Jette Kernion's blog
The Austin Film Festival just sent me their latest email newsletter with a list of new panelists for the 2014 conference, and I thought I'd share it with you. And yes, there's a local filmmaker in the list. I should not even have to tell you which one, since we've written about her movies enough that you can figure it out.
Here's the list:
- Vera Blasi (Emperor)
- Kat Candler (Hellion)
- Stephen Falk (Orange is the New Black)
- Susannah Grant (Members Only, Erin Brockovich)
- Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
- Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
You can read a complete list of 2014 panelists on the AFF website. Austin Film Festival runs from October 23-30 this year.
Also, don't forget that the next film in AFF's "1968" series is Rosemary's Baby, which screens next Tuesday, July 29 at 7 pm at the Texas Spirit Theater in the Texas State History Museum [tickets].
Shorts Break spotlights Austin and Texas short films that you can watch right here and now ... take a break and take a look!
For the inaugural edition of Shorts Break, I decided to go with puppets. You can't go wrong with puppets (just ask John Oliver), especially if there's a catchy tune too.
Keith & Heath is a short comedy from Andy Young, and if I'd written this two months ago, I would have called him "Austinite Andy Young" ... but he's just moved to Los Angeles after graduating from The University of Texas at Austin. Keith & Heath is his undergraduate thesis film. Young also worked on the Austin-shot feature Intramural. Rumor has it (okay, his Facebook page has it) that he's working for some other former Austinites this summer, the Duplass brothers. Besides being a filmmaker, he also contributes to Moviemaker Magazine (check out his recent interview with Richard Linklater).
Here's the latest Austin film news (and a very funny video at the end, so keep reading).
- Filmmaker Magazine has released its 2014 edition of "25 new Faces of Independent Film." The list includes Austin filmmaker Annie Silverstein, whose short Skunk won the Cannes Cinefondation award this year, and former Houstonite/filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe, whose documentary Evolution of a Criminal played SXSW and Dallas IFF.
- The Central Texas-shot horror movie Found Footage 3D wrapped shooting recently, and Austin Chronicle contributor Richard Whittaker wrote about his visit to the indie film's set. This will be the feature-film debut for writer/director Steven DeGennaro. Producers include Kim Henkel, who wrote The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and film critic/former Austinite Scott Weinberg.
- Austin comedy Love & Air Sex (formerly The Bounceback) is trying something different to boost online sales. If you go to BitTorrent, you can download -- no, not the whole film illegally, but a legally downloadable bundle that includes a 10-minute clip as well as photos, music and the movie's Kickstarter thank-you video. The idea is that this will then entice you into buying Love & Air Sex from the film's website (not for free, but pretty darn cheaply). (via filmmaker Bryan Poyser)
- I could not possibly capture all the Boyhood reviews, articles and interviews over the past week (go read Don's review, though), but here's one important piece of news: Filmmaker Richard Linklater announced that Criterion will release the movie on Blu-ray/DVD with extras potentially including interviews taken over the 12-year production.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent film projects.
We all have the habit of saying "Kickstarter campaign" as a generic term for crowdfunding, but of course that's not the only site that hosts these types of project. I don't just mean Indiegogo either. In the past, this column has highlighted Austin projects from United States Artists (Computer Chess being the one I remember) and Seed&Spark. (I particularly like United States Artists because it's curated -- no one is raising money for potato salad there.)
This month, I found a new platform (via Bryan Poyser, thanks!) called Patreon. Patreon has a slightly different model, focusing on campaigns for projects with recurring needs, like web series, blogs and podcasts. The donors -- called "patrons" -- support these projects through recurring gifts that correspond with each episode in a series, for example. Instead of giving $25 (or $250 if you're flush), you might give $5 per podcast, or $1 per blog post.
Recurring gifts are a big staple of traditional nonprofit campaigns, so finding a way to do that with artistic crowdfunding is pretty smart. It keeps donors invested in the project, and I think it will strengthen projects in the long term with a steady source of income.
The documentary Life Itself, currently in theaters and on VOD outlets, is a valentine to its subject -- the late Roger Ebert -- but avoids oversentimentality or blind hero-worship. Steve James deftly balances a biography of the film critic and author with a moving look at his last days.
James is a little more present as a narrator in this documentary than in his other films (Hoop Dreams, Reel Paradise), explaining the situation surrounding the most contemporary footage. He and Ebert planned an ambitious series of interviews and other location shooting, but Ebert was hospitalized and both his time and energy became more limited. James works capably with what he can get -- a few meetings in the hospital, questions emailed one at a time. Watching Ebert as he struggles to get through each day is heartbreaking.
The shots of what we know are Ebert's last days are interspersed with a generally linear biography of his life, told through archival footage, interviews with friends and colleagues, and excerpts from Ebert's 2011 autobiography, also called Life Itself. The excerpts are read by an actor who successfully catches the rhythms of Ebert's voice, which is disconcerting. Also, the movie didn't make it clear that the chapter-titled segments were book excerpts, which is slightly confusing if you didn't realize it going in.
In addition, James interviews family members -- Chaz Ebert and their grandchildren, old friends and colleagues, and a number of filmmakers who were close to Ebert. The interviews are beautifully realized, emotional and complementary to the sequences in which they appear.
This is the paragraph where I, like everyone else reviewing Life Itself, am supposed to tell you my big moving Roger Ebert story -- that one time I met him, or wrote him, or how his TV shows made me want to review movies, or how the indie films he spotlighted broadened my horizons and changed my life.
Every type of writing has its set of rules -- not as strict as a sonnet or even a haiku, but still necessary to keep content focused and readers engaged. A standard movie review is no exception. Over the years, I've amassed a strong list from writing reviews, editing other people's reviews and discussing review quality with other editors.
I think it's important to know all the rules for your particular arena of art or craft ... so you can break them when necessary. And the movie Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is causing me to break damn near all the rules. I'll show you what I mean.
Summarize your overall opinion of the movie within the first or second paragraph.
Broke that one, but let me make it simple for you now: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a disappointing, dull movie with amazing set pieces dimmed by 3D and a storyline that is sledgehammer-subtle.
A decade after the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the apes have formed their own quite impressive colony and fallen into a regular-guy (ape) pattern of existence. Caesar (Andy Serkis) still leads the community while raising his nearly grown son, and awaiting the arrival of his newly-born son.
But humans appear seemingly out of nowhere, brandishing (and using) guns, and destroying the colony's peace. Caesar is willing to work with them, especially the leader of the team, Malcolm (Jason Clarke), who has a teenage son of his own tagging along. But Scar, oops, I mean Koba (Toby Kebbell), mistrusts all humans and their weaponry. His human counterpart is Dreyfus (Gary Oldman), who sees the apes as merely animals and is ready to destroy them in the name of human survival. You can see the trouble brewing -- it won't take much to start a human-ape war.
In fact, the problem is that not only can you see the trouble brewing, you can see every plot point in the movie as it hurtles toward you, and you can predict most of the terribly cliched lines of dialogue.
Here's the latest Austin film news.
- Austin will be the setting of two upcoming TV series. KUT reports that HBO is developing God Save Texas, about a freshman Texas legislator wooed by energy lobbyists. Writer/co-producer Lawrence Wright is basing the show on his play Sonny's Last Shot. No word yet on whether it will actually be shot in Austin. And per Austin Business Journal, Amazon is producing Hysteria, a series starring Mena Suvari as a psychiatrist at The University of Texas at Austin who's investigating a teen epidemic related to the title. This series might actually shoot locally, considering a recent casting call.
- Local screenwriter/author/former film critic C. Robert Cargill has his next project lined up: He's co-scripting The Outer Limits with Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote the horror feature Sinister with him too. The movie will be based primarily on an episode of the 1960s anthology show titled "Demon with a Glass Hand," originally written by Harlan Ellison. (via Hollywood Reporter)
- Cinema Eye Honors, which recognizes documentary filmmaking, announced its shortlist last week for the Nonfiction Film for Television Award. The ten candidates include All About Ann: Governor Richards of the Lone Star State, the HBO documentary about the Texas governor that screened in an earlier incarnation as Ann Richards' Texas at Austin Film Festival 2012 (Debbie's review). Anyone out there seen both, and can comment on the differences?
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.
Normally 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.
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.