Jette Kernion's blog
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.
Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.
Just as I thought we were entering an It's a Wonderful Life trend of holiday favorites this year, Austin cinematographer and filmmaker PJ Raval surprises me with a selection I couldn't have predicted. Raval's most recent film is the documentary Before You Know It (Don's review). He's worked as DP on Austin movies such as The Bounceback and Fourplay, and on the Academy Award-nominated documentary Trouble the Water, among many other films. And you might have seen one of the delightfully family-unfriendly music videos he's shot for local artist Christeene.
One of my favorite winter holiday movies is Smiley Face by Gregg Araki. Now trust me, anyone who knows me personally will be shocked I'm listing a "stoner comedy" but I assure you, Smiley Face is an amazing piece of comedy filmmaking.
Her, the latest film from Spike Jonze (which topped my own personal list of the year's best) won't be released in Austin until Jan. 10, but AFCA considered all films that had (or will have) a US release in 2013. Her also won Best Original Screenplay, by Jonze, and Best Score, by Arcade Fire. And AFCA created a special honorary award for Scarlett Johansson to recognize her voice work in the movie.
I've included the press release as well as the full list of awards and the group's Top Ten list below. A few notes about Austin and Lone Star connections:
In his latest film Go for Sisters, which screened at SXSW and opens today in Austin, longtime indie filmmaker John Sayles (Lone Star, Matewan) brings us yet another almost noir-ish mystery set on the U.S.-Mexico border. But like his other films, it's primarily character driven. The characters in Go for Sisters are strong, complex and interesting, and make up for a story that seems to meander aimlessly at times.
Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) is a parole officer who is inadvertently assigned to an old high-school friend, Fontayne (Yolonda Ross). Bernice was always the straight arrow, but Fontayne is on parole after serving time for drug-related crimes. But Bernice needs Fontayne's help to find her son Rodney, who has mysteriously vanished after one of his friends has been murdered.
Bernice and Fontayne soon realize they need help and engage the services of an aging, sight-impaired ex-detective, Suarez (Edward James Olmos) and end up on a long journey involving the border to find out what happened to Rodney and if he's even still alive.
Olmos could have stolen this movie quite handily, but Hamilton and Ross hold their own, especially in scenes where the two lead female characters are together. The changing relationship between Bernice and Fontayne is the centerpiece of the film, but is complemented by Olmos's charming performance. A scene at the border in which the trio poses as a musical group is one of the film's quiet gems.
The mystery plot should be in service of the characters, but it veers off into scenes that feel irrelevant. The scenes are often fun to watch, as when Hector Elizondo makes a brief appearance, but they cause the movie to drag slightly in the middle. One sequence involving the possibility of tunnels across the border felt like it could have been eliminated entirely, especially with the over-two-hour running time.
Updated Nov. 18, 2013.
The Slackerwood team was all over Austin Film Festival this year. Here's our coverage, including guides, reviews, interviews and fest dispatches.