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Review: Begin Again

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"Begin Again" Movie Still

In what could be considered writer/director John Carney's Americanized version of his Academy Award-winning musical Once, the movie Begin Again (which I continue to mistakenly call "Once Again") hits just the right notes in the bittersweet scale to tug at the heartstrings ... despite Keira Knightley, who makes her singing debut, being flat in more ways than one. 

Knightley plays English singer-songwriter Greta, who finds herself alone with her guitar after her longtime boyfriend Dave Kohl (Adam Levine) dumps her for fame, stardom and a younger-looking woman. Down in the dumps, Greta mentally retires to a life of university studies back in England, that is, until she's persuaded to tag along with a fellow accented friend to an open-mic night at a local dive bar. That’s where the movie's audience and Dan (Mark Ruffalo), a down-on-his-luck record producer, first hear Greta/Knightley sing a song that has yet to get out of my head. 

The duo work through the summer to collaborate on an album that captures the sounds and spirit of NYC. 

Eventually, Dan and Greta see each other as their opportunity to, like the title says, "begin again." (I'm really glad the movie's title was changed from Can a Song Save Your Life?, which just makes me think of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.) 

Photo Essay: 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes' at Alamo Lakeline with Special Guests

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline has been Planet of the Apes themed since its opening last summer, so no theater in Austin (or anywhere, really) could have been more appropriately attired for a sneak preview screening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Sunday afternoon. The movie's stars Andy Serkis (Caesar) and Gary Oldman (Dreyfuss), along with director Matt Reeves, were there in person for a Q&A. I was there too and took plenty of photos.

AFS Essential Cinema Preview: Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman, Painfully Connected

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persona still

The next Austin Film Society Essential Cinema Series, "Liv and Ingmar," will run on Thursdays at 7:30 pm from July 3-31 at the Marchesa. The following column from programmer Chale Nafus provides some context for the films.

Marlene Dietrich and Josef von Sternberg, John Wayne and John Ford, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese, Ethan Hawke and Richard Linklater. Throughout film history there have been directors who frequently work with one particular actor through whom they can realize their cinematic dreams. Familiarity with an actor's face, body, voice, mannerisms and psychological depths can provide a director a preview of how a movie might look and sound even before the cameras roll.

Such was the 12-year relationship between Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann and Swedish writer/director Ingmar Bergman. Together they made eight feature films and one television miniseries, beginning with Persona (1966) and ending with Autumn Sonata (1978). They also fell in love during the production of their first film together.

The filming of Persona (which screens July 3) took place on the remote Swedish island of Fårö, an island off the coast of an island, a place Bergman had loved ever since filming Through a Glass Darkly there in 1961. He was drawn to its solitude and stark natural beauty. It easily served as a setting that forced people to confront their own inner demons as well as those of the people around them. Such would happen with Bergman and Ullmann.

Slackery News Tidbits: June 30, 2014

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Austin Film Festival's list of 2014 conference panelists grows with the recent additions of writer Lawrence Kasdan (various Star Wars films), writer/director John Patrick Shanley Doubt), writer Randall Wallace (Braveheart), writer Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street) and Ilysse McKimmie, director of the Sundance Labs feature film program. Badges are still available for the conference and festival, which takes place Oct. 23-30.
  • In more AFF news, the nonprofit's Free Family Film Series presents a screening of Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey Sunday at 3 pm at the Texas Spirit Theater. The 1993 family drama based on the book The Incredible Journey follows two adventurous dogs and a cat as they escape from a ranch to reunite with their owners. Co-screenwriter of Homeward Bound, Caroline Thompson, will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.
  • AFF news continues: The nonprofit will co-sponsored the film series "1968's Past, Present, and Future" beginning Tuesday, July 8 until Aug. 12 at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. Screenings of Bandolero!, Rosemary's Baby and 2001: A Space Odyssey will also include Q&As with film historians. This series is free for AFF and Bullock Museum members.
  • The City of Austin's Economic Development Department, in partnership with Mid-America Arts Alliance and the Texas Commission on the Arts, is bringing an Artist INC Live Seminar to Austin. The deadline for artists to apply is tonight at 11:59 pm. The department's Cultural Arts Division will host the eight-week seminar from Oct. 4-Nov. 22. AFF's lead editor for its television series On Story, Roy Rutngamlug, was chosen to be one of six local arts professionals to act as a facilitator and lead a movie training session during the seminar.

Movies This Week: June 27-July 1, 2014

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 Hellion

The Austin Film Series is wrapping up its "Rebel Rebel" series this weekend with a 35mm print of Female Trouble, the raunchy 1974 comedy from enfant terrible John Waters. It screens tonight and Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa. That's also the place to be on Thursday night as a new Essential Cinema series launches featuring some of the best collaborations of Liv Ullman and Ingmar Bergman. The first film of the series is 1966's Persona, screening in a 35mm print. Look for an article about the series on Monday by programmer Chale Nafus.

The Alamo Drafthouse Ritz has another eclectic week ahead of specialty screenings. On Saturday afternoon, you can view the late-era Marx Bros. classic, 1946's A Night In Casablanca. Also this week, there's a Bill & Ted double feature on Sunday that will include two new Mondo posters available for purchase, Russ Meyer's Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls screens in 35mm on Monday night as does a digital presentation of the Whoopi Goldberg classic Sister Act. "The Complete David Lynch" series begins on Wednesday night (and continues through the end of August) with a 35mm print of Eraserhead. Finally, Brooklyn rockers Conveyor will be at the Ritz on Thursday to perform a live score to George Lucas' THX 1138

Alamo Slaughter Lane has a Cinema Cocktails screening of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Sunday night and the legendary rock comedy This Is Spinal Tap will play there on Tuesday and Thursday. Alamo Lakeline is featuring an underground Hindi flick called Miss Lovely tonight through Monday for late-night showings. They've also got a special one-off screening of John Cameron Mitchell's genderbending Hedwig And The Angry Itch happening  Thursday. 

Review: Snowpiercer

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Snowpiercer

There was a fair amount of controversy over Snowpiercer long before the U.S. release was decided. Rumors surfaced several months ago that The Weinstein Company wanted to aim for a wide release, but only if the film was trimmed by 20 minutes. South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Mother) wasn't especially interested in altering his English-language debut in order to please a more mainstream audience. After a rather public spat, his 125-minute cut stands, although the film is now restricted to a limited release domestically. This science-fiction oddity is based on the acclaimed French graphic novel Le Transperceneige.

The story takes us into a frighteningly frozen future where the only people left on Earth are circling the planet on a powerful, self-sustaining train where the passengers are separate and far from equal. An experiment to try and stop the effects of global warming failed and forced the entire planet into a new Ice Age that killed the majority of people on the planet. Those who survived made it onto the train, but the amenities vary based on social status. Those who could afford to pay to live in the front of the train are afforded plenty of comfort and food (not to mention drugs and freshly made sushi) while the poor are heavily persecuted in the tail compartment.

Chris Evans, Jamie Bell and Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer are among the citizens who have been barely surviving for 17 years in the back of the train when the film gets underway. They're covered in dirt, stacked like sardines and are frequently rounded up and counted by armed soldiers with short tempers. As the members of the tail start to rise up and plan to riot their way to the front of the train, they're met with great resistance. They battle their way into each new train car and slowly realize that there are plenty of people on board who are not surviving with only a small ration of protein bars to get the through the days. 

Review: Hellion

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Hellion

Jacob Wilson is a troubled kid. Like many teenagers, he's a rebel without a pause, constantly battling the adults in his life while figuring out who he is. But adolescent battles are far worse for Jacob than for most 13 year olds; his life can be as noisy, chaotic and dangerous as the motocross races he enters for a shot at stardom and a little respect from his family and friends.

Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is at the center of Hellion, Austin filmmaker Kat Candler's gritty new feature based on her 2012 short of the same title. We can't really blame Jacob for being the titular troublemaker. His mother is dead; his alcoholic father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), tries to take care of his sons, but needs to try harder. With his father physically or emotionally absent much of the time, Jacob must look after his little brother, Wes (Deke Garner). He also hangs out with a group of budding delinquents who entertain themselves with criminal mischief around their scruffy working-class neighborhood.

Photo Essay: A Hill Country Flyer Jaunt to See 'Snowpiercer'

Snowpiercer

I had little idea what to expect from the movie Snowpiercer, as I had not even seen a trailer. But buzz for the movie had been overwhelmingly positive, and Tim League and the crew of the Alamo Drafthouse throw some of the best parties around -- so I found myself in a line late Saturday afternoon to board the Hill Country Flyer for a trip to Burnet and a Rolling Roadshow presentation of the film with director Bong Joon-ho in attendance for a Q&A.

Lone Star Cinema: Nadine

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Nadine

There were high hopes for the Austin-made comedy Nadine when it was released in 1987.

The filmmaker, Robert Benton, had an impressive track record as a screenwriter (Bonnie and Clyde, What's Up, Doc and Superman) and writer/director (The Late Show, Kramer vs. Kramer and Places in the Heart). Nadine also had two white-hot stars (Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) and a strong supporting cast (Rip Torn, Glenne Headly, Jerry Stiller and a host of other great character actors).

But sadly, Nadine was a flop -- and for the most part, deservedly so.

Nadine is the story of the titular Nadine Hightower (Basinger), a struggling hairstylist in 1954 Austin. Strapped for cash, she poses for some nude "art studies" but now has second thoughts about the photos. When she visits photographer Raymond Escobar (Stiller) to retrieve them, she witnesses his murder. She also mistakenly steals secret plans for a new road -- valuable plans to anyone wanting to buy land along the roadway.

Ready, Set, Fund: Queens, Teens and Lazer Team

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Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and fundraising endeavors related to Austin and Texas independent film projects.

With summer in full swing, we've happened upon several Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns of films gearing up to shoot over these next few months. Headlining these campaigns is the Lazer Team project, the first feature film to be made by Austin production group Rooster Teeth (Red vs. Blue). A bit elusive in the plot description, the story is described as a live-action sci-fi comedy that takes place in the aftermath of receiving an alien signal on Earth.

The Indiegogo campaign raised an impressive $650,000+ on its first launch day, and has now crossed the $1.5 million mark. I'm sure it's due to not only a large fan base, but the impressive incentives offered. Already sold out of the highest two, perks include 20-second voicemails from your favorite Rooster Teeth personality ($400 donation), a Virtual LAN Party with the RT team ($2,000 donation), and even a walk-on role in the film ($6,000 donation). You can watch the video below for more information. The campaign ends on July 6.

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