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SXSW 2014: Alternative Opening-Night Plans

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film festival logoAfter a painless badge pickup experience on Thursday (always go on Thursday if you can), I started my Friday fully ready for the festival to get going.

As someone who works downtown, I’ve been witnessing the even more chaotic than usual scene all week -- tons of traffic (due to construction, delivery trucks, extra people, etc.) and the transformation of every empty parking lot and building into some kind of brand platform or other.

This state of affairs helped me make my decision to follow my usual tradition of skipping the opening-night film at the Paramount (no offense to Jon Favreau) to check out something I didn't know much about.

The choice I made, She's Lost Control, is one I'd only heard a little about following its Berlin Film Festival premiere last month. An intense and dark slice of life, the film focuses on a woman who works as a sex surrogate while she finishes a psychology Master's degree in New York City.

Often hard-hitting and true but sometimes a little frustrating, I can't fully call this a "must-see" but I know this movie will definitely stick with me (and that sense of emotional discovery is what film festivals are all about).

With a full Saturday ahead of me (I'm taking the bus downtown and will be around all day), I made my exit after the film ended.

Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

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300: Rise of an Empire

Eight years after Zack Snyder revived the sword-and-sandal subgenre and inspired millions of men to revisit the gym with his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300, he has scripted a return to ancient Greece. Directed by Noam Murro (Smart People), the movie 300: Rise of an Empire is a self-indulgent video game fantasy at best.

The film opens with a recap of the events of 300 and an introduction to Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), the new lead, who's head of the Greek army. The action proceeds to explain how Themistokles is not just the hero who led the Greeks to victory over Xerxes, but was himself responsible for the enmity held by Xerxes toward the Greeks.

Artemisia (Eva Green) is introduced as the leader of Xerxes' forces, and the two commence with a series of battles consisting of ships crashing into each other as warriors fight to the death on top of the sinking wrecks.

Here are the rules of Greek vs. Persian combat, as gleaned from 300: Rise of an Empire:

  • Rule 1: Like a friendly game of football, bad guys wear shirts, good guys are skins.
  • Rule 2: Every blow of every sword in every battle must be repeated in videogame style slo-mo.
  • Rule 3: Every scene with any of the Greek army present must have floating sparks constantly distracting from the action on the camera, as if from 10,000 campfires, even when the entire army is climbing wet out of the Mediterranean.
  • Rule 4: If it digitally bleeds, it digitally leads.
  • Rule 5: Nobody important dies without an extended death scene in which they deliver a monologue. Everyone else dies immediately upon the slightest injury.

Movies This Week: March 7-13, 2014

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Grand Piano

Specialty screenings are pretty much off the radar for the next two weekends because the SXSW Film Festival is taking over many of Austin's best venues. If you aren't headed out to the festival, there are still a few free community screenings that are part of SXSW. Most of them are taking place at the Marchesa, including the AFS ShortCase on Saturday afternoon. Programmed by the Austin Film Society, ShortCase is a program of short films created by AFS members and curated by a jury that includes filmmaker Clay Liford, Slackerwood's own Debbie Cerda and Lars Nilsen from AFS.

Aside from that, if you didn't pick up a SXSW badge or wristband, you'll very likely be able to buy your way into some of the encore screenings by the end of the week after the music portion of the festival gets started and the movies slow down a bit. Check out Caitlin's post for more tips on how to make the most of the festival as a local film fan. 

It's also worth noting that Lars Von Trier's controversial film Nymphomaniac, Volume 1 has just been released as a pre-theatrical VOD title. Available from most cable operators, it's also available digitally to rent from Amazon Instant Video, the Playstation Store, Xbox Marketplace and YouTube. Due to its explicit sexual content, the film is not available from iTunes or Vudu. I've confirmed with Magnolia Pictures that the VOD version is exactly the same as what is being released theatrically and is not censored. For those who would rather take it all in (so to speak) on the big screen, it opens locally March 28 at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane and Violet Crown Cinema. Volume 2 will follow in April.  

SXSW 2014: Meet the Slackerwood Gang

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SXSW 2014 prep

I'm leaving the house in one hour (I hope) to head downtown for SXSW. I've got my tablet, my roasted chickpeas, my auxiliary battery ... and yeah, my antacids. Welcome to the wussy side of SXSW filmgoing.

I'm kicking off the fest by participating in the panel "A Beginners Guide to SXSW Film" at 2 pm in room 16AB of the Austin Convention Center. If you're down there, why not join us? You can ask questions or even offer advice of your own.

The other panelists will be film producer Kelly Williams (Hellion), Austin Chronicle Managing Editor Kimberley Jones, Film School Rejects editor Neil Miller, and filmgoer extraordinaire/Fantastic Fest programmer Brian Kelley. So this should be a hoot as well as very informative.

If you can't attend the panel and are seeking guidance, check out the Slackerwood guide to SXSW theaters and our guide for locals and wristband holders. In fact, check out all our SXSW articles since we have previews and interviews with local and Texas filmmakers.

Texas at SXSW 2014: Daniel Laabs, 'Easy'

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Still from Easy

Easy is a semi-autobiographical short about brothers from former Austinite/current Dallas resident Daniel Laabs. The director recently completed a successful crowdfunding campaign to cover post-production costs for the film, which will have its world premiere at SXSW. The short he co-directed with Julie Gould, 8, premiered at SXSW in 2011, where it won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Texas Short. 

Easy will be shown as part of the Texas Shorts program at this year's festival. Laabs answered some questions I had via email before SXSW Film.

What drew you to tell the story of the two brothers in Easy?

Daniel Laabs: I tend to write films that come from personal experience. The idea of showing what it is like to be both an older brother and a younger brother was very interesting (I'm a middle child).

SXSW 2014 Preview: 24 Beats Per Second

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American Interior

Each year, the programmers of the SXSW Film Festival deliver a fresh batch of documentaries and films that focus on music in the 24 Beats Per Second sidebar. With such a wide variety of bands and artists performing all over the city during the festival, it only makes sense that some of them would invade our darkened theaters too. We've taken a look at some of the most promising movies premiering this year to help you prioritize what you should add to your schedule. 

American Interior (pictured above) -- Gruff Rhys, lead singer of Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals, went on a solo tour in 2012 retracing the steps of one of his relatives. Explorer John Evans left Wales in 1792 headed to America on what would be a seven year quest, searching for a lost tribe of Welsh-speaking Native Americans. Rhys followed Evans's path, playing music along the way and then eventually writing a book about what he learned. It was all captured by a documentary crew and the film makes its world premiere on Tuesday, March 11 at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz 1. It will also screen on Wednesday, March 12 at Stateside and on Friday, March 14 at Alamo Ritz 2. 

On the Set of 'From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series'

Zane Holz and D.J. Cotrona as the Gecko Brothers

The Gecko Brothers are back, and attendees of the 2014 SXSW Film Festival can see them first at the world premiere of the pilot episode of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series on Saturday, March 8, 4:30 pm at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center. The debut is part of the new Episodic screening category for this year's festival.

The Episodic category was inspired by previous SXSW featured content, including A&E's Bates Motel and the HBO series Girls. Other series featured at this year's fest will include the educational Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey, the comedic series Deadbeat, and Austin writer/director Mike Judge's Silicon Valley. The television premiere of From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series will be broadcast on Tuesday, March 11, 8 pm CST on El Rey Network.

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series is a re-imagined story based upon the original film but with the addition of new characters and storylines. This includes an intertwining of the Mesoamerican mythology that the main characters, bank robber Seth Gecko (D. J. Cotrona) and his volatile brother Richie Gecko (Zane Holtz), encounter while on the run from Texas Rangers Earl McGraw (Don Johnson) and Freddie Gonzalez (Jessie Garcia).

Texas at SXSW 2014: Augustine Frizzell, 'I Was a Teenage Girl'

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Still from I Was a Teenage Girl

Dallas actress Augustine Frizzell shows up in two films at this year's SXSW, playing roles in both Kat Candler's Hellion and Toby Halbrooks' short Dig. Meanwhile, the short film she directed, I Was a Teenage Girl, premieres at the film festival as part of the Texas Shorts competition. Frizzell's short stars her daughter Atheena Frizzell and Claire Stuart Meiner as two teens having an intense discussion after one of them suffers a breakup.

Frizzell recently answered a few of my questions about her film via email.

Slackerwood: How did you conceive of the idea for your short?

Augustine Frizzell: I wanted to explore some of the issues that girls of this age face that feel (and are) much more mature than what they dealt with maybe a year earlier. We shot three shorts based around this concept, but only the third was finished in time. Each of the three was about these big issues and how they change the girls and impact their futures in unexpected ways.

Texas at SXSW 2014: Toby Halbrooks, 'Dig'

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Toby Halbrooks of Dig

Two Texas-based short films that were in competition at Sundance 2014 are making their Texas debuts at the SXSW Film Festival: writer/director Todd Rohal's Rat Pack Rat and Dig, by Dallas-based filmmaker Toby Halbrooks.

Halbrooks is an integral member of the filmmakers at Sailor Bear, a Dallas-based production company that includes David Lowery, James Johnston, Shaun Gish and Richard Krause. Last year's Sailor Bear feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints received an award for cinematography at Sundance, and this year's festival featured Alex Ross Perry's Listen Up Philip, also produced by the Sailor Bear team.

Dig stars Austinite Jonny Mars and newcomer Mallory Mahoney, who plays a young girl intrigued by the large hole her father (Mars) is digging in their backyard.

I spoke with Halbrooks in Park City during Sundance about Dig as well as other Sailor Bear projects, including the short film Pioneer. Here's what he had to say.

Austin at SXSW 2014: Margaret Brown, 'The Great Invisible'

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Still from The Great Invisible

Documentarian Margaret Brown's new movie, The Great Invisible, depicts the response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and resultant oil spill from multiple viewpoints. Brown has deep ties to Alabama, one of the states hit hard by the oil spill, and used to call Austin home as well. Her previous film work includes the acclaimed 2004 Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here to Love Me and 2008's The Order of Myths (Jette's Cinematical review), a look at segregated Mardi Gras celebrations in Mobile that went on to win an Independent Spirit Award.

The Great Invisible is showing as part of SXSW's Documentary Competition, and will have its world premiere at the fest. (The music is from Austin composer David Wingo.) Director Brown recently participated in this interview (via email) with me.

Slackerwood: Once you chose to document the response to the Deepwater Horizon spill, what was your approach? How did you pick the interview subjects?

Margaret Brown: At first I was interested in the aftermath in the area around Mobile, Alabama, where I grew up. I was curious about what would happen in a big disaster once the cameras went away, and the world's interest waned. I also started the film thinking it was going to be a personal film that was really just about where I grew up, much like my last film, The Order of Myths.

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