I've always found Kenneth Branagh's directorial career to be one of the most wildly unpredictable and diverse of any filmmaker around. Each project he takes on yields impressive and fascinating results. Who else could successfully pull off the Shakespearean power of Henry V (1989), the heart and terror of Frankenstein (1994), the comedic charm of A Midwinter's Tale (1995) ... and the operatic comic-book action of Thor (2011)?
This week, Branagh adds yet another footnote to an already remarkable directing career with his live-action feature adaptation of the classic fairytale Cinderella (2015), starring Cate Blanchett and Helena Bonham Carter. Knowing Branagh's respectful approach to well-known material, not to mention a collection of positive reviews and solid audience interest, Cinderella will no doubt turn into another cinematic victory for the actor/director.
With the release of Cinderella this week, I couldn't resist the opportunity to write about my favorite Branagh film, Dead Again (1991). Made on the heels of his triumph with Henry V, and released at a time when the early nineties neo-noir genre was at its peak, Branagh directed and starred with then-wife Emma Thompson in this stylish thriller about romance and murder.
SXSW Film makes international news with A-list stars and big premieres, but some of the best films come in small packages. Eighty-seven short film titles have been announced -- not counting the music videos -- for this year's fest. Here is just a taste of some of the spectacular shorts from the program.
Animated Shorts (screening info)
All Your Favorite Shows!
This is a stunning and seamless blend of animation, live action and millisecond clips and audio from scores of recognizable hit films that looks like it must have taken decades of work to put together. Not just an amazing visual piece, it includes sound design and storytelling of equal quality. This packs more action into 5 minutes than most features manage in 2 hours.
With a tasty treat that reminds us film folk the root of SXSW has always been music, Julian Petschek takes "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" to the heights of its full hip-hop potential. Flashy and funny, this music video sets a catchy beat against vocals and lyrics by Katrina Recto AKA Kat Knoc, Jacob Gibson AKA C.U.B. and DJ Petroleum Jelly.
Documentary Shorts 1 (screening info)
ESPN isn't only just football, basketball, and baseball. This documentary directed by Gabe Spitzer tells the amazing story -- in her own words -- of Joy Johnson, who began running marathons after retirement and ran the New York marathon 25 times. An inspirational, beautiful and lasting legacy.
The number of features and documentaries with Austin and/or Texas connections at SXSW Film Festival, which takes place from March 13-21, is staggering this year. As in the past, many familiar local filmmakers and cast have multiple movies with which they're associated. Here's this year's slate:
Manglehorn (pictured at top) -- During my interview with director David Gordon Green at Dallas IFF last year, he described this film starring Al Pacino as an urban movie "looking through the face of characters, three wandering souls looking for their place on a magical journey. Melancholy but full of hope and life and love." (screening times)
7 Chinese Brothers -- Written and directed by Bob Byington (Somebody Up There Likes Me), this film features Jason Schwartzman as despondent and drunk Larry, whose only true companion is his French bulldog, as he pines for his Quick-Lube boss Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). In 2010, Austin Film Society awarded this project a Texas Filmmakers Production Fund grant (now known as the AFS Grant). (screening times)
As I said in the opening line of my SXSW 2014 dispatch, "The life of a wristbandit can be a lonely one." I'd like to amend that by saying that although it's lonely, it's still just as fun, and often unexpectedly more eventful than a badge. There are obvious differences, of course, but I enjoyed myself immensely while donning a wristband last year. I got to see films, go to some great parties, and made some new friends along the way. With all of that, I would like to share some information that I feel is pertinent to the "wristbandito."
SXSW Film Wristbands are $90 (tax included) and will be sold at Waterloo Records, The Marchesa Theatre, Violet Crown Cinema, Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, Alamo Ritz and Alamo Slaughter Lane. As a wristband holder, you will be admitted into any SXSW film venue once all badgeholders (Platinum, Gold and Film) have been let into the theater. This is, of course, if space permits.
Below are a few pointers/tips/thoughts that I took away from my adventures. You might think that some of these points are a bit repetitive, but I promise they will be helpful to you when you're trying to navigate the festival.
- Try to pick up your wristband on Thursday. Last year there was some confusion about where I could get my wristband, but it turns out you CAN pick it up a day early at the Austin Convention Center on March 12 from 9 am - 7 pm at the Vimeo Theater box office outside Exhibit Hall 2. If you can't make it then, try to get to one of the listed venues way before the first film shows.
Krisha is a passion project by Austin director Trey Shults set during a fraught family Thanksgiving dinner. The intimate film was shot in his parents' house and stars members of his family, with his aunt Krisha Fairchild playing the lead. Shults based the feature -- premiering at SXSW 2015 -- on his short that played last year at the fest and won a Special Jury Award.
Shults answered a few questions I had about the making of Krisha via email interview.
Slackerwood: What was the process like to adapt your short film into this feature?
Trey Shults: We got the ball rolling on the feature pretty soon after the short played SXSW last year. The short seemed to be well received at SX but it wasn't like anyone was coming up offering us money to make the feature version. So we took matters into our own hands.
The Austin Film Society hosts its annual Texas Film Awards, one of the most high-profile events in the city, on Thursday night, March 12. This year marks the awards' 15th year and to celebrate its "crystal anniversary" of honoring the best in Texas film, honorees include some of the biggest names in the industry from actors to producers to writers. Local filmmaker Mike Judge is this year's emcee.
The event itself is sold out, but a few tickets are still available to The Texas Party, the after-party featuring a DJ set by Wooden Wisdom, aka Elijah Wood and Zach Cowie.
In anticipation of Thursday's event, I thought a spotlight on each of the honorees and some of their finest contributions to the cinematic world was more than in order.
Precious few screenwriters in the history of film have been gifted with a voice as unique and diverse as Carson's. Helping to realize the masterpiece that is Paris, Texas (1984) may have put him on the cinematic map as one of the premiere screenwriters in film, but it is Carson's portrait of rebel actor Dennis Hopper in his documentary The American Dreamer that remains one of his most fascinating works.
If you keep up with Texas gospel music, you have likely heard of the Jones Family Singers. The family, based out of Bay City, has performed together for more than 20 years despite many setbacks.
Austin's own Arts & Labor tells the musical family's story in the documentary feature The Jones Family Will Make a Way, debuting at SXSW. The film will premiere Wednesday, March 18 at the Paramount Theatre [more info] and some of the family members will likely be in attendance.
The Jones Family Will Make a Way includes interviews with Bishop Fred A. Jones (pictured above), the glue that holds the band together, as well as his daughters and sons, who discuss their faith journeys and how involved they are in the group. Music critic Michael Corcoran also plays a large part in the film, as he expresses his love for gospel music and joy in finding this musical group.
We're on the verge of the SXSW Film Festival, so several area theaters will be turning into official venues by this time next week. Specialty screenings are still going on in the week ahead, but it definitely is about to slow down until after the festival has us all wiped out.
Austin Film Society has a Free Member Friday tonight at the Marchesa with Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket. The group will be screening the movie along with the original short film that inspired it and it's free to all AFS members. Members can also go the AFS website to claim two free tickets to a special advance screening on Tuesday night at the Paramount of Alex Gibney's new documentary Going Clear, which examines the Church of Scientology. The film will debut on HBO later this month, but this special advance screening will feature Gibney and Texas author Lawrence Wright after the screening for a Q&A with Evan Smith of The Texas Tribune. Back at the Marchesa, AFS will pay tribute to the late L.M. Kit Carson with a screening of David Holzman's Diary, a 1967 film starring Carson, paired with one his short films called Direction Man. Carson will be posthumously inducted into the Texas Film Hall Of Fame on Thursday night.
Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane has pays tribute to Saturday Night Live's 40th annversary with regular screenings of The Blues Brothers on Sunday and Tuesday nights. A soul food dinner party Wednesday night offers a full meal along with the classic comedy. Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice hits Slaughter on Tuesday for Girlie Night.
When The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) was released to stellar reviews and major box-office in the superhero-heavy summer of 2012, it became inevitable that a sequel would follow. Nearly three years later, audiences are being treated to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), which journeys back to everyone's favorite hotel in India where the walls are crumbling and the residents are aging in ways both hilarious and heartfelt. The cast, which includes Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy, all seem game for a second round with the material and their characters. This appears true in particular of Smith, who seems to be having more fun than ever playing the eternally sarcastic Muriel Donnelly.
Smith's turn in The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel looks like definite fun, yet I wouldn't be surprised if it failed to reach the heights of her work in another hotel set comedy, California Suite (1978). Directed by Herbert Ross and adapted by Neil Simon from his play, California Suite takes a hilarious look at four sets of vacationers staying at the Beverly Hills hotel, each of whom arrive for different reasons and find themselves in different predicaments. An uptight East Coaster (Jane Fonda) has an tense yet comic reunion with her ex-husband (Alan Alda), two best friends (Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby) encounter every kind of mishap possible while exploring the golden state with their wives, and a man (Walter Matthau) must try to find a way to hide a drunken hooker from his befuddled wife (Elaine May).
Writer/director Micah Magee may not live in Texas full-time now, but she has strong connections to the Lone Star State. She graduated from UT (dual degree Plan II Honors and Radio-TV-Film) and worked as programming director for Cinematexas International Short Film Festival. Most recently, she filmed her feature Petting Zoo in San Antonio.
In Magee's film, Layla (young actress Devon Keller) is a teenager living on the edges of poverty whose plans to attend college are subverted by an unexpected pregnancy. Petting Zoo played as part of the Panorama Special programming at Berlinale in February, and has its North American premiere at SXSW later this month.
In these hectic days before the festival begins, Magee answered questions for us via email interview.
Slackerwood: What drew you to tell this story?
Micah Magee: Petting Zoo was shot in San Antonio, Texas. It was filmed in the places of my childhood, where my teenage cousins live now: high schools built by prison architects, trailers, rock bars, abandoned half-built subdivisions, the corporate parks between the fields. I wanted to highlight the kinds of people in the film, and San Antonio itself. I think if you can be super specific about a community and a place, other local communities identify with that too -- somehow from being really specific and local, you can reach universal.