SXSW Film Festival has just announced the last round of features included in the 2011 festival, in the Midnighters and SXFantastic categories. "SXFantastic" is a joint venture between SXSW and Fantastic Fest, and the films generally screen at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, often with wacky hijinks from the Alamo gang. In addition, SXSW has also announced its substantial short film lineup, including narratives, documentaries, animation and music videos. One category is dedicated to Texas shorts, which is great to see.
You can see the full lineup here. Although none of the new features are Austin movies as far as I can tell -- in fact, few are American -- we'll post an article soon with details on the Austin-connected shorts. In the meantime, here are a few highlights and notes on Austin connections, no matter how tenuous. The actual schedule for SXSW Film should be announced within another week or so, along with info on film passes and other details.
- Hobo with a Shotgun is about as close to being an Austin film as a movie shot in Nova Scotia by a Canadian can possibly be -- I explained why when the film officially premiered at Sundance. I hope to see this but it's a midnight movie and you all know how wussy I am about seeing movies at that hour (the last SXSW film I stayed up that late to see was Drag Me to Hell).
- British filmmaker Simon Rumley was at SXSW 2010 with his Austin-shot horror film, Red White & Blue. This year, he's back as one of the writer/directors of a horror anthology from the UK, Little Deaths. Rumley's segment is called "Bitch" and is about a couple in a destructive sadomasochistic relationship. (Horror Asylum has a poster and longer synopsis of Rumley's segment.)
Here's the latest update on Austin movie news and upcoming special screenings:
- I can't get through this list without noting one final time that tonight's the night I will be on a panel of film critics as part of an AFS-hosted special screening of Gerald Peary's documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. Tickets are still available, you know.
- I really enjoyed the short film Quadrangle at SXSW last year, where it won Best Documentary Short. Austin filmmaker Amy Grappell interviewed her parents and used old photos to piece together the story of the relationship her mom and dad had with the couple next door, when Amy was a child. HBO2 will be showing this doc several times, starting next Wednesday, Feb. 16. If you can't get to a TV with HBO2, Aurora Picture Show in Houston is screening the film as part of their "Love is a Many Splintered Thing" shorts compilation on Sunday night at Alamo Drafthouse West Oaks.
- Houston documentary Thunder Soul (Jenn's review), which I still regret missing at SXSW (stupid parking), has found a new champion: Jamie Foxx. Foxx is now an executive producer and will help promote the film, which Roadside Attractions will start releasing in theaters in September.
Despite the later success of these Texas cinematic giants, their early works remain relatively obscure and are rarely screened. So, if you're a Texas movie buff like me, you won't want to miss the upcoming "Texas Legends, Before They Were Legends" program, which presents a collection of first short films from some of Texas' most successful and cherished filmmakers. Presented by the Texas Independent Film Network, Austin Film Society and Screen Door Film, the program includes the following films:
- Bottle Rocket (1992), by Wes Anderson. This short (pictured at right) is the basis for the full-length feature version of Bottle Rocket, released four years later.
- Styx (1976), by Jan Krawitz. This documentary is an impressionistic view of the Philadelphia subway system.
- Woodshock (1985), by Richard Linklater. This documentary captures the mayhem of the 1985 Woodshock Music Festival in Dripping Springs.
The SXSW Film Festival always has a great showing of documentaries and narrative shorts and features from Austin filmmakers. A number of films are also shot in the Central Texas area. It's starting to feel like it wouldn't really be SXSW without a shot of the Frost Bank Building in at least one movie. Austin films aren't merely limited to the Lone Star States category, either -- you can find them in many of the fest's offerings.
Here's the best list we've been able to compile of Austin connections in SXSW films this year. If we missed your film, please let us know in the comments. We will update the list if needed when the SXFantastic and Midnighters films are announced this week. We'll also do a separate article for short films after they are announced.
A note to filmmakers: If your movie has some link to Austin, we would love to interview you about it and see the film. Please drop us a line ASAP so we can set something up before the fest begins.
Remember Clay? Last year at SXSW, My Blackberry Ate My Clay Liford Interview when I talked with him and producer Barak Epstein about Clay's cerebral science-fiction genre-crossing movie Earthling, and touched briefly on his 2008 short My Mom Smokes Weed. The man is batting a thousand -- getting two features into SXSW two years in a row is no mean feat. He spent a Sunday brunch at Olivia a couple of weeks ago chatting with Jette and me about his latest projects -- we all ate smoked gouda grits, and the Blackberry did not eat the interview this time.
As it happens, My Mom Smokes Weed star Nate Rubin plays the lead in Wuss. Rubin stars as Mitch, a high-school teacher who can't seem to escape the fate of the eponymous archetype the title implies, being repeatedly bullied by his own students until an unlikely alliance results in a "friendship that stretches the use of the word 'inappropriate'." Wuss also stars Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Chuck) and local actor/filmmaker Alex Karpovsky (Lovers of Hate, Tiny Furniture) among others.
I'm so happy that the celebrity groundhog predicts an early end to winter because this former Bostonian has had enough of frozen water pipes. Thankfully, there are plenty of good movies to watch, and several new ones -- plus one previously released -- have come to our local theaters, including two Oscar nominated films. We'll see more in the coming weeks as the arthouse films hit theaters outside of LA and NY, but we've plenty to see now.
Movies We've Seen:
Another Year (pictured above) -- Mike Leigh's character studies may be an actor's dream but they can be hit or miss for audiences. Personally, I loved Topsy Turvy and Vera Drake, but Happy-Go-Lucky left me cold. Still, I can't help but appreciate the alchemy of his casting and the sheer range of stories he brings to the big screen. Another Year focuses on a serenely married couple in the eye of the emotional storms around them in the course of a year. Leigh's script is up for an Original Screenplay Oscar. Read Don's review for more. (Arbor)
The Company Men -- John Wells (The West Wing, China Beach) has worked on so many outstanding television shows and films as writer and producer, his credentials seem impeccable. Unfortunately, this study of men at different levels in their careers who find themselves collateral damage in the current economic upheavals apparently was researched back in the 80s. As a veteran of "outplacement" in recent years, I know there are serious flaws in some of his plot devices. Read Jette's review for more on this AFF 2010 selection. (wide)
Get Low -- Last in theaters this fall, apparently Get Low's two Oscar nods for Robert Duvall and Bill Murray is getting more well-deserved attention and is back in a local theater for those of you on the north side of town. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. Read my review for more on this tale of reputations and redemption. (Cinemark Round Rock)
Sanctum -- While being billed as "James Cameron's Sanctum," the director is actually Alister Grierson. This survival thriller is inspired by co-writer Andrew Wight's own experiences with cave diving. They couldn't resist putting a "what could go wrong" comment in the trailer that also makes sure you know it's filmed for 3D. Um, yah. Anyway, Mike braved the depths of an early screening so he can tell you more in his review. (wide)
If all you've seen of Sanctum is in the TV spots, you probably think as I did that it was directed by James Cameron. His name is all over it, along with "3D Experience," "Titanic" and "Avatar." That's not surprising, given the virtually unknown director (Alister Grierson) and cast. The most recognizable faces here are Richard Roxburgh, best known as the Duke in Moulin Rouge, and Ioan Gruffudd, who has a steady following for his role as Horatio Hornblower and for playing Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four movies. If you watch the trailer (and I strongly recommend against that, as it spoils some of the most striking moments in the film), the words "executive producer" do appear above Cameron's name, but it feels almost like rewatching Avatar.
I expected Sanctum to be a grand 3D adventure shot with the same fantastic technology as Avatar. Instead, the moviequickly began to feel more like a combination of Alive and Jurassic Park (even using the phrase "spared no expense"). The 3D work at the beginning of the film was difficult to watch, forcing me at times to close one eye or another due to rapid close-up movement and shifts in perspective. Once everything had moved underground to more confined spaces, it became bearable and allowed me to focus on the action.
In this crappy economy, you'd think that a movie about how people are dealing with layoffs and corporate consolidation and difficult economic situations would be compelling and fascinating. Unfortunately, if the movie is The Company Men, it fails to engage and in fact feels oddly out of step with today's world.
Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck) is a savvy sales director -- or something along those lines -- who finds himself unexpectedly laid off when the large corporation where he works consolidates his division down to nothing. Shipbuilding isn't what it used to be, you see. His boss, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) is just as angry -- CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson) waited until Gene was out of town to take care of the consolidations and mass firings. Bobby's coworker Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper) worries he'll be next, and where is an over-50 guy who needs to keep working to keep his kids in college going to find another job?
One difficulty here is that all these guys are so very privileged at the beginning of the movie that it's difficult to feel much sympathy for them. Poor Bobby has to sell his Porsche! And his wife has to go back to work to support the family! And they can't cover the mortgage on a nurse's salary, so they're going to lose the house. Eventually things grow even worse for the family, but by that point it feels too late to be very sympathetic.
I'm a longtime fan of director Mike Leigh. From Naked to Happy-Go-Lucky, his films are completely naturalistic, populated with entirely human characters and emotionally powerful.
That said, I'm not quite a fan of Leigh's latest work, Another Year. Yes, it's the sort of high-quality cinema we expect from Leigh, a thoughtful and thoroughly believable collection of character studies with plenty to say about how we view our lives, ourselves and each other. But while Another Year is unquestionably well made, it's so relentlessly drab and dour that I just couldn't bring myself to like it.
The movie centers on Tom (Jim Broadbent) and Gerri (Ruth Sheen), middle-aged Londoners who have enjoyed many years of marital bliss, personal fulfillment and professional success. However, most of their family and friends are anything but content with their lives. From their lonely son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), to their lonelier, hard-drinking friend Mary (Lesley Manville), Tom and Gerri find themselves surrounded by unhappiness, disappointment and spiritual ennui.
I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Austin Film Society is hosting a special screening of Gerald Peary's documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism with a panel of local film critics to discuss the film with Peary afterward. At the time, I didn't know who was on the panel, although I made a couple of guesses both publicly and privately. Interestingly enough, I was almost entirely wrong.
The panel, moderated by UT professor Tom Schatz, will include Marjorie Baumgarten from the Austin Chronicle; Korey Coleman from Spill; Cole Dabney, president of the Austin Film Critics Association; Charles Ealy from the Austin American-Statesman; and Jette Kernion from Slackerwood. Yes, I am on the panel. You can't possibly be more surprised than I was when I got the invitation. I'm pleased that AFS has put together such a varied group for the panel and I hope we'll have a lively time and that I won't say anything dumb.
The screening and panel will take place next Thursday, February 10, at 7 pm at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. You can buy tickets through AFS. You're all going to buy tickets, right? I can tell you're about to click that link and get some tickets right now.
I haven't seen For the Love of Movies since 2008, when Peary showed a rough cut to the Moving Image Institute in Film Criticism, which I was lucky enough to attend. So I'm looking forward to seeing the final version of this documentary. Some of it was shot at SXSW (I think in 2006?), so there's a bit of Austin in it. I can't wait for next Thursday.