Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene

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Elizabeth Olsen in Martha Marcy May Marlene

Before the Martha Marcy May Marlene press screening started, my friend and I joked about the name of the film and how difficult it was to recall all the "M" names in it. After seeing the movie, however, it's quite doubtful the viewer will forget the film's title. Twenty-two-year-old Elizabeth Olsen -- sibling of those Olsens, who really looks like a younger Maggie Gyllenhaal -- stars as Martha/Marcy May.

Olsen's Martha is confused and currently dependent on her older sister Lucy's (Sarah Paulson) generosity, such as it is. She refuses to confide in Lucy about what she's been up to the past two years.

Before deciding to reach out to her much older sister, Martha lived a couple years at a farm in upstate New York headed by a David Koresh-like figure named Patrick (former Austinite John Hawkes). The farmworkers/cultmembers are all twentysomething lanky, attractive folk who share a wardrobe. Patrick renames our protagonist Marcy May and initiates her into the group by raping her after she's been drugged. Another woman in the group assures her after the awful event that this was a "truly good" thing.

AFF 2011 Photo Essay: Hair of the Dog Brunch

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Kat Candler with Carla L. Jackson and Kelvin Z. Phillips of A Swingin' Trio

Austin Film Festival provides great opportunities to meet and mingle with filmmakers, but the most laid-back social event where new friendships are forged and ideas sprout is the annual Hair of the Dog Brunch. It's great to see seasoned veterans of Austin's local film scene such as Kat Candler (Jumping Off Bridges), seen above with Carla L. Jackson and Kelvin Z. Phillips of A Swingin' Trio -- check out Jenn Brown's interview with Jackson and Phillips and her review of their first feature film. 

See more photos of filmmakers including the Texas Monthly "Where I'm From" film contest finalists after the jump.

AFF Review: Thank You for Judging

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Thank You for Judging poster

If you enjoy watching the National Geography Bee and love the 2002 film Spellbound, but wonder, "Where is the love for kids who do speech and debate?" you will likely enjoy Thank You for Judging. Texan actor Michael Urie (best known for his work on Ugly Betty), one of four credited directors on this movie, took a camera crew to spend a weekend at the Texas Forensic Association's state competition in 2008, resulting in this documentary.

Thank You for Judging follows teens from Plano Senior High School (Urie's alma mater) as well as students from Creekview High in Carrollton as they go through the stages of the tournament in Coppell, Texas. Neither ice nor sleet nor snow will keep these determined teens from competing, althoughwintry weather almost delays the competition. To give the viewer an idea of what they're in for, Plano coach Karen Wilbanks states, "All art is competitive."

AFF 2011 Interview: 'Restive'

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Jeremiah Jones and Marianna Palka of Restive

A mother's challenge to her abusive husband sends her family into an unsettling journey through the woods in Austin-based first-time filmmaker Jeremiah Jones's feature film Restive. The movie screened to a sold-out audience the first night of AFF. Jones and lead actress Marianna Palka (pictured above) were there too.

A lot has changed for writer/director Jones, who graduated from The University of Texas at Austin where he was a three-year football letterman.

How did Jones transition from football to filmmaking? "It might sound odd, but the skill sets are the same," he said. "Directing is coaching, and casting is recruiting. You try to get everyone on the same page and give them the support that they need to get to a goal. You treat them like family."

Photo Essay: Tarzan and Arab at Alamo Ritz

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Tim League Introduces Tarzan and Arab

Last Wednesday, October 26, the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz hosted a very special presentation of an incredible pair of Palestinian artists, along with two related films. Above, Drafthouse founder Tim League introduces the show and explains the enormous task of bringing them to Austin.

Twin brothers and filmmakers Tarzan and Arab (Ahmed and Mohammed Abu Nasser) hail from Gaza, where the last movie theater was destroyed in a bombing two years before they were born. The sons of an art teacher, they conceived an art project where they would create movie posters for imaginary films with titles based on codenames for Israeli military operations.

AFF Review: Below Zero

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Below Zero

AFF 2011 selection Below Zero is almost as much a performance art project as it is a film. Unfortunately, it is not a masterpiece. Writer Signe Olynyk had herself locked inside a meat freezer in an abandoned slaughterhouse in order to write a script about a hack writer who is likewise locked up in the same freezer to write a script. But Below Zero is so meta, it's meta-meta. The writer (Edward Furlong) then spends a week going insane writing a script about a guy trapped in a meat locker.

It's almost as if they were trying to make Inception, except every level of dreaming in this movie is the same (bad) dream. Even better, the film is shot in the very same meat locker. I don't want to be too negative, as the concept is interesting, and the first 80 percent of the movie is well-executed.

The story in Below Zero shifts back and forth between Jack the writer (Furlong) and Frank, the character in the script (also Furlong). Things begin happening in the room while Jack is asleep that mimic his script even as the script anticipates some of those events.

AFF Review: "Where I'm From" Texas Shorts

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Now Leaving Amarillo

Jake Silverstein, Texas Monthly editor-in-chief, introduced the "Where I'm From" Texas shorts program at Austin Film Festival by explaining how it came to be. This is the first year of the magazine's collaboration with AFF -- in previous years, the shorts contest has been online only. Out of more than 100 reader submissions (Silverstein was unclear on the exact number), there were 18 semifinalists. These were narrowed down to the 11 finalist films which screened at the festival. A panel of judges then picked the three winners, which were announced at the Saturday screening.

First on the program was Will O'Loughlin's film 254 about his travels all over the Lone Star State. While still photographs appear onscreen, O'Loughlin's (somewhat monotone) narration explains how over a span of 15 years, he has driven through every county in Texas, all 254 of them. H-Town Up & Down was the only dramatization in the bunch. A 20-something go-getter's car breaks down in the outskirts of Houston and he has to figure out a way to get to his interview with a firm downtown. Drew Lewis' short has a few funny moments, but the acting leans towards the style of "Hey kids, let's put on a show."

AFF 2011 Photo Essay: 'Deep in the Heart'

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IMG_0183

Although out-of-town Austin Film Festival attendees may have had a difficult time attending movie premieres and screenings at the Regal Arbor in north Austin, this local doesn't mind the change of pace. With changes in the parking fees downtown and traffic congestion, I enjoy the alternate venues -- especially since the Arbor is close to home for me.

One of the AFF selections I saw at the Arbor this year was Deep in the Heart, a feature making its world premiere in the fest's Texas Independents category. Starring local festival alum Jon Gries (Natural Selection, Napoleon Dynamite) as Texan Dick Wallrath, this docudrama focuses on a man who went from a deadbeat alcoholic to a self-made millionaire and philanthropist. Wallrath is known for his generosity via the Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H programs that helps fund college educations for students from rural communities. The movie was shot in the greater Austin area.

Dick Wallrath and his wife Patsy (seen above with executive producer Jay Hoffman) attended the Arbor screening, along with several of the film's stars and writer/producer Brian A. Hoffman -- read Jenn Brown's interview with Hoffman here. See more photos from the Deep in the Heart Q&A after the jump.

AFF 2011: Austin Cinema Was Everywhere

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Austin Film Festival is over for another year. This year I saw fewer films than I have in the past, but I have to say I'm really proud of the way Austin and Texas were represented overall. The newly re-named and expanded Texas Independents program was a big hit. 

I didn't get much of a chance to see films that didn't have a local connection, but thankfully I did get a chance to see the delightfully poignant Harold's Going Stiff (writer/director Keith Wright pictured above with an unknown AFF guest). I was also pleasantly surprised with Sironia, which hopefully will play again in Austin soon, as it was a real crowd pleaser with some outstanding music. You Hurt My Feelings was a surprise because it's such a sneaky little quiet movie, one that may be the breakout film for Steve Collins and John Merriman (pictured below).

AFF Review: Butter

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Butter

Similar to the way butter can sometimes be that last thing to transform a recipe of seemingly unrelated ingredients into a delicious meal, writer Jason Micallef's script for Butter manages to bring together a diverse cast and even sometimes puts them in unfamiliar territory to create a uniquely original and hilarious comedy. On paper this might not sound like a movie that could possibly work, but it does, and it does it with gusto. Butter is straight up one hell of a hilarious film.

Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell) carves butter. Not much more to him than that, he leads a simple life making amazing carvings out of butter and he couldn't be happier. His wife Laura (Jennifer Garner) loves the privileges and fame that come from being Mrs. Bob Pickler, wife of a champion butter sculpter. But after 15 years of being the gold standard when it comes to butter carving, Bob is encouraged to let someone else try to achieve the buttery glory. This does not please Laura.

Meanwhile, we are treated to wonderful narration by a little orphan girl named Destiny (Yara Shahidi) whose life experiences have made her quite the noble philosopher. She's seeking her place in life and when she's adopted by a couple in the same town as the Picklers, she might have finally found her calling.

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