I am always eager to see the latest Laika release. Output is slow from the animation studio due to the time-consuming and meticulous nature of its handmade stop-motion films, but bottling magic is no easy task. There is an ineffable tone in the studio's films -- perhaps because of its complete attention to details, perhaps because of some way natural lighting works compared to digital renderings -- that instills a sense of realism.
With The Boxtrolls, Laika takes on steampunk, creating a Victorian-looking village populated by hundreds of unique, charming (and some not so very) characters. Based on the children's book by Alan Snow, Here Be Monsters, directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi bring to life Eggs (Isaac Hempstead Wright, aka Bran Stark from Game of Thrones) and Winnie (Elle Fanning) as they fight to save their misunderstood friends from the evil designs of wily exterminator Archibald Snatcher (Ben Kingsley).
I found the script somewhat less engaging than Laika's previous two movies, Coraline and ParaNorman, as it felt more appropriate for a younger audience. However, the film was never boring and often uproariously funny. The town of Cheesebridge is full of puns, especially in the character names like Lord Portley-Rind or Snatcher. ("My favorite was The Briehemoth.") There is also an oddball musical number, "The Boxtrolls Song," written by Eric Idle. Kingsley's villainous Mr. Snatcher steals the show (along with the trolls), as he performs with an accent that had me thinking he was Michael Caine.
While working as a journalist in Karachi, American Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded in early 2002. It seemed timely to watch the 2007 film A Mighty Heart, based on his wife Miriane's memoir of the experience, as similar attacks by ISIS have been in the news in recent weeks.
The main reason I'd been hesitant to see A Mighty Heart is the casting of Angelina Jolie. Nothing against her as an actress, but having a white actress play a mixed-race woman continues a long history of "whitewashing" in film. Jolie does a fine job here, mimicing well Mariane Pearl's French accent and cadence. She plays Mariane as contained and determined during the search, then fierce and raw when she receives the tragic news of her husband's death. Logically I know that if Jolie hadn't been involved, the movie might not have ever received wide release. Yet I couldn't help wondering what qualities an actress of color might have brought to the role.
Jolie anchors the film, which includes a cast so large that it's nigh impossible to keep track of all their names. Reporters Mariane and Daniel Pearl look forward to leaving Pakistan as they prepare for their first child. The night Daniel (Dan Futterman, actor in Judging Amy, but also screenwriter of Capote and Foxcatcher) disappears while working on a story, Mariane hurriedly begins calling his contacts and the authorities. A team of sorts is formed to search for her husband, including acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan (The Lunchbox, Life of Pi) as a Pakastani officer, and two familiar faces from The Good Wife -- Archie Panjabi and Denis O'Hare -- as an Indian-American writer and a Wall Street Journal editor, respectively.
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent film projects.
This month's look at the local crowdfunding scene offers a diverse group of films made up of both familiar names and newcomers to this column.
Let's start with who you may know: Never Goin' Back (a recent AFS Grant recipient), is written and directed by Augustine Frizzell and tells the story of two teenage girls who enjoy a crazy day of bad behavior after losing their jobs at a pancake house. Fun fact: Frizzell grew up in Garland, TX and calls the script for Never Goin' Back "almost completely autobiographical." Time is running out to help this one meet its Seed & Spark goal -- you have until Friday to give.
I took a break from Fantastic Fest on Sunday to visit MondoCon at the Marchesa Theater. The crowds had thinned out a bit from Saturday's opening day, but the impact of the overwhelming response to the first-ever MondoCon was evident from the sold-out Mondo Beer and food-truck menu items.
I was quite impressed with the use of space for the event: two rooms full of artists and dealers, a pleasantly diverse assortment of food trucks, a special tent with Mondo posters and vinyl available for purchase, and a Shaun of the Dead record-tossing game booth, as seen above. I gave it a try and won a beer-colored variant of the Shaun of the Dead score.
The theater auditorium itself held panels and screenings throughout the weekend. I was sorry to miss local film composer Brian Satterwhite's Saturday panel "2001: A Lost Score", which featured a live presentation of several scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey with the original abandoned score by late composer Alex North (A Streetcar Named Desire, Spartacus) reintegrated back to the film. However I was able to purchase an album (vinyl!) of "Music for 2001: A Space Odyssey" complete with liner notes by Jon Burlingame, who writes about television and film music.
It's been a couple of years since I've attended the Fantastic Debates, but since I began "casually" training in boxing earlier this year I wanted to see how well this year's debate participants would fare in the ring. This unique showcase of battle of wit, intellect and combat techniques features both rounds of debate and boxing.
Chilean martial artist and actor Marko Zaror (The Redeemer) was onhand (pictured above) to coach Alamo Drafthouse/Drafthouse Films staffer Jenny Jacobi and founder Tim League. The tenth anniversary of Fantastic Fest featured four matches at professional kickboxer and former world champion Randy Palmer's South Austin Gym, with the following participants and topics:
The tenth Fantastic Fest is halfway done, and that means many of the filmmaker guests and industry folks will be departing, but it also means an influx of new faces as second-half badgeholders join in the fray as most of the films' second screenings come around. Now begins your chance to see all the first-choices that the system didn't give you or the second-choices that took a backseat to something you couldn't wait to see.
For incoming second-halfers, you have probably been keeping track on Facebook and Twitter, but some of the hottest tickets for repeats will be Babadook, The Tale of Princess Kaguya, I Am a Knife With Legs, Cub, Force Majeure, Electric Boogaloo, John Wick and Tokyo Tribe.
There's more to life than Fantastic Fest -- here's a roundup of the latest local film news:
- Austin Film Festival has announced its full lineup and the schedule is now live. Check back with us in the coming days for a closer look at the Texas films being featured and general highlights. The fest will run Oct. 23-30.
- Vimeo and FilmBuff have picked up Wedlock, a 10-episode web series created by Mark Duplass, who co-stars in the show with Rob Corddry and Jennifer Lafleur. Wedlock premiered at SXSW and will debut on Vimeo on Demand on Sept. 29.
- Thank You a Lot, a film by local director Matt Muir, will screen at the Village Alamo Drafthouse Monday night and tickets are currently still available. Set in the Austin music scene, the film screened at SXSW earlier this year and Don called it "poignant and perceptive" in his review.
- Indiewire takes a first look at Andrew Bujalski's latest film, Results -- a romantic comedy set in the fitness industry starring Guy Pearce and Cobie Smulders. (My mind continues to be boggled that this will be the follow-up to Computer Chess.)
I'm a couple days into my tenth Fantastic Fest, and it's easy to see why I keep coming back. Before the fest even officially starts, there are parties at Pinballz and Peter Pan Putt-Putt and barbecue with friends arriving from around the world.
Day One began with Kevin Smith rapping with Tim League backed by dozens of people in eyeball costumes. It ended with a food fight free-for-all of which I saw only the aftermath: League in a cheeky Carmen Miranda outfit and dozens of people soaked and slathered in every sort of slop.
Day Two was a full slate with Jacky in the Kingdom of Women, the Marko Zaror action flick Redeemer, James Gunn-produced horror The Hive, and surreal comic Free Fall. In between these movies, I visited Devin Steuerwald's Dia de las Paletas cart (pictured at right) to keep cool with frozen treats.
So far, the programming at Fantastic Fest 2014 has been heavy on realism, with characters and situations that could actually happen, and short on supernatural or escapist themes. My slate this year has been full of confusing films; Realiti and Free Fall were both difficult to follow in spite of some really amazing scenes and great performances. That said, I did skip the Studio Ghibli premiere of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, which has received rave reviews [note from Jette: I really liked it myself], to see Jacky in the Kingdom of Women.
Two days into Fantastic Fest and it already feels like Day Five -- daily downpours, full parking and an overflowing lobby can't deter the spirit of the 1,650 attendees at this year's jam-packed film festival. The theme song that comes to mind is Daft Punk's "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." My mantra of "it's a marathon, not a sprint" has already been replaced with the festival motto "Chaos reigns," as I've managed to fit in five films, three red carpets, two parties and two late nights in just the first two days. Let's not even discuss how much I've already spent on alcohol at The Highball.
ABCs of Death 2 was one of the opening-night films, bringing together 26 directors from around the world. The filmmakers were sworn to secrecy about which letters they were assigned until the premiere of this ambititous anthology produced by Tim League and Ant Timpson. You can see Timpson in the above photo with writer/actor David Ashby, director Dario Russo of Danger 5, and ABCs of Death 2 segment producers Todd Brown and Marc Walkow.
With Fantastic Fest taking over the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar for the next week, not nearly as many specialty screenings as usual are going on in town. You will not, however, notice a lack of new releases in area theaters. I'll track those down below, but first I'll take a look at what is going on across town if you aren't engaging with the fest.
On Tuesday, the Austin Film Society will be screening Antonioni's 1966 mod classic Blow Up at the Marchesa. This special evening includes a 60s themed cocktail hour starting at 6:30 pm, complete with a "complimentary 60s themed hair and nail bar" courtesy of the Aveda Institute. The film will be introduced by Ned Rifkin at 7:30 pm. Bonus: if you show up dressed in your favorite 60s clothes, you may win a prize for the evening.
The AFS Screening Room is the place to be on Wednesday night for a special evening programmed with French Avant Garde Cinema of the 1920s. This collection will feature shorts from Jean Epstein, Rene Clair, Fernand Leger, Germaine Dulac and Marcel Duchamp. Finally for the week, you can head back to the Marchesa for the Essential Cinema "Masterpieces Of Polish Cinema, Selected by Martin Scorsese" series. They'll be screening a restored DCP of Wojciech Has' epic Saragossa Manuscript from 1965.