AFF 2014: Jennifer Harlow, 'The Sideways Light'

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Lindsay Burdge in The Sideways Light

The haunting events that occur while a young woman cares for her ill mother are the basis for thriller The Sideways Light. The dramatic feature is Austin writer/director/producer Jennifer Harlow's first full-length film, and screens as part of the Dark Matters content at Austin Film Festival. Before the fest kicks off, Harlow chatted with me via email about her subject matter, directing while introverted, and finding the right cast.

Slackerwood: Why focus on these two women and their intimate conflict? What drew you to tell their story?

Jennifer Harlow: I knew I wanted to write a ghost story. I was hung up on the idea of being haunted by memories. What if I took those three words literally? Who would that happen to? Someone that is losing their memory, someone that lives in a place full of memories. What if Grandma handed down more than her rocking chair?

If people in compromised states of mind are more sensitive to the supernatural, then a dementia patient and her caregiver/daughter are prime victims. Pile on that the fact that women are afraid of turning into their mothers. That was territory I knew I could write about.

Movies This Week: October 17-23, 2014

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St. Vincent 

It's another busy week in area theaters, but as we start ramping up into awards season that isn't going to change too much through the end of the year. We've got a lot of new releases out this weekend along with the ninth annual Austin Polish Film Festival, which got underway yesterday at the Marchesa. The fest will screen new Polish cinema, restored classic films recommended by Martin Scorsese ... even a children's matinee of Disney's Frozen dubbed in Polish on Saturday morning. 

At Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, a 35mm print of John Carpenter's Halloween screens on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. If you're looking for even more vintage scares, check out Night Of The Living Dead (with a live score by Bird Peterson) on Sunday night, Monday night's Universal Horror double feature with The Mummy in 35mm paired with the alternate Spanish version of Dracula, which runs 25 minutes longer than the Tod Browning film and Girlie Night's presentation of Hocus Pocus on Tuesday.

Tonight and tomorrow, Alamo South Lamar has the annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival, which "shines a spotlight on films that positvely and accurately represent disability." This year the fest features award-winning short films along with Musical Chairs tonight and The Little Tin Man, an indie release that screened at the Austin Film Festival last year (Marcelena's review) on Saturday evening.

Review: Men, Women & Children

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Men, Women & Children

A better title for Men, Women & Children might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Internet. Another might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie.

I had hoped Jason Reitman's latest film would be up to the lofty standards of his best work, Juno and Up in the Air. But what could have been an insightful look at how the Internet has shaped our lives is instead a slight, heavy-handed and melodramatic cautionary tale about the dangers (at least from the film's point of view) that lurk online.

Shot in Austin, Men, Women & Children follows a group of teens and adults whose online activities land them in a heap of trouble. Among them are a mostly happy couple, Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Don Truby (Adam Sandler), who let their sexual boredom get the better of them; Helen finds extramarital action thanks to hookup site Ashley Madison, and Don hires an escort after perusing his son's favorite porn sites.

Meanwhile, paranoid and overprotective mom Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) obsesses over the online activities of her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), monitoring her every text and Facebook post. (She even tracks the poor girl's whereabouts via her cell phone.) Despite her mom's spying and smothering, Brandy still manages to carry on a secret relationship with football star Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), who quits the team so he can devote more time to online role playing games.

Review: St. Vincent

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St. Vincent

By the time St. Vincent draws to a close, you'll probably feel emotionally manipulated. You will have certainly realized that you've seen this story what feels like a million times before. If you're super nitpicky, you might even be inclined to make a list of films in the same vein that you like better (About A Boy and Rushmore immediately spring to mind). Unless you are as curmudgeonly as Vincent (Bill Murray) in this motion picture, I am betting you'll still find yourself giving in to this movie no matter how hard you resist. 

As Vincent's new neighbor Maggie, Melissa McCarthy turns in a surprisingly subdued performance as a single mother struggling to keep things afloat for her her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher in an outstanding debut). Things get off to a very rocky start and they don't get much better when Oliver gets locked out of his new home on the first day of school and Maggie has to convince Vincent over the phone to babysit him until she can get off work. As the grumpiest of grumpy old men, it's not a task Vincent is well suited for, but he could use the money so he reluctantly agrees. 

Review: The Overnighters

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The Overnighters

The searing documentary The Overnighters asks a lot of hard questions. The hardest may be, "What does community mean?"

Shot in Williston, North Dakota, filmmaker Jesse Moss's documentary -- which Drafthouse Films is releasing Friday in Austin -- captures the tiny town in the midst of the current North Dakota oil boom. The boom is a blessing and a curse: The townspeople welcome the unprecedented economic boost, but have mixed feelings about the influx of thousands of oil field workers.

The main problem is housing. Most new arrivals have nowhere to live, so many sleep in their cars, trucks and RVs, parked wherever they can. Another problem is less about logistics than human nature: The workers are roughnecks in every sense of the word -- desperately poor men, often with little education, all chasing quick money and some running from their pasts. To the good and decent citizens (in the ironic sense; more on this later) of Williston, the men are the others -- a scruffy, scary and unwelcome lot. The townspeople's hospitality ends where their fear begins.

The Overnighters focuses on Rev. Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor in Williston who opens his church as temporary housing for the workers. He does so because helping thy neighbor is one of his pastoral duties, of course; he's also immensely compassionate and nonjudgmental, a man who cares deeply about the often broken men who desperately seek the church's help. Far more than just their landlord, he's their counselor and friend.

AFF 2014: Meet the '61 Bullets' Filmmakers

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Top to Bottom: Director David Mondigliani, Director Lucy Kreutz, and Producer Yvonne Boudreaux from 61 BulletsAfter years in the making, the documentary 61 Bullets will screen at Austin Film Festival next weekend. The film, which won an AFS Grant and was partially backed through Kickstarter, is the latest project from Austin director David Modigliani (Crawford).  He and co-director Louisiana (Lucy) Kreutz worked with producer Yvonne Boudreaux to delve into the story behind the death of famed Louisiana governor/controversial figure Huey Long.

Before AFF kicks off, the filmmakers answered some questions for me via email about what led them to make the film and the process involved.

Slackerwood (for Boudreaux): Can you talk about your connection to this historical event, and what drew you to look deeper into the circumstances of Huey Long’s death?

Yvonne Boudreaux: "No one has ever told the story right," my grandmother Ida Boudreaux said to me when I was an eighth grader studying Louisiana history. I was working on a report of the shooting of Huey Long, and had learned from my mom that my great uncle, Carl Weiss, was the alleged assassin.

I was fascinated that the subject was never spoken about in the family, and even more so by the mystery that I sensed in the official version of the story. Obviously, this film and the characters are very close to me personally. As production went on and I approached the ages of Carl and Yvonne [Carl Weiss's wife] at the time of the shooting, I began to connect with her story very deeply.

I worked hard to wrap my head around the consequences for Yvonne and her young son after losing the man she loved, leaving family behind, and raising a child alone. The pain that she must have endured and the strength that she showed in moving on were both heavy on my mind. I still think about and admire her often, and will continue to do so as my life unfolds.

Slackerwood (for Modigliani): How did you become involved in this project?

David Modigliani: My friend from graduate school in Austin, Yvonne Boudreaux, brought the story to me. She had seen my first feature documentary, Crawford, and she knew I was interested in exploring political stories through the eyes of the people they impacted. As I learned about the mystery, about the extraordinary, larger-than-life history of Huey Long, and about the families seeking to find closure over the death of their patriarchs, I knew we had a compelling film to make.

Ready, Set, Fund: Tingle The Senses

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 "Evolution of a Criminal"

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent movie projects.

This month's Texas film crowdfunding projects tingle the senses. 

Sight: Watch the Evolution of a Criminal by supporting this award-winning documentary's Kickstarter campaign. The doc's subject, Houstonite Darius Clark Monroe, is raising $60,000 until Oct. 29 for a nationwide theatrical and DVD release, as well as speaking engagements at schools, prisons and various community institutions across the country. Evolution of a Criminal, which premiered at last year's SXSW and Dallas IFF, is the answer to Monroe's question about how his 16-year-old self became a bank robber. In the movie he interviews family members, friends and mentors who recount the stages of his transformation, going from a happy childhood to the moment when he realized the severity of his family's financial struggles. 

Movies This Week: October 10-16, 2014

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Kill The Messenger 

Austin Film Society continues their "Art Horror" series this month at the Marchesa with a 35mm print of Masaki Kobayashi's 1964 ghost story anthology, Kwaidan. Tonight's screening is actually a Free Member Friday event, so if you're an AFS member you won't have to pay a dime for this horror classic. It will also screen again on Sunday at noon. Also on Sunday, you can check out the 2013 documentary The Sarnos: A Life In Dirty Movies, which examines the life and career of sexploitation director Joe Sarno and his wife Peggy. It will be paired with Joe's 1966 feature Moonlighting Wives on Sunday evening

There is a lot of rep activity at Alamo Drafthouse theaters this week and we'll start off by looking at what is going down at the Ritz. You can catch Guys And Dolls in 35mm for "Broadway Brunch" on Saturday and Sunday, and Kubrick's big-screen classic 2001: A Space Odyssey will be screening in 70mm on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. A "Cinema Cocktails" screening of Death Becomes Her on Sunday night in 35mm (if it's the same beautiful print that played during "MerylThon," it's well worth scoping a ticket), a digital restoration of The Astrologer fresh from Fantastic Fest also on Sunday evening, a very rare screening of In The Land Of The Headhunters from 1914 for its 100th anniversary on Monday night, and what could be an oddly perfect double feature: Little Monsters and Phantasm in 35mm on Tuesday night.

Alamo Slaughter Lane quite appropriately has Sofia Coppola's scrumptious Marie Antoinette for "Afternoon Tea" on Saturday afternoon and quote-along screenings of Shaun Of The Dead will be happening on both Sunday and Thursday nights. Alamo Village will screen Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby on Sunday night and the anime classic Ninja Scroll (presented with subtitles) on Thursday. Alamo South Lamar goes back to 1948 for their Halloween pick this weekend with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. They'll also host sing-alongs for Little Shop Of Horrors on Tuesday and Thursday. South Lamar will also be hanging on to limited evening screenings of the new Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days On Earth and the excellent thriller The Guest all week long, both are worth catching on the big screen. 

Review: Kill the Messenger

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Kill the Messenger

'Tis the season for dark dramas, and Kill the Messenger may be this year's darkest, a film all the darker because it's based on a demoralizing true story.

The titular messenger is Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter who in 1996 writes a series of articles alleging a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan cocaine smugglers in the 1980s. According to Webb's Dark Alliance series, the CIA knew that huge amounts of Nicaraguan coke were sold as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, and the profits were funneled back to the Contras, CIA-backed rebel groups fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

Webb does not allege that the CIA was directly involved in smuggling or selling crack. Instead, he says the agency aided the Contras by looking the other way, withholding evidence from the Justice Department and Congress, and shielding the smugglers and dealers from prosecution. Webb also alleges that the Nicaraguan cocaine sparked the crack epidemic that spread to many U.S. cities.

Fantastic Fest Review: Alleluia

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Alleluia

Freely adapted from the "stranger than fiction" true tale of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez (aka the "Honeymoon Killers" of the late 1940s), the movie Alleluia is a dark and twisted love story comprising four chapters titled for its female characters and centering around a specific crime. This is the second film in Fabrice du Welz’s trilogy about the Belgian Ardennes -- the first being the 2004 horror film Calvaire.

Gloria (Lola Dueñas) lives a fairly solitary life with her young daughter, with her primary companions ibeing the corpses that she prepares as a nurse in the morgue at a local hospital. Her friend Madeline (Stéphane Bissot) convinces her to go out with the handsome and charismatic Michel (Laurent Lucas), who she has found through an online dating site. It is quickly revealed that Michel is even worse than the men your friends warned you about on the Internet -- not only is he a gigolo taking money from women, but he is also psychotic.

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