AFS Series Preview: Lars Nilsen on 'Rebel Rebel'

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Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in All that Heaven Allows

Austin Film Society recently released the schedule for their next film series, "Rebel Rebel." Douglas Sirk's classic All That Heaven Allows and a 1974 John Waters film are among the five titles to be screened at AFS at the Marchesa starting Friday. To get a little more insight into the reasoning behind this series and how the chosen movies fit with the theme, I emailed Lars Nilsen, AFS Programmer.

Slackerwood: What led you to this theme of programming?

Nilsen: As much as I like doing series focusing on one director or actor or on the films of this or that country, I also like variety and the catch-all nature of a series about Rebellion or about Cool allows us to show a package of really spectacular films that might not be shown under any other context. I also think it's important that we as an arts organization celebrate rebellion because it is one of the mainsprings of our character, and I want to perpetuate the concept of rebelliousness wherever I can. It's maybe the only thing that can save our world.

Movies This Week: May 16-22, 2014

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The German Doctor 

Austin Film Society has another installment of their "That's Genius" series on Sunday night at the Marchesa. They've invited local filmmaker Yen Tan (Pit Stop) to present a favorite film and he chose Parking. The 2008 film from Taiwan is directed by Chung Mong-Hong and will be screened in 35mm. I'm also incredibly excited about Thursday night's Essential Cinema presentation of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. This month's theme is "After 8 1/2: The Creative In Crisis" and this film tells the story of a Broadway producer who overworks himself right into a heart attack. 

The Austin Youth Film Festival is happening on Saturday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Local filmmakers will be on hand to judge short films from area students who have a chance to win prizes up to $1000! Standard tickets are available for just $10 and you also have the option to buy a $25 ticket that includes a t-shirt or a $45 ticket that includes a t-shirt and pre-order of a DVD collection of the short films that are screening. 

Also at the Ritz this weekend, the Marx Brothers retrospective continues with Room Service in 35mm on Saturday morning. This 1938 comedy also features a wonderful early performance from a young Lucille Ball. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Ritz is screening a documentary called Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe A La Hache that focuses on the aftermath in a small community dependant on oyster fishing in the wake of 2010's BP oil spill. There are still tickets available for The Matrix trilogy marathon Sunday afternoon. All three films are screening in 35mm, as is the animated rocker Heavy Metal for Music Monday this week. 

Review: Godzilla

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GodzillaOn its 60th birthday and 10 years after the last movie to bear its name, Godzilla returns, bigger than ever, in an incarnation directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters). Penned by Max Borenstein from a story by Dave Callaham (The Expendables, Doom), this Godzilla offers just what you’ve come to expect from the film franchise: random destruction, mayhem and giant monsters fighting.

The story meshes nicely with the 1954 original, with a pseudo-scientific background that presents the monster as a government secret and the actual target of all those south Pacific 1950s nuclear tests. It pays homage to the gigantic creatures as prehistoric gods.

After an emotional and heart-rending first act that introduces the Brody family -- Joe (Bryan Cranston), Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) -- the monster attacks begin in earnest, and the action follows adult Ford, as do the monsters, which seem to be following him around the planet, hell-bent on destroying his family.

Johnson’s character, some kind of military nuclear weapons expert who also just happens to have specialized high-altitude low-opening (HALO) parachute training and a 1950s-era mechanical nuclear detonator in his back pocket, manages to always be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to be the only person who can save the world in spite of his entire existence being exactly as irrelevant to the ultimate goings-on as Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones.

In spite of Johnson's existence as less than an insect in comparison to the impossible monsters onscreen, director Edwards has them repeatedly appear to notice the character's presence, as an enormous pair of eyes focuses on him momentarily. There is no interaction, besides the inevitable running away, but this repeated tease, as if to intimate Ford Brody is somehow teaming up with the god-lizard, is in direct conflict to the true theme of not just this movie but the entire Godzilla series: man's utter impotency before the full force of nature.

Review: The German Doctor

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The German DoctorFollowing the fall of the Third Reich and the liberation of the German Nazi concentration camps, many of the leaders directly involved fled to South America. One of the most famous of those officers was Josef Mengele, a physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Due to his barbaric and deadly human experiments performed on prisoners as well as role in the section process for the gas chamber executions, Mengele was known as "The Angel of Death."

Argentian filmmaker Lucia Puenzo's novel Wakolda focuses on this infamous man and the true story of an Argentinian family who unknowingly boarded Mengele at their home, now adapted by Puenzo as  the movie The German Doctor. Whereas the novel is told through Mengele’s point of view during his exile in South America, the film instead relies more on 12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado). Born premature and having suffered from several illnesses at an early age, Lilith is an underdeveloped prebuscent girl who struggles to fit in at her new German-run school in Patagonia.

A chance encounter while traveling to their new home in the tourist town of Bariloche brings Lilith's family, including her pregnant mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and dollmaker father Enzo (Diego Peretti), to the attention of a mysterious and charming German doctor (Alex Brendemühl). The doctor quickly entrenches himself in Lilith and Eva’s favor, offering to help with their growth and medical care. He becomes the family's benefactor as he helps Enzo mass produce his designs at a doll factory.

Puenzo lets the audience know within the first act of The German Doctor  that this mysterious doctor is the notorious Mengele. He's received as a hero by fellow Nazis also hiding out in Bariloche, but photographer Nora Eldoc (Elena Roger) -- who is also a Mossad spy and victim of one of Mengele's sterilization practices -- recognizes him immediately. This approach increases the tension as we witness the interaction between the doctor and his naive victims. When asked by Eva whether he's had any experience with childbirth and twins, his reply "hundreds" has a chilling impact. Young Lilith becomes lethargic and experiences pain in her bones as the doctor increases her growth hormone.

Sundance in Austin: An #ArtistServices Workshop Wrap-up

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#artistservices

Last Saturday, the Austin Film Society successfully hosted the first ever Sundance #ArtistServices Workshop in Austin. #ArtistServices is an organization operated by the Sundance Institute that provides distribution support and assistance to Sundance alumni. They also work to educate up-and-coming filmmakers about all the latest trends in marketing and distribution, and have previously held workshops in Park City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. 

Three Sundance staff members (Joseph Beyer, Chris Horton and Missy Laney) were on hand for Saturday's event and had clearly worked closely with AFS to organize a well-run and enlightening collection of panels and conversation. In her opening salvo, AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick emphasized the workshop aspect of the day and encouraged attendees to ask questions at any point.

The first section of the workshop was specifically devoted to crowdfunding, and this topic continued to resurface throughout the day. In particular, inexperienced filmmakers often aren't aware of the tax implications and responsibilities that go along with using Kickstarter or Indiegogo to fund a project. These can be incredibly helpful tools, but it's important to know what you're doing before you start. Cameron Keng (a tax lawyer), Deena Kalai (an entertainment lawyer), Shannon Swallow (the head of Marketing Communications for Indiegogo) and Evan Glodell (the writer/director of Bellflower) were on hand to offer no-nonsense advice to filmmakers considering crowdfunding.

HCFF Review: Intramural

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Intramural posterNormally I would not pay much attention to a movie about college guys bonding over sports, especially football. We get more than enough football here in Texas if you are not a fan. But Intramural lured me in -- shot in Austin; directed by Andrew Disney, who showed a nice touch with humor in his previous film Searching for Sonny; written by Bradley Jackson (The Man Who Never Cried). In fact, Jackson pretty much convinced Disney to direct Intramural during Hill Country Film Festival 2012 (after meeting him at Austin Film Festival -- this is why filmmakers should go to film fests), so it felt like a can't-miss as the HCFF closing-night film.

It turns out that Intramural is pretty damn funny, even for middle-age women who don't subscribe to the Texas Cult of Football. The plot is fairly standard -- a bunch of fifth-year college seniors (apparently this is a thing now) decide to get the band, er, intramural team back together for one last hoorah before they graduate. The guys had a championship team in their freshman year that was Marked By Trauma -- yes, it sounds a lot like a combination of Pitch Perfect and The Bad News Bears.

In fact, Intramural is more than aware that it is following in the footsteps of many sports-genre films. One character even gets all Abed (gratuitous Community reference, sorry) about it and makes specific things happen so they will go from underdogs to champions just like teams in sports films -- demanding a training montage, for example.

The characters tend to be types -- even the main character, Caleb (Jake Lacy) is your typical Average Guy In a World of Quirky-to-Bizarre People. His fiancee Vicki (Kate McKinnon) is absolutely insane, and one reason Caleb reunites the intramural football team is to get a breather from her plans and ambitions for him. Then you've got the Nemesis Team, led by evil Dick (Beck Bennett); victim-turned-passionate-coach (Nick Kocher); and the vivacious Cool Chick Who Loves Sports (Nikki Reed). Austin film fans will get a kick out of Sam Eidson as a stereotypical big football lug with an unexpected side talent that had the audience howling.

The cast takes their roles and runs with them. Lacy plays it straight and has a marvelous talent for understated reactions, not an easy thing to accomplish in a sea of over-the-top characters. McKinnon goes entirely in the other direction and makes a completely unpalatable character funny. Bennett, well, best seen to be understood. "Color commentators" Bill and Dan (D.C. Pierson and Jay Pharoah) are a little bit Jay-and-Silent-Bob-stoner like (except they both speak), but are funny enough to get away with it.

Ready, Set, Fund: Crunch Time

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'The Sauce' Movie Still

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent film projects.

A number of local movie projects are nearing the end of their fundraising campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The countdown begins with The Sauce, a feature about a ruthless, egomaniacal stock trader who decides to start his own firm. The only thing stopping him (besides those pesky executives) may be himself. This indie comedy will be set and shot in Austin and has reached its goal, but generous backers can give additional funds through its Kickstarter campaign until May 29.

Other Austin and Texas movie-related projects seeking funds:

  • On June 1, the clock stops on the Kickstarter campaign for The Lizzie Project. This documentary, directed and produced by Austinite Sara Bordo, follows Texas State University alumna Lizzie Velasquez on her journey to help inspire a more positive online world. Lizzie, who is one of three people in the world diagnosed with an unnamed syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight, experienced cyber bullying as a teenager. She has since gone on to be a motivational speaker and author.

Lone Star Cinema: The Trip to Bountiful

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John Heard and Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful

Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful illustrates that you can't go home again. Since it was first performed in 1953, the play remains a favorite for stage performance. Indeed, a recent Broadway revival starred a cast of Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. and was even made into a TV movie for Lifetime earlier this year.

But for many years, Foote resisted the idea of bringing his play to the silver screen. Director Peter Masterson was able to convince the Texan writer. Esteemed actress Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird of Youth, Hondo) went on to win an Oscar for her lead role of Carrie Watts in the resulting 1985 movie.

Mrs. Watts, a 60-year-old widow, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Houston with her son Ludie (John Heard, Home Alone, My Fellow Americans) and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn, Sixteen Candles, Three Days of the Condor). She fondly remembers days back at her home farm in Bountiful. In her current situation, Jessie Mae and Carrie bicker over the elder woman's near-constant hymn-singing and other habits. Compared to the space Mrs. Watts once had, the apartment is confining.

She pockets her pension check and leaves one morning while Jessie Mae is out, determined to travel back to Bountiful (a fictional town somewhere in south Texas). She befriends a young military wife (Rebecca DeMornay, demure and composed in her '50s era ensemble) on the journey and confides in her on a bus ride.

The opening credits sequence of a mother and child running through a field of bluebonnets leaves no doubt about the Texas setting of The Trip to Bountiful, and the costuming and set design perfectly reflect the time period. Page has a frumpy and careless appearance about her in the role to represent Mrs. Watts' single mindedness.  All she wants to do is go home... but unfortunately just returning to a place can't bring back past people or events.

Page as Mrs. Watts is almost constantly on the verge of tears; recalling memories of her son as a boy or failed relationships causes a choked tone to enter her voice. Carrie also has episodes related to heart problems (probably a double meaning, there) that leave her light-headed and dizzy.

The Trip to Bountiful comes off like a filmed stage play in the beginning apartment scenes, but as Mrs. Watts leaves those rooms, the film widens its scope. Masterson's direction and Foote's script give Page an opportunity to show her impressive talent, and she doesn't disappoint.

Texas connections: Writer Horton Foote was from Texas. The Trip to Bountiful was shot in Ellis County/Waxahachie, Venus and Dallas.  Richard Bradford, who plays the sheriff, was born in Tyler.  Kevin Cooney, who appears as a bus station worker, is from Houston. Director Peter Masterson, a native of Houston, also wrote the screenplay for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

[Still via MovieClips]

Summer Indies to Catch: May 2014

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Jesse Eisenberg in The Double.

By Frank Calvillo

This month, most audiences will be lapping up that guy in tights and yet another reincarnation of Japan's most famous lizard. Thus begins another summer season full of empty sequels and remakes no one asked for. While there are always a collection of smaller films designed to combat the less-than-inspiring season, this year's crop of independents -- which include a 70s movie icon in a Western thriller and a Dostoyevsky adaptation -- is perhaps one of the most bountiful and eclectic in recent years.

Here are few highlights:

Fading Gigolo (now playing at Regal Arbor, available on VOD)

Woody Allen makes a rare appearance in a non-Woody film for this most unconventional tale of comedy and sex in a romanticized New York. When down-on-his-luck Murray (Allen) needs a way out, he convinces his friend Fioravante (John Turturro), a Brooklyn florist, to have a paid threesome with curious dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) and her fiery friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). Soon after, word begins to spread about Fioravante's talent as a middle-age Casanova as Murray takes on the role of unlikely pimp.

Hill Country FF 2014: Pier to Peer Docs

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Bluefin on the Line

Amid all the shorts I enjoyed at Hill Country Film Festival, I also saw some longer movies. One documentary is technically a short but may be longer at some point, and one feature-length doc will likely be somewhat shorter by the time you see it. Both Bluefin on the Line (pictured at top) and Lord Montagu are set in very different environments but ultimately, are about families working hard to preserve their legacies.

Bluefin on the Line is the latest documentary from sometimes-Austin* filmmaker Bradley Beesley, whose previous films include The Fearless Freaks, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo and most appropriately for this subject, Okie Noodling. Elizabeth interviewed the Oklahoma native a couple of years ago for his segment in Slacker 2011. This 37-minute film takes a look at the history and culture of the Bimini Islands over the past century, particularly big-game fishing and how it has affected the people who live there.

I didn't quite realize big-game fishing was a thing, but apparently it was popularized by Ernest Hemingway. Fittingly, his grandson narrates the first section of this film, a breezy overview of big-game fishing in its heyday, especially bluefin tuna. Vintage stills show people holding up fish that look as tall as I am, and I realize I am kind of a short person, but that's impressive nonetheless. The bluefin were ultimately overfished, however, and the Bimini Islands went downhill ever since, with many locals' fishing skills no longer needed. "Tuna Alley" no longer lives up to its name.

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