Texas Film Awards: The Honorees and Their Best Work

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TFA posterThe Austin Film Society hosts its annual Texas Film Awards, one of the most high-profile events in the city, on Thursday night, March 12. This year marks the awards' 15th year and to celebrate its "crystal anniversary" of honoring the best in Texas film, honorees include some of the biggest names in the industry from actors to producers to writers. Local filmmaker Mike Judge is this year's emcee.

The event itself is sold out, but a few tickets are still available to The Texas Party, the after-party featuring a DJ set by Wooden Wisdom, aka Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie.

In anticipation of Thursday's event, I thought a spotlight on each of the honorees and some of their finest contributions to the cinematic world was more than in order.

L.M. Kit Carson -- The American Dreamer (1971)

Precious few screenwriters in the history of film have been gifted with a voice as unique and diverse as Carson's. Helping to realize the masterpiece that is Paris, Texas (1984) may have put him on the cinematic map as one of the premiere screenwriters in film, but it is Carson's portrait of rebel actor Dennis Hopper in his documentary The American Dreamer that remains one of his most fascinating works.

SXSW Preview: The Jones Family Will Make a Way

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Still from The Jones Family Will Make a Way

If you keep up with Texas gospel music, you have likely heard of the Jones Family Singers. The family, based out of Bay City, has performed together for more than 20 years despite many setbacks.

Austin's own Arts & Labor tells the musical family's story in the documentary feature The Jones Family Will Make a Way, debuting at SXSW. The film will premiere Wednesday, March 18 at the Paramount Theatre [more info] and some of the family members will likely be in attendance.

The Jones Family Will Make a Way includes interviews with Bishop Fred A. Jones (pictured above), the glue that holds the band together, as well as his daughters and sons, who discuss their faith journeys and how involved they are in the group. Music critic Michael Corcoran also plays a large part in the film, as he expresses his love for gospel music and joy in finding this musical group.

Movies This Week: March 6-12, 2015

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We're on the verge of the SXSW Film Festival, so several area theaters will be turning into official venues by this time next week. Specialty screenings are still going on in the week ahead, but it definitely is about to slow down until after the festival has us all wiped out.

Austin Film Society has a Free Member Friday tonight at the Marchesa with Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket. The group will be screening the movie along with the original short film that inspired it and it's free to all AFS members. Members can also go the AFS website to claim two free tickets to a special advance screening on Tuesday night at the Paramount of Alex Gibney's new documentary Going Clear, which examines the Church of Scientology. The film will debut on HBO later this month, but this special advance screening will feature Gibney and Texas author Lawrence Wright after the screening for a Q&A with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune. Back at the Marchesa, AFS will pay tribute to the late L.M. Kit Carson with a screening of David Holzman's Diary, a 1967 film starring Carson, paired with one his short films called Direction Man. Carson will be posthumously inducted into the Texas Film Hall Of Fame on Thursday night. 

Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane has pays tribute to Saturday Night Live's 40th annversary with regular screenings of The Blues Brothers on Sunday and Tuesday nights. A soul food dinner party Wednesday night offers a full meal along with the classic comedy. Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice hits Slaughter on Tuesday for Girlie Night.

Box-Office Alternatives: California Suite

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When The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) was released to stellar reviews and major box-office in the superhero-heavy summer of 2012, it became inevitable that a sequel would follow. Nearly three years later, audiences are being treated to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), which journeys back to everyone's favorite hotel in India where the walls are crumbling and the residents are aging in ways both hilarious and heartfelt. The cast, which includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, all seem game for a second round with the material and their characters. This appears true in particular of Smith, who seems to be having more fun than ever playing the eternally sarcastic Muriel Donnelly.

Smith's turn in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel looks like definite fun, yet I wouldn't be surprised if it failed to reach the heights of her work in another hotel set comedy, California Suite (1978). Directed by Herbert Ross and adapted by Neil Simon from his play, California Suite takes a hilarious look at four sets of vacationers staying at the Beverly Hills hotel, each of whom arrive for different reasons and find themselves in different predicaments. An uptight East Coaster (Jane Fonda) has an tense yet comic reunion with her ex-husband (Alan Alda), two best friends (Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby) encounter every kind of mishap possible while exploring the golden state with their wives, and a man (Walter Matthau) must try to find a way to hide a drunken hooker from his befuddled wife (Elaine May).

Texas at SXSW 2015: Director Micah Magee on 'Petting Zoo' and Filming in San Antonio

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Still from Petting Zoo

Writer/director Micah Magee may not live in Texas full-time now, but she has strong connections to the Lone Star State. She graduated from UT (dual degree Plan II Honors and Radio-TV-Film) and worked as programming director for Cinematexas International Short Film Festival. Most recently, she filmed her feature Petting Zoo in San Antonio.

In Magee's film, Layla (young actress Devon Keller) is a teenager living on the edges of poverty whose plans to attend college are subverted by an unexpected pregnancy. Petting Zoo played as part of the Panorama Special programming at Berlinale in February, and has its North American premiere at SXSW later this month.

In these hectic days before the festival begins, Magee answered questions for us via email interview.

Slackerwood: What drew you to tell this story?

Micah Magee: Petting Zoo was shot in San Antonio, Texas. It was filmed in the places of my childhood, where my teenage cousins live now: high schools built by prison architects, trailers, rock bars, abandoned half-built subdivisions, the corporate parks between the fields. I wanted to highlight the kinds of people in the film, and San Antonio itself. I think if you can be super specific about a community and a place, other local communities identify with that too -- somehow from being really specific and local, you can reach universal.

SXSW 2015 Preview: Remember the Ladies

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Sofía Espinosa in Gloria

After covering SXSW for the past several years, I felt a sort of aimlessness upon seeing the slate of films this time, like maybe I should shake things up as far as my viewing selections go. In the past year I've tried to watch more films made by women, even starting a feminist film club with a couple friends. Why shouldn't I try to carry that focus into SXSW?

So I am aiming to see films at SXSW 2015 made by female filmmakers, or based on work by women screenwriters. Spy, directed and written by Paul Feig, is the only film in my schedule that doesn't follow my rule, but I really want to see it at the Paramount!

I am also a little over-excited to hear directors Ava DuVernay (Selma, Middle of Nowhere) and Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, Love & Basketball) speak at the conference.

Here are some of the movies I'm most looking forward to at SXSW:

Movies This Week: February 27-March 5, 2015

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The biggest Austin Film Society event for this week (an advance screening of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter) is already sold out, but It still has some gems on the calendar. The org is hosting a secret double feature at the AFS Screening Room on Sunday afternoon with Fred Frey, a film collector who specializes in European exploitation and crime films. He'll be screening two rare 16mm prints from his private collection.

On Wednesday night, AFS is teaming up with IndieMeme for Katiyabaaz (Powerless), a documentary about the Indian city of Kanpur and the limitations of their electrical grid to power over 3 million residents. Filmmaker Fahad Mustafa will be in attendance for a Q&A. Thursday night brings another installment of Essential Cinema. This month's theme "Children Of Abraham/Ibrahim 9: Films Of The Middle East Diaspora" and this week you'll get a 35mm print of the 1997 Miramax release My Son, The Fanatic starring Akbar Kurtha, Om Puri and Rachel Griffiths. 

Cinapse is celebrating their second anniversary on Saturday night with a 35mm double feature at the Millenium Youth Entertainment Complex (1156 Hargrave Street) called "NYC Is Effed." Walter Hill's 1979 The Warriors will be paired with John Carpenter's 1981 Escape From New York. Doors for this special event are at 6:30 pm with the first movie kicking off at 7. 

On Sunday night, The North Door is hosting a special screening of The Return of Draw Egan: An Ennio Morricone Tribute with a live score. Okkervil River keyboardist Justin Sherburn and his group Montopolis return for this silent western that has had its old title and dialogue cards replaced by material from novelist Elizabeth Jackson and Foleyvision's Chad Nichols.

What's Streaming: Flawed But Still Very Very Funny

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A New Leaf

With the slightest excuse, I can go on and on about how Some Like It Hot is truly the perfect comedy if not the perfect movie. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond's script has a perfect symmetry -- every setup is paid off, every gag is repeated bigger, better and often with a kind of lyricism ("we have the same type blood, type O"). The timing of the maracas scene is breathtakingly brilliant. People like to gossip about director Wilder's difficulty in working with Marilyn Monroe but you see none of that onscreen. Most importantly, I've seen the movie countless times but it's still funny, every single time.

Recently I've been interested in -- and vastly entertained by -- comedies that aren't perfect, and that don't quite work for one reason or another. The thin, ridiculous plot is just an excuse for strings and strings of gags. You can see the joins where the movie was recut for one reason or another. Casting choices threw the movie out of balance. You get the idea. And yet they are still marvelous in many ways.

For example, a few years after Some Like It Hot, Wilder directed Kiss Me, Stupid, a film that provided a sharp and smutty contrast to the pastel-colored "sophisticated comedies" of the time. Instead of Rock Hudson and Doris Day flirting on gorgeous sets, you get Ray Walston and Kim Novak in harsh black-and-white, bargaining in a quote-roadhouse-unquote.

'5 to 7' Proves Romantic Comedy Still Exists

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5 to 7

I've never been particularly fond of romantic comedies on the whole. For me, it is the one genre of film that I've found to be the most blatantly straightforward and unsurprising. The standard setups, usual characters and typical obstacles are always present and accounted for, regardless of how some filmmakers try to dress things up. And while such romantic comedy blueprints have given vast amounts of joy to countless movie lovers for ages, it seemed that there was always something lacking for me within that world.

It's true, you may find a title or two in my DVD collection that bears the romantic comedy stamp, but those specific titles tell stories of love from different angles. Take for example the little-seen Til There Was You (1997), a small film about two adults who experience a number of failed romances over the course of two decades, only to finally meet each other in the last few minutes of the movie. It's a funny and thoughtful comment on romance and the journey most people must take towards finding the one they are meant for.

If there was any film that would be a game changer for me in this regard, it's definitely 5 to 7 (2014). Upon viewing the film at the Austin Film Society pre-Valentine's Day screening, I can say that I have finally seen a film which truly embodies the term "romantic comedy." Produced by 2015 Texas Film Awards honoree Bonnie Curtis and written and directed by Victor Levin, 5 to 7 is loaded with sharp comedic moments and a compelling story squarely focused on the transformative power of love on the individual.

Review: Hot Tub Time Machine 2

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Hot Tub Time Machine 2The phrase "Hot Tub Time Machine" was such an insane concept I couldn't wait to see the 2010 release. (Debbie's review) Sure, it was a fratboy movie, but it was fresh and edgy at a time when the nation was just learning to laugh again a decade after 9/11, and I loved it. Five years was a long time to wait with such anticipation for this sequel.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is a wet hot mess, with bad jokes as frequent as jacuzzi bubbles, and good jokes popping like farts in a tub. It has the same writer (Josh Heald), the same director (Steve Pink) and largely the same cast (John Cusack is replaced by Adam Scott), but it failed to capture the same magic for me. I can't say I hated it, but somehow it felt ... different, like I was watching an elaborately extended Super Bowl commercial.

The original movie was tight, with a relatively narrow scope, but this one felt like Seth MacFarlane had an advising role on set. The characters are not just juvenile and drug-addled. They are absolutely moronic. In particular, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 suffers from too much Rob Corddry, way too much, physically speaking. I don't know if the man deserves recognition for being willing to go so far for a laugh or instead pity for being the guy who will go that far.

The story concerns the fate of the original characters, now returned to a weirdly altered timeline in which they have lived out their lives with future knowledge becoming rich and famous by pre-plagiarizing hit songs and founding their own version of Google. When Lou (Corddry) is shot by an unknown assailant, the group of friends must use the hot tub to again travel back to the past to fix the future. Hmmm.

There really are a number of good gags, and Adam Scott has great chemistry with Craig Robinson, Clark Duke and Corddry, better chemistry in fact than Cusack. Chevy Chase is a bright spot for the moment he's there. His appearance feels as if much more of it was left on the cutting-room floor. (Between Chase, Scott, Corddry and Gillian Jacobs, this was practically a Community/Parks & Recreation crossover.) The real heroes of this film are the digital artists, costumers and set designers who designed and executed a really insane version of the present and a far-out version of the near future.

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