Movies This Week: March 28-April 3, 2014

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 Nymphomaniac

The Austin Film Society will begin a series this weekend spotlighting the best in New Romanian Cinema with Child's Pose, which won the Golden Bear for best film at last year's Berlin Film Festival. The film stars Luminita Gheorghiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) and plays tonight and again Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa.

Meanwhile, Richard Linklater's incredible Jewels In The Wasteland series continues this week with Godard's Every Man For Himself on Wednesday night. Linklater will introduce the film and lead an audience discussion after the screening.

On Monday night, Tiger Tail In Blue is screening at the Marchesa thanks to AFS. Local filmmaker Andrew Bujalski will moderate a post-film Skype Q&A with director and lead actor Frank Ross. The indie film was nominated for a Gotham Award for "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" and we're lucky to have a theater to bring movies like this to town. 

The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is launching their new Complete Marx Brothers retrospective this weekend with 1929's The Cocoanuts. They'll be doing this every Saturday afternoon for the next few months! They'll also be paying tribute to the late Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video on Saturday with That's Sexploitation! and a marathon of rare 35mm titles they're dubbing The Weird World Of Weird. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Lung Cancer Alliance in Mike's name.

Austin Jewish Film Festival 2014 Starts Tomorrow

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AJFF logoThe 12th annual Austin Jewish Film Festival will run from Saturday, March 29 (tomorrow!) through Friday, April 4 at Regal Arbor, with a great lineup of feature narratives, documentaries, and shorts. Some of the films will be followed by Skype interviews with the filmmakers. Many of the movies are free to the public.

Austin Film Society and Cine Las Americas will be co-sponsoring a chilling fictional film about the infamous Dr Josef Mengele, the Nazi "doctor" who conducted non-Hippocratic experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz before fleeing to undeserved survival in South America at war's end.

For the narrative film The German Doctor (Argentina, 2013), writer-director Lucía Puenzo adapted her own novel about an Argentinean family running a hotel in remote Patagonia. They innocently welcome a German doctor as a guest and only become concerned when they detect his inordinate interest in their young daughter. There will be a Skype-facilitated Q&A with Lucía Puenzo following the film.

Review: Nymphomaniac: Vol. I

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NymphomaniacPoster

Lars Von Trier's sexually explicit epic has been edited into two different versions. There is a 4-hour "international" version (which is what Magnolia is currently releasing here in the U.S.), split into two halves for distribution around the world. A 5.5-hour "hardcore" version contains even more exposition and explicit footage. While it's hard to imagine that the hardcore version would ever see the light of day in America, Magnolia has stated that they'll eventually release it domestically, although that may be exclusive to home video.

Despite its occasionally explicit nature, anybody who is familiar with Von Trier's work will not be surprised to know that the film is not at all sexy. If Nymphomaniac had been submitted for a rating, the movie would certainly have earned an NC-17, but I suspect that if two or three brief shots of penetration and/or oral sex had been removed that it could have earned an R. I was not shocked in the least, even when I occasionally felt that I was being prodded to be shocked. 

For most audiences, even the 4-hour version will push boundaries too far, but perhaps it is a little more palatable when the story is split up into two installments. Both sections are available to rent on VOD now, but if you want to see what the fuss is all about on the big screen, Nymphomaniac: Vol. I is hitting Austin this weekend. It's difficult to asses Von Trier's work when you've only seen half of it, but Volume I is well acted and highly compelling.

Review: Teenage

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still from Teenage

Filmmaker Matt Wolf's Teenage, a glossy video collage about the growth of youth culture in the early to mid-20th century, is inspired by author Jon Savage's Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture, 1875-1945.  Austin Film Society hosted a screening of the film (with Wolf in attendance) last August, but Teenage returns to Austin this weekend for a theatrical run.

Opening in 1904, scenes of children at factories are shown as narrators explain how child-labor laws led to further schooling for kids. Jena Malone (Contact, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) and Ben Whishaw (Bright Star, Skyfall) are two of the four voices who speak from a specific point of view.

Amid the vintage photos and footage are live-action sequences -- with color adjustments and added graininess to blend in with the older stock -- used to illustrate singular stories representing significant movements. These silent scenes, scored with ambient music and narrated by the four speakers, make Teenage appear less revolutionary and more like something you might find on PBS's American Experience. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but it’s not as original a project as the movie wants to be.

SXSW 2014: A Different Kind of 'Two Step'

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Austin was filmmaker Alex R. Johnson's "something better" from the hustle and bustle of New York City life. Johnson had searched for a city that wouldn't necessarily compete with his memories of the Big Apple, but for a community of like-minded individuals that weren't worried about their role on Law & Order. His dear pal and composer Andrew Kenny, aka Kenny, also made the move with his wife last year after an extended SXSW trip. The house that Kenny and his wife bought became the fictional home of a character in his and Johnson's latest movie Two Step (Don's review).

"I didn't really know what I was getting myself into," Kenny said.

That may have been an understatement. Once a truck and generator showed up at the Kenny home, they knew they were in for surprises. Memories of the ten-day shoot at their house continue to show up in the form of fake blood droplets.

"Still finding blood but no damage," Kenny said. "There's a little bit by the front door... it's gonna stay there." To Kenny's wife, it's kind of like Christmas, finding needles from the tree months later, Johnson said. 

SXSW Interview: Nacho Vigalondo, Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey, 'Open Windows'

Working a film festival, selfies and internet privacy. These were just a few things that writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and actors Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey chatted about regarding their latest film, Open Windows, shot partially in Austin. 

The movie premiered at SXSW (my review), and I was beyond eager to hear firsthand what went into the making of this film. Check out what they had to say about what drew them to the idea, as well as the technological hurdles they had to overcome.

Slackerwood: Congratulations on the premiere of your film here at SXSW. How does it feel to bring it back to Austin?

Nacho Vigalondo: It's amazing, but I prefer to come here [to this festival and others] without a movie because I enjoy movies -- I love watching them. I love other people's movies more than mine. I enjoy making my films, but I don't enjoy watching my own films. I hate to be a critic to myself.

Upcoming Movies and Special Events from Austin Film Festival

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aff logoChange is in the air at Austin Film Festival: They recently announced a few major updates to the film and conference staff structure and have also revealed a year-round programming slate packed with special events.

First, former Conference Director and Film Programmer Erin Hallagan has been named Creative Director of the newly-combined Conference and Film departments. Austin Film Festival (AFF) Co-Founder and Executive Director Barbara Morgan describes Hallagan as "an inspired programmer and leader" and calls her promotion "the natural next step."

Also taking on new roles are Elizabeth Mims and Harrison Glaser, both previous festival employees, as well. Mims was a Young Filmmakers Program Director at AFF and also directed Only the Young, a documentary selected to screen during AFF in 2012 (here's Elizabeth's interview with the Austin-based filmmaker). Mims will now act as a Senior Programmer for the festival. Glaser, who served as a Conference Assistant for the last two years, has been named the new Film Program Coordinator. 

The official festival doesn’t happen until October, but several AFF-hosted screenings and panels take place between now and then. Highlights include the On Story conversation series and an ongoing partnership with the Los Angeles-based Writers Guild Foundation

SXSW Review: Road to Austin

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Road to AustinAustin is called the "Live Music Capital of the World," and a very large influence on it was singer/songwriter Stephen Bruton. In 2007, only a week after completing his treatment for throat cancer and in his final appearance on stage, Bruton led his band through a four-hour, 38-song "Road to Austin" performance in front of 20,000 fans. Director Gary Fortin covers the concert and history of the Austin music scene from 1835 to today in Road to Austin, which premiered at SXSW 2014.

Beginning with Kris Kristofferson and John Paul DeJoria relating their experiences, Fortin weaves photos and film footage from the earliest days of Austin into a vivid tapestry. Artists recount tales of legendary venues, some now gone, including Threadgill's, Antone's, the Armadillo World Headquarters, Broken Spoke, Continental Club and Saxon Pub.

Road to Austin explores how the city became, like a microcosm of the United States, a musical melting pot where country, blues, Latino and psychedelic influences combined and grew, creating a unique scene and a strong community.

The interviews and history serve as an introduction to footage from the concert itself, where Bruton takes the stage with his band and a host of 60 star performers. The festival cut of the film includes eight songs emceed by Turk Pipkin. Blues, country, even an operatic performance by Cara Johnston are represented, but the peak of the concert has to be Malford Milligan's performance. When Milligan sings Bruton's "Bigger Wheel," you can't help jumping and dancing along. The energy is infectious and powerful.

The full concert includes artists Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Delbert McClinton, Joe Ely, Eric Johnson, David Grissom, Bob Schneider, Carolyn Wonderland, Raul Salinas, Bobby Whitlock & CoCo Carmel, Lisa Hayes, Joel Guzman & Sarah Fox, Ian Mclagan, James Hand, Ruthie Foster, and the Tosca String Quartet.

SXSW 2014: Connecting With Local and Indie Music Through Film

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James Hand and Blake DeLong of 'Thank You A Lot'I've often encountered a false assumption that all Austinites are familiar with every musical artist and band in the self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World." Despite decades of involvement in the local music scene as a college radio station DJ, band manager and "merch girl," I probably only know one-tenth of who's playing the clubs nowadays. Therefore I welcome any films that feature local or unknown musical artists.

Music documentaries really stood out at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival, but this year it was the movies that focus on fictionalized characters in the music industry that I enjoyed the most. Not only did I like the narrative aspect of these films, but also the introduction to some wonderful music that I'd not been familiar with prior to my movie-watching experience.

My SXSW film experience began appropriately on opening night with Matt Muir's Thank You A Lot, a project that we've been following since my set visit in the summer of 2012.

Photo Essay: 2014 Texas Film Awards

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Robert Rodriguez with From Dusk Till Dawn alum on the Texas Film Awards Red Carpet, , by Rick Kern, on Flickr

The red carpet at the Texas Film Awards featured stars from near and far, but the spotlight was mostly on local filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and his cast and crew of El Rey's From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series. Iconic supernatural crime movie From Dusk Till Dawn, which originated it all, was awarded the prestigious Star of Texas award. The award was accepted by Rodriguez as well as by Fred Williamson, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero and Danny Trejo (pictured above).

This year's event was hosted by master of ceremonies Luke Wilson and honored several Texas-related film industry professionals. Country music icon Mac Davis received the Soundtrack Award, presented by Priscilla Presley. SXSW co-founder and senior director Louis Black received a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater and Variety Executive Editor Steven Gaydos. Other honorees included former Austinite Amber Heard with a Rising Star Award and filmmaker David Gordon Green, whose award was presented by Danny McBride.

Following the awards ceremony, attendees enjoyed The Texas Party with great food and libations, as well as the Lady Luck lottery and a live auction of film-related items and local services. According to the Austin Film Society, "$580,000 was raised for programs that support filmmakers, promote film culture and build a renowned film community." These programs include the AFS Grants, community education and artist services.

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