October 2013

Review: 12 Years a Slave

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Chiwetel Ejiofor in 12 Years a Slave

"Survival's... about keeping your head down."
"I don't want to survive, I wanna live."

I sincerely hope that 2013 is the break-out year for Chiwetel Ejiofor, when he gets the attention from filmgoers (and filmmakers) he so deserves.  With his phenomenal, determined performance as Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen's film 12 Years a Slave (and his part in the upcoming dramatization of Half of a Yellow Sun), it could happen!

If, like Jette, you read Northup's biography/slave narrative in school, you're familiar with the story. Northup was a free man of color in mid-19th Century Saratoga, NY, lovingly caring for his wife and two young children and playing the fiddle for parties in the region. Taken in by con men while his family is away, Northup is kidnapped and sold into slavery under another name. He is beaten, threatened, denigrated and tortured during his dozen years as a slave to a couple of plantation owners.

Denial of identity is a major theme of 12 Years a Slave. Upon landing in New Orleans after a horrific steamboat ride, the slave auctioneer (Paul Giamatti) calls Northup by the name of Platt. Captured woman Eliza (Adepero Oduye, Pariah) still calls him Solomon, but once she is gone we see Northup giving in to his renaming. Hope remains that he will be found and taken out of slavery, but as Platt he can't keep straining against the forces holding him down. The last embers of a letter he wanted to send home (and cannot) glow and fade onscreen. When his name -- and the freedom it represents -- is finally returned to him, Ejiofor exhibits Northup's deep relief and joy, lessened only by knowing he cannot help the others left behind.

AFF 2013 Dispatch: 'Take Away One,' 'La Navaja de Don Juan'

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The cast of "La Navaja de Don Juan"

I tried to focus my Austin Film Festival picks this year around movies that were world premiere screenings. The curation at the festival is incredibly diverse and I wanted to see what the programmers thought was deserving of the spotlight. This led me to two of the more interesting films I caught over the last week.  

Take Away One is a fascinating documentary that really tells two stories in one. Director William Lorton has spent the last several years editing reality television, but he had his own true-life story to tell. His aunt Mary was a grad student in elementary education at U.C. Berkeley who developed her own teaching style while interning at some rougher inner-city schools in California in the late 60s. Most people have at least heard of Montessori schools, but Mary's contribution to teaching curriculums across the nation is almost as revolutionary. 

AFF 2013 Dispatch: I'm Dating You Not, Drones

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Stills from I'm Dating You Not (top) and DronesAfter the bleak shorts I attended on Saturday, I decided a light romance was what I needed Sunday afternoon. I went to the screening of My Man Godfrey (1936) at the Paramount, introduced by Shane Black, and then drove over to the Rollins. 

Director Guillermo Fernández Groizard was there to introduce his film I'm Dating You Not, filmed in Madrid.  The fast-paced comedy stars his wife Virginia Rodríguez as Paula, a woman whose coworker Roberto (Dario Frias) is besotted with her. 

The director told us before the movie began that the budget for this work was in the hundred-thousands (!!), but I'm Dating You Not has the look of something with a larger budget. Rodríguez and Frias have a great will-they/won't-they chemistry and the script by Pablo Flores is silly without being stupid. The Spanish film was a perfect remedy.

In another vein entirely, I was able to view Rick Rosenthal's excellent thriller Drones. The movie is a fictional depiction of a lieutenant's first day on drone duty, but the problems Lt. Lawson (Eloise Mumford) and Jack (Matt O'Leary) confront are very real.  How much collateral damage is too much?

Most of the movie has Lawson and Jack working in a stuffy trailer at a Nevada Air Force base, with a limited amount of time to control their aircraft thousands of miles away in Pakistan (before "bingo time" when the drone runs out of fuel). They are tracking the home of suspected terrorist Mahmoud Khalil (Amir Khalighi). We watch in real time as Lawson and Jack question each other and their higher-ups about the task they have been assigned.

This nail-biter of a film touches on sexism in the military, military suicide, and the more obvious question of the ethics of drone warfare. Thanks to the intense story and acting by Mumford and O'Leary, Drones is not a movie I'm likely to forget.

Drones plays again Thurs, Oct. 31 at 8:45 pm at the Hideout [Festival Genius].

Celebrating the Chick Flick: Meet the Forever Fest Founders

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Forever Fest founders at Hey Cupcake

When I say, "Rex Manning," do you smile in recognition or stare in confusion? This is a test of whether you are Forever Fest's target audience (Rex Manning is, of course, the obnoxious yet idolized pop singer from the movie Empire Records). The new film festival, which takes place November 1-3 at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, celebrates all things "girlie" pop culture ... I'm so excited, and I just can't hide it.

I sat down with the festival's founders Brandy Fons and Sarah Pitre at Hey Cupcake to discuss the formation of Forever Fest and to learn from these two girlie-gurus.

Slackerwood: How was Forever Fest first conceived?

Brandy Fons: Forever Fest was, in many ways, born during Fantastic Fest 2012. I had just seen and loved Pitch Perfect [a rather girlie film about college glee clubs], but I didn't allow myself to indulge because it was Fantastic Fest time and not many attendees were super interested in sharing my Pitch Perfect love. I was thinking about all the film festivals that Austin had to offer, and there really wasn't an option for the Pitch Perfect audience.

Then I started talking with Sarah about her audience that she had already built with her website Forever Young Adult for YA literature fans and the Girlie Night events at the Alamo Drafthouse, and I wondered if she wanted to partner. Some have called it the "little sister of Fantastic Fest," although I'm not quite sure I like "little."

AFF Review: The Little Tin Man

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Certain films grab me from just the description of the story. Sure, that's how most films grab us, but sometimes the description can be vague or not true to the story, causing us to miss it entirely.  This is why when I read the description, "A struggling dwarf actor auditions for the role of The Tin Man in a Scorsese remake of The Wizard of Oz," I knew I had to do what I could to get a chance to see The Little Tin Man at AFF.

I'll admit: I was sold on the joke of Scorsese remaking The Wizard of Oz, as it is perhaps my favorite movie of all time. That idea alone would make anyone curious to see what The Little Tin Man was about. We often see films that follow the struggle of the working actor, looking for gigs that aren't just commercials and extra work; this isn't a new idea. But a struggling actor who is a little person trying to break the mold on the roles he is typically offered? That is a story I've not seen before.

AFF 2013 Dispatch: 'Inside Llewyn Davis'

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With the conference winding down, I have found myself having AFF withdrawals.  Now that I was able to breathe (and sleep in) again, I was able to actually look at a schedule and try to pick something to go to in advance.

I had no intention of seeing Inside Llewyn Davis. It's not that I wasn't interested, but I knew that it would be coming out in theatres soon (December 20, in Austin). So when my friend Alexa told me she was going to make it downtown again for the screening, along with a handful of other friends who would be there, I figured I might as well see what it's all about.

I am a huge Coen Brothers fan. Films like Raising Arizona and The Big Lebowski are up there amongst my favorites.  But lately, I felt the films they have put out haven't been their best. I tried to keep an open mind as AFF Film Department Director Ryan Darbonne introduced Oscar Isaac (who plays Llewyn Davis) and T-Bone Burnett (executive music producer on the film), who gave a quick introduction to the movie.

Vintage Austin Theater Tour: Fox Triplex

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Fox Triplex

Not many cinemas in Austin can claim to have had an opening night consisting of a true Hollywood red carpet, a gala premiere, high-profile attendees and a movie star or two on hand for its first night of business. Yet the hopes and expectations attached to Austin's then-new Mann Fox Theatre weren't the same as they were for most other movie houses of the time. While most movie theaters aimed to attract local families or groups of teenagers looking for a fun night out, the Mann Fox Theatre sought to make going out to the movies a more upscale affair.

The idea of having the Mann Fox Theatre appear as a grand moviegoing experience was in sharp contrast to Austin's then-current state. By the mid-to-late 1960s, the city had become one of the hotbeds of the counterculture with its share of social unrest, psychedelic drugs and revolutionary musicians who would go on to define the decade. However, Austin's potential as a cosmopolitan city was not lost on Ted Mann, owner of Mann theaters, who along with President Eugene V. Klein, thought Austin was ready for a theatre of Mann quality.

No expense was spared when it came to the Mann Fox's design. The famous L.A.-based Pearson and Wuesthoff architectural firm was brought in to handle the stylish look desired for the theater. There was a curved main screen with gold travelers and rows consisting of bodi-form chairs, while the theatre's projection and speakers were considered state of the art for the day.

AFF 2013 Dispatch: 'Revolution' in Line for Shorts

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Ouverture (top), L to R: Mr. Invisible, Anniversario

Saturday evening at Austin Film Festival, I ran into a friend from high school at The Hideout. As we stood in line talking with a college-age badgeholder about what we'd seen so far, we noticed some recognizable faces were basically cutting in line in front of us (with permission from AFF folks). Some cast members from NBC's Revolution wanted to check out the Shorts 4 program. 

Among the actors I spotted were Giancarlo Esposito, Stephen Collins (7th Heaven) and Brenda Strong (who's on the new Dallas). Not a one of them refused a picture with a fan (as our new young friend was happy to discover). We got in, but I'm not sure all of the film passholders in line did. Indeed, two of the three shorts programs I attended that day were full to bursting. AFF might want to consider moving the shorts to a larger venue next year.

Housecore Horror Fest 2013: Scum, Zombies and Maniacs

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Zombex

The Housecore Horror Film Festival debuted in Austin this weekend. An offshoot of Housecore Records, the four-day long event was a combination of a series of concerts from many heavy-metal bands as well as a showcase of indie horror flicks that ranged from classic to little-seen, plus advance screenings.

"First year" was a term thrown around quite a few times over the weekend as a reminder that this was the festival's inaugural year, and understandably so. A few screenings were delayed, while others were postponed or canceled -- and occasionally zombies on the screen had to compete with goblins on the stage with only several feet of space separating the two.

Yet, despite unavoidable mishaps, for a festival in their "first year," Housecore presented one of the most eclectic and impressive lineup of horror titles, leading this scare fiend to wonder what kind of blood splatter future years will hold.

AFF 2013 Dispatch: Inside and Outside the Press Room

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2-Face script reading at AFF

To say I have been all over Austin Film Festival would be an understatement. Although this is my third festival to attend, it is the first year that I have gone as a writer instead of an AFF staff member.

My experience has been a little different than that of my fellow Slackerwood contributors. I kicked off the festival Thursday afternoon in the OnStory Press Room, assisting in taping interviews for the television show's upcoming fourth season. We had a pretty packed schedule over the first four days of the conference, so I wasn't sure how being in that room for the majority of the festival would affect my overall experience.

It ended up being the time of my life. Even though I was just asking a certain set of questions for the show, I got to chat face-to-face with some great writers such as David Lowery, Rian Johnson, Vince Gilligan, Ray McKinnon, Jonathan Demme, Callie Khouri and many others. To hear these filmmakers talk about their process, including the challenges they face in their craft and how they overcome them, was truly inspiring. I may not have attended all of the panels I wanted, but I feel that I took away some very valuable information just from these interviews.

AFS Preview: The Institute

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The Institute

The Institute screens as part of Austin Film Society's monthly Avant Cinema series this Wednesday, October 30 (tickets) at 7:30 pm in the AFS Screening Room (1901 E. 51st St).

Around 15 years ago, a friend and I saw a flyer about some performance art experience that would take place in a building on E. 6th Street. We followed the directions, which took us up to the second floor of some 19th-century building. Tacked onto the locked door of the designated room was a hand-printed note that thanked us for participating in the performance by finding the building, walking up the stairs, and reading the note. At first we felt duped and wondered if "they" were watching us and laughing. But when we got back down to the street, we started laughing ourselves at the realization that we really had been part of a performance, not a hoax of some sort.

Watching The Institute (Spencer McCall, 2013) makes me feel much the same way. How much is "real," how much is fiction? What do we mean by those words, and is there really a strong line dividing one from the other?

We are first introduced to people defined as participants and "ex-inductees" in something ostensibly called The Jejune Institute in San Francisco. They had read strangely worded flyers that began appearing around town. Telephone calls led them to a building in the financial district, where they individually were sent to a room with cheap furniture and a video that explained "The Institute," its history and accomplishments, and its goal of reducing human conflict, violence, and heartbreak.

AFF 2013 Dispatch: Callie Khouri's Inspiring Screenwriting Advice

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Callie Khouri by Arnold Wells

I never know how early to arrive to line up for an AFF panel; I tend to err on the side of caution and was downtown an hour before the first panels I wanted to attend. Before "A Conversation with Callie Khouri" began on Sunday morning, I actually saw her in the bathroom. Yes, I stopped myself from asking when Avery and Juliette will finally hook up on Nashville (but inquiring minds want to know!) -- and didn't even ask her about it during the panel itself.

Ben Blacker (creator of the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast) led the interview with Khouri, who told us about her childhood in Kentucky (after her birth in San Antonio). She read a lot for stimulation, but as for writing, "I never thought it was something I could do."

Khouri wrote Thelma and Louise in six months after living and working in L.A. for a time. This screenplay was the "greatest experience writing I've ever had... I felt like something had come to me... it consumed me." She didn't follow any guidelines for screenplay structure and didn't even use an outline, "I knew nothing about screenwriting." She began with the idea that two women go on a crime spree, and it took off from there. She said the whole feeling of the movie came to her at once, like "being punched in the heart."

AFF 2013 Dispatch: Elaine May and 'A New Leaf'

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AFF 2013

Once in awhile, you look at an Austin Film Festival panel listing and your heart just goes pitter-pat. Or thumpity-thump. Or whatever noise it is when you are especially excited about a panelist. I may be old and jaded but still susceptible. When I saw Elaine May would be in Austin for the fest, I decided I would go hear her speak no matter what time of day it was and what else I was supposed to be doing.

But last week was a little crazy for me, and I am never very organized with my fest scheduling, so it's not really surprising I got the date of Elaine May's panel wrong and missed it. (Dale Roe has a great write-up.) However, I did make it to Rollins on Friday to see A New Leaf for the first time and enjoy a Q&A from star/writer/director May.

This 1971 film is May's directorial debut -- she also co-stars in it with Walter Matthau. He's brilliant, she's brilliant, it's terribly funny, and I just found out it's on Amazon Prime streaming so I can watch it again soon. Preferably with my husband, who might find some sympathy with a character who's involved with someone terribly flaky who can't put her clothes on properly and has crumbs all over her front after eating and falls down and spills things a lot.

Slackery News Tidbits: October 28, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Austin Film Festival announced this year's film awards, which included the inaugural Dark Matters Jury Award, won by writer-director Darren Paul Fisher for OXV: The Manual. First time writer/director Chris Lowell took home the Narrative Feature Jury Award for his movie Beside Still Waters, and director Christopher Englese won the documentary feature jury prize for Political Bodies.
  • AFF also announced its shorts jury awards. The AFF Young Filmmakers Program Grand Prize was awarded to Imogen Pohl, director of HB; writer/director Avram Dodson won the Narrative Student Short Jury Prize for Pistachio Milk; the Documentary Shorts Jury Award went to director Jenny van den Broeke for Blinde Liefde; Erica Harrison's A Cautionary Tale took the Animated Shorts award, and Fool's Day, from Cody Blue Snider (Dee Snider's son, interestingly) won the Narrative Shorts award.
  • Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater discusses Before Midnight (out on Blu-ray and DVD), a possible Dazed and Confused "spiritual sequel" and TV series, as well as his long-awaited film Boyhood with Parade. The film, which Linklater's been working on since 2002, chronicles the life of a child from age six to 18 and stars native Texan Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as the boy's fictional parents. 

AFF Review: Dear Sidewalk

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Dear Sidewalk poster Gardner (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park) is a socially awkward, 25-year-old mail carrier in the indie romantic comedy Dear Sidewalk.  He keeps to a usual routine which includes a postal route walking through Austin neighborhoods, a daily chat with sarcastic retiree Trudy (Lana Dieterich) and weekly meetings with his small philatelic club. This stamp-collecting group is made up of his postal service co-workers (Davi Jay, Hugo Perez  and C. K. McFarland) who encourage him to get out more. Meanwhile, he sleeps in a boat in front of his best pal Calvin's (Josh Fadem, 30 Rock) house.

Then fortysomething divorcee Paige (Michelle Forbes, True Blood) moves into a house on his route and disrupts his daily pattern. She flirts with him and takes him to the Cathedral of Junk.  She throws his watch in Town Lake (or Lady Bird Lake, if you prefer). What does this mean for Gardner?

Mazzello at first appears uncertain of how he wants to portray Gardner, but grows into the role as Dear Sidewalk progresses (or maybe it just bothered me less as the film went on). The relationship between Gardner and brother-from-another-mother Calvin is sweet -- they are both odd birds -- and fits with the goofy vibe of the film.  Indeed, their friendship seemed more believable than the idea of Paige and Gardner getting together.

The character of Paige comes off as incomplete.  We're given some facts about her (she's recently divorced, used to be an artist and hates the blind dates her brother keeps setting her up on), but there is much left unknown about her and not as much depth to the role as I would like. 

Sure, the plot is a smidge disjointed, but the writing made me laugh out loud more than once. The supporting characters (diverse in age and ethnicity, yay) were standouts of the movie. Trudy is fearless and flirty.  Gardner's co-workers are quirky and full of advice for him. I can't neglect to mention Ashley Spillers, who injects some verve into Dear Sidewalk as a love interest for Calvin [see our interview with Ashley].

Dear Sidewalk is director Jake Oelman's first feature film, and shows Austin as a walkable city: Gardner doesn't own a car, and seems to take the path near Auditorium Shores daily. As the mail carrier traverses streets dense with trees, the film also features some colorful houses in town. The Austin in this movie has the feeling of a smaller suburban town -- with a great view of downtown easily available.

AFF 2013 Dispatch: Veronica Mars, Bird Watchers and Gay Best Friends

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A Birder's Guide to Everything

I started off my Saturday at the festival by sitting in on the "Veronica Mars: From Small Screen To Silver Screen" panel at the Driskill Hotel Ballroom. Ben Blacker (from the Nerdist Writers Panel) moderated this excellent conversation with Veronica Mars creator and Austin resident Rob Thomas and actor Chris Lowell ("Piz"). Over the course of 75+ minutes, Thomas spoke about the benefits and difficulties of crowdfunding the upcoming Veronica Mars feature film through Kickstarter, developing the screenplay, shooting the film itself and his post-production process (which has been going on for the past 11 weeks).

Over 90,000 people contributed to the Kickstarter campaign, which is the third highest-funded project in the site's history. While $5.7 million can create a decent indie film, this is a franchise that is controlled by Warner Bros., which means that the resources to make a full-length movie were still somewhat limited. In the end, Thomas calls it a "sprawling" movie with 60 speaking roles and lots of extras. They shot 115 script pages in just 23 days and were unable to shoot a lot of takes before moving on. 

The final film is still being tweaked, but underwent a successful test screening this week. Thomas wrote the movie for the hardcore fans, but now is balancing the target audience with the awareness that there needs to be some "spoon-feeding" in the editing process to help the newbies catch up to the stories of characters established over three television seasons. When asked if a sequel could also be crowdsourced, Thomas didn't rule it out, mainly because of how rabid and excited the fanbase is to see this project come back to life: "If it's successful, maybe we can be the low-budget James Bond."

Review: The Counselor

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The CounselorThe Counselor is dirty, very very dirty, sexy-dirty. Beginning with Michael Fassbender and Penelope Cruz in bed, to Cameron Diaz being as carnally, carnivorously slutty as you've never seen her before to Javier Bardem's jaw-dropping monologue describing a night with her, this is a pressure cooker of a film, exploding with steam.

It's also a bemusing piece that challenges actors to play a little outside their established roles. Brad Pitt is not the hero but a little bit of a coward, Fassbender's character is directionless, entirely at a loss for what he should do ... and how often is Javier Bardem a sympathetic good guy?

Writer Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) is at home in west Texas, but director Ridley Scott makes El Paso look a little more glamorous and busy than it really is. (Only pick-up footage was actually shot there, though.)

The story involves Fassbender, credited only as "Counselor" and never called by name, an attorney who has gotten into debt to a criminal element and goes into business with Reiner (Bardem) and Westray (Pitt) in the hopes of making millions selling drugs through a club he and Reiner plan to open.  In a murky plot that becomes only slightly more clear by the end, a third party arranges to kill a key player and steal the drug shipment, leaving Counselor holding the bag.

It is clear that, like the actors, McCarthy was trying to stretch himself and achieve something great with The Counselor. He succeeded, at least, in creating something remarkably unique. Rambling philosophical diatribes from supporting actors create a thoughtful mood but don't ultimately have a clear meaning, their delivery at times reminiscent of David Carradine's lines in Kill Bill.

In spite of the death of his brother and producing partner Tony mid-shoot, Ridley Scott has done a great job assembling a phenomenal cast and directing a noteworthy film that will be worth revisiting and may perhaps gain some cult status.  

AFF 2013 Dispatch: Accidental Theme for the Night

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Philomena (top) and Political BodiesAfter voting early on Thursday, I went to the Alamo Drafthouse Village for the first night of the Austin Film Festival. Arriving 40 minutes before the 7:30 screening, I was #50 in the badges line for the marquee screening of Philomena. Obviously, many Austinites thought the Village theatre would be a safe choice for Thursday night... but besides the badges, not many of the attendees with film passes got in.  The room was packed.

This new Stephen Frears drama (with comedic elements) stars Judi Dench as an Irish woman yearning to know what happened to the son she birthed 50 years ago. He was born in her teenage years at a convent where she was forced to work as he was put up for adoption. Former political figure Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) decides to aid her in her search as he works on a human interest story about it.

Based on a true story, this heart-rending film had me tearing up minutes before Dench would make a comment that would crack me up.  Philomena has a refreshing message of mercy, along with a clever script that makes much of the class differences between Martin and Philomena.

I realized as I raced to my car and hurriedly drove to the Texas Spirit Theatre that Philomena and the next film on my schedule, Political Bodies, share a commonality: Both films have to do with reproductive decisions. A teen in mid-20th century Ireland, knowing nothing of birth control, Philomena's choices during her pregnancy were very limited. And if conservative Republicans have their way in Virginia, options for the women of that state will be similarly limited... in 2013.

Political Bodies follows the players in the 2012 battle for reproductive rights in Virginia, from GOP lawmakers to women who run the clinics affected by legislation. Abortion provider Shelley Abrams talks of attacks the clinics had to prepare for in the past and says that currently "the assault has come from our own government."

Movies This Week: October 25-31, 2013

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Shepard & Dark

It's a relatively light week for new releases and specialty screenings across town, which is honestly a big relief. If you're like the majority of the Slackerwood gang, you'll be exploring the films and panels of Austin Film Festival until next Thursday. Or perhaps you'll dive into the inaugural Housecore Horror Film Festival, covering both film and music. That doesn't leave a lot of room for squeezing in outside screenings, but this update should help you prioritize your moviegoing calendar if you do. 

Tonight, the Austin Film Society is hosting an event called "Chester Turner Overdrive" at the Marchesa. Just in time for Halloween, you can enjoy Black Devil Doll From Hell and Tales From The Quadead Zone along with director Chester Turner and actress Shirley L. Jones in attendance. Halloween night (next Thursday) will also allow you to get creeped out by the legendary David Cronenberg on the big screen with a rare 35mm presentation of Videodrome. If your tastes run more towards world cinema than horror, earlier in the evening on the 31st you can enjoy the Essential Cinema selection of Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life Of Oharu, also at the Marchesa

Notable bookings at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz this week include Ridley Scott's Alien (with new exclusive Mondo posters available) on Saturday and Sunday, a 35mm screening of Predator on Sunday, Alan Arkin's 1971 dark comedy Little Murders on Monday and Homo Arigato! will also host a rare Beta presentation of Thundercrack!  Meanwhile, the Alamo Lakeline and Slaughter Lane will both serve up The Wolf Man for a classic horror treat this Saturday and Sunday. 

AFF 2013 Dispatch: 'A Conversation with Jeff Nichols'

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jeff nicholsMany Austin Film Festival-goers kicked off their week by attending one of the first panels on the schedule -- "A Conversation with Jeff Nichols." In a Q&A session that lasted a little over an hour on Thursday afternoon (it was moderated by Christopher Boone), the Austin-based director discussed the three films he has completed so far (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud) as well as his upcoming release, Midnight Special. As a writer and director who has achieved critical success while working with both small and big budgets, Nichols had plenty of advice and entertaining tidbits to share with the audience. 

Nichols, who comes off as both boyish and wise, eschews traditional film-school techniques (such as following a strict screenplay formula) but stresses the importance of adhering to certain personal storytelling rules. He described his process as beginning with various large ideas (masculinity, first love, financial anxiety, etc.) and then filtering them through a story that is ultimately about the characters he has created. Nichols' actual writing process involves arranging notecards filled with scenes and plot points and holding tightly to the idea of point of view.

Humble about his creative accomplishments and clearly knowledgeable about the business of making movies, Nichols made for a practically ideal AFF guest. The audience remained rapt and appreciative throughout, and this panel was an excellent reminder that AFF is all about dissecting the filmmaking process and appreciating good work. Here are a few highlights from the session:

  • Much to Nichols' disappointment, Shotgun Stories was rejected by both Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival. However, it was embraced at the Berlin International Film Festival and also screened here at AFF, where it received the Feature Film Award in 2007. 
  • Nichols often writes about white men (because he is one), but expressed the desire to include strong and realistic female characters in his work. That Jessica Chastain's character was domestically-oriented in Take Shelter was a reflection of his mother, who Nichols considers one of the strongest women he has known. 

Cinema Touching Disability Film Fest Celebrates its Tenth Year

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CTD Film Fest Logo

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD) hosts its tenth annual Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival and Short Film Competition this November 1 and 2 at the Alamo Drafthouse Village.

The Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival was founded in 2004 by CTD staffer William Greer, with the goal to counter negative stereotypes about people with disabilities and to celebrate positive portrayals of disability culture. Since its inception, the festival has twice been awarded the Barbara Jordan Media Award for Special Contribution by an Organization.

Events from previous years have included a 2005 screening of What's Eating Gilbert Grape preceded by an interview with star Darlene Cates, an exclusive interview with Dr. Temple Grandin screened in conjunction with the 2009 feature Temple Grandin, and numerous other special guests.

You can buy tickets now for Friday, November 1 featuring the documentary Getting Up: The TEMPT ONE Story -- about graffiti artist Tempt One -- and for Saturday, November 2 featuring The Crash Reel -- a documentary about professional snowboarders. In addition to entry, the $10 tickets are vouchers you can redeem for $10 of food and drink from the Drafthouse menu. Both evening events also include short films from the competition and Q&As.

Review: Shepard & Dark

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Shepard and Dark Still Photo

As much as I'd admired Sam Shepard as an actor for decades, I was not familiar with his writing until I read a collection of his short stories, Cruising Paradise. This anthology of 40 short tales written between 1989 and 1995, set mostly in remote reaches of the U.S. and Mexico, depicts the loneliness of a man who grew up in with familial discord brought on by alcoholism. Some of the stories are fictional, but several come straight from Shepard's personal diary.

The poignant documentary Shepard & Dark by filmmaker and part-time Austinite Treva Wurmfeld reveals even more of the life and loves of Shepard, told through both personal interviews and archival footage and letters exchanged between himself and Johnny Dark. The pair met in the Sixties during an off-off Broadway play in Greenwich Village that Shepard had written. One playwright from California, the other an odd-jobber from Jersey City, talked about their childhood of airplanes and dogs and found a connection when they shared stories of their fathers.

AFF Interview: Theo Love, 'Little Hope Was Arson'

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Little Hope Was Arson

Making its Texas premiere at this week's Austin Film Festival is the debut documentary from Theo Love, Little Hope Was Arson. Love's film takes a close look at the string of fires set at East Texas churches a few years ago, talking to some of the communities affected by the arsons as well as the perpetrators of the destruction.

I conducted an interview with the director via email in the midst of his preparation for the festival.

Slackerwood: What drew you to the subject matter of the 2010 church fires in East Texas? Do you have ties to Texas?

Theo Love: I first learned about the story through an article in a Texas Monthly magazine two years after the events took place. I don't think I read more than two paragraphs before I knew that I had to make this into a movie.

I grew up as the son of missionaries in Southeast Asia, so naturally, I had a very religious upbringing but instead of going to a church building every Sunday, we would meet in houses or outside. My spirituality had no ties to buildings whatsoever. When I moved to California after high school, I got a job working as a janitor at a mega-church. As I cleaned this huge sanctuary in the middle of the night, I couldn't help but question the priorities of western Christian culture.

AFF 2013: A Guide to Film Venues

Paramount Theatre

Austin Film Festival has a very diverse range of movie theaters this year -- a few are the fest's standards, like the Paramount (natch) and The Hideout, but one is new to AFF and may in fact be making its film-festival debut.

We've assembled guides to each venue below, including nearby dining options, pros and cons, and proximity to other theater venues. Here are a few general notes, both for locals and out-of-towners at AFF this year.

  • If you live in Austin, this is a great set of venues because if you don't want to fight downtown traffic/parking, you can head over to one of the satellite theaters: Alamo Drafthouse Village and Galaxy Highland. If you're visiting from out of town, those theaters will not be easy for you to reach without your own car or some very kind friends.
  • Most of the conference and festival takes place downtown, and you can easily walk between conference venues (Driskill, Stephen F. Austin, and St. David's) and the Paramount, Stateside and The Hideout. You can walk to/from these theaters and Rollins, but it's about a mile -- if you have time, stop just before/after you cross the bridge and take a break on 2nd Street, perhaps somewhere like Jo's Hot Coffee.

AFF Interview: Ashley Spillers of 'Dear Sidewalk' Remembers Her Sunscreen

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Rachel Myhill and Ashley Spillers in DEAR SIDEWALK

One of the made-in-Austin films having its premiere at this year's Austin Film Festival is Dear Sidewalk, a romantic comedy about a mail carrier (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park, Justified) who falls for an older divorcee (Michelle Forbes, True Blood, The Killing).  Also featured in the cast is one Ashley Spillers, who has acted in many buzzworthy local films of late (The Bounceback, Pit Stop, Loves Her Gun) and even appears in the viral short Hell No.

The former Austinite also stars in the horror-comedy Saturday Morning Massacre (aka Saturday Morning Mystery if you are buying it at Wal-Mart), which screens at the Housecore Horror Film Festival on, appropriately enough, Saturday morning.

Before Austin Film Festival started up, Spillers took part in this email interview for us.

Slackerwood: How did you come to be involved in Dear Sidewalk?

Ashley Spillers: Well, I auditioned! Beth Sepko was casting and she called me in to audition (while I was on set of Zero Charisma) for the role of the Barista, but Jake and Ford Oelman were in the room, and I guess they saw me more as a... Tracy! Which I was thrilled about, of course.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: A Quartet of Films

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In the Name OfThe best of the films I saw last weekend at Polari 2013 was on Saturday afternoon. Polish writer-director Malgorzata Szumowska explores the feelings of a gay priest working in a school for troubled youths in the poignant film In the Name Of.

Trapped by the requirements of his faith with nobody to whom he can turn for a human connection, Adam (Andrzej Chyra, who bears a strong resemblance to Daniel Craig) longs only for the comfort of human embrace. A good man who always has a positive influence on his charges, Adam never does anything wrong, though almost completely unfounded accusations repeatedly result in his transfer to other parishes.

Szumowska peels back the stoic exterior to reveal the depths of longing and loneliness suffered by a man striving to set the highest example of godliness and the tragic unfairness that can result from unfounded suspicions. In the Name Of is a moving bittersweet story that treated a delicate subject fairly but with tenderness.

While most of the Polari screenings were downtown, Friday night brought a detour to the Marchesa to take in a screening co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society.

Animals is a Spanish film by director Marçal Forés about a troubled teen dealing with feelings for a new classmate with a dark secret. In a failure of mood over substance, the film is beautiful to look at, with an attractive cast acting against the mountains of northern Spain but following an aimless story with little payoff.

Forés oversells the teen angst in an attempt to establish a feeling akin to Donnie Darko and then fails to follow up on numerous hints of deeper backstory to which he has alluded. There is no clear motivation in Animals for just about anything any of the characters do including -- and especially -- a tasteless display of school violence.  

Unfortunately, on Saturday I caught the most boring movie I have ever seen. Shot in Austin, Pit Stop -- directed by Yen Tan, who co-wrote with Dallas filmmaker David Lowery -- stars Bill Heck, Marcus DeAnda and Amy Seimetz in two stories of heartbroken men who converge when they meet for a sex date arranged online. Nothing ever happens to indicate why these two might be right for each other. They don't appear to have much in common, and neither displays any appreciable personality.

AFF 2013: Sessions and Panels We Can't Wait to Attend

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aff collage

It's no secret that Austin Film Festival has a stellar lineup this year. Although we here at Slackerwood are always eager to tell you our top picks for upcoming films, we thought we would switch it up a bit by also telling you a little about the conference panels we are most excited to attend.

AFF left no stone unturned with their lineup of speakers and presenters for this year's 20th anniversary celebration. If you know anyone on the AFF staff, you know how long and hard they worked to bring you these stellar writers, actors and filmmakers. The awardees alone are names to be marveled at: Vince Gilligan (Breaking Bad, The X-Files) will receive the Outstanding Television Writer Award; Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia) will receive the Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking Award (to be presented by Paul Thomas Anderson); Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise, Nashville) will take home the Distinguished Screenwriter Award, and AFF recently announced Susan Sarandon will receive the Extraordinary Contribution to Filmmaking -- Actor Honoree Award. The fest will also present a special Heart of Film Award to producer Barry Josephson for all of his work with the festival these past 20 years.

Film on Tap: Austin Takes the Gold and Beer Week Begins

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Austin Beerworks Team

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

Over 49,000 beer enthusiasts descended upon Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) earlier this month, and Texas craft beer was well-represented. This year’s festival competition featured 732 breweries from around the United States entering 4,809 brews to be judged and distinguished as the best of American craft ales, lagers and specialty libations. Texas brewers received 10 awards this year with four gold, two silver and four bronze medals, including a gold to Austin Beerworks (seen at top with Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian) for their Black Thunder German-style schwarz beer.

In addition to Texas brewers, several Austin film-related projects and businesses took part in the festivities surrounding GABF. Alamo Drafthouse's Beverage Director Bill Norris and Creative Director John Gross made the trip to Denver, with Gross moderating "The Business of Fun: Beyond The Beer" panel. North by Northwest founder Davis Tucker was on the panel along with representatives from Odell's Brewing and Oskar Blues, discussing how craft beer goes beyond just drinking and brewing and supports many other business sectors including marketing and design.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: 'Bwakaw' and 'Vagina Wolf '

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Bwakaw

The bond between people and their dogs has inspired many movies. Among the best of them is the Filipino import Bwakaw, a gentle and well-crafted film that was a great way to start Polari's final day. Only a handful of people attended the screening, but what else would we expect at 11 am on a stunning fall Sunday? For a film festival, the only thing worse than bad weather is perfect weather.

The Filipino entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards, Bwakaw is an insightful and touching story about growing old. The titular Bwakaw is a slightly scraggly pooch who belongs to Rene (Eddie Garcia), a grumpy gay septuagenarian who came out late in life and thinks Bwakaw is the only company he needs in his small Filipino town. The ailing Rene has decided it's too late in life for love or companionship and spends his days waiting for death; he's bequeathed his possessions to his handful of friends, bought a coffin and packed up most of his household.

AFF Interview: Michael Bilandic, 'Hellaware'

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hellaware posterIn Hellaware, a sly comedy written and directed by University of Texas graduate Michael M. Bilandic, a young New York City photographer stumbles upon a crude and downright terrible YouTube video made by a group of suburban Delaware rappers. Oddly intrigued, he tracks them down in the hopes they'll offer up enough perfectly edgy material to help him break into the fancy art world scene, but all he really ends up exposing is his own naivete. 

Bilandic's second feature has already captured more attention than usual for an indie film thanks to a creative promotional strategy. Weeks before Hellaware's first screening, the filmmakers posted the music video featured in the movie (which they designed to be over-the-top and hilariously horrible), and sat back and watched as it amassed over 100,000 combined views. Commenters called it out for being vulgar and just plain bad, unaware they were critiquing something never meant to be taken seriously.

Hellaware stars Keith Poulson, Sophia Takal and Kate Lyn Sheil, and it will screen Friday, Oct. 25 (10:45 pm, Alamo Village) and Wednesday, Oct. 30 (9:45 pm, Hideout) during Austin Film Festival. Via email, I had the chance to ask Bilandic a few questions about the video experiment, his life as a filmmaker thus far, and what he's looking forward to seeing at AFF. 

Slackerwood: Have you always wanted to be a filmmaker? 

Michael Bilandic: Yeah, pretty much, but I didn't really know what that meant. I remember reading some quote from Madonna a million years ago where she accused Abel Ferrara of sitting in a corner drinking wine while everyone else made the movie (Dangerous Game). I remember thinking, "Shit, I could do that! If that's what being a filmmaker is, I could get into that!" I honestly thought it would be some easy career.

Unfortunately, it's a lot harder than lurking around getting drunk. I actually wound up being Abel's assistant for a while, and it turns out he's one of the busiest and hardest working people ever. So the job description I was working with turned out to be wrong. I blame Madonna for disseminating that false info.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: 'Uganda' and 'The Most Fun'

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Most Fun with Pants On

Saturday was far too beautiful a day to spend in a movie theater. But watching the Polari screening of God Loves Uganda at the Stateside Theater on Saturday afternoon was worth sacrificing a couple of hours of stunning Austin weather.

God Loves Uganda is a terrific, must-see documentary that both enlightens and infuriates. It's relentlessly unpleasant viewing, but this gripping movie casts a much-needed spotlight on one of society's great outrages: American evangelical Christians' quest to spread homophobia in Uganda.

As the growing acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates, evangelicals have long been losing the culture wars in the United States. But decades before gay marriage was legal in any state, fundamentalist Christians already were seeking greener proselytizing pastures in the developing world. Uganda became a prime target for evangelism after Idi Amin's brutal regime ended in 1979, giving American missionaries an opportunity to build churches and schools and recruit new followers.

Slackery News Tidbits: October 21, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Get your questions ready: the SXSW Film team will be hosting a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) at 2 pm today. 
  • Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater will receive the Levantine Cinema Arts Award at this year's Houston Cinema Arts Festival, Culture Map Houston reports. The Nov. 6-10 event will include a screening of Linklater's 1993 Austin-shot film Dazed and Confused
  • Five Drafthouse Films titles, the distribution arm of the Alamo Drafthouse, landed on Netflix Instant last week: music documentary A Band Called Death, which screened at SXSW 2013; Filipino crime thriller Graceland, which screened at this year's Fantastic Fest; Korean drama Pieta; and Australian thriller Wake in Fright and comedy-drama Wrong, both of which screened at last year's Fantastic Fest.  
  • Austin filmmaker and former Austin Film Society staffer Bryan Poyser's feature-length debut, Dear Pillow (Don's review), is now available to watch on the subscription-based movie site Fandor as its "Featured Release this Week." The Independent Spirit Award-nominated drama follows 17-year-old Wes through a pseudo-fictional sexual odyssey. Dear Pillow was produced by Jacob Vaughan, whose latest film Bad Milo is currently available for online rental.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: Reaching for the Moon

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Reaching for the Moon

Downtown Austin is a crowded, parking-challenged place these days, so I gave myself plenty of time to get to the Stateside Theater for a Thursday night screening of Reaching for the Moon at Polari.

But there was no need to arrive so early; it was a slow night downtown, with a sane amount of traffic and plenty of parking near the Stateside. It also was a slow night at the film festival, with no lines and a modest crowd in the theater.

The Reaching for the Moon audience saw a lush, beautiful film based on the true story of the longtime romance between American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires). But for all its lavish production values, Reaching for the Moon is a rather lifeless take on what should be an interesting story of a taboo relationship.

Review: Wadjda

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Wadjda

I'm guessing many women reading this review can remember learning to ride a bicycle -- getting the training wheels off, or refusing to have them in the first place, perhaps having someone hold the back of the seat and run behind you ... and that glorious moment when you achieve solo cycling.

In the movie Wadjda, the title character is a girl who wants to own and ride a bike in a society where such an activity is considered inappropriate for females. An event most of us take for granted becomes subversive, and the simple story of the film takes on many layers. It's remarkably fascinating, primarily due to its contemporary Saudi Arabia setting.

The basic premise of the story -- Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) wants the bicycle for sale at the nearby toy store, and will do anything she can to earn the money for it -- is enhanced by the other women in the ten-year-old character's life. Filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour has taken a situation that many of us can identify with, and uses it to show us the shape of women's lives in Saudi Arabia. Wadjda's mother (Reem Abdullah) is consumed with fear that her husband will leave them and marry a woman who can give him a son. The schoolmistress at Wadjda's school, Ms. Hussa (Ahd), is continually finding fault with the girl who simply will not take pains to be appropriately ladylike.

Movies This Week: October 18-24, 2013

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Wadjda

It's a crowded weekend at the movies in Austin. Polari (formerly the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival) is in full swing at venus across the city until Sunday. If you didn't get a badge for the fest, $10 individual tickets will be available for most screenings (capacity permitting) including PJ Raval's powerhouse doc Before You Know It. Raval will also be hosting a special Austin Film Society presentation of Paris Is Burning in 35mm on Wednesday night at the Marchesa.  

The Austin Film Society's "Terror In The Aisles" series continues tonight at the Marchesa and Sunday with a 35mm screening of the 1960 Hammer Horror film The Brides Of DraculaEssential Cinema's focus on the masters of Japanese cinema will also deliver Kenji Mizoguchi's 1946 film Utamaro And His Five Women at the Marchesa on Thursday in a 35mm print direct from Janus Films. 

As always, there's a diverse slate of specialty programming on the books from the team at the Alamo Drafthouse. Sarah Silverman is performing on the comedy lineup at Fun Fun Fun Fest next month, so the festival has teamed up with the Alamo to screen her uproarious stand-up feature Jesus Is Magic tonight at the Ritz. Also at the Ritz this week: Anthony Perkins stars in the 1968 film Pretty Poison (part of this month's "Mixed Nuts" series) screening in 35mm on Monday night, Neil Jordan's 1988 comedy High Spirits gets a Cinema Cocktails booking in 35mm on Tuesday and there's a special presentation of Night Of The Living Dead on Wednesday night featuring a live score from Bird Peterson. 

VOD Review: All the Boys Love Mandy Lane

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All the boys may love Mandy Lane, but this girl doesn't.

After spending seven years in distribution limbo, the first feature from Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, screened at this year's Fantastic Fest and is available for anyone to watch on various VOD outlets. But for me, having seen the film once was enough.

If I want to watch a 21st-century The Breakfast Club, I'll go hang out in my campus's Quad. That way I won't have to see star and Austin native Amber Heard (Machete Kills) constantly tucking her hair behind her ear or making sidelong glances in an effort to portray the "good girl" (a la Kristen Stewart). You know that really uncomfortable, borderline-gastrointestinal-disorder look? That is not method acting. 

Mandy Lane is not only shy and quiet, but has been ostracized by her peers for years, that is, until she sprouted acceptable-sized breasts and began participating in high-school track. 

Polari 2013 Dispatch: Five Dances

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Polari 2013

The first day of Polari (formerly aGLIFF) happened to coincide with the birthday of the Paramount theater last night.

Opening night found a nearly full house at Stateside Theatre for Alan Brown's award-winning Five Dances. First, however, creative director Curran Nault took the stage to open the fest and along with interim executive director Aaron Yeats and board Vice President Paul Soileau (aka Rebecca Havemayer, aka Christeene), reminisced on the contributions aGLIFF founder Scott Dinger. They announced that henceforth the festival's audience award will be officially known as the Scott Dinger Audience Award.

Five Dances is a sultry, sexy meditation on familiar themes of a rural boy coming to terms with his sexuality after leaving home for the city. Set to a soundtrack rich with cello by Private Romeo composer Nicholas Wright, and interspersed with crooning jazz tunes by Scott Matthew, Gem Club and Perfume Genius, five young attractive supremely talented modern dancers practice and perform a composition in five movements by choreographer Jonah Bokaer as Brown's camera lingers, capturing every form, every curve, the subtle shadows cast by every muscle.

Fantastic Fest 2013: All Our Coverage

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Updated Oct. 17, 2013.

Slackerwood was all over Fantastic Fest 2013. Here's a list of all our coverage (after the jump) in one location. We'll keep updating this as we post more -- and more! -- reviews, features and photos.

Review: Muscle Shoals

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Muscle Shoals

It's been a stellar year for music documentaries. Twenty Feet From Stardom, A Band Called Death and Sound City have all managed to tell important stories and still be crowd-pleasing films. Much like Dave Grohl's warm and friendly portrait of the Sound City studios out in Southern California, the movie Muscle Shoals invites us to take a closer look at a studio where some of the most important recordings of all time have been created. 

Rick Hall opened FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1960 after establishing a music publishing business. With a life-altering personal tragedy behind him, he focused all of his energy into the studio and truly got hooked by producing local and regional artists. Shortly after Percy Sledge recorded "When A Man Loves A Woman" at FAME in 1966, the floodgates opened and the studio become a destination for Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records to bring his artists to ensure they'd have hit singles.

Interview: Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo, 'Machete Kills' (Part Two)

MACHETE KILLS Red Carpet 2013

Continued from Part One, here's the rest of my interview with Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and Machete Kills star Danny Trejo, pictured above at the Fantastic Fest red carpet with actress Alexa Vega.

Slackerwood: It seems like you enjoy revisiting your characters in multiple movies -- why do you think you want to keep bringing the characters back?

Danny Trejo: Well, they're good actors.

Robert Rodriguez: I was very much inspired by George Lucas. He wanted to do a Flash Gordon movie, but couldn't get the rights, so he wrote his version instead, which is called Star Wars. I thought, that's such a cool thing. Instead of going and doing a James Bond movie, go and make your own James Bond series, and put things in it that you love -- base it on my family, call it Spy Kids. Or do a guitar-player series of movies.

You know, actually El Mariachi was designed to be a low-budget series, so I started with the genesis in the very first movie. He doesn't become the guy with the guitar case full of weapons until the last scene in the movie. Spy Kids -- they don't become "spy kids" until the last scene in the movie. And Machete doesn't really become that iconic icon holding up the machete and leading the people until the last scene of the movie.

Interview: Robert Rodriguez and Danny Trejo, 'Machete Kills' (Part One)

Machete Kills Fantastic Fest

If you haven't seen Machete Kills yet (Don's review), the best way to see it is with a large and enthusiastic audience -- or even a small group of lively friends. It's such silly fun that audience reactions are a must. Robert Rodriguez shot the sequel to Machete in the Austin area, whether you recognize it or not, with a cast that includes Mel Gibson, Sofia Vergara, Antonio Banderas, Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga. It even includes a fake trailer for a third Machete film ... set in outer space.

And of course, Danny Trejo returns in the title role, which he's been playing since Uncle Machete appeared on the scene in Rodriguez's 2001 movie Spy Kids.

I sat down with Rodriguez and Trejo shortly before the movie opened Fantastic Fest this year -- the photo of Rodriguez, Alexa Vega and Trejo above is from its premiere that evening. Here's what they have to say about James Bond, film franchises, Texas film incentives and shooting in Austin, among other things. There may be minor spoilers if you consider Machete Kills spoilable, which it isn't, really.

Slackerwood: So about 15, 20 minutes into the movie, I realized I was watching a James Bond film -- definitely when I saw the speedboat.

Robert Rodriguez:  Yeah, the speedboat! You're like "Wow, he's a secret agent. He's a Mexican secret agent."

Ready, Set, Fund: Air Sex, Gay Retirees and Girlie Pop Culture

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The Bounceback Still Photo

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

Two local movies that were well received at their SXSW 2013 premieres are now crowdfunding for distribution: The Bounceback and Before You Know It. Local filmmaker Bryan Poyser has a Kickstarter funding campaign through Sunday, November 17, for his romantic comedy (with air sex!) The Bounceback -- check out Don's review as well as Elizabeth's interview with Poyser.

PJ Raval -- director of photography for The Bounceback -- is also seeking funding for his feature-length documentary Before You Know It through October 30. This insightful and thought-provoking film reveals the discrimination, neglect and exclusion faced by lesbian, gay and bisexual senior citizens. Raval tells the story through several inspirational individuals who have found the strength to form communities where they and others can be comfortable and accepted.

Check out the pitch video for the Before You Know It campaign, which includes some of the film's subjects, after the jump.

TAMI Flashback: Texas in the Civil Rights Era

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Civil Rights in Texas

This article is the second in 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.

"You're not a Texan unless you're for segregation." –-- Indignant White Citizens Council leader Bobby Joiner

Although Texas cities weren't as newsworthy as Little Rock, Selma or Birmingham, the state was very much a battleground during the civil rights era. This TAMI Flashback article highlights three intriguing videos about the fight for racial equality in Texas. One is a slickly produced film about desegregation in Dallas. The others aren't slick at all; they're collections of raw news footage shot in Austin -- and they're far more powerful statements about race relations in Texas.

Dallas at the Crossroads is a film with noble intentions. In 1961, a federal court ordered Dallas to desegregate its schools. To discourage the violent opposition that happened in other cities, the Dallas Citizens Council produced Dallas at the Crossroads to defuse racial tension and encourage Dallas citizens to accept desegregation peacefully.

Watch Highlights of 'Dinner with the Danger Gods'

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Gary Kent, Bud Cardos and Zack Carlson

Something happened on September 27 that you should all know about. If you were at the Austin Film Society event "Our Dinner with the Danger Gods," you don't need me to tell you that it was a night for the ages. Those who witnessed it won't forget it. We welcomed a panel of some of the greatest stuntmen in the world to sit down at a table with no prepared material, eat steaks, drink whiskey and tell stories, jokes, lies, whatever. It was an event designed not only for the audience but for the legends themselves.

If you weren't at the event, our friend Brandon Grey filmed it, and it looks beautiful. Zack Carlson, who hosted the Danger Gods the previous evening at Fantastic Fest, and I moderated.

Slackery News Tidbits: October 14, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Austin filmmaker Emily Hagins's fourth feature film, Grow Up, Tony Phillips won't be released on VOD and DVD until October 2014, according an update on the movie's Kickstarter campaign page. The independently produced comedy, starring AJ Bowen (A Horrible Way to Die) and Tony Vespe (Hagins's My Sucky Teen Romance) as the eponymous character, tells the story of a Halloween-loving teenager who refuses to grow up. It was shot in and around Central Texas and premiered at SXSW this year (Elizabeth's review, my interview). 
  • Former AFS staffer Bryan Poyser's (Elizabeth's interview) latest feature film The Bounceback (Don's review) -- which also premiered at SXSW -- won a best writing award at the 18th Annual Genart Film Festival last week, which celebrates emerging filmmakers in North America, IndieWire reports. Poyser co-wrote and directed the romantic comedy, starring Sara Paxton (The Innkeepers), about a group of friends trying to bounce back from heartache during a weekend in Austin.
  • The Austin Chronicle chronicled the filming of Butcher Boysoriginally titled Boneboys, to celebrate its DVD release last week. Writer/producer Kim Henkel, who co-wrote the 1974 horror classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, teamed up with two former Texas A&M University- Kingsville students, co-directors Duane Graves and Justin Meeks, on the low-budget horror comedy about a family of cannibals. The film, which was shot in Austin and Taylor, previously screened here at Austin Film Festival 2012.

Review: Escape from Tomorrow

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Escape from Tomorrow

If Don Draper had taken Betty and the kids to Disneyland (circa season two, let's say), and had been fortified by something mysterious from Roger Sterling, and the whole thing had been shot covertly on film by Smitty and Kurt, the result might have been Escape from Tomorrow.

For those of you who don't watch Mad Men, let's just say the movie takes a Disney trip by your average All-American family and turns it completely on its head, with a few kicks in the teeth for good measure. Unfortunately, it moves slowly and ultimately relies too much on weirdness for weirdness' sake. The movie premiered at Sundance, screened at Fantastic Fest and is now available on VOD. It's screening in Austin this week as well.

Escape from Tomorrow potentially offers pleasure to its audience on two levels. The first is the traditional moviegoing experience, natch. But in addition, the movie is controversial -- and interesting -- because much of it was covertly shot at Disney World (including Epcot) and Disneyland. The filmmakers and actors would buy tickets to the parks and pretend to be regular visitors shooting family home video of their vacation antics. In reality, they were shooting a feature film, and had to manage all kinds of tricks to get the shots they needed, like racing around right when a park opened to get shots of deserted rides, and so forth.

Review: Machete Kills

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Machete Kills

If I had to pick one bright new talent this year, it would be Carlos Estevez.

As the boozing, gun-worshipping, horndogging President Rathcock in Machete Kills, Estevez delivers a powerhouse performance destined to carry him -- a first-time actor whose face is oddly familiar -- to the heights of stardom.

Oh, wait -- IMDb says Carlos Estevez is, in fact, Charlie Sheen. No wonder I'd seen him before. But whatever his name, his performance is ... well, no. I led you astray, gentle Machete fans. To be honest, his performance isn't all that great. It's not awful, and at times it's entertaining and funny. But it's nothing special.

In other words, Estevez/Sheen's performance is like everything else in Machete Kills -- more meh than memorable.

In Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to Machete, President Rathcock recruits the titular ex-Federale (Danny Trejo) to slip into Mexico to take down crazed revolutionary arms dealer Mendez (Demian Bichir). With help from a fellow agent posing as Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), Machete crosses the border and finds his quarry quickly -- but only after a rather violent encounter in a Mexican cathouse with wicked madam Desdemona (Sofía Vergara) and a bevy of heavily armed hookers.

Movies This Week: October 11-17, 2013

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Machete Kills 

I'll be out at Zilker Park this weekend for the second round of the Austin City Limits festival, but you can avoid the crowds (and potential thunderstorms) by hitting the movies. For those of you who missed out on Fantastic Fest this year, take note that several of this year's titles are opening or being featured with select screenings in town over the next week.

am truly saddened that ACL is going to keep me away from Austin Film Society's 35mm booking of Peeping Tom, but it's one that you won't want to miss. It's the movie that basically destroyed Michael Powell's reputation upon release, but has since gone on to be recognized as one of the greatest thrillers of all time. It's playing tonight and again on Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa. An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this year, and on Tuesday night AFS is bringing it to the Marchesa. Director Al Reinert, Michael Morton and Morton's long-time pro bono counsel John Raley will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A. Kurosawa's High And Low will also screen at the Marchesa in a glorious 35mm print from Janus Films on Thursday night as part of this month's Essential Cinema series. 

My top Alamo picks for the weekend are the killer 70mm bookings happening at the Ritz (Star Trek IV and 2001: A Space Odyssey). The downtown location also has a rare 35mm screening of Elaine May's A New Leaf on Monday, Girlie Night serves up Hocus Pocus on Tuesday, and Ricky Jay will be appearing live for a Q&A on Wednesday night for a new documentary about him called Deceptive Practices. Fantastic Fest Presents The Dirties at Alamo Slaughter tonight and tomorrow for late shows. Debbie caught the film at Dallas IFF this year and strongly recommended it in her review. You can also head to Slaughter for a special showing of Robinson Crusoe On Mars tomorrow afternoon to go along with this month's space programming theme. 

Fantastic Fest Review: The Zero Theorem

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The Zero Theorem

The best things I can say about The Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam's latest movie, are that first of all, it broke my streak of disappointment with Gilliam films at Fantastic Fest (Tideland in 2006, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in 2009); and second of all, that it stuck with me vividly for days afterward. The worst things I could say are that it stuck with me in a downbeat, oppressive sort of way (although that might just have been my mood) and that it revisits many themes from Brazil without being nearly as good as that movie.

But that's something you have to deal with when you watch Gilliam's films: They are not going to be Brazil. It's like expecting Chimes at Midnight to be Citizen Kane -- you can't think that way. It's difficult to consider The Zero Theorem all on its own because you might experience delighted relief that it's better than the filmmaker's most recent three movies, but then you have to put the measuring stick away and enjoy the film on its own merits.

And there's a lot to enjoy in The Zero Theorem, starting with Christoph Waltz in the lead at Qohen Leth. It's clear right away that Qohen isn't the most mentally stable individual -- and you wouldn't want to deal with him in real life. He's fixated on his chronic illnesses, and on awaiting a mysterious phone call. In the meantime, he works as a programmer of sorts, with phenomenal speed. All he wants is to be allowed to stay away from the crazy office environment and work quietly from home while he anticipates his call.

Join Me for 'After Tiller' Discussion This Weekend

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After Tiller posterThe Austin Film Society and Violet Crown Cinema are teaming up for a post-screening Q&A about the documentary After Tiller on Saturday evening -- and I will be moderating the panel. I'm looking forward to this and hope you'll join us. The info from AFS is below, and you can get tickets now on the Violet Crown Cinema website. Please read Caitlin's review to find out more about the film.

After Tiller, the award-winning documentary about late-term abortion doctors that premiered at Sundance in January, will screen with a special Q&A and discussion this Saturday at the 6:20 pm screening at Violet Crown Cinema, presented by the Austin Film Society and moderated by Slackerwood editor Jette Kernion. The Q&A will feature Dr. Lee Carhart, one of the doctors featured in the film, and Texas Tribune Editor Emily Ramshaw, who closely covered the passing of House Bill 2 in the Texas Legislature this summer. Dr. Carhart will be joining via Skype from Nebraska.

About the film:
After Tiller is a thought-provoking and compassionate documentary that intimately explores the highly controversial subject of third-trimester abortions in the wake of the 2009 assassination of practitioner Dr. George Tiller. The procedure is now performed by only four doctors in the United States, all former colleagues of Dr. Tiller, who risk their lives every day in the name of their unwavering commitment towards their patients.

After Tiller opens at Violet Crown Cinema on Friday, October 11.

About the speakers:
Emily Ramshaw is the editor of The Texas Tribune. She oversees the Trib’s editorial operations, from daily coverage to major projects. Previously, she spent six years reporting for The Dallas Morning News, first in Dallas, then in Austin. In April 2009 she was named "Star Reporter of the Year" by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and the Headliners Foundation of Texas.

Dr. Lee Carhart is a OB-GYN physician who practices in Omaha. He is featured in After Tiller as one of the four doctors in the US practicing third-trimester abortions.

Jette Kernion is a writer and the founder and editor of Slackerwood. She is a member of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and the current president of the Austin Film Critics Association.

Review: After Tiller

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after tillerThere are four doctors in the United States who openly and legally perform third-trimester abortions. They arrived at their positions not with long-standing intention, but rather due to chance and a stubborn sense of duty -- both to women and to murdered abortion doctor George Tiller. 

Tiller performed late-term abortions at his Wichita, Kansas women's health clinic for decades before he was fatally shot by an anti-choice activist in 2009. Though long the target of serious violence (Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993 and his clinic was firebombed in 1986) and also accused of criminal behavior (he was ultimately found not guilty), Tiller never abandoned his simple personal precept: "Women need abortions and I'm going to do them."

After Tiller, the humanistic documentary directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, avoids discussing abortion from a political point of view and is not a tribute to the late Kansas physician. Instead, the film focuses on Drs. LeRoy Carhart, Warren Hern, Susan Robinson and Shelley Sella -- former colleagues and friends of Tiller who have pledged to continue Tiller's mission to meet the needs of a very small group of women. 

Late-term abortions account for less than 1% of all abortions performed in this country, and most women who seek them have hearts overflowing with fresh grief. The late discovery of a serious fetal abnormality or a health issue that would threaten the lives of both mother and fetus necessitate consulting with a different doctor than their own, one whose office is likely far from home and surrounded by vocal protesters holding graphic signs.

Other women who seek the procedure do so for different reasons; they are victims of incest or rape, they suffer from emotional disorders, or sometimes they simply lack the financial and family resources to imagine giving birth to and raising a baby. No matter what brings a woman to one of these clinics, the road before her isn't going to be easy. 

The anti-abortion demonstrators who take issue with the doctors featured in After Tiller often embrace the idea that people who perform and seek abortions are cold, callous and disrespectful of life. The filmmakers quietly illustrate otherwise by observing these four as they go about their daily routines of speaking to and maybe treating women whose lives have not gone as planned. In these moments it's clear that agonizing decisions are made at these doctors' offices. God is frequently mentioned. There are tears and hugs. Ultimately, complicated gratitude is expressed.

Fantastic Fest Launches Mondo 'Timecrimes' Soundtrack on Vinyl

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Time Crimes Soundtrack Album CoverLast month Mondo announced a new venture into soundtracks produced on vinyl, starting with the limited edition release on black 180-gram vinyl, and randomly-inserted milky yellow/clear vinyl of the score created by "Chucky Namanera" for the science fiction thriller Timecrimes. This film about an ordinary man whose life is changed -- repeatedly -- by the consequences of traveling back in time by just one hour debuted at Fantastic Fest 2007 and found U.S. distribution shortly afterward.

Austin composer and writer Brian Satterwhite collaborated with Mondo on the project for this previously unreleased soundtrack, and hosted a special screening and Q&A of Timecrimes during this year's Fantastic Fest at the new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. A limited number of the LPs with artwork (pictured at right) including the cover by Australian artist and commercial illustration studio We Buy Your Kids was available for sale at the screening and online.

Namanera is actually the nom de plume of filmmaker Eugenio Mira (Grand Piano, Agnosia), who attended the special screening along with Timecrimes writer/director Nacho Vigalondo and producer Nahikari Ipina. Mira said he prefers to use an alias for his musical accomplishments to keep them separate from his work as a writer and director.

What's Streaming: Overcoming Fear

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October has gained a reputation for being the scariest month of the year. Halloween is upon us, the air is getting colder, and we dance the line between autumn and winter. This is, understandably, also the time of year when all of the ghoulish and haunted films come off the shelves. Just like with classic Christmas movies, Halloween films also have their place in our hearts.

When you think of the horror films we've come to know over the years, you might first consider the scary elements: the monsters, the traps, the thought of yelling out "behind you!" every five minutes, etc. These themes jump out at us right away because they are usually very obvious. When I think of these films, I mostly think of the endings -- when the hero has survived the monster along with the fear that has been chasing him or her for about 90 minutes or so.

With that in mind, I've selected a few films that I think embody the theme we don't always think about in a scary movie: overcoming fear. I didn't choose any scary or Halloween themed films for this month, but I did select a few that I think show what it means to overcome a large or personal battle. We often celebrate the hero for the physical obstacles they have overcome, but not always the emotional ones.

AFF 2013: Spotlight on Austin and Texas Films

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aff logoAustin Film Festival, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, features an eight-day program of panels and films specifically focused on screenwriters. Along with a handful of highly anticipated festival favorites bolstering the lineup (among them 12 Years a Slave and Inside Llewyn Davis), the film schedule contains dozens of features, documentaries and shorts chosen for their original points of view and creative storytelling techniques. Of course several of these have Austin or Texas ties -- they were either made by local filmmakers or were filmed in the state.

Here are a few potential gems found on this year's AFF Features lineup that happen to have strong Texas connections:

All of Me (Documentary Feature Competition) -- This documentary was filmed here in town and features a group of friends who met through Austin's Big Beautiful Women community. The dynamic of their social club begins to change when many of the women choose to undergo weight loss surgery, and what results is a poignant study of relationships, body image and societal norms. All of Me is directed by Alexandra Lescaze. 

Hellaware (Comedy Vanguard) -- Written and directed by University of Texas grad Michael Bilandic, Hellaware is a "biting satire of the art scene" and tells the story of a New York photographer who finds himself in a messy situation. The film stars a few familiar faces for indie fans: Keith Poulson (Harmony and Me, Somebody Up There Likes Me), Kate Lyn Sheil (Green, The Color Wheel, Somebody Up There Likes Me) and Sophia Takal (Gayby, V/H/S). 

Lone Star Cinema: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

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The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasThe level of camp in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is obvious from the start. Jim Nabors narrates its opening sequence as the amiable Deputy Fred, and he explains the history of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel as we watch an overview of prostitution through the ages. Everything is fabulously, raucously choreographed -- and the choreography and camp never end in this endearingly goofy movie.

The 1982 film is mostly faithful to the hit musical of the same name, which is somewhat less faithful to the real story of the Chicken Ranch and investigative reporter Marvin Zindler's crusade to close it.

Set in the mid '70s, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is the saga of an iconic brothel in the fictional southeast Texas town of Gilbert. (The real brothel's home was La Grange.) Madam Mona Stangley (Dolly Parton) and her employees go about their business with plenty of support from the townspeople, and Miss Mona is a generous and respected member of the community. Even the law is on the brothel's side; this is not surprising, given Mona's longtime affair with Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Burt Reynolds).

All is well until Houston TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (Dom DeLuise) decides to do an exposé on the Chicken Ranch as a ratings ploy. Sheriff Dodd tries to intervene by paying Thorpe a friendly visit, but to no avail; as Dodd watches, the self-aggrandizing Thorpe announces on his show that "Texas has a whorehouse in it."

In desperation, the sheriff convinces Mona to shut down the Chicken Ranch until the unwanted attention fades away, hoping to foil Thorpe's plans to catch the working girls at work. Mona agrees, but then keeps the place open for one more night for some of her best customers -- the Texas A&M Aggie football team, seeking their traditional reward for defeating the University of Texas Longhorns. (The Longhorns earn the same reward when they win.)

Thorpe ambushes the Chicken Ranch and catches the Aggies in flagrante delicto, infuriating Sheriff Dodd and creating a scandal that ultimately involves the governor of Texas (Charles Durning).

Does the Chicken Ranch survive? If you know your Texas history, you know the answer; if not, you'll have to watch The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to learn the fate of Miss Mona and her girls.

AFS Essential Cinema Brings Three Japanese Masters to Austin

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High and Low/Utamaro and His Five Women

Two films each from directors Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, and Kenji Misoguchi form the basis for Austin Film Society's new Essential Cinema series, "6 by 3 Japanese Master Filmmakers." Lesser-known selections from each director's oeuvre will be shown at AFS at the Marchesa, on Thursdays from October 10 through November 14.  If you've only seen Ozu's Tokyo Story, Kurosawa's greatest hits, or you are not exactly familiar with Misoguchi's works, Austin Film Society is providing a perfect opportunity to discover more classics of Japanese cinema.

The six films include one of Ozu's early films (as well as his own technicolor remake), two films by Misoguchi reflecting on gender roles in Japan's history, and two crime dramas from Kurosawa. I asked AFS Director of Programming Chale Nafus about his selections for this series.

Slackerwood: Why were these films and directors chosen?

Chale Nafus: I generally program fairly recent films from Asia each year, but I decided to go back to the roots this time with representative works by the three best known Japanese directors introduced to American audiences in the 1950s -- Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu. I also wanted to show early and later works by each filmmaker to provide some sense of changes (or not) in style and content. In the case of Ozu, we will be seeing both his original 1934 Story of Floating Weeds and then his own remake of the same story in 1959.

Fantastic Fest Review: The Congress

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The Congress

My favorite selection from Fantastic Fest 2013 combines the best aspects of all genres represented at the fest. It is a powerful science fiction story with an element of horror in biting social commentary played out in a half real, half animated Bakshi-esque environment. Loosely adapted by director Ari Folman from the Stanislaw Lem novel The Futurological Congress, The Congress expands on the story set down by Lem in a production of which he would likely approve.

Robin Wright won a Fantastic Features best actress award at the fest for her role as Robin Wright, a fictional version of herself who is encouraged by her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) to sell her digital likeness to the studios. In exchange for a small fortune that will allow her to spend her life with her ailing son Aaron (Kodi Smit-McPhee), she can never perform again even in something as small as a church play.

Wanting to maintain the illusion of control, she consents to a 20-year contract with stipulations that her likeness would not be performing in various kinds of roles to which she would object. Unable at first to get comfortable with the scanning apparatus, Robin displays the full range of her emotions as Al relates a story to her that is alternately happy and heartbreaking. Perhaps as a result, at the end of her contract 20 years later, the studio (cleverly called "Miramount") is pushing for a renewal as her digital image has become the most popular actor in their stable.

This is where the story in The Congress more closely resembles Lem's novel, as Robin travels to the "animated zone" to meet and sign her new contract. A chemical cocktail alters her perceptions, and the world takes on a look as if it were animated by Tex Avery, Max Fleischer, Moebius, and Ralph Bakshi in a shared dream. Desert sands assume psychedelic colors, planes undulate like lazily-swimming whales -- in an aquarium, penis-fish swim around while others have mouths resembling vaginas sucking the glass like algae-eaters.

After a lifetime of making bad choices, Robin still seems to be making them, and she is plunged into a situation that may forever separate her from her family. The Congress spells out thematically a powerful update to Lem's commentary on the role of drugs in modern society and adds to it some statements on the monetization of Hollywood as well as making a critical point about the short attention span of modern audiences. Demonstrating the horror that can lay behind "truth" and the vast loneliness inherent in hiding within a world of dreams and fantasy, Folman presents a world that is simultaneously utopian and dystopian, where actors are reduced to a chemical commodity that can be eaten or drunk, and a shared hallucination allows anyone to be anyone or anything they desire.

Slackery News Tidbits: October 7, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news. 

  • FilmBuff has announced it will release Austin filmmaker Don Swaynos's flick Pictures of Superheroes (Debbie's review and Jette's interview), which screened at last year's Austin Film Festival, on Oct. 15 via iTunes, Amazon, Vudu and other online streaming outlets. To celebrate, the cast and crew are hosting a special screening at Violet Crown on Thursday, Oct. 17 at 8 pm, with a post-film Q&A. The quirky comedy follows Marie, who, after being dumped and fired on the same day, takes a housekeeping job with an overworked businessman and the messy roommate he's forgotten about.
  • Harry Ransom Center is planning a 2014 exhibition around the movie Gone With the Wind, but is asking for help to raise the necessary $50,000. The HRC houses the archives of the film's producer, David O. Selznick -- and several gowns from the film.
  • Austin-based documentarian Heather Courtney's Emmy-nominated film Where Soldiers Come From (Jette's review and Jordan's article), about the lives of small-town childhood friends who enlist in the U.S. National Guard after graduating high school, is now available for institutional streaming licenses through distributor New Day Digital.
  • The Hill Country Film Festival is now accepting short and feature-length film submissions for its 2014 festival, which takes place May 1-4 next year. The early-bird deadline is Nov. 15, but you've got potentially as late as March 14, 2014 (although fees are higher by then).

Movies This Week: October 4-10, 2013

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Gravity

With the first of two Austin City Limits festival weekends upon us, our fair city is about to be taken over by music. That doesn't mean that things are totally dead when it comes to film events around town, but make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to deal with any crosstown traffic issues you may encounter while navigating.

The Austin Film Society is launching a new weekend series for October called "Terror In The Aisles: British Horror Films." The first selection on tap is Curse Of The Werewolf, a Hammer Horror classic that will be screening in 35mm tonight and again on Sunday at the Marchesa. There's a companion series happening at the AFS Screening Room every Monday night in October called "Made For TV Horror" that will be presented rare 16mm prints. This week's title is Dan Curtis' Dracula from 1974 and it stars Jack Palance as the legendary vampire.

Head back to the Marchesa on Wednesday night for a screening of the documentary Bayou Mararajah: The Tragic Genius Of James Booker. That film had its world premiere earlier this year during SXSW and tells the story of a musician whom Dr. John called "the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced." October also brings us a new round of Essential Cinema picks and they've got another exceptional lineup. "6 By 3 Japanese Master Filmakers: Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu" will feature five of those selections in 35mm prints direct from Janus Films. Thursday night, Kurosawa's Stray Dog will kick off the series at the Marchesa.

Fantastic Fest Review: Tales from the Organ Trade

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Tales from the Organ Trade Still Photo

A recurring urban legend is that of a business traveler who awakens in his hotel room after a nightcap in the local bar, finding himself in a bathtub full of ice and a bandaged incision. Upon examination at the hospital, he is informed by doctors that his kidney has been removed.

This cautionary tale would seem quite a fitting start for a horror film, and this year's Fantastic Fest featured a title that is reminiscent of this alleged morbid crime -- Tales from the Organ Trade. However, this film is actually a provocative documentary by writer/director Ric Esther Bienstock and narrated by David Cronenberg that will prompt many people to sign their organ donor card. More importantly, it should cause viewers to wonder what they would do if they or a loved one was in need of a transplant.

Across the world, thousands of people often wait for years for a donor organ while the general perception supported by doctors and the government focuses on the "exploitation of the human condition" to condemn illegal kidney transplants. Bienstock provides an in-depth and well-balanced view of this international phenomena. The stories of two people who have sought and failed to receive organ transplants through conventional means, as well as a third person who owes his survival to an illegal transplant, are contrasted with organ donors in the Philippines.

Review: Runner Runner

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Runner Runner

Runner Runner is an enjoyable by-the-numbers tale of doublecross directed by Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer). Scripted by Rounders and Ocean's 13 writers Brian Koppelman and David Levien, it stars Justin Timberlake as Richie Furst, a Princeton whiz-kid who gets in over his head when he travels to Costa Rica to confront Ivan Block (Ben Affleck), the online poker mogul who cheated him out of his college tuition.

Rounding out the cast are Gemma Arterton as Block's bewitching business manager/ex-girlfriend, and Anthony Mackie as the FBI agent pressuring Richie to turn informant.

Furman shoots from a handheld point of view with a narrow focus that makes the movie feel a little smaller than the lavish playboy surroundings where most of it takes place. The shaky-cam does little to liven up Affleck's wooden performance, which seems designed to prove his talents are best used behind the camera. At first jovial then progressively cruel, Block never expresses any emotions outside the range of Affleck's Dazed and Confused role as Fred O'Bannion.

Timberlake, on the other hand, is born to play the down-on-his-luck golden boy.  Relying on charisma, luck, and being just enough smarter than the other guy, his Richie is not far removed from his previous lead role as Will Salas in 2011's In Time, which at least had enough action and special effects to make it a more memorable film.

And that is the unfortunate bottom line for Runner Runner. The unusual title refers to a poker term for drawing two cards to make a winning hand, or in other words, being extremely lucky.  The movie is fun, it's brief at only 91 minutes ... and unfortunately it's unmemorable as anything but a minor vehicle for one star with the power to rate a better script and another with the cachet to direct his own efforts.

Watch 'Machete Kills' -- Free!

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Machete Kills posterIf you didn't go to Fantastic Fest or the festive cast-and-crew screening of Machete Kills earlier this week, Slackerwood has another chance for you to see the Austin-shot movie before it opens on October 11. We have admit-two passes to give away for a screening on Wednesday, October 9 at 9 pm at Galaxy Highland.

After the jump, you'll find promotional codes and links to the Gofobo website where you can enter the code to get an admit-two pass for the screening of your choice. These are first-come, first-served passes and seating is not guaranteed. If you've been to preview screenings, you know that often more tickets are given out than there are seats, so you'll want to arrive early to stake out a good spot in line.

I've seen the movie already -- look for my interview with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and star Danny Trejo closer to the film's release -- and it's the kind of movie you really want to watch with an audience.

Machete Kills is silly and fun, with a downright bizarre cast including Demain Bichir, Antonio Banderas, Alexa Vega, Austin native Amber Heard, Sofia Vergara, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson and Lady Gaga. Oh, and one pretty amazing vehicle. The movie was shot in Austin, but you might not know that unless someone told you.

Review: Parkland

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Parkland

Some stories are just too big to tell in 90 minutes; one of them is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

This is the fundamental problem with Parkland, a well-intentioned attempt to take an intimate look at the Kennedy assassination from an unusual perspective. Parkland sets out to capture the chaos and emotional turmoil of November 22, 1963 and the three days thereafter, focusing on ordinary people -- Parkland Hospital staffers, FBI agents, and so on -- in extraordinary circumstances. But the film misses its target because the target is far too large.

Parkland wastes no time bringing us into the story. The movie opens only an hour or so before Kennedy is shot, and within minutes we're in a chaotic and bloody Parkland emergency room, where young surgical resident Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) frantically tries to save Kennedy. Assisting him is nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden). Carrico's efforts to revive the gravely injured president are futile, of course, but he works on Kennedy until the other attending physicians tell him to stop.

Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), who was in the motorcade, tries to stay on top of many rapidly developing events. Sorrels meets with Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) and convinces the reluctant bystander to turn over his iconic home movie of the assassination to the authorities.

Fantastic Fest Review: The Fake

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The FakeSouth Korean writer/director Sang-ho Yeon created quite a stir at Fantastic Fest in 2012 with the disturbingly bleak animated drama, The King of Pigs. Serious tales conveyed through animation are rare, and Yeon shows no mercy in demonstrating the brutality and exploitative nature within various castes of South Korean society.

Yeon continues to expose the futility and atrocities suffered by the weak and lower class with his second feature-length animated drama Saibi (The Fake). A dying village is scheduled for evacuation before new construction begins and the land is flooded. Many of the villagers look to their church elder, Choi, to save them both figuratively and spiritually, along with the newly recruited Pastor. Unfortunately neither the villagers or Pastor are aware that Choi is a criminal wanted for fraud. He has promised to build a new housing complex for the villagers, when his actual plan is to take off once he's stolen all of their government compensation money.

Fantastic Fest Quick Snaps: 'We Gotta Get Out of This Place' Red Carpet

Simon and Zeke Hawkins

Generally Fantastic Fest programming is heavily centered around films from around the world, so it was great to see Texas production We Gotta Get Out of This Place on the slate of premieres at this year's festival. Directors Simon and Zeke Hawkins (seen above) may be LA filmmakers, but this thrilling drama set in the rural outskirts of Corpus Christi is firmly rooted in Texas.

Producer Justin X. Duprie is from the small town of Taft, Texas, where primary production of the film took place. Duprie had described his hometown to writer Dutch Southern, who was inspired to write the screenplay for We Gotta Get Out of This Place.

Fantastic Fest Review: We Gotta Get Out of This Place

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We Gotta Get Out of This PlaceWe Gotta Get Out of This Place was shot in Taft and Corpus Christi, Texas, during winter months where endless dead cotton fields perfectly represent the inescapable bleak feelings suffered by small-town high-school students on the cusp of starting new adult lives. Playing something like a more mature version of Something Wicked This Way Comes minus the supernatural element, writer Dutch Southern's screenplay inserts a maliciously scheming petty criminal father-figure into a teenage love triangle, with deadly results.

Mark Pellegrino (Dexter, Lost) has a career packed with dark roles, but Giff is a unique character. The rural mafia boss is uneducated but possesses a devastating crafty intelligence. Perhaps slightly insane, he is predatory, with a charming, even seductive personality that reveals his vicious intent with the punchline of his never-ending one liners. He employs teens B.J. (Logan Huffman) and Bobby (Jeremy Allen White), whom he coerces into working a heist for him to repay a small fortune that B.J. has stolen and then blown in a weekend of partying with Bobby and girlfriend Sue (Mackenzie Davis).

Like Pellegrino, the other leads in this movie are cast true to type. Best known for his role in the ABC reboot of V, Huffman's portrayal of B.J. is a Jim Nightshade analogue. With no prospects for college as a way out of town, he embraces Giff as a mentor and the only hope of finding success.  He realizes too late that he is in over his head.

Jeremy Allen White's Bobby, like the light-haired Will Halloway, is more heroic, but his better education and plans to attend college with B.J.'s girlfriend Sue result in a growing feeling of alienation between the lifelong friends. Feelings of betrayal become deadly, and they could all pay the price.

Fantastic Fest Review: Ragnarok

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Ragnarok posterIn 1904, Norwegian archaeologist Haakon Shetelig and Swedish archaeologist Gabriel Gustafson excavated one of the greatest discoveries of the Viking Age -- a burial mound located on the Oseberg farm near Tornberg, Norway, containing a well-preserved ship, grave goods and the skeletal remains of two women. The quality and abundance of items within the grave indicate that at least one of the interred was a woman of high status, and it has been suggested that she was the legendary Norwegian Queen Asa.

Norwegian director Mikkel Brænne Sandemose couples this archaeological find with the Norse myth of the end of the world's events in his action/adventure Ragnarok, which premiered at Fantastic Fest. This family-friendly film pays homage to blockbusters such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Goonies without the overdone Hollywood gloss. Don't get me wrong -- the movie includes plenty of long shots of sweeping landscapes with a majestic musical score to match, and CGI special effects reminiscent of the most memorable "cat-and-mouse" chase scenes of Jurassic Park. These assets make up the lovely packaging containing the true gift of writer John Kare Raake, an engaging and thrilling story of loss, intrigue, and family bonds that stretch over one thousand years.

Pål Sverre Hagen (Kon-Tiki, Troubled Water) portrays archaeologist Sigurd Svendsen, a widower whose obsession with solving the secrets of the Oseberg ship leaves him ignorant of his children's need for attention. His theory that Vikings had actually traveled further north than popular conception -- to the heavily wooded and unpopulated Finmark, the northernmost region of Norway referred to the "no man's land" that lies between Russia and Norway -- is not well-received by the museum patrons who've funded his research, and he is demoted from his position.

Sigurd's colleague Allan (Nicolai Cleve Broch) returns from an extended field expedition with a rune stone that has apparent ties to the Oseberg ship, as well as runes that translate into the phrase, "Man knows little." Is this phrase an observation, or is it a message from the past? Sigurd is determined to find out, and so with Allan and Allan's field assistant Elisabeth (Sofia Helin), he sets off on an expedition with his reluctant children Ragnhild (Marie Annette Tanderod Berglyd) and Brage (Julian Podolski) in tow.

Fantastic Fest 2013: Randy Moore, 'Escape from Tomorrow'

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Going to Disneyland as a child, I heard there were cameras in the bushes. My mom's best friend, a California native, said she had considered working there in her youth and heard that employees who didn't cooperate with the "Disney way" were immediately terminated. This knowledge (or hearsay) helped dissuade me years later from applying to the Disney College Program.

So when I heard that writer-director Randy Moore had shot his debut Escape From Tomorrow at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, without requesting permission, I became intrigued: If there really are cameras in the parks bushes, why would Disney executives allow a film to be created on their soil that has such blatant disregard for the company's image?

There are no cameras in the park's bushes ... or is that what Disney wants us to think?

Fantastic Fest Review: Gravity

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Gravity"State of the art" is described on Wikipedia as "the highest level of development of a device, technique, or scientific field, achieved at a particular time." Ever so rarely, a film appears that advances the state of the art in filmmaking to the next level, becoming a benchmark by which other films are judged.

Recently (at least since the late 80s) this has been James Cameron's playground, as a string of blockbusters like The Abyss, Terminator 2, Titanic and Avatar all set new standards for the use of computer graphics in filmmaking. Of course, Steven Spielberg also joined him in the sandbox with Jurassic Park.

Now Alfonso Cuaron's heavily-anticipated Gravity sets a bar so high one could say without irony that it's in orbit. After more than two decades of computer-generated wonders in film, it is difficult to impress an audience that is already quite used to seeing every wonder a director can imagine. Computer-powered dinosaurs, spaceships, cars and robots make a trip to the cinema feel like stepping into The Matrix, but one thing that anyone with a lot of experience with video games can tell you is the processing power required increases exponentially as you add more objects to a scene. CG can do one object brilliantly. Various tricks allow Peter Jackson to create an army controlled by swarming algorithms or the zombies of World War Z to flow like water.

But there are shots in Gravity that prompt one to exclaim "God Himself made this film!" Thousands, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of objects crash into each other, ricochet, and break apart -- all while looking so detailed, so perfect, and each independently travelling along its own path.