Debbie Cerda's blog
From the UT Film Institute (The Cassidy Kids, Elvis and Annabelle) comes the powerful drama Dance with the One, which premiered at SXSW Film Festival last month and screened this week at the Dallas International Film Festival. Actor Michael Dolan (Hamburger Hill, Biloxi Blues) makes his directorial debut with a story co-written by Smith Henderson and Jon Marc Smith. As thrilling and suspenseful as a crime caper, it's really the family drama and determination of the main character that engage viewers.
In Dance with the One, small-time pot dealer Nate (Gabriel Luna) is in the business to support his family. Scarred by the tragic death of their mother, Nate wants to get his little brother Sitter (Mike Davis) away from his alcoholic dad Owen (Gary McCleery), as well as himself and his childhood sweetheart Nikki (Xochitl Romero) out of Texas to Oregon. Nate takes the opportunity to help his boss Bobby (Paul Saucido) -- who's also Nikki's dad -- to take care of a situation with a harder substance, hoping the money he earns will be the final push to freedom. However, things go wrong when the drugs go missing, and Nate must find a way to protect his family from the silent partner out for his investment and blood.
Director Louis Leterrier (The Incredible Hulk) pays homage to stop-motion king Ray Harryhausen with his own version of Clash of the Titans, based on Harryhausen's 1981 original. Harryhausen's films from the 1950s through 1970s were full of amazing monsters and stop-motion action, most notably Jason and the Argonauts, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and One Million Years B.C. Like Harryhausen, Leterrier brings to life the mythical world of the Greek gods through larger-than-life monsters and the golden ethereal world of Mt. Olympus.
The 2010 version of Clash of the Titans begins with the infant Perseus discovered afloat at sea by a poor fisherman. Perseus (Sam Worthington) turns out to be the son of Zeus but is raised as a man, and watches helpless as his family dies from the wrath of Hades (Ralph Fiennes), god of the underworld. Mankind is defiant, and the gods retaliate by allowing Hades to teach a lesson to the arrogant king and queen of Argos. With his anger against Hades fueling him, Perseus volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to defeat the Kraken before it either destroys Argos or takes the sacrifice of the princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos). Meanwhile, Hades plots to seize power from Zeus (Liam Neeson) and unleash hell on earth.
If I had to pick a theme for my experience at the 2010 SXSW Film Festival, it would have to be "what can be."
It began with the first event that I attended, my favorite Interactive panel that I saw this year: "How Sci-Fi Shaped the Internet" by Adria Richards. I was interested in hearing what Richards had to say about our shared favorite science fiction creators, including Rod Serling and Alfred Hitchcock, especially how their early lives affected the message of their works. She talked about how sci-fi allows us to think outside the box, and how this skill has been essential in terms of the NASA space program and the development of the Internet. Richards also talked about innovations influenced by science fiction, including flat screen televisions and earbuds (Fahrenheit 451), Ebook readers (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), and wireless headsets (Star Trek). She spoke about the challenges and solutions in inspiring hope in young people, and as a child of the Sixties I could relate to the inspirations of the space program. I remember looking at the stars and wondering, "What's out there?"
Which brings me to the next SXSW event that shared the thread of exploring our dreams, the movie Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission. When I'd mentioned to people that I was looking forward to interviewing Garriott and seeing the documentary, the few people who recognized his name made reference to him as "a crazy eccentric" who spent $30 million to travel into space. Having met Garriott last fall when he'd donated his property, staff and resources for SCARE for a CURE haunt, I was skeptical of this misnomer. Man on a Mission successfully dispels this assumption, as we see how one person can achieve their dream that has profound impact on mankind. Garriott may have been the son of an astronaut, but it was through his own determination that he created and sold his first game Ultima and funded his way through college and into wise investments.
Of all the SXSW films that I saw this year, two of my top-ranked films were documentaries that share a common message of overcoming odds to achieve a dream and inspire others. One was Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, for which you can read my review. The other film that I found inspiring that shatters preconceptions is For Once in My Life, which won the Best Documentary Feature Audience Award at SXSW this year.
For Once in My Life takes viewers on a journey with several members of The Spirit of Goodwill Band, all who face a wide range of severe mental and physical challenges. The central characters of this story are on the extreme opposite of the socioeconomic scale and face much different challenges, but like Richard Garriott they want to share their story and music with the intent of inspiring others. This heartwarming film brings to light what people with disabilities can achieve when given the right opportunities and support from family as well as their work environment.
Set in the 80s, Skateland is a coming-of-age drama in a small East Texas town. The lead characters deal in different ways with pivotal moments and decisions in their lives. Writer/director Anthony Burns and co-writers Brandon and Heath Freeman deliver a solid production through cinematography and editing that allows the ensemble cast to really shine in this film, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The central story revolves around charismatic Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez), who is needing to deal with life after high school but he doesn't have a plan -- he's content working as a manager at the local skating rink, Skateland, but it's closing its doors soon. Ritchie's childhood buddy Brent Burkham (Heath Freeman) moves back home after he's dropped from the motorcross racing circuit and begins working on an oil drilling site with his dad. Ritchie also spends a lot of time hanging out with Brent's sister Michelle (Ashley Greene), who is eager to take the next step in both life and their relationship. Ritchie doesn't seem to concerned about moving on with his life, which is frustrating to his younger sister Mary (Haley Ramm), who is eager to see her older brother make something of himself.
I am a big fan of the 80s -- not as a retro fan, I still own all of the Duran Duran, the Smiths, and U2 vinyl albums I bought on their release dates. I was 22 years old in 1986, and would go "clubbing" dressed like Madonna in "Lucky Star." I loved John Hughes films, but my first film crush was on John Cusack as Walter "Gib" Gibson in The Sure Thing (1985). What could be better than a trip back to my favorite era than Hot Tub Time Machine starring and produced by Cusack himself, especially with Steve Pink (Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity) as director?
Hot Tub Time Machine begans with three buddies dealing with their own personal misery in their early forties, and wistful for the dreams of their youth in the 1980s. Adam (John Cusack) comes home to find that his girlfriend has moved out. Nick (Craig Robinson) is married, but his job at a dog-grooming salon is far from the musical career he had desired when he was young. Adam and Nick's friend Lou (Rob Corddry) is at rock-bottom -- he's a divorced alcoholic who is on a path to self-destruction.
The DVD release of Twilight: New Moon was not on my radar last week until a couple of "Twihards" asked, "OMG -- did you get to meet Ashley Greene or Kristen Stewart at SXSW?!" As I showed you previously, I saw Stewart at The Runaways screening along with her co-star Dakota Fanning and rock star Cherie Currie. Indeed the red carpets were abuzz for the arrivals of both Twilight stars for their respective movies.
Ashley Greene, who plays Alice Cullen in the Twilight series, showed up in Austin during SXSW to promote Skateland. Skateland is set in the early 1980s and is centered around a 19-year-old skating rink manager who is forced to look in his life in a new way. However, it's the strength of the female characters and the women who portray them -- led by Greene -- that stands out in this film. Although most of the filming took place in Shreveport, Louisiana, the story is set in a small Texas town and many of the filmmakers graduated from The University of Texas at Austin, including producer Heath Freeman, who also plays Greene's character's brother.
If I recall correctly, I covered a total of nine red carpet premiere events at SXSW Film Festival this year. By far my favorite event was the red carpet for the locally produced documentary Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, which took place on Sunday afternoon, March 14, at the Paramount Theatre. On display were some special items from his space travel collection, including a spacesuit and an actual Sputnik.
Young film stars Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart joined Cherie Currie and writer/director Floria Sigismondi at the SXSW premiere of The Runaways last night. Fanning portrays Currie and Stewart delivers an outstanding performance as Joan Jett in this biopic based on Currie's novel, "Neon Angel." The Runaways covers the formation of the all-girl musical group of the same name through to Currie's departure at the peak of their success. The relationship between lead vocalist Currie and guitarist/vocalist Joan Jett is highlighted as well as Currie's drug addiction.
Check out Jenn's review for more details. If you missed the screening, don't worry -- The Runaways opens in theaters today.
More photos of the Q&A are available on our Flickr page -- and no, I do not have photographic evidence of Floria's wardrobe malfunction so don't ask!
[Photo credit: 'Cherie Currie, Floria Sigismondi, Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart at SXSW for The Runaways', by Debbie Cerda for Slackerwood on Flickr]
Writer/director Gareth Edwards makes his feature film debut with Monsters, which premiered at a sold-out midnight screening at SXSW Presents: Fantastic Fest at Midnight. The English filmmaker and his cast and crew traveled in a van for several months throughout Central America to create a tale that is more of a road movie than simply another alien invasion. Through a combination of CGI effects created on his own laptop and natural settings, Edwards establishes a plausible reality.
Monsters is based on a simple premise: Six years ago, NASA discovered the possibility of alien life within our solar system. A probe was launched to collect samples, but crashed upon re-entry over Central America. New life forms began to appear there and half of Mexico was quarantined as an infected zone. The American and Mexican military still struggle to contain "the creatures."