Jette Kernion's blog
Filmmaker David Gordon Green has shot two films in Central Texas now (well, three, but only two are out yet), and he gets it. He really does. For both Prince Avalanche and now Joe, he took stories that could be set anywhere and ground them in local rural settings, with characters played by residents who weren't previously professional actors. The most affecting scene in Prince Avalanche was the one in the ruins with Joyce Payne.
In Joe, I felt like I could drive 30 miles and find the unnamed town in which the film was set, with all its characters intact. In such a setting, the lead actors fit in and feel like characters, not stars. Even Nicolas Cage.
Cage plays the title character, whose job is leading a team of laborers to clear a forest for development -- hacking at trees with axes that contain poisonous liquids. He's approached by Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenager in a family of drifters squatting in an abandoned shack. Gary wants to join Joe's work gang, needing money to help his family, because his perpetually drunk-and-enraged father (Gary Poulter) can't do it.
It's a simple story when I lay it out that way, but the story isn't the point here, it's the characters and the way they reveal themselves as the movie progresses, especially Joe. He's oddly passive at times, letting matters run their course in their own way. And yet some people and things affect him like dropping a match in gasoline. Don't even ask about the dog in the whorehouse. (That's a sentence I never expected to write.)
For someone who's seen too many hysterically overdone performances from Cage, his work as Joe is amazing, reminding us that when he's well directed in a well-written role, he's a marvel. He manages to portray a man keeping his passions under wraps and even when he does let loose, it's in a way that isn't histrionic. He doesn't dominate the film, either -- Sheridan holds up against him perfectly in their scenes together. But even in scenes with his work gang, or in a small grocery, the other characters get to shine.
Slackerwood was all over the SXSW Film Festival this year. Here's the list of all our guides, features, interviews, reviews and whatever else we wrote (or photographed). Check out the @slackerwood Twitter feed for the latest links, news and other info.
My last movie for SXSW this year was the amusing Space Station 76, at Stateside. I planned to walk a little bit around downtown afterward and maybe take some photos of various interesting SXSW sights, if it didn't rain again. I chatted a little outside the theater with local actor Sam Eidson (Zero Charisma, SXSW 2013), who was still planning to see movies that day. I almost literally ran into Austin filmmaker Emily Hagins (Grow Up, Tony Phillips, SXSW 2013) as I walked down Congress to Sixth.
As I was passing Wholly Cow Burgers, a musician was playing a guitar under the awning, a frequent sight during non-rainy SXSW days. He looked so energetic and happy that I snapped his photo a couple of times, and we exchanged waves. I stopped briefly to listen and liked the music -- not a crappy cover pandering to passersby, not someone loudly learning to play. And he looked familiar. Why would a guitarist playing on the street look familiar?
I walked another block and remembered someone on Twitter mentioning they'd seen Kevin Gant playing on the street at SXSW, which at the time I thought was far-fetched. But ... did I just pass Kevin Gant, longtime Austin musician and the subject of Jay Duplass' short doc Kevin, which screened at SXSW 2011? Did I? If only I'd had the following photo with me from the Kevin premiere so I could compare ...
This year's SXSW Film Festival has been chock-full of dramatic, emotional features and compelling documentaries, many of which will bring critics to tears, win awards and be remembered for stirring performances.
And then there's Stage Fright.
Stage Fright is the movie you see after one too many features about the fragility of twentysomething love, or docs about serious political issues that have you worried about ever driving again, or eating corn, or using fountain pens. Stage Fright is playing again at SXSW at 11:15 am today, and what I advise is that you stop reading this review and head down to Alamo Ritz right now and get in the line, since it's in the small theater.
It's true that at film festivals, comedies of any worth get undue praise because they are such a relief after weightier films. But Stage Fright is great goofy fun that will hold up in your living room, especially if you invite your musical-theater-loving friends to watch it with you. Writer-director Jerome Sable previously brought us the very funny short horror-musical The Legend of Beaver Dam in 2010 (I notice some of you are rushing out to your cars now and pondering downtown parking), and sustains that level of hilarity in his feature-film debut.
I'm leaving the house in one hour (I hope) to head downtown for SXSW. I've got my tablet, my roasted chickpeas, my auxiliary battery ... and yeah, my antacids. Welcome to the wussy side of SXSW filmgoing.
I'm kicking off the fest by participating in the panel "A Beginners Guide to SXSW Film" at 2 pm in room 16AB of the Austin Convention Center. If you're down there, why not join us? You can ask questions or even offer advice of your own.
The other panelists will be film producer Kelly Williams (Hellion), Austin Chronicle Managing Editor Kimberley Jones, Film School Rejects editor Neil Miller, and filmgoer extraordinaire/Fantastic Fest programmer Brian Kelley. So this should be a hoot as well as very informative.
If you can't attend the panel and are seeking guidance, check out the Slackerwood guide to SXSW theaters and our guide for locals and wristband holders. In fact, check out all our SXSW articles since we have previews and interviews with local and Texas filmmakers.
Yesterday, we learned that actress Greta Gerwig had signed to produce, write and star in a TV sitcom, How I Met Your Dad. She also starred in one of my favorite films of 2013, Frances Ha. But many of us who frequent SXSW still remember her on the stage of the Paramount after Hannah Takes the Stairs premiered at SXSW 2007, where the actress admitted that the belt she was wearing was the one she'd worn in the movie, because she wore her own clothes for the film. That's microbudget indie production for you.
I was at the theater that night with my crummy little point-and-shoot and took some photos too. Here's a close-up of Gerwig in her stripey dress along with Mark Duplass (second from the left), who also acted in the film, and director Joe Swanberg (between Duplass and Gerwig).
Yesterday, the Austin Film Society announced honorees for the 2014 Texas Film Awards, previously known as the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. The gala event takes place March 6 this year -- the night before SXSW Film begins -- and tickets are available both for the awards dinner and ceremony, and for the glitzy (and more affordable) after-party.
I've been to the awards (on the red carpet, at the ceremony or both) since 2008, and many of these honorees and presenters have attended before. Others have visited Austin, if not to the gala event. So I'm presenting the emcee, honorees and presenters announced yesterday in photographic format (whenever possible), to add to the fun. Keep reading and you'll find out why I chose that top photo.
First of all, this year's emcee is actor Luke Wilson. At the 2008 Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards, Wilson presented an award to Austin filmmaker Mike Judge. Here's Wilson on the red carpet that year:
Filmmaker Spike Jonze doesn't make it easy in his latest film Her. He takes a fairly simple story, dresses it up in a realistically futuristic setting, and with the help of superb casting, creates a movie with such emotional impact that it feels like a kick in the head. More than once.
The film opens on an extreme close-up of Theo (Joaquin Phoenix), speaking directly into the camera, reading a love letter that sounds poignant and sweet. We come to realize that he's writing the letter on behalf of someone else -- he's a kind of professional Cyrano -- and that we've been watching him from the POV of a computer monitor, as though it were another person.
And that factors in heavily later, as lonesome Theo buys an operating system advertised as having artificial intelligence and the ability to learn. The OS assumes a female voice (Scarlett Johansson), and names herself Samantha. At first she is simply an efficient helper, but as she learns more about Theo and the world around him, she develops a personality as complex and emotionally rich as any human being. It follows naturally that Theo and Samantha build a strong attachment to one another.
Of all the things to pop into my head while watching August: Osage County, quotes from a Noel Streatfeild "Shoes" novel would seem to be the very least likely.
But there it was -- I kept recalling quotes from Theatre Shoes, related to a family of actors in the book. (Bear with me a minute as we digress into young-adult lit.) Sorrel is a 12-year-old girl who is learning to be an actress, and her Uncle Francis is a very grand and haughty actor-manager who "very consciously acted when he was acting and ... thought there must be something wrong with a performance which came naturally and easily."
In another series of quotes, Sorrel and her teacher discuss Uncle Francis's ambitious daughter Miranda taking a turn as Ariel in The Tempest, a role Sorrel also plays:
"Miranda's brilliant -- and yet, as Ariel you give the better performance, and that you'll find all the way through your stage career. It's getting inside the part that matters, and I think you've got inside the part as your uncle wanted it, and Miranda hasn't."
"But he said he would bet Miranda would be a great actress."
"So she will. Great like Edith Evans, perhaps ..."
In August: Osage County, we watch Streep and Roberts give performances "with a pronounced personality and bursting with talent." (Sorry, these Streatfeild quotes are just too apt.) Streep in particular isn't acting; she's Acting. And while that can be impressive in its way, I found it tiresome, especially since few of the characters in this play are sympathetic or frankly, very interesting.
Streep plays Violet Weston, a rural Oklahoma woman fighting cancer who is short on tact and long on drug addiction. When her husband Beverly (Sam Shepard) disappears, she gathers her family around at the old family home for some extended tirades of verbal abuse and self-pity. The family includes her three daughters, portrayed by Roberts, Juliette Lewis and Julianne Nicholson.
It's the cat. It ties the room together.
I'm talking about the cat in Inside Llewyn Davis. And by "room" I mean "movie." Without the cat, this film would feel structureless and almost entirely unlikeable. Its success as a plot device is a testament to the writing and directing powers of Joel and Ethan Coen.
The title character, played by Oscar Isaac, is a jerk and a moocher. He's knocked up his friend's wife (Carey Mulligan), he insults most of the people around him, he "does not suffer fools and likes to see fools suffer."* His longtime musical partner gone, he's trying to pursue a solo career and fumbles nearly every crucial decision, almost tragically. He would be wholly despicable were it not for two things, one of which is the way he treats that cat.
Llewyn feels responsible for the cat after it escapes from an apartment where he's staying, and that triggers the events in the movie. The storyline is not strong or obvious -- it's A Week In the Life of a Struggling Musician, and it sounds tedious on paper Llewyn sleeps on people's couches, sings for his supper, plays in a dingy nightclub with a folk-singing duo (Mulligan and Justin Timberlake), performs on a novelty record and even embarks on a road trip to Chicago, hoping to succeed with a major record producer/promoter. The typical overt narrative curve does not assert itself.