Debbie Cerda's blog
December 24 marked the eighth anniversary of one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, an underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, that triggered a series of tsunamis. Over 230,000 people were killed in 14 countries that encompass the Indian Ocean, mostly in the coastal communities of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. In 2004 I followed the tragic stories of survival and loss, not just from media but also from "citizen reports" that streamed out from tourists and humanitarian aid workers. The stories included lists of orphaned native children and found young Europeans, separated from their families.
Spanish physician and tsunami survivor Maria Belon recounted her family's personal story on the radio, inspiring producer Belen Atienza (Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage) to portray the Belons' experience on the big screen. The result is the harrowing drama The Impossible from the filmmaking team behind the tragic horror story The Orphanage, including writer Sergio G. Sanchez and director Juan Antonio Bayona.
Naomi Watts stars as Maria and Ewan McGregor as Henry, a British couple vacationing with their three sons at a resort in Thailand during the Christmas holidays. Within a few minutes of the movie's opening, disaster strikes and the family is separated by the massive waves. A critically injured Maria is reunited with her son Lucas (Tom Holland) and the pair struggle through the aftermath to find medical assistance and the rest of their family.
Just in time for the holidays, Killer Joe (my review) is available on DVD and Blu-ray this Friday. With its NC-17 rating, however, this dark and often violent Texas-set film written by Tracy Letts and directed by William Friedkin is not family-friendly viewing. Starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role, along with Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church, the movie portrays a dysfunctional family dealing with betrayal and greed.
What are your thoughts on the NC-17 rating for Killer Joe, was it justified?
Thomas Haden Church: I think it is, but certainly you don't go into a room with investors and say, "We're going to make the best damn NC-17 movie ever to hit theaters in America" -- that's a death sentence. Just like you don't go in and say, "We're going to make an amazing black-and-white film." You go in thinking this could be an R, but when you go get the money as they did in early 2010 -- you have the play, you know what's in the play and you know how the play was put up at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, or the Goodman Theatre and then Broadway and the West End of London.
The anxiously anticipated prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens today, and moviegoers have a choice of watching in standard 24 frames per second (fps) or 48fps and 3D at a few select theaters in Austin. The Hobbit is the first major studio release shot in 48fps. Supporters claim that the new technology adds sharpness and realism to the film, but I found the projection distracting. Characters with makeup and prosthetics are quite obvious and the movement appears jerky at time. I look forward to seeing the movie again soon at 24fps so I can focus on the epic story itself.
Austin Film Society Essential Cinema presents the 1962 film Only Two Can Play on Tuesday, December 18, 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Peter Sellers plays a henpecked Welsh librarian who is propositioned by the wife of a local councillor. I encourage fellow Sellers fans to check out this rare screening. Tickets are $5 for AFS members and students with ID, and $8 for general admission.
AFS also presents a special screening on Wednesday, December 19, 7 pm at the AFS Screening Room of the 1976 film Unmade Beds, starring Deborah Harry and Duncan Hannah (pictured above), described by director Amos Poe as an "European film made in New York City, a reinvention of the nouvelle vague in the context of New York." Poe will be available for a Q&A via Skype. Tickets are $5 for AFS Make and Watch members, free to AFS Love and Premiere members, and $8 general admission.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
Winter has finally arrived in Austin and with the holiday season upon us, it's easy to get wrapped up in the hectic shopping and festivities. It's also a great time to give back to community and to reflect on sacrifices made by others during winters past.
One major event that took place this time of year and is often forgotten is the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, an epic and decisive battle of the Korean War that took place between November 27 and December 13, 1950. In a freezing winter, thousands of United Nations troops -- "The Chosin Few" -- including U.S. Marines were outnumbered and trapped by Chinese forces in the mountains of North Korea. Despite the odds, the Marines refused to surrender and fought their way 78 miles to the sea and rescued 98,000 civilians. Seventeen Medals of Honor, 73 Navy Crosses, and 23 Distinguished Service Crosses were awarded, making Chosin one of the most decorated battles in American history.
Brian Iglesias and Anton Sattler produced and released an award-winning documentary film titled Chosin that has screened across the US and South Korea -- and is now available on EPIX, Netflix, Amazon Video, DVD, and iTunes. The team is currently funding CHOSIN: An Animated War Film through Tuesday, December 25, on Kickstarter, co-directed by Austinite Richard Meyer with animation by local artist Stephanie Hogue.
The opening of Hitchcock today is not only renewing interest in but also introducing unfamiliar viewers to the groundbreaking 1960 horror film Psycho. In honor of Sacha Gervasi's dramatization of the life, love and challenges of Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma during the making of Psycho, Violet Crown Cinema presents a special one-week engagement of the classic suspense movie in a newly released digital cinema print. In addition, Violet Crown will offer a special lunch and movie combo for just $15 during the noon shows Monday through Thursday.
Flix Brewhouse celebrates the winter holidays with their Holiday Film Series, featuring favorite movies paired with special menus of holiday drinks and desserts. A dollar from every $5 ticket purchased will be donated to the Round Rock Operation Blue Santa Program. Screenings are at 7:20 pm as follows: It's A Wonderful Life on Sunday; Christmas Vacation on Monday; and Gremlins on Tuesday.
If you're really in the festive mood, catch the Alamo Drafthouse Action Pack Xmas Pops Sing-Along at Alamo Drafthouse Village and Slaughter Lane tonight. The evening includes videoke with old favorites and new videos as well as trivia -- don't forget your dancing shoes. Tickets are sold out for the Thursday, December 13 event at the Alamo Ritz, but you can still buy tickets for other upcoming dates so don't delay!
Movies We've Seen
A Royal Affair -- This period piece is not the typical drama of a love affair between two people from different classes -- young queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) and the royal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen) -- but also an intriguing history lesson into the pair's pivotal roles in introducing Denmark to the Age of Enlightenment. Abundant with brilliant performances especially by Mikkelsen and Danish actor Mikkel Boe Folsgaard as the mad King Christian VII, this tightly executed film is my personal favorite foreign film of 2012 and rightly Denmark's official submission for the Foreign Language Film category of the Academy Awards. (Regal Arbor)
Hitchcock -- Centered around the making of Psycho, this biopic sheds the spotlight not only on the master of suspense himself but also Alfred Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) uncredited formidable partner and wife Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). A refreshing and intimate portrayal strengthened by the genuine performances of Hopkins and Mirren. Rod states in his review, "In all honesty, seeing how Psycho's shower scene was shot is worth the prices of admission alone." (Arbor, Violet Crown)
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing director Sacha Gervasi, who was in Austin promoting his new film Hitchcock, based on Stephen Rebello's book Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho. The movie provides an intimate look behind the scenes of Psycho, where the greatest influence was not from a Hollywood blonde but the formidable woman in Hitchcock's life -- his wife, Alma Reville. The film opens in Austin on Friday.
Gervasi -- seen above at a post-interview lunch -- chatted with me about Hitchcock's influences and the challenges he faced during the making of Psycho, as well as Gervasi's own method of portraying such an iconic subject.
Slackerwood: Your film Hitchcock demonstrates an intimacy that audiences normally wouldn't associate with Alfred Hitchcock.
Sacha Gervasi: I think it's interesting for audiences seeing his films -- clearly we are very intimate with his psychological neuroses, but we aren't necessarily intimate with the man himself. My perspective on it was that over the years, Hitchcock has been maligned at times. He's been painted as either a creative genius on one level, or some sort of monster who is unspeakably cruel to his actors and actresses. I think that's probably true at different times and we have that in our film.
The Sundance Film Festival has announced most of its 2013 film program, which includes a pleasantly surprising number of films from the Lone Star State. Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater will premiere Before Midnight, the sequel to Before Sunset (2004) and Before Sunrise (1995), with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy (pictured above) reprising their roles as their characters cross paths again. Local company Stuck On On was involved in the movie's post-production.
Take Shelter director Jeff Nichols' new film Mud, starring sometimes-Austinite Matthew McConaughey, native Texan Joe Don Baker and Reese Witherspoon will have its North American premiere at the Utah festival, having wowed audiences and critics alike at Cannes earlier this year. Young actor Tye Sheridan (Tree of Life) from Elkhart, Texas, stars as one of the young boys who befriends McConaughey's title character. As with Take Shelter, Nichols utilized Stuck On On for sound post-production and Austin composer David Wingo for Mud.
Writer/director Andrew Bujalski's locally shot movie Computer Chess features man versus machine during a chess tournament in the 80s. To create a more authentic look, Bujalski located old computers through local hobbyists as well as Austin's Goodwill Computer Works Museum, which features more than 100 working vintage computer systems. The cast includes Wiley Wiggins.
Dallas filmmaker Yen Tan's Pit Stop, shot in Austin, features local actors John Merriman, Heather Kafka and Jonny Mars as well as native Texan Amy Seimetz (Tiny Furniture, Sun Don't Shine). David Lowery co-scripted; he first worked with Yen Tan on the 2005 dramatic anthology Deadroom, which Lowery edited and both he and Tan produced and directed. As you'll learn below, this is not the only Sundance 2013 film in which Lowery is involved. Nor is it the only Sundance film involving Mars and producer Kelly Williams.
Screenwriter/director Andrew Dominik has adapted true crime novelist's George V. Higgins Cogan's Trade into the film Killing Them Softly, which can be described as a dark comedy and crime drama. The criminal trade depicted by Higgins may be run by mobsters and "wise guys," but there are also those who don't have enough brains to know when not to talk to keep themselves out of trouble -- or alive.
Scoot McNairy (Monsters, Argo) portrays Frankie, a two-bit hoodlum fresh out of jail and right back into a life of crime along with his pal Russell (Ben Mendelsohn). The not-so-bright pair are convinced by Johnny Amato (Vincent Curatola) to hit a high-stakes card game ran by gangster Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta) with a plan to frame Markie for the robbery, which seems like a good plan since Markie had set up a raid on his own game himself. The local mobsters are not pleased, and assign an unnamed middleman (Richard Jenkins) to hire the services of hitman Jackie (Brad Pitt). Jackie brings in seasoned veteran hitman Mickey (James Gandolfini) to help by taking care of Amato, but Mickey is past his prime, spending his time drunk and holed up in a hotel room with hookers.
Killing Them Softly is a slow and evenly paced albeit a bit lengthy journey through the back alleys of a sordid part of America. Jackie comes across as a reluctant hitman who prefers to get the job done quickly rather than let his victims suffer. Connections to real life are made to historical political and economic events through background audio and video via radios and television, reflecting the dismal state of the economy and unfulfilled promises of hope made by politicians. Discussions between the mob negotiator and Jackie would seem just as fitting if they'd met in a corporate boardroom.
After almost 13 years, French film writer/director Leos Carax brings his unique visual imagery and surreal minimalistic storytelling to the screen with the critically acclaimed film Holy Motors, which opens in Austin on Friday, December 7. Denis Levant stars as Monsieur Oscar, a mysterious character who travels throughout Paris and takes on different roles -- beggar, monster, father, captain of industry -- accompanied only by his driver Celine, exquisitely portrayed by Edith Scob.
To celebrate Carax's return, Austin Film Society and Alamo Drafthouse present a retrospective "Essential Cinema Plus: The Films of Leos Carax" from December 2 -10, at Alamo on South Lamar. Tickets are $8 for AFS members and $10 for general admission. All films are in French with English subtitles.
Here's the lineup:
The Lovers On The Bridge (1991)
Sunday, December 2, 7 pm (screening info)
Juliette Binoche and Denis Lavant (pictured at top) star in this dark romance set on Paris' oldest bridge, the Pont Neuf, as a homeless painter and circus performer.
Welcome to Holiday Favorites, a series in which Slackerwood contributors and our friends talk about the movies we watch during the holiday season, holiday-related or otherwise.
"Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except ... the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation."
-- Theo, Die Hard
There are plenty of classic and modern holiday-themed movies to enjoy, but the film that immediately comes to mind when I think of Christmas Eve is 1988's Die Hard. Why is the most definitive action film of the Eighties at the top of my holiday favorites list?
The story opens on Christmas Eve, as John McClane (Bruce Willis) makes his way to Nakatomi Plaza to meet his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia) at her office Christmas party. Debauchery prevails along with the festivities, including sex in a boardroom among coworkers and illicit drug use by blowhard Harry Ellis (Hart Bochner). Nakatomi Trading President Mr. Takagi (James Shigeta) pulls out all the stops for his employees and their guests.