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TAMI Flashback: Technology in Texas

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The Computer Tutor

This article is part of a series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article.

This month's TAMI Flashback videos feature cutting-edge technology -- cutting-edge more than 40 years ago, that is. Produced by Dallas-based Bill Stokes Associates, the three videos highlight the state of the art in late Sixties and early Seventies computers and electronics. The technical details may appeal only to your inner nerd -- but with their innovation-a-go-go vibe, the videos are entertaining looks at an era when most people had little exposure to high-tech equipment.

Made in 1966, The Computer Tutor is a cheery and sometimes amusing look at a then-new technology that still isn't perfect: optical character recognition, or OCR. The video sings the praises of an "electronic retina computing reader," which greatly improved OCR accuracy. Invented by Dallas-based Recognition Equipment, the device could read up to 2400 characters per second (or so the video claims) with less than one error per 100,000 characters, while simultaneously processing the data. By scanning in text, the device eliminated the need for the slow, expensive and error-prone process of transferring the information to punch cards.

Fantastic Fest Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

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Princess KaguyaMy favorite Fantastic Fest 2014 selection easily won the audience award for best film. Studio Ghibli's latest, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, is also my pick for the best feature from the Japanese animation studio. Directed by Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, it is at the surface a straightforward retelling of the 10th-century folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, perhaps the oldest Japanese story. That simple description, however belies a work of enormous artistic depth evoking powerful emotions.

A bamboo cutter working in the forest finds a glowing stalk of bamboo with a blossom that opens to reveal a tiny princess. He takes her home to raise her with his wife, and she grows with amazing swiftness from an infant into a girl of exceptional beauty and limitless talents. Believing her sent by the gods along with the gold he finds in the bamboo, the old man's vision of Kaguya's future involves a life at court and marriage to a wealthy high-ranking official. She would be happier, however, back home in the hut she first knew, playing in the forest and fields.

Kaguya is enchanted with the simple beauty of nature, finding as much joy in plants and frogs as in the beautiful colors of her fine silks, but there is a mournful sadness in her song. When she plays the koto, the emotion conveyed is overpowering. The success of this film is in no small part due to composer Joe Hisaishi's work. Hisaishi's numerous credits include all of Ghibli's biggest films: The Wind Rises, Ponyo, Howl's Moving Castle, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, Kiki's Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Castle in the Sky and Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

The very few complaints about The Tale of Princess Kayuga regard its length and pace. At 137 minutes, it exceeds the length of Princess Mononoke by three minutes, but little could be trimmed from this emotionally dense film. Takahata packs a lifetime's worth of experience raising a child into that running time, celebrating and reaffirming the meaning of human experience and lamenting how swiftly it passes. Along with Kaguya's parents, we experience the joy of new life, hope for a bright future, disappointment as she makes her own, contrary choices ... and finally acceptance.

Fantastic Fest 2014 Wrap-up: 26 Ways to Party

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Arm Wrestling

Fantastic Fest 2014 came to a close last week, and the tenth iteration of the festival was as packed with great films and events in the second half as in the first.

A highlight of the festival was I Am A Knife With Legs, the micro-budget comedy written, directed, edited by, and starring Los Angeles comedian Bennett Jones who answered audience questions in character as the existential Europop star Bené. The heavily musical film brings to mind creations such as Borat, though considerably cleaner, stranger and more inventive.

Tuesday night's Secret Screening was introduced by Alamo Drafthouse owner and festival co-founder Tim League, who toyed with the audience, providing nebulous background on the film but dimming the house lights without telling attendees what to expect. The German title Ich Seh, Ich Seh was of little help as well, and it was revealed only after playing that the English title of the film is Goodnight Mommy. This is one film best seen knowing as little as possible about it. Audience opinion was divided but generally positive. 

Movies This Week: September 26-October 2, 2014

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The Skeleton Twins

We're in full-blown recovery mode from another amazing year of Fantastic Fest, but there is truly no rest for the wicked around here. Not only do we have a handful of intriguing new releases, but plenty of specialty screenings will have you racing back into the theater, no matter how many films you saw last week. 

Tonight, the Austin Film Society is hosting a selection of eight short films from this year's Sundance Film Festival. With a mix of fiction, documentary and awardwinning short films, this 94-minute program includes the acclaimed debut from actress Rose McGowan entitled Dawn. You can catch it this eveing at the Marchesa. Head back there on Sunday afternoon as programmer Lars Nilsen schools you about Lee Tso Nam's The Hot, The Cool & The Vicious and screens it in a 35mm print. Essential Cinema dives into the "Films Of Satyajit Ray" for October and it begins on Thursday with 1963's Mahanagar (The Big City).  

At the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, Sunday night brings us a special "Cinema Cocktails" screening of An American In Paris with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, while Key Largo will screen in 35mm on Monday night wrapping up the "Bogart & Bacall" series. A brand new 4K digital restoration of Jaws is headed back to the Alamo Lakeline and Slaughter Lane locations this Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday. Tickets are still available for a double-feature feast of The Godfather on Sunday. Check this link for menu & tickets. Alamo Lakeline will be hosting Afternoon Tea on Saturday afternoon with Agnieszka Holland's beautiful 1993 adaptation of the classic children's tale The Secret Garden. It's a mother-daughter themed event with appetizers and tea provided by Austin's own Zhi Tea.

Review: The Boxtrolls

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The BoxtrollsI am always eager to see the latest Laika release. Output is slow from the animation studio due to the time-consuming and meticulous nature of its handmade stop-motion films, but bottling magic is no easy task. There is an ineffable tone in the studio's films -- perhaps because of its complete attention to details, perhaps because of some way natural lighting works compared to digital renderings -- that instills a sense of realism.

With The Boxtrolls, Laika takes on steampunk, creating a Victorian-looking village populated by hundreds of unique, charming (and some not so very) characters. Based on the children's book by Alan Snow, Here Be Monsters, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi bring to life Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright, aka Bran Stark from Game of Thrones) and Winnie (Elle Fanning) as they fight to save their misunderstood friends from the evil designs of wily exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley).

I found the script somewhat less engaging than Laika's previous two movies, Coraline and ParaNorman, as it felt more appropriate for a younger audience. However, the film was never boring and often uproariously funny. The town of Cheesebridge is full of puns, especially in the character names like Lord Portley-Rind or Snatcher. ("My favorite was The Briehemoth.") There is also an oddball musical number, "The Boxtrolls Song," written by Eric Idle. Kingsley's villainous Mr. Snatcher steals the show (along with the trolls), as he performs with an accent that had me thinking he was Michael Caine.

Lone Star Cinema: A Mighty Heart

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Archie Panjabi and Angelina Jolie in A Mighty Heart

While working as a journalist in Karachi, American Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded in early 2002. It seemed timely to watch the 2007 film A Mighty Heart, based on his wife Miriane's memoir of the experience, as similar attacks by ISIS have been in the news in recent weeks.

The main reason I'd been hesitant to see A Mighty Heart is the casting of Angelina Jolie. Nothing against her as an actress, but having a white actress play a mixed-race woman continues a long history of "whitewashing" in film. Jolie does a fine job here, mimicing well Mariane Pearl's French accent and cadence. She plays Mariane as contained and determined during the search, then fierce and raw when she receives the tragic news of her husband's death. Logically I know that if Jolie hadn't been involved, the movie might not have ever received wide release. Yet I couldn't help wondering what qualities an actress of color might have brought to the role.

Jolie anchors the film, which includes a cast so large that it's nigh impossible to keep track of all their names. Reporters Mariane and Daniel Pearl look forward to leaving Pakistan as they prepare for their first child. The night Daniel (Dan Futterman, actor in Judging Amy, but also screenwriter of Capote and Foxcatcher) disappears while working on a story, Mariane hurriedly begins calling his contacts and the authorities. A team of sorts is formed to search for her husband, including acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan (The Lunchbox, Life of Pi) as a Pakastani officer, and two familiar faces from The Good Wife -- Archie Panjabi and Denis O'Hare -- as an Indian-American writer and a Wall Street Journal editor, respectively.

Ready, Set, Fund: Newcomers and Old Film Friends

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never goin back

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

This month's look at the local crowdfunding scene offers a diverse group of films made up of both familiar names and newcomers to this column.

Let's start with who you may know: Never Goin' Back (a recent AFS Grant recipient), is written and directed by Augustine Frizzell and tells the story of two teenage girls who enjoy a crazy day of bad behavior after losing their jobs at a pancake house. Fun fact: Frizzell grew up in Garland, TX and calls the script for Never Goin' Back "almost completely autobiographical." Time is running out to help this one meet its Seed & Spark goal -- you have until Friday to give

Fantastic Fest 2014: A Day at MondoCon

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Shaun of the Dead Record Toss Booth

I took a break from Fantastic Fest on Sunday to visit MondoCon at the Marchesa Theater. The crowds had thinned out a bit from Saturday's opening day, but the impact of the overwhelming response to the first-ever MondoCon was evident from the sold-out Mondo Beer and food-truck menu items.

I was quite impressed with the use of space for the event: two rooms full of artists and dealers, a pleasantly diverse assortment of food trucks, a special tent with Mondo posters and vinyl available for purchase, and a Shaun of the Dead record-tossing game booth, as seen above. I gave it a try and won a beer-colored variant of the Shaun of the Dead score.

The theater auditorium itself held panels and screenings throughout the weekend. I was sorry to miss local film composer Brian Satterwhite's Saturday panel "2001: A Lost Score", which featured a live presentation of several scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey with the original abandoned score by late composer Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus) reintegrated back to the film. However I was able to purchase an album (vinyl!) of "Music for 2001: A Space Odyssey" complete with liner notes by Jon Burlingame, who writes about television and film music.

Fantastic Fest 2014: Fantastic Debates

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Jenny Jacobin Coached by Marko Zaror

It's been a couple of years since I've attended the Fantastic Debates, but since I began "casually" training in boxing earlier this year I wanted to see how well this year's debate participants would fare in the ring. This unique showcase of battle of wit, intellect and combat techniques features both rounds of debate and boxing.

Chilean martial artist and actor Marko Zaror (The Redeemer) was onhand (pictured above) to coach Alamo Drafthouse/Drafthouse Films staffer Jenny Jacobi and founder Tim League. The tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest featured four matches at professional kickboxer and former world champion Randy Palmer's South Austin Gym, with the following participants and topics:

  • Filmmakers Joe Lynch (Everly) and Josh Ethier (Almost Human) with "RESOLVED: Samurais are infinitely more badass than cowboys in cinema."

Fantastic Fest 2014: Fest Half Full

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The tenth Fantastic Fest is halfway done, and that means many of the filmmaker guests and industry folks will be departing, but it also means an influx of new faces as second-half badgeholders join in the fray as most of the films' second screenings come around.  Now begins your chance to see all the first-choices that the system didn't give you or the second-choices that took a backseat to something you couldn't wait to see.

For incoming second-halfers, you have probably been keeping track on Facebook and Twitter, but some of the hottest tickets for repeats will be Babadook, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, I Am a Knife With Legs, Cub, Force Majeure, Electric Boogaloo, John Wick and Tokyo Tribe.

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