Debbie Cerda's blog
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.
Following 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.
In 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.
One 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.
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.
Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery returns to Austin for the seventh annual Off-Centered Film Fest at Alamo Drafthouse. This year's theme for the multi-day event is "Stuntin'," dedicated to the daredevil spirit. The opening celebration will be held at Fiesta Gardens on Thursday, April 24 at 6 pm, with an outdoor 35mm screening of the comedy Hot Rod, starring Andy Samberg.
Special guests for the evening event's include The Lonely Island -- Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, as well as Calagione and representatives of the Central Texas brewing community. Ticket sales will also include an option to donate to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild (TCBG).
"We are extremely pleased to have the support of Alamo Drafthouse and Sam Calagione, and this tangibly demonstrates of the collaborative nature of American craft brewers," said Charles Vallhonrat, TCBG executive director. "This event is a great opportunity to showcase some of the wonderful craft beers that are available in Texas from both Dogfish and our Texas brewers, while supporting the work of the Guild to educate, advocate and promote for Texas craft beer."
In the crumbling small town of Jacksonville, known as the Tomato Capital of Texas, a speeding train is coming -- not the frequent trains residents hear almost continually, but a heated mayoral race.
That's the premise of Tomato Republic, a documentary featurette that premiered at the 2014 Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), where it won a special jury award. Directed by Jenna Jackson, Anthony Jackson and Whitney Graham Carter, Tomato Republic focuses on the mayoral race between three candidates -- incumbent Kenneth Melvin, outspoken restaurateur Rob Gowin, and Kenneth Melvin, the youngest candidate and first African-American to run for the (unpaid) office.
The town's colorful characters are the most engaging part of this film, whether it's the three candidates or the "Rusk Rocket Scientists," who hang out and gossip at local establishments.
I found myself most amused by the filmmaker and interviewees acknowledging the trains running past the town that would often interrupt the filming. When the trains run so often that football games and high-school graduations are impacted, it's ingenious to integrate that frequent occurrence into a documentary.
Filmmaker Chris Dowling, an alumnus of the radio-TV-film program at The University of Texas at Austin, wrote and directed family drama Produce, which debuted at the Dallas International Film Festival last week. Although this film deals with some heavy-hearted issues, overall Produce is an engaging and entertaining story that should please viewers.
The opening sequence of a morning routine of breakfast, shower and a bike commute to work at first appears typical, until the camera angle widens and we see the character simply known as Produce (David DeSanctis), who has Down's Syndrome. It's this foundation that sets an important plot point for the film -- Produce is not defined by his condition despite the challenges and prejudices that he faces daily. He wants nothing more than to be employee of the month at the Value Market where he works as a produce clerk. Sadly his manager and co-workers don't respect him or appreciate his strengths.
The character who's the most challenged in Produce is Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha), a former professional baseball player who choked during a game and numbs his shame with alcohol. The real adult in the house is his daughter, 17-year-old Katie (McKaley Miller), often left to fend for herself while her dad is out drinking with his booze buddies. Calvin's self-destructive behavior threatens his relationship with his daughter, as well as a potential career as a baseball manager.
If I had to place a wager on who will "out-Mars" Austin talent Jonny Mars with the number of film projects that one Texan can possibly be associated with in one year, my bet for the top contender is Dallas-based Farah White. At this year's Dallas International Film Festival, White was involved in five films as either a member of the cast and producer.
Hell hath no fury like a Texas woman scorned in Rachel Shepard's About Mom and Dad, a comedic drama of a couple whose decades-long marriage disintegrates. White leads the ensemble Texas cast as Teri, effortlessly delivering many of the film's witty lines including, "There are no sides -- you just need to know that I am right." Dallas-based Brent Anderson stars as dad Eddie, and Austinites Heather Kafka and Jonny Mars also appear in supporting roles in the movie.
White is also executive producer for About Mom and Dad, having acted in and produced Shepard's road journey drama Traveling, which premiered at DIFF 2011. About Mom and Dad stars Reece Rios, Melissa Odom and Texan actress McKaley Miller, and was shot in Marfa as well as the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
After a series of premieres across the country including SXSW and Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), Joe opens today in Austin at the Violet Crown Cinema and Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. Based on the novel by Larry Brown, this dark drama reveals the raw and often brutal nature of an impoverished family and what happens when a damaged man becomes involved in the family drama.
The leads of Joe are veteran star Nicolas Cage in the title role and Texas' up-and-coming young actor Tye Sheridan (Tree of Life, Mud) as Gary. Cage, Sheridan and Austin-based director David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche) spoke to members of the press at a conference during SXSW last month. I also spoke with several cast members at the recent DIFF premiere.
Green said he was attracted to the script for Joe because it struck him as "a great contemporary western, a genre that I’ve always been drawn to." He was already familiar with Brown's novel, and had even worked on a documentary about the author.