Debbie Cerda's blog

Review: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

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Marv from Sin City: A Dame to Kill ForTrue confession time -- the first time that I watched Sin City (2005), I wasn't enthused due to my naivete. However, a recent viewing with the mindset of watching a graphic novel brought to life changed my perspective drastically. I found myself engaged by the characters, and therefore I was anxious to see what co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller had in the cards with Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.

This film is both a prequel and sequel at the same time, as we learn more about the central characters from the first installment -- Marv (Mickey Rourke) is still bashing in heads but this time he gets called in to help Nancy (Jessica Alba) and Dwight (Josh Brolin) with their own personal vendettas. Nancy grieves for the death of her childhood hero and only love, Hartigan (Bruce Willis), who keeps his promise to never leave her even if he is a tormented ghost witnessing her demise.

An interesting subplot serves as the prequel that explains why Dwight's face had been transformed after his encounter with the deceptive and psychopathic Ava (Eva Green), who leaves men in her wake including police partners Mort (Christopher Meloni) and Bob (Jeremy Piven). We also learn more about the loyalty that Gail (Rosario Dawson) and the rest of the women of Old Town have for both Dwight and Marv.

Review: The Giver

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The GiverReleased in 1993, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner The Giver by Lois Lowry has been one of the most controversial and influential novels of the 1990s. Banned from schools across the nation for being "violent" or "unsuited for younger age groups," this dystopic tale centers around Jonas, a young boy who lives in a literally colorless world of contentment.

Screenwriters Robert B. Weide and Michael Mitnick have adapted this book in the sci-fi thriller film The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Patriot Games).

In what at first appears to be an utopian society of "Sameness" with absence of pain and suffering, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) seems content with his friends and family. He lives with his parents, the dutiful nurturer Father (Alexander Skarsgard) and his more stern and unyielding Mother (Katie Holmes). His classmates Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are frequent companions, and prepare to receive their life assignment as even choices have been eliminated in this seemingly perfect society.

Jonas receives the most prestigious and ominous assignment of all -- as the Receiver of Memory, he must learn and keep the dark history of the Community to guide the Elders and prevent the tragic mistakes of the past. However, as he begans to learn from the current Receiver who is now referred to as "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges), he discovers the dark history behind his community that has led to the absence of joy, pleasure, and color from their lives as well.

Jonas is faced with the difficult choice of accepting the role that he has been given, or do what he can with the aid of others to bring the Community back to the "real" world. Either way he must deal with the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who is fearful and distrusting of human nature in his journey.

Ready, Set, Fund: The Puzzle of Successful Crowdfunding

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Director and Stars of Mijo (My Son)

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent film projects.

I enjoy skimming over the last three years of our "Ready, Set, Fund" monthly column and seeing how many film funding campaigns have achieved success. A gratifying experiences of writing this feature is following projects from their infancy and on through their maturation to the big screen.

Sadly though, I see far too many campaigns that never get off the ground. There are a multitude of reasons for failure, but often I suspect it's due to too high of a goal in an "all or nothing" campaign, too short of a timeframe or simply not enough effort put into the creation and support of a fundraising campaign. Research and maintenance are critical components of any successful fundraising endeavor, and can require a substantial amount of time, money and resources.

Film on Tap: The Craft Beer Explosion Continues

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Beer Diaries at the Whip InIt's difficult to even begin to describe the phenomenal growth and activity in the craft beer industry this year, but it's evident from the number of selections on tap and on retailers' shelves that craft brewing is booming. As the number of Texas craft breweries increases, existing ones are prospering with brewery expansions and new beer offerings.

Filmmaker Mike Mann (Brewed) and host Greg Zeschuk have been documenting and sharing stories from many of these Texas breweries through their ongoing web series, The Beer Diaries. Zeschuk recently visited the brewers of Kamala Brewing at the Whip In (pictured at top), an award-winning brewpub here in Austin.

Another recent episode features the first cooperatively owned and managed brewpub in the world, Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery, and an upcoming show takes viewers behind the scenes of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner. Check out one of my favorites below featuring Live Oak Brewing Company founder Chip McElroy.

Review: Coherence

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Coherence still photo

Schrodinger's cat is an imaginary illustration of a paradox: "When does a quantum system stop existing as a superposition of states and become one or the other?" Writer/director James Ward Byrkit explores this thought experiment and various results in his first feature, Coherence, which adds a new dimension to the typical dinner party film.

Coherence evolves at an intimate dinner gathering of four couples: former dancer Em (Emily Baldoni) and Kevin (Maury Sterling), former Roswell actor Mike (Nicholas Brendon) and his introverted wife Lee (Lorene Scafaria), older couple Hugh (Hugo Armstrong) and Beth (Elizabeth Gracen), and Amir (Alex Manugian) who brings his new girlfriend Laurie (Lauren Maher).

It's quickly revealed that Laurie has an intimate history with Kevin, which leads to awkward moments, but Em is more concerned about something she's heard -- the astronomic event of a lifetime taking place that same night. Miller's Comet is due to pass near Earth, and reports of strange occurrences during previous passings are a discussion point after Em's phone inexplicably cracks.

Sounds Like Film: Austin Composer Brian Satterwhite

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Brian Satterwhite

I talk in pictures, not in words
--
"And Through the Wire" by Peter Gabriel

Welcome to Sounds Like Film, Slackerwood's new monthly feature on music in local and independent film.

Music plays an integral role in film. Whether it's a well-placed song with lyrics to enhance a mood or scene or a film score that evokes an emotional response, the audience's experience is heightened by music. Studies have demonstrated that music stimulates several areas of the brain: the auditory, limbic and motor regions as well as the less-understood orbitofrontal cortex which is thought to be key in sensory integration.

This concept relates to our movie experience in many ways, as familiar songs or scores can evoke a particular emotion or memory. In my own experience, there are many film-related compositions that can do just that -- Simple Minds "Don't You Forget About Me" in The Breakfast Club, Ennio Morricone's title track "For A Few Dollars More" or "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel in Say Anything. Pan's Labyrinth was released almost eight years ago, yet I can't listen to "Mercedes Lullaby" by Javier Navarrete without tearing up, and often within the first few notes while watching the heartbreaking scene the song is matched to.

The creative forces that deserve recognition for this key element in movies are songwriters, composers and musicians. Within the local and Texas film industry, a number of individuals contribute their talents on a regular basis. One of the main objectives of this new column is to spotlight their talent and work.

Review: The German Doctor

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The German DoctorFollowing the fall of the Third Reich and the liberation of the German Nazi concentration camps, many of the leaders directly involved fled to South America. One of the most famous of those officers was Josef Mengele, a physician in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Due to his barbaric and deadly human experiments performed on prisoners as well as role in the section process for the gas chamber executions, Mengele was known as "The Angel of Death."

Argentian filmmaker Lucia Puenzo's novel Wakolda focuses on this infamous man and the true story of an Argentinian family who unknowingly boarded Mengele at their home, now adapted by Puenzo as  the movie The German Doctor. Whereas the novel is told through Mengele’s point of view during his exile in South America, the film instead relies more on 12-year-old Lilith (Florencia Bado). Born premature and having suffered from several illnesses at an early age, Lilith is an underdeveloped prebuscent girl who struggles to fit in at her new German-run school in Patagonia.

A chance encounter while traveling to their new home in the tourist town of Bariloche brings Lilith's family, including her pregnant mother Eva (Natalia Oreiro) and dollmaker father Enzo (Diego Peretti), to the attention of a mysterious and charming German doctor (Alex Brendemühl). The doctor quickly entrenches himself in Lilith and Eva’s favor, offering to help with their growth and medical care. He becomes the family's benefactor as he helps Enzo mass produce his designs at a doll factory.

Puenzo lets the audience know within the first act of The German Doctor  that this mysterious doctor is the notorious Mengele. He's received as a hero by fellow Nazis also hiding out in Bariloche, but photographer Nora Eldoc (Elena Roger) -- who is also a Mossad spy and victim of one of Mengele's sterilization practices -- recognizes him immediately. This approach increases the tension as we witness the interaction between the doctor and his naive victims. When asked by Eva whether he's had any experience with childbirth and twins, his reply "hundreds" has a chilling impact. Young Lilith becomes lethargic and experiences pain in her bones as the doctor increases her growth hormone.

Review: Jodorowsky's Dune

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Jodorowsky's DuneIn the mid-Seventies, Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who was known for his radical arthouse films El Topo and Holy Mountain, took on the greatest challenge of his film career -- adapting for the screen one of the most classic sci-fi novels in history, Frank Herbert's Dune.

For two years, Jodorowsky worked an overwhelming number of hours with his creative team, including French comic-book artist Jean "Moebius" Giraud, screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (Dark Star, Alien), artist H.R. Giger (Alien), and sci-fi paperback illustrator Chris Foss to create over 3,000 storyboards and dozens of paintings along with incredibly detailed costumes and a tome of a script the size of a large phone book.

The film was to star Jodorowsky's own 12-year-old son, Brontis, who endured two years of daily martial arts training in preparation for his starring role alongside icons such as Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, David Carradine and Salvador Dali. Although the film was never made, it left an indelible mark on cinema with evidence throughout many sci-fi cult films of the last few decades including Blade Runner and Alien.

Director Frank Pavich reveals the impact of Jodorowsky's attempt in Jodorowsky's Dune, a fascinating and inspiring documentary about the greatest epic film that was never made. The movie opens Friday in Austin.

Pavich weaves interviews with the creative team involved in the massive project, including audio transcripts of the late Dan O'Bannon and supporters such as Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn and film journalists Devin Faraci and Drew McWeeny. Most importantly, we meet the charismatic and enthralling Jodorowsky himself. 

Cinematographer David Cavallo creates an intimate portrait of Jodorowsky in the comfort of his home, setting the stage with images of his scripts, books, and feline companion. The animation by Syd Garon (Blackfish) is stellar, breathing life into the storyboards by Moebius and paintings by Giger that had me giddy with anticipation.

Interview: Frank Pavich, 'Jodorowsky’s Dune'

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Director Frank Pavich, by Debbie Cerda, for use upon request with attributionOne of the most critically panned science-fiction films in history is Dune, directed by David Lynch in 1981. The rights to the film version of Frank Herbert's novel changed hands several times before Lynch's adaptation, with potential producers including Arthur P. Jacobs (Planet of the Apes) and Dino De Laurentiis.

In 1975, arthouse cult filmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky secured the rights the Frank Herbert's Dune and began working on what would have been the most epic science fiction film ever created. Jodorowsky assembled creative geniuses and cultural icons from all over the world for the cast and music, creating his personal group of "spiritual warriors" for a two-year massive undertaking. Unfortunately, Jodorowsky's planned film and his story never truly made it beyond the storyboards until now.

At Fantastic Fest 2013, I met and spoke with director Frank Pavich, who brings to light the story of Alejandro Jodorowsky and his failed attempt to tell the mythical tale in his documentary Jodorowsky's Dune. Jodorowsky's treatment has been called "the greatest movie never made" for its influence on the science-fiction film genre. Here's what Pavich had to say during our time together.

Review: The Railway Man

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Poster 'Railway Man'A particular subgenre I've enjoyed from an early age thanks to my father's influence is war movies, including the classics -- The Bridge on the River Kwai, Kelly's Heroes and The Dirty Dozen topped our list -- with a particular fondness for prisoner-of-war tales including Victory and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. I find the stories of brave servicemen who overcome torturous emotional and physical conditions to be inspiring testaments to courage and bravery.

Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, the movie The Railway Man portrays such a character, Eric Lomax (Colin Firth). It's based on the real-life story of a British army officer and radio engineer who was captured with his unit during the fall of Singapore in 1942. The prisoners of war were used to build the railroad from Burma to Siam through rough terrain, under brutal conditions.

The Railway Man begins with a chance encounter on a train between Eric Lomax and Patti Wallace portrayed by Nicole Kidman. After decades as a bachelor, Eric finds himself in love with the engaging Patti. After a whirlwind romance, they marry and settle into what would seem to be a quiet perfect life. However, Eric suffers from night terrors as he relives his wartime experiences including torture from Japanese officers, aided by their interpreter Nagase (Tanroh Ishida).

Patti seeks the aid of Eric's good friend Finlay (Stellan Skarsgard) to help her husband face his emotional demons -- not an easy task, as Finlay was also in Eric's unit and suffered from their captors' abuse. The men are bound by a code of silence, expected to endure and move on.

The story of their imprisonment is told in a series of extensive flashbacks with the young Eric (Jeremy Irvine) and a young Finlay (Sam Reid), nicknamed Uncle. Unbeknown to their captors, the men had smuggled in the parts to a radio which they reassemble in order to receive news from home. When the radio is discovered, Eric takes full blame and is subsequently tortured to confess what the Japanese believe is the true purpose for the radio.

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