The Austin Film Society's "Art Horror" series is wrapping up appropriately here over Halloween weekend with Hausu, a 1977 Japanese horror film directed by Nobuhiko Obayshi. Screening this evening and again on Sunday afternoon in 35mm at the Marchesa, I can guarantee that you've never seen anything like it before. I suspect that this will attract a lot of people who have seen the movie many times before, but catching it on the big screen for the first time is something I can highly recommend. In a much different vein, Philippe Garrel's Jealousy is on the calendar for Sunday and Monday evenings. This new black-and-white French drama stars Philippe's son Louis Garrel. The latest "Essential Cinema" series spotlighting the work of Satyajit Ray comes to a close on Thursday night with 1979's Joi Baba Felunath (The Elephant God).
At the Alamo Drafthouse, John Carpenter's Halloween will screen late tonight at the Lakeline, Slaughter Lane and South Lamar locations. Alamo Ritz has Dark City, one of the finest sci-fi features of the 90s in 35mm on Sunday night, Luc Besson's The Fifth Element on Tuesday night and Clint Eastwood's Bronco Billy in 35mm on Wednesday night. New release Birdman (Mike's review) is also expanding this weekend to add the Lakeline and Slaughter Lane locations (adding to the Alamo South Lamar, Regal Arbor and Violet Crown, where the film continues).
The Alamo Slaughter Lane is having a one-time screening of the extended cut of Michel Gondry's Mood Indigo on Monday evening in advance of the film's release on home video. The international cut of the film was trimmed down to 94 minutes (Elizabeth's review), but this is the full 131-minute version that was screened in France. Both versions will be on the Blu-ray edition, but if you'd like to see it on the big screen, this is your only chance.
21 Years: Richard Linklater, which had its world premiere at Austin Film Festival on Oct. 24, primarily consists of two types of footage: interviews with charismatic actors who have worked with Richard Linklater, and scenes from the director's films up to and including Before Midnight (Boyhood is mentioned in passing). The result is often enjoyable but limited in scope, and ultimately the film comes off as more of a puff piece than an insightful documentary.
The question underlying 21 Years seems to be, "Why isn't Linklater better known and and as universally well loved as he is in Austin?" It's a good one to ask, but directors Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood don't so much answer that question as compile a series of examples that he is truly respected and admired by actors who have worked with him.
Repeat collaborators like Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey seem to have nothing but nice things to say about their pal Rick, and the enthusiasm and awe they exhibit is infectiously positive. From specific stories about filming to broad appreciation of his zen-like demeanor, the talking heads enlisted for this project are clearly happy to sing the praises of Richard Linklater.
Fans of the director and his movies will be helpless to resist the charms of attractive actors telling fun stories, and the sense of an underdog receiving his due makes it easy to be swept along with the pleasant nostalgia of watching clips from Slacker and Dazed and Confused, among other films. The fact that the discussion never goes deeper than surface-level adoration is a little disappointing, though; thoughts from people who have worked extensively with Linklater behind the camera (editors, producers, cinematographers) are nowhere to be found.
Unless you're watching 21 Years as a complete newcomer to the director's work, you won't learn anything about him. Making the film even harder to take seriously are the animated segments accompanying the interviews. Playful and silly, these images cement the fact that this production is all about fun and only tangentially concerned with substance.
With the influx of transplants, the rise of condos and office buildings across the Austin skyline, and the gentrification of much of Austin's eclectic areas, it can be hard to remember the vibrant time of the past. You could people -watch all day at local cafes including the original Quack's on the Drag -- actually called "Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Co & Espresso Café" -- and Les Amis, then visit Sixth Street to listen to street musicians and buy a flower from a street vendor without having to step over the remnants of drunkenness.
Beef and Pie Productions filmmakers capture the nostalgia of old Austin in their 50-minute documentary film, Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs, which premieres at this year's Austin Film Festival and screens again tonight at 7 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. This quirky and entertaining film brings to light the forces that both created and are driving this phenomena away. As the economic and political landscape has changed in Austin, so has the heart and the people of this progressive city.
If you've ever been to Esther's Follies at Sixth Street and Red River, you may have seen Crazy Carl Hickerson. Best known for selling and spinning flowers, he can also be seen flashing his man boobs and dancing. What you may not know is that Hickerson has also been an Austin City Council candidate several times, with a penchant for odd platforms -- some even related to his foot fetish. Hickerson spends much of his time caring for his wife Charlotte Ferris, and the loving couple are a source of amusement with their good-natured tales.
For decades, the vast and beautiful land of Texas has been used as the backdrop for dozens of feature films, spawning beloved classics from virtually every genre. Yet when it comes to horror, it seems that the one title most associated with the state remains Tobe Hooper's masterful The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974). A great film which, without question, will live on, Chainsaw was one of the first instances which successfully portrayed the wide-open spaces of Texas as potential landscape of sheer terror.
In the years following the film's impact, a variety of features -- most notably a number of Chain Saw sequels/remakes -- have continued to paint Texas as a rich setting for some truly inventive and fright-filled tales. In time for Halloween, and in celebration of the Texas-set 2014 remake of The Town That Dreaded Sundown (currently in limited release and on VOD), here are a few titles that have, in their own way, given a chilling new face to the Lone Star State. Put together your own Texas-themed horror night sometime soon with these movies.
Shot and released two years after Chain Saw, 1976's The Town That Dreaded Sundown is a retelling of a true story that had plagued a small Texas town in post-war America. In the small community of Texarkana, a hooded killer known as the Phantom stalks and kills various citizens in unpredictable ways while continuously eluding authorities. Shot in the almost documentary-like style common with independent films of the decade, The Town That Dreaded Sundown was one of the first horror films closely based on true events; a fact the film relishes with matter-of-fact narration. That, combined with the film's open ending, a random cast that includes Ben Johnson and Dawn Wells, and a killer whose mere still presence in front of the camera gives off instant chills, made the movie an instant event for horror fans.
I enjoyed several of this year's panels at Austin Film Festival, with my only complaint being how to choose between concurrent sessions. The quality and diversity of conversations and panels were superb.
My highlight was "Science Fiction versus Science Fact" on Friday, when Scott Z. Burns (Side Effects, Contagion), Eric Heisserer (Hours, The Thing) and Ashley Miller (Thor, X-Men: First Class) discussed the fictional future we see onscreen and how they've addressed unknown possibilities in their own screenwriting.
Burns spoke about preparing for Contagion by approaching it as if science fiction movie by asking experts, "Tell me what's possible? What hasn't happened yet?" He emphasized the importance of research first -- "it's a phenomenal procrastination tool, and you can get amazing gems for narrative" -- citing cell phone jammers as an example of how authorities plan to control the flow of information during crisis, which makes for a good dramatic point.
Boxer Heather "The Heat" Hardy lives with her parents, sister, nephew and her own young daughter in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. She trains with her trainer/boyfriend Devon at the famed Gleason's Gym and dreams of making a full-time career out of fighting and moving out of her current crowded living situation. In the documentary Hardy, from first-time filmmaker (and Austin native) Natasha Verma, the boxer asserts, "I don't wanna get paid like a female, I wanna get paid like a boxer."
The film shows Hardy's path toward signing with a big-time promoter and making more money. In 2012, boxing became the last sport at the Olympics to accept women, and Verma's film displays some aspects of the macho culture still involved in the sport. Posters plugging fights for the male athletes adorn the gym, while Heather is responsible for selling a certain portion of tickets to her bouts. As she waits impatiently before one of her fights, rapper 50 Cent comes into the dressing room full of mostly men and makes disgusting jokes about domestic violence and women who fight back.
The winter holidays can, indeed, be out of this world. And a group of local filmmakers and science-fiction enthusiasts are pushing those boundaries with the launch of Austin's first dedicated science-fiction film festival, Other Worlds Austin, from Dec. 4-6 at Galaxy Highland 10 (6700 Middle Fiskville).
Less than six months after its founding, Other Worlds Austin recently announced its lineup, which includes:
- The Well (Texas premiere, opening-night movie) -- It hasn't rained in a decade, and a greedy water baron has laid claim to the remaining resource. Because of this a teenager must decide whether to run and hide or fight for the people and things she cherishes most.
- Time Lapse -- A thriller about three friends who discover a camera that takes photos 24 hours into the future. They decide to use the machine for personal gain, until disturbing images begin to appear.
- Apt 3D (world premiere) -- A young couple moves into a New York City apartment only to be assaulted by strange noises and suspicious, paranormal activity. The movie stars Jordan Lewis, who produced the SXSW feature The Heart Machine, and Harris County native Maxxe Sternbaum.
Writer and director Nick Matthews made his feature debut at this year's Austin Film Festival with One Eyed Girl, a riveting psychological thriller that takes place in South Australia but could just as easily occur anywhere. Co-written by co-star Craig Behenna (The Babadook), this film -- which just won the AFF 2014 jury prize in the "Dark Matters" category -- slowly reveals the layers of pain and guilt experienced by a psychiatrist and the unexpected rocky path to redemption and salvation.
Travis (Mark Leonard Winter) is a thirtysomething psychiatrist severely damaged by the death of former patient Rachel (Katy Cheel). Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Travis' relationship with Rachel extended beyond and was impacted by her mental health. Travis' inability to connect to his patients and Rachel is compounded by the desensitization to the violence and corruption of the modern world, as well as a refusal to accept his own identity. He is emotionally lost and on the brink of a nervous breakdown when he meets the mysterious teenager Grace (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who's handing out brochures about a charismatic leader, Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand).
In a near frigid Driskill ballroom, the Austin Film Festival audience sat to listen to "A Conversation with Whit Stillman" on Sunday afternoon. The director of Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco and Damsels in Distress was suffering a cold from a trip to Poland and seemed to huddle in the chair he'd moved out of the way of an A/C vent. For the first ten minutes, the moderator asked about Stillman's entry into the world of film.
We learned that the first film Stillman saw was Bambi, and that at the age of 16, he wanted to be a novelist like F. Scott Fitzgerald. In his twenties, he viewed journalism and writing short stories as his career option -- until he saw John Sayles' Return of the Secaucus Seven. That film showed Stillman "the way a short story writer could become a filmmaker." He worked on his script for Barcelona while living in Madrid, but didn't think it strong enough for a first film.
My friend and I attended the Austin Film Festival's opening night screening of musical The Last 5 Years, starring Anna Kendrick (Up In the Air, Pitch Perfect) and Jeremy Jordan (a Corpus Christi native who's been in Joyful Noise and Smash). My heart was in my throat as soon as Kendrick's Cathy started singing, and this twisty story kept my emotions on edge from then on. Jamie (Jordan) and Cathy sing monologues about the current state of their relationship; her songs move backward in time as his move forward (which seems obvious after the fact, but I didn't note this at the time). They only sing together in the proposal scene.
Director Richard LaGravenese (who also directed the less-extraordinary Beautiful Creatures, which the same friend viewed with me) warned the audience before the film that The Last 5 Years is practically all song. The movie contains very little dialogue -- the songs pretty much say everything.
Post-screening, the director talked about working on this film for seven years. He hadn't seen a production of the original 2002 musical by Jason Robert Brown, but fell in love with the cast recording and felt moved to bring the story to film. He and his crew filmed in Harlem in 21 days, with the actors working on multiple takes of the same song in one day (incredible when you consider the challenging nature of the music involved).