texas documentary Tomato Republic. Austin filmmaker John Fiege's documentary Above All Else (Don's review, Elizabeth's interview) won a special jury prize in the Silver Heart category. Here's the full list of awards.
  • The 17th Annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival announced its full lineup last week. The Marchesa Hall and Theater will feature the festival's opening and closing-night movies, international new releases and "Hecho en Tejas," a category devoted to movies made in Texas, including the documentary Las Marthas, about the annual Laredo-based celebration honoring President George Washington, where debutantes dress as American Revolutionaries.
  • Screenings for this year's Cine Las Americas will take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Village and the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. San Antonio filmmaker Efrain Gutierrez, whose 1970s microindies are considered to be the first Chicano films, will also be honored during the festival, which takes place April 22-27.
  • Television station AMC has returned to sponsor and judge this year's Austin Film Festival and Conference's One-Hour Pilot Award for the Teleplay Competition. The award is open to any pilot script written in the one-hour format for an original TV series. Finalists will be given the opportunity to meet with a representative of AMC during the event, which takes place Oct. 23-30, or over the phone at a later date. 

Movies This Week: April 11-17, 2014

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Joe 

The Austin Film Society has a very special event tonight at the Marchesa to kick off another week of marvelous screenings. The Sound Of Silent Film Festival will feature short films accompanied by musical performances from Chicago's Access Contemporary Music organization. Several Austin musicians will join ACM for this collaborative and unique evening.  

The AFS spotlight on New Romanian Cinema continues this week at the Marchesa with Cristian Mungiu's critically acclaimed Beyond The Hills on Sunday (presented digitally) and his emotionally devastating 2007 feature Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days (presented in 35mm) on Tuesday. On Wednesday night, Richard Linklater will present Cutter's Way starring Jeff Bridges and John Heard. As is the case for his entire Jewels In The Wasteland series, there will be an introduction and post-film group discussion led by Linklater himself. David Pulbrook's 2012 effort Last Dance will be featured on Thursday night as part of this month's Essential Cinema series. 

Jordan recently wrote a great post looking at the upcoming offerings from the Paramount 100 celebration over at the Paramount Theatre. On Monday night, you can catch a Universal Monsters 35mm double feature with Bela Lugosi starring in Dracula and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein.  

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