Debbie Cerda's blog

Quick Snaps: The Red in 'Red White and Blue'

RWB

Since Simon Rumley's Red White & Blue will be returning for a screening at Fantastic Fest this week, I felt it was high time I shared an exclusive behind-the-scene photo I'd taken during the shoot at our house, where part of the film was shot. Nick Ashy Holden ("Alvin") was taking a coffee break while Emmy award nominee makeup artist Meredith Johns (off-screen) put, the finishing touches on his special effects makeup. 

With all the new media nowadays it's increasingly difficult for filmmakers to keep a lid on their projects, but it's also a great way for filmmakers to promote their films with less money and effort if done properly. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger are not only free, but can have a viral effect if fans help promote a film. Red White & Blue was able to secure locations and extras through the Alamo Drafthouse blog, and is how our house was selected as a filming location. Check out more behind-the-scenes photos after the jump.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Preview: Selected Shorts

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Jaulas

As mentioned in my blog entry Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: Appreciating the Shorts, you'll never find a lack of high quality and innovative short films at Fantastic Fest. This year, the shorts are split almost evenly between screenings before feature films, or one of the two shorts programs: Short Fuse! Severe Fantastic Fest Shorts and Drawn and Quartered: Animated Shorts. Thanks to Fantastic Fest programmer Zack Carlson, I had the opportunity to preview over 30 of the 50-plus shorts that will be screening over the course of the next week. Hundreds of filmmakers from around the world submitted short films to Fantastic Fest, and judging from the final selections, it must have been challenging to narrow down. Here are some highlights from this year's shorts, including my personal favorites.

Quick Snaps: Thomas Haden Church of 'Zombie Roadkill'

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Thomas Haden Church

Texas-born actor Thomas Haden Church returned to Austin this past March to lend his dry wit and charm as emcee of the Austin Film Society's annual Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. Church first served as emcee in 2009, and personally I would love to see him become a long-running host. It's probably not that unlikely -- Church resides on his cattle ranch near Bandera, Texas.

I've been a fan of Church since his eccentric role in the 1990s television sitcom Wings, and enjoyed his conflicted portrayal of villain Flint Marko aka "Sandman" in Spider-Man 3. He recently appeared in the teen comedy Easy A, but can also be seen in Zombie Roadkill, a new FEARnet web series. The trailers and PSAs for the series are hysterical and had me jumping out of my seat. Check out my favorite PSA after the jump.

Fantastic Fest attendees have a chance to see the first two episodes before their online debut at a special screening on Friday, September 24, at 8 pm. Director David Green, stars Thomas Haden Church and David Dorfman, producer Ryan Hendricks and writer Henry Gayden will be in attendance. The screening will be followed by the FEARnet party at The Highball.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Guide: How to Drink Like an Austinite

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Draft beers at The High Ball

Being a native Texan and a craft beer enthusiast, I feel the need to dispel a misconception about Texas beer -- Lone Star is NOT the national beer of Texas. Former Governor Ann Richards unofficially declared Shiner Bock the "national" beer of Texas during her term, as it was her personal favorite hailing from the Spoetzl brewery in Shiner, Texas. Sure, Lone Star beer will quench your thirst when you're floating down the Guadalupe River on an inner tube, but if you have a palate for real hop flavor or a good malt backbone, Texas offers many more and much better beers.

With an increase in the number of microbreweries in Texas, The Texas Craft Brewers Guild has finally come to realization. Central Texas has three microbreweries that have been producing and distributing for several years -- Live Oak, Real Ale, and Independence Brewing. (512) Brewing just celebrated their second anniversary and Thirsty Planet began hitting local taps in July. As if five microbreweries around Austin isn't enough, another eight new craft breweries are slated for Central Texas within the next two years.

What does beer have to do with the Austin film scene and Fantastic Fest? Plenty, if you want to enjoy the "draft" in Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

Quick Snaps: 'Man on a Mission' Owen and Richard Garriott

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Owen and Richard Garriott of Man on a Mission

I thoroughly enjoy interviewing filmmakers and actors, but I was particularly enlightened by Austin video game developer and recent astronaut Richard Garriott during our podcast interview about the documentary Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, specifically regarding his motivation. I asked Garriott what science-fiction authors had inspired him in his youth, to want to travel to space. The answer? None -- he read fantasy, hence the inspiration for his first game, Ultima.

For Garriott, space travel wasn't anything out of the ordinary. His father Owen Garriott was an astronaut, and all of their neighbors were in the NASA space program as well. It wasn't until Garriott was older that he discovered that not everyone goes to space, and his poor eyesight would prevent him from being a part of the NASA space program. He was determined to find a way to travel to space, and in 2008 it became reality as he joined a Soyuz mission into space.

If you didn't get a chance to see Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission during SXSW 2010, be sure to catch an encore screening at Fantastic Fest, which begins next Thursday. Screenings will be announced here.

Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: Appreciating the Shorts

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Inside

As a film fan, I love short films for the same reason I enjoy short stories -- I get almost instant gratification with little investment of time, and then it's on to the next short. The stories and films might seem easier to forget, but that's not the case when a good story can be told in fifteen minutes or less. Such is the case with several short films I've seen over the years at South by Southwest Film Festival and Fantastic Fest. In the past it was difficult to see these films outside of a film festival, but thanks to the Internet more short films are available to a larger audience.

The most memorable shorts I've enjoyed were those I viewed at Fantastic Fest from 2006-2009, including Phil Mucci's gothic horror film The Listening Dead (view after the jump) which won the Short Film Jury Award for Best of Show in 2006. That same year was the Fantastic Fest debut of British filmmaker Simon Rumley with the well-directed short The Handyman starring Greta Scacchi, along with the full length psychological thriller The Living and the Dead. Rumley has a great behind-the-scenes making of The Handyman.

Review: Mao's Last Dancer

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Mao's Last Dancer

While living in Houston over 20 years ago, I became acquainted with some of the principal and soloist male dancers from the Houston Ballet Dance Company. To me their lives were glamorous and dramatic. Their passion on stage with their pas de deux partners often extended beyond the stage to fiery romances. I also remember one young Chinese dancer who was friendly enough but more restrained than his boisterous British and American counterparts. I had no idea at the time what led to his employment with the Houston Ballet, but the less-than-glamorous circumstances were captured in Li Cunxin's 2003 autobiography adapted by Jan Sardi (Shine, The Notebook) for the screen in the biopic Mao's Last Dancer. Directed by Academy Award nominee Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), this film captures the politics and drama involved in Cunxin's remarkable journey from rags to international stardom.

Mao's Last Dancer spans several decades through a series of flashbacks. At the height of China's Cultural Revolution in 1972, Jiang Qing -- also known as "Madame Mao" -- revived the Beijing Dance Academy. Mao's cultural advisors traveled through the country to select those children who not only had the physical attributes of a dancer but also devotion to serving in Chairman Mao's revolution. Li Cunxin was the sixth of seven sons born to peasants in the poverty-stricken Qingdao province, and his family welcomed the opportunity for Li to pursue a better life. At the age of 11, he left home to begin seven years of harsh training regimen at the Academy.

Review: Nanny McPhee Returns

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Nanny McPhee Returns Still Photo from Universal Pictures by Liam Daniel

I didn't watch Nanny McPhee when the movie was released in 2005. Frankly, I found the image of the lovely Emma Thompson done up with hairy moles and snaggletooth quite frightening. However, after seeing Nanny McPhee Returns this week, I learned my own lesson from Nanny "little C, big P" McPhee -- don't judge a book by its cover.  Award-winning actress and writer Thompson reprises her role as screenwriter and star, but this time she's also the executive producer, which might explain some of the big names in Nanny McPhee Returns. However, it's not just the stars in the cast that make this film enjoyable. Thompson's screenwriting skills provide the youngest members of the cast with well-developed characters.

Based on characters created by Christianna Brand in the Nurse Matilda series, the central plot of Nanny McPhee Returns focuses on the same formula. An unintentional single parent is pestered by misbehaving children, and Nanny McPhee arrives to teach the children five lessons. Maggie Gyllenhaal portrays Isabel Green, a mother overwhelmed by her three children as well as their two spoiled cousins who come to stay with them to avoid bombs falling in London (it's set during WWII). Mr. Green (Ewan McGregor in a cameo appearance) has been away fighting in the war, and the family is in danger of losing the farm. Mrs. Green works in the local shop where she has to clean up after the forgetful elderly Mrs. Docherty (Maggie Smith).

Review: The Expendables

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The Expendables

I was really excited to see The Expendables at the second annual Cinemapocalypse, especially since Die Hard was scheduled to screen beforehand. Seeing Die Hard when it opened was a memorable experience for me. I recall the realization that I had spent most of the movie literally on the edge of my seat, and only releasing my grip on the armrests when the credits rolled. Die Hard was a defining moment for action flicks, a rollercoaster ride alongside a reluctant hero who viewers could emotionally invest in -- ironically Sylvester Stallone turned down the role of John McClane

Unfortunately, Sylvester Stallone's The Expendables falls far below the standard set by Die Hard as well as several other films featuring the stellar cast. Plain and simple, The Expendables is pure unadulterated action porn. The loose plot and dialogue exist solely to tie explosive money shots together, with body parts flying every which way. Subplots aren't fleshed out, leaving viewers befuddled.

The opening scene of The Expendables introduces us to a group of aging mercenaries led by Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), as they take over a Somalian pirate ship to rescue hostages. With impressive firepower, knife-throwing and hand-to-hand combat, they quickly take out the pirates. However, things get nasty as unstable drug-addicted Gunnar Jensen (Dolph Lundgren) attempts to hang one of the pirates despite orders. His partner Ying Yang (Jet Li) stops him, and Jensen nearly kills Yang, resulting in Jensen being released from services. Filling out the roster is heavy weapons specialist Hale Caesar (Terry Crews) and demolitions expert Toll Road (Randy Couture).

Finding Worthy Causes at Lights. Camera. Help.

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Samuel and Isaiah Habib blowing a bubble

I don't envy the judges of this year's second annual Lights. Camera. Help. Film Festival, which ran from last Thursday through Saturday. After viewing so many great non-profit and cause-driven films and PSAs representing worthy causes, I would have had a difficult time picking the best. Three winners for feature-length, short-form, and PSA films were selected from the pool of 33 finalists. The winners will receive the proceeds from this year's festival, which includes any donations made on the website during the festival season.

The feature winner, Including Samuel, portrays a family’s hopes and struggles as they engage their child Samuel (seen above with his brother Isaiah), who suffers from cerebral palsy. Although Samuel is the main subject, his father, filmmaker Dan Habib, delivers a well-balanced film by also documenting the experiences of four other individuals with disabilities. Alana Malfy, a high-school student, is part of Beyond Access, a University of New Hampshire pilot project working with public schools to fully include students who experience the most significant disabilities. Malfy benefits from the program but she also faces social challenges that daily test the patience and understanding of classmates and teachers.

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