January 2014

Movies This Week: January 31-February 6, 2014

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The Past

Congratulations to our Austin Film Society family on their beautifully spruced-up website and a massively successful launch for Richard Linklater's Jewels In The Wasteland 35mm series at the Marchesa last week. I was part of the sold-out crowd that got to enjoy a beautiful print of Scorsese's The King Of Comedy and participate in a lively post-film discussion. It continues on Wednesday night with Fassbinder's Veronika Voss and if you're interested in catching these great 80s gems in the weeks ahead, you should probably get used to buying tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

More AFS at the Marchesa: This weekend, you can catch Godard's Week End in 35mm. It plays tonight and Sunday afternoon, while SXSW favorite 12 O'Clock Boys also screens this evening. Werner Herzog's 1979 Nosferatu was recently restored and it plays on Tuesday night at the Marchesa in digitally restored DCP [ed. note, not in in 35mm as we originally reported] -- it will also have a few more showtimes next weekend. And Sunday night, Austin filmmaker Clay Liford presents the 1982 cult science-fiction classic Liquid Sky with filmmaker Slava Tsukerman in attendance.

Review: Labor Day

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Whenever I hear mention of writer/director Jason Reitman's work, I instantly think of this formula: awkward, lonely lead character + quirky and slightly unrealistic story premise = a somewhat enduring dramady of a film. When I saw the opening credits for Labor Day, I actually let out some bizarre open-mouthed gasp because I didn't realize he had written and directed it -- I'd clearly done my research in advance.

I was waiting to meet the outspoken lead, the one who is cool on the outside but incredibly lost and confused on the inside. It was a great surprise to instead encounter Adele (Kate Winslet), a single mother trying to raise her 13-year-old son Henry (Gattlin Griffith). We meet these two some years after Henry's father has left them, trying to cope with Adele's social anxiety and fear of the outside world. Henry feels the burden of being the only man in the house, trying to fill a gap he knows cannot be filled.  A monthly trip to the grocery store seems to be routine -- that is, until an escaped convict named Frank (Josh Brolin) comes along.

Sundance Review: Ping Pong Summer

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Ping Pong Summer Still Photo"Are you ready for the summer?" Those lyrics from the 1979 summer classic Meatballs sprung to mind when I watched Ping Pong Summer, a film written and directed by now-Austinite Michael Tully. Although Tully's comedy takes place later in 1985, his movie embodies the whimsical and quirky nature of both Meatballs and National Lampoon's Vacation.

Meet the Miracle family on their summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland -- the quirky father effortlessly portrayed by John Hannah and Lea Thompson as the mother who innocently mistakes her 13-year-old son Rad (Marcello Conte) as engaging in pre-pubescent self-gratification. Rad's shyness isn't bolstered by his father's insistence of loading his state trooper vehicle down with all their luggage, or his mother's selection of a summer cottage next to the town's crazy lady Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon), but that doesn't stop him from making a new best friend and crushing on the most desirable girl in Ocean City.

SXSW Film Announces 2014 Features Lineup

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Michael Pena and Rosario Dawson in Cesar Chavez

The feature film lineup for the SXSW 2014 Film Festival, held March 7-15, was announced today. This year's film festival and conference will include some new aspects -- an "Episodic" series made up of upcoming TV projects and SxSports -- but will keep focus on features (and shorts, although that lineup is released next week).

Some of the standouts I noticed in this year's programming: Now-Austinite David Gordon Green's Joe, the North American premiere of Diego Luna's Cesar Chavez (trailer), Beyond Clueless (a celebration of the teen movie genre narrated by Fairuza Balk), the American premiere of Alejandro Jodorowsky's autobiographical The Dance of Reality, and as previously announced, the world premiere of the Veronica Mars movie (from Austin's own Rob Thomas).

Review: The Past

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the past film posterThe Past opens with an airport arrival scene. A woman  -- she seems happy but anxious -- waits for a man, who emerges into view calm and alone. They greet each other familiarly but with an underlying hesitance, and over the next few minutes exchange sparse, direct words as they hurry to the car through a sudden downpour and proceed to their next destination. 

Because minimal background details are offered in these beginning moments (and fed out very conservatively over the rest of the film) the story immediately feels like a puzzle, and the initial basic questions -- who are these people? where are they going? -- soon make way for much more serious mysteries to unfold.

The plot that writer/director Asghar Farhadi (A Separation) does eventually reveal is at first somewhat mundane in its modern glumness. Ahmad (played impressively and stoically by Ali Mosaffa) has returned to France from his home country of Iran to settle the details of a divorce. Four years earlier he left his wife Marie (Berenice Bejo) and her two daughters, whom he had helped to raise. 

The marriage didn't end too dramatically and everyone is civil enough, but whispers of unfinished business and repressed feelings fuss just below the surface of every interaction. Closure, if such a thing is possible, has certainly not been achieved, and everyone accepts this transitional and often awkward reality as simply the way things are. 

Realistic in its complicated portrayals of domesticity and relationships and deliberately paced, it's a surprise when the "normal" problems introduced at the beginning of The Past advance to more salacious matters involving jealousy, adultery, email spying and suicide. Without giving away too much, Marie's angsty teenage daughter plays a pivotal role, as does Marie's new lover and his troubled young son.

The Past requires room to breathe and time to find its way towards the larger truth ultimately at the heart of the story, and though it's a demanding experience it's not an unrewarding one. Consistently solid acting (even the young children strike all the right heartbreaking notes) and a narrative that explores the tough and gritty aspects of human tragedy make this a fine, haunting film.

Sundance Review: Hellion

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Hellion Still PhotoLocal writer and director Kat Candler returned to Sundance Film Festival for her third consecutive year, with the feature-length version of Hellion. In 2012 Candler debuted the short that served as the basis for this dramatic feature, and in 2013 her short film Black Metal screened at the fest and online.

Hellion stars Aaron Paul as Hollis Wilson, a disconsolate widower raising his sons Jacob (Josh Wiggins) and Wes (Deke Garner) with the support of his sister-in-law Pam (Juliette Lewis). The boys are left without supervision most of the time, with Jacob engaging in delinquent acts around their southeast Texas town of Port Neches and Wes insistent on tagging along. After Jacob's actions result in his younger brother being taken from their home, he must overcome his anger and pain from his father's abandonment and mother's death to repair the tenuous bonds that hold the Wilson men together.

With the wealth of emotions exhibited from the main characters in Hellion, this film could very well tip towards the more melodramatic under a less-conscientious filmmaker. However, Candler's direction as well as her solid writing provides an in-depth characterization of her lead actors. Paul and Wiggins are well suited and immersed in their roles, and their interactions are spot on.

Sundance Review: Boyhood

Boyhood Still Photo

Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater finally unveiled his long-awaited epic drama Boyhood at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, with a capacity crowd at both the premiere and press screening. Written and directed by Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane as the central character Mason, the movie is an opus of 164 minutes portraying the growth and influences on one boy. Mason -- along with his assertive older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) -- faces the challenges of the dysfunctional family structure comprising the fiercely maternal Olivia (Patricia Arquette), who is desperate to provide a father to her children in lieu of an absentee father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke).

Boyhood follows the family for 12 years, from 2002 to 2013, with seamless transitions between periods noted by aging of the main and supporting characters as well as by cultural references, music and wardrobes. From the introductory moment of Mason and Samantha engaged in a typical sibling interaction, viewers are engaged by the natural charm of these youngsters. As their father is "off in Alaska," Olivia must meet her children's needs while trying to fulfill her own desires for companionship and better herself through a college education.

Lone Star Cinema: 25th Hour

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Edward Norton in 25th Hour

It seems strange to select such a New York City-centric film as Spike Lee's 25th Hour for Lone Star Cinema, but the epilogue for the movie was filmed in our state. So, here we are. Released a year after 9/11, the movie moves at a kind of meditative pace as drug dealer Monty Brogan (Edward Norton) spends his last day as a free man in NYC. He meanders around the city with his rescued pitbull Doyle, and has dinner with his dad (a gruff Brian Cox, The Bourne Identity) before meeting friends at a club for one last fete.

There are a few flashbacks as Monty recalls meeting his younger lady love, Naturelle (Rosario Dawson, Rent) and suspects her possible involvement in the bust that led to his arrest. His two closest friends are from childhood: slick investment banker Frank (Barry Pepper, True Grit) and lumpy prep school teacher Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote). All three commiserate and celebrate with Marty as he faces a seven-year sentence.

25th Hour is based on a screenplay by David Benioff, who wrote the original novel (and would go on to run HBO's Game of Thrones). The language is gritty, especially in the harsh monologue Norton's character delivers to a bathroom mirror: a rant about ethnic and other minorities in the city that speaks more to his feeling of absolute desparation than anything else. The rapport between the three fellows is often believably strained and forced, for what do they really have in common anymore besides the length of time they've known each other?

AFS Preview: Richard Linklater Programs 'Jewels in the Wasteland'

king of comedy still

This week marks the beginning of a film event that will no doubt turn out to be of lasting importance to many Austin movie lovers and the local film scene in general. The city's own Richard Linklater (if you're reading Slackerwood he needs no introduction) will begin presenting a series of films from the early 80s that, for various reasons, impacted him both as an appreciator and creator of independent cinema.

"Jewels in the Wasteland: A Trip Through '80s Cinema with Richard Linklater" begins Wednesday and is set to continue through May. The first five films have been announced so far, and aside from the time they were released ('81, '82 or '83), they seem to have little in common. That's the best part. This isn't a series simply curated by Linklater; he'll actually be on hand after each screening and will sit down for a conversation with Austin Film Society Programmer Lars Nilsen to discuss the whys and hows of that night's selection. 

"What makes this such a momentous series to me is that we all get to share the simple joy of talking about movies with Rick," Lars told me in a email. 

Take a look at the initial lineup below and don't wait too long to get your tickets; if the Austin film community is paying attention, these screenings should all be well attended. 

Sundance 2014 Dispatch: Party with Austin Filmmakers

Richard Linklater and Holly HerrickThis month's major "Film on Tap" event that I experienced was the "Austin at Sundance Party" at the Wasatch Brew Pub & Brewery. This Main Street brewpub, founded in 1986, was the first brewery in Park City since Prohibition, and features ski and snowboard movies every Monday night. More importantly, Wasatch was a great respite from the frenzy of Sundance premieres and liquor-heavy events elsewhere, with great craft beer and food at the Austin Party.

The party was co-sponsored by the Austin Film Society (AFS) and the Austin Film Commission, in honor of seven films that debuted at this year's Sundance Film Festival. AFS founder and writer/director Richard Linklater debuted his long-awaited film Boyhood last week to a full house at Eccles Theatre with over 1,200 attendees. Linklater is seen above with AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick, who also produced Ping Pong Summer, a whimsical underdog story written and directed by Michael Tully.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 27, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austin-based indie electronica band The Octopus Project won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Musical Score at this year's Sundance Film Festival for their work on fellow Austinites David and Nathan Zellner's Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (Debbie's review). This true-to-life drama follows a lonely Japanese woman who travels to America in search of the treasure mentioned in the movie Fargo.
  • The Zellner Brothers discussed their inspiration for Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter, which debuted at Sundance, with The Wall Street Journal
  • Austinite Todd Rohal's Rat Pack Rat (Debbie's dispatch), about a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator who's hired to visit a Rat Pack fan, won Sundance's Short Film Special Jury Award for Unique Vision. Austin filmmaker Clay Liford (Wuss) produced. 
  • In more Sundance Film Festival news, Austin-based filmmaker David Gordon Green continues to express his appreciation for Iceland (Prince Avalanche was based on the 2011 Icelandic movie Either Way) with his role as executive producer of the Iceland-shot adventure-comedy Land Ho!, which premiered at the festival. Sony Pictures Classics bought worldwide distribution rights to the indie film, directed by Aaron Katz (whose features Cold Weather and Quiet City premiered at SXSW) and Martha Stephens (whose Pilgrim Song also premiered at SXSW).

Movies This Week: January 24-30, 2014

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The Invisible Woman

In the Austin Film Society's ongoing Godard vs. Truffaut series, it's time to return to the world of Antoine Doinel this weekend. The 1962 short film Antoine Et Collette will be paired with 1967's Stolen Kisses. Both films will screen in 35mm tonight and again on Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa. On Tuesday night, you can head up to the AFS Screening Room at Austin Studios for an Avant Cinema screening of the 1929 experimental Russian film Man With A Movie Camera.

Make sure you're back at the Marchesa on Wednesday night as Richard Linklater kicks off his new series Jewels In The Wasteland: A Trip Through '80s Cinema with Martin Scorsese's The King Of Comedy screening in a brand new print. This is the first film in the 1980-1983 portion of the 35mm series, which will be programmed through May. Linklater himself will be introducing all the films and hosting post-screening discussions, so you'll want to make sure you make some time to attend as many of these as you can. 

It's going to be an incredible year for repertory screenings in Austin. We've already learned about the Alamo 100 and this week also marks the launch of the Paramount 100, which is starting off in anticipation of The Paramount Theatre's 100 birthday next year. They are programming a chronological series which is expected to include a variety of 35mm prints and new digital restorations. It begins on Wedneday with Early Silent Cinema: The Nickelodeon Years. Admission is a mere 5 cents (for this one night only) and will include Edison and Lumiere short films from 1894-1897, 1902's A Trip To The Moon, 1903's The Great Train Robbery and a series of D.W. Griffith, Max Linder and Keystone Kops shorts. 

Flashback Photos: Meet the 2014 Texas Film Award Honorees

Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater

Yesterday, the Austin Film Society announced honorees for the 2014 Texas Film Awards, previously known as the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. The gala event takes place March 6 this year -- the night before SXSW Film begins -- and tickets are available both for the awards dinner and ceremony, and for the glitzy (and more affordable) after-party.

I've been to the awards (on the red carpet, at the ceremony or both) since 2008, and many of these honorees and presenters have attended before. Others have visited Austin, if not to the gala event. So I'm presenting the emcee, honorees and presenters announced yesterday in photographic format (whenever possible), to add to the fun. Keep reading and you'll find out why I chose that top photo.

First of all, this year's emcee is actor Luke Wilson. At the 2008 Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, Wilson presented an award to Austin filmmaker Mike Judge. Here's Wilson on the red carpet that year:

Review: The Invisible Woman

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I've always felt that there's something quite beautiful and haunting about British cinema. Actor/director Ralph Fiennes, in his second time working behind the camera, shows us just how true that can be with The Invisible Woman.

The film's trailer would lead one to believe that this is a story about a hidden romance that eventually blossoms and embraces our main characters. It is hard to believe that the great author Charles Dickens had a secret life, hiding one woman away for so long. Research proves, however, that this is actually fact... for the most part. (The story itself is based on the book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin.)

Fiennes is at his acting best, although one wouldn't expect anything less from him. His portrayal of Dickens causes one to raise eyebrows as he ping-pongs back and forth between being a jovial, brilliant artist to being a man torn between his desires and husbandly duties. This struggle is made clear when he meets Nelly (Felicity Jones), a beautiful 18-year-old actress who is enamored with Dickens' work. One might question whether his attraction to her is based on love or of flattery; perhaps it is a bit of both.

Scott Harris Brings 'Being Ginger' to Texas

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being ginger still

Three months short of graduating from the University of Edinburgh, The University of Texas at Austin film alumnus Scott P. Harris couldn't find the right subject for a movie. But the color of Harris's hair came up continuously when discussing the theme of his final project with friends three years ago. The former Dallasite said redheads in Scotland have a really hard time because they take the brunt of numerous jokes, like the one that says each freckle on a ginger's face denotes a soul they have stolen.

Harris was cautious of making Being Ginger because he didn't want people to think he was just complaining or whining about the color of his hair, but as he began documenting his experiences as a redhead in 2011 it became therapeutic and a way to exercise past demons. 

Jokes and taunts from bystanders, and a rant from a blonde woman about why she wouldn't date a ginger, are captured onscreen. And Harris himself discusses his own personal biases against redheads that may stem from classroom childhood experiences where fellow students would repeatedly tell him that they hated him based on the color of his hair. 

Ready, Set, Fund: 'The Father,' 'Arvind' and More

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the father

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

Debbie (that lucky gal) is busy covering Sundance and Slamdance this month, so in her place I'll be taking a look at some of the Austin-related crowdfunding projects currently reaching for their goals. 

First, speaking of Sundance and crowdfunding, this year 20 Kickstarter-funded features, shorts and documentaries will be featured at the festival. According to Kickstarter, this is the third year in a row that over 10 percent of the festival lineup has been made up of Kickstarted projects and several, including this year's Academy award-nominated The Square, have gone on to much success. And that doesn't count any projects that used other crowdfunding site, like Indiegogo.

Debbie will be discussing a few local crowdfunded Sundance players, including official 2014 selection No No: A Dockumentary, in the coming days.

Now, here's a look at a few Austin and Texas projects currently seeking funds for completion:

  • The Father -- This "throwback '80s sci-fi film" directed by Austinite Stephen Belyeu (Dig) tells the story of an extraterrestrial father and son who have crash-landed on Earth (pictured above). Filmmakers are seeking funding specifically to assist with creating the practical special effects for the movie, and hope to reach their goal in time to shoot during the short-lived Texas winter. (Kickstarter, ends Jan. 26)

Sundance Review: Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter

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Kumiko The Treasure HunterAfter seeing the premiere of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter at Sundance this week, it is easy to understand why Alexander Payne (Nebraska) and Jim Taylor (Sideways) signed on as executive producers for the latest feature from Austin filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner (Kid Thing). This film is a superlative visualization of a lonely woman's quest to escape her reality in Japan for the mythical destination of Minnesota in the "New World" of the Americas.

Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) deviates from the traditional Japanese society, as she isolates herself from her coworkers and silently rebels against her conservative boss. Her mother's disembodied voice on the phone reminds Kumiko incessantly that if she remains unmarried, she should return home to live. Not that Kumiko's current lifestyle is the most appealing, as she lives in a cramped apartment with her pet rabbit Bunzo as her only true companion.

TAMI Flashback: Juvenile Delinquency Isn't Funny, But These Videos Are

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The Lonely Ones

This article is the fifth 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.

Half a century ago, juvenile delinquency in Texas may have been less of a problem than it is today. But the TAMI videos featured in this article -- two very different made-for-TV films with a common theme -- are reminders that juvenile crime always has been a serious matter.

Made in 1962, Juvenile Delinquency... and You is the fourth installment of KTBC-TV's Progress Report Austin series, a public affairs program about issues affecting the River City. Narrated by Bonner McLane of the Winn-McLane advertising agency, Juvenile Delinquency... and You addresses the causes of and possible solutions to delinquency, focusing on how parents and the community can work together to solve the problem. (McLane's young children appear at the beginning and end of the video. We'll assume they didn't grow up to be delinquents.)

Juvenile Delinquency... and You follows the standard, rather dry Progress Report Austin format -- a series of talking heads (all middle-aged white men, or course) droning on about the issue, interwoven with shots of Austinites and Austin landmarks. This episode isn't riveting television (there aren't even any landmarks) and would be forgettable if not for its historical significance: Two of the interviewees are Judge J. Harris Gardner and Judge Charles O. Betts, after whom Austin's Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center is named. The then-new facility was part of the transition to a more enlightened approach to juvenile justice in Austin, with an emphasis on rehabilitation rather than just incarceration.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 20, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austin filmmaker and Hammer to Nail editor Michael Tully is joining with Ion Cinema founder Eric Lavallee to found the American Independent Film Awards, which will honor "micro-budget" indies starting in 2015.
  • Local filmmaker Bob Byington (Somebody Up There Likes Me) is planning to shoot his feature Seven Chinese Brothers in Austin in the next couple of months, according to The Austin Chronicle. The cast will include Jason Schwartzman, Tunde Adebimpe and Olympia Dukakis -- no word yet on whether Bob Schneider will play a wedding singer (as in Byington's previous two movies). Byington says he wrote the script in 2001, and received an Austin Film Society Grant in 2010 for the film.
  • Louis Black, co-founder of SXSW and The Austin Chronicle, will serve as executive producer on Django Lives!, the sequel to the original Spaghetti Western Django. The star of the original film, Franco Nero, will reprise his role as the title character. Django Lives! finds the older Django as a consultant to silent-movie Westerns in 1915 Hollywood, and after getting entangled with racketeers, he fights back with a vengeance.
  • Drafthouse Films has been busy this week. The Austin distribution company acquired the U.S. rights to the Fantastic Fest-2013 screened Mood Indigo. A multi-city theatrical release is scheduled this year for Michel Gondry's movie, which tells the story of two Parisian newlyweds whose romance is tested when a flower begins to grow in the woman's lungs.
  • In addition, Drafthouse Films will re-release The Act of Killing (Elizabeth's review) in theaters on Feb. 7. The documentary, directed by Texan Joshua Oppenheimer, sees former Indonesian death squad leaders reenacting their real-life mass killings. The film has been nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award.

Sundance 2014 Photos: Texas Association of Film Commissions Reception

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James Faust and Jonny Mars

With nine films at the Sundance Film Festival this year, Texas was well represented both on the screen and at festival events. The Texas Association of Film Commissions hosted a special Film Texas reception at the festival this week, which included representatives from each of Texas' metroplexes. A number of attendees were from various parts of the Texas film community, such as Austin actor Jonny Mars and Dallas International Film Festival Artistic Director James Faust, pictured above.

Deputy Director Alfred Cervantes of the Houston Film Commission, Janis Burklund, Director of the Dallas Film Commission, and San Antonio Film Commission Drew Mayer-Oakes (pictured below) were also in Park City, along with staff members from the Texas Film Commission.

Review: Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

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Jack Ryan: Shadow RecruitIt's been 12 years since the character of Jack Ryan has graced the silver screen, and following in the footsteps of Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, and Ben Affleck is Chris Pine, known as the star of the revamped Star Trek franchise. The Jack Ryan films have all seen great box office success no matter the critical reception (don't worry about The Sum of All Fears, Ben, you moved on to bigger and better things) so now seems like the perfect time to venture back into the world made popular by author Tom Clancy. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was directed by Kenneth Branagh, who is taking on a film with a bit of a larger scale than what he's used to working with.

Young Jack Ryan is a masters student in London in 2001. One fateful day in September turned out to be one of the worst days in United States history (try and guess which one) After the New York attacks, Jack enlists in the Marines. Too smart for his own good, he's often questioned why he joined such a dangerous branch given his immense intelligence and on another fateful day, he never gets to answer that question. A helicopter crash nearly paralyzes him and forces him into retirement from the military. One day though, a stranger (Kevin Costner) comes calling with an opportunity for Jack to continue to serve his country, as a financial analyst for companies on Wall Street that are suspected of funding terrorist groups. Naturally, Jack discovers a plot with the potential to send the United States into an economic meltdown we would likely never recover from.

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit borrows from plenty of other action/spy films. There are elements of Jason Bourne, James Bond, Mission Impossible, and many other film franchises throughout this movie. Oddly enough, since this is a reboot of sorts of the Jack Ryan character, it doesn't appear to borrow from previous Jack Ryan movies.

Branagh has proven to be a great director, fully capable of a movie like this, and he does well with what he's given. The problems lie in the inept writing, especially of the many side plots that are ever-present. Jack's girlfriend, played by Keira Knightley, crashes a mission in Moscow because she suspects Jack is having an affair, and then after being forced to come clean to her that he is a spy, puts her in a position where she must play a vital role in a covert op distracting the dangerous Bond villain played by Branagh himself.

Sundance 2014 Dispatch: Familiar Texas Faces

Kelly Williams and Tim League

The 30th Sundance Film Festival is well underway, with plenty of familiar faces from Texas. My first day in Park City was relatively low-key, as I settled into my lodging and re-acquainted myself with the free public transportation and picked up the essentials -- credentials, groceries and booze. I opted out of opening-night parties to plan my activities for Day Two, knowing I would have a full day of interviews, premieres, receptions and screenings. My "sleep is the enemy" fest mantra has been replaced with the "it's a marathon, not a sprint" mentality.

Friday marked the premiere of the Austin feature film Hellion. I briefly saw producer Kelly Williams as he was entering the theater -- pictured at top with Alamo Drafthouse and Drafthouse Films founder Tim League. League and I spoke about what films we had seen so far and especially those we enjoyed -- quite a common interaction between festivalgoers here at Sundance.

Movies This Week: January 17-23, 2014

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 Pierrot Le Fou

The Austin Film Society continues their terrific Godard vs. Truffaut series with a 35mm print of Godard's 1965 Pierrot Le Fou (pictured above). It plays at the Marchesa tonight and again on Sunday afternoon. New release Symphony Of The Soil plays on Wednesday night for Doc Night and current Essential Cinema series on contemporary Russian films has a 35mm print of Brother on Thursday. 

Specialty programming at the Alamo Ritz this week includes Terry Gilliam's Brazil, which is playing in a 35mm theatrical print at the Ritz on Saturday afternoon and Wedneday evening. FYI - there are additonal screenings this month at other Alamo locations that are playing in a DCP of the extended European cut. The Cinema Cocktails series has concocted some special beverages to go along with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat on Sunday night. Music Monday also serves up their annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day screening of James Brown Live at the Boston Garden, recorded less than 24 hours after King's assassination. 

You may be looking to catch up on the nine nominated films for Best Picture over this holiday weekend. If so, you can still find American Hustle, Her and The Wolf Of Wall Street playing wide in most local theaters. The other nominees are still on the big screen in the area, but they're playing in far fewer locations. Here's where you can find them: 

Watch Texas Shorts at Sundance 2014 ... at Home

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Sundance LogoYou don't have to travel to Park City to enjoy great content from the 30th annual Sundance Film Festival. YouTube is offering quite a bit of content for film fans to view online via the Sundance Film Festival YouTube Channel.

As the presenting sponsor of the Sundance 2014 shorts program, YouTube is showcasing several of the official shorts in competition. Fifteen films were selected from this year's competitors, including two short films from Texas: Rat Pack Rat and Dig. The Austin-shot Rat Pack Rat is directed by Todd Rohal and produced by several Austinites including Zack Carlson, Clay Liford, and Ashland Viscosi. Dig is written and directed by DFW-area producer Toby Halbrooks.

The YouTube Audience Award will be presented at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival Awards Ceremony on Saturday, January 25, to the short film in official competition that receives the most views on YouTube between January 16-24, 2014. And Slackerwood has both Texas shorts embedded for you to watch after the jump.

Dig, which stars Mallory Mahoney and Jonny Mars, was produced by Sailor Bear, a production company that includes David Lowery, James Johnston, Shaun Gish and Richard Krause. Sailor Bear also has a feature at Sundance, Listen Up Philip. Mahoney plays a young girl who is intrigued by the large hole her father (Mars) is digging in their backyard.

I spoke to Halbrooks about the selection of Dig for the YouTube Channel. He was pleased the Sundance Institute chose his short film for the spotlight.

"Any exposure is good for short film, as there are not many outlets," he noted. "Typically if you put a film on YouTube not many people would see it and it's hard to find an audience."

Slamdance 2014: DIY Filmmaking

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Slamdance 20The 20th annual Slamdance Film Festival will run concurrently with the 2014 Sundance Film Festival -- January 17-23, 2014 in Park City, Utah. Last year I stumbled into Slamdance a couple of days before the fest wrapped up, but this year I've placed it at the the top of my "things to do in Park City when not at Sundance" above things like skiing, sleeping and eating.

The infectious and dynamic vibe throughout the sole venue of the Treasure Mountain Inn, in the historic Old Town portion of Park City, makes it a great place to enjoy the well-rounded programming and social events. As the only festival programmed by filmmakers, Slamdance's film slate this year features 93 selections from emerging independent talent all over the world.

In honor of its anniversary, Slamdance will host a special premiere of DIY, a short documentary directed and produced by Slamdance president and co-founder Peter Baxter along with Slamdance TV's Ben Hethcoat and Eric Ekman. This short film focuses on the historical development of the "do-it-yourself" independent film movement that has fueled the festival for two decades.

Slamdance alumni films will also be featured, including Bill Plympton’s Cheatin’ and Lise Raven’s Kinderwald. Alumnus Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight) will be honored with the inaugural Founder's Award. Nolan's first film, Following, which screened at Sundance in 1999, was shot with friends for a budget of $6,000.

2013 in Review: Mike's 'Don't Miss' List

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the congress

Editor's note: Welcome to Slackerwood's 2013 in Review series. As in previous years, we aren't just posting standard Top 10 lists but also will highlight other aspects of 2013 that stood out for us. Keep an eye out all month for these features.

Because end-of-year top ten lists are a dime a dozen, I have decided this year to take a different approach. Often it is too easy to overlook the "film" in film criticism, and one refrain I occasionally hear from my fellow critics is that we should work to promote good movies. This year, I would like to take a look back at some of the better films you may have missed and explore upcoming releases worth noting in the next several months.

Released at the end of February in Austin and available from Magnet Releasing on DVD and Blu-Ray John Dies at the End is an insanely paced sci-fi/horror comedy that I gleefully reviewed after repeat viewings. This independent genre darling had a limited theatrical run, but is currently available on Netflix Watch Instant. (my review)

Sundance 2014: Lone Star Films and Other Highlights

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Boyhood Still Photo

With 121 feature-length films representing 37 countries screening at the festival between January 16-26, it's been quite a treat putting together this year's "must-see" list at Sundance this year.

A lot of interest is building for Austin Film Society (AFS)-supported films at the fest, but the latest buzz is focused on filmmaker and AFS founder Richard Linklater. Special preview screenings of the anxiously anticipated movie Boyhood, written and directed by Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane (seen at top), will take place at this year's festival with a premiere on Sunday, January 19.

Boyhood follows 12 years in the journey of Mason (Coltrane) from childhood into adulthood. He is influenced and supported by his parents, portrayed by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, and his sister Samantha, portrayed by Lorelei Linklater. What makes Boyhood so unique and captivating is that this drama was filmed over several short periods from 2002 to 2013.

2013 in Review: Elizabeth's Top Ten Women Onscreen

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Delpy in Before Midnight, Gerwig in Frances Ha, Darlene Love in 20 Feet from Stardom

There is much movement to be made as far as diverse representation of women on the big screen, as well as getting more women behind the camera, but last year was not lacking in opportunities to see brilliant performances by females in film.  So without much further ado, here are my top ten ladies of 2013 film:

10. The sisters of Frozen -- I certainly didn't expect much from this movie after reading how "difficult" Frozen's head of animation found it to animate women.  It was a happy surprise to find the main relationship in the film is between the two sisters, Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Anna (Kristen Bell) and not a male/female romance. The sisters share tentative affection, with Anna determined to restore the close friendship they shared as kids. If you can watch the "Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?" sequence and remain dry-eyed, more power to you. [Mike's review]

Lone Star Cinema: D.O.A.

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D.O.A.

Had the stylish thriller D.O.A. been more plausible, it might be more than a footnote in the history of Austin film.

Released in 1988, the murder mystery had much promise. After all, it was a loose remake of an iconic Fifties whodunit of the same title. Its leads were Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan, two sexy Hollywood darlings on the verge of megastardom. At the helm were Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, co-directors of the innovative, critically acclaimed and quintessentially Eighties TV series The Max Headroom Show.

But for all its potential, the movie D.O.A. is mostly forgettable mix of crime thriller clichés and farfetched plotting. It's a watchable bit of neo-noir, but nothing more.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 13, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin film news.

  • SXSW Film 2014 has announced its first film and programming lineup selections, including former Austinite Rob Thomas's highly-anticipated Veronica Mars; the horror comedy Creep, co-written and starring University of Texas alum Mark Duplass; and "A Conversation with Alejandro Jodorowsky," the subject of the Fantastic Fest 2013-screened documentary, Jodorowsky's Dune. The bulk of the rest of the film-fest lineup will be announced on January 30.
  • In distribution news, the horror flick You're Next (Jordan's review), which screened at Fantastic Fest and SXSW, will be released on DVD, On Demand and Blu-ray Tuesday.
  • Austin-based graphic designer and filmmaker Yen Tan's SXSW 2013-screened Pit Stop is now available On Demand. The drama tells the parallel stories of two gay men living in a small Texas town.
  • Enjoy an evening of the best and worst that Texas westerns have to offer Thursday at 7 pm during the Bullock Texas State History Museum's B Movies and Bad History. Movie clips will be screened while historians, authors and media experts expose the historical facts and inaccuracies portrayed on screen. Former Texas Film Commission Director Tom Copeland, who teaches at Texas State University, and Joe Dishner will also discuss their time on the Walker, Texas Ranger production team while screening clips from the series and the movie that served as its inspiration.

Review: Her

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Her

Filmmaker Spike Jonze doesn't make it easy in his latest film Her. He takes a fairly simple story, dresses it up in a realistically futuristic setting, and with the help of superb casting, creates a movie with such emotional impact that it feels like a kick in the head. More than once.

The film opens on an extreme close-up of Theo (Joaquin Phoenix), speaking directly into the camera, reading a love letter that sounds poignant and sweet. We come to realize that he's writing the letter on behalf of someone else -- he's a kind of professional Cyrano -- and that we've been watching him from the POV of a computer monitor, as though it were another person.

And that factors in heavily later, as lonesome Theo buys an operating system advertised as having artificial intelligence and the ability to learn. The OS assumes a female voice (Scarlett Johansson), and names herself Samantha. At first she is simply an efficient helper, but as she learns more about Theo and the world around him, she develops a personality as complex and emotionally rich as any human being. It follows naturally that Theo and Samantha build a strong attachment to one another.

Review: The Legend of Hercules

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The Legend of Hercules

The first thing one might expect in a film called The Legend of Hercules would be that it actually recounts some or all of the story of Hercules. Instead, Renny Harlin presents a derivative hodgepodge of several sword-and-sandals film mashed up with select Biblical imagery in a tale bearing little to no resemblance to the Hercules of mythology.

Scott Adkins appears as power-hungry King Amphitryon, who, after conquering his latest kingdom in single combat against its ruler, returns to his bedchamber where he finds his wife Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) bemoaning his cruelty. Alcmene flees his unrepentant presence to the temple of Hera and prays to the goddess for a child that will put an end to Amphitryon's cruelty.

Twenty years later, Kellan Lutz is cliff diving into the arms of Hebe (Gaia Weiss) who has already been unknowingly betrothed to his older brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), who spends his time stalking the two lovers and taking credit for his brother's great deeds.

Except for the brief interaction with Hera and an impressive bit of special f/x with a lightning bolt later in the film, The Legend of Hercules dispenses entirely with the "myth" portion of the Herculean mythos. The man with the strength of a god is powerless until he opens himself to his feelings, and this so-called legend features only one feat of strength.

The predictably boring events of the ensuing story share equal blame, however, with astoundingly bad camera work. Poorly-lit scenes fail in their masquerade as the result of a stylistic choice when they cut to other scenes that are perfectly bright. It's as if not just the story but also the visuals were cut and edited from more than one film. The presentation in 3D was equally bad, or perhaps even worse, as the action shots in every fight scene looked like they were ripped from a video game.

All this is compounded by nausea-inducing technical glitches that frequently cloud the vision in one eye or cross both. Perhaps the worst-looking movie ever shot on Red Epic cameras, that company should consider a demand to have its name removed from the credits.

Movies This Week: January 10-16, 2014

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Her

It was a a real pleasure to see Godard's Breathless last weekend on the big screen thanks to the Austin Film Society. Their Godard vs. Truffaut series continues this weekend with Truffaut's New Wave classic The 400 Blows. Screening in glorious 35mm, it plays this evening and again on Sunday afternoon. AFS also is hosting Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer (Elizabeth's preview) as a Doc Night pick on Sunday evening and a 35mm print of 2003's The Return for their Essential Cinema series of contemporary Russian films on Thursday night. All screenings take place at the Marchesa. 

The Alamo Ritz has 35mm screenings of Scorsese's Raging Bull as part of their Alamo 100 series on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday. Unrelated to the AFS series, the Ritz also has Godard's Masculin Feminin playing on Monday night in 35mm as part of a double feature with Erotissimo for their Pop.Art.Film series. The Alamo 100 brings Charlie Chaplin's City Lights to the Slaughter Lane location on Saturday with Terry Gilliam's Brazil screening on Sunday. Not to be outdone, the new Alamo Lakeline has a special Afternoon Tea presentation of Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility on Sunday afternoon. 

University of Texas radio-television-film alumnus Scott Harris brings his documentary Being Ginger to town Monday night with a special Tugg screening. Focusing on a red headed man's quest for love, there are still a handful of tickets available here. Funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign, the director will be on hand afterwards for a Q&A. 

Review: August: Osage County

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August: Osage CountyOf all the things to pop into my head while watching August: Osage County, quotes from a Noel Streatfeild "Shoes" novel would seem to be the very least likely.

But there it was -- I kept recalling quotes from Theatre Shoes, related to a family of actors in the book. (Bear with me a minute as we digress into young-adult lit.) Sorrel is a 12-year-old girl who is learning to be an actress, and her Uncle Francis is a very grand and haughty actor-manager who "very consciously acted when he was acting and ... thought there must be something wrong with a performance which came naturally and easily."

In another series of quotes, Sorrel and her teacher discuss Uncle Francis's ambitious daughter Miranda taking a turn as Ariel in The Tempest, a role Sorrel also plays:

"Miranda's brilliant -- and yet, as Ariel you give the better performance, and that you'll find all the way through your stage career. It's getting inside the part that matters, and I think you've got inside the part as your uncle wanted it, and Miranda hasn't."

"But he said he would bet Miranda would be a great actress."

"So she will. Great like Edith Evans, perhaps ..."

Enough with the quoting, you say -- what does this have to do with an all-star adaptation of a Tracy Letts play (scripted by the playwright) led by Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts?

In August: Osage County, we watch Streep and Roberts give performances "with a pronounced personality and bursting with talent." (Sorry, these Streatfeild quotes are just too apt.) Streep in particular isn't acting; she's Acting. And while that can be impressive in its way, I found it tiresome, especially since few of the characters in this play are sympathetic or frankly, very interesting.

Streep plays Violet Weston, a rural Oklahoma woman fighting cancer who is short on tact and long on drug addiction. When her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) disappears, she gathers her family around at the old family home for some extended tirades of verbal abuse and self-pity. The family includes her three daughters, portrayed by Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson.

Review: Lone Survivor

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Lone Survivor Still PhotoIn 2005, four members of a Navy SEAL team were assigned to a reconnaissance mission in the Hindu Kush mountain region of Afghanistan as part of Operation Red Wings. Their goal was to gather intelligence about Taliban movements in the area, but unfortunately the mission was compromised when the team was discovered and then outnumbered by over 200 Taliban fighters. In the subsequent rescue mission to extract the team, 16 Special Forces personnel, including eight SEALs, were killed when their helicopter was shot down by the Taliban fighters. It was the largest single-day loss of life in SEAL history.

Native Texan and Petty Officer Marcus Luttrell was the only team member to survive enemy contact that day, and his book documenting the event is the basis of the action drama Lone Survivor. Director Peter Berg has painstakingly captured an ultra-realistic vision of what that day must have been like for the brave men who endured the brutal elements of a mountainous region while wounded by enemy bullets. Most importantly, he has captured the brotherhood between the men who push their bodies to almost superhuman strength and endurance to succeed and survive at all costs while adhering to the rules of engagement.

Preview: 'Citizen Architect' and Fundraising for the Rural Studio

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MASON'S BEND COMMUNITY CENTER (WINDSHIELD CHAPEL), DUTCH RALL/BIG BEARD FILMS

The Rural Studio is a program through Auburn University started by the late architect Samuel Mockbee. Architecture students live and work in rural, empoverished communities of Alabama, designing and building community projects and homes for some residents using donated and recycled materials.

The Austin Film Society is hosting a special screening Tuesday, Jan. 14 of Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio to raise funds for the Rural Studio on the 20th anniversary of its founding. [tickets] The film, directed by Austinite Sam Wainwright Douglas, peers into parts of Mockbee's biography while showing progress on a 2002 Rural Studios housing project for "Music Man."

Interview subjects in the documentary include academic figures (UT Austin's Stephen Ross among them) who praise Mockbee's program for offering in-field learning. There are only a couple of dissenting voices -- a reluctant Alabama resident who says the Rural Studio has done nothing to help (until they build a fire station in his town) and a Yale professor/architect who has faint praise for Mockbee. 

What's Streaming: Starting Fresh

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Many of us tend to think the start of the New Year means the start of another year of getting older. Life catches up to us in one way or another, and sometimes we focus on the negative before we can see the positive. This New Year, someone told me they weren't sure they believed that a new year necessarily meant that you could start over. I had to kindly disagree with them.

A New Year might just seem like another notch on the belt, but it really is a chance to set new goals for yourself. Not just the usual "lose weight/exercise every day" sort of goals, but a chance to do something different and new with your year. We never realize how much time we have left until it's too late; why not take advantage of that realization in 2014?

This month's selection of films feature characters and stories about wanting to make a new start for one's self or, if anything, figuring out how to refresh their current situation at hand. Hopefully they will inspire you to take hold of this year and make it your own. After all -- it only happens once a year!

C.O.G. -- As a big David Sedaris and Jonathan Groff fan, there was no way this film was going to get past me. Groff plays David, a cocky twentysomething college graduate who decides to go off the radar for a while by working on an apple orchard in Oregon. Thinking he is the intellectual superior to everyone he meets, he quickly realizes how out of his element he is when he sees that he is in an outcast in this small community of farmers and immigrants. The film itself is full of those typical, Sedaris-esque moments of awkwardness, humor and discomfort all rolled into one. Groff's character is one that you want to hate, but end up rooting for by the end. It's a true example of the discovery that none of us is better than anyone else in this world. Available on Netflix, Amazon Instant and iTunes.

2013 in Review: Don's Top Ten and Other Lists

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Editor's note: Welcome to Slackerwood's 2013 in Review series. As in previous years, we aren't just posting standard Top 10 lists but also will highlight other aspects of 2013 that stood out for us. Keep an eye out all month for these features. We're kicking off with Don's annual Top Ten.

Here are my top ten and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my lists, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2013 and screen in Austin in 2013 also. Some well-reviewed 2013 releases have not yet screened in Austin.

10. 12 Years a Slave
Based on the true story of Solomon Northup, a free black man from New York who was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841, 12 Years a Slave is a brutally realistic look -- as brutal as any in film history -- at slavery in the American South. The violence is repellant, but 12 Years a Slave's impact is unforgettable. Chiwetel Ejiofor is outstanding as Northrup, as is the entire cast. (Elizabeth's review)

9. Fruitvale Station
Another true story of racism and gross injustice, Fruitvale Station follows 22-year-old Bay Area resident Oscar Grant on the last day of 2008, as he crosses paths with friends and family before his tragic encounter with police in the Fruitvale BART station late that night. Writer and director Ryan Coogler's terrific first feature is an enraging story of an innocent man whose fate provoked national outrage. (Debbie's review)

AFS Doc Nights Preview: 'Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer'

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Photo by Jamel Shabazz, seen in Jamel Shabazz Street PhotographerStreet-style photography seems almost pedestrian now, with blogs like The Sartorialist, Humans of New York or (my favorite) What Ali Wore popping up every day, but this wasn't the case when photographer Jamel Shabazz started snapping pics in the '70s.  A friend of the artist says he was "capturing life in its purest form."

Shabazz depicted the history of his NYC borough, documenting the early days of hip-hop culture, the fashion and lifestyle he saw day-to-day in the subway or walking the streets of Brooklyn. 

Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer (2013) delves into the photographer's influential work and follows some of his current-day activities. Director Charlie Ahearn's previous work includes 1983's Wild Style, a hip hop docudrama. In this film, Ahearn includes interviews with cultural figures such as Fab 5 Freddy and KRS-One among others.

Austin Film Society will show the Shabazz documentary this Sunday, Jan. 12 at 4pm [tickets] at AFS at the Marchesa. Watch the trailer below.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 6, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Scott Harris, UT Radio-Television-Film alumnus and two-time Austin Film Society Grant (formerly the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund) recipient, will screen his debut feature-length documentary, Being Ginger, at 7:30 pm next Monday at AMC Barton Creek in Austin through Tugg. A Q&A with Harris will follow the screening. The documentary, about one redhead's attempt to regain self-confidence by going on a quest to find a woman, was made during Harris's time studying at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. 
  • Meanwhile, out in Fredericksburg, the town's lone movie theater reopened last month. More than a year after the Stagecoach Theater closed, the Fredericksburg Standard reports that the rebranded independent theater Fritztown Cinema will have a small pizzeria and a beer/wine bar. 
  • Fritztown has partnered with the Hill Country Film Festival for a free Indie Screening Series, beginning next Wednesday night. This debut screening will showcase a collection of Texas-made short films provided by the Houston Film Commission
  • Austinite Geoff Marslett's feature Loves Her Gun (Don's review), which won the Lone Star Award at SXSW 2013, will run for a week beginning Friday at the Village Cinema in New York City.

Movies This Week: January 3-9, 2014

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Breathless

The new year may be here, but new movies are not. January is typically a dead zone for anything other than big studios burying genre pictures while rolling out potential Oscar nominees across the country. This weekend, there is only one new release and it's pretty strictly for horror fans. Everybody else should look into the amazing specialty screenings we've got on hand over the next week and maybe make a run to Vulcan Video or I Luv Video to ease into 2014 from the comfort of your couch. 

You don't want to stay at home all weekend, because then you'd miss some very special local bookings. The Austin Film Society is launching a "Godard vs. Truffaut" series with Godard's Breathless (pictured at top) this weekend at the Marchesa. It screens in 35mm tonight and again on Sunday afternoon. I don't know why you'd want to take sides in this battle, but if you're new to these classics of the French New Wave, you need to check out several films before making up your mind. AFS will alternate between the two directors every weekend through the end of February. They've also got a new Essential Cinema series showcasing the last 20 years of Russian cinema. On Thursday night, you can see 2004's The Rider Named Death in a 35mm print, also at the Marchesa.

Per usual, the Alamo Ritz has some great programming gems to offer us. Raiders Of The Lost Ark is playing in 35mm tonight, tomorrow and again on Wednesday as part of the new "Alamo 100" series. Another new series called "Pop! Art! Film!" debuts with a double feature on Monday night with Batman: The Movie in 35mm paired with a digital screening of Who Wants To Kill Jessie? The theater is also paying tribute to the late Peter O'Toole with 70mm screenings of Lawrence Of Arabia tonight, tomorrow, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.