Debbie Cerda's blog

Review: Charlie St. Cloud

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Charlie St. Cloud

I'll confess that I'm a sucker for sentimental supernatural film and television. Despite its cheesiness, I'll watch Ghost and Ghost Whisperer anytime I come across them while surfing the television channels. I loved the plot twists of What Dreams May Come, The Others and The Sixth Sense, but give me a hanky for the tearful moments. It's the more profound question of the afterlife and redemption that I find mystifying and often comforting in my morose moments of recognition of mortality. Charlie St. Cloud attempts to extract similar sentimentality from its viewers. Based on Ben Sherwood's 2004 novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, this film directed by Burr Steers (17 Again) paints an ethereal portrait of loved ones amongst golden sunsets and raging storms.

Charlie (Zac Efron), is clearly a young man from the wrong side of the tracks. His mother (Kim Basinger) works double shifts to support him and his annoying and devoted brother Sam. Fortunately for Charlie, his good grades and sailing prowess have secured him a sailing scholarship at Stanford. On graduation day, the future couldn't be brighter for Charlie. He promises Sam that he'll play catch with him every day at sunset until Charlie leaves for school in the fall. However, a bad decision leaves both brothers dead in a car accident -- until Charlie is brought back to life by a dedicated paramedic (Ray Liotta).

Previewing the Lights. Camera. Help. Film Festival

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Lights. Camera. Help. FestivalThe Lights. Camera. Help. Film Festival, which starts Thursday night, returns for its second year to spotlight films for a cause, and this year promises to be even more successful than last year's event. The number of cause-driven short film, videos, and PSAs jumped from last year's 140 to 235 entries in 2010. This festival has also expanded to a third day with new venues, including the Mexican American Culture Center, The Millenium Youth Center and Space 12.

LCH Film Festival attendees have the opportunity to see as many as 33 films and PSAs, and can also meet the filmmakers and representatives from the nonprofits involved. All proceeds from the festival go to the nonprofit associated with the winning film. Some of the diverse causes and topics spotlighted in thie year's films include public transportation, education, diseases, disaster relief in Peru and hunger in Texas.

One interesting theme I've noticed at the LCH Film Festival this year is bikes. Adventures For the Cure is about raising awareness and funds for diabetes as well as helping disabled children in Kenya through a 6,500-mile bicycle trek across the U.S. made by three young men, one of whom has Type I diabetes. Sweet Ride is a PSA focusing on the efforts of Transform to encourage San Francisco Bay Area residents to consider cycling as an alternate transportation option. Together We Can Make It focuses on the efforts of Bicycles for Humanity - Colorado to provide bicycles as distribution vehicles for improved healthcare to people too remote from formalized healthcare facilities in Namibia, Africa.  

Several Austin nonprofit organizations will be represented at LCH Film Festival this year:

Review: Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

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Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky

Another chapter in the life of history's most influential woman in fashion continues with the screen adaptation of Chris Greenhalgh's 2002 novel Coco & Igor as Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (French title: Chanel Coco & Igor Stravinsky). This dramatization of Chanel's alleged affair with a man as influential and diverse as herself picks up not long after where last year's critically acclaimed by Anne Fontaine, Coco Before Chanel, ends. Although the two films have much in common, there's less appeal and passion to this adaptation.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky begins with a scandal, but not quite the one immediately expected -- the 1913 Paris premiere of Stravinsky’s modernist ballet, "Le Sacre du Printemps (Rite of Spring)." Igor Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) is nervously awaiting for the curtain to rise as Ballet Russes impresario/founder Sergei Diaghilev (Grigori Manoukov) and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (Marek Kossakowski) are frantically directing the dancers and orchestra. Within the first act, the classical music audience becomes enraged at the violent motif and dissonance of Stravinsky's work, so much that a riot breaks out and police must be called to calm the masses. Throughout the chaos, Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis) quietly and intently observes the ballet and the crowd's reactions. She departs without meeting Stravinsky, but it's evident she's drawn to him.

Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival Expands for 2010

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Cinema Touching Disability Film Festival logo

The Coalition of Texans with Disabilities has expanded this year's1 Cinema Touching Disability (CTD) Film Festival, which takes place in Austin in October. For the festival's seventh year, it's adding a Thursday evening screening at the Goodwill Community Center, as well as art exhibits from Imagine Art and VSA arts of Texas. These local nonprofit organizations support people with disabilities with learning, participating in, and enjoying the arts. As always, the short film competition for grades 6-12 and college categories will take place, with finalists' entries screening at the festival. Competition registration is open until August 31.

The CTD Film Festival takes place from Thursday night, October 14, through Saturday, October 16. I'm excited to see the SXSW award-winning documentary Marwencol as the opening-night film on Thursday, although I would prefer to see it for the first time on a real theater screen at the festival's main venue, Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. It will be interesting to see how the Goodwill Community Center works as a film venue. The documentary's subject, Mark Hogencamp, definitely fits in with the Goodwill's program of rehabilitation. Hogencamp suffered traumatic brain injuries after an attack outside a bar. His self-created unorthodox therapy is quite fascinating -- in his backyard, Hongencamp has created Marwencol, a 1/6th scale World War II-era town populated with dolls representing friends, family and even his attackers. Through his photographic images, Hogencamp documents the town’s miniature battles and dramas. Check out Jette's review to find out what she thought about this film.

Quick Snaps: Ashley Greene of 'Twilight' in Austin

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Ashley Greene at Skateland

While checking out photos from the red carpet events across the globe for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, I was struck by how photogenic co-star Ashley Greene is. Her natural grace and beauty stands out on the red carpet -- but perhaps I'm biased since I was able to get some great shots of Greene and the rest of the cast during the Skateland premiere at SXSW this year, like the one above.

It has to be no easy feat with the pandemonium that follows The Twilight Saga stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, as I experienced at The Runaways premiere. Stewart seemed quite withdrawn at the SXSW event both on the red carpet and onstage for the Q&A. I dismissed it as the effect of a rigorous press junket, but according to this NY Daily News article, Stewart is quite uncomfortable and fearful during large events. That would definitely explain why she spent most of the Q&A crouched down on the stage.

Austin Film Festival Announces More 2010 Speakers and Awards

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AFF 2009: Up in the Air

Last week, Austin Film Festival (AFF) announced confirmed panelists from the film and television industries, including David Simon, this year’s recipient of the 2010 Outstanding Television Writer award. Simon is the creator of HBO’s The Wire, where he served as executive producer, head writer and showrunner for the duration of the series. Simon brought in local musical favorite and former Texan Steve Earle to play a struggling street musician in his new HBO series Treme. Earle's song "The City" was used in the season finale. I've not seen either series personally, but I'm intrigued enough to watch Treme after reading reviews by residents of New Orleans. General consensus is that Simon has painted a lifelike portrait of what New Orleans life was like post-Katrina -- and a plus is one of my favorite actors, John Goodman, stars.

The AFF Screenwriters Conference offers over 65 panels, craft sessions and roundtable discussions led by more than 100 industry professionals. As I mentioned in my wrap-up of AFF 2009, I enjoy attending panels and gaining insight into the creative processes of film and television writing and production. I think AFF has the most to offer for anyone wanting screenwriting content at a local conference.

The confirmed screenwriter and filmmaker speakers for the 2010 Austin Film Festival will include several writers who've worked on some films connected to Central Texas. John Lee Hancock wrote and directed A Perfect World and The Rookie, which were both filmed in and around Austin. Peter Hedges wrote the screenplay based on the original novel for What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Machete co-writer Alvaro Rodriguez will also speak at this year's conference -- whether co-writer and cousin Robert Rodriguez will make a surprise appearance is anyone's guess at this time. He unexpectedly popped into an AFF screening of Spy Kids yesterday. However, I'm sure Machete  will generate a lively discussion due to recent controversy as reported in a recent Slackery News Tidbits.

Review: The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

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Twilight Eclipse

While viewing online photos of Twilight-themed bedrooms earlier this week, I was a bit apprehensive about seeing the latest installment of the film series that's been anxiously awaited by hardcore fans. Walls covered with posters, full-size cutouts of Edward and patchwork quilts with scenes from the film were a bit disturbing, especially for the person who was obviously in her forties. However, a wall covered with images of Bella, Jake, and Edward struck a chord -- I was that pre-teen, with pictures of David Cassidy and Donny Osmond torn from the pages of Tiger Beat magazine. It was a humbling moment, and a prelude to my experience watching The Twilight Saga: EclipseEclipse is the most mature and palatable of the three romantic fantasy films so far. Melissa Rosenberg returns again as screenwriter, but it's director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night) who strips away much of the prior films' campiness and poorly-executed special effects and delivers an entertaining film.

Eclipse begins with an attack on a dark and ominous night in Seattle that sets a sinister tone to forthcoming events. A series of unexplained deaths and disappearances causes concern amongst the Cullen family. Even more disturbing is that the vampire Victoria (Bryce Dallas Howard) has been prowling nearby to seek her revenge on Edward for killing her mate. Star-crossed lovers Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) are reunited -- she is determined for him to turn her into a vampire, so they can never be parted. Edward is reluctant to do so, but sets a stipulation that she's not too keen on.

Help Submit SXSW 2011 Panel Ideas Now

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SXSW 2011 Panel Picking FormulaIt doesn't seem that long since my SXSW Film 2010 wrap-up, but SXSW staff are already preparing for 2011. The SXSW PanelPicker went live today, and you can add your ideas here for next year's Film, Interactive and Music conferences.

Per the PanelPicker press release, the SXSW Film Conference is "most interested in proposals geared towards creating, marketing, and finding audiences for films in this new digital age, as well as hands-on workshop ideas."

I really enjoyed this year's "How to Rawk SXSW Film," moderated by Agnes Varnum of Austin Film Society. Questions from the audience included where attendees could find screenwriting tips -- not in panels, but mentor sessions are good places -- to how and where to meet with Interactive Conference attendees. I recommended the "crossover" panels and special events as good locations to intermingle.

SXSW welcomes crossover panels, which focus on the areas where film, music, and interactive meet. Bear that in mind when you're planning to submit panel ideas for 2011. I mentioned some of these panels in my "SXSW 2010 Guide: Balancing Film and Interactive," but how cool would it be to have a film and music panel about film scores from local composers Graham Reynolds, who scored The Lost World screening at SXSW 2010, and/or Brian Satterwhite (Artois the Goat, Man on a Mission)?

Review: The Karate Kid

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The Karate Kid

Director Harald Zwart and screenwriter Christopher Murphey set their sights high with the newly released The Karate Kid, a remake of the memorable and inspirational 1984 original of The Karate Kid, both based on an original story by Robert Mark Kamen. Ralph Macchio starred as Daniel Larusso in the 1984 version as a New Jersey high schooler who moves to California with his mother. He is bullied by local teens until he meets Mr. Miyagi, a handyman/martial artist played by the late Noriyuki "Pat" Morita. Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel-san that there's more to karate than violence.

In the remake, Jaden Smith (The Pursuit of Happyness) plays Dre Parker, a 12-year-old kid who moves to Beijing, China, after his mother (Taraji P. Henson from Date Night, Hustle & Flow) is transferred for her job with a car company. Bullied by local boys who are trained in the martial arts by a merciless sensei, Dre is rescued from an attack by handyman Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) who then begins teaching him the art of kung fu. Dre must face his attackers one-on-one at a tournament -- who needs qualifying competitions in Hollywood?

Interview: Eric Byler, '9500 Liberty'

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9500 Liberty Filmmaker Eric Byler

As I noted last week, filmmaker Eric Byler was in Austin to promote 9500 Liberty, currently playing at the Dobie (Don's review). The documentary depicts the battleground in Virginia and on the Internet over an anti-immigration policy, the "Immigration Resolution," that the Prince William County board of supervisors adopted in 2008. To counteract the racial divisions that occurred in their community, county residents formed a resistance using YouTube videos and virtual town halls. The inflammatory showdown between the groups had profound and devastating social and economic impacts in their community.

Byler and Annabel Park not only co-directed 9500 Liberty, but co-founded the political action group Coffee Party USA in response to the politics that enabled the Virginia anti-immigration law to pass. Byler is the YouTube/Online Media Coordinator for the group, and has created a number of videos about political issues.

As he mentions in his interview, Byler screened two of his feature narrative films at SXSW: Charlotte Sometimes in 2002, which won an audience award; and Americanese in 2006, which won the Best Narrative Feature award and a special jury prize for Outstanding Ensemble Cast. I caught up with Byler before last week's 9500 Liberty special screening at the Texas History Museum and asked him a few questions.

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