Contributors's blog

A Day at Lights. Camera. Help. 2013

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Balkan Band plays after the Brasslands screening

By Christina Bryant

The fifth annual Lights. Camera. Help Film Festival at Alamo Drafthouse Village was quite a whirlwind trip around the world and back in time. On opening night, I excitedly sat in the packed theater for A Film About Kids and Music: Sant Andreu Jazz Band. The documentary followed a talented jazz band of students ranging from age 6 to 18 in Spain, led by their fierce conductor Joan Chamorro. It was amazing to see these kids mastering jazz standards by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong that were written decades before they were born. If a six-year old named Elsa can play a mean trumpet to a packed concert stadium, maybe it's time I dust off my grade-school violin.

Director/producer Ramon Tort and Joan Chamorro received a standing ovation as the credits rolled. Later, I wasn't surprised to learn the film went on to win Best Feature at the festival. I'd like to thank the translator on stage after the screening, as Tort and Chamorro were most informative in their native language. A person in the audience asked why the children sang in English. Chamorro simply replied, "It's American music. We learn through the models and the models are American."

Summer Films Antidote: August 2013

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Little Trip to Heaven

By Frank Calvillo

August is usually seen as the “dumping ground” month by some due to the fact that most of the bigger summer films have already come and gone. This month will see the studios release their latest inventory of titles and stars that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the July cut yet still have late-summer hit potential. As usual however, there are always alternative choices to beat those August movie blues.

In theaters: 2 Guns (8/2)

One of the few star vehicles of the summer, 2 Guns sees Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg compete for screen time in this bullet-ridden crime caper about drugs and stolen money, which plays off of both stars’ box-office personas.

Antidote: A Little Trip to Heaven (2005)

From 2 Guns director Baltasar Kormákur, A Little Trip to Heaven is the Icelandic filmmaker’s little-seen English-language debut starring Forest Whitaker as an insurance investigator sent to a small town to explore the death a $1,000,000 policy holder and question his surviving sister, played by Julia Stiles. The film may have bypassed most theaters during its release, but it has certainly earned its place in the tradition of modern-day noir. The atmosphere is appropriately chilling, small details stand out in virtually every scene, and Kormákur’s knack for carving out suspense never wavers. Most impressive of all are the three leads (which also includes Jeremy Renner as Stiles’ husband); each one is morally corrupt and fatally flawed. While certain elements could have been tweaked (i.e.  Forest Whitaker’s Irish accent,) A Little Trip to Heaven is one of the more impressive American debuts from a director whose best is still to come. 

Summer Films Antidote: July 2013

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The Lone Ranger

By Frank Calvillo

Summertime at the movies typically spells excitement for some and skepticism for others. With most films coming from some previously existing property, it seems like audiences don't seem to have much cinematic choice during prime moviegoing season. So rather than just accept whatever the studios force upon you this month, here are some alternative choices to help make it through.

In theaters: The Lone Ranger (7/3)

Adding to the list of Johnny Depp's wacky assortment of characters this summer is his big-screen take on Tonto, the Native-American sidekick from the TV series The Lone Ranger. Starring alongside Armie Hammer (The Social Network) as the titular crime-fighter, Depp and the filmmakers seem determined to transform a beloved classic about the West's take on law and justice into 21st-century summer gold.

Antidote: Dark Shadows (2012)

If Depp is content on producing/starring in movie remakes of his favorite TV shows, then its best to revisit 2012's harshly judged Dark Shadows (Elizabeth Stoddard's review). Based on the campy supernatural 60s soap opera, the film tells the story of Barnabus Collins (Depp), an 18th-century playboy who is transformed into a vampire after breaking the heart of a witch, and is entombed for two centuries before being released. Many were no doubt exhausted by Depp's collaborations with director Tim Burton, yet Dark Shadows provides them with their most entertaining vehicle in years. While the film temporarily loses focus during the second act, its many virtues save it. The production design is a true wonder, the tongue-in-cheek humor is ripe, the chance to see Depp act opposite some of today's foremost leading ladies (Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green) doesn't disappoint and the ending is delightfully overblown gothic soap opera.

Austin Superhero Experts Check In on 'Man of Steel'

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By Nico Chapin

In Bryan Singer's 2006 film Superman Returns, Lois Lane won a Pulitzer for an article entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." With Zack Snyder's reboot, Man of Steel, which opened last Friday, it becomes an interesting question. Since 2006, audiences have seen the Avengers assemble and the Dark Knight fall, then rise. They've watched the Spider-Man trilogy completed and then rebooted, and movies like Green Lantern fail to take flight. One then has to wonder: Is there any place left for the original superhero?

Certainly there's no denying his historical importance. Gesturing at walls lined with stacks of comics, Eric Burke, co-owner of South Austin's Tribe Comics and Games put it simply: "Without Superman, there wouldn't be any of this."

Yet it's been seven years now since the movie Superman Returns came out and by then, 19 years had passed since the dismal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Meanwhile, since DC rebooted their comic line in The New 52, Superman has seen its sales drop from 118,376 when it debuted in September 2011, to just 52,572 this past November, and Superman Returns maintains a mediocre 72 on the online score aggregate Metacritic.

AFF's Conversations in Film Delves into 'Neverland' with David Magee

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Finding Neverland poster

By Ciara Gee

Recently, screenwriter David Magee sat down with Barbara Morgan, co-founder and executive director of the Austin Film Festival, to discuss his first screenplay, Finding Neverland (2004). The event was part of AFF's ongoing Conversations in Film series. Magee's discussion about how he ventured into screenwriting hit several topics of interest to writers.

Getting started

In addition to adapting the play Finding Neverland, Magee has worked on two other adaptations: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) and last year's Life of Pi. Magee started the discussion by sharing how he came to write screenplays.

"I took an unusual route," he told the Austin audience. He meant that he started as a theatre actor and then began doing voiceover work for abridged audiobooks. It was during this time that he encountered a rather difficult project.

"One night, after reading an awful abridgement of a novel, I said to the producer, 'I can do better than this.'" The producer called his bluff, suggesting that Magee try his luck at writing his own abridgement to the piece. He came through and, over the following five years, succeeded in abridging more than 80 audiobooks.

Chancing upon a project

During this time, Magee had the opportunity to become acquainted with a producer who introduced him to Allan Knee, a playwright who had adapted Little Women into a musical for the stage. Knee had recently written "The Man Who Was Peter Pan," a story about the life of playwright J. M. Barrie, which he expanded into a play of the same name. The producer, aware of Magee's knack for successfully abridging novels, encouraged him to adapt the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan for the screen. Always open to trying his hand at something new, Magee agreed.

Getting Up Close and Personal with 'Hands on a Hardbody'

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Robb Bindler and Benny Perkins at HANDS ON A HARDBODY

By Margot Newcomer

It was a successful night at the Friday night screening of Hands On A Hardbody a couple of weeks ago, presented by Austin Film Society and Texas Independent Film Network. The event kicked off with director S.R. (Robb) Bindler inside of a pickup truck, and long lines of people waiting to put their hands on the Nissan Hardbody parked in front of the Marchesa Theatre.

The documentary was first shown in Austin almost 15 years ago at the Dobie Theatre. Since then, the Texas-shot movie's been hard to find unless you were able to track down a VHS copy (often sold for around $200).

The excitement before the screening continued to build as guests in the lobby bought the new, remastered DVD (which is now available via the Hands on a Hardbody website). One woman enthusiastically traded her worn-out VHS tape for a brand new disc.

Texas Films Shine at Cine Las Americas 2013

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Hecho en Tejas Q&A

By Mireydi Mendieta-Nunez

The last day of the 2013 Cine Las Americas International Film Festival wrapped with Texas properly represented in the Hecho en Tejas (Made in Texas) program. Executive Director Eugenio del Bosque welcomed everyone in attendance, giving a speech about the importance of supporting the Austin filmmaking community.

Both independent and student filmmakers had the chance to premiere their work to festgoers. Seven short films were showcased, ranging from documentaries dealing with the U.S/Mexico border fence, to one by a UT student filmmaker showcasing her work from Andrew Garrison's East Austin Stories class.

Off-Centered Film Fest 2013: A Very (Hip) Hoppy Weekend

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Off-Centered Film Festival theater

By Cameron Bergeron

If you were at Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane a couple of Saturdays ago, you might have noticed something special was going on inside the 400 Rabbits bar. Alamo Drafthouse and Dogfish Head Craft Brewery hosted the 6th annual Off-Centered Film Fest. The live DJ and purple t-shirts with high tops on them expressed this year's hip-hop festival theme. Fest events included a live rap battle featuring Austin's owner indie-rap sensation P-tek, a screening of 8 Mile, a reunion of Sam Calagione's craft brew inspired hip-hop act Pain Relievaz and much much more.

The fest kicked off Thursday and continued through the end of the week. Calagione, the founder of the Delaware based Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, brought the best his brewery had to offer, while the Drafthouse and Antonelli's Cheese Shop worked closely together to insure the menu and the beer selection paired perfectly witheach event. The fruits of this diligent work could be savored at the Saturday pre-show mixer at 400 Rabbits. Each available beer was paired with a cheese, or in the case of the Theobroma, a chocolate to complement.

Double Vision: Two Takes on James Benning

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Photo of TEN SKIES

On April 6-8, Austin Film Society's Artistic Director Richard Linklater curated and presented a series of recent films by the groundbreaking avant-garde filmmaker James Benning. This showcase of Benning's work explored many different American landscapes (including skies, lakes, roads and the woods) through various mediums, including two 16mm presentations at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Austin Film Society Interns Hannah Jordan and Shane Henderson attended the events and covered these once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Ten Skies: Hannah Jordan

It's my first James Benning film experience and I walk into the theater ten minutes late. It's quiet enough to hear a pin drop with all eyes pointed straight at the screen, so I take the nearest available seat on the front row. I hate sitting on the front row, but I also hate people like me who show up to movies late, so I'll take what I can get.

I settle into the eerie calm and take in the scenery of Ten Skies, which was precisely 102 minutes of skyscapes. That's all, just sky. Dark skies, light skies, rainy skies, blue skies -- all laid out in 20-minute blocks with little to no audio. I sneak a quick peek at the audience behind me, and become acutely aware of their pristine movie manners. There are no chairs rustling. There are no jaws smacking. Everyone is sitting upright as a scholar; transformed into dutiful schoolchildren eager to see the hypnotic journey Benning is taking us on. The catch is, he doesn't want to take us anywhere. He just wants us to sit still.

'Wrong' and 'Rubber': Quentin Dupieux at Alamo Drafthouse

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Quentin DupieuxBy Callie Caywood Schuette

Filmmaker Quentin Dupieux has already acquired a cult following the likes of which is rarely seen so early in a career. Recently he visited Alamo Drafthouse Village in Austin for a double feature of his first feature-length films, Wrong and Rubber. When he asked who in the audience of the sold-out screening had already seen both movies about to be shown, more than a quarter of the theater eagerly raised their hands. This is no doubt in large part due to the fame he's garnered as his experimental-electro alter ego, Mr. Oizo. While Dupieux is still a budding name in film, Oizo has been heard around the techno scene for over 15 years. A history like that is bound to breed some seriously dedicated fans.

Once the closing credits for Wrong rolled, host Eric Vespe (aka "Quint" of Ain't It Cool News) called Dupieux on stage to the sound of enthusiastic applause. Dupieux was completely at home in the spotlight, and immediately took ownership of the Q&A. At once playful and sarcastic, he repeatedly provoked surprised barks of laughter.

When Dupieux was asked if any events depicted in Wrong were based in reality, he shrugged. "I tried to make a film that was half true, and half stupid." In response to probes about the fictional book that appears in the film, Dupieux murmured coyly, "I haven't read it." His answers were all brief, and spiked with a biting wit. Yet despite his bumptiousness, it was hard not to like him. Yes, he's an erratic driver, but damn if it isn't a fun ride. 

In a moment of technical difficulty, the mic Dupieux is holding started to fade in and out of static feedback. He handed it off to a theater manager, and took the interruption as an opportunity to approach a couple of patrons in the front row. "Can I?" he smiled, already plucking pieces of popcorn from their bowl and tossing them into his mouth. Without missing a beat, he jumped right back into goading the audience for more questions. Dupieux proves a master trickster, and we're all at his mercy.

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