Debbie Cerda's blog

Holiday Favorites 2014: Steven DeGennaro and '29th Street'

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29th Street Still PhotoWelcome 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.

Today's pick is from seasoned sound designer turned writer/director Steven DeGennaro, whose short film First Date premiered during the AFS ShortCase at the 2013 SXSW Film Festival. DeGennaro successfully wrapped a crowdfunding campaign and raised over $35,000 for his first feature, Found Footage 3D. Here's his holiday favorite:

There’s only one holiday movie in my family, and that’s 29th Street. The movie tells the sort-of, almost, but not-really "true" story of the first winner of the New York State Lottery, Frank Pesce (who wrote the film and plays a supporting role). Danny Aiello plays the domineering father of the clan, whose son, played by Anthony LaPaglia, is supposedly the luckiest man alive. So lucky, in fact, that it turns out to be a curse. It’s funny with just a touch of schmaltz, as every good Christmas movie should be.

Review: Into The Woods

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Into The Woods Still Photo

Fairy tales may appeal to young and old alike, but before the contemporary sanitized versions many of these stories, deeply rooted in centuries old folklore, were quite grim and complex with both obvious and not-so-obvious meaning.

In the 1976 book Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, psychologist Bruno Bettelheim analyzed the symbolic motifs and emotional importance of fairy tales, including those collected and published by the Brothers Grimm. He opined that the darkness and brutality of abandonment and death gave children the ability to process their fears and learn from the moral of each story.

The film adaptation of Stephen Sondheim 1987 musical Into the Woods weaves several favorite tales into one complex story for adults with many of our favorite characters. The base story created for this production is that of "The Baker and his Wife," a barren couple (James Corden and Emily Blunt) who desperately want to have a child.

Holiday Favorites 2014: Russell Wayne Groves and 'Christmas Vacation'

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Christmas Vacation Still Photo

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.

Today's pick comes from local actor and producer Russell Wayne Groves (Lord Montagu, Intramural):

Reminiscing on my childhood I can't remember a Christmas without my entire family laughing at Chevy Chase. The physical humor coupled with his smoky hiss laugh is what the holidays were and are still made of.

It’s very rare for a film to have immense re-watchability, but Christmas Vacation somehow exhibits that quality in bucketloads. I fondly remember in high school performing Chevy’s monologue "Hap-Hap Happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby danced..." in front of my drama class, probably to the dismay of my teacher.

Other Worlds Austin Interview: 'Apt 3D' Filmmakers/Stars

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Zack Imbrogno and Maxxe Sternbaum

The Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival closed out its inaugural event with the world premiere of Apt 3D, a psychological thriller set in New York in the dead of winter. Newly transplanted couple Erin (Maxxe Sternbaum) and Ben (Zack Imbrogno) struggle with new confining environs, unsure of what is imaginary and what may be real -- and whether their neighbors are the source of the enigma.

Battling fears and their own concerns they might be imagining things, the couple's relationship starts to fracture. However, as they look further into what happened to Ben's sister, the apartment's previous resident, they begin to wonder if the other residents of this complex might have it out for them.

I met with the lead actors the day after the screening to talk about Apt 3D -- in addition to starring in this film, Imbrogno wrote and co-directed and Sternbaum edited. They spoke about the writing process as well as the challenges of making their first feature film, as well as how the film reflected their own time in New York City.

Other Worlds Austin: Fest Has Lift-Off!

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Other Worlds Austin CollageThe Other Worlds Austin science-fiction film festival blasted off to a great start last Thursday, with a pre-apocalyptic happy hour at The Tigress cocktail bar where several of us tried the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. I really appreciated that social events were scheduled around the screenings. Saturday morning's "2014: A Brunch Odyssey" was held at The Goodnight, and provided a great opportunity to network with other attendees including filmmakers.

Despite the fact that this was the first year for this film festival, which only spanned Thursday and Friday evenings and all day Saturday -- primarily at Galaxy Highland -- I was impressed by the number of filmmakers who traveled from as far as Los Angeles and New York to support their films. Just a few of the filmmakers in attendance included writer/director Cidney Hue (Odessa), director Bryan Costanich (Slumptown), and Apt 3D writer/director/actor Zack Imbrogno and editor/actress Maxxe Sternbaum.

Other Worlds Austin Review: The Well

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The Well still photoA recent New York Times article reports that droughts are intensifying across the United States western and southwestern regions, with California, Nevada and Oregon bearing the brunt. Texas is also experiencing drought across much of the state, and prolonged dry conditions put a considerably strain on water supplies for all uses. Many states are using innovative technologies -- aquifer storage and recovery, desalination, water "scalping" -- but are still forced into placing restrictions on water use, with fights over water rights ensuing between local government, landowners and consumers.

This contemporary scenario supports the premise of production designer Thomas Hammock's (The Guest, You're Next) writing and directorial debut The Well, a "science factual" post-apocalyptic film thattakes place in a barren Oregon valley ten years after the last rainfall. Seventeen-year-old Kendal (Haley Lu Richardson) hides away in the attic of The Wallace Farm for Wayward Youth caring for fellow orphan Dean (Booboo Stewart), venturing out to check on the few remaining neighbors while scavenging for resources including water from their well and a vital piece of equipment to power an abandoned Cessna. Kendal and Dean dream of escaping in the plane, but they are thwarted by Dean's ailments and both vagrants and hunters that roam the valley in search of any remaining water.

Bears Fonte Inaugurates Other Worlds Austin Festival

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Bears Fonte Still PhotoScience fiction has long been a favorite genre for me in literature and film. At Texas A&M, I was a member of Cepheid Variable, a student group devoted to science fiction, fantasy, horror, science and technology. I first saw John Carpenter's cult classic Dark Star at a Cepheid Variable B-Movie Night, and Something Wicked This Way Comes as part of Cepheid's 1984 AggieCon, the largest student-run fan convention in the world.

My insatiable appetite for science fiction has me often yearning for more of it at local festivals, so I was ectastic to discover that Austin's first science fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin, will be held at Galaxy Highland from Thursday, December 4 through Saturday, December 6. Even more exciting is that former Austin Film Festival programmer Bears Fonté is the fest's founder and director of programming. I've long been a fan of Fonté's programming and we share a passion for short films. Fonté has written and directed his own films including the thriller iCrime and the sci-fi dramatic short The Secret Keeper.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Fonté over lunch at our neighborhood pub. We discussed how the late Housecore Horror Fest founder Corey Mitchell encouraged Fonté to start his own science-fiction festival, and offered him support and advice. Five percent of all proceeds from Other Worlds Austin ticket sales and merchandise will be given to the foundation that was started to fundraise for Mitchell's family.

Here's what Fonté had to say about what attendees can expect at the inaugural Other Worlds Austin Film Festival this week.

AFF Review: The Suicide Theory

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Suicide Theory Still PhotoTo what length would a desperate and grief-stricken person go to end their life? Several failed attempts at suicide drive Percival (Leon Cain) to hire a professional hitman to kill him in The Suicide Theory, an Australian thriller written by Michael Kospiah and directed by Dru Brown.

Steven Ray (Steve Mouzakis) is dealing with his own personal tragedy -- his pregnant wife Annie (Zoe de Plevitz) was killed in a hit-and-run accident while crossing the street. He's developed such a phobia that he is stricken with seizures any time he attempts to step off a street curb, to the extent of taking cabs just to cross the block. The two men meet when Percival literally jumps from a building and lands on a cab that Steven is in, casing his next victim. What appears to be a chance meeting to Steven is fate to Percival, who appears to be delusional. However, as Steven repeatedly attempts yet fails to kill Percival, he begins to believe and even identify with Percival's desperation.

As the story of The Suicide Theory further unfolds, we learn that the tragic bond which brings these two unlikely friends together is much darker and complex than can be imagined. As the pieces of the puzzle are revealed and put in place, I found myself on the edge of my seat and engrossed in the revelations. Just enough comedic writing is woven in to help alleviate nervous tension from the seriousness of this film's main plot.

AFF Review: The History of Time Travel

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The History of Time Travel Still Photo

“If you think Hitler with an atomic bomb is bad, imagine Stalin with a time machine.”

As discussed in Austin Film Festival panel "Science Fiction Versus Science Fact," much of fiction is driven by the "What if?" In his feature directorial debut The History of Time Travel, Stephen F. Austin State University student filmmaker Ricky Kennedy takes on the high concept of time travel and the consequences of its use on both personal and world events. Kennedy wrote, directed and edited this fictional documentary, which premiered at AFF.

Filmed entirely on location in Nacogdoches, Texas, The History of Time Travel is presented as a well-constructed docudrama, relating the fictional story of the Indiana Project and the biography of a key contributor, physicist Edward Page (Daniel May). This project is the United States response to reports that Hitler was less interested in nuclear weapons after his scientists began exploring time travel as an ultimate power. Page works long hours for decades, neglecting his wife Anne (Elizabeth Lestina) and son Richard in the hopes of achieving one of man's greatest desires: the ability to travel through time and alter events in one's favor.

AFF Review: Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs: An Austin Love Story

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Crazy Carl still photo

With the influx of transplants, the rise of condos and office buildings across the Austin skyline, and the gentrification of much of Austin's eclectic areas, it can be hard to remember the vibrant time of the past. You could people -watch all day at local cafes including the original Quack's on the Drag -- actually called "Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Co & Espresso Café" -- and Les Amis, then visit Sixth Street to listen to street musicians and buy a flower from a street vendor without having to step over the remnants of drunkenness.

Beef and Pie Productions filmmakers capture the nostalgia of old Austin in their 50-minute documentary film, Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs, which premieres at this year's Austin Film Festival and screens again tonight at 7 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. This quirky and entertaining film brings to light the forces that both created and are driving this phenomena away. As the economic and political landscape has changed in Austin, so has the heart and the people of this progressive city.

If you've ever been to Esther's Follies at Sixth Street and Red River, you may have seen Crazy Carl Hickerson. Best known for selling and spinning flowers, he can also be seen flashing his man boobs and dancing. What you may not know is that Hickerson has also been an Austin City Council candidate several times, with a penchant for odd platforms -- some even related to his foot fetish. Hickerson spends much of his time caring for his wife Charlotte Ferris, and the loving couple are a source of amusement with their good-natured tales.

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