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AFF Review: Austin High

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Austin High

Sometimes it can be a gift and a curse being a movie geek living in this great town of Austin, Texas. We do things our own way, we're weird, and we embrace that fact with open arms while the red counties look in cautiously at our liberal nature. We make films here. Sometimes they're awesome and sometimes they're not. Usually though, they fall in between. Austin High is one of those in-between films, and it's the type of movie most people in Austin will love, but others who don't "get it" won't really grasp and will therefore shun the film.

Austin High is a film that could be great. It's got funny moments, a good story, effortlessly good performances ... but as a film overall, it might be a little too Austin.

Samuel Wilson (Michael S. Wilson) is the principal of the high school he attended while growing up in here in Austin, Lady Bird High. Although he's grown up to become an adult who helps mold the minds of the future's youths, he still likes to get high with his buddies. Yeah, they're the same buddies he got high with in high school and they still meet up in the same spot to toke up in the morning.

Review: Take Shelter

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What's the bigger nightmare: Extreme violence, or an ambiguous but growing sense of threat to all your hold dear? Austin's Jeff Nichols proves it's the latter in Take Shelter, as a family man becomes increasingly obsessed with visions of storms, putting all he holds dear at risk as he tries to keep them safe.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) is an upstanding guy with a devoted wife Samantha, an adorable daughter Hannah, a responsible job and a comfortable home. Life isn't perfect, but they all happily weather the storms of life until Curtis's nightmares start interfering with waking life. The more Curtis tries to protect his family and regain a sense of security, the faster it erodes. 

There is nothing to substantiate Curtis' fears, which is both the foundation and the power of Nichols's script. Nichols (Shotgun Stories) deliberately doesn't distinguish reality and nightmare; there is no discernible change in film stock and nothing to indicate which is which. As the film progresses, it's harder for the audience to distinguish between the two, increasing the tension despite the movie's slow and steady pace. But instead of being distracting, it makes it easier for the audience to relate to Curtis' plight. Even the CGI is minimal, and only enough to enhance the story. The overall effect is nearly exhausting as the audience gets caught up in Curtis' plight.

AFF Photo Essay: 'The Nice Guys' Drop Trou, Delight Audience

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There was a lot going on at Austin Film Festival on Sunday, and unless you could clone yourself, you may have missed it. Thomas Jane dropping trou for The Nice Guys script reading for one.  (More photos after the jump.)

Photo Essay: 'Young Adult' Surprises Alamo Audiences

Patton Oswalt & Jason Reitman

The Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar played host this week to a "secret screening with special guests." The guests turned out to be filmmaker Jason Reitman (Juno, Up in the Air) and actor/comedian Patton Oswalt.

SXSW Announces First Film Panels for 2012

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SXSW has announced its first round of confirmed sessions today for the 2012 Film Conference in March. SXSW Film Conference and Festival Producer Janet Pierson said, "We’re particularly thrilled with how well our PanelPicker interface harnesses the intelligence and passions of our creative community to help define the most interesting and relevant topics of the day."

Thousands of proposals were submitted for the SXSW film conference panels through the PanelPicker tool, which allowed anyone with an internet connection to submit a proposal, then let the public vote on them this summer. Nearly 40 sessions were announced today on a wide range of topics near and dear to filmmakers' hearts, including several "convergence" titles that are open to all Film, Interactive, Gold and Platinum badgeholders.

The confirmed Film sessions (panels and otherwise) are  listed after the jump.

TAMI Flashback: Blaine Dunlap Does Dallas

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Sometimes I Run

This article is the tenth in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

This installment of the TAMI Flashback series ventures north to Dallas and back to the 1970s. It's a place and time I know all too well, having moved to Big D in 1971. (Dallas wouldn't have been my first -- or even tenth -- choice of places to live. But as a 7-year-old, I had no say in the matter.)

Ah yes, Dallas -- a city that is the anti-Austin in almost every conceivable way. But even über-Austinites like me feel a certain grudging nostalgia for our soullessly suburban Dallas childhoods. So I was intrigued to find two superb documentary shorts about Dallas in the TAMI video library, East Dallas, Summer, 1974 and Sometimes I Run. Both films are by Blaine Dunlap, a relatively obscure Dallas indie filmmaker of the era.

AFF Review: Harold's Going Stiff

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Just when you thought the Brits had cornered the market on reinventing the zombie genre, writer/director Keith Wright brings us a fresh new take in Harold's Going Stiff, which won the Austin Film Festival Narrative Feature Competition this week.

Using a mockumentary structure, Wright introduces us to pensioner Harold (Stan Rowe), whose stiffening joints and painful muscles aren't merely old age. he titular Harold is the first known sufferer of "O.R.D." or Onset Rigor Disease, an infliction that starts with painfully stiffened muscles and ends up with the classic diminished intelligence, lack of speech and violence of a zombie-like state. His new visiting nurse Penny (Sarah Spencer) cheerfully tortures Harold with painful therapies to help him keep the disease from progressing. In the meantime, controversy reigns over vigilantes hunting down the afflicted who've reached the final stage of the disease.  

Review: Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone

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Everyday Sunshine

[Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone will screen in Austin tonight (Oct. 25) -- details are at the end of this review.]

Between deejaying college radio stations and also living in the heart of Montrose in Houston during the 1980s and 1990s, my nights were dedicated to the diverse music scene. New wave genre was my first love, but it was the upbeat tempo of ska and nitty-gritty sounds of punk that got me moving to the dance floor and from time to time, to the mosh pit. The creative cacophony of Austin bands including Bad Mutha Goose, Retarted Elf, The Big Boys, and Bad Brains created a mesmerizing wall of sound, moving the audience in a mass of sweaty, flailing bodies with an incredible outlet of energy.

Many of these bands were influenced by Fishbone, a black punk band from the streets of South Central Los Angeles. Band members sported dreadlocks and Mohawks as well as the ska/mod fashion, although sometimes they wore only their musical instruments. Fishbone "brought the Funk to the Punk." However, their prominence in the scene fell apart just as the band was on the verge of achieving the financial success they needed to survive.

Filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson bring the personal story of the fiercely individual artists that make up the democracy of Fishbone in the compelling film, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, the journey of Fishbone to fame and eventual bust is demonstrated through animation, vintage concert and interview footage with the band and other musicians.

AFF Review: A Swingin' Trio

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A husband slaving over the stove for dinner. A Valentine's dinner set for three. This is not the usual setup for a romantic drama, but it is for the promising debut A Swingin' Trio.

Kelvin Phillips and Carla Jackson's first feature is a tense tale of secrets, lies and revelations interspersed with the cool jazz stylings of the Jeff Lofton Trio. Homer (Johnny Walter) is a writer married to successful producer Trude (Timeca Seretti). He has all the time in the world while collecting rejection letters on his literary masterpiece. Meanwhile, Trude can't seem to detach herself from her phone and her business deals, breezing through the house as if it's a hotel. Homer has something special planned for Valentine's Day dinner, but it's not just his signature seafood gumbo. 

Film on Tap: 'Beer Wars' and Beer Week

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Beer Wars posterWelcome to Film on Tap, a new column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

October is always one of the biggest months for craft beer in Texas, and this year has been no exception, especially with the revival of the Texas Craft Brewers Festival here in Austin. The second annual Austin Beer Week is in full swing, with over a hundred events taking place from October 22-30 highlighting local breweries and brewpubs. Several movie-related beer events are happening at venues around town, including most of the Alamo Drafthouse locations.

North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery is hosting a free screening of the documentary Beer Wars in the pavilion behind their restaurant at 8 pm tonight. Beer Wars explores the U.S. beer industry from the inside, revealing the truth behind the label of your favorite beer. Told from an insider’s perspective, the film goes behind the scenes of the daily battles and all-out wars that dominate one of America’s favorite industries.

North by Northwest is also paying homage to Spinal Tap's band member Nigel Tufnel on November 11 -- that's 11/11/11 -- with a a screening of This is Spinal Tap preceded by a special performance by a cover band.

Find out after the jump about other Austin Beer Week events, and why the screening of the "David versus Goliath" story in Beer Wars is quite timely for the Texas craft beer industry. I also share how Boston Beer Company -- one of the film's feature subjects -- and Flix Brewhouse are supporting the homebrew community in Central Texas.

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