January 2013

SXSW 2013: The Latest Lineup (and Venue!) News


Loves Her Gun

Whatever number of Austin films I might have guessed would be in the SXSW Film Festival feature lineup released this afternoon, I would have been short. Texas is everywhere in this year's festival, and the midnight movies and short films won't even be announced for another week.

In addition, we at Slackerwood have some news about the SXSW Film 2013 screening locations, as we prepare our annual stellar SXSW Film Venue Guide. Apart from Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar (sob), the theaters will be the same as last year, with a couple of additions. The brand-new Topfer Theatre at Zach Scott will be a film venue, about which I know nothing, so if you've been there please share your impressions in the comments. And all four screens of Violet Crown Cinema will be used for screenings -- no details yet on how, but we'll keep you posted.

You can find the full announcement on the SXSW Film website (John Sayles! Joss Whedon! Dave Grohl!), and we'll run an extended list soon with details about all the Austin connections. In the meantime, you might want to know that the Headliners category includes When Angels Sing, the latest film from Austin filmmaker Tim McCanlies, adapted from a story by Turk Pipkin, and shot around Austin. The cast includes Texans Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson and Dana Wheeler-Nicholson.

Sundance Review: Before Midnight

Before Midnight Still PhotoNot 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.

Submit Your Short to the Austin Film Society ShortCase at SXSW


SXSW Film 2013 logoAustin Film Society members who are filmmakers have the opportunity to submit their short films to screen during the SXSW Film Festival as part of ShortCase, this year's AFS Community Screening. ShortCase is a 70- to 90-minute special screening of locally connected short films.

THe submitter must be a current AFS Make-level member (or above) and be either a producer, director or writer of the piece submitted -- one of the people most creatively responsible for the work. If you are not currently an AFS member at the Make level, you can join or upgrade here.

I'm curating the ShortCase film series again along with AFS Programs & Operations Manager Ryan Long and Marketing and Events Coordinator Austin Culp. We sincerely hope AFS filmmakers take advantage of the wealth of resources provided through AFS Artists Services, including the Texas Filmmaker Production Fund and Moviemaker Dialogues.

Be aware of a few changes for this year's SXSW ShortCase submission process:

Emotional Fireworks and Texas Nods at the Sundance Awards


Computer Chess wins at Sundance

On the last night of the Sundance Film Festival, a special awards ceremony to honor the winners of special prizes and audience awards is held in Park City, just as filmmakers and judges alike are ready to crawl back under the rocks from whence they came for another year. It's the last opportunity to put on the Ritz, do some hardball networking and consummate that fling you've been gunning for all week.

These awards, unlike the ceremonies we watch on TV, are less about competition than camaraderie. As emcee Joseph Gordon-Levitt put it, "This is art. Not basketball." Even so, it never hurts to brand your emerging feature with more than just the Sundance official selection logo when negotiating with would-be buyers.

In the night's very first announcement, the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize went to the Austin-shot movie Computer Chess, from local filmmaker Andrew Bujalski. Producer Houston King, pictured above at right, accepted the award. The prize, which honors the union of science and film, means that $20,000 in funds will be made available to the team for their next endeavor. The jury selected the film based on its "off-beat and formalistically adventurous exploration of questions of artificial intelligence and human connections."

Sundance 2013: News (and Video) Roundup


Sundance 2013 logoNow that Sundance is over, you might be wondering how the Austin and Texas films fared. Here's the latest update, plus some links to local coverage (and at the end, fun videos!). I hope we'll see a few of these in Austin in March (or in Dallas in April).

Sundance Review: Mud


Mud Still PhotoAwardwinning writer/director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Shotgun Stories) pays homage to the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn and a dying way of life on the Arkansas river in Mud. Nichols began working on the story in the 1990s, and delivers an engaging and mystical tale of broken hearts and strong friendships.

When teenage boys Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) venture to an island in the Arkansas River to investigate a boat stranded in a tree by floodwaters, they discover an inhabitant -- a fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey). Shrouded by mystery and full of odd superstitions, Mud awaits a reunion with his childhood sweetheart, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon). A hot pursuit is underway for him by both police and bounty hunters on the payroll of the powerful King (Joe Don Baker), whose son was killed by Mud.

At 135 minutes, Mud may seem a bit long as it meanders like the river it takes place on but it's hard to identify where to trim.The cinematography and production design effectively captures the slow-pace of the Arkansas River delta. Full of subplots and interesting characters, Nichols conveys personal stories including experiencing young love and dealing with rejection and divorce.

2012 in Review: The Texas Indigenous Game Development Population


God of Blades

I sound like a broken record when I say, "Texans got talent." But, it's true. We obviously talk a lot about filmmakers here at Slackerwood, but it's time to show some love to our local game developers. You (hopefully) already know that Texas is second only to California in number of developers and maintains a solid presence in the state dating back to the birth of the industry. In an article from last February, UK game magazine Edge hyperbolized that "it's impossible to overstate the impact Texas has had on videogames." (For a great overview of the local industry, read the full Edge article.)

This past year continued the reign of our interactive artists, bringing both critically acclaimed and financially successful games, ranging from atmospheric iPhone projects to big-budget Xbox games. And, as a Texan (if you're reading this, consider yourself honorary), it's your duty to support your local game developer. Rising tides raise all ships, you know!

Below is a small list of notable video games that Texas developers had a hand in creating in 2012. Hopefully it will inspire you to stretch those thumbs on your gaming device of choice. BTW, if I hear anyone say, "The last game I played was Pong," I'm going to out you for the Words With Friends player I know you are.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 28, 2013


Here's the latest in Austin and Texas film news.

  • IndieWire reports that HBO has ordered a pilot from former Austinites Jay and Mark Duplass. The brothers will write, executive produce and direct the pilot for the half-hour comedy Togetherness, about two couples living in the same house. Although neither brother is set to appear on screen, Togetherness, if ordered as a series, will be their television project as writers and creators.
  • The Tom Hanks-produced film Parkland (Ryan's dispatch), about the going-ons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, has started shooting in Austin, IndieWire reports. The film, adapted from author and former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's book Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, stars Paul Giamatti, Billy Bob Thornton and University of Texas alum Marcia Gay Harden, among others. Parkland is scheduled for a late 2013 release, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Kennedy's death.
  • Despite ensuing controversy, MovieMaker Magazine has named Austin the best city for indie filmmakers, according to Joe M. O'Connell's blog. New York, Seattle, LA and Portland follow in the annual top 10 list, whose criteria includes "film community," "access to new film," "access to equipment," "cost of living" and "tax incentives." Last year Austin was ranked number two behind New Orleans, which dropped out of the top five this year.

Sundance 2013 Photos: AFS Brings Texas to Park City

The Texas Party at Sundance

I may not be in Park City, but I am enjoying many aspects of the Sundance Film Festival from the comforts of home (you can too!). Today's vicarious living involves the Texas Party, hosted by the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly at the height of Sundance festgoing. The party celebrated the number of Lone Star films at this year's Park City fest.

AFS Marketing and Events Coordinator Austin Culp and other photographers to be named later [update: Ryan Long and Chris Cortez] took a number of photos at the event, and I'm amused because if I showed you the photos and didn't tell you where they were taken, you would have assumed it was a filmmaker party here in Austin. Former and current Austinites and Texans were everywhere ... well, admittedly they did seem to be everywhere at Sundance in general this year.

I'm not sure why actor/filmmaker Jonny Mars and producer Kelly Williams appear to be sparring in the above photo. I'll let them tell me sometime. They were at the party shortly before departing for the premiere of Black Metal, which Debbie has detailed in her Sunday dispatch.

I've included more of my favorites below. If that's not enough for you, check out the Texas Party photo set from the event.

Movies This Week: January 25-31, 2013


The Love God

Oh, if only Movie 43 had screened for press before it opens this weekend. The premise -- a search for the world's most banned movie -- and cast are tantalizing. (Dennis Quaid, Greg Kinnear, Seth MacFarlane, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Naomi Watts, Uma Thurman, Halle Berry and a dozen other famous faces -- yeah, even Snooki -- in the same movie? Yowsa -- I'm reminded of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.) But prudent filmgoers should wait awhile to find out if this star-studded but unreviewed collection of comic shorts is any good. Let your friends take one for the team by seeing it first.

Two other new releases are critically vetted and worth a look, depending on your taste: Amour is outstanding but oh-so-sad, and Quartet is a Dustin Hoffman-helmed comedy that's garnering some good reviews but may not be for everyone.

The Love God? (pictured above) also may not be for everyone, but I'm recommending this Alamo Drafthouse screening because it features a live appearance by the patron saint of film criticism, Joe Bob Briggs. This 1969 comedy stars Don Knotts as the publisher of a bird-watcher's magazine that becomes a porn magazine in the hands of an unscrupulous business partner. I'm sure Joe Bob has plenty to say about this largely forgotten film, which screens Wednesday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz.

Sundance 2013 Dispatch, Days Four and Five: Parties Before Midnight


The Texas Party at SundanceA phrase often heard at the Sundance Film Festival is "how to fest," and lesson number one that I've learned is that being on time isn't good enough, be early. A few times I've had ample time before an event, and filled in the gap with the frivolity of eating a meal. What I've then found is that I miss a couple of small events that fill up -- nothing major, but not the ideal scenario. Thankfully Sundance has so much to experience that flexibility is key, as you never know who you may meet on the shuttle bus or in line at a screening.

A highlight of my Sunday: Day Four was the Texas Party, presented by the Austin Film Society and Texas Monthly, and crowded with Austin and Texas filmmakers such as the Arts + Labor crew (seen above) including cast and crew from Pit Stop, Hearts of Napalm and Black Metal. Pit Stop and Black Metal screened at Sundance, while short films Hearts of Napalm and Spark were shown at the concurrent Slamdance Film Festival here in Park City.

I spent a short time at the party so I could ride with the Arts+Labor crew out to the Redstone Cinema for the premiere of Black Metal as part of the Shorts Program 4. This particular program featured several high-caliber but darkly toned short films, including On Suffocation by writer/director Jenifer Malmqvist, whose films Peace Talk and Birthday have previously screened at Sundance. On Suffocation centers around the execution of two homosexual males in an unnamed Middle Eastern country, relying solely on visuals with no dialogue.

Sundance 2013: An Industry-Free Filmmaker Gathering


Sundance Press and Filmmaker Party

[Editor's note: Please welcome Natalia Ciolko, who's writing about Sundance Film Festival coverage for Slackerwood while she's in Park City. If you've been looking for Chale's coverage, unfortunately he's been sick and never made it to Park City.]

What inspires people to spend their vacation days and a mess of money to trek out to Utah in the middle of January? It's not really about the films -- many of those will be out in a matter of months -- but the opportunity to meet the artists behind them.

In honor of that mission, the Sundance Film Festival hosted a reception Wednesday afternoon just for members of the press and filmmakers. No agents, no industry. Sundance Institute director Keri Putnam (@kputnam) and Director of Programming Trevor Groth (@trevorgroth) were also en scene, mingling with the talent and international journalists.

As welcome as the exclusive access was the fabulous buffet, a sight for sore eyes after a week of subsistence living on Clif Bars and white wine. Being an official Sundance event, there was plenty of the latter, too -- I certainly wouldn't wish this festival on a recovering alcoholic.

Experience Sundance 2013 Without Leaving Your Couch


Sundance 2013 logoI didn't go to Park City for the Sundance Film Festival this year. I know I'm missing lots of good movies, but on the other hand, it was 70 degrees in Austin yesterday, while Sundance festgoers are dealing with single-digit and even negative-number temperatures. I'm too delicate a flower for that kind of weather.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways in which we in Austin (or anywhere) can have a taste of the Sundance experience from the comfort of our homes. Before you enjoy the videos below, if you want an authentic Sundance experience you could crank up the air conditioning, put on some thermal underwear, and consume only power bars and coffee. If you want to simulate the press-and-industry experience, you might get a jerky friend to sit next to you and play with their smartphone the whole time, but I think that's going too far.

  • The Screening Room -- Sundance has posted a dozen of the shorts from the 2013 festival on YouTube, at no cost to you. Debbie has already mentioned that Austin short film Black Metal is one of them, which I watched the other day and can't recommend enough. But there are also 11 other short films, and that's an enjoyable evening right there.
  • Focus Forward Films -- Focus Forward is a series of three-minute shorts that are screening at a number of film festivals, including Sundance 2013. You can also watch them online from the project's website. Filmmakers include Morgan Spurlock, Albert Mayles, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern, Steve James, and Alex Gibney. There are 30 total, which is another 90-minute slot of entertaining shorts.

Review: Quartet


Tom Courtenay and Maggie Smith in Quartet

If there really is a place like Beecham House, I want to go to there someday. In the Dustin Hoffman-directed film Quartet, the site is a home for retired classical music performers and opera singers. As the main four characters wander about the beautiful grounds, a solo clarinetist plays, or a string quartet performs in a gazebo. How wonderful would it be to be surrounded by amazing instrumentalists constantly playing music (well)? It seems like a slice of heaven to me. The movie itself, however? Not so much.

The plot is a bit of a muddle, but here goes: Flamboyant Cedric (Michael Gambon, wearing Dumbledore-esque caftans) is putting on the home's annual concert, which, from the number of times he asserts that the home could be closed if the event is not a success, I infer is a fundraiser. It's reminiscent of the classic-musical plotline where the gang would put on a show to save a farm (Summer Stock, anyone?).

A trio of friends -- serious Reginald (Tom Courtenay, TV's Little Dorrit), naughty Wilf (Billy Connolly, Mrs. Brown and Brave), and dotty Cissy (Pauline Collins, Albert Nobbs) -- sit around reminiscing about the days when they once sang together in Rigoletto. Then the fourth of their quartet moves into the home. Jean (Maggie Smith) was the diva of the group and once had an ill-fated romance with Reg. Cedric wants them to perform the quartet from Rigoletto at the annual concert, but Jean is wary.

2012 in Review: Jordan's New and Remastered Favorites


Wake in Fright

There's something about 2012 I just can't shake. I find myself going back to the films I enjoyed last year, the ones I went to after a philosophical debate with my downstairs neighbor, or when I wanted to sing and piss her off. There's variety in the movies I chose, ready to set whatever mood you're in.

  • Wake in Fright (pictured at top) -- Long-considered to be lost (and almost destroyed), this Australian thriller was remastered and acquired by Drafthouse Films last year. It's gritty and sometimes shocking protrayal of masculinity and the pliable nature of the human psyche, not to mention the disturbing performance by Donald Pleasence, is like nothing I've seen before. I'm not sure if I would have ever heard of Wake in Fright (an Australian friend of mine hadn't heard of it), let alone been able to find and watch the movie, if I hadn't attended Fantastic Fest.

    Based on the 1961 book of the same name, the film, which was nominated for a Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1971, tells the story of good-natured British schoolteacher John Grant (Gary Bond). Upon arriving in a rough outback mining town on his way to Sydney, he meets a group of alcohol-induced degenerates who change his life forever. The film's U.S. distribution rights were sold at Cannes in 1971, and yet it only had a short run in theaters and never appeared on VHS or DVD ... until now. I owe a big thank you to the film's cinematographer, who found the original negatives in canisters marked for inceneration in Philadelphia. After decades in obscurity, and with support from the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Wake in Fright was restored and had the rare honor of being screened twice at Cannes in 2009.

2012 in Review: Debbie's Alternative Awards


Hellion Still Shot2012 was a year of change not only for Slackerwood -- we were taken under the wing of Austin Film Society, does it get any better than that? -- but for me. Asked to describe what I do in five words or less, it's simply been "watch movies and drink beer." Sounds simple enough, but the creativity and inspiration I've discovered in the last year since a major career change has been both frightening and exhilarating. I became the lead curator for AFS SXSW Shortcase, and was admitted to the Austin Film Critics Association (AFCA), which meant watching a lot more films this year.

Top Ten Lists are interesting for less than ten seconds after reading, unless you disagree with a selection or the order -- then perhaps you might ponder the list for a few minutes. I use an analogy when talking about craft beer -- "it's a good thing people have different palates, or else we'd all be drinking macro American light lagers." Therefore I won't be listing any "Worst of" as there may be some merit in a film that others may appreciate.

So while I did compile a "Best of 2012" list recently, I'd also like to mention some special awards I would personally give based on particular merits. Without further ado, here are my alternative awards:

Mike's Alamo Memories: 'Lamar est mort. Vive Lamar!'


Alamo Drafthouse on South LamarThis month, our community collectively said goodbye for a while to the flagship Alamo Drafthouse location and home of press screenings, special events, festivals like SXSW and aGLIFF Polari, and the two most dear in my heart: Butt-Numb-a-Thon and Fantastic Fest.

I have countless memories of this place, beginning with my first screening there eight years ago: Robin Williams in The Big White, the first screening of the first Fantastic Fest in 2005. I've likely seen more movies in this cinemaplex than in all the other theaters I've visited in my life combined. Certainly more than I dare attempt to count, though an average of 30 films each year for Fantastic Fest plus the five 24-hour Butt-Numb-a-Thons would equal roughly 600 hours, or 25 solid days of films watched there before we even started on SXSW, aGLIFF or any of the other shows.

No single word or phrase is sufficient to capture the significance of this place. It's not a mere theater, just a home away from home, or a paltry legend. It's all of the above, and a bag of chips. Tim League turned this former grocery-store location into a dream world, a pocket universe that brought a piece of Hollywood to us in the heart of Texas, sometimes with glitz and glamour and sometimes the Hollywood that sits behind the camera.

This is the place where I've been inches from (and in some cases chatted with, in no particular order) Rick Baker, Phil Tippett, Peter Jackson, Darren Aronofsky, Tim Burton, Roger Corman, Frank Darabont, The Wachowski Starship, McG, Uwe Boll, Don Coscarelli, Scott Derrickson, Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Lucky McKee, Ethan Hawke, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Mel Gibson, Doug Benson, Susan Tyrell, Bill Murray, Paul Rudd, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Zack Ward, Richard Kelly, Dominic Monaghan, Kevin McKidd, Josh Hartnett, Jason Momoa, John Gulager, Clu Gulager, Barbara Crampton, Danny McBride, Justin Theroux, Noah Segan, Rian Johnson, Jess Franco, Angela Bettis, Anton Yelchin, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Jeff Fahey, Jeffrey Combs, Dolph Lundgren, Karl Urban, Darren Bousman, Bill Pullman and Craig Brewer ... among many many others.

It is the place where we've partied until dawn and then come back for another day of movies and partied til dawn again... for a week... every year... for almost a decade. It is the place where, at one of those parties, the legend of Nacho Vigalondo was born with the introduction of the "swastika dance." It is the place where, at the same party the following year, sometime around 4 am, I saw 15 men pile atop each other beneath a shower of beer foam to the song "It's Raining Men." It is the place where I saw Elijah Wood, aka Frodo Baggins, on hands and knees in the middle of an impromptu live-action Human Centipede re-enactment, making him truly "one who has seen the eye."

Sundance 2013 Dispatch, Day Three: From Chess Nerds to Austen Romantics


Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, and Jeff Nichols at Mud red carpetI hit the ground running on Saturday, my third day of Sundance, which isn't as easy at it sounds with early morning temperatures below zero and lungs still acclimating to 6900-foot elevation. Lots of water and rest plus a well-researched press and industry screening schedule allowed me to catch several films before my top priority -- the Mud red carpet with stars Matthew McConaughey and Tye Sheridan, as well as writer/director Jeff Nichols (pictured above).

First up in the morning was the documentary I'd missed the previous night, Pussy Riot -- A Punk Prayer. Directors Mike Lerner and Maxim Pozdorovkin present a well-balanced and intimate view of the three young women who were arrested for performing at Saint Basil's Cathedral. Friday's premiere at Sundance was sold out, and it was announced the next day that HBO Documentary Films acquired U.S. television rights.

Next on my schedule was Andrew Bujalski's locally filmed Computer Chess, a black-and-white mockumentary set around a man-versus-computer chess tournament in the 80s. Several familiar faces as well as real computer programmers are featured in this slow-paced dry oddity, including Wiley Wiggins, who effortlessly portrays experimental psychologist Martin Beuscher. I also caught a glimpse of fellow Slackerwood contributor Rod Paddock as an extra.

Lone Star Cinema: Before Sunrise


Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke in Before Sunrise

In 1995, I saw Before Sunrise at the Highland movie theatre (now Galaxy Highland) with a couple of friends. I recall a discussion between us afterwards about whether we enjoyed the open, yet hopeful, ending of the Richard Linklater film (I believe the consensus was yes). The continuous dialogue between the two main characters in the film reminded me of the type of conversations I had with my own friends at the time -- so like my life. But I didn't watch the movie again ... until just recently.

In this romance, young American twentysomething Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Sorbonne student Celine (Julie Delpy) meet cute on a train. They lunch together, then Jesse asks Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna; he's heading back to the States the next morning, can't afford a hotel room and would love to have someone to chat with while walking around the Austrian city. And there you have it. Celine is fairly easily convinced (Jesse is very attractive, despite his scruffy facial hair) and spends the rest of the day and night with him.

Sundance 2013 Dispatch, Day Two: Spectacular Mud and Sunken Treasure


James Ponsoldt

The most important rule of any film festival is to treat it as a marathon rather a sprint, to prevent hitting the wall. Don't get me wrong -- I'm still indulging free drinks at parties and late-night conversations about film and music -- but with the fear of altitude sickness and flu, I've been sleeping at least seven hours. My "sleep is the enemy" mantra is only effective for short-timers who are here for a long weekend.

My second day was fairly light as I continued to deal with the commute into Park City. I attended the press screening of Austin filmmaker Jeff Nichols' feature Mud, which seemed well received and which I thoroughly enjoyed. Afterwards I headed down to the Library for my first Sundance red carpet for The Spectacular Now, with a quick stop by the Stella Artois Studio for complimentary beer and a glimpse of spokesperson and British actor Noah Huntley.

The Spectacular Now red carpet featured director James Ponsoldt (seen above), lead actors Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead also appeared in Ponsoldt's film Smashed, which debuted at Sundance last year, and appears in the comedy A.C.O.D. that also debuts at Sundance. She also produced the dark comedy Cub -- a short film also premiering at Sundance as part of the Midnight Film Series.

Cine Las Americas Series Showcases Contemporary Comedies


Still from Bolivar soy yo!

Austin's Cine Las Americas will run a free weekly film series from the last two weeks of January through the month of February. Films from Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay incorporate the mix of comedies from the previous decade. The series kicks off this Wednesday, January 23.

In their press release, Cine Las Americas calls the movies in this series "some of the finest comedies to emerge in Latin America in recent years, and each one of them defines a special moment in the cinema of their country. Dark humor and irony abound, with a sharp edge for social, political and cultural commentary."

Each of the screenings will be held at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC) at 600 River Street [map].  The movies will have English subtitles.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 21, 2013


Here's the latest Austin movie news.

  • Films such as Slacker and Grindhouse may have put the "third coast" on the map, but the Texas House and Senate have proposed to eliminate the Texas Moving Image Industry Incentive Program budget, which provides financial incentives for movies, video games and advertising, according to Austin Movie Blog. The state legislative bodies budget proposals include $4.2 million for the Texas Film Commission and Texas Music Office, which would not include incentives, instead of the $39.2 million the Governor's office requested. If approved, the budget cuts could cause many productions to move out of Texas.
  • The "third coast" isn't down yet. Austin Film Festival is kicking off the return of its Audience Series with a screening of the Austin-made horror-comedy Saturday Morning Massacre (Jette's review) on Monday, February 4 at Alamo Drafthouse Village. The film, which screened at AFF 2012, is about a group of down-on-their-luck paranormal investigators and their beloved pooch, who embark on an adventure to debunk the ghost stories surrounding an abandoned mansion. 
  • Andrew Bujalski's latest film will put you in check. The critically acclaimed Austin-based filmmaker's movie Computer Chess, which is premiering at Sundance this week, will screen internationally at the Berlin International Film Festival (aka the Berlinale) next month. The Austin-shot Computer Chess revolves around chess players and computer programmers at a computer chess tournament in the 1980s. Bujalski, a 2011 Texas Filmmakers Production Fund recipient, raised more than $50,000 in crowdfunded donations through United States Artists for the film. (The filmmaker also has a small role in the above-mentioned Saturday Morning Massacre.)
  • The PBS show Independent Lens will broadcast two shows with Texas connections in the next few weeks. Tonight at 9 pm on KLRU, you can watch SXSW 2012 selection Beauty Is Embarrassing (Jette's review), the documentary about artist Wayne White. (If you are Texan, you will love White's LBJ mask.) And on Monday, January 28 at 9 pm, catch The Revisionaries (Don's review), which examines the Texas State Board of Education. Visit the Independent Lens web page for a full broadcast schedule.

Review: Broken City


Broken City

Many modern filmmakers attempt to recreate the atmosphere and tone of film noir. Some succeed and many more fail. Allen Hughes' first solo effort Broken City is a middle-of-the-road noir. Rough dialogue and an obvious set of twists make for an overlong trip into familiar territory.

Broken City begins with a city in turmoil. Officer Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is on trial for shooting a perpetrator who was recently released on a technicality for raping a young girl. After being exonerated by the court officer, Taggart is summoned to appear before Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and Commissioner Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright). These two men have come into possession of evidence that would incriminate Taggart in the shooting. They soon convince Taggart to resign from the police force.

We flash forward seven years. Taggart is now working as a private investigator with a cash-flow problem. Conveniently, Mayor Hostetler summons him to his office with a job of his own: the investigation of his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). As can be expected in noir style films, things do not go as planned. The rest of the movie is spent uncovering the various subterfuges, turns and twists common to these types of films.

Review: The Last Stand


The Last StandThe Expendables 2 was only a mild teaser of the legendary Arnold Schwarzenegger's return to making action films. What we've really been waiting for is his own action vehicle, and it finally hits theaters this week in The Last Stand. There's an added element to this movie that makes it special and ramps up the anticipation, at least for a few movie fans.

The Last Stand marks Korean director Jee-woon Kim's first American film. He's directed some amazing films, among them I Saw the Devil, The Good, the Bad, the Weird and A Tale of Two Sisters. He's proven to be a director who can handle violence with ease, and is able to get great performances out of some memorable villains. The quality of The Last Stand isn't quite up to par with the level of quality in his earlier Korean films, but some of his signature elements are still here and make it overall a good time at the movies.

Arnold plays Ray Owens, a small-town sheriff of an Arizona border town. On a light weekend, when most of the town leaves to watch the local high-school football team, an escaped fugitive attempts to cross the Mexican border, and the only town in his way is the home of Sheriff Owens. In the words of Schwarzenegger's Jack Slater from Last Action Hero, this fugitive just made a big mistake.

As expected, Jee-woon Kim handles violent action brilliantly, full of unflinching gore, and lots of mostly practical blood. There's a great villain in Peter Stormare. Wisecracking, intimidating, has just a silly an accent as Arnie. 

The Last Stand has one main problem throughout, though and it's the writing. It's hampered by a weak first act, and very cheesily written. This shouldn't dissuade too many people from watching it though, because it is an action vehicle starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, it isn't Shakespeare with guns. Once you get past the anemic first act, sit back and enjoy the ride because it is a fun one.

The rest of the cast, Arnold and Stormare aside, do a pretty good job, and all have comedic moments to shine, Johnny Knoxville and Luis Guzman especially. For a Texas connection, Friday Night Lights alum Zach Gilford (Matt Saracen) has a nice role in the film.

Sundance 2013 Dispatch, Day One: Settling In at Park City


Sundance Film Festival Opening Press Conference with Robert Redford

Relying on public transportation in an unfamiliar town while staying on the outskirts has its disadvantages. I only attended an hour of the Sundance Film Festival opening-night party since my last bus departed at 11:15 pm -- but the bus is a great place to meet both helpful locals and filmmakers in Park City.

On the way in I met screenwriter/director Tal Granit, who traveled from Israel to premiere his short film Summer Vacation at the festival. I made it to fest headquarters to navigate the press office and pick up credentials, before heading to the Egypt Theatre for the Day One press conference. Salt Lake Tribune film critic Sean Means moderated a discussion with actor, filmmaker and Sundance Institute founder Robert Redford, Sundance Institute Executive Director Keri Putnam and Sundance Film Festival John Cooper (seen above). 

Watch the press conference its entirety after the jump.

Movies This Week: January 18-24, 2013


The Devil and Daniel Johnston

It's January; we know this because the temperature sometimes dips below balmy, but also because great new movies are rarer than a Panhandle Democrat. The esteemed Rust and Bone is required viewing this week*, but skip the other new releases unless you can't resist imported horror, middling crime drama or California's less-than-esteemed former governor.

Fortunately, Austin's ever-bustling film culture offers plenty of alternatives for those seeking escape from our frigid 50-degree winter weather. Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series continues with the Chinese drama Empire of Silver. Set in 1899 during the waning days of Imperial China, the film focuses on a wealthy banking family trying to survive political upheavals brought on by the Boxer Rebellion and revolutionary outbreaks. Empire of Silver screens on Tuesday at the Alamo Village. (Due to the closure of Alamo South Lamar, AFS screenings are now at Alamo Village. The theater seats only 118 so buy your tickets for all screenings ASAP.)

Fans of Latin American cinema will enjoy Bolívar soy yo! (Bolívar Is Me), a Columbian comedy about an actor revered for portraying Simón Bolívar, a Venezuelan leader who played a key role in freeing Latin America from Spanish rule. The actor is so admired for his portrayal that reality and fiction begin to mix, and eventually he believes he's Bolívar. Cine Las Americas presents Bolívar soy yo! for free on Wednesday at the Mexican American Cultural Center.

Review: Rust and Bone


Rust and Bone

The characters in Rust and Bone, the latest film from Jacques Audiard (A Prophet) truly are down to the bone -- they border on primal at times. Add powerhouse leads like Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts and you get an intense experience that's so vivid it's hard to look away, but often so painful it's hard to keep watching. I kept watching, and Rust and Bone ended up being one of my favorite films of 2012.

The movie focuses first on a father and his son: Ali (Schoenaerts) travels with five-year-old Sam to Antibes, a coastal French town, to live with Ali's sister and her husband. Ali finds work as a bouncer and ends up taking Stephanie (Cotillard) back to her home after she's been attacked in the nightclub. Slowly, the movie expands its focus to include Stephanie, who trains killer whales fearlessly in a Sea World-type setting.

But Ali and Stephanie don't really cross paths again until after Stephanie's life has been turned upside-down. Their intense and strange relationship, including the ways it affects Ali's son, is the heart of Rust and Bone.

Sundance 2013: Watch Austin Short 'Black Metal' Online Now


Black Metal Still PhotoI'm passionate about short films -- as evidenced by my role as a programmer for Austin Film Society's ShortCase series -- and hope to see quite a few at Sundance this coming week. A record number of 8,102 short films were submitted for the 2013 Sundance Short Film program, with only 65 short films making the cut. 

You don't have to trek to Park City to enjoy some of these shorts -- a dozen of the best are now available online in The Screening Room, a YouTube channel curated by Sundance short film programmers. Austin represents with local writer/director Kat Candler's Black Metal, starring Jonny Mars (Saturday Morning Massacre, Hellion) and Heather Kafka (Lovers of Hate). This short yet powerful and evocative piece leaves viewers wanting more of the story of Ian, a death metal rocker who must deal with the consequences of a fan's actions.  

Watch Black Metal here after the jump.

2012 in Review: Debbie's Best of 2012 List


Cloud Atlas Still PhotoReflecting on the past year's selections of films and performances leaves me more excited than I was this time last year after a lackluster 2011. Blockbusters such as The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers demonstrated that there is still energy and originality in these long-familiar characters. Just as 007 fans will argue that Sean Connery is the one and only James Bond -- personally I think Daniel Craig in Skyfall has picked up that gauntlet -- I will argue for director Christopher Nolan and actor Christian Bale truly owning the Batman franchise.

2012 also featured impressive performances from many new and veteran actors, and the standout portrayals were from stars who transformed into their characters so effortlessly. The slate of films worthy of recognition is quite substantial, so I've shared a short summary of what influenced my choices for 2012.

Best Film: Cloud Atlas
A series of stories interwoven that demonstrate the power of one person's actions, "by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future." Blending the genres of historical drama, sci-fi, romance, espionage, and comedy, Cloud Atlas is a visually stunning masterpiece that shows the triumph of the human spirit through love and kindness over greed and vice. My fellow Slackerwood critics seem to agree -- read Mike's review as well as Jette's Fantastic Fest review.

SXSW 2013: Six Degrees of Texas Connections


Matthew McConaughey, Bernie red carpet


On Tuesday afternoon, SXSW announced the opening-night movie and several world premieres for its 2013 film festival, as well as some additional Film Conference sessions.

The big local connection is that "A Conversation with Matthew McConaughey" has been added to the SXSW Film Conference lineup. The Austin actor appeared in four films last year, including Killer Joe and the Central Texas-shot Bernie, both of which screened at SXSW 2012. I notice there's no moderator announced for that panel yet -- SXSW, feel free to call me. I would be happy to volunteer my services.

The full lineup will almost certainly offer some promising local films, but so far there's no Frost Bank Tower in the mix. I view this as a challenge. Let's find out what other Austin and Texas connections I can tease out of the movies and other panels announced yesterday. This is Slackerwood -- we can always find something.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (opening-night film) -- This comedy about superstar magicians stars Steve Buscemi, Steve Carell, Jim Carrey and Olivia Wilde. Damn. All I have is that Carrey was in I Love You Phillip Morris, which is based on a book by a Houston reporter (Steve McVicker) and is partially set in Texas. I've got to do better than this.

Sundance 2013: Debbie's Must-See List


Mud Still PhotoI'm looking forward to seeing up close how the Lone Star Films will shine at Sundance 2013. If last week's press preview at the Austin Film Society Screening Room is any indication, audiences will not be disappointed, especially with Pit Stop and Black Metal. Filmmaker Yen Tan's story in Pit Stop comes from his curiosity while on road trips between Dallas and Houston, wondering whether gay people lived in the small towns along the route. His research led to a story of individuals who live their lives normally in rural environments, and the preview I saw of a few dramatic scenes was thought-provoking.

Another thought-provoking film was Kat Candler's Black Metal -- check back for a full review on Friday as well as info about how you can see it even if you're not in Park City. Black Metal shows tragedy rarely seen, of how blame laid on multimedia -- music, horror films, shooter video games -- can affect the creators as well. I spoke with lead actor Jonny Mars and writer/director Kat Candler about their short film as well as Sundance 2013 projects, including the development of Candler's Sundance 2012 short Hellion as a feature through the Sundance Feature Film Creative Producing Lab for creative producer Kelly Williams. Mars credits the genius and unique approach of Candler for directing the "little humans" of Hellion and Black Metal.

I'll be in Park City for the next 10 days, covering the red carpet for the major features from Texas filmmakers including Jeff Nichols' Mud and Before Midnight, as well as premieres for any Austin film that my and the shuttle schedule will allow. I'm also planning to see many, many movies. Here are some of the features and documentaries I'm especially looking forward to viewing.

Alamo South Lamar Memories: Not Quite Pineapple Express



One of my biggest regrets in life is not having the foresight to sear into my memory bank, the first ever Alamo Drafthouse experience I had. I cannot for the life of me remember what it is. I remember at one point recommending people come to this theater because they had some of the best pizza I've eaten in my life (they still do, and I still do), but I just can't remember what movie I saw at an Alamo the first time I ever went.

I don't remember the first movie I saw at South Lamar either, but I do remember the first movie I almost saw there. There was a promotional screening for Pineapple Express, and Seth Rogen was going to be there. At the time, I was still enamored with the idea of seeing a famous actor in person, and so I went to stand in line for hours.

Texas Film Hall of Fame 2013 Honorees Announced


Texas Film Hall of Fame AwardsSome very familiar faces, whom you might not realize are Texas natives, are among this year's Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards recipients. In addition, a quintessential Austin film will be honored that evening: Dazed and Confused. At a press conference this morning, Austin Film Society Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick announced the honorees: Stephen Tobolowsky, Robin Wright, Henry Thomas and Annette O'Toole. In addition, actress Julie Hagerty will attend the event to present Tobolowsky's award.

Parker Posey will also be there, to accept the Star of Texas Award for Dazed and Confused. "And I think we may have the director there as well. We'll see," joked Herrick. Richard Linklater, who directed the film and co-founded AFS, was sitting in the front row of the press conference at the time.

Linklater attended the conference to talk about where the funds raised by Texas Film Hall of Fame event go: the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund and to AFS educational programs. The gala is the primary fundraising event for AFS.

This year's awards ceremony will take place on Thursday, March 7 -- the night before SXSW begins.The event is returning to Austin Studios (yay parking!) and will take place in Studio 7. Tickets and tables for the gala and awards dinner are currently on sale via the AFS website. In addition, an after-party will overlap with the awards, and after-party-only tickets will be available for $30 (two for $50) if the gala tickets aren't in your price range.

Alamo South Lamar Memories: Closing with 'Chainsaw'


Alamo Drafthouse on South LamarTwo things for which the Austin, Texas film community is well known are The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. The first is a legendary horror movie from 1974, made by a very independent Austin film community. The second is the theater chain that represents all that is exciting about film exhibition. Owned and operated by true film geeks, Alamo Drafthouse is a home away from home for movie lovers worldwide.

On January 3, these two worlds combined to celebrate the temporary closing of a cathedral of film worship: Alamo Drafthouse Galactic Headquarters, located on Austin's South Lamar Boulevard. 

Last month, the news spread that the Lamar theater would be closing for nine months (or thereabouts) for a massive remodel. Accompanying this closure would be an evening of kick-ass Drafthouse events on January 3, including special screenings of films like John Dies at the End, Pieta, Pretty in Pink, The Big Lebowski and ... drumroll please ... a double feature of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre from 1974 and its most recent sequel, to be released in theaters the next day: Texas Chainsaw 3D. Not only would we be seeing these two movies, but TOBE FREAKING HOOPER (who co-wrote and directed the original film) would be in attendance.

I had to be there! A few days later, tickets went on sale and I managed to score seats for this epic event.

I arrived at the theater an hour early to hang out with friends and see what the Drafthouse had cooked up. True to form, the Drafthouse crew had set up a photobooth with props and costumes. We had a little fun with this:

Sundance 2013: The Omnivorous Cinephile's Wish List


Mother of George

I can't abide prolonged cold weather, so I have avoided the Sundance Film Festival every year. Until now. Austin Film Society Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick has persuaded me to go this time. After looking over the titles, I have gotten excited about the prospects. So, off I go today to Dillard's to add to my paltry "winter wardrobe" rarely worn in Austin. On Thursday, I fly to Utah for six days of movie-watching. Among the 21 films I propose to watch are a dozen (eight documentaries, four narratives) that I must see, provided I don't slip on the ice or get deterred by a flash mob surrounding a celebrity.

When I Walk -- Filmmaker Jason DaSilva had been making films since he was 17, but when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at the age of 25, he kept on making films. In his latest, he has turned the camera on himself and his struggles to pursue his craft.

Running from Crazy -- Born four months after her famous grandfather's suicide, Mariel Hemingway eventually followed her older sister Margaux into acting. After Margaux committed suicide in 1996, Mariel began to contemplate the self-destructive family trait. Veteran documentarian Barbara Kopple (Shut Up & Sing, Harlan County U.S.A.) explores the Hemingway family history and Mariel's mission to prevent suicide.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 14, 2013


Here's the latest in Austin film news.

  • Austin-based producer Cori Shephard Stern has received an Academy Award nomination for the documentary short Open Heart, according to The Austin Chronicle. Set in Rwanda, Open Heart follows eight children afflicted with rheumatic heart disease, and their journey to Sudan and the Salaam Centre for Cardiac Surgery. Stern's next project, the feature film Warm Bodies, about a zombie who falls in love with the girlfriend of one of his victims, opens in the U.S. on February 1.
  • Despite Texan Matthew McConaughey's Oscar snub, he received a Best Supporting Actor award from The National Society of Film Critics last week for his work in Richard Linklater's dark comedy Bernie (Don's review), and Steven Soderbergh's dramedy Magic Mike (Don's review).
  • Austin Film Festival has announced its first round of 2013 panelists. The only Texas-connected panelist so far is Alvaro Rodriguez (Machete). Other speakers include Jim Uhls (Fight Club), Dan Sterling (producer of Girls), John August (Frankenweenie) and Rick Dugdale of Enderby Entertainment, among others, are scheduled to speak at the 20th annual festival, running from October 24-31.
  • The historic New Mission Theater in San Francisco, which has been closed since 1993, has been approved for a renovation and remodel into a five-screen Alamo Drafthouse, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The San Francisco City Planning Committee gave final approval last week to the $10 million deal for the 1916 theater. Work is scheduled to begin this summer.

Review: Gangster Squad


Gangster Squad

Director Ruben Fleischer is already well known for his hits Zombieland and Thirty Minutes or Less, but his latest movie, Gangster Squad is absolutely nothing like those features. That is to say, the gritty true-crime tale based on Paul Lieberman's seven-part LA Times-published "Tales from the Gangster Squad" series is a full 180 degrees from Fleischer's comedic work. Somewhere in the middle between The Untouchables and Dick Tracy, Gangster Squad is an exceedingly bloody, bloodthirsty historical account of extensively-researched events from the early 20th century.

The film opens with an account of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a mad-dog ex-boxer mob boss who violently disposes of any competitors. Penn plays Cohen so over-the-top it's impossible not to compare him to a Dick Tracy villain brought to life, a role he appears to relish. At times, his performance almost reaches Nicolas Cage levels of crazy.

Counter to this is Josh Brolin in the role he was born to play. The physical resemblance to Dick Tracy is unmistakeable, and Brolin plays Sgt. John O'Mara cool as a cucumber while, with violence equal to Cohen's, he takes down a room full of pimps assaulting a young girl. My favorite lines from the film: "'What happened to you?' 'They resisted arrest.' 'What happened to them?' 'They resisted,'" sums up the character, a war hero who's one of the only cops so honest he refuses all attempts to bribe him.

When word of O'Mara's exploits reaches the chief (Nick Nolte), he tasks the sergeant with forming an unofficial hit squad to clean up the city -- not by directly taking Cohen down, since somebody else would just take his place, but instead by making his criminal efforts unprofitable.

With his wife's guidance, O'Mara recruits a team including among others Gunslinger Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), radio man Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), and his close friend Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling). What follows is an account of their exploits as they stumble through one bloody encounter after another. The story is straight-forward with little imagination in the plot, but the presentation is effective. Fleischer deserves credit for a beautiful recreation of 1940s LA which compares favorably to that of LA Confidential and hits practically every well-known location.

Movies This Week: January 11-16, 2013


The Man from Orlando still

Local filmmaker Craig Elrod's feature directorial debut The Man from Orlando premieres locally on Saturday night, and although tickets sold out for the main event, a second screening has been added at 10:30 pm at the Stateside Theatre. This Austin-based comedy features familiar faces including Alan Metoskie, John Merriman, Chris Doubek, Sam Eidson and former Austinite Lee Eddy. Co-writer and lead actor Jason Newman portrays Orlando, a former gangster lifeguard who is stuck in a love triangle. Get your $10 general admission tickets online here before it's too late.

Austin Film Society has quite a bit to offer this week. On Monday night, catch Francine, the "The Narrative Edge: Spotlight on Factory 25" selection screening at the AFS Screening Room. AFS Essential Cinema presents Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale as part of the "Asia: Hot and Cool" series on Tuesday night at Alamo Drafthouse Village. On Wednesday at Alamo Village, AFS Doc Nights will present Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters. Over a period of ten years, Crewdson created "giant format photos of street scenes in disappearing small towns of the American Northeast."

Enjoy a special screening in 35mm of the drag queen-filled comedy To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar presented by nonprofit organization United Court of Austin on Sunday night at Alamo Ritz. The event is a fundraiser for Project Transitions.

Movies We've Seen

Zero Dark Thirty -- This Oscar nominee is a dramatization of the decade-long hunt for al-Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden after the September 2001 attacks, through his death in 2011. Jessica Chastain stars as Maya, a CIA operative driven by determination to track down bin Laden and bring him and his collaborators to justice. Elizabeth says, "Although Maya's search provides the trajectory for the film, Zero Dark Thirty is far more story-driven than character-driven." Read her review. (wide)

Alamo South Lamar Memories: Fantastic Fest 2008


Fantastic Fest 2008I moved to Austin from Seattle a little over four years ago. Before I moved to Austin I made sure of one thing: Did Austin have any decent film festivals? Seattle has one of the best  festivals in the country and I didn’t want to go without that annual experience. After some quick research I found SXSW and the Austin Film Festival. Check and check! My high (in my mind) standard was met. 

Along with some great film festivals, Austin houses one of the best theatre chains in the US of A: Alamo Drafthouse! As an avid moviegoer it took me all of five seconds to recognize the greatness of this theatrical experience. I think I watched five or six movies at the Drafthouse before actually moving here. 

On one my many visits to the South Lamar theater in 2008, I noticed a blurb in the monthly guide advertising something called Fantastic Fest. I did a little digging and came up with one reaction: HELL YA! This is THE type of festival I wanted to attend. So I ponied up for a badge and a few short weeks later I experiences filmic bliss.

I was exposed to some of the coolest films in all of mankind! I watched Let the Right One In, Repo: The Genetic Opera, Donkey Punch, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Treevenge, Tokyo Gore Police, The Wreck, Not Quite Hollywood and many many others. I was also introduced to the mania that is Nacho Vigalondo (come to Fantastic Fest to see him in person). The festival was insane and I felt right at home. And over the years Fantastic Fest has become a real home with real family to me.

Review: Zero Dark Thirty


Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty

In the first moments of Kathryn Bigelow's new Zero Dark Thirty, the audience faces a black screen as heartbreaking distress calls from September 11, 2001 are heard. Then we are thrust into a gritty scene of a Saudi prisoner being tortured by the CIA for information. A few minutes in, our intrepid protagonist, CIA analyst Maya (Jessica Chastain) is revealed.

Bigelow's film fictionalizes the search for Osama bin Laden, with periods of time during the hunt split into titled vignettes. The multi-year hunt is condensed to about 2.5 hours, which still tends to feel long. Some say the movie is pro-torture, some say it is not. I'd say a realistic depiction of the story would include torture since it was indeed used by the agency (although it hardly seems effective). However, these scenes in Zero Dark Thirty are too long and arduous and only serve to slow the narrative. Just as the agents are frustrated at the lack of information they get through these sadistic and arcane methods, I was slightly peeved that the story might never get moving.

2012 in Review: Elizabeth's Film-Fest Favorites


Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in Safety Not Guaranteed

Sometimes if you randomly choose a movie at Austin Film Festival or SXSW, you stumble upon a great find. In 2012, using my typical method -- whichever movies are within walkable distance from free/cheap parking downtown and showing at times that I feel up to being around festival crowds -- I saw some sweet, memorable movies. Here are my favorites:

5. Wolf, dir. Ya'Ke Smith

This tense drama, depicting the effects of sexual abuse by a community leader on an adolescent boy, provides an intimate look into how the boy's close-knit family deals with the fallout. When I watched this at SXSW, it turned out I was sitting next to some of the actors. Luckily I had nothing bad to mutter to myself about the film. Wolf is illuminating, a film that gives great consideration to its subject matter and the characters involved. Even the character of the abuser is treated with dimension and depth. And it was filmed in San Antonio! (Mike's review)

Wolf was still making the festival rounds in November.

Lone Star Cinema: Brewster McCloud


Brewster McCloud

The Brewster McCloud DVD cover advertises the movie as "A different kind of film from the director of M*A*S*H."

Different. Now, there's an understatement.

Robert Altman's 1970 avian-themed follow-up to M*A*S*H is, well, an exceedingly odd bird. A sloppy mishmash of satire, crime caper and comic (but not terribly funny) weirdness, Brewster McCloud is hardly the renowned director's best work. But it's an interesting movie -- I wouldn't say it's a good one -- and one worth watching, if only to inspire a post-viewing discussion of what the hell Altman was thinking when he made it.

One thing Altman apparently wasn't thinking of is a coherent story. The titular McCloud (Bud Cort) is an introverted, intellectual young man who lives in the bowels of the Astrodome. His dream is to build a set of mechanical wings and fly, so he spends his days studying birds, building his wings, exercising to build up his muscles and sort-of-rejecting the advances of kooky Astrodome tour guide Suzanne Davis (Shelley Duvall, in her debut role). Watching over McCloud is Louise (Sally Kellerman), a guardian angel of sorts (she's certainly no angel) who gives him encouragement and protection.

Ted Hope on Creating A Sustainable Film Community


By Raven Patton

The Austin Film Society was honored late last year by the visit of Ted Hope, who was there to discuss an important matter concerning the creation of a sustainable film community. Ted Hope is an award winning film producer who has had widespread success with several production companies including Good Machine, which went on to become Focus Features, one of the most forward thinking production companies around, and his most recent production company, Double Hope, that he founded with his wife Vanessa Hope. Hope is also the executive director of the San Francisco Film Society.

What exactly does it mean to create a sustainable film community and why is it so important? According to Hope, we are a society that is oversaturated and distracted. At the dawn of the film industry, movies were scarce and controlled. Hope, a self-proclaimed chronic listmaker, says he made a list of four and five-star films that he wants to see before he dies. He stated that if he watched roughly 250 films per year, the list of films would actually reach 8.5 years past his life expectancy. This is a fantastic way of driving home the oversaturation issue. He warned about taking a cue from the music industry, which faced their struggles with sustainability first and urged that we restructure the film industry now before the problem persists.  

2012 in Review: Don's Top 10 and Other Lists


Beasts of the Southern Wild

Here are my top ten and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my list, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2012 and screen in Austin in 2012 also. (Some well reviewed 2012 releases have not yet opened in Austin.)

10. Searching for Sugar Man
This superb documentary about singer/songwriter Sixto Rodriguez would have made my top ten list even without its irresistible soundtrack (which I dare you not to buy after seeing the film). Although the publicity surrounding Searching for Sugar Man has spoiled some of its "Whatever happened to this guy?" premise, it's still an engaging story and a great tribute to a musician whose terrific songs were nearly forgotten for decades. (Jordan's review)

9. Bernie
My third-favorite Richard Linklater film -- nothing can top Slacker or Dazed and Confused -- is the best comedy of 2012. Based on the true-crime tale of Bernie Tiede, a Carthage, Texas mortician accused of murdering wealthy widow Marjorie Nugent in 1996, Bernie is a thoroughly engaging and hilariously dark romp that nails the East Texas milieu with a cast of spot-on small-town characters. Jack Black is perfect as the gentle and generous Tiede; so is Matthew McConaughey as tough-on-crime District Attorney Danny "Buck" Davidson. (my review)

Ready, Set, Fund: Love and History in Texas


Phil Collins and the Wild Frontier

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

At first glance it might seem rather odd to feature English music icon Phil Collins in this month's column, but Collins has quite a personal connection to Texas history. Due to his interest in the Battle of the Alamo of 1836, his personal collection of artifacts related to the Alamo numbers in the hundreds, and he's narrated at a sound and light show about the Alamo. While on a publicity tour across Texas to promote his new book, The Alamo and Beyond: A Collector's Journey, Collins was interviewed by Texas Filmmakers Production Fund recipient filmmaker Ben Powell about his obscure collection as well as his retirement from music.

Phil Collins and the Wild Frontier, which is currently funding on Kickstarter through Sunday, January 20, focuses on Collins' attempt "to redefine his public persona." Powell further states that "observing the impact his music career has on his life and the more painful realities of being a celebrity, what unfolds is an examination of mankind's obsession with artifacts. Mr. Collins, a man absorbed in a collection of objects from a bygone era, is himself a relic of 80s pop culture and objectified by his stardom."

Awardwinning filmmaker and local film instructor Steve Mims (Incendiary: The Willingham Case) is seeking funding on Kickstarter through Wednesday, January 23, for his feature-length comedy Alex & Ash, which he wrote specifically for the humorously talented Alex Dobrenko (Hearts of Napalm) and Ashley Spillers (The Bounceback, Saturday Morning Massacre). The pair portray a couple so obsessed with a puzzle that they become not only disconnected from the real world but also from one another.

Jodorowsky of the Pacific Northwest: Calvin Reeder, 'The Oregonian'


The Oregonian posterFilm lovers and outside-the-box horror fans have had their eye on filmmaker Calvin Reeder since his visually stunning, terrifying and absolutely mind-bending short films that made the rounds at Sundance and in midnight-movie sections of festivals around the world. Garnering comparisons to David Lynch, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Luis Buñuel, Reeder is often categorized among directors who are themselves ride the edge of familiar genres. The Oregonian,  Reeder's Sundance-selected first feature film (starring True Blood's Lindsay Pulsipher), looked and felt like it might be a horror movie, but was something else entirely. The film won an aptly titled special award for "Independent Vision" at the 2011 Sarasota Film Festival.

Until this month, Reeder's films had yet to screen here in Austin. On January 11, The Oregonian will have its Austin premiere at the Austin Film Society as part of this month's spotlight on the indie distribution label Factory 25. (Tickets and info here.)

While in the midst of finishing his latest feature film, Calvin took a few minutes to reflect back on the real-life fever dreams that brought The Oregonian to life, he and Lindsay Pulsipher's creative collaboration, and what he expects when his newest, star-studded feature, The Rambler, hits Sundance at the end of this month.

If you want to hear more from Calvin, he'll be joining us via Skype after the AFS screening of The Oregonian. You can also view his short films online: Little Farm, The Rambler and The Snake Mountain Colada.

Holly Herrick: Before making The Oregonian, you had made several great short films (The Rambler, The Snake Mountain Colada) that captured some of the visual themes you explore in the feature, such as terrifying situations of isolation and confusion, people stranded on the roadside, and a strange, colorful interpretation of gore. Would you say that making the shorts compelled you to push yourself narratively to explore these themes further in a feature?

Reeder: I think so, it seems like most ideas I have come in pieces, and it's a struggle to connect them at first. Like in The Rambler short I knew I had this sort of cliché guitar rambler guy and I knew I there had to be a scientist. There was a bunch of other ideas that came with those characters but a lot of those ideas were really just color and sound. I guess it was a feeling I was trying to get out, it was my goal to give people that or something close to that.

Slackery News Tidbits: January 7, 2013


Here's the latest Austin film news. 

  • Kicking off the new year, AGLIFF-Polari is teaming up with Queer Cinema for a Superhero Spectacular on Saturday, January 26 at 8 pm. Austin celebrity host Rebecca Havemeyer and a lineup of queer superhero talent will present the Indonesian film Madame X, about a transgender hairdresser who moonlights as a superhero, with pre-show entertainment and party following the screening.
  • For a look back at Austin film in 2012, check out Austin American-Statesman reporter Matthew Odam's retrospective for the Austin American-Statesman.
  • The Austin-shot film Holy Hell (our review), which premiered at the 2009 Austin Film Festival, will be the first movie to premiere on the iPad. The comedy, about a strapped-for-cash church whose parishioners decide to make a horror movie to raise the necessary funds, will be free to download on Friday and Saturday at the iTunes store.

Review: Promised Land


Promised Land

The politically charged Promised Land is a far better movie than it could have been, given that issue-oriented "message films" are sometimes little more than preachy, plot-thin polemics.

Fortunately, Gus Van Sant's drama focuses more on its plot and characters than on the issue behind the story, the natural gas extraction method known as "fracking." While no doubt a message film, it soft-pedals its politics -- and even acknowledges the issue's complexity -- while delivering an interesting story.

Promised Land is the story of Steve Butler (Matt Damon) and Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand), two energy company sales executives dispatched to the rural town of McKinley (the state isn't specified) to convince the locals to sell natural gas drilling rights to their properties. Butler and Thomason expect their job will be an easy one; McKinley has long been economically depressed, and they're offering what seems like large amounts of money to the town's ever-poorer residents.

Their job gets complicated, however, when local schoolteacher Frank Yates (Hal Holbrook) disrupts a community meeting about the gas drilling. Warning everyone of the dangers of fracking -- which involves injecting fluid into wells under high pressure to break rocks and release the natural gas trapped within them -- Yates and his supporters convince local officials to delay their decision to allow fracking in the town. Enter environmental activist Dustin Noble (John Krasinski), and things quickly grow heated as Noble wages his own anti-fracking campaign and does his best to interfere with Butler and Thomason's work.

Movies This Week: January 4-10, 2013


Don Coscarelli and Tobe HooperLast night, Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar hosted its final screenings until its remodel this fall with a night jam-packed with fundraisers, special presentations and filmmaker guests including Don Coscarelli (Phantasm, Bubba Ho-Tep) and former Austinite Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergeist) -- seen above chatting in the lobby. Coscarelli presented John Dies at the End, which opens later this month in theaters but is available now on Amazon Instant Video. Hooper was on hand for a screening of the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a double feature with Texas Chainsaw 3D, which opens in theaters today. I chose to watch a 35mm print of Jackie Chan's Rumble in the Bronx, but heard enough audience reaction to know the highlight of the double feature was Hooper's original production.

With the temporary closing of South Lamar, Alamo Village is now home to Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema. The theater reportedly has 80 fewer seats, so buy tickets online early. Coming up this week on Tuesday, January 8, at 7 pm is Untold Scandal, a Korean film based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses and set among 18th-century aristocracy. The Housemaid award-winning star Do-yeon Jeon portrays the chaste widow Lady Sook (Jeon Do-Yeaon), who is sought after by one of Chosun's most notorious playboys. Tickets are available for $8 online. Read Elizabeth's preview of the new Essential Cinema series.

Flix Brewhouse in Round Rock hosts Ladies Night Out on Wednesday at 7:30 pm with the classic romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany's. Tickets are only $5, and there are drink specials on margaritas, sangria and half-price bottles of select wine.

Quite a few fans of Django Unchained have clamored for a viewing of the 1966 film Django, directed by Sergio Corbucci and starring Franco Nero as a man caught between warring factions. The Alamo Drafthouse is offering several screenings from Saturday through Wednesday at various locations and times.

Movies We've Seen

The Impossible -- A dramatization of one family's horrifying experiences during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. I wouldn't be surprised if Watts receives an Academy Award nomination for her raw portrayal of a mother who struggles to survive injury and more in this tale. Read my review. (Violet Crown, Regal Arbor, Cinemark Tinseltown 20)

AFS Essential Cinema Focuses on Recent Asian Film


Still from 2046

From January through mid-February, Austin Film Society will be screening contemporary movies from Asia for their latest Essential Cinema series. "Asia: Hot or Cool" includes a selection of films from Japan, Hong Kong, China, South Korea and Taiwan.

All of these screenings will be at the Alamo Drafthouse Village location. Tickets are free for AFS members at the LOVE level, $5 for members at the WATCH or MAKE level, and $8 for general admission.

Here's the lineup:

Untold Scandal (Joseon namnyeo sangyeoljisa, 2003)
Tues, Jan. 8, 7 pm
A South Korean take on Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Untold Scandal places the familiar tale of love and deception at the end of the Chosun dynasty in 18th Century Korea.

Review: The Impossible


The Impossible Still PhotoDecember 24 marked the eighth anniversary of one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history, an underwater earthquake in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, that triggered a series of tsunamis. Over 230,000 people were killed in 14 countries that encompass the Indian Ocean, mostly in the coastal communities of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. In 2004 I followed the tragic stories of survival and loss, not just from media but also from "citizen reports" that streamed out from tourists and humanitarian aid workers. The stories included lists of orphaned native children and found young Europeans, separated from their families.

Spanish physician and tsunami survivor Maria Belon recounted her family's personal story on the radio, inspiring producer Belen Atienza (Pan's Labyrinth, The Orphanage) to portray the Belons' experience on the big screen. The result is the harrowing drama The Impossible from the filmmaking team behind the tragic horror story The Orphanage, including writer Sergio G. Sanchez and director Juan Antonio Bayona.

Naomi Watts stars as Maria and Ewan McGregor as Henry, a British couple vacationing with their three sons at a resort in Thailand during the Christmas holidays. Within a few minutes of the movie's opening, disaster strikes and the family is separated by the massive waves. A critically injured Maria is reunited with her son Lucas (Tom Holland) and the pair struggle through the aftermath to find medical assistance and the rest of their family.

Media Professionals Converge at Make Watch Love Austin Party


Make Watch Love Austin Party

By Raven Parks

Early in December, the Austin Film Society was joined by nearly a thousand of its members and creative media people for the Make Watch Love Austin event. The event was designed as a creative industries expo, where Austin's film, music and videogame lovers and companies came to network and celebrate the expansion of Austin Studios by way of the old National Guard Armory. The recent acquisition of the old Armory, plus the bond Proposition 18 that voters approved in November, will allow Austin Studios to expand the organization and create a seventh production studio along with plenty of space that will house the offices of local creative companies.

Student Filmmaking Thrives at AFS Film Club



By Katie Ormsbee

The setting: a grade-school classroom.
The players: eight obscure but promising up-and-comers.
The theme: treachery, unjust punishment, redemption, and reconciliation.

It's the first day of filming, and all is quiet on the set. What this picture's visionary 4'5" director lacks in height, she more than makes up for in a set of pipes that could raise the dead.

"ACTION!" she bellows.

The air is thick with the palpable anxiety of both crew and cast. This is the third take of the film's most pivotal and emotionally charged scene: an inciting incident of brutal betrayal. While sitting only inches away from their victim, our two antagonists -- the victim's purported best friends -- clandestinely plot the tragic heroine's downfall.

All Our 2012 Holiday Favorites


Updated December 28, 2012.

We've really enjoyed writing and publishing guest Holiday Favorites this year. If you're looking for something different to watch during the holiday season (or any time), here are our (and their) suggestions.