Movies This Week: Five Better Certified Assassins

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Since the Dobie closed last year, there's been a void in town, but now with the Violet Crown open, Austin has a new dedicated arthouse cinema. No more trips up north for me. And for those of you relying on mass transit, it's conveniently downtown in the Second Street district (and on one of the most frequently running routes, the #3).

Movies We've Seen:

13 Assassins -- Takashi Miike's popular tale of a group of samurai warriors on a suicide mission to kill an evil lord has played both Fantastic Fest and SXSW. That pretty much speaks for itself. Read Jette's review from Fantastic Fest. (Ritz)

Other Movies Opening in Austin:

Certified Copy (pictured above)  -- Juliette Binoche stars in this chance encounter between a gallery owner and a writer who end up touring the Tuscan countryside, and are continually mistaken for a married couple. Binoche's performance earned her a Best Actress prize at Cannes. (Violet Crown)

'¿Tacos or Tacos?' Tours Central Texas

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Tacos or Tacos?Food trucks and trailers are increasingly popular in Austin these days, serving everything from traditional tacos to kimchi fries to frozen chocolate-dipped bananas. Local filmmaker Robert Lemon, who is also a PhD student in geography at The University of Texas, compares and contrasts two very different mobile food vendors in the short documentary ¿Tacos or Tacos?, which played Cine Las Americas this week and will screen at the Hill Country Film Festival tomorrow.

The documentary focuses on Mighty Cone on South Congress and Tortas El Guero on Cameron Road. One serves gourmet meats and snacks in paper snow-cones, parked in a trendy lot devoted to food trailers; the other serves  Mexico City-style tortas and tacos from a converted school bus next to a car wash. Lemon shows up on camera discussing the Austin mobile food culture and trying some of the wares from the two vendors. In addition, he interviews not only the managers/owners of the trailers but also some of the patrons.

One of the points the documentary makes is that the two different trucks reflect the culture of their surrounding community, and the way that food is important to people, especially people far from their hometown. The interviews and discussions around Tortas El Guero are especially good.

Review: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

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Qi Shu and Donnie Yen of Legend of the Fist

Fantastic Fest 2010 selection Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Jing wu feng yun: Chen Zhen) is back in Austin on Friday night at Alamo Drafthouse Village. The movie brings together history with amazing action sequences and stunning sets of Japanese-occupied Shanghai during the First World War to re-invent the tale of a cultural hero, played by action star Donnie Yen (Ip Man). Director Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) attempts to serve up more than the usual martial arts action porn with a complex storyline featuring nationalism, brotherhood, espionage, romance and superheroes.

Yen portrays the legendary Chen Zhen, a character created by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury and later portrayed by Jet Li in Gordon Chan's acclaimed 1994 remake Fist of Legend. Yen himself has played the character in a 1995 TV series. For Legend of the Fist, Yen teamed with writer/producer Gordon Chan and director Lau to continue the story of Chen Zhen as a World War I veteran, resistance fighter and masked superhero.

Zhen's heroism precedes the war, when as a member of the Jing Wu Athletic Association he defeated a formidable Japanese opponent at the Hongkou Dojo. In France in 1917, he and his fellow laborers carry ammunition to French soldiers in trenches, and during a climactic retreat, Zhen rescues both his fellow patriots and French soldiers as well. When a comrade is killed, he assumes his identity in order to gain anonymity.

Cine Las Americas Jury Award Winners Screen Tonight

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Cine Las AmericasThe Cine Las Americas International Film Festival, which has been going on all week, has announced its jury award winners and scheduled them for encore screenings tonight at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. If you don't have a festival pass, you can buy tickets at the Alamo box office.

Portraits in a Sea of Lies (Retratos en un mar de mentiras) won the Best Narrative Feature award and will be shown at 6 pm. The Colombian movie is about a pair of cousins who travel to their hometown to try to recover land taken from them when younger. The Best Narrative Short, Lupano Leyva, will screen beforehand.

The Best Documentary Feature award went to Defiant Brasilia (Avenida Brasilia Formosa), which plays at 3 pm. The "experimental documentary" from Brazil is about a group of people moved to a fictional street and how they interact together. The Best Documentary Short, If We Stay Alive (Si seguimos vivos), will screen beforehand.

Cine Las Americas wraps up tonight with closing-night film The Life of Fish (La vida de los peces), at 9:45 pm at Alamo on Lamar, followed by an after-party at Club DeVille.

For more Cine Las Americas coverage, check out Austin Vida, which includes an interview with Go For It! filmmaker Carmen Marron and reviews of fest selections Habla Texas and Miss Tacuarembo. In addition, True View Reviews has set up a blog just for their Cine Las Americas reviews.

Slackery News Tidbits, April 27

Here's the latest Austin film news, along with some special screenings and events.

  • Last week, I wrote about the Austin films that will screen at Cannes, some of which have screened here already. Now you can see Kyle Henry and Carlos Trevino's short film Fourplay: Tampa here in Austin before it plays the Cannes Film Festival. aGLIFF and Austin Film Society are sponsoring a benefit screening to raise completion funds for the film. Catch Fourplay: Tampa on Saturday, April 30 at 1 pm at Alamo Ritz.
  • Austin is also getting some representation at Ebertfest in Champaign, Illinois this weekend. Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater will be at Roger Ebert's film festival on Friday to screen his delightful 2009 movie Me and Orson Welles. In addition, Natural Selection, the Smithville-shot film that swept the SXSW Narrative Feature awards this year (Ebert was on the jury), will play the festival.
  • If you're here in Austin this weekend, don't forget the Hill Country Film Festival, which takes place Thursday through Saturday at the Stagecoach Theater in Fredericksburg. Sounds like a great opportunity for a short road trip.

A Look at Cine Las Americas So Far

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Cine Las AmericasMuch to my regret, I haven't yet been able to get to Cine Las Americas this year. Fortunately, several other excellent online writers have been sharing previews, reviews and other interesting notes on the film festival.

Check out these websites, which will tempt you to head out to Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar and the Mexican American Cultural Center for the remaining films and events at Cine Las Americas this week. Feel free to share links to other coverage in the comments.

  • Austin Vida is publishing movie reviews from Cine Las Americas. Annar Verold was impressed with the Chilean documentary Nostalgia de la luz, and amused by opening-night film Las marimbas del infierno.
  • Over at Austin Film Society's Persistence of Vision blog, AFS Programming Director Chale Nafus has been sharing his enjoyment of the festival and offering previews of many films. Here are his entries for Day One and Day Three of Cine Las Americas this year, and I'm sure he'll have more before the week ends.
  • Kimberley Jones and Richard Whittaker at the Austin Chronicle recommends five must-see events at Cine Las Americas, some of which you can still catch.
  • Even the parties are getting a bit of press: Michael Barnes reports on Friday night's Iron Dragon reception on the Statesman's Out and About blog, and chats with the Cine Las Americas filmmakers that attended.

Movies This Week: The Greatest Big Happy American Cats

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It may still be early spring, but we're definitely seeing summer weather, which means people are going to the movies to cool off. A whole lot of films are opening in Austin this week, see for yourself. In addition, Cine Las Americas is underway all week at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar and -- screenings are free at this venue -- the Mexican American Cultural Center. Read my preview for details.

Movies We've Seen:

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold -- Morgan Spurlock, the man who took on McDonalds and super-sized meals, now takes on product placement, with the help of POM Wonderful in this SXSW 2010 selection. Read Mike's SXSW review. (Arbor, Alamo Lamar)

Echotone -- Jette says: This AFF 2010 documentary about the Austin music scene and how it's affected by local development is back in town for a four-night run. It's also a very lovely movie with some great music. Read Debbie's review from AFF or my review for Cinematical. Don't miss seeing it in a theater. (Alamo Ritz)

Slackery News Tidbits, April 22

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Here's the latest Austin movie news and a few upcoming special events:

  • Violet Crown Cinema downtown is gearing up to open April 29. If you can't wait that long, Austin Film Society is holding a fundraiser preview at the new theater on Wednesday, April 27. AFS founder Richard Linklater has selected eight titles from the Criterion Collection to screen in the theaters that night; you can pick a single or double-feature ... and the ticket prices include garage parking downtown. I'm very tempted to slip down there for Paris, Texas myself. Look for my interview with VCC manager Elizabeth Skerrett next week.
  • Speaking of Linklater, local actor/artist Wiley Wiggins will be drinking and live-tweeting during a broadcast of Dazed and Confused tonight at 6 pm on cable TV network Current. Read this A.V. Club interview with Wiggins for all the details.
  • If you prefer your movies in a theater and Twitter-free, you can always head over to the AFS Screening Room for a special screening of The Whole Shootin' Match at 7:30 pm with Sonny Carl Davis in attendance.
  • Since the Dobie Theater closed last year, Austin no longer has a Landmark-owned theater in town, but it's still interesting to hear that Mark Cuban is putting the theater chain up for sale, along with Magnolia Pictures. Also interesting and slightly related: One of Magnolia's co-founders was Bill Banowsky, owner of Violet Crown Cinema here in Austin.

TAMI Flashback: The More Things Change in Texas Politics, The More They Don't

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State Capitol

This article is the sixth in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

There is an ancient joke that the people of Texas would be much better off if the Texas Legislature, instead of meeting for 140 days every two years, would meet for two days every 140 years. Given the current legislature's less than stellar performance, I'm inclined to agree. (Molly Ivins said it best when she labeled Texas "the national laboratory for bad government.")

Whatever your opinion of the Texas Legislature, you'll probably agree that the biennial proceedings at the Texas Capitol are endlessly fascinating. And in conjunction with the current legislative session, this month I'm featuring a few TAMI videos that remind us some things never change in Texas politics.

Produced c. 1965, Mr. Speaker is an entertaining and informative documentary about a day in the life of Texas House Speaker Ben Barnes. Only 26 when he took office in 1965, Barnes was the youngest speaker in Texas history. He served as speaker until 1969 and then as lieutenant governor from 1969 to 1973.

Austin is All Over Cannes This Year

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Richard Linklater may not be there this year to scare European journalists with his "demonic gestures" (aka the "Hook 'em" sign) but Cannes Film Festival is going to have some excellent Texas and even Austin representation in May. I mentioned one short film last week but I keep hearing more and better news.

Here's what I have so far -- feel free to comment if I missed anything. I have no clue yet whether any of the local filmmakers/writers mentioned below will actually travel to France for the festival ... I just hope the movies come back here so I can see them (if I haven't already).

  • The most obvious Central Texas movie at Cannes will be The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick's latest film, which we will hopefully see in Austin starting on June 4. The Tree of Life is one of the features in the main Cannes competition, up against new films from Pedro Almodovar, Takashi Miike and Lars von Trier, among others.
  • Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols' latest film, Take Shelter, will screen as part of the Critics Week competition at Cannes. You may recall that Take Shelter premiered at Sundance this year, although it hasn't yet screened here in Austin. Another Texas connection in the Critics Week lineup is a special screening of Walk Away Renee, directed by Houston filmmaker Jonathan Caouette (Tarnation).
  • The Directors Fortnight at Cannes will include short film Fourplay: Tampa, directed by former Austinite Kyle Henry and written by still-an-Austinite (I hope) Carlos Trevino. It's one of only three American films in the Directors Fortnight this year. The short is part of a series that was awarded Texas Filmmakers Production Fund grants in 2009 and 2010.
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