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Review: Coriolanus

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Coriolanus

In 1996, Baz Luhrmann updated Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with modern imagery and a menagerie of hot young talent. In doing so, he produced a magnificent movie that, love it or hate it, everyone must admit was a grand spectacle. It made Shakespeare's most famous and beloved work accessible to Generation Y with rich visuals, Luhrmann's unique direction, and a cast with many soon-to-be household names. Now, in his first feature-film directing effort, Ralph Fiennes stars as the titular character in a similar though less successful effort to update Coriolanus, Shakespeare's least-produced and probably worst-known play.

While this movie is by no means unworthy, Coriolanus is not a work that really captures the imagination or emotion. Several factors contribute to this, both in the source material and in Fiennes' production. There are barely two scenes in the entire film that don't include Coriolanus, one of the most unrelatable and unsympathetic heroes in English literature. The production design is best described as 1960s Soviet Afghanistan, more bleak and less colorful than most concentration camp scenes ever set to film.

If ever a modern take cried out for a classical reimagining, it is this one. Rome, at the height of its power, is depicted with all the pomp and flair of North Korea five minutes after the death of Kim Jong-Il. The melange of accents is distracting and includes Scottish, English, vaguely Italian, and American, and I even noted one character credited as "Jamaican Woman."

The largest mistake Fiennes made with Coriolanus was in casting himself in the title role. Not only did I feel an immediate antipathy watching him, as he appeared completely uncomfortable and out of place in his uniform, but as a first-time director, the demands of the job are in conflict with portraying a role that is in front of the camera for 99 percent of the movie. At times, Fiennes seemed to be acting more the part of Voldemort than a Roman general, and I quickly found I did not care what the character did nor what would happen to him. The saving graces of Coriolanus were the score and the performances of Vanessa Redgrave and Brian Cox.

Movies This Week: Billion Dollar Crazy Thin Lorax Project

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Corolianus

We've a week to go before SXSW starts and there's plenty to do in Austin right now. To start, there are two (!) Rolling Roadshows on Saturday, the first of which puts the rolling in roadshow, because to enjoy Pee Wee's Big Adventure you must cycle from Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane to the Veloway. The other, well, the Funky Chicken Coop Tour is bringing the doc Mad City Chickens to Callahan’s General Store in Bastrop. On Tuesday, the KLRU co-sponsored Community Cinema Series at the APL Windsor Park Branch is showing Revenge Of The Electric Car. This free series features light refreshments and post-film discussions with relevant organizations.

All this week, Violet Crown has added special screenings of Oscar-winning films to its schedule, including Beginners and Tree of Life; check their website for times.  And as Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane prepares to officially open, it's training up all its staff, which unsurprisingly involves screenings. Many are sold out, but check out the schedule to see if you can be one of the first to test drive the newest Austin cinema.

Finally, to prepare for Meat Loaf being honored at the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards next Thursday night, Austin Film Society is showing the 1980 movie Roadie, partially shot in Austin, on Monday night at Alamo South Lamar. Margaret Moser and Sonny Carl Davis will be hosting the screening.

Movies We've Seen:

Crazy Horse -- Prolific filmmaker Frederick Wiseman (Boxing Gym, Titicut Follies) explores burlesque at the landmark Le Crazy Horse de Paris, a venue that makes a distinction between erotic dancing and strip clubs.  Elizabeth saw it and says, "Crazy Horse truly is a unique vision of form and movement."  Read her review for more. (Violet Crown)

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax -- The filmmakers certainly have the animation feature creds to take on Dr. Seuss, but does it live up to sly charm of Seussian wordplay (especially since the trailers don't)? Chris says it's delightful and "the best of the modern Dr. Seuss movies yet." Read his review for details. (wide)

AFS Announces SXSW 2012 ShortCase Winners

Photo Still from Mijo (My Son)

This year's SXSW Community Screening: Austin Film Society ShortCase will be held Saturday, March 10 at 11 am in the Canon Screening Room (aka Rollins) at the Long Center, and will feature short films by Central Texas filmmakers ranging from Richard Garriott to Bob Ray.

I was pleased to be invited to curate the ShortCase -- I've said for years that I'd love to help host a short-film festival. The response from AFS filmmakers was overwhelming, with over 100 short films submitted in a two-week timeframe. I cried, laughed, and screamed -- and even hit the Rewind button a few times to savor certain scenes. AFS Interim Artist Services Manager Austin Culp, intern Reid Connell and I worked together to select the 10 best films to fill the 90-minute screening time. It was a daunting task with so much wonderful content representing the talent of AFS filmmakers, but we somehow agreed on the final slate. 

For filmmakers who didn't make the cut, we hope that you'll submit films for future ShortCase events -- I'm already formulating a cunning plan to get some of the content into a screening later this year. Feedback will be provided to filmmakers who requested it, and we encourage everyone to take advantage of the programs available to the AFS filmmaker members.

Without further ado, here are this year's SXSW ShortCase films.

Review: The Lorax

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The Lorax

There's a scene in Hannah and Her Sisters wherein Max von Sydow utters one of the best lines of his career: "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."

There are those who probably feel the same way about the good works of Dr. Seuss. One one side there are those who say The Lorax is socialist propaganda aimed at indoctrinating our children into rejecting the free market. On the other side is a camp of people who think capitalism got its greedy claws too deep into the good Doctor's work and are horrified to see he who speaks for the trees hawking sport utility vehicles. There's controversy enough to keep the news networks and Lou Dobbses busy for a few days at least.

But what matter? The film adaptation of The Lorax is delightful. Like Seuss' other works and their cinematic derivatives, when the shallow political hullaballoo has passed, what remains will be memorable entertainment -- the best of the modern Dr. Seuss movies yet.

Review: Crazy Horse

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Crazy Horse

When I was asked to check out Crazy Horse, I wasn't really sure what to expect -- except for the obvious nudity that would appear in a movie about a French burlesque. I hadn't seen any of director Frederick Wiseman's previous work, so his documentary style was very surprising and slightly jarring. Where were the talking heads to give me background on the subject? Or the narration to provide a hint of explanation? Not in this movie! Wiseman's trademark style is to thrust the viewer in the midst of a situation with no exposition or interviews. In this film, we spend a couple of hours at "the best nude dancing show in the world," Le Crazy Horse in Paris.

Throughout Crazy Horse various acts from the venue's new spectacle, "Désir," are interspersed with footage from behind-the-scenes. The show, choreographed by Philippe Decouffle, uses lights and dance to create an experience that is at times hypnotic and entrancing. Mirrors are used for a number -- accompanied by a cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic" (I think it's this one) -- while upside-down legs flow in and out of sight. Another act features two women painted by kaleidoscopic lights as they perform crazy acrobatics. One woman performs with ropes -- a far more erotic act than you'll see in Cirque de Soleil. I found myself simultaneously amazed at the talents on display and dismayed at the lack of vocal talent (not really a problem until the ladies sing songs like "Baby Buns" and "Désir").

We also glimpse behind-the-scenes meetings between staffmembers and Decouffle as he asks the club to close for a short time before the show opens (the owners say no). Thus, we have the theme of art vs. commerce. Decouffle has a certain artistic vision for the show, but is limited by the budget, time and staff available. Or so I assume -- this was the theme I pieced together from discussions Decouffle has with others during the film.

Texas at SXSW 2012: Ya'Ke Smith, 'Wolf'

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Ya'Ke Smith

You may remember Ya'Ke Smith's 2010 short Katrina's Son from Austin Film Festival, where it won Best Narrative Short. Smith, who is not only a filmmaker but an Assistant Professor at The University of Texas at Arlington, is back with the controversial feature Wolf, premiering in the Emerging Visions category. And check out the top-notch cast, listed below.

Slackerwood: Describe your film for us in a couple of sentences.
Ya'Ke Smith: A family is shaken to the core when they discover their son has been molested. As they struggle to deal with the betrayal, their son heads toward a total mental collapse because of his love for his abuser, while his abuser attempts to exorcise his own past demons. The film stars Irma P. Hall (Soul Food, Collateral, The Ladykillers), Eugene Lee (Lackawanna Blues, Coach Carter) and newcomers Mikala Gibson (Gretchen), Shelton Jolivette and Jordan Cooper.

What’s one thing about Wolf that is going to make it impossible for people to resist seeing it?
It deals with a subject that is taboo, one that a lot of people shy away from. If you want to see a take on religion, sexuality, betrayal and familial discord that is unique in its approach than this is the film for you. I also think that it's a piece that will cause conversation.  There are a few hard-hitting sequences that will stick with you long after you leave the theater.

Insider's Guide: Surviving SXSW 2012

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Super Woman Sneaks by Carla Jackson of A Swingin' Trio, AFF 2011.Welcome to the third annual edition of the Slackerwood SXSW Survival Guide. This time we've taken more of a mix-tape approach to our tips. You could always make a playlist of the bolded tips and listen to them as you work on your schedule.

Here are some of our tried-and-true tips for making the most of SXSW Film Festival as well as Austin. Keep an eye out for our Dining Guide, and some tips from the filmmaker community, in the next week.

In These Shoes?
You may be tempted to dress to impress, but those smokin' new shoes could leave you with major blisters, not to mention very sore feet. Go for comfort, not speed, unless you happen to score a pair of shiny gold hightops that do both (I’m looking at you, Carla Jackson, when you rocked a sassy full-length gown and "Super Woman Sneaks" at AFF 2011 for A Swingin' Trio's premiere).

Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen).
Austin in March averages 50-70 degree F temps, but they can dip into the 30s and soar into the 90s. Those shorts may result in freeze burn after a particularly long screening. Keep an eye on the weather but remember it can change very quickly, so plan on layers. And do not forget that sunscreen, regardless of cloud cover.

Traveling Light.
I don't mean your luggage limit on the plane, but your daily festival burden. A backpack or totebag can help you get through each SXSW day, but remember you may have that with you all day, especially if you aren't staying at a downtown hotel or have a conveniently parked car nearby. Trial sizes are your friends.

Slackerwood contributor Rod Paddock adds this advice: "If you plan on carrying a laptop to SXSW, don't! That extra 7-10 lbs will kill your back and you probably won't use it. I recommend using an iPad (or other tablet device). I use Pages on my iPad to do my writing. You would be surprised how useful they are when you try."

SXSW 2012: Jonathan Lisecki, 'Gayby'

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Jenn Harris, Jonathan Lisecki and Matthew Wilkas of Gayby

Jonathan Lisecki's movie Gayby is making its world premiere at SXSW; it's a feature that expands the story from his short film of the same name. Lisecki's past work includes the 2008 Spirit of Slamdance Award-winning Woman in Burka, and you might remember him as the coach in Clay Liford's film Wuss from SXSW 2011. Austin filmmaker Liford was Director of Photography on Gayby, so you know it's going to look good; when you read the premise, you can be pretty sure it's one of the more memorable plots in an already edgy fest lineup.

Slackerwood: Describe your film for us in a couple of sentences.
Jonathan Lisecki: Gayby is an outrageous comedy about a straight girl and her gay best friend trying to have a baby. Insanely awkward sex scenes and vast complications ensue.

What’s one thing about the film that is going to make it impossible for people to resist seeing it?
Who doesn't love weird and silly sex, and we have that for sure. A woman I know who programs for another festival saw an early cut and said it had the funniest sex scene she had seen all year. This is someone who watches hundreds of films, so she knows of what she speaks. But after the aforementioned insanely awkward sex scene there is another one that takes it to a whole different level. Come for the sex, stay for the laughs. That's how most of my relationships have gone, now that I think of it.  

SXSW 2012: Chris Branca and Danielle McCarthy, 'Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me'

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Lenny Kaye in 'Nothing Can Hurt Me'


Many people may never have heard of the early '70s band Big Star, and aren't aware that "In the Streets," the theme song for That 70s Show performed by my personal favorite band Cheap Trick, was actually penned by Big Star's Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens (correction: Chris Bell). Attendees of the 2010 South by Southwest Music Festival became more aware of the band's influence when Chilton died unexpectedly of a heart attack on March 17, only three days prior to a Big Star reunion show in Austin. That show turned into a tribute with many musical guests from near and far, with several other tribute moments throughout SXSW that year -- including several songs played in tribute by Cheap Trick as headliners at the Auditorium Shores outdoor stage.

In addition to the fans that have supported the band throughout the years, many musicians credit Big Star with inspiring their careers. More importantly, music critics who were often disillusioned with the rock "gods" of the early '70s were attracted to the heart and soul that Big Star gave to its music. One such rock writer is Lenny Kaye (pictured above), who wrote for several magazines including Creem and Rolling Stone. He is one of the interview subjects of an upcoming film, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, which will have a special sneak preview at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.

I interviewed one of the film's producers, Danielle McCarthy, and editor Chris Branca, a native Texan, who are busy working on the final edits. Find out what they had to say about Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me.

SXSW 2012 Guides: Balancing Film and Interactive

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Al Franken by Amy Price

Every year, South by Southwest (SXSW) Festivals and Conferences offers an overwhelming amount of amazing content from film to interactive to music. If you are like me and enjoy the full spectrum SXSW offers, striking a balance between these interests can be challenging. The Film and Interactive conferences take place at the same time, from Friday, March 9 through Tuesday, March 13. The film festival starts on Friday too, and continues through Saturday, March 17. And that's not all -- SXSW 2012 also includes a dedicated SXSW Comedy program spotlighting stand-up comics, SXSWedu on March 6 - 8 featuring content for educational innovation, and the first-ever Tech Career @ SXSW March 9-10, open to those seeking careers in the tech and interactive media sectors.

This guide will hopefully help you balance both Film and Interactive successfully, whether you have a badge for either conference or the Gold or Platinum badges that provide you access to both. 

Here are some personal tips and "lessons learned" on balancing the film and interactive portions of SXSW 2012:

  • Be prepared -- Read our upcoming SXSW 2012 guides.
  • Plan ahead -- SXSW has made major improvements to the SX Schedule, although I haven't found an export feature. (Let us know if you have.) Check out the official mobile app SXSW GO app, which should allow you to view and build your schedule, including a map of what’s happening and how to get there, navigate the tradeshow, and stay connected to SXSocial registered attendees.
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