March 2013

Movies This Week: March 29 - April 4, 2013

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The Buddy Holly Story still photo

Texas singer-songwriter Buddy Holly was immortalized onscreen in Steve Rash's 1978 movie The Buddy Holly Story, brilliantly played by Gary Busey (pictured above). The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz presents a special screening of a new 35mm print for this week's Music Monday as well as an additional screening Sunday afternoon.

On Sunday at Alamo Village, Cine Las Americas presents Anita as part of their Signature Series, co-presented by the Austin Jewish Film Festival. Anita is a young Argentinian woman with Down syndrome who lives with her mother Dora (Academy Award nominee Norma Aleandro) until tragedy strikes nearby. Anita must then fend for herself as she ventures out across Buenos Aires and encounters other survivors of the deadliest bombing in Argentina's history. After viewing the opening clip, I can't wait to see what happens next.

Elizabeth already covered the Stateside Independent special screening of Academy Award foreign film nominee War Witch on Monday but I want to reiterate -- don't miss this powerful story about a young female child soldier.

The Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema presents the Turkish film Toll Booth on Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. Introverted toll booth officer Kenan may seem to live a humdrum life but his imagination more than makes up for it in this darkly humorous drama.

Review: Wrong

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Wrong

As a fan of Quentin Dupieux's delightfully Dadaistic 2010 feature Rubber, I had high hopes for his new film, Wrong. I envisioned a movie just as quirky as Rubber, but with a more mainstream plot about a man searching for his lost dog.

I was, well, wrong. (Sorry -- I couldn't resist.) Wrong certainly is quirky and absurd, but it lacks the endearingly odd humor, cool factor and narrative originality of Rubber. It's weird, but not engaging.

Wrong is the story of Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick), who awakens one morning to find that his dog, Paul, has gone missing. What happens next probably will make no more sense in written form than it does on screen, so I'll just say that while looking for his beloved pet, Dolph embarks on journeys both physical and mental.

Along the way, Dolph encounters a host of strange situations and oddball characters, among them a flaky pizza restaurant employee, Emma (Alexis Dziena); his Hispanic gardener with a French accent, Victor (Eric Judor); a hot-tempered pet detective, Ronnie (Steve Little); and the mysteriously metaphysical pet-care book author, Master Chang (William Fichtner). All of them interact with Dolph in off-kilter ways, some of which make more sense than others in the context of the story.

SXSW Review: An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story

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An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton StoryThe timing for An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story to premiere in Austin at SXSW could not have been more appropriate, if you know the news story it recounts. And how much you know about Michael Morton's life may dictate how much you enjoy this documentary from Houston writer/filmmaker Al Reinert (For All Mankind, Apollo 13). The film won the Documentary Spotlight audience award at SXSW earlier this month.

The short and incomplete version: Chris Morton, Michael's wife, was found beaten to death in their Williamson County home in 1988. Michael Morton was charged with the crime, found guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. But he continued to assert his innocence. If you've paid attention to Austin-area news in the last week, you know how this situation has played out.

An Unreal Dream is structured as though Michael Morton is casually telling the story of his life to us. He sits at the front of a courtroom and shares his perspective as though we're seated right across from him. His narrative is enhanced by archival news footage, still photos and interviews with people who know him, from his lawyers to his fellow inmates. When his son Eric Olson appears on camera, and he and Morton start to talk about how Morton's prison sentence affected his child, it's heartbreaking.

I didn't know Morton's whole history when I saw An Unreal Dream -- I knew about how he fit in the Chris Morton murder case, and how that's transpired recently, but the details were new to me -- how long he was in prison, etc. And that's why I'm not including those details here, in case you aren't acquainted with them either. I can't say how well the story would hold the attention of a viewer who had closely followed the story over the years.

No matter how much of the background you know, the interviews will still hold your interest. I particularly liked Morton's original defense attorney, Bill Allison. Morton himself recounts his story with extremely personal details. He details his relationship with God in a way that is touching without being cloying or proselytizing.

I felt the documentary lagged during the years Morton was in prison and nothing was going on regarding the case. As interesting as the interview subjects are, they can't carry the film without more forward motion of the plot, so to speak. Fortunately, this interval is fairly brief and the momentum picks up again.

Review: NO

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NO

Although set in 1980s Chile, the historical drama NO is eerily relevant to contemporary America, where politicians and political agendas are marketed like any other product.

A fictional story, NO is based on actual events during the campaign to oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988. Under international political and economic pressure to bring democracy to his country, Pinochet is forced to call an election; the nation will vote yes or no on extending Pinochet's rule for another eight years.

Pinochet's opposition, commonly known as The NO, has 27 days to convince the voters to oust their leader, and is granted 15 minutes of TV airtime every evening to make their case. Pinochet also gives himself a nightly 15 minutes.

Opposition leaders hire René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), a brazen but successful young advertising executive, to create their TV broadcasts. Not surprisingly, Saavedra envisions a brash and unorthodox campaign: Rather than pandering to voters' fears of Pinochet's violent regime, the ads will present a sunny and optimistic picture of the country's democratic future. The voters don't want to be reminded of murder and repression, Saavedra argues -- they want to be happy, and the campaign theme should be "Happiness is coming if you vote NO!"

Stateside Independent Series Brings 'War Witch' to Austin

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War Witch poster

Shot in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2011, the movie War Witch spins the tale of Komona (new actress Rachel Mwanza, who won a few awards for this role), a young girl abducted at the age of 12 by rebels during an attack on her village. The film is narrated by Komona, telling the story of her past two years to her unborn child. 

After she is forced by the rebels to commit atrocious acts, Komona comes to be valued and esteemed for her intuition and preternatural ability. The "milk" the fighters drink causes her to see visions, ghosts of the dead. Still, amid Komona's horrific situation, we see small glimmers of hope in her budding relationship with a fellow child soldier, a search for a white rooster, and her ingenuity. 

Writer/director Kim Nguyen's film is made up of memorable, haunting imagery and subtle, powerful performances (especially from Mwanza) that keep it grounded.  Despite the violence obviously implied in scenes, War Witch never veers into gory territory. We are seeing the story through Komona's eyes, and for her, bulletholes in a cloth are as stark a reminder of death as any blood shed.  

Stateside Theatre offers you a chance to see War Witch on the big screen. On Monday evening, April 1, the movie will be shown as part of their new Stateside Independent series. This Austin premiere will be screened in HD digital presentation on Blu-ray. [ticket info]  If you decide to go (and you should!), it might be a good idea to pack some tissues.

War Witch was Canada's submission to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the recent Academy Awards, and ended up as one of the five final nominees. You can see the trailer after the jump.

AFS Moviemaker Dialogues: Austin Editor Sandra Adair

Sandra Adair at AFSThe Austin Film Society hosted a Moviemaker Dialogue last week with Austin film editor  Sandra Adair. Chale Nafus moderated the conversation, interviewing Adair and teasing her about his being cut out of Waking Life

Adair told us that as a kid she wanted to paint, but in high school, she became inspired by her older brother's student film. Her first film job was as apprentice editor on Memory of Us in 1974. She'd moved up to assistant editor for her next movie, The Swinging Cheerleaders* (heh). She lived in Austin for a period of time -- during which she synced dailies as assistant editor on Outlaw Blues -- but moved back to L.A. soon afterwards. 

The 1991 recession brought Adair back to our fair city. A connection at Texas Motion Pictures Services (which she said used to be located in a building behind Capital Plaza in northeast Austin) told her about Richard Linklater shooting Dazed and Confused in town.  After sending a letter of introduction, Linklater and the film's producers interviewed her during pre-production. Adair has worked as editor on Linklater's films since.

The editor discussed her collaboration with Linklater, how soon in the process she begins editing (pretty much as soon as the first scene has been done), the technical progression of editing tools through the years, and more. We watched clips from recent films she edited: Bernie, documentary Shepard & Dark (about the long epistolary relationship between actors Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark), Before Sunset ... and naturally, Dazed and Confused

SXSW 2013: On the Red Carpet with 'Sound City'

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Dave Grohl on Sound City SXSW 2013 red carpet, by Debbie Cerda, all rights reservedI was quite excited to hear that one of my favorite music documentaries at Sundance Film Fest was coming to SXSW 2013: Sound City, directed by Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. This film was a perfect fit for Austin, with Grohl's focus on the human element of music as well as the vanishing technology and places that built and supported music for decades.

Grohl delivered an inspirational keynote at SXSW Music Festival -- which you can watch on NPR Music -- that expanded on some of our conversation just before the SXSW premiere. Grohl was joined by fellow members of the Foo Fighters, Lee Ving of Fear, and the Sound City Players. Find out what he had to say, as well as see other famous rockers who were on the red carpet, after the jump.

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: Week Three

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The XXXX Saga, Week Three

Austin 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.

"Week Three: AKA You See Every Time He Gets a ... He Passes Out"

Yep, that's what we were doing this weekend! We were seven days into the movie now and the core of the story was starting to really be shaped. Can't say enough about all the hard work the actors have done getting this thing going. We're seeing some of the most fully formed characters from our actors that we've ever seen. For this film to be successful -- and by the reaction of the crew, it's well on its way to be that -- we need the cast to bring it. We need them to be these characters and be free to explore the scene so that it will feel more like a "doc" and not like a fictional narrative.

We started out on a Thursday by doing a bit of a send-up to one of my favorite horror flicks, Scream. Margaret Ann Garza and newcomer Trey Stapleton got to set the tone for the Quad-X sequel by recreating a portion of the Barrymore-Ghostface scene. For the slasher comedy to work, it needs to combine laughs, sexiness and over-the-top blood stuff. Check. Always fun to have Margaret on set. I could tell she was miserable at times. Being tackled and covered in Karo while in your undies will do that to you. But it was fun for another reason: Sacha Ryder was back on set. YAY!

SXSW Review: Computer Chess

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Computer Chess

I work in high-tech so I'm no stranger to computer nerds, as they might have been called during the era in which the movie Computer Chess is set -- the 1980s, when computers were beginning to become portable. On the surface, this is a movie about "computers versus humans" in a chess tournament, but filmmaker Andrew Bujalski provides his actors with an environment for their characters to expand beyond nerdy stereotypes, giving the movie thoughtfulness and depth.

Computer Chess takes place at a weekend tournament where teams match their computers' best chess programs with one another, to see which is superior. The winning team will pit their computer against a human chess master. The programmers aren't the only people holding events in the hotel, however, and a weekend couples-encounter retreat provides some amusing contrast.

The film is shot and structured as though it were a documentary or found footage -- Bujalski even used a vintage video camera to shoot in black and white, to great effect. I wouldn't call it a "mockumentary" because it implies a level of screwball spoofery that isn't present. The "action" often pauses for characters to discuss whatever's on their mind, resulting in a slower pace than you might expect but also more fascinating characters and insights. The humor here is mostly subtle and sporadic, except for the couples-encounter scenes and a subplot about a character who can't find a place to sleep.

SXSW 2013: 'Sequin Raze' Filmmaker and Stars

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Anna Camp and Ashley Williams of Sequin Raze

There's never a short supply of well known actors at SXSW Film Festival promoting their feature-length movies, but it's not often that you'll find stars representing short films. However, this year one short film stood out for its female-driven story supported by strong performances from familiar faces Anna Camp and Ashley Williams -- Sequin Raze, directed by former reality television producer and writer/director Sarah Gertrude Shapiro. The film won an Honorable Mention jury award for narrative shorts at SXSW.

Sequin Raze takes viewers behind the scene of a hit reality TV show as jilted contestant Rebecca (Camp) attempts to leave with her dignity while battling producer Rebecca Goldberg (Williams), who must get the "money shot" for ratings. The pair engage in a psychological battle from which only one woman can emerge victorious -- but at what price? This riveting film made such an impact on me that I'll never look at reality television in the same way. I spoke with stars Camp and Williams as well as writer/director Shapiro at SXSW earlier this month about Sequin Raze.

Slackerwood (to Shapiro): What can you tell us about the background and realization for Sequin Raze?

Sarah Gertrude Shapiro: Legally I can't be super-specific about what the inspiration was, but it was inspired by a moment in my life. I did work in reality TV, so there's obviously those parts of my life informed it a lot. I think it was a really poignant moment that kind of folded into the layers of all that and encapsulated all the struggles that I had during that time, and a lot of specific scars that I'm left with and I still struggle with based on that experience. It was more than a specific incident that I built off. It was all of these themes, ideas and feelings that I deal with in all of my work. It just became the perfect place to explore them.

SXSW Review: A Teacher

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A Teacher

The Austin-shot movie A Teacher, written/directed/produced by Hannah Fidell, colors outside the lines with its portrayal of a high-school romance gone awry.

Maryland native Fidell's follow-up to We're Glad You're Here (2010) takes a decisively different look at adulthood and loss of innocence. While the two films have the same star (Lindsay Burdge), A Teacher raises questions about the role educators have on a student's life, the idea of maturity and what constitutes an "adult." Burdge plays Diana Watts, an AP English teacher at an Austin high school whose consensual relationship with one of her male students (former UT student Will Brittain) spirals out of control. 

A Teacher opens with Diana preparing herself to step in front of the classroom stage by going through her morning routine of jogging and driving to work. She loses herself in the motions of normalcy, with her reusable mug and J. Crewesque clothes, but this thirtysomething is far from normal. Or is she?

SXSW 2013: Ghost Ghirls and Tenacious D

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Producer and Writers of Ghost Ghirls, by Hal Horowitz

Ghost Ghirls is a new online comedy series presented by Yahoo!Screen that follows two young female ghostbusters as they solve mysteries of paranormal phenomena. Portrayed by comedians Amanda Lund and Maria Blasucci, the pair emulate Shawn and Gus of Psych more than Sherlock Holmes and Watson as they attempt to convince their clients and local law enforcement of their legitimacy as investigators.

Ghost Ghirls was created by Jeremy Konner, Lund and Blasucci, who also serve as executive producers -- seen above with fellow executive producer Jack Black. Konner, who is best known for his Drunk History series on Funny or Die, also directed Ghost Ghirls.

An exclusive sneak preview of two episodes of Ghost Ghirls was presented at SXSW 2013, featuring hilarious cameo appearances by Dave Grohl, Val Kilmer, Molly Shannon and numerous other celebrities. I thoroughly enjoyed the witty writing and well paced storylines, and look forward to more adventures with the paranormal pair. Following the screening, Lund and Blasucci along with Black and Konner hosted a Q&A as comical as their on-screen performances. The audience was then treated to an intimate performance by Black's band Tenacious D.

See more photos from the event after the jump.

SXSW Review: This Ain't No Mouse Music

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With its origin in music and a 20-year history of supporting mainstream and independent film, Austin’s SXSW creates a unique atmosphere where both universes sometimes collide to create splendid works of art. This year’s festival managed to once again create a unique melding of music and film via the documentary This Ain't No Mouse Music! It's a heartfelt movie that tells the story of Chris Strachwitz and his unique music label Arhoolie Records.

Directed by Chris Simon and Maureen GoslingThis Ain't No Mouse Music! spans a period of over 50 years. Strachwitz's story begins in the summer of 1960 when he travelled to Navasota, Texas to record songwriter and guitarist Mance Lipscomb. During the same trip, Chris also met and recorded legendary bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins. In order to promote these two legendary musicians, Chris founded his own record label, Arhoolie Records. It was all melody from there.

Slackery News Tidbits: March 25, 2013

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Here's the latest in Austin film news.

  • Disney has hired DFW-area filmmaker (and former Austinite) David Lowery and producer Toby Halbrooks, whose film Ain't Them Bodies Saints premiered at Sundance this year, to script a remake of the animated movie Pete's Dragon. If this sounds unlikely, bear in mind that Lowery's first feature, St. Nick, was about two children who run away from home. And don't forget his short Pioneer, about a father and son. (Jette adds: Now, someone please release St. Nick on DVD? Finally?)
  • Austin-based filmmaker Elizabeth Mims' documentary Only the Young (Elizabeth's AFF review), which follows three Southern California teenagers, will air July 15 on PBS's award-winning TV series POV, according to Austin Movie Blog.
  • In festival news, the Hill Country Film Festival announced its lineup last week, which includes the feature-length thriller The Iceman, starring James Franco, and the 2013 Academy Award-winning short Curfew. The festivities take place May 2-5 in Fredericksburg. Texas movies at the fest include short films Black Metal, Do Over, Happy Voodoo, Fourth and Orchard, The Secret Keeper and Where am I Texas.
  • Austin Film Society Artistic Director Richard Linklater presents "Land and People: Recent Films of James Benning" April 6-8 at Alamo Ritz and the AFS Screening Room. Hailed as one of the most significant and groundbreaking avant-garde filmmakers, Benning began exploring the American landscape on film in the early 1970s. His recent films, 13 Lakes, Ten Skies, the war and Stremple Pass, were made between 2004 and 2012.

Review: Stoker

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Stoker

Chan-wook Park might not be a familiar name to you, but one of his greatest films is one you've more than likely at least heard of -- Oldboy, the Korean drama that is heavy on violence and style. His American debut feature film, Stoker, has a lot of the familiar tones that are right in Park's wheelhouse. Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman, Dermot Mulroney and Matthew Goode all bring some great performances to an otherwise textbook drama about a family that is shrouded in secrecy among themselves.

India Stoker's (Wasikowska) world turns upside down when her best friend in the world, her father (Mulroney), suddenly dies in a car accident on her 18th birthday. To help the family settle in during these rough times, an uncle India never knew about, Charles (Goode) emerges and unsettlingly has charm and wit that is evident to everyone except India.

Review: Admission

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Admission Still Photo

Marathon-length viewing of 30 Rock episodes laid the groundwork for my fandom of Second City and Saturday Night Live alum Tina Fey, but it was her witty insightful book Bossypants that set my admiration of her in stone. I was a bit conflicted about reviewing the dramedy Admission both due to my bias as well as being skeptical about an onscreen romance between Fey and co-star Paul Rudd. Although Rudd is no stranger to being a romantic lead, the combination of these actors who often portray rather quirky characters left me wondering how well they would mesh. The result is a light-hearted vehicle to explore chemistry between Fey and Rudd, with veteran comedic actress Lily Tomlin stealing scenes with her portrayal of a strong feminist.

Based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz and directed by Paul Weitz (About A Boy), Admission focuses on Princeton University admissions officer Portia Nathan (Fey). Portia seems to be content with her prestigious and challenging job and stable live-in relationship with English department chair Mark (Michael Sheen). However, she finds that her life is not as perfect as she has thought, having to compete with colleague Corinne (Gloria Reuben) for the coveted position of head of admissions ... and her boyfriend leaving her for his pregnant mistress.

Movies This Week: March 22-28, 2013

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Cinema Six

Hoo boy -- is it ever a busy week in Austin movie land! No less than 13 new movies are releasing in River City theaters, and among the usual forgettable and formulaic fare are a couple of standouts.

The Gatekeepers, a documentary about the Israeli security agency Shin Bet, is generating great critical buzz and is the Austin Chronicle's Pick of the Week. And don't judge the over-the-top dark comedy Spring Breakers by its title or trailer; this bikini-clad, candy-colored commentary about youthful excess is getting great reviews. (It will surprise no one that Spring Breakers tops my list of films to see this weekend. Social commentary? Copious youthful nudity? The Gatekeepers can wait a week.)

If none of the baker's dozen of new releases interests you (really, you should be a bit more adventurous), the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series is presenting the Palestinian import Habibi Rasak Kharban (Darling, Something's Wrong with Your Head) on Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. A modern day retelling of an ancient Sufi parable, the film is the story of two lovers who caught between Israeli occupation and Palestinian traditions. Director Susan Youssef will attend the screening.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Andrew Bujalski, 'Computer Chess'

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Andrew Bujalski

Austin transplant Andrew Bujalski has been putting audience members in check since the world premiere of his fourth feature Computer Chess (Debbie's dispatch) at this year's Sundance Film Festival. The critically acclaimed, Austin-shot film, about an eccentric group of computer chess programmers who gather at a hotel for a chess tournament in the 1980s, got back to its roots Monday when it screened during SXSW 2013.

Bujalski found most of his merry band of polyester-clad "nerds" through an open casting call for extras, although he already knew local actor/computer wiz Wiley Wiggins (Dazed and Confused), whom he met in Austin back in 1999.

Extras (including Slackerwood contributor Rod Paddock) joined the cast for 10-plus hour days during the summer of 2011 and grew in numbers for the movie's tournament hall scene. With the air conditioning turned off for sound recording purposes, Bujalski says the cramped room "got to smell very bad." But even under these sometimes grueling conditions, the unpaid extras returned to set day after day with the promise of free food and a chance to embody a culture that excites and motivates them.

Although Computer Chess has been met with positive acclaim by SXSW festivalgoers (despite Bujalski's initial thoughts that the movie would "alienate" audiences), most of those who experienced the culture it portrays firsthand have yet to see the film. Computer Chess is scheduled to be released by Kino Lorber late this year. In the meantime, the movie's next screenings will be at the Sarasota Film Festival in early April.

I spoke with Bujalski earlier this week and found out fellow Seguin High School alum Carlyn Hudson was one of the film's co-producers, that there's a Goodwill Computer Museum in Austin, and that I can buy a vintage camera for under $100.

SXSW Review: Don Jon

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Don JonJoseph Gordon-Levitt's acting talent is no surprise to people who have followed his career as he made perhaps the smoothest-ever transition from child star to adult actor. His selection of unique and unusual roles has given him a wide body of work to showcase his talents and prevented typecasting. But Levitt is multi-dimensional -- sponsoring a collaborative art project he named HitRecord, he's drawn thousands of print and digital artists, writers and musicians into his cooperative efforts with a goal of eventually producing a crowdsourced feature film.

To that end, he has written, directed, produced and starred in his latest feature, Don Jon. Originally titled Don Jon's Addiction for its Sundance debut, he changed it before the movie's SXSW screening, because he said it gave the audience false expectations that it was entirely about porn addiction.)

Don Jon relates a kind of second coming-of-age story about Levitt's character Jon, who spends his days working out and his nights at the bar with his friends looking for a perfect "10." In spite of his success as the leader of this hunting pack, Jon finds no woman can match the sexual pleasure he receives from himself in front of a computer screen as he surfs internet pornography.

Even when Don meets his perfect girl Barbara (Scarlett Johansson) and falls completely in love, she is unable to satisfy him.  Even as she is unable to satisfy his expectations based on porn, he is finding it difficult to meet Barbara's expectations as a white knight based on the romance movies she voraciously watches every night. His situation is complicated by Esther (Julianne Moore), his night-school classmate who takes an interest in him and causes him to reconsider what he wants in a relationship.

Though Don Jon is Levitt's directorial debut, it would be a disservice to describe the film using words like "for a first-time director." Don Jon is a masterful work of writing, directing and acting, period. It is a sexy, funny, and wholly insightful expose of exactly what young people are doing wrong as they build relationships. Levitt understands cinematic language so well he can telegraph his intentions visually without the need to spell them out for the audience.

SXSW 2013: The Celebrity Experience 'At Any Price'

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At Any Price red carpet at SXSW

By Kayla Lee

It all started on the red carpet, just before the screening of director Ramin Bahrani's (Goodbye Solo, Chop Shop) new film At Any Price on the last day of SXSW 2013. The stars of the film, Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, graced the streets of downtown Austin with their friendly humor and welcoming smiles. The screening, which took place at the Paramount Theatre, had a great turnout. The crowd was ecstatic when Janet Pierson welcomed the director and stars onto the stage to brief the crowd before the movie started. 

An exhilarating atmosphere filled the room as Quaid and Efron greeted the guests with their down-to-earth swag and demeanor. After their brief introductions, it was time for the show. It was exciting to see Quaid (who sometimes lives in Austin) looking to the crowd for approval throughout the film from the balcony. Judging by the laughter from the audience and his constant smiling down into the crowd, I believe all were pleased. 

SXSW Review: Cheap Thrills

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Cheap ThrillsWhat would you do to save your family from homelessness?  How far would you go? Those are the questions Pat Healy must answer in the movie Cheap Thrills, which played at SXSW and has since been acquired for distribution by Drafthouse Films.

Scripted by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga and directed by E.L. Katz, Healy stars as Craig, a writer struggling to make a living for his family as an oil-change mechanic. After the worst day of his life, Craig stops by a local dive bar for a drink he can't afford and meets former high-school buddy Vince (Ethan Embry), who he has not seen in five years.

After reluctantly staying for just one more drink, Craig finds himself in the middle of an unlikely adventure when the two are invited to celebrate with the bar's only other occupants, birthday-girl Violet (Sara Paxton) and her multi-millionaire husband Colin (David Koechner).

What follows is best left for the screen, but it is a disturbing and exhilarating experience. Healy and Embry are fantastic actors and both completely believable as they portray the awkard semi-tension between friends who have grown somewhat apart. That dynamic is obliterated by Koechner. Cheap Thrills couldn't have worked without any of the three, but Koechner is a regular Mephistopheles offering the friends a deal they can't refuse, and a tour through a hell of their own making. This is the kind of easygoing passive-aggressive sadist character Koechner has spent a career perfecting.

One of the most intense films I've ever seen, Cheap Thrills well deserves the SXSW audience award it earned in the Midnighters category. Unlike many schlocky midnight features, this is the kind of movie that should only be shown at midnight.  It's exceptionally graphic, but Katz has mastered the art of don't-show and tell, with a single sound effect that left half the audience jumping completely out of their seats and the rest curled instantaneously into the fetal position.

Unraveling Mondo's Mystique at the Stout /Taylor Opening

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Mondo Tyler Stout First Blood

Stallone, Hopkins and Gosling all welcomed visitors on Friday to the latest Mondo gallery event featuring new works by artists Tyler Stout and Ken Taylor. And by "welcomed," I mean their likeness graced the posters on the wall. With this new show, Stout and Taylor have brought Austin a wonderful collection of works that showcases the artists' unique styles that have made them famous. Stout's filled frames were no more prevalent than in his poster for Attack the Block and previously released Django Unchained, while Taylor highlighted his detailed, realistic representations of famous faces in his posters for First Blood and Silence of the Lambs (pictured above). 

SXSW 2013: Peter Hall and John Gholson, Critics Becoming the Critiqued (Part Three)

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SXSW 2013

By John Gholson

[Editor's note: This is part three of a three-part conversation between Austin film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking. Please read part one and part two if you haven't already.]

John Gholson: With Zero Charisma, the reviews are out -- they're not mentioning me. Film School Rejects mentioned me in their review, at the end, in a quasi-disclaimer kind of a thing. Scott Beggs didn't know I was in it when he sat down to watch and review it, but other than that, no one's doing me any favors by drawing attention to my performance in their reviews, and I know a lot of the people reviewing it. It's not like they're patting me on the back or anything.

What was the greatest Grow Up, Tony Phillips moment at SXSW?

Peter Hall: Maybe one of the surprises at the premiere was seeing people who were there that I didn't expect to be there -- like the Evil Dead director [Fede Alvarez] came and watched it. I didn't talk to him, but, hey, the director of Evil Dead was at our movie! Some web personalities that I don't know -- Film Critic Hulk -- I don't know whether he liked the movie or not. I haven't seen any reactions. I guess seeing the turnout was the most interesting thing and seeing that it was somewhat consistent throughout the festival.

SXSW 2013: Peter Hall and John Gholson, Critics Being Critiqued (Part Two)

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Grow Up, Tony Phillips red carpet

By John Gholson

[Editor's note: This is part two of a three-part conversation between Austin film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking. Please read part one if you haven't already.]

John Gholson: My thing is if you like movies, I don't know why there has to be a line in the sand. I understand it from some degree, because it has to do with perceived professionalism, etc, but again, if you're interested in it, why wouldn't you want to be writing about films and producing films or acting in films?

Peter Hall: Biggest example that I've been studying is Todd Brown. Todd runs Twitch and is also a partner in a company called XYZ Films, which produces and puts together sales. They do a lot, globally, for cinema, and Twitch still covers the films Todd's involved with. They always put a disclaimer that XYZ is involved with the film. What they do is throw a thing in there that says "Twitch has a tie to this because of Todd Brown but Todd Brown had no editorial involvement in this piece" -- to me, that's fine. That gets them off the hook, because I know some of those guys and I know Todd, and even the ones I don't know, I know how Twitch operates. I know that they're above the board. There's really not anyone in this industry who I don't think isn't above the board.

SXSW 2013: Peter Hall and John Gholson, Critics Being Critiqued (Part One)

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John Gholson in Zero Charisma

By John Gholson

[Editor's note: Please welcome local film writers John Gholson and Peter Hall to Slackerwood. Gholson decided to interview Hall about what happens when film bloggers (and critics, journalists, columnists, etc.) move into filmmaking, since they were both involved in SXSW films this year. This is an issue that affected Slackerwood this year, too, so I'm pleased to present this conversation to you. It's long and in two parts, but fascinating and worth the time to read all the way through.]

It was an unusual year for some movie bloggers at SXSW. Peter Hall, an editor at Movies.com, produced Emily Hagins' Grow Up, Tony Phillips, a film that made it into the fest (and one that features appearances by movie bloggers Brian Salisbury, J.C. De Leon and Scott Weinberg), and I, a writer at Movies.com, have a role in Zero Charisma, a film that went on to win the Narrative Spotlight audience award at the fest. It was a year where we went beyond our typical coverage of the festival, to having a personal stake in the reception of the films that played.

For us, it's been a slow and natural evolution, but for readers, does the involvement of bloggers in the filmmaking process begin to color both professions in a negative light? During SXSW, one acquaintance insinuated that the film I was involved with got a great review from a certain website because the company doing the PR for the film was also handling the PR for the website where that positive review ran. Now, I know that wasn't the case -- no one was doing anything corrupt -- but it's a common perception that's worth discussing. What are the obligations a film blogger has, in their relationship with filmmaking, and how should our readers perceive these relationships, especially since the line continues to blur on a daily basis?

I sat down with Peter Hall after SXSW to discuss the question and our experiences, being bloggers who are now involved in the other side of the moviemaking process.

SXSW Review: Zero Charisma

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Zero Charisma

The Austin-shot movie Zero Charisma may be as close as we ever get to a cinematic adaptation of A Confederacy of Dunces. Scott Weidemeier, as portrayed by Sam Eidson, bears a strong resemblance to a contemporary Ignatius J. Reilly, if Ignatius were transplanted to a lesser city than New Orleans and had been introduced to role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons. (Which leads me to ponder an Ignatius-approved RPG set in the time of Boethius, but I digress.)

What makes Zero Charisma so watchable is that Eidson and filmmakers Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews lead us to sympathize with a character as appalling and unlikeable as Ignatius would be, if we encountered him in real life. Scott is living with his grandmother in a glorious Fifties time capsule of a bungalow (with decor that would close Ignatius's valve), working as a delivery boy for the Donut Taco Palace, and in the rest of his spare time, creating and playing his own D&D-like role-playing game in which, naturally, he is the Game Master.

Scott's life is pretty routine until Fortuna spins her wheel and two horrible things happen: one of his regular RPG players drops out of the years-long game, and his grandmother suffers a stroke that brings Sam's mother (Cyndi Williams) and her husband back in town and invading Scott's sanctuary. He finds a new player, Miles (Garrett Graham), but Miles turns out to be a rival for the attention and perhaps allegiance of Scott's regular players.

SXSW Review: Grow Up, Tony Phillips

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Grow Up, Tony Phillips posterGrow Up, Tony Phillips, the new comedy from Emily Hagins, made its world premiere at SXSW last week, in the Vimeo Theater of the Austin Convention Center. The audience was eager and excited to see the latest project by this young Austin-based director.

Tony Phillips (Hagins film regular Tony Vespe) is an easygoing senior in high school who still dresses up for Halloween and loves trick-or-treating.  He spends his fall months thinking up costume ideas, even sketching concepts in his college prep class. He tells his mom that he sees these costumes as his "legacy." 

His two closest pals are cool kid Craig (Devin Bonnee, another Hagins regular) and Elle (Katie Folger, also in Zero Charisma); both attempt to get Tony to get past this fascination with October 31. In one discussion with Tony, Elle comments, "You don't really worry about anything, do you?" They have their own reasons for worrying about Tony. Craig is falling in with the popular kids and Tony embarrasses him. Elle fears that kids at their school will laugh at her friend.

Tony also has a much younger friend/babysitting charge Mikey (Caleb Barwick, Army Wives) who looks up to him, and an older cousin Pete (AJ Bowen, You're Next) whom Tony himself esteems. As time passes in the film, we see how Tony's interactions with these four characters help him discover more about himself.

During the Q&A afterwards, Hagins said that she doesn't care to define the time or location of the movie. I easily figured out it was Austin, however, as soon as I saw a scene filmed in a familiar courtyard at my old high school (Johnston, RIP). The set design is punchy (Tony has a poster for fictitious movie Space Hipster in his room) and fully establishes us in the season of autumn starting with the cute opening credits sequence.

Some Austin character actors appear later in Grow Up, Tony Phillips to provide more laughs -- Byron Brown, especially. This saves the film from a slight dragginess. Although, honestly, the seats at the Vimeo Theater were so awfully uncomfortable that it may have just felt like the movie slowed down towards the end.

The kids in this film come off as genuine, awkward humor and all. There's not a whole lot of depth to Grow Up, Tony Phillips, but does there need to be? The film is cute and charming.  It's refreshing to see a coming-of-age story wherein teenage characters remain true to themselves. 

SXSW Review: The Act of Killing

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The Act of Killing

You take a mortal man, and put him in control. Watch him become a god, watch people's heads a’roll.

--Opening lyrics to Megadeth's "Symphony Of Destruction"

The above lyrics are the first thing that came to mind immediately after watching the unique and disturbing documentary The Act of Killing. This movie provides a terrifying glimpse into the minds of people that commit genocide.

The Act of Killing is one of the most unique documentaries ever filmed. Director Joshua Oppenheimer somehow convinced numerous gangsters, paramilitary leaders, thugs and politicians to create cinematic re-enactments of their experiences during the military coup that occurred in the country of Indonesia in 1965-66. This coup resulted in the mass execution of nearly half a million people who were members of, or accused of being members of, the Indonesian Communist Party. 

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: Week Two

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XXXX Behind the MaskAustin 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.

You see the indie world of making a movie. The truly indie world where you rely on the kindness of strangers and you're often subject to rapid changes of mind and focus on the part of those that are not truly invested in the project as you are. It's one of the hardest jobs of an indie director ... to keep people's internal motivation to work on the project high, knowing that some of the normal motivators of the film industry just aren't there.

We got everyone going this weekend, knowing it would be a fast shoot. Most of us were being pulled in a bunch of different directions for SXSW and we needed to be freed up for that.

The film's diversity of story dynamics is proving to be very interesting. First, we're shooting two films at once, with the sequel (The Porn Movie Massacre) being a very different film from Rise of the Beaver Slayer. The actors are really responding well to the challenge of shooting scenes with completely different tones and beats from one scene to the next. We're tying to do a horror comedy with a lot of gore, but keeping the laughs there. We've got a creepy killer design, some fun ways to dispatch some folks and are even making a joke by having a different actor play the killer in every seen. Still looking for more! So far it's coming together, even if the mask is a miserable thing to wear.

The challenge of Rise of the Beaver Slayer is a little different, in that we're trying to make an over-the-top mockumentary about porn stars, peppered with political commentary and still have some heart. Too often, films with these high-concept setups forget that movies connect to audiences when they are about people. We're doing that by having characters face real problems, challenges and facing human dilemmas, all through the context of making an adult film.

SXSW Review: Swim Little Fish Swim

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Swim Little Fish Swim

Anyone pursuing a career in the arts will appreciate Swim Little Fish Swim, a film about the perennial battle between art and commerce, between dreams of success and the unkind reality that shatters those dreams.

An engaging and appealing movie by French filmmakers Ruben Amar and Lola Bessis, Swim Little Fish Swim is the story of Leeward (Dustin Guy Defa) and Mary (Brooke Bloom), a struggling young couple living in a tiny Chinatown apartment with their three-year-old daughter, Maggie (Olivia Costello) -- or "Rainbow," as her always creative father prefers to call her.

That Leeward and Mary cannot agree on what to call their daughter speaks volumes about their troubled relationship. A talented musician, Leeward considers himself a misunderstood artist and refuses to accept paid gigs for The Man, fearing they will stifle his creativity. (He won't even record a CD of his songs; that would be much too mainstream.) He's also a self-styled New Age visionary who opposes most forms of capitalism and consumerism, much to the annoyance of Mary, a sensible, hardworking nurse who wishes her husband would grow up, face the responsibilities of adulthood and help her pay the bills.

Austin Meets Syfy: 'Face Off' Contestant Eric Zapata

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Eric Zapata

Take the talent and artistry of special effects makeup, combine it with the better aspects of reality TV and you have Syfy Network's show Face Off. Now in its fourth season, the TV series is a fascinating look at an aspect of filmmaking that often operates very behind-the-scenes.

Local special FX artist and filmmaker Eric Zapata is a current contestant on the series, and has been representing Austin well with creepy mosquito creatures and bearded ladies. I recently got the chance to meet Eric and talk about his career and time on Face Off.

Slackerwood: Congrats on being on the show. It's fun to see Austin represented.

Zapata: Thank you! I think it's really important to showcase the local industry.

From the audience point of view, special FX makeup seems like a very cool job. Is it really as fun as it looks like?

Zapata: 100% it is. Of course, anything involved in the entertainment industry is going to be stressful. But, every project that comes my way, if I'm not stressed out by it, it almost seems not worth it. If you're crazy enough to do this, then you're going to love it. And, I'm crazy enough and crazy about it.

SXSW Review: Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton

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Big Joy

James Broughton's epitaph says about all you need to know about him: Adventure -- not predicament.

For those who want to know more, the splendid documentary Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton is a terrific tribute to the revered poet, writer and pioneering experimental filmmaker.

Born in 1913, Broughton overcame a difficult childhood to have a long, fulfilling career and personal life. His father died when Broughton was five, and his overbearing mother sent him to military school at age 9, hoping to break him of his effeminate tendencies. These experiences no doubt informed his work and his lust for life and love as an adult.

He began making experimental short films in New York in the 1940s and made 23 in total, all deeply personal and many featuring groundbreaking themes and copious nudity, which was largely forbidden during his early career. (One of his best-known films, the award-winning 1967 fantasy romp The Bed, is perhaps the nudest film of its era. It played in a San Francisco theater for more than a year.)

SXSW 2013 Photos: 'Sake-Bomb' Premiere

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director Sakino and cast of SAKE-BOMB

I had planned to see the dark foreign film The Five Seasons at the Violet Crown on opening night, but was easily convinced by my friend Anna Hanks to try Sake-Bomb instead. The light cross-cultural road-trip comedy was just what I needed after the intense Upstream Color screening. Sake-Bomb was filmed in both Japan and California, and follows sake factory employee Naoto (Gaku Hamada) as he visits his uncle and cousin Sebastian (Eugene Kim) in L.A. and tries to find the woman who broke his heart (and lives in Petaluma).

Director Junya Sakino introduced the film, and since it was the movie's world premiere, some cast members were in attendance as well. I was in theatre 4 during the screening, and we watched the live feed from theatre 3.  When it started, we actually worried we'd be watching the film via the live feed as well, but they then switched it on for our screen.

Slackery News Tidbits: March 18, 2013

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

  • After seven years in distribution limbo, Jonathan Levine's 2006 Austin-shot feature All The Boys Love Mandy Lane will have a simultaneous North American theatrical and VOD release through The Weinstein Company's Radius-TWC label, Deadline reports. Austin native Amber Heard stars in the horror flick about a high-school weekend party gone terribly wrong. The movie has been available only outside of the U.S. to date, apart from festival screenings.
  • Deadline continues the Texas coverage with news that Drafthouse Films, in partnership with Snoot Entertainment, acquired the U.S. rights to Cheap Thrills at SXSW 2013. The dark comedy, starring Sara Paxton (The Bounceback) and Pat Healy, tells the story of a recently fired father facing eviction who agrees to a wealthy couple's escalating series of challenges in exchange for cash payments. Cheap Thrills had its world premiere at the festival and won its Midnighters Audience Award.
  • The University of Texas at Austin's radio-television-film department will implement the nation's first comprehensive 3D production curriculum next fall through a $2.17 million grant from the Moody Foundation. Classes will be taught at the Belo Center for New Media and ACL Live at the Moody Theater, where students will use the studio's 3D production and performance facility. The grant will be distributed over a five-year period. 

SXSW Review: All The Labor

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The GourdsWith ten albums over almost 20 years, the Austin band The Gourds has been well established on the local scene with their raucous live performances. Kevin Russell formed the band in 1994 with fellow songwriter Jimmy Smith, and Claude Bernard on accordion, guitar and keyboards -- Keith Langford later joined the band on drums. It was the viral sensation of their cover of "Gin and Juice" that garnered them national attention, and has become their band's version of "Freebird" as the most requested song. Longtime fans of the band know that the magic of The Gourds truly comes from the communal live experience, whether witnessed at a jam-packed Thursday night show at Shady Grove or the memorable SXSW 2005 free show at Auditorium Shores with a sea of over 20,000 people.

Director and editor Doug Hawes-Davis captures the beloved band in his documentary, All The Labor, which premiered last night at SXSW 2013. Founder of the annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana, Hawe-Davis is no stranger to documentary filmmaking, having collaborated with editor Drury Gunn Carr on more than 30 documentaries.

They began filming The Gourds in August 2011. in an unconventional practice space -- an abandoned kitchen in a former mental institution in south Austin. The filmmaking team followed the alt-country roots rockers as they toured relentlessly in support of Old Mad Joy, their most recent album produced by longtime Bob Dylan sideman Larry Campbell. Interspersed is commentary with each of the members and behind-the-scenes footage in their favorite local spots and homes.

SXSW Dispatch: 'An Unreal Dream' at Alamo Village

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Eric, Chris and Michael Morton circa 1985I took it somewhat easy on Wednesday and just went to one film: the 6:30 pm showing of An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story at Alamo Drafthouse Village. As I drove up at 5:40, the line for tickets was already out the door. There's definitely local interest in Morton's situation, as well as the resulting documentary.

Once I got in and was snacking on my chips and queso, I spotted Morton himself walking around and being introduced to folks in the audience. Producer Marcy Garriott spoke before the film and mentioned special guests in attendance for the Q&A afterwards; I surmised Morton was likely one of them.

The film itself largely consists of interviews recorded at the Williamson County Courthouse. Morton sits in a wooden chair below the judge's dais in an empty courtroom and talks about his relationships with his wife Chris and his son Eric, and his wrongful conviction for Chris's 1986 murder.  Vintage 1980s news clips are thrown in (oh hi, young Judy Maggio!) and Morton is shown leaving the courthouse after his conviction, defiantly saying, "I did not do this," to the reporters and cameras.

In An Unreal Dream, director Al Reinert includes interviews with Morton's trial lawyer, jurors from his trial, fellow inmates (from his 25-year period of incarceration in Texas prisons), and folks from the Innocence Project.  Throughout the film, Morton's voice is the strongest (which is fitting, given it's his story).

I expected the film to be something like an episode of PBS's Frontline, but it is less journalistic and more emotional. The story as told in the film never really sucked me in, despite how fascinating it really is. Still, I heard much sniffing from others in the audience. 

SXSW Review: The Other Shore

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Diana Nyad in The Other Shore

Please welcome guest contributor Brady Dial, an Austin-based film producer whose last film was the documentary Man on a Mission.

After seeing The Other Shore you'll either be inspired to pursue your most impossible dreams -- or to drop them in favor of fully appreciating your present. Either way, a win. There are many surprises in this documentary about Diana Nyad's attempt to swim the gulf between Cuba and Florida, not the least of which is this: it's not about swimming.

To be sure, the film includes plenty of training scenes, discussions of the perils of the trip and a history of Nyad's swimming career. But that's all merely icing on the dense layer cake that is Nyad herself. Her relentless pursuit of the Cuba-Florida swim is at once an inspiring story of dogged determination while also revealing the tragic costs of single-minded obsession.

At 60, after a 30-year hiatus from long-distance swimming, Nyad decides that she just can't let go of this one last goal. She starts training again for the grueling 103-mile swim from Cuba to Florida, fraught with perils including sharks, strong currents and the incredibly venomous box jellyfish. The scenes involving the latter are some the most harrowing moments of the film and a testament to Nyad's indomitable will.

SXSW Review: Drinking Buddies

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Joe Swanberg SXSW 2013

When it comes to SXSW you would be challenged to find a director/actor more prolific than Joe Swanberg, who's been bringing features to the fest since 2005. Swanberg returns to SXSW 2013 with his new film Drinking Buddies, and this time he means business. Drinking Buddies is a charming movie that tells a story of love and conflict, set against the backdrop of craft brewing.

This film tells the story of two different couples. Kate (Olivia Wilde) is a marketing manager for a craft brewer and Chris (Ron Livingston) is a successful music producer. Jill (Anna Kendrick) is an artsy type and Luke (Jake Johnson) is a brewmaster at the same craft brewery where Kate works. After hitting it off at a company party, the two couples decide to spend a weekend together at Chris’s beach house. This is where the conflict begins. 

Each couple's relationship possesses a certain amount of insecurity, and these insecurities come to the forefront during this fateful weekend. The remainder of Drinking Buddies is spent dealing with the aftermath of conflicting feelings and emotions. 

Movies This Week: March 15-21, 2013

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The Big Sleep

Oh, man. I'm so tired from SXSW that after Saturday, I won't want to watch a movie again for ... at least a day. Maybe three. However, if you're not feeling quite so burned out, there are lots of choices for moviegoing this week. In fact, if you're not sick of SXSW, there's still a full day of filmgoing on Saturday, and it would probably be quite easy to get a ticket for movies at the larger venues. Check out our reviews of movies screening tomorrow: The Retrieval, Rewind This! and The Bounceback. And although we don't have reviews for these films published yet, I'd recommend Continental, Debbie says All the Labor is great for Gourds fans, and Rod liked Drinking Buddies.

If you miss Rewind This! at SXSW, the "love letter to VHS" will have an encore screening on Sunday night at 10 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Ritz is also showing Repo Man that night (and Monday), so you can really wallow in the 80s if you want.

On Monday, hopefully you will have recuperated enough to go back to the Ritz for some Sam Peckinpah, namely Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. If not, you can see it on Tuesday at Ritz or Slaughter, and on Thursday at Slaughter. Austin Film Society continues its Essential Cinema series on films from the Middle East on Tuesday night at 7 at Alamo Village with The Long Journey. Actor Alon Pdut will be in attendance.

SXSW Review: The Retrieval

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The Retrieval

I've been a fan of Austin filmmaker Chris Eska's work since 2007, when his beautifully shot and quietly affecting feature August Evening became one of my favorite Texas films. So I had high hopes for his new feature, the historical drama The Retrieval -- and I'm happy to report that it lived up to my expectations in every way. In a word, The Retrieval is outstanding.

The Retrieval is thematically complex, but the story is deceptively simple. Set during the Civil War, the film follows 13-year-old Will (Ashton Sanders), a fatherless boy who has taken up with a bounty hunter gang. Gang leader Burrell (Bill Oberst Jr.) sends Will on a risky mission to retrieve Nate (Tishuan Scott), a wanted man with a lucrative bounty on his head. To ensure Will's return with Nate, Burrell threatens the boy with death if he doesn't bring back his quarry.

Will and his fellow gang member Marcus (Keston John) find Nate digging graves in a Union graveyard and convince their unwitting prey to follow them back to Burrell's gang, under the ruse that they're leading him to see his dying brother. Along the way, the initially aloof Nate and Will begin to bond, developing an unexpected surrogate father-son relationship.

SXSW 2013 Dispatch: 'Downloaded' Biases

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Downloaded posterMy third day of the fest was my busiest for film watching, with three titles. I'm finding this year that transportation considerations are taking more time than ever. Parking downtown is a complaint on everyone's lips as the Convention Center garages fill up in the early morning, and many surface lots that would normally serve overflow have been covered in tents for different events. Since this is my first year taking SXSW Film red carpet photos, I've learned it's a big drain on time as check-in can be 90 minutes to two hours before showtime.

So, my Sunday included a red carpet for the Turk Pipkin Christmas movie When Angels Sing (my review) and ended with the ass-demon horror comedy Milo (my review). Sandwiched in between, I caught Alex Winters' Napster documentary Downloaded.

I have little more to say about Downloaded than I tweeted right after seeing the film. I found the film repetitive, plodding and 90 percent biased toward Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning. When I was a college student working in IT, I followed closely the rise and fall of Napster and read firsthand many of the articles and news pieces Winters included in his doc. A very lively community of readers on Slashdot at the time kept itself educated on all the Napster-related events including the trials, the RIAA posturing, etc. 

There was no question at any point that Fanning and Parker knew they were facilitating music piracy. No tears were shed for Napster as newer, in many cases, better services rose up to take its place.  It does not matter whose side you took, if you even took a side in the debate. On one hand was a company that by today's accepted standards was making it possible for people to steal from the record industry. On the other side was an industry group that was ruining lives, circumventing the legal system, extorting innocent people.

Downloaded paints a picture of the two Napster founders as revolutionary war heroes that changed society with only the best of intentions.  It smoothly glosses over Parker's post-Napster shenanigans at Facebook (go watch The Social Network for an idea about what he was up to) and presents both figures as continuing the fight to bring music sharing legally to the masses.

Review: West of Memphis

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West of Memphis

The history of American criminal justice abounds with cases of justice denied, delayed and miscarried, but there are few cases more egregious than that of the West Memphis Three.

The three men were convicted as teenagers in 1994 of murdering three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Damien Echols was sentenced to death, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. to life imprisonment plus two 20-year sentences and Jason Baldwin to life imprisonment. Amid the hysteria over Satanism in the 1980s and early 1990s, the prosecution easily convinced jurors that the three rebellious teens killed the boys as part of a satanic ritual.

After the sentences were handed down, questions about the case arose almost immediately. Criminologists and forensic experts criticized how the police handled the crime scene and the evidence, and charged that the prosecution based its case on unfounded accusations rather than any evidence linking Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin to the crime. But despite widespread suspicion that the three were innocent, their convictions were upheld on appeal.

The horrendous crime and the three men's seemingly futile 18-year struggle to prove their innocence are the subjects of West of Memphis, a gory and chilling documentary about an unbelievable failure of justice. The film isn't for the squeamish, but it's an eye-opener for anyone not familiar with the famous case and a stark refresher course for viewers who are.

SXSW Review: Good Night

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Good Night Still PhotoAfter several years in the making, Sean Gallagher's Austin-shot film Good Night debuted at SXSW -- find out more about the journey from Gallagher in Elizabeth's interview. The good news is that since this narrative provides glimpses of the past, the filmmaker was able to capture the main characters over a time span that could mirror the fictional narrative.

Good Night revolves around a young twentysomething couple, Leigh (Adriene Mishler) and Winston (Jonny Mars) Rockwall, as they gather with their closest friends to celebrate Leigh's twenty-ninth birthday. The guests enjoy casual conversation as well as controversial and current topics as they enjoy their dinner, until Leigh drops a bomb having a profound effect on them all.  The guests, including Leigh's best friend Alice (Samantha Thomson), all react differently as they process the news. Through voice-overs and flashbacks we learn how each person became connected to Leigh.

Mishler is sweetly exquisite as Leigh, and Mars embraces the complexity of a husband who is frustrated by his inability to solve their problems. Good Night is also strengthened by its talented supporting cast, which includes Chris Doubek, Alex Karpovsky, University of Texas alum Todd Berger (It's a Disaster),  Parisi Fakhri and Jason Newman (The Man From Orlando).

SXSW Review: When Angels Sing

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 When Angels Sing

There are a few classic holiday films we like to pull out each year in addition to the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, such as A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life and the more modern A Christmas Story. A common thread between these films that has helped make them annual favorites is that they don't focus on the religious or ritual aspects of the holiday, but instead on it as a time for homecomings and shared memories with family and loved ones, friends and neighbors. Soon to join those ranks is When Angels Sing, the adaptation of a Turk Pipkin story by director Tim McCanlies and writer Lou Berney.

Easily the best Christmas movie since 1983's A Christmas Story, When Angels Sing was shot in Austin and features a Who's Who of talent with Texas ties. Stars Harry Connick Jr. and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) are joined by Houston-born Chandler Canterbury, Fionnula Flanagan, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Sara Hickman, Eloise DeJoria, Turk Pipkin and Willie Nelson.

Connick stars as Michael Walker, a college professor and father who refuses to celebrate Christmas due to a tragic accident. When faced with his son giving up on Christmas himself because of another tragedy, Michael is forced to reexamine his own guilty feelings that have made him such a Scrooge.

SXSW Review: The Bounceback

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The Bounceback

The Bounceback could have been just another clichéd romantic comedy about angst-filled twentysomethings looking for love. (Okay, let's be honest: they're looking for sex.) But thanks to Austin filmmaker Bryan Poyser's considerable talents -- he graced us with Dear Pillow and Lovers of Hate -- the film is a wryly observant take on relationships and popular culture and a cut above most movies in its genre.

Shot in Austin and awash in River City landmarks and youthful culture, The Bounceback centers on New York City medical student Cathy (Ashley Bell) and her ex-boyfriend Stan (Michael Stahl-David), a wannabe actor currently delivering pizzas in Los Angeles. Both are former Austinites, and when lonely Stan learns that Cathy will visit her friend Kara (Sara Paxton) in Austin for a weekend, he hastily books a flight to Austin also, hoping to cross paths with his ex while partying with his friend (and Kara's former boyfriend) Jeff (Zach Cregger).

If all this sounds like a setup for lots of cutesy romantic semi-hilarity, rest assured that it isn't. Stan's plan for a not-quite-coincidental reunion with Cathy falls apart before he even arrives in Austin; he's so busted when Kara and Jeff see each other at the airport while waiting for Cathy and Stan. Things spiral downward from there; Stan discovers that Jeff has taken up Air Sex (think air guitar, but without guitars and with sex) and seems content to spend his time with an infantile crew of beer-swilling horndog roommates. Serious student Cathy finds that Kara is no more mature than Jeff; her major goal for the weekend is to help Cathy get laid.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Owen Egerton's 'Follow'

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Renaissance man Owen Egerton is on fire.

... metaphorically speaking, of course. But the redhead's career has been making sparks in national literary, film and comedy circles recently.

Next month, the Texas State University MFA alum will lead readers through a bizarre apocolypse, filled with Jesus clones, a prophetic hermit crab and a slacker couple who are haunted by ghosts as they wait out their final days on Earth in his latest novel, Everyone Says That at the End of the World.

The Austin-based master multi-tasker also debuted his short film Follow, about one man's dangerous challenge to open a gift by his wife (starring local actor Jonny Mars), this week in the SXSW Film Midnight Shorts collection. Egerton based the film on a short story from his 2007 collection How Best to Avoid Dying.

Egerton and producer Seth Caplan are currently raising production funds for a feature-length version of Follow. I chatted with Egerton recently about writing and his current projects.

SXSW Review: Milo

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Milo

"Is this the line for that party?"
"No, this is for Milo.  It's about an ass-demon."
"The demon's an asshole?"
"No, the demon literally comes out of and goes into a guy's ass!"

-- Actual conversation overheard waiting in line for the premiere of Milo

I didn't have high expectations for a film with this premise by director Jacob Vaughan (The Cassidy Kids), starring Ken Marino, perhaps the only guy in Hollywood who would take a role as the host of a parasitic ass-demon. Nevertheless, after a bit of a rough and shaky start (a little too much setup for my tastes, and a lot too much of Marino on the toilet grunting and moaning in pain), the movie Milo proved to be a funny crowd-pleaser that brings to mind mid-80s video-store schlock like Ghoulies.

SXSW Review: Loves Her Gun

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Loves Her Gun

Yeah, she loves her gun all right.

Well, not really the gun itself. What the protagonist of Loves Her Gun really loves is the feeling of security and power a gun gives her. She sleeps better at night knowing it's there in case she needs it. She's no gun nut -- she's just wants to stop being afraid. Can't blame her for that, right?

Austin filmmaker Geoff Marslett has delivered a stunning new film with Loves Her Gun, a stylish and captivating mix of two genres: twentysomething angst-fueled indie drama and horrifically timely message film. Plenty of movies have shown us aimless young adults indulging in Austin's slacker milieu, but none do so as tragically as Loves Her Gun. The movie deservedly won the SXSW Louis Black Spirit of Texas Award earlier this week.

The woman who loves her gun is Allie (Trieste Kelly Dunn), a young Brooklynite with no job and no desire to keep dating her annoying boyfriend. After a brutal assault, she ditches her life in New York and hitches a ride to Austin in an RV with her friend Xoe (Ashley Spillers) and Xoe's fellow members of a karate-themed rock band.

SXSW Review: I Am Divine

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I Am Divine

Harris Glenn Milstead, professionally known to the world as Divine, was perhaps middle America's first mainstream exposure to a drag queen. I Am Divine is a definitive documentary of Divine's life from his youth growing up in Baltimore to his death in 1988. With this movie, director Jeffrey Schwarz continues his sterling track record of in-depth, fascinating profile films such as Vito and Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story.

Interviews with John Waters, Jayne Mansfield, Tab Hunter, Mink Stole, Bruce Vilanch, Holly Woodlawn, Rikki Lake and finally, Divine himself, paint a fabulous picture of the man inside the dress shedding light on what was, to me, up until now a mysterious personality.

Before watching Schwarz's documentary, I could tell you little more about Divine other than that he was a 300-lb drag queen who once ate a dog turd on camera in John Waters' Pink Flamingos. Now, Divine is a personal hero as inspiring for his personality and drive as his untimely death at the height of his stardom was tragic.

I can think of little better praise for I Am Divine than the fact it elevates Divine to the status of a true hero, who endured pain and mistreatment but found success through talent, hard work and perseverance. Schwarz's documentary takes on a life of its own, and the viewer is drawn into the life and experiences recalled by his subjects as they share intimate details of Divine's life.

I Am Divine screens once more at SXSW on Thursday, March 14 at 11:15 am at Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter.

SXSW Review: Prince Avalanche

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Emile Hirsch and Paul Rudd in Prince Avalanche

Seeing Bastrop State Park after the 2011 wildfires inspired director David Gordon Green to make a movie there, and he already had a title given to him in a dream: Prince Avalanche.  A friend recommended he see an Icelandic film called Either Way, and the concept for this film was found. Prince Avalanche was shot, under the radar, in 16 days at the devastated park.

Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch star as mismatched road workers in Central Texas in 1988, cleaning up after fire has beseiged the area. Rudd's Alvin is uptight and in a long-distance relationship with the sister of Lance (Hirsch). Lance is slightly feckless; Alvin has brought him to this job to help him grow, but they aren't really getting along. They share a tent and are limited to the company of one another, except for the few times they are visited by a friendly older truck driver (Lance LeGault in his final film role).

Their solitude is punctuated by a score from David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky and the hauntingly beautiful broken landscape surrounding them. Lance and Alvin complete repetitive tasks as we learn more about them: painting lines on the road, installing posts on the side of the road, and such.

SXSW Review: Before You Know It

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Before You Know It

You never think about getting older when you're younger. But before you know it creeps up on you, and you're there already.
-- Robert Mainor, Before You Know It

Old age can be hard enough for anyone lucky enough to reach that stage of life; imagine how much more difficult it can be for gay people in a society that hasn't fully accepted them.

The lives of senior citizens in the LGBTQ community are the subject of Before You Know It, a deeply moving documentary that presents the often unhappy and seldom-discussed realities of being elderly and gay. Austin filmmaker PJ Raval's ambitious film introduces us to three elderly gay men who lead disparate lives, and their stories tell us much about a largely ignored segment of our society.

The men are all gay, but have little else in common. Dennis Creamer is a widower who did not come out until his seventies, after his wife died. He divides his time between a Florida trailer park and Rainbow Vista, an LGBTQ senior living facility in Portland. Often lonely and looking for a new partner, Creamer sometimes wears women's clothing and goes by the name Dee, which he does openly at Rainbow Vista and on gay cruises and vacations.

SXSW Dispatch: John Sayles and 'Go For Sisters'

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Go for Sisters red carpet at SXSW

One of the SXSW screenings I eagerly awaited was the new film from indie director John Sayles. Go for Sisters depicts two childhood friends who meet up again as adults: parole officer Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton, The Practice) and parolee/recovering addict Fontayne (Yolonda Ross, Treme). Bernice requests Fontayne's help in finding her ex-marine son Rodney, and former police detective Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos) soon joins their search.

Watching the movie, a few elements reminded me of Sayles' earlier feature Passion Fish (one of my favorite films); both films share the themes of redemption and relationships between women. But Go for Sisters is an original, artfully blending humor and drama as these three journey to Mexico from California. The performances here are what you expect from a Sayles film: powerful and understated. Especially impressive is Ross as Fontayne, who keeps denigrating herself as an unworthy person -- since she served time and was addicted to drugs -- while we see during the film that she is anything but.

SXSW Review: Getting Back to Abnormal

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Getting Back to Abnormal

In New Orleans, we have some of the blackest white people and some of the whitest black people you're ever going to meet.
-- Ninth Ward resident Henry Irvin, Getting Back to Abnormal

Whether narrative or documentary, films about New Orleans often present the city as a collection of Big Easy clichés, as if life in the city revolves around po-boys, Bourbon Street, second-line parades and political corruption.* Fortunately, the superb documentary Getting Back to Abnormal looks beyond the clichés and far deeper into New Orleans culture. Focusing on a New Orleans City Council race but encompassing a much broader look at politics, race and culture in the city, the movie is a fascinating study of how New Orleans has changed after Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing floods.

The film's central story is the heated 2010 city council race between Councilmember Stacy Head, a self-proclaimed corruption fighter known for her abrasive, politically incorrect style, and Corey Watson, a minister and civic leader. Head is the first white official to represent the majority black District B in more than 30 years. Watson is black, and his challenge to Head raises the issue of how racial politics will factor into the race, given that New Orleans' black population decreased drastically after Katrina.

SXSW Review: Rewind This!

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Rewind This! poster

This year's SXSW Film Festival includes many movies with Austin connections, but perhaps none that can be considered so completely Austintacious as director Josh Johnson's labor of love, Rewind This!  After three years of work alongside Christopher Palmer and Carolee Mitchell, the documentary about VHS premiered to a packed house at the Paramount on Monday.

Rewind This! is one of the most entertaining documentaries I've seen, detailing the birth and rise of home video recording technology in both VHS and Betamax formats and their impact on the filmmaking industry. Johnson, Palmer and Mitchell shot thousands of hours of footage with interview subjects like Lloyd Kaufman, Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), Charles Band, Jason Eisener (Hobo With a Shotgun) and Cassandra Peterson (Elvira), and cut the material down to a feature-length exploration that blends these among with many others into a single cohesive narrative voice.

In addition to the big names, local personalities like Alamo programmers Zack Carlson, Lars Nilsen and Brian Kelley, and film critics like Drew McWeeny of Hitfix and Twitch Film's Todd Brown provide their insights and anecdotes. From flea-market shopping to rummaging through video-store back rooms to expansive home collections, Rewind This! explores titles that are unavailable on any other format, titles that were produced only on VHS, and titles that are noteworthy only for their actual titles or box art.

It's a fascinating rabbit hole to jump into, accompanied by a driving score from Josh Freda that brings to mind many titles from the 1980s glory days of VHS. There is no way you could walk out of this film without wanting in some corner of your mind to go digging through a box or library somewhere to try and find one of the many crazy movies mentioned in Rewind This!  

Austin connections: As aforementioned, a number of Austin film personalities are featured in the documentary, plus local stores Vulcan Video and I Luv Video, and shots of Alamo Drafthouse. Johnson lives in Austin, and Palmer and Mitchell are former Austinites.

Rewind This! screens again on Wednesday, March 13 at 9 pm at Violet Crown 1&2, and on Saturday, March 16 at 1:30 pm at Topfer Theater at ZACH.

SXSW Dispatch: 'I Am Divine' at Thai Passion

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I am Divine posterSaturday night, my friend April and I tried Thai Passion downtown for dinner (I had it in mind after Bryan Poyser's interview) after catching the screening of Prince Avalanche that afternoon at the Paramount.

It wasn't that busy when we arrived, but a large group came in a little while later and sat near us. We tried figuring out which movie they were related to, and April pointed out that one guy at the table was wearing a John Waters shirt. We assumed they were celebrating before the premiere of I Am Divine later that night. 

As we were leaving, I asked the group at the table which movie they were with, and indeed, our assumption was correct. When director Jeffrey Schwarz saw my name, he mentioned Dark Shadows (very few people bring that TV show up when they meet me). The folks at the table encouraged us to attend the premiere that night, but it played against Before Midnight, which we were definitely going to attend.*

But we (and you) still have two more chances to see the documentary at SXSW. I Am Divine screens Wednesday, March 13, 9:30 pm at Stateside and Thursday, March 14, 11:15 am at Alamo Slaughter (screening info).

*And speaking of Before Midnight, we also spotted the composer of that film's score, Graham Reynolds, eating at the Thai restaurant.

The I Am Divine trailer is embedded below.

SXSW Review: These Birds Walk

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Omar in These Birds Walk

Abdul Sattar Edhi, the Pakistani philanthropist, inspired filmmakers Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq to go to Pakistan to learn more about the man and his Edhi Foundation. When they got to the country, Edhi, who had originally welcomed them and promised full access, challenged Mullick and Tariq to instead look at the lives of people who work in or are supported by his organization. The Edhi Foundation has multiple programs, but among the many ways it serves is by providing ambulances in Pakistan.  There are also sorts of fostering-type facilities run by the nonprofit to house runaway boys. 

Thus, the two people the directors chose to follow in These Birds Walk are twentysomething ambulance driver Asad and young runaway Omar. Edhi shows up a few times, but is separate from the two stories we are told about Asad and Omar. This is striking, after Edhi pointedly remarks, "If you want to find me, you will find me among the people." Omar is housed with other boys in an EDHI facility in one of the most unstable areas of Karachi. Adult supervision seems lacking, as boys bout with each other. A kid even leads the other boys during prayer services.

Mondo 'Game of Thrones' Gallery Brings King’s Landing To Austin

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Mother of Dragons by Jason Edmiston

Local poster czar Mondo kicked off SXSW in its own style, premiering a new show of original Game of Thrones-themed art at the gallery on Friday. The opening included a special blonde ale created by New York brewery Ommegang that was inspired by the hit television show. The "Iron Throne" beer, as it was called, luckily had a light, non-metal taste, and was a perfect subtle pairing for the art itself, which ranged in styles and subjects.

In the end, the art didn’t need the metaphoric "beer goggles" to ratchet up anticipation for the coming season of the HBO show.  I know I walked away dying to visit Daenerys and her dragons again after seeing Jason Edmiston's sumptuous "Mother of Dragons" painting, pictured above. (Keep reading for more photos.)

SXSW Review: euphonia

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euphonia

We live in a noisy world, but how often do we really listen to the noise?

The unnamed teenage protagonist of euphonia listens often, to the point of distraction and obsession. Writer/director Danny Madden's film follows the teen as he tires of the dull noise of suburbia around him and, armed with a handheld sound recorder, searches for better sounds.

The teen (played by Madden's younger brother, Will) records sounds as he ventures around his suburban neighborhood and the downtown area of an unnamed city. He records an all manner of sounds, such as the noises made by hitting objects with sticks, rustling leaves, students reading poetry in class, gurgling fountains, traffic, children playing and street musicians. When he begins dating a girl in his English class (also unnamed and played by Maria Decotis), she hesistantly lets him record many of their conversations also.

The teen uses his recorder as a means to connect with the world around him and, eventually, to separate himself from it. As he builds a library of sounds, he finds himself more connected to the sounds than their sources, drifting away from reality and distancing himself from the monotony of his life.

SXSW Review: Imagine

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Imagine

The aptly titled movie Imagine is about blind people imagining what they cannot see, but it also encourages sighted people to imagine what life is like for the blind.

Set and filmed in Lisbon, Portugal, Polish filmmaker Andrzej Jakimowski's lyrical feature film tells the story of Ian (Edward Hogg), a British spatial orientation instructor who works with blind and visually impaired patients living at a renowned Lisbon clinic. The patients are an international group of children and young adults; Ian's job is to teach them mobility skills and help them gain the confidence to explore their surroundings.

Blind himself, Ian navigates using echolocation, which relies on acoustic echoes to define the positions and sizes of objects. Similar to the way bats and dolphins use ultrasonic sound to navigate, Ian locates obstacles in his path by listening for echoes while clicking his tongue, snapping his fingers and walking in special shoes that create loud footsteps.

SXSW Review: Hey Bartender

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Hey Bartender Production Still"The culture of drink endures because it offers so many rewards ... above all the elusive promise of friendship and love" -- Pete Hamill, A Drinking Life: A Memoir

The documentary Hey Bartender opens with this fitting introduction into the world of cocktails. The story introduces us to several characters in this lively and engaging film from director Douglas Tirola (All In: The Poker Movie). We are introduced first to Dunville's owner Steve Carpentieri, who is struggling to keep his small business alive in Westport, Connecticut. Cheap beer flows at this hole-in-the-wall where everyone does know your name, but fancy cocktails don't cross the bar here. Carpentieri ponders whether to throw in the towel after almost 20 years in the business.

On the other end of the spectrum is Steve Schneider, a young man trying to advance in the ranks at Employees Only (EO), one of the most prestigious bars in New York City. It can take years to succeed as an EO principal bartender -- starting as a stocker and then serving two years as an apprentice before consideration as a principal. Schneider is proud of his hard-earned apprentice jacket, perhaps a little too much after receiving well deserved press in the print media.

SXSW Dispatch: 'Unhung Hero' on Opening Night

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"Prophecy" Thomas BagshawMy first day of SXSW 2013 began Friday afternoon with a preview of the Mondo Gallery exhibition of original Game of Thrones artwork (pictured at right) sponsored by HBO, which also included samples of the new Brewery Ommegang's new "Game of Thrones" beer. Look for Katy Daiger Dial's coverage of the exhibit, with more photos, later in the week on Slackerwood.

Although I had planned to catch opening-night movie The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, I decided at the last minute to skip it in favor of a documentary at the Topfer Theatre that I wouldn't have another chance to see, Unhung Hero.

Directed by Brian Spitz, it follows actor Patrick Moote through his rejected Jumbotron marriage proposal that garnered 10 million YouTube hits in four days ... and the subsequent journey he undertakes after being told by his ex-girlfriend that her rejection was due to his extremely small penis.

In spite of his shortcomings, Moote is endowed with charm, charisma, incredibly good looks and an enormous acting talent. All are on public display as he explores sexual culture and penis enlargement techniques in the farthest corners of the world. In spite of his little problem, Moote is self-deprecating but not self-pitying. His honesty and candor about the subject are a rare treat. Unhung Hero is fascinating, informative and hilarious.

The doc screens again at SXSW on Tuesday at 9:30 pm at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center, and on Friday at 4:15 pm at Rollins.

SXSW 2013 Dispatch: A Packed House at 'Upstream Color'

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Amy Seimetz and Shane Carruth in Upstream Color

My first film of SXSW 2013 was a 6:30 showing Friday night of Shane Carruth's movie Upstream Color at Stateside. It looked like only people with badges got in and the screening was packed. As the film was introduced, we were told Carruth's plane was delayed so he couldn't be there. Then the film got underway.

Shot at least partially in Dallas (I surmise from the DART trains that appear), this drama shows how Kris (Amy Seimetz) is taken in/abducted by a brainwashing con man and a year later falls for a man (Carruth) who may also have been a victim.  Also involved in the film are pigs, worms and some guy who likes making music by recording noises from found objects in nature.

SXSW Review: Much Ado About Nothing

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Much Ado About Nothing

At a recent after-work happy hour, I mentioned that Joss Whedon's new movie is Much Ado About Nothing. My mostly twentysomething co-workers' reactions were entirely predictable: Joss Whedon? Shakespeare? A Joss Whedon Shakespeare movie? OMG OMG OMG! A Joss Whedon Shakespeare movie!

As one co-worker said, "You had me at Joss Whedon."

Yeah, people, I get it. I totally understand your enthusiasm. One of Hollywood's hottest talents has taken a detour from his usual fantasy fare and delivered something unexpected: a new twist on one of William Shakespeare's most popular plays. OMG!

To be clear, I'm not mocking Whedon or his fans. But I must explain that while I've seen a fair number of Shakespeare's plays and certainly appreciate his talents, I've seen only one of Whedon's films -- The Cabin in the Woods, which I enjoyed very much -- and none of his TV shows, not a single episode. Yes, I'm that unhip. I don't know enough to pass judgment on or muster much enthusiasm for his work. But I do know a lot of very smart, sophisticated and discerning people who madly adore Whedon, so he must be doing a lot of things right.

Is Whedon's vision of Much Ado About Nothing any good? Yes. It's unusual, clever, creative and expertly rendered. My Whedon-worshipping friends won't be disappointed and will recognize many actors from other Whedon endeavors, which I'm sure will add to the fun. It's also a creative risk, and I credit Whedon for taking it.

Austin at SXSW 2013: Sam Eidson, 'Zero Charisma' (and More)

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Sam Eidson

Sam Eidson is a comedic savant who moved to Austin after attending Savannah College of Art & Design. In addition to a hilarious appearance in Emily Hagins' 2011 feature film My Sucky Teen Romance, Eidson has appeared in a number of locally produced shorts, as well as stage productions presented by his collaborative company The Old Murder House Theatre. (Read J.C.'s interview for last year's Murder House production, Jurassic Live!)

Eidson's first lead film role is in the Austin-shot movie Zero Charisma, which is premiering at SXSW on Monday at 7:15 pm at the Rollins Theatre at the Long Center. But you might also see him onscreen during SXSW in Grow Up, Tony Phillips and the short Hell No. I conducted the following interview with him via email over the course of a few days.

Slackerwood: What can you tell us about your role in Zero Charisma?

Sam Eidson: I play a D&D Dungeon Master (we call them Game Masters in the movie for legalities) who finds his whole life turned around when a hipster comes in and takes over his game. He's a firecracker who's not afraid to get in your face.

SXSW 2013 Preview: Selected Shorts

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Hell No still

Don't forget the shorts programs at SXSW this year. There are a number of great shorts at the fest. Some are from filmmakers you haven't heard of yet -- some feature well-known faces. We were able to get our hands on a few of the shorts before the fest, and here's a rundown on them.

If you're headed to SXSW, remember that in addition to the many world-premiere features there are also really great shorts programs where you can view short films from filmmakers and stars that you may never have another chance to see. Here is a run-down of the ones we were able to screen before the festival.

#PostModem (Shorts Program 1)
According to the filmmakers: "#PostModem is a comedic, satirical sci-fi musical based on the theories of Ray Kurzweil and other futurists. It's the story of two Miami girls and how they deal with the technological singularity, as told through a series of cinematic tweets."

Movies This Week: March 8-14, 2013

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Spirited Away

While the SXSW Film Festival isn't the only thing happening in town this week, it's almost the only thing happening.

Heading to the festival? You know the drill: Avoid driving and parking downtown if you can (MetroRail has become a popular alternative), get in line much earlier than you think you need to, and consult Slackerwood's über-handy SXSW Film Fest Omnibus Survival Guide for everything you need to know about navigating the madness of Austin's largest film festival. Godspeed, indie film fans -- and I hope you catch a glimpse of Matthew McConaughey or your favorite film celebrity or at least one of Austin's bicycle thong guys.

The SXSW Community Screenings offer free films that anyone can see, first-come, first-served, at the Boyd Vance theater in the Carver Museum. The AFS Shortcase, which our contributor Debbie Cerda helps program, is one of the highlights. The Carver Museum is not quite downtown, and thus has plenty of parking.

Also, UT's Women in Cinema will host an unofficial SXSW panel, "SXSW Women in Cinema," on Wednesday at 7:30 pm at the University of Texas: Communications Building B (CMB), Studio 4D. The panel is free and open to the public. The filmmaker panelists are Jillian Schlesinger (Maidentrip), Lauren Wolkstein (Social Butterfly), Julia Pott (The Event), Lola Bessis (Swim Little Fish Swim), Frances Bodomo (Boneshaker) and Celia Rowlson-Hall (The Audition, Si Nos Dejan).

Austin at SXSW 2013: Trieste Kelly Dunn 'Loves Her Gun'

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Trieste Kelly Dunn in Loves Her Gun 

The latest film from Austin director Geoff Marslett, Loves Her Gun, has its world premiere at SXSW, screening tomorrow (Saturday) at 10:30 pm at Violet Crown (screening info). Actress Trieste Kelly Dunn stars as Allie, a troubled woman who heads to Austin after surviving an attack in NYC. 

Dunn herself is a native of Utah, attended North Carolina School for the Arts and is now a resident of Brooklyn.  Before the rush of the film festival starts, she talked with us via email about getting to play a female character who isn't reasonable, going tubing in Texas, and more.

Slackerwood: What was your casting experience like for Loves Her Gun? How did you hear about the film?

Trieste Kelly Dunn: Geoff sent me a Facebook message about it. It sounded really exciting. Then he sent me an outline and I got even more excited. Then he said he wanted to improvise the dialogue and I got terrified.

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: Week One

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The XXXX Saga, Week One

Austin 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.

We jumped into the production with both feet ... and arms and other appendages. It is a mockumentary about the adult film industry, after all! I was tickled at how well oiled the crew already is. While we have been together for a long time, there is normally some period of adjustment that is needed to get cracking.

We jumped in and Elena Weinberg was our first actress playing both Daisy and Serenity. I can't thank her enough for taking on both parts. It's a huge strain on her and a huge relief for me to have a talented and a true professional taking on that double duty. Vanessa Perry and Terissa Kelton made their returns to the Twitchy screen as Miss Prissy and Ginger Snap, respectively. Vanessa plays a struggling teacher trying to make ends meet while Terissa struggles with the dual roles of mom and adult film star.

Getting Acquainted With the 'Fourplay' Crew

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By Jessica Pugh

Because Fourplay is such a unique film and could potentially appeal to only a select audience, I wasn't sure if there would be a full house at the Alamo Village the night I planned to see it. I could not have been more wrong. We were at full capacity, and there was excitement in the air to see what former Austinite Kyle Henry's movie would present.

After talking to producer Jason Wehling before the Fourplay screening, I asked him what someone should expect from Fourplay. He casually stated, "You might be offended, you definitely will be challenged." The audience didn't seem to be as anxious about the film as I was. Several people ordered a few drinks, and were casually chatting.

When the film ended, cast and crew gathered at the front of the theater for a Q&A and discussion about the film. The movie is an anthology of four shorts each set in a different city. Overall, "Tampa" stood out as far as sexual explicitness. Viewers seemed impressed with Henry and writer Carlos Trevino's boldness to not hold back, and construct a homosexual orgy experience where literally anything goes! However, it was "San Francisco" that seemed to complete Henry's desire to make sex a meaningful central part of a character's existence. It was a heartfelt experience, and I think it was a fantastic ending to the Fourplay series.

SXSW 2013 Guide: Where Film Meets Interactive (and Music too)

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Cpmputer Chess Still PhotoJust when you think it can't get any bigger, SXSW offers even more amazing content beyond its cornerstones of Film, Interactive and Music conferences. Continuing from 2012, this year's festivities include a SXSW Comedy program March 9-16 spotlighting stand-up comics, and SXSWedu from March 4-7, featuring content for educational innovation. The Tech Career Expo also returns March 8-9 in a new location at 311 East 5th Street, one block from the Austin Convention Center (ACC), open to those seeking careers in the tech and interactive media sectors.

Choosing among so many options can be difficult since the Film and Interactive conferences take place at the same time, from Friday, March 8 through Tuesday, March 12. The film festival starts on Friday as well and runs through Saturday, March 16. This guide will hopefully help you balance both Film and Interactive successfully, whether you have a badge for either conference or the Gold or Platinum badges that provide you access to both.

SXSW 2013 Guides: One Film Guide to Include Them All

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SXSW 2012 at Stateside

Here it is: The SXSW Film Fest Omnibus Survival Guide. Slackerwood has been publishing SXSW insider's guides for years, but this year I decided it was everyone else's turn. This guide is essentially a collection of all the guides and tips I could find that would help SXSW filmgoers. I also threw in our own guides from this year and when still relevant, previous years. It is truly One Guide to Rule Them All.

And if this isn't enough guidance, bring your questions to the SXSW Film Conference panel  "A Beginner's Guide to SXSW Film" on Friday at 2 pm at ACC. Agnes Varnum, Yen Tan, David Modigliani, Kimberley Jones and I will attempt to answer them and if we can't, probably someone in the audience can.

Speaking of David Modigliani, let's kick things off with the "SXSW 2013: Do It Like a Local" video from Flow Nonfiction, where he's Creative Director. David's the guy on the left of local chef/restaurant owner Paul Qui. The advice is geared toward Music but there's a lot of universal tips in here (plus, it's fun).

AFS Film Club Screens Student Films at Winter Festival

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AFS Film Club Winter Festival

By Mariana Mora

School is all about learning, and sometimes it can get tiring and boring. In afterschool programs like ACE (Afterschool Centers on Education) though, it’s about having fun while learning new and exciting things. AFS Film Club is an ACE program where we at the Austin Film Society teach children from 17 different elementary, middle and high schools some basic skills in moviemaking, from script to screen.

The AFS Film Club Winter Festival 2013 took place in February at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. AFS screened dozens of student films made in ACE Film Club during the fall semester of 2012. Students from at least 10 of the 17 schools made it to this amazing event where we screened their movies.

SXSW 2013 Guides: Tips for Locals with Wristbands or Tickets

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SXSW 2012

The SXSW Film Pass, a longtime favorite for Austinites wanting to see fest movies, is no more. Instead, the second-tier theater access pass is now the SXSW Film Festival Wristband, mirroring the music fest's access. I don't have a picture of the wristband yet, so enjoy the above photo of the now-obsolete pass that Austin frequent-filmgoer David Roland Strong is holding. Great pass number, you'll notice.

If you don't have one and want one, get them now before they run out (which they do) at Waterloo Records, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter and Alamo Drafthouse Village. You are actually buying a wristband voucher, which you then have to redeem for a physical wristband at a SXSW venue when the festival starts.

I'm faced with the problem of what to call people who are wearing the wristband, since I can't say "passholder" anymore. "Bandwearer"? "Wristband holder"? I favor "wristbandito" myself. I'll try some variations as we go along, you tell me which one you like.

SXSW 2013 Guides: Drink Like an Austinite

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Craft Pride Tap Wall

Quite a bit has changed over the last year in the Austin drinking scene -- thankfully more changes for the good than the bad. Sadly, the downtown Lovejoy's Taproom and Brewery closed and the Austin Ginger Man has transitioned to a more corporate model, but plenty of new watering holes are around to satisfy patrons, especially in the growing Rainey Street bar district. One of those is Craft Pride, a craft beer bar serving only Texas beer with regularly rotating selection on 54 taps and two cask engines, as seen above. The bar is introducing the "Texas-sized pints," with most beers served in 20-ounce pint glasses to allow appropriate head for proper presentation -- a novel concept created by owners J.T. and Brandi Egli, who are also local homebrewers. Step out back into the ample beer garden for tasty grub from the Bacon Truck.

In addition to the newest Austin breweries Rogness Brewing Company and South Austin Brewing Company, on the more diverse tap walls across town you can find Texas craft beer Deep Ellum Brewing Company and Lakewood Brewing out of Dallas and Guadalupe Brewing Company from New Braunfels. From hoppy ales with citrus and floral characteristics to barrel-aged milk stouts, these breweries are delivering beers worth trying.

Several well respected breweries from other states have taken notice of the explosive growth in Texas and have moved into the Texas market. Firestone Walker Brewing Company and Lagunitas Brewing are the latest and greatest to offer their award-winning beers here. Be sure to try the Fusion Series beer made exclusively for SXSW 2013, a hoppy ale created by local homebrewers Keith Bradley of the Austin Zealots and Bob Kapusinski of the Texas Carboys that they brewed with Lagunitas head brewer Jeremy Marshall.

TIFN Roadshow: 'Now, Forager'

 

Austinites and University of Texas alums Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin will hit the road with the Texas Independent Film Network for a month-long, statewide promotional tour of their film Now, Forager. They're starting here in town with a screening on Tuesday night at Violet Crown Cinema. (Tickets are available via the Violet Crown website.)

The drama follows Lucian (Cortlund) and Regina (Tiffany Esteb), a married couple who by trade gather wild mushrooms in New Jersey's woodlands and sell them to New York restaurants. As the seasons change, so does their relationship, which is put to the test by the couple's individual hungers. Cortlund wrote Now, Forager, which previously played locally at Fusebox Festival 2012, and also is credited with crafting additional close-ups of fungi for the movie.

Much like filmmaking, foraging is a risky business, for both the supplier and the consumer: Lucian's narration details how eating certain mycological specimens can result in "vomiting, cramps, bloody diarrhea, liver and kidney failure, (even) death." The film's end credits contain a disclaimer that gathering mushrooms should only be done with expert assistance, like that of Cortlund or co-director/producer/editor Halperin, who are real-life foragers. 

Slackery News Tidbits: March 4, 2013

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

  • Factory 25 has acquired David and Nathan Zellner's awardwinning feature Kid-Thing (Don's review), according to The Hollywood Reporter. The movie, about a mischief-making 10-year-old girl in East Texas who stumbles on a mysterious abandoned well in the woods, will be released theatrically in New York on May 24, followed by a nationwide tour through the early summer. The Brooklyn-based distributor has scheduled a digital release via VOD and iTunes, among other outlets, on May 24 as well.
  • SXSW has been chosen as an Academy Award-qualifying festival in the Documentary Short Subject category. This means that recipients of the Documentary Short Film award at this year's SXSW Film Festival will qualify for consideration in the Academy Awards' Documentary Short Subject category without the standard theatrical run, provided the film complies with Academy rules.
  • Fans of the 1997 long-lost documentary Hands on a Hard Body will be able to get their hands on a copy of the remastered film when it's released on DVD and available for download April 1, IndieWire reports. S.R. Bindler's film -- unavailable on home video for many years -- documents an annual endurance competition in Longview, Texas, in which 24 participants attempt to keep their hands on a Nissan Hard Body pick-up truck as long as possible. The last person with their hand on the truck gets to drive away with it. We hear the film will screen in Austin this spring with some help from Austin Film Society.

AFS Announces SXSW 2013 ShortCase Winners

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Asternauts Still Photo

This year's SXSW Community Screening: Austin Film Society ShortCase will be held Sunday, March 10 at 4 pm in Boyd Vance Theater at the Carver Museum, and will feature short films by Central Texas filmmakers ranging from science fiction to history, comedy to documentary. The screening is open to the general public (and free), but seating is limited so I suggest arriving early.

This year over 65 entries were submitted by AFS filmmakers. AFS Program and Operations Manager Ryan Long, AFS Marketing and Events Coordinator Austin Culp and I worked together to select the seven best films to fill the 90-minute screening time. We saw a lot of creative content representing the talent of AFS filmmakers, and we hope the SXSW audience will enjoy these films as much as we do.

For filmmakers who didn't make the cut, we hope that you'll submit films for future ShortCase events and take advantage of the programs available to the AFS filmmaker members.

Without further ado, here are this year's SXSW ShortCase films:

Review: 21 and Over

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21 and Over

It probably shouldn't come as a surprise that the team that delivered the ultra sophomoric Project X would create another stinker in the new movie 21 and Over. It isn't quite the mess that Project X was, and not being a found-footage film, it's more structured and therefore at least slightly better than the mangled mishmash released last year. 21 and Over already had a lot going against it, and to see it cleverly deliver a few laughs was a pleasant surprise, but it still has the same level of immaturity and homophobia as its predecessor, plus an out-of-nowhere romantic ending it doesn't deserve.

This time around, instead of three high-school losers desperate for popularity, the three leads are in college. The character of Miller (Miles Teller, also in Project X) is a mashup of the three Project X losers mixed with a crappy impression of young Vince Vaughn. His friend Casey (Skylar Astin) is a level-headed senior who's got his eye on his future. Surely there's no way he can be lead astray, right? And finally, Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) is the birthday boy who's more concerned about a med-school interview set up by his oppressive and intimidating father. Jeff doesn't want to go out, but of course he gives in to peer pressure, and then -- as so often happens -- wackiness ensues.

Review: Jack the Giant Slayer

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Jack the Giant Slayer

Nicholas Hoult, still on screens with the lukewarm Warm Bodies, returns in this week's slightly warmer Jack the Giant Slayer, directed by Bryan Singer. Written by Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After), Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, which Singer also directed) and Dan Studney, the movie is an enjoyable but largely forgettable reimagining of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

I don't want to appear too negative, as I did enjoy most of the film's 114-minute run time, but nothing here was as impressive as what ABC has already given us in the TV series Once Upon a Time. Hoult does justice to a role that is perhaps not worthy of his talents, joined by Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci and Ian McShane all playing to their individual strengths. (I confess it was difficult not to imagine McShane loosing a storm of profanity once or twice, but this is a family film.)  The effects are well executed though again unmemorable, and Singer is no slouch at directing, so my problem lies squarely with the story.

In a time when, with few exceptions, strong female characters are disappearing from Hollywood, this reimagining strikes a particularly anti-feminist tone. Jack the Giant Slayer features a princess, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson) who craves adventure, bored as she is with her palace surroundings. Normally escorted by guards wherever she goes, Isabelle sneaks away during the night and immediately finds her way into danger, requiring the help of her father's best men and one farm boy to rescue her. At no point during the subsequent "adventure" does she do any adventuring or even attempt to effect her escape.

There's also the matter of an evil advisor to the king (Stanley Tucci), whom Isabell will be forced to marry against her wishes. The writers go full-Disney, making sure the princess' mother is dead and even rewriting the tale so Jack's mother is replaced by a grumpy uncle (who last appears as Jack and Company begin to climb the beanstalk, and never resurfaces).

Although Jack the Giant Slayer is presented in 3D, that's of little importance, as it isn't used to any great effect -- unfortunately for a film about giants, where it could have created an exagerrated perspective to highlight the difference in size. The best things about the film are Hoult and Ewan McGregor, though the vibe between them mimics the relationship between McGregor and Hayden Christensen's characters in Star Wars Episode II.

Movies This Week: March 1-7, 2013

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Dazed and Confused Still PhotoPolari and Stateside Independent present the Austin premiere of Any Day Now on Monday night at 7 pm at the Stateside Theatre. Alan Cumming and Garret Dillahunt star as a gay couple who take in and provide a loving home to an abandoned teenager with Down syndrome. More information, including how to buy tickets, is available here.

The Austin Film Society celebrates the 20th anniversary of Dazed and Confused (pictured above) on Wednesday night at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre, with screenings at 7 and 9:30 pm and a cast Q&A and after-party. Purchase tickets here.

This week's Austin Film Society Essential Cinema offering is Scheherazade, Tell Me A Story. An Egyptian female talk show host stirs up political controversy when she focuses her on-air discussions on the topic of women's issues. Scheherazade, Tell Me A Story screens Tuesday at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse Village.

And don't forget the Slamdance on the Road event on Saturday, complete with a Q&A I'm moderating.

Movies We've Seen

A Place at the Table -- This compelling documentary exposes the truths and debunks myths about the critical issue of hunger experienced by millions of Americans on a daily basis. I find myself discussing several key elements of this film with friends days after watching the screener, and hope that others will join the dialogue about hunger insecurity. Read more in my review. (Violet Crown Cinema)

Slamdance Brings Its Best to Austin This Weekend

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Slamdance On The Road: AUSTIN Playbill

As I'd mentioned in my Sundance wrap-up, I was quite pleased to catch part of the concurrent Slamdance Film Festival while in Park City, Utah. You don't need to leave Austin, however, to catch some of the great films featured at the independent film festival this year, including some Texas shorts.

Slamdance hits the road this month with "Slamdance on the Road," a traveling showcase featuring 2013 Grand Jury award winners and local film shorts. The first stop is here in  Austin on Saturday night at the Stateside Theatre. It's a double-feature, starting with Slamdance 2013's best documentary Bible Quiz and Austin short Hearts of Napalm, and ending with best feature narrative The Dirties and Texas-made short Winkelmann, TX. Filmmakers will be in attendance for post-screening Q&A.

Local filmmaker and Slamdance alumnus Bryan Poyser (Lovers of Hate, The Fickle) will also participate in a "Slamdance On The Road Coffee With..." with writer/director and lead actor Matthew Johnson and writer/producer Matthew Miller of The Dirties, following the feature screening. I'm moderating this event and from my interaction with Johnson and Miller at Slamdance last month, I can assure an engaging discussion from the pair. Slamdance founder Peter Baxter and producer Mark Matukewicz will also be in attendance for this special event.

One of the most controversial films to screen at Slamdance, The Dirties revolves around two friends who are subjected to constant bullying while they're working on a movie for a high-school class project. As they create a revenge film around their real-life antagonists, fiction builds into darkly humorous and terrifying insights into the tragic effects of bullying in high schools.

Local short film Hearts of Napalm, written and directed by Andy Irvine, premiered at Slamdance last month and will precede The Dirties. Starring local actors Ashley Spillers and Alex Dobrenko, this film offers an intimate and humorous look at the efforts of two lovers seeking the ultimate satisfaction in bed.

Update on 2013 Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards (Tarantino!)

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Quentin Tarantino in 2010

What do Ann Richards, Lauren Bacall, Dennis Hopper and William Friedkin all have in common? They've all had the honor of presenting awards at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. In January, Jette shared the list of 2013 honorees -- this week, Austin Film Society announced presenters for 2013, as well as the evening's master of ceremonies.

The gala awards ceremony next Thursday night will be emceed by highly capable actress and singer Dana Wheeler-Nicholson. She's well known for her many film and television roles, including the Austin-shot series Friday Night Lights and the legendary movie Fletch.

Several more award presenters were also announced this week. Filmmaker/actor Rob Reiner will turn this event up to 11 when he presents an award to Princess Buttercup herself, Robin Wright. Joining Reiner is the one, the only, the stupendous David St. Hubbins, better known by his stage name Michael McKean. McKean will be presenting an award to his wife Annette O'Toole

How do you top a Spinal Tap mini-reunion? You do it with Quentin Tarantino! Yesterday we were greeted with news that legendary filmmaker, recent Oscar winner and 2010 Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards honoree Tarantino will be presenting the Star of Texas Award to Richard Linklater's movie Dazed and Confused.

Review: A Place at the Table

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A Place At The Table

According to the Capital Area Food Bank of Texas (CAFB), food insecurity is "the condition of not having regular access to enough nutritious food for a healthy life." CAFB serves 21 Central Texas counties, from cities like Austin, Round Rock and Waco with dense pockets of poverty to small, rural communities with limited access to services. Of the nearly 300,000 people CAFB serves each year, 41 percent are children, and more than a third of the agency's older clients go for extended periods without food. CAFB reports "1 in 5 families served by CAFB experience the physical pain of hunger."

Across the U.S. the numbers become even more staggering, with 50 million people uncertain about where their next meal will come from. Directors Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush bring this critical socioeconomic issue to audiences in their hard-hitting and engrossing documentary, A Place at the Table, focusing on three at-risk individuals from rural Mississippi to Philadelphia. Mississippi has the highest food insecurity rate in the U.S., but also the highest obesity rate from the empty calories consumed.

The main subjects featured in the film A Place at the Table include Barbie, a single mother in Philadelphia trying to get an education to provide a better life for her kids than she had growing up; Tremonica, a Mississippi eight-year-old who suffers from asthma, compounded by her weight issues brought on by the empty but cheap calories her mom can afford; and Rosie, a fifth grader who can't focus and is failing in school due to hunger and the resulting fatigue, and whose dream is to be an honor roll student.