Debbie Cerda's blog
The bittersweet drama What Maisie Knew opens today in Austin theaters, and you can read my review here. Co-directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel -- seen above on-set with star Onata Aprile -- were in town earlier this week for an Austin Film Society special screening and Q&A at the Marchesa Theatre.
I met McGehee and Siegel before the screening to talk about the script-to-screen process. The directors shared that they weren't initially attracted to the story based on its description alone. McGehee mentioned that to make a movie about a childhood custody battle could be "maudlin and heavy and difficult."
What attracted them to What Maisie Knew, McGehee said, was that "the script had a lightness of touch with the material. The story was told elliptically from Maisie's point of view, and how to translate that into cinematic terms seemed a challenge."
Films that rely on kids as central characters may be off-putting to many adult viewers. However, last year's multiple award nominee Beasts of the Southern Wild proved that success can be found with an engaging story and talented cast and crew. The directing team of Scott McGehee and David Siegel have taken on that same challenge with the drama What Maisie Knew, which opens in Austin today. The screenplay, penned by Nancy Doyne and Carroll Cartwright, is based on the 1897 novel by Henry James, which focuses on a young girl impacted by her parents' irresponsible actions and bitter divorce.
With quite a bit of modernization, the story of Maisie is quite relevant to the current state of family issues. Maisie (Onata Aprile) is caught between her mother Susanne (Julianne Moore), a rock star who's obviously past her heyday, and her father Beale (Steve Coogan), an art dealer who spends more time abroad then at home with his family. Most of the parental responsibilities seem to fall to Maisie's nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham), who tries to shield Maisie at times from the bitter fights between Susanne and Beale.
The playlist of music documentaries this year has been overwhelming yet welcome to audiophiles around the world. Earlier this year, Drafthouse Films picked up A Band Called Death, which opens Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. This movie -- also currently available for viewing on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and VOD outlets -- sheds light on a remarkable story fit for the annals of rock-and-roll history.
A Detroit band before its time, Death was made up of three of the Hackney brothers -- Dannis, David, and Bobby -- recording punk music in the early Seventies when others black musicians around them were deep into the Motown sound. The band played a few shows and recorded a single but were unable to interest record companies due to their punk sound and band name. Brother David had been inspired by the tragic death of their father to name the band Death, and was therefore unwilling to change the band's name.
The band and their music would have been lost had it not been for the discovery over 30 years later by a younger generation of audiophiles and punk fans craving rare music and historic punk. That led to the resurgence of Death and the release of master tapes that David had prophetically stated needed to be saved.
A Band Called Death features interviews with brothers Bobby and Dannis, as we eventually learn that David -- an alcoholic and prolific smoker -- passed away from lung cancer. Bobby and Dannis still perform in a reggae band they formed in Burlington, Vermont.
The cinematography of Mark Christopher Covino along with his co-direction with Jeff Howlett balances archival images with present-day interviews in a style reminiscent of this year's earlier music documentaries Muscle Shoals and Sound City.
The soundtrack and score for A Band Called Death are surprisingly understated for a "punk" documentary and should not dissuade non-punk enthusiasts from watching this inspiring film.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
At South by Southwest this past March, I came across a new project funding platform called Seed&Spark, which was launched in December 2012. Founder Emily Best was inspired by her experience making her first feature, Like the Water, to team with other independent filmmakers to create this funding platform for filmmakers and their audience. The name comes from their philosophy that "films are not just art, they are business ventures. They require the seed of an idea and the sparks of human and capital investments to bring them to life."
To participate via Seed&Spark, a filmmaker posts his or her "wish list" of items and associated costs needed to complete a film project. Donors can choose to either donate funds or loan an item from the project list in exchange for perks or credits in the film. Once the filmmaker receives at least 80 percent of their budget, the funds are released.
Filmmakers can also upload completed films to the Seed&Spark site, where you can view the films for a fee. Viewers can earn site credits for viewing by engaging on the site and spreading the word about Seed&Spark projects. Filmmakers are encouraged to use other distribution methods as well including festivals, theatrical release, and other VOD platforms.
As a fan of writer and director Joss Whedon (pictured above on set) and his recurring ensemble of talented actors including Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg, I was intrigued to hear about Whedon's thematic version of a classic Shakespeare comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. I saw this darkly humorous film at SXSW this year (Don's review) and participated in a roundtable discussion with director Whedon and several members of the cast -- Denisof, Fillion and Gregg. The movie is now in theatrical release and will open in Austin on Friday.
Whedon successfully delivers a dark and humorous portrayal of lovers at odds due to misunderstandings of their own making as well as from outside forces. I strongly agree with Don's observation that "with its cast of stars from Whedon's hit films and shows, it may also introduce an entirely new audience to the wonders of Shakespearean theater."
Whedon's direction stays true to Shakespeare's language, with a modernization in the setting "princes" of industry within a house in Santa Monica designed by Kai Cole, Whedon's spouse. The use of windows and doorways to frame scenes as well as long tracking shots effectively keeps the audience engrossed within the story as well as if portrayed onstage. Whedon stated that he chose to film Much Ado About Nothing in black and white to capture both a comedy noir and "give it an elegance" that is more affordable than in color.
Tragic news in our community derailed my week: Walt Powell, Vice President of Operations at Hospitality Investors, Inc. and co-founder of Flix Brewhouse, passed away unexpectedly on June 4 at age 33. On Tuesday, June 18 at 1 pm, Flix Brewhouse will host a memorial service for Walt. The event is open to anyone and everyone who was affected by the loss, to share stories and raise a pint to Walt, self-proclaimed beer geek.
I find myself struggling between the professional responsibilities of covering a local newsworthy film community event and processing the loss of a dear friend. I've repeatedly had the impulse to vet my facts through the source -- Walt himself -- with the realization that he's gone. The most difficult part of writing this memoriam was not being ready to write in the past tense, something anyone can identify with after the loss of a loved one. However, the importance of memorializing a valuable and well-respected man in our local film and beer communities far outweighs these difficulties.
Walt and I were vaguely acquainted many years ago when he was general manager at Main Event Entertainment in northwest Austin. Being a Dave and Buster's alum myself, I teased him about it being a "D&B wannabee." Walt's reaction was to brag about his staff, ask me for my feedback, and challenge me to compete in skeeball.
It's the end of the world as we know it, and at what more fitting location than a drug-and-booze-filled housewarming at James Franco's fortress in the Hollywood Hills would the damned be found? Based on their original short film, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, writers Jason Stone, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen expand on how Rogen and pal Jay Baruchel -- playing characters named Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel -- come to terms with one another during the Apocalypse in the bromantic comedy, This Is the End. Only this time, they are holed up and trying to survive on the last Milky Way and crackers with James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, while also dealing with the likes of Danny McBride and Emma Stone (all also playing "themselves").
You don't have to be a fan of these celebrities to enjoy this scary rollercoaster ride, but you do need a strong constitution for the explosions of profanity, nudity, gore and bodily fluids. With that said, I found This is the End to be a sidesplitting raunchy ensemble piece that draws strength from a cornucopia of humor ranging from immature to witty self-referential, as well as razor-sharp timing of physical jokes.
This Is the End begins with a simple premise -- in Los Angeles for a visit, Jay just wants to hang out with pal Seth at his place, playing games and smoking weed like old times. However, Seth insists on meeting up with his new group of pals including James, Jonah and Craig. Jay reluctantly goes to the party full of celebrities, which includes a coke-infused, butt-slapping Michael Cera, as well as Mindy Kaling, Emma Stone, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and many other familiar faces from the big screen and comedy stage.
Actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson pair up for the first time since their wildly successful 2005 movie, The Wedding Crashers, in The Internship, which opens in wide release today. The onscreen team that prefers to play by their own rules has gone from chasing skirts to competing for a coveted job at one of the largest tech vanguards, Google. What results is a fairly lighthearted comedy that attempts to transcend the transgenerational gap by including current pop-culture references alongside outdated ones from the 1980s. Rather than bridge that gap, these references provide an opportunity for The Internship to be appreciated by a broader audience.
The premise of The Internship is built on fairly simple principles: The digital age is no place for watch salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), with everyone dependent on their smartphones to check the time of day. When the boss (John Goodman) closes up shop without warning, the pair must find a way to start anew.
Nick reluctantly accepts a job at a mattress store owned by his brother-in-law (Will Ferrell in a cameo), but Billy has bigger dreams. Billy gets lucky when he discovers that Google is interviewing for their summer internship program. The pair are then on their way to Mountain View, California, to the Google campus where they are faced with job competitors half their age and exponentially more tech-savvy. They must collaborate with their team of misfit geeks if they want to win new jobs.
The Austin Film Festival (AFF) and Bob Bullock Museum's fourth annual Made in Texas Family Film Series continues this weekend with Texas native John Lee Hancock's The Rookie. Based on a true story, the film follows the story of Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), a small-town baseball coach who has a chance at the major leagues. Hancock, who's also known for his award-winning film The Blind Side, will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. This screening is free and open to the public, but you do need to RSVP here.
Texas documentary favorite Trash Dance returns for another week-long engagement with afternoon matinee screenings beginning Sunday at the Violet Crown Cinema. Don stated in his review, "In the Austin indie documentary and the dance performance it celebrates, the treasure isn't the trash -- it's the unlikely beauty of trash collection." City of Austin employees receive a $2 discount on ticket purchase at the box office or by phone.
My Facebook newsfeed has been abuzz with friends enjoying The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, and this Sunday is The Paramount Kids Opening Day featuring The Adventures of Robin Hood and Looney Tunes. The Kickoff Party starts at 1 pm with crafts and games before the 2 pm screening of Robin Hood. For the Paramount Kids Classics movies, kids 18 years old and under receive $5 off the regular ticket price at the box office day of show.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
A new chapter in life in life is beginning for many Central Texas teens with graduation ceremonies taking place over the course of the next week. My words of advice to these graduates? Take some time out from college or work to travel and get out of your comfort zone, whether it's backpacking with friends in Big Bend National Park in West Texas or trekking across Europe. Better yet, find a service project in another country where you can experience different cultures and meet people from around the world.
Brothers Colin and Michael Harman are doing just that with their film Out of the Bubble, which is funding through Thursday, June 13 on Kickstarter. However, the Harmans are taking their travels to a whole other level. What was originally intended to simply be documentation of their explorations of the landscape and culture of Norway as they venture "out of their bubble" is now intended to be the foundation of a online movement. The Harmans hope to inspire others to step out of their familiar surroundings and document their stories. These travelogues will then serve to build a network connected through an online hub. See their inspiring pitch video after the jump.