The above photo of Casino Jack director George Hickenlooper, with actor Jon Lovitz, was taken on Thursday night at the Paramount. Hickenlooper and Lovitz were in town for the Austin Film Festival closing-night film and party -- red carpet beforehand, Q&A afterward, you know the drill.
Hickenlooper then headed to Denver to screen Casino Jack at the Denver Starz Film Festival. Sadly, George Hickenlooper died in Denver on Saturday morning. He was 47 years old. His filmography also includes Factory Girl, Mayor of the Sunset Strip, the short Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade (on which the feature Sling Blade was based) and the documentary Hearts of Darkness about the making of Apocalypse Now.
I can't say anything better than Moises Chiullan does over at Badass Digest, and I urge you to go read his column about the director. Chiullan was friends with Hickenlooper and had planned to work with him on a Hearts of Darkness commentary track.
One of the best things about attending film festivals is that while seeing a lot of interesting films, you also learn a lot of interesting things. For example, thanks to the intriguing documentary The Spirit Molecule, I now know that dimethyltryptamine is one hell of a great drug.
Better known as DMT, dimethyltryptamine is the subject of Austin filmmaker Mitch Schultz's über-trippy examination of a drug found in nearly every living organism and considered the world's most powerful psychedelic. Combining stunningly psychedelic animation with thoughtful interviews, The Spirit Molecule is a paean to psychedelic drug use that also asks a lot of questions about the nature of human consciousness.
The Slackerwood staff is in the process of recovering from Austin Film Festival, and I'm not sure any of us want to look at a movie for, oh, days. Maybe a week ... well, not that long. For the rest of you, here are the new movies opening in Austin today:
Conviction -- Hilary Swank stars as a woman who puts herself through law school so she can defend her wrongly imprisoned brother, played by Sam Rockwell. Based on a real-life story. I suspect this may be Oscar bait. (wide)
The long-suffering city of Port Arthur, Texas has a love-hate relationship with the oil industry. Without the industry's refinery jobs, Port Arthur probably would cease to exist, and its residents would be hard pressed to find other employment in a regional economy based almost entirely on petrochemicals. But Port Arthur residents also pay a high price for their reliance on oil, because the industry that sustains them also poisons many of them.
Shelter in Place is a poignant and often enraging look at Port Arthur's poorest residents, who see few benefits from the oil-based economy while suffering almost all of its consequences. The 48-minute-long documentary by British filmmaker Zed Nelson, which screened at Austin Film Festival in partnership with The Texas Observer, is the sort of angrily effective agit-prop film that every anti-regulatory, free-enterprise preaching Texas politician should see, but surely won't.
The film focuses on the hapless inhabitants of Carver Terrace, a decaying Port Arthur neighborhood surrounded by refineries. Carver Terrace often experiences "upsets," an industry term for the release of toxic chemicals such as benzene into the air to relieve pressure in refinery pipes and avoid potential disasters. Upsets can last for many hours and contribute heavily to air pollution, but despite their alarming frequency (there were 13,000 upsets in Texas in 2007 alone), they're perfectly legal in Texas as long as the refineries report them to state environmental regulators.
It was Ladies Night last night at Austin Film Festival. The most anticipated film of the festival, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, played to a packed house with several people giving standing ovations when the credits rolled, despite no guests being in attendance.
Well, that's not entirely true. Ballet Austin's Artistic Director Stephen Mills helped AFF Film Program Director Kelly Williams introduce the film about a ballerina living her dream as a nightmare. Black Swan is a powerful, haunting and incredibly beautiful film won the hearts of the entire audience, critics and fans alike. If you enjoyed the classic film The Red Shoes, you are going to love Black Swan.
A very different movie followed, but another all about the women. Made in Dagenham is the story of the 1968 Machinists strike in the UK when women at a Ford plant outside London got fed up with getting less than half the wages men would for the same job. It's typical UK feel-good fare of the kind that audiences will eat up even with a film that telegraphs every move, especially those of us at a certain age and the female persuasion. Sally Hawkins will get robbed if she doesn't at least get a BAFTA for her performance as the housewife/factory worker who finally stands up for herself. Hearing a couple of women in the bathroom crowing "We've come a long way baby," then suddenly realizing we're still not there yet, proved Made in Dagenham is a relevant film, and well as the adage that reminds us that well-behaved women rarely make history.
When Main Street screened last Thursday at Austin Film Festival, Horton Foote's daughter Hallie introduced the movie, saying that her father was 92 when he wrote this screenplay. Foote's last screenplay is based in Durham, North Carolina. Durham, at least the way the movie depicts it, is dealing with recession and low tourism numbers, and their young folks are migrating to bigger cities.
Ellen Burstyn plays Georgiana Carr, whose father once ran a tobacco dynasty. She lives in the grand old family home, which is practically a separate character in the film, and has recently rented out her former tobacco warehouse -- now empty -- to somewhat-shady Texan Gus Leroy (Colin Firth, whose accent sounds nothing like Texan). The film starts the evening after she has made the deal with him, as she frets in her living room and calls her niece Willa (Patricia Clarkson, the saving grace of this film). They eventually discover what Leroy is storing in the warehouse: toxic waste. What will this mean for the town?
Opening-night gala events at film festivals are not always as fabulous as they might sound. Personally, I like to go find the counterprogrammed movies and watch those instead -- no crowded red carpets, no expectations, and usually you end up seeing the opening-night film in a theater soon anyway. But Austin Film Festival, with its focus on writing, usually doesn't pick an opening-night movie that will be opening in theaters with the month, but rather something less obvious and more interesting.
It might seem curious for a festival with a focus on writing to select a documentary for its opening-night film, but once you've seen the documentary, it makes sense. Exporting Raymond is about Everybody Loves Raymond creator/writer Phil Rosenthal's journeys to Russia to create a Russian version of the popular TV sitcom. It is in the style of a personal essay and is heavily sprinkled with writer/director Rosenthal's comic observations.
There's a lot of buzz about the script reading for the raucously funny The Hand Job on Sunday at the Rollins Theatre with Bill Hader, Colin Hanks, Jessica Alba and others. But earlier during the conference, AFF held another, quieter script reading on Friday in the stuffy little Maxmillian Room at the Driskill. What for? By Way of Helena, a twisty western revenge thriller as yet to be produced.
Earlier in the day, screenwriter Matt Cook participated in the Black List panel, as his screenplay for By Way of Helena was voted one of the best unproduced screenplays of 2009 on The Black List. Immediately following, Black List founder Franklin Leonard introduced Cook for a reading of his script. Helping Cook was an eclectic mix of well known and lesser known actors. The entire lineup at the front of the room, in order, was Cook, Jason Newman (Silas, Clem), Lauren Wolf (Maria), Richard Dillard (Saul, Governor Ross), Yesenia Garcia (Marisol), DB Sweeney (David), Jeff Fahey (Abraham), Savannah Welch (Naomi), Karl Anderson (Isaac), Shannon McCormick (George) and John Spong (Narrator).
Co- producer Craig Bentley and director/co-producer Kevin Tostado took a break in the Driskill Bar before hitting Sunday afternoon panels at Austin Film Festival. That's pretty serious dedication to the game that is the subject of their documentary Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story. This film portrays the well-loved classic board game that is a worldwide cultural phenomenon. We also see vignettes of several players who compete for the title of Monopoly World Champion, including past winners and new underdogs.
Had I not been preparing for an interview with Dax Shepard and his fellow filmmakers from the movie Brother's Justice, I would have asked to join Bentley and Tostado for a quick lesson in auctioning property. Read what I thought about Under the Boardwalk in my review. Here's a clue, though -- after watching, I'm eyeing the "Star Trek: Continuum" Monopoly on Amazon.com now. Remember, the movie plays again at 6 pm today at the Texas Spirit Theater (in the Bob Bullock museum).
After feeling extremely disappointed in a documentary that I highly anticipated due to its subject, I was hesitant to see another documentary on a topic I thought I had less interest in -- the game of Monopoly. Sure, I played the game as a kid, but I'd expect a feature-length film about a board game would be dry and boring. I'm not too proud to admit that the filmmakers behind Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story proved me wrong. Kevin Tostado directed and co-wrote along with Craig Bentley a delightfully engaging piece on a classic game that is firmly rooted in households across the world. The game is now sold in over 110 countries around the world in 40 languages, although as stated in the film, Monopoly "doesn't get translated, it gets located."
Narrated by Chuck star Zachary Levi, Under the Boardwalk: The Monopoly Story presents a cohesive story with several storylines, one of which is the history of the game and other notable facts. Most notably, I was surprised to learn that although Charles Darrow has historically been known as the founder of Monopoly, it was actually Elizabeth Magie who'd originated the concept in 1903 as an anti-capitalist game known as "The Landlord's Game." Thirty years later the game had evolved and Darrow was the final developer who was successful at selling the game to Parker Brothers. The game's initial success is credited with the same reason that Darrow created the game-- he needed a way to earn money during the Depression. Monopoly was well-received as unemployed and poor folks could play a game that allowed them to buy property and houses.