Here's the latest Austin film news.
- Austin Film Society recently announced the participants in its inaugural Artist Intensive, a program designed to mentor narrative feature writers/directors in the development stages of their projects. Last weekend, Austin and New York-based independent bigwigs, like Amy Hobby (producer of Gayby) and Austinite Jeff Nichols (Mud), mentored six filmmakers, which included Austinites Mallory Culbert and Carlyn Hudson with The Big Spoon; 2012 Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund recipients Andy Irvine and Mark Smoot with Lovers Crossing; 2011 TFPF recipient Daniel Laabs with an untitled project about the aftermath of a fatal car accident in Pennsylvania; and the Texas revenge thriller Seize The Body by James M. Johnston and Todd Connelly.
- The Houston Film Commission has announced this year's Texas Filmmaker's Showcase, a selection of short films representing the Lone Star State. The showcase will be screened in Los Angeles on June 30 for producers, agents and studio reps. It includes several films from Austinites: Kat Candler's short Hellion; Russell O. Bush's documentary Vultures of Tibet (which won TFPF grants in 2011 and 2012); Craig Whitney's The Garden and the Wilderness; and Tony Costello's Little Lions. Other selections include Cork's Cattlebaron by Dallas filmmaker Eric Steele (watch online) and documentary Vincent Valdez, Excerpts for John, by San Antonio filmmakers Angela and Mark Walley (watch online).
- Fantastic Fest will host an international co-production market for genre films called Fantastic Market/Mercado Fantastico, which aims to connect international genre film projects with potential production partners, sales agents and distributors. The market will premiere in conjunction with this year's Fantastic Fest. Austinite Robert Rodriguez's El Rey network will collaborate with Mexican production and distribution outlet Canana Films to produce the Fantastic Market. Film submissions will be accepted until July 15. Representatives from the projects, selected by industry insiders mid-August, will be invited to make pitches to a jury that will include Rodriguez and Fantastic Fest/Alamo Drafthouse co-founder Tim League, who will select and award the top three.
The trope of Two Girls Together in New York is one that permeates both juvenile literature and grown-up pop culture. Watching Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in Frances Ha, however, I didn't initially think about the dramatic and sometimes grim looks at women in the city -- everything from Valley of the Dolls to Sex in the City to recently, Girls.
No, what the two twentysomething friends reminded me of was classic young-adult-lit characters like Betsy and Tacy, teenagers dreaming about moving to New York and living together after their trip around the world. Or Daisy Fay and her friend Pickle imagining their cosmopolitan future in Manhattan. Young female friendships that inspire dreams of the future that include those friends.
Somehow Frances and Sophie call to mind these characters, if they'd grown up and actually made it to New York together as they planned. The two women in their twenties share a tiny apartment while Frances tries to land a spot in a dance company and Sophie starts to make her way up the publishing ladder. They're downright cute together -- a banjo soundtrack accompanies their antics around town, oddly reminiscent of Girl Walk // All Day in sight if not sound.
When you assemble a cast like the one in Now You See Me, something magical happens. Terrible pun aside, an ensemble like this really is capable of pulling off some onscreen magic. As clichéd as it might be to say, there's a part in a lot of us that wants to believe in something as cool as magic. What may seem like impossible tricks often have very simple and logical explanations, but where's the fun in that? It's better to sit back and enjoy what the great cast of Now You See Me delivers.
The incredibly charismatic Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), a talented all-around magician; a beautiful illusionist, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher); a mentalist, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson); and an elusive pickpocket, Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are four street magicians who are brought together under mysterious circumstances by an unknown force. A year after we're first introduced to them, they are the stars of their own traveling magic show. At the finale of their first show, they seemingly rob a back in Paris, all the way from Las Vegas in under five seconds. This draws the ire of investigator Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).
Now You See Me isn't told like your typical heist film. We are almost entirely with the investigative perspective of the movie, which gets us in close with Ruffalo and Laurent's characters. That isn't a bad thing at all because they are fantastic actors, and they are given a lot to do with with the clever writing of the script. The same goes for the four actors playing the magicians. Every character is given their moment to shine, and with a cast like this that also includes screen legends Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, this is without doubt a fun film to watch in the summertime.
The Austin Film Festival (AFF) and Bob Bullock Museum's fourth annual Made in Texas Family Film Series continues this weekend with Texas native John Lee Hancock's The Rookie. Based on a true story, the film follows the story of Jim Morris (Dennis Quaid), a small-town baseball coach who has a chance at the major leagues. Hancock, who's also known for his award-winning film The Blind Side, will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A. This screening is free and open to the public, but you do need to RSVP here.
Texas documentary favorite Trash Dance returns for another week-long engagement with afternoon matinee screenings beginning Sunday at the Violet Crown Cinema. Don stated in his review, "In the Austin indie documentary and the dance performance it celebrates, the treasure isn't the trash -- it's the unlikely beauty of trash collection." City of Austin employees receive a $2 discount on ticket purchase at the box office or by phone.
My Facebook newsfeed has been abuzz with friends enjoying The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series, and this Sunday is The Paramount Kids Opening Day featuring The Adventures of Robin Hood and Looney Tunes. The Kickoff Party starts at 1 pm with crafts and games before the 2 pm screening of Robin Hood. For the Paramount Kids Classics movies, kids 18 years old and under receive $5 off the regular ticket price at the box office day of show.
Once again I find myself asking the question, "WHY does anyone keep letting M. Night Shyamalan make movies?" In 2010 he single-handedly decimated The Last Airbender, creating the sort of flop that not only ends careers but makes people re-examine a director's previous body of work with a sour eye. After that flop he has returned with After Earth, co-written with Gary Whitta, based on a story idea by Will Smith.
Starring Smith and his son Jaden, After Earth is a family-friendly adventure movie that couches itself in the elements of good sci-fi but fails to realize even a hint of the greatness of the films from which it derives. The reason can be boiled down to one simple statement: Good sci-fi doesn't insult the audience's intelligence. After Earth does so in dozens of simple ways.
The basic setup is that 1,000 years in the future, mankind has exploited Earth to the point of uninhabitability and therefore has left to colonize other systems. Somewhere along the way, we met a hostile alien race who rather than attack us with superior technology, sends giant angry sightless monsters that can smell (and track us by) the pheremones released by fear. Smith is the first warrior who can completely suppress his fear, thus making himself invisible to the enemy. Due to a freak accident, he and his son crash-land on Earth and must survive until help arrives.
Before going into any details, even the basic idea has flaws. Aliens that can only track us by scent, and we can't simply wear sealed suits? A thousand years in the future, and we have to fight with bladed weapons instead of guns and lasers?
Getting into the execution of these ideas in the script, even worse problems jump out. A routine flight is forced off course by an "asteroid storm"? In order to effect their rescue, they must recover a distress beacon that for some reason wasn't activated BEFORE the ship crash-landed. These are supposed to be people a thousand years more advanced, but they have been scripted as stupid in unnecessary ways to set up a very contrived plot.
Other blunders in After Earth include an Earth that is a virtual paradise despite nightly flash-freezes worthy of the worst Roland Emmerich threw at his characters in The Day AFter Tomorrow, which is also listed as "Class A deadly" with every life form evolved to kill man ... but the deadliest thing they face is the alien they brought with them; zero remnants of the civilization that supposedly made the planet uninhabitable; unintelligible accents because hey, it's the future and people will talk different; an amputee with no prosthetic in an awkward scene that exists only to set up Smith repeating the line "Stand me up" at the end of the film; and finally, a plot ripped straight from The Matrix, which requires Jaden Smith to effectively become Neo by conquering his mental block and realizing there is no spoon, or in this case, fear.
Treva Wurmfeld's documentary has received good buzz on the festival route, but hasn't had a theatrical release date yet, so this is a rare opportunity to catch the film.
During Sandra Adair's conversation at AFS in March, she showed us a clip, since it was a recent movie she edited. She, director Wurmfeld and producer Amy Hobby will be in attendance at Sunday's showing.
Sam Shepard, actor/playwright, and Johnny Dark, comedian/actor, had a long epistolary relationship during their on-again-off-again friendship. The two met in Greenwich Village in the 1960s. In the early years of their acquaintance, they lived together, even becoming in-laws as Shepard married Dark's stepdaughter. Dark kept all the letters Shepard wrote him and a university is interested in acquiring them -- the Wittliff Collections at Texas State, which explains the local ties to the film.
Shepard & Dark offers an unvarnished look at these two men, deliving into their family histories. In the clip Adair showed us, Shepard recalled memories of his alcoholic father and his dad's death in New Mexico. Even as time and location have separated these men, they still share a connection, strained though it may be.
Austin/Texas connections: Several Austinites were involved, including Sandra Adair, who edited the film, and Graham Reynolds, who composed the score. The Wittliff Collections (which also retains Sam Shepard's papers) are at Texas State University in San Marcos.
[Poster via Shepard & Dark Facebook page]
It's been native Austinite David Fabelo's philosophy for years: if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. It's worked in Fabelo's romantic life -- despite spilling a beer on a woman during their first date he redeemed himself and now they're married. It's also worked in his professional life, with the release of his award-winning short film Do Over, about Adam (Garrett Jester), a high schooler who attempts to make a good first impression on his date with Sarah (Jacobi Alvarez).
This attitude of utilizing experimentation in an attempt to get it "right" has led co-writer/director Fabelo to VHX, an online platform that allows independent filmmakers to distribute their content directly to their fans via paywall. Fabelo has used VHX to set up a site where viewers can preview and hopefully purchase a download of Do Over.
"It's about putting a value on our work," said Fabelo. "A way to value shorts."
Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.
A new chapter in life in life is beginning for many Central Texas teens with graduation ceremonies taking place over the course of the next week. My words of advice to these graduates? Take some time out from college or work to travel and get out of your comfort zone, whether it's backpacking with friends in Big Bend National Park in West Texas or trekking across Europe. Better yet, find a service project in another country where you can experience different cultures and meet people from around the world.
Brothers Colin and Michael Harman are doing just that with their film Out of the Bubble, which is funding through Thursday, June 13 on Kickstarter. However, the Harmans are taking their travels to a whole other level. What was originally intended to simply be documentation of their explorations of the landscape and culture of Norway as they venture "out of their bubble" is now intended to be the foundation of a online movement. The Harmans hope to inspire others to step out of their familiar surroundings and document their stories. These travelogues will then serve to build a network connected through an online hub. See their inspiring pitch video after the jump.
Last year the Alamo Drafthouse inaugurated their signature wine series featuring classic movie themes with the inaugural Princess Bride-inspired "Bottle of Wits" Inconceivable Cab and As You Wish White.
Today, Alamo revealed their second wines in the limited edition series: The Cannibal Chianti and Suit Yourself Pinot Grigio, inspired by Jonathan Demme's Academy award-winning 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs. The wines will be available at The Silence of the Lambs Feast at select Alamo Drafthouse locations nationwide -- the Austin event will be held June 19 at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. I had the chance to sample the wines as well as the feast at a press preview on Tuesday night at the Slaughter location.
The Cannibal Chianti is an Italian wine (DOCG, for those in the know) from a vineyard located between Sienna and Florence. This dark fruit-forward medium-bodied wine gets its flavor from a blend of 85% Sangiovese with small amounts of Canaiolo and Malvasia del Chianti. Suit Yourself Pinot Grigio is a crisp and light-bodied white wine featuring grapes from California’s Central Coast and inland vineyards. The light citrusy finish makes it suitable for summertime enjoyment.
Updated 6/6 to add Austin School of Film's Summer Film Series
With the Texas temperature slowly rising and the lack of UT students drawing nearer, Austin residents are rejoicing -- summer is upon us. And although the first day of the season is not technically until June 21, many organizations are already kicking off their summer activities.
Slackerwood is happy to bring you its fifth annual guide to free or cheap summer movies in Austin, as well as surrounding areas such as Cedar Park and Round Rock. Be sure to check out the websites for each of these series so you come prepared. Some of the movies are shown outside, so a nice blanket or lawn chair would be wise to bring, particularly for non-theater venues such as the French Legation or Republic Square Park.
While a number of free movie series are aimed at kids out of school, several are more adult-friendly, with the return of showcases such as Cinema East and The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series (though most of the films in the Summer Series are pretty tame for kids as well).