Local Cast and Crew
Here's hoping you haven't seen the first trailer for Before Midnight, which is basically a big spoiler. There seems to be a shared thought among fans of Richard Linklater's "Before" films that one wants to be surprised when they walk into the theatre and see how Celine and Jesse work out this time. Before I caught the SXSW screening in March, I did read Debbie's review because I was too excited and had to know. That being said, is it possible to review this movie without giving too much away? I will try.
Before Midnight takes place during one long day in Greece. First we see Jesse (Ethan Hawke) at the Kalamata airport, talking to his adolescent son before the kid has to fly back to the States where he lives with his mom. Jesse's face during this scene is periodically pierced with regret, as he wishes his son could stay longer. After Jesse is picked up from the airport, he and Celine (Julie Delpy) talk while driving through Greek countryside -- after the SXSW screening, Linklater noted during his Q&A that this car scene is over 13 minutes long, with no cuts. He also commented that every location they used in Greece was found during a two-day visit.
Some movies simply aren't going to be for everyone. That's not to say that they aren't good movies, or that the director didn't try hard enough to make a great film -- the problem only lies with you. Upstream Color fits that bill with every frame of its being. From the writer/director of Primer, Shane Carruth this time takes his audience through a strange world of interweaving storylines and has constructed a strange, but beautiful film ... one that is incredibly well made and acted, especially by lead actress Amy Seimetz.
Upstream Color is told in several different parts, but they all interweave in some form or fashion. Seimetz plays Kris, who's gone through some hardships -- her story involves drugs, kidnappings and a cute little piglet. That's all fine and dandy, but it can be confusing at times. The story starts to make a little more sense once Jeff (played by Carruth himself) comes along. As a love interest/threat to Kris, his turn onscreen is a fascinating one.
To be vague in a film review is often the mark of an incomplete review, but in this case it would suffice. What can be plainly seen and heard while watching Upstream Color is an extremely well-made film, one that deserves to be studied and rewatched. It is impeccably acted -- Seimetz is quickly becoming a legend in her own right in the indie film circuit. The amazing score was written by Shane Carruth. There are moments where you're enveloped in some truly fantastic sounds. A good comparison to how essential the score feels is Cloud Atlas.
Despite all that praise, I am someone that this film was not made for, although it did benefit from a rewatch. Movies like Upstream Color tend to stand the test of time, and while it's a little early for a film like this to make that distinction, it could get there. It would have been nice if this combo DVD/Blu-ray package, released by New Video Group/Cinedigm, would have had some special features. However, the disks have great visuals and at times perfect quality sound. The DVD/Blu-ray is still a great purchase for Shane Carruth fans or fans of Upstream Color.
On weekends as a kid, my sister and I would go play on my godparents' farm, which was just outside of the county seat where we lived in rural Maryland. Their two kids were our greatest friends, and together we formed a fearsome foursome, subjecting ourselves to our own glorious reign of terror that included snapping turtle bites, egregious poison ivy, falls from trees, fences, tire swings, horses and roofs, unfriendly ghost sightings, four-wheeler accidents and various fights with fists/mud/sticky burrs/chewing gum. We were always filthy and often bloody, but it was always an amazing adventure.
Some great children's films, like The Goonies, The Black Stallion and The Wizard of Oz, have captured youthful myth-making and discovery to cinematic advantage, and often use childhood dramas as a metaphor for adult problems happening just outside the frame. In Jeff Nichols' latest movie Mud, the grown-up world is at the center of the story but is seen through the electric naivete of youth. The magic of Mud is that you don't have to pretend to remember the heightened feeling of being a kid who finds an adventure. With Mud, you can watch the movie through a 12-year-old's eyes without ever leaving your own.
Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland play Ellis and Neckbone, a contemporary Arkansas version of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Like those two, one of the boys has a family and one is essentially an orphan, but both have problems at home and find that in this world, trouble itself is routine. The boys have a confidence that's both impressive and comic; they can fish, drive and operate a motorboat, but they are still learning how to curse.
The Austin Film Society hosted a Moviemaker Dialogue last week with Austin film editor Sandra Adair. Chale Nafus moderated the conversation, interviewing Adair and teasing her about his being cut out of Waking Life.
Adair told us that as a kid she wanted to paint, but in high school, she became inspired by her older brother's student film. Her first film job was as apprentice editor on Memory of Us in 1974. She'd moved up to assistant editor for her next movie, The Swinging Cheerleaders* (heh). She lived in Austin for a period of time -- during which she synced dailies as assistant editor on Outlaw Blues -- but moved back to L.A. soon afterwards.
The 1991 recession brought Adair back to our fair city. A connection at Texas Motion Pictures Services (which she said used to be located in a building behind Capital Plaza in northeast Austin) told her about Richard Linklater shooting Dazed and Confused in town. After sending a letter of introduction, Linklater and the film's producers interviewed her during pre-production. Adair has worked as editor on Linklater's films since.
The editor discussed her collaboration with Linklater, how soon in the process she begins editing (pretty much as soon as the first scene has been done), the technical progression of editing tools through the years, and more. We watched clips from recent films she edited: Bernie, documentary Shepard & Dark (about the long epistolary relationship between actors Sam Shepard and Johnny Dark), Before Sunset ... and naturally, Dazed and Confused.
Take the talent and artistry of special effects makeup, combine it with the better aspects of reality TV and you have Syfy Network's show Face Off. Now in its fourth season, the TV series is a fascinating look at an aspect of filmmaking that often operates very behind-the-scenes.
Local special FX artist and filmmaker Eric Zapata is a current contestant on the series, and has been representing Austin well with creepy mosquito creatures and bearded ladies. I recently got the chance to meet Eric and talk about his career and time on Face Off.
Slackerwood: Congrats on being on the show. It's fun to see Austin represented.
Zapata: Thank you! I think it's really important to showcase the local industry.
From the audience point of view, special FX makeup seems like a very cool job. Is it really as fun as it looks like?
Zapata: 100% it is. Of course, anything involved in the entertainment industry is going to be stressful. But, every project that comes my way, if I'm not stressed out by it, it almost seems not worth it. If you're crazy enough to do this, then you're going to love it. And, I'm crazy enough and crazy about it.
Austinites and University of Texas alums Jason Cortlund and Julia Halperin will hit the road with the Texas Independent Film Network for a month-long, statewide promotional tour of their film Now, Forager. They're starting here in town with a screening on Tuesday night at Violet Crown Cinema. (Tickets are available via the Violet Crown website.)
The drama follows Lucian (Cortlund) and Regina (Tiffany Esteb), a married couple who by trade gather wild mushrooms in New Jersey's woodlands and sell them to New York restaurants. As the seasons change, so does their relationship, which is put to the test by the couple's individual hungers. Cortlund wrote Now, Forager, which previously played locally at Fusebox Festival 2012, and also is credited with crafting additional close-ups of fungi for the movie.
Much like filmmaking, foraging is a risky business, for both the supplier and the consumer: Lucian's narration details how eating certain mycological specimens can result in "vomiting, cramps, bloody diarrhea, liver and kidney failure, (even) death." The film's end credits contain a disclaimer that gathering mushrooms should only be done with expert assistance, like that of Cortlund or co-director/producer/editor Halperin, who are real-life foragers.
Austin-based actress Heather Kafka shows up in features Pit Stop, The Bounceback, Loves Her Gun, When Angels Sing, and short Black Metal which are all screening at SXSW next month. Let's just say that if you see a film with local ties during the festival, there's about a 75% chance that Kafka will be in it. You might have seen her previously in locally made movies like Lovers of Hate, Saturday Morning Massacre, Slacker 2011 (pictured above) ... and she's the woman trying to buy from the Carl's Jr. kiosk in Idiocracy.
Kafka took some time to talk to us (via email) about working in the friendly Austin film community and taking on roles that her grandma shouldn't see.
Slackerwood: You appear in a number of the films showing at SXSW this year. How did you become involved with these film projects?
Heather Kafka: Sometimes I'm lucky. When I came back home to Austin in 2007, it wasn't long before I was doing Lovers of Hate with Bryan Poyser. I simultaneously began that tempestuous relationship with Facebook and suddenly all these film people were sending friend requests. Then we were in the same room singing karaoke, at the same parties, meeting at SXSW or screenings. I met Bob Ray and Geoff Marslett, Bob Byington and the Zellners. Clay Liford moved from Dallas to Austin. I met Eric Steele, Frank Mosley, James Johnston; a whole Fort Worth contingent.
Filmmaker Chris Eska's new feature The Retrieval will be premiering at SXSW next month. The movie's first screening is set for 1:45 pm on Monday, March 11 at Alamo Ritz, with encores on Tuesday and Saturday. The Austin filmmaker's previous feature was August Evening in 2007, which won the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
According to the slim summary on the SXSW site, the plot of The Retrieval focuses on a boy sent north "on the outskirts of the Civil War" to search for a fugitive. Eska remained quiet about any further story details, but answered the following questions for us via email.
Slackerwood: What drew you to make The Retrieval?
Chris Eska: All my films originate from themes that are important in my life, and then I search for the setting and characters that will most highlight the emotions. My Japanese-language film [Doki-Doki] was about isolation in Los Angeles, my Spanish-language film [August Evening] was about changing families in Texas and Japan, etc. With this film, I initially considered setting the story on the Texas border or in southern India before realizing that this historical rural setting would best draw out the emotions.
Set in four American cities, director and UT alum Kyle Henry's anthology film Fourplay shows that love, fear and desire are universal emotions that drive our decisions, like participating in a public restroom orgy or hiring a prostitute for your quadriplegic husband. Austin Film Society is screening the movie tonight as a fundraiser for the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund, and on Friday it starts a week-long run at Alamo Drafthouse Village.
"Sex is often portrayed in film as heterosexual and monogamous," says Henry, a former Austinite who's now an assistant professor at Northwestern University. "The writers and I saw a need to make a movie that reflected the lives of the people we know."
Cuddling, touching, kissing ... The sexually-explicit anthology turns the definition of foreplay on its head, and back and side. Fourplay runs the gamut from tales of sexual intimacy that are romantic to sorrowful, comedic to raunchy, and it's through the four shorts that Henry says the film is able to reflect a complete spectrum of sexual expression.
A spectrum of sexual expression that Henry says his parents (his father's a former Marine and his mother's an elementary school arts teacher) wouldn't understand. His parents may not ever see Fourplay but one of his sisters has, as well as some of his former Northwestern University students.
Initially, Fourplay was produced in four separate sections, with the first installment being "Tampa," written by Henry's creative and romantic partner Carlos Trevino. However, Henry says the film was always intended to be a feature.
"Tampa," about a lonely man who acts out his insecurities through fantasy, screened at the Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals. Two of the four shorts have also screened at Outfest, the L.A. gay and lesbian film festival Henry says took a chance by screening "San Francisco" and credits the support for the short's Newfest Film Festival awards. "San Francisco" and the finished Fourplay also both played aGLIFF (now Polari) in recent years.
Not many details were given in last month's announcement that Before Midnight would premiere at Sundance, which left many wondering what the latest episode between Jesse and Celine would entail. So I was interested to see how the movie would fare, the follow-up nine years after Before Sunset and 18 years after Before Sunrise. I am pleased to report that Before Midnight is by far my favorite of this Richard Linklater trilogy.
It's been nine years since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) were reunited while he was on a book tour, and they now live in Paris with their twin daughters. Although Jesse is a successful writer and Celine still works for an environmental organization, they still have difficulties. Jesse is conflicted by the distance between himself and his son Hank, who resides with Jesse's ex-wife in Chicago. Celine struggles with her own identity, both in her work as well as dealing with fans of Jesse's books who are convinced she is the woman in his stories. While vacationing in Greece with their children, they engage in philosophical conversations about love with both friends and one another.