In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local (and formerly local) filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the filmmakers participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.
Today's interview is with Jay Duplass, who moved to Austin in the early 1990s to attend The University of Texas and soon thereafter, started making movies with his brother, Mark Duplass. They've written and directed features such as The Puffy Chair, Baghead, Cyrus and the upcoming Jeff Who Lives At Home. The Duplasses no longer live in Austin, but you can occasionally spot them here. Jay was at SXSW earlier this year with his short documentary Kevin, about musician and former Austinite Kevin Gant, and apparently he slipped into town again recently to work on a short for Slacker 2011.
Slackerwood: How did you end up involved in the Slacker 2011 project?
Jay Duplass: Bryan Poyser [who's producing the film for AFS] knew I was coming to Austin for a week, and threw the idea at me as a long shot. Rick [Linklater] has been a huge influence on me creatively, methodologically and hair-wise, so I was just psyched to have a chance to throw the ball back over the net.
In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. The trailer is now available. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the Austinites participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.
Today's interview is with director Miguel Alvarez (SXSW 2010 short Mnemosyne Rising, AFF 2010 short Veterans) and producer Kelly Williams (Hellion, A Splice of Life), former Film Program Director for Austin Film Festival, who have been working together on one of the shorts.
Slackerwood: Which scene from the film are you reshooting?
Kelly Williams: We remade the "pixel-visionary" scene -- a party scene involving the PXL2000, a toy camera Fisher-Price made in the 80s.
Miguel Alvarez: A party scene best remembered because it was partially shot in Pixel-vision while two characters ranted about the Freemasons.
The remains of the drive-in Starlite Theatre, Brenham, Texas
In Jake Kasdan's latest comedy, Bad Teacher, Elizabeth Halsey (Cameron Diaz) ends one school year assuming that she will never have to teach again, only to have her opera-loving fiance -- and his mom -- dump her. Instead of living off her rich almost-hubby, she ends up rooming with someone she found on Craigslist (Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family) and goes back to teaching at John Adams Middle School. She befriends an older teacher (Phyliis Smith, The Office), is annoyed by Ms. Squirrel (Lucy Punch) across the hall, and starts saving up for a boob job. Oh, and there's also a new slightly spacey substitute teacher (a geeky-looking Justin Timberlake), and a phys-ed teacher (a schlumpy Jason Segel) who assures her that her breasts are fine the way they are.
Diaz portrays the despicable -- yet still a tad likeable -- Ms. Halsey with aplomb. She stumbles into class high and/or drunk in scuffed-up Louboutin heels, pops in a school-related movie and is stunned when her students admit to never seeing Stand and Deliver before. Throughout the first half of the film, I don't recall a mention of what subject she is supposed to be teaching (it's English). Compare that to Halsey's nemesis for the film, Ms. Squirrel, who kicks off the start of the year with apples for each of her students, wearing a captain's hat as she welcomes the kids to her class. I joked to my middle-school teacher friend that I was sure she did the same with her students.
In 2006, Pixar released a film that uniquely celebrated America's automotive culture and the small communities that were displaced by the interstate freeway system. Not only did Cars shine a light on a dying piece of Americana, it also had a dramatically unique visual presentation where everything in the world, including insects, was an automobile.
Five years later, after giving us Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up and Toy Story 3, Pixar returns with Cars 2, only their second film to get a sequel. It's not a surprise given the popularity of Cars, especially the rustbucket tow-truck character Tow Mater (voiced by comedian Larry the Cable Guy), that it would be chosen for the sequel treatment with "Mater" at the center of the story. I would be willing to bet the merchandise sales for Cars double that of any other Pixar movie. If that means this is a Pixar cash grab, I'm willing to accept it given the money will go into creating more original works like Up.
The entire cast of Cars returns with the exception of two greats. It's sad that in the last five years we've lost not only George Carlin, who was replaced in the role of Fillmore by Lloyd Sherr, but also Paul Newman, whose Doc Hudson receives a poignant memorial in the beginning of Cars 2 (indeed, Cars was Newman's last feature film appearance). New to the cast are the fantastic talents of Michael Caine, Emily Mortimer, Eddie Izzard, John Turturro and Bruce Campbell, as well as a great number of celebrity cameos.
While Cars was a classic story full of nostalgia that resonated with an older audience even as it entertained the kids, Cars 2 is an enjoyable spy spoof that may appeal more to a younger crowd. The story follows Mater as he stumbles into the clandestine world of espionage due to a case of mistaken identity, leaving very little time spent with his fellow residents of Radiator Springs. Worse, depending on your viewpoint, the world is not populated just with cars, but also now with boats and planes, a change in style that is necessary for the places the film goes in a bigger world, but counter to the autos-only spirit of Cars.
Right now I would easily pay $10 -- hell, even 3D rates of $15 -- to watch a rainstorm in person here in Austin. (I know one happened Tuesday night but I was asleep.) While I wait for such a diverting entertainment, I'll have to settle for watching movies instead. Do any of them have scenes of precipitation? Probably not. I may just have to settle for a very good documentary, a top-notch performance from Christopher Plummer or a raunchy comedy instead.
My plans for this week include finally seeing Midnight in Paris (Debbie's review) -- you all have talked me into it, since even non-Woody Allen fans are recommending it heartily. On Sunday night, Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz brings local filmmaker Ben Steinbauer (whom Elizabeth just interviewed) to Cinema Club to screen the Mayles brothers' documentary Salesman. I may have to sneak over to Alamo on South Lamar at lunchtime next week since the Kids' Club movie is The Muppet Movie. And tomorrow night, if there's no rain, it might be the perfect time to head over to Deep Eddy Pool for their Splash Party Movie Night screening of Grease. (I hear they have spiffy new projection equipment and a new screen too.)
Movies We've Seen:
Bad Teacher -- Look for Elizabeth's review this weekend. In the meantime, here's a sample: "A hilarious and somewhat raunchy view of the world of education, the film follows Elizabeth (Cameron Diaz) as she tries to save money for a boob job." The movie, directed by Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard), also stars Justin Timberlake, Lucy Punch and Jason Segal. (wide)
Beginners -- Don claims in his review that this SXSW 2011 feature "shouldn't work at all" because it combines so many different elements in a story that jumps around in time and space ... but surprisingly "works well, smashingly well, so well that it's among my favorite films of this year." Christopher Plummer's performance is apparently the best reason to check it out. (Alamo South, Arbor)
Buck -- Another SXSW film returns to Austin, this time a documentary about "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman. In his review, Don says it's "a rare family-friendly film that will please arthouse audiences also." I'm not a fan of horse movies but I've heard so many good things about this movie that I'm planning to see it soon. (Arbor, Violet Crown)
According to the laws of coherent filmmaking, Beginners shouldn't work at all. The movie combines disparate elements unlikely to work together -- two love stories, a coming-out comedy, a withering statement about bigotry, a tragic death, a commentary about art versus commerce and even an oh-so-cute dog. And while juggling all these moving parts, the story constantly jumps from now to then and here to there and back again, taking us from modern-day Los Angeles to 1930s Germany to a half-dozen worlds in between.
But Beginners works well, smashingly well, so well that it's among my favorite films of this year. Much of the credit goes to Christopher Plummer, who blesses Beginners with one of the finest performances of his career.
Beginners is told from the point of view of Oliver (Ewan McGregor), a young artist whose father, Hal (Plummer), has recently died of cancer. When Oliver's mother,Georgia (Mary Page Keller) died a few years earlier, Hal announced he was gay, having been not quite totally closeted through more than 40 years of marriage. In funny and sympathetic flashbacks, we see that Hal's coming out was both awkward and profoundly liberating. Freed from the bonds of a pointless marriage and in a new relationship with a much younger man, Andy (Goran Visnjic), Hal never was happier.
"A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems," says Buck Brannaman, "I'm helping horses with people problems."
The subject of the documentary Buck, horse trainer Brannaman travels America teaching horse owners positive ways to communicate with their animals. He is the gentlest of gentle souls, a skilled cowboy whose believes the best way to train a horse is through leadership and sensitivity, not brutality and punishment. Buck is as gentle as its subject, a finely made, ever thoughtful film that shows us how Brannaman's approach applies not only to horses, but to people as well. The movie opens Friday in Austin.
Brannaman's skill with horses is amazing. As he transforms a frightened, unruly horse into a calm, obedient one in a matter of minutes, it's as if he has unique insight into the equine mind. But Brannaman would be the first to say that while he has many well honed skills, he has no special relationship with horses. He merely understands that the best way to work with a horse -- or a human -- is to instill trust, not fear.
I didn't review True Grit when it opened in theaters late last year because I did something film critics should never, ever do: I watched the movie and then I read the book before writing my review. Details from the book jumbled with the movie and I couldn't always remember which was which. Fortunately, Mike was happy to write a review for Slackerwood instead.
So I'm pleased to have the chance to see True Grit again, now on DVD and Blu-ray, and start over with a clean slate. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have brought us an excellent movie that plays very well on home video, although the visuals aren't quite as breathtaking as they might be on a theater screen. It's a movie I not only like but could watch with a mature adolescent or with my parents, and how often can you say that?
I enjoyed the Charles Portis novel more than the film adaptation (the narrator is a hoot), but this doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie, primarily due to the admirable performances. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is able to hold her own as Mattie Ross up against Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon's Redford-esque turn as LeBoeuf. The Coens focus their movie of True Grit on Steinfeld's character (despite what the DVD cover implies), as in the novel and as opposed to the 1969 movie, which was more of a vehicle for John Wayne.
For those of you who don't know the story from the novel or the earlier movie, Mattie Ross is a headstrong teenage girl who wants to hire a U.S. marshal to help her track down Tom Chaney, to bring him to trial for killing her father. She sets her sights on Cogburn, a hard-drinking U.S. Marshal with a determination she finds appropriate for the job. However, Texas Ranger LeBoeuf also wants to track down Chaney and bring him to Texas for a significant reward. The men might be amenable to working together but neither wants a 14-year-old girl on his hands. They find out quickly that Mattie Ross is one of the stubbornest characters ever to grace the page or screen, and she insists on having things her way.
Slackerwood: Which scene from the film are you reshooting?
Ben Steinbauer: I'm re-shooting the scene with the angry hitchhiker who gets interviewed by a young video crew outside Les Amis Cafe. The hitchhiker is bumming cigarettes off the people sitting on the patio and gets approached by a video crew who inadvertently give him the opportunity to rant directly into their camera.