August 2014

Movies This Week: August 29 - September 4, 2014

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The Trip To Italy 

Heading into a three-day holiday weekend, it's fairly quiet in terms of blockbuster releases (it won't be a surprise if Guardians Of The Galaxy continues to top the box-office chart despite recent newcomers), but Austin has plenty of specialty screenings to catch your attention. 

Austin Film Society is screening Roger Corman's bizarre postapocalyptic 1971 film Gas-s-s-s screening tonight and again on Sunday afternoon in 35mm at the Marchesa. On Wednesday night, AFS will also be offering a preview screening of No No: A Dockumentary (Caitlin's review) with director Jeffrey Radice, producer Mike Blizzard and editor Sam Wainwright Douglas in attendance. The film, which premiered at SXSW earlier this year, tells the story of how Dock Ellis pitched a no-hitter while on LSD in the 1970s. It's expected to open at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar next weekend and will also be available on VOD. We also get a new Essential Cinema series, "Masterpieces of Polish Cinema, Selected by Martin Scorsese," which will start Thursday night with Andrzej Wajda's 1958 classic Ashes and Diamonds

Only a few more films are left in this year's Summer Classic Film Series at the Paramount Theatre, which wraps up next weekend. You can catch a 70mm print of Kubrick's Spartacus this evening and then a 70mm print of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade on Saturday and Sunday. On Wednesday and Thursday you can catch a double feature of two of the best films of the 50s: Sirk's All That Heaven Allows and Laughton's The Night Of The Hunter, both in 35mm. 

Review: The Congress

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poster for The CongressAri Folman, director of the bleak animated history Waltz with Bashir, adapted a novella by acclaimed author Stanislaw Lem for the screen in the movie The Congress. Folman's take on Lem's The Futurological Congress is only vaguely true to the source material.  Instead of a male hero, we have actress Robin Wright... playing actress Robin Wright. If only this cinematic work didn't hold the talented actress back. While Lem's novella is (supposedly, I haven't read it) a black comedy, Folman's half-animated film is dark and troubling.

Bravo to the director for selecting an older -- by Hollywood standards, anyway -- actress to base this film around. Much is made of Wright's Texan background and decision to age naturally; actually, much is said about Wright, as she sits silently and takes criticism. To put it in terms today's teens will recognize, there is a lot of mansplaining going on here.

Conversations in the first half of The Congress happen to her, with men spouting monologues about their early lives or breaking down for her the mistakes she made in her career. The film opens to Wright quietly crying as her agent Al (Harvey Keitel) berates her for her faulty decision-making. These men want what's best for her, you see. They just want to profit off her as well.

Wright is convinced by her agent and studio head Jeff Green (Danny Huston, John Adams, Children of Men) to have herself scanned so Miramount Studios will own her image for 20 years. During that period of time, she can't act, but can do whatever else she likes. She almost refuses, worrying that "the gift of choice" is taken from her if she signs. But at no point in this film does it ever seem that she is given any choice. She signs the contract because her son is ill, falling into the archetype of the weary, long-suffering mother. Wright's character has no desires or wants for herself, no power and no real agency.

Review: The Trip to Italy

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The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy is easily the most sumptuous movie of this year, taking us to fine restaurants with stunning Italian surroundings as we listen to a soundtrack of classical music.

But like a tasty meal with somewhat stingy portions, The Trip to Italy isn't fully satisfying. Or at least not as satisfying as its predecessor, the hilarious 2010 film The Trip.

The sequel reunites Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and writer/director Michael Winterbottom for another culinary-centered road trip, this one to the Italian locales of Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. (Like The Trip, The Trip to Italy is a theatrical cut of a three-hour, six-part BBC TV series.) Coogan and Brydon once again play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour Italy in search of great food, lodging and sightseeing. To give their adventure some literary gravitas, they travel to sites visited by the English romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who spent time together in Italy starting in 1818.

Lone Star Cinema: Spy Kids

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Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara and director Robert Rodriguez during filming for SPY KIDS

When the recent news broke that Alexa Vega will play a recurring character on the upcoming season of country music soap Nashville, now seemed like a perfect time to revisit the original Spy Kids. I tend to picture Vega as she appeared in the Robert Rodriguez film, but she has grown much since then. She's even married... twice.

In 2001, she and co-star Daryl Sabara (whose first role was as Murphy's baby on '90s cultural touchstone, Murphy Brown) played Carmen and Juni Cortez, troubled private-school kids. Their parents Ingrid (Carla Gugino, Karen Sisco, Sucker Punch) and Gregorio (Antonio Banderas) are consultants who have not yet admitted to the children that they used to be secret agents (who met cute at the Hotel Belen, better known as the Omni Hotel downtown). 

When evil genius/children's TV show host Floop (a colorful Alan Cumming, The Good Wife, X-Men 2) and his Minion (Tony Shalhoub, post-Galaxy Quest, pre-Monk) capture the elder Cortezes, their secret comes out. Carmen complains to family friend Felix (Cheech Marin, Up in Smoke, Nash Bridges), "My parents can't be spies -- they're not cool enough!" Of course it is now up to the younger generation to save the parents, using tech made by Machete (Danny Trejo, Machete, From Dusk 'til Dawn).

At the Texas Premiere for 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'

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Robert Rodriguez on the Red Carpet of Sin City 2Sin City: A Dame to Kill For had its Texas premiere at the Paramount Theatre last week, and writer/director Robert Rodriguez was on the red carpet for the hometown screening that benefited the Austin Film Society. Unfortunately co-director/co-writer Frank Miller missed his flight and with back-to-back premieres -- Los Angeles, Austin, New York -- it was not possible for him to be at the Austin screening.

Rodriguez said he made Miller a co-director because he knew visual storytelling, and as a fellow cartoonist Rodriguez knew Miller would love the experience.

"It's exactly the same thing, but you are using a camera and your paper characters will now talk to you because they are actors, and that will give you the biggest thrill." Additionally, Rodriguez told Miller that he would "be able to tell backstories that aren't even in any of your books.

Local and world-famous musical artists with roles in the film were out in full force at the screening, more than making up for the lack of lead actors and actresses.

Slackery News Tidbits: August 25, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austin filmmaker David Modigliani takes viewers on a journey into Louisiana's past in the documentary 61 Bullets, set to premiere at this year's New Orleans Film Festival (Oct. 16-23). The movie, which discusses the mysterious deaths of U.S. Senator Huey Long and surgeon Carl Weiss in 1935 inside the state's capitol and follows Weiss' family's attempt to clear their name in Long's murder, received a $10,000 Austin Film Society Grant in 2009.
  • In distribution news, RADiUS has acquired the U.S. rights to the SXSW 2014 Grand Jury awardwinner The Great Invisible (Elizabeth's review), Deadline reports. The documentary, by former Austinite Margaret Brown (Elizabeth's interview), depicts the response to 2010's Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill through the eyes of those affected. Music for the movie was composed by Austinite David Wingo.
  • The SXSW 2013-screened Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (Don's review) returns to Austin for a screening on Wednesday at 7:30 pm in the AFS Screening Room. The documentary tells the story of Broughton, an influential writer and experimental filmmaker.
  • AFS will host a preview screening of No No: A Dockumentary (Caitlin's review) with filmmakers in attendance on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 pm at The Marchesa. The Austin-shot documentary, which screened at SXSW this year, tells the story of controversial baseball pitcher Dock Ellis. Read Caitlin's pre-SXSW interview with director Jeffrey Radice for more details about the movie.

Movies This Week: August 22-28, 2014

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Sin City 

The Austin Film Society teams up with aGLIFF tonight to bring the new documentary To Be Takei (my review for Paste) to the Marchesa for a one-off screening. It's a touching and genuinely funny profile of George Takei, whose career has taken him from Star Trek to social media icon and gay rights activist. This month's Roger Corman series continues this weekend with X: The Man With The X-Ray Eyes. This 1963 thriller screens tonight and again on Sunday in a 35mm print. On Wednesday night, AFS presents SXSW doc Big Joy: The Adventures of James Broughton (Don's review) and then the Barbara Stanwyck Essential Cinema series will close Thursday with Ball Of Fire. Screening in 35mm, this classic 1941 Howard Hawks comedy, written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, pairs Stanwyck with Gary Cooper.

Over at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, The Complete David Lynch series is winding down but has several more gems on the way. This weekend, they've got a 35mm print of Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard on Saturday and Sunday as part of the "influences" sidebar of this series. Ingmar Bergman's 1968 feature Hour Of The Wolf also screens as an influence title on Monday night. The last feature film from David Lynch in the series happens on Wednesday night, 2006's Inland Empire. He hasn't made a full-length film since and this 3-hour surrealist epic will start a little earlier (at 6:45 pm) due to its length. A few extra afternoon matinees of Inland Empire are thrown in on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. Also at the Ritz, there's a Robin Williams Memorial Screening of The Fisher King on Sunday afternoon (with all proceeds being donated to Comic Relief) and a Zzang!!! screening of The Monster Squad on Sunday night. 

There's a very special event tonight at the Alamo Slaughter Lane. DJ/Producer/Record Label Owner Andy Votel is going to be on hand for Kleksploitation, an "entirely re-contextualised version of [Andrzej] Zulawski's psychedelic, proto-electric scores for the cult Pan Kleks trilogy of children's films from the 1980s with live DJ accompaniment." Slaughter (and Lakeline) also will be screening Reservoir Dogs again on Sunday and Wednesday.

aGLIFF and AFF Reveal Lineup Details

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the homesman still

The Austin Film Festival has announced its first wave of film screenings, including Centerpiece Film Black and White (directed by Mike Binder and starring Kevin Costner), documentary 21 Years: Richard Linklater, and Dawn Patrol, directed by AFF regular Daniel Petrie Jr. This initial list is a mix of world and regional premieres and provides glimpses of a diverse program; among other things, festivalgoers will have the chance to see a Texas-based political documentary, a pioneer drama with an all-star cast, and Benedict Cumberbatch playing the role of Alan Turing.

The writer-focused festival runs Oct. 23-30 and includes feature films, short films, film competitions and conference panels. See below for a list of the titles announced so far, and find out more about attending AFF here

If you're ready to get festival season started already, don't forget that the 27th Anniversary Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) takes place in just a couple of weeks (Sept. 10-14) at the freshly remodeled Alamo South Lamar and the Stateside Theatre. This year's festival includes over 100 films and the theme is "We're not an Audience. We're a Community."

aGLIFF's opening-night film will be Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine and the centerpiece is Regarding Susan SontagThe program promises a diverse array of genres and subjects and also includes a secret screening of "one of the best-reviewed films of 2014" -- any guesses? Either way, this year's fest looks like a thoughtful and festive collection of films and events. Badge information and the full lineup are available here

Stay in touch for more festival updates, and read on for the festival-provided descriptions of the AFF films announced so far.

Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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Marv from Sin City: A Dame to Kill ForTrue confession time -- the first time that I watched Sin City (2005), I wasn't enthused due to my naivete. However, a recent viewing with the mindset of watching a graphic novel brought to life changed my perspective drastically. I found myself engaged by the characters, and therefore I was anxious to see what co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller had in the cards with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

This film is both a prequel and sequel at the same time, as we learn more about the central characters from the first installment -- Marv (Mickey Rourke) is still bashing in heads but this time he gets called in to help Nancy (Jessica Alba) and Dwight (Josh Brolin) with their own personal vendettas. Nancy grieves for the death of her childhood hero and only love, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who keeps his promise to never leave her even if he is a tormented ghost witnessing her demise.

An interesting subplot serves as the prequel that explains why Dwight's face had been transformed after his encounter with the deceptive and psychopathic Ava (Eva Green), who leaves men in her wake including police partners Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven). We also learn more about the loyalty that Gail (Rosario Dawson) and the rest of the women of Old Town have for both Dwight and Marv.

TAMI Flashback: Happy Birthday, John Henry Faulk

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John Henry Faulk

John Henry Faulk may not be the most famous of famous Austinites -- but he should be. A revered folklorist, storyteller, writer, actor, teacher and civil rights activist, Faulk's ties to Austin run wide and deep.

Born in 1913 in South Austin (his boyhood home is now the elegant Green Pastures restaurant), he spent most of his life in the River City. As a University of Texas student, he was a protégé of the Holy Trinity of Texas letters -- J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedichek. He earned a Master's degree in folklore and taught English at the university until the outbreak of World War II, when he joined the Merchant Marines and then came home to serve as an Army medic at Camp Swift in Bastrop.

After the war, Faulk's storytelling talent landed him a career as a popular radio talk show host and entertainer. He hosted The John Henry Faulk Show at WCBS in New York for six years, appeared on TV many times and served as vice president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). But Faulk's radio and TV career ended abruptly in 1957, a victim of anti-communist hysteria and blacklisting. (Faulk was famously liberal, but no communist.)

Lone Star Cinema: Giant

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Giant

A poster for Giant billed the iconic Texas film as The GIANT of Them All.

The poster hardly exaggerated. Running more than three hours, starring three of Hollywood's biggest stars of the era, spanning more than two decades and set against the vastness of a cattle ranch, Giant seemed as big as Texas itself when it was released in 1956.

To the film's legions of fans and many critics, Giant is still a giant. No other film captures the mythical Texas -- if not the real one -- quite like George Stevens' epic story. Countless films have been made here, but with its swaggering view of life in the Lone Star State, Giant may be the most Texan (again, in the completely mythical sense) of all.

Based on a 1952 novel by prolific novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, Giant is the story of the Benedict family, owners of a 595,000-acre West Texas cattle ranch. The film opens in the early 1920s, when Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) travels to Maryland to buy a prized stud horse. He meets the horse owner's daughter, socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), and the two marry after a whirlwind romance.

Photo Essay: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Post-Renovations

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 Alamo S Lamar & Highball

With little fanfare and zero warning, the eagerly-awaited news went out this week that 1120 South Lamar, the crown jewel and flagship Alamo Drafthouse location, home of Fantastic Fest, gathering place for filmmakers and celebrities, clubhouse for movie geeks, hangout for hipsters, and destination for Austinites of every variety, was to finally emerge, like a phoenix from the ashes (or perhaps like sweet zombie Jesus, if that’s more your thing). Point is: Something this great couldn’t stay dead, and it’s back!

Slackery News Tidbits: August 18, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Austin Film Festival teams up with the Texas Film Commission and the Bullock Texas State History Museum for a screening of Blood Simple on Wednesday at 7 pm in the museum's Texas Spirit Theater. Blood Simple, which follows a Texas bar owner on his search to prove his wife's infidelity, marks this year's final screening in the Made in Texas Film Series. 
  • AFF announced more panels and panelists for this year's conference: Dallas Buyers Club writer Craig Borten; Sergio Sanchez, writer of The Impossible; Philipp Meyer, author of the The Son, a soon-to-be-adapted AMC television series; and the writers of the hit TV series Bob's Burgers, Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux.
  • The Music Bed, a music licensing company for filmmakers and photographers, is hosting a contest to help fund short movies. Filmmakers are encouraged to submit their short film idea online to collect public votes in an effort to win the grand prize, chosen by The Music Bed staff, of either a custom movie score or up to $7,500 in music licensing. Two runners-up will be chosen by popular vote. The deadline to submit short movies is Sept. 1.
  • The Contemporary Austin will host a free screening of Impossible Light on Thursday at 7 pm at the Jones Center (700 Congress Ave.). The indie doc traces the story behind "The Bay Lights," the installation of 25,000 LED lights along San Francisco's Bay Bridge. 
  • Austin-based indie production company Studio e2 will host the short movie showcase for women-directed projects, Shorty Shoots Too, on Friday, Aug. 28 at 8 pm at at East Seventh Eats (1403 E. 7th St.).  

Review: Mood Indigo

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Mood Indigo posterIf one can expect anything from Michel Gondry, it is that along with the whimsy and touch of the bizarre inherent in his work is an element of truth.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind uses erasure imagery to illustrate the pain of heartbreak. Be Kind Rewind has friendly video store employees creating their own versions of Hollywood hits for their neighborhood.  Gondry's latest film, love story Mood Indigo, however, is utterly drowning in whimsy and lacking any figment of truth.

Debonair and bearded Romain Duris (Populaire, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) stars as Colin, living off family money in a spacious Paris apartment. Audrey Tautou (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) plays cute Chloe, whom Colin meets at a party. The plot goes something like this: guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love and marry, flower grows in girl's lung.

There's also a B-plot, involving a friend (Gad Elmaleh, Priceless, Midnight in Paris) Colin loans money to court a woman (Aïssa Maïga, Cache, Bamako), which is just as confusing as the rest of the film. The fever dream of a movie is full of fantastic visions, but the story is ridiculous beyond measure. Is fate written out for us by a room full of random people on vintage typewriters? And if so, who cares?

Unpredictabilities may rule Mood Indigo, but the film still follows the overly-familiar classic "movie cough" rule. It used to be that any time someone in a movie coughed, they were terminally ill -- after all, nobody has allergies in the movies. And indeed, as soon as Chloe adorably coughs post-honeymoon, things start going downhill for the couple. 

Movies This Week: August 15-21, 2014

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Mood Indigo 

The Austin Film Society's "Films Of Roger Corman" series (Jette's preview) continues this weekend at the Marchesa with 1961's The Pit And The Pendulum starring Vincent Price. Tonight's screening is a Free Member Friday event for any members of AFS (with General Admission tickets also available). It will also screen again on Sunday afternoon. Tom Gilroy's The Cold Lands is scheduled for a "Best of the Fests" booking on Tuesday at the Marchesa and Thursday's Essential Cinema selection features Barbara Stanwyck (Elizabeth's preview) in William Wellman's Lady Of Burlesque. This extrememly rare 35mm print is on loan from the Library Of Congress, making it a night you won't want to miss! 

Austin Film Society is also presenting the Texas premiere of Sin City: A Dame To Die For in 3D on Wednesday evening at the Paramount. Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and (just announced!) Frank Miller will be in attendance for an introduction, post-screening Q&A and at the after party. Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who appears on the soundtrack, whill also be at the screening. Tickets, including VIP packages, are available on the Paramount's website

Cinema East will be hosting Above All Else (Don's SXSW review) on Sunday night on the lawn of the French Legation Museum. There's only one more film in this summer's series after this, so head out for this all-ages, BYOB-friendly event. Doors are at 7 pm and the film will begin at 9. This documentary had its world premiere at SXSW this year and examines the battle over the Keystone XL oil pipeline, introducing us to an environmental activist from East Texas who tried to block it. 

Review: The Giver

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The GiverReleased in 1993, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner The Giver by Lois Lowry has been one of the most controversial and influential novels of the 1990s. Banned from schools across the nation for being "violent" or "unsuited for younger age groups," this dystopic tale centers around Jonas, a young boy who lives in a literally colorless world of contentment.

Screenwriters Robert B. Weide and Michael Mitnick have adapted this book in the sci-fi thriller film The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Patriot Games).

In what at first appears to be an utopian society of "Sameness" with absence of pain and suffering, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) seems content with his friends and family. He lives with his parents, the dutiful nurturer Father (Alexander Skarsgard) and his more stern and unyielding Mother (Katie Holmes). His classmates Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are frequent companions, and prepare to receive their life assignment as even choices have been eliminated in this seemingly perfect society.

Jonas receives the most prestigious and ominous assignment of all -- as the Receiver of Memory, he must learn and keep the dark history of the Community to guide the Elders and prevent the tragic mistakes of the past. However, as he begans to learn from the current Receiver who is now referred to as "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges), he discovers the dark history behind his community that has led to the absence of joy, pleasure, and color from their lives as well.

Jonas is faced with the difficult choice of accepting the role that he has been given, or do what he can with the aid of others to bring the Community back to the "real" world. Either way he must deal with the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who is fearful and distrusting of human nature in his journey.

Review: Calvary

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Calvary

The Catholic Church's seemingly endless scandals have been fodder for many great films, from the searing documentary Deliver Us from Evil to the star-studded critical darling Doubt to last year's sleeper indie hit Philomena.

The latest movie to address the church's sex scandals, the Irish drama Calvary, is one of the darkest. Equal parts whodunit (actually, who will do it), character study and meditation on faith, Calvary is a thoughtful film with a cold, grim heart.

Calvary's protagonist, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), is a marked man from the film's opening scene. During a confession, a bitter parishioner vows to kill Father James as retribution for being raped by another priest decades earlier.  The parishioner doesn't accuse Father James of any wrongdoing; in fact, he singles him out for his innocence. "There's no point in killing a bad priest," says the anonymous voice in the confessional booth, "but killing a good one -- that would be a shock."

Shorts Break: 'My Mom Smokes Weed'

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My Mom Smokes Weed posterAs a film critic, I hear a lot about websites where thieves steal and repost other critics' reviews, sometimes not even bothering to remove identifying material.

But this week, I got my first experience in seeing a purported "filmmaker" post short films to his website that he might claim are his, but obviously do not belong to him. I know this because I saw one of the films in its original incarnation: the very funny short My Mom Smokes Weed, from Austin filmmaker Clay Liford -- it screened at Austin Film Festival in 2009 as well as a number of other film fests. And if you've watched any of Liford's movies (Wuss, Earthling), you know this is so very much his trademark work that anyone else trying to pass it off as his own is an idiot.

If you haven't seen My Mom Smokes Weed, now's your chance. I've embedded it below. And as a bonus, I would like to point you to an Arts + Labor blog post that includes some of the back-and-forth between Liford and the genius who retitled the film Smoked and posted it to his film production site, as well as a link to the Reddit thread where Liford learned about the plagiarism in the first place. He's not the only filmmaker whose films this person is stealing.

When he's not battling moronic plagiarists, Liford is currently working on Slash (aka S/ash), the feature-length expansion of his short film of the same name. You can follow the status of that production on its Facebook page. The short screened at Fantastic Fest 2013 -- read Debbie's interview with Liford about the short and planned feature.

And now the authentic My Mom Smokes Weed (YouTube link), starring Nate Rubin and Sylvia Luedtke, shot in Dallas before Liford moved to Austin:

Ready, Set, Fund: The Puzzle of Successful Crowdfunding

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Director and Stars of Mijo (My Son)

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

I enjoy skimming over the last three years of our "Ready, Set, Fund" monthly column and seeing how many film funding campaigns have achieved success. A gratifying experiences of writing this feature is following projects from their infancy and on through their maturation to the big screen.

Sadly though, I see far too many campaigns that never get off the ground. There are a multitude of reasons for failure, but often I suspect it's due to too high of a goal in an "all or nothing" campaign, too short of a timeframe or simply not enough effort put into the creation and support of a fundraising campaign. Research and maintenance are critical components of any successful fundraising endeavor, and can require a substantial amount of time, money and resources.

Hitchcock Takes Over Paramount and State This Week

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Alfred Hitchcock

Few other filmmakers lived to see their name become synonymous with a specific brand of filmmaking quite like Alfred Hitchcock did. This month, as part of their Summer Classic Film Series, the Paramount and Stateside Theaters have lined up a weeklong tribute to Hitchcock featuring the likes of Psycho and The Birds, among other gems from the master of suspense; each of which, regardless of how many prior viewings, remains a thrilling pleasure to see on the big screen.

"We're playing the hits, and a few B-sides too," proclaims Paramount's official site in describing Hitchcock week. Hits is right with North by Northwest, Vertigo and Notorious also scheduled to screen, while "second-tier" Hitchcock classics Rebecca and Strangers on a Train (screening the following week) also make appearances. However, it's the four interestingly chosen aforementioned B-sides that prove interesting highlights and really speak to Hitchcock's versatility as a filmmaker. Each one differs greatly in style, tone and overall approach, yet still manage to retain that specific Hitchcock flavor in ways both subtle and upfront.

When 1948's Rope (screening 8/14-15) was released, it was seen as highly scandalous due to the relationship between the two main characters, which was full of homosexual undertones. Besides this, the plot, which deals with two young men (Farley Granger and John Dall) who decide to murder a fellow former classmate simply to experience the thrill and exhilaration of killing, was not everyone's cup of tea in late 1940s America. The pair go even further by throwing a dinner party moments after the killing, which include a number of their victim's friends and family as well as their former schoolteacher Rupert (Jimmy Stewart -- in what may have been the most unorthodox role of his career).

Slackery News Tidbits: August 11, 2014

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Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar

Here's the latest Austin and Texas news (and boy, is there a lot of it this week).

  • Fantastic Fest announced its first wave of films in the 2014 lineup. Kevin Smith's horror film Tusk will open the fest (a 180 degree turn from the Kevin Smith film that opened Fantastic Fest in 2010, Zack and Miri Make a Porno), followed by the Tim League-produced anthology ABCs of Death 2. The festival also announced that movie critic/film historian Leonard Maltin will be in Austin for the fest, heading up the comedy film jury and hosting events. Also, take a look at the gorgeous 2014 poster for the fest.
  • Fantastic Fest will take place Sept. 18-25 at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar -- and check out the photo above for a preview of what the renovated theater looks like right now. No word yet on the grand opening, although aGLIFF will also take place there the weekend before Fantastic Fest (yes, Slackerwood will certainly be on its toes in September).
  • Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater is no longer working on the remake of The Incredible Mr. Limpet (!!), according to Hollywood Reporter. Instead, "sources say" he's working on a movie about college freshmen called That's What I'm Talking About, which is supposed to be semi-autobiographical and in the same tone as Dazed and Confused. This makes sense considering the box-office success of Boyhood.
  • Backing up the "sources" in the previous article is a casting notice from Vicky Boone Casting that was posted to a local email list for casting opportunities. Included in the notice: "All of us over at Vicky Boone Casting are working hard on the upcoming untitled Richard Linklater Project and wanted to shoot out a friendly suggestion that if you are interested in being a part of this film in any capacity (we’re talking principles, background, etc.), you should start growing out your hair now! This is a period film based in the early '80s, and it always helps to look the part if you have big dreams of making it onscreen! While this suggestion applies for all ages/ethnicities/genders, a special note goes out to those of you in your 20s, as there will be lots of principles and extras needed in that age range."

Movies This Week: August 8-14, 2014

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The Hundred-Foot Journey

The Austin Film Society kicks off a brand new series featuring classic films from Roger Corman (Jette's preview) with a related documentary called That Guy Dick Miller, about the famed character actor. Tonight's screening will feature a post-film Q&A with Mr. Miller via Skype. It will be followed by a 35mm screening of Corman's 1959 feature A Bucket Of Blood, which features a great lead performance by Dick Miller. The film will also play again on Sunday afternoon.

On Wednesday, Whitey: The United States Of America V. James J. Bulger (from Joe Berlinger, the director of Paradise Lost) will be featured for Doc Nights (Elizabeth's preview), and this month's Essential Cinema series with the incredible Barbara Stanwyck (Elizabeth's preview) finds her on Thursday night starring in a 1937 drama called Internes Can't Take Money, screening in a rare 35mm print. 

At the Paramount's Summer Classic Film Series, you can catch a 35mm double feature of Charlie Chaplin comedies this weekend. The Great Dictator and Modern Times will screen at the Paramount multiple times on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Marlon Brando will be featured in a 35mm double feature on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings with A Streetcar Named Desire and On The Waterfront. Ten classic thrillers from Hitchcock will be featured through the end of next weekend. You can head down for Rebecca and Notorious screening digitally on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Stateside, while Rope and The Trouble With Harry also play there digitally on Thursday night. If you'd rather catch your Hitchcock on film, Psycho and Vertigo are both featured in 35mm at the Paramount on Thursday evenng. 

Review: The Hundred-Foot Journey

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Poster for The Hundred-Foot JourneyNew release The Hundred-Foot Journey is a beautifully-shot drama produced by Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg, who likely hope it will prove a hit along the lines of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Formidable British actress Helen Mirren gets top billing as strict French restauranteur Madame Mallory. Her establishment has a Michelin star and brings in big name political figures. However, Madame Mallory's work and life isn't the main focus of this colorful film from Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen), adapted by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) from a novel by Richard C. Morais. 

A family of refugees, the Kadams from Mumbai, moves into the vacated building across the street from Madam Mallory's restaurant. Papa (veteran Indian actor Om Puri, Gandhi) wants to open an Indian restaurant in this quiet French village, with the help of son and aspiring chef Hassan (Manish Dayal, 90210, Switched at Birth) and other adult children (Amit Shah and Farzana Dua Elahe). Even the two much younger siblings help out.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is really Hassan's story. The film opens to his narration, and lots of exposition. As soon as cute Marguerite (Charlotte Le Bon, Yves Saint Laurent, Mood Indigo) comes on the scene -- she's sous chef for Madame's kitchen, of course -- it is a given that she's the love interest for Hassan's character. The film deserves some credit for following the success of a character of color, but his plotline drags during the second half; this causes the movie to feel longer than its actual two-hour length.

AFS Doc Nights Preview: Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger

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Whitey Bulger FBI mugshot from Whitey: The United States of America v. James J. Bulger

James J. Bulger, aka "Whitey," was a huge force in Boston for decades. He figured largely into the city's non-mafia Winter Hill Gang, killed numerous people, and eventually landed on the FBI's Most Wanted list -- just under Osama bin Laden. Some say he was an FBI informant, but he disputes those claims in the film Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger.

In Whitey, voices from Whitey's past and current life paint a certain picture of the man.  Along with the multiple people Joe Berlinger interviewed (including relatives of Whitey's victims), the director inserts old surveillance video and photos from investigations, as well as passages from Bulger's 2013 racketeering trial.

While this documentary may lack a cinematic feel  -- it comes off more as a longform true-crime TV special -- the movie still offers a deep look into the dealings of this criminal figure and the people who should have been working to stop him. As WBUR reporter David Boeri says in Whitey, the "real story is our government enabled killers."

Summer Indies to Catch: August 2014

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The final month of the summer has swiftly arrived and as tradtition dictates, this means it's time for major studios to unleash those titles that didn't either didn't quite make the grade for the earlier months, or the ones they hope will be sleeper hits that will bring in loads of cash because there's little else for audiences to watch. Apart from the heavily anticipated Sin City sequel, not only is there very little I can think of that I want to see, there's very little I can actually recall being released. It's almost a fitting end to a lackluster summer for blockbusters. On the flip side, while the studios are winding down, the indies show no signs of letting up with many standout features making their way to audiences this month.

Magic in the Moonlight (opens Aug. 8 in Austin)

Capitalizing on his love of period pieces, Woody Allen's newest offering Magic in the Moonlight will no doubt leave some moviegoers split, as early screenings and reviews have indicated. Set against the gorgeous backdrop of the Riviera, famed illusionist Stanley (Colin Firth) is brought in to debunk a young woman named Sophie (Emma Stone) whose claims of psychic visions have enchanted an upper-class family in 1920s France.

AFS Series Preview: How Lars Picked the 'Roger Corman' Films

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A Bucket of Blood

We have him to thank for The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), The Trip, Bloody Mama and a half-dozen Poe adaptations. His producer credits include Piranha, Boxcar Bertha, TNT Jackson, Rock 'n' Roll High School and Sharktopus. (Perhaps best to disregard that last one.) He's notorious for shooting movies on little money in less than a week using sets from other films he'd just completed. Actors/filmmakers who worked on their earliest movies with him include Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller (pictured above in A Bucket of Blood), Robert Towne, John Sayles, Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante and Martin Scorsese. Roger Corman has 56 director credits and 409 producer credits on IMDb, and he's still producing.

And Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen had to narrow it down to four features -- plus a bonus documentary on Dick Miller -- for the latest AFS Arthouse series: "Films of Roger Corman." The series, screening Fridays and Sundays at the Marchesa, runs August 8-31. I emailed him (Nilsen, not Corman) to find out the story behind the series. Check out our mini email interview below -- followed by a longer list of Corman films Nilsen would have loved to include, so you can have your own enhanced Roger Corman experience at home.

Slackerwood: What made you decide to pick Roger Corman for this particular series at this time?

Lars Nilsen: I think summertime is the best season for light, fun entertainment movies. I can't recall any series of Corman's directorial work here anytime recently and it seems like a good time. I also took note of the fact that this year marks Corman's 60th year in the industry. The fact that the Dick Miller film [That Guy Dick Miller] was coming out just made the whole thing seem like good timing.

Slackery News Tidbits: August 4, 2014

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Grow Up, Tony Phillips posterHere's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • SXSW 2013 selection Grow Up, Tony Phillips (Elizabeth's review) now has a distribution date. The family-friendly coming-of-age Halloween movie, written and directed by former Austinite Emily Hagins, will reach VOD and DVD on September 30, 2014. The VOD outlets will include Amazon, iTunes, Hulu and Vudu. The locally shot production also released a new poster by Jay Shaw (pictured at right), which is part of its Kickstarter perks (the film raised $80,000 in crowdfunding in 2012). [Full disclosure: I donated to this Kickstarter campaign.]
  • Hollywood Reporter recently published its annual list of Top 25 U.S. Film Schools -- and The University of Texas at Austin is #10 on the list for its radio-television-film program. (The University of Southern California topped the list.) The article lauds the university's "Semester in L.A." program and new 3D production program, as well as noting the recent $50 million gift from the Moody Foundation. (UT is also one of the more affordable universities in the top ten.)
  • The Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) has unveiled a new online exhibit: "Starring the Lone Star State." The collection includes a wealth of video footage related to Texas filmmaking, from silent films through contemporary movies. Newsreel footage from the Galveston hurricane in 1900, video from the set of The Alamo (1960, John Wayne), Cactus Pryor interviwing Ann-Margret ... prepare to spend a lot of time here. 
  • Austin City Councill will be considering a zoning change on Aug. 7 for the demolition of a building at 619 Congress, to make way for a boutique hotel, the Austin Chronicle reports. What does this have to do with film, you might ask? The problem is that the building shares a wall with The Hideout, a film venue for Austin Film Festival and other events, which has also been used as the Film Badgeholders Lounge for SXSW in recent years. (It's also a good resting place before/after a movie at Paramount or State.) The Hideout is very concerned about the possibility of dealing with a damaged wall and how a big construction project will affect its ability to remain open. (I am concerned about my ability to find a quiet place to write downtown during big film festivals, since Little City's long gone too.)

Movies This Week: August 1-7, 2014

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Get On Up

In terms of wide releases, it's a fairly quiet week due to Marvel taking over more than 4,000 screens nationwide. Universal is countering with its James Brown biopic, but there's no other real compeition in the market for mainstream crowds. Specialty audiences are still discovering Richard Linklater's Boyhood (Don's review), which expands to AMC Barton Creek and Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline this weekend, while continuing with plenty of showtimes at Alamo Slaughter Lane, Regal Arbor and Violet Crown Cinema.

Speaking of Mr. Linklater, he'll be at the Marchesa tonight to introduce Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon. It's a free screening for folks who contributed to last year's Austin Film Society campaign to make improvements at Marchesa Hall and Lars Nilsen reports that the 35mm print is "pretty much perfect." Capacity permitting, $10 general admission tickets will be available. Barbara Stanwyck wil be taking over the Essential Cinema series for August (Elizabeth's preview), kicking off with a 35mm screening of The Lady Eve on Thursday night. Henry Fonda and Charles Coburn also star in this 1941 classic by Preston Sturges. 

The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is headed into the 1940s this weekend with 35mm prints of Casablanca and The Philadelphia Story on Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday and Thursday finds the series jumping ahead into the 1950s with a double feature of All About Eve and The Bad And The Beautiful, both also screening in 35mm.

Review: Get on Up

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Get On UpThe average music biopic has become so riddled with cliches in recent years that the entire genre was spoofed in a parody (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) that managed to be spot-on and over the top at the same time. In Get on Up, director Tate Taylor, coming off his successful big-screen adaptation of The Help, brings together a gifted cast and crew to tell the story of "The Hardest Working Man In Show Business," but it falls into many of the traps that made the biopic format so easy to mock in the first place.

James Brown's life began in 1933 while the country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Get On Up doesn't start with his birth, but rather opts to open with a bizarre incident in the late 1980s with him running around his office in a green velour tracksuit brandishing a shotgun to determine who had just used his bathroom. Brown is portrayed by Chadwick Boseman (who also took on the role of the legendary Jackie Robinson in last year's 42) and his dedication is clearly evident, especially during the recreation of the live concert sequences. In one of the film's many odd creative decisions, he frequently breaks the fourth wall to address the audience and explain his motivations. 

As we weave in and out of over 50 years of history in the making, the curious structure and tone of Get on Up become increasingly problematic. One moment we are running in the woods with Brown as a child playing with his mother and shortly after we're on a flight to Vietnam that is being shot at with his entire band on board preparing to land for a USO concert in 1968. We catch glimpses of Brown's difficult childhood and how he eventually ends up being raised in a whorehouse by his aunt (Octavia Spencer), but these moments only serve to feed more into the myth of James Brown instead of shining a light on the man he became. 

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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Guardians of the GalaxyWith its post-credits teasers for The Avengers after each superhero movie, Marvel generated excitement and buzz. After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy, I'm convinced that this movie, and not The Avengers, is the ultimate end product that all those scenes were teasing. Written by James Gunn (Super, Slither) and Nicole Perlman, and directed by Gunn, Guardians of the Galaxy is a space opera like nothing that's hit screens since Flash Gordon in 1980.

Based on a relatively new addition to the Marvel Comics universe, Guardians of the Galaxy fully realizes the possibilities of a comic book brought to life with phenomenal visuals and a script full of unexpected surprises and laughs. Readers of the series will notice some departures from a strict retelling, including a couple of absent members of the group (who will likely turn up in a sequel), but this is far and away the most colorful, flashy and entertaining release the studio has brought us yet.

Guardians of the Galaxy stars newly-buffed Parks & Rec star Chris Pratt as Peter Quill, aka "Star-Lord," the wisecracking leader of the group -- an unlikely misfit of a superhero with more charisma than Tony Stark. His work as a sort of outer-space Indiana Jones soon lands him in trouble with very dangerous people, and the only way through his predicament is to save the galaxy. He is joined on his quest by the lovely green-skinned assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and muscle-bound alien Drax (Dave Bautista).  

It is the last two members of the group, however -- Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and his bodyguard/companion Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) -- who will provide the best merchandising fodder. While Quill is something of a Luke Skywalker type, young and full of unrealized potential, Rocket and Groot are clear analogues for Han Solo and Chewbacca with a little of R2-D2 and C3PO thrown in the mix. They provide most of the comedic relief to the epic dark galactic struggle in which the story is immersed.

A strong contender for my favorite movie this summer, Guardians of the Galaxy features a feel-good soundtrack of 1970s hits and art direction that seems inspired by visions of Alejandro Jodorowsky. I can't say enough great things about this movie, and I can't wait to get to a theater to see it again.