Debbie Cerda's blog

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.

Film on Tap: 'Crafting a Nation' Here in Texas

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Courtney Cobb of Crafting a Nation

Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

Registration for breweries participating in the 2013 Great American Beer Festival held annually in Denver opened last week, and the 600-plus slots sold out in a record time of less than two hours. Despite the efforts of host organization Brewers Association to increase the number of participating breweries for this year's three-day event, over 300 breweries and brewpubs are currently on the waitlist. This overwhelming demand is indicative of the incredible growth of craft beer across the United States.

Two beer documentaries that capture this growth, featuring Central Texas craft breweries I covered in my January 2012 Film on Tap column, are finally screening in Austin. Chris Erlon hosted a cast and crew screening of his Brewed in Austin in June, and is in discussion about more screenings as part of the Alamo Drafthouse's "Meet the Brewers" special event series.

Alamo Drafthouse continues to support local craft brewers with the Austin premiere of beer documentary Crafting a Nation as the opening feature for this summer's Rolling Roadshow series at Jester King Craft Brewery on Thursday, July 18. This film features many craft beer-related individuals and businesses in Central Texas as well as across the nation that are part of the current American craft beer movement.

Interview: Scott McGehee and David Siegel, 'What Maisie Knew'

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Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel with Onata Aprile on set of WHAT MAISIE KNEW

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."

Review: What Maisie Knew

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What Maisie Knew Still PhotoFilms 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.

Review: A Band Called Death

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A Band Called Death One SheetThe 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: Visiting Seed&Spark

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Love Land

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.

Discussing 'Much Ado About Nothing' with Joss Whedon and Cast

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Much Ado About Nothing Director Joss Whedon with Amy Acker

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.

Film on Tap: Remembering Walt Powell of Flix Brewhouse

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Walt Powell of Flix BrewhouseTragic 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.

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