Back in 1999, I was a teenage film geek sneaking into R-rated movies. Without question, one of the titles I saw that year which left a lasting impression was The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), the superb adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's psychological thriller novel starring Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow. The camera moves, performances, costumes, cinematography -- all of it took me on a cinematic journey I had not experienced until then. However, that movie was only a taste of the varied class of movies that made up 1999 at the cinema.
From edgy comedies like Election (1999), to haunting dramas like The Virgin Suicides (1999) (pictured at top), the lead up to the millenium brought forth a year full of one celluloid gem after another. In honor of the Alamo Drafthouse's 12-week tribute to 1999, which runs through mid-December, I thought I'd revisit the year in question and examine how such a vibrant burst of filmmaking touched many aspects of the moviemaking world.
The year saw many high-profile directors temporarily abandon their trademark genres in pursuit of projects which allowed them a chance to spread their directorial wings. Slasher maestro Wes Craven directed Meryl Streep to an Oscar nomination as an inner-city violin teacher in Music of the Heart (1999 -- one of the better "inspirational teacher" movies). David Lynch took a break from the dark and subversive for a softer, reflective tone in the beautifully moving drama The Straight Story (1999) while Joel Schumacher stepped away from the heroics of Batman and John Grisham to film 8mm (1999); a creepy inside look at the snuff film underworld. Clashes with Adrien Brody didn't stop Spike Lee from exploring one of the most bizarre serial killer cases in New York's history with Summer of Sam (1999). And though it may have featured Johnny Depp and vivid production qualities, the usual trademark whimsy and playful offbeat touches were absent from Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow (1999); making it the director's sole true horror film.
The Fantastic Fest schedule just went live here, and more than ever, it looks to force audiences into making some tough decisions between the films they most want to see. As always, some films appear on the schedule only once. This may be due to various technical or contractual reasons or (hopefully) because a second screening simply hasn't yet been slotted. While most selections have at least two screenings, you'll find that sometimes those are up against each other and a third one can upset the mix.
On top of the already full slate of screenings and parties this year, the debut of MondoCon may demand some of your attention at the Marchesa with most if not all of the Mondo artists manning booths, original art, new music releases, panels, screenings and more. Although tickets for the MondoCon screenings were released last week on Eventbrite and very quickly sold out, that was before the Fantastic Fest schedule went live. In addition, many people were able to reserve two tickets for the Mondocon events though they may need only one. In short, if you really want to attend one of the Mondocon events, you'll likely have a chance to enter via standby line.
So how do you even begin to plan for the insanity to come? How do you make sense of it all? My schedule planning usually involves first attempting to lock in those choices that have only one screening, then fitting as many of my choices around that. Sometimes elaborate planning can be undone when the schedule changes, or perhaps you hear good buzz on a film and decide to add it to your schedule.
Everyone knows that places like Torchy's Tacos and In-n-Out Burger have secret menus, for a given definition of "secret." Slackerwood has done much in-depth research (okay, I asked on social media) and can now offer you a guide to customizing the Alamo Drafthouse menu. This can definitely come in handy during film festivals when you don't have time to rush over to a nearby fast-food joint and find yourself facing the same menu for the fifth day running. Especially if you are a Drafthouse regular anyway.
The best advice I have: Order off the kids' menu. It's okay for grownups to do this. The chicken strips are especially flavorful and you can add more if two aren't enough. The milkshakes come in simple flavors, like chocolate and vanilla. It's not the most healthful food on the menu (although you can get fruit as a side!) but I really like the smaller portion sizes.
By now you have had the chance to see The Dog, one of Drafthouse Films' most intriguing acquisitions this year. If not, you can watch it online via Amazon or Vimeo. Released in theaters last month, the documentary covers the remarkable character John Wojtowicz, aka "The Dog," inspiration for the 1975 film Dog Day Afternoon about a man who robbed a bank pay for his male lover's gender reassignment surgery. I saw the movie during SXSW earlier this year.
Stunned after watching the intimate portrait from Allison Berg and Frank Keraudren, I made my way to meet them during SXSW, at the end of a hotel hallway across from another room where (ironically) Snoop Dogg was also meeting the press. Here's the transcript of our two-on-one interview.
Slackerwood: John Wojtowicz died in 2006. What work or shooting on the film have you done since then?
Frank Keraudren: The first four years we shot John exclusively, maybe a little bit of his mother. After that, we had this blueprint of the film, which was a long monologue with a lot of empty spots on the screen. We had already looked up other people that we wanted to find. It took a long time to track down people, but after John passed away we interviewed all the other people who appear in the film. He knew we were going to talk to them. He was perfectly fine with it, but I think while he was alive a lot of them had been antagonized by him to the point that they didn't really want to deal with him. So that dictated the sequence of events, and it allowed us to flesh out the film and explore scenes like the prison sequence we couldn't really build without finding George, who was the third wife that he married in prison, and stuff like that.
With little fanfare and zero warning, the eagerly-awaited news went out this week that 1120 South Lamar, the crown jewel and flagship Alamo Drafthouse location, home of Fantastic Fest, gathering place for filmmakers and celebrities, clubhouse for movie geeks, hangout for hipsters, and destination for Austinites of every variety, was to finally emerge, like a phoenix from the ashes (or perhaps like sweet zombie Jesus, if that’s more your thing). Point is: Something this great couldn’t stay dead, and it’s back!
The lobby of the Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline has been Planet of the Apes themed since its opening last summer, so no theater in Austin (or anywhere, really) could have been more appropriately attired for a sneak preview screening of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Sunday afternoon. The movie's stars Andy Serkis (Caesar) and Gary Oldman (Dreyfuss), along with director Matt Reeves, were there in person for a Q&A. I was there too and took plenty of photos.
Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery returns to Austin for the seventh annual Off-Centered Film Fest at Alamo Drafthouse. This year's theme for the multi-day event is "Stuntin'," dedicated to the daredevil spirit. The opening celebration will be held at Fiesta Gardens on Thursday, April 24 at 6 pm, with an outdoor 35mm screening of the comedy Hot Rod, starring Andy Samberg.
Special guests for the evening event's include The Lonely Island -- Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, as well as Calagione and representatives of the Central Texas brewing community. Ticket sales will also include an option to donate to the Texas Craft Brewers Guild (TCBG).
"We are extremely pleased to have the support of Alamo Drafthouse and Sam Calagione, and this tangibly demonstrates of the collaborative nature of American craft brewers," said Charles Vallhonrat, TCBG executive director. "This event is a great opportunity to showcase some of the wonderful craft beers that are available in Texas from both Dogfish and our Texas brewers, while supporting the work of the Guild to educate, advocate and promote for Texas craft beer."
In the midst of all the excitement over the Texas Film Awards and SXSW 2014, another film-related event took place recently: the first annual Noir City Austin. While free of a red carpet and movie stars in the flesh, this festival celebrated its inaugural weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz from Feb. 28 to March 2.
Hosted by the Film Noir Foundation, Noir City Austin screened 10 films straight from the genre’s heyday, and featured many faces familiar to devoted noir fans, such as Shelley Winters, Peter Lorre, Ray Milland and Lizabeth Scott.
Yet rather than screening such noir staples like The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, the foundation chose lesser-known titles that, though unknown to the majority of those in attendance, still contained all the necessary ingredients essential to any noir. More than that though, the movies selected tended to go beyond the conventions of the standard noir by incorporating elements of faith, surrealism and the supernatural within its plots.
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.
There’s usually very little to look forward to at the movies during the uneventful dog days of winter. This weekend, apart from the release of what looks like a passable popcorn thriller called Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, it seems like there’s nothing in the way of big-screen entertainment to get jazzed about.
The game changed, though, when The Film Noir Foundation announced the First Annual Noir City Austin, a three-day film festival taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz from February 28- March 2. The weekend features ten lesser-known film noir gems starring the likes of John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Peter Lorre and Robert Cummings, among others, and promises to be the ultimate gin-swilling, cigarette smoking gift from the movie gods themselves.
The lineup is as follows:
Too Late for Tears (1949) -- Friday 2/28
Through accidental circumstances, Alan and Jane, an average married couple, come into possession of a satchel full of money and quickly find themselves at odds about what to do. When Jane decides to keep the money, she finds herself going down a dark path from which there is no return.
Try and Get Me! (1950) -- Friday 2/28
Based on a sensational crime story from the 1930s, Try and Get Me! tells the story of down-on-his-luck family man Howard, who is pulled into a life of crime by ruthless criminal Jerry. Though lucrative as their life of crime is, it's their final caper that proves to be their most deadly.