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Dallas IFF Review: Produce

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Produce Still PhotoFilmmaker Chris Dowling, an alumnus of the radio-TV-film program at The University of Texas at Austin, wrote and directed family drama Produce, which debuted at the Dallas International Film Festival last week. Although this film deals with some heavy-hearted issues, overall Produce is an engaging and entertaining story that should please viewers.

The opening sequence of a morning routine of breakfast, shower and a bike commute to work at first appears typical, until the camera angle widens and we see the character simply known as Produce (David DeSanctis), who has Down's Syndrome. It's this foundation that sets an important plot point for the film -- Produce is not defined by his condition despite the challenges and prejudices that he faces daily. He wants nothing more than to be employee of the month at the Value Market where he works as a produce clerk. Sadly his manager and co-workers don't respect him or appreciate his strengths.

The character who's the most challenged in Produce is Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha), a former professional baseball player who choked during a game and numbs his shame with alcohol. The real adult in the house is his daughter, 17-year-old Katie (McKaley Miller), often left to fend for herself while her dad is out drinking with his booze buddies. Calvin's self-destructive behavior threatens his relationship with his daughter, as well as a potential career as a baseball manager.

Dallas IFF 2014: Farah White, 'About Mom and Dad'

Farah WhiteIf I had to place a wager on who will "out-Mars" Austin talent Jonny Mars with the number of film projects that one Texan can possibly be associated with in one year, my bet for the top contender is Dallas-based Farah White. At this year's Dallas International Film Festival, White was involved in five films as either a member of the cast and producer.

Hell hath no fury like a Texas woman scorned in Rachel Shepard's About Mom and Dad, a comedic drama of a couple whose decades-long marriage disintegrates. White leads the ensemble Texas cast as Teri, effortlessly delivering many of the film's witty lines including, "There are no sides -- you just need to know that I am right." Dallas-based Brent Anderson stars as dad Eddie, and Austinites Heather Kafka and Jonny Mars also appear in supporting roles in the movie.

White is also executive producer for About Mom and Dad, having acted in and produced Shepard's road journey drama Traveling, which premiered at DIFF 2011. About Mom and Dad stars Reece Rios, Melissa Odom and Texan actress McKaley Miller, and was shot in Marfa as well as the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Cine Las Americas Announces 2014 Lineup

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Cine Las Americas announced their full film lineup last week in preparation for their upcoming festival, which takes place April 22-27. his is the 17th year for the fest, and the list of events includes thought-provoking and unique films from all over the world.

The kickoff will take place Tuesday night, April 22 at 7 pm with the movie Tercera Llamada (Last Call) at the Marchesa Theatre. The story is based on a play written by director Francisco Franco in which a theater group goes through a challenging process in trying to stage the play Caligula for an international theater festival.

The Marchesa is one of four venues for film screenings this year, including the Alamo Drafthouse Village, the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center and the Jones Auditorium at the Ragsdale Center of St. Edward's University.

Review: Joe

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Joe posterFilmmaker David Gordon Green has shot two films in Central Texas now (well, three, but only two are out yet), and he gets it. He really does. For both Prince Avalanche and now Joe, he took stories that could be set anywhere and ground them in local rural settings, with characters played by residents who weren't previously professional actors. The most affecting scene in Prince Avalanche was the one in the ruins with Joyce Payne.

In Joe, I felt like I could drive 30 miles and find the unnamed town in which the film was set, with all its characters intact. In such a setting, the lead actors fit in and feel like characters, not stars. Even Nicolas Cage

Cage plays the title character, whose job is leading a team of laborers to clear a forest for development -- hacking at trees with axes that contain poisonous liquids. He's approached by Gary (Tye Sheridan), a teenager in a family of drifters squatting in an abandoned shack. Gary wants to join Joe's work gang, needing money to help his family, because his perpetually drunk-and-enraged father (Gary Poulter) can't do it.

It's a simple story when I lay it out that way, but the story isn't the point here, it's the characters and the way they reveal themselves as the movie progresses, especially Joe. He's oddly passive at times, letting matters run their course in their own way. And yet some people and things affect him like dropping a match in gasoline. Don't even ask about the dog in the whorehouse. (That's a sentence I never expected to write.)

For someone who's seen too many hysterically overdone performances from Cage, his work as Joe is amazing, reminding us that when he's well directed in a well-written role, he's a marvel. He manages to portray a man keeping his passions under wraps and even when he does let loose, it's in a way that isn't histrionic. He doesn't dominate the film, either -- Sheridan holds up against him perfectly in their scenes together. But even in scenes with his work gang, or in a small grocery, the other characters get to shine.

Slackery News Tidbits: April 14, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news. 

  • Congratulations to filmmaker/University of Texas lecturer Kat Candler (Debbie's interview) on her 2014 Dallas International Film Festival's Grand Jury Narrative Prize for Hellion (Debbie's review). Texas native Darius Clark Monroe's movie Evolution of a Criminal also won the Documentary Feature Special Jury Prize for Directorial Vision. The Texas Grand Jury Prize went to Flutter (Debbie's review), with a special jury prize to the East Texas documentary Tomato Republic. Austin filmmaker John Fiege's documentary Above All Else (Don's review, Elizabeth's interview) won a special jury prize in the Silver Heart category. Here's the full list of awards.
  • The 17th Annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival announced its full lineup last week. The Marchesa Hall and Theater will feature the festival's opening and closing-night movies, international new releases and "Hecho en Tejas," a category devoted to movies made in Texas, including the documentary Las Marthas, about the annual Laredo-based celebration honoring President George Washington, where debutantes dress as American Revolutionaries.
  • Screenings for this year's Cine Las Americas will take place at the Alamo Drafthouse Village and the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center. San Antonio filmmaker Efrain Gutierrez, whose 1970s microindies are considered to be the first Chicano films, will also be honored during the festival, which takes place April 22-27.
  • Television station AMC has returned to sponsor and judge this year's Austin Film Festival and Conference's One-Hour Pilot Award for the Teleplay Competition. The award is open to any pilot script written in the one-hour format for an original TV series. Finalists will be given the opportunity to meet with a representative of AMC during the event, which takes place Oct. 23-30, or over the phone at a later date. 

Movies This Week: April 11-17, 2014

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Joe 

The Austin Film Society has a very special event tonight at the Marchesa to kick off another week of marvelous screenings. The Sound Of Silent Film Festival will feature short films accompanied by musical performances from Chicago's Access Contemporary Music organization. Several Austin musicians will join ACM for this collaborative and unique evening.  

The AFS spotlight on New Romanian Cinema continues this week at the Marchesa with Cristian Mungiu's critically acclaimed Beyond The Hills on Sunday (presented digitally) and his emotionally devastating 2007 feature Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days (presented in 35mm) on Tuesday. On Wednesday night, Richard Linklater will present Cutter's Way starring Jeff Bridges and John Heard. As is the case for his entire Jewels In The Wasteland series, there will be an introduction and post-film group discussion led by Linklater himself. David Pulbrook's 2012 effort Last Dance will be featured on Thursday night as part of this month's Essential Cinema series. 

Jordan recently wrote a great post looking at the upcoming offerings from the Paramount 100 celebration over at the Paramount Theatre. On Monday night, you can catch a Universal Monsters 35mm double feature with Bela Lugosi starring in Dracula and Boris Karloff as Frankenstein.  

Chatting with Nicolas Cage, David Gordon Green and the 'Joe' Cast

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Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, and David Gordon Green of 'Joe'

After a series of premieres across the country including SXSW and Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF), Joe opens today in Austin at the Violet Crown Cinema and Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. Based on the novel by Larry Brown, this dark drama reveals the raw and often brutal nature of an impoverished family and what happens when a damaged man becomes involved in the family drama.

The leads of Joe are veteran star Nicolas Cage in the title role and Texas' up-and-coming young actor Tye Sheridan (Tree of Life, Mud) as Gary. Cage, Sheridan and Austin-based director David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche) spoke to members of the press at a conference during SXSW last month. I also spoke with several cast members at the recent DIFF premiere.

Green said he was attracted to the script for Joe because it struck him as "a great contemporary western, a genre that I’ve always been drawn to." He was already familiar with Brown's novel, and had even worked on a documentary about the author.

Dallas IFF 2014: David and Nathan Zellner, 'Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter'

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Nathan and David Zellner at Sundance

Writing and directing team Nathan and David Zellner (pictured above) have been to film festivals all over the world recently with their latest narrative, Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (my review) -- from Sundance in Park City to Berlin, Buenos Aires and Austin for SXSW. This week the film screens at the Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) on Friday, April 11, and Saturday, April 12.

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter stars Rinko Kikuchi as a lonely young woman disconnected from her coworkers and the traditional culture of Tokyo. Her obsession with the mythical treasure from the movie Fargo leads her on a journey well outside her comfort zone and knowledge, through the United States.

I spoke with Nathan and David Zellner last month when Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter screened at SXSW Film Festival in Austin. Here's what they had to say about the film.

Violet Crown Cinema Debuts Texas Spotlight Film Series

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flutter film posterIt makes welcome sense that a locally owned and operated movie theater would present a program that highlights its home state while also supporting one of its own Austin friends. Violet Crown Cinema has announced a new ongoing film series called Texas Spotlight, which will feature the work of Texas filmmakers and Texas-based films.

Three monthly screenings have been announced so far, and all ticket sales from these initial shows will be donated to a fund for Evan West, a Violet Crown employee severely injured in the March 13 hit-and-run on Red River Street. 

This first trio of films features two newer selections and one retrospective screening, and all three directors hail from Texas (either Austin or Dallas). Tickets are available here

Read on for screening details and descriptions (provided by Violet Crown), and stay in touch for updates about future Texas Spotlight screenings. If you'd like to donate directly to the Evan West fund, you can do so here

  • Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale of Human Survival and the Transcendence of Self, April 22 -- When invited by an old friend to speak to a struggling sales team at a conference, Bob Birdnow (veteran Dallas actor Barry Nash) reluctantly agrees. Bob's attempt to say something motivational takes an unexpected turn when, forced off script and desperate, he begins the one story he'd hoped he'd never have to tell. This adaptation of a one-man show won the Ron Tibbett Award for Excellence in Filmmaking at the Indie Memphis Film Festival. (Director: Eric Steele, 2013)
  • Flutter, May 13 -- To treat her son, Johnathan, who suffers from a degenerative eye condition, JoLynn must break society's laws. With her husband away indefinitely, JoLynn struggles to nurture her son in the face of poverty, isolation and incarceration. Flutter explores the truest love on earth -- the love of a mother and child. (Director: Eric Hueber, 2014)
    Note: Debbie recently caught this one at the Dallas International Film Festival and highly recommends it.

Dallas IFF 2014: Meet the 'Copenhagen' Filmmaker and Stars

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Freddericke Dahl Hansen, Mark Raso, and Gethin Anthony of COPENHAGEN

The movie Copenhagen, winner of the 2014 Slamdance Audience Award for Best Narrative (my review), has its Texas screening debut today and Thursday at the Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF).

In his feature directorial debut, Canadian writer-director Mark Raso takes viewers on a personal journey for Will (Gethin Anthony), a young man who must face himself while seeking clues about his father. He is helped in his search by the young yet mature Effie (Frederikke Dahl Hanssen) who must deal with her own challenges at home.

While at Slamdance, I had an opportunity to speak with Raso, Anthony and Hanssen about Copenhagen. Here's what they had to say about the film.

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