Debbie Cerda's blog

Fantastic Fest 2013 Dispatch: Birthdays, Filmmakers and Festival Fatigue

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Devin Faraci and AJ BowenI can't possibly imagine how I would have managed this year's Fantastic Fest anywhere other than at the new Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline. Balancing the demands of a new day job and my first film project along with the festival has been a daunting task, but the ten-minute commute and ease of parking helps. Attending Fantastic Fest has always been an immersive experience for me as I soak up content and engage in social interactions with incredibly talented filmmakers, actors, fans and film critics -- such as Badass Digest's Devin Faraci (who's in Jodorowsky's Dune) and actor A.J. Bowen (The Sacrament) seen above -- from around the world.

I am also extremely fortunate that despite having lost my Superfan status of several years when the lottery was implemented, I've still had great experiences at Fantastic Fest. The only disadvantage is not being able to get into the high demand and secret screenings to sit with the Fantastic Fiends that I've known since the first fest in 2005. 

Fantastic Fest Interview: Clay Liford, 'Slash'

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Clay Liford

Local filmmaker Clay Liford's short film Slash (aka S/ash), which premiered at Dallas IFF in April, screens this week at Fantastic Fest. This wickedly funny short film portrays Sam (Arthur Dale), a 13-year-old boy who writes erotic fan fiction involving characters from the Harry Potter franchise. Not an unlikely premise when you think of Internet Rule #34: "If it exists, there's porn for it."

I met with Liford at a local coffeehouse where he frequently works on projects, and we spoke about Slash and its creation as well as other projects. Liford traveled this past week to New York for Independent Film Project (IFP) Film Week where the script for the feature-length version of Slash was included in a project. He describes his short film as "a very nerd movie about this subculture of fan fiction" and spoke of the challenge presented by references to copyrighted materials in an unintended light.

The selection of the name Slash contains a double meaning -- not only is "slash" a type of fan fiction that features homoerotic relationships (often male), but it's also a reference to Harry Potter's signature lightning-shaped scar.

Fantastic Fest 2013: North Austin Cuisine and Libations

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Fantastic Fest 2013

Fantastic Fest this year has moved to Alamo Drafthouse's largest facility at Lakeline -- ten screens and combined seating for 944 customers. Not only is the theater in a different part of Austin, but changes have been made to the standard Alamo Drafthouse menu at all locations to ensure customer satisfaction. Despite their popularity with many moviegoers, the potato skins and nachos have been removed from the menu as League and his culinary staff strive to improve consistency and quality of food items.

Eight days of consuming Alamo Drafthouse food during Fantastic Fest leaves many attendees craving local as well as inexpensive options. Although several of the restaurants nearest the new location are national chains like Fuddrucker's and Olive Garden, there's no shortage of great dining and drinking establishments accessible by vehicle within a three-mile radius, including several personal favorites of Slackerwood contributors. Although not reflected on the City of Austin Bike Map, Pecan Park Blvd has a bike lane that can be considered in the medium to high comfort range.

Navigating the area around Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline isn't too difficult once you get the "lay of the land." Remember that the theater is just northwest of the intersection of two major highways -- U.S. 183, which runs north/south, and Ranch Road (RR) 620, which becomes Toll Road 45 east of 183. Pay attention to signs to avoid tolls when driving north of the theater location by using "old 183," officially named South Bell Blvd.

Here's a few of our recommendations in the area, sorted by proximity to Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline:

Lakeline -- Immediate Vicinity

These restaurants are theoretically within walking or biking distance of Alamo Lakeline, but you want to exercise extreme caution around the high traffic zones of the U.S. 183 frontage roads and RR 620.

  • Smashburger (14028 N Hwy 183, Bldg. G-310) -- This newly opened burger franchise is a stone's throw from the front of the theater. Although not a personal favorite, its proximity ensures that I'll be stopping in to try a truffle mushroom Swiss burger.

Review: The Family

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The Family PosterA favorite cable television series in recent years for me has been USA Network's In Plain Sight about U.S. Marshals charged with relocating and protecting federal witnesses. The dramatization of people who must adjust to a new life with a new identity is engaging and thought provoking. How does a person not only leave behind their friends and relations, but also change their occupation or interests to avoid detection?

Based on by French crime fiction author Tonino Benacquista, writer/director Luc Besson's The Family provides darkly humorous insight of a former Mafioso and his family's existence within a federal witness program. When extortion and illegal activities are all you've known for your entire life, it's not easy to adjust to a different lifestyle -- even in the idyllic setting of the French Riviera or the historic and slower-paced Normandy.

Robert De Niro portrays Fred Blake/Giovanni Manzoni, who has a $20 million dollar bounty on his head after ratting out the boss to the Feds. Several years have passed since the Manzoni family had to leave their Brooklyn home and yet they still haven't quite given up old habits. Wife Maggie Blake (Michelle Pfeiffer) has a knack for setting off explosions and son Warren (John D'Leo) sets up extortion and bribery schemes in his school.

Only 17-year-old teen Belle (Glee star Dianna Agron) desires a somewhat normal life, with a fantasy of true romance to save her from her family's restrained existence. Meanwhile the family's handlers, including Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones), keep a watchful eye on the Manzoni clan. Settling in doesn't go too well for the family, and it's not long before a flock of hitmen descend on their small hamlet to eliminate the Manzonis.

The casting of The Family is a mixed bag, with De Niro playing his typecast role with natural humor. Pfeiffer also nails it as a Brooklyn mafioso wife who misses the good life, yet loves her husband and children fiercely. Agron appears miscast as the daughter of a mafioso -- she's able to display the Manzoni sociopathic tendency towards rage and violence, but her perfect features and lack of a Brooklyn accent are glaring against the rest of the Manzoni family. At 27, Agron is outgrowing her ability to realistically portray a high-school teenager.

Ready, Set, Fund: Animation Love and Movie Geekiness

Is There Anyone Out There?

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

I've had a passion for animated films for as long as I can remember, having grown up with Disney classics such as Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty ... and as an adult, enjoying The Iron Giant. A short animated film project that's currently funding on Kickstarter through September 10 caught my interest -- Is There Anyone Out There?

Texas writer/director Jonathan Reynolds has brought together a talented creative team to support this family-friendly film, which addresses the universal question in a whimsical manner. 

The score for Is There Anyone Out There? has already been performed and recorded in Austin by British composer Andy Dollerson and Austin's own Tosca String Quartet. San Antonio-based voice actor Terry Anderson is providing the narration for the tale of two boys questioning their fathers whether there's life beyond their own planet.

Review: Lee Daniels' The Butler

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The Butler Movie PosterWith the current social climate and concern over racism, it seems an appropriate time for a film about the civil rights movement in America to remind everyone how much has -- and perhaps hasn't -- changed in the last 50 years. In Lee Daniels' The Butler, we witness significant events and the politics that both impeded and fueled efforts by African-Americans and their supporters to effect change.

The Butler was inspired by a true story and tells the story of African-American Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), who serves as a butler in the White House for multiple presidents throughout several decades, including the civil rights movement.

Born in Macon, Georgia in the 1920s, as a young boy Cecil Gaines works in the cotton field with his mother and dad until brutal overseer Thomas Westfall (Alex Pettyfer) swiftly and violently tears Cecil's family apart. Cecil is taken into the "big house" by the sympathetic Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), where he learns the valuable skills of a house servant. Recognizing that he will likely suffer the same fate as his father at the hands of Thomas, Cecil travels in search of a new life and employment in a safer environment -- not an easy task in the South.

Desperation drives him to commit a theft for which he could be hanged, but instead he is rescued by hotel butler Maynard (Clarence Williams III). Under Maynard's tutelage, Cecil not only gains experience as a professional servant but how to survive in a white man's world. From there Cecil makes his way to Washington, D.C. where he continues to work as a hotel butler until he is discovered and plucked to the most prestigious location of all -- the White House during the 1957 Eisenhower Administration.

Thus begins the journey of Cecil in The Butler -- as a silent observer of the politics behind the movement that affects himself and his family. While he quietly accepts his fate, his son Louis (David Oyelowo) questions and acts upon the disenfranchisement he and his peers experience. Scenes are intertwined between Cecil going about the daily functions of special events at the White House, and Louis's activism with the Freedom Riders and later the Black Panthers. Meanwhile, Cecil's wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) deals with the disconnect between her husband and eldest by filling the void with booze and the attention of philandering neighbor Howard (Terrence Howard).

Film on Tap: More Drafthouses Equals More Beer, Plus 'Saison de Walt'

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Glass Half Full

It's been a busy month for Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League with new locations opening across the "Magnited States of America," from north Austin to Dallas/Fort Worth and even Yonkers, New York. I was most excited by the new location at Lakeline, the largest Drafthouse location to date with ten screens and a craft beer-themed bar. Glass Half Full offers a 32 craft beer lineup, including 9 rotating taps of special and season beer selections comprised mostly of Texas brews.

The intriguing beer cocktails and mixes concocted by Drafthouse beverage director Bill Norris are a refreshing re-imagining of craft beer libations. My personal favorites so far include the "Elderflower Snake Bite" made up of Pearlsnap Pils and Ace Cider with a hint of St. Germain, and the "Hopalong Cassidy" made of Old Tom Gin, Cointreau, fresh grapefruit and India Pale Ale syrup, which has converted me from a non-gin drinker.

Folks in the Dallas/Fort Worth area can finally enjoy the food and drink offerings of Alamo Drafthouse at the newly opened the Richardson location. which features an extensive and impressive wine, beer and cocktail menu. In addition to the Silence of the Lambs Suit Yourself Pinot Grigio and The Cannibal Chianti, I noticed the aptly titled Kung Fu Girl Riesling and Norton Reserva Malbec -- be ready for some interesting Sommelier Cinema pairings with James Wallace as Dallas/Fort Worth creative manager. The stellar beer selection features the high-caliber diversity of DFW regional craft breweries, including Lakewood Brewing Co. Temptress Stout, Peticolas Brewing Company Velvet Hammer Strong Ale, Revolver Brewing Blood & Honey Pale Wheat Ale and Deep Ellum Brewing IPA.

Review: Elysium

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Elysium Still Photo

Science fiction has often been used as a vehicle for political and social commentary throughout film history. Most notably is Fritz Lang's 1927 classic Metropolis, featuring a dystopian society with distinct separation between the wealthy and the working classes. More recently, writer/director Neill Blomkamp employed social allegory in the 2009 awardwinning and thought-provoking futuristic film District 9.

Blomkamp returns to the theme of xenophobia with new movie Elysium, but this round the veil drops even more. It's 2159 and the Anglo wealthy class lives on an utopian man-made space station named Elysium, while the rest of the Earth's teeming population, who mostly speak Spanish, work and live in deplorable conditions to support the inhabitants of Elysium. Matt Damon plays Max, an inhabitant of Earth who's trying to break from his past as a car thief and stay on the straight and narrow, working in an assembly plant that builds the service and law enforcement robots for Elysium.

An industrial accident leaves Max with less than a week to live, and he must find a way to Elysium for a cure -- even if it means returning to his former crime gang, led by software and hardware genius Spider (Wagner Moura). When the high-stakes heist turns into an unexpected opportunity to change the entire course of the human race, Max's friend Julio (Diego Luna) and childhood sweetheart Frey Alice Braga also become entangled in a life-or-death encounter.

Review: Fruitvale Station

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Fruitvale Station Still PhotoWith the advent of video technology that is now so commonplace in cell phones, anyone can document an event and share footage on the Internet or even to a media outlet as a citizen reporter. This ability often brings police incidents that may be a blip across the police blotter into the public eye, fueling public reaction.

Such was the case in the first hours of 2009, when New Year's Eve revelers were returning from the Embarcadero in San Francisco to their homes in the East Bay. After a fight on a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) train, several passengers, including 22-year-old Oscar Grant, were detained on the platform of the Fruitvale Station by BART police. Other passengers who witnessed the incident used their phones to film the interaction between police officers and the detainees, later testifying in court that they did so because they believed BART officers "were acting too aggressively" toward Grant and his companions.

As tensions rose with shouts from both the detainees and train passengers, more officers arrived on the scene. During the chaos, BART officer Johannes Mehserle attempted to use his Taser on Grant but drew his gun instead. Grant was shot through the back; the bullet ricocheted off the concrete and punctured his lung. Grant left behind a four-year-old daughter when he died the following morning. His death and the ruling of involuntary manslaughter in Mehserle's trial fueled protests in the Bay Area and heated debate across the nation about race and the use of force by police.

Ready, Set, Fund: Community and Comedy

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David Anderson Archive PhotoReady, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

Local non-profit Cinema Du Cannes Project was created to empower "at risk" teenagers in Austin by involving them in the art of cinematic digital storytelling and digital media production. Youth-led teams produce films for submission into film festivals across the nation and world, including the Cannes Film Festival Court Metrage. In addition, participants learn valuable skills and support the community by producing public service announcements and videos for other local non-profits.

This summer the organization is producing a documentary, 40 Years - On the Air, which is currently funding on Kickstarter through August 4. This hour-long documentary features local media icon David Anderson -- seen above in an archive photo-- whose radio broadcast career has spanned over 40 years.

An exciting local film-related project funding on Kickstarter through Saturday, August 17 is the Capital City Black Film Festival (CCBFF) founded by UT alumni Winston Williams and filmmaker Harrell Williams. This new Austin film festival, which takes place at the Stateside Theatre at the Paramount September 26-28, will feature films from black filmmakers as well as panel discussions with film veterans. The festival is raising funds to cover venue space rentals, with extra funding to go towards awards for film competition winners.

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