I recently had the chance to see four Texas short films headed for Sundance and Slamdance 2011 this month. If these shorts are any indication, audiences at the Park City festivals will see a very eclectic mix of moviemaking from Austin and Houston.
Fourplay: Tampa (Sundance)
Former Austinite Kyle Henry's Fourplay: Tampa is a surprisingly explicit romp about gay men hooking up in a Florida mall restroom. The story centers on Louis (Jose Villarreal), who enters the restroom looking for, well, satisfaction. As Slackerwood is a mostly family-friendly film site, I won't describe what happens next in prurient detail; I'll just say it involves lots of libidinous men in silly costumes (among them a cowboy, Marie Antoinette and the Marx Brothers) and some very amusing sacrilegious naughtiness. Bear in mind the subject matter in the following trailer.
Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.
Film and beer have not intersected as much in the Austin community as they have in the past month. Two film crews recently made the rounds to brewpubs and breweries in Central Texas to document the history, culture and challenges of our local brewing industry.
Chris Erlon, founder of local post-production audio studio Digital Domain of Austin, is sharing his love of craft beer by documenting Austin's growing microbrewery movement in his film project Brewed in Austin. You can see him in the above photo interviewing two of Adelbert's Brewery founders, brewer Scott Hover and general manager Greg Smith. The local production will cover the Austin craft beer movement from the history of craft brewing in Austin to a new brewery on the block, South Austin Brewing Co.
The student filmmakers behind Beer Culture, a documentary about the Denver craft brewing industry, are broadening their scope in their latest project, Crafting a Nation. This feature-length documentary is being shot around the country to tell "the story of how American craft brewers are re-building the economy ... one beer at a time," including regions in Oregon, California, Texas, Colorado, Missouri and North Carolina.
SOPA has been introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas (including a small gerrymandered chunk of Austin). The legislation makes pirating movies and other content on the Internet, which is already illegal, double super-secret illegal.
It also mandates, for the first time, that a censorship infrastructure be built so pirated content can be blocked. This blocking could be done not by a court, but by order of a government agency. This is the sort of censorship regime that brought the Egyptians to overthrowing their government. And now it's happening right here, in the good old U.S. Magnited States of America.
The following video explains the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the version of anti-piracy legislation that has been moving through the U.S. Senate.
So this year, we at Slackerwood decided it would be fun to create an aggregated Top Ten Movies of 2011 list. Nearly all our regular contributors submitted lists, then I assigned points and tabulated the results and, well, here we are.
What I don't like about this aggregated list is that it doesn't reflect the amazing range of selections from our contributors this year. In several cases, you could look at two of the lists and find no movies in common. So along with the Top Ten list itself, I've added a few interesting statistics about the choices we made this year.
Individual lists aren't included here -- you can read all our 2011 in Review articles to find out exactly which movies our contributors liked. Also, I want to explain what "2011" means for the purpose of this list. I asked that contributors include either films that had a U.S. release in 2011, or that played a local film fest in 2011 but do not yet have U.S. distribution. This means our lists could include movies like Albert Nobbs, which played Austin Film Festival 2011 but won't open in Austin until later this month; as-yet-undistributed AFF selection You Hurt My Feelings; and Japanese film A Boy and His Samurai, a Fantastic Fest 2011 favorite that hasn't yet been released in America.
And now, the list:
The week has barely started and already we have some great Austin film news to share.
- Congratulations this morning to Austin filmmaker Heather Courtney. Her documentary Where Soldiers Come From, which premiered at SXSW 2011 (my review), won the Truer Than Fiction award at the Film Independent grant award and nominees brunch on Saturday. Courtney gets a $25,000 grant as part of the award. Take Shelter, directed by Austinite Jeff Nichols, was also honored on Saturday -- producer Sophia Lin won the Piaget Producers Award. Local post-production Stuck On On must be pleased ... they worked on both these movies.
- The Austin-shot feature Holy Hell, which Jenn reviewed at Austin Film Festival in 2009, is finally available for you to watch, but not in one of the traditional ways. Austinist reports that the movie has been edited and repackaged into episodic chapters that you can watch on an iPad. The first 15-minute "chapter" is free, then you pay a dollar for each subsequent chapter. I don't have an iPad, but if any of you do and can try this out, let us know how the experience works for you.
- I can't believe I didn't mention this earlier, but the funniest movie I saw at Fantastic Fest last year now has U.S. distribution. Juan of the Dead (aka Juan de los Muertos), the Cuban zombie flick, will be released via video-on-demand/online streaming by Focus Worldwide, the VOD arm of Focus Features. This isn't theatrical distribution, but it means we'll at least be able to watch the movie again. The release date hasn't yet been announced. While we wait, read Rod's review.
Here's a handy list of all our "2011 in Review" columns featuring top-ten lists, favorite photos, don't-miss films and other contributors' selections from last year's movies. We'll update this list as more features are posted.
Here's a collection of favorites from photos I took at 2011 Austin film festivals and movie-related events, including the one above with John Corbett, Jon Gries and musician Tara Novick. The underlying theme of all of these photos would be that of serendipity, being at the right -- and sometimes wrong -- time but always being at the right place to capture the magic and infectious nature of Austin's film community and festivals.
Click the photos to find out more about them.
The Iron Lady attempts to depict the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of the U.K. It does so in a less than cohesive manner, but the acting by Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent shines through.
A significant portion of the film occurs in 2011 (at least this is my assumption from hints given), with an octogenarian Margaret Thatcher (Streep) under the sway of dementia and visions of her dead husband Denis (Broadbent). Quick flutters of memory, such as holding hands during The King and I, are interspersed with longer flashbacks of growing up a grocer's daughter and her eventual entrance into the political world. For the present, her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) and Thatcher's household staff are waiting for her to clean out Denis' wardrobe since he has been dead for eight years.
Phyllida Lloyd's first non-musical film seems dependent on the use of angled shots (to illustrate confusion? I'm not really sure why) and many montages. About a sixth of the film is Thatcher walking around various places followed by a group of white guys (I exaggerate slightly). Some of the flashback moments are edited so hurriedly that the viewer doesn't have much of a chance to connect or react.
Moviegoers don't ask for much in the month of January. For the most part, they understand what they're in for and don't have very lofty expectations. However, when they see ads for a film like Contraband with a cast lineup including Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and J.K. Simmons, the expectations might be a little high, even for January. Director Baltasar Komákur manages to helm a competently made action movie that has a few minor problems with it, but is actually a halfway decent January release.
In the port town of New Orleans, legendary smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) has long since retired and leads a modest life running his own business and living with his beautiful wife Kate (Beckinsale) and their two sons. When his brother-in-law gets in trouble with local drug dealer Tim Briggs (Ribisi), Chris must take it upon himself to come out of retirement and make "one last run" in order to save his brother-in-law and prevent any danger from happening to his own wife and children.
All of that is fine and dandy and has the makings for a very exciting film. The trouble is, Contraband doesn't have enough faith in its viewers to know where all of the chess pieces are placed before the action takes place. You hear someone call Chris Farraday the "Houdini of smuggling" several times and thankfully each time they have a different example of why he's given that moniker, but after the second time, we get it, dude is good at smuggling things.
Along with a number of new-to-Austin movies in theaters this week, on Sunday you can see The Best Damned Shorts Show over at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz that showcases local filmmakers and includes a Q&A. In addition, Alamo is teaming up with Lights. Camera. Help., the festival for films about nonprofits, for the Reel Change Film Frenzy this weekend. Ten nonprofit groups are teaming up with ten film crews for a weekend film challenge, and you can watch the resulting shorts on Sunday night at Alamo on South Lamar.
On Monday night, you can catch a sneak preview of Steven Soderbergh's movie Haywire at Alamo Village and support Texas film, since ticket proceeds benefit the 2012 Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund. And on Wednesday, also at Village, AFS Doc Nights screens Jennifer Fox's My Reincarnation, about Buddhist spiritual scholar/teacher Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.
Movies We've Seen:
Carnage (pictured at top) -- Two sets of parents meet for what was intended to be a cordial meeting about their kids but unsurprisingly, it doesn't remain that way. Jette says in her review that she "could see the interactions between these couples could get overly dramatic and even ugly, but I had no idea it would be so damned funny." (Regal Arbor, Violet Crown, Cinemark Tinseltown, Regal Metropolitan)
The Divide -- This apocalyptic SXSW 2011 selection starts off with a very impressive bang in the opening scenes, but quickly dissolves into a grisly mess as a group of survivors struggles with their own humanity. Or not. Rod saw it and in his review, says it "has a definite edge to it and I appreciated it." (Alamo Lamar)
Joyful Noise -- Competitive choirs are not exactly a new comedy concept, and this time it takes two leads (Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah). Are there any saving graces? Mike says yes in his review -- he found it "a family-friendly comedy in the same vein as Footloose with a wholesome message that doesn't get in the way of the fun." (wide)
Pariah -- As a teenager struggles to come of age, the pressure mounts for her to be what's expected, not what she is. Don says in his review, "It's entirely authentic, a vibrant and moving coming of age story." (Regal Arbor)