A better title for Men, Women & Children might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Internet. Another might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie.
I had hoped Jason Reitman's latest film would be up to the lofty standards of his best work, Juno and Up in the Air. But what could have been an insightful look at how the Internet has shaped our lives is instead a slight, heavy-handed and melodramatic cautionary tale about the dangers (at least from the film's point of view) that lurk online.
Shot in Austin, Men, Women & Children follows a group of teens and adults whose online activities land them in a heap of trouble. Among them are a mostly happy couple, Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Don Truby (Adam Sandler), who let their sexual boredom get the better of them; Helen finds extramarital action thanks to hookup site Ashley Madison, and Don hires an escort after perusing his son's favorite porn sites.
Meanwhile, paranoid and overprotective mom Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) obsesses over the online activities of her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), monitoring her every text and Facebook post. (She even tracks the poor girl's whereabouts via her cell phone.) Despite her mom's spying and smothering, Brandy still manages to carry on a secret relationship with football star Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), who quits the team so he can devote more time to online role playing games.
By the time St. Vincent draws to a close, you'll probably feel emotionally manipulated. You will have certainly realized that you've seen this story what feels like a million times before. If you're super nitpicky, you might even be inclined to make a list of films in the same vein that you like better (About A Boy and Rushmore immediately spring to mind). Unless you are as curmudgeonly as Vincent (Bill Murray) in this motion picture, I am betting you'll still find yourself giving in to this movie no matter how hard you resist.
As Vincent's new neighbor Maggie, Melissa McCarthy turns in a surprisingly subdued performance as a single mother struggling to keep things afloat for her her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher in an outstanding debut). Things get off to a very rocky start and they don't get much better when Oliver gets locked out of his new home on the first day of school and Maggie has to convince Vincent over the phone to babysit him until she can get off work. As the grumpiest of grumpy old men, it's not a task Vincent is well suited for, but he could use the money so he reluctantly agrees.
The searing documentary The Overnighters asks a lot of hard questions. The hardest may be, "What does community mean?"
Shot in Williston, North Dakota, filmmaker Jesse Moss's documentary -- which Drafthouse Films is releasing Friday in Austin -- captures the tiny town in the midst of the current North Dakota oil boom. The boom is a blessing and a curse: The townspeople welcome the unprecedented economic boost, but have mixed feelings about the influx of thousands of oil field workers.
The main problem is housing. Most new arrivals have nowhere to live, so many sleep in their cars, trucks and RVs, parked wherever they can. Another problem is less about logistics than human nature: The workers are roughnecks in every sense of the word -- desperately poor men, often with little education, all chasing quick money and some running from their pasts. To the good and decent citizens (in the ironic sense; more on this later) of Williston, the men are the others -- a scruffy, scary and unwelcome lot. The townspeople's hospitality ends where their fear begins.
The Overnighters focuses on Rev. Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor in Williston who opens his church as temporary housing for the workers. He does so because helping thy neighbor is one of his pastoral duties, of course; he's also immensely compassionate and nonjudgmental, a man who cares deeply about the often broken men who desperately seek the church's help. Far more than just their landlord, he's their counselor and friend.
After years in the making, the documentary 61 Bullets will screen at Austin Film Festival next weekend. The film, which won an AFS Grant and was partially backed through Kickstarter, is the latest project from Austin director David Modigliani (Crawford). He and co-director Louisiana (Lucy) Kreutz worked with producer Yvonne Boudreaux to delve into the story behind the death of famed Louisiana governor/controversial figure Huey Long.
Before AFF kicks off, the filmmakers answered some questions for me via email about what led them to make the film and the process involved.
Slackerwood (for Boudreaux): Can you talk about your connection to this historical event, and what drew you to look deeper into the circumstances of Huey Long’s death?
Yvonne Boudreaux: "No one has ever told the story right," my grandmother Ida Boudreaux said to me when I was an eighth grader studying Louisiana history. I was working on a report of the shooting of Huey Long, and had learned from my mom that my great uncle, Carl Weiss, was the alleged assassin.
I was fascinated that the subject was never spoken about in the family, and even more so by the mystery that I sensed in the official version of the story. Obviously, this film and the characters are very close to me personally. As production went on and I approached the ages of Carl and Yvonne [Carl Weiss's wife] at the time of the shooting, I began to connect with her story very deeply.
I worked hard to wrap my head around the consequences for Yvonne and her young son after losing the man she loved, leaving family behind, and raising a child alone. The pain that she must have endured and the strength that she showed in moving on were both heavy on my mind. I still think about and admire her often, and will continue to do so as my life unfolds.
Slackerwood (for Modigliani): How did you become involved in this project?
David Modigliani: My friend from graduate school in Austin, Yvonne Boudreaux, brought the story to me. She had seen my first feature documentary, Crawford, and she knew I was interested in exploring political stories through the eyes of the people they impacted. As I learned about the mystery, about the extraordinary, larger-than-life history of Huey Long, and about the families seeking to find closure over the death of their patriarchs, I knew we had a compelling film to make.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent movie projects.
This month's Texas film crowdfunding projects tingle the senses.
Sight: Watch the Evolution of a Criminal by supporting this award-winning documentary's Kickstarter campaign. The doc's subject, Houstonite Darius Clark Monroe, is raising $60,000 until Oct. 29 for a nationwide theatrical and DVD release, as well as speaking engagements at schools, prisons and various community institutions across the country. Evolution of a Criminal, which premiered at last year's SXSW and Dallas IFF, is the answer to Monroe's question about how his 16-year-old self became a bank robber. In the movie he interviews family members, friends and mentors who recount the stages of his transformation, going from a happy childhood to the moment when he realized the severity of his family's financial struggles.
Austin Film Society continues their "Art Horror" series this month at the Marchesa with a 35mm print of Masaki Kobayashi's 1964 ghost story anthology, Kwaidan. Tonight's screening is actually a Free Member Friday event, so if you're an AFS member you won't have to pay a dime for this horror classic. It will also screen again on Sunday at noon. Also on Sunday, you can check out the 2013 documentary The Sarnos: A Life In Dirty Movies, which examines the life and career of sexploitation director Joe Sarno and his wife Peggy. It will be paired with Joe's 1966 feature Moonlighting Wives on Sunday evening.
There is a lot of rep activity at Alamo Drafthouse theaters this week and we'll start off by looking at what is going down at the Ritz. You can catch Guys And Dolls in 35mm for "Broadway Brunch" on Saturday and Sunday, and Kubrick's big-screen classic 2001: A Space Odyssey will be screening in 70mm on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. A "Cinema Cocktails" screening of Death Becomes Her on Sunday night in 35mm (if it's the same beautiful print that played during "MerylThon," it's well worth scoping a ticket), a digital restoration of The Astrologer fresh from Fantastic Fest also on Sunday evening, a very rare screening of In The Land Of The Headhunters from 1914 for its 100th anniversary on Monday night, and what could be an oddly perfect double feature: Little Monsters and Phantasm in 35mm on Tuesday night.
Alamo Slaughter Lane quite appropriately has Sofia Coppola's scrumptious Marie Antoinette for "Afternoon Tea" on Saturday afternoon and quote-along screenings of Shaun Of The Dead will be happening on both Sunday and Thursday nights. Alamo Village will screen Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby on Sunday night and the anime classic Ninja Scroll (presented with subtitles) on Thursday. Alamo South Lamar goes back to 1948 for their Halloween pick this weekend with Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. They'll also host sing-alongs for Little Shop Of Horrors on Tuesday and Thursday. South Lamar will also be hanging on to limited evening screenings of the new Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days On Earth and the excellent thriller The Guest all week long, both are worth catching on the big screen.
'Tis the season for dark dramas, and Kill the Messenger may be this year's darkest, a film all the darker because it's based on a demoralizing true story.
The titular messenger is Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter who in 1996 writes a series of articles alleging a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan cocaine smugglers in the 1980s. According to Webb's Dark Alliance series, the CIA knew that huge amounts of Nicaraguan coke were sold as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, and the profits were funneled back to the Contras, CIA-backed rebel groups fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.
Webb does not allege that the CIA was directly involved in smuggling or selling crack. Instead, he says the agency aided the Contras by looking the other way, withholding evidence from the Justice Department and Congress, and shielding the smugglers and dealers from prosecution. Webb also alleges that the Nicaraguan cocaine sparked the crack epidemic that spread to many U.S. cities.
Freely adapted from the "stranger than fiction" true tale of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez (aka the "Honeymoon Killers" of the late 1940s), the movie Alleluia is a dark and twisted love story comprising four chapters titled for its female characters and centering around a specific crime. This is the second film in Fabrice du Welz’s trilogy about the Belgian Ardennes -- the first being the 2004 horror film Calvaire.
Gloria (Lola Dueñas) lives a fairly solitary life with her young daughter, with her primary companions ibeing the corpses that she prepares as a nurse in the morgue at a local hospital. Her friend Madeline (Stéphane Bissot) convinces her to go out with the handsome and charismatic Michel (Laurent Lucas), who she has found through an online dating site. It is quickly revealed that Michel is even worse than the men your friends warned you about on the Internet -- not only is he a gigolo taking money from women, but he is also psychotic.
The tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest was a memorable and thrilling rollercoaster ride full of familiar faces including diehard genre film fans, filmmakers, and stars including Keanu Reeves and Adrianne Palicki -- pictured above at the John Wick Q&A. Perhaps the mark of a decade of this film festival that continues to please its attendees fueled everyone's excitement, but I can confirm that the film slate and scheduled events were better than ever. My one complaint to Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League? "It's difficult to decided between so much in one time slot!" Between MondoCon, signature events, and films from all over the world and across several genres I was hard pressed to decide what to do. Not a bad problem to have.
The layout of the new Alamo Drafthouse along with sporadic rainstorms made moving around and taking breaks between screenings somewhat daunting in the first few days, but Fantastic Festival director Kristen Bell and her staff were quick on their feet to adjust the crowd-control process. Quite a bit more social interaction took place between attendees this year than ever before, with a designated smoking zone reminiscent of my high school's non-official smoking zone behind our football field bleachers.
Here are a couple of capsule reviews from my time at Fantastic Fest this year: When Animals Dream and In Order of Disappearance. Both movies are set in winter in Nordic regions, so an overly air-conditioned movie theater is the ideal viewing experience (at least if you're in Austin).
When Animals Dream (Når dyrene drømmer)
I went into When Animals Dream almost completely blind, and it's hard not to encourage you to do the same. The Danish film premiered at Cannes and is the feature directorial debut for Jonas Alexander Arnby.
Sonia Suhl stars as Marie, a teen girl just starting her first job in a fish-processing facility. She's drawn to a cute boy, and getting pranked by a total jerk. Her mom is nearly comatose, for reasons that slowly become evident. Marie has found a rash on her body and as the movie progresses, hair grows on the rash and in other incongruous places, and she has spells of snarling short temper. No one ever uses a word like "werewolf" ... because no one has to.
This movie unwinds very carefully, giving the audience pieces of information one at a time, presenting the tale in a spare way. Everything feels stripped down: Marie's unmade-up face, her economy with dialogue, the barren atmosphere of the small port town. And yet the movie is almost mesmerizing.
I've heard people comparing the movie to Let the Right One In, possibly because both are deliberately paced Scandinavian films about the undead's effect on everyday life -- a minimum of fantasy in what is often harsh reality. And yes, it's a fair comparison, although When Animals Dream does not feel derivative.