Yes, we have another set visit for you. Jette and I braved the Texas highways to go all the way to Lockhart to visit the production of the latest Singletree Productions comedy, A Splice of Life. It was a tough drive, and Jette and I had to recuperate before getting to the set by stopping by Smitty's for some barbecue. So yeah, later on we had to explain why we smelled like smoke. It's like crack, but better. But that's not why we were there. No, we were there to see some moviemaking.
It's finally here: Oscar weekend. Are you going to glam it up at aGLIFF's Red Carpet Bash with a live Oscar telecast? Will you head to The Highball for their "Hollywood party" (with a TXMPA gathering beforehand)? Or do you have private viewing plans? Come on, 'fess up and tell us how you celebrate the most popular short guy in Hollywood.
Movies We've Seen:
Drive Angry 3D -- Patrick Lussier may have last brought us My Bloody Valentine 3D, but he also brought us Red Eye. So is it worth it? Mike braved the traffic to find out just how angry Nic Cage is in this shot-in-not-retrofitted-to-3D actioner. Read Mike's review for more. (wide)
Oscar Shorts: Animated Program -- I haven't seen every one of these, but the one I have seen is worth full price just to see it's six minutes of perfection that is the short Day & Night, which premiered before Pixar's Toy Story 3 last year. Yah. That one. So you know you wanna see the rest of the Oscar-nominated animated delights screening in one program for your pleasure. (Alamo South Lamar)
"A vengeful father escapes from hell and chases after the men who killed his daughter and kidnapped his granddaughter." This antiseptic description from IMDb fails to capture the hellacious power of 2011's first truly awesome grindhouse action flick.
Drive Angry 3D inhabits a fantastic world where Hell is envisioned as a literal prison for the souls of the damned who are forced to witness the suffering of their loved ones. Nicolas Cage plays John Milton, a character not unlike Todd McFarlane's Spawn, who steals "The Godkiller" and leaves Hell to hunt down Satanic cult leader Jonah King (Billy Burke) and save his grandchild. Along the way, he picks up Piper (Amber Heard), his partner in ass-kicking, while being pursued by The Accountant (William Fichtner). David Morse later turns up as Milton's best friend, Webster (Daniel perhaps?).
I found out last night that actor Bill Paxton will be in Austin next week. (Don't confuse him with Bill Pullman. I nearly did so myself.) The Fort Worth native will be at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar on Monday night to screen the first feature he directed, Frailty, from 2001. Then on Tuesday, he'll receive a 2011 Texas Medal of Arts Award at the Long Center. Tickets are still available for both these events.
I didn't see Bill Paxton when he was last in Austin in March 2007, at SXSW and the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. Fortunately, I did find this photo on Flickr and Austin Film Society gave me permission to republish it here. Paxton was initiated into the Texas Film Hall of Fame by the late great musician Stephen Bruton, also pictured above.
Here's the latest Austin movie-related news for your enjoyment.
- The Texas Film Hall of Fame has announced even more special guests and award nominees for the March 10 event. John Hawkes, nominated for an Oscar for his supporting role in Winter's Bone, will receive the Rising Star Award. The Austin band Spoon will receive the Soundtrack Award, presented to them by local filmmaker Jeff Nichols. And journalist Liz Smith will be presenting Renee Zellweger with her award. I suspect we haven't heard the last talent announcement from them yet, so stay tuned.
- Over at YNN (formerly known as News 8 Austin), Victor Diaz profiles the Austin-shot film Lovers of Hate (my review) and its filmmakers, who are preparing for the upcoming Independent Spirit Award ceremony. The movie is up for the John Cassavetes Award, for indie films with a budget of less than $500K.
- Last year, Austin filmmaker Bob Ray took a road trip around the country to show his documentaries Hell on Wheels (my review) and Total Badass. Now he's decided that the U.S. is not enough. He's got a Kickstarter campaign going to fund a tour of Europe with the pair of documentaries. And as part of that campaign, he created a pretty damn funny video you don't want to miss. (The pledge incentives are amusing too ... not just stickers or DVDs but Indian leg wrestling and one of Bob's spare USB cables.) (And I just realized the Cinematical quote from the Hell on Wheels trailer is mine. Cool!)
I mentioned the production of When Angels Sing a few weeks ago: Tim McCanlies (Secondhand Lions) is directing this adaptation of a Turk Pipkin story, and it's produced by Elizabeth Avellan. The cast includes many familiar faces from the music industry: Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Sara Hickman and Harry Connick, Jr., plus Connie Britton.
When Angels Sing was recently shooting over in Northwest Park by Shoal Creek Blvd. in the Allandale neighborhood. I found some photos on Flickr from the shoot. Jim Lallen, who lives in Allandale, graciously gave me permission to publish some of his photos here. He was only able to take a few before someone on the production shooed him away.
In the above photo ("Action"), you can see Kris Kristofferson preparing to shoot a scene with a younger actor, barely visible -- I am wondering if this is Houston actor Chandler Canterbury, credited on IMDb as being in the cast. Kristofferson plays a character listed on IMDb as "The Colonel." I've got another photo after the jump ("The Crew") that includes a glimpse of director Tim McCanlies (in a cap and striped shirt in the background).
If I Am Number Four feels something like a Smallville episode, it should come as no surprise to learn the screenplay was penned by Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. This is compounded by the small-town high school setting, the orphaned-alien-with-superpowers plotline, and a lead actor -- Alex Pettyfer -- who bears an uncanny resemblance to Smallville's Justin Hartley (The Green Arrow). In fact, it plays like an extended pilot for a TV show that would develop a gigantic following on Fox only to be cancelled before the end of the first season. It's directed by D.J. Caruso, who also brought us Disturbia (the teen Rear Window) and Eagle Eye.
Evaluated by its big-screen merits, I Am Number Four still holds up as a strong film, which draws on familiar elements. The movie begins with an exciting bit of what I can only describe as "jungle parkour," which I could have watched for an hour alone. Another short scene at a beach party follows before the action moves to small-town Paradise, Ohio. John Smith (Pettyfer) has been dragged there, on one of many relocations, by his guardian and father-figure Henri (Timothy Olyphant). Rebelling against Henri's strict make-no-waves policy, he enrolls in the local high school where he picks up a new girlfriend (Glee's Dianna Agron) and picks a fight with her ex. From there, we're in standard teen romance territory until the bad guys eventually catch up to them.
My head is full of SXSW news this week, and I was up too late last night poring over the schedule. So it's difficult for me to get very excited about today's new releases in Austin theaters. Cedar what? Hey, My Sucky Teen Romance will premiere at the Paramount! Unknown ... well, it's unknown whether I should pick WUSS over Incendiary: The Willingham Case when they're in the same time slot. You see what I mean. We'll have some amazing Slackerwood coverage of the fest this year, but right now I need to stop planning and start telling you about what's in theaters right this minute.
Movies We've Seen:
I Am Number Four -- Mike Saulters caught this mystery/romance/action movie and calls it "a strong film, which draws on familiar elements." He also says it opens with some amazing action he calls "jungle parkour." Check back on Saturday morning for his full review of this film starring Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Durand (Lost), Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron (Glee).
Other New Movies:
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son -- I can't even think of anything snarky to say about the latest entry in the Big Momma series. If you are this desperately in need of entertainment, read Eric Snider's review at Cinematical, which is probably much funnier than the movie itself. And go rent Some Like It Hot.
It's been a very busy, newsworthy week for Austin film. Here are a few of the highlights:
- My favorite news of the week: Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson is going into the moviemaking business himself. Carlson and Brian Connolly, who co-wrote the book Destroy All Movies: The Complete Guide to Punk Film, have also worked on a feature film script called Destroy, about vampire hunters in a world where vampires don't exist. The movie will be directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, who brought us Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2 fandom that was partially shot in Austin and has screened here many times. Can't wait to see the finished film.
- The Texas Film Hall of Fame has announced their first 2011 award recipients: Rip Torn (a UT Austin alum) and Renee Zellweger (from Katy). The Star of Texas ensemble award will go to the TV show Friday Night Lights. And this year's emcee will be Wyatt Cenac. You may know Cenac from The Daily Show (or the amazing SXSW 2008 film Medicine for Melancholy), but he also has Texas ties: he's from Dallas and used to write for King of the Hill. Other special guests include Catherine Hardwicke, Luke Wilson, Richard Linklater and previous emcee Thomas Haden Church. Yes, of course we will be there with cameras.
- SXSW Film Festival posted its 2011 conference and film schedules this week. So start planning now. The fest also announced some key panelists for the Film Conference, including Paul Reubens, Ellen Page, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rainn Wilson, and filmmakers Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and Todd Phillips (The Hangover).
- More from SXSW Film: Two videos are available to help you with your festgoing choices. About SXSW: 2011 SXSW Film Access explains the differences between badge, pass and ticket and offers advice on all options. It looks like the SXXpress tickets for badgeholders will be available again this year, if that's your cup of tea (I never seem to be able to make it to the box office at the right time for them myself). The second video, About SXSW: SXSW 2011 Film Venues and Shuttle Buses, is an excellent guide to getting around the fest. The video makes it sound like the shuttle will run every day of the film festival, which if true is wonderful news. The shuttle will also include Rollins this year (a new venue for SXSW that is part of the Long Center), but not Westgate or Arbor, which are essentially "satellite venues" meant to draw Austin filmgoers. Keep an eye out for our own Venue Guide in the next couple of weeks, which includes theater seat counts, bus routes and nearby dining options.
While poking around in the TAMI library for videos to feature in this article, I found three very interesting bits of Austin nostalgia from an unlikely source: the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which oversees the state's public education system. These videos are great examples of vintage state agency films, with high-quality production values, beautiful soundtracks and some surprising connections to Austin's fledgling film and music industries. (Then again, given the quality of these films, maybe these connections are not so surprising.)
The New American Schoolhouse is an early 1970s look at the career and technical programs the TEA's Department of Occupational Education and Technology offered to high-school students. Shot in Austin and Ft. Worth, it spotlights examples of career education in graphic arts, health care, retail, manufacturing, data processing and other vocations. (Remember data processing? I hear it was a career with a future.) Beyond showing these examples, the film promotes the then-novel idea that to prepare students for life after graduation, their education must combine classroom and real-world learning.
Like many films from this era, The New American Schoolhouse presents the expected parade of computer -- er, data processing -- equipment the size of refrigerators, hairdos nearly as large, yacht-sized American sedans, mini-dresses, striped sport coats, and hideous pantsuits that women now swear they never wore. (Such denial is pointless; there is plenty of photographic evidence of these fashion faux pas.) The film also has pleasantly artsy, film-schoolish visuals, from sometimes unflattering close-ups of students' faces to sweeping shots of urban vistas. The opening sequence's birds-eye view of downtown Austin is fascinating, as the camera pans over St. Mary Cathedral, City National Bank, I-35, and the hills west of Austin. One interesting scene was filmed at the Austin American-Statesman.
An unsettling aspect of Gerald Peary's 2009 documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism is that so many of the critics interviewed are identified as "ex-critics" of print media such as The New York Times.
Yeah, things aren't so rosy for film critics these days, at least for critics seeking paychecks from traditional newspapers and magazines. Film criticism jobs are disappearing as fast as the classified advertising that once funded them. In the face of falling revenues and online competition, periodicals are jettisoning everything from foreign news bureaus to op-ed columnists to local arts coverage.
But all is not hopeless, as For the Love of Movies tells us. Film critics are adapting to the brave new media world, and as long they remain passionate about movies, the century-old tradition of reviewing them will continue.
The future of film criticism was no doubt on everyone's mind at a February 10 screening of For the Love of Movies presented by the Austin Film Society at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. Peary was in attendance for a brief post-screening Q&A, followed by a panel discussion moderated by UT professor Thomas Schatz and featuring local critics Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle, Charles Ealy of the Austin American Statesman, Slackerwood's own Jette Kernion, and Austin Film Critics Association founder and president Cole Dabney.
While visiting the set of The Man Who Never Cried last fall, I was amused by the t-shirt worn by director Bradley Jackson (above on the right, with lead Keir O'Donnell, left). The phrase across his chest read "Please Lord, Let me Prove to You That Winning The Lottery Won't Spoil Me."
Jackson will have to do just that, with the recent announcement that the $100,000 grand prize for the Doorpost Film Project went to The Man Who Never Cried. The local film that received tips and script edits from the likes of Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater and other industry veterans. In addition to winning first place, the film took several other awards at last week's awards ceremony, including the Audience Choice Award. Find out what other honors the local independent film received are after the jump:
With a screenplay adapted by Jeremy Brock from the 1954 novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" by author Rosemary Sutfcliff, The Eagle provides light entertainment for the sandals-and-swords film buffs. This pre-holy Roman Empire tale that was written for young readers has been brought to the big screen for a wider adult audience.
The Eagle centers around the young Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), a Roman soldier who attempts to restore his family name. His father had been stationed in the northern wilderness of Britain 20 years prior, and had led the the famous Ninth Legion, which disappeared behind Hadrian's Wall and was presumed dead. The symbolic golden eagle of the legion was lost, bringing shame to the Aquila family.
After receiving a promotion to Centurion, Aquila is sent to the northern reaches of Britain to head a fort. Aquila is critically injured while rescuing his men during an attack, for which he is honorably discharged from the army. Recovering at the home of his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland), he struggles with his injuries and frustration at not being able to restore his family's reputation -- being a soldier is all that he has ever desired and known. However, after rescuing the British slave Esca (Jamie Bell), the young Aquila takes up his goal: to cross Hadrian's Wall, confront the savage tribes of the Highlands and bring back the golden eagle.
Looking at this week's new releases, I'm amused that we have two animated movies opening that could not be more different. One is a bright perky children's movie that tidily removes everything tragic from a classic tragedy; the other is a poignant, beautiful, quiet film with a melancholy air. And the photo above comes from neither one -- it's from The Gruffalo, part of a collection of Oscar-nominated shorts that also opens in Austin today. Other non-animated choices include a Hollywood romantic comedy, an epic set in ancient Rome ... and Justin Bieber. How can you go wrong?
Movies We've Seen:
- Gnomeo And Juliet -- Don's review tells you everything you want to know about this upbeat reworking of the tragic Shakespearan play using garden gnomes. But my favorite comment so far comes from Kimberley Jones' review at the Austin Chronicle: "That's 10 screenwriters if you count Shakespeare, but had he the chance, I bet he'd lobby the Writers Guild for an Alan Smithee credit." (wide)
- The Illusionist -- If I could, I would stop what I was doing right now and go see The Illusionist again. The animated movie is directed by Sylvan Chomet from a script by the late Jacques Tati. You won't believe me, but this is a much better movie than the front-runner for Best Animated Feature Oscar, Toy Story 3. Read my review to find out why. (Arbor)
- The Eagle -- Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell star in this sword-and-sandal adventure that is so macho, there are no speaking parts for women. (Well, the same can be said for The Great Escape, which I like very much.) Debbie caught this movie; look for her review this weekend. (wide)
Sad and beautiful, that's The Illusionist in a nutshell. This animated movie is not geared toward small children -- it's from the same filmmaker who brought us The Triplets of Belleville, Sylvain Chomet. But where his previous film was riotous and joyful and just plain insane at times, The Illusionist is quieter, more structured and not afraid to venture into melodrama. It may not be upbeat, but that doesn't mean it was disappointing, at all.
The Illusionist originates from a script by the late French actor/filmmaker Jacques Tati. If you've seen The Triplets of Belleville, you know Chomet is a big fan of Tati -- there are a few Tati references sprinkled throughout the film, and the humor matches some of Tati's more chaotic comedy. But Tati's standard "M. Hulot" character also had a more dramatic side, which prevails in this movie.
Dialogue is minimal, the characters barely have names, and the storyline is uncomplicated. The title character (Jean-Claude Donda) is a French magician whose illusions are no longer in fashion by the late 1950s. Music halls in Europe prefer Beatles-like boy bands that draw crowds of groupies. He lands a gig in a remote Scottish village, where he delights crowds in a small pub ... including young Alice (Eilidh Rankin), the hotel maid. He's kind to Alice, so she follows him when he leaves the village and tries to make his living in Edinburgh.
Midway through Gnomeo and Juliet is the line, "I wish I could quit you."
Ahem. This probably is a first for an animated family film: a slightly altered quotation of the most famous line in Brokeback Mountain.
Yeah, I know: Wink, wink -- here's yet another slightly risqué adult pop cultural reference designed to entertain us grownups while sailing harmlessly over the kiddos' heads. Such references are now fundamental to the animated family movie formula, invariably a mix of endless 3D action sequences, ADD-friendly bits of dialogue, a chaste romance that blossoms to a soundtrack of insipid pop songs, and adult-oriented references to The Matrix, Scarface and/or CSI. Oh yeah -- there also may be a cutesy dancing thing at the end.
Sometimes this formula works smashingly well, as in the Toy Story franchise. But it's hit or miss in Gnomeo & Juliet, a frenetic, too-cute tale very loosely based (emphasis on very loosely) on Shakespeare's tragic love story.
SXSW Film Festival has just announced the last round of features included in the 2011 festival, in the Midnighters and SXFantastic categories. "SXFantastic" is a joint venture between SXSW and Fantastic Fest, and the films generally screen at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, often with wacky hijinks from the Alamo gang. In addition, SXSW has also announced its substantial short film lineup, including narratives, documentaries, animation and music videos. One category is dedicated to Texas shorts, which is great to see.
You can see the full lineup here. Although none of the new features are Austin movies as far as I can tell -- in fact, few are American -- we'll post an article soon with details on the Austin-connected shorts. In the meantime, here are a few highlights and notes on Austin connections, no matter how tenuous. The actual schedule for SXSW Film should be announced within another week or so, along with info on film passes and other details.
- Hobo with a Shotgun is about as close to being an Austin film as a movie shot in Nova Scotia by a Canadian can possibly be -- I explained why when the film officially premiered at Sundance. I hope to see this but it's a midnight movie and you all know how wussy I am about seeing movies at that hour (the last SXSW film I stayed up that late to see was Drag Me to Hell).
- British filmmaker Simon Rumley was at SXSW 2010 with his Austin-shot horror film, Red White & Blue. This year, he's back as one of the writer/directors of a horror anthology from the UK, Little Deaths. Rumley's segment is called "Bitch" and is about a couple in a destructive sadomasochistic relationship. (Horror Asylum has a poster and longer synopsis of Rumley's segment.)
Here's the latest update on Austin movie news and upcoming special screenings:
- I can't get through this list without noting one final time that tonight's the night I will be on a panel of film critics as part of an AFS-hosted special screening of Gerald Peary's documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. Tickets are still available, you know.
- I really enjoyed the short film Quadrangle at SXSW last year, where it won Best Documentary Short. Austin filmmaker Amy Grappell interviewed her parents and used old photos to piece together the story of the relationship her mom and dad had with the couple next door, when Amy was a child. HBO2 will be showing this doc several times, starting next Wednesday, Feb. 16. If you can't get to a TV with HBO2, Aurora Picture Show in Houston is screening the film as part of their "Love is a Many Splintered Thing" shorts compilation on Sunday night at Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks.
- Houston documentary Thunder Soul (Jenn's review), which I still regret missing at SXSW (stupid parking), has found a new champion: Jamie Foxx. Foxx is now an executive producer and will help promote the film, which Roadside Attractions will start releasing in theaters in September.
NOTE: This venue is currently closed and undergoing a serious remodeling.
Located in a strip mall, you might never know Alamo Drafthouse at South Lamar is a full-service restaurant that can handle as many as 800 covers per hour, as well as a first-run theater and special event mini-cineplex. Alamo South Lamar is a popular location for many local film festivals and is the home theater for Fantastic Fest.
Pros: Pre-show clips, food, and beer. Little lights under the tables in front of your seat not only make menu reading easier, but are also helpful if you're taking notes on the film (or want to look at your bill). The theater has a serious "no talking/texting" policy during screenings, so don't be surprised if a manager gives you a warning if you text or get chatty after the house lights go down.
Cons: Avoid the first two rows in the theaters unless you like craning your neck. When it gets busy here, the lobby gets super crowded and verges on the chaotic, although Alamo staff (and volunteers, during fests) have managed to instill very good line control. Popular first-run movies often sell out quickly, especially on summer weekends.
Screens and Capacity: Six theaters with stadium seating, varying in size from 82 seats to 218, all with Sony 4K digital but still capable of showing 35mm films (196 seats in #1, 218 in #2, 118 in #3 & #6, 82 in #4 & #5). During festivals you may be able to order drinks and snacks at the bar by the ticket counter, and enjoy a bite or a brew out at the picnic tables under the awning.
Mobility Impaired Access: Every theater has three floor-level rows, with spaces in the third row specifically for those needing chair access, and the view in that third row is fine. All other amenities are on the ground-floor level so the only problem chair users might have is dealing with crowds (and on weekend nights and during fests, it can get crowded).
Parking: Parking has become a major issue at this location both in front and back, as it's a small strip mall with several other businesses, and The Highball is also a big draw. Be aware of reserved parking and if you must park on the street near the theater, be respectful of the neighborhood.
Bus routes: #3, #338 go to and from the venue. The #484 Night Owl will take you from downtown to the theater but it's only late night and only goes southbound on Lamar. An alternate route is the #30, which requires walking to/from Barton Springs Rd. The #3 can drop you off near the Ritz (the route is on long-term detour and on Congress), and in front of the Paramount. The #338 (which requires a walk from Congress) will take you directly to Westgate theater. For more information, visit the Capital Metro website (hint: click the Service Nearby link then selecting Submit).
Distance: You can't walk to downtown movie theaters (or bars) unless you're into serious hiking, but you can take a bus or find a friendly Austinite with a car. A cab from the theater to downtown isn't expensive, but taxis are unlikely to hang around, so be prepared to phone. Make sure the cab service has your name so they won't drive off with some other film geek.
On-site dining options: All Alamo Drafthouses in Austin have a full menu including wine and beer (Ritz is the only one at this time serving hard liquor). You can view the regular menu and current specials on the South Lamar menu, which also includes helpful hints on the ordering process, and information on gluten-free and vegetarian items. If you need more information than what's included on the menu, ask the waitstaff to check for you.
Nearby dining options: The Highball, Suzi's Chinese Kitchen and Casa Garcia are in the same strip mall, and the super-trendy (and pricey) Japanese restaurant Uchi is across the street and down about a block. Sadly, the food trailers across the theater on South Lamar have moved. Other outstanding options are along South Lamar (away from downtown), as well as "restaurant row" on Barton Springs Rd. For all-night options, Jette likes Kerbey Lane's gingerbread pancakes.
Wireless: Free wireless is available in the lobby and theaters, and out by the picnic tables you'll find outlets as well. The Highball also has wireless and a couple of the booths have outlets. About two blocks further south down Lamar (away from downtown), you'll find a Starbucks in a strip mall across the street from Saxon Pub. Further than a walk, drive north to Barton Springs Road, then turn right to Flipnotics or Austin Java, which both offer coffee and wireless access.
Despite the later success of these Texas cinematic giants, their early works remain relatively obscure and are rarely screened. So, if you're a Texas movie buff like me, you won't want to miss the upcoming "Texas Legends, Before They Were Legends" program, which presents a collection of first short films from some of Texas' most successful and cherished filmmakers. Presented by the Texas Independent Film Network, Austin Film Society and Screen Door Film, the program includes the following films:
- Bottle Rocket (1992), by Wes Anderson. This short (pictured at right) is the basis for the full-length feature version of Bottle Rocket, released four years later.
- Styx (1976), by Jan Krawitz. This documentary is an impressionistic view of the Philadelphia subway system.
- Woodshock (1985), by Richard Linklater. This documentary captures the mayhem of the 1985 Woodshock Music Festival in Dripping Springs.
The SXSW Film Festival always has a great showing of documentaries and narrative shorts and features from Austin filmmakers. A number of films are also shot in the Central Texas area. It's starting to feel like it wouldn't really be SXSW without a shot of the Frost Bank Building in at least one movie. Austin films aren't merely limited to the Lone Star States category, either -- you can find them in many of the fest's offerings.
Here's the best list we've been able to compile of Austin connections in SXSW films this year. If we missed your film, please let us know in the comments. We will update the list if needed when the SXFantastic and Midnighters films are announced this week. We'll also do a separate article for short films after they are announced.
A note to filmmakers: If your movie has some link to Austin, we would love to interview you about it and see the film. Please drop us a line ASAP so we can set something up before the fest begins.
Remember Clay? Last year at SXSW, My Blackberry Ate My Clay Liford Interview when I talked with him and producer Barak Epstein about Clay's cerebral science-fiction genre-crossing movie Earthling, and touched briefly on his 2008 short My Mom Smokes Weed. The man is batting a thousand -- getting two features into SXSW two years in a row is no mean feat. He spent a Sunday brunch at Olivia a couple of weeks ago chatting with Jette and me about his latest projects -- we all ate smoked gouda grits, and the Blackberry did not eat the interview this time.
As it happens, My Mom Smokes Weed star Nate Rubin plays the lead in Wuss. Rubin stars as Mitch, a high-school teacher who can't seem to escape the fate of the eponymous archetype the title implies, being repeatedly bullied by his own students until an unlikely alliance results in a "friendship that stretches the use of the word 'inappropriate'." Wuss also stars Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Chuck) and local actor/filmmaker Alex Karpovsky (Lovers of Hate, Tiny Furniture) among others.
I'm so happy that the celebrity groundhog predicts an early end to winter because this former Bostonian has had enough of frozen water pipes. Thankfully, there are plenty of good movies to watch, and several new ones -- plus one previously released -- have come to our local theaters, including two Oscar nominated films. We'll see more in the coming weeks as the arthouse films hit theaters outside of LA and NY, but we've plenty to see now.
Movies We've Seen:
Another Year (pictured above) -- Mike Leigh's character studies may be an actor's dream but they can be hit or miss for audiences. Personally, I loved Topsy Turvy and Vera Drake, but Happy-Go-Lucky left me cold. Still, I can't help but appreciate the alchemy of his casting and the sheer range of stories he brings to the big screen. Another Year focuses on a serenely married couple in the eye of the emotional storms around them in the course of a year. Leigh's script is up for an Original Screenplay Oscar. Read Don's review for more. (Arbor)
The Company Men -- John Wells (The West Wing, China Beach) has worked on so many outstanding television shows and films as writer and producer, his credentials seem impeccable. Unfortunately, this study of men at different levels in their careers who find themselves collateral damage in the current economic upheavals apparently was researched back in the 80s. As a veteran of "outplacement" in recent years, I know there are serious flaws in some of his plot devices. Read Jette's review for more on this AFF 2010 selection. (wide)
Get Low -- Last in theaters this fall, apparently Get Low's two Oscar nods for Robert Duvall and Bill Murray is getting more well-deserved attention and is back in a local theater for those of you on the north side of town. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. Read my review for more on this tale of reputations and redemption. (Cinemark Round Rock)
Sanctum -- While being billed as "James Cameron's Sanctum," the director is actually Alister Grierson. This survival thriller is inspired by co-writer Andrew Wight's own experiences with cave diving. They couldn't resist putting a "what could go wrong" comment in the trailer that also makes sure you know it's filmed for 3D. Um, yah. Anyway, Mike braved the depths of an early screening so he can tell you more in his review. (wide)
If all you've seen of Sanctum is in the TV spots, you probably think as I did that it was directed by James Cameron. His name is all over it, along with "3D Experience," "Titanic" and "Avatar." That's not surprising, given the virtually unknown director (Alister Grierson) and cast. The most recognizable faces here are Richard Roxburgh, best known as the Duke in Moulin Rouge, and Ioan Gruffudd, who has a steady following for his role as Horatio Hornblower and for playing Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four movies. If you watch the trailer (and I strongly recommend against that, as it spoils some of the most striking moments in the film), the words "executive producer" do appear above Cameron's name, but it feels almost like rewatching Avatar.
I expected Sanctum to be a grand 3D adventure shot with the same fantastic technology as Avatar. Instead, the moviequickly began to feel more like a combination of Alive and Jurassic Park (even using the phrase "spared no expense"). The 3D work at the beginning of the film was difficult to watch, forcing me at times to close one eye or another due to rapid close-up movement and shifts in perspective. Once everything had moved underground to more confined spaces, it became bearable and allowed me to focus on the action.
In this crappy economy, you'd think that a movie about how people are dealing with layoffs and corporate consolidation and difficult economic situations would be compelling and fascinating. Unfortunately, if the movie is The Company Men, it fails to engage and in fact feels oddly out of step with today's world.
Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a savvy sales director -- or something along those lines -- who finds himself unexpectedly laid off when the large corporation where he works consolidates his division down to nothing. Shipbuilding isn't what it used to be, you see. His boss, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) is just as angry -- CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) waited until Gene was out of town to take care of the consolidations and mass firings. Bobby's coworker Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) worries he'll be next, and where is an over-50 guy who needs to keep working to keep his kids in college going to find another job?
One difficulty here is that all these guys are so very privileged at the beginning of the movie that it's difficult to feel much sympathy for them. Poor Bobby has to sell his Porsche! And his wife has to go back to work to support the family! And they can't cover the mortgage on a nurse's salary, so they're going to lose the house. Eventually things grow even worse for the family, but by that point it feels too late to be very sympathetic.
I'm a longtime fan of director Mike Leigh. From Naked to Happy-Go-Lucky, his films are completely naturalistic, populated with entirely human characters and emotionally powerful.
That said, I'm not quite a fan of Leigh's latest work, Another Year. Yes, it's the sort of high-quality cinema we expect from Leigh, a thoughtful and thoroughly believable collection of character studies with plenty to say about how we view our lives, ourselves and each other. But while Another Year is unquestionably well made, it's so relentlessly drab and dour that I just couldn't bring myself to like it.
The movie centers on Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), middle-aged Londoners who have enjoyed many years of marital bliss, personal fulfillment and professional success. However, most of their family and friends are anything but content with their lives. From their lonely son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), to their lonelier, hard-drinking friend Mary (Lesley Manville), Tom and Gerri find themselves surrounded by unhappiness, disappointment and spiritual ennui.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Austin Film Society is hosting a special screening of Gerald Peary's documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism with a panel of local film critics to discuss the film with Peary afterward. At the time, I didn't know who was on the panel, although I made a couple of guesses both publicly and privately. Interestingly enough, I was almost entirely wrong.
The panel, moderated by UT professor Tom Schatz, will include Marjorie Baumgarten from the Austin Chronicle; Korey Coleman from Spill; Cole Dabney, president of the Austin Film Critics Association; Charles Ealy from the Austin American-Statesman; and Jette Kernion from Slackerwood. Yes, I am on the panel. You can't possibly be more surprised than I was when I got the invitation. I'm pleased that AFS has put together such a varied group for the panel and I hope we'll have a lively time and that I won't say anything dumb.
The screening and panel will take place next Thursday, February 10, at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. You can buy tickets through AFS. You're all going to buy tickets, right? I can tell you're about to click that link and get some tickets right now.
I haven't seen For the Love of Movies since 2008, when Peary showed a rough cut to the Moving Image Institute in Film Criticism, which I was lucky enough to attend. So I'm looking forward to seeing the final version of this documentary. Some of it was shot at SXSW (I think in 2006?), so there's a bit of Austin in it. I can't wait for next Thursday.
Here's the latest Austin movie news. If you make it through the whole list, there's a little reward at the end.
- According to MTV (and Justin Bieber, oddly enough), Mike Judge's latest project is a return to TV and in fact to the MTV characters that launched his career in animation and filmmaking. That's right, Beavis and Butthead are back.
- What are you doing Friday night? Don't you want to celebrate the joys of videotape? Of course you do, so head to Rio Rita Cafe for the opening of the "Rewind This! The Art of VHS" exhibit. The exhibit runs through February and includes paintings, illustrations, photos, poster art and sculpture you can enjoy ... and even buy. You can also purchase t-shirts and other apparel proclaiming your VHS love. This is a fundraiser for the locally made film-in-progress Rewind This!, a documentary about VHS and the people who still watch, collect and appreciate it.
- Over at the Austin Chronicle, Richard Whittaker provides clear and complete background on Texas film incentives and what could happen to them during the current state legislative session.
- A look behind the scenes at Alamo Drafthouse: Weird Wednesday programmer Lars Nilsen shares a print inspection report with us.
SXSW Film Festival has just announced its 2011 lineup. We'll post a complete (we hope) list of all the Austin and Texas connections very soon, but in the meantime, you can read the full announcement here. The short films, midnight movies and SXFantastic films will be revealed next week, and the full panel/conference lineup on Feb. 15. SXSW Film Festival takes place from March 11-19 this year.
Immediately obvious Austin films: Heather Courtney's Where Soldiers Come From, in the documentary competition; Aaron Burns' blacktino, produced by Elizabeth Avellan and with a cast including Danny Trejo and Jeff Fahey; Turk Pipkin's latest film Building Hope; Steve Mims' documentary Incendiary: The Willingham Case; and hey! Emily Hagins' My Sucky Teen Romance. Quite pleased to see Clay Liford's feature Wuss included too, since Jenn Brown just interviewed him; look for us to publish that very soon.
More quick notes: Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW, directed by Alan Berg, is in the music section of the fest; Being Elmo, about the little red menace of Sesame Street, will screen after a successful debut at Sundance (how I'd love to interview either Kevin Clash or Elmo himself); Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D; Monte Hellman's Road to Nowhere; Errol Morris's Tabloid.
Sebastian Gutierrez, who entertained a SXSW 2010 audience memorably after his print of Elektra Luxx broke, is back with Girl Walks Into a Bar; Greta Gerwig also returns to the fest, starring in Alison Bagnall's film The Dish & the Spoon. Nicolas Lopez, so charming at Fantastic Fest 2008 with his film Santos (produced by Avellan) is at SXSW with the U.S. premiere of Fuck My Life. Catherine Hardwicke will host a special screening of her latest film, Red Riding Hood. And The Cameraman with live accompaniment. And ... and ... and ...
I've really enjoyed Austin Film Festival's "Made in Texas" series, in which the fest screens Lone Star-shot films every month, often with the screenwriter or filmmaker in attendance. Now AFF is bringing the series back in 2011 and adding other great programming with help from the Texas Book Festival.
The 2011 Made in Texas series kicks off on Wednesday, Feb. 16 with Hook and one of its screenwriters, James V. Hart. After a 6 pm "Conversations in Film" seminar with Hart at the AT&T Conference Center (on the UT campus), you can cross the street to the Texas Spirit Theater and watch the movie at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available through AFF for the conversation and screening. After the jump, check out a list of the rest of the series offerings scheduled so far.
On March 10, AFF and Texas Book Festival will co-host a special sneak preview of Jane Eyre at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, with details forthcoming. Director Cary Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) has been to AFF twice with short films: Kofi in 2003 and Victoria para chino, which won the Best Student Narrative Short, in 2004. AFF and TBF are also teaming up in July for a free screening of How to Eat Fried Worms, as part of AFF's Made in Texas Family Film Series.
I hope this means we'll see more screenings associated with the actual Texas Book Festival in November, too. In the past, the fest would have one or two movie events related to authors -- I had a fine time hearing Joe Bob Briggs talk about Profoundly Disturbing movies back in 2003, for example. In the past few years it seems that these movie-related events have decreased.
aGLIFF knows how to party. I know from experience: the crowds are fun, witty and very welcoming. So just imagine their annual Red Carpet Gala complete with a live Academy Awards telecast this year, so big it's moving to Austin Studios. If anyone can create celebrity sensation, aGLIFF's party planners can.
On Sunday, February 27, paparazzi, a red carpet and a champagne reception await you as the hostess with the mostest, Rebecca Havermeyer, will be on hand to greet you like the Austin celebrity you are. When you get to your private table, your waiter will be ready with some Oscar-themed cocktails, starting at 5:30 pm. Above, you can see Miz Havermeyer chatting up then-Austin filmmaker Kyle Henry, whose Fourplay: San Francisco short played aGLIFF 2010 with overwhelmingly positive reactions. (Henry's in Chicago now, but we still can't stop thinking of him as belonging to Austin.)