May 2014

Movies This Week: May 30-June 5, 2014

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 Chinese Puzzle

This weekend, the Austin Film Society has booked a 35mm print of Douglas Sirk's striking melodrama All That Heaven Allows for their new "Rebel Rebel" series at the Marchesa. One of my all-time favorites, the film screens tonight and Sunday afternoon. It is being released on Blu-ray next month from the fine folks at The Criterion Collection, but it's genuinely exciting to finally have a chance to finally see it projected on the big screen. On Monday evening, AFS is teaming up with The Nature Conservancy for a screening of Hanna Ranch, a documentary about a fourth-generation cattle ranch. Emily Hanna will be in attendance for the film. Powell and Pressburger's 1943 feature The Life And Death Of Colonel Blimp is screening Thursday evening at the Marchesa. The screening kicks off a new Essential Cinema series in June, "Films Of World War I."

The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is delivering special sing-along engagements of The Sound Of Music this weekend. Saturday night's evening screening is a special benefit for the AIDS Services of Austin and will be hosted by Rebecca Havemeyer! This screening is intended for an adult audience and will include a "fancy dress costume parade at intermission." Family-friendly sing-alongs will be on hand Sunday afternoon and evening. Tickets for all three showtimes are $15 and there are no passes or flix-tix accepted. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the Paramount brings us a double feature of films set during the Great Depression: The Grapes Of Wrath and Sullivan's Travels will both screen in 35mm prints. 

Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West

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A Million Ways to Die in the West

Crassness, unbridled racism, toilet humor, these are all things one familiar with his work expects from Seth MacFarlane, creator of three quarters of Fox’s “animation domination” series with Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show as well as 2012’s runaway hit movie Ted. One also expects to laugh one’s ass off.

To my enormous disappointment, the laughs never came in A Million Ways to Die in the West, as I suffered through two hours that made MacFarlane’s disastrous night of hosting the Oscars seem wildly successful in comparison. This movie wasn’t him "not at his best." This was the depths of the dreck that didn’t make it out of the writers' room on his TV shows, the proverbial poo flung at a wall that failed to stick.

Perhaps MacFarlane was too busy writing, directing, acting in and producing his take on Blazing Saddles meets There’s Something About Mary to realize it was going to be this bad. Perhaps no one was around who could tell him. The real surprise is how many really big names attached themselves to this. Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Liam Neeson may have all been excited to work on this after the success of Ted. Several of these actors are friends of his who have worked with him before. Their enormous talents can’t save this flop.

Tthis thing plays like one of the cutaway Family Guy gags, something that’s normally less than 30 seconds, stretched out to two hours. None of the timing works. The characters are less than one-dimensional and uninteresting. Every gag with a remote chance of being funny is already spoiled in the trailer, and MacFarlane stops to explain the rest of them right into the dirt with none of his usual panache.

With A Million Ways to Die in the West, Seth MacFarlane may have managed to achieve what the most contrarian Fox executives could not: There may be a million ways to die in the West, but the biggest corpse here is his career.

Review: Maleficent

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Maleficent

After watching Maleficent, Disney's live-action twist on their own classic animated tale Sleeping Beauty, it becomes evident that nobody but Angelina Jolie could play one of the greatest villains of all time. Ms. Jolie is magnetic onscreen and can smirk in front of a green screen like nobody's business. Her performance may not win her any awards, but she clearly had fun with the part. 

The film filters the story of Sleeping Beauty through a revisionist lens. We get to first meet Maleficent when she is just a young fairy, happily flying through the moor. One day, a young human boy named Stefan literally ends up in her neck of the woods and they become unlikely friends. Over time they even fall in love with each other, but in the grand tradition of many boys, he eventually betrays her. In Stefan's quest to become the king, he cuts off her wings. This sequence has an incredibly rapey subtext (not that it will be read that way by a family audience), replete with slipping her a roofie so he can violate her when she's passed out. I thought I was just being a little sensitive, but I've seen a few other reactions on Twitter that have let me know I'm not the only one who felt a little uncomfortable with the entire situation. What happens next is not exactly I Spit On Your Grave, but it does explain a little better as to why Maleficent places a curse on King Stefan's daughter Aurora. 

Review: Chinese Puzzle

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Chinese Puzzle

Over the course of 20 years, legendary French director Francois Truffaut created a series of five semi-autobiographical films that explored the life of Antoine Doinel. The character was introduced in 1959 and viewers around the world watched him grow up on screen from a 12-year-old in The 400 Blows into a man in his early thirties in 1979's Love On The Run

With Chinese Puzzle, which opens Friday in Austin at Regal Arbor, Cedric Klapisch has completed his "Spanish Apartment" trilogy and given us a contemporary series that certainly owes a lot to Truffaut's Doinel films. When we first meet Xavier Rousseau (Romain Duris) in 2002's L'Auberge Espagnole, he is in his early twenties and taking off for the Erasmus student exchange program. He leaves France and his girlfriend Martine (Audrey Tautou) behind to spend a year in Barcelona studying finance. Xavier makes lifelong friends with the roommates he shares in a small Spanish apartment, but finds a lack of actual passion for his field of study.

Lone Star Cinema: The Hot Flashes

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The Hot Flashes

You never know what you might find when you're browsing Netflix Instant selections on a dull Sunday afternoon, and when my husband (who had the remote, go figure) started to skip past the unknown-to-us movie The Hot Flashes, I did a double-take and said, "Wait, stop -- is that directed by Susan Seidelman?" As in, Susan Seidelman who made Desperately Seeking Susan and Smithereens and I haven't heard about her since that She-Devil adaptation I don't want to think about? My attention was caught.

Then we read the synopsis, which was about middle-age women playing basketball -- okay, that's novel -- and decided to play the "give it 10 minutes and turn it off if it's too dumb" game. We lasted through all 99 minutes with no regrets. (Full disclosure: After 10-ish minutes I exclaimed, "Hey, this movie is set in Texas! I'm gonna write it up," and ran to my office for a notebook and pen. Writers are like this.)

The Hot Flashes is a little bit dumb and a more than a little bit obvious, with a narrative of the utmost predictability. But an excellent cast, working together beautifully, and some clever scripting kept us watching. In addition, how often do you see films that star women about to hit menopause? Wait, it's better than that -- this is a feature film about women over 40 playing competitive sports. I know some of you are intrigued now too.

Slackery News Tidbits: May 27, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Filmmaker Annie Silverstein's student short movie Skunk won the top prize at this year's Cinefondation section of the Cannes Film Festival, according to The Wrap. Along with winning 15,000 Euros, Skunk -- one of 16 films that screened, out of 1,631 student movies submitted worldwide -- gives Silverstein guaranteed entry to the festival for her first feature. She ran a successful crowdfunding campaign last year to finish Skunk, which was her master's thesis movie at The University of Texas at Austin. The movie stars local actress Heather Kafka.
  • Native Texan writer-director Matt Muir's Austin-lensed movie Thank You a Lot, which premiered at this year's SXSW, will have its digital/cable VOD release on June 3. The movie will also screen that night at the Angelika in Dallas (through Tugg) to celebrate its digital release. Thank You a Lot tells the story of a struggling manager whose job is threatened if he doesn't sign his dad, a reclusive Texas country-music singer.
  • Austin-based Mondo Gallery will present "The Art of Ken Taylor," including prints for the movies Children of Men and Little Shop of Horrors, from Friday, May 30 until June 21. The show's kickoff party takes place Friday at 7 pm at the gallery (4115 Guadalupe). Taylor will be in attendance.

Review: Belle

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Still from Belle

Watching Belle, the refreshingly atypical costume drama released nationwide this weekend, I was reminded of a quote from a book I finished recently. In Jill Lepore's biography of Jane Franklin (Ben's sister), she writes: "History is what is written and can be found; what isn't saved is lost, sunken and rotted, eaten by the earth." [Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin]

If Misan Sagay hadn't seen this portrait in a Scottish castle, we may never have learned about the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Based on the limited facts the screenwriter was able to find in her research -- given that Dido was a female in the 18th Century, there's unfortunately not a large amount known about her -- Sagay crafted a tale about this real woman, illegitimately born of a black woman and a white admiral, who was raised by the Murray family.

Dido (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Touch) is left as a child with her great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) after her mother's death. Her father (Matthew Goode, The Good Wife) assures her of his affection. "Know in your heart you are loved, just as I loved your mother," he tells her... then sails off to India. Lord Mansfield, his wife (Emily Watson, Hilary and Jackie) and sister Lady Mary Murray (Penelope Wilton, Downton Abbey, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel) rear the child alongside her cousin Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon, Cosmopolis, A Dangerous Method).

Movies This Week: May 23-29, 2014

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Belle 

Memorial Day weekend used to always usher in the official start of the summer movie season, but over the last few years the blockbusters have been sneaking into multiplexes earlier and earlier in May. Now that we've finally made it to the holiday weekend, the multiplexes are already exploding with big-budget tentpoles and sequels. Luckily for you, Austin theaters offer some legitmately interesting counterprogramming.

The Austin Film Society is starting a brand new series tonight called "Rebel Rebel." Earlier this week, we chatted with Lars Nilsen to find out more about the films being featured over the next few weekends. The first selection is Gillo Pontecorvo's 1969 film Burn! starring Marlon Brando. The movie features a score by Ennio Morricone and will be screening in 35mm at the Marchesa.

You'll want to head over to the AFS Screening Room on Tuesday night for the Avant Cinema presentation of Your Day Is My Night. Co-presented with the Austin Asian American Film Festival, the AFS notes for the film reveal that this "provocative hybrid documentary addresses issues of privacy, intimacy and urban life." Out Of The Blue is the final film in Richard Linklater's current Jewels In The Wasteland series and it screens in 35mm at the Marchesa on Wednesday night. Dennis Hopper transitioned from star to director during the shooting of this 1982 film.

Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

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X-Men: Days of Future PastThe movie X-Men: Days of Future Past is the best of the X-Franchise and possibly the strongest Marvel Comics screen adaptation to date. This is the summer movie to beat. The story unites two sets of cast members in a time-travel epic in which teams past and future battle to save the world.

The film opens in 2023, when the few remaining mutants are on the run, pursued constantly by sentinels, advanced robots with the ability to absorb and use mutant powers, adapting to everything thrown at them. One of the most appealing features of the X-Men comics has always been the unique interactions between characters who combine powers in new and interesting ways, something that featured strongly in X-Men: First Class. The epic opening battle we see in this movie with a different team of trained, experienced mutants is stunningly choreographed, with lavish visual effects.

The surviving mutants meet up with the principal members of the X-Men: Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), Magneto (Ian McKellan), Wolverine (Hugh Jackman), and Storm (Halle Berry) and explain they’ve been using a time-travel technique to warn themselves of impending attacks, giving them time to evacuate each location.

Armed with that knowledge, Xavier hatches a plan to travel 50 years back in time and prevent Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), weapons designer and inventor of the sentinels from being assassinated by Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), the trigger that convinced Congress to fund the sentinel program. The ensuing story takes Wolverine -- the only mutant with the healing ability to survive such a trip -- back to the Nixon era on a quest to reunite Xavier and Magneto as they simultaneously battle evil forces 50 years apart.

Review: Blended

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Blended

The following is an open letter to the Hooters restaurant chain.

Dear Hooters:

So, what's with your numerous product placements in the new Adam Sandler film, Blended?

When you agreed to have the film's opening scene set in one of your restaurants -- and even allowed a monkey to be dressed as a Hooters waitress -- had you not gotten the memo that Blended isn't like Sandler's recent movies? Maybe you were expecting Blended to be the latest installment in Sandler's series of exceedingly raunchy and breathtakingly idiotic comedies. I expected it also, assuming that Blended would carry on the maturity-deficient tradition of Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, That's My Boy and the criminally unnecessary Grown Ups 2. Had this been the case, Hooters and Blended would have been a perfect marketing match, because Hooters and its fellow breastaurant chains are criminally unnecessary also. (Just kidding! Hooters may be the number one reason why America is the world's greatest country. You don't see breastaurants in Denmark!)

But apparently Sandler has pulled a fast one on us. Instead of an exceedingly raunchy and breathtakingly idiotic gross-out comedy, his new film is a tepidly raunchy and boringly dumb family comedy. If I hadn't seen Blended for free, I'd ask for my money back. And so should you, Hooters, for you and your waitresses do not belong in this movie. (The film's other major corporate sponsor, the uncontroversial Dick's Sporting Goods, is a much better fit.)

Our Favorite Paramount Summer Classic Films, 2014 Edition

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Stills from The Women, Dark Victory, Bachelor Mother, Sullivan's Travels, Funny Girl and The Wizard of Oz

One of the best antidotes to a cruelly hot Austin summer is to partake of a show at the Paramount (or adjacent Stateside) Theatre. The air is cool, the Milk Duds are never melted and the movies are always great. The schedule for the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series has been released, and we are practically giddy with excitement over a number of the titles screening from late May through September.

The Paramount will be showing movies from various decades in 35mm, and Stateside will offer HD digitally projected titles. If you plan to see more than a couple of these, it's worth it to buy Flix-Tix (10 tickets for $50). Austin Film Society members get $5 off the ticket booklet if you buy at the box office. Becoming a Film Fan is also a great option for repeat customers, as it takes $5 off the GA ticket price -- a silver membership even gets you free garage parking during screenings.

2014 Guide to Free (and Cheap) Summer Movies in Austin

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We here at Slackerwood are already busting out the lawn chairs and cold beverages because summer is upon us. This can only mean one thing: free and cheap summer movies around Austin! We're revisiting old favorites and looking into some new ones to give you and your family plenty of activities to do together over summer break.

As usual, some programs are specifically for children, such as the Alamo Kids Camp and Regal Summer Movie Express, and some series are adults-only. Be sure to check out our links for more information on the screenings, and be mindful of what you can and cannot bring with you (such as pets and alcoholic beverages).

We will be on the hunt for new free movie opportunities this year, so if you know of any (or if you don't see a specific one here) let us know in the comments. This page will also be updated as we receive updates on specific events. Happy watching!

Sounds Like Film: Austin Composer Brian Satterwhite

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Brian Satterwhite

I talk in pictures, not in words
--
"And Through the Wire" by Peter Gabriel

Welcome to Sounds Like Film, Slackerwood's new monthly feature on music in local and independent film.

Music plays an integral role in film. Whether it's a well-placed song with lyrics to enhance a mood or scene or a film score that evokes an emotional response, the audience's experience is heightened by music. Studies have demonstrated that music stimulates several areas of the brain: the auditory, limbic and motor regions as well as the less-understood orbitofrontal cortex which is thought to be key in sensory integration.

This concept relates to our movie experience in many ways, as familiar songs or scores can evoke a particular emotion or memory. In my own experience, there are many film-related compositions that can do just that -- Simple Minds "Don't You Forget About Me" in The Breakfast Club, Ennio Morricone's title track "For A Few Dollars More" or "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel in Say Anything. Pan's Labyrinth was released almost eight years ago, yet I can't listen to "Mercedes Lullaby" by Javier Navarrete without tearing up, and often within the first few notes while watching the heartbreaking scene the song is matched to.

The creative forces that deserve recognition for this key element in movies are songwriters, composers and musicians. Within the local and Texas film industry, a number of individuals contribute their talents on a regular basis. One of the main objectives of this new column is to spotlight their talent and work.

TAMI Flashback: The Mary Kay Way

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The Mary Kay Way

This article is the eighth 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.

"They say Mary Kay does not play favorites. That's not true. They do. We're all favorites!"
-– Fictional Mary Kay Cosmetics beauty consultant Susan Anderson

It's tempting to mock the subject of this month's TAMI Flashback videos, Mary Kay Cosmetics. After all, Mary Kay epitomizes the beauty-industrial complex, which is built on the absurd and often cruel practice of telling women they aren't attractive unless they conform to conventional standards of beauty.

But this article is not about the way our culture treats women; it's about TAMI videos. So I'll refrain from mocking the Dallas-based cosmetics giant (it will be a challenge) and focus on three of its corporate films from the late Seventies and early Eighties.

Slackery News Tidbits: May 19, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austin City Council unanimously approved a Creative Content Incentive Program late last week, a decision that's expected to increase Austin's advantage for bringing movie, television and digital media industry projects to the city with the goal of creating more employment opportunities. The program will be incentive based, with $250,000 set aside for this fiscal year.
  • The PBS series Independent Lens will partner with movie and music distribution company The Orchard to distribute the East Texas-shot documentary Little Hope Was Arson (Elizabeth's interview), which played at Austin Film Festival 2013. The series will broadcast the movie this season, and The Orchard will release it theatrically in several markets as well as across all major digital outlets.
  • Acquisition news continues: last year's SXSW world premiere, the dramedy Swim Little Fish Swim (Don's review) has been aquired for distribution in Brazil by Providence Filmes and for distribution in Greece by Mikrokosmos Entertainment. 
  • The University of Texas at Austin's Women In Cinema student organization announced its film festival scholarship winners: Leaves on TreesRonnie Monsters and Stowaway, and the special mention Evidence of Santa. The three winners will receive waived submission fees to several fests, including Sundance. Award-winning filmmakers Lauren Wolkstein (Social Butterfly) and Heather Courtney (Where Soldiers Come From) and Texas Film Commission representative Laura Kincaid served as judges.

AFS Series Preview: Lars Nilsen on 'Rebel Rebel'

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Rock Hudson and Jane Wyman in All that Heaven Allows

Austin Film Society recently released the schedule for their next film series, "Rebel Rebel." Douglas Sirk's classic All That Heaven Allows and a 1974 John Waters film are among the five titles to be screened at AFS at the Marchesa starting Friday. To get a little more insight into the reasoning behind this series and how the chosen movies fit with the theme, I emailed Lars Nilsen, AFS Programmer.

Slackerwood: What led you to this theme of programming?

Nilsen: As much as I like doing series focusing on one director or actor or on the films of this or that country, I also like variety and the catch-all nature of a series about Rebellion or about Cool allows us to show a package of really spectacular films that might not be shown under any other context. I also think it's important that we as an arts organization celebrate rebellion because it is one of the mainsprings of our character, and I want to perpetuate the concept of rebelliousness wherever I can. It's maybe the only thing that can save our world.

Movies This Week: May 16-22, 2014

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The German Doctor 

Austin Film Society has another installment of their "That's Genius" series on Sunday night at the Marchesa. They've invited local filmmaker Yen Tan (Pit Stop) to present a favorite film and he chose Parking. The 2008 film from Taiwan is directed by Chung Mong-Hong and will be screened in 35mm. I'm also incredibly excited about Thursday night's Essential Cinema presentation of Bob Fosse's All That Jazz. This month's theme is "After 8 1/2: The Creative In Crisis" and this film tells the story of a Broadway producer who overworks himself right into a heart attack. 

The Austin Youth Film Festival is happening on Saturday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Local filmmakers will be on hand to judge short films from area students who have a chance to win prizes up to $1000! Standard tickets are available for just $10 and you also have the option to buy a $25 ticket that includes a t-shirt or a $45 ticket that includes a t-shirt and pre-order of a DVD collection of the short films that are screening. 

Also at the Ritz this weekend, the Marx Brothers retrospective continues with Room Service in 35mm on Saturday morning. This 1938 comedy also features a wonderful early performance from a young Lucille Ball. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, the Ritz is screening a documentary called Vanishing Pearls: The Oystermen of Pointe A La Hache that focuses on the aftermath in a small community dependant on oyster fishing in the wake of 2010's BP oil spill. There are still tickets available for The Matrix trilogy marathon Sunday afternoon. All three films are screening in 35mm, as is the animated rocker Heavy Metal for Music Monday this week. 

Review: Godzilla

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GodzillaOn its 60th birthday and 10 years after the last movie to bear its name, Godzilla returns, bigger than ever, in an incarnation directed by Gareth Edwards (Monsters). Penned by Max Borenstein from a story by Dave Callaham (The Expendables, Doom), this Godzilla offers just what you’ve come to expect from the film franchise: random destruction, mayhem and giant monsters fighting.

The story meshes nicely with the 1954 original, with a pseudo-scientific background that presents the monster as a government secret and the actual target of all those south Pacific 1950s nuclear tests. It pays homage to the gigantic creatures as prehistoric gods.

After an emotional and heart-rending first act that introduces the Brody family -- Joe (Bryan Cranston), Sandra (Juliette Binoche) and Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) -- the monster attacks begin in earnest, and the action follows adult Ford, as do the monsters, which seem to be following him around the planet, hell-bent on destroying his family.

Johnson’s character, some kind of military nuclear weapons expert who also just happens to have specialized high-altitude low-opening (HALO) parachute training and a 1950s-era mechanical nuclear detonator in his back pocket, manages to always be in exactly the right place at exactly the right time to be the only person who can save the world in spite of his entire existence being exactly as irrelevant to the ultimate goings-on as Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones.

In spite of Johnson's existence as less than an insect in comparison to the impossible monsters onscreen, director Edwards has them repeatedly appear to notice the character's presence, as an enormous pair of eyes focuses on him momentarily. There is no interaction, besides the inevitable running away, but this repeated tease, as if to intimate Ford Brody is somehow teaming up with the god-lizard, is in direct conflict to the true theme of not just this movie but the entire Godzilla series: man's utter impotency before the full force of nature.

Review: The German Doctor

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The German DoctorFollowing the fall of the Third Reich and the liberation of the German Nazi concentration camps, many of the leaders directly involved fled to South America. One of the most famous of those officers was Josef Mengele, a physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Due to his barbaric and deadly human experiments performed on prisoners as well as role in the section process for the gas chamber executions, Mengele was known as "The Angel of Death."

Argentian filmmaker Lucia Puenzo's novel Wakolda focuses on this infamous man and the true story of an Argentinian family who unknowingly boarded Mengele at their home, now adapted by Puenzo as  the movie The German Doctor. Whereas the novel is told through Mengele’s point of view during his exile in South America, the film instead relies more on 12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado). Born premature and having suffered from several illnesses at an early age, Lilith is an underdeveloped prebuscent girl who struggles to fit in at her new German-run school in Patagonia.

A chance encounter while traveling to their new home in the tourist town of Bariloche brings Lilith's family, including her pregnant mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and dollmaker father Enzo (Diego Peretti), to the attention of a mysterious and charming German doctor (Alex Brendemühl). The doctor quickly entrenches himself in Lilith and Eva’s favor, offering to help with their growth and medical care. He becomes the family's benefactor as he helps Enzo mass produce his designs at a doll factory.

Puenzo lets the audience know within the first act of The German Doctor  that this mysterious doctor is the notorious Mengele. He's received as a hero by fellow Nazis also hiding out in Bariloche, but photographer Nora Eldoc (Elena Roger) -- who is also a Mossad spy and victim of one of Mengele's sterilization practices -- recognizes him immediately. This approach increases the tension as we witness the interaction between the doctor and his naive victims. When asked by Eva whether he's had any experience with childbirth and twins, his reply "hundreds" has a chilling impact. Young Lilith becomes lethargic and experiences pain in her bones as the doctor increases her growth hormone.

Sundance in Austin: An #ArtistServices Workshop Wrap-up

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#artistservices

Last Saturday, the Austin Film Society successfully hosted the first ever Sundance #ArtistServices Workshop in Austin. #ArtistServices is an organization operated by the Sundance Institute that provides distribution support and assistance to Sundance alumni. They also work to educate up-and-coming filmmakers about all the latest trends in marketing and distribution, and have previously held workshops in Park City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York. 

Three Sundance staff members (Joseph Beyer, Chris Horton and Missy Laney) were on hand for Saturday's event and had clearly worked closely with AFS to organize a well-run and enlightening collection of panels and conversation. In her opening salvo, AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick emphasized the workshop aspect of the day and encouraged attendees to ask questions at any point.

The first section of the workshop was specifically devoted to crowdfunding, and this topic continued to resurface throughout the day. In particular, inexperienced filmmakers often aren't aware of the tax implications and responsibilities that go along with using Kickstarter or Indiegogo to fund a project. These can be incredibly helpful tools, but it's important to know what you're doing before you start. Cameron Keng (a tax lawyer), Deena Kalai (an entertainment lawyer), Shannon Swallow (the head of Marketing Communications for Indiegogo) and Evan Glodell (the writer/director of Bellflower) were on hand to offer no-nonsense advice to filmmakers considering crowdfunding.

HCFF Review: Intramural

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Intramural posterNormally I would not pay much attention to a movie about college guys bonding over sports, especially football. We get more than enough football here in Texas if you are not a fan. But Intramural lured me in -- shot in Austin; directed by Andrew Disney, who showed a nice touch with humor in his previous film Searching for Sonny; written by Bradley Jackson (The Man Who Never Cried). In fact, Jackson pretty much convinced Disney to direct Intramural during Hill Country Film Festival 2012 (after meeting him at Austin Film Festival -- this is why filmmakers should go to film fests), so it felt like a can't-miss as the HCFF closing-night film.

It turns out that Intramural is pretty damn funny, even for middle-age women who don't subscribe to the Texas Cult of Football. The plot is fairly standard -- a bunch of fifth-year college seniors (apparently this is a thing now) decide to get the band, er, intramural team back together for one last hoorah before they graduate. The guys had a championship team in their freshman year that was Marked By Trauma -- yes, it sounds a lot like a combination of Pitch Perfect and The Bad News Bears.

In fact, Intramural is more than aware that it is following in the footsteps of many sports-genre films. One character even gets all Abed (gratuitous Community reference, sorry) about it and makes specific things happen so they will go from underdogs to champions just like teams in sports films -- demanding a training montage, for example.

The characters tend to be types -- even the main character, Caleb (Jake Lacy) is your typical Average Guy In a World of Quirky-to-Bizarre People. His fiancee Vicki (Kate McKinnon) is absolutely insane, and one reason Caleb reunites the intramural football team is to get a breather from her plans and ambitions for him. Then you've got the Nemesis Team, led by evil Dick (Beck Bennett); victim-turned-passionate-coach (Nick Kocher); and the vivacious Cool Chick Who Loves Sports (Nikki Reed). Austin film fans will get a kick out of Sam Eidson as a stereotypical big football lug with an unexpected side talent that had the audience howling.

The cast takes their roles and runs with them. Lacy plays it straight and has a marvelous talent for understated reactions, not an easy thing to accomplish in a sea of over-the-top characters. McKinnon goes entirely in the other direction and makes a completely unpalatable character funny. Bennett, well, best seen to be understood. "Color commentators" Bill and Dan (D.C. Pierson and Jay Pharoah) are a little bit Jay-and-Silent-Bob-stoner like (except they both speak), but are funny enough to get away with it.

Ready, Set, Fund: Crunch Time

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'The Sauce' Movie Still

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

A number of local movie projects are nearing the end of their fundraising campaigns on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The countdown begins with The Sauce, a feature about a ruthless, egomaniacal stock trader who decides to start his own firm. The only thing stopping him (besides those pesky executives) may be himself. This indie comedy will be set and shot in Austin and has reached its goal, but generous backers can give additional funds through its Kickstarter campaign until May 29.

Other Austin and Texas movie-related projects seeking funds:

  • On June 1, the clock stops on the Kickstarter campaign for The Lizzie Project. This documentary, directed and produced by Austinite Sara Bordo, follows Texas State University alumna Lizzie Velasquez on her journey to help inspire a more positive online world. Lizzie, who is one of three people in the world diagnosed with an unnamed syndrome that prevents her from gaining weight, experienced cyber bullying as a teenager. She has since gone on to be a motivational speaker and author.

Lone Star Cinema: The Trip to Bountiful

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John Heard and Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful

Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful illustrates that you can't go home again. Since it was first performed in 1953, the play remains a favorite for stage performance. Indeed, a recent Broadway revival starred a cast of Cicely Tyson, Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr. and was even made into a TV movie for Lifetime earlier this year.

But for many years, Foote resisted the idea of bringing his play to the silver screen. Director Peter Masterson was able to convince the Texan writer. Esteemed actress Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird of Youth, Hondo) went on to win an Oscar for her lead role of Carrie Watts in the resulting 1985 movie.

Mrs. Watts, a 60-year-old widow, lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Houston with her son Ludie (John Heard, Home Alone, My Fellow Americans) and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn, Sixteen Candles, Three Days of the Condor). She fondly remembers days back at her home farm in Bountiful. In her current situation, Jessie Mae and Carrie bicker over the elder woman's near-constant hymn-singing and other habits. Compared to the space Mrs. Watts once had, the apartment is confining.

She pockets her pension check and leaves one morning while Jessie Mae is out, determined to travel back to Bountiful (a fictional town somewhere in south Texas). She befriends a young military wife (Rebecca DeMornay, demure and composed in her '50s era ensemble) on the journey and confides in her on a bus ride.

The opening credits sequence of a mother and child running through a field of bluebonnets leaves no doubt about the Texas setting of The Trip to Bountiful, and the costuming and set design perfectly reflect the time period. Page has a frumpy and careless appearance about her in the role to represent Mrs. Watts' single mindedness.  All she wants to do is go home... but unfortunately just returning to a place can't bring back past people or events.

Page as Mrs. Watts is almost constantly on the verge of tears; recalling memories of her son as a boy or failed relationships causes a choked tone to enter her voice. Carrie also has episodes related to heart problems (probably a double meaning, there) that leave her light-headed and dizzy.

The Trip to Bountiful comes off like a filmed stage play in the beginning apartment scenes, but as Mrs. Watts leaves those rooms, the film widens its scope. Masterson's direction and Foote's script give Page an opportunity to show her impressive talent, and she doesn't disappoint.

Texas connections: Writer Horton Foote was from Texas. The Trip to Bountiful was shot in Ellis County/Waxahachie, Venus and Dallas.  Richard Bradford, who plays the sheriff, was born in Tyler.  Kevin Cooney, who appears as a bus station worker, is from Houston. Director Peter Masterson, a native of Houston, also wrote the screenplay for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

[Still via MovieClips]

Summer Indies to Catch: May 2014

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Jesse Eisenberg in The Double.

This month, most audiences will be lapping up that guy in tights and yet another reincarnation of Japan's most famous lizard. Thus begins another summer season full of empty sequels and remakes no one asked for. While there are always a collection of smaller films designed to combat the less-than-inspiring season, this year's crop of independents -- which include a 70s movie icon in a Western thriller and a Dostoyevsky adaptation -- is perhaps one of the most bountiful and eclectic in recent years.

Here are few highlights:

Fading Gigolo (now playing at Regal Arbor, available on VOD)

Woody Allen makes a rare appearance in a non-Woody film for this most unconventional tale of comedy and sex in a romanticized New York. When down-on-his-luck Murray (Allen) needs a way out, he convinces his friend Fioravante (John Turturro), a Brooklyn florist, to have a paid threesome with curious dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) and her fiery friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). Soon after, word begins to spread about Fioravante's talent as a middle-age Casanova as Murray takes on the role of unlikely pimp.

Hill Country FF 2014: Pier to Peer Docs

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Bluefin on the Line

Amid all the shorts I enjoyed at Hill Country Film Festival, I also saw some longer movies. One documentary is technically a short but may be longer at some point, and one feature-length doc will likely be somewhat shorter by the time you see it. Both Bluefin on the Line (pictured at top) and Lord Montagu are set in very different environments but ultimately, are about families working hard to preserve their legacies.

Bluefin on the Line is the latest documentary from sometimes-Austin* filmmaker Bradley Beesley, whose previous films include The Fearless Freaks, Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo and most appropriately for this subject, Okie Noodling. Elizabeth interviewed the Oklahoma native a couple of years ago for his segment in Slacker 2011. This 37-minute film takes a look at the history and culture of the Bimini Islands over the past century, particularly big-game fishing and how it has affected the people who live there.

I didn't quite realize big-game fishing was a thing, but apparently it was popularized by Ernest Hemingway. Fittingly, his grandson narrates the first section of this film, a breezy overview of big-game fishing in its heyday, especially bluefin tuna. Vintage stills show people holding up fish that look as tall as I am, and I realize I am kind of a short person, but that's impressive nonetheless. The bluefin were ultimately overfished, however, and the Bimini Islands went downhill ever since, with many locals' fishing skills no longer needed. "Tuna Alley" no longer lives up to its name.

Slackery News Tidbits: May 12, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Texas Tribune reports that Bernie Tiede, the Carthage man whose story of shooting the town's richest widow inspired Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater's 2011 movie Bernie, was released from Panola County Jail last week. After nearly two decades behind bars, Tiede was driven away from the jail with Linklater to a home the filmmaker owns in Austin.
  • In festival news, the Los Angeles Film Festival announced its lineup last week and includes several Texas-connected movies: Land Ho!, produced by Austinite David Gordon Green; the Houston documentary Evolution of a Criminal, which premiered at this year's SXSW; and the short movie Molly, from local filmmaker Craig Elrod (The Man from Orlando).
  • Austin's movie industry may take a hit after NBC announced Friday that its hour-long, post-apocalyptic drama Revolution has been cancelled, Austin Business Journal reports. The show wrapped filming its current season last month in Austin.

Movies This Week: May 9-15, 2014

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 Jodorowsky's Dune

The Austin Film Society has one last screening this evening of the new IFC Films release Hateship Loveship over at the MarchesaKristen Wiig and Guy Pearce star in this adaptation of Alice Munro's story. On Sunday, AFS is celebrating the Hubley Centennial with an afternoon of animated shorts screening from the husband and wife team of John and Faith Hubley. The shorts will screen at 2 pm, followed by an AFS Moviemaker Dialogue with their daughter Emily Hubley at 4.

On Tuesday, LaDonna Harris Indian 101 is playing for Doc Nights. Julianna Brannum's film explores the life of Comanche activist LaDonna Harris, who works to this day on educating emerging indigenous leaders. On Wednesday night, Richard Linklater will present a 35mm print of Louis Malle's 1981 drama Atlantic City and on Thursday evening, Essential Cinema will screen Woody Allen's Stardust Memories

The Alamo Drafthouse has a few Mother's Day events happening this weekend. A special brunch feast of The Sound Of Music is happening at the Lakeline and Slaughter Lane locations Sunday morning. You can check out the menu here. Not to be outdone, Ritz will open up Theater 1 to Ms. Rebecca Havemeyer, who will present her annual Mother's Day screening of Mommie Dearest on Sunday night.

Review: Neighbors

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neighbors posterWhen a wild fraternity moves into the house next to Kelly (Rose Byrne) and Mac (Seth Rogen), a thirtyish couple with a new baby, they feel conflicted. Near constant noise and debauchery will disrupt the peace of their sleepy neighborhood and throw off their routine schedules, but truthfully they crave a little craziness. It wasn’t very long ago that they were carefree and in college themselves, and new parenthood is making them wistful for the past and afraid of becoming boring.

Desperate to avoid seeming like buzzkills (even though they really do want their young neighbors to just keep it down), they try to play along at first and even join the party one night. Real life makes it impossible for them to live in both worlds, though. Very soon, after a series of necessary-to-the-genre misunderstandings and mistakes, the situation has escalated quickly into all-out neighbor war.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek), the movie Neighbors has all the elements necessary to make it the next successful gross-out, slightly romantic comedy with arrested development undertones. However, thanks to a generally good-hearted script obsessed with pop culture and all-in performances from its stars (particularly Byrne as Kelly), Neighbors slightly exceeds expectations by throwing a few surprises into what could be just another immature prank-based film.

Not that Neighbors is smart, exactly, nor does it completely upturn traditional comedy cliches, but it does make an effort to gender equalize the situation. Byrne, who carries herself well throughout, channels the outrage of hundreds of minor female movie characters when Kelly shouts at her husband that it's not fair how he gets to be irresponsible and have all the fun while she is expected to be the bitchy mom whose only job is to scowl and complain. She makes a good point, and from then on not only participates in the shenanigans, she directs them.

Hill Country FF 2014: Shorts, More Shorts and Sneaky Pink Drinks

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HCFF 2014

This was my third year attending the Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg. I feel like I've got it down to a science. I have a B&NB I like (kitchen, reliable wireless), I can drive to the Hangar Hotel at night without ending up halfway to Kerrville, I even know the least chilly place to sit in the Steve W. Shepherd Theater (I'm not telling). Staff and volunteers know me by name although honestly, I suspect they know most of the badgeholders by name. They are sharp and friendly that way.

I did change things around a bit by arriving in town on Thursday evening instead of making the mad rush on Friday morning to get there for the first film I wanted to see. I walked up to get my badge at 6 pm and found myself in the middle of a party. And that's HCFF all over.

Review: Jodorowsky's Dune

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Jodorowsky's DuneIn the mid-Seventies, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who was known for his radical arthouse films El Topo and Holy Mountain, took on the greatest challenge of his film career -- adapting for the screen one of the most classic sci-fi novels in history, Frank Herbert's Dune.

For two years, Jodorowsky worked an overwhelming number of hours with his creative team, including French comic-book artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud, screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (Dark Star, Alien), artist H.R. Giger (Alien), and sci-fi paperback illustrator Chris Foss to create over 3,000 storyboards and dozens of paintings along with incredibly detailed costumes and a tome of a script the size of a large phone book.

The film was to star Jodorowsky's own 12-year-old son, Brontis, who endured two years of daily martial arts training in preparation for his starring role alongside icons such as Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali. Although the film was never made, it left an indelible mark on cinema with evidence throughout many sci-fi cult films of the last few decades including Blade Runner and Alien.

Director Frank Pavich reveals the impact of Jodorowsky's attempt in Jodorowsky's Dune, a fascinating and inspiring documentary about the greatest epic film that was never made. The movie opens Friday in Austin.

Pavich weaves interviews with the creative team involved in the massive project, including audio transcripts of the late Dan O'Bannon and supporters such as Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn and film journalists Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeny. Most importantly, we meet the charismatic and enthralling Jodorowsky himself. 

Cinematographer David Cavallo creates an intimate portrait of Jodorowsky in the comfort of his home, setting the stage with images of his scripts, books, and feline companion. The animation by Syd Garon (Blackfish) is stellar, breathing life into the storyboards by Moebius and paintings by Giger that had me giddy with anticipation.

Interview: Frank Pavich, 'Jodorowsky’s Dune'

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Director Frank Pavich, by Debbie Cerda, for use upon request with attributionOne of the most critically panned science-fiction films in history is Dune, directed by David Lynch in 1981. The rights to the film version of Frank Herbert's novel changed hands several times before Lynch's adaptation, with potential producers including Arthur P. Jacobs (Planet of the Apes) and Dino De Laurentiis.

In 1975, arthouse cult filmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky secured the rights the Frank Herbert's Dune and began working on what would have been the most epic science fiction film ever created. Jodorowsky assembled creative geniuses and cultural icons from all over the world for the cast and music, creating his personal group of "spiritual warriors" for a two-year massive undertaking. Unfortunately, Jodorowsky's planned film and his story never truly made it beyond the storyboards until now.

At Fantastic Fest 2013, I met and spoke with director Frank Pavich, who brings to light the story of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his failed attempt to tell the mythical tale in his documentary Jodorowsky's Dune. Jodorowsky's treatment has been called "the greatest movie never made" for its influence on the science-fiction film genre. Here's what Pavich had to say during our time together.

What's Streaming: Things We Don't Speak Of

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This month's list of films available online was all over the place. I was watching ridiculous Craig Robinson comedies and intense documentaries about the struggle to make art. "How the hell do I tie these together?" was the question, as my themes usually come to me quite easily. When I thought back about all of these stories, though, I finally found one kernel within each movie that linked them: topics we don't like to talk about.

What does or does not making something "taboo" is different for each of us. Some are universally obvious, but some might not strike us right away. We have to learn more and try to understand a situation before writing it off as totally unthinkable. Several of the films I watched this month explore topics that are hard to talk about, let alone make a movie about.  When you get to know these characters though, you start to see where they are coming from.

I'm not saying they're right, or that they're even heroes.  But they're people.  They're human, just like you and me.  Give their stories a shot this month.

Spend an Animated Sunday Afternoon with AFS and the Hubleys

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Still from A Windy Day

This year marks 100 years since animator John Hubley's birth. To celebrate the work of this man and his wife/collaborator Faith Hubley, Austin Film Society will be hosting an afternoon of shorts by the team as part of the Hubley Centennial.

Their daughter Emily Hubley, an animator and creative force in her own right, will introduce the screening and then participate in an AFS Moviemaker Dialogue afterwards (a separate ticket).

You may not think you've seen any of the Hubleys' work before, but given that they worked on TV ads and public television programs such as Sesame Street and The Electric Company -- along with their singular short films -- you most likely have.  The shorts included in the Centennial programming are new 35mm prints from the Hubleys' oeuvre between 1956-1970.  Their Oscar-winning Moonbird will be screened, as well as Windy Day (still above, includes voices of daughters Emily and Georgia) and Tender Game (features music from Ella Fitzgerald and Oscar Peterson) among others. You can view the list of the shorts in the program here.

Slackery News Tidbits: May 5, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news. 

  • An open casting call for various non-speaking background extras for the feature My All American, chronicling University of Texas football player Freddie Steinmark and the 1969 National Champion Longhorns, will take place on Monday, May 12 from 2-8 pm at Smithville Recreation Center (106 Royston St.) in Smithville. The movie, directed by Angelo Pizzo (Hoosiers and Rudy), will be shooting in Austin and surrounding areas this summer. myallamericantx [at] gmail [dot] com (Email Brock/Allen Casting) for more info.
  • The Austin Latino Film Association will have its soft launch party tonight (May 5) at 7:30 pm at Baby Acapulco (5610 N. IH-35). The nonprofit organization is dedicated to Austin-based Latino filmmakers, Latino-themed movies and local Latino youth. 
  • Join the Austin Film Festival for a conversation with Emmy-nominated actor Robert Walden through the nonprofit's On Story series this Wednesday, May 7 at 7 pm at the Texas Spirit Theater in the Texas History Museum. 
  • Cast members of the notorious 1974 horror film Texas Chain Saw Massacre will reunite at this year's Housecore Horror Film Festival in Austin. The horror and heavy-metal event will celebrate this seminal Central Texas-shot movie's 40th anniversary during the festival from Oct. 23-26.

Movies This Week: May 2-8, 2014

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 The Retrieval

If you're a member of Austin Film Society, tonight marks the first event in a new monthly series called FREE Member Fridays! Actor Thomas Haden Church and director Emanuel Hoss-Desmarais will be at the Marchesa for a special screening of their new film Whitewash. It is free for AFS members and general admission tickets will also be available for $15 at the door subject to capacity. AFS also is presenting the new release Hateship Loveship on Sunday afternoon. While this IFC Films release is available on VOD, this (along with a second showing next Friday) is your only chance to catch it locally on the big screen. The movie stars Kristen Wiig and Guy Pearce and is an adaptation of a story by Alice Munro. Richard Linklater's Jewels In The Wasteland series returns on Wednesday night with a 35mm print of Coppola's 1983 feature Rumble Fish. Finally, the week in movies at the Marchesa wraps up on Thursday with Essential Cinema presenting Paul Mazursky's 1970 film Alex In Wonderland.

Violet Crown Cinema continues their Criterion Presents series this week with Steven Soderbergh's beautiful depression-era drama King Of The Hill on Tuesday night while the Paramount 100 series heads next door to the Stateside for a double feature of Renoir's Grand Illusion and Jean Vigo's L'Atalante

If you've never seen it on the big screen, William Wyler's 1959 epic Ben-Hur is debuting in a brand new 4K digital restoration at the Alamo Lakeline tomorrow and Sunday afternoon. The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is delivering more Marx Brothers for you this weekend with A Night At The Opera from 1935. It plays tomorrow afternoon only. There are some great 35mm rep screenings at the Ritz this week including Arthur Penn's Night Moves on Monday, Bachelor Party with Tom Hanks on Tuesday and a Cinema Club screening of David O. Russell's truly hysterical Flirting With Disaster on Wednesday.

Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2Swinging into theaters this weekend is the sequel to 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man. Scripted by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and directed by Marc Webb, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 picks up shortly after the reboot with returning stars Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Sally Field as well as Dane DeHaan and Jamie Foxx, both new to the series. The sequel exceeded my expectations as Garfield fell comfortably back into the title role.

Peter Parker is just a teenager still trying to find his way less than a year after his powers have been thrust upon him. He has no school for gifted youngsters such as himself to provide peer support. He hasn't had a lifetime to come to terms with his powers under the guidance of a moral compass like Jonathan Kent. Only after the events with The Lizard has he had a chance to ponder the life ahead of him and its effects on those he loves.

Though some would say his on-again/off-again relationship with Gwen Stacy isn't true to the final shot of part 1, in which he throws caution to the wind, I think that reads too much into the scene. Sworn by her father to keep Gwen out of danger by avoiding her altogether, Parker is torn between his love and fear for her. Though like most any teenage boy he often feels invincible, self-doubt and uncertainty frequently win out as he is constantly reminded of the death of her father and his guilt over being unable to prevent it. Being Spider-Man provides his escape from or justification for his feelings over the death of Uncle Ben. Being with Gwen provides his escape from the responsibility of keeping an entire city safe.

Dane DeHaan is perhaps typecast as the rebellious, misunderstood teen vaulted into a position of power while suffering the mental ravages of abuse and neglect. His time on screen as Parker's childhood friend, Harry Osborn, is only background filler as he treads water until assuming his role as one of the seminal Spider-Man villains, Green Goblin. This is not Green Goblin's movie, however, and though the character's actions are pivotal, Green Goblin takes a back seat to the Electro storyline. 

AFS Will Host First Austin Sundance #ArtistServices Workshop

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sundance logoOn Saturday, May 10, Austin Film Society will host a day-long workshop geared toward independent filmmakers and featuring over a dozen film industry experts and creative pros. Sundance #ArtistServices Workshops began in 2011, and this will be the first installment held in Austin.

Topics to be covered during the event include licensing and distribution, creative marketing, digital cinema mastering, key art, crowdfunding, and all the other details that make releasing a film into the world an exciting but often completely overwhelming endeavor.  

The Sundance Institute is known for supporting developing artists with bold new stories to tell, and in similar ways AFS has worked to assist local filmmakers as they try to master the skills required to stand out in a marketplace mostly dominated by big-budget fare. As you know if you follow our monthly Ready, Set, Fund column, it's an exciting time for indie filmmakers due to all the technology and resources available, but no one can make it without a little help.