This weekend, Austin Film Society's Bryan Poyser finds out if his second nomination for a Spirit Award means he needs an acceptance speech. Poyser wrote and directed Lovers of Hate, which is up for the prestigious Cassavetes Award. I'm fully in the "honor just to be nominated" camp, but I would love to see Poyser and the film get more exposure and recognition. But in the meantime, there are new movies coming out this week.
Movies We've Seen:
No Strings Attached -- Going from an Aronofsky masterpiece to an Ashton Kutcher vehicle is not what I expected from Natalie Portman, but perhaps she needed something light after such heavy material? This romantic comedy is about the complications of a strictly physical relationship, and is directed by Ivan Reitman. Look for Mike's review this weekend. (wide)
Somewhere -- Sofia Coppola's latest is an overdue coming-of-age for a not-so-young anymore actor (Stephen Dorff) when he starts spending more time with his tweenage daughter (Elle Fanning). This serviceable character study will likely satisfy Coppola's fans, but might be too studied for others. Elizabeth reviews. (Alamo Lamar, Arbor)
Lemmy (pictured above) -- Motorhead's lead singer gets the biopic treatment in this eponymously titled documentary. Jette reviewed this movie when it played SXSW in 2010 -- it was her first exposure to Motorhead, and she was delighted. (Alamo Lamar)
Fans of Machete now can see Robert Rodriguez's brilliantly overdone homage to exploitation flicks on the small screen, and it loses none of its gleefully gory and sexy charm in the translation. The new Machete Blu-ray captures every severed limb, explosion and naked female body part in glorious HD video and superb sound. (If you don't have a Blu-ray player, you can enjoy Machete's brand of heartwarming family entertainment on DVD.)
For an exploitation film, Machete has a surprisingly complex and coherent plot, not that this matters terribly much amid all the mayhem. Set in Austin, south Texas and Mexico, the story follows Machete Cortez (Danny Trejo), an ex-Federale turned immigrant day laborer hired by sinister political operative Michael Booth (Jeff Fahey) to assassinate a Texas state senator, John McLaughlin (Robert De Niro).
Meanwhile, immigration agent Sartana Rivera (Jessica Alba) stakes out taco truck owner Luz (Michelle Rodriguez), the suspected head of The Network, an organization that helps Mexican immigrants cross the border and find jobs. The two storylines intersect when Machete befriends Luz at a day labor site, and Rivera suspects he is part of The Network also.
Things go horribly wrong during the assassination attempt, and Machete is the victim of a double cross. He finds himself on the run from several parties, including the cops, Rivera, Booth and Machete's old nemesis, a Mexican drug lord named Torrez (a perfectly miscast Steven Seagal). Vowing revenge on those who double crossed him, Machete sets out to give them their bloody comeuppance with the help of Luz, Rivera and Machete's brother, a well-armed priest named Padre (Cheech Marin).
This synopsis leaves out plenty of details involving a vigilante group, political corruption, shifting alliances, incriminating videos, drug smuggling, impressive weapons caches, lesbian incest, scores of dead bodies, way-cool lowriders and online porn, but to say more would spoil some of the surprises and all of the fun. It suffices to say that Machete delivers most every flavor of fu, all presented with great wit and style.
I tend to smirk when I hear about producers who've said a movie won't play well in Middle America. But if there is a movie to which such a ridiculous generalized statement might apply, it's Somewhere. I say this as a fan of director Sofia Coppola's early work (The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation).
Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) is a fortysomething action movie star who dwells in the famed Chateau Marmont hotel in LA. He doesn't instigate much in the film -- things just happen around him or to him. A friend throws parties in Johnny's suite, female hotel-dwellers flirt ceaselessly with him, and work-wise, his assistant/agent arranges everything for him: he just shows up.
For a film directed by a female, it's strange how dominant the male gaze is in Somewhere. Johnny sleepily watches pole-dancing strippers from his bed, women flash their breasts at him at various points of the film, and the only long-term relationship Mr. Marco has with any female is with his tween daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). It's too bad Cleo doesn't stick around for the whole film -- the scenes between her and her father are the liveliest this movie gets.
Here's the latest Austin film news -- yes, there certainly seems to be a lot of it lately. I blame SXSW.
- And let's start with SXSW, which has announced a special "Film Lounge" for SXSW Film badgeholders for this year's fest at The Hideout. I don't know whether the lounge will take up the entire two-story Hideout, just the theater area, or employ the upstairs rooms. It may mean that The Hideout is off-limits to film passholders and ordinary folks during the first part of the fest, and it may also mean that The Hideout won't be a venue this year for shorts collections put together by various groups, as has been traditional. We'll keep you posted as we get more information.
- Looks like one of the movies screening at SXSW this year will be a documentary about SXSW, commissioned by the fest for its 25th anniversary.
- Another film festival is going on this week: Sundance, in Park City. Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Shotgun Stories) is there with his latest feature, Take Shelter. Before the film even plays the fest, its distribution rights have been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. The movie stars Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastain and Kathy Baker.
- Kobe Bryant is The Black Mamba? A Robert Rodriguez film? Matthew Odam has the scoop -- and the trailer -- over at Austin360.
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)