Jette Kernion's blog
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.
Austin Film Festival may be well behind us, but I am still thinking about some older Texas films at the fest that I stumbled upon almost accidentally. As I was planning my schedule for the Sunday of the fest on Saturday night, I noticed some oddly named films at the Rollins with descriptions that included "Texas independent film." I ended up skipping My Man Godfrey (which I can watch any time) to see what this screening was about.
All I knew about Invasion of the Aluminum People (1980) and Speed of Light (1981) were that apparently Jonathan Demme liked them, since he was going to "present" them. I assumed "presenting" meant he would do a nice intro, then scoot, as is typical at many such events.
The theater was about halfway full and I was one of the younger audience members. Later I would learn that many people in the audience had worked on one of the two films, or provided music, or been in a band with someone involved with the film. Both films employed a lot of musicians as their cast and crew. Well, it was Austin in 1980, I kind of assumed most of the people living here were musicians (or claimed to be). Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater sat a couple of rows in front of me, and I took that as a good omen -- this must be worthwhile.
Once in awhile, you look at an Austin Film Festival panel listing and your heart just goes pitter-pat. Or thumpity-thump. Or whatever noise it is when you are especially excited about a panelist. I may be old and jaded but still susceptible. When I saw Elaine May would be in Austin for the fest, I decided I would go hear her speak no matter what time of day it was and what else I was supposed to be doing.
But last week was a little crazy for me, and I am never very organized with my fest scheduling, so it's not really surprising I got the date of Elaine May's panel wrong and missed it. (Dale Roe has a great write-up.) However, I did make it to Rollins on Friday to see A New Leaf for the first time and enjoy a Q&A from star/writer/director May.
This 1971 film is May's directorial debut -- she also co-stars in it with Walter Matthau. He's brilliant, she's brilliant, it's terribly funny, and I just found out it's on Amazon Prime streaming so I can watch it again soon. Preferably with my husband, who might find some sympathy with a character who's involved with someone terribly flaky who can't put her clothes on properly and has crumbs all over her front after eating and falls down and spills things a lot.
I'm guessing many women reading this review can remember learning to ride a bicycle -- getting the training wheels off, or refusing to have them in the first place, perhaps having someone hold the back of the seat and run behind you ... and that glorious moment when you achieve solo cycling.
In the movie Wadjda, the title character is a girl who wants to own and ride a bike in a society where such an activity is considered inappropriate for females. An event most of us take for granted becomes subversive, and the simple story of the film takes on many layers. It's remarkably fascinating, primarily due to its contemporary Saudi Arabia setting.
The basic premise of the story -- Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) wants the bicycle for sale at the nearby toy store, and will do anything she can to earn the money for it -- is enhanced by the other women in the ten-year-old character's life. Filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour has taken a situation that many of us can identify with, and uses it to show us the shape of women's lives in Saudi Arabia. Wadjda's mother (Reem Abdullah) is consumed with fear that her husband will leave them and marry a woman who can give him a son. The schoolmistress at Wadjda's school, Ms. Hussa (Ahd), is continually finding fault with the girl who simply will not take pains to be appropriately ladylike.
Updated Oct. 17, 2013.
Slackerwood was all over Fantastic Fest 2013. Here's a list of all our coverage (after the jump) in one location. We'll keep updating this as we post more -- and more! -- reviews, features and photos.
Continued from Part One, here's the rest of my interview with Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and Machete Kills star Danny Trejo, pictured above at the Fantastic Fest red carpet with actress Alexa Vega.
Slackerwood: It seems like you enjoy revisiting your characters in multiple movies -- why do you think you want to keep bringing the characters back?
Danny Trejo: Well, they're good actors.
Robert Rodriguez: I was very much inspired by George Lucas. He wanted to do a Flash Gordon movie, but couldn't get the rights, so he wrote his version instead, which is called Star Wars. I thought, that's such a cool thing. Instead of going and doing a James Bond movie, go and make your own James Bond series, and put things in it that you love -- base it on my family, call it Spy Kids. Or do a guitar-player series of movies.
You know, actually El Mariachi was designed to be a low-budget series, so I started with the genesis in the very first movie. He doesn't become the guy with the guitar case full of weapons until the last scene in the movie. Spy Kids -- they don't become "spy kids" until the last scene in the movie. And Machete doesn't really become that iconic icon holding up the machete and leading the people until the last scene of the movie.
If you haven't seen Machete Kills yet (Don's review), the best way to see it is with a large and enthusiastic audience -- or even a small group of lively friends. It's such silly fun that audience reactions are a must. Robert Rodriguez shot the sequel to Machete in the Austin area, whether you recognize it or not, with a cast that includes Mel Gibson, Sofia Vergara, Antonio Banderas, Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga. It even includes a fake trailer for a third Machete film ... set in outer space.
And of course, Danny Trejo returns in the title role, which he's been playing since Uncle Machete appeared on the scene in Rodriguez's 2001 movie Spy Kids.
I sat down with Rodriguez and Trejo shortly before the movie opened Fantastic Fest this year -- the photo of Rodriguez, Alexa Vega and Trejo above is from its premiere that evening. Here's what they have to say about James Bond, film franchises, Texas film incentives and shooting in Austin, among other things. There may be minor spoilers if you consider Machete Kills spoilable, which it isn't, really.
Slackerwood: So about 15, 20 minutes into the movie, I realized I was watching a James Bond film -- definitely when I saw the speedboat.
Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, the speedboat! You're like "Wow, he's a secret agent. He's a Mexican secret agent."
If Don Draper had taken Betty and the kids to Disneyland (circa season two, let's say), and had been fortified by something mysterious from Roger Sterling, and the whole thing had been shot covertly on film by Smitty and Kurt, the result might have been Escape from Tomorrow.
For those of you who don't watch Mad Men, let's just say the movie takes a Disney trip by your average All-American family and turns it completely on its head, with a few kicks in the teeth for good measure. Unfortunately, it moves slowly and ultimately relies too much on weirdness for weirdness' sake. The movie premiered at Sundance, screened at Fantastic Fest and is now available on VOD. It's screening in Austin this week as well.
Escape from Tomorrow potentially offers pleasure to its audience on two levels. The first is the traditional moviegoing experience, natch. But in addition, the movie is controversial -- and interesting -- because much of it was covertly shot at Disney World (including Epcot) and Disneyland. The filmmakers and actors would buy tickets to the parks and pretend to be regular visitors shooting family home video of their vacation antics. In reality, they were shooting a feature film, and had to manage all kinds of tricks to get the shots they needed, like racing around right when a park opened to get shots of deserted rides, and so forth.
The best things I can say about The Zero Theorem, Terry Gilliam's latest movie, are that first of all, it broke my streak of disappointment with Gilliam films at Fantastic Fest (Tideland in 2006, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus in 2009); and second of all, that it stuck with me vividly for days afterward. The worst things I could say are that it stuck with me in a downbeat, oppressive sort of way (although that might just have been my mood) and that it revisits many themes from Brazil without being nearly as good as that movie.
But that's something you have to deal with when you watch Gilliam's films: They are not going to be Brazil. It's like expecting Chimes at Midnight to be Citizen Kane -- you can't think that way. It's difficult to consider The Zero Theorem all on its own because you might experience delighted relief that it's better than the filmmaker's most recent three movies, but then you have to put the measuring stick away and enjoy the film on its own merits.
And there's a lot to enjoy in The Zero Theorem, starting with Christoph Waltz in the lead at Qohen Leth. It's clear right away that Qohen isn't the most mentally stable individual -- and you wouldn't want to deal with him in real life. He's fixated on his chronic illnesses, and on awaiting a mysterious phone call. In the meantime, he works as a programmer of sorts, with phenomenal speed. All he wants is to be allowed to stay away from the crazy office environment and work quietly from home while he anticipates his call.