May 2013

Movies This Week: May 31 - June 6, 2013

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The Rookie Jim Morris and Dennis QuaidThe Austin Film Festival (AFF) and Bob Bullock Museum's fourth annual Made in Texas Family Film Series continues this weekend with Texas native John Lee Hancock's The Rookie. Based on a true story, the film follows the story of Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), a small-town baseball coach who has a chance at the major leagues. Hancock, who's also known for his award-winning film The Blind Side, will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. This screening is free and open to the public, but you do need to RSVP here.

Texas documentary favorite Trash Dance returns for another week-long engagement with afternoon matinee screenings beginning Sunday at the Violet Crown Cinema. Don stated in his review, "In the Austin indie documentary and the dance performance it celebrates, the treasure isn't the trash -- it's the unlikely beauty of trash collection." City of Austin employees receive a $2 discount on ticket purchase at the box office or by phone.

My Facebook newsfeed has been abuzz with friends enjoying The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, and this Sunday is The Paramount Kids Opening Day featuring The Adventures of Robin Hood and Looney Tunes. The Kickoff Party starts at 1 pm with crafts and games before the 2 pm screening of Robin Hood. For the Paramount Kids Classics movies, kids 18 years old and under receive $5 off the regular ticket price at the box office day of show.

Review: After Earth

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After EarthOnce again I find myself asking the question, "WHY does anyone keep letting M. Night Shyamalan make movies?" In 2010 he single-handedly decimated The Last Airbender, creating the sort of flop that not only ends careers but makes people re-examine a director's previous body of work with a sour eye. After that flop he has returned with After Earth, co-written with Gary Whitta, based on a story idea by Will Smith.

Starring Smith and his son Jaden, After Earth is a family-friendly adventure movie that couches itself in the elements of good sci-fi but fails to realize even a hint of the greatness of the films from which it derives. The reason can be boiled down to one simple statement: Good sci-fi doesn't insult the audience's intelligence.  After Earth does so in dozens of simple ways.

The basic setup is that 1,000 years in the future, mankind has exploited Earth to the point of uninhabitability and therefore has left to colonize other systems. Somewhere along the way, we met a hostile alien race who rather than attack us with superior technology, sends giant angry sightless monsters that can smell (and track us by) the pheremones released by fear. Smith is the first warrior who can completely suppress his fear, thus making himself invisible to the enemy. Due to a freak accident, he and his son crash-land on Earth and must survive until help arrives.

Before going into any details, even the basic idea has flaws. Aliens that can only track us by scent, and we can't simply wear sealed suits?  A thousand years in the future, and we have to fight with bladed weapons instead of guns and lasers?

Getting into the execution of these ideas in the script, even worse problems jump out. A routine flight is forced off course by an "asteroid storm"?  In order to effect their rescue, they must recover a distress beacon that for some reason wasn't activated BEFORE the ship crash-landed. These are supposed to be people a thousand years more advanced, but they have been scripted as stupid in unnecessary ways to set up a very contrived plot.

Other blunders in After Earth include an Earth that is a virtual paradise despite nightly flash-freezes worthy of the worst Roland Emmerich threw at his characters in The Day AFter Tomorrow, which is also listed as "Class A deadly" with every life form evolved to kill man ... but the deadliest thing they face is the alien they brought with them; zero remnants of the civilization that supposedly made the planet uninhabitable; unintelligible accents because hey, it's the future and people will talk different; an amputee with no prosthetic in an awkward scene that exists only to set up Smith repeating the line "Stand me up" at the end of the film; and finally, a plot ripped straight from The Matrix, which requires Jaden Smith to effectively become Neo by conquering his mental block and realizing there is no spoon, or in this case, fear.

See 'Shepard & Dark' in Austin on Sunday

Shepard & Dark film poster

The Austin Film Society is hosting a screening of Shepard & Dark at Alamo Drafthouse Village on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm. [ticket info]

Treva Wurmfeld's documentary has received good buzz on the festival route, but hasn't had a theatrical release date yet, so this is a rare opportunity to catch the film.

During Sandra Adair's conversation at AFS in March, she showed us a clip, since it was a recent movie she edited. She, director Wurmfeld and producer Amy Hobby will be in attendance at Sunday's showing.

Sam Shepard, actor/playwright, and Johnny Dark, comedian/actor, had a long epistolary relationship during their on-again-off-again friendship. The two met in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. In the early years of their acquaintance, they lived together, even becoming in-laws as Shepard married Dark's stepdaughter. Dark kept all the letters Shepard wrote him and a university is interested in acquiring them -- the Wittliff Collections at Texas State, which explains the local ties to the film.

Shepard & Dark offers an unvarnished look at these two men, deliving into their family histories. In the clip Adair showed us, Shepard recalled memories of his alcoholic father and his dad's death in New Mexico. Even as time and location have separated these men, they still share a connection, strained though it may be.

Austin/Texas connections: Several Austinites were involved, including Sandra Adair, who edited the film, and Graham Reynolds, who composed the score. The Wittliff Collections (which also retains Sam Shepard's papers) are at Texas State University in San Marcos.

[Poster via Shepard & Dark Facebook page]

The Value of Shorts: David Fabelo and His 'Do Over' Philosophy

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Movie Still

It's been native Austinite David Fabelo's philosophy for years: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. It's worked in Fabelo's romantic life -- despite spilling a beer on a woman during their first date he redeemed himself and now they're married. It's also worked in his professional life, with the release of his award-winning short film Do Over, about Adam (Garrett Jester), a high schooler who attempts to make a good first impression on his date with Sarah (Jacobi Alvarez).

This attitude of utilizing experimentation in an attempt to get it "right" has led co-writer/director Fabelo to VHX, an online platform that allows independent filmmakers to distribute their content directly to their fans via paywall. Fabelo has used VHX to set up a site where viewers can preview and hopefully purchase a download of Do Over.

"It's about putting a value on our work," said Fabelo. "A way to value shorts." 

Ready, Set, Fund: Bubbles, Dirt and Sharks

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Out of the Bubble still shot

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

A new chapter in life in life is beginning for many Central Texas teens with graduation ceremonies taking place over the course of the next week. My words of advice to these graduates? Take some time out from college or work to travel and get out of your comfort zone, whether it's backpacking with friends in Big Bend National Park in West Texas or trekking across Europe. Better yet, find a service project in another country where you can experience different cultures and meet people from around the world.

Brothers Colin and Michael Harman are doing just that with their film Out of the Bubble, which is funding through Thursday, June 13 on Kickstarter. However, the Harmans are taking their travels to a whole other level. What was originally intended to simply be documentation of their explorations of the landscape and culture of Norway as they venture "out of their bubble" is now intended to be the foundation of a online movement. The Harmans hope to inspire others to step out of their familiar surroundings and document their stories. These travelogues will then serve to build a network connected through an online hub. See their inspiring pitch video after the jump.

Alamo Previews 'The Silence of the Lambs' Signature Wines and Feast

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Silence of the Lambs Feast Menu

Last year the Alamo Drafthouse inaugurated their signature wine series featuring classic movie themes with the inaugural Princess Bride-inspired "Bottle of Wits" Inconceivable Cab and As You Wish White.

Today, Alamo revealed their second wines in the limited edition series: The Cannibal Chianti and Suit Yourself Pinot Grigio, inspired by Jonathan Demme's Academy award-winning 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs. The wines will  be available at The Silence of the Lambs Feast at select Alamo Drafthouse locations nationwide -- the Austin event will be held June 19 at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. I had the chance to sample the wines as well as the feast at a press preview on Tuesday night at the Slaughter location.

The Cannibal Chianti is an Italian wine (DOCG, for those in the know) from a vineyard located between Sienna and Florence. This dark fruit-forward medium-bodied wine gets its flavor from a blend of 85% Sangiovese with small amounts of Canaiolo and Malvasia del Chianti. Suit Yourself Pinot Grigio is a crisp and light-bodied white wine featuring grapes from California’s Central Coast and inland vineyards. The light citrusy finish makes it suitable for summertime enjoyment.

2013 Guide to Free (and Cheap) Summer Movies in Austin

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SLACKER 20th Anniversary

Updated 6/6 to add Austin School of Film's Summer Film Series

With the Texas temperature slowly rising and the lack of UT students drawing nearer, Austin residents are rejoicing -- summer is upon us. And although the first day of the season is not technically until June 21, many organizations are already kicking off their summer activities.

Slackerwood is happy to bring you its fifth annual guide to free or cheap summer movies in Austin, as well as surrounding areas such as Cedar Park and Round Rock. Be sure to check out the websites for each of these series so you come prepared. Some of the movies are shown outside, so a nice blanket or lawn chair would be wise to bring, particularly for non-theater venues such as the French Legation or Republic Square Park.

While a number of free movie series are aimed at kids out of school, several are more adult-friendly, with the return of showcases such as Cinema East and The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series (though most of the films in the Summer Series are pretty tame for kids as well).

2013 Guide to Austin (and Texas) Film Job Resources

Austin Studios Red Building

If you're a freelancer like me (particularly in the film industry), you know the ups and downs that come with the job. Some weeks the work is plentiful, while others seem like you'll have to start selling your furniture just to pay your rent. But although it can be a scary road, it certainly can be a most fulfilling one for Austinites.

I moved to Austin a few years ago, unsure of where to turn to look for work. After a few years of exploring and meeting other fellow industry friends, I finally feel comfortable and confident when it comes to searching for that next great film gig to jump on.

For those of you new to the Austin film scene (or if you are simply looking for that next great gig), here are a list of a few great film websites that frequently post casting and crew calls. Although I believe these to be tried and true, let me know if there are any sites I might have left out.

  • Texas Film Commission -- Aside from being a great resource for anyone trying to get a film made in the Lone Star State, the TFC website is also helpful for anyone wanting to submit a resume for larger productions shot anywhere in Texas, not just Austin. The website offers great tools to help you craft a noticeable film resume or learn how to be a good production assistant. TFC also posts information about its workshops on location scouting, working on a camera team, production accounting, and more. The website posts both crew and casting calls.

Slackery News Tidbits: May 27, 2013

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Here's the latest film news.

  • A "spiritual" follow-up to the 1993 Richard Linklater comedy Dazed and Confused may begin filming this fall, according to Flixist. Linklater discussed the film, which he describes as a college comedy with a large ensemble cast, during a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) last week.
  • Get your questions ready for Alamo Drafthouse co-founder and CEO Tim League, who will participate in an AMA on Reddit along with other representatives from the local theater chain from 1-4 pm CDT Thursday.
  • Speaking of the Alamo Drafthouse, its distribution arm Drafthouse Films has acquired the U.S. rights to the German drama Nothing Bad Can Happen, which premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival. It's about a young Christian who begins to live with a family after a chance encounter and becomes the target of a violent game to test his faith. Writer/director Katrin Gebbe's first feature is also the first feature in the Drafthouse Films library to be directed by a woman.
  • Chef du Cinema will be offering a new cooking class for a four-course meal inspired by Terry Gilliam's fantasy/adventure Time Bandits on Saturday, June 8 at Central Market North Lamar.

Review: The Hangover Part III

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The Hangover Part III 

In 2009 audiences were treated to one of the funniest comedies in recent history: The Hangover. The Todd Phillips-helmed film demonstrated that adult comedy could turn out serious box office numbers. The success of The Hangover was accomplished by weaving together a highly engaging story that can be classified as a comedic whodunnit. The hook for this film was the mystery surrounding the "who" and the "dunnit." The first part was the "who." Who wrecked the expensive Las Vegas suite? Who is this baby we just found in our wrecked hotel room? And finally who does this tiger belong to? The second part was the "dunnit." What happened to Doug (Justin Bartha)? What happened to Stu's (Ed Helms) tooth? And finally: What the hell happened last night? The characters retrace their steps from the prior evening, slowly unraveling the story layer by layer.

2011 brought the return of the "Wolfpack" in The Hangover Part II. This time the boys wake up in a wrecked hotel room in Bangkok. Now, instead of a tooth missing, Stu has a brand new tattoo ... on ... his face! This film is pretty much a beat-for-beat rehash of the original film, possessing some fresh jokes and situations thrown in. While successful at the box office, this movie didn’t enchant audiences like the original.

Now 2013 brings us the Wolfpack once more in The Hangover Part III. This time no one wakes up in a wrecked hotel room, nor is anyone missing. The story now revolves around the kidnapping of Doug by a drug kingpin named Marshall (John Goodman). Marshall wants his stolen gold returned and enlists the Wolfpack to do his bidding. Why the Wolfpack? Marshall blames them for his gold getting stolen by rival drug kingpin Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong), the drug dealer from the previous movies. The film is spent in a series of capers that take the characters from Arizona to Tijuana and finally the place where it all started: Las Vegas!

Movies This Week: May 24-30, 2013

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An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

Has it really been 18 years since Jesse and Celine met on that train in Before Sunrise? Indeed it has, and the long-awaited third outing in Richard Linklater's romantic trilogy finally graces Austin theaters today. Don't miss Before Midnight; if the critics are right -- and really, aren't we always? -- the story is as fresh and captivating as ever. (Even I -- who would rather have a root canal than watch most rom-coms -- loved the first two films and can't wait to see the third.)

If even the best of rom-coms isn't your thing, there are a surprising number of alternatives this holiday weekend. My top pick is the Austin Film Society "Spotlight on John Cassavetes" series, which wraps up with Husbands, a 1970 tragicomedy starring Cassavetes, Ben Gazzara and Peter Falk as three middle-age men who mourn a friend's death and live out their midlife crises on a drunken trip to London. Husbands screens tonight and Sunday at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre.

The AFS Essential Cinema series features The Makioka Sisters, a 1983 Japanese import that depicts the pre-war lives of four sisters from a wealthy Osaka family and draws parallels between their stories and Japan's seasonal variations. The Makioka Sisters screens Tuesday at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre.

The Alamo Drafthouse is hosting screenings of An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (pictured above), former Dallasite Terence Nance's film about a young man's relationship struggles. Part live action, part stop motion and part hand-drawn, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty screens Saturday and Monday at the Alamo Ritz. Both screenings include a Skype Q&A with Nance. (Refer to Elizabeth's article for more information about the film.)

Review: Fast and Furious 6

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Fast and Furious 6How do you up the ante of the high-octane blockbuster that was Fast Five in 2011? You take  action that was already ramped up to 11, and you crank it up to whatever insanely high number you can conjure up in your head. But Fast & Furious 6 isn't just a good action film, it's done something far more fascinating. It has made the entire Fast and Furious series one of the great movie franchises out there.

We didn't know it at the time, but on June 18, 2001, when a silly Point Break ripoff about street racing hit theaters, we had just entered Phase One of a classic action franchise that didn't even exist yet. The Fast and the Furious spawned a silly sequel, and we figured that'd be the end of it. A third one came out, different plot, different characters, was it even from the same universe? Just when we thought we had enough, a fourth had arrived, and it brought back the original band and one of the characters from three. We had to have been done with the franchise because the fourth entry was kind of weak, but we were treated to a fifth, and treated is absolutely the appropriate word.

Fast & Furious 6 begins where Fast Five left off. Dom (Vin Diesel), Bryan (Paul Walker) and the rest of the family are living in a country that doesn't extradite. With plenty of money from their last job, they're living the high life. Special Agent Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), however, never let them out of his sight. Now, Hobbs needs their help catching some ultra-ruthless thieves who plan to build a particularly dangerous device.

The entire team comes back, and they do what they do best. Yeah, it's a paper-thin plot, and only two new characters are introduced. None of that matters because the film is fantastic, plain and simple. Ultimately, what Fast & Furious 6 is, is the best reward imaginable for those fans who've been with this franchise from Day One. If you've loved every film in this franchise, and every time you've left the theater after watching these movies you've wanted to race the guy next to you leaving the parking lot, this sequel is better than the best-tasting candy.

Hyperbole aside, yes, it's a dumb action movie. It's not going to win any awards, but it doesn't need to. The most important thing this movie has done is make a series that is now six movies deep a classic action franchise. Fans can sit down and watch all six of these back-to-back and not flinch through any one of them, because this sixth one ties it all in so perfectly. There isn't one that's a little off, or has to be defended as kind of okay. Every Fast and Furious movie is essential to this point, and you just don't see that kind of quality in franchises anymore (I'm talking to you, Resident Evil).

Review: Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's

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Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf'sDocumentary films often tell us the facts about a particular subject. They can be political or religious, or perhaps based on an idea that most people cannot wrap their minds around. But sometimes, you get lucky and see a film that lets you behind the scenes of something most people only dream about. That's how I felt about Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's, opening Friday in Austin.

I may not know much about fashion, but having a fashion merchandising major/style guru for a sister, I had a little bit of knowledge under my belt -- certainly enough to appreciate a good movie about fashion. The trailer had enticed me, clearly riddled with various designers talking about how getting to show their line at the esteemed Bergdorf Goodman's was the highlight of their career. Writer/director Matthew Miele takes his viewers not only into the heart of the store, but to some areas that you would not have thought twice about -- for example, the elaborate window displays the store produces every few months.

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's spotlights some well-known names in fashion, such as Vera Wang, Michael Kors, and Dolce & Gabanna, giving us their opinion on the glory that is Bergdorf's (or "BG's," as some designers lovingly call it). Even though these designers are everywhere in retail, they all talk about how their one goal, the Academy Award of their career, was to be sold and showcased at Bergdorf's. The story then goes on to talk about the history of the store, as well as how fashion has evolved over the past century. A few new designers when the film was shot in 2011 are followed, and we as the audience get to sit in on a few meetings with them and Bergdorf's executives such as Linda Fargo, who is compared in status to the well-known Vogue editor, Anna Wintour.

In addition, cosmetics, shoe and purse designers also share their tales of getting into the store. Bobbi Brown talks about how she hoped that she could sell at least 100 tubes of lipstick her first month at Bergdorf's; she ended up selling over 100 tubes on her first day alone.

Review: Before Midnight

Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Midnight

Here's hoping you haven't seen the first trailer for Before Midnight, which is basically a big spoiler. There seems to be a shared thought among fans of Richard Linklater's "Before" films that one wants to be surprised when they walk into the theatre and see how Celine and Jesse work out this time. Before I caught the SXSW screening in March, I did read Debbie's review because I was too excited and had to know. That being said, is it possible to review this movie without giving too much away? I will try.

Before Midnight takes place during one long day in Greece. First we see Jesse (Ethan Hawke) at the Kalamata airport, talking to his adolescent son before the kid has to fly back to the States where he lives with his mom. Jesse's face during this scene is periodically pierced with regret, as he wishes his son could stay longer. After Jesse is picked up from the airport, he and Celine (Julie Delpy) talk while driving through Greek countryside -- after the SXSW screening, Linklater noted during his Q&A that this car scene is over 13 minutes long, with no cuts. He also commented that every location they used in Greece was found during a two-day visit.

Prepare for 'An Oversimplification of Her Beauty' at Alamo Drafthouse

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Still from An Oversimplification of Her Beauty

Although he now lives in Brooklyn, filmmaker Terence Nance was born and raised in Dallas, where his movie An Oversimplification of Her Beauty premiered at the Dallas International Film Fest in 2012. The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz will host two screenings of this art film over the Memorial Day holiday weekend, including a Skype Q&A with Nance after both showings.

Nance's feature-length debut has received much attention, with pop culture figures such as Jay-Z, Joy Bryant and Wyatt Cenac jumping in as producers (Questlove is listed as an associate producer). The film is narrated in part by Reg E. Cathey (Square One, y'all!), but Nance is all over this movie. He wrote, edited, directed, produced, scored and even worked on some of the animation for this picture.

2013 Guide to Austin Summer Film Camps

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Summer @ Austin Studios Presented by H-E-B

Updated on 5/30 with RTF Summer Camp information

Kids aren't the only ones who look forward to summer. With sky-high temperatures and the last day of school approaching, Slackerwood brings you some suggestions of great summer film camps in the Austin area -- perfect for parents searching for fun summer activites for the kids.

A film or movie camp is a great tool for kids interested in the filmmaking or creative process. Many of the workshops start with the basics, taking your child through the pre-production, shooting, and post-production stages of a film set. Classes are also geared towards other crafts such as acting, editing, animation and writing for the screen. At the end of many of these camps, friends and family are invited to attend a screening of the movie(s) that campers helped make, or campers can bring home a DVD to hold their own private screening party.

We've listed the camps below according to age, meaning the classes accepting the youngest students are listed from the top to bottom of the page. Many camp sessions begin in early June, so act quickly to sign up for classes. They typically run for one to two weeks at a time, although a few are longer. A few camps around town (such as the Austin Film Society's Summer Filmmaking Camp) already have sessions that are sold out, but do have waiting lists available.

Our Favorite Films in the Paramount Summer Classics Series

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Some selections from the 2013 Paramount Summer Classics Series

It's like Christmas in May for Austin classic film fans. Last week the schedule for the summer classic film series at Paramount and Stateside was announced. Movies from various decades will screen in 35mm at Paramount and digital HD projection at the Stateside from late May through early September. The lineup this year is lighter on the screwball genre than I would prefer, but there is still oh-so-much to choose from. There's sure to be something for everyone.

Tickets for each film are $8 (this covers double features as well) online.  If you expect to see many, buying Flix-Tix or becoming a Film Fan could be a worthwhile investment. [Pro tip from Jette: The higher-level Film Fan memberships include free garage parking during the movies.]

Here are some of the selections we Slackerwood contributors find noteworthy:

  • Bonnie and Clyde (1967) -- Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty rob banks in Arthur Penn's game-changing crime romp that blazes through north Texas [my Lone Star Cinema post]. (Wed 5/29 at 10 pm, Stateside)
  • The Wild Bunch (1969) -- Sam Peckinpah's brutal Western stars William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan. You all know I'm squeamish about violence and yet this is one of my very favorite films. I refuse to listen to any news about a remake involving Will Smith. (Wed 5/29 at 7:15 pm, Stateside) -- Jette Kernion

Slackery News Tidbits: May 20, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news. 

  • The New York Times profiled the Austin film scene in Sunday's edition and interviewed locally based industry heavy hitters like Richard Linklater, Elizabeth Avellan, Bryan Poyser (Elizabeth's interview) and Andrew Bujalski (Jordan's interview), among others. Worth a look for the photos alone.
  • Speaking of Linklater, he has now filed suit against his insurance company, alleging breach of contract, The Austin Chronicle reports. His Paige, Texas property, near Bastrop, which housed scripts, production materials, publicity information, among other movie memorabilia, was damaged in 2011's wildfires.
  • More more Linklater: Filmmaker Gabe Klinger has created a Kickstarter campaign for his documentary about the Austin filmmaker and director James Benning, according to Filmmaker Magazine. The project will only be funded if at least $25,000 is pledged by June 8. More than $8,000 has been raised so far.
  • More than 65 research fellowships have been awarded by The University of Texas Harry Ransom Center for the 2013-2014 academic year to support humanities projects that require substantial onsite use of HRC collections of manuscripts, art, films, and other resources. Austin author Alison Macor (Chainsaws, Slackers, and Spy Kids) has received a research fellowship for her work about the life and career of HRC.

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

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IStar Trek Into Darknessn 2009, J.J. Abrams accomplished the impossible and successfully negotiated an unwinnable scenario by rebooting the Star Trek franchise with a new cast in a story that maintained continuity -- yet also broke somewhat -- with the establish Trek universe.  This reset gave him license to play with the characters in entirely new ways; for instance, the relationship between Uhura and Spock. With the newly released Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams plays with the entire character of the Federation itself, playing out logically the results of events that created his alternate universe and arriving at a colder, harder conclusion that doesn't sit well with many hardcore fans.

Based on his Daily Show appearance this week, in which Abrams explained his goal was to make a movie for moviegoers and not just Star Trek fans, some have said he is only concerned with his film making as much money as possible. My own feeling was that Abrams again succeeded in bringing to life a story that is true to the characters on the Enterprise, but a disturbing departure from Gene Roddenberry's vision of The United Federation of Planets.

This is not the first time Trek fans have seen a darker vision of the future: The clandestine agency known as Section 31 mentioned in Star Trek Into Darkness has appeared a number of times in the various TV shows, which have also hinted at a much darker future for the Federation in centuries to come.

But the events on screen now, in this movie, are the darkest we've seen for the classic Trek characters, aren't they? As much as we might want to blame the effects of Christopher Nolan's Batman films for the darkening of comic-book and sci-fi films, there is precedent for a darker side of the Federation scattered through classic episodes. A 13-year-old Jim Kirk witnessed the massacre of 4,000 colonists by Governor Kodos during a food shortage on Tarsus IV (episode "The Conscience of the King"). The Federation also was known to have violent criminals and treated the criminal behavior as a sickness to be cured via therapy in one of several installations known as asylums ("Whom Gods Destroy").

It is also very well established that pre-Federation history included a series of wars that nearly destroyed civilization on Earth, and that but for the civilizing influence of the Vulcans, the UFP would have been a much more warlike body. In fact, classic Trek includes a mirror universe in which events did play out differently, resulting in a fleet where starship captains murder their way into command.

Movies This Week: May 17-23, 2013

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AFS Film ClubWhile we wait for various summer movie series to begin, Austin still has lots of interesting alternative film choices this week. And of course the summer blockbusters have begun and you already have your choice of the new movie with the Star Trek gang or the movie that released last week (and therefore is practically ancient) with the man in the iron suit.

Tickets are still available through the Austin Film Society website for Sunday's triple-feature of Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and the sneak peek of Before Midnight, with director Richard Linklater in attendance after the first movie.

On Tuesday, Violet Crown Cinema presents Holiday Road, a comedy in which 13 filmmakers each devote a short film to a different American holiday. UT alum Todd Berger tackled January and October, and Austin's own Kelly Williams was a producer for this anthology.

If you're interested in young filmmakers, AFS presents the 2013 Film Club Spring Festival  screening (pictured at right) on Saturday at 10:30 am at the Marchesa, showcasing student projects. The AFS Film Club is an afterschool program that teaches AISD students about filmmaking and other digital media techniques to promote self-expression and creativity. Schools presenting work in the Spring Festival range from elementary to high school.

DVD Review: Upstream Color

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Upstream ColorSome movies simply aren't going to be for everyone. That's not to say that they aren't good movies, or that the director didn't try hard enough to make a great film -- the problem only lies with you. Upstream Color fits that bill with every frame of its being. From the writer/director of Primer, Shane Carruth this time takes his audience through a strange world of interweaving storylines and has constructed a strange, but beautiful film ... one that is incredibly well made and acted, especially by lead actress Amy Seimetz.

Upstream Color is told in several different parts, but they all interweave in some form or fashion. Seimetz plays Kris, who's gone through some hardships -- her story involves drugs, kidnappings and a cute little piglet. That's all fine and dandy, but it can be confusing at times. The story starts to make a little more sense once Jeff (played by Carruth himself) comes along. As a love interest/threat to Kris, his turn onscreen is a fascinating one.

To be vague in a film review is often the mark of an incomplete review, but in this case it would suffice. What can be plainly seen and heard while watching Upstream Color is an extremely well-made film, one that deserves to be studied and rewatched. It is impeccably acted -- Seimetz is quickly becoming a legend in her own right in the indie film circuit. The amazing score was written by Shane Carruth. There are moments where you're enveloped in some truly fantastic sounds. A good comparison to how essential the score feels is Cloud Atlas.

Despite all that praise, I am someone that this film was not made for, although it did benefit from a rewatch. Movies like Upstream Color tend to stand the test of time, and while it's a little early for a film like this to make that distinction, it could get there. It would have been nice if this combo DVD/Blu-ray package, released by New Video Group/Cinedigm, would have had some special features. However, the disks have great visuals and at times perfect quality sound. The DVD/Blu-ray is still a great purchase for Shane Carruth fans or fans of Upstream Color.

Oak Cliff Film Festival Reveals its 2013 (Austin-Heavy) Lineup

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Oak Cliff Film Festival Logo

The second annual Oak Cliff Film Festival seeks to showcase the best of independent filmmaking of all genres from Oak Cliff (a Dallas district), Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth and Austin. From June 6-9, these films will be screened in the heart of the city's burgeoning Bishop Arts District and in some of its most historic movie theaters, like The Kessler Theater, which is said to have opened in the spring of 1942. The fest's home theater is the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff, which hosts eclectic repertory film programming year-round (and which has a colorful history).

The nonprofit fest, which donates a portion of all ticket and badge sales to the North Texas Food Bank, announced its lineup earlier this week. Highlights include movies screened at this year's SXSW Film Festival, like Oak Cliff's opening night films Drinking Buddies (Rod's review), about the relationship between two co-workers at a Chicago brewery, and the documentary Pussy Riot: a Punk Prayer, that follows three members of a Russian art collective who were arrested on charges of religious hatred after performing a 40 second "punk prayer" inside one of the country's main cathedrals. 

In addition, the fest's closing-night film is the regional premiere of Bobcat Goldthwait's latest movie, Willow Creek, a horror film starring Alexie Gilmore. And DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) will present some short films, a secret screening, and a not-so-secret screening of McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

Film on Tap: American Craft Beer Week

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Crafting A Nation's Courtney Cobb with Scott Metzger and Davis Tucker

The Brewers Association proclaimed May 13 - 19 as this year's American Craft Beer Week, which means film-and-beer events are taking place across the nation. Just down the road in San Antonio, the documentary Crafting a Nation premiered at the Alamo Drafthouse Stone Oak last evening. Unfortunately I missed the screening, but I did get to the premiere after-party at Freetail Brewing Company. There I caught up with producer Courtney Cobb and a couple of the featured subjects in the film: Scott Metzger of Freetail and Davis Tucker of North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery (pictured above with Cobb).

The Crafting a Nation filmmaking team has been traveling across the U.S. this week with their film -- director Tom Kolicko hosted the San Diego screening. Cobb reports that the team is holding off on the Austin premiere so that they can "do it up really big" since central Texas was a featured region of the film. I heard a few of the audience members got a bit teary-eyed during a couple of scenes, and hope to see the movie for myself in Austin soon.

Leonard Maltin and 'Lady For a Day' at the Paramount

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Lady for a Day posterTickets are currently on sale for a special screening of Frank Capra's 1933 film Lady for a Day at the Paramount. On hand to introduce the movie, and to talk more about classic films in general, will be film critic and historian Leonard Maltin. Maltin was one of the proponents for making this movie available on Blu-ray, and the event will include a rare 35mm projection of the classic, thanks to a loan from the Capra estate.

Lady for a Day is early Capra, made before he really burst on the scene with his big hit It Happened One Night. It's adapted from a Damon Runyon story by Robert Riskin, who continued to team up with Capra on many other movies in the 1930s and early 1940s.

The movie stars May Robson (whom I know best for her role as the daunting Aunt Elizabeth/Mrs. Carlton-Random in my favorite Bringing Up Baby) as Apple Annie, a poor apple seller who tries to convince her daughter overseas, via her letters, that she is really a wealthy woman in high society. But what happens when her daughter comes to visit with her royal fiance? It's sure to be Capra-corn as the director did it best.

"Leonard Maltin: In Conversation" will take place next Friday night, May 24. All seats are the same ticket price, but they are reserved, so if you're planning to go, get your tickets soon.

In related news, the schedule for the annual Paramount Summer Classic Film Series will be announced later this week. You can expect the usual showing of Gone with the Wind at the end of the series.

We already know a few of the selections: The opening night party on Thursday, May 23 (that's the night before the Maltin event) will kick off with Casablanca and Annie Hall. Among the other summer movies, I assume there will likely be a couple of screwball selections, at least one Katharine Hepburn film, and perhaps some Marx Brothers -- maybe even a Thin Man?

You can be assured I'll publish a full post on Slackerwood with my recommendations/favorites from the bunch when the slate is announced!

Photo Essay: A Weekend at Hill Country Film Festival

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HCFF 2013

For the second year in a row, I spent a lovely spring weekend in Fredericksburg for the 2013 Hill Country Film Festival. This is not one of those film fests where you get up early to get a good ticket reservation/spot in line and then proceed to watch four or five films, and then at 2 am collapsing in exhaustion (or going into overtime with karaoke) before getting up early to do it again, downing Red Bull and energy bars for sustenance.

This is a film festival where you watch a movie, and then go have some brunch, and then watch another movie, and perhaps go shopping, and enjoy cocktails with filmmakers, and maybe watch another movie or have a leisurely dinner, then go to a party and talk about the movies you watched while enjoying more cocktails. There was a screening in a winery (pictured above) on Sunday and yes, there was wine as well as sausages from Austin restaurant Frank. I took it very easy, which is why my dispatches are coming to you after the fest and not during.

Look for my capsule reviews/descriptions of many of the shorts and features I saw later this week. In the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos from my time at the fest.

Fantastic Fest Travels to Lakeline for 2013

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Twilight of the Alamo on South Lamar

The most highly-anticipated Austin film news question has finally been answered. No, not the name of the villain Benedict Cumberbatch plays in Star Trek Into Darkness. On Friday morning with this blog post, Fantastic Fest announced that its 2013 location will be the as-yet-unfinished Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline, which opens in July. Construction at South Lamar won't be complete in time to host the fest that's called that Alamo Drafthouse home for its eight-year history.

Reactions have been mixed but generally positive. Local festgoers most affected by the venue change will be those who live and work in south Austin, some of whom have already begun to plan sharing hotels and rides. Other Austinites, confusing Lakeline for the existing Alamo Lake Creek (which Lakeline will replace) have mistakenly complained about the inappropriateness of that spot.

In fact, Alamo Lakeline will have 10 screens, making it the largest Drafthouse to date -- and will have 35mm projection, which is necessary for many titles that screen at Fantastic Fest.  As with The Highball and 400 Rabbits, Lakeline will have an adjoining bar, though a location for Fantastic Arcade and other festival events is still in the works. Hopefully there will be an adequate substitute for the much-beloved porch at South Lamar (pictured at top).

Slackery News Tidbits: May 13, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols is slated to write and direct Midnight Special, described as a "contemporary science-fiction chase film," for Warner Bros, Deadline announced. Fellow Austinites Sarah Green and Brian Kavanaugh-Jones (Sinister) will serve as the movie's producers. The project, currently in development, will re-team Nichols and actor Michael Shannon, who has been in all Nichols' features to date.
  • The Alamo Drafthouse is scheduled to open its largest theater yet, with 10 screens, in north (very north) Austin. The theater will open sometime this July in the new Lakeline Market Shopping Center adjacent to Lakeline Mall. Nearby theater Alamo Lake Creek will remain in business this summer until after the new Drafthouse opens.
  • In more Drafthouse news, the company’s film distribution arm has acquired the North American rights to British director Ben Wheatley’s latest movie, A Field in England, according to IndieWire. The horror film, which is scheduled for a theatrical and VOD release later this year, follows a group of soldiers during the English Civil War in the 17th century. They're captured by an alchemist to assist in his search for treasures hidden in a giant mushroom field.
  • London-based Eureka Entertainment's Masters of Cinema Series has bought the UK distribution rights to Austinite Andrew Bujalski's (Jordan's interview) comedy Computer Chess (Jette's review), Bleeding Cool reports. Bujalski's feature revolves around chess players and computer programmers at a computer chess tournament in the 1980s. The Austin-shot film premiered at Sundance 2013, then screened at SXSW. Kino Lorber is distributing the movie in the U.S.

Review: The Great Gatsby

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The Great Gatsby

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rich Boy

This often-repeated quote begins F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story Rich Boy, but it could be from Fitzgerald's magnum opus The Great Gatsby, a novel about the very rich. And the latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby brings to mind a twist on the quote: Let me tell you about Baz Luhrmann's films. They are different.

Different, of course, can be wonderful. Luhrmann's proudly over-the-top style -- a mix of grand scale, busy, color-saturated visuals, daring anachronisms, hyperactive pacing and general excess -- works very well in his most successful features, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!.

Luhrmann's brand of filmmaking, however, doesn't work so well in The Great Gatsby for two reasons: The story is character driven, not visually driven. And Luhrmann doesn't realize that a little 3D goes a long, long way.

The Great Gatsby and Luhrmann should be a great match, as the filmmaker and the novel's central figure, the Jazz Age millionaire Jay Gatsby, share a love of artifice and excess. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) lives in an ostentatious mansion in the fictional Long Island village of New Egg, where he leads a life of leisure, self indulgence and extravagant parties, punctuated with the occasional shady business deal that finances his lifestyle.

Movies This Week: May 10-16, 2013

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How to Survive a Plague

It's not a banner week for new releases. Ardent Baz Luhrmann groupies may revel in his loud and gaudy take on The Great Gatsby. But the other new films -- a draggy period piece about Renoir, an artsy but lackluster comic drama about escaping one's past and a rom-com that bravely goes where many have gone before (don't they all?) -- make for a yawning time at the cinema.

Not to worry, film fans. As usual, Slackerwood's friends at the Austin Film Society offer some interesting alternatives. The AFS Spotlight on John Cassavetes series kicks off today with A Woman Under the Influence, the great director's 1974 drama starring a devastating Gena Rowlands as a woman who breaks down under life's pressures and Peter Falk as her well-meaning but loutish husband. The film screens tonight and Sunday at the Marchesa Hall and Theatre.

AFS also presents an Essential Cinema screening of revered Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert on Tuesday at the Marchesa. One of Antonioni's most memorable films, this classic 1964 drama captures an alienated woman's existential angst as she tries to survive in a bleak industrial landscape.

Review: Renoir

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RenoirAs the crème de la crème of the film industry begins invading the French Riviera for the 2013 Festival de Cannes, it is quite apropros for a movie about one of the Impressionist masters who spent his last days in the lush French countryside to open this week at the Regal Arbor here in Austin.

Based upon Jacques Renoir's work Le Tableau Amoureux, director and screenwriter Gilles Bourdos' drama Renoir paints a lush vignette of the painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet) at the age of 74. Arthritis wreaks havoc on his body, and his middle son Jean (Vincent Rottiers) is dealing with his own combat wounds from his World War I mobilization.

The pair are both enamored and inspired by Renoir's latest model, the fiery headstrong young Andrée (Christa Theret). Pierre-Auguste's grief over the death of his wife Aline is lightened by Andrée's free-spirited nature and graceful body. Despite Jean's determination to rejoin his comrades once he's recovered from his injuries, his love for Andree inspires him to plan for a future in cinema as a filmmaker. 

Marfa Film Festival Announces 2013 Lineup

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Marfa Film Festival 2013 logoThe Marfa Film Festival is back after a hiatus of a couple of years, and several of us at Slackerwood couldn't be more thrilled. Yesterday, the fest announced most of the movies that will screen from June 26-30. The lineup includes several films with Austin and Texas connections:

  • An Oversimplification of Her Beauty -- Dallas native Terence Nance's narrative film is about what happens when a young man is stood up. It will screen here in Austin at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz later this month.
  • The Taiwan Oyster -- Don reviewed this movie about two Americans on a road trip in Taiwan when it screened at SXSW 2012. He said, "The Taiwan Oyster is a gorgeous and captivating film, a physical and spiritual journey in an exotic land. It has much to say about life, loneliness and death, and our eternal struggles with all three." Filmmaker Mark Jarrett is from Austin.
  • The Passage -- Houston filmmaker Alex Douglas shot this documentary about the Panama Canal. The movie will have its world premiere in Marfa.
  • Houston -- This German film was shot partially in the title city. A German headhunter is sent to Houston on a business errand and finds his life upended. Director Bastian Gunther is now living in Austin.
  • See the Dirt -- This short documentary from local filmmakers Eric Mauck and Chelsea Hernandez is about a 14-year-old boy who collects and is fascinated with vacuum cleaners. It won the documentary short jury prize at Austin Film Festival 2012.
  • Sahasi Chori (Brave Girl) -- Former Austinite Erin Galey made this short about a 13-year-old Nepalese girl traveling to her first job in the city. Brave Girl was one of the Austin Film Society ShortCase films this year -- see Debbie's article for more details and a short interview with Galey.

Watch 'The Brass Teapot' in Austin

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The Brass TeapotIndie film The Brass Teapot will be making an appearance in Austin on Thursday, May 23. Ramaa Mosley makes her feature directorial debut with the movie, basing it off of her 2007 short of the same name. Tim Macy scripted both the short and the feature.

It stars Michael Angarano (Sky High, Snow Angels), Juno Temple (Dirty Girl, Killer Joe) and Houston native Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls). it originally premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012, and hasn't screened in Austin previously.

The Brass Teapot follows John (Angarano) and Alice (Temple), a young newlywed couple struggling to make ends meet. Feeling down on their luck, they happen upon an antiques store where Alice discovers a unique brass teapot. It appears to be just another junk-store find until the couple discovers that the teapot can give them all the money they desire -- in exchange for hurting themselves.

Vowing to stop once they hit their first million, John and Alice go on a journey of black eyes, burnt hands and any other ailment in between. The story very much follows the theme of "be careful what you wish for." The film also features an all-star cast of Bobby Moynihan, Matt Walsh, Jack McBrayer and Alia Shawkat.

The screening is made possible by Gathr, a new service with the simple goal of bringing films to a city or town that might not otherwise get to screen it (or at least not get to screen it for a while). It's similar to Austin-based Tugg in the sense that it's a screening-on-demand model, in which a minimum number of tickets must be reserved in advance in order for the screening to take place.

The screening starts at 7:30 pm, and tickets are still available for only $10.Be sure to reserve your seat soon if you want the screening to take place. (Who knows when this film will hit Austin theaters!) The screening must meet its ticket quota in a little less than a week.

You can out find more information about The Brass Teapot screening on the Gathr website.

Getting Up Close and Personal with 'Hands on a Hardbody'

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Robb Bindler and Benny Perkins at HANDS ON A HARDBODY

By Margot Newcomer

It was a successful night at the Friday night screening of Hands On A Hardbody a couple of weeks ago, presented by Austin Film Society and Texas Independent Film Network. The event kicked off with director S.R. (Robb) Bindler inside of a pickup truck, and long lines of people waiting to put their hands on the Nissan Hardbody parked in front of the Marchesa Theatre.

The documentary was first shown in Austin almost 15 years ago at the Dobie Theatre. Since then, the Texas-shot movie's been hard to find unless you were able to track down a VHS copy (often sold for around $200).

The excitement before the screening continued to build as guests in the lobby bought the new, remastered DVD (which is now available via the Hands on a Hardbody website). One woman enthusiastically traded her worn-out VHS tape for a brand new disc.

'The XXXX Saga' Production Diary: That's a Wrap

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The XXXX Saga, Week Seven

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).

That's a wrap, folks.

It's always bittersweet to say goodbye to a film's cast and crew. For eight months we wrestled with  scripts, dove into preproduction and finalized the movie. With over 160 pages and over 50 speaking roles, it was not just the most ambitious film(s) I've done, it's the most ambitious indie film done as our "level." And I'm proud to say that, as hard as it was at times, we pulled it off.

Photo Essay: Texas Film Hall of Fame 2013 Awards (Part Two)

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TXFHoF 2013

Part One of my photo essay covered the red carpet for the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards last month. Here are a few more red carpet photos as well as some taken during the ceremony and after-party.

For this part of the photo essay, I'd like to thank Austin Film Society for sharing their photos from the event -- it was dark and I'm not a professional photographer. AFS has a Flickr set of Texas Film Hall of Fame photos where you can see more.

The above photo is from the red carpet -- Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez doing a quick interview. And next we have another red-carpet photo: actress Robin Wright, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame later that evening. I had been watching her the week before in a marathon viewing of House of Cards so it was almost uncanny to see her in person.

Photo Essay: Texas Film Hall of Fame 2013 Awards (Part One)

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TXFHoF 2013

At long last, here are my (and others') photos from last month's gala Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. I figure photos don't get stale and we'll all enjoy them just as much as we would have earlier -- even more than if I'd published them during SXSW. (I can always find an excuse.) It was a really lovely and fun evening and I know you'd rather see the photos than read about the event, so here goes. This is actually a two-part feature since I have so many photos to share.

These photos are mine and they're primarily from the red carpet before the awards ceremony. Let's start with the emcee of the evening, Austin actress and musician Dana Wheeler-Nicholson.

Texas Films Shine at Cine Las Americas 2013

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Hecho en Tejas Q&A

By Mireydi Mendieta-Nunez

The last day of the 2013 Cine Las Americas International Film Festival wrapped with Texas properly represented in the Hecho en Tejas (Made in Texas) program. Executive Director Eugenio del Bosque welcomed everyone in attendance, giving a speech about the importance of supporting the Austin filmmaking community.

Both independent and student filmmakers had the chance to premiere their work to festgoers. Seven short films were showcased, ranging from documentaries dealing with the U.S/Mexico border fence, to one by a UT student filmmaker showcasing her work from Andrew Garrison's East Austin Stories class.

See All Three Films in Linklater's 'Before' Trilogy

Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise, Before Sunset & Before MidnightBefore Before Midnight opens in Austin on May 23, Austin Film Society will host a special screening of all three of Richard Linklater's movies: Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and the latest installment.

On Sunday, May 19 at Marchesa Hall & Theatre, you can view the trilogy in order.  See Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) meet cute on a train in Before Sunrise (my Lone Star Cinema review), run into each other in a Paris bookstore and have trickier discussions in Before Sunset (my Lone Star Cinema review), and have far more personal talks about life and relationships while ambling around Greece in Before Midnight.

Tickets for either Before Sunrise or Before Sunset are $10 for AFS members or $20 general public.  You can watch all three for $20 (AFS members) or $40 (general public) [more ticket info].

Individual tickets aren't available for the May 19 Before Midnight screening; however, there's a separate special event for the May 23 theatrical premiere of Before Midnight at the Violet Crown Cinema [ticket info]. At the VCC, Linklater, Hawke and Delpy will be in attendance and take part in the pre-screening cocktail party.

During the week between these two festivities, AFS and Ain't It Cool News have teamed up with local restaurants and bars offering special deals and themed specials.  If you go to one of the spots (the list hasn't been released yet) and tweet a photo of you and your sweetie to @afs1985 using the tag #AFSBeforeMidnight, you're eligible to win an AFS dual LOVE level membership.

Slackery News Tidbits: May 6, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news:

  • The Paramount Theatre kicks off its Summer Classic Film Series with an opening-nght party and a double feature on Friday, May 23. Traditional Paramount opener Casablanca and Woody Allen's romantic dramedy Annie Hall will screen. The complete summer lineup will be announced on May 16.
  • Texas filmmaker Amy Seimetz's (our interview) dramatic thriller Sun Don't Shine (Don's review), which premiered at SXSW 2012, is out now on VOD, iTunes and Amazon, among other digital platforms, according to the film's distributor. Factory 25. Sun Don't Shine, about a couple who takes a mysterious road trip through central Florida, stars Austin-based actors AJ Bowen (Grow Up, Tony Phillips) and Mark Reeb, as well as Houston-based actress Kit Gwen.
  • The Austin-shot film blacktino (Chip's review) is now available to rent as a Vimeo download. The dark teen comedy, about an overweight nerd trying to find his place in the world, premiered at SXSW 2011 and is the feature debut by local filmmaker Aaron Burns.
  • No summer plans? Why not go on a scavenger hunt for some of Austin's most famous movie locations that are open to the public. Citysearch has made it easier with its guide, which includes the Texas School for the Deaf, forever immortalized as Herrington High in Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's late-'90s teen horror flick The Faculty. Alien teachers may no longer run amok, but the beautiful campus still stands intact.

Review: Iron Man 3

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Iron Man 3Shane Black is one of the pioneering Hollywood screenwriters of the contemporary action genre. The screenwriter for Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, Last Action Hero and his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang now takes the reins of one of the biggest and most-beloved moneymaking franchises in the golden age of comic-book Hollywood. A $200 million budget is proof Marvel and Disney think Iron Man 3 is in good hands, but canon-obsessed fanboys may not agree.

Co-scripted with TV writer Drew Pearce (who's also credited in the upcoming Pacific Rim and Sherlock Holmes 3), this entry in the series incorporates many fan-favorite storylines and characters from the Iron Man comics. Though they're brought together in a mega-blockbuster of an action film, one or two departures from established canon will be the subject of controversy among hardcore fans for the foreseeable future. Naturally, I won't go into specifics here (no spoilers!) but moviegoers who are more interested in what's onscreen and less concerned with the printed page will have a great time. I guarantee it.

If that phrase is familiar to you, you'll understand when I say this movie is all about suits. It's clear from a shot in the trailer that in Iron Man 3, Tony Stark has more suits than a Men's Wearhouse. At least a double-digit percentage of the effects budget must have been spent on animating Stark putting on, taking off, getting into or being knocked out of one of his battle-armored suits. In fact, Robert Downey Jr. probably spends more screen time putting on his superheroic suits than actually fighting in them.

That's probably a deliberate choice, as the story heavily involves Stark's internal conflict between spending time with the people he loves and spending every moment working to protect them. This is a struggle we've seen before in films like Superman II, when Clark gives up his powers to be with Lois, or to an extent in the 2007 Spider-Man 3, when Peter Parker's emotional turmoil affects his superhero abilities.

After the events at the end of The Avengers, Tony Stark is suffering from insomnia and panic attacks as he works ceaselessly to improve his armor designs. After challenging a mysterious terrorist figure known only as The Mandarin to a one-on-one battle, the resulting surprise (?) attack leaves him stranded, forced to deal with the powerful enemy minus his usual limitless resources and therefore prove Iron Man is Stark himself, and not just the battle suit. This theme is echoed in the heroics of Don Cheadle as Col. James Rhodes, aka War Machine, who likewise finds himself forced to operate outside the suit when they team up.

Movies This Week: May 3-9, 2013

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Wages of Fear

By the time you read this, I'll be in Fredericksburg for the Hill Country Film Festival. I love a film fest that's in one theater, where you get to know all the filmmakers and half the audience, and where short films prevail and celebrities do not. I wish the weather were less capricious, but you can't have everything. If you're in Austin instead, your best bet may be that fabulous new release about heroes who use their iron technology to assist mankind. Of course I mean the Austin documentary Trash Dance, which has a weeklong run at Violet Crown.

Hoping to get back in town Sunday in time for Alamo Drafthouse Ritz's Cinema Cocktails screening of the 1949 musical On the Town, a favorite of mine, screening in 35mm. Who couldn't love dance numbers from Gene Kelly, Vera-Ellen and especially Ann Miller, with a script from Comden and Green? And you can have a Manhattan while you watch.

On Monday, don't forget Stateside Independent is screening the delightful Austin food-truck-centric comedy The Happy Poet (Elizabeth's preview), with some cast members in attendance. Or you could head to Alamo Village for Austin Film Festival's screening of AFF 2012 documentary Spinning Plates (Debbie's review).

'The Happy Poet' Returns to Austin at Stateside Independent

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Paul Gordon in The Happy Poet

Stateside Independent will screen The Happy Poet -- which premiered at SXSW 2010 -- Monday, May 6 at 7 pm [ticket info]. Cast members Jonny Mars, Chris Doubek and Liz Fisher, and producer David Hartstein, will be there for a Q&A following the movie.

In The Happy Poet, a comedy filmed in Austin, unemployed writer Bill (writer-director Paul Gordon) dreams of running a cart that sells local/organic vegetarian snacks: eggless egg-salad sandwiches, basil pesto pitas and the like. There's just a slight hitch in his plans: He's practically broke and has to insinuate to the man selling him the food cart that he will be selling hot dogs instead. He makes the snacks at his apartment in the morning (my baker friend would be distressed to see his lack of plastic gloves) and stakes out a spot to sell his wares.

Bill, bespectacled and hesitant, is aided in this venture by friends who help him advertise and come up with a name for his business -- The Happy Poet. Ironic, because Bill seems only slightly satisfied at times. He lacks much of a backbone and has to deal with disappointment. Thankfully, Bill grows through his experience with the food cart and all it entails.

Review: No Place on Earth

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No Place on Earth still photo

When Chris Nicola traveled to the Ukraine, it was to understand his own family's history and explore caves. Not only did he inexplicably discover everyday objects such as buttons and shoes in a remote cave, but he also unearthed a rumor of a group of Jews who lived in a cave. These discoveries led to an incredible Holocaust survival story of how 38 people lived underground for a year and a half -- the longest recorded sustained underground survival -- to escape the death camps. Nicola confirmed the story by locating 14 of the original cave inhabitants.

The experiences of these Ukrainian Jews is captured in the documentary No Place on Earth -- which opens in Austin tomorrow at Regal Arbor -- by longtime television producer Janet Tobias in her film directorial debut. The survivors are now in their eighties and nineties, but they were quite young when they took refuge in the cave. According to Tobias (from the press notes), "There were no leaders in the cave above about 35. And they were doers – they weren’t thinkers and analyzers. They really didn’t have the time to sit around and contemplate."

No Place on Earth can easily be described as a docu-drama rather than documentary, as the movie relies mostly on dramatic re-enactments of the group's experience in the cave. This vérité style is enhanced with interwoven present-day interviews with the main storytellers, including brothers Saul and Sam Stermer and sisters Sonia and Sima Dodyk. Thanks to the resourcefulness and determination of the brothers, the group had a community that survived despite the odds -- often with very little food or water for days on end, and with very little light.

Review: Trash Dance

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Trash Dance

Trash Dance opens Friday for a weeklong run at Violet Crown Cinema.

The adage that one person's trash is another person's treasure is relevant to Trash Dance, but doesn't apply in the strictest sense. In the Austin indie documentary and the dance performance it celebrates, the treasure isn't the trash -- it's the unlikely beauty of trash collection.

Director Andrew Garrison's film is an inspiring look at the Trash Project, Austin choreographer Allison Orr's ambitious dance performance featuring 24 City of Austin Solid Waste Services Department employees and 16 large sanitation vehicles. (That's right -- trash trucks.) The performance and the film find artistry in the mundane world of picking up garbage; more importantly, they show us there is dignity in even the hardest and least desirable jobs.

Creating the dance was a year-long project starting in late 2008. Orr knew that to choreograph such a work, she had to get to know the workers, earn their trust, understand what they do and study their movements. So she spent many days the job with them, and not just as an observer. She emptied garbage cans, picked up litter, collected dead animals (a task she could barely stomach) and learned to appreciate the finer points of picking up trash. Garrison's film crew tagged along, capturing every messy detail and introducing us to some of the people who keep our world clean.

See 'The Kings of Summer' at AFS Sneak Peek

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The Kings of Summer posterSlackerwood is giving you the chance to see The Kings of Summer next week, almost a month before it opens in Austin theaters ... and at no cost. This popular Sundance 2013 comedy will have a preview screening on Thursday, May 9, at 7:30 pm at Regal Arbor. Austin Film Society has offered us a limited number of spaces on a will-call list to give to Slackerwood readers -- each space is for two people (you and a guest).

If you're on the list, you and your guest will have "secured" space in the theater -- the theater isn't being overbooked, although specific seats aren't reserved for you. This means you won't have to stand in a long line wondering if you'll get in. However, I'd recommend getting there early anyway, in case there's a standby line for unfilled seats.

The Kings of Summer is a coming-of-age movie about three young men who run away from home and spend the summer building and living in their own house in a remote wooded area. The teens are played by Nick Robinson (no, not that one), Gabriel Basso and Moises Arias. The supporting cast includes Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Mary Lynn Rajskub and Alison Brie.

Former Austin film critic Chase Whale reviewed the movie for Twitch when he saw it at Sundance under the title Toy's House. He praised the script and called the movie "an unforgettable coming-of-age comedy that's sweet, witty, and brings back the joys of being young and full of life."

Here's what you have to do to get on the list for this screening: Use the Slackerwood contact form to send me a message with your name and email address. I'll add your name to the list, which I'll send to Austin Film Society, and they'll have it at the Arbor that night. Check in at the box office when you arrive. The deadline to send me your info is 10 pm on Friday, May 3 so I can forward all the names to AFS in time for the screening.