Local Cast and Crew
My perception of fantasy conventions in the past was that they tend to be more adult-oriented with anime and cos-play, but the Wizard World Austin Comic Con provides a well-rounded experience for families to enjoy together. Until this weekend I had never seen children attending a panel, yet there were several young kids in the Tailchaser's Song Animated Film Sneak Peek session on Sunday. The movie is an animated adaptation of Tad Williams' popular novel about a group of feral cats who journey through the treacherous world of humans and other animals.
Local producer Paul Alvarado-Dykstra and associate producer/writer Bethany Rhoades (pictured above) talked about how this project came to fruition and provided a "behind-the-scenes" look at the concept art of the film. Local animation artist and voice actor Samantha Inoue-Harte -- who was unable to attend due to illness -- brought in Animetropolis, which she co-owns with Alvarado-Dykstra. Rhoades had initially approached Inoue-Harte for a consultation on how to adapt Williams' novel to the screen, and Inoue-Harte was enthused enough to also join as a producer for the project.
For this Thanksgiving week edition of Lone Star Cinema, I selected an influential football film from the mid-aughts. Before the acclaimed series Friday Night Lights started shooting in town, the 2004 film, starred Billy Bob Thornton as coach to a Texas high school football team. Based on the same-titled book by Buzz Bissinger, Friday Night Lights depicts the 1988 season of the Permian Panthers of Odessa, from the promising pre-season to their challenging finish at state.
The movie places quick scenes from the lives of several of the senior players in between montages of the Friday night action in Odessa's Ratliff Stadium. Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) plays Boobie Miles, an assured running back who is the team's star. I'd argue Luke gives the best performance in the movie. Midway through Friday Night Lights, his character faces an obstacle he may not be able to overcome, and Luke aptly conveys Boobie's bluster, might and heartbreak.
Quiet quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black, Sling Blade, Jarhead) finds it hard to engage in the game as his thoughts dwell on his uncertain academic future and the fate of his sickly mother. Billingsley, the fullback played by Garrett Hedlund (Tron: Legacy), lives with an abusive drunk dad (country singer Tim McGraw) who was once on a Permian team that won the state championship.
I wanted to know more about the backstories of younger player Comer -- the recently departed Lee Thompson Young (The Famous Jett Jackson) shows such promise here -- as well as stoic linebacker Ivory Christian (former UT player Lee Jackson) and safety Chavez (Jay Hernandez, spotted on ABC's Nashville). For a film that is practically two hours long, Friday Night Lights is relatively light on plot and spends much of its time on the field. I guess if I want to know more about the players, I'd have to read the book.
Many Austin Film Festival-goers kicked off their week by attending one of the first panels on the schedule -- "A Conversation with Jeff Nichols." In a Q&A session that lasted a little over an hour on Thursday afternoon (it was moderated by Christopher Boone), the Austin-based director discussed the three films he has completed so far (Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter and Mud) as well as his upcoming release, Midnight Special. As a writer and director who has achieved critical success while working with both small and big budgets, Nichols had plenty of advice and entertaining tidbits to share with the audience.
Nichols, who comes off as both boyish and wise, eschews traditional film-school techniques (such as following a strict screenplay formula) but stresses the importance of adhering to certain personal storytelling rules. He described his process as beginning with various large ideas (masculinity, first love, financial anxiety, etc.) and then filtering them through a story that is ultimately about the characters he has created. Nichols' actual writing process involves arranging notecards filled with scenes and plot points and holding tightly to the idea of point of view.
Humble about his creative accomplishments and clearly knowledgeable about the business of making movies, Nichols made for a practically ideal AFF guest. The audience remained rapt and appreciative throughout, and this panel was an excellent reminder that AFF is all about dissecting the filmmaking process and appreciating good work. Here are a few highlights from the session:
- Much to Nichols' disappointment, Shotgun Stories was rejected by both Sundance Film Festival and SXSW Film Festival. However, it was embraced at the Berlin International Film Festival and also screened here at AFF, where it received the Feature Film Award in 2007.
- Nichols often writes about white men (because he is one), but expressed the desire to include strong and realistic female characters in his work. That Jessica Chastain's character was domestically-oriented in Take Shelter was a reflection of his mother, who Nichols considers one of the strongest women he has known.
As much as I'd admired Sam Shepard as an actor for decades, I was not familiar with his writing until I read a collection of his short stories, Cruising Paradise. This anthology of 40 short tales written between 1989 and 1995, set mostly in remote reaches of the U.S. and Mexico, depicts the loneliness of a man who grew up in with familial discord brought on by alcoholism. Some of the stories are fictional, but several come straight from Shepard's personal diary.
The poignant documentary Shepard & Dark by filmmaker and part-time Austinite Treva Wurmfeld reveals even more of the life and loves of Shepard, told through both personal interviews and archival footage and letters exchanged between himself and Johnny Dark. The pair met in the Sixties during an off-off Broadway play in Greenwich Village that Shepard had written. One playwright from California, the other an odd-jobber from Jersey City, talked about their childhood of airplanes and dogs and found a connection when they shared stories of their fathers.
One of the made-in-Austin films having its premiere at this year's Austin Film Festival is Dear Sidewalk, a romantic comedy about a mail carrier (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park, Justified) who falls for an older divorcee (Michelle Forbes, True Blood, The Killing). Also featured in the cast is one Ashley Spillers, who has acted in many buzzworthy local films of late (The Bounceback, Pit Stop, Loves Her Gun) and even appears in the viral short Hell No.
The former Austinite also stars in the horror-comedy Saturday Morning Massacre (aka Saturday Morning Mystery if you are buying it at Wal-Mart), which screens at the Housecore Horror Film Festival on, appropriately enough, Saturday morning.
Before Austin Film Festival started up, Spillers took part in this email interview for us.
Slackerwood: How did you come to be involved in Dear Sidewalk?
Ashley Spillers: Well, I auditioned! Beth Sepko was casting and she called me in to audition (while I was on set of Zero Charisma) for the role of the Barista, but Jake and Ford Oelman were in the room, and I guess they saw me more as a... Tracy! Which I was thrilled about, of course.
Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.
Over 49,000 beer enthusiasts descended upon Denver, Colorado for the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) earlier this month, and Texas craft beer was well-represented. This year’s festival competition featured 732 breweries from around the United States entering 4,809 brews to be judged and distinguished as the best of American craft ales, lagers and specialty libations. Texas brewers received 10 awards this year with four gold, two silver and four bronze medals, including a gold to Austin Beerworks (seen at top with Brewers Association President Charlie Papazian) for their Black Thunder German-style schwarz beer.
In addition to Texas brewers, several Austin film-related projects and businesses took part in the festivities surrounding GABF. Alamo Drafthouse's Beverage Director Bill Norris and Creative Director John Gross made the trip to Denver, with Gross moderating "The Business of Fun: Beyond The Beer" panel. North by Northwest founder Davis Tucker was on the panel along with representatives from Odell's Brewing and Oskar Blues, discussing how craft beer goes beyond just drinking and brewing and supports many other business sectors including marketing and design.
All the boys may love Mandy Lane, but this girl doesn't.
After spending seven years in distribution limbo, the first feature from Jonathan Levine (50/50, Warm Bodies), All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, screened at this year's Fantastic Fest and is available for anyone to watch on various VOD outlets. But for me, having seen the film once was enough.
If I want to watch a 21st-century The Breakfast Club, I'll go hang out in my campus's Quad. That way I won't have to see star and Austin native Amber Heard (Machete Kills) constantly tucking her hair behind her ear or making sidelong glances in an effort to portray the "good girl" (a la Kristen Stewart). You know that really uncomfortable, borderline-gastrointestinal-disorder look? That is not method acting.
Mandy Lane is not only shy and quiet, but has been ostracized by her peers for years, that is, until she sprouted acceptable-sized breasts and began participating in high-school track.
Continued from Part One, here's the rest of my interview with Austin filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and Machete Kills star Danny Trejo, pictured above at the Fantastic Fest red carpet with actress Alexa Vega.
Slackerwood: It seems like you enjoy revisiting your characters in multiple movies -- why do you think you want to keep bringing the characters back?
Danny Trejo: Well, they're good actors.
Robert Rodriguez: I was very much inspired by George Lucas. He wanted to do a Flash Gordon movie, but couldn't get the rights, so he wrote his version instead, which is called Star Wars. I thought, that's such a cool thing. Instead of going and doing a James Bond movie, go and make your own James Bond series, and put things in it that you love -- base it on my family, call it Spy Kids. Or do a guitar-player series of movies.
You know, actually El Mariachi was designed to be a low-budget series, so I started with the genesis in the very first movie. He doesn't become the guy with the guitar case full of weapons until the last scene in the movie. Spy Kids -- they don't become "spy kids" until the last scene in the movie. And Machete doesn't really become that iconic icon holding up the machete and leading the people until the last scene of the movie.
If you haven't seen Machete Kills yet (Don's review), the best way to see it is with a large and enthusiastic audience -- or even a small group of lively friends. It's such silly fun that audience reactions are a must. Robert Rodriguez shot the sequel to Machete in the Austin area, whether you recognize it or not, with a cast that includes Mel Gibson, Sofia Vergara, Antonio Banderas, Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga. It even includes a fake trailer for a third Machete film ... set in outer space.
And of course, Danny Trejo returns in the title role, which he's been playing since Uncle Machete appeared on the scene in Rodriguez's 2001 movie Spy Kids.
I sat down with Rodriguez and Trejo shortly before the movie opened Fantastic Fest this year -- the photo of Rodriguez, Alexa Vega and Trejo above is from its premiere that evening. Here's what they have to say about James Bond, film franchises, Texas film incentives and shooting in Austin, among other things. There may be minor spoilers if you consider Machete Kills spoilable, which it isn't, really.
Slackerwood: So about 15, 20 minutes into the movie, I realized I was watching a James Bond film -- definitely when I saw the speedboat.
Robert Rodriguez: Yeah, the speedboat! You're like "Wow, he's a secret agent. He's a Mexican secret agent."
Something happened on September 27 that you should all know about. If you were at the Austin Film Society event "Our Dinner with the Danger Gods," you don't need me to tell you that it was a night for the ages. Those who witnessed it won't forget it. We welcomed a panel of some of the greatest stuntmen in the world to sit down at a table with no prepared material, eat steaks, drink whiskey and tell stories, jokes, lies, whatever. It was an event designed not only for the audience but for the legends themselves.
If you weren't at the event, our friend Brandon Grey filmed it, and it looks beautiful. Zack Carlson, who hosted the Danger Gods the previous evening at Fantastic Fest, and I moderated.