Debbie Cerda's blog
Don't want to deal with cooking or washing dishes on Thanksgiving, or just need a break from the family for a few hours? Stop by any of the Austin Alamo Drafthouse locations for a movie accompanied by a traditional turkey dinner -- my mother never made green bean casserole and my mouth waters imagining Alamo's version of sweet potato casserole. Just select the "Turkey Dinner" option when purchasing any ticket for Thursday, November 22.
UT fans can also secure a seat at Alamo Lake Creek's broadcast of the UT-TCU game by purchasing a $5 food and beverage voucher or the turkey dinner option. Make note of the revised age policy for the game as stated on their web page -- "Children age 3 and over will be allowed at all screenings of this show. No infants however, and families with loud children will be asked to leave."
As part of the newly launched "Beautiful World Series" covering current and important global topics, the Paramount Theatre and The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation present Last Call at the Oasis (pictured at top) on Wednesday, November 28. Doors open at 6:30 pm for a pre-show lobby event that includes a wine tasting, local farmer booth, Texas Rainwater Catchment Association and Austin Eco Network information. The film, which focuses on the global water crisis, begins at 7:30 pm and is followed by a post-film panel with author Robert Glennon (Unquenchable), Andy Sansom from the Texas Water Institute, Laura Huffman from The Nature Conservancy of Texas, and Marilu Hastings of The Cynthia and George Mitchell Foundation.
Movies We've Seen
Red Dawn -- This re-imagining of the 1984 classic "better dead than red" film features an invasion of North Korean soldiers instead of Soviet forces. Although the modernization succeeds, the acting and direction of the young cast isn't enough to create excitement for The Wolverines -- too bad Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Brett Cullen couldn't save the day in their brief appearances in this version. Rod says in his review, "The 2012 version of Red Dawn is a hollow remake that completely misses the allegorical nature of its ancestor." (wide)
Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.
The festive holidays are upon us, which often means indulging in cocktails. If all you have is an antiquated edition of Mr. Boston Official Bartender's Guide to guide you, you might want to check out one of the unique cocktail experiences at the Alamo Drafthouse for inspiration and even education. On Monday, November 26 at 7 pm at Alamo Ritz, author Philip Greene hosts "To Have and Have Another -- A Hemingway Cocktail Companion," a 90-minute seminar based on Greene's book of the same name about the drinks featured in the life and works of Ernest Hemingway. Tickets include a flight of four cocktails including The Jack Rose (applejack, grenadine, lime juice) and The Hemingway Daiquiri (white rum, lime juice, grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur).
On Tuesday, November 27 at 7 pm at Alamo Slaughter, enjoy a flight of whiskey cocktails also inspired by Philip Greene's novel including a Boulevardier (bourbon, Campari, sweet vermouth) and The Affinity (scotch, sweet vermouth, dry Vermouth, bitters) while watching the charmingly romantic Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris -- read my review. Greene will be in attendance and will talk about the featured libations.
Anyone who's intrigued by where old goth rockers who survived the Eighties live out their days will be mildly entertained by Italian writer/director Paolo Sorrentino's darkly humorous film This Must Be the Place. Sorrentino takes quite a bit of creative license in this rambling and often disjointed tale of one fictional musician's struggles as he comes to term with personal tragedies and the lives he's touched through his music.
The multi-dimensional actor Sean Penn stars as Cheyenne, an aging goth rockstar living off his royalties on a vast estate in Dublin. His only companions are his confidante Mary (Eve Hewson), a 16-year-old Goth from a broken family, and his devoted and patient firefighter wife Jane (Frances McDormand). Cheyenne has been estranged from his family, not having spoken to his father in over 30 years. It is not until news of his father's failing health that he travels home to New Jersey and faces the real source of his pain -- the belief that his father never loved him. His father bequeathed his journals to Cheyenne, which include notes about his own obsession of tracking down the Nazi war criminal who humiliated him in a Jewish concentration camp. Cheyenne takes on his father's mission and embarks on a search across America to hunt down his father's tormentor, seeking guidance from Nazi hunter Mordecai Midler (Judd Hirsch) ... but what will he do when he finds him?
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
Local director Geoff Marslett (Mars) has wrapped filming in Austin and New York City for his first live-action feature film, Loves Her Gun (pictured at top), which stars several familiar Austin actors including Chris Doubek, John Merriman, Ashley Rae Spillers (Saturday Morning Massacre), and Heather Kafka (Lovers of Hate). It's about a Brooklyn hipster who flees to Austin after she's been attacked. Funding for post-production work is still needed, so the filmmakers are running an Indiegogo campaign through Wednesday, December 5. Currently the only way to get DVDs of Marslett's film Mars is as a perk at the $25 backer level or higher. Marslett says that if the campaign meets its fundraising goal then Loves Her Gun is expected to screen in early 2013.
61 Bullets is a historical documentary project that centers around a famous assassination in 1935. U.S. Senator Huey P. Long, Louisiana's most powerful and influential governor, was shot by Dr. Carl Weiss in the Louisiana State Capitol. Director David Modigliani's previous documentary, Crawford, debuted at SXSW in 2008 and won the Austin Film Critics Association award for Best Austin Film that year. The production is a Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund recipient; however, the filmmakers still need money to finish production and meet post-production costs. They're wrapping up a Kickstarter campaign that is close to meeting its goal by this Friday, November 16.
This coming week offers some special offers for Austin Film Society (AFS) members with discounts to special screenings. AFS Selects series is partnering with the Violet Crown Cinema to present Smashed with a $2 discount on tickets purchased by phone or at the box office during the run of the selection excluding the first show of the day. Find out more about this film later in this article.
To kick off the opening weekend of the inaugural United States Grand Prix in Austin, AFS members can enjoy $5 off the $15 regular ticket price for a sneak peek screening at The Paramount on Thursday, November 15, of a new documentary, 1, featuring interviews with Formula One icons including Mario Andretti, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton. Using rare archive footage, 1 features the drivers who raced during the dangerous era in the from the 1960s into the 1970s, and fought to improve safety standards for their sport. Expect to see racing celebrities on the red carpet including Sir Jackie Stewart, Niki Lauda and Emerson Fittipaldi.
The Texas Independent Film Network presents a special screening of one of my favorite documentaries of the year, America's Parking Lot, on Tuesday, November 13, 7 pm at Violet Crown, with director Jonny Mars in attendance. Bring a canned food item and receive a free popcorn to enjoy while enjoying an up-close experience with two diehard Dallas Cowboys fans and their tailgating tradition during the last season to take place at the historic Texas Stadium.
Movies We've Seen
The Sessions -- Inspired by a true story, John Hawkes and Helen Hunt star in this drama about a 36-year-old man in an iron lung who seeks out a professional sex surrogate to help him lose his virginity. Don says in his review, "I can't say enough great things about this terrifically funny and deeply moving film, one of my favorites of the year and a shoo-in for my annual top ten list. Don't miss it." (Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Violet Crown, Regal Arbor)
Smashed -- In this story about addiction, a married couple whose bond is built on a mutual love of alcohol must deal with the impact to their relationship when the wife chooses sobriety. Don states, "Smashed shows us nothing we haven't seen before. But the film is as potent as any in its genre, with plenty of cringingly authentic scenes, a completely believable narrative arc and absolutely no melodrama." Read his review for details. (Violet Crown, Arbor)
The Other Dream Team -- This documentary reveals both the brutal history of Lithuania under Stalin's regime as well as the inspiring stories of athletes who helped their country find its own identity. For more on this film, read my review. (Violet Crown)
Any American who follows the Olympics will recall that the 1992 US men's Olympic basketball team was known as The Dream Team, but the bronze medal-winning Lithuanian team the Americans defeated is the focus of the documentary The Other Dream Team. Their journey to the Olympics was not an easy one, embroiled with politics and oppression existing for over 50 years, although it helped resolve the America misperception that all Soviets are Russian.
Lithuania was one of three ex-Soviet republics to compete individually in 1992, and their team beat the Unified Team in Barcelona. The significance of their triumph was extensive --at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, four of the five starters for the USSR basketball team were Lithuianian, defeating the US team to win the gold medal. USSR team members Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis were the poster boys for the Russian sports program, and were threatened should they not stick to the script put forth by the Communist propaganda machine.
Their win symbolized a victory over the oppressors they'd been brutalized by since 1940, and helped establish Lithuania's national identity. The team proudly took the podium in their tie-dye warmups in appreciation of the Grateful Dead, with whom the team had a unique and critical connection.
This year's Austin Film Festival Documentary Feature Audience Award co-recipient Spinning Plates features three restaurants that not only initially seem worlds apart -- molecular gastronomy at Alinea in Chicago, the historic Breitbach's Country Dining in Balltown, Iowa, and the Mexican restaurant Cocina de Gabby in Tucson -- but also beyond most viewers' personal experiences. That first impression is quickly dispelled as viewers find themselves immersed in the very personal stories within each subject's environs.
The highly rated restaurant Alinea in Chicago seems the most impersonal due to its progressive menu, artistic decor and high-priced multi-courses, yet is the most engaging through the story of chef Grant Atchatz. Chef Atchatz talks about his career in the same manner that one would expect an artist to express himself. In fact, many of his gastronomic creations are multi-dimensional masterpieces, inspired by both art and nature.
Despite Atchatz putting so much of his personality into the menu, he conveys the importance of the team within the kitchen at Alinea -- a critical point when he learns that he has Stage 4 cancer of the tongue and may not only lose his sense of taste, but very likely his life. Atchatz must overcome the odds to see his restaurant achieve the ultimate goal -- three stars in the Michelin food guide for Chicago -- as well as balance his life as a husband and father
Atchatz's health is not the only tragedy that Spinning Plates portrays -- the 150-year-old historic Breitbach's restaurant suffers not just one but two massive fires, destroying this local landmark. Breitbach's is not just an eatery, but a daily community gathering spot for the residents of Balltown. There are silver linings in this story, though, as one of the Breitbach girls meets her future husband on the carpentry team that helps the family rebuild their restaurant.
The third story told within Spinning Plates is of Cocina de Gabby, where a young Mexican couple struggle to survive and provide for their young daughter. They've literally given up everything for their restaurant that is sparsely frequented, with both parents and family members working nearly around the clock to cook and serve.
Common threads run throught the stories within Spinning Plates, including the ability to overcome personal tragedies, focus on family, and leave a legacy as well as create a community. The editing and cinematography is visually stunning and intimate, connecting the audience to the film's subjects. The score resonates within and engages viewers as well, and leaves the audience with a sense of hope for the future of these seemingly different restauranteurs.
Although I would not describe myself as a gourmet, I must admit that after watching Spinning Plates I was left with such an insatiable taste for these featured restaurants offerings that I hope to experience both Alinea and Breitbach's Country Dining one day. I highly recommend watching this film that provides an intimate insight into the passion and creativity behind these establishments -- while Alinea received the only three-star rating for Chicago in 2012, sadly the third subject Cocina de Gabby closed its doors not long after the film was completed.
Six years after her death, filmmakers Jack Lofton and Keith Patterson team up to portray the most memorable woman in Texas politics in their directorial debut, Ann Richards' Texas. The documentary reminds me of a happier time when women's rights were championed by formidable progressive supporters in the Lone Star State. The movie screened at AFF after its world premiere at the 2012 AFI SilverDocs Festival, where it won the WGA Documentary Screenplay Award.
Former Texas Governor Richards was an outspoken woman who went from housewife and teacher to a politician who led the state in 1990. It was her keynote speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in support of presidential candidate Michael Dukakis that moved her into the spotlight and the Governor's Mansion -- a formidable accomplishment for a Democrat in a red state, not to mention for a woman who wasn't a "good old boy" millionaire like her Republican opponent, Clayton Williams.
Austin filmmaker Dano Johnson along with producers Jeffrey Travis and Seth Caplan are the inventors behind the animated family-friendly film Flatland 2: Sphereland. It's a follow-up to Flatland: The Movie -- both take kids on journeys into alternate dimensions with heroine Hex (Kristen Bell) and her trusty and mathematically inclined sidekick Puncto (voiced by Danny Pudi). Based on Edwin A. Abbott's Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, these movies tell the stories of dwellers who live in a two-dimensional world with no knowledge or interest in dimensions behond their own.
In Flatland 2: Sphereland, young scientist Hex encounters more mathematical mysteries as she and her sidekick race to save a mission into Flatland's "outer space" and discover the true shape of the universe. Because Flatland exists in a world where the only dimensions known are length and width, Hex's felllow inhabitants don't believe of the existence of a third dimension. However, it is Puncto who discovers an anomaly and seeks assistance from Hex, who is ostracized for her unorthodox ideas of another dimension.
Science fiction is an often under-represented genre in local film festivals, but this year's Austin Film Festival (AFF) has been quite the exception, especially with AFF Shorts Program 8 "The Future Now." This program boasts not only high quality filmmaking, but also features some heavy-hitting new filmmakers and recognizable cast members. I was amazed by the evocative nature of each film, whether the emotional reaction brought forth was laughter, awe or tears.
By far I was most impressed with HENRi, directed by Eli Sasich, which was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2010 for which Sasich continues to provide updates to his backers. Set in the future, a derelict spaceship controlled by Hybrid Electronic/Neuron Responsive Intelligence -- HENRi for short -- and powered by a human brain, has begun to experience disjointed memories of its original owner. Find out more about this film that pays homage to sci-fi greats such as 2001: Space Odyssey and Isaac Asimov's "Laws of Robotics" after the jump, as well as both local and international short films featured in "The Future Now" program.