Local Cast and Crew
Filmmakers Aaron Katz and Martha Stephens, who have teamed up for Land Ho!, have individually premiered all of their previous features at SXSW Film Festival. They're each known for films where characters are deep in exploration -- about themselves but also perhaps, a mystery (Cold Weather, Passenger Pigeons) or even a landscape (Brooklyn in Quiet City, Kentucky in Pilgrim Song). In Land Ho! (which premiered at Sundance this year), the same type of exploration takes place -- this time in Iceland -- with two primary characters who are gentlemen in their retirement years. It's a change for Katz, whose characters are usually in their late teens/early twenties.
No matter what the age of the characters, however, Stephens and Katz sustain the audience's interest in the type of story that sounds terribly slow and dull when explained in print, but is very rewarding as it unfolds onscreen. Two retired brothers-in-law, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson) and Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), couldn't be more different. Mitch is a brash New Orleans doctor who loves talking to people -- and he has no filters -- smoking pot and unabashedly admiring women. Colin is a quiet, thoughtful Australian, frequently embarrassed or annoyed by Mitch. The two embark on a trip to Iceland together, beginning in Reykjavik and heading to less populated locales.
The focus of Land Ho! is the relationship between the Mitch and Colin, and how they affect one another, and where that leads over the course of the movie. The chief entertainment value is Mitch's dialogue, which is often outrageous and eye-opening (I had never heard steak compared to the female anatomy before). Of course, the film's best moments occur when he's not that way, but the conversation is never dull.
Few films explore the creative process as insightfully -- and bizarrely -- as Frank.
A strange, genre-defying mix of dark and slapstick comedy, Frank follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a struggling British musician whose life is forever changed when he joins an avant-garde pop band with an unpronounceable name, the Soronprfbs.
As the band spends months recording a new album in a remote cabin in Ireland, Jon discovers his bandmates are enormously talented and predictably oddball. Singer and theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a snarling terror. Drummer Nana (Carla Azar) says almost nothing (we sense this may be a good thing), and bass player Baraque (François Civil) is a snooty Frenchman who apparently speaks only in insults. But the oddest of the lot is Frank (Michael Fassbender), a charismatic but emotionally disturbed lead singer who, afraid to face the world directly, wears a giant papier-mâché head at all times.
As a film critic, I hear a lot about websites where thieves steal and repost other critics' reviews, sometimes not even bothering to remove identifying material.
But this week, I got my first experience in seeing a purported "filmmaker" post short films to his website that he might claim are his, but obviously do not belong to him. I know this because I saw one of the films in its original incarnation: the very funny short My Mom Smokes Weed, from Austin filmmaker Clay Liford -- it screened at Austin Film Festival in 2009 as well as a number of other film fests. And if you've watched any of Liford's movies (Wuss, Earthling), you know this is so very much his trademark work that anyone else trying to pass it off as his own is an idiot.
If you haven't seen My Mom Smokes Weed, now's your chance. I've embedded it below. And as a bonus, I would like to point you to an Arts + Labor blog post that includes some of the back-and-forth between Liford and the genius who retitled the film Smoked and posted it to his film production site, as well as a link to the Reddit thread where Liford learned about the plagiarism in the first place. He's not the only filmmaker whose films this person is stealing.
When he's not battling moronic plagiarists, Liford is currently working on Slash (aka S/ash), the feature-length expansion of his short film of the same name. You can follow the status of that production on its Facebook page. The short screened at Fantastic Fest 2013 -- read Debbie's interview with Liford about the short and planned feature.
And now the authentic My Mom Smokes Weed (YouTube link), starring Nate Rubin and Sylvia Luedtke, shot in Dallas before Liford moved to Austin:
It's difficult to even begin to describe the phenomenal growth and activity in the craft beer industry this year, but it's evident from the number of selections on tap and on retailers' shelves that craft brewing is booming. As the number of Texas craft breweries increases, existing ones are prospering with brewery expansions and new beer offerings.
Filmmaker Mike Mann (Brewed) and host Greg Zeschuk have been documenting and sharing stories from many of these Texas breweries through their ongoing web series, The Beer Diaries. Zeschuk recently visited the brewers of Kamala Brewing at the Whip In (pictured at top), an award-winning brewpub here in Austin.
Another recent episode features the first cooperatively owned and managed brewpub in the world, Black Star Co-op Pub and Brewery, and an upcoming show takes viewers behind the scenes of the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner. Check out one of my favorites below featuring Live Oak Brewing Company founder Chip McElroy.
By Frank Calvillo
Though it may sound a tad far-fetched, there will be a number of theaters not showing the latest installment in Michael Bay's juggernaut Transformers film series. Likewise, there are no doubt a good many cinephiles wishing a break from the continuing saga of those deceptacons. Luckily, the indie film world has come to the rescue with one of the most diverse July arthouse lineups ever Liam Neeson in a rare non-action role, an anticipated LaCarre adaptation, a celebration of one of the movie world's most prolific figures and the unveiling of Richard Linklater's coming-of-age opus.
Third Person (currently in theaters)
Boasting one of the most impressive and eclectic casts of the year, Paul Haggis' Third Person looks to inject some much-needed human drama into a summer dominated by special effects. A writer in Paris (Neeson) is torn between his mistress (Olivia Wilde) and his estranged wife (Kim Basinger) -- while in New York, a lawyer (Maria Bello) helps a single mother (Mila Kunis) fight for rights to the child she had with an artist (James Franco) as a traveling businessman (Adrien Brody) in Rome is pulled into a con game by a beautiful, desperate woman (Moran Atias). The cast has been praised for the weight they bring to their challenging, and tricky roles (in particular Basinger, who manages so much in just a couple of scenes) and the production values are quite stunning. Haggis is certainly no stranger to the ensemble film, but rather than survey the social and political as he has in the past, in Third Person, the director focuses on the personal and complex nature of human behavior.
After Slacker and Dazed and Confused but before Bernie, Before Midnight and the soon-to-be-released Boyhood, Richard Linklater made a charming little movie called The Newton Boys. Filmed in Texas and featuring a band of charismatic actors (most of whom have gone on to considerable success in film and/or television), this true story depicts the bank-robbing exploits of four entrepreneurial and adventure-loving brothers in the early 20th century.
Raised in Uvalde County, Texas in a cotton farming family, the Newton brothers are an unruly bunch whose lives tell a one-of-a-kind story of American idealism and brash (but mostly non-violent) outlaw behavior. After Dock and Willis, the oldest two brothers (Vincent D'Onofrio and Matthew McConaughey), experience various real and perceived injustices (including class-based discrimination, wrongful imprisonment and general mistreatment by authority figures), they give up on trying to live lawful lives and instead decide to take what they think should be theirs.
This means emptying banks ("it's just little thieves taking from big thieves") and lying whenever necessary but vowing never to kill anyone. Thanks to the nitroglycerin supplied by cohort Brentwood Glasscock (Dwight Yoakam) and the endearingly slow transportation and communication systems of the 1920s, Dock and Willis (also joined by their younger brothers Jess and Joe, played by Ethan Hawke and Skeet Ulrich) are able to become incredibly successful bank robbers, and they proceed to spend several years joyfully blowing up and clearing out dozens of safes and trains from Texas to Canada.
There were high hopes for the Austin-made comedy Nadine when it was released in 1987.
The filmmaker, Robert Benton, had an impressive track record as a screenwriter (Bonnie and Clyde, What's Up, Doc and Superman) and writer/director (The Late Show, Kramer vs. Kramer and Places in the Heart). Nadine also had two white-hot stars (Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) and a strong supporting cast (Rip Torn, Glenne Headly, Jerry Stiller and a host of other great character actors).
But sadly, Nadine was a flop -- and for the most part, deservedly so.
Nadine is the story of the titular Nadine Hightower (Basinger), a struggling hairstylist in 1954 Austin. Strapped for cash, she poses for some nude "art studies" but now has second thoughts about the photos. When she visits photographer Raymond Escobar (Stiller) to retrieve them, she witnesses his murder. She also mistakenly steals secret plans for a new road -- valuable plans to anyone wanting to buy land along the roadway.
I talk in pictures, not in words
-- "And Through the Wire" by Peter Gabriel
Welcome to Sounds Like Film, Slackerwood's new monthly feature on music in local and independent film.
Music plays an integral role in film. Whether it's a well-placed song with lyrics to enhance a mood or scene or a film score that evokes an emotional response, the audience's experience is heightened by music. Studies have demonstrated that music stimulates several areas of the brain: the auditory, limbic and motor regions as well as the less-understood orbitofrontal cortex which is thought to be key in sensory integration.
This concept relates to our movie experience in many ways, as familiar songs or scores can evoke a particular emotion or memory. In my own experience, there are many film-related compositions that can do just that -- Simple Minds "Don't You Forget About Me" in The Breakfast Club, Ennio Morricone's title track "For A Few Dollars More" or "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel in Say Anything. Pan's Labyrinth was released almost eight years ago, yet I can't listen to "Mercedes Lullaby" by Javier Navarrete without tearing up, and often within the first few notes while watching the heartbreaking scene the song is matched to.
The creative forces that deserve recognition for this key element in movies are songwriters, composers and musicians. Within the local and Texas film industry, a number of individuals contribute their talents on a regular basis. One of the main objectives of this new column is to spotlight their talent and work.
David Riker, who directed independent immigrant drama La Ciudad, helmed a film in 2012 titled The Girl. This seems at first glance a far-too-general name for a movie about immigration, life on the border, motherhood and desperation. Is the "girl" of the title Ashley (Abbie Cornish, Bright Star, Sucker Punch), a young mother struggling to make money so she can get back custody of her son? The viewer wonders as we see her flustered under the keen eye of a social worker, arguing for more shifts at the grocery store, or riding along with her trucker dad (Will Patton, Remember the Titans, TV show Falling Skies) to Mexico.
Ashley becomes convinced that she can be a coyote -- she desperately needs the money this bad idea will bring her. Among the group of people she picks up in a Nuevo Laredo plaza to convey over the border is a young girl, who is definitely the inspiration for the title. Ashley and the child (we find out three-quarters into the film that her name is Rosa) are thrown together by circumstance, and end up helping each other.
Filmmaker Chris Dowling, an alumnus of the radio-TV-film program at The University of Texas at Austin, wrote and directed family drama Produce, which debuted at the Dallas International Film Festival last week. Although this film deals with some heavy-hearted issues, overall Produce is an engaging and entertaining story that should please viewers.
The opening sequence of a morning routine of breakfast, shower and a bike commute to work at first appears typical, until the camera angle widens and we see the character simply known as Produce (David DeSanctis), who has Down's Syndrome. It's this foundation that sets an important plot point for the film -- Produce is not defined by his condition despite the challenges and prejudices that he faces daily. He wants nothing more than to be employee of the month at the Value Market where he works as a produce clerk. Sadly his manager and co-workers don't respect him or appreciate his strengths.
The character who's the most challenged in Produce is Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha), a former professional baseball player who choked during a game and numbs his shame with alcohol. The real adult in the house is his daughter, 17-year-old Katie (McKaley Miller), often left to fend for herself while her dad is out drinking with his booze buddies. Calvin's self-destructive behavior threatens his relationship with his daughter, as well as a potential career as a baseball manager.