For decades, law enforcement agencies have been warning people of a common phone scam: An elderly person receives a phone call from someone pretending to be the person's grandchild or other family member. The caller says he's desperate for money, and asks the victim to deposit money in a bank account. This scam is often successful; the elderly victims, feeling lonely and forgotten, want to help their family members and are easily conned.
Normally, the victims lose money but never meet the con artists or suffer any physical harm. But in the stylish thriller Two Step, the scam turns deadly and personal.
In the Austin-made film, career criminal Webb (James Landry Hébert) is part of ring of phone scammers, making his calls from prison. When he's released, he's ready to continue his criminal ways and reunite with his girlfriend and fellow scammer, Amy (Ashley Spillers). But the reunion doesn't go as planned. Fed up with Webb's physical and emotional abuse, Amy leaves him the minute he returns home, taking their ill-gotten cash with her. Even worse, he owes $10,000 to the ringleader, Duane (Jason Douglas), who banishes him from the ring for his erratic and violent ways. But Webb is determined to repay the money and make amends with his boss.
No No: A Dockumentary was directed by Austinite Jeffrey Radice and came about with much local support and funding (including a grant from Austin Film Society), so it was no surprise that it made its SXSW premiere to a big and welcoming crowd at the Paramount last Saturday.
The film explores the life of Dock Ellis, a Major League baseball player known for his talent as a pitcher as well as for the memorable feat of pitching a no-hitter (aka the "no no" of the title) while high on LSD. He also played at a time rife with racial tension and when illicit but quietly accepted drug use was rampant among players -- and rather than remaining a passive bystander in terms of baseball politics, Ellis was vocal and persistent in sharing his opinions.
This year's SXSW Film Festival has been chock-full of dramatic, emotional features and compelling documentaries, many of which will bring critics to tears, win awards and be remembered for stirring performances.
And then there's Stage Fright.
Stage Fright is the movie you see after one too many features about the fragility of twentysomething love, or docs about serious political issues that have you worried about ever driving again, or eating corn, or using fountain pens. Stage Fright is playing again at SXSW at 11:15 am today, and what I advise is that you stop reading this review and head down to Alamo Ritz right now and get in the line, since it's in the small theater.
It's true that at film festivals, comedies of any worth get undue praise because they are such a relief after weightier films. But Stage Fright is great goofy fun that will hold up in your living room, especially if you invite your musical-theater-loving friends to watch it with you. Writer-director Jerome Sable previously brought us the very funny short horror-musical The Legend of Beaver Dam in 2010 (I notice some of you are rushing out to your cars now and pondering downtown parking), and sustains that level of hilarity in his feature-film debut.
April 20, 2014 will be the fourth anniversary of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which caused a spill of an estimated 176 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This horrific incident seriously altered the lives of the men who worked on the rig -- and the families of the 11 who lost their lives -- as well as the communities who once survived off jobs based on healthy waters in the Gulf. In The Great Invisible, director Margaret Brown (The Order of Myths, Be Here to Love Me) explores the aftereffects of the explosion and oil spill from multiple viewpoints.
Doug Brown, the chief mechanic for Transocean on the Deepwater Horizon (owned by Transocean, but leased by BP), gave the director some video he filmed on the rig before the disastrous night. He and another victim of the explosion, along with their wives, talk about their experience that night and their current fragile existence.
Keith Jones, father of one of the men killed in the explosion, comments on America's "insatiable thirst for gasoline" and follows the BP/Halliburton/Transocean trial to New Orleans. Brown gives these interviews intimacy, while framing them against the larger issues of America's dependence on oil and our government's participation through oil leases.
The life of a "wristbandit" (or "wristbandito," as Jette calls them) can be a lonely one. While your friends are getting into the coveted ACC film panels, staggering around 6th Street wandering into parties and snagging good seats at the Paramount Theatre, you're left to wonder if the theater capacity will cut off right before you after you waited for 90 minutes in line in the freezing cold rain.
Okay, so... Maybe that only happened one time. But my first year as a SXSW wristband wearer has been nothing short of exciting and filled with unexpected surprises.
For all the haunting images in For Those in Peril, the film's most haunting moment isn't a visual, but a song sung by a grieving woman.
The song is "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," an achingly beautiful love song that sounds achingly sad in the movie. The singer is Cathy (Kate Dickie), a weary mother who has lost a son and fears she may lose another. What should be a good time singing karaoke in a pub turns bitter when Cathy is overcome with emotion and can't finish the song. It's a devastating scene in For Those in Peril, a film full of devastating scenes.
Cathy's son Michael (Jordan Young) died along with four crewmates in a tragic fishing boat accident. The sole survivor is Michael's younger brother, Aaron (George MacKay), who suffers crippling survivor's guilt. He gets no sympathy from the residents of the tiny Scottish fishing village where he lives; in a culture steeped in seafaring folklore and superstition, they blame Aaron for the accident, consider his presence bad luck and ostracize him with unbearable cruelty.
My SXSW Film schedule has kept me moving around a lot more this year than usual. My first day involved a trip to Austin Convention Center for check-in, then to the Mondo Gallery for their Disney exhibition "Nothing's Impossible," back downtown for interviews with the cast of Premature, and then across the river to shoot red-carpet photos for Bad Words.
I thought it would be a good time to try out Car2Go, so I found one of their ubiquitous little cars and checked in for my very first trip. Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that when downtown during the fest, you can save a lot of money and shave off a lot of time by walking a couple of extra blocks instead of grabbing the nearest Car2Go. I managed to land in a one-way traffic hell as I was forced to circle the convention center garage in a trip that took over 30 minutes to move a single block. Otherwise, I found the Car2Go service was novel and would have been terrificly convenient under normal traffic circumstances.
My red carpet photos from Bad Words as well as those from "Nothing's Impossible" are already up on the Slackerwood Flickr along with additional sets from Joe (Nicolas Cage!) and the first film I saw, Space Station 76.
On the nights when mariachi groups amass on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi, playing for pesos and stirring the emotions of the crowds, there are a few female musicians in their midst. Prolific German filmmaker Doris Dorrie focuses on some of these women in her new documentary, Que Caramba es la Vida, premiering Tuesday at SXSW.
Filmed in eight weeks during 2012, the movie introduces the viewer to Maria del Carmen, a thirtysomething woman who financially supports her mother and daughter through her singing with an all-male mariachi troupe; Lupita, a young wife whose husband cares for their son the evenings and weekends she plays violin in a predominantly female troupe, Las Estrellas de Jalisco; and the older women of Las Pioneras de Mexico, some of whom were among the first female mariachis 50 years ago.
Almost exactly one year ago, I was standing at the intersection on Guadalupe Street outside of the Mondo Gallery, talking with folks who didn't let their all-nighter in line diminish their excitement for the newest Mondo show. Last year, it was all about Tyler Stout and Ken Taylor. This year, Mondo partnered with Disney's blog Oh My Disney to create the same fervor.
Aptly named "Nothing's Impossible," the exhibit drew fans from all over the country, who lined up at the gallery as early as 48 hours before the doors opened. Distance, time and weather could not stand in the way of Mondo's loyal fans. When checking in with the line-dwellers an hour before launch, I heard, "Things are getting exciting. We're all standing now!" The wall of folding chairs and sleeping bags were gone, and if you didn't know better you'd have thought the queue had just formed.
Like Caitlin, I wanted to skip downtown the first night of the SXSW Film Fest and keep the night low-key. A friend and I met at the Marchesa to check out Texas Shorts, and we stuck around for the Austin premiere of Ping Pong Summer. Well, at least that was the plan.
Michael Tully's '80s-tastic movie had a full house waiting for the film to start at 9:30 pm. We were told there would be a delay because of projection issues. A few people left, but most stuck around as Tully endeared himself to the audience with his self-deprecating humor. Debbie, also in attendance, introduced me to some local film folks as people chatted in their seats. Some time later (and some beers later), it was announced that the Marchesa's digital projector was not going to be working at all that night.*