A dark and dour documentary about male sex workers in Providence, Rhode Island, Invisible is a reminder of why so many moviegoers avoid documentaries. Not for its quality; it's competently made and tells a compelling story. But that story is one most people don't want to hear, a grim tale of tragic and mostly hopeless lives. Invisible is a window on a world many of us pretend doesn't exist.
Filmmaker Dio Traverso's documentary centers on Richard Holcomb, an activist and former sex worker whose mission is to improve male sex workers' lives and help them avoid contracting HIV/AIDS. Holcomb roams the gritty streets of Providence, handing out condoms and helping his clients find medical care, counseling, and whatever else they need to survive. He also lobbies the local and state governments to support long-term solutions to the sex workers' problems. (Not surprisingly, the government officials promise a lot but do very little to help.)
Filmmakers Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, who have teamed up for Land Ho!, have individually premiered all of their previous features at SXSW Film Festival. They're each known for films where characters are deep in exploration -- about themselves but also perhaps, a mystery (Cold Weather, Passenger Pigeons) or even a landscape (Brooklyn in Quiet City, Kentucky in Pilgrim Song). In Land Ho! (which premiered at Sundance this year), the same type of exploration takes place -- this time in Iceland -- with two primary characters who are gentlemen in their retirement years. It's a change for Katz, whose characters are usually in their late teens/early twenties.
No matter what the age of the characters, however, Stephens and Katz sustain the audience's interest in the type of story that sounds terribly slow and dull when explained in print, but is very rewarding as it unfolds onscreen. Two retired brothers-in-law, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), couldn't be more different. Mitch is a brash New Orleans doctor who loves talking to people -- and he has no filters -- smoking pot and unabashedly admiring women. Colin is a quiet, thoughtful Australian, frequently embarrassed or annoyed by Mitch. The two embark on a trip to Iceland together, beginning in Reykjavik and heading to less populated locales.
The focus of Land Ho! is the relationship between the Mitch and Colin, and how they affect one another, and where that leads over the course of the movie. The chief entertainment value is Mitch's dialogue, which is often outrageous and eye-opening (I had never heard steak compared to the female anatomy before). Of course, the film's best moments occur when he's not that way, but the conversation is never dull.
After two successful sold-out screenings of opening night film Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine on Wednesday, aGLIFF continued Thursday with a full day of programming.
Short films usually offer a fun way to dive into a festival (they let you explore a lot of ground in an hour and a half or so), so I decided to go the Dramatic Shorts Program #1 and the Comedy Shorts Program #1.
The dramatic program included eight shorts from six different countries. Half focused on teens and pre-teens learning to navigate a world that's less than welcoming to their sexual orientation, while the other half showed that adults still struggle with internal and external factors in their relationships, as well.
The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is turning the spotlight on some of their favorite films of the year this week by bringing in The Dance Of Reality, The Grand Budapest Hotel (Don's review), Obvious Child (Elizabeth's review), The Raid 2 and We Are The Best! (my review) for select showtimes. Each screening is just $5 and these films are all worth checking out on the big screen if you missed them or just want to see them again.
Also at the Ritz this week: Broadway Brunch returns with The Music Man in 35mm on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, Howard The Duck screens on Sunday with a live Q&A featuring Val Mayerik (a co-creator of the original comic), the original 1987 Robocop on Sunday for Tough Guy Cinema, a rare 35mm screening of The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford on Tuesday and A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master in 35mm for Terror Tuesday's "Fredtember."
Alamo Slaughter is bringing back Chef this weekend. They've also got Singin' In The Rain on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday (as does the Alamo Lakeline). Alamo South Lamar will be hosting aGLIFF (Caitlin's preview) all weekend. Individual tickets for most shows can be purchased if you don't have a festival badge, capacity permitting. The Alamo is also teaming up with the Austin Classical Guitar Society for a very special screening this evening of The Unknown. This silent classic stars Lon Cheney Sr. and Joan Crawford and it is going to be presented with a live score composed by the European duo Les Freres Meduses for two guitars and violin. They'll be performing it live in the theater with William Fedkenheuer from the Miro Quartet.
Set in a gritty Brooklyn neighborhood during a cold, gray January, The Drop is a twisty crime drama that glooms along at a measured pace. The somber experience is elevated by the skillful performances of the lead actors, and it must be said, by the presence of a pit bull puppy who helps drive the action and counterbalance the moral decay around him.
Don't worry, director Michael R. Roskam (Bullhead) hasn't turned sentimental on us. The world he shows us here is a mean one. Justice comes in the form of bad things happening to bad people, but since nothing good really happens to anyone, these moments are hollow victories.
In his last film performance, James Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a bar manager bullied into misery by Chechen crime bosses. Tom Hardy is Bob, a stoic bartender, and Noomi Rapace is Nadia, a down-on-her-luck waitress. Life is far from ideal for any of them (there are very few smiles in this movie), but all have strong survival instincts and are doing their best to get ahead.
That's where wildcard Eric Deeds comes in. Played by Matthias Schoenaerts with a truly frightening combination of unpredictability and charisma, Eric's presence and actions pull everyone into a defensive pattern of starts and stops. Though physically much different than he was in Bullhead, Schoenaerts is just as intense here -- he and Roskam make a good team when it comes to skillfully pummeling an audience with a dark story.
Oh, what a difference a year can make, especially for aGLIFF.
The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival has reclaimed its original name -- retiring its short-lived Polari moniker -- and moved back to its most successful venue, the newly reopened (and debatably improved) Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. And while not all change is good, these changes certainly are; if the crowd at aGLIFF's opening night on Wednesday is any indication, the festival has regained much of its footing after a couple of sparsely attended years.
aGLIFF couldn't have chosen a better opening night film than Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, a powerful and poignant documentary about the titular Wyoming college student who was tortured and murdered in 1998. Shepard's killers admitted killing him because he was gay, and his murder became one of America's most notorious hate crimes.
One of my favorite movies so far this year has been The One I Love. I was going to preface the film's title with a summary of its genre -- for example, "the delightful romantic comedy" or "the taut suspense thriller" but as you know if you've heard anything about the movie, the less said the better. It defies genre, and is just as twisty as last year's smart horror-comedy The Cabin in the Woods. Check out Marcie's vague but heartfelt review for -- well, not details exactly, but at least a recommendation.
Director Charlie McDowell and actor/producer Mark Duplass were in Austin last month to promote the movie, which opened in Austin at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar last Friday and will continue through next Wednesday, at least. You can also catch it on various online VOD outlets. As you probably know, Mark and his brother Jay Duplass used to live in Austin, back in their Puffy Chair days, so I couldn't resist the opportunity to sit down with these gentlemen and talk about the film ... to the extent that is possible without spoiling it. We also talked about release strategies and at the end, Austin itself.
Slackerwood: The biggest question on my mind is ... how do you talk about this movie in public, in interviews and so forth?
Mark Duplass: We've become experts. We talk a lot about the themes of the movie, and we talk about the process, and we talk a lot about what it's been like -- trying to market a movie with limited information in a marketplace where you're just trying desperately to get people into the movie theater, so you're saying more and more and more and more ... and how can you do it when all you can say is very little? All kinds of ways to talk about it.
The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (better known as aGLIFF) kicks off Wednesday night, and over 100 films from a variety of countries and genres will screen through Sunday. Most of the festival will take place at the recently remodeled Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, and badges and individual passes are both still available.
The lineup is designed to showcase some of the most noteworthy LGBTQ films from the recent festival circuit and includes opening-night film Matt Shepard is a Friend of Mine, Centerpiece Film Regarding Susan Sontag, narrative closing-night film Appropriate Behavior and a Friday night secret screening.
Whether you're a badgeholder who wants to catch as many movies as possible or a casual participant just planning to attend a screening or two, here are a few things to keep in mind.
- Location: With the exception of the closing night films, which are at the Stateside Theatre, all other screenings will take place at the Alamo South Lamar. It still looks like a bit of a construction mess over there, but the new parking garage (accessible from Treadwell Street) is open. Get there early to allow time to navigate the situation -- it may take longer than you'd think to park and get inside.
By now you have had the chance to see The Dog, one of Drafthouse Films' most intriguing acquisitions this year. If not, you can watch it online via Amazon or Vimeo. Released in theaters last month, the documentary covers the remarkable character John Wojtowicz, aka "The Dog," inspiration for the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon about a man who robbed a bank pay for his male lover's gender reassignment surgery. I saw the movie during SXSW earlier this year.
Stunned after watching the intimate portrait from Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, I made my way to meet them during SXSW, at the end of a hotel hallway across from another room where (ironically) Snoop Dogg was also meeting the press. Here's the transcript of our two-on-one interview.
Slackerwood: John Wojtowicz died in 2006. What work or shooting on the film have you done since then?
Frank Keraudren: The first four years we shot John exclusively, maybe a little bit of his mother. After that, we had this blueprint of the film, which was a long monologue with a lot of empty spots on the screen. We had already looked up other people that we wanted to find. It took a long time to track down people, but after John passed away we interviewed all the other people who appear in the film. He knew we were going to talk to them. He was perfectly fine with it, but I think while he was alive a lot of them had been antagonized by him to the point that they didn't really want to deal with him. So that dictated the sequence of events, and it allowed us to flesh out the film and explore scenes like the prison sequence we couldn't really build without finding George, who was the third wife that he married in prison, and stuff like that.
Here's a roundup of the Austin film news from the past week or so:
- On Tuesday, the Harry Ransom Center at UT opens its latest exhibit, "The Making of Gone with the Wind." The Austin Chronicle has some background about why the HRC has the materials to make it a strong exhibit. Back in the day, I read everything I could get my hands on about the movie and while I no longer adore Margaret Mitchell's novel or Selznick's cinematic epic, I still can't wait to get to the HRC.
- Fantastic Fest update: There are so many Fantastic Fest news updates that I can't keep up with them. Check out the film fest's news feed for the latest info. (Yes, I'm lazy. Look at the name of the website. Truth in advertising.)
- Hollywood Reporter tries to untangle and sort the as-yet-unreleased Terrence Malick projects and figure out what we might get to see soon.
- Speaking of Fantastic Fest: If you have a short or feature screening at the fest and you live in Austin or Texas -- or you shot here, or your lead actor/actress is from here -- drop me a line so we remember to write about your movie. Thanks!