Austin-based documentarian Heather Courtney chronicles four years in the lives of small-town childhood friends in the award-winning movie Where Soldiers Come From. The film begins with their decision to enlist in the U.S. National Guard after graduating high school, and continues through their deployment to Afghanistan and their adjustment back to civilian life. Jette reviewed the movie after its premiere at SXSW in 2011.
The Texas Independent Film Network, an Austin-based statewide coalition of film societies, universities and independent theaters, sponsored the San Marcos screening of Where Soldiers Come From on Jan. 25 in the Texas State University- San Marcos Theatre Center. Courtney attended the Texas State screening.
Setting out to make a documentary about rural America, Courtney said she changed her mind after reading an article in her hometown newspaper -- in Michigan's Upper Peninsula -- about the recent return of National Guard soldiers from Iraq. She said she didn't know there was a National Guard unit there until reading the article.
Here's the latest Austin film news:
- Austin is getting a new festival -- not a film fest but a television festival, something new and a bit different. The ATX Festival will take place June 1-3 this year. The fest organizers are currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise start-up funds, and some of the giving levels will earn you discounted badges for the festival.
- One of my favorite films from Fantastic Fest 2010, Sound of Noise, is finally getting theatrical release in the U.S. soon thanks to Magnolia Pictures. The quirky movie about "musical terrorism" opens in limited release on March 9. No word yet about an Austin release date, but I hope they open it here at least a week later because, you know, SXSW. Read my review from Cinematical and you might understand why I'm excited and impatient.
- Sundance ended this weekend but I still want to point you to this enjoyable profile in The New York Times of Austin filmmakers Nathan and David Zellner as they brought their feature Kid-Thing to Park City. I find it funny that the Variety review says the feature should be "potentially broadening their loyal fanbase," but the IndieWIRE review says it's "too irreverent for any kind of mass market." The movie will play Berlin Film Festival next and I hope SXSW after that (fingers crossed).
- Local filmmaker Don Swaynos will also have a film at Berlin this year at the same time, although not at the same festival. His short Six Hundred and Forty-One Slates will premiere at the Berlin International Director's Lounge, which focuses on experimental film and media.
Busy tonight? Blue Starlite Urban Drive-In has a triple-feature of 80s teen films for you: Pretty in Pink, Say Anything and Sixteen Candles.
On Sunday, you can join the TXMPA SAG Awards party, including a red carpet and pre-show mixer at ND at 501 Studios. On Monday, if you think "the Dude abides" you can check out the Big Lebowski Quote-along at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.
Then on Tuesday, you can catch a classic cautionary tale of love, lust and the consequences of confusing the two in F.W. Murnau's 1927 epic Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans as part of the AFS Essential Cinema Series. And the Paramount Winter Comedy Series continues this week, including a special Shaun of the Dead Pub Run and screening on Tuesday.
Movies We've Seen:
Man on a Ledge -- J.C. saw this thriller and says it's a combination of "some original thought, mixed in with some fun clichés that will only serve to give you a harmless chuckle." Read his review for more. (wide)
Man on a Ledge is one of those films where the reaction you have toward it will be based upon the mood you're in going into it. On the one hand, you've got a cliché-ridden mess that at times seems like it took pages out of a screenwriting textbook and put them up in a theatrically released movie. On the other hand, you've got a cool, tense and more importantly fun heist flick starring some good actors.
What's funny about Man on a Ledge is that the first two acts of the film are the type of cliché-ridden piles filled with plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon that might make your head explode, but the third act is good enough and original enough to save the movie in the end. It's an impressive debut from director Asger Leth, and he has proven he can get a lot of out of a sizable cast.
While escaped convict/former police officer Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington) seems to have found his freedom, he inexplicably checks into a very nice hotel room with a great view, sits down for a nice meal and then promptly walks out onto the ledge of his room. As the requisite circus gathers underneath, he asks the NYPD for his own negotiator. They figure out that he checked into the room under an assumed name and begin scrambling to figure out his identity. All the while across the street, a diamond heist is taking place and Nick's motives become clearer to the audience.
The Hellion filmmakers have sent us another pair of web episodes from their escapades in Park City. Specifically, we're getting videos from E.J. Enriquez, who's actually shooting and editing them -- he also did some camera work on Hellion itself.
Episode 4 -- no, it's not titled A New Hope and you know I don't want to hear that kind of thing -- was shot at the world premiere of the short film at Sundance earlier this week. This video is a departure from the other chronicles in the sense that it's genuine and sweet and a little touching, as opposed to merely silly. I just want to give Kat Candler a big hug. It's the longest of the videos so far but still moves quickly.
Academy Award nominations were announced earlier this week, and the gender-bending period film Albert Nobbs garnered multiple nominations including the Best Actress category for Glenn Close. Close won an Obie in 1982 for her off-Broadway performance as Albert Nobbs, and had worked since then to bring the character to life onscreen. She was so passionate about this role that she also co-produced, co-wrote the screenplay, and wrote the lyrics for the movie's main theme music, an Irish lullaby "Lay Your Head Down."
In one of the most challenging roles of her career, Close plays a woman who for 30 years represented herself as a man in order to have a "life of decency" in 19th-century Ireland. Albert Nobbs survives by working as a servant in a hotel, nearly invisible to the upper-class guests and thought of as an odd and curious fellow by co-workers. Albert is so distanced from others in her attempt to fade into the woodwork, that she lacks intimate contact with others.
Albert finally decides to marry and settle down, setting her dreams on opening a tobacconist shop with chambermaid Helen (Mia Wasikowska) as counter-girl and "wife." However, Helen has her heart set on another, the handsome but rough boilerman Joe Macken (Aaron Johnson). Joe has intentions for Albert as well -- as the means to escape to America when he realizes that Albert must have a small fortune tucked away. Joe convinces Helen to go along with the courtship to pilfer money from Albert, but complications occur that thwart everyone's well-laid plans.
I've always wanted to use "Breaking News" in a Slackerwood headline, and now I can, although of course the work behind this announcement has been going on for months. I'm so pleased to announce that Slackerwood will now be published by The Austin Film Society. The press release is reprinted in full after the jump.
In a career spanning more than four decades, director Wim Wenders has delivered an eclectic mix of feature films, shorts and documentaries for the big screen and television. With Wenders's latest documentary, Pina, opening in Austin soon, it's a good time to look back at what may be his most celebrated movie, the inimitable Paris, Texas.
Released in 1984 to wide critical acclaim, Paris, Texas is the story of reticent oddball Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), who wanders deliriously out of the desert into Terlingua, Texas as the film opens. A local doctor treats him and contacts his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who travels from Los Angeles to reunite with Travis, a lonely and damaged soul who has been estranged from the family for years.
On a difficult road trip back to Los Angeles -- Travis refuses to speak at first and has a penchant for disappearing if left alone -- the two brothers gradually warm up to each other again. We learn that Walt and his wife, Anne (Aurore Clément), have been raising Travis's 7-year-old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Travis's wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), is also estranged; beyond making monthly deposits from an unknown location into a bank account set up for Hunter, she has no contact with the family.
"Ready, Set, Fund," is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
The 2012 film festival season has officially kicked off with Sundance going strong and reports flowing in from local filmmakers making the rounds in Park City, Utah. Meanwhile, preparations for SXSW Film Festival in March are also going strong. New to the festival circuit this year is ATX: A Television Festival, organized by film and television industry professionals Caitlin McFarland and Emily Gipson. The pair are raising funds through February 21 for this nonprofit event through a Kickstarter project featuring levels that act as badge pre-sales. Funds raised will go towards programming and other needs.
Another local festival seeking funds is the Jump Cut Film Festival, which showcases works by student filmmakers along with Q&A panels with industry professionals who will help judge this year's competition. Funds raised through the IndieGoGo flexible fundraising campaign will cover this year's submissions fees as well as improvements for the festival, which takes place April 21.
Find out about more Austin film-related projects after the jump.
Right before I moved to Austin, I broke off a long-term romance. The romance was rather tepid by then, so I used my move as an opportunity to simply end it. I had no idea that just a few months later, that romance would be rekindled. What is this romance and why is it relevant to a movie website? Well, that romance was with my VCR and right before I moved I took crates of VHS and two VCRs to Goodwill.
Little did I know that I was moving to a hive of movie fandom. I knew Austin had a cool film scene but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I learned about quote-a-longs, I mastered the pancake, I heard all about people with numb butts and I soon learned about VHS fandom. There are lots of subgenres of film fandom and one of these subgenres is the lover of films and videos available only on VHS. Little did I know I was one of these lovers as well, and my feelings were simply repressed.
When local producer Kelly Williams asked me about sending Slackerwood some links to video episodes the Hellion crew would shoot for the Austin film's Sundance premiere, I thought this would be a wonderful way to share tips for filmmakers about the smartest, savviest ways to bring your movie to a film festival. I thought we'd get a glimpse of the real fest experience from the filmmakers' perspective.
And it turns out that yes, we are getting a glimpse of the fest experience from the filmmakers' perspective, and it is unbelievably goofy. In a good way. Here are the second and third episodes in the "Hellion Sundance Chronicles," and while one of them might be a What Not To Do lesson, they're definitely fun to watch. And short, which is what I like best in online videos.
A murder mystery unravels in the middle of the Patagonian Steppe in the short film Sobre la Estepa, loosely translated from Spanish as These Wild Plains. Hecho en Cine, a production company based both in Texas and Patagonia, Argentina, produced the 12-minute movie, which will tentatively have its U.S. premiere in Austin this April at the 15th Annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival.
Sobre la Estepa was funded through Kickstarter, and was shot in San Carlos de Bariloche, a city situated in the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the province of Rio Negro, Argentina.
Ty Roberts, Hecho en Cine co-founder and Sobre la Estepa writer and director, said the idea for the movie came to him after meeting "interesting" people on a location scout in Patagonia.
"They immediately caught my eye," Roberts said. "It was just a really odd and interesting combination of characters."
During his research for Sobre la Estepa, Roberts came across the 2008 short film Sikumi (On The Ice), which was shot entirely in the Inupiaq language, spoken by the people of Alaska's Northwest Arctic and North Slope. Sikumi, about an Inuit hunter who inadvertently witnesses a murder, became Roberts's model for Sobre la Estepa, which was shot in Spanish and Mapuche, the language of the indigenous peoples of Southwestern Argentina.
A few more film-and-alcoholic-beverage news items and upcoming events came to my attention after this month's Film on Tap feature, so I thought I'd share them:
- The Alamo Drafthouse announced last week that the grand opening date for "Alamo Slaughter," their newest theater located at Mopac and Slaughter Lane, will be Thursday, March 22. The eight-screen theater will feature an adjacent stand-alone cocktail lounge named 400 Rabbits, which along with their full selection of fine spirits will offer a plethora of tequila-centric drinks and Latin American-inspired food creations. Alamo Drafthouse is offering an advance taste of the menu with a special tequila-paired five-course dinner Saturday, February 4, at The Highball, that has already sold out. Stay tuned for other preview events.
- Alamo Drafthouse also announced last week that the fifth annual Off-Centered Film Fest will take place April 19-21, 2012. Co-hosted by Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, this annual event is a three-day festival for beer and film lovers. Submissions are being accepted for the short film competition, and the theme this year is "Western, Off-Centered." Rules and submissions instructions are available here, and the deadline is Monday, March 5. New to the fest this year is an audience award, with film submissions available for viewing and voting prior to the awards ceremony.
- The Paramount Theatre is hosting a Shaun of the Dead Pub Run + Screening on Tuesday, January 31, with a pub run at 6 pm and screening at 7:30 pm. The 1.1 mile jog from the Paramount to the Texas State Cemetery and back shouldn't be too tiring, but if you're dying of thirst Hops & Grain will be available at the pit and final stop. Proceeds benefit Team Spiridon and the Paramount Theatre. A $15 ticket will get you film admission, complimentary Hops & Grain beer, a limited edition Austin Marathon messenger bag, small popcorn -- plus a BLOOD SWEAT BEERS specialty t-shirt for the first 50 people to arrive. Register online here.
As Don mentioned last week, one of the Austin shorts going to Park City, Utah for the Sundance Film Festival is Hellion, directed by Kat Candler. Candler and producer Kelly Williams are at Sundance right now (Williams is also on a Slamdance jury). They've decided to shoot an episodic series of short videos about their adventures in Park City, which they'll be sending us this week to share with you.
Here's "Hellion Sundance Chronicles #1," in which the filmmakers are still in Austin, preparing to bring Hellion to a major film festival. It's less than two minutes long ... enjoy!
The 332nd Fighter Group of World War II was known as the Tuskegee Airmen. Toward the end of the war they became known as the "Red Tails" for the painted tails of their P-51 Mustang Aircraft. This fighter group is well known for several reasons: Its pilots were all African-American men, who served with distinction and were some of the most highly decorated fighter pilots in World War II. The 332nd has appeared in a number of documentaries, films and television shows. Red Tails is the latest attempt to tell the story of these airmen.
Red Tails has been a work in progress by executive producer George Lucas for over 20 years. Sadly, that 20 years of effort went to waste. This movie fails on so many levels, it boggles the mind -- how could 20 years of effort produce such an amateurish piece of work? Red Tails tries to tell the story of the 332nd through a series of non-believable and sometimes stereotypical caricatures.
A number of areas are problematic in this movie. The first and primary problem is with the screenwriting. The dialogue is pedantic, boring and many times simply ridiculous. In one scene, the new P-51 Mustangs arrive and the pilots decide to paint the tails red (hence their nickname). One of the pilots exclaims, "Let's paint the tails red like the Red Baron!" Hey dumbass, the Red Baron was German, you know the guys we are fighting. I cannot count the number of times that characters German and American exclaim, "Look, the pilot is African. Look, the pilot is black." This coming from people flying at 150 knots plus.
It's really difficult to know whether the writing issues come from screenwriters John Ridley and Aaron McGruder or the emperor himself, George Lucas. It's hard to tell who put in a character with the call sign "Ray-Gun" who actually has a Buck Rogers raygun with him. Has to make you wonder.
Another major problem concerns the performances themselves. Every performance seemed forced and unbelievable. With a cast of great actors like Cuba Gooding Jr, Terrence Howard and Bryan Cranston, you would think director Anthony Hemingway could draw out some great acting. He fails on every level. During combat, no one breaks a sweat. Even the injuries are laughable. Think Paul Reubens' death in the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The big difference is we were treated to over 40 minutes of that weakness.
On Sunday, the America's Future Scientist Fund is hosting a Jamboree over at the Stunt Ranch and Fire Lake Event Center. How is this related to film? One of the first activities is "Science in the Movies." What better way to spend your day, especially with kids?
Austin Film Society kicks off this year's Texas Independent Film Network Presents program on Tuesday, and celebrates Austin filmmaker Heather Courtney's Independent Spirit Truer Than Fiction Award, with a special screening of Where Soldiers Come From with Courtney in attendance at Violet Crown. I cannot recommend this movie enough.
The Paramount Winter Comedy Series will screen double features Jan. 22-27 with Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor movies as well as Mike Judge's Austin film classic Office Space on Thursday. Anyone else missing the Alligator Grill?
Movies We've Seen:
Bullhead -- This Fantastic Fest favorite returns to Austin for a couple of weekend screenings to celebrate its being included on the Oscar shortlist competing for nominations for Best Foreign Language Film. Debbie says, "What starts out as a movie about the mafia behind illegal bovine hormone use and trading in the Belgian agricultural industry turns into an intensive character study." Read her review for more. (Alamo Drafthouse Lamar)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close -- This movie has an excessively melodramatic lead and seems even longer than the title. While I found that ultimately I appreciated it in the end, I completely agree with Elizabeth who says in her review that she "can't recall the last time I've been so annoyed by a child actor." Ultimately, however, I found this dramatization of the grieving process to be profoundly moving. (wide)
Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission (pictured above) -- A 2008 spaceflight, a SXSW 2010 hit, made by local filmmakers about a local celebrity, finally screening at a theater near you. Debbie says the documentary "reiterates the immeasurable value of space travel and how private industry can further the benefits of space exploration and the accomplishments of scientific research in zero gravity conditions." Read her review for more. (Alamo Lamar)
Some of my favorite movies happen to feature wonderful child actors, such as A Little Princess (the Cuarón version), About a Boy, Mostly Martha and Little Miss Sunshine. I say that to preface this statement: I can't recall the last time I've been so annoyed by a child actor as I was during the preview screening of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. This is a problem, as precocious Oskar Schell (played by newbie Thomas Horn) is in most of the film. And it may have been the character as much as (if not more than) the actor that made me want to walk out of the theatre halfway through.
Oskar is a very troubled child. His father Thomas (Tom Hanks) was killed on 9/11, and they had an extremely close relationship. Thomas had told his son about a lost sixth borough of New York, and Oskar began investigating what had happened to it. A year after 9/11, Oskar stumbles upon a hidden key in his dad's closet, and determinedly sets out on a search into what this key will unlock. The key was in an envelope with "Black" written on it, so Oskar meanders around the city and its boroughs talking to anyone with the last name Black that he can find, shaking his tambourine along the way.
This kid has Asperger's-like symptoms as well as various phobias. He yells at his mom Linda (Sandra Bullock), talks to grandma (Zoe Caldwell, The Purple Rose of Cairo) across the street via walkie-talkie, chides the doorman (John Goodman, pretty much wasted in this movie) and confesses his story to the elderly mute man (Max von Sydow) renting a room from his grandma. His aggression towards himself and others is hard to watch. I couldn't understand his motivation for keeping certain things secret, and found it a challenge (nigh impossible) to emotionally connect to the young character.
I recently had the chance to see four Texas short films headed for Sundance and Slamdance 2011 this month. If these shorts are any indication, audiences at the Park City festivals will see a very eclectic mix of moviemaking from Austin and Houston.
Fourplay: Tampa (Sundance)
Former Austinite Kyle Henry's Fourplay: Tampa is a surprisingly explicit romp about gay men hooking up in a Florida mall restroom. The story centers on Louis (Jose Villarreal), who enters the restroom looking for, well, satisfaction. As Slackerwood is a mostly family-friendly film site, I won't describe what happens next in prurient detail; I'll just say it involves lots of libidinous men in silly costumes (among them a cowboy, Marie Antoinette and the Marx Brothers) and some very amusing sacrilegious naughtiness. Bear in mind the subject matter in the following trailer.
Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.
Film and beer have not intersected as much in the Austin community as they have in the past month. Two film crews recently made the rounds to brewpubs and breweries in Central Texas to document the history, culture and challenges of our local brewing industry.
Chris Erlon, founder of local post-production audio studio Digital Domain of Austin, is sharing his love of craft beer by documenting Austin's growing microbrewery movement in his film project Brewed in Austin. You can see him in the above photo interviewing two of Adelbert's Brewery founders, brewer Scott Hover and general manager Greg Smith. The local production will cover the Austin craft beer movement from the history of craft brewing in Austin to a new brewery on the block, South Austin Brewing Co.
The student filmmakers behind Beer Culture, a documentary about the Denver craft brewing industry, are broadening their scope in their latest project, Crafting a Nation. This feature-length documentary is being shot around the country to tell "the story of how American craft brewers are re-building the economy ... one beer at a time," including regions in Oregon, California, Texas, Colorado, Missouri and North Carolina.
SOPA has been introduced by U.S. Representative Lamar Smith of Texas (including a small gerrymandered chunk of Austin). The legislation makes pirating movies and other content on the Internet, which is already illegal, double super-secret illegal.
It also mandates, for the first time, that a censorship infrastructure be built so pirated content can be blocked. This blocking could be done not by a court, but by order of a government agency. This is the sort of censorship regime that brought the Egyptians to overthrowing their government. And now it's happening right here, in the good old U.S. Magnited States of America.
The following video explains the Protect IP Act (PIPA), the version of anti-piracy legislation that has been moving through the U.S. Senate.
So this year, we at Slackerwood decided it would be fun to create an aggregated Top Ten Movies of 2011 list. Nearly all our regular contributors submitted lists, then I assigned points and tabulated the results and, well, here we are.
What I don't like about this aggregated list is that it doesn't reflect the amazing range of selections from our contributors this year. In several cases, you could look at two of the lists and find no movies in common. So along with the Top Ten list itself, I've added a few interesting statistics about the choices we made this year.
Individual lists aren't included here -- you can read all our 2011 in Review articles to find out exactly which movies our contributors liked. Also, I want to explain what "2011" means for the purpose of this list. I asked that contributors include either films that had a U.S. release in 2011, or that played a local film fest in 2011 but do not yet have U.S. distribution. This means our lists could include movies like Albert Nobbs, which played Austin Film Festival 2011 but won't open in Austin until later this month; as-yet-undistributed AFF selection You Hurt My Feelings; and Japanese film A Boy and His Samurai, a Fantastic Fest 2011 favorite that hasn't yet been released in America.
And now, the list:
The week has barely started and already we have some great Austin film news to share.
- Congratulations this morning to Austin filmmaker Heather Courtney. Her documentary Where Soldiers Come From, which premiered at SXSW 2011 (my review), won the Truer Than Fiction award at the Film Independent grant award and nominees brunch on Saturday. Courtney gets a $25,000 grant as part of the award. Take Shelter, directed by Austinite Jeff Nichols, was also honored on Saturday -- producer Sophia Lin won the Piaget Producers Award. Local post-production Stuck On On must be pleased ... they worked on both these movies.
- The Austin-shot feature Holy Hell, which Jenn reviewed at Austin Film Festival in 2009, is finally available for you to watch, but not in one of the traditional ways. Austinist reports that the movie has been edited and repackaged into episodic chapters that you can watch on an iPad. The first 15-minute "chapter" is free, then you pay a dollar for each subsequent chapter. I don't have an iPad, but if any of you do and can try this out, let us know how the experience works for you.
- I can't believe I didn't mention this earlier, but the funniest movie I saw at Fantastic Fest last year now has U.S. distribution. Juan of the Dead (aka Juan de los Muertos), the Cuban zombie flick, will be released via video-on-demand/online streaming by Focus Worldwide, the VOD arm of Focus Features. This isn't theatrical distribution, but it means we'll at least be able to watch the movie again. The release date hasn't yet been announced. While we wait, read Rod's review.
Here's a handy list of all our "2011 in Review" columns featuring top-ten lists, favorite photos, don't-miss films and other contributors' selections from last year's movies. We'll update this list as more features are posted.
Here's a collection of favorites from photos I took at 2011 Austin film festivals and movie-related events, including the one above with John Corbett, Jon Gries and musician Tara Novick. The underlying theme of all of these photos would be that of serendipity, being at the right -- and sometimes wrong -- time but always being at the right place to capture the magic and infectious nature of Austin's film community and festivals.
Click the photos to find out more about them.
The Iron Lady attempts to depict the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher, the first female Prime Minister of the U.K. It does so in a less than cohesive manner, but the acting by Meryl Streep and Jim Broadbent shines through.
A significant portion of the film occurs in 2011 (at least this is my assumption from hints given), with an octogenarian Margaret Thatcher (Streep) under the sway of dementia and visions of her dead husband Denis (Broadbent). Quick flutters of memory, such as holding hands during The King and I, are interspersed with longer flashbacks of growing up a grocer's daughter and her eventual entrance into the political world. For the present, her daughter Carol (Olivia Colman) and Thatcher's household staff are waiting for her to clean out Denis' wardrobe since he has been dead for eight years.
Phyllida Lloyd's first non-musical film seems dependent on the use of angled shots (to illustrate confusion? I'm not really sure why) and many montages. About a sixth of the film is Thatcher walking around various places followed by a group of white guys (I exaggerate slightly). Some of the flashback moments are edited so hurriedly that the viewer doesn't have much of a chance to connect or react.
Moviegoers don't ask for much in the month of January. For the most part, they understand what they're in for and don't have very lofty expectations. However, when they see ads for a film like Contraband with a cast lineup including Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and J.K. Simmons, the expectations might be a little high, even for January. Director Baltasar Komákur manages to helm a competently made action movie that has a few minor problems with it, but is actually a halfway decent January release.
In the port town of New Orleans, legendary smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) has long since retired and leads a modest life running his own business and living with his beautiful wife Kate (Beckinsale) and their two sons. When his brother-in-law gets in trouble with local drug dealer Tim Briggs (Ribisi), Chris must take it upon himself to come out of retirement and make "one last run" in order to save his brother-in-law and prevent any danger from happening to his own wife and children.
All of that is fine and dandy and has the makings for a very exciting film. The trouble is, Contraband doesn't have enough faith in its viewers to know where all of the chess pieces are placed before the action takes place. You hear someone call Chris Farraday the "Houdini of smuggling" several times and thankfully each time they have a different example of why he's given that moniker, but after the second time, we get it, dude is good at smuggling things.
Along with a number of new-to-Austin movies in theaters this week, on Sunday you can see The Best Damned Shorts Show over at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz that showcases local filmmakers and includes a Q&A. In addition, Alamo is teaming up with Lights. Camera. Help., the festival for films about nonprofits, for the Reel Change Film Frenzy this weekend. Ten nonprofit groups are teaming up with ten film crews for a weekend film challenge, and you can watch the resulting shorts on Sunday night at Alamo on South Lamar.
On Monday night, you can catch a sneak preview of Steven Soderbergh's movie Haywire at Alamo Village and support Texas film, since ticket proceeds benefit the 2012 Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund. And on Wednesday, also at Village, AFS Doc Nights screens Jennifer Fox's My Reincarnation, about Buddhist spiritual scholar/teacher Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche.
Movies We've Seen:
Carnage (pictured at top) -- Two sets of parents meet for what was intended to be a cordial meeting about their kids but unsurprisingly, it doesn't remain that way. Jette says in her review that she "could see the interactions between these couples could get overly dramatic and even ugly, but I had no idea it would be so damned funny." (Regal Arbor, Violet Crown, Cinemark Tinseltown, Regal Metropolitan)
The Divide -- This apocalyptic SXSW 2011 selection starts off with a very impressive bang in the opening scenes, but quickly dissolves into a grisly mess as a group of survivors struggles with their own humanity. Or not. Rod saw it and in his review, says it "has a definite edge to it and I appreciated it." (Alamo Lamar)
Joyful Noise -- Competitive choirs are not exactly a new comedy concept, and this time it takes two leads (Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah). Are there any saving graces? Mike says yes in his review -- he found it "a family-friendly comedy in the same vein as Footloose with a wholesome message that doesn't get in the way of the fun." (wide)
Pariah -- As a teenager struggles to come of age, the pressure mounts for her to be what's expected, not what she is. Don says in his review, "It's entirely authentic, a vibrant and moving coming of age story." (Regal Arbor)
Imagine looking out of the window of your high-rise apartment building and seeing a blast of nuclear hellfire coming your way. After having your breath taken away, what would you do? In a post 9/11 world, your reaction should come naturally: You would get the heck out of Dodge.
You make for the stairwell and are greeted by fellow tenants making their way to the ground floor. As you reach the ground floor, the door flies open, exposing you to heat that feels like the force of a thousand suns. Oh crap, now what? Head for the basement! Lucky for you, there is a basement, and only a few of your fellow tenants have made for the basement door. By the skin of your hair you force your way into the basement. You have made it to salvation as the metal door shuts behind you.
You are safe, but for how long? You will soon find out what it is like to be a survivor. You have entered the world of The Divide.
The threads that make up the fabric of civilized society may not be bound as tightly as you think. Given the right catalyst the threads can come unbound rather quickly. The Divide illustrates what happens when a patchwork of people are thrown together in a confined space, with a low amount of resources and no idea of whether the world they inhabit even exists. The movie, which originally screened in Austin during SXSW 2011, provides a fresh angle on how people react to a post-apocalyptic world.
Alexander Graham Bell once said, "Before anything else, preparation is the key to success." In this story, the survival of the basement denizens can be attributed to Mickey (Michael Biehn), the building supervisor. It seems Mickey has been preparing for some type of terrorist attack and already stocked the basement with supplies. We quickly understand that it was not Mickey's intention to share his shelter and food with others, but he now does so reluctantly.
Screenwriters Karl Mueller and Eron Sheean have constructed a rich set of characters who waste no time understanding the reality they will face. What will they eat? How will they deal with human waste? When will they be able to return to the surface? Along with practical issues, it doesn't take long for the characters to establish a pecking order. Mickey asserts his position immediately; this is his world and he makes that very clear. Eva (Laura German) and Sam (Ivan Gonzalez) are a married couple with issues, Marilyn (Rosanna Arquette) is a mother with a a young child. Josh (Milo Ventimiglia) and Adrian (Ashton Holmes) are brothers accompaniedby Bobby (Michael Eklund), Josh's lover.
This week marks the return of Dolly Parton to the big screen for the first time since Straight Talk, 20 years ago (though she voiced a character in 2011's Gnomeo & Juliet). Joyful Noise pits her against Queen Latifah in a battle of the busts I like to think of as "Gospel Glee."
All joking aside, Joyful Noise is a family-friendly comedy in the same vein as Footloose with a wholesome message that doesn't get in the way of the fun. Writer/director Todd Graff (Bandslam, The Beautician and the Beast) has a definite hit in this movie.
The Pacashau Sacred Divinity Choir is in the middle of a performance when long-time director Bernard Sparrow (Kris Kristofferson) suffers a fatal heart attack. In order to continue to the annual Joyful Noise gospel competition, the church leaders must choose between his wife, G.G. (Parton) and Vi Rose Hill (Latifah), who has been his second for many years.
The return of G.G's grandson Randy (Jeremy Jordan) increases the tension between the two women as Randy, a misfit with a bad reputation, immediately begins to charm Vi's daughter, Olivia (Keke Palmer). Much like Kenny Wormald's Ren in Craig Brewer's 2011 remake of Footloose (my review), Randy is a perfect gentleman who never does anything to earn his poor reputation, and the characters, particularly Vi, must overcome their predispositions as with his great musical talents he remolds and modernizes the choir. (Another Footloose connection, actress Ziah Colon, has a small part in one scene.)
A number of subplots in Joyful Noise bring to light each supporting character, such as Vi Rose's son Walter (Dexter Darden) dealing with social awkwardness due to Asperger's syndrome, or Caleb (Andy Karl), who fears losing his job at the hardware store owned by his own father. The most engaging of these characters is Earla (Angela Grovey). Earla has a particular problem that is best left a surprise, but the character is charming and truly funny.
It's that time again ... we finally get to find out what will open the SXSW Film Festival this year. And like Kick-Ass two years ago, it looks like this opening-night movie will pack in the fanboys and fangirls: The Cabin in the Woods, directed by Drew Goddard and written by Goddard and Joss Whedon, who will be in Austin for the screening. The fest has also announced a few other movie selections and conference events.
The SXSW screening will be the world premiere for The Cabin in the Woods, although it unofficially screened in Austin already -- it was the worst-kept secret and supposedly a big favorite at a certain private local movie marathon in December. Mike saw it and says, "Cabin In The Woods is going to turn the world of horror upside down and shake it to see what falls out. It will change your entire perspective."
In addition to attending the opening-night premiere, Whedon will participate in one of the SXSW Film Conference's one-on-one "conversation" panels on Saturday, March 10.
Filmmaker Lena Dunham, who brought Tiny Furniture to SXSW 2010, will also be participating in a panel this year. She's been working on a TV series called Girls, and will discuss the show with several of her production team members and producer Judd Apatow. Austin filmmaker/actor Alex Karpovsky (who was in Tiny Furniture) will moderate the panel. Dunham will also host a sneak preview of three episodes of Girls, which premieres on HBO in April.
Will these two couples ever part, I wondered? Will the hosts finally close the door behind their guests? The characters tease us by lingering at the door jamb, even stepping into the hall and pushing the elevator button. But if you know Carnage is based on a stage play, Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage (which just finished a run at Zach Scott), you figure most of them can't travel too far away. Perhaps they'll leave and return later ... or on the other hand, the four of them could be trapped in the same room forever, evoking shades of No Exit.
The suspense about this situation is only part of the tense and occasionally comic interaction that infuses Carnage with more energy and humor than you might expect from a stage-based, occasionally stagy adaptation. End-of-year "award bait" dramas aren't usually quite this funny, although the twisted humor takes awhile to get going. It's not at all what I would have predicted from a film directed by Roman Polanski starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz and even the often-amusing John C. Reilly.
In a word, Pariah is authentic.
So authentic, in fact, that I didn't understand some of the dialogue. Pariah's characters, most of them African-American teenagers living in Brooklyn, discuss sex and relationships with a refreshing frankness, if in a vernacular that middle-aged Texan white guys like me can't always decipher. But I easily understood the gist of their conversations from the context; having been a teenager in the late Mesozoic era, I had no trouble relating to the characters' struggles with relationships and sexual identity.
Based on writer/director Dee Rees's 2007 short film of the same title, Pariah follows 17-year-old Alike (pronounced ah-lee-kay and superbly played by Adepero Oduye), a gifted student who is openly lesbian among her friends but hasn't found the courage to come out to her parents, Audrey and Arthur (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell).
I sat down to create a top ten list last year, and found it stretched to 15. This year, my first pass found almost 35 worthy titles. When I removed from that list any films that won’t actually be released until 2012 or that never received a U.S. release, I still had 26 titles, and found it impossible to put them all in exact order, but I did whittle it down to a top ten.
But before I share that list, I also want to mention notable movies in the following categories:
Best Action and Stunt Photography: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
The movie is great, revitalizing the Mission: Impossible brand. If you’re going to spend $150 million, your product better look this good. The scene shot in Dubai (you know the one) alone is an achievement worthy of an award. (J.C.'s review)
Here are my top ten and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my list, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2011 and screen in Austin in 2011 also. (Some well reviewed 2011 releases have not yet opened in Austin.)
Martin Scorsese leaves his cinematic comfort zone with this family-friendly film, and the result is spectacular. Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo is the story of an orphan absorbed in a mystery involving his late father. But it's really an unabashed love letter to the magic of movies -- something Scorsese understands as well as anyone. Combining a captivating story, amazing 3D visuals (far more than a gimmick in this film, they're used to great effect) and a deep and abiding love of filmmaking, Hugo is no less than a masterpiece. (Mike's review)
A frank, raw and unnerving look at sexual addiction with a rare NC-17 rating, Shame follows soulless, bitter New Yorker Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) and his depressed and directionless sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) on their downward spirals into emotional hell. Fassbender and Mulligan give the year's most fearlessly provocative performances in what is arguably the year's most fearlessly provocative film, one that lays bare many ugly truths about human relationships with brutal honesty. Looking for the feel-good film of the year? Skip this one. (my review)
It's January, awards season is nigh and it's already time to look back to a few weeks ago when it was 2011. Out of the many and various movies I saw last year, some included outstanding, memorable performances that deserve a little more attention. While I haven't yet seen The Iron Lady or We Need to Talk About Kevin, this list is my attempt to shine a light on my favorite onscreen performers from 2011.
1. Viola Davis, The Help
Davis' Aibileen speaks in stoic glances, gently assures her baby charge that she is loved, and slowly opens up to Skeeter (Emma Stone).
It's been months since I've seen the film, but the image of Aibileen running through the streets of Jackson after Medgar Evers' assassination remains fresh in my memory. In this moment especially, Davis has made her character so real and sympathetic that the viewer shares her fear. Davis is the standout of a marvelous cast. (my review)
2011 was a tough year for Texas with the lack of rain, and not exactly a bountiful year for cinema, at least for films with theatrical distribution. But there are some gems this year, often missed by the average audience. So instead of a top ten list, I've decided to do an alternative best-of list that highlights the eclectic mix of outstanding films of the year. While it is Austin-centric, I honestly think some of the best movies this year have strong local connections. So without further ado ...
The Damned Shame Documentary Oversight: Incendiary: The Willingham Case (review), The Interrupters (review), Where Soldiers Come From (review)
Let's get the one negative award over first, not because the films are bad, but because they deserve more attention than they've received. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn't publicize the long list of qualifying documentaries before releasing the short list, from which the five nominees will be chosen. And it's a damned shame, as they are topical, provocative and very entertaining -- and all very aptly named. You will laugh, cry, be outraged and leave the theater with your worldview permanently altered for the better. And it just happens to be a coincidence that two of the three have strong Austin connections (and the other played SXSW).
Most Sneaky Charm: The Way (pictured above)
I was very resistant to this movie until reading Mike Saulters' review. This tale of a man on an unexpected, melancholy pilgrimage completely won me over, even with the predictability and montages. The Way is a subtle charmer.
Just in time to break up the dark days of winter -- which in Austin apparently means 70 degrees and sunny, not that I'm complaining at all -- the Paramount Theatre is screening some classic and new funny movies in its Winter Comedy Series this month. The films range from Will Ferrell vehicles to Richard Pryor stand-up; Woody Allen to Eddie Murphy; and a certain locally shot favorite. The week-long series runs from January 22-29.
The movies are being shown in double features, and one ticket can get you into both films in one night. If you have a Paramount Film Fan membership, you can get a discount on ticket prices, online or at the box office.
The lineup is detailed below.
If you watched Paranormal Activity and its sequels, and thought to yourself you could get rich by copying that formula (and doing it badly), you might be William Brent Bell, writer and director of The Devil Inside. This movie tries to do for possession what Paranormal Activity did with poltergeists.
Made for a miniscule sum (although it probably looks cheaper than its actual budget), The Devil Inside is at best described as inept and at worst blatantly disdainful of the audience. It is the only film I have seen where the audience as one booed and hissed as the final credits began to roll.
The Devil Inside presents, documentary-style, the story of Isabella Rossi (Fernanda Andrade) as she attempts to uncover the truth about her mother, who is confined to a psychiatric hospital in Rome. Maria Rossi (Suzan Crowley), has been confined since the death of three people during an attempted exorcism. After a brief and disturbing meeting with her mother, Isabella turns to a pair of priests who are performing unsanctioned exorcisms of victims who have been denied by the Catholic Church.
After Isabella convinces the priests that her mother is indeed possessed, the group sets out to perform an exorcism in the hospital, and hijinks ensue. Many of the biggest of them are given away in the trailer itself. It all leads up to an ending that is a shocker only for its blatant stupidity and the fact it directs the audience to a website with an address nobody will care about or even remember five minutes after leaving the theater.
The only remotely good thing in this stinker is Suzan Crowley’s acting, as she clearly revels in a role she was born to play. The scenes with her have a palpable tension, but The Devil Inside is not a film I could recommend even to the lustiest of schlock movie fans. If you have enough morbid curiosity to see this in a theater, buy a ticket for The Artist or Young Adult, and sneak into it (assuming you've already seen both of those). At least the movie is blissfully short, so if they kick you out, you won’t miss much.
Welcome to 2012. After last week's lack of new theatrical releases, this week is still a slow week this week for new movies, but there are some special screenings. Tonight over at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, you can get drunk with Tom Cruise... or rather watch him at his cockiest while you knock back a few specially crafted beverages at Cocktails with Cocktail. And on Saturday you can go back to the Ritz for a special screening of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret with creator and star David Cross. At Alamo on South Lamar, Graham Reynolds will be accompanying screenings of A Trip to the Moon paired with Hugo in 3D on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
On Tuesday, you can see Once Upon a Time in the West for free at Austin Public Library's Milwood Branch as part of the Weeknight Cinema Series. Also on Tuesday, the new Essential Cinema Series "The Great Escape: Three European Émigré Filmmakers" kicks off with Fritz Lang's classic thriller, M.
Movies We've Seen:
The Devil Inside (pictured above) -- Another week, another exorcism film. Here's a preview from Mike's review, which you can read in full this weekend: "William Brent Bell attempts to replicate the Paranormal Activity formula and apply it to exorcisms. The unfortunate result, The Devil Inside, is harder to swallow than New Coke. Not even recommended for people who really really like awful movies." (wide)
Here's the latest Austin film news:
- IndieWIRE has kicked off its interview series "Meet the 2012 Sundance Filmmakers" with a pair of Austin filmmakers you might already know: Nathan and David Zellner. The interview has some interesting tidbits about their feature film Kid-Thing, which will premiere at the fest later this month.
- Local filmmaker/instructor Geoff Marslett's animated movie Mars, which played SXSW in 2010, is now available on Netflix Watch Instantly. Read Jenn's review and her interview with Marslett about the film. Reactions to the movie, now that it's more widely available, inspired a thoughtful blog entry about indie films from Hipstercrite, aka Lauren Modery, Marslett's writing (Loves Her Gun) and romantic partner.
- SXSW Film Festival is trying a new method for selecting its encore screenings this year: input from you. This Tugg page has a list of past SXSW award winners that the fest may show again this year; you can select one or more and no, you don't have to register to vote or anything annoying like that. Selections include Thunder Soul, Incendiary: The Willingham Case and Marwencol (and now you know how I voted).
- Two other local film festivals are ready for you to send them your movies for consideration in their lineup. Fantastic Fest is now accepting film entries for the 2012 festival, which takes place September 20-27 this year. Austin Film Festival is open for submissions for films as well as screenplays for their fest, running October 18-25.
It takes a certain kind of person to be in the movie industry. Tom Copeland, former Texas Film Commission director, teaches Texas State University-San Marcos students what it takes to persevere in the industry. A lesson he teaches in his courses is what he refers to as "Scared Straight: What Kind of Person Are You?"
I had the opportunity to speak with Copeland to find out what kind of person he is. The Meadow High School graduate's interest in theater flourished while studying under legendary high-school drama coach Noyce Burleson, who set the state record for most consecutive UIL One-Act Play Contest appearances and wins.
As a high-school student, Copeland became active in Texas Tech University's theater program, where he met Fred March, former Texas State Department of Theatre and Dance chair. He enrolled at Texas State, back when it was Southwest Texas State University, in 1969.
During his time as a Texas State student, Copeland was involved in 25 theater productions, such as Waiting for Godot and Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and Measure for Measure.
"I lived and breathed in that department," Copeland said. "I didn't do a lot of social things in school because I didn't have a lot of time. It was all about the play or whatever we were working on."
As an undergraduate, Copeland was involved in summer repertory theater programs in Texas and Colorado. He did not graduate from Texas State. However, he continued to call the theater department home and stayed in touch with faculty and staff.
Copeland said he left Texas State to pursue his dream of acting professionally. He struggled to find an acting job and instead became involved in behind-the-scenes work on movies and television. For five seasons, Copeland was a crew member for the PBS television series Austin City Limits. He said the job "came out of the blue."
Here are some of my favorite photos that I took at Austin film events and festivals in 2011. You can click the photos to find out more about each subject or event.
Oh, and apart from the picture with Elmo at the top, these are not vanity photos ... so don't think this is going to be All About Me. The photos cover a variety of interesting and notable people, from Marc Savlov to Dominic Monaghan; from the Bellflower car to Jack Black ... and more.
Updated January 1, 2012.
We've really enjoyed writing Our Holiday Favorites and receiving Their Holiday Favorites content from Austin film folks. If you're looking for something different to watch during the holiday season (or any time), here are our (and their) suggestions.