November 2013

Austin 2013 Comic Con Wrap-up: The Costumes

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Spiderman and Friends

Meeting special guests, attending the panels and shopping for comics, graphic art and movie memorabilia may be the biggest attraction of Wizard World Austin Comic Con, but it's the costumes that really grab the attention on the Austin Convention Center floor at this year's convention. Throughout the weekend, attendees showed off their costumes on the main stage as well as at special cosplay meet-ups. Also this year, Comic Con added multiple Sci-Fi Speed Dating events to the schedule -- I peeked inside and observed several participants of both sexes, all in full costume.

Watching the young kids interact with their favorite superheroes was quite entertaining-- clowns and Santa might be frightening to youngsters, but Spiderman had a constant entourage of young kids eager to interact including Spidergirl, Thor and another girl whose costume was not as easily identified (seen at top).

Check out more of the great costumes at this year's Austin Comic Con after the jump.

Austin Comic Con 2013: Family Fun

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Paul Alvarado-Dykstra and Bethany Rhoades at Wizard World Austin Comic Con

My perception of fantasy conventions in the past was that they tend to be more adult-oriented with anime and cos-play, but the Wizard World Austin Comic Con provides a well-rounded experience for families to enjoy together. Until this weekend I had never seen children attending a panel, yet there were several young kids in the Tailchaser's Song Animated Film Sneak Peek session on Sunday. The movie is an animated adaptation of Tad Williams' popular novel about a group of feral cats who journey through the treacherous world of humans and other animals.

Local producer Paul Alvarado-Dykstra and associate producer/writer Bethany Rhoades (pictured above) talked about how this project came to fruition and provided a "behind-the-scenes" look at the concept art of the film. Local animation artist and voice actor Samantha Inoue-Harte -- who was unable to attend due to illness -- brought in Animetropolis, which she co-owns with Alvarado-Dykstra. Rhoades had initially approached Inoue-Harte for a consultation on how to adapt Williams' novel to the screen, and Inoue-Harte was enthused enough to also join as a producer for the project.

Lone Star Cinema: Friday Night Lights

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Friday Night Lights poster

For this Thanksgiving week edition of Lone Star Cinema, I selected an influential football film from the mid-aughts. Before the acclaimed series Friday Night Lights started shooting in town, the 2004 film, starred Billy Bob Thornton as coach to a Texas high school football team. Based on the same-titled book by Buzz Bissinger, Friday Night Lights depicts the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers of Odessa, from the promising pre-season to their challenging finish at state.

The movie places quick scenes from the lives of several of the senior players in between montages of the Friday night action in Odessa's Ratliff Stadium. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) plays Boobie Miles, an assured running back who is the team's star. I'd argue Luke gives the best performance in the movie. Midway through Friday Night Lights, his character faces an obstacle he may not be able to overcome, and Luke aptly conveys Boobie's bluster, might and heartbreak.

Quiet quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black, Sling Blade, Jarhead) finds it hard to engage in the game as his thoughts dwell on his uncertain academic future and the fate of his sickly mother. Billingsley, the fullback played by Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), lives with an abusive drunk dad (country singer Tim McGraw) who was once on a Permian team that won the state championship. 

I wanted to know more about the backstories of younger player Comer -- the recently departed Lee Thompson Young (The Famous Jett Jackson) shows such promise here -- as well as stoic linebacker Ivory Christian (former UT player Lee Jackson) and safety Chavez (Jay Hernandez, spotted on ABC's Nashville). For a film that is practically two hours long, Friday Night Lights is relatively light on plot and spends much of its time on the field. I guess if I want to know more about the players, I'd have to read the book.

Review: Frozen

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Disney's FrozenThe movie Frozen may be Disney's best animated film in 20 years. The adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" is a return to Disney classic form with a few new twists on old tropes.

The pairing of composer Christophe Beck (Pitch Perfect, Burlesque) with lyricist Kristen Anderson-Lopez recaptures some of the magic of Menken/Ashman from 1989-1992 in The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. The screenplay by Jennifer Lee (Wreck-It Ralph), who also shared directing duties with Chris Buck (Tarzan), carefully balances dark subject matter with good-natured humor as it transports the audience into a magical frozen world.

Idina Menzel won a Tony for her Broadway performance in Wicked as Elphaba, the misunderstood "wicked witch" forced into isolation by her appearance and powers. The role of snow queen Elsa she plays in Frozen is not a very far stretch from that character, though she is not the heroine of this tale.

Princess Anna is voiced by Kristen Bell, who also performs her own songs. Who knew Kristen Bell could sing like this? Performing in four tracks that include duets with Santino Fontana, Josh Gad, and Menzel, her voice is flawless.

The most memorable numbers in Frozen, however, are "In Summer," performed by Josh Gad (Jobs, Ice Age) about a snowman's light-hearted musing on dreams of warm weather, and "Let It Go," which inspired youngsters in the audience to sing along with the credits.

After she accidentally injures younger sister Anna while playing with her budding magical powers, Elsa's parents hide her away, isolated from people in order to avoid hurting them. She grows up striving to repress, rather than control, her feelings and thus her powers. After their parents' deaths, Elsa comes of age and must assume her role as queen at a coronation ceremony, resulting in a disaster from which she flees.

Movies This Week: November 27 - December 5, 2013

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Nebraska

The Austin Film Society is taking a few days off for the holidays, but will return this weekend with a special series called "Jan Nemec: Rediscovered Treasures of the Czechoslovak New Wave." 2005's Toyen screens on Sunday night (December 1) while Diamonds Of The Night and A Loaf Of Bread play next Monday and Wednesday. All three titles are screening in rare 35mm prints. Meanwhile, the latest AFS Essential Cinema series on Irish cinema (our preview) screens 1995's Nothing Personal next Thursday. 

The Paramount is kicking off its annual Holiday Film Series with Elf on Sunday and a double feature of It's A Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story next Wednesday. All films are screening in 35mm and there will be a few more titles in the weeks ahead. Check out Elizabeth's chat about the series with Paramount programmer Stephen Jannise.

The Alamo Drafthouse begins a new film series focused on journalism this Sunday and Tuesday with Citizen Kane at Slaughter Lane and Lakeline and Almost Famous on Tuesday at the VillageThe Ritz has 35mm screenings scheduled for Labyrinth (free, Alamo Kid's Club this Saturday), Ladies And Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains (on Monday night) and Zodiac (next Wednesday). 

Review: The Book Thief

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The Book Thief

War is hell, but not in The Book Thief.

This is not to say war is a picnic in the film; the specter of war's ultimate toll is ever present and personified by the narrator, Death. But The Book Thief's absurdly sanitized depiction of World War II barely hints at the horrific realities, and a story that should be gritty and deep is mostly mild and superficial.

The titular book thief in the film (based on a bestselling young adult novel of the same title) is young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse). Her mother, a communist in pre-war Nazi Germany who fears for her family's safety, takes Liesel and her younger brother to live with foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann. Liesel's brother dies aboard the train en route to meet the Hubermanns; after his trackside burial, the illiterate Liesel steals the gravedigger's manual to remind her of her brother. This is the first of many books she'll take throughout the film as she becomes more literate.

Austin Comic Con 2013: Familiar Faces Everywhere

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Michael Rooker at Austin Comic Con

Despite the cold and rainy weather this weekend, massive crowds turned out for the Wizard World Austin Comic Con for a chance to see their favorite television and film stars as well as experience the "Day of The Doctor" 50th Anniversary with a well-attended BBC America simulcast screening. The most popular costumes at this weekend's event were obviously Doctor Who related, with scores of "Weeping Angels," various incarnations of the Doctor and sonic screwdrivers held high.

Oddly another costume that I saw frequently was that of Kevin Smith's recurring character, Silent Bob, which was even more popular than The Walking Dead Daryl and Merle Dixon. Speaking of the Dixon brothers, the lines in the autograph pens were quite long for Norman Readus and Michael Rooker (pictured above). I chatted with Rooker briefly -- he spoke of enjoying the rooftop scene of The Walking Dead episode "The Prologue," especially the aspect of "manipulating the audience in understanding what Merle is about."

Review: Black Nativity

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Black Nativity posterKasi Lemmons, director of Eve's Bayou and Talk to Me, chose a play by poet Langston Hughes as the basis for her new movie. Black Nativity is first and foremost a musical, featuring original pieces of music as well as new arrangements of familiar hymns and carols. Lemmons even co-wrote some of the songs, with Raphael Saadiq producing the music (he shares the "Music by" credit with composer Laura Karpman).

The music is the best thing about Black Nativity. Without the songs it would likely be a far more disappointing movie, as you can see plot lines coming from a mile away. There are a couple times when a character says something that punches you in the gut with its earnestness, but otherwise the story is as ridiculous as it is predictable.

Langston, a fatherless kid from Baltimore played by young Jacob Latimore, is sent to live with grandparents he's never met. His rhyming narration kicks off the movie, and his singing voice has a light tone. Singer/Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Hudson plays his financially-strapped mom who sings more often than she talks. Angela Bassett and Forest Whitaker are the grandparents living in Harlem (and both of them sing in the movie!). Bassett's tentative alto harmonizes nicely with Hudson's more assured voice for a duet in "He Loves Me Still."

Tyrese Gibson (Baby Boy, Transformers) shows up as a gritty man Langston meets in NYC, and his performance of "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" late in the film is simply beautiful. A homeless couple -- obvious Joseph and Mary stand-ins as soon as they appear onscreen -- are played by R&B singer Luke James and newcomer Grace GibsonMary J. Blige is an angelic figure with startlingly white hair, and Nas is... himself, I guess?

Review: Philomena

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Philomena

Some aspects of Philomena can be the stuff of films that critics loathe: It's a crowd pleaser, the central characters are borderline cinematic clichés, they form an unlikely friendship (I wish there were more films about unlikely animosities), and the story's morality isn't complicated.

But thanks to a smart, funny script, a likeable vibe, direction by the esteemed Stephen Frears and superb performances by Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, Philomena avoids all these potential pitfalls. It's a great movie that may be a hit with audiences for all the right reasons.

Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the film is based on the true story of the titular Philomena (Dench), an Irish woman who spends nearly 50 years wondering what became of her long-lost son. As a teenager in 1952, she becomes pregnant and, like many "fallen" girls and women in Catholic-dominated Ireland, is sent away to a convent. After she gives birth, the proudly cruel nuns force her to sign away her parental rights to the baby, Anthony, who lives with her at the convent until he's adopted at age three. Knowing nothing about Anthony's adoptive parents, Philomena loses touch with him.

Holiday Favorites 2013: 'It's a Wonderful Life' for Samantha Rae Lopez

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Henry Travers and Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life

Here's the first of our 2013 Holiday Favorites (see 2011 and 2012), a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.

We're starting off with this selection from Samantha Rae Lopez (@sraelopez), producer of short film The Book of Joe and program coordinator at Latinitas, a local organization working to empower young Latinas through usage of tech and media. Here are her thoughts on a Christmas favorite:

If you are a frequent Slackerwood reader, chances are you have some familiarity with Frank Capra's 1946 film It's a Wonderful Life. If you haven't seen this film, stop what you're doing and find it on DVD, iTunes or Amazon streaming. Despite the fact that many would argue that this movie is an "American Christmas Classic," in reality the holiday itself is merely referenced and not crucial to the plot progression. Much like films such as Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black seems to love Christmas) and Trading Places, It's a Wonderful Life can also -- arguably -- fall into the "anti-Christmas movie" sub-genre.

George Bailey, played by a post-war James Stewart, is a small town business man with a strong stake in the town of Bedford Falls. When his business is held captive by the greedy Henry F. Potter (Lionel Barrymore), Bailey has suicidal thoughts which reach his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers). Bailey is granted a rare glimpse at what the community would be like without him and gets a new found appreciation for everything he has worked for; his friends and family.

Holiday Films at the Paramount: C'mon and Let it Snow

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Stills from Love Actually, A Christmas Story, It's a Wonderful Life, Meet Me in St Louis, White ChristmasNow that it's Thanksgiving week, it's time to get to watching holiday movies! Here to help, the Paramount Theatre is showing a variety of films during the month of December. As you watch these older and more recent Christmas classics, you can imbibe the free hot chocolate provided (discounted "extra toasty" beverages will also be available).

For something different this year, the downtown Austin landmark will be running a special deal for marriage proposals on Sunday, December 8. In between the Love Actually showtimes that day, the marquee will read "Will you marry me?" and couples can reserve times to pop the question in front of the theatre.

I asked Paramount programmer Stephen Jannise how this idea was conceived and whether this is the first time something like this has been done at the historic venue. His response:

"One of my coworkers actually came up with the proposal idea after I had already programmed Love Actually. Apparently we get tons of calls from people wanting to use the marquee to propose, and of course we just can't accommodate all those requests (a majority of the time we're using that marquee to promote our shows). So we figured we'd take a whole day to give people an opportunity to get photos with the marquee, along with all the other awesome benefits of that package. And what better movie to pair that experience with than Love Actually! To my knowledge, this has never been done at the Paramount."

Here's the schedule for seasonal movies at the theatre:

Slackery News Tidbits: November 25, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

Movies This Week: November 22-26, 2013

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Kill Your Darlings

This is an abbreviated, pre-Thanksgiving edition of Movies This Week. While everything pretty much got out of the way of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire this weekend, some new movies will open mid-week to take advantage of the holiday. As such, we're just going to cover what is playing over the next few days and then return on Wednesday with a new post so you can plan your moviegoing accordingly. 

The Austin Film Society only has one event lined up before the holidays and that is tonight's special presentation of The Unspeakable Act. It's happening at the AFS Screening Room and online ticketing closes at 3pm, so you'll want to plan ahead to attend.

The Alamo Ritz has a couple more screenings of To Kill A Mockingbird for their "Tough Ladies" series happening this Saturday and Sunday. On Monday night, you can catch a very rare screening of Taxi Zum Klo (also at the Ritz) for this month's installment of Homo Arigato and Anime fans will want to head to the Alamo Lakeline on Tuesday for a 25th anniversary celebration of Akira on the big screen, although you should be aware that the distributor is only providing the English-dubbed version. 

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

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The Hunger Games: Catching FireIt's been almost a year now since Jennifer Lawrence has captured the collective hearts of America with her adorable quality and humility paired with her humor. To look at anything Lawrence did in early 2013 you'd think she could do absolutely no wrong. As is typical of American culture, her illustrious shine is still amazingly bright, but now we're ready to see what she can do onscreen again. Can she impress us, still? Her first major release of 2013 is the sequel to the hugely successful franchise, The Hunger Games.

In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Lawrence's character Katniss Everdeen remains a polarizing figure in the dystopian society of the future. Her success in the previous year's Hunger Games, a competition held annually in which a tribute from every district is randomly selected to participate in a fight to the death where only a single winner is to remain, elevated her status as a living example of the type of courage that is present in the poverty stricken districts of the country.

Her victory didn't come easily, and without controversy though. Her male counterpart, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) also came away from the previous year's Hunger Games as a victor due to some clever posturing by Katniss. Now that she has fully grabbed the attention of President Snow (Donald Sutherland), forces are conspiring to eliminate Katniss from causing any more trouble, but there are also forces looking to join Katniss and her fight for survival and survival of her people.

The strengths that were present in the first film are more pronounced in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Lawrence's character seems to carry the world on her shoulders now, and it's appropriate since, on a weird parallel scale, Lawrence seemed to always be on everyone's mind in the last year in a way similar to Katniss in the film's universe. Her combination of ease and uneasiness with the burdens that are now ever present is handled beautifully. When Katniss has to act confident and complacent, she does so with a smile on her face that seems genuine, but is able to maintain that uneasiness in her eyes.

Austin Comic-Con 2013: Previewing the Films

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Lou Ferrigno at Austin Comic Con 2012

If you've not had a chance to attend a Comic Con, this year would be a great opportunity to check out this jam-packed multi-day event right here in Central Texas this weekend, from Friday, Nov. 22 through Sunday, Nov. 24. Wizard World has not only expanded the number of Comic Cons held each year, but also the content to include more television and film-related programming.

This weekend at Austin Comic Con, stars available for photo and autograph sessions range from Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Readus of The Boondock Saints fame to The Hulk himself, Lou Ferrigno -- seen above at the 2012 Austin Comic Con. Star Trek captains William Shatner and Scott Bakula will also be in attendance, with Shatner accepting his "Honorary Austin Citizenship" from Mayor Leffingwell on Friday evening at 5:30 pm at the Austin Convention Center.

Speaking of The Hulk, Marvel will be debuting its new animated film Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United on Saturday, with a special appearance by Hulk voice actor Fred Tatasciore as he introduces the film and hosts a Q&A.

Ready, Set, Fund: Producing for a Cause

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Reel Change Film FrenzyReady, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

Local nonprofit festival Lights. Camera. Help. is changing it up a bit for the 2014 Reel Change Film Frenzy through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to support their ten filmmaking teams in sharing stories about local nonprofit organizations. Backers can become a producer of their very own cause-driven film by donating as little as $10. The goal is to raise $10,000 to be split between the teams to cover their costs.

At higher levels, backers are eligible to receive tickets to the Reel Change Film Frenzy screening at the Alamo Drafthouse, a cameo appearance in one of the films, or video coaching sessions by Lights. Camera. Help. educators. Even if the campaign does not reach its goal, the filmmakers have agreed to split evenly any funding received through January 4.

Stuntwoman Patty Dillon has taken on a new role in the film industry as a documentary filmmaker with There Will Be No Stay, the personally intimate story of the men faced with the unbearable act of taking another person's life on behalf of the criminal justice system. Austin-based Arcanum Pictures (Grow Up, Tony Phillips) producers Paul Gandersman and Peter Hall support this salient documentary, which was filmed across the nation from South Dakota to Texas and North Carolina.

The film, which provides a rare glimpse into a difficult profession, is currently funding through Wednesday, December 11 on Kickstarter, for funds to cover post-production including final film and sound editing as well as music licensing and film festival application fees.

Watch the thought-provoking preview of There Will Be No Stay after the jump.

Lone Star Cinema: JFK

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JFK

Oliver Stone isn't known for subtlety. From the sledgehammered anti-greed message of Wall Street to the relentless nihilistic violence of Natural Born Killers, the director seldom is guilty of understatement.

Stone's most ambitious film, JFK, is no less over-the-top than his other works. Released in 1991, JFK is an orgy of Stone's signature style, a movie saturated (really, oversaturated) with visual and sound effects, artsy segues, and themes repeated too often. It's also one of the most important films made in Texas, a hugely successful and controversial movie by one of the most popular directors of its era.

As its title implies, JFK is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but it's less about the tragic event than the countless conspiracy theories surrounding it. The film is based on the real-life story of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), whose suspicions about Kennedy's murder led him to conduct a years-long investigation.

AFF 2013: All Our Coverage

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Updated Nov. 18, 2013.

The Slackerwood team was all over Austin Film Festival this year. Here's our coverage, including guides, reviews, interviews and fest dispatches.

AFF 2013: Vintage Austin Double Feature

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AFF 2013

Austin Film Festival may be well behind us, but I am still thinking about some older Texas films at the fest that I stumbled upon almost accidentally. As I was planning my schedule for the Sunday of the fest on Saturday night, I noticed some oddly named films at the Rollins with descriptions that included "Texas independent film." I ended up skipping My Man Godfrey (which I can watch any time) to see what this screening was about.

All I knew about Invasion of the Aluminum People (1980) and Speed of Light (1981) were that apparently Jonathan Demme liked them, since he was going to "present" them. I assumed "presenting" meant he would do a nice intro, then scoot, as is typical at many such events.

The theater was about halfway full and I was one of the younger audience members. Later I would learn that many people in the audience had worked on one of the two films, or provided music, or been in a band with someone involved with the film. Both films employed a lot of musicians as their cast and crew. Well, it was Austin in 1980, I kind of assumed most of the people living here were musicians (or claimed to be). Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater sat a couple of rows in front of me, and I took that as a good omen -- this must be worthwhile.

AFS Preview: Troubles and Paradise: The 'First Wave' of Irish Cinema

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Nobody's Perfect

By Philip Fagan

The latest Austin Film Society Essential Cinema series, "Troubles and Paradise: The 'First Wave' of Irish Cinema," starts Thursday, Nov. 21 and runs through Dec. 19 at AFS at the Marchesa. Fagan is guest curator of this series.

It may at first glance seem curious to refer to films produced between 1982 and 2004 as among those comprising an Irish "First Wave" of cinema. However, as with the island's tempestuous political and social landscape throughout the years, the Irish cinema, to the extent that it has existed, has suffered a long and curious journey that is bound up with the same issues of Irish identity that continue to divide the Republicans and Loyalists of the North. The cinema of Ireland that began emerging in the 1980s can be assessed as part of a long, ongoing intellectual mission of examining and forging a cohesive national identity, a battle that continues to be waged on various other fronts.

Irish identity continues to be inherently fractured and debatable and the Irish themselves often tend to self-identify through the lens of well-worn stereotypes, or "Paddywhackery." Is Ireland one country or two? Are its peoples Irish or British? Catholic or Protestant? Or Christian or Pagan even? Is Ireland's "closest cousin" Great Britain or the United States? Has "Irishness" become so closely tied to America on one hand and the struggle against England on the other that maintaining an indigenous Irish identity has become impossible? Are the Irish at heart a race of saints, scholars, poets, and geniuses; or are they inherently uncivilized, atavistic, violent, racist, intolerant alcoholic criminals? And more recently, how are the changing roles of women and the rise of immigrant and gay subcultures impacting a conceptualization of a modern Ireland?

Slackery News Tidbits: November 18, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Texas-shot We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Mike's review) took home an audience award in the American Independents category at this year's AFI Fest, IndieWire reports. The drama, about three Texas teens who unintentionally become involved in an organized crime ring, also screened at Fantastic Fest 2013. The German drama Nothing Bad Can Happen, which has U.S. distribution through Drafthouse Films, took home the New Auteurs critics award.
  • UT lecturer Kat Candler's upcoming feature Hellion received $70,000 for post-production costs from the San Francisco Film Society, according to IndieWire. The indie drama, starring Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul and Juliette Lewis, stems from Candler's award-winning short film of the same name, about a seven-year-old who falls prey to his older brother's mischievous ways in a small Texas refinery town. Fellow Austinite Jonny Mars, who appeared in the SXSW 2012 short, is returning for the feature, along with Austin producer Kelly Williams. Other local connections include executive producers Jeff Nichols (Mud) and Sarah Green (The Tree of Life).
  • The Austin Film Society's retrospective of Czechoslovakian filmmaker Jan Nemec kicked off Friday and continues on Sunday, December 1 with 2005's previously unavailable Toyen at the Marchesa (6226 Middle Fiskville), according to The Austin Chronicle. The series runs through Dec. 6.

Movies This Week: November 15-21, 2013

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Dallas Buyers Club

It's a relatively quiet week for new releases and rep screenings, but with the F1 crowd making traffic through Austin a slow-moving experience, maybe that's just as well. You can venture away from downtown to join the Austin Film Society at the Marchesa over the next week for some top-notch bookings that would have otherwise skipped over our fair city completely. On Saturday afternoon, they've got Andrew Dosunmu's Mother Of George, an acclaimed film that debuted at Sundance earlier this year about a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn who cannot have a child of their own.

At Berkeley is another movie that nobody else would dare to bring to town. This 4-hour documentary from legendary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman details four months on campus at the University of Southern California at Berkeley. It has one screening only on Sunday at noon and it will feature a Skype Q&A with Wiseman after the film. On Thursday evening, a new Essential Cinema series called "Troubles And Paradise: The 'First Wave' Of Irish Cinema" will kick off with December Bride. It's a 1991 drama that the AFS website lists as a "masterpiece [that] has been largely unseen by American audiences."

The Fantastic Fest Tour is happening this weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane. Popular titles from this year's festival (many of which won't see a proper release until next year) are showing through Sunday including Grand Piano (Jette's review), Borgman, Big Bad Wolves and Why Don't You Play In Hell. The Alamo Ritz has Fargo in 35mm on Saturday and Sunday as part of this month's "Tough Ladies" series, Sophie Fiennes' The Pervert's Guide To Ideology screens on Sunday and Tuesday and a rare 35mm print of one of my favorite 80s movies, The Legend Of Billie Jean, is playing Monday night. 

Review: Dallas Buyers Club

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dallas buyers club posterDallas Buyers Club has all the hooks you'd expect to find in a film released during prime awards-angling season. A couple of big stars, a David and Goliath story based on true events, a topic that will inspire moral outrage, and as you've probably heard, major physical transformations from not one but two actors involved. 

The cynical part of me went in fearing heavy-handedness and emotional exploitation, but I was relieved to find that director Jean-Marc Vallee largely steers clear of over-sentimentality. Instead he simply tells the story of a flawed rebel searching for dignity in a terrifying situation, and though a little too glossy at times, the movie satisfies in many ways and is bound to capture a golden statue or two.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Ron Woodroof, a swaggering Dallas electrician/rodeo cowboy who is diagnosed with HIV so advanced that he's told he has a mere 30 days to live. The stigma that this is a gay man's disease, especially common in 1985 (when the story is set), riles homophobic Ron as much as the health implications. He soon discovers what he really needs to be angry about, though; there are no promising medications available for Ron and others like him, and the American system operates as if it truly doesn't care about people with HIV and AIDS.

With his life at stake and an entire federal framework that he feels needs to be corrected, Ron diverts his rage into travel and research and searches for alternative options. Never the law-abiding type, he soon creates a buyers club, a setup that skirts the bounds of illegality by selling memberships rather than pills. Once dues are paid, members receive an array of drugs, vitamins and supplements (mostly acquired from a progressive doctor in Mexico) that are not yet approved by the FDA. As the leader of this club, Ron satisfies his desire for both control and adventure -- he will not sit idly by as his body and health deteriorate. 

McConaughey is enthralling as the womanizing cowboy turned AIDS-rights activist. The role allows him to strut, connive, charm and storytell using the precisely channeled charisma he's known for, and his fiery presence (made only more searing by yes, his remarkably gaunt figure) is the beating heart of the film. Though you never forget you're looking at a dying man, McConaughey infuses his performance with sparks of crackling energy. 

Austin Polish Film Festival 2013: Polanski, Closed Circuit and The Girl from the Wardrobe

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The final day of the Austin Polish Film Festival held, by far, the most intriguing of all the films screened that weekend; each one more different than the last, and each one mesmerizing and completely unforgettable.

Up first was Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir by film historian and documentarian Laurent Bouzereau. I must confess this was the film I was looking forward to all weekend, being after all a student of film, an admirer of Bouzereau and a fan of Polanski. The movie was shot during Polanski's time under house arrest in Switzerland following his entry into the country in 2009.

Shot as a conversation between Polanski and his long-time friend and collaborator Andrew Braunsberg, the famed director gave what is perhaps his most frank and candid interview ever. No subject was off-limits for Polanksi, including his experiences as a child during the invasion of Poland, the murder of his wife Sharon Tate and their unborn child, and the charges brought against him that still prevent him from ever returning to the United States.

AFS Preview: Mother of George

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By Christina Bryant

When it comes to portrayals of Brooklyn, New York on film and TV, we either get Spike Lee's beloved Bed-Stuy of yesterday or Lena Dunham's gentrified Williamsburg. Mother of George offers a refreshing third option. Audiences are welcomed into an intriguing, yet overlooked African immigrant community living in the borough’s Flatbush neighborhood.

Austin Film Society will screen Mother of George this Saturday, November 16 [event info/tickets] at 4 pm at AFS at the Marchesa (6226 Middle Fiskville Rd).

The film opens with the wedding of Adenike (Danai Gurira, who plays Michonne on AMC's Walking Dead) and Ayodele (veteran actor Isaach De Bankolé). In any other movie, they might just be background characters; perhaps the aproned individuals you see pass through the swinging kitchen doors of your neighborhood African restaurant. Instead, Nigerian photographer/director Andrew Dosunmu sets his tale of a newlywed couple facing infertility against an almost Greek tragedy backdrop, full of complexity and nuance. 

AFF Review: Hellaware

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hellaware posterWritten and directed by University of Texas graduate Michael Bilandic (who we interviewed before Austin Film Festival began), Hellaware is a playful modern morality tale that explores the ups and downs a young photographer experiences while trying to make himself a part of the New York art scene.

Hellaware stars Keith Poulson (Somebody Up There Likes Me) as Nate, a slacker with abstract dreams of fame and just a few vague ideas about how to actually achieve it. After his girlfriend (Kate Lyn Sheil) dumps him to be with the pigtail-wearing Brooklyn artist of the moment, he descends into a downward spiral of self-pity and complaints. One night while attempting to mute his sorrows with booze, drugs and the internet, Nate and his friends (played by Sophia Takal and Duane C. Wallace) stumble across something on YouTube that is mesmerizing in its repulsiveness.

An absurd rap/rock video made by an Insane Clown Posse-type group (they're called the Young Torture Killers) captures Nate's attention, and before he knows it he's setting off to Delaware to track down a bunch of violence-obsessed teenagers with a taste for purple drank. Nate looks down on the group (he thinks they are backwards and terrible musicians), but is also intrigued by their authenticity. These audacious kids are different from the pretentious wannabe-artists he's surrounded by, and ultimately he hopes to capitalize on their rawness to his own advantage -- ideally in the form of a photography show that will jumpstart his career. 

What follows is an arrangement where Nate takes what he wants from his subjects (exploitative photos they haven't given permission to use), and then a sleazy art gallery owner in turn takes advantage of Nate. Talk of truth and beauty goes out the window when money and notoriety beckon, and soon enough everyone starts to show their ugly sides as tempers flare, friendships tangle, and egos get really, really big.

Austin Polish Film Festival 2013: Baczynski, Baby Blues and Bikes

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Baczyński

I knew going into Saturday's collection of Austin Polish Film Festival films that I was going to discover aspects of the country that were completely alien to me. This was never more true than when I attended the screening of Baczyński (pictured at top), a documentary/narrative focusing on the all-too-brief life of Polish poet Krzysztof Baczyński. The film tells the story of the invasion of Poland and a young soldier who finds escape from the battle and the bloodshed through poetry.

Part talking-head documentary and part narrative feature, the film particularly struck me with its cinematography. It would have been so easy to make the surroundings within the film as bleak as the events taking place, and yet the filmmakers put together such vivid colors and images that in a way it signified the indestructible beauty and spirit of the country. Meanwhile, the weaving of Baczyński's words alongside images of war and horror was really effective. I was most taken with the poems themselves, which called to mind those thoughtful and pensive moments that one wouldn't ordinarily attribute to times of war. I found it really moving that in spite of such times, this young poet never lost sight of what made his country great. Perhaps the greatest element of Baczyński was the intercut shots of Polish young people in the present day sitting in the audience as they took turns reciting Baczyński's own words, which still had meaning and resonance decades later.

Austin Polish Film Festival 2013: Young Polish Filmmakers

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When I saw the chance to cover the 8th Annual Austin Polish Film Festival and Poster Exhibit, I jumped at it mainly because of a Roman Polanski documentary that was slated to screen. While I knew the Austin Polish Society was a thriving organization here in Austin, my knowledge of the country itself is limited to school history books. I took my lack of information as a blessing in this case, as I went into the three-day festival ready to let the collection of Polish filmmakers and their differing views on their land and countrymen wash over me.

Friday night was geared towards young Polish filmmakers. Two in particular, Julia Kolberger and Kuba Gryzewski, both graduates of Polish film schools, each exhibited two of their short films.

The first pair of films, I Won't Be Here Tomorrow and Easter Crumblewere written and directed by Kolberger. Both are family-centric stories about individuals of different ages who all come to a crossroads, and they each had a definite literary feel that comes from the normal everyday. They reminded me of an author named Peter Cameron, whose novels tend to lean towards the internal conflicts of life. Kolberger creates with the same sensibilities; while there is confrontation among her characters, the most explosive ones are with themselves.

TAMI Flashback: November 22, 1963

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Kennedy Assassination Newspaper

This article is the third 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.

President John F. Kennedy's assassination has been exhaustively documented on film; not surprisingly, the TAMI collection includes dozens of assassination-related videos.

Because TAMI is home to so many amazing bits of Texas ephemera, it's also not surprising that one of those bits is a film of Cactus Pryor interviewing J. Frank Dobie about the assassination. Filmed the day before Thanksgiving in 1963, Cactus Pryor Interviews J. Frank Dobie is a rare, fascinating and thoroughly Texan take on the week's tragic events. The two Texas icons -- Pryor was an Austin TV pioneer, Dobie a folklorist, teacher, writer and patron saint of all things Austin -- discuss the assassination and, more importantly, the hateful climate in which it happened.

The interview lasts barely 19 minutes. Dobie rambles at times (at 75, he was in the last year of his life), but he fills many of those minutes with his famed insight and folksy wisdom. He discusses Lee Harvey Oswald's life in some detail; obviously, he had done his homework. He also laments the widespread hatred of Kennedy, along with a more general disrespect of the presidency. Recalling America in his father's time, Dobie tells us that "certainly nowhere in that country was there any hating of the president. The president was respected even though opposed, and it's possible to oppose a president or anybody else without hating him. Hate is modern towards presidents." (Dobie may have had an overly rosy view of presidential history.)

AFS Docs Preview: Slavery By Another Name

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Still of men in Birmingham, AL cell via Slavery By Another NameAustin Film Society will screen Slavery by Another Name this Wednesday, Nov. 13 at AFS at the Marchesa [event info/tickets]. The documentary, which PBS originally broadcast in 2012, delves into the ways African-Americans were forced into involuntary servitude in the post-Civil War South, until the 1940s.

I imagine most of us are at least vaguely familiar with the system of sharecropping, but how many of us were taught about peonage in history class? Not me, unfortunately.  I was aghast to just be learning about this illegal debt servitude at my current age.

The documentary, based on the book by Douglas A. Blackmon, uses interviews with historians and descendants of victims of forced labor alongside live-action scenes of actors performing specific stories. Laurence Fishburne narrates. The history of practices such as convict leasing (men who really shouldn't have been arrested in the first place were "leased" to corporations for services such as mining), chain gangs (where the Southern states used those same men for highway improvement), debt servitude/peonage and sharecropping is deeply discussed, with illustrations. We get to hear from a few descendants of the white businessmen and farmers involved.

I had a bitter taste in my mouth as I watched Slavery by Another Name, disgusted at the historical events it portrays, not the film itself. Director Samuel D. Pollard is the mind behind a few American Masters programs and a couple segments of the lauded Eyes on the Prize series. This documentary definitely has the feel of a PBS program -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

The film's writer Sheila Curran Bernard will participate in a Q&A via Skype on Wednesday, moderated by Paul Stekler from the University of Texas Radio-Television-Film program (and a documentary filmmaker himself).

Slackery News Tidbits: November 11, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's El Rey Network began production in Austin last week on From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series, a television adaptation of his 1996 cult film From Dusk Till Dawn. This is the first scripted original series to air on Rodriguez's new cable network, set to debut next month.
  • Oscilloscope Laboratories has acquired the U.S. distribution rights to Coherence, which had its world premiere at this year's Fantastic Fest, where it won the Next Wave Best Screenplay award, IndieWire reports. The thriller about a dinner party gone awry will continue on the festival run until next year's theatrical release. 
  • Speaking of Fantastic Fest, the genre film festival is going on tour beginning Friday to Alamo Drafthouse markets nationwide for three weekends this month to present audience favorites, like Cheap Thrills (Mike's review), The Congress (Mike's review) and the Elijah Wood-fronted Grand Piano (Jette's review), among others. 
  • In more festival news, the ATX Television Festival has announced its first wave of programming, including the first-ever Everwood cast reunion. The WB drama follows a widower and his two children as they adjust to life in a small Colorado town. Stars Gregory Smith, Treat Williams and Emily Van Camp, among others, will be in attendance. The festival's third season runs June 5-8, 2014.

Movies This Week: November 8-14, 2013

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All Is Lost 

If you missed the critically acclaimed drama Museum Hours last week, the Austin Film Society is bringing you one more chance to catch it on the big screen. You can check it out on Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa. That's also where you'll find a brand-new digital restoration of Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme's 1963 documentary Le Joli Mai on Tuesday evening and the Essential Cinema screening of Ozu's Floating Weeds in 35mm on Thursday night.

The Drafthouse's new "Tough Ladies In Cinema" series delivers To Kill A Mockingbird this weekend. You can spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons with Scout and Atticus Finch at the Alamo Lakeline and Slaughter Lane locations. Slaugher also has an "Afternoon Tea" screening of Elizabeth on Saturday and a Bonnie and Clyde beer dinner on Sunday (also part of the Tough Ladies lineup).

The Alamo Ritz has a special Mondo Veterans Day presentation of Oliver Stone's Platoon and a 35mm screening (with free milk for the audience) of The Professional on Sunday. Their new series "Invincible: Five Tough Films" continues on Monday night with Times Square starring Trini Alvarado and Tim Curry, while Barbara Stanwyck lights up the big screen again on Tuesday with The Lady Eve (a Tough Ladies booking that also doubles as a Cinema Cocktails event). If none of that floats your boat, perhaps you'll perk up at the idea of a 35mm screening of Terminator 2: Judgment Day on Wednesday night for that doubles as a Tough Ladies and Tough Guy Cinema evening. You can't beat that with a stick. If you do, you'll probably be chased down and killed by the T-1000. 

Review: Thor: The Dark World

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Thor: The Dark WorldBigger, better and more full of thunder, Thor: The Dark World smashes onto screens this weekend. The sequel to 2011's Thor -- part of the Marvel Avengers movie continuity -- catches up with characters Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) several years after the first installment.

The story by writers Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne and Robert Rodat was directed by Alan Taylor, who has a few feature credits but has directed episodes of numerous TV favorites including among his credits Six Feet Under, Sex and the City, The West Wing, The Sopranos and most recently, Game of Thrones.

Taylor's experience directing Game of Thrones is immediately on display as the film opens with a battle scene in which Asgardians and Dark Elves do battle using a combination of medieval weaponry and laser fire. In a greatly expanded role, Anthony Hopkins' Odin narrates the battle fought by his father (Tony Curran in an uncredited role) against Dark Elves who seek to kill all other life and return the universe to darkness. Now, the nine worlds are coming into a once-every-five-thousand-years alignment, and the time is ripe for the Dark Elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) to try again.

Comic book fans may be displeased by changes to established details and storylines, but Thor: The Dark World is a crowd-pleaser. More of the action takes place on Asgard where in addition to Hopkins, Rene Russo enjoys a much more involved role as Frigga, Thor's mother. The rest of the gang is back including Jaimie Alexander as Sif, Zachary Levi as Fandral, Ray Stevenson as Volstagg, Tadanobu Asano as Hogun and Idris Elba as Heimdall, all of whom serve more important roles than the set dressing they provided in the previous film.  A newcomer to the Marvel universe, Chris O'Dowd appears as a matter-of-fact blind date for Portman's Foster, and Alice Krige makes a brief surprising appearance.

Review: All Is Lost

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All Is LostThe first time I saw a trailer for All Is Lost, I wondered why Robert Redford had gotten involved in a too-soon remake of Life Of Pi. Of course, once you see the film you'll understand that it's the kind of story best reserved for an audience knowing as little as possible about it going in, and that a marketing trailer has to do its best to entice you without giving too much away. There's no question that this is a challenging film to promote, but it's truly a remarkable work of art that should really be seen on the big screen. 

Director J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) doesn't waste any time establishing the story. Redford's character is never named (his official credit is "Our Man") and we don't get any identifying details about his life. He's asleep on his yacht in the middle of the Indian Ocean when he awakens to a crash. His vessel has collided with a shipping container full of shoes and it's taken quite a toll on the stability of his boat. We see him leap into survival mode, and while we don't know anything about his background, it becomes clear that he's a hell of a sailor. He takes command of the yacht and seemingly knows every possible solution to each problem that pops up. 

Even though his navigation and communication systems are down, he's able to use nautical maps and tools to chart his approximate location and a course of action. If he can just direct the boat back towards a major shipping route, he'll be able to get help. That is, unless a series of intense storms would happen to rage over the water and further damage the viability of his ship on his cursed voyage.

Redford commands the screen in All Is Lost with a ruggedly weathered face that, even under duress, hides the fact that he's 77 years old. Single-handedly, the actor holds our rapt attention through almost two hours of unforgettable trauma without almost any dialogue. It's a feat that very few actors could pull off, but here it's done beautifully.

AFF Review: Finding Neighbors

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When was the last time you talked to your next door neighbor? With all of the crazy reports out there in the news today, it seems that we as human beings have become more closed off to the world. I recall having a realization that, after almost one-and-a-half years of living in my apartment, I had never introduced myself to (or even seen) the person next door. I'm sure I looked rather foolish making an introduction after so long, but it seemed so unusual to live right next door to someone and not know anything about them -- even their name. Writer/director Ron Judkins explores this exact topic in his latest film, Finding Neighbors.

Sam (Michael O'Keefe) is a graphic novel artist, famous for works he did many years ago. It appears that he's hit a lull in his career and is struggling to create anything for his latest book (we gather this through the many voicemails from his publisher). Although he is happily married to his wife Mary (Catherine Dent), he still seems to be missing some sort of outside connection. Working from home doesn't help this problem, either. Sam feels as if things won't ever change -- until he meets his sassy gay next-door neighbor, Jeff (Blake Bashoff). Jeff knows about Sam and his work, but Sam knows nothing about Jeff. In learning about Jeff's life and struggles, Sam begins to put the pieces of his life back together.

All the Lone Star in the 2013 Lone Star Film Festival

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The Lone Star Film Festival kicks off tonight in Fort Worth, and it will live up to its name with a number of Austin and Texas selections, as well as some honored guests. The festival runs through Sunday, November 10.

The Austin Chronicle co-founder and SXSW director Louis Black, musician and actor Lyle Lovett and Fort Worth businessman Stephen Murrin, Jr. will be honored tomorrow for their role in film and the arts at the Fort Worth Club. In addition, the following movies all have Austin or Lone Star connections:

AFF Review: All Of Me

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All Of Me

Director Alexandra Lescaze came to Austin and spent several years following a group of local women, most of whom met via a Yahoo message board for BBWs (or "big beautiful women"), for her second feature-length documentary film, All of Me. They started out as a tight-knit support group not just because they were all overweight, but because they were proud and happy about it.

As members of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, the majority of these ladies came together to celebrate and have social outings where they wouldn't be judged by the outside world. While the group initially seems to have a strong resistance to losing weight, the film focuses on the successes and struggles of a few of them to undergo weight-loss surgery and how it affects everybody around them. 

Forever Fest 2013: All the Glitter

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Danceoke Gaga Troupe

Dear Diary,

I still have so much more to tell you about my time at Forever Fest. O-M-G. At the halfway mark on Saturday (read part 1 of my Forever Fest experience here), we were treated to the fierce spectacle that is Danceoke. Think karaoke, but for dancing.

What's Streaming: Buddy Stories

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photo collage

November is easily my favorite month of the year.  Fall is usually upon us here in Texas, friends start coming home for the holidays, and you get to start making plans for the new year ahead of you.  It's also that great time of year when Thanksgiving and Christmas movies get pulled off the shelf and popped into the DVD player.

As the time draws closer to spending time with family and friends, I always try to take the time to think of what I am most grateful for in my life.  My family and career are always at the top of the list, but there is one other thing that many of us overlook during this time -- close friends. These are the people who are there for you when your family cannot be, who encourage you to keep moving forward even when your career is at a low point. It's the friendships in our lives that push us forward more often than not.

This month's film choices all have a strong friendship theme to them or, as I like to call them, a "buddy story."  Take this month to thank your friends for being there for you -- maybe by watching one of these films together.

AFF Review: Sombras de Azul

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Yasmani Guerrero and Seedne Bujaidar in Sombras de Azul

A long-form poem set to film and interspersed with dialogue, Sombras de Azul from Kelly Daniela Norris takes the viewer on a scenic trip to Cuba. Maribel, played by the director's cousin Seedne Bujaidar, arrives in the country after the sudden death of her older brother Carlos. In the touristy areas, silent museums and colorful back streets of Havana, she looks for hints of her brother at the same time she pays a sort of tribute to him.

During her short time in the country, Maribel meets friendly cafe owners, a Swedish tourist (Charlotta Mohlin, True Blood), and carpenter/failed thief Eusebio (Cuban actor Yasmani Guerrero). Each in their different way aid in her healing process.

Sombras de Azul moves in quiet meditation, with Maribel's reflections about her brother spoken over scenes of landscape, cityscape or beach. People in white congregate on the streets for an unnamed sacred event. Maribel sits silently in a graveyard under a tree, the audio of her narration softly spooling out a tall tale Carlos once told her about a snake. 

Mondo Gallery Illustrates 'Tales From The Crypt'

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Mondo Gallery's latest show, featuring art inspired by EC Comics and Tales From The Crypt, opened recently and will run through November 23. I was able to attend the opening-night preview and take some photos.

Works included pieces by artists Ken Taylor, Mike Budai, Francesco Francavilla, Ken Garduno, Alex R. Kirzhner, Jeff Lemire, Drew Millward, Gary Pullin, Ash Thorp, Warwick Johnson Cadwell, Jacob Bannon, Kraken, Jim Rugg, Michael Hacker, Luke Drozd, Bruce White, Jason Edmiston, Shawn K. Knight, Jack Davis, Brandon Holt, Florian Bertmer, Scarecrowoven, Eric Skillman, Paolo Rivera, Mark Todd, Chris Mooneyham, Angryblue, Neal Russler, Phantom City Creative, William Stout, James Flames, Shane Hillman, and Graham Erwin.

AFF 2013: Audience Award Winners and Distribution Deals

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aff logoAustin Film Festival ended last week, but the news flashes aren't over yet. The 2013 Audience Award winners were announced Monday and include a few with Austin/Texas connections -- most notably All of Me, an Austin-based documentary, and Sombras de Azul, which was written and directed by Austin filmmaker Kelly Daniela Norris.

The Marquee Feature Award went to Tommy Oliver's family drama 1982, and the Narrative Feature pick Beside Still Waters was also a Jury Award winner. Directed and co-written by Chris Lowell, this ensemble piece explores heavy themes using humor and heart. Many Audience Award winners from past years have gone on to more widespread attention and acclaim, including Silver Linings Playbook, Spinning Plates and 2011's The Artist.

Take a look at the full list of 2013 awardees:

  • 1982 -- Marquee Feature Audience Award, written and directed by Tommy Oliver.
  • Beside Still Waters -- Narrative Feature Audience Award, written by Chris Lowell and Mohit Narang and directed by Chris Lowell.

AFF Review: Nebraska

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nebraska posterThe territory Alexander Payne explores in his films, that place where melancholy and outlandish human behavior collide, is once again accessed in his latest movie, Nebraska. Starring Bruce Dern as an aging alcoholic and Will Forte as his well-meaning son, the film meanders across the plains and valleys of family relationships, nostalgia and regret to reveal moments of sad beauty and awkward humor. 

Falling for a magazine marketing ploy, old Woody Grant (Dern) believes he's won a million-dollar sweepstakes prize. Though his son David (Forte) knows it's simply junk mail, he has nothing better to do -- so he agrees to drive from Montana to Nebraska with his father to collect the money and let him find out the truth for himself. Along the mishap-laden journey, the two men visit Woody's hometown and encounter a cast of family and old friends.

Filmed in black and white in a landscape defined by sparseness and open space, Nebraska is filled with striking moments of stark desolation and piercing loneliness. Woody embodies these traits himself; he is a man who often tried his best over the years, but never shared himself with his wife and sons and mostly devoted himself to drinking instead. As David travels with his estranged father and finds out more about him, he is greeted with surprise after surprise and realizes he never knew much about Woody at all. The more he learns the more confused he becomes about his own life, which he seems to be passively enduring. 

Payne explores similar themes to the ones found in About Schmidt, but in that film he cleverly used an epistolary device to dive into the depths of his main character's head and heart. Unfortunately he has less success with revelation here; Woody remains largely inscrutable and distant, and David functions as a question-asker and chauffeur but doesn't get to do much else. Overshadowed by imagery (lovely as it is), the two main characters never feel fully formed in the ways that many of Payne's previous creations have been. 

Forever Fest 2013: Kicking Off a Weekend of Perfect Girlie Indulgences

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Forever Fest Opening

Dear Diary,

This weekend I met my new BFFs - the Forever Fest audience! We laughed together, danced together and became one in our love of girlie pop culture. With pink streamers and feather boas, the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz was a welcoming sight on Friday evening, signaling that Forever Fest attendees were in for something truly, truly, truly outrageous. And Diary, IMHO it was GR8.

"Cheer when something romantic happens." These were our instructions from our fabulous leaders Brandy Fons and Sarah Pitre when introducing the opening-night film, Empire Records. We were treated to a 35mm print of the 1995 movie, which meant that we saw the theatrical cut, not the longer (more verbose) director's cut. Empire Records' perfect blend of laughs and angst still holds up today, making it a perfect starter to the festival.

Slackery News Tidbits: November 4, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austin filmmaker Russell O. Bush's Vultures of Tibet is nominated for a Best Short Award at this year's 29th Annual IDA Documentary Awards. The International Documentary Association will announce the winners on Dec. 6 in Los Angeles at the Directors Guild of America. Bush's documentary explores a Tibetan death ritual where bodies are offered to wild griffon vultures. IDA members can vote now for Best Short. In addition, University of Texas at Austin graduate student Elizabeth Chatelain's film My Sister Sarah, about the affects of meth addiction, is nominated for the David L. Wolper Student Documentary Award (Jordan's interview).
  • In more awards news, the Austin-shot short Black Metal by UT lecturer Kat Candler received the Heavy Metal Hysteria award at last week's Housecore Horror Film Festival, The Austin Chronicle reports. Black Metal, which screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is about the lead singer of a metal band (played by Austinite Jonny Mars) and how he deals with the aftermath of a murder committed by one of his teenage fans.
  • Filmmaker Jason Reitman (Labor Day) announced at last week's Austin Film Festival that he will start filming his next movie, Men, Women & Children, in Austin in January, Austin Movie Blog reports. The movie is expected to star Adam Sandler and traces the role the Internet has played in people's lives.

Review: About Time

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About Time Still Photo

From Aristotle to Einstein to Hawking, much debate has occurred over the structure of time and the possibility of time travel. If time travel were possible, where would you go? More importantly, how do you prevent the paradox of destroying your own identities -- or the worse fate of your own existence and others -- in the process?

The most widely talked-about moments in time to change often leads to an assassination of Hitler or saving of the Titanic. But a more personal use drives the time-travel paradigm in the romantic comedy About Time by writer/director Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Notting Hill). On his twenty-first birthday, lovelorn Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) receives extraordinary news of a special gift shared by his father (Bill Nighy). The men in their family have the ability to travel through time within their own lives -- "You can't kill Hitler or shag Helen of Troy" -- Tim decides what he wants most is a girlfriend, so he sets forth to secure the love of his life as he begins his professional career as a lawyer in London.

One fateful night, he meets and becomes enamored with the beautiful yet insecure American girl Mary (Rachel McAdams), but his use of time travel to resolve a failed performance for his landlord and playwright Harry (Tom Hollander) results in unintended consequences. It is as if he and Mary have never met, and he must find a way to place himself in the right moment to win her heart. However, his efforts impact the lives of his loved ones, including his sister Kit Kat (Lydia Wilson), and he is faced with the critical decision of letting those he cares about most learn life's lessons on their own.

Review: Ender's Game

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Ender's Game

Opening this weekend, Ender's Game represents something of a puzzle. The movie is based on a novel considered by many to be the greatest work of science fiction ever written, but authored by Orson Scott Card, controversial as a homophobic contributor to the anti-gay marriage movement. Many people have vowed to boycott the film because of Card's views, but Ender's Game is a story that deserves to be told.  

It was a bold move to put such a sizable production for such an important story into the hands of Gavin Hood, director of the much maligned X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The resulting film, however, does manage to hit the important points of an extensive story while failing to completely do it justice.

The premise is a future Earth that has survived an alien invasion through the heroics of one exceptional leader. Seventy years later, the government is seeking a new leader for an attack force who has the ability to understand the enemy and the genius to defeat them.

Children are considered the only viable candidates, and Andrew "Ender" Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) represents the greatest hope for success. Leading his training is Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), who has some unconventional ideas about instruction. Vilified for being smarter and more successful than his peers, Ender is manipulated by Graff into being emotionally detached from his classmates in order to make him a better leader.

Watching the movie Ender's Game, I had a feeling that never occurred as I read the book -- that it vaguely resembles the Harry Potter books. Ender is no orphan, but is separated from his family. He's everyone's hope for victory, and he's the star player of zero-gravity quidditch. This is likely the result of adapting an involved novel into only 114 minutes. A story that takes place over four years is compressed into little more than a few months. Sweeping plotlines from the source are abandoned, and what remains must be calculated to sell (and therefore pleasantly omits the anti-gay slurs found in Card's book).

Movies This Week: November 1-7, 2013

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12 Years A Slave

I hope you weren't looking for any time to recover from another great Austin Film Festival because there is a lot going on this week, including two more festivals for your viewing pleasure.

First and foremost, the first annual Forever Fest is happening downtown at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Tickets for a 35mm screening of Empire Records tonight are scarce, but you can still snag some to catch Sixteen Candles tomorrow night and the price includes an Eighties prom afterwards! There are lots of other fun events happening throughout the weekend, including a cute animal clipshow from Buzzfeed and a young adult lit panel with the creators of Go Fug Yourself. Check out the full lineup and get ticket information at their website. And read our interview with the festival founders.

The Cinema Touching Disability Festival is now in its tenth year and will be taking place this weekend up at the Alamo Village. Tonight will feature the documentary Getting Up: The Tempt One Story, while Saturday's programming includes SXSW favorite The Crash Reel.

The Austin Film Society has some great first-run arthouse titles in the mix this week at the Marchesa. They'll be featuring Jem Cohen's Museum Hours on Tuesday night. The acclaimed drama had its U.S. premiere earlier this year at SXSW and is currently in limited release around the country. If you can't catch it on Tuesday, it will play again next weekend. Informant (Elizabeth's review) also is screening on Wednesday night in conjunction with The Austin Chronicle. The documentary was recently tagged as Essential Viewing by The Dissolve and there will be a panel discussion after the film including the director of the film via Skype. The week will close out with an Essential Cinema presentation of Ozu's A Story Of Floating Weeds in 35mm.

Housecore Horror Fest 2013: From Suspiria to Manson

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I DIDN'T COME HERE TO DIE

When Sunday came around, the organizers seemed (understandably) tired, but the audiences still wanted more gore and continued to turn up for it. I started off the morning by paying tribute to a film shot right here in my new adopted city. I Didn't Come Here to Die (our review) is the tale of several twentysomethings setting out to do volunteer work in the woods where they come upon evil and sinister forces. The setup might seem a tad familiar -- in a way it does kind of read like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil from the preppy kids' point of view. However, the sort of guerilla filmmaking used in I Didn't Come Here to Die calls to mind past classics while breathing new life into a genre so obsessed with remakes. It's a feat most horror movies try, but fail at hopelessly. At least there's one that hasn't. 

In order to illustrate that the folks at Housecore weren’t just offering up one blood splatter flick after another, I attended, along with a good number of other festivalgoers, a documentary called Art/Crime. The film focused on a special effects artist named Remy Couture from Quebec, who for years had created photo shoots and short films depicting scenes of gruesome horror and violence using live models as his subjects, which he published on his website, Inner Depravity. The film explores his 2009 arrest for obscenity and the corruption of morality long after he stopped actively posting to his site due to his career as an effects artist on feature films.

Art/Crime is perhaps one of the few documentaries to explore the subject of censorship in such a careful and honest manner. Couture's work is perhaps some of the most explicit I've even seen, and while I have been watching gore fests since I was in elementary school, even I was a bit taken aback by some of his work. While I've always been a fan of gore, I never actually looked at those scenes as works of art. Yet through Couture's eyes, the vibrant colors, the unnatural shaping, and the positioning of the subjects do give off a truly dark beauty. I found myself getting more and more angry at the bogus claims brought against Couture. Anyone who has ever seen at least one police procedural could see this as nothing more than a witch hunt. Yet its idea of how easy it is for artists of all kinds to become victims of representation is stark and real. 

If I'm being honest, I believe there are very few people who aren't fascinated by Charles Manson and his "family" on some level. From the countless documentaries to the classic (some would call it) Helter Skelter, the story of Charles and his followers has been told from many points of view. However, with the screening of The Manson Family, the family members themselves finally get to tell their story. Shot in the late 90s but not released much of anywhere, it was a rare opportunity to catch this new take on this part of 1960s California. I won't rehash the events that took place, except to say that the film portrays them accurately without dwelling on any one moment longer than necessary.

Review: Blue Is the Warmest Color

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Every so often, a film comes along that gains a reputation. Maybe it's because it has graphic sex scenes or intense violence. Maybe the subject matter is something most audiences consider taboo. The stories often get swept under the rug, sadly -- or the movies are just watched to see what all of the hype is about instead of paying attention to the story. But these are the films that usually have the most substance, as they tell a story that truly captures us as humans. Blue Is the Warmest Color is one of these films.

I can't recall the last time a romance on film captivated me as much as this one. So many movies have been made about relationships of every kind, but rarely do you find one that contains all of the microscopic moments that make up a romance. It can be a glance, or the way a person holds someone's hand, or even just the way they reference the person they love. Director Abdellatif Kechiche has done that so beautifully in this film that it's making me scratch my head and thumb through my "Directing Actors 101" books.

The story follows Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a junior in high school struggling through the pressures of dating and sexuality. Realizing she is not attracted to boys like the rest of her friends, she finally accepts this fact after she meets Emma (Léa Seaydoux). Emma is unlike anyone Adèle has met before; she is a painter, a philosopher, a mentor and ultimately a lover. The bond these two women share is unlike any other, reminiscent of those tumultuous relationships many of us have been through at some point in our lives.

One of the complaints I have heard about Blue Is the Warmest Color is that its running time is too long (179 minutes). Sure, three hours is a stretch for a film; I couldn't get through Django Unchained without a bathroom break. But this movie hooked me, leaving me wanting to know what was going to happen next with these two. A film about a relationship sounds uneventful to most people, but Kechiche perfectly captures both the joyous new elements of budding love all the way down to the gritty, exposed parts. Three hours actually didn't seem like enough time.