To say this week's new movies are an eclectic mix is an understatement. Read on ...
Movies We've Seen:
The Concert -- Mélanie Laurent stars in this comedy about a once celebrated conductor who intercepts a invitation for his former orchestra to perform in Paris. Read Debbie's review for more details. (Arbor)
Source Code -- Duncan Jones' sophomore feature also deals with classic science fiction themes, although this time there's a much larger cast, and much more at stake as Jake Gyllenhaal tries to stop a terrorist attack and save the girl. I agree with Jette's review -- put this on your must see list. (wide)
The King's Speech (PG-13 version) -- Honestly, I haven't seen this new censored version of the film reworked to remove the (therapeutic) profanity in the original release version. But hey, if it means 13 year olds won't act like 3-year-olds repeating what they've heard before, more power to 'em. Read Elizabeth's review of the original R-rated version. (wide)
When you've made an amazing first feature, it's hard to live up to it with your next movie. I am already hearing people fuss that Source Code, the new film directed by Duncan Jones, isn't as good as Moon, his feature directorial debut. Let's be frank: It's not. But you know what? It doesn't matter. Judging this movie on its own terms, it's a terrific ride.
It's hard not to think about other movies while watching Source Code, though. One of my colleagues described it as "Deja Vu meets Groundhog Day." Well, I liked both those movies, and while Source Code does fit that description ... what did I just say about judging a movie on its own terms? Thank you.
Source Code opens with wide shots of a train, accompanied by the kind of music that might remind you of a Hitchcock thriller or a Seventies heist movie. Yes, I've just invoked two more movie comparisons. Try to keep up. Jake Gyllenhaal's character wakes up on the commuter train and is terribly confused ... he's getting used to the setting at the same time we are. The woman across the aisle says she's his girlfriend Christina (Michelle Monaghan) and that his name is Sean, but he thinks he's someone else. And while he's trying to work it all out --
As much as I enjoy The Birdcage, the Americanized version couldn't hold a candle to the original classic French farce La Cage Aux Folles, in which the setting of the gay club in St. Tropez lends so well to the atmosphere and mood. I was reminded of this while watching The Concert (Le concert), a dramedy set in Russia and Paris. Writer/director Radu Milhaileanu and his collaborator Alain-Michel Blanc originally envisioned creating The Concert in English with American actors to appeal to a mainstream audience. However, the filmmakers decided that English would render the movie more artificial, and decided to shoot in the original languages of Russian and French -- a choice I wholeheartedly support, especially after watching The Concert.
The Concert focuses on Andreï Filipov (Aleksey Guskov), the janitor at the Bolshoi. He enjoys listening to the famed Bolshoi Orchestra, but not because he's a low-class worker aspiring to greatness that he can never hope to achieve -- in fact, 30 years ago he was the celebrated conductor of the Bolshoi. At the height of his fame he was fired for refusing to expel Jewish musicians in his orchestra as directed by Brezhnev, and several of his friends were sent to and later died in Gulag labor camps. Filipov retreats into his despair and alcoholism, with the painful memories of a concert that was never finished.
The most moving documentary I saw at SXSW this year is from Austinite Heather Courtney, although it's primarily shot in her hometown, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Where Soldiers Come From. I had more or less decided after The Messenger that I'd had enough of war-related features and documentaries, but I don't regret seeing this movie, not for a minute. The film had its world premiere at SXSW 2011.
Where Soldiers Come From follows three young men from their decision to enroll in the National Guard after high school, through their deployment overseas, and what happens post-deployment. Dom is an artist, and we see a lot of his graffiti-like art on the walls of an abandoned building in his hometown, before he leaves. He hangs out with his friends Cole and Bodi, and they all end up in the same National Guard unit, sent to Afghanistan to find IEDs (improvised explosive devices; aka bombs).
Here's the latest Austin film-related news:
- IndieWIRE's The Playlist reports that Saturday Night Live actor Bill Hader is working on a movie called Henchman, in which he'll star. The Henchman script was originally drafted by Austin writers Chris Mass (Chalk) and Owen Egerton, as well as UT grad Russell Leigh Sharman. You may remember Hader was here last October for Austin Film Festival, where he participated in a staged reading of The Hand Job, a script written by his wife, Maggie Carey. (via Joe M. O'Connell and this blog)
- Cine Las Americas is looking for volunteers for this year's festival, which takes place April 21-28 here in Austin. They're holding a volunteer sign-up meeting this Thursday, March 31, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the Mexican American Cultural Center. They've also posted a list of festival volunteer opportunities and a form for you to fill out if you're interested.
- Next week, UT grad student Robert Lemon's short film ¿Tacos or Tacos? will have its world theatrical premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival. The short documentary compares Austin's fancy new food trailers with traditional taco trucks. I hope we'll see the film in Austin soon. In the meantime, this SFWeekly article has the trailer and details about Lemon and his movie.
Filmmaker Kevin Smith is currently doing a national roadshow for his latest movie, Red State. Last night, I had the opportunity to catch the screening here in Austin at the Paramount. This is a must-see movie. The most difficult aspect of this movie is describing it. The movie has elements of a dark comedy mixed with intense action thriller sometimes bordering on horror. For what Smith claims to be his second-to-last movie, he has redefined himself.
Red State opens with three high-school boys setting off for a sexual encounter they've arranged via a swinger's website. This encounter takes them to a trailer in the woods inhabited by Sara Cooper, played by 2010 Academy Award winner Melissa Leo. It doesn't take long to learn that Sara is actually a wolf in sheep's clothing.
After consuming drug-laced beer, the boys find themselves prisoners of ultra conservative preacher Abin Cooper (brilliantly played by Michael Parks). Preacher Cooper is based on the real minister Fred Phelps, of the Westboro Baptist Church (better known as the church that likes to protest funerals). The initial scenes of these kids being imprisoned takes you immediately (almost jarringly) from a happy-go-lucky Porky's type adventure to the realization that these kids are in Deep Bandini.
Romantic thriller Apart had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this month, and will be playing in competition at the Dallas International Film Festival on April 3 and 5. I interviewed star Josh Danziger and writer/director Aaron Rottinghaus while they were in Austin to promote the movie (read my review for more details).
But before I get into my conversation with Rottinghaus, allow me to take a moment to share what actress Joey Lauren Adams had to say, when I spent a few minutes chatting with her. Adams (Chasing Amy) hired Rottinghaus as an editor on her writing/directorial debut Come Early Morning, which Austin Film Festival in 2006 after a Sundance premiere earlier that year.
"In the process of editing [Come Early Morning], we became friends and he went above in beyond in helping me with my project," Adams told me. So she returned the favor to take a small but significant role in Apart.
"Once he gave me that first bit of direction, he was really good. And all at once he was my director and I was his actor, and I trust him. Aaron had a vision, whether you liked the film or not, and it was very thought out and very detailed. He did a great job on it, and he stuck with it." Would Adams work with Rottinghaus again? "In a heartbeat. As a director, or an editor."
Arguably the best thing about SXSW is discovering "new" talent, both onscreen and off. One of the world premiere films at SXSW 2011 was Apart, the feature directorial debut of Aaron Rottinghaus. The movie starred Texas native Josh Danziger, who worked on the original story with Rottinghaus (read the Slackerwood review). Both took time out of their whirlwind week to talk with Slackerwood about their romantic thriller, the story of a young man haunted by the past and the girl he cannot remember.
Below are excerpts from my conversation with Danziger, who was in town to support the movie and to celebrate making it in his home state of Texas. We're confirming he's also going to be in Dallas for the screenings of Apart at the Dallas International Film Festival in less than a week.
I have a confession to make: I really enjoyed Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, a new documentary by director James Moll that played SXSW this year.
Foo Fighters: Back and Forth traces the story of the band Foo Fighters from their start in 1995 to the recording of their current album. For those of you who don't know the Foo Fighters, it's the band David Grohl founded after the tragic death of his Nirvana band mate and friend Kurt Cobain.
One of the things I really liked about this documentary was how the story was told. Where a lot of documentaries are told using narration, this documentary was told using interviews of current and former band members. I really liked hearing the stories of the band from the people that actually lived it. I can imagine that Moll's background doing interviews for the Shoah Project has something to do with this.
This year at SXSW Film, I decided to spend less time in line and more at the satellite and smaller venues, and catching the Narrative and Midnight Shorts programs. Kudos to SXSW Film programmers Claudette Godfrey and Stephanie Noone who set up the short film lineup. Anyone who's read my AFF Selected Shorts or Fantastic Fest coverage knows I love the short film format, partly due to the small time investments for great rewards. I found myself on the edge of my theater seat in under 15 minutes for one film and brought to tears of joy by another in the next 15. Find out which films that I found were most engaging after the jump.