With Fantastic Fest taking over the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar for the next week, not nearly as many specialty screenings as usual are going on in town. You will not, however, notice a lack of new releases in area theaters. I'll track those down below, but first I'll take a look at what is going on across town if you aren't engaging with the fest.
On Tuesday, the Austin Film Society will be screening Antonioni's 1966 mod classic Blow Up at the Marchesa. This special evening includes a 60s themed cocktail hour starting at 6:30 pm, complete with a "complimentary 60s themed hair and nail bar" courtesy of the Aveda Institute. The film will be introduced by Ned Rifkin at 7:30 pm. Bonus: if you show up dressed in your favorite 60s clothes, you may win a prize for the evening.
The AFS Screening Room is the place to be on Wednesday night for a special evening programmed with French Avant Garde Cinema of the 1920s. This collection will feature shorts from Jean Epstein, Rene Clair, Fernand Leger, Germaine Dulac and Marcel Duchamp. Finally for the week, you can head back to the Marchesa for the Essential Cinema "Masterpieces Of Polish Cinema, Selected by Martin Scorsese" series. They'll be screening a restored DCP of Wojciech Has' epic Saragossa Manuscript from 1965.
I'm about to head right out the door again for the second day of Fantastic Fest, but thought I'd share a couple of photos from the Q&A at last night's opening-night film, Tusk. Kevin Smith and Justin Long were game enough to participate in Tim League's crazy opening rap before the movie, but sadly, I don't have any photos of that. Yet.
Moderated by League, Smith and Long (okay, mostly Smith) held a lively discussion after the film that was simulcast not only to other theaters at the fest but to other Drafthouse theaters in other cities. My favorite part was Long's eerily accurate Marty McFly imitation (don't even ask how we got there). I had to leave a little early but no one had asked any dumb questions up until that point, although admittedly the questions were being filtered beforehand.
Liam Neeson taking on kidnappers, that's nothing new, right? This weekend's release, A Walk Among the Tombstones, is true to form. Neeson plays Matt Scudder, a detective who retired from the NYPD after being involved in a violent gunfight while under the influence. A plea for assistance from a fellow AA member involves him in a rather grisly kidnapping plot and also offers him a chance at redemption.
Writer/director Scott Frank (The Wolverine, Minority Report, Get Shorty), is responsible for some of Hollywood's biggest hits. This may not be one of them, as it attempts to re-create the formula of Neeson's Taken series. It is, however, a solid thriller that still manages a few surprises.
First is the introduction of a juvenile yet very capable sidekick. Brian "Astro" Bradley (Earth to Echo) plays TJ, a streetwise kid with a love of detective stories and knack for getting himself in trouble while turning up clues essential to Scudder's investigations. TJ never loses his cool whether confronting street thugs or the 6'4" frame of Neeson, and the young man has the beginnings of a great film career with his first three features (A remake of the 1999 Space Jam has already completed shooting.)
Speaking of shooting, another surprise in A Walk Among the Tombstones was the strong anti-gun message in such a dark and violent film. There are subtle references throughout as well as an emphatic lecture from Scudder to TJ on the subject. It seems out of place in a movie like this, though it serves the plot by providing some audience insight into Scudder's backstory.
What happens when a director makes two movies from different viewpoints using the same plotline, then compiles them into one project? Director Ned Benson made two versions of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby -- one from the viewpoint of Conor (Him) and one from Eleanor's point of view (Her). If, as I did, you expect the compilation of the two films (Them) to include these differing takes, sorry to say that is not the case.
Instead of the experimental feeling the trailer hints at, the film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them shares similarities with other grief-filled indie relationship dramas (Rabbit Hole and Rachel Getting Married specifically come to mind). What sets it slightly apart is the rhythm of this couple's tragic story and the intensity of the actors' performances.
Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) plays the Eleanor Rigby of the title, holing up in her parents' house after a failed suicide attempt. Dark eyeliner coats her eyes as she dons variations of the same outfit - a light shirt over a dark bra - with such costuming screaming her sadness (especially in comparison to the fresh face and sundresses we see her wear in flashbacks).
Other elements that overtly hint at Eleanor's unhappiness include the ambient, meditative score by Son Lux, punctuated by the cheesy pop songs she loves and the classical music her mother (French actress Isabelle Huppert) listens to. Her sister Katy (Jess Weixler, The Good Wife, Teeth) and Eleanor stay in their childhood rooms, decorated by comics such as "Little Nemo in Slumberland." On her way to the subway, Eleanor walks past statements scrawled on building walls; I probably tried too hard to understand the hidden message of the set design (and I don't think there is one, really).
Eleanor won't talk to her husband Conor (James McAvoy, The Last King of Scotland), so he resorts to following her around. "Can I keep stalking you?" he asks, when an incident finally gets her attention. Ick. Conor is mystified at Eleanor's harsher reaction to the tragic event that hit the couple. He's working to keep his bar afloat, helped and hindered by his chef and friend Stuart (Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live).
A lot has changed since Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar last hosted Fantastic Fest, in 2012. The craft beer scene across the nation continues to grow, and both Austin and the Alamo Drafthouse offer fabulous selections to demonstrate the dedication and passion that brewers and beer enthusiasts have for a good brew.
Texas has experienced a welcome growth of local craft breweries along with an influx of world-renowned breweries from across the United States -- Firestone Walker Brewing Company, Epic Brewing, Founders Brewing, Odell Brewing are just a few on local tap walls.
Alamo Drafthouse recently announced the launch of a new beer program, featuring a new style every month. This month's offering is Octoberfest, a deep gold to copper-colored lager that typically features bright clarity and a solid, off-white head. This style is composed of Vienna and Munich malts that contributes a toasty caramel and rich melanoidin character with some moderate hop bitterness and mild sweetness. Current Octoberfest selections on tap at Alamo South Lamar include the traditional Ayinger Oktober Fest-Märzen as well as Texas favorites -- Real Ale Brewing Company's Oktoberfest, Houston's Karbach Brewing Company Karbachtoberfest and Port Spiral Oktoberfest.
Since Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and The Highball just reopened, I figured it was a good time to revisit the Slackerwood listings for these venues for Fantastic Fest.
As you probably already know, Fantastic Fest screenings take place almost entirely at Alamo South Lamar. Some of the events are in the theaters, some are in The Highball, and a couple may be offsite (I don't know where Fantastic Debates is this year, for example).
I've also included The Marchesa since MondoCon will take place there over the weekend. Shuttle buses are available to drive attendees of both fests back and forth between the two venues. It's not a short ride: 7-8 miles (depending on your route) and around 20 minutes if there's no traffic.
The Sunday evening screening of the aGLIFF closing-night narrative film, Appropriate Behavior, was a great way to wrap up my time at the festival.
It’s no surprise that the movie was a hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival; it's a terrific debut feature from writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan. I'm generally not a fan of romantic comedies, but Appropriate Behavior is so thoroughly snarky -- and often so defiantly anti-romantic -- that it's a rom-com even a cynic could tolerate.
Akhavan stars as Shirin, a young Brooklynite who's something of a poster child for the angst of young adulthood. She's still smarting from a hard breakup with her ex-girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). She struggles to be part of her perfect Persian family and is afraid to tell her parents she's bisexual. And her filmmaking career exists only in theory; the closest she comes to making movies is teaching her art -- more like attempting to teach it -- to a class of hyperactive 6-year-olds.
The Fantastic Fest schedule just went live here, and more than ever, it looks to force audiences into making some tough decisions between the films they most want to see. As always, some films appear on the schedule only once. This may be due to various technical or contractual reasons or (hopefully) because a second screening simply hasn't yet been slotted. While most selections have at least two screenings, you'll find that sometimes those are up against each other and a third one can upset the mix.
On top of the already full slate of screenings and parties this year, the debut of MondoCon may demand some of your attention at the Marchesa with most if not all of the Mondo artists manning booths, original art, new music releases, panels, screenings and more. Although tickets for the MondoCon screenings were released last week on Eventbrite and very quickly sold out, that was before the Fantastic Fest schedule went live. In addition, many people were able to reserve two tickets for the Mondocon events though they may need only one. In short, if you really want to attend one of the Mondocon events, you'll likely have a chance to enter via standby line.
So how do you even begin to plan for the insanity to come? How do you make sense of it all? My schedule planning usually involves first attempting to lock in those choices that have only one screening, then fitting as many of my choices around that. Sometimes elaborate planning can be undone when the schedule changes, or perhaps you hear good buzz on a film and decide to add it to your schedule.
Everyone knows that places like Torchy's Tacos and In-n-Out Burger have secret menus, for a given definition of "secret." Slackerwood has done much in-depth research (okay, I asked on social media) and can now offer you a guide to customizing the Alamo Drafthouse menu. This can definitely come in handy during film festivals when you don't have time to rush over to a nearby fast-food joint and find yourself facing the same menu for the fifth day running. Especially if you are a Drafthouse regular anyway.
The best advice I have: Order off the kids' menu. It's okay for grownups to do this. The chicken strips are especially flavorful and you can add more if two aren't enough. The milkshakes come in simple flavors, like chocolate and vanilla. It's not the most healthful food on the menu (although you can get fruit as a side!) but I really like the smaller portion sizes.
aGLIFF's lineup is heavy on documentaries, and on Saturday I saw two outstanding ones: Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo and Regarding Susan Sontag.
Queens & Cowboys is an enlightening look at 2011 season of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), following a group of cowboys and cowgirls as they compete to qualify for the association's World Finals.
The most enlightening aspect of the film may be the way it portrays the gay rodeo circuit as, well, rodeo; the circuit emphasizes the sport more than the cultural politics. The men in drag and rainbow paraphernalia give the festivities their own personality, but they're a sideshow to the real business at hand: bull and bronc riding, calf roping and the usual assortment of bone-jarring competitions. Aside from allowing women to compete in all events, a gay rodeo is essentially the same as any other rodeo.