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AFF Review: Harold's Going Stiff

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Just when you thought the Brits had cornered the market on reinventing the zombie genre, writer/director Keith Wright brings us a fresh new take in Harold's Going Stiff, which won the Austin Film Festival Narrative Feature Competition this week.

Using a mockumentary structure, Wright introduces us to pensioner Harold (Stan Rowe), whose stiffening joints and painful muscles aren't merely old age. he titular Harold is the first known sufferer of "O.R.D." or Onset Rigor Disease, an infliction that starts with painfully stiffened muscles and ends up with the classic diminished intelligence, lack of speech and violence of a zombie-like state. His new visiting nurse Penny (Sarah Spencer) cheerfully tortures Harold with painful therapies to help him keep the disease from progressing. In the meantime, controversy reigns over vigilantes hunting down the afflicted who've reached the final stage of the disease.  

Review: Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

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Everyday Sunshine

[Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone will screen in Austin tonight (Oct. 25) -- details are at the end of this review.]

Between deejaying college radio stations and also living in the heart of Montrose in Houston during the 1980s and 1990s, my nights were dedicated to the diverse music scene. New wave genre was my first love, but it was the upbeat tempo of ska and nitty-gritty sounds of punk that got me moving to the dance floor and from time to time, to the mosh pit. The creative cacophony of Austin bands including Bad Mutha Goose, Retarted Elf, The Big Boys, and Bad Brains created a mesmerizing wall of sound, moving the audience in a mass of sweaty, flailing bodies with an incredible outlet of energy.

Many of these bands were influenced by Fishbone, a black punk band from the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Band members sported dreadlocks and Mohawks as well as the ska/mod fashion, although sometimes they wore only their musical instruments. Fishbone "brought the Funk to the Punk." However, their prominence in the scene fell apart just as the band was on the verge of achieving the financial success they needed to survive.

Filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson bring the personal story of the fiercely individual artists that make up the democracy of Fishbone in the compelling film, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, the journey of Fishbone to fame and eventual bust is demonstrated through animation, vintage concert and interview footage with the band and other musicians.

AFF Review: A Swingin' Trio

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A husband slaving over the stove for dinner. A Valentine's dinner set for three. This is not the usual setup for a romantic drama, but it is for the promising debut A Swingin' Trio.

Kelvin Phillips and Carla Jackson's first feature is a tense tale of secrets, lies and revelations interspersed with the cool jazz stylings of the Jeff Lofton Trio. Homer (Johnny Walter) is a writer married to successful producer Trude (Timeca Seretti). He has all the time in the world while collecting rejection letters on his literary masterpiece. Meanwhile, Trude can't seem to detach herself from her phone and her business deals, breezing through the house as if it's a hotel. Homer has something special planned for Valentine's Day dinner, but it's not just his signature seafood gumbo. 

Film on Tap: 'Beer Wars' and Beer Week

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Beer Wars posterWelcome to Film on Tap, a new column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

October is always one of the biggest months for craft beer in Texas, and this year has been no exception, especially with the revival of the Texas Craft Brewers Festival here in Austin. The second annual Austin Beer Week is in full swing, with over a hundred events taking place from October 22-30 highlighting local breweries and brewpubs. Several movie-related beer events are happening at venues around town, including most of the Alamo Drafthouse locations.

North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery is hosting a free screening of the documentary Beer Wars in the pavilion behind their restaurant at 8 pm tonight. Beer Wars explores the U.S. beer industry from the inside, revealing the truth behind the label of your favorite beer. Told from an insider’s perspective, the film goes behind the scenes of the daily battles and all-out wars that dominate one of America’s favorite industries.

North by Northwest is also paying homage to Spinal Tap's band member Nigel Tufnel on November 11 -- that's 11/11/11 -- with a a screening of This is Spinal Tap preceded by a special performance by a cover band.

Find out after the jump about other Austin Beer Week events, and why the screening of the "David versus Goliath" story in Beer Wars is quite timely for the Texas craft beer industry. I also share how Boston Beer Company -- one of the film's feature subjects -- and Flix Brewhouse are supporting the homebrew community in Central Texas.

AFF Review: Sironia

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Sironia

If you're a fan of music-heavy movies, you will likely love Sironia. If you usually shy away from them, especially when the lead is a musician himself, you'll be pleasantly surprised with Brandon Dickerson's feature film debut. 

"Life is what happens when you're making other plans." In the case of Thomas (Wes Cunningham), when plans for stardom start requiring compromise, he and his expectant wife escape to Sironia, Texas for a simpler life. As it usually happens, the act of running from instead of running to is never fast enough. 

Early in Sironia, the movie seems like it might follow the trope of artistic integrity versus money, and be merely a vehicle for showcasing Cunningham's songs. However, Sironia isn't a vanity film, and the longer it progresses the more impressive it gets. While Cunningham's music is integral to the story and in fact written prior to the script, the songs are seamlessly worked in and never overwhelm the core story. It's not quite a cinematically realized concept album like Once, although in both cases the music is integral to the film. Sironia isn't just about a moment in time, but about lives trapped by holding on to a particular moment.

AFF Review: You Hurt My Feelings

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John Merriman, Courtney Davis, Macon Blair and Lilian & Violet Collins in You Hurt My Feelings

"You hurt my feelings," a small girl tells her male nanny (manny?) in the opening segment of this slice-of-life, independent film. John (John Merriman) seems an odd choice of a babysitter; he passively lets the kids climb all over him and tends to stare out into space and lose himself in contemplation. What is he contemplating? Why his ex-girlfriend Courtney (Courtney Davis) would break up with him to date a guy named Macon (Macon Blair) who admits that he shares more than a passing resemblance to Johnny.

You Hurt My Feelings moves with the seasons, slowly letting us peek into elements of John's personal life. One of the suprising aspects of the movie is how like a silent film it seems. There are scenes where John and Courtney don't speak aloud, but their motions and facial expressions speak for them. Unlike a silent film, however, the only soundtrack to this movie is composed of incidental noises and songs.

AFF Review: An Ordinary Family

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Filmed in Austin, An Ordinary Family highlights the difficulties for a family with a religious background when a member comes out of the closet. After years away from home Seth (Greg Wise) returns for a week with his partner William (Chad Anthony Miller) to meet the family. Each member of the family has a different reaction. For example, brother-in-law Chris (Steven Schaefer) at first finds the situation comical and slightly uncomfortable, but develops a strong bond with William.

The center of the story, however, is Seth's brother Thomas (Troy Schremmer), a Presbyterian minister. Thomas struggles to find peace in order to reconcile acceptance of Seth and William with his faith. It was his intolerance that drove Seth away, and they must come to terms with each other for Seth to consider returning home to rejoin the family permanently.

AFF 2011 Day Four: Family Values in Filmmaking

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Elizabeth Avellan with Sarah Fisch of BRANDsplanglish productions and Mariella Sonam Perez

What an exhausting but rewarding time I had at Austin Film Festival on Sunday. The Hair of the Dog Brunch always provides a wonderful opportunity to meet and mingle with filmmakers as well as cast and crew of short and feature films screening at AFF -- check back later for a photo essay from the brunch.

I met several filmmakers involved with the Texas Monthly's "Where I'm From" film contest, including I Heart SA filmmakers Robert B. Gonzales and Sarah Fisch (seen above with Elizabeth Avellan and Mariella Sonam Perez), who also writes as Chupacabrona for the Texas visual art website Glass Tire. A discussion about disparities between males and females that I've observed in online journalism and filmmaking led Sarah to introduce me to Mariella Sonam Perez (Going to Grandma's) who is one of the founders of the nonprofit organization South Texas Underground Film (STUF). STUF engages and inspires the South Texas film community by screening films without discrimination, creating new  movies, teaching the art of filmmaking to the young and old and networking with fellow filmmakers local and abroad.

AFF 2011 Interview: Ben Foster, 'Strings'

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The 18th Austin Film Festival is here. To help celebrate all the locally connected movies at this year's fest, we've reached out to a number of filmmakers to find out about their Austin and Texas-tied films screening at the fest.

Strings is a a thriller co-directed by Austinite Ben Foster and written by co-director Mark Dennis (pictured above at Tulsa Film Festival with Ben on the left). The film is about a grieving man who opts for an experimental therapy to start a new life with unexpected consequences.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but Austinite Karl Anderson, who has a significant role in the film, was very impressive during the script reading of By Way of Helena at AFF last year, so I can't wait to see his peformance on screen.  In the meantime Ben Foster graciously took the time to answer some questions about Strings, AFF and Austin. 

Slackerwood:  Describe your film for us, in a quick and dirty paragraph.

Ben Foster:  Strings is about a musician that discovers his therapist is using patients to commit vigilante crimes. He gets involved with this underground crime ring and can never return to his old life. 

AFF Review: DeadHeads

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DeadHeads still photo

The popularity of AMC's The Walking Dead series testifies to the longevity of this horror subgenre, with the success of Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland prompting more "zombedies." Both of these movies focus on the survival of unaffected individuals during a zombie apocalypse, but DeadHeads takes another road with the story of two zombies just trying to survive and fulfill unrequited love. Written, produced and directed by brothers Brett Pierce and Drew T. Pierce, DeadHeads pays homage to many of the classic zombie/undead films, especially Sam Raimi's The Evil Dead, for which their father Bart Pierce handled the photographic special effects.

DeadHeads centers around Mike Kellerman (Michael McKiddy), who awakens to find himself in a strange place. After escaping, he encounters and runs in fear from flesh-eating zombies. What Mike doesn't quite get is that he is also one of the "undead," as he is able to speak and think regularly. A chance encounter with Brent (Ross Kidder) -- another zombie who can think and talk -- leads Mike to the realization that he's been dead for over three years. Even worse, as his memory returns he recalls that he had been on his way to propose to his girlfriend Ellie (Natalie Victoria). But how did he die to begin with, and why are there zombie-killing bounty hunters pursuing him?

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