Amongst the many short films that I enjoyed at Austin Film Festival 2010 was I Love You Will Smith by local writer/director Bradley Jackson. This amusing film depicted how a casual office conversation about Will Smith’s latest movie can lead to a psychological breakdown -- and physical beatdown -- for some fans. I've found myself referencing Jackson's short in conversations with co-workers about movies so I'll admit I'm hooked. I Love You Will Smith was a Doorpost Film project finalist last year and can be watched on the Doorpost Film Project website here.
After seeing Jackson and his filmmaking crew in action on his latest short film The Man Who Never Cried during a set visit last fall, I was curious to see how the final film would turn out. The Man Who Never Cried has just received a $10,000 Audience Choice Award from the Doorpost Film Project, a prize that was determined by number of online votes through the Doorpost website. You can watch it in full at the end of this review.
The movie's central character, Ralph "it's pronounced Rafe" Winston (Keir O'Donnell), has never cried in his life, not even during his birth or as an adult when his former wilfe has a miscarriage. His inability to express grief and loss through tears has distanced himself emotionally from others. Ironically, his job as a clown enables others to express joy and laughter.
The classic noir thriller The Naked City ends with a memorable line: "There are eight million stories in the Naked City; this has been one of them."
There aren't quite as many stories in the River City, but Austin has plenty of crime nonetheless. And crime in Austin is the subject of two priceless TAMI videos featured in this article, Automobile Thefts -- A Police Training Aid and the provocatively titled No Chance.
Made in Austin c. 1953, Automobile Thefts is exactly the sort of mundane but now fascinating film that makes TAMI so special. Produced by the National Automobile Theft Bureau and the Texas Department of Public Safety, it's a training aid to help law enforcement more effectively combat car thieves. Thrilling it's not; its dry explanations of theft techniques and investigative procedures aren't exactly gripping entertainment. But like so many TAMI videos, Automobile Thefts captures mid-century life like no narrative film ever could.
Before we wrap up 2010 in review (you can read all the articles here), I wanted to share some of my favorite photos with you from local movie-related events. Click the photos for articles about them. Special thanks to Paul Gandersman for our Machete red-carpet photos (including the one below of Danny Trejo) and Tate English for the Dobie photo below. The other photos are mine, for better or worse.
Here's the latest Austin film news:
- Governor Rick Perry has just filmed a cameo for the movie Deep in the Heart, in which he plays himself circa 2006. The film is being shot in Austin and stars Jon Gries, still best known as the uncle in Napoleon Dynamite (although he directed Pickin and Grinnin', which played AFF in 2010). And yes, it does qualify to receive film incentives for shooting in Texas. Is this going to be a new way that filmmakers ensure they can actually get the tax rebates?
- Also at the Austin American-Statesman, Matthew Odam interviews Ryan Long, the new film programs manager at Austin Film Society. You may remember Long as a co-founder of Screen Door Films. Now he is working with AFS on their new Best of the Fests series. Long's also established the Texas Independent Film Network with Louis Black, in which they'll travel around the state screening notable movies from Texas.
- AFS has announced the latest film in its Doc Series: For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, Gerald Peary's documentary about movie critics. You can see it on Feb. 10 at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. Peary will be in attendance. After the movie, UT professor Tom Schatz will moderate a Q&A with Peary and a panel of local critics. No word on which critics, but since Ain't It Cool's Harry Knowles is actually in the documentary, I'm sure he'll be there if it's feasible. The above photo is from the SXSW 2009 panel related to the film, which sparked a very lively discussion, especially about online film criticism and movie blogging. That's Peary with Austin Chronicle lead film critic Marjorie Baumgarten.
When previews for The Dilemma aired on TV, I had little interest in seeing what appeared to be the latest bromantic comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. I typically enjoy this style of comedy, and James's performance alongside Will Smith in Hitch is one of my favorites in the genre. However, I was apprehensive about whether there would be enough chemistry between James and Vaughn to believe an almost brotherly bond. I decided to take a chance after I learned that producer and director Ron Howard (Parenthood, The DaVinci Code) was heading this project. With his directorial talent, I expected The Dilemma to be well developed and more complex than the standard bromance.
The Dilemma starts off harmlessly enough as we meet confirmed bachelor Ronny (Vaughn) and happily married Nick (James). Buddies since college, they're partners in an auto design firm and are set on taking their company to the top with an innovative project to produce muscle-car sounds in environmentally friendly electric cars. Supporting them in their endeavors -- and in past trouble of Ronny's gambling addiction -- are Ronny's girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), and Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder).
It may be chilly outside, but the award season is heating up in movie theaters. Now, finally, Austin audiences get to see the "smaller" arthouse award contenders that were previously only screened at festivals. And we've got a couple examples of small films grappling with emotional concerns, along with movies that are pure diversion. Which will you see?
Movies We've Seen:
Blue Valentine -- Raw and sporadically affecting, this AFF selection starring two outstanding actors (Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling) reveals the unravelling of a relationship. Bring a hanky or three if your heart is feeling a bit fragile. Read Don's review for more. (Alamo Ritz, Arbor, Barton Creek)
The Dilemma -- Do you tell your best friend their significant other is cheating on them? That's the plot, at least in theory, but from the trailers it just looks like an excuse for bad pratfalls and inanity and Vince Vaughn. Look for Debbie's review on Saturday morning. (wide)
The Green Hornet -- Michel Gondry takes on the 1960s TV series, with Seth Rogan and Jay Chou starring as the unlikely superhero and his more popular sidekick, Kato (played on TV by the late Bruce Lee). And woohoo, you have a choice of 3D or 2D. Jette reviews. (wide)
Rabbit Hole (pictured at top) -- John Cameron Mitchell always knows how to break my heart in the most profound and watchable ways, without being melodramatic. This time the director of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus takes on the limbo between tragedy and healing, as a couple tries to deal (and not) with an unspeakable loss. Adapted for the screen by David Lindsay-Abaire from his original screenplay. Elizabeth reviews. (Arbor)
I'm growing tired of superhero movies and think it's time for a break, not that the Hollywood or comic-book honchos will listen to me. Superhero films, especially the first in a series, tend to be inherently predictable. And I don't much enjoy the final big showdown at the end, especially when they're CGI-ified and you're not even watching real people fight, like in martial-arts movies (which I do continue to love). The battle of the men in the metal suits was easily for me the dullest part of the otherwise amusing Iron Man.
Director Michel Gondry -- yes, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind -- tries to mess around a little with the genre in The Green Hornet, but "mess" is sadly the operative word. The movie is an uneven jumble of comedy and the typical Nobility of the Superhero. The climactic fight scene might be set in a pretty cool environment, but it is so confusing and poorly choreographed that it isn't even fun on a kinetic gut level. Fortunately, the lighthearted and comic moments made this movie surprisingly likeable.
Austin film news has been cropping up all week, getting bigger and better as the week progresses. Here are the highlights:
- The biggest news: SXSW Film just announced a half-dozen more titles for this year's festival (two months away!) -- no Austin connections (update! see comments below) but certainly all interesting. Jodie Foster's movie The Beaver, starring Mel Gibson and scripted by Austinite Kyle Killen, will have its world premiere, as will Conan O'Brien Can't Stop, a documentary about the comedian's tour during his recent break from television; Ti West's latest movie, The Innkeepers, about amateur ghost hunters trying to prove a hotel is haunted; It's About You, a documentary on John Mellencamp; and Square Grouper, a movie set in the 1970s about pot smuggling in Miami. The latest movie from Greg Mottola (Adventureland) will also be shown at SXSW -- Paul, a movie about a hitchhiking alien, starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. If those aren't enough details, visit the SXSW Film site for more.
- Austin Film Society has just announced the next film in their new, cool Best of the Fests series: local filmmaker Geoff Marslett's animated film Mars, which we mentioned in our 2010 in Review feature earlier this week. Jenn reviewed it after its debut at SXSW last year. Now you have a chance to catch this movie at Alamo Village on Feb. 16. Better still, it'll be shown along with Lucas Martell's delightful animated short Pigeon: Impossible, which you can watch online but looks even better in a theater.
- Speaking of Austin filmmaking: The City of Austin has issued a call for entries in its Faces of Austin multimedia program. Selected short films will be shown on the widescreen video displays in the City Hall atrium. The shorts will also be made available online, and some of them will screen at the opening of the city's People's Gallery exhibit on Feb. 18. The deadline for submitting your short film is January 28. You can watch the previous Faces of Austin selections on the City of Austin YouTube channel.
A five-word line of dialogue near the end of Blue Valentine sums up the film's central relationship. It is a line said with resignation and mild disgust: "Ah...you must be Dean."
A coworker of the film's lead female character, Cindy (Michelle Williams), utters the line when Cindy's drunk and agitated husband Dean (Ryan Gosling) arrives at Cindy's workplace to confront her about their latest marital meltdown. From the coworker's flat and frustrated tone, it's obvious that Cindy and Dean's marriage from hell is no secret, and Dean is taking most of the blame.
But laying all the blame on Dean isn't quite fair, and we know why by this point in Blue Valentine. A brutally honest, harrowingly real and strikingly nuanced look at an unlikely relationship that was probably DOA from the start, Blue Valentine wags a finger at both Cindy and Dean for the bad choices they've made. But it also explains with great empathy what motivated those choices.
In Rabbit Hole, director John Cameron Mitchell (Hedwig and the Angry Inch) captures a period of time in the life of a married couple in suburban New York, months after their young son has died. Given this set-up, you might expect the film to be maudlin and depressing. Miraculously, even as the film deals seriously with some unhappy issues, it is able to do so without pulling the audience through the emotional wringer.
Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie Corbett's (Aaron Eckhart) son Danny was hit by a car in front of their house. To help cope with his death, they attend support group meetings -- where they meet Gaby (Sandra Oh) and her husband -- but neither seem to benefit from them.
Becca has a rather fraught relationship with her younger sister Izzy (Tammy Blanchard, The Good Shepherd), and is annoyed that her mom Nat (a magnificent Dianne Wiest) keeps comparing Becca's current situation to her own. She begins a sort of friendship with Jason (Miles Teller), the high-school student and aspiring comic-book artist involved in the accident that killed her son.