Review: Seven Days in Utopia

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Seven Days in Utopia

One of the most inspirational writers whose work I've enjoyed reading is Harvey Penick, a golf professional and coach from Austin, Texas. Penick began his golf career as a caddy at Austin Country Club, and went on to coach at the University of Texas from 1931 to 1963. He co-authored with Texas Film Hall of Fame member Bud Shrake Harvey Penick's Little Red Book. The "must-read" book contained insightful anecdotes that applied beyond the game of golf -- life lessons on mental focus as well as achieving goals.

Like Penick, Seven Days in Utopia -- opening Friday in Austin theaters -- employs a fictional character who serves up life and spiritual lessons through golf. Based upon Dr. David Cook's book Golf's Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia, this golf-related movie centers around two individuals who appear quite different at first: Johnny Crawford (Robert Duvall), an eccentric rancher with a passion for teaching golf and truth, and young golf professional Luke Chisholm (Lucas Black), who has crashed and burned on the golf mini-circuit. Chisholm's demanding father (Joseph Lyle Taylor) second-guesses and overrides his decisions, which doesn't help either. After Chisholm's bad shots on the golf course cost him a critical game, his father turns his back and walks away, as the young Chisholm explodes in anger on national television.

Narrowly avoiding a cow on the outskirts of Utopia, Texas, Chisholm winds up stranded after driving off the road onto Crawford's ranch and rural golf course where the old rancher offers life-altering advice on golf and faith. Through exposition, Chisholm discovers Crawford had his own glory and downfall in the world of golf amongst the masters, until the demon alcohol took away his success and ended his marriage. Through experience and faith, Crawford learned that one's significance is more important than success -- a lesson he imparts upon Chisholm. 

aGLIFF 24 Preview: Majestic Steers, Queers and Cancerpants

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The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) is 24 years old next week and is bigger than ever. This year, festival movis are screening at three different venues -- Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Violet Crown Cinema and the Paramount Theatre -- not to mention all the parties and special events.

Looking over the schedule, I'm again having to make tough decisions about what to see. The lineup includes a number of topical documentaries as well as enticing narratives, including a selection of international titles. Even in writing this preview, it was hard to choose titles, especially since Texas is definitely represented.

aGLIFF's Centerpiece Film Mangus! should fill the Paramount quite a bit just on the plot -- a boy who longs to star in his school's production of "Jesus Christ Spectacular." But the cast is guaranteed to draw a crowd too, as it includes none other than John Waters, Heather Matarazzo and the outrageous Jennifer Coolidge. And the best part?  It was filmed here in Texas (just north of Dallas).

Review: The Debt

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The Debt

Central to the espionage thriller The Debt (opening in Austin theaters today) is the notion of physical and psychological captivity. In this relentlessly taught, gripping tale, directed by John Madden, the characters are hostages; one is physically bound by the others, but all are prisoners of their own consciences.

The story of three agents of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad assigned to capture a Nazi war criminal, The Debt opens in 1997, when retired agents Rachel Singer (Helen Mirren) and Stephan Gold (Tom Wilkinson) are dealing with tragic news about their former colleague, David Peretz (Ciarán Hinds). Peretz's fate unearths an ugly history of lies and subterfuge involving all three agents, forcing Singer and Gold to confront their pasts.

For decades, the nation of Israel has venerated Singer, Gold and Peretz for a mission they undertook in 1965, when they tracked down Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel (Jesper Christensen). Known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, Vogel's ghastly medical "experiments" left thousands of concentration camp victims disfigured or dead. By the 1960s, Vogel had successfully hidden his past, working under an assumed name as a physician in East Berlin. He evaded justice until Singer, Gold and Peretz finally captured him in a complex operation involving false identities, kidnapping and great personal risk.

Two Austin Shorts Are Added to Fantastic Fest Lineup

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AJ Bowen of No Way Out

As the largest genre festival in the U.S. featuring horror, fantasy, sci-fi, action, and "fantastic" movies, Fantastic Fest recently announced the 2011 short film lineup, with 50 shorts from across the world. The stellar programming showcases the best of hundreds of submissions from many countries, including Australia, Norway, Germany, Estonia, Canada, Spain and the U.K. This year's slate of short films also includes 15 from the United States, two of which were shot right here in Austin, Texas.

So far, Austin is represented at Fantastic Fest this year by No Way Out and Family Unit, films that feature Fantastic Fest veterans, including filmmakers, actors and writers. Find out after the jump why the Austin Fire Department paid an unexpected visit to one film's set. 

Insider's Guide: Free Movies at Austin Public Library

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americana

Over the years, Slackerwood has published a number of special guides covering free and cheap summer films and all manner of assistance for film festivals, including survivor guides, newbie guides and our food guides, which are so popular that for SXSW 2011 we collaborated with the fest on a printed restaurant guide. They're so much fun to write that we decided to make them a monthly feature. We're expanding the topics, too, to help Austinites and those who visit our city make the most of the Austin film scene. And what better way to kick off this new series than with one of Austin's best kept secrets: frequent free movies at many branches of the Austin Public Library.

I’m not talking only about arcanely obscure films; APL's diverse programming includes family fare, topical documentaries, classic foreign language films and even a series that celebrates bad movies. The selections are both old and very new, including 2011 releases. Next month APL is kicking off a new year of "Community Cinema," which starts with a local premiere of a documentary that won't air on PBS until October, and includes a special post-screening discussion with relevant community organizations related to each film in the series.

Most Austin Public Library film programs run weekly or in some cases monthly on the same time/day of the week, and programming is offered at different branches around the city. All APL programs are free and open to the public. And even better, some screenings include light refreshments, such as popcorn. Who can top that? Just remember that food and drink can only be consumed in designated areas per APL policy. Ratings have been included in our listings when available, but not all films have been MPAA reviewed, so keep in mind not all are appropriate for all audiences.

Slacker 2011: Paul Gordon Finds the Comedy

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Slacker 2011 from Paul Gordon

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF). As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project -- check out our interviews so far.

Today's interview is with Paul Gordon, whom you can see partially on the right edge of the above photo. Gordon is a local filmmaker whose features include Motorcycle (2006) and SXSW 2010 selection The Happy Poet (Jenn's review), in which he also starred. Gordon has also appeared in Mars and An Ordinary Family.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film did you reshoot?

Paul Gordon: I did Scene 8, in which a reclusive guy and his girlfriend discuss whether or not to go outside and do something fun -- such as go to the lake, or play frisbee.

Three Austin Indies Return for September Screenings

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Echotone

Three local movies that have been on the film-fest circuit are back in Austin next month for special screenings that we recommend you put on your calendar right now. Echotone and The Happy Poet are part of the Texas Independent Film Network series that brings Lone Star movies to various venues around the state, and My Sucky Teen Romance is one of Austin Film Society's monthly Best of the Fest selections.

More info on this trio of Austin indie films:

  • Echotone: Friday, September 2 at 7:30 pm at the AFS Screening Room -- tickets here AND Sunday-Thursday, September 11-15 at 10 pm at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar -- tickets here
    I first saw Echotone at its 2010 Marfa Film Festival premiere, an oddly appropriate place to watch a documentary about how Austin music, politics and development fit ... or don't. It screened again during Austin Film Festival at Alamo Ritz (Sixth Street being another apt place to watch this movie), where Debbie reviewed the movie for Slackerwood and I reviewed for Cinematical. Echotone looks beautiful (as shown in the above photo) and sounds great and I can't recommend it enough.
  • My Sucky Teen Romance: Wednesday, September 14 at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Village -- tickets here
    Emily Hagins' third feature (all made before she graduated high school) is her best so far, a teen comedy set at a science-fiction convention where it's difficult to tell the real vampires from the conventioneers in costume. No, these vampires don't sparkle. Don Clinchy reviewed the movie at its SXSW 2011 premiere. You can also read Jenn's interview with Hagins pre-SXSW.

Slacker 2011 Filmmaker Interviews

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Here's a list of all our Slacker 2011 filmmaker and related interviews in one handy spot -- in the order in which their scenes appear in the movie.

Review: Colombiana

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ColombianaColombiana is ten pounds of The Fifth Element in a five-pound bag. This violent flower is covered in Luc Besson's stench, but lacks the humor, heart, and wit that made his previous work such a hit. Co-written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who also penned the screenplay for The Fifth Element (as well as The Karate Kid and Transporter 3), Colombiana is directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3).

Zoe Saldana stars as Cataleya Restrepo, named for the unique orchids that grow only in her grandmother's village in Colombia. Forced to watch her parents' murder, young Cataleya escapes and makes her way to Chicago to live with her grandmother and uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis, The Last Airbender). There, she plots revenge on the drug lord who ruined her life, while her uncle trains her to be a stone-cold killer.

Like The Fifth Element, the characters in Columbiana are all driven by simple motivations. There is no complex plot, and there are no strong personalities to make this film  memorable. The action is decent, and in a few scenes the movie really shines with Cataleya's cat-burglar-ninja assasinations. Unfortunately, the initially intriguing setup fails in execution as any potential surprise is telegraphed with foreshadowing so excessive, the term needs to be redefined as foreblackholing. I'm no fan of loose threads, but Besson and Kamen could have at least tried to throw a few curveballs.

Movies This Week: Don't Be an Idiot, Colombiana

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So we've broken the record for most 100-plus degree days in a year. If you're like me, your electric bill is astronomical. So like me, you're looking for ways to cool off, which usually involves going out to the movies.

This weekend, Austin has several great options for special film events. Tonight, the Long Center Cinema series is screening the recently restored Metropolis (remember in 2008 when more than 20 minutes of lost footage was found)? Saturday is the Night of the Bat at the Paramount, complete with Adam West and Batman (1966), which just happens to coincide with the 7th annual Bat Fest (surprise). This was a big hit last year, and it should be a lot of fun. And there will be an Adam West Photo Booth with photos taken by Annie Ray.

And on Sunday, don't forget the special screening of The Perfect House; that's free, but you can avoid the line if you win reserved seating through the Slackerwood contest. It's a great way to prepare for Fantastic Fest.

Movies We've Seen:

Colombiana -- Mike's review won't be up until tomorrow, but he's teasing us by saying, ""Colombiana is 10 lbs of The Fifth Element in a 5 lb bag. This violent flower is covered in Luc Besson's stench but lacks the humor and quality of storytelling that made his previous work such a hit." (wide)

Don't be Afraid of the Dark -- Having Guillermo del Toro as screenwriter is a big draw for any sort of horror film, and Rod says, "There are some truly creepy and scary parts of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark." Read his review for more. (wide)

Senna -- J.C. De Leon says in his review, "Senna may not spark any future interest in watching Formula One racing, but you'll be sorry you didn't know more about this legendary icon during his prime." (Regal Arbor, Violet Crown)

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