The opening image of Lebanon is bright and beautiful and tranquil, and yet strangely startling. The movie opens abruptly with a shot of a vast field of sunflowers under a brilliant sun, an image that lingers much longer than expected.
This image is a stark contrast to the rest of Lebanon, a violent and harrowing film about an Israeli tank crew in the First Lebanon War in 1982. All action in the film, which opens today at the Arbor, takes place inside the tank, a setting that could not be more distant from a sunny field of flowers.
Lebanon's story is compact, spanning only a day or so during the war's opening in June 1982. Amid the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon, a lone tank and a platoon of paratroopers enter a bombed-out Lebanese town in search of remaining enemy forces. The tank crew expects the mission to be relatively easy -- defeating the assumedly weak resistance and occupying the town for a short time. It quickly turns into a nightmare, however, when they find themselves in a violent situation. The crew's somewhat naïve hopes for a quick victory disappear in a hail of gunfire and explosions, and their mission becomes one of mere survival. To reveal more about the story would spoil much of the astonishing dramatic tension.
Since Simon Rumley's Red White & Blue will be returning for a screening at Fantastic Fest this week, I felt it was high time I shared an exclusive behind-the-scene photo I'd taken during the shoot at our house, where part of the film was shot. Nick Ashy Holden ("Alvin") was taking a coffee break while Emmy award nominee makeup artist Meredith Johns (off-screen) put, the finishing touches on his special effects makeup.
With all the new media nowadays it's increasingly difficult for filmmakers to keep a lid on their projects, but it's also a great way for filmmakers to promote their films with less money and effort if done properly. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger are not only free, but can have a viral effect if fans help promote a film. Red White & Blue was able to secure locations and extras through the Alamo Drafthouse blog, and is how our house was selected as a filming location. Check out more behind-the-scenes photos after the jump.
Austin Film Festival has announced the bulk of its films for the 2010 festival, including marquee screenings and locally made films. The fest still has yet to announce its opening-night, closing-night and centerpiece movies, but I'm sure we'll find that out soon. In the meantime, we've got a lot to look forward to seeing in October. AFF announced its conference schedule last week.
"Marquee screenings" are the big-name films, many of which might be Oscar contenders. One of the nice things about AFF is that it is late enough in the year to give Austin audiences a sneak preview of these end-of-year prestige films, which often don't open here until January or February. Some of these films are from filmmakers who have brought their movies to AFF in previous years.
For example, one of the marquee films is 127 Hours, the latest from Danny Boyle, who was at AFF 2008 with Slumdog Millionaire. Kelly Reichardt's film Wendy and Lucy was the centerpiece film at SXSW 2008 and now AFF brings us her new film, Meek's Cutoff.
As mentioned in my blog entry Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: Appreciating the Shorts, you'll never find a lack of high quality and innovative short films at Fantastic Fest. This year, the shorts are split almost evenly between screenings before feature films, or one of the two shorts programs: Short Fuse! Severe Fantastic Fest Shorts and Drawn and Quartered: Animated Shorts. Thanks to Fantastic Fest programmer Zack Carlson, I had the opportunity to preview over 30 of the 50-plus shorts that will be screening over the course of the next week. Hundreds of filmmakers from around the world submitted short films to Fantastic Fest, and judging from the final selections, it must have been challenging to narrow down. Here are some highlights from this year's shorts, including my personal favorites.
Texas-born actor Thomas Haden Church returned to Austin this past March to lend his dry wit and charm as emcee of the Austin Film Society's annual Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. Church first served as emcee in 2009, and personally I would love to see him become a long-running host. It's probably not that unlikely -- Church resides on his cattle ranch near Bandera, Texas.
I've been a fan of Church since his eccentric role in the 1990s television sitcom Wings, and enjoyed his conflicted portrayal of villain Flint Marko aka "Sandman" in Spider-Man 3. He recently appeared in the teen comedy Easy A, but can also be seen in Zombie Roadkill, a new FEARnet web series. The trailers and PSAs for the series are hysterical and had me jumping out of my seat. Check out my favorite PSA after the jump.
Fantastic Fest attendees have a chance to see the first two episodes before their online debut at a special screening on Friday, September 24, at 8 pm. Director David Green, stars Thomas Haden Church and David Dorfman, producer Ryan Hendricks and writer Henry Gayden will be in attendance. The screening will be followed by the FEARnet party at The Highball.
View Fantastic Fest 2010 Survival Map in a larger map
Welcome to the 2010 Fantastic Fest Survival Guide. We've tried to cover every little thing you might want to know while you're spending the week in lovely South Austin ... literally from A to Z. If we left anything out, feel free to post a comment.
This year, as you can see above, we also have a fabulous Fantastic Fest 2010 Survival Map that includes most of the places mentioned in the guide. We're hoping this Google Map will be very handy to use with smartphones.
A few notes about relative location: If you are standing in front of Alamo and facing South Lamar (the big busy street), left is north and right is south. Left/north takes you to Barton Springs Road (land of many restaurants) and eventually downtown. Right/south takes you away from downtown but about a mile down, to a number of good restaurants as well.
This should probably be subtitled "Mostly Fantastic Fest News" because with the festival starting Thursday, we're getting more news and info every day. We've also got some AFF news (and have heard that we may hear more on that front later this week), as well as actual non-fest items.
- Fantastic Fest has just published its ticket procedure for badgeholders to use this year, which fortunately has an online reservation component. Very good news indeed for those of us who can't always drive down to Alamo first thing in the morning, every single morning.
- In addition, the fest has announced its competition films and the members of each jury.
- Fantastic Arcade, the new videogame component of Fantastic Fest, also starts in a few days. To honor the event, you'll be able to play a new map in Left 4 Dead 2 called Fan Feast that is based on the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and The Highball. The Fantastic Fest blog has a video and more info for people who actually know something about videogames (i.e., not me).
- No word yet on who will be/was buried to watch the movie Buried, but I do love this photo.
Jenn is trying to recuperate from one fabulous film festival before diving deep into another one, so I'm pinch-hitting on Movies This Week. Austin has a surprising number of new movies opening on Friday, at least for September -- and most of them look very promising, especially for September (generally kind of a lame month for new films).
Also, as we've probably told you a million times, Fantastic Fest opens next Thursday. If you don't have a badge, you can still buy tickets to the gala screenings at the Paramount -- these movies are twice as enjoyable if you watch them with a thousand other film lovers.
Here's what's opening today (if I forgot anything, feel free to comment):
Alpha and Omega -- The tagline for this animated family film is "A Pawsome 3D Adventure." I have no comment ... and since it didn't screen for press, we have no review.
Catfish -- Since this film premiered at Sundance, it's generated a lot of interest and controversy. The marketing campaign promotes the idea of a "big secret" and encourages people to say nothing about the film. If you want to hear what I have to say about it, read my review. (wide)
The marketing campaign for the movie Catfish centers around "secrets" that are meant to intrigue you enough to see what's going on. It is suggested that people who have seen the film not spoil it by mentioning anything at all, not even the premise. If you like this way of seeing a movie, stop reading this review, and come back again after you've seen the film. I don't think that Catfish is the kind of movie that deserves a "the less you know, the better it is" review style. On the other hand, the more I think about it, the less I like it, so there may be some basis for that line of thought.
Nearly everyone is willing to share the film's setup: Filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman share an office with photographer Nev Schulman, Ariel's brother. In 2008, Nev starts getting artwork in the mail -- paintings of his photos, and notes from an 8-year-old girl, Abby, who says she loves his photos and loves making art from them. Nev is interested, and starts a correspondence with Abby via the internet -- she sends him pictures and videos of her painting, he friends her entire family on Facebook. He also starts talking to some of Abby's family members on the phone. And then ... that's where I'm supposed to stop telling you about the storyline, lest I spoil anything.
That doesn't work for me. If you say "And then ..." and get all ominous, I am going to watch this film waiting for someone to leap out from the bushes with an axe. Or perhaps a chainsaw. I love going into movies knowing practically nothing (this is why you rarely see me writing about trailers; I like to avoid them), but somehow the lack of understanding what this movie was, and where it might go, was more annoying than thrilling. I truly was waiting for something brutal and fatal.
As The Town opens, a black screen with white quotes regarding the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown appears. This is "the town": the neighborhood of Charlestown in which, we are told, an extremely large percentage of armored truck/bank robbers reside.
Director/actor Ben Affleck's crime-romance movie follows two main storylines: bank robber Doug MacRay (Affleck) falling for bank manager Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall) as he tries to keep her from discovering too much, and Jon Hamm's FBI Agent Frawley as he endeavors to capture Doug's gang. Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner plays Doug's hot-tempered pal and crime partner James "Jem" Coughlin, and Gossip Girl's Blake Lively plays Coughlin's drugged-up kid sister Krista. Throw in Chris Cooper as Doug's jailed father, Irish indie favorite Pete Postlethwaite as a sadistic florist/drug dealer, and Titus Welliver (The Good Wife) as Frawley's FBI partner and you have a pretty stellar cast.
The stellar cast and their performances draw the viewer into the story. The Town isn't a dismal film, though it deals with dark issues (drugs, murder, and more). Affleck's smooth direction and the screenplay (by Affleck, Peter Craig, and Aaron Stockard, based on a book by Chuck Hogan) have a lot to do with this. At the point in the movie when Claire says to Doug, "On sunny days, I always think of someone dying," the line seems portentious, yet Hall's delivery is far from maudlin. Claire and Doug's connection is almost palpable, and Affleck is able to pull off a true anti-hero with this role. Doug has done some bad things, but Affleck keeps the character likable and the audience pulling for him.