The ironically titled film Somebody Up There Likes Me is more like Somebody Up There Is Messing With Me, for all the characters' suffering. But their losses are our gain.
Bob Byington's latest feature is everything we've come to expect from the Austin filmmaker, a charmingly off-kilter examination of human relationships torn asunder. It's a thoroughly eccentric film, a movie so hilarious and engaging that I can forgive its slightly nonsensical premise.
At the center of Somebody Up There Likes Me is the bumbling, befuddled Max (Keith Poulson), a hapless everyman who can't seem to hang onto the breaks life gives him. When his ex-wife -- a nameless woman billed only as Ex-Wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) -- rejects his attempts to reconcile, Max plunges into the dating game with coaching from snide and sarcastic co-worker Sal (a show-stealing Nick Offerman). Max wastes little time in wooing and marrying Lyla (Jess Weixler), a breadstick-addicted waitress at the upscale steakhouse where Max and Sal work.
Beloved Fantastic Fest directors Adam Green (Hatchet, Frozen) and Joe Lynch (Knights of Badassdom, Wrong Turn 2) appeared on a SXSW Film panel on Sunday, presenting their new TV show Holliston for FEARnet. This graphic, chaotic sitcom will be making its premiere on April 3.
The show is produced like many other sitcoms on broadcast television, including a laugh track, three-camera set-up and even shot on a soundstage (the same soundstage used for Seinfeld's first few episodes). Although shot like a sitcom, it does not feel like your traditional sitcom whatsoever. During a sizzle reel, we were hit smack in the face with some very obscene (yet still funny) humor. The length of the show does vary though, with some episodes going over 35 minutes. But given their first season is fairly short (six episodes), more is better.
If you've ever seen any of Lynch's or Green's movie work, you can expect some of that same attitude to come through the tube. The show is filled with several references but not the typical Star Wars or Lord of the Rings references that you'd see in shows today. Their jokes show their diversity in taste, ranging from Cannonball Run to Cannibal Holocaust. The film geek ratio of their jokes is very high and its actually a big relief to not see a joke coming from a hundred miles away. The casting of Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and Oderus Urungus (GWAR) really shows that FEARnet is giving these directors full control of their work and it'll be refreshing to see that.
Austin locals and indie film champions Jay and Mark Duplass have always stayed true to their philosophical roots. This is evident in every movie they've made. The only difference as you go along their filmography in chronological order is that they are able to secure more famous acting talent than the movie prior to it. Despite the enormity of talent they're able to bring in, every film still manages to be charming and full of heart.
The Do-Deca-Pentathlon will be about as close as you can get to the Duplass brothers going back to their true roots. They filmed it immediately after Baghead in 2008, and it stars one of the same actors. After Baghead, they signed a deal to make Cyrus, and they've been two of the hardest working filmmakers in the business ever since. They were thrilled to finally show this movie to an audience.
In 1990, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) embarked on the brotherly competition to end all brotherly competitions, the do-deca-pentathlon. The 25-event competition would declare the winner the champion of all time, but when they were tied, the final event ended in controversy due to some interference from a well intentioned father. This started a feud between the brothers that Mark never got over. Fast forward to when the brothers are now adults. Mark has a beautiful family and Jeremy is a professional poker player. On a weekend getaway for Mark's birthday, Jeremy comes back and antagonizes Mark into doing the do-deca again, much to the chagrin of his Mark's wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur).
At the beginning of Girl Model, dozens of girls are shown standing in bikinis and heels in a room of mirrors; the metaphor is obvious but succinct. It's hardly news that young women are exploited in the meat market of modeling. But Girl Model explores that on a deeper psycho-emotional level. Motivations are obscured and rationalized, making it impossible for an adult to navigate, let alone pubescent girls.
Filmmakers David Redmon and Ashley Sabin have a well earned reputation with a strong body of work, including Intimidad (SXSW 2008), Kamp Katrina (SXSW 2007), and Mardi Gras: Made in China. Their latest documentary Girl Model attempts to illuminate the illusive reality of young girls in the international modeling industry through a new model and the scout who found her.
Saturday morning provided an impressive selection of panels for SXSW Film badgeholders, but one stood out above the rest -- especially for any aspiring producers and screenwriters in attendance. "Collaborations in Film: Writers & Producers" featured writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter), producer Brunson Green (The Help), and producer and Austin Film Society Board of Directors member Sarah Green (Take Shelter, The Tree of Life). The panelists discussed and fielded questions about what it takes to have a successful working relationship between writers and producers.
While each panelist brought their own impressive career and experience to the panel, it was exciting to see such a great pair like Sarah Green and Jeff Nichols discuss this topic, with their collaboration on films like Take Shelter as well as the much-anticipated Mud.
Green expressed her interest in working with Nichols after being impressed with his writing right from the start, emphasizing how important it is to establish good, clear communication between writer and producer. Admitting that her notes to writers have been known to be straightforward and challenging, Green stated that it is essential to make sure that both parties are working to make the same movie.
Everyone on the panel agreed that a successful partnership allows the writer to properly establish their ideas and accomplish their vision, while the producer must challenge and push the writer in order to get the screenplay to its full potential. The key is striking the perfect balance between creativity and criticism.
One of the more fascinating few minutes of this panel was Nichols elaborating on what initially inspired him to write Take Shelter. From a simple image of a man standing in front of an open storm shelter, to the fundamental emotion of anxiety throughout, he built a truly captivating story. Nichols jokingly added that he threw in some of the more thrilling scenes so people would actually want to watch it. He certainly made it clear that ultimately it is much more fulfilling as a writer to work with producers who allow him to put himself into the entire screenplay, rather than having to bend to notes that work against his original vision.
Brunson Green gave insight into giving a writer the proper amount of leeway throughout the development process. It was fascinating to hear his experience producing the widely successful film The Help from the initial adaptation process to the final release.
Upon first glance of the trailer, or even hearing that God Bless America is a movie written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait -- you know, that guy from the Police Academy movies -- it'd easy to dismiss the film as a dumb and very violent action comedy with nothing to say. That couldn't be further from the truth. It's got a lot of things to say, and it will say something to everybody. Not everyone will be ready for this a harsh a dose of reality, but it's a film that people in this country could clearly benefit from watching.
What would you do if you were at your lowest point? Fired from your job, everything on TV makes you miserable, your daughter hates you and you just can't catch a break. This is where Frank (Joel Murray) finds himself, and to make matters worse, he's diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. When he's just about to take his own life, Frank watches the most vile of reality TV characters, a 15-year-old teenager in a rich family. He decides to track her down and end her life, righting a small wrong in the world before he will leave it. He's witnessed by a young girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who has a similar disdain for the victim but also, like Frank, for the rest of the country. Together they decide who should die and who should live as they venture across the country.
I don't like interviewing people over the phone, since I can't make eye contact. I don't like interviewing a filmmaker without seeing his or her movie first, in case it turns out to be awful. And I don't usually like two-on-one interviews with a filmmaker and actor, because I'm not confident about questions I have for actors, and always worry I'll lapse into lameness. So I try to avoid these situations.
However, I jumped into a combination of all of them a few weeks ago to talk with Austin filmmaker Bob Byington and actor/producer Nick Offerman about their latest film, Somebody Up There Likes Me, which had its world premiere at SXSW on Sunday night. It was well worth working outside my comfort zone. And yes, I ended up really liking the movie, so I didn't have to hide from Byington afterward.
The original plan was to interview Bob Byington at a local cafe, but he emailed me a day or two beforehand and asked if we could make it a phone interview to include Offerman. Offerman is actually in four films at SXSW this year -- besides Byington's movie, he has a supporting role in Casa de mi Padre, and briefer appearances in 21 Jump Street and Slacker 2011.
Hundreds of people braved the chilly wet weather on Thursday night to attend the Austin Film Society's annual Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards ceremony. This year was the first time the event was held downtown at ACL Live at Moody Theatre, but it seemed a perfect venue for the celebration. It was a bit of a crush outside the floor level as my friend and I wove our way to the stairs up to the balcony. We spotted Austin filmmaker Turk Pipkin, who started up a chat with a photographer about his equipment, and I ran into Matthew Odam, formerly of Austinist and currently with Austin360.
We sat in an angled section of the balcony, and struck up a conversation with a pleasant woman who works as a lawyer but works on adoption videos for Austin Pets Alive as a hobby. Then Matthew McConaughey walked on stage to kick off the festivities. The actor, sporting a new haircut, spent a few minutes asking folks on the floor to take their seats. He then ruminated on what makes Austin a special place. He mentioned his run-in with the law in town years ago, and announced that he is moving back to Austin, saying it is an "identity town" versus the industry town that is Los Angeles. The actor introduced John Paul Dejoria, co-chair of the ceremony, and then it was auction time.
As children, many of us growing up in Texas thought that if we could just dig straight down through the center of the Earth, we would "come out in China." It turns out we would have been somewhere in the Indian Ocean, floundering about with no land in sight. But there are some very real antipodes -- places diametrically opposed to each other -- on land. For Vivan las Antipodas, acclaimed Russian documentary filmmaker Victor Kossakovsky took a film crew to visit four pairs of antipodes (Argentina-China, Chile-Russia, Hawaii-Botswana, New Zealand-Spain) and see if there were any similarities or ironic contrasts between oppositional geography and ways of life. In the process he captured a treasure trove of stunning images that remind us how wonderful and beautiful our planet and its inhabitants can be.
Describing the genesis of this remarkable film before its screening at the Venice Film Festival, Kossakovsky explained: "Traveling in the countryside of Argentina, I saw a man, fishing from a small bridge in a very small village. Under the sunset-light, that simple place looked … like the most beautiful and peaceful place on Earth. I imagined -- what if I were to extend this fishing line straight … through the center of the Earth? What will I see on the other side? Turned out, one of the most powerful, bustling and noisy cities of the planet – Shanghai."
Find your second wind yet? I haven't, but I did manage to make it to three SXSW events on Tuesday. First up, I finally saw Trash Dance, which earned two standing ovations: first for director Andrew Garrison and choreographer Allison Orr, and then for two of the participants in the Trash Project, Tony and Orange, who had just finished their shift at work and had the audience in stitches. All the men and women who participated in the Trash Project will make you think differently about the people who help keep our cities clean. It may have been Bernie that won the Louis Black Lone Star Award this year at SXSW, but Trash Dance earned a Special Jury Recognition nod last night as well.
Even though we're halfway through the festival, the film conference is over, so most of the film awards were given out last night. Not all, as not all the audience awards have been tallied (more announcements on the 17th and the 19th). It was the first time I've made it the awards ceremony and it was fun ... and unlike the Oscars, there was no way SXSW Film Festival Producer Janet Pierson was going to let it go over the scheduled timeslot. Of course it helps that several filmmakers weren't there to accept their awards in person. Check out the list of awards and see how the new screening timeslots fit into your schedule.