It's time again to start thinking about the Hill Country Film Festival, which runs from April 30-May 4 in Fredericksburg. I just booked my B&B (although is it really a B&B if there's no breakfast? B&NB, perhaps?) and am looking forward to the coziest film festival I've attended.
HCFF is always fun for me because I don't have to rush from venue to venue, the parties are small and people are very friendly, and the audiences always seem to be excited about the movies. The fest is using two theaters this year, but they're not far apart, although it means some tough decision-making is in order.
Austin-shot feature Intramural (pictured at top) is one of the fest's highlights this year. The closing-night film is directed by Andrew Disney, who was at HCFF 2012 with his comedy Searching for Sonny, and written/produced by Bradley Jackson, whose short The Man Who Never Cried screened at HCFF 2012 (both movies on the same day, in fact). Intramural, which debuted at Tribeca Film Festival this week, is about fifth-year college seniors participating in intramural sports.
David Riker, who directed independent immigrant drama La Ciudad, helmed a film in 2012 titled The Girl. This seems at first glance a far-too-general name for a movie about immigration, life on the border, motherhood and desperation. Is the "girl" of the title Ashley (Abbie Cornish, Bright Star, Sucker Punch), a young mother struggling to make money so she can get back custody of her son? The viewer wonders as we see her flustered under the keen eye of a social worker, arguing for more shifts at the grocery store, or riding along with her trucker dad (Will Patton, Remember the Titans, TV show Falling Skies) to Mexico.
Ashley becomes convinced that she can be a coyote -- she desperately needs the money this bad idea will bring her. Among the group of people she picks up in a Nuevo Laredo plaza to convey over the border is a young girl, who is definitely the inspiration for the title. Ashley and the child (we find out three-quarters into the film that her name is Rosa) are thrown together by circumstance, and end up helping each other.
Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery returns to Austin for the seventh annual Off-Centered Film Fest at Alamo Drafthouse. This year's theme for the multi-day event is "Stuntin'," dedicated to the daredevil spirit. The opening celebration will be held at Fiesta Gardens on Thursday, April 24 at 6 pm, with an outdoor 35mm screening of the comedy Hot Rod, starring Andy Samberg.
Special guests for the evening event's include The Lonely Island -- Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, as well as Calagione and representatives of the Central Texas brewing community. Ticket sales will also include an option to donate to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild (TCBG).
"We are extremely pleased to have the support of Alamo Drafthouse and Sam Calagione, and this tangibly demonstrates of the collaborative nature of American craft brewers," said Charles Vallhonrat, TCBG executive director. "This event is a great opportunity to showcase some of the wonderful craft beers that are available in Texas from both Dogfish and our Texas brewers, while supporting the work of the Guild to educate, advocate and promote for Texas craft beer."
Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.
- Filmmaker Annie Silverstein has had her student short film Skunk accepted in the Cinefondation section of Cannes Film Festival. It is one of 16 films that will screen, out of 1,631 student movies submitted worldwide. She ran a successful crowdfunding campaign last year to finish Skunk, which was her master's thesis film at The University of Texas at Austin. The film stars local actress Heather Kafka.
- Texas native Tommy Lee Jones's western drama The Homesman, about a duo who escort three insane women across states, will compete for the Palme d'Or at Cannes, according to CNN.
- The Austin Film Festival and Travis County Sheriff's Office invite area high-chool students to create a commercial or short movie to raise awareness of issues facing teenagers. Winning entries will be published to the event's YouTube channel and screened during AFF's Student Filmmaking Expo, among other prizes. Deadline to submit is Friday.
- In more AFF news, 2013 AFF Official Selection Favor, about a friendship that's tested when one man's fling is accidentally killed in a motel room, will be available On Demand and iTunes on Tuesday.
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.
In 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.
What 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.
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 artificial 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.
Filmmaker 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.
If 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.