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Lone Star Cinema: Giant

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Giant

A poster for Giant billed the iconic Texas film as The GIANT of Them All.

The poster hardly exaggerated. Running more than three hours, starring three of Hollywood's biggest stars of the era, spanning more than two decades and set against the vastness of a cattle ranch, Giant seemed as big as Texas itself when it was released in 1956.

To the film's legions of fans and many critics, Giant is still a giant. No other film captures the mythical Texas -- if not the real one -- quite like George Stevens' epic story. Countless films have been made here, but with its swaggering view of life in the Lone Star State, Giant may be the most Texan (again, in the completely mythical sense) of all.

Based on a 1952 novel by prolific novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, Giant is the story of the Benedict family, owners of a 595,000-acre West Texas cattle ranch. The film opens in the early 1920s, when Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) travels to Maryland to buy a prized stud horse. He meets the horse owner's daughter, socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), and the two marry after a whirlwind romance.

Photo Essay: Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Post-Renovations

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 Alamo S Lamar & Highball

With little fanfare and zero warning, the eagerly-awaited news went out this week that 1120 South Lamar, the crown jewel and flagship Alamo Drafthouse location, home of Fantastic Fest, gathering place for filmmakers and celebrities, clubhouse for movie geeks, hangout for hipsters, and destination for Austinites of every variety, was to finally emerge, like a phoenix from the ashes (or perhaps like sweet zombie Jesus, if that’s more your thing). Point is: Something this great couldn’t stay dead, and it’s back!

Slackery News Tidbits: August 18, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Austin Film Festival teams up with the Texas Film Commission and the Bullock Texas State History Museum for a screening of Blood Simple on Wednesday at 7 pm in the museum's Texas Spirit Theater. Blood Simple, which follows a Texas bar owner on his search to prove his wife's infidelity, marks this year's final screening in the Made in Texas Film Series. 
  • AFF announced more panels and panelists for this year's conference: Dallas Buyers Club writer Craig Borten; Sergio Sanchez, writer of The Impossible; Philipp Meyer, author of the The Son, a soon-to-be-adapted AMC television series; and the writers of the hit TV series Bob's Burgers, Lizzie and Wendy Molyneux.
  • The Music Bed, a music licensing company for filmmakers and photographers, is hosting a contest to help fund short movies. Filmmakers are encouraged to submit their short film idea online to collect public votes in an effort to win the grand prize, chosen by The Music Bed staff, of either a custom movie score or up to $7,500 in music licensing. Two runners-up will be chosen by popular vote. The deadline to submit short movies is Sept. 1.
  • The Contemporary Austin will host a free screening of Impossible Light on Thursday at 7 pm at the Jones Center (700 Congress Ave.). The indie doc traces the story behind "The Bay Lights," the installation of 25,000 LED lights along San Francisco's Bay Bridge. 
  • Austin-based indie production company Studio e2 will host the short movie showcase for women-directed projects, Shorty Shoots Too, on Friday, Aug. 28 at 8 pm at at East Seventh Eats (1403 E. 7th St.).  

Review: Mood Indigo

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Mood Indigo posterIf one can expect anything from Michel Gondry, it is that along with the whimsy and touch of the bizarre inherent in his work is an element of truth.  Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind uses erasure imagery to illustrate the pain of heartbreak. Be Kind Rewind has friendly video store employees creating their own versions of Hollywood hits for their neighborhood.  Gondry's latest film, love story Mood Indigo, however, is utterly drowning in whimsy and lacking any figment of truth.

Debonair and bearded Romain Duris (Populaire, The Beat That My Heart Skipped) stars as Colin, living off family money in a spacious Paris apartment. Audrey Tautou (Amelie, A Very Long Engagement) plays cute Chloe, whom Colin meets at a party. The plot goes something like this: guy meets girl, guy and girl fall in love and marry, flower grows in girl's lung.

There's also a B-plot, involving a friend (Gad Elmaleh, Priceless, Midnight in Paris) Colin loans money to court a woman (Aïssa Maïga, Cache, Bamako), which is just as confusing as the rest of the film. The fever dream of a movie is full of fantastic visions, but the story is ridiculous beyond measure. Is fate written out for us by a room full of random people on vintage typewriters? And if so, who cares?

Unpredictabilities may rule Mood Indigo, but the film still follows the overly-familiar classic "movie cough" rule. It used to be that any time someone in a movie coughed, they were terminally ill -- after all, nobody has allergies in the movies. And indeed, as soon as Chloe adorably coughs post-honeymoon, things start going downhill for the couple. 

Movies This Week: August 15-21, 2014

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Mood Indigo 

The Austin Film Society's "Films Of Roger Corman" series (Jette's preview) continues this weekend at the Marchesa with 1961's The Pit And The Pendulum starring Vincent Price. Tonight's screening is a Free Member Friday event for any members of AFS (with General Admission tickets also available). It will also screen again on Sunday afternoon. Tom Gilroy's The Cold Lands is scheduled for a "Best of the Fests" booking on Tuesday at the Marchesa and Thursday's Essential Cinema selection features Barbara Stanwyck (Elizabeth's preview) in William Wellman's Lady Of Burlesque. This extrememly rare 35mm print is on loan from the Library Of Congress, making it a night you won't want to miss! 

Austin Film Society is also presenting the Texas premiere of Sin City: A Dame To Die For in 3D on Wednesday evening at the Paramount. Co-directors Robert Rodriguez and (just announced!) Frank Miller will be in attendance for an introduction, post-screening Q&A and at the after party. Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, who appears on the soundtrack, whill also be at the screening. Tickets, including VIP packages, are available on the Paramount's website

Cinema East will be hosting Above All Else (Don's SXSW review) on Sunday night on the lawn of the French Legation Museum. There's only one more film in this summer's series after this, so head out for this all-ages, BYOB-friendly event. Doors are at 7 pm and the film will begin at 9. This documentary had its world premiere at SXSW this year and examines the battle over the Keystone XL oil pipeline, introducing us to an environmental activist from East Texas who tried to block it. 

Review: The Giver

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The GiverReleased in 1993, the 1994 Newbery Medal winner The Giver by Lois Lowry has been one of the most controversial and influential novels of the 1990s. Banned from schools across the nation for being "violent" or "unsuited for younger age groups," this dystopic tale centers around Jonas, a young boy who lives in a literally colorless world of contentment.

Screenwriters Robert B. Weide and Michael Mitnick have adapted this book in the sci-fi thriller film The Giver, directed by Phillip Noyce (Salt, The Patriot Games).

In what at first appears to be an utopian society of "Sameness" with absence of pain and suffering, Jonas (Brenton Thwaites) seems content with his friends and family. He lives with his parents, the dutiful nurturer Father (Alexander Skarsgard) and his more stern and unyielding Mother (Katie Holmes). His classmates Fiona (Odeya Rush) and Asher (Cameron Monaghan) are frequent companions, and prepare to receive their life assignment as even choices have been eliminated in this seemingly perfect society.

Jonas receives the most prestigious and ominous assignment of all -- as the Receiver of Memory, he must learn and keep the dark history of the Community to guide the Elders and prevent the tragic mistakes of the past. However, as he begans to learn from the current Receiver who is now referred to as "The Giver" (Jeff Bridges), he discovers the dark history behind his community that has led to the absence of joy, pleasure, and color from their lives as well.

Jonas is faced with the difficult choice of accepting the role that he has been given, or do what he can with the aid of others to bring the Community back to the "real" world. Either way he must deal with the Chief Elder (Meryl Streep), who is fearful and distrusting of human nature in his journey.

Review: Calvary

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Calvary

The Catholic Church's seemingly endless scandals have been fodder for many great films, from the searing documentary Deliver Us from Evil to the star-studded critical darling Doubt to last year's sleeper indie hit Philomena.

The latest movie to address the church's sex scandals, the Irish drama Calvary, is one of the darkest. Equal parts whodunit (actually, who will do it), character study and meditation on faith, Calvary is a thoughtful film with a cold, grim heart.

Calvary's protagonist, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), is a marked man from the film's opening scene. During a confession, a bitter parishioner vows to kill Father James as retribution for being raped by another priest decades earlier.  The parishioner doesn't accuse Father James of any wrongdoing; in fact, he singles him out for his innocence. "There's no point in killing a bad priest," says the anonymous voice in the confessional booth, "but killing a good one -- that would be a shock."

Shorts Break: 'My Mom Smokes Weed'

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My Mom Smokes Weed posterAs a film critic, I hear a lot about websites where thieves steal and repost other critics' reviews, sometimes not even bothering to remove identifying material.

But this week, I got my first experience in seeing a purported "filmmaker" post short films to his website that he might claim are his, but obviously do not belong to him. I know this because I saw one of the films in its original incarnation: the very funny short My Mom Smokes Weed, from Austin filmmaker Clay Liford -- it screened at Austin Film Festival in 2009 as well as a number of other film fests. And if you've watched any of Liford's movies (Wuss, Earthling), you know this is so very much his trademark work that anyone else trying to pass it off as his own is an idiot.

If you haven't seen My Mom Smokes Weed, now's your chance. I've embedded it below. And as a bonus, I would like to point you to an Arts + Labor blog post that includes some of the back-and-forth between Liford and the genius who retitled the film Smoked and posted it to his film production site, as well as a link to the Reddit thread where Liford learned about the plagiarism in the first place. He's not the only filmmaker whose films this person is stealing.

When he's not battling moronic plagiarists, Liford is currently working on Slash (aka S/ash), the feature-length expansion of his short film of the same name. You can follow the status of that production on its Facebook page. The short screened at Fantastic Fest 2013 -- read Debbie's interview with Liford about the short and planned feature.

And now the authentic My Mom Smokes Weed (YouTube link), starring Nate Rubin and Sylvia Luedtke, shot in Dallas before Liford moved to Austin:

Ready, Set, Fund: The Puzzle of Successful Crowdfunding

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Director and Stars of Mijo (My Son)

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

I enjoy skimming over the last three years of our "Ready, Set, Fund" monthly column and seeing how many film funding campaigns have achieved success. A gratifying experiences of writing this feature is following projects from their infancy and on through their maturation to the big screen.

Sadly though, I see far too many campaigns that never get off the ground. There are a multitude of reasons for failure, but often I suspect it's due to too high of a goal in an "all or nothing" campaign, too short of a timeframe or simply not enough effort put into the creation and support of a fundraising campaign. Research and maintenance are critical components of any successful fundraising endeavor, and can require a substantial amount of time, money and resources.

Hitchcock Takes Over Paramount and State This Week

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Alfred Hitchcock

By Frank Calvillo

Few other filmmakers lived to see their name become synonymous with a specific brand of filmmaking quite like Alfred Hitchcock did. This month, as part of their Summer Classic Film Series, the Paramount and Stateside Theaters have lined up a weeklong tribute to Hitchcock featuring the likes of Psycho and The Birds, among other gems from the master of suspense; each of which, regardless of how many prior viewings, remains a thrilling pleasure to see on the big screen.

"We're playing the hits, and a few B-sides too," proclaims Paramount's official site in describing Hitchcock week. Hits is right with North by Northwest, Vertigo and Notorious also scheduled to screen, while "second-tier" Hitchcock classics Rebecca and Strangers on a Train (screening the following week) also make appearances. However, it's the four interestingly chosen aforementioned B-sides that prove interesting highlights and really speak to Hitchcock's versatility as a filmmaker. Each one differs greatly in style, tone and overall approach, yet still manage to retain that specific Hitchcock flavor in ways both subtle and upfront.

When 1948's Rope (screening 8/14-15) was released, it was seen as highly scandalous due to the relationship between the two main characters, which was full of homosexual undertones. Besides this, the plot, which deals with two young men (Farley Granger and John Dall) who decide to murder a fellow former classmate simply to experience the thrill and exhilaration of killing, was not everyone's cup of tea in late 1940s America. The pair go even further by throwing a dinner party moments after the killing, which include a number of their victim's friends and family as well as their former schoolteacher Rupert (Jimmy Stewart -- in what may have been the most unorthodox role of his career).

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