February 2013

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: Day Zero

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The XXXX SagaAustin filmmaker James Christopher is directing Twitchy Dolphin Flix's new mockumentary-style features The XXXX Saga: Rise of the Beaver Slayer and The Porn Movie Massacre (no, they're not pornos). Check Slackerwood for his updates as the production continues.

Tomorrow, I'll sit at the director's chair for my ninth and tenth features for Twitchy Dolphin (Littlefield was distributed by Twitchy, but shot before it existed). I'm trying to find some calm before the storm that will inevitably set in on my life. Shooting a movie is tough personally and on my wife, who must live with me being very distracted.

So what is The XXXX Saga? It's two movies at once ... both mockumentaries (think Spinal Tap and Best in Show) follow an adult film company. Both films will be shot at the same time, the second of which (The Porn Movie Massacre) adds the element of a slasher movie to the mix. The pre-production for these projects has been tough. A huge cast begets its own problems, the logistics of two very different setups has been tough to balance, and trying to juggle other commitments has left me feeling like I'm two steps behind. Thank God for the production staff!

So why keep doing it? We've done eight feature films on budgets that don't add up to one budget of some of the films we compete against. Why go through the headache? All I can say is, its worth it. It's worth it to create something totally unique that isn't tainted or watered down by a studio process. It's worth it to put something out there that is wholly yours. And the experience of going to battle alongside like-minded individuals is completely worth it. For as much as the lack of money really pains us at times (and it does) at least we're out there, doing our own thing. That freedom is priceless.

So, the question begs ... why this film? Why a film about porn stars? Again, it goes back to having a question to answer -- this one dealing with freedom of speech, and much like we did with Abram's Hand, we want to be as upfront as we could when asking this question. And it's been an interesting experiment. Our Indiegogo fundraiser has been a huge success -- we're past our goal with 17 days left. And we've had a lot of people wondering if we're making porn (we're not.) We've had actors leave the project due to familial pressure. But the ones who have stayed with us have reveled in the chance to do the film because they believe in the script and what it says about freedom, expression and society.

Happier News: Lars Nilsen to Program New AFS Venue

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Fantastic Fest 2010: Spying on Corman

I reported last week on the imminent departure of Alamo Drafthouse programmer Lars Nilsen, an event that drove many to reminisce and memorialize as if it were the death of a dear family member. All is well, however, as yesterday the Austin Film Society announced that Nilsen will be joining the organization as Film Programmer. "At AFS, Lars will curate repertory series in addition to midnight movies, new releases, independent films and classics," the press release read.

These new AFS series will take place at The Marchesa Hall & Theatre -- which longtime Austinites will remember is in the old Lincoln Theatre location near Highland Mall, and new Austinites might know as the Blue Genie venue. AFS has a new partnership with the theater, which will have a new Dolby sound system and 35mm changeover projection for "AFS Cinematheque at the Marchesa" programs. Lars is joining Chale Nafus and Ryan Long on the AFS programming team, headed up by Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick.

SXSW 2013 Guides: Film Festival Theaters

SXSW marquee at Stateside

You'd think that by now, we would have said everything there is to say about the theaters where movies will screen during SXSW this year. But some of the theaters have changed, a new venue has been added ... and Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar is not a venue this year, since it's being remodeled. This is a big disappointment, especially for locals (the first movie I saw there was my first SXSW film, in 2005), but SXSW has devised some clever ways to make up for the loss.

This venue guide will be updated before and during the fest as we get more useful information to add to it, especially relating to the newer venues. Don't hesitate to contact me with tips.

Here are some of the SXSW venue changes for 2013:

  • SXSW is using Violet Crown again, but pairing the theaters for screenings. This means twice as many people can get into a screening as last year, and the combined venues have more capacity than the small theater at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.
  • Speaking of which, the two Ritz theaters are also paired for some screenings early in the fest, allowing for more capacity during the busiest time.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Stuck On On's Repeat Success

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Stuck On On

Austin-based audio and visual post-production company Stuck On On worked on six films set to screen at SXSW 2013:

The record-setting year marks the award-winning company's five-year anniversary, when founders Lyman Hardy, Parke Gregg and Allison Turrell (along with a silent partner) opened its doors in the Eastside with the mission to support and solidify Texas film's street cred. Before Stuck On On was a company, it was an experience Hardy had with a dining-room chandelier that refused to turn off. 

And Turrell was stuck on post production after studying video art as a graduate student. She joined forces with Hardy and Gregg, who previously met through work in the film industry, during the summer of 2007. Shortly after, the trio worked on the LBJ documentary The Great Society, which is on permanent display at the LBJ Library and Museum, as well as Unconventional: The Story of Barnett Shale, which screened in 2008 on PBS.

Slackerwood: What has been Stuck On On's relationship with SXSW in the past?

Allison Turrell: Our relationship with SXSW is evolving. Lyman Hardy, our chief audio engineer and composer, has played SXSW in many bands (Ed Hall, Pong and Total Unicorn) over the years, so he's participated in the music portion. This year, Parke Gregg, our lead colorist, is leading a workshop: "Color Story: Adding Character in Post," with the makers of our color correction and finishing system, Assimilate. And I was a documentary screener a few years back, and that was super fun. We always participate, and at least two or three films we've worked on have screened every year since 2009. 

Topfer Theatre at ZACH

Address: 
202 South Lamar Blvd, Austin, TX 78704
Phone: 
(512) 476-0541

Zach Topfer Theater - Austin, Texas

The Topfer Theatre is a fairly new theater, having opened in September 2012. It's designed for live stage performances, but is also used as a movie-theater venue for some film festivals like SXSW.

Pros: It's the second-biggest venue at SXSW, so it shouldn't be difficult to get a seat at most screenings.

Cons: It's not in the middle of downtown, so allow yourself some extra time for the shuttle. During the Music fest, the shuttle route to/from downtown can often slow to a walk, so plan accordingly.

Screens and capacity: Topfer seats 420.

Parking: Very limited. You can't use the parking lots reserved for Zach Theatre. Most street parking is residential permit only. This is not a good location to park for a full fest day -- plan to park downtown or near another venue (like the Long Center) and take the shuttle.

Distance: You can walk to just about any non-satellite venue from here if you're a good walker.

On-site food and beverages: Topfer has a good bar setup inside, with some snacks available too.

Nearby dining options: If you're in a hurry, there's a Scholtzsky's right down the block. Go down to Barton Springs and try the venerable Green Mesquite BBQ if you have a little more time.

[Photo credit: "Zach Topfer Theater" by Peter Tsai of Peter Tsai Photography. Found on Flickr, used with permission, all rights reserved.]

Austin at SXSW 2013: Sean Gallagher, 'Good Night'

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Sean Gallagher

Sean Gallagher's full-length feature directing debut, Good Night, is premiering at SXSW on Monday, March 11 at the Rollins Theatre (screening info). This intimate drama depicts a dinner party in which the young hostess reveals some difficult news to her friends. The cast includes local actors Adriene Mishler, Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek and sometimes-Austinite Alex Karpovsky, as well as University of Texas alum Todd Berger.

Gallagher lives in Austin, and not only directed this film (which he shot here), but wrote and produced it as well. He's written and directed two shorts as well, Fuck and Out of Water. During his time at UT, he was the first recipient of the Samuel Fuller Award for Cinematic Intransigence.

He answered a few questions (via email) about his new film, improvisation and inspirations.

Slackerwood: What was the filmmaking process like for Good Night? How long were you working on it (conception to final edit)?

Sean Gallagher: There are two different types of pieces within Good Night -- there is a party, which is the bulk of it, and there are several, what I call, movements. The party was shot in two weeks in the middle of the summer. The movements were shot in short increments over the course of two years.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Heather Kafka Times Five

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Heather Kafka in Slacker 2011

Austin-based actress Heather Kafka shows up in features Pit Stop, The Bounceback, Loves Her Gun, When Angels Sing, and short Black Metal which are all screening at SXSW next month. Let's just say that if you see a film with local ties during the festival, there's about a 75% chance that Kafka will be in it. You might have seen her previously in locally made movies like Lovers of Hate, Saturday Morning Massacre, Slacker 2011 (pictured above) ... and she's the woman trying to buy from the Carl's Jr. kiosk in Idiocracy.

Kafka took some time to talk to us (via email) about working in the friendly Austin film community and taking on roles that her grandma shouldn't see.

Slackerwood: You appear in a number of the films showing at SXSW this year. How did you become involved with these film projects?

Heather Kafka: Sometimes I'm lucky. When I came back home to Austin in 2007, it wasn't long before I was doing Lovers of Hate with Bryan Poyser. I simultaneously began that tempestuous relationship with Facebook and suddenly all these film people were sending friend requests. Then we were in the same room singing karaoke, at the same parties, meeting at SXSW or screenings. I met Bob Ray and Geoff Marslett, Bob Byington and the Zellners. Clay Liford moved from Dallas to Austin. I met Eric Steele, Frank Mosley, James Johnston; a whole Fort Worth contingent.

Slackery News Tidbits: February 25, 2013

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Here's the latest in Austin and Texas film news.

  • At the Independent Spirit Awards on Saturday, Austin actor Matthew McConaughey took home a Best Supporting Actor award for Magic Mike, and former Austinite John Hawkes won Best Actor for The Sessions. The full list of awards is available on Indiewire.
  • Austin-based filmmaker Heather Courtney's documentary Where Soldiers Come From (Jette's review) has been chosen to screen at this year's Museum of Modern Art's Documentary Fortnight on March 2 as part of MoMA Selects: POV, which highlights awardwinning films that have screened on the television series from the past 25 years. Courtney's documentary, about the lives of small-town childhood friends who enlist in the U.S. National Guard after graduating high school, is one of 22 films to screen during the six-day event. Where Soldiers Come From is now available on Netflix.
  • Austin Film Festival has a new Director of Marketing -- Celina Guerrero, a native from Houston. She was previously the Registration Director for AFF.
  • Austin-based production company Rooster Teeth has released its second trailer online for the animated series RWBY, which follows four very different female fighters on adventures. The "White" trailer introduces viewers to the second of four main characters from the new series, which will premiere at the Third Annual Rooster Teeth Expo July 5-7 at the Austin Convention Center. 

Review: Snitch

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Snitch

2013 will be The Year of The Rock. With G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Fast Six, Pain and Gain and this week's new release Snitch, four movies this year will star the most charismatic and talented professional wrestler to make the jump from wrestling superstar to action movie superstar. It's a move that guys like Hulk Hogan, Rowdy Roddy Piper and others have tried, but haven't been nearly as successful.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson brings something different to the table. He's been a relentless bounty hunter, an ultraviolent assassin and even a family-friendly tooth fairy. He's played nearly every type of action movie archetype except an everyman who's in the wrong place at the wrong time. While his role in Snitch isn't a true wrong-place/wrong-time character, it might be the closest we ever get because he is, after all, an intimidatingly huge man.

Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron) is a normal everyday kid who makes a really dumb mistake when he lets his drug-dealing best friend mail him a package of Ecstasy. When he's caught, he learns the hard way about the minimum sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenders. He's offered a deal to reduce his sentence if he can provide information that leads to more drug arrests, but he won't send anyone up the river, even though that's exactly what happened to him.

Movies This Week: February 22-28, 2013

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Reel bandsLong-time Alamo Drafthouse programmers Zack Carlson and Lars Nilsen may be moving into the next chapter of their careers, but one project that you can expect these vanguards to continue to support is the nonprofit American Genre Film Archive (AGFA). AGFA board members and advisors include Alamo Drafthouse founders Tim and Karrie League as well as Nilsen and Carlson,  Joe Ziemba, and Sam Prime, who oversees the operations and development of the archive.

On Sunday at 2 pm, AFGA hosts a Reel One Party at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Periodic inspections are conducted on undocumented 35mm film prints contained in the archive by threading up several "reel ones" (which come in containers like the one at top), then watching the first 15-20 minutes to take note of opening credit information, overall condition of the film, and general plot information. Nobody knows what to expect and whether a film will be fun or a dud. After the mystery selections are played, the audience will vote for their favorite with the winning title screened at 11 pm. Tickets for the evening feature are $3 with proceeds going to AFGA.

As part of the monthly series "A Decade of Comedy in Latin American Cinema," Cine Las Americas presents a free screening of the Chilean comedy drama Ilusiones Opticas (Optical Illusions) on Wednesday at 8 pm at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC). A group of characters attempt to deal with disappointments and setbacks, under the shadow of a corporate culture based on the privatization of the state health-care system.

SXSW 2013 Updates: Two Weeks and Counting

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SXSW 2012

SXSW Film Festival and Conference kicks off two weeks from TODAY, on March 8. I can hardly believe it myself. Here are a few reminders and bits of news you might have missed ... plus one panel I'm sure you won't want to miss. If I missed something critical, don't hesitate to mention it in the comments.

  • I'm happy to announce that once again, I'll be on the opening SXSW Film panel: "A Beginner's Guide to SXSW Film," moderated by Agnes Varnum. We have a lot of fun and also share valuable tips about having the best fest experience possible. Hope you'll join us on Friday, March 8 at 2 pm in Room 16AB of the Austin Convention Center. Other panelists include Kimberley Jones, the Screens editor at the Austin Chronicle; and filmmaker Yen Tan, whose feature Pit Stop is screening at SXSW.
  • Of course you'll probably want to attend more panels and watch a few movies. You can now get the full SXSW Film schedule online. Apps are available for iPhone and Android. I'd love to hear your tips about how to plan and keep track of a screening schedule now that we no longer have B-side or Festival Genius (sniff).

Review: John Dies at the End

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John Dies at the End

Don Coscarelli has two successful cult franchises to his name in Phantasm and Beastmaster.  The announcement of Bubba Nosferatu, sequel to 2002's Bubba Ho-Tep, makes that three ... so why not go for a fourth? The writer/director purchased rights to John Dies at the End, itself a cult web serial by author David Wong, first released online in 2001. The resulting film, opening Friday at Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter, is arguably the best work Coscarelli's ever done.

Coscarelli's screenplay is smart, fast-paced and exciting, full of razor-sharp wit delivered first-person by star Chase Williamson. The story incorporates many important elements from the book while changing various details, sometimes for practical reasons. (Fans of the book will note the name and sex of the dog Molly have changed.)

A worthy modern-day successor to Ghostbusters, the movie John Dies at the End follows Dave and his friend John (Rob Mayes), paranormal investigators who derive their powers from the use of a mysterious otherworldly substance they call "soy sauce."

When under the influence of "the sauce," they experience various strange effects including telepathy, precognition and others for which there is no proper name. Forces beyond their control pull them into a battle to save the world. They're assisted by the alien Roger North (Doug Jones) and psychic superstar Dr. Albert Marconi (Clancy Brown). Paul Giamatti rounds out the fantastic cast as the reporter Arnie Blondestone.

Coscarelli's team does superb work with practical effects, rivalling much larger budget films and giving John Dies at the End a timeless quality akin to the original Evil Dead. People who have read the source book already know, as people are discovering through the movie, that John Dies at the End is a cult superstar in the making with a rich mythology drawn from diverse supernatural cultures, lovable characters, and a time-twisting plot that never rests. The movie is highly recommended for people who like to have fun at the cinema.

Travel to 'Far Marfa' at Stateside

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Far Marfa Still PhotoThe Stateside Independent film series and the Texas Independent Film Network are co-hosting the Austin premiere of the understated comedy Far Marfa, on Monday, February 25, at the Stateside Theatre. The 7 pm screening is already sold out, but tickets are still available for the 9:30 pm slot. This 2011 Texas Filmmakers Production Fund (TFPF) recipient film project features original music by local composer Graham Reynolds (Bernie, Before Midnight). Filmmakers will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.

Writer/director Cory Van Dyke currently resides in Marfa, Texas, the west Texas town where this movie is set. Carter Frazier (Johnny Sneed) is just barely hanging onto an existence in a town where not much is needed much to get by. Without money or a job and a girlfriend who's recently moved out, Carter is desperately in need of a wake-up call, which comes from a brief but life-altering encounter with a stranger who turns out to be a famous modern artist, Steve Vincent (Steve Holzer).

Sad News: Lars Nilsen Leaving Drafthouse Programming Post

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Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Eight

News that Lars Nilsen (pictured at top on left) is leaving his programmer position at Alamo Drafthouse was released today by Alamo Drafthouse. The news comes as no surprise to those closely familiar with the Drafthouse programming team, but it is still unwelcome news. Few businesses have a relationship so strong between their employees and customers as Alamo Drafthouse can boast, one that can truly be called a family. And in the case of Lars Nilsen, that relationship goes back to the earliest days at 4th and Colorado.

Coming on top of last week's departure of programmer Zack Carlson, this represents a major transition in the Drafthouse family with as-yet unknown effects. Zack and Lars were not just silent, behind-the-scenes programmers. Together, they have been the most public-facing representatives of the Drafthouse on a daily basis, and creators of feature programs like Weird Wednesday and Terror Tuesdays.

With any family, the kids eventually grow up and head to college and start their own careers and families. As these gentlemen move on to bigger and better things in their careers, the effect of their time here will continue to be felt even as new faces appear to make their own marks.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Bryan Poyser, 'The Bounceback'

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Jessie Tilton, Zach Cregger and Michael Stahl-David in The Bounceback

Bryan Poyser isn't exactly a new face on the Austin film scene, but we realized that we hadn't yet interviewed him on this site (although he has been mentioned in a Holiday Favorites post)! Thankfully we were able to rectify this, as he answered my questions via email about his latest film, The Bounceback (pictured at top). This comedy follows two former couples as they fight (and make up?) amongst Austin's nightlife. The film will have its world premiere at SXSW on Saturday, March 9 at 2 pm (screening info).

Poyser's other film work includes Dear Pillow and Lovers of Hate. He's been nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards for these films. The writer/director formerly worked as Director of Artist Services at the Austin Film Society, and now serves on the AFS Board of Directors.

Slackerwood: How are you feeling about the upcoming premiere of The Bounceback (at the Paramount during SXSW)?

Bryan Poyser: I really can't wait. I know I'm gonna be gut-wrenchingly nervous right before the show, but I'm so happy that so many of our out-of-town cast members are going to be there for it. They're all really proud of the movie, as are the folks behind the camera, and so I think we're all just really excited to finally share it with an audience.

Film on Tap: A Drink Before SXSW

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Hey Bartender Production StillFilm on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

The SXSW Film Festival and Conference is less than a month away, and the lineup includes a couple of alcohol-related movies worth seeing. Unfortunately the documentary Crafting a Nation, which features several local breweries, wasn't accepted based on their rough-cut submittal, but they are optimistic that the improved final cut will screen in Austin soon.

Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes The Stairs) will premiere Drinking Buddies, a tale of two co-workers in a Chicago brewery who may be better suited for one another than their current partners. Will love blossom at the brewery, when beer is a factor?

In Hey Bartender (seen at top), documentary filmmaker Douglas Tirola tells the story of "the bartender in the era of the craft cocktail." The documentary focuses on two bartenders -- one young, one old -- pursuing their dreams through bartending. After being injured, a former Marine focuses on being a mixologist at the most popular cocktail bar in New York City. The older bartender left his job decades ago to open a hometown bar, and now struggles to keep it open.

William Shatner at the Paramount: He's Real

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Miss Congeniality

By Barbara Cigarroa

It was a packed house at the Paramount Theatre. Sitting in the uppermost row of the balcony, I looked down and watched as hundreds of people took their seats below me, waiting for the Captain himself, William Shatner, to appear on stage and take them for a ride. Minutes later, the lights dimmed and there he was doing just that, a rolling chair with him as his sole prop for life -- toilet, ship, bus, table, and, coffin. From where I sat, the 81-year-old actor looked tiny, but as the words rolled out of him and as his gestures became grander and grander, the distance between us disappeared and I was right there with him. The title of the show suggested it and Bad Billy delivered: he transported me right into his world, "Shatner's World."

I went into the Paramount Theatre that night expecting to be entertained by an entertainment icon; I came out of there having experienced, yes, a hilarious, but also, a heartfelt look back at this man's thrilling, legendary and sometimes lonely career as an actor.

Shatner began his professional trajectory in a Shakespearean theatre ensemble – no, not as the lead, but as the lead's understudy. Even though he probably would not be but an extra on stage, he took it upon himself to study every syllable and inflection of that other William's iambic pentameter, memorizing and rehearsing those 16th century lines in the one place he ever felt truly confortable: the toilet.

Win Tickets to Texas Film Hall of Fame After-Party

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Texas Film Hall of FameAustin Film Society has promised me that the after-party for the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards this year is going to be a night to remember. The party starts at 9 pm on Thursday, March 7 in Austin Studio Stage 7 -- it actually overlaps a bit with the awards themselves, so you can get in there and start warming things up before the crowd from the awards ceremony fills the room.

DJ el john Selector will provide some great music, with guest DJs Jim Eno (Spoon), Adrian Quesada (Grupo Fantasmo, Brownout) and Graham Reynolds (do I need to tell you Austin film people who he is?). There will be an open bar, and snacks from local businesses (Tiny Pies!). AFS is also promising us "lots of surprises," and when you consider that this after-party is for an event attended by many local and a few national celebrities, that could mean just about anything (in a good way).

I mean, I'm planning to go, and you know what a wuss I usually am about late-night parties, especially the night before a major local film festival for which I need to pace myself to survive.

Slackerwood is giving away two pairs of tickets to the after-party. I'll tell you how to get them after the jump. And if you don't win, you can buy tickets on the AFS website. The proceeds go to the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund, and if you're a regular Slackerwood reader you don't need me to tell you how many great local movies have benefitted from this fund.

Lone Star Cinema: Before Sunset

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Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset

In Richard Linklater's movie Before Sunset (2004), we meet up again with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Jesse stops in Paris to promote his book, This Time, a fictionalization of the experience he had with Celine in Vienna nine years prior. And who does he spot in Shakespeare & Co. but Celine herself? They decide to have coffee and chat before Jesse has to catch a flight in the evening. The film is something of a real-time depiction of how they spend the next couple of hours.

The naivete of the kids from Before Sunrise is nowhere to be seen here. Jesse and Celine are now in their thirties and have dealt with some blows from life. The rhythm of their conversation flows realistically -- at the start of their time together again somewhat hesitant and impersonal, slowly opening up to show their real selves to each other as the afternoon proceeds. The screenplay from the combined forces of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke is natural and honest. 

I felt like I understood Celine far more clearly in this outing. She gets to say such lines as "Memory's a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past." At one point Celine and Jesse are being driven somewhere and Delpy's character spouts some angry, emotional truths to Jesse. I wanted to give her a high five or fist bump or whatever the cool kids do to signal agreement nowadays.

AFS Essential Cinema Returns to the Middle East

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Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story

The Middle East continues to be a hotbed of socio-political upheaval, sometimes with cautious hope, more often with sorrow and loss. Nonetheless many of the countries of the region continue to provide a fertile ground for the imagination of filmmakers. In keeping with what has become an Austin Film Society programming tradition, we present our seventh consecutive year of the Essential Cinema series, "Children of Abraham/Ibrahim: Films of the Middle East and Beyond" (Feb 19 – April 9, 2013).

We begin tomorrow night with one of the most important films to come out of Iran, one made by an Iranian filmmaker forbidden to write screenplays, direct movies, discuss cinema publically or travel to other countries for film festivals for a period of 20 years. This Is Not a Film (2011) is Jafar Panahi's answer (and shrill raspberry) to his repressive government's decree.

With the help of his friend and technical assistant Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, Panahi shares a day in his life with us as he talks about the film he was planning to make before his arrest and harsh sentence. He transforms one room of his large apartment into the bedroom of a young woman forced to remain captive in her own home while her parents are away. In a crucial moment in his acting out of the script, Panahi suddenly stops as he finds this exercise frustrating and unfulfilling. Never have we so clearly seen such a creative mind gagged and bound by such an idiotic law charging an artist with demeaning the image of Iran and Islam. Perhaps the point of making this "non-film" is that the attempt to silence his artistry is what demeans the image of the country and the religion. This Is Not a Film is an absolute must-see for all people disturbed by censorship and inspired by unbridled creativity.

Slackery News Tidbits: February 18, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Berlin Film Festival surprised Austin director Richard Linklater last week with the Berlinale Camera before a screening of his film Before Midnight, the Los Angeles Times reports. The award is presented to film personalities or institutions to which the festival wishes to express its thanks. Former Austinite Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, who star in and co-wrote the film with Linklater, attended the screening as well. Before Midnight, which recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (Debbie's review), is the third film in a trilogy that also includes 1995's Before Sunrise (Elizabeth's review) and 2004's Before Sunset.
  • In more Berlin Film Fesitval news, recent Austin transplant David Gordon Green won the Silver Bear award for Best Director at Saturday's ceremony for his buddy film Prince Avalanche, according to Variety. Prince Avalanche, the only comedy among the 19 contenders at the festival, stars Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch (Killer Joe) as Texas roadway workers at a crossroads in their lives in the 1980s. The film, which will screen at this year's SXSW Film Festival, is a remake of the Icelandic comedy Either Way.
  • Writer-director Hannah Fidell's feature debut, A Teacher, also set to screen at SXSW, has been acquired by distributor Oscilloscope Laboratories, the Los Angeles Times announced. Oscilloscope plans to release the indie drama, about a young high-school teacher (Lindsay Burdge) who has an affair with a student (Will Brittain), in a combination of theatrical, VOD and digital platforms later this year.

Movies This Week: February 15-21, 2013

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Paul Williams Still Alive

In the interest of brevity, I'll ignore this week's new releases (helpful hint: you should, too!) and go straight to the impressive lineup of special screenings.

Few film franchises are more impressive than Michael Apted's Up documentary series. Debuting in 1964 with Seven Up, which introduced viewers to 14 British 7-year-olds, the groundbreaking series has followed the progression of their lives with a new movie every seven years. They're now 56, and the latest installment, 56 Up, is screening Monday and Tuesday at the Stateside to kick off the new Stateside Independent film series.

Film fans old enough to remember the Seventies (and younger fans who, for reasons not well understood, think the Seventies were cool) shouldn't miss Paul Williams Still Alive (pictured above), Stephen Kessler's acclaimed documentary about the songwriter and pop cultural icon's phenomenal career and difficult personal life. Paul Williams Still Alive screens on Monday (and also on Saturday, February 23) at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Read Mike's thoughts on it from SXSW 2012.

Cine Las Americas continues its Latin American comedy series with 25 Watts, the story of a weekend in the lives of three suburban Montevideo slackers. The three men make an art of doing not much of anything in this 2001 Uruguayan film. 25 Watts screens for free at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center on Wednesday.

As always, the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series offers something unusual: the Iranian import This Is Not a Film, a riveting 24-hour portrait of renowned filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who for 20 years has circumvented the Iranian government's ban on his making films. AFS presents This Is Not a Film on Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.

Review: Safe Haven

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Safe Haven posterThis Valentine's weekend, if moviegoing is you and your significant other's thing, you'll be presented with two choices: the very dude-centric shoot-em-up fifth movie in the Die Hard franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard, or a movie based on yet another Nicholas Sparks novel, Safe Haven. Guys may try very hard to convince their ladies of the positive and word-saving attributes of John McClane, but let's face it, you'd rather watch the Die Hard movie with your boys anyway. So there you'll inevitably sit, in a theater watching a movie based on a novel written by the same author who gave us The Notebook. But guess what? Safe Haven is actually a pretty good film, with two incredibly charming leads.

Safe Haven doesn't start out like most Nicholas Sparks adaptations. With music that sounds like it's from some gritty crime drama, the movie opens on a frightened young woman (Julianne Hough) soaked with blood, running away from a house in the rain. Seeking shelter with a neighbor, we then see her at a bus station being chased frantically by a detective (David Lyons).

For a second, you might not believe you're watching a film based on a Sparks novel. Safely on a bus, it's clear the woman is looking for a new start or a way to erase the memories of whatever she was running away from. It isn't until she arrives at a seaside North Carolina town that she decides to settle down with a job, a new name -- Katie -- and a secluded home. While there she meets Alex (Josh Duhamel), a widower with two adorable children, and the sparks fly ... but she's never really comfortable, because she's still afraid whatever she escaped might come looking for her.

Playing charming and charismatic isn't all that hard for Duhamel. Whats new is the emotional vulnerability his character is living with, so he comes off as a guy you're rooting for. Hough's character has a similar kind of vulnerability, and together they're a couple that is remarkably different from other couples in Sparks' movies and films. In The Notebook, and Dear John particularly, the female leads at times made decisions that didn't make them characters to root for. In Safe Haven, both romantic leads are so cautious while they feel each other out that their feelings develop organically, and it doesn't feel like overly sentimental fluff that causes eyerolls or groans.

Stateside Independent Series Kicks Off with '56 Up'

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56 Up poster

Last week a new program was announced at Stateside at Paramount Theatre (formerly known as the State).  "Stateside Independent" will screen a different independent film -- festival fare, documentaries, local premieres, etc. -- each Monday night.

In his blog entry on the Paramount website, programmer Stephen Jannise said, "I couldn't be more excited about providing a fresh new platform for independent filmmakers to showcase their work, and my greatest hope is that this series proves to be a valuable addition for the growing community of Austin film lovers."

The first movie will show on Monday, Feb. 18 and Tuesday, Feb. 19. Director Michael Apted's 56 Up is the 2012 update to the series he began in 1964 with Seven Up! Every seven years he checks in with the children he met while making that original 30-minute TV special.

The 1964 film included British kids from different class backgrounds. It's been 48 years since that special. How have the lives of those people -- now in late middle-age -- evolved? If you've been keeping up with the series (49 Up came out in 2005), you may have some idea of the trajectory their lives have taken, but there's likely to be some surprises here.

The following Monday, February 25, Stateside will host the Austin premiere of the Texas-shot indie film Far Marfa, co-hosting with the Texas Independent Film Network. Writer/director Cory Van Dyke is scheduled to attend. The movie received a Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund grant in 2011. Look for Debbie's preview next week.

You can read more about Stateside at Paramount's new program and critical reception of 56 Up on the Paramount's blog. Watch the 56 Up trailer below:

Review: Beautiful Creatures

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Alden Ehrenreich and Alice Englert in Beautiful Creatures

I'm just going to come right out and say it: Beautiful Creatures is one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies I've seen in a long while. My friend who attended the screening with me called it "a laugh riot." There is some wit and bite in Richard LaGravenese's screenplay (based on the YA novel by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl), but the rest of the laughs are caused by other factors ... well, pretty much everything else involved with this film.

Beautiful Creatures opens with narration by Gatlin, South Carolina teen Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich), who sounds like a refugee from the set of HBO's True Blood. Maybe Ehrenreich learned his accent from watching that show? (Giggle count: 1) He has haunting dreams and stumbles upon items during his pre-dawn jogs in the town graveyard. His mother died recently and his father never leaves his room (in fact, we never see or hear him!). His lone parental figure is family friend Amma (Viola Davis), the town librarian.

Celebrate 20 Years of 'Dazed and Confused'

Reunite with Simone, Tony, Cynthia, Jodi, Mitch, Benny, Darla, Sabrina, Cynthia and Tommy for a beer-buzzed existential walk down memory lane. Select Dazed and Confused cast members and writer/director Richard Linklater will celebrate the film's 20th anniversary with two screenings and a Q&A with the cast and crew on Wednesday, March 6 at 7 pm and 9:30 pm at The Marchesa Hall & Theatre (6226 Middle Fiskville Rd) in Austin. General admission and VIP tickets go on sale at noon on Friday for Austin Film Society members, and to the public on Thursday, Feb. 21. VIP tickets include access to a party with the film's stars and preferred seating for the screening with the Q&A. 

The film's anniversary screening and party kicks off the celebration: Linklater and a number of the movie's cast members will accept the Star of Texas award for Dazed and Confused at this year's Texas Film Hall of Fame awards gala the day after the anniversary party (Thursday, March 7).

Dazed and Confused takes place during a time when you could haze and humiliate people without the threat of a lawsuit. Bongs blazed, joints were passed and the keg never seemed to run dry. The times they were a'changin' in 1976, and the characters in Linklater's film weren't immune. Their crazy hijinks and adventures of a group of seniors-to-be and incoming high-school freshman on their last day of school is chronicled in this 1993 retrospective. 

Not since American Graffiti has a coming-of-age comedy had such a unique cast of former nobodies, some of whom will be in attendance at the anniversary screening and party. See you at the moontower. 

Austin at SXSW 2013: Chris Eska, 'The Retrieval'

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Still from The Retrieval by Chris Eska

Filmmaker Chris Eska's new feature The Retrieval will be premiering at SXSW next month. The movie's first screening is set for 1:45 pm on Monday, March 11 at Alamo Ritz, with encores on Tuesday and Saturday. The Austin filmmaker's previous feature was August Evening in 2007, which won the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.

According to the slim summary on the SXSW site, the plot of The Retrieval focuses on a boy sent north "on the outskirts of the Civil War" to search for a fugitive. Eska remained quiet about any further story details, but answered the following questions for us via email.

Slackerwood: What drew you to make The Retrieval?

Chris Eska: All my films originate from themes that are important in my life, and then I search for the setting and characters that will most highlight the emotions. My Japanese-language film [Doki-Doki] was about isolation in Los Angeles, my Spanish-language film [August Evening] was about changing families in Texas and Japan, etc. With this film, I initially considered setting the story on the Texas border or in southern India before realizing that this historical rural setting would best draw out the emotions.

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

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A Good Day to Die Hard

In July 1988, Hollywood introduced movie audiences to John McClane (Bruce Willis) in the movie Die Hard. An everyday man, a guy with nothing but good intentions, trying to make amends with his wife -- he's simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. When an office building is overtaken by greedy terrorists, he saves the day, despite nearly killing himself in the process.

Since then, we've been treated to three more films in the Die Hard series and in each film, despite his age, McClane seems to become more and more superhuman, losing just a little bit more of the charm that made us fall in love with him as a hero in the first place. That problem is still very much evident in the now fifth entry to this franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard.

In McClane's latest adventure, we discover he's rekindled his relationship with his daughter, who needed rescuing in the previous film. She's dropping him off at the airport to he can go to Russia and see his son Jack (Jai Courtney), who's gotten in some trouble after killing a Russian gangster. It doesn't take long for the elder McClane to cause trouble.

Ready, Set, Fund: Avant-Garde Stunts

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Gary Kent in 'One Hard Road'

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

It's not often that biographical documentaries portray lesser-known behind-the-scenes movie professionals, but novelist and film journalist Joe O'Connell is capturing key player Gary Kent in his film project Love & Other Stunts, which is currently funding on Indiegogo through Wednesday, February 27. Kent has contributed to over 100 films in his 50-plus years in the film industry as a stuntman, actor, director, and writer. He's been a stunt double for Jack Nicholson and Robert Vaughan and was stunt coordinator for Richard Rush's Hell’s Angels On Wheels and Don Coscarelli's Bubba Ho-tep, as well as acting in noir Westerns such as The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind.

Love & Other Stunts covers not only Kent's film career, but his personal life from the release of his memoir Shadows and Light: Journeys with Outlaws in Revolutionary Hollywood through more personal challenges, including his wife's battle with alcoholism and death in 2005. Kent has struggled with the aftermath of physical damage from stuntwork and a bout with cancer. O'Connell's documentary aims the spotlight on a now local legendary icon deserving of public recognition.

Slackery News Tidbits: February 12, 2013

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Here's the latest in Austin film news.

  • New York-based film distributor Kino Lorber has acquired the US rights to Austinite Andrew Bujalski's comedy Computer ChessIndieWire reports. Bujalski's feature revolves around chess players and computer programmers at a computer chess tournament in the 1980s. The Austin-shot film, which screened at Sundance 2013 and will screen at SXSW in March, is scheduled to be released by Kino Lorber late this year.
  • If you like short films and Mondo posters, head to City Hall. That's not a typo. The City of Austin will hold a free opening reception for the 2013 People's Gallery exhibition on Friday, February 22 from 6-9 pm at City Hall (301 W. Second). The reception will also screen short films from the city's Faces of Austin program.  The exhibition, which will run through mid-January 2014, features more than 100 pieces of artwork from Austin-area artists, galleries, museums and art organizations that will be displayed throughout the first three floors of City Hall. Special exhibits by Mondo Gallery and the Serie Project will also be included.
  • This year's SXSWedu Conference and Festival has announced a lineup of documentary films, including the Texas-shot The Revisionaries (Don's review), about the Texas State Board of Education and some of its members' attempts to drive science out of public school textbooks; and the partially Texas-shot Bully (Don's review), a controversial look into peer-to-peer bullying in American schools, according to The Austin Chronicle. All screenings will be held at Alamo Ritz March 4-7. Conference attendees will also have the chance to see the 10th Annual Texas High School Film Competition, as well as a secret screening. 

AFS Doc Nights Preview: Koch

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Ed Koch in Koch

It seems timely that Austin Film Society (along with the Austin Jewish Film Festival) is screening the movie Koch this Wednesday, February 13 [details]. Former New York City mayor Ed Koch died on the first day of this month; this documentary about his life and times in office from 1978-89 pulls no punches, yet had his approval and participation.

Director Neil Barsky incorporates interviews with members of the media and New York community leaders along with interviews with Koch himselfKoch zeroes in on his mayoral tenure, but we also learn about his childhood (his family barely got by running a hat-check station) and his post-mayoral doings. He's even shown puttering alone around his apartment. Songs of the period punctuate the documentary, with Oliver Nelson's bouncy jazz work "Complex City" setting the tone from the start. 

Review: Identity Thief

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Identity ThiefActress-comedian Melissa McCarthy is a hot property in Hollywood since her breakout performance in the 2011 movie Bridesmaids. She's got an ongoing co-starring role on the TV series Mike & Molly and a part in This is 40 added to her list of credits, along with an upcoming police comedy with Sandra Bullock (The Heat), and a rumored appearance in The Hangover Part III.

McCarthy's over-the-top vulgar antics are a huge box-office draw right now, and the producers of Identity Thief are banking on that, showing previews filled with her most outrageous moments in the film. The film is  scripted by Craig Mazin, whose experience writing outrageous humor includes The Hangover Part II and a couple of the Scary Movie outings, and directed by Seth Gordon, who did similar work in Horrible Bosses. (Remember when he was The King of Kong filmmaker?)

The road-trip comedy co-stars Jason Bateman as the victim of her character Diana's criminal madness, out to deliver her to justice and reclaim his life. Though it delivers plenty of insanity, the laughs grow thinner as outrageous comedy gives way to touchy-feely tugs on the heartstrings, concluding with an ending straight out of an ABC Afterschool Special.  

Identity Thief is a generally enjoyable film, and would have been more so, if I could have looked beyond a couple of weaknesses. The first was a painfully awkward cameo scene with Jon Favreau, which seems like it was filmed only to prove that Favreau needs to stay behind the camera. The second was a clunky story that brings characters in, makes them important and then fails to resolve their story arcs. Even when I take my critic hat off, these two problems remain.

Inexplicably, Identity Thief earned an R rating, apparently entirely on the basis of "adult situations." The movie contained mild gun violence, almost zero nudity (a single shot of male buttocks) and even very little rough language. It felt entirely PG-13 and with only small alterations, could easily air on network television.

Movies This Week: February 8-14, 2013

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Billi and Theodore still photo

Local filmmaker Ronald Short premiered his comedy Billi & Theodore (seen at top), at the Indianapolis International Film Festival in July 2012, and finally makes its Austin debut Saturday at 10:45 am at Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. This buddy road-trip film features Jordan McRae and Travis Emery as best friends picking up the pieces as they endure a car-jacking, parking lot brawls, and angry exes. McRae will be in attendance at this special engagement.

Most folks know the ND Austin venue at 501 Studios as a music venue, but art and film offerings are also taking place throughout the month. On Tuesday at 7 pm, The Puro Chingon Collective presents a free screening of Alfonso Cuaron's Mexican road-trip tale Y Tu Mama Tambien. Be sure to check out ND Austin calendar for more film-related events including screenings with live scores, and note that the North Door Pizza kitchen opens for calendared events.

As part of the monthly series "A Decade of Comedy in Latin American Cinema," Cine Las Americas presents a free screening of the comedy O Cheiro Do Ralo (Drained) on Wednesday at 8 pm at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC). Pawnshop owner Lourenço (Selton Mello) manipulates his desperate clients for his own amusement. When he meets an attractive waitress (Paula Braun) at his local diner, he becomes obsessed with her "perfect well-shaped buttocks," much to his demise.

TIFN Roadshow: 'When I Rise'

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In 1957, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment, but segregationists in the Texas Legislature deemed it legal to threaten to withhold state funding from a public university for casting an African-American female opposite a fellow Caucasian male student. The 1950s was a decade that opened the door to equal and fair education for all Americans, but continued to be slammed in the faces of some, like University of Texas at Austin distinguished alumna Barbara Smith Conrad, the subject of the 2010 film When I Rise.

Conrad, a mezzo-soprano from Center Point, Texas, was cast as Dido in Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas. However, she was soon replaced by a Caucasian student. The casting move made headlines nationwide, gaining the attention of the King of Calypso himself, Harry Belafonte, who offered Conrad a deal she did refuse: He would pay for her music education anywhere in the world if she chose to leave the university. But despite being spat on by another student while walking through campus, she graduated from UT in 1959.

Don Carleton, executive director of UT's Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, and his team came up with the idea for When I Rise after Conrad, who now lives on the Upper West Side in New York, was the subject of an oral history project at the center in 2006. The award-winning film premiered at SXSW 2010 and screened on the PBS series Independent Lens a year later. It's since been picked up by the international distributor Mercury Media, based in London.

Those closer to Texas can see When I Rise as it continues its 13-city tour with the Texas Independent Film Network this month. Here in Austin, the documentary will screen on Monday night at Violet Crown Cinema, and tickets are still available.

Sundance (and Slamdance) 2013: The Wrap-Up

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Yen Tan and Lauren Wolkstein

What a blur of activity and film that filled my first Sundance Film Festival, with my sixth day mostly at press screenings for Texas-related films Pit Stop, Prince Avalanche and Upstream Color. Read my review of Yen Tan's Pit Stop here, which you can watch at SXSW along with the low-key comedy Prince Avalanche and Shane Carruth's Upstream Color, his journey delving into psychological sci-fi.

I also watched Ass Backwards, a feminine version of the buddy road trip full of crass and self-absorbed humor. As much as I tried to enjoy this raunchy comedy, I found the storyline and editing quite messy, especially a subplot involving a reality TV personality who's a meth head and sex addict. Kudos to writers and stars June Diane Raphael and Casey Wilson for putting their butts literally on the line, but save yourself time and instead watch the classic Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.

Day Seven was meant to be a writing and leisurely paced day with an interview with Shane Carruth, but I wound up at the well-attended Sundance Filmmakers Reception. The event provided a relaxed atmosphere for members of the press to mingle with filmmakers, including Pit Stop director Yen Tan and New York based writer/director Lauren Wolkstein (pictured at top).

In The Mood For Kyle Henry's 'Fourplay'

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Fourplay posterSet in four American cities, director and UT alum Kyle Henry's anthology film Fourplay shows that love, fear and desire are universal emotions that drive our decisions, like participating in a public restroom orgy or hiring a prostitute for your quadriplegic husband. Austin Film Society is screening the movie tonight as a fundraiser for the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund, and on Friday it starts a week-long run at Alamo Drafthouse Village.

"Sex is often portrayed in film as heterosexual and monogamous," says Henry, a former Austinite who's now an assistant professor at Northwestern University. "The writers and I saw a need to make a movie that reflected the lives of the people we know."

Cuddling, touching, kissing ... The sexually-explicit anthology turns the definition of foreplay on its head, and back and side. Fourplay runs the gamut from tales of sexual intimacy that are romantic to sorrowful, comedic to raunchy, and it's through the four shorts that Henry says the film is able to reflect a complete spectrum of sexual expression. 

A spectrum of sexual expression that Henry says his parents (his father's a former Marine and his mother's an elementary school arts teacher) wouldn't understand. His parents may not ever see Fourplay but one of his sisters has, as well as some of his former Northwestern University students. 

Initially, Fourplay was produced in four separate sections, with the first installment being "Tampa," written by Henry's creative and romantic partner Carlos Trevino. However, Henry says the film was always intended to be a feature.

"Tampa," about a lonely man who acts out his insecurities through fantasy, screened at the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals. Two of the four shorts have also screened at Outfest, the L.A. gay and lesbian film festival Henry says took a chance by screening "San Francisco" and credits the support for the short's Newfest Film Festival awards. "San Francisco" and the finished Fourplay also both played aGLIFF (now Polari) in recent years.

Austin at SXSW 2013: All the Features (Part Two)

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 Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche

Continued from earlier today, here are the rest of the SXSW 2013 films with Austin or Texas ties: documentaries and films that have already been hits at other festivals.

Documentary Spotlight:

  • An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story -- If you watch the local news, you are likely quite familiar with the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton in Williamson County. This documentary looks further into his story and the years of work by his attorneys to get him released.
    Jette butts in: Filmmaker Al Reinert (screenwriter for For All Mankind, Apollo 13) lives in Houston. The film is produced by local filmmakers Clark and Jesse Lyda (who also own Monument Cafe) and Marcy Garriott -- all three worked previously on The Least of These (SXSW 2009). Jason Wehling (The Retrieval) is credited as a consulting producer. One of the composers is Chuck Pinnell, brother of the late Texas filmmaker Eagle Pennell. (screening times)
  • Before You Know It -- PJ Raval's (our Slacker 2011 interview) film depicts a year in the life of gay retirees in three different senior care facilities. Raval received Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund grants in 2009 and 2010 for this one (as Untitled Gay Retiree Documentary). Filmmaker/former Austinite Kyle Henry (Fourplay) edited; he's among several UT RTF grads in the crew. (screening times)

Austin at SXSW 2013: All the Features (Part One)

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Garrett Graham, Brock England, Sam Eidson, Vincent James Prendergast, and Brian Losoya in Zero Charisma

The feature-film selections for the 2013 SXSW Film Festival were announced last week and boy, are there a lot of movies with Austin connections on the program -- so many that we had to split this article in two! We'll start with the narrative feature films, and the second half will highlight the documentaries and "festival favorites." These lists don't include the short films or the midnight movies, which will be announced later today.

Headliners:

Narrative Spotlight:

  • The Bounceback -- Bryan Poyser's comedy, which follows the travails of two former couples mixing things up around Austin (including Alamo Drafthouse Ritz), makes its world premiere at the fest. Rebecca Campbell visited the set last year.
    Jette butts in
    : The cast includes Heather Kafka, filmmakers Yen Tan (Pit Stop), David Zellner and Clay Liford; Poyser's former AFS coworkers Chale Nafus and Sarah Ann Mockbee, and Ashley Spillers (also in SXSW 2013 films Zero Charisma, Loves Her Gun and Pit Stop). The director of photography is PJ Raval, who directed another SXSW film, Before You Know It. Editor Don Swaynos also edited Pit Stop. It's like Three Degrees of Separation, geez, we should just draw a graph. (screening times)

Sundance 2013: Behind the Music and the Voices

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Twenty Feet From Stardom Still Photo"Which movies did you enjoy the most at Sundance, Debbie?" is a line I've heard often since returning from Park City. Despite several narrative favorites, the subcategory that really stood out was music documentaries. Two of these films will screen at SXSW next month: Twenty Feet from Stardom, the first film acquired at Sundance 2013, and Sound City, produced and directed by David Grohl of The Foo Fighters and Nirvana.

The festival opened with Twenty Feet From Stardom wowing audiences onscreen and later, offscreen with special performances. Producer/director Morgan Neville is no stranger to music docs, having directed several for television including Brian Wilson: A Beach Boy's Tale, Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll, Johnny Cash's America, Search and Destroy: Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power, and several American Masters and Biography series spotlighting music icons.

Twenty Feet from Stardom provides an intimate view of background singers Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer and Judith Hill, who over the years have supported music icons such as Bruce Springsteen and Bette Midler with their distinct voice talent. These largely uncelebrated artists have helped to shape the sound of 20th century pop music, from Darlene Love in "He's A Rebel" to Merry Clayton in the Rolling Stones "Gimme Shelter."

Lone Star Cinema: Baby, the Rain Must Fall

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Baby, the Rain Must Fall

Baby boomers and younger fans of Sixties pop music may remember folk singer Glenn Yarbrough's "Baby, the Rain Must Fall," a major 1965 hit that remains a staple of oldies radio station playlists.

Less well remembered is that Yarbrough's hit is the title song from Baby, the Rain Must Fall, a 1965 movie starring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick. In many ways, the lackluster drama deserves its relative obscurity. But with many Texas connections, it's a significant part of the state's film history.

Set in Columbus, Texas, Baby the Rain Must Fall is the story of Columbus native Henry Thomas (McQueen), an aspiring rockabilly singer/guitarist recently paroled after serving a sentence for stabbing a man during a bar fight. Thomas does his best to stay sober and out of trouble with help from Deputy Sheriff Slim (Don Murray), a lifelong friend who keeps an eye on him. Not so helpful is Henry's elderly, controlling foster mother, Kate Dawson (Georgia Simmons), who wants him to give up his singing career and threatens to have him sent back to prison if he doesn't abide by her wishes.

Slackery News Tidbits: February 4, 2013

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Here's the latest in Austin and Texas film news.

  • Will James Moore's and Jonathan Case's independent film Satellite of Love (Jette's review) will screen 7:30 pm on Wednesday in the AFS Screening Room. Austin filmmaker Moore will be in attendance for a Q&A moderated by our Slackerwood editor Jette Kernion. The Central Texas-shot film, about a love triangle between friends that unfolds over the course of a week, stars Zachary Knight (Happy Endings) and Janina Gavankar (True Blood). The movie previously screened locally at Austin Film Festival in 2012.
  • The American Library Association included Austin-based filmmaker Heather Courtney's Where Soldiers Come From (Jette's review) on its annual list of notable videos for adults. Courtney's documentary, about the lives of small-town childhood friends who enlist in the U.S. National Guard after graduating high school, is one of 15 outstanding titles released on video within the last two years that the committee felt was suitable for all libraries serving adults.
  • Calling all screenwriters: Austin Film Festival's 20th annual screenplay and teleplay competition is now open for submissions. The fest is introducing a new horror award this year.
  • AFF is also pleased to introduce its new film department director, Ryan Darbonne. The University of North Texas alumnus previously served as the co-founder/executive director of Cinema41, a community organization that screens independent films.

Review: Warm Bodies

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Warm Bodies

From the director of 50/50 and All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, Warm Bodies is not that hot. Director Jonathan Levine has adapted Isaac Marion's unique zombie love story into a predictably safe PG-13 screenplay.

There are a couple of well-established formulas for zombie movies that people expect to see. First and perhaps most prevalent is the survival story that pits a random group of people against an inevitable horde of the undead, trapped in a shopping mall or on an island, usually killing them off one by one until they are all gone or perhaps one or two escape.

Next is the post-apocalyptic adventure which focuses on one or two travellers as they make their way through a landscape from which the undead pop up along the way to drive the story forward. Zombieland is one of the best recent examples.

Many films combine elements of both of these stories, and hopefully throw in enough humor to balance the more gruesome mechanical aspects that are often very graphically displayed. Some of them are better than others, but an original approach is important in a subgenre so popular that it has been done to death (no pun intended).

Warm Bodies is the first story I know that is told from the point of view of the zombies, which is a highly novel take, but the structure of the film unfortunately left me hungry for more, and not in a good way. Loosely based on Romeo and Juliet, the story follows "R" (Nicholas Hoult) through his daily zombie routine as he philosophizes on the zombie condition and longs for slightly more lasting and meaningful relationships than the one he has with his zombie best friend "M" (Rob Corddry). On a hunger raid with his cohorts, R encounters Julie (Teresa Palmer) and a group of her friends on a supply run. In the scuffle that follows, R eats the brains of Julie's ex-boyfriend Perry (Dave Franco) and falls in love with her. What follows is a story of forbidden love that brings to mind Beauty and the Beast.

Review: Stand Up Guys

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Stand Up Guys

The hands of time move against us at the beat of a steady drum currying favor for no one. The film Stand Up Guys tells the story of what happens when mobsters reach their golden years. With an amazing cast, the movie creates an endearing story of friendship among thieves.

Stand Up Guys tells the story of Val (Al Pacino), an old school gangster, and his best friend Doc (Christopher Walken). After serving a 28-year prison sentence, Val is picked up by Doc. Wasting no time, Doc begins the process of reintroducing Val to a world that has changed a lot in 28 years. After some awkward re-introductions, Al and Doc set out for a night of girls, good food, great friends and simply making up for years that have passed these two by. 

But as is often true, life is more complicated than that. Doc has been given a job, and that job is, to "take out" his best friend within the next 24 hours. Almost immediately Val smells a rat and asks Doc if he "has a job to do?" Doc freely admits he does but is faced with a difficult choice: save his friend or do what he has always done, his job. The men make a decision: Doc will carry through his job, but first they'll make Val’s last day on earth a blast (literally and figuratively). 

Movies This Week: February 1-7, 2013

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Fourplay

As a public service, I must open this week's column with a follow-up to the opening of last week's column: Despite its parade of stars, Movie 43 sucks. I know you're shocked.

Most of this week's new releases look to be no better, with the possible exception of Warm Bodies, which has garnered some positive reviews. Once again, I encourage lovers of great cinema to avoid their local multiplexes in favor of some interesting special screenings at smaller venues.

Speaking of which, the most important film industry trend in recent years is the transition from film to digital production and exhibition. Anyone interested in this transition shouldn't miss Side by Side, Christopher Kenneally's documentary about the digital future of movies. Chock-full of interviews with famous filmmakers from Martin Scorsese to George Lucas to David Lynch, Side by Side takes a balanced look at the film and digital formats, intending to foster discussion about the new technology. The film screens -- probably digitally -- Saturday and Sunday at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.

Sundance Review: Pit Stop

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Pit Stop Still Photo

Director Yen Tan made his first appearance at the Sundance Film Festival this year with the drama Pit Stop, cowritten by Dallas filmmaker David Lowery. Inspired by stops along the Texas highways while traveling for a film project, Tan has woven parallel tales of two gay men dissatisfied with their current romantic relationships in a rural town. Tan received grants from both the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund and the Vilcek Foundation for the making of Pit Stop, which will also screen at SXSW Film Festival this March.

Construction worker Gabe (Bill Heck) can't quite accept the end of his affair with a married man and relies on the support of his ex-wife Shannon (Amy Seimetz), who is also trying to move on with her love life. Meanwhile, across town Ernesto (Marcus DeAnda) avoids his younger ex-lover Luis (Alfredo Maduro) -- who currently still lives with him -- by escaping to the bedside of a ex-boyfriend whose health is failing. There he spends his time reading aloud gossip magazines and reminiscing about their life together.