Sports movies ought not to be talky. We could argue that Moneyball isn't really a sports movie -- it happens to take place in the world of sports, but its true focus is the growing battle between science and tradition. Even so, a movie with so much baseball in it ought to have a little more zip.
Fortunately, the talkiness is often snappy dialogue, well-written by Aaron Sorkin and Steve Zaillian. The movie's dialogue seems to be written for a lighter-toned movie than the occasionally sluggish Moneyball, based on real-life people and events.
Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is the general manager of the Oakland A's, a major-league baseball team trying to compete successfully with teams that have far larger budgets. It's impossible for Beane to attract top-drawer players with third-tier salaries. He needs to find another way to improve his team, and believes he has the answer after meeting Peter Brand (Jonah Hill). Brand, a disciple of Bill James, believes that he can use a certain set of statistics to find the players who will bring them the most runs ... and many of those players are bargains because they look funny when they pitch, or get most of their runs on walks.
Fantastic Fest isn't the only movie-related event going on in town this week (although it often feels different when attending the fest). Austin has some interesting special movie events that tie into other film festivals. As this goes live, the Cine Las Americas free screening of El Infierno is about to start. And while Incendiary: The Willingham Case has a theatrical release in town today, there is a special reception at tonight's screenings with local filmmakers Steve Mims and Joe Bailey, Jr at Violet Crown Cinema. Seats are limited, so don't wait any longer to buy your tickets, as you will want to talk about the film after you see it.
If you were lucky enough to see Thundersoul at SXSW 2010, you probably want to watch it again on Thursday at Alamo Drafthouse Village as part of the Austin Film Society "Best of the Fest" series. If you haven't, you'll want to see it, and not just because Jamie Foxx is now attached and actively promoting the film. You will be dancing in your seats, inspired to reconnect with your dreams and determined to fight for music programs in schools as you enjoy the story of a Houston high-school music teacher who turned a stage band into a world-renowned funk band still selling albums today.
Movies We've Seen:
Dolphin Tale 3D -- Chris has mixed feelings, and says his "litmus test for any kids' movie is whether it entertains the adult members of its audience while keeping kids engaged." Find out what Chris and his daughter thought about it in his review. (wide)
Incendiary: The Willingham Case -- This locally produced documentary couldn't be more relevant if it tried. Regardless of your politics, Incendiary focuses on facts, not opinion, and the disturbing resistance of admitting to potential errors. Don reviewed and says it's "the sort of provocative documentary the Powers That Be don't want you to see." If you don't believe him, read my SXSW review. (Violet Crown Cinema)
Sometimes Fantastic Fest feels less like a film festival and more like a big cocktail party where you know almost everyone there (which never happens at cocktail parties I attend) and oh yes, you can leave the party at any time and go watch some pretty good movies. If only we'd had martini glasses in the tent set up outside Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, the illusion would have been complete.
I arrived at Alamo around 4 pm, too late for the first round of movies but not too late to socialize. So many people have been returning to this fest year after year after year (since 2005) that it really does start to feel like I know everyone. And that unfamiliar guy over there? Turns out he's that film blogger I've been chatting with via Twitter, here for his first Fantastic Fest. The only problem with this situation is that I have to be careful when writing so I don't sound too "inside baseball" and bore all of you who weren't there.
After more socializing than I normally do in three months, I slipped into a screening of Boys on the Run just to watch the short playing before it, Family Unit. Austin filmmaker Thomas Humphries, the man behind the Blackmagic Rollercoaster production company, directed the film. Blackmagic Rollercoaster has brought us some might strange Fantastic Fest bumpers (the short shorts that "advertise" the fest before each screening). Family Unit is about a family outing in Mayfield Park (I noticed a peacock) and it is, um, not what you would expect. On the other hand, I kind of did expect to be simultaneously bemused and slightly stunned, so I suppose you could call it predictable in that sense.
I have really mixed feelings about Dolphin Tale, which opens today in Austin theaters. On the one hand, it's relatively entertaining, has a couple of nice messages at its core, and it has some great actors in it. On the other hand, it is tailored and finessed within an inch of its life to win the affections of the audience. It does so by delivering trite-and-not-too-serious conflict, a fat handful of plot threads that weave together into a tidy narrative, and a deluge of boy-on-dolphin underwater footage that could easily be repurposed into a mesmerizing screensaver. Not that anyone but your local office products store has screensavers anymore, but you know what I mean.
To describe the plot fully would require several paragraphs and a score card. I'm pretty sure my 5-year-old daughter didn't catch all of it, but she waited patiently for the grownups to stop talking so the movie could get back to the kids and dolphins.
It boils down to this: Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) has trouble focusing at school, what with his daddy-abandonment issues and his college-aged cousin headed for a tour in the Middle East. Plans to catch up on his studies in summer school go awry when he finds himself rescuing a beached dolphin (eventually named Winter) and becomes The Only Person Who Can Inspire In It The Will To Live as it convalesces at the local aquarium.
The cast fills out with not one but two wrinkly voices of wisdom (Morgan Freeman and Kris Kristofferson), hot middle-aged mom Ashley Judd, aquarium brat Hazel (the adorable Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who is the best thing about the movie), and her dad Dr. Haskett (Harry Connick, Jr.), who is trying to save the dolphin and the down-on-its-luck aquarium at the same time.
Couldn't get a badge for Fantastic Fest? If you were a Cine Las Americas badgeholder this year, you can see a free movie during the fest anyway, with the director in attendance.
I love it when film festivals collide this way; both fests bring outstanding international programming in a variety of genres to Austin. I also love free. I especially love it when there is free at a festival.
Tomorrow at 2 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, Cine Las Americas is hosting a special screening of the Fantastic Fest selection, El Infierno. This is not on the Fantastic Fest schedule, so you don't have to worry about getting in a queue for the online ticketing system. This particularly screening is reserved exclusively for CLA badgeholders, so unless you also happen to have a Fantastic Fest badge, you will probably not be able to see this movie again anytime soon (El Infierno screens twice as part of the regular Fantastic Fest schedule).
The hitch is that you need to get to the theater on time and bring your badge from Cine Las Americas. If you're like me and attend a lot of festivals, you keep your badges, but then you have to find the right badge. To make it easier to find it, the badge has the 2011 Cine Las Americas poster on it, pictured here.
Just remember to leave plenty of time for parking -- it's only day two of Fantastic Fest so there is probably a full parking lot.
A potential pitfall of reviewing Incendiary: The Willingham Case is that rather than passing judgment on this engaging and enraging documentary, any critic with a desire for justice will instead pass judgment on the film's subject matter -- the infamous death penalty case of Cameron Todd Willingham.
The case began with the death of Willingham's three young daughters in a house fire in Corsicana, Texas in 1991. Willingham was home at the time of the fire. Despite his claims that he tried to save his daughters, he was charged with their murder by arson based on evidence suggesting someone had started the fire using a liquid accelerant.
Willingham was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1992, largely on the fire investigation evidence and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who said Willingham confessed to starting the fire. (The informant later recanted his testimony.) A psychiatrist also testified that Willingham, who had a minor criminal record, was an "extremely severe sociopath;" the psychiatrist later was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for his questionable record.
Claustrophobia? Check. Dark rooms? Check. Things that go bump in the night? Check. A crazed gentleman in excruciating pain? Check! If you checked of any of those items, you definitely need to see the short film No Way Out, staring AJ Bowen, at this year's Fantastic Fest.
Slackerwood: How did you two meet?
Aaron Morgan: I used to host touring short film festivals with Atom Films back in 2000. One of the places I did the short film fest was at the original Alamo on Colorado. I'd been a fan of Eric's writing on Aint it Cool for a while and I invited him out to watch the short films.
Last Sunday at the Paramount, Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater opened up what was originally a cast-and-crew screening of his latest movie, Bernie, to the public as a sneak-peek fundraiser for Bastrop wildfire relief. The dark comedy was shot in Central Texas, including Bastrop and Austin. At last count, I heard that the event raised more than $70,000.
I was on the red carpet to catch a few photos of Linklater and one of the film's stars, Jack Black, who attended the screening. I probably don't need to tell you that's Black in the above photo. A lot of fans showed up with items for Jack Black to sign, ranging from posters to shirts to guitars. He was very accommodating, as you can see below.
Last week, I attended a special "Cut Loose with Footloose" advance screening of Footloose hosted by Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar and Paramount Pictures. Actor Kenny Wormald and director Craig Brewer (pictured above) were at the event for a Q&A after the movie. I've posted more photos from the event after the jump.
Austin Film Festival announced its feature film lineup on Tuesday, including 23 U.S. and world premieres, although the opening and closing-night movies are still unrevealed. This year's selections include movies that have been creating a lot of buzz on the film-fest circuit, such as We Need to Talk About Kevin (which is also playing Fantastic Fest, interestingly enough), The Descendants, Shame, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Coriolanus. There will even be a special 3D screening of the animated movie Puss in Boots.
However, we're most excited about the 15 Austin and Texas-connected movies scattered among the Marquee, Dark Matters, Texas Independents, Documentary Feature Competition and Narrative Feature Competition programs at AFF this year. You know Slackerwood is planning to cover as many of these as we can. If you're one of the filmmakers, please feel free to reach out to us.