September 2013

Fantastic Fest 2013 Photos: 'Machete Kills'

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Touted as the largest genre film festival in the country, Fantastic Fest wrapped Thursday for its ninth year of subversive entertainment in the new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. This was the first year since its inception in 2005 that the eight-day festival was not held at the Alamo on South Lamar, causing some annual festivalgoers to reminisce about their glory days bowling and drinking at The Highball, located in the same strip center as the theater. This was part of the first-day chatter overheard while people waited to get in the theater for Machete Kills, the Fantastic Fest opening-night film making its world premiere.

Despite the venue change, festivalgoers and industry insiders alike seemed to live in the moment, wearing their badges or holding their tickets with pride. Helping the mood was one of the cars from the film, on display outside the theater (pictured at top). The post-film Q&A was also energizing.

"I'm so proud to be a part of this," actor Danny Trejo said during the Machete Kills Q&A, talking about his participation in the film and Fantastic Fest. Trejo stars as the eponymous character, which he's played in several films. 

Fantastic Fest 2013: A Quartet of Capsule Reviews

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Jodorowsky's DuneThe programming at Fantastic Fest this year has proven to be the most diverse, balanced, and engaging in its nine-year history. The broad appeal of the selections resulted in a positive response for even the weaker choices. If the highest goal to which festival programmers can aspire is to bring to light great films, the work this year was a complete success.

It's impressive that one of the weakest films I saw this week is one many are actually calling Ti West's best film to date. His fourth feature, The Sacrament, is shot documentary-style as a pair of Vice reporters (AJ Bowen and Joe Swanberg) follow a man on the search for his sister that takes him to a Jonestown-like compound.

West has created a modern-day recreation of Jonestown that distills elements of the real thing into a tense feature. The look of his set closely matches photos of the compound. Even Jones's declining health is mirrored in the character "Father," portrayed ironically by actor Gene Jones. AJ Bowen lands most of the screen time here and will earn new fans with his dynamic performance as the reporter Sam. Swanberg is rarely seen as his role takes him behind the documentary camera, and Kentucker Audley, as the third member of the trio, is absent for the majority of the movie. His sister Caroline is Bowen and Swanberg's You're Next costar Amy Seimetz.

Unconvincing dialogue and extended takes made me find myself wishing someone would remind writer/director Ti West to yell "Cut," so it fails to top The Innkeepers as my personal favorite of his films.

Stephen Chow is one of the hottest filmmakers in China and no stranger to genre audiences with hits like Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. With Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, Chow exponentially increases the hilarity and artistry of his craft. Unlike his previous works, Chow remains behind the camera for this one, and the result is a more coherent narrative with the same energy and amazing action you expect but more focused on a linear story progression. This appears to also be Chow's first period piece, allowing him to play with sets, costumes, and creature design that start at "spectacular" and increase from there.

Slackery News Tidbits: September 30, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news (with a video at the end). 

  • Special effect makeup artist and actor Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead) will be live and in the flesh tonight (Monday) at 7:30 pm in the Austin Film Society Screening Room for a Moviemaker Dialogue. Austin filmmaker Clay Liford (Gayby) will speak with Savini about his career on both sides of the camera -- Savini has had acting rolls in From Dusk Till Dawn and Machete Kills -- and as a director (the 90s remake of Night of the Living Dead).
  • Last year's SXSW events had a $218 million economic impact on the City of Austin, reports Silicon Hills. The two-week long SXSW conference last March was the largest ever, with more than 155,000 total conference and festival attendees (defined as any individual who attended at least one SXSW activity).
  • The distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse, Drafthouse Films, has acquired the North American rights to Fantastic Fest 2013 selection R100. The comedy-drama, which takes its name from the Japanese movie rating system, whose equivalent to NC-17 is R18, tells the story of an ordinary man who joins a mysterious club. VOD, digital and theatrical releases are planned for next year. 

Review: Enough Said

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James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said

Enough Said comes from the mind of writer/director Nicole Holofcener, whose works tend to focus on foibles and miscommunications among small groups of upper-middle-class characters. Some of her characters can be gratingly obtuse, yet always have a grain of something relatable about them. This movie differs from her earlier work in that it veers more towards the romantic comedy genre. It's still very obviously a Holofcener film, however.

Divorced masseuse Eva, played by the marvelous Julia Louis-Dreyfus, begins to date divorced museum worker Albert (the late James Gandolfini in his second-to-last film role), and attempts a friendship with new client Marianne (Catherine Keener). She also worries about her daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway, webseries First Day), about to head off to college. These three relationships form the core of the film. Once Eva discovers that Marianne and Albert were once married, she decides not to tell either of them that she is involved with the other. What would a Holofcener movie be without things left unsaid?

Review: Don Jon

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don jon posterDon Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's feature directorial debut, riffs on the idea of the traditional romantic comedy by giving its leading man (Gordon-Levitt, who also wrote the film) a life-dominating internet porn addiction. Though he holds fast to a squeaky clean gym/church/family routine and seems to be open to finding "the one," this sex-obsessed Jersey boy has no qualms about getting off whenever he can with the help of modern technology and a parade of anonymous women.

He also pursues real women as he prowls the bars each week (hence his "Don Jon" nickname), but only for one-night stands he can later brag about to his friends. Each Sunday, he nonchalantly confesses his activities to a priest, recites his penance while lifting weights and doing pull-ups, and then does it all again.

Jon's sin-and-repent cycle is knocked off course when he meets Barbara (played by Scarlett Johansson, who does the blonde bombshell role perfectly). He falls for her purely based on her looks, but as opposed to the one-sided relationships he's used to having with the women he summons to his computer screen, Barbara has demands. She thinks he should further his education and get a better job. She wants their friends and family to meet. She loves seeing cute, dumb movies and makes him watch them, too.

At first Jon goes along with this new life plan, but one of her stipulations might be too much for him to handle. Barbara is appalled to find out he watches porn (even before she knows the extent of his habit) and tells him to stop. As beautiful as his new girlfriend is, Jon still craves the easy detachment of his longtime hobby, and it's soon clear that his porn addiction isn't so much a psychological condition as it is a signifier for the fact that he has no idea how to relate to people.

Because he is so emotionally stunted and Barbara's character is never given much to do besides be bossy while looking gorgeous, what follows is a journey that soon grows a little frustrating. It's hard to tell who Jon and Barbara really are -- do they even know? They saunter around with flashy confidence, but there's not a whole lot going on beneath the facade.

Fantastic Fest Review: Metallica: Through the Never

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Metallica: Through the NeverMy first thought on seeing an extended preview for Metallica: Through the Never was that it looked like Metallica's attempt to create for themselves an icon like Pink Floyd The Wall. On viewing the movie at Fantastic Fest, my impression was cemented by one particular scene where a rioting crowd faces off against a line of police in riot gear.  Director Nimród Antal foregoes the surreal animated scenes that marked The Wall's flights into fancy, but the thematic resonance is unmistakeably clear.

Chronicle's Dane DeHaan is Trip, a roadie for the band whom we see arriving before the concert on a skateboard. Told to stay nearby in case he is needed, Trip walks out into the arena where he watches as a time-lapse view of concert preparations is set to "The Ecstasy of Gold."

From there, the music almost never stops. As the concert launches into full swing, Trip is given a map and a gas can and told to go find a missing truck that contains something of vital importance for the concert. His mission, presented in cuts during and between Metallica's nonstop performance, takes him into a riot of heavy-metal proportions.

Filmed on location at two concerts in Canada (Rogers Arena, Vancouver, BC and Rexall Place, Edmonton, Alberta), Metallica: Through the Never is flashy, loud, gritty, violent, riotous and as revolutionary as Metallica's music.  Crews construct a statue of the goddess of justice that comes crashing violently to the stage as Lars Ullrich sings the words "Justice is gone" from "And Justice For All." An electric chair is suspended above the stage arcs with lightning from an array of Tesla coils in a display as awesome as it is violent. The entire concert is pandemonium akin to a show from the group Survival Research Laboratory.

Above, around, and through all this, Antal takes the audience through the concert as if it were a ride at Disney. The effort to edit as many as 30 cameras at once is phenomenal, but he makes it look effortless. Despite the inevitable comparisons, this is more a concert film than The Wall.  As a concert film, it invites no comparison. It is unbeatable. Metallica: Through the Never opens this weekend and is a must-see for Metallica fans.

Movies This Week: September 27 - October 3, 2013

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Enough Said

Some of you may be in a post-Fantastic Fest haze right now, but this is an incredibly active weekend for new releases and rep screenings in town. Living in Austin truly proves there's no rest for the wicked.

In terms of special events, the Capital City Black Film Festival is going on this weekend with screnings at the Stateside and the Omni Hotel. There's also a special benefit screening of the new film Parkland presented by the Austin Film Society at the Paramount on Sunday to raise money for The Volunteer Services Council of the Austin State Hospital. It includes a Q&A with director Peter Landesman. AFS also is behind Tuesday night's cast and crew advance screening of Machete Kills at the Paramount.

Other AFS screenings over the next week include the spaghetti western Sartana in an archival print, new release Paradise: Hope and the Orthodox drama Ushpizin (presented in conjunction with the Austin Jewish Film Festival), all Sunday at the Marchesa. The latest Essential Cinema series "A Darkened Screen: Films That Were Banned" is wrapping up on Thursday night at the Marchesa with a 35mm blowup print of Abel Ferrara's notorious Driller Killer.

Review: Baggage Claim

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Baggage Claim poster

Oh, Baggage Claim, I wanted to like you. I really did. A romantic comedy wherein a flight attendant (Paula Patton, Precious) attempts to meet up with ex-boyfriends in hopes she can get engaged before her sister's wedding in 30 days sounded like a fun proposition (though silly, certainly). Unfortunately, Patton can't carry this ridiculous film. I kept wishing that Jill Scott, wasted here as close friend Gail, was the lead instead.

As Patton's Montana reclined on a hotel sofa (BTW, this movie is like a feature-length ad for Renaissance Hotels) talking on a phone to Gail, it struck me as too obvious that there was no one on the other end of her prop phone as the camera filmed her on a soundstage. If Patton can't convince me that she's playing this character, well, I just don't know. She holds a simpering grin through about two-thirds of the film. We only really see her personality in spurts.

This is as much director David E. Talbert's fault as anyone's. The screenplay, which he wrote, is based on a novel -- which he also wrote. I sincerely hope Montana in the book is more of an actual character, because she's not here. (Now again, if Jill Scott had played her, maybe things would be different...)

The plot of Baggage Claim is sadly predictable -- as soon as Derek Luke's character was introduced, I could see where things were heading. William and Montana have been friends since childhood, have never dated, but live in the same Baltimore apartment building ... on the same floor, even. How convenient!

Scott, Jenifer Lewis as Montana's wedding-happy mom, and the airline support staff recruited to help Montana in her quest (played by La La Anthony and Affion Crockett among others) are the high points here. I'm happy to see Derek Luke in any film, really, and he gives an earnest performance in this film.

Review: Rush

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Rushhere have been all kinds of sports movies: ones that focus on teams coming together, teams facing mighty odds as underdogs, or a lone athlete and the story that built his/her legendary status. Recently, there has even been a film, Warrior, focused on two opponents but neither was a villain, putting the viewer at odds as to who to root for.

Rush focuses on two opponents as well, but it does something Warrior didn't, bringing a fresh spin on the sports movie genre. While focusing on the story of the opponents, Rush also manages to focus on the psyche of each individual and what really drives them as competitors. You understand so much about each of these two men, especially Niki Lauda (Daniel Brühl), who can't be seen as a simple "villain" to James Hunt's (Chris Hemsworth) "hero" because neither fits the role.

In the 1970s, Formula One Racing had just ascended to the ranks of the more popular sports in the world at the time, and at the height of that popularity, one man became the face of it. James Hunt was charismatic, handsome, carefree and in general the type of man that all men wanted to be. Bursting onto the scene was a hypercompetitive individual that couldn't have been more of a polar opposite of Hunt. Niki Lauda wasn't conventionally handsome, was curt with other drivers and not well liked. The feeling was often mutual. While there was a lengthy roster of drivers, every race seemed to boil down to these two men who captivated the world with their competitiveness, but few ever understood the respect these two men had for each other.

While the driving sequences are spectacular, they are secondary to the performances that the two leads accomplish in Rush. Brühl, at Ron Howard's direction, takes you into the mind of a competitor like no other sports movie ever has. You understand that he will let nothing stop him from achieving what he has worked so hard for, not even spending close to a minute in an 800-degree inferno of a car crash. He's not great at emotions, as his proposal to his future wife illustrates hilariously in a sad sort of way. No matter what you end up feeling about Niki Lauda, you can't ever think of his as a villain, because James Hunt never did.

At the same time, Hemsworth's turn as James Hunt is that of what you might think of any professional athlete. He chases women, drives away the ones closest to him, and competes for a championship not because he's worked for it, but because he feels like his presence alone is worthy of being named champion. Most of the movie is spent conveying the fact that Hunt hates that Lauda is constantly there, but the moments where his respect for Lauda comes through make this a remarkable sports movie about two competitors.

Fantastic Fest Review: Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero

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Hentai Kamen

Well, this is what Fantastic Fest is all about: a Japanese movie about a teenager who derives superheroic powers from wearing girls' panties on his face. (They can't be new panties, either. You get the picture.) How could I possibly not see a movie with such a premise?

And happily, Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero manages to live up to its premise and deliver, both as a superhero movie and better still, as a spoof of contemporary superhero movies. It's obvious that this movie's budget is probably a single-digit percentage of a Marvel blockbuster, but it's easily twice as funny.

The fun starts with the opening credits, a panties-laden riff on the Spider-Man (2002) credits, and climbs from there. Kyosuke (Suzuki Ryohei) is a high-school student -- his late father was a policeman who met his mother, a professional dominatrix, during a raid. Kyosuke wants to follow in his father's footsteps and deliver justice, but he's too puny for vigilantism. But then one of those accidents that creates superheroes occurs: He inadvertantly pulls a pair of women's underwear on his face and ... Hentai Kamen (which translates as "Pervert Mask") is born!

Fantastic Fest 2013 Dispatch: Birthdays, Filmmakers and Festival Fatigue

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Devin Faraci and AJ BowenI can't possibly imagine how I would have managed this year's Fantastic Fest anywhere other than at the new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. Balancing the demands of a new day job and my first film project along with the festival has been a daunting task, but the ten-minute commute and ease of parking helps. Attending Fantastic Fest has always been an immersive experience for me as I soak up content and engage in social interactions with incredibly talented filmmakers, actors, fans and film critics -- such as Badass Digest's Devin Faraci (who's in Jodorowsky's Dune) and actor A.J. Bowen (The Sacrament) seen above -- from around the world.

I am also extremely fortunate that despite having lost my Superfan status of several years when the lottery was implemented, I've still had great experiences at Fantastic Fest. The only disadvantage is not being able to get into the high demand and secret screenings to sit with the Fantastic Fiends that I've known since the first fest in 2005. 

Gary Kent Prepares You to Meet the "Danger Gods" on Friday

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Gary KentBy Ellie Kotapish

Prepare yourself for jaw-dropping tales and a night in Austin with five of the most daring men in Hollywood. Starting in the 1960s, these "Danger Gods" have been performing stunts of extreme levels for many years. But they are capable of more than just crashing cars and freefalling from tall buildings.

I had a sneak preview of what's to come at Friday night's "Our Dinner with the Danger Gods" event, as special guest Gary Kent (pictured at right in his early stuntman days) discussed revolutionary cinema in the 1970s along with his experience as a stuntman and filmmaker.

Counterculture takeover:

The '60s were a time of revolution in the streets as well as the studios. This change is evident not only in the content of the films but also in the filmmakers themselves. Kent entered into this counterculture takeover fully aware of this "new energy," as he described it. It was this revolution in filmmaking that lured Kent to Hollywood in the first place.

With television absorbing audiences, drive-ins were left with a different crowd and "no product," Kent said. At the same time, this vacuum at the heart of the exhibition market meant independent filmmakers finally had a place to showcase their work. And with no studio control, the subject matter had virtually no limits.

Love of the stunt:

As all these forces were beginning to coalesce, Kent took a bus to L.A. to pursue acting under the naive impression that the actors performed their own stunts. It didn't take him long to realize that his skills as a stuntman were in higher demand than his acting talents.

Kent's first gig as a stuntman – with no experience whatsoever – was on Monte Hellman's film The Shooting (1966). At the same time -- and shooting in the same locations -- he doubled for actors Jack Nicholson and Cameron Mitchell on the film Ride in the Whirlwind (1966).

Fantastic Fest Review: Blue Ruin

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Blue Ruin

Fantastic Fest is a good time for me to watch movies that I worry will be outside my comfort zone. People who sit next to me may be amused to notice me peeking through my fingers a lot during the gorier scenes. I want to look away -- I can't. And then I go home and have to read M.F.K. Fisher or Jane Austen so I don't have nightmares about whatever I watched at the festival that day.

Austin connections of any kind help push me into movies I might not normally pick. Blue Ruin is a great example. The description made it sound a little too intensely bloody/violent for me. But then I learned that former Austinite Macon Blair stars in the movie. I'd seen Blair in a couple of Steve Collins films (Gretchen, You Hurt My Feelings) and felt I should give Blue Ruin a try. The gamble paid off beautifully, and Blue Ruin is definitely one of the top films I saw at the fest this year. It is indeed intense, bloody and violent ... and damned good.

The movie unspools carefully, letting the audience learn the backstory bit by bit instead of spelling it out in huge patronizing letters. Dwight (Blair) lives out of his car, not afraid to eat out of trash bins or bathe in houses where no one's home. He learns that a criminal is being released from jail after 20 years -- someone who destroyed his family and considering where he is now, probably his future as well. He decides it's time for revenge.

Reaffirming My Manifesto: A Fantastic Fest Mid-week Recap

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Mood Indigo

I survived my long weekend of Fantastic Fest. I make it sound so arduous, when really it's one of my favorite weekends every year. It always feels like Christmas and Halloween rolled into one.

I prepped for the festival by attending the Austin Film Society's Moviemaker Dialogue with Harry Manfredini in mid-September. As the composer of Friday the 13th and other classic horror films, Manfredini was asked to comment on the current state of the genre he knows so well. "It tends to be a lot of mammary glands and no plot." The women's lib side of me thought, "Yeah!" but then I started hearing the conversation I inevitably have this time of year: "Isn't Fantastic Fest all gore and violence? Is that really your thing?"

To those who know me, gore and horror aren't my thing, but that's not what Fantastic Fest is about. Last year, I wrote an article about how I survive the fest. After having another wonderful weekend of crazy, over-the-top, and often moving cinema, I'm ready to say why I survive Fantastic Fest.

Fantastic Fest Review: Grand Piano

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Grand Piano at Fantastic Fest

"Like Phone Booth, but with a piano." "It's what you'd get if Brian De Palma decided to rework Unfaithfully Yours."

Glib descriptions of Grand Piano like the ones above (overheard at Fantastic Fest) don't do the film justice, not at all. I'm not even certain they give you an accurate idea of what you're about to see. On the other hand, a plot summarization of the thriller makes it sound ridiculous ... and thanks to filmmakers and stars, it is instead breathtakingly suspenseful.

Grand Piano takes place during a concert of classical music. It begins as one of those potentially enervating movies about a pianist, Tom Selznick (Elijah Wood), giving his first public performance five years after a notorious failed concert. His wife (Kerry Bishe) is a famous actress whose career has eclipsed his, and who's obviously pulled strings to get the event set up, with help from a conductor friend (Don McManus). And just when you think you're in the middle of A Star is Born during the Norman Maine decline, the concert starts and out of nowhere, the movie shifts gears into a thriller with death on the line. That's not the only genre shift in the movie, either.

Fantastic Fest Review: Afflicted

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Just when you thought a trope had reached the end of its shelf life, a new vision appears and adds more days to that trope's expiration date. This year's vision comes in the form of a new horror film called Afflicted. Afflicted tells the story of Derek (Derek Lee), and Clif (Clif Prowse), best friends about to depart for a round-the-world trip of high adventure.

The film opens with a set of vignettes (shot in the style of MTV's The Real World), where the friends describe to the camera their long-standing friendships and excitement for this round-the-world trip. The trip begins in Barcelona where the friends meet some musician friends on the final leg of their European tour, which wraps in Paris a few days later.

After their friend's final show, our protagonists find themselves in a seedy Paris bar where we are treated to the obligatory horror film hookup scene. After "working the program," Derek finds himself in the company of a beautiful Parisian girl and soon disappears to his hotel room. After having a few more drinks, Cliff and his musician buddies decide to play a prank on Derek by crashing into the hotel room they are sharing. After barging into the hotel room, Clif and his friends are shocked to find Derek unconscious and sporting a nasty shoulder wound. In true horror fashion, this is a hookup gone wrong. This attack affects the remainder of their trip as Derek slowly sinks into illness.

Fantastic Fest 2013 Dispatch: Scriptless Successes, Covert Disney Ops and Grand Suspense

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Escape From TomorrowAfter three days of films and parties, it would seem the only bad choice at Fantastic Fest 2013 is to not be at Fantastic Fest this year. Response to almost all the movies has been overwhelmingly positive, and I found at the end of the second day that I enjoyed every selection more than the previous one.

I began the fest on Thursday with Coherence, an intriguing exploration into the human psyche when confronted with an impossible situation. Many of the best films over the years of the fest have been shot on zero budget with just a good idea and a great script. This one foregoes the script and instead let the actors truly go "method" as they were only provided with character notes about motivations or specific things they needed to say or do. Yet from these, the actors build performances that draw the audience into their nightmare.

One of the most feel-good selections ever witnessed by Fantastic Fest viewers, Detective Downs' title appears deceptively insensitive. It is, however, a rare film that never insults with boorish attitudes nor by handling its subject with kid gloves. The limitations imposed by Downs Syndrome are not lost on the titular detective, Robert Bogerud, but in the face of dismissal by everyone around him this hero persists in emphasizing his unique strengths. With a spot-on noir aesthetic, a dark plot, and some perfectly-chosen offbeat covers of familiar tunes, Detective Downs is still entirely worthy of a Fantastic Fest marquee, even though it will leave you smiling.

Escape From Tomorrow has received the strongest buzz of any movie at the fest this year, and there was no question I had to see it at the first opportunity. It is as notable for the way it was filmed as for the amazing story it presents. Except for a couple of shots, the film was shot entirely on the grounds of Walt Disney World's Epcot Center and Magic Kingdom parks, without the consent or knowledge of Disney. It is an achievement in underground cinematography, reviving techniques from the earliest days of filmmaking. Meticulously planned shooting schedules required the actors and crew to criss-cross the park to be able to shoot in the right daylight. Eerie, empty shots of a deserted park meant they had to be the first to arrive, running into the park  to get shots before anyone else turned up at the attractions. All this is used, however, to present a multi-layered story that is as ingenious as it is subversive. This is a mind-blowing look at the seedy underside of the "happiest place on Earth."

Eugenio Mira is a Spanish talent well-known to Fantastic Fest audiences as the composer of Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes. He's also premiered two films at the fest (The Birthday in 2005, Agnosia in 2010), neither of which has had much traction in the U.S. That is about to change. Starring Elijah Wood, John Cusack and Alex Winter, Mira's latest, Grand Piano, is a contender as one of the strongest films to ever play at Fantastic Fest. After a few minutes to introduce the players and set the stage, Grand Piano takes flight into thriller territory not as well explored since Hitchcock and a possible career-best performance for Elijah Wood. Grand Piano is not to be missed -- and since Magnet is releasing the film in the U.S. next year, there's no need to miss it.

Slackery News Tidbits: September 23, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news. 

  • Polari (formerly aGLIFF) has just announced its 26th annual festival lineup, which includes Austinite Yen Tan's drama Pit Stop (Debbie's Sundance review), PJ Raval's documentary Before You Know It (Don's SXSW review) and Clay Liford's short Slash, which just played Fantastic Fest last night (Debbie's interview). The oldest film festival in Austin takes place Oct. 16-20. 
  • Acquisition news from Fantastic Fest: IFC Midnight acquired the North American rights to the scifi-horror flick Almost Human, according to IndieWire. The film, about a man's search for the killer behind a series of grisly murders, will screen again tomorrow at Alamo Lakeline. 
  • The Elijah Wood-fronted Grand Piano, which had its world premiere Friday at Fantastic Fest, has been picked up for U.S. distribution by Magnet for a planned 2014 release, the filmmakers announced. Eugenio Mira's thriller will screen again on Tuesday at Alamo Lakeline. Keep an eye out for Jette's review.
  • Austinite David Gordon Green's (Prince Avalanche) latest film, Manglehorn, will begin filming in Austin this fall, reports Deadline. The drama, starring Al Pacino and Holly Hunter, follows an eccentric man trying to come to terms with a past crime that lost him the love of his life.

Fantastic Fest Interview: Clay Liford, 'Slash'

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Clay Liford

Local filmmaker Clay Liford's short film Slash (aka S/ash), which premiered at Dallas IFF in April, screens this week at Fantastic Fest. This wickedly funny short film portrays Sam (Arthur Dale), a 13-year-old boy who writes erotic fan fiction involving characters from the Harry Potter franchise. Not an unlikely premise when you think of Internet Rule #34: "If it exists, there's porn for it."

I met with Liford at a local coffeehouse where he frequently works on projects, and we spoke about Slash and its creation as well as other projects. Liford traveled this past week to New York for Independent Film Project (IFP) Film Week where the script for the feature-length version of Slash was included in a project. He describes his short film as "a very nerd movie about this subculture of fan fiction" and spoke of the challenge presented by references to copyrighted materials in an unintended light.

The selection of the name Slash contains a double meaning -- not only is "slash" a type of fan fiction that features homoerotic relationships (often male), but it's also a reference to Harry Potter's signature lightning-shaped scar.

Fantastic Fest Interview: Tyler Mager and Americo Siller, 'Witch'

Cast of Witch

The short film Witch is one of two Austin-shot shorts accepted for programming this year at Fantastic Fest 2013. It's screening as one of the Short Fuse selections. I spoke with local writer/directors Tyler Mager and Americo Siller about the production.

Slackerwood: Which of you had the idea for Witch? And what was the inspiration?

Tyler Mager: We came up with the idea together over numerous writing meetings. 

Americo Siller: It's a bar, a beer, a table, and a two-hour talk as Tyler scribbles everything down in a spiral notebook.

Mager: It started with an idea of classic supernatural monster mythology and how it would be looked at now. If a crazy psycho was going around eating the hearts of victims, most would automatically think it was, you know, some sort of serial killer. But what if it was a witch, an honest-to-goodness evil entity that lives through the life force of others. So we decided to maintain the realistic aspects of a potential serial killer while still staying true to classic witch mythology.

Movies This Week: September 20-26, 2013

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John Gallagher Jr. and Brie Larson star in "Short Term 12" 

While genre fans from near and far are getting their cinematic fill at Fantastic Fest this week, there are still plenty of options for those of us not attending the festival. The Austin Film Society has a full weekend planned at the Marchesa with screenings of The Mercenary (in 35mm tonight and Sunday), It Felt Like Love (with director Eliza Hittman in attendance on Saturday) and Paradise: Faith (the second film in the Paradise trilogy plays on Sunday evening). Looking ahead to Thursday night, Elia Kazan's Baby Doll is playing in 35mm as part of the new Essential Cinema series "A Darkened Screen: Films That Were Banned." 

When it comes to the Alamo Drafthouse, Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies is moving down to the Slaughter Lane location for its second week of screenings, and there's a special Sunday evening presentation of Kids In The Hall: Brain Candy at the Village with Kevin McDonald in attendance for a Q&A. Most other non-Fantastic Fest events for the week are at Alamo Ritz, where you'll find 42nd Street for Broadway Brunch and a 35mm screening of American Graffiti on Saturday, a 16mm Sprocket Society matinee on Sunday, and a glorious 35mm screening of Wes Anderson's Rushmore on Wednesday night. 

Review: Still Mine

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The subject of age in film has always been a fascinating one to me. Hollywood tries so hard to focus on the next up-and-coming star or starlet, glorifying them in HD on the big screen. We as audiences are looking to stay forever young through the films we watch too, focusing on what we can do to make ourselves look thinner and younger, just like these celebrities.

That's why films like Still Mine are important to me. It's not often that you see a film that focuses on the struggle of the later years in life, when family has grown up and moved on. In a film world full of romantic comedies often centered on young people, we don't often hear the stories of the ones who have lived through the most.

Craig (James Cromwell) and his wife Irene (Geneviéve Bujold) have been married for 61 years. They live a simple life on a farm, we are introduced to their daily activities: raising cattle, harvesting their own vegetables, and essentially living off the land that they own. Their daily routine is unbreakable and content, until Irene begins to lose her memory. Little things at first, but each day seems to get worse once she stops remembering things like where she lives or where things are in the house. Without Irene's contributions towards the upkeep of their property, Craig realizes that it is too big of a homestead for them to take care of. In an effort to help Irene regain her memory as well as to take on a new challenge, he decides that he is going to build a new home for them elsewhere on their property.  

Fantastic Fest 2013: How to Get There, and Late-Night Dining

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Lakeline Long Ago

Debbie has put together a great guide to food and drink in the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline area, but I realized Fantastic Fest attendees need some late-night options. They are few, but there are some. Debbie has already included RC Fowlers on 620, which has a kitchen open until 2 am, and the 24/7 Kerbey Lane Cafe at 183 and Anderson Mill Rd.

In addition, there's a Whataburger at 183 and 620, and another at Lakeline Blvd and Cypress Creek Road. Jim's at 183 and McNeil Rd is open 24 hours. They are all five minutes or less from Lakeline.

Now, why the above photo? The entire shopping center where Alamo Lakeline resides and Fantastic Fest 2013 will take place was this empty field just a year ago. Even many local fest attendees are unfamiliar with the new complex.

So I wanted to clear up some confusion for those who are unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable driving in the area. Alamo Lakeline sits at the transition where a free US highway (183) automatically becomes a toll road. Miss the last free exit or take the wrong onramp, and you won't even see a toll booth. Handy traffic cameras will shoot your plates and deliver a severely inflated bill months later for the privilege of having to drive a mile or two out of your way to get back on the proper path.

Review: Short Term 12

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Short Term 12

No one who sees Short Term 12 will be surprised that writer/director Destin Cretton spent two years working in a group home for at-risk teens.

A riveting story about such a home, the film feels so authentic and emotionally on target that it's obviously the work of someone with first-hand experience. Short Term 12 is, in a word, real.

And painfully so. Based on Cretton's 2008 short film of the same title, Short Term 12 pulls no punches as it tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson), the twentysomething lead supervisor in a foster-care facility for kids whose worst enemies are their own families. All her charges are in a world of hurt, from Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a quiet but sometimes violent 17-year-old who's about to age out of the system, to Sammy (Alex Calloway), a perpetual flight risk who's more child than teen and who slumps into a deep depression when his therapist has all his dolls taken away.

Grace is dating one of her co-workers, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). The two have a solid long-term relationship; they also have no trouble separating their personal and professional lives, leaving their relationship at home while helping the kids.

Lone Star Cinema: Rushmore

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Jason Schwartzman and Seymour Cassell in Rushmore

Rushmore tends to be a favorite among Wes Anderson fans I've known. Even people who don't typically like Anderson's movies still appreciate the 1998 prep school comedy. Anderson's second film, based on a screenplay he wrote with Owen Wilson, has bite to it, and isn't as overly stylized as his later works. 

Jason Schwartzman plays 15-year-old Max, who is overinvolved with extracurricular activities at Rushmore Academy, a boys' prep school. He's not as adept at academics, however. The headmaster (Brian Cox) refers to him as "one of the worst students we've got." In one fall month, Max becomes besotted with widowed grade-school teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) and befriends bored millionaire Harold Blume (Bill Murray).

Max is self-confident, yet struggles when Ms. Cross doesn't return his affections.  Both he and Blume stalk Ms. Cross periodically. During a recent re-watch, my friend and I found this harassment -- along with Max's shooting of an air rifle at the school campus that was supposedly funny at that time, I guess -- off-putting.  Max is finally humbled when his quest to build an aquarium in her honor (on school grounds) gets him expelled.

Fantastic Fest 2013: The Scoop on Alamo Lakeline

Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline Ribbon-Cutting

By Jette Kernion

"I would just like to apologize in advance to all visiting @fantasticarcade guests for North Austin. Yeeech."

--Wiley Wiggins

I may or may not have retweeted the above sentiment, but I want to start by saying It's Not That Bad. Really. Read Debbie's excellent guide to North Austin dining options and you'll see a lot of diverse local choices -- it's not all Applebee's and Panera. Besides, there's something to be said for having 24-hour Denny's and IHOP near a film-festival venue, am I right?

Let me back up here for those new to Fantastic Fest or even to North Austin. Since it started in 2005, Fantastic Fest has been primarily a one-location film festival, and that location has been Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, a fine theater that is close to downtown and in a funky South Austin neighborhood itself.

AFF's 20th Anniversary Lineup, from Award Winners to Low-Budget 'Jewels'

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aff logoHighlights of the Austin Film Festival 2013 lineup, announced Tuesday, include Cannes Grand Prix winner Inside Llewyn Davis from former Austinites Joel and Ethan Coen, Toronto IFF favorite 12 Years a Slaveand the star-studded ensemble August: Osage CountyThe full lineup consists of over 70 features and over 100 short films, including several US and world premieres. 

Other eye-catchers selected for the 20th anniversary lineup include Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela), Philomena (Stephen Frears' latest), a documentary directed by Whoopi Goldberg (HBO's Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley), and the previously announced Nebraska from Alexander Payne.

Films are presented in traditional categories like Marquee Screenings, Documentary Features, Comedy Vanguard and Dark Matters, and this year reveals a couple of new sections: Heart of Film and Write/Rec, which both highlight the best in low budget filmmaking and "out of competition jewels." (We were excited to see that Write/Rec selection 3 References comes from local filmmaker James Christopher, who guest blogged the film's shoot for Slackerwood.)

Five Questions for Eliza Hittman, 'It Felt Like Love'

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It Felt Like Love

Filmmaker Eliza Hittman comes to Austin on Saturday, September 21 for the Austin Film Society and Cinema East presentation of It Felt Like Love at AFS at the Marchesa.

Hittman's first feature film was an instant critical success when it premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Drawing favorable comparisons to films by Catherine Breillat and Larry Clark, the movie was most celebrated for having a cinematic vision all its own of teenage girlhood. Hittman's sublime artistry and masterful knack for storytelling makes It Felt Like Love one of the must-see indies of the year.

In answering my five questions about the film, Hittman discusses the predatory instincts of teenage girls, her own Brooklyn summers at age 14, the one photograph that inspired the feature, and breaking the mold.

Holly Herrick: The movie feels like an anti-coming-of-age story, which is so refreshing. There is no voyage of self-discovery -- the heroine is charging forward towards an idea of her desires, yet they are unclear to her. Can you discuss how you approached this dilemma?

Fantastic Fest 2013: North Austin Cuisine and Libations

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Fantastic Fest 2013

Fantastic Fest this year has moved to Alamo Drafthouse's largest facility at Lakeline -- ten screens and combined seating for 944 customers. Not only is the theater in a different part of Austin, but changes have been made to the standard Alamo Drafthouse menu at all locations to ensure customer satisfaction. Despite their popularity with many moviegoers, the potato skins and nachos have been removed from the menu as League and his culinary staff strive to improve consistency and quality of food items.

Eight days of consuming Alamo Drafthouse food during Fantastic Fest leaves many attendees craving local as well as inexpensive options. Although several of the restaurants nearest the new location are national chains like Fuddrucker's and Olive Garden, there's no shortage of great dining and drinking establishments accessible by vehicle within a three-mile radius, including several personal favorites of Slackerwood contributors. Although not reflected on the City of Austin Bike Map, Pecan Park Blvd has a bike lane that can be considered in the medium to high comfort range.

Navigating the area around Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline isn't too difficult once you get the "lay of the land." Remember that the theater is just northwest of the intersection of two major highways -- U.S. 183, which runs north/south, and Ranch Road (RR) 620, which becomes Toll Road 45 east of 183. Pay attention to signs to avoid tolls when driving north of the theater location by using "old 183," officially named South Bell Blvd.

Here's a few of our recommendations in the area, sorted by proximity to Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline:

Lakeline -- Immediate Vicinity

These restaurants are theoretically within walking or biking distance of Alamo Lakeline, but you want to exercise extreme caution around the high traffic zones of the U.S. 183 frontage roads and RR 620.

  • Smashburger (14028 N Hwy 183, Bldg. G-310) -- This newly opened burger franchise is a stone's throw from the front of the theater. Although not a personal favorite, its proximity ensures that I'll be stopping in to try a truffle mushroom Swiss burger.

Austin Vintage Theater Tour: The Americana

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Americana

When the Paul Scharader/Bret Easton Ellis collaboration The Canyons was released last month, many were no doubt focusing on some of the more salacious elements from the film. Yet one of the more telling aspects, which went almost unnoticed, was the opening credit sequence comprising shots of old abandoned Los Angeles movie theaters. The sequence not only shows how the art of cinemagoing is in decline, but also how these elaborately built movie houses that once offered escape and wonder to audiences are now left in ruins.

In this series, I'll focus on similar cases here in Austin -- cinemas that thrived in their heyday until, for various reasons, they were forced to switch off their projectors and close their doors before being given a second life.

The first theater in the series is The Americana Theatre, which opened in 1965 in what was then a small neighborhood located just off of Burnet Road. The theater was built by Earl Podolnick, President of Trans-Texas Theaters Inc., in an effort to raise the community's local profile.

Slackery News Tidbits: September 16, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austin Film Festival has been awarded a $25,000 TexTreasures Grant to preserve five years of its audio and video collection, North Dallas Gazette reports. The collection will then be housed at Texas State University in San Marcos. The grant from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Among many other awards, the commission also approved a $49,500 grant to the Round Rock Library System for a "makerspace" collaboration to benefit middle-school students with STEM and art projects.
  • Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul is starring alongside Juliette Lewis in Austinite Kat Candler's Hellion, according to Deadline. The indie feature drama, currently in production around Central Texas, stemmed from Candler's award-winning short film of the same name, about a seven-year-old who falls prey to his older brother's mischievous ways in a small Texas refinery town. Fellow Austinite Jonny Mars, who appeared in the SXSW 2012 short, is returning for the feature, along with Austin producer Kelly Williams. Other local connections include executive producers Jeff Nichols (Mud) and Sarah Green (The Tree of Life). 
  • The Austin Chronicle reports that the Texas Book Festival (Oct. 26 and 27 at the State Capitol Building in Austin) has announced its 2013 lineup. Film-related connections include Austin filmmaker Owen Egerton (Everyone Says That at the End of the World), Lynda Obst (Sleepless In Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business), SXSW Film Producer and Senior Programmer Jarod Neece (Austin Breakfast Tacos: The Story of the Most Important Taco of the Day) and screenwriter/author Stephen Harrigan. 

Review: The Family

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The Family PosterA favorite cable television series in recent years for me has been USA Network's In Plain Sight about U.S. Marshals charged with relocating and protecting federal witnesses. The dramatization of people who must adjust to a new life with a new identity is engaging and thought provoking. How does a person not only leave behind their friends and relations, but also change their occupation or interests to avoid detection?

Based on by French crime fiction author Tonino Benacquista, writer/director Luc Besson's The Family provides darkly humorous insight of a former Mafioso and his family's existence within a federal witness program. When extortion and illegal activities are all you've known for your entire life, it's not easy to adjust to a different lifestyle -- even in the idyllic setting of the French Riviera or the historic and slower-paced Normandy.

Robert De Niro portrays Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni, who has a $20 million dollar bounty on his head after ratting out the boss to the Feds. Several years have passed since the Manzoni family had to leave their Brooklyn home and yet they still haven't quite given up old habits. Wife Maggie Blake (Michelle Pfeiffer) has a knack for setting off explosions and son Warren (John D'Leo) sets up extortion and bribery schemes in his school.

Only 17-year-old teen Belle (Glee star Dianna Agron) desires a somewhat normal life, with a fantasy of true romance to save her from her family's restrained existence. Meanwhile the family's handlers, including Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), keep a watchful eye on the Manzoni clan. Settling in doesn't go too well for the family, and it's not long before a flock of hitmen descend on their small hamlet to eliminate the Manzonis.

The casting of The Family is a mixed bag, with De Niro playing his typecast role with natural humor. Pfeiffer also nails it as a Brooklyn mafioso wife who misses the good life, yet loves her husband and children fiercely. Agron appears miscast as the daughter of a mafioso -- she's able to display the Manzoni sociopathic tendency towards rage and violence, but her perfect features and lack of a Brooklyn accent are glaring against the rest of the Manzoni family. At 27, Agron is outgrowing her ability to realistically portray a high-school teenager.

Movies This Week: September 13-19, 2013

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Drinking Buddies

Austin Film Society's "Western All'Italiana" series continues tonight and Sunday with Sergio Sollima's Face To Face from 1967 at the Marchesa. The Les Blank Memorial Fish Fry will be a more intimate gathering on Saturday evening at the AFS Screening Room. There will indeed be a fish fry and beer along with 16mm screenings of several Blank documentaries including 1980's Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe (a recent addition to Criterion's Hulu Plus channel if you can't make it).

One of the best things about AFS taking over the Marchesa (and their installation of a new DCP projection system) is that very niche independent and foreign releases that would otherwise never make it to the big screen in Austin are getting screened. This Sunday afternoon, you won't want to miss Paradise: Love, the first film in Ulrich Seidl's acclaimed and controversial new trilogy. You'll have a chance to see the second and third films in the trilogy at the Marchesa over the next two weekends as well. Speaking of controversial films, this month's Essential Cinema series, "A Darkened Screen: Films That Were Banned," continues on Thursday night with Bertolucci's Last Tango In Paris.

The Alamo Ritz has an incredibly rare treat for fans of expermental cinema with 4 hours to spare on Saturday afternoon. A new restoration on loan from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Stan Brakhage's The Art Of Vision will be screening at noon. Local fave Computer Chess will be returning there on Saturday and Sunday afternoon (which will also feature a Q&A), local movie fanatic Neil Wilson has handpicked a 35mm print of The Karate Kid to run for his annual birthday screening on Sunday and a brand new 35mm print of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind that recently debuted at Film Forum in NYC also begins a week of select screenings on Monday night. 

Alamo Drafthouse -- Lakeline

Address: 
14028 N US Highway 183, Bldg F, Austin, TX 78717
Phone: 
(512) 861-7070

Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline Ribbon-Cutting

The Lakeline location is the newest and biggest Alamo Drafthouse in the Austin area, with 10 screens. The general consensus is that the theater layout, features and quality are very similar to the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter location. Like Slaughter, the tables are to one side of each seat, and you share with a neighbor.

The design theme for this theater is Planet of the Apes. Lakeline has a small adjoining bar, Glass Half Full, with indoor and outdoor seating (and the patio has fan misters).

Pros: Lakeline is a brand-new theater with ample parking. As with Slaughter, the seating is designed so the front row is still a pleasant viewing experience. The servers are a step below each seat, so they won't get in your line of sight. The stairways are wider than other Drafthouse locations, making it easier to get in and out.

Cons: The servers are a step below each seat, which means you need to be careful when getting in and out of your seat (especially in the dark -- especially if you've been enjoying the Drafthouse alcoholic beverages). Rush-hour traffic up 183 North can be nasty and often lasts until after 7 pm.

Most Drafthouse screenings now have reserved seating. I'll leave it to you to decide whether this is a pro or a con.

Screens and capacity:  The capacity of each screen (including wheelchair-friendly seating), plus special features:

  • Theater 1 -- 34 seats
  • Theater 2 -- 44 seats (set up for RealD 3D)
  • Theater 3 -- 118 seats (set up for 35 mm)
  • Theater 4 -- 140 seats
  • Theater 5 -- 136 seats (set up for RealD 3D)
  • Theater 6 -- 136 seats
  • Theater 7 -- 142 seats
  • Theater 8 -- 118 seats
  • Theater 9 -- 44 seats
  • Theater 10 -- 34 seats

All screens are set up for Sony 4K digital projection.

Parking: The parking lot is huge -- no worries here.

Distance: Lakeline is far enough north that we can debate whether it's in Austin or Cedar Park. (I'm not going to get out all the maps again and make an official ruling right now, though.) It's a good 30-minute drive downtown. Public transportation is available in the area but isn't easy to work with if you're not a Cap Metro veteran. It is not a bike-friendly or even pedestrian-friendly part of town.

On-site food and beverages: Alamo Lakeline offers a full menu for lunch and dinner, including an extensive beer menu (32 beers on tap) and full bar with specialty cocktails at Glass Half Full. The menu is slightly different from other Drafthouse venues in Austin. Brunch is available on weekends through early afternoon.

Nearby dining options: Please read Debbie's excellent "Fantastic Fest 2013: North Austin Cuisine and Libations" guide for an in-depth look at what's available in the area.

Wireless/reception: No word yet on whether Lakeline has wireless access. We've heard the cell phone reception up there is poor for some carriers -- more info as Fantastic Fest progresses.

[Photo credit: "Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline Ribbon-Cutting" by Jack Plunkett, used with permission from Alamo Drafthouse.]

International Fests Provide a Preview of Texas Films

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dallas buyers club

It's both fun and frustrating to follow the blogs and twitter updates of people attending fall film festivals (Venice Film Festival ended last week and Toronto International Film Festival ends Sunday). The abundance of fresh reviews being published online makes it easy to start building an "I wanna see that" list, but hearing critics' boasts and brags about their favorites can stir up a distracting amount of jealousy and impatience (that's true for this movie fan, anyway).

Luckily Austin ranks somewhat reasonably as a film city so we'll get to see many of these enticing movies soon enough (especially with Austin Film Festival just a few weeks away). While we wait, here's a list of titles with Texas or Austin connections that have been stirring up some buzz at recent festivals. As usual, it looks like our local filmmakers and actors are doing the Lone Star State proud. 

Dallas Buyers Club -- This based-on-a-true-story drama is set in Dallas and stars Austin regular (and future Oscar-nominee?) Matthew McConaughey. Based on the breathless reactions to its world premiere in Venice and North American premiere at TIFF, it's likely that Jean-Marc Vallee's film about HIV in 1986 is on its way to awards recognition of some kind. Between McConaughey's performance (and physical transformation -- he dropped a ton of weight for the shoot) and the dark subject matter (illness, homophobia, illegal drug smuggling) this one has critics all aflutter -- it actually has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes right now. 

TAMI Flashback: Central Texas Fun in the Sun

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A Boat Is Not a Car

This article inaugurates Slackerwood's second series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article in the first series.

After a nearly two-year hiatus, it's great to be back on the Slackerwood TAMI beat. Since our first TAMI series ended in December 2011, TAMI has added a zillion or so new videos to its ever-expanding collection. The site also has undergone a slick redesign with lots of helpful features, including a monthly article highlighting new releases.

I'm kicking off this new series with a trio of 1970s vintage videos about outdoor fun in the Texas Hill Country, a popular destination for Austinites as the 100-degree heat of summer gives way to the crisp and refreshing 90-degree chill of fall.

Produced circa 1972 for the Highland Lakes Tourist Association and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Ballooning over LBJ Country is a tour of the Highland Lakes, starting 85 miles northwest of Austin at Lake Buchanan and ending at Lake Austin. As a balloon drifts over the lakes and shows us stunning Hill Country landscapes, an earthbound family travels the same route in an RV, visiting Hill Country towns and landmarks.

Ready, Set, Fund: Of Monsters and Men

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

Tinker Bell just didn't cut it for me as a kid. I was more about the depictions of changelings that I read about in the half-price Scandinavian mythology books my family members thought made "nice" Christmas gifts. Needless to say, when I read about the Indiegogo campaign for the independent "unreliable documentary" Preternatural I got excited -- and wished I had $35,000 to give its filmmakers. 

Austin-based brothers Sean and Tim Cunningham (part of the team behind 2012's Austin-shot indie Sick Boy) have racked up more than 60 feature film credits (nine of those received VFX Academy Award-nominations), and they now aim to put terror back into fairy folklore. No more of this post-Victorian, Disneyfied ludicousness; with Preternatural, about modern-day monsters living amongst us in plain sight, we're talking "eat your face type of creatures" like changelings (typically the offspring of fairies that's been substituted for a human child), trolls, ogres, shifters and "much, much worse."

Fantastic Fest 2013: News Roundup, Austin Ties and a Cry for Help

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Fantastic Fest 2013 posterFantastic Fest is announcing all kinds of movies and events practically daily at this point. I leave my computer to get a sandwich and return to find out that Keanu Reeves is debating Tim League. Or that Errol Morris will be there, receiving an award and screening his latest film. Today I got a list of red-carpet events, giving me the chance to snap photos of celebrities from Danny Trejo to Elijah Wood.

First of all, the "whole" lineup of shorts and features has been announced, although I would not be surprised to see a few more announcements pop up in the next week. You might already have heard the news that Terry Gilliam's film The Zero Theorem will close the festival (please, let it be better than the other two Gilliam movies I've seen at Fantastic Fest), and that Metallica will be in Austin for the documentary Metallica Through the Never 3D, directed by Nimrod Antal, who also directed the Predators reboot Robert Rodriguez produced, and who appears in Machete (one of the bodyguards who shouldn't have tangled with the "gardener.")

I found a few Austin and Texas connections in the features and shorts, besides Machete Kills, the fest's opening-night film:

  • All the Boys Love Mandy Lane -- Actually this Central Texas-shot horror movie is available to buy for online streaming right now, but if you've been waiting six or so years to see it on a big screen (I was assigned to review it twice at Cinematical, and both times the release date fell through), Fantastic Fest has it for you.
  • We Gotta Get Out of This Place -- From the press release: "Three fun-seeking teenagers end up on the VERY wrong side of a bloodthirsty crew of rural crimelords." The feature was shot in Corpus Christi and Taft, Texas. Present and former Austinites involved include associate producers (and past Slackerwood contributors) Paul Gandersman and Nick Robinson, producer John Lang, first assistant camera Brian Nelligan and editor Luke Mullen. (Wondering if actor Jon Gries lives in Texas or if he just happens to pop up in a lot of Lone Star movies, including this one.)

Polari 2013 Celebrates Dance, Announces First Films

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Still from Five Dances

Polari Film Festival (which used to be known as the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival) recently announced the theme for their 26th year: "Don’t Just Sit There: Indulge. Engage. Create."

Artistic Director Curran Nault says about this year's slate, "Our theme and focus is on work that is uncommonly galvanizing, vibrant and sensuous." Among the nearly 100 films selected for the schedule will be a number of dance-themed movies.

The five films announced early for the fest, which runs October 16-20 at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and Stateside at Paramount, are:

Five Dances (2013) -- This opening-night selection is directed by Alan Brown, who will be at the screening with star Ryan Steele. Chip (played by newcomer Steele) is an 18-year-old dancer from Kansas bursting into the world of modern dance in NYC. [trailer on Vimeo]

What's Streaming: Learning To Grow

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For anyone under the age of 22, September can be a dreaded time of year. Not only does the weather change, kicking us out of our swimming pools and fun outdoor activities, but it also means time for the one word most kids hate: school. Although I myself used to be one of those kids, there is one thing in particular that I have always remembered and liked about this month: it is usually time for a new chapter in my life to begin.

With the start of a new school year, I recall the feeling of seeing old friends again, and being so excited to make new ones. I knew I would be learning new subjects, and expanding my mind on ones that I had already been taught. As I got older though, I realized that every year also meant getting older, becoming more mindful of the world around me. I was more aware of myself as a person in my chosen career and, even though I am long since out of the classroom, I still find myself looking at September as a month of change.

This month, I've selected a few films that I enjoy because of the elements of growth the stories present. Some might be obvious, but some might leave you thinking about it even long after the credits roll. I hope that this month, you'll take a moment to think about how much you've grown as an individual, and maybe (just maybe) how certain films have helped you do that.

2013 Guide to Fall Filmgoing in Austin

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Stills from Lonesome, Willow, The American Astronaut & The Goonies

The coming of fall might mean fewer free or cheap film events to choose from than in summer months, but plenty of films are still on schedule now that school has started. I asked around at some of the local venues, and received eager responses from folks excited about their upcoming programming.

Of course, fall also means the return of Austin film-festival season. There’s Fantastic Fest from September 19-26, Polari (formerly aGLIFF) running from October 16-20, and Austin Film Festival from October 24-31. Smaller fests include the first annual Housecore Horror Film Festival from Oct. 24-27, Cinema Touching Disability from November 1-2 and the Austin Polish Film Festival, November 1-3.

Below are some of the events on the horizon for Austin in autumn.

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
Alamo Ritz starts their fall program with a Cinema Club screening of 1928 silent romance Lonesome (Mon, Sept. 9, $10) hosted by Caroline Frick from TAMI (Texas Archive of the Moving Image). Among the other September movies are the 1956 French black comedy Pig Across Paris (Wed, Sept. 11, $10), a FoleyVision presentation of For Y'ur Height Only (Sun, Sept. 15, $10), and doc Persistence of Vision (Sat, Sept. 28, 4pm) paired with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 35mm (Sat, Sept. 28, 7pm).  A special series on magicians in film will be shown in October, with the many films for the month to include The Prestige, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay and Orson Welles' F for Fake.

Slackery News Tidbits: September 9, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news:

  • The Houston Film Commission's Texas Filmmaker's Showcase will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 8 pm at The Marchesa. The 90-minute screening will include six of Texas-made short films selected by a jury panel, including Austin filmmakers Craig Whitney (Jordan's interview) and Kat Candler. Some of the filmmakers will be in attendance for a Q&A. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Austin Film Society Grant.
  • Drafthouse Films, the distribution arm of Alamo Drafthouse, announced its partnership with fellow distribution company Cinedigm for home-entertainment releases, beginning next year.
  • In more Drafthouse news, Fantastic Fest lead features programmer Rodney Perkins selected the Austin-shot short The Quiet Girl's Guide to Violence for Fangoria's latest installment of its "Screamers" series, available to watch online. The dark comedy premiered at Fantastic Fest 2012.

Movies This Week: September 6-12, 2013

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Austenland

The transition from the summer to fall movie season tends to be pretty mild. A lot of films are in active release at the moment that still draw strong audiences, and a few things just didn't take off. The fact that Lee Daniels' The Butler hasn't been knocked off the top of the box-office chart in three weeks is a clear indicator that there's not a lot of compeition for viewers right now. That's going to change a lot in the weeks ahead, but this weekend there's really only one mainstream release and one specialty release opening in Austin. 

As far as repertory screenings go, with the Paramount Summer Film Classics series wrapped up, things are slowing down a touch on that front. The Austin Film Society is bringing a new 35mm print of Death Rides A Horse to town tonight and Sunday afternoon that's fresh from playing a revival screening at Telluride, handpicked by Michael Barker of Sony Pictures Classics. It's the first selection in a new series of Spaghetti Westerns that will play all month long. They've also got a new release for Doc Night on Wednesday, featuring One Track Heart: The Story Of Krishna Das. Co-sponsored by Yoga Yoga, there will be a post-screening Q&A and a live Hindu devotional hymn. 

Review: Austenland

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I can't recall if I've ever been a huge Jane Austen fan. Sure, I have always appreciated her writing, and even starred in a high-school production of Pride and Prejudice. (Don't get excited -- I just played the maid.) I do know that I typically don't go out of my way to see film adaptations of her work because I have never found myself to be the "hopeless romantic" type. This is why I have decided that Austenland is the perfect film for someone like me -- eager to keep the realism of romance, but secretly wanting our heroine to find a good guy in the end. 

Jane (played by the adorable Keri Russell) is obsessed with Jane Austen's work. We see a quick flash of her childhood and young adult life, which includes all things British ... such as a life-size cut out of Colin Firth in costume as Mr. Darcy. We also see that her present life is nowhere near as glamorous or charming as the women in Austen's books. It is around this time that Jane decides she is going to cash in her life savings and take the trip she has always wanted to take -- to Austenland, in search of her own Mr. Darcy.

From the start of her adventure she teams up with Elizabeth (Jennifer Coolidge), who quickly becomes Jane's sidekick and plays the touristy American looking to take in the men more than the sights. Since all the guests are women, everything is catered toward what women did during this time period. Needlepoint, playing cards and lots of walking are just a few of the thrilling activities for the resort patrons.

The tricky thing about this place though is you don't quite know what is real or what is just part of the act. Austenland's owner Mrs. Wattlesbrook (Jane Seymour) does everything to make her guests stay as authentically "Austen" as possible, romantic encounters included. Does Martin (Bret McKenzie), the lowly stable boy, win Jane's affection? Or will it be Henry (JJ Feild), the standoffish, grumpy noble?

A Look at the AFF 2013 Shorts Lineup (So Far)

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aff logo

The full lineup for the 2013 Austin Film Festival has yet to be fully revealed, but the first wave of feature titles was announced a few days ago and news of the short film program has been inventively trickling out via the Twitter feeds of AFF Film Department Director Ryan Darbonne and Director of Programming Bears Fonte.

This week I checked in with Bears to find out more about the selections, which vary wildly in tone, style and worldview (that's a good thing, of course). He gave me brief descriptions of each film and also revealed which shorts have Texas and/or Austin connections. Whether you’re looking to push yourself to explore the unknown or just filling an empty time slot when you don’t know what else to see, sitting down for a couple of shorts programs is usually a smart film festival strategy. 

To help guide you a little, here's what we know about this year's promising AFF Short Films lineup:

  • Abandoned -- Haunted by memory, a Romantic grapples for meaning after the unexplained disappearance of his lost love.  
  • Barbie Boy -- A boy who plays with dolls is forced to reconsider things after his father tells him he's different.

AFS Grants 2013: All the Details We Could Find (Part Two)

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Pit Stop Still Photo

Continuing from Part One, here are detailed descriptions of AFS Grants winners this year -- not just the blurbs from the press release, but any other material I could unearth on the web.

Again, if you have info I don't, feel free to share it in the comments. Or drop us a line if you're involved with one of the films.

Pit Stop (narrative feature)

  • The grant: $3,000 for distribution
  • The blurb: Two men. A small town. A love that isn't quite out of reach.
  • The filmmaker: Yen Tan is a Dallas filmmaker (Ciao, Happy Birthday) who has also designed posters and title sequences for a number of local/indie films, including the short Hellion -- check out a gallery via The Austin Chronicle.

AFS Grants 2013: All the Details We Could Find (Part One)

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Above All Else

Last week, the Austin Film Society announced its 2013 AFS Grants for 2013 --formerly known as the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund (TFPF). Between the AFS Grants and Travel Grants, AFS is giving away $116,000 to Lone Star filmmakers ... including quite a few from Austin.

I love AFS Grant time. Of course, it's great to see local filmmakers getting needed funds and resources, and so on, but I like it because I get a sneak peek into upcoming Austin features and documentaries. Some of this year's recipients and projects should be very familiar to Slackerwood readers -- others are new to me.

In addition, it's a pleasure to look at the travel grants and realize that previous awardees completed their films, even if they haven't screened in Austin yet -- the grants allow filmmakers to bring Texas movies to film festivals around the world. For example. Russell Bush received grants to bring Vultures of Tibet to $500 to AFI Docs and Edinburgh International Film Festival, and Nathan Duncan was able to bring Ash to Full Frame Film Festival.

Lone Star Cinema: A Perfect World

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A Perfect World

A Perfect World is a somewhat forgotten Clint Eastwood film, which is a shame. It may not be quite in league with Eastwood's best work (that's a very tall order), but this unconventional crime film is both a gripping chase movie and a nuanced tale of a relationship between a misunderstood criminal and a young boy.

Eastwood directed and starred in this 1993 drama set in 1963 Texas, in which he plays Texas Ranger Red Garrett, a seasoned lawman in pursuit of prison escapees Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner) and Terry Pugh (Keith Szarabajka). Shortly after their escape, Butch and Terry break into a house and kidnap 9-year-old Phillip Perry (T.J. Lowther), son of a devout Jehovah's Witness mother.

AFS Moviemaker Dialogues: Writer/Director Mike White

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Mike White Master Class

While in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The School of Rock, writer/director/producer Mike White took the stage with Austin Chronicle managing editor Kimberley Jones to talk about some of his past work. I was surprised at the relatively low turnout -- less than half the Marchesa was filled. Unlike the last Moviemaker Dialogue I attended, there was not much delving into how White (who scripted The School of Rock) started writing, or even his history here in town. Perhaps because there was only a little over an hour to discuss White's career, the conversation touched on only five of his works.

2000's Chuck and Buck, which White wrote and starred in, was nominated for many Independent Spirit Awards and won the award for best feature under $500,000. The clip we watched was the scene of Buck, played by White, presenting a homemade collage to his childhood friend Chuck (Chris Weitz, who would go on to direct About a Boy with his brother Paul).

Asked about choosing tone, White said that somewhere in between drama and comedy "feels right to me."  He commented that movies aren't fully able to depict how complicated people really are, but that they serve as a way for us to realize "there are other experiences other than your own."

Paramount's Traditional 'GWTW' Summer Closer Adds a Special Guest

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It is always a bittersweet occassion when the Paramount Theatre's Summer Classic Film Series comes to a close, if anything because it symbolizes that summer is over in Austin. Nonetheless, the theatre is closing the series properly with its traditional screening of the cinematic epic Gone With The Wind.  

These past few months have brought in film critics and lovers alike, with presentations from Leonard Maltin (who kicked off the first Friday night screening of the series) and musical group Iron and Wine. So it should come as no surprise that the series will close with the screening, an in-depth discussion of the film, and a Q&A with Turner Classic Movies host/film historian Robert Osborne.  Osborne has been the primetime host and anchor of TCM since it made its on-air debut in 1994. He is the official biographer of "Oscar" (which discusses the history of the Academy Awards), and hosts the annual TCM Classic Film Festival at the legendary Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Paramount Film Programmer Stephen Jannise told me about his excitement of having Osborne here for this special event. "I think those of us who have really appreciated Osborne's introductory comments before TCM films over the years have always wished we could see more of him.  On Friday, he'll have close to an hour to talk about Gone With The Wind, so we'll get a chance to hear him at length. I'm sure our audience will come with some really great questions; Osborne certainly has a wealth of experiences to talk about."

A Decade of Rockin' Life Lessons From 'The School of Rock' Reunion

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SOR Premiere (27)

A good part of my day is spent getting schooled, be it from my professors, mother or smart-aleck roommate. Spending another two hours of my life watching the musical development of a group of youngsters on the big screen during Thursday's The School of Rock ten-year reunion at The Paramount (my preview) may not have been the wisest decision, especially because I skipped class (is it still considered skipping when you notify your professors ahead of time?) and have homework due, but it was definitely more fun. 

Some of The School of Rock cast members had similar college woes, like Aleisha Allen, who says she recently graduated from Pace University. Allen played Alicia, one of the band's designated backup singers. Despite a degree in speech pathology and an education minor, the New York native says her musical aspirations haven't waned.

Slackery News Tidbits: September 2, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Austin Film Festival announced more panels and panelists for this year's conference: writer Ron Nyswaner, whose credits include Philadelphia and The Painted Veil; producer Ben Blacker, who will moderate The Nerdist Writers Panel; Daniel Schechter, writer/director of Goodbye Baby; and David Shore, the creator of the TV series House, M.D., as well as a writer for The Practice and Law and Order. The full AFF Conference lineup will be announced later this month.
  • University of Texas in Austin alumnus Glen Powell is slated to appear in The Expendables 3 alongside Sylvester Stallone, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson and Antonio Banderas, reports Austin Movie Blog. Powell got his start in movies with 2003's Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over and has appeared in more than a dozen TV and shows and movies, including Austinite Kat Candler's Jumping Off Bridges.
  • The Austin-made horror-comedy Saturday Morning Massacre (Jette's review) has received distribution under two different names in some markets, reports Austin 360. Fans can find the film under its original title at Redbox outlets around the country beginning Tuesday. According to the film's producers, Best Buy and iTunes are selling the film under the title Saturday Morning Mystery because of the school shooting in Newton, Connecticut. The movie, which screened at AFF 2012, is about a group of down-on-their-luck paranormal investigators and their beloved pooch, who embark on an adventure to debunk the ghost stories surrounding an abandoned mansion. 
  • The Tom Hanks-produced film Parkland (Ryan's dispatch), about the going-ons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, has released its first theatrical trailer. The film is adapted from author and former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. It stars Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton and University of Texas alumna Marcia Gay Harden, among others. Parkland is scheduled for a Sept. 20 U.S. release, according to Deadline.