June 2013

Review: The Heat


Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in The Heat

I probably started falling in love with The Heat as soon as the Seventies-tastic opening credits started rolling. The movie takes a tired genre, the buddy-cop comedy, and flips it on its head by having the buddies be ladies. The script by Katie Dippold provides many belly laughs. The cast is diverse (plus JOEY MCINTIRE is in it!) and Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock have a great chemistry together.

Director Paul Feig's latest film -- after his 2011 hit Bridesmaids -- has stoic FBI agent Ashburn (Bullock) going to Boston to root out a drug kingpin. Ashburn is extremely bright, but so starved for affection that she has to sneak cuddles from a neighbor's cat. In Boston, she strikes up a partnership with cop Mullins (McCarthy), a tough, brassy broad comfortable in her own skin. Of course they butt heads at the start (the film sticks to formula here), but grow closer as they work to solve the case.

The Heat is wonderfully refreshing, especially at this time when female-driven movies are scarce. The main relationship of the movie is obviously between the two women; there's some awkward flirting between Ashburn and her FBI co-worker Levy (Marlon Wayans) while Mullins loves 'em and leaves 'em, but these are barely even side stories. 

Review: White House Down


White House Down posterThis summer brings us not one but two movies that feature the overtaking of the White House. Some may scoff at this idea in general. And when you hear that Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, 2012) directed the latest of these two films, White House Down, not only might you wonder how a man can so easily destroy the White House again, but you might also wonder how silly a movie it will be.

White House Down, however, could end up being one of the more surprising movies of the summer. Not because it's better than it seemed it would be -- it's an action film after all, and surely would have been entertaining on at least some level. What is surprising about this movie is how tight the script is. It makes for an ultra enjoyable summer action flick that's got some great and smart moments that make it a complete picture, rather than an overblown hyperviolent actionfest (looking at you, Olympus Has Fallen).

On what starts as a normal day in Washington, D.C., the President (Jamie Foxx) declares that now is the time to pull all U.S. soldiers out of the Middle East. While this delights some, a lot of defense contractor money is at stake, so there are detractors to this plan. In the wrong place at the wrong time is John Cale (Channing Tatum), an aspiring Secret Service agent who happens to be at the White House for a job interview when the takeover happens. With no one left to protect the President, it's up to him to get the leader of the free world out safely. Oh, and he's gotta find his daughter, too.

A lot of pieces are at play in this story, which is standard for an Emmerich film, and some pieces tend to feel worthless and unnecessary. This is not a problem in White House Down. It's subtle when it needs to be (especially with foreshadowing), and never too over the top. The movie plays safely in the highly coveted PG-13 rating that makes summer films a huge success, and which is something that Olympus Has Fallen didn't even try to aim for.

Above all, Tatum and Foxx are fantastic as a duo. Trailers made it seem as though White House Down would be too silly, and maybe even kind of stupid, but that will be the furthest thing from your mind when you watch this movie. Every piece in this puzzle performs admirably, even the role of Cale's little girl, Emily (Joey King).

Movies This Week: June 28 - July 4, 2013


Team America

Our friends at Drafthouse Films bring us this week's most promising new release, an indie documentary about a groundbreaking but overlooked band with an unmarketable name. Punk and Seventies music fans shouldn't miss A Band Called Death (really, not such a great name), a film in the vein of Searching for Sugar Man.

The Independence Day holiday week is a slow one for special screenings. But martial-arts film fans might find the Austin Film Society's Old School Kung Fu Weekend intriguing, especially because the five-film lineup is top secret. If you're an adventurous moviegoer, check out the screenings on Friday and Saturday night at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre to see what surprises special guest programmer Dan Halsted (of Portland's Kung Fu Theater) has in store.

Film noir fans should head for the Paramount and Stateside on Tuesday and Wednesday for double-feature screenings of classics from three decades. Humphrey Bogart and Elliott Gould play two very different Philip Marlowes in The Big Sleep (1946) and The Long Goodbye (1973) at the Paramount. The Stateside presents two Eighties hallmarks of the genre, Body Heat (1981) and the inimitable Austin classic Blood Simple (1984).

Review: Somm


Somm posterI know very little about wine, and in fact I don't even drink it very often. And yet I was fascinated by the documentary Somm, about a handful of candidates for the extremely challenging master sommelier test, which many attempt and very few pass. I caught the movie at Hill Country Film Festival in May, and it opens today in Austin at Violet Crown Cinema.

Somm, the first feature-length film from Jason Wise, focuses on four sommeliers preparing for the test, starting three weeks out and going through the test weekend in Houston. They must pass three exams: theory and history, service and blind tasting. In between time with the candidates, other sommeliers and professionals in the wine industry check in on aspects of being a sommelier, tasting wines and preparing for this test.

The four candidates are fascinating to watch and easy to differentiate, all with distinct characteristics. Ian, who is extremely serious about the test prep, seems to get a little more screen time than the others. My favorite may have been DLynn, whose coworkers call him "Mr. Smooth," who was a lot of fun to watch. The candidates all know one another to some degree, and help each other through the prep.

The film starts to lag a little bit about two-thirds of the way through, when we are familiar with who these guys are and what they're doing, and we just want them to get to the test already and find out how they fared.

Fortunately, amusing anecdotes and colorful characters pull Somm through its slower segments. The most memorable interview subject is Fred Dame, the first American to pass this test, who helps mentor and test the candidates. I like watching him pretend to be an irate customer during DLynn's practice service test. Next he grills the hell out of Brian during a practice tasting session. Other sommeliers have some very funny stories about Dame as well.

Another entertaining segment of the documentary focuses on the ways sommeliers learn to smell wines and describe what they're smelling. There's a difference between fresh herbs and dried herbs, and the notes they describe include tennis balls, garden hoses, and cat pee ("the code word for that is blackcurrent").

Review: A Band Called Death


A Band Called Death One SheetThe playlist of music documentaries this year has been overwhelming yet welcome to audiophiles around the world. Earlier this year, Drafthouse Films picked up A Band Called Death, which opens Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. This movie -- also currently available for viewing on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and VOD outlets -- sheds light on a remarkable story fit for the annals of rock-and-roll history.

A Detroit band before its time, Death was made up of three of the Hackney brothers -- Dannis, David, and Bobby -- recording punk music in the early Seventies when others black musicians around them were deep into the Motown sound. The band played a few shows and recorded a single but were unable to interest record companies due to their punk sound and band name. Brother David had been inspired by the tragic death of their father to name the band Death, and was therefore unwilling to change the band's name.

The band and their music would have been lost had it not been for the discovery over 30 years later by a younger generation of audiophiles and punk fans craving rare music and historic punk. That led to the resurgence of Death and the release of master tapes that David had prophetically stated needed to be saved.

A Band Called Death features interviews with brothers Bobby and Dannis, as we eventually learn that David -- an alcoholic and prolific smoker -- passed away from lung cancer. Bobby and Dannis still perform in a reggae band they formed in Burlington, Vermont.

The cinematography of Mark Christopher Covino along with his co-direction with Jeff Howlett balances archival images with present-day interviews in a style reminiscent of this year's earlier music documentaries Muscle Shoals and Sound City.

The soundtrack and score for A Band Called Death are surprisingly understated for a "punk" documentary and should not dissuade non-punk enthusiasts from watching this inspiring film.

That's Genius: Zellner Brothers Pick 'The Plague Dogs'


The Plague DogsBorn from a conversation between Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen and local actor/filmmaker Jonny Mars, a new AFS recurring series starts in July: "That's Genius." In the words of Nilsen, the film series will serve as "a way for film professionals to share works that they [think represent] 'genius' in the world of some film discipline."

Austin filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner -- who directed the features Kid-Thing and Goliath -- have selected the inaugural movie in this series: the 1982 animated movie The Plague Dogs [tickets], which screens on Thursday, July 25 at the Marchesa. The Zellners will host the event, and filmmaker Martin Rosen will attend for a post-screening Q&A.

The Plague Dogs, which Rosen adapted from the novel by Richard Adams, follows two dogs who escape from a lab that has been performing tests on them. As a result of the experiments the lab has been running on animals, the nearby town fears that the dogs may be plague-carriers. The voice cast includes John Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, James Bolam ... and in minor roles, Judy Geeson and Patrick Stewart. Rosen also directed a 1978 adaptation of Adams' most famous novel, Watership Down.

David Zellner says, "The Plague Dogs is a vastly underrated animated feature that doesn't seem to get the attention it deserves. It's beautiful, haunting and sad, and in spite of it staring two anthropomorphic dogs, has more emotional resonance than most live action films could ever hope to."

'Lola Montès' Joins the AFS Traveling Circus Series in July


Martine Carol in Lola Montès

German filmmaker Max Ophüls directed such acclaimed titles as The Earrings of Madame de... and La Ronde, but his last film, Lola Montès, stands out from the rest.  For one, it's the only Technicolor movie he made, with vibrant colors popping on the screen. Secondly, the flashback technique he chose to use in this film irked his production company so that they altered the cut shown to audiences in 1956. In recent years, a cut much closer to Ophüls' original vision has been restored and released to the public. Finally, Lola Montes has all the best qualities of an Ophüls film -- in CinemaScope.

This fictionalization of the life of historic figure Montes, an Irish dancer/courtesan who enchanted such men as Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I, has a ringmaster (Peter Ustinov, speaking French!) as a sort of narrator, with Ms. Montes (Martine Carol) walking a tightrope and performing death-defying acts under a big top as her tale is told. Ustinov's ringmaster assures the audience onscreen and off that they are being told the "truth" of her life.

Ophüls layers the story both narratively (flashbacks on top of current sequences) and visually, creating a sumptuous spectacle. He plays with our sense of space as characters run up and down floors in an opera house, or turn around on a carousel-type-gizmo on a circus floor. At times the director narrows our focus by blurring out the sides of the screen.

Your chance to see the fantastic Lola Montès in 35mm on the big screen comes in July, when Austin Film Society screens the film as part of its Traveling Circus series.  Except for the Gutman shorts, the movies in this series are showing at AFS at the Marchesa.  Ticket prices range from $8-12, depending on whether or not you are a member of AFS, or would like to donate a little extra toward the AFS at the Marchesa campaign.

Ready, Set, Fund: Visiting Seed&Spark


Love Land

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

At South by Southwest this past March, I came across a new project funding platform called Seed&Spark, which was launched in December 2012. Founder Emily Best was inspired by her experience making her first feature, Like the Water, to team with other independent filmmakers to create this funding platform for filmmakers and their audience. The name comes from their philosophy that "films are not just art, they are business ventures. They require the seed of an idea and the sparks of human and capital investments to bring them to life."

To participate via Seed&Spark, a filmmaker posts his or her "wish list" of items and associated costs needed to complete a film project. Donors can choose to either donate funds or loan an item from the project list in exchange for perks or credits in the film. Once the filmmaker receives at least 80 percent of their budget, the funds are released.

Filmmakers can also upload completed films to the Seed&Spark site, where you can view the films for a fee. Viewers can earn site credits for viewing by engaging on the site and spreading the word about Seed&Spark projects. Filmmakers are encouraged to use other distribution methods as well including festivals, theatrical release, and other VOD platforms.

Refn and Martinez Bring 'Only God Forgives' to Austin


Only God Forgives in Austin

Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson) and composer Cliff Martinez (Drive, Traffic) stopped in Austin briefly last week for what was unofficially the North American premiere of Refn's latest movie, Only God Forgives, at Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. I was at the first of two evening screenings and enjoyed a very lively post-film Q&A from Martinez and Refn (pictured above).

Tim League brought Refn on stage to introduce the film. The writer-director noted that if his previous film, Drive, was the cinematic equivalent of an all-night cocaine binge, then Only God Forgives would be "a really good old-school acid trip." (He said the same thing at the official premiere at Los Angeles Film Festival the next day, but why not? It's a great intro.) He then left the stage so we could find out exactly what that might mean.

You can read my review when the movie opens on July 19, but I will say that it took at least 12 hours for me to decide what I thought about the movie, and even now I'm not so sure. It is stunning in a very literal sense -- I got the impression I wasn't the only one who felt stunned as the closing credits rolled.

Lone Star Cinema: Rush



Gregg Allman has had a fabulous career as a musician, but he could have been just as successful as a drug dealer.

That is, if he could be as intimidating as his drug-dealing character in the crime drama Rush. Allman portrays dealer William Gaines in an almost wordless performance; Gaines rules his seedy empire with quiet, menacing stares, making customers, rivals and cops think twice about crossing him.

Allman's performance is terrific, as are several others in Rush. Set in 1975 and released in December 1991, the Houston-filmed movie Rush is a gritty, tragic tale of two small-town Texas cops who go undercover to infiltrate the town's drug scene. It's an unnervingly realistic film about the morally murky world of drug trafficking and narcotics enforcement, where the line between right and wrong isn't always clear.

Rush's story is gripping if not original. Assigned the difficult and dangerous job of bringing down Gaines, veteran narc Jim Raynor (Jason Patric) chooses young officer Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as his partner. Cates has no experience with drug enforcement or undercover work, so Raynor's first job is to teach her to be a convincing junkie, to the point of doing drugs with the dealers to establish credibility.

ATX Television Fest 2013: Anson Mount, 'Hell on Wheels'


Hell on Wheels

My meeting with actor Anson Mount of AMC's Hell on Wheels at this year's ATX Television Festival conjured up memories of me at elementary-school-age slumber parties, where I distinctly remember watching the Britney Spears-fronted Crossroads and the horror flick Urban Legends: Final Cut. Oh, the early 2000s. Both films starred Mount in his days as the stereotypical clean-cut, good-guy romantic lead.

If his performance in Hell on Wheels wasn't enough to prove that the 40-year-old has come a long way from his Razzie-nominated performance in Crossroads, meeting him in person definitely did. He still seems as charming as my 10-year-old self remembers, but definitely more confident and scruffy than he was in his twenties. Some good old-fashioned manual labor (even if it may be only onscreen) has done this Tennessee native good and has provided him with a platform to show off his acting chops.

Since the show's release in 2011, both Hell on Wheels and Mount have been gaining steam. Mount plays Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier who works as a foreman on the railroad in the late 1860s. The series centers on the settlement that accompanied the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. Fun fact: Mount's great-great-great grandfather was a Confederate cavalry colonel in the Civil War. But Mount told me he doesn't understand why reporters keep asking him if this helped in any way in his portrayal of Cullen... because it didn't.

I had the chance to speak with Mount about his teaching experiences at Columbia University (he's an adjunct assistant professor at the university's School of the Arts), where he graduated with an MFA in 1998. He can next be seen in the third season premiere of Hell on Wheels on Aug. 3 and in the action thriller Non-Stop, scheduled for a U.S. theatrical release Feb. 28, 2014.

Slackery News Tidbits: June 24, 2013


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austinite Nicolas Gonda, co-founder and CEO of Tugg, is one of 40 people and companies from North America featured in this year's Indiewire Influencers, a list of those who are changing independent film. Tugg, a web platform that allows audiences to choose which films play in their local theaters, launched in 2011 and now has more than 1,000 titles in its catalog. 
  • Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League may be in a league of his own... creation. The Austinite and UT alum made the Indiewire list not only because he's slated to open 50 more Drafthouse locations across the nation by 2017, but has expanded the brand to include a distribution arm (Drafthouse Films), genre-celebrating film festival (Fantastic Fest) and a poster and apparel company (Mondo Gallery). 
  • League's collaborator on Fantastic Market/Mercado Fantastico collaborator (an international co-production market for genre films set to at this year's Fantastic Fest), Robert Rodriguez, made the list for his move to the small screen with the upcoming launch of El Rey, an English-language, Latino-centric TV network he co-created. Rodriguez and his Austin-based Troublemaker Studios are also gearing up for the theatrical release of Machete Kills in September and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which Austin Movie Blog reports has delayed its release to 2014.
  • Indiewire also highlighted the careers of sometimes Austinites and UT alums Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair). The duo recently completed the HBO pilot for their original series Togetherness and played midwifing specialists on the TV sitcom The Mindy Project. And if that's not keeping the duo busy, Mark has a recurring role on F/X's The League and can next be seen on the big screen in Tammy.

Review: World War Z


World War ZThere is a saying I like to cite that holds the more writers attached to a movie, the worse you can expect it to be. Opening this weekend, World War Z is a shining exception. Starring Brad Pitt and directed by Marc Forster (Quantum of Solace, Finding Neverland, Monster's Ball), World War Z's writing credits include a Who's Who of talent: J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Thor, Underworld: Awakening) and Matthew Michael Carnahan (State of Play, The Kingdom) developed the story based on Max Brooks' novel of the same name. Carnahan, Drew Goddard (Lost, Cabin in the Woods) and Damon Lindelof then completed the script, which is rumored to include a complete rewrite of the ending. The script issues were part of a larger set of problems with the production that delayed its release by six months (just Google "World War Z production issues"), but the end result is a fine (and family-friendly PG-13) zombie movie.

The first thing fans of Brooks' novels should know is that this is not the same story as the source material. Though there are familiar elements, this story follows Gerry Lane (Pitt), an un-retired UN envoy on a mission around the globe to determine the source and find a cure for the zombie outbreak. The story picks up as the epidemic sweeps across America, angry rabid infectees biting helpless victims who in the space of 12 seconds are converted and join the horde. Compelling sound work and disturbingly graphic visual effects terrify and keep the heart pounding. (Truly, the makeup and creature work needs to be recognized next Oscar season.)

By now you have probably heard at least a hint of the argument between fans of "fast zombies" and "slow zombies." I hope this can put a nail in the coffin of slow-zombie movies. They seem to all devolve into the same tropes, people sitting around arguing about what to do as the writers build up their character development until -- oops -- the zombies have snuck up on them! Slow zombie movies tend to explore psychological aspects of small groups of people in survival situations, and there is admittedly a smattering of this element in World War Z. However, in this fastest of fast-zombie films, there is no time for sitting still. Personal dramas take a back seat to exploring the ways governments and entire nations deal with a problem of biblical proportions.

This is where I feel the script excels and Straczynski's influence is most strongly felt. David Morse appears as a CIA agent with his own theories and a little intel on the plague. His opinions on Israel's involvement drop a supernatural cloak over the mood, and the North Korean "solution" is as fascinating as it is horrifying -- but entirely believable as something only North Korea, in all the world, could accomplish.

Review: Monsters University


The brothers of Oozma Kappa in Monsters University

Pixar's wonderful film Monsters, Inc. introduced us to scare team Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) who discover and unravel an insidious corporate plot after they meet cute human toddler Boo. There, Mike mainly serves as a comic sidekick for Sulley, while coming up with such musical hits as "Put That Thing Back Where it Came From (Or So Help Me)." In Monsters University, which opens this week, we learn how Mike and Sulley first met, but this time Mike gets more of the spotlight.

One-eyed green monster Mike Wazowski has never fit in and desires to stand out. Upon a field trip to Monsters, Inc. as a kid, he decides his goal in life is to be a scarer, and one of the guys on the scare floor recommends attending Monsters University. Fast forward 10 or so years and we see Mike in his first days on campus.  He is studious and book-smart, but is told by the dean of the scare school (Helen Mirren) that he just isn't cut out to scare.

Mike and Sulley, far from being friends yet (more like angry acquaintances), come to be kicked out of the scare program and are both determined to get back in. The two join fraternity Oozma Kappa, a small group of geeky misfits, so they can compete in the Scare Games. There's no big bad here! Just self-doubt and slight antagonism from other characters.

Movies This Week: June 21-27, 2013


How to Marry a Millionaire

My greatest hope for the coming week in cinema is that Joss Whedon's intriguing modern-day adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing will do boffo box office. Whedon's huge and famously obsessive fan base could make this happen; if he made a film about dryer lint, his devotees would gladly watch it. As long as they're familiar with Shakespeare's play before seeing the movie -- which retains the play's original and often impenetrable Elizabethan English dialogue -- they'll enjoy this unique bit of cinema as much as I did.

Austin offers plenty of special screenings this week. The Austin Film Society is especially busy. The AFS Summer Free for All series features Beau Travail, French auteur Clair Denis' story of French Foreign Legionnaires stationed in coastal Africa, where the film focuses on the inner world of a cruel legion task master. Beau Travail screens for free (yes, that's why the series is called the Summer Free for All) tonight and Sunday at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre.

Another AFS screening is Variety, a 1983 film in which a Manhattan porn theater ticket seller can't escape the sleaze of her job when she goes home. Variety screens Wednesday at the AFS Screening Room. AFS also presents the 1953 classic How to Marry a Millionaire (pictured above), starring Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall as three gold-digging New York models on the prowl for wealthy husbands. How to Marry a Millionaire screens Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. [Jette butts in here to gush over this delightful movie ... plus you can see Rory Calhoun, standing and walking.]

Review: The Bling Ring


The Bling Ring 2013

From late 2008 until late 2009, a group of Hollywood teenagers came up with the bright idea that it would be fun and easy to rob the homes of numerous celebrities. Their victims were chosen using a variety of websites specializing in the Hollywood gossip trade. These sites provide a laser-like focus on the whereabouts of the rich and famous. In high demand and constantly away from home (on vacation, working on films, attending club openings, etc.),  these people proved easy marks for a group of young, unsophisticated home invaders.

With this rough description of Sofia Coppola's tepid new movie, The Bling Ring, you now possess the entirety of what this paint-by-numbers story is all about.

For those of you following at home:

  1. Kids get the idea to rob celebrity homes. 
  2. Kids use gossip websites to determine when Paris Hilton, Audrina Patridge, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom and others are out of town. 

Photo Essay: ATX Television Fest 2013


ATX Fest 2013 marquee

The annual ATX Television Festival brings to life the personalities and characters that we invite into our living rooms on a weekly basis, and showcases them where fans can interact, asking questions about plots and the future of their favorite shows.

In just its second year, the list of celebrities hobnobbing in and around downtown Austin during the fest's four days was impressive. Among them were Party of Five alums Lacey Chabert and Scott Wolf; Mae Whitman pulling double duty for Arrested Development and Parenthood panels; and Paul Scheer of The League. In addition, a few film actors who've made the transition to television presented at panels this week. Recognizable actors like Mark Strong and Rachael Leigh Cook made their way to our lovely city.

The festival started with a lively community screening of Friday Night Lights, a show that has its stamp all over broadcasting with former cast members who've gone on to other shows since living in the heart of Texas.

Discussing 'Much Ado About Nothing' with Joss Whedon and Cast


Much Ado About Nothing Director Joss Whedon with Amy Acker

As a fan of writer and director Joss Whedon (pictured above on set) and his recurring ensemble of talented actors including Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Nathan Fillion and Clark Gregg, I was intrigued to hear about Whedon's thematic version of a classic Shakespeare comedy, Much Ado About Nothing. I saw this darkly humorous film at SXSW this year (Don's review) and participated in a roundtable discussion with director Whedon and several members of the cast -- Denisof, Fillion and Gregg. The movie is now in theatrical release and will open in Austin on Friday.

Whedon successfully delivers a dark and humorous portrayal of lovers at odds due to misunderstandings of their own making as well as from outside forces. I strongly agree with Don's observation that "with its cast of stars from Whedon's hit films and shows, it may also introduce an entirely new audience to the wonders of Shakespearean theater."

Whedon's direction stays true to Shakespeare's language, with a modernization in the setting "princes" of industry within a house in Santa Monica designed by Kai Cole, Whedon's spouse. The use of windows and doorways to frame scenes as well as long tracking shots effectively keeps the audience engrossed within the story as well as if portrayed onstage. Whedon stated that he chose to film Much Ado About Nothing in black and white to capture both a comedy noir and "give it an elegance" that is more affordable than in color.

Austin Superhero Experts Check In on 'Man of Steel'


By Nico Chapin

In Bryan Singer's 2006 film Superman Returns, Lois Lane won a Pulitzer for an article entitled "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." With Zack Snyder's reboot, Man of Steel, which opened last Friday, it becomes an interesting question. Since 2006, audiences have seen the Avengers assemble and the Dark Knight fall, then rise. They've watched the Spider-Man trilogy completed and then rebooted, and movies like Green Lantern fail to take flight. One then has to wonder: Is there any place left for the original superhero?

Certainly there's no denying his historical importance. Gesturing at walls lined with stacks of comics, Eric Burke, co-owner of South Austin's Tribe Comics and Games put it simply: "Without Superman, there wouldn't be any of this."

Yet it's been seven years now since the movie Superman Returns came out and by then, 19 years had passed since the dismal Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. Meanwhile, since DC rebooted their comic line in The New 52, Superman has seen its sales drop from 118,376 when it debuted in September 2011, to just 52,572 this past November, and Superman Returns maintains a mediocre 72 on the online score aggregate Metacritic.

The Latest Additions to AFF's 2013 Conference


AFF 2013 logoThe Austin Film Festival keeps the typewriter smoking this summer with its recent announcement of this year's second round of conference panelists, which includes DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) and Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries). 

From October 24-31, Lowery and Rivera (and maybe even you) will join the minds behind such films as the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, (500) Days of Summer, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club and television shows like Veronica Mars, House of Cards and Breaking Bad

There wouldn't be panelists if there weren't panels. AFF will continue its "Conversation With..." series, which joins filmmakers and moviegoers for in-depth, one-on-one discussions about their experiences in the industry.

Participants include this year's AFF Outstanding Contribution to Filmmaking honoree, director Jonathan Demme, who won an Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs; creator/executive producer of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, who is this year's Outstanding Television Writer honoree; writer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind); Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man); Robin Swicord, whose writing credits include Memoirs of a Geisha, Matilda and Little Women; and Beau Willimon, executive producer/showrunner/creator of the Netflix series House of Cards.

Film on Tap: Remembering Walt Powell of Flix Brewhouse


Walt Powell of Flix BrewhouseTragic news in our community derailed my week: Walt Powell, Vice President of Operations at Hospitality Investors, Inc. and co-founder of Flix Brewhouse, passed away unexpectedly on June 4 at age 33. On Tuesday, June 18 at 1 pm, Flix Brewhouse will host a memorial service for Walt. The event is open to anyone and everyone who was affected by the loss, to share stories and raise a pint to Walt, self-proclaimed beer geek.

I find myself struggling between the professional responsibilities of covering a local newsworthy film community event and processing the loss of a dear friend. I've repeatedly had the impulse to vet my facts through the source -- Walt himself -- with the realization that he's gone. The most difficult part of writing this memoriam was not being ready to write in the past tense, something anyone can identify with after the loss of a loved one. However, the importance of memorializing a valuable and well-respected man in our local film and beer communities far outweighs these difficulties.

Walt and I were vaguely acquainted many years ago when he was general manager at Main Event Entertainment in northwest Austin. Being a Dave and Buster's alum myself, I teased him about it being a "D&B wannabee." Walt's reaction was to brag about his staff, ask me for my feedback, and challenge me to compete in skeeball.

Slackery News Tidbits: June 17, 2013


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Texas is set to offer $95 million in incentives to bring film productions to the state over the next two fiscal years, Austin Business Journal reports. The money's in the state budget that's yet to be signed by Gov. Rick Perry. 
  • An attic in Pflugerville caught fire last week during filming of the as-yet-untitled fourth Transformers movie, according to Austin Movie Blog. The minor blaze was ruled as an accident by the Pflugerville Fire Department Lieutenant Tim Wallace. It started while the crew was filming a scene outside and caused significant damage to the attic, which is now back in the hands of the owners.
  • The latest Transformers flick also transformed small town Taylor, Texas. KXAN reported that parts of the city's West Second Street were shutdown for production. Mark Wahlberg and a silver Dodge Challenger spottings ensued.
  • Only God Forgives, the latest movie to receive the "Drafthouse Recommends" title by the Alamo Drafthouse, will have a pair of advance screenings on June 19 at Alamo Slaughter with director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and composer Cliff Martinez in attendance. Ryan Gosling fronts this film about a drug smuggler in Bangkok whose life is further complicated when his mother asks him to kill the person responsible for his brother's recent death. Only God Forgives opens in theaters July 19.

Review: Man of Steel


Man of SteelAt long last the highly anticipated return of America's favorite (and first) superhero has arrived. Scripted by David S. Goyer from a concept he developed with Christopher Nolan, the movie Man of Steel is a retelling of Superman's origin story that draws familiar elements from a number of the comic's modern print storylines. Director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch) is no stranger to comic-book adaptations, but this is by far his best work and will prove to be the summer film to beat.

Henry Cavill dons the tights this time around, but not before a couple of steamy scenes showing off a physique that is nothing short of... well, super. Though Snyder's film is in many ways the strongest adaptation of the comic books, Cavill is the most realistic portrayal of Supes as a young man, torn with indecision, largely directionless, and unsure of his potential.  He still has the unerring moral compass, but his invulnerable skin can't protect his psyche from the emotional pain every time he is ridiculed for being different.  

And there is no question he is different. Rather than the perfectly anonymous Clark Kent that might have grown up in 1950s Smallville, the realistic take in Man of Steel shows there are some things just too difficult to hide completely. Everyone knows he's different, but nobody suspects the true story. His early years are played out in nostalgic, contemplative trips he takes down memory lane whenever he is knocked out. Snyder uses this technique to bookend his action sets and provide insight on Clark's mood.

Into this world pops Lois Lane (Amy Adams), likely the strongest example of female empowerment in all comic-book filmdom. Already a Pulitzer Prize winner, the character is an investigative reporter who will put herself in harm's way to get a good story. Finally, we have a Lois who is in character every bit as strong as Superman, a woman who knows the danger she faces and still volunteers for the mission, and who is pivotal in the outcome of the movie's plot. There should be some kind of award for Lois Lane in this movie. Adams is strong but never hard, capable but not forced to fight for recognition. She never has to trade on her looks to get what she wants, and there is never a hint that she would need to.

Movies This Week: June 14-20, 2013


 Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love

This weekend finishes up the East/West selections of the Paramount summer classic film series, with two fantastic movies for Sunday at Stateside: Wong Kar Wai's heartbreakingly beautiful In the Mood for Love (pictured above) paired with the impeccably sweet romance of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. Come say hi if you spot me at the Monsoon Wedding screening.  

Four Daniel Day-Lewis films show Monday and Tuesday, split between the Paramount and Stateside venues. The Paramount Theatre is actually hosting a blood drive to coincide with the Monday night screening of There Will Be Blood. Check it out!

As part of their "summer free-for-all," Austin Film Society will screen A Hero Never Dies on Friday and Sunday evenings (free, but you should RSVP). Tuesday night continues the AFS Marilyn Monroe series with tense drama Niagara [tickets]. Monroe and Joseph Cotten star as mismatched honeymooners.

"As if!" Girlie Night at the Alamo Ritz Tuesday night features the '90s classic Clueless.  You can quote along with Tai (the late Brittany Murphy) as she calls Cher (Alicia Silverstone) "a virgin who can't drive."  Plus, cutie Paul Rudd!

Review: The East


"The East" Movie Still

Yes, I agreed to cover the red carpet of The East, this year's SXSW closing-night film, for my campus radio station because I wanted to meet actor Alexander Skarsgard (Eric Northman on True Blood). And it's tempting to go on about my reaction to meeting Skarsgard briefly and shaking his hand and how I made him laugh, but I'll spare everyone the details. I wasn't so much there on the red carpet to profess my like for him as I was to watch The East, in which he plays Benji (yes, like the dog, and with his Jesus-like beard throughout much of the movie he doesn't look that different), the charismatic leader of the eponymous group out to give corporate America the finger through "jams" -- targeted eye-for-an-eye-style attacks on the people they feel are responsible for destroying the environment.

Corporate negligence aside, I'm one to believe that not one, two or even a handful of people are to blame for, say, pollution of a community's water source that may have caused or been a cause of a person's cancer diagnosis. Members of The East have complicated rationales for their crimes that contradict their actions, and much of the dialogue incorporates fallacies that would make even philosophy majors balk. But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

The East is actress/writer/producer Britt Marling's sophomore effort with writer-director Zal Batmanglij (whose brother is the keyboardist for the band Vampire Weekend). The duo previously collaborated on 2011's Sound of My Voice, which explored similar themes about Stockholm Syndrome and cults.

Review: Midnight's Children


Shahana Goswami and Ronit Roy in Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children is based on a novel by Salman Rushdie, who also narrated, wrote the screenplay and executive produced this film by Deepa Mehta. Canadian director Mehta is known for her emotional elements trilogy (Earth, Fire and Water) depicting the lives of women in her native India. This new film aspires to be epic in scope, and lacks the intimacy and depth of her earlier works.

The movie's title refers to the children who were born at the stroke of midnight on the date of partition in 1947, when Pakistan and India split. Because of their auspicious birthdate, these kids have powers which cannot be understood by others. The story is told by Saleem (played in the last hour by Satya Bhabha, New Girl) -- from the first meeting of his grandparents in 1917 Kashmir through India's 30th anniversary in 1977. 

AFF's Conversations in Film Delves into 'Neverland' with David Magee


Finding Neverland poster

By Ciara Gee

Recently, screenwriter David Magee sat down with Barbara Morgan, co-founder and executive director of the Austin Film Festival, to discuss his first screenplay, Finding Neverland (2004). The event was part of AFF's ongoing Conversations in Film series. Magee's discussion about how he ventured into screenwriting hit several topics of interest to writers.

Getting started

In addition to adapting the play Finding Neverland, Magee has worked on two other adaptations: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) and last year's Life of Pi. Magee started the discussion by sharing how he came to write screenplays.

"I took an unusual route," he told the Austin audience. He meant that he started as a theatre actor and then began doing voiceover work for abridged audiobooks. It was during this time that he encountered a rather difficult project.

"One night, after reading an awful abridgement of a novel, I said to the producer, 'I can do better than this.'" The producer called his bluff, suggesting that Magee try his luck at writing his own abridgement to the piece. He came through and, over the following five years, succeeded in abridging more than 80 audiobooks.

Chancing upon a project

During this time, Magee had the opportunity to become acquainted with a producer who introduced him to Allan Knee, a playwright who had adapted Little Women into a musical for the stage. Knee had recently written "The Man Who Was Peter Pan," a story about the life of playwright J. M. Barrie, which he expanded into a play of the same name. The producer, aware of Magee's knack for successfully abridging novels, encouraged him to adapt the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan for the screen. Always open to trying his hand at something new, Magee agreed.

Review: This Is The End


This Is The End Still PhotoIt's the end of the world as we know it, and at what more fitting location than a drug-and-booze-filled housewarming at James Franco's fortress in the Hollywood Hills would the damned be found? Based on their original short film, Jay and Seth Versus the Apocalypse, writers Jason Stone, Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen expand on how Rogen and pal Jay Baruchel -- playing characters named Seth Rogen and Jay Baruchel -- come to terms with one another during the Apocalypse in the bromantic comedy, This Is the End. Only this time, they are holed up and trying to survive on the last Milky Way and crackers with James Franco, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson, while also dealing with the likes of Danny McBride and Emma Stone (all also playing "themselves").

You don't have to be a fan of these celebrities to enjoy this scary rollercoaster ride, but you do need a strong constitution for the explosions of profanity, nudity, gore and bodily fluids. With that said, I found This is the End to be a sidesplitting raunchy ensemble piece that draws strength from a cornucopia of humor ranging from immature to witty self-referential, as well as razor-sharp timing of physical jokes.

This Is the End begins with a simple premise -- in Los Angeles for a visit, Jay just wants to hang out with pal Seth at his place, playing games and smoking weed like old times. However, Seth insists on meeting up with his new group of pals including James, Jonah and Craig. Jay reluctantly goes to the party full of celebrities, which includes a coke-infused, butt-slapping Michael Cera, as well as Mindy Kaling, Emma Stone, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and many other familiar faces from the big screen and comedy stage.

Interview: Craig Whitney, 'The Garden and the Wilderness'


"The Garden and the Wilderness" Movie Still

In Greek mythology, Icarus is given a pair of wings constructed out of wax and feathers by his father, with the advice that he is to follow his flight path and not to fly too close to the sun or the sea. Icarus ignores his father's advice and, through his curiosity, unknowingly flies too close to the sun, which melts his wings and sends him falling to his death in the sea. The popular understanding of this tale is the consequence of not minding elders and of personal over-ambition. But maybe filmmaking legend Stanley Kubrick had it right during his 1997 D.W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech: The moral really is to build better wings.

Austin filmmaker Craig Whitney has taken Kubrick's advice to heart. Instead of searching for film projects to suite his taste, he "built better wings" and started Better Archangel Pictures in 2008 to coincide with the release of his first short film, the award-winning Harvest Home. The University of Texas alum, who was quick to point out that he had no formal filmmaking training, has swiftly navigated his way through the industry (Harvest Home premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival's Short Film Corner). His second short, The Garden and the Wilderness, was recently chosen by the Houston Film Commission to represent the state at this year's Texas Filmmaker's Showcase on June 30 in L.A.

ATX Television Fest 2013: Reviving Linklater's '$5.15/Hour'


America Ferrera

Last weekend, I spent time at the second annual ATX Television Festival, dedicated to celebrating the medium by paying homage to the past, and looking forward to the future of television. One of the highlights of the fest is its category of unaired/never-picked-up pilot episodes. Every year, hundreds of television pilot episodes are created that few if any people will ever get to see. Usually, the pilots into the hands of studio executives, and if they don't like it, those pilots are dead.

Such is the case with Richard Linklater's pilot $5.15/Hr., a comedy show filmed in Austin nearly 10 years ago and pitched to HBO, which was the focus of a panel on Saturday morning. It follows the daily antics of the graveyard or "third shift" of Grammaw's Home Cooking. The employees are crabby, they hate their jobs, they don't make enough money. All of this adds up to the potential for a hilarious premise, but how would it be executed?

The comedy is written for the average everyday worker. While mostly nailing down the dullness and monotony of low-wage food service, many of the situations are applicable to retail work (as I can personally attest). The $5.15/Hr. pilot is smart and incredibly funny with a fantastic cast, with only one semi-household name: America Ferrera (pictured at top), who attended Saturday's screening. Unfortunately, Linklater was unable to attend because he was in Greece promoting Before Midnight.

Lone Star Cinema: Lone Star


Chris Cooper in Lone Star

The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. serves as a continual inspiration to director John Sayles, it seems. Someone asked him about this recurring theme after the Go for Sisters screening at SXSW earlier this year, and it shows up in that film as well as earlier works Hombres Armados (Men with Guns) from 1997 (all right, that movie is only based in Mexico, but still), and the 1996 movie Lone Star.

Lone Star takes place in fictional Frontera (that's Spanish for "border"), Texas. Since it's the late '90s, this is before any border walls were up, and you didn't need a passport to travel between the countries. Which is not to say that there aren't border politics in this film. 

Sayles, as in his later Sunshine State, attempts here to give voice to those whom we don't typically see in film as he portrays issues endemic to our state. For instance, an argument amongst parents in a classroom over how Texas history appears in textbooks still seems sadly relevant in 2013. 

Slackery News Tidbits: June 10, 2013


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Maggie Carey's screenplay, which was performed as a table reading at Austin Film Festival 2010 under the working title The Hand Job (Jette's article), will hit U.S. theaters July 26 as The To Do List (watch the trailer). Carey's husband, Bill Hader of SNL fame, co-stars in this ensemble comedy about a recent high-school graduate named Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) who, with the help of her friends (Alia Shawkat of Arrested Development and Sarah Steele of Spanglish), makes a list of sexually explicit acts to accomplish before college. Friday Night Lights alum Connie Britton and Scott Porter also star as Brandy's mother and love interest respectively.
  • Austinite Robert Rodriguez's El Rey English-language cable television station, aimed at young Latinos, is scheduled to launch in December or early next year, IndieWire reports. The network's lineup includes two scripted shows: an adaptation of Rodriguez's 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn, which he will write, produce and direct; and a 13-episode "Latino James Bond-type" action adventure series he's slated to direct.
  • Universal has acquired the rights to comedy spec Don't Mess With Texas, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Reese Witherspoon, who most recently starred in Austinite Jeff Nichols' Mud, and Sofia Vergara (Machete Kills) are attached to star in this female-centered buddy pic about a police officer and a prisoner on the run.
  • Austin School of Film is offering free summer movie choices with its new "Pesadillas Calidas, Horror Films from Mexico" series, which showcases B-classics made below the border from the 1950s-1980s (with English subtitles) at 9 pm every second and fourth Saturday of the month through August at 1634 E. Cesar Chavez. For more free and cheap movies in Austin, don't forget to check out Slackerwood's annual guide.

Review: The Purge


The Purge posterProducers don't often become big figures in the public consciousness of moviegoers unless they are doing truly great things. Jason Blum is doing those great things. He is the man behind the Paranormal Activity franchise, Insidious, Sinister, Dark Skies -- pretty much any great (and original) horror film that's come out in the last few years, he's probably behind it.

The Purge is Blum's most recent movie. It's got an admittedly ridiculous premise, one that could justifiably be mocked and therefore dismissed. In a utopian and not too distant future, crime, unemployment and poverty are virtually wiped out in America due to an incredibly ambitious new law that allows for any and all crime to be legal for a period of 12 hours. This is called the annual purge, and it is a ritual that the entire country takes very seriously.

As with any government initiative, there are detractors and advocates. Some think the purge is a way to legally eliminate the poor since they cannot protect themselves. Most of the time, however, they actually take care of each other while the rich lie safely in their well equipped and armored homes. One such family is the Sandins. James (Ethan Hawke), Mary (Lena Headey) and their two kids, Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane), live in a lavish house in a nice neighborhood. It's a gated community and the neighbors are neighborly if a little gossipy. The Sandins prepare for the purge like they always do, but as kids get older and question things, it's obvious that this night is not going to be like other annual purge nights.

The fascinating concept lends to mind the possibilities of so many scenarios -- not just a plain old home invasion, a completely unoriginal horror film subgenre. As tired as this plot is, though, The Purge makes this situation feel like a completely original concept as a whole. It goes places you don't expect, and there's never a dull moment, even in the first act . It's such a deep film, it fills in the gaps of the conflict that is the debate of whether or not an annual purge does any good.

What makes this movie pop is the amazing acting from Hawke and Headey. An even more important performance in the movie is the kind what makes horror films what they are. The faceless villain eventually has a face and although he isn't representative of the purge as a whole, his reasoning and need to kill makes you side with him (slightly). Plus he's incredibly creepy. That helps too.

Movies This Week: June 7-13, 2013


Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

As part of their Marilyn Monroe celebration this summer, Austin Film Society will show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (pictured above) 7 pm Tuesday at Alamo Drafthouse Village. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on a boat! In addition, tonight and Sunday AFS hosts Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra at the Marchesa (free, but you should RSVP). And In Bed with Ulysses, a documentary about James Joyce and his work Ulysses, plays 7 pm Wednesday at the Marchesa.

The Paramount continues the summer classic film series with a focus on musicals this weekend (Singin' in the Rain and The Sound of Music on Saturday and Sunday). Then it's film noir at both Paramount and Stateside on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, Sunset Boulevard and The Maltese Falcon all on the schedule.

For something completely different, the Alamo Kids Club at the Slaughter Lane location is screening The Muppets Take Manhattan this month. Kermit and the group put on a show and the idea for Muppet Babies is born. Kids Club movies are free, but tickets are first come-first serve (and you can't get them online). The various dates and times are on the Alamo website.

Review: The Internship


The Internship Still Photo

Actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson pair up for the first time since their wildly successful 2005 movie, The Wedding Crashers, in The Internship, which opens in wide release today. The onscreen team that prefers to play by their own rules has gone from chasing skirts to competing for a coveted job at one of the largest tech vanguards, Google. What results is a fairly lighthearted comedy that attempts to transcend the transgenerational gap by including current pop-culture references alongside outdated ones from the 1980s. Rather than bridge that gap, these references provide an opportunity for The Internship to be appreciated by a broader audience.

The premise of The Internship is built on fairly simple principles: The digital age is no place for watch salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), with everyone dependent on their smartphones to check the time of day. When the boss (John Goodman) closes up shop without warning, the pair must find a way to start anew.

Nick reluctantly accepts a job at a mattress store owned by his brother-in-law (Will Ferrell in a cameo), but Billy has bigger dreams. Billy gets lucky when he discovers that Google is interviewing for their summer internship program. The pair are then on their way to Mountain View, California, to the Google campus where they are faced with job competitors half their age and exponentially more tech-savvy. They must collaborate with their team of misfit geeks if they want to win new jobs.

Review: The Kings of Summer


The Kings of Summer posterWe all remember those moments from our childhood when we wished we could run away from home. We didn't know what we would do, or how we would survive. We just knew we were smarter than our parents, and we had to get out. That thought is what drives the main characters in The Kings of Summer. The indie darling that delighted fans and critics at Sundance (when it was called Toy's House) opens in Austin theaters on Friday, and it offers lessons and laughs that could benefit and amuse both teenagers and parents.

Joe Toy (Nick Robinson) and Patrick Keenan (Gabriel Basso) are your average everyday high-school freshman. They have chores, are interested in girls and are extremely annoyed at their parents pretty much all the time. Joe's conflict stems from living with his father (the great Nick Offerman) in the wake of Joe's mother's untimely death. Occasionally, his sister Heather (Alison Brie) comes to visit, and Joe begs to leave with her. Joe and his dad are both very headstrong, and neither is willing to budge on their point of view.

Patrick is more submissive and obedient -- his issue is that his parents are just plain annoying. That feeling you used to get where you wished you could shrink yourself and not be seen every time your mom or dad said something embarrassing is evident on Patrick's face whenever his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson) are onscreen.

When the two friends have had enough, they decide to run away to the woods and build a home and live off the land with their strange new friend Biaggio (Moises Arias).

Where The Kings of Summer excels is ... pretty much every aspect of the film. Robinson as Joe perfectly embodies the broodiness of an angsty teenager who for all intents and purposes has grown up to be a good kid. He's clearly very mature for his age, and his dad just doesn't know how to handle it. Offerman is as hilarious here as his turn on TV's Parks and Recreation. As a chop-busting father, he's got some excellent one-liners from Chris Galletta's very well-written script.

What's Streaming: Hometown Heroes


[Welcome to What's Streaming, a new column about movies available online, with a focus on Austin and Texas.]

For someone to not have the chance to see a film these days is rare. I'm not saying that every person on Earth should see every film ever made (although that sounds like a good challenge!), but it has become easier than ever to watch or rent films than in years past.

Especially here in high-tech Austin, many people (myself included) use forms of online streaming to watch their favorite films and television shows. If you're like me, you might not even have cable just because you think Netflix is enough. But with so many options and ways to watch movies these days, you might find yourself asking a not-so-uncommon question: What is worth watching?

After talking with friends and almost always getting myself into a conversation of "Seen any good movies lately?", I decided it might be worthwhile to share some picks each month of films (old and new) that are available to watch online. Since this column is the kickoff to this series, I figured I would start with our hometown heroes. The below films/filmmakers have ties to Texas and, in some specific cases, to Austin.

Slackery News Tidbits: June 3, 2013


Here's the latest Austin film news. 

  • Austin Film Society recently announced the participants in its inaugural Artist Intensive, a program designed to mentor narrative feature writers/directors in the development stages of their projects. Last weekend, Austin and New York-based independent bigwigs, like Amy Hobby (producer of Gayby) and Austinite Jeff Nichols (Mud), mentored six filmmakers, which included Austinites Mallory Culbert and Carlyn Hudson with The Big Spoon; 2012 Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund recipients Andy Irvine and Mark Smoot with Lovers Crossing; 2011 TFPF recipient Daniel Laabs with an untitled project about the aftermath of a fatal car accident in Pennsylvania; and the Texas revenge thriller Seize The Body by James M. Johnston and Todd Connelly. 
  • The Houston Film Commission has announced this year's Texas Filmmaker's Showcase, a selection of short films representing the Lone Star State. The showcase will be screened in Los Angeles on June 30 for producers, agents and studio reps. It includes several films from Austinites: Kat Candler's short Hellion; Russell O. Bush's documentary Vultures of Tibet (which won TFPF grants in 2011 and 2012); Craig Whitney's The Garden and the Wilderness; and Tony Costello's Little Lions. Other selections include Cork's Cattlebaron by Dallas filmmaker Eric Steele (watch online) and documentary Vincent Valdez, Excerpts for John, by San Antonio filmmakers Angela and Mark Walley (watch online).
  • Fantastic Fest will host an international co-production market for genre films called Fantastic Market/Mercado Fantastico, which aims to connect international genre film projects with potential production partners, sales agents and distributors. The market will premiere in conjunction with this year's Fantastic Fest. Austinite Robert Rodriguez's El Rey network will collaborate with Mexican production and distribution outlet Canana Films to produce the Fantastic Market. Film submissions will be accepted until July 15. Representatives from the projects, selected by industry insiders mid-August, will be invited to make pitches to a jury that will include Rodriguez and Fantastic Fest/Alamo Drafthouse co-founder Tim League, who will select and award the top three.

Review: Frances Ha


Frances Ha

The trope of Two Girls Together in New York is one that permeates both juvenile literature and grown-up pop culture. Watching Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in Frances Ha, however, I didn't initially think about the dramatic and sometimes grim looks at women in the city -- everything from Valley of the Dolls to Sex in the City to recently, Girls.

No, what the two twentysomething friends reminded me of was classic young-adult-lit characters like Betsy and Tacy, teenagers dreaming about moving to New York and living together after their trip around the world. Or Daisy Fay and her friend Pickle imagining their cosmopolitan future in Manhattan. Young female friendships that inspire dreams of the future that include those friends.

Somehow Frances and Sophie call to mind these characters, if they'd grown up and actually made it to New York together as they planned. The two women in their twenties share a tiny apartment while Frances tries to land a spot in a dance company and Sophie starts to make her way up the publishing ladder. They're downright cute together -- a banjo soundtrack accompanies their antics around town, oddly reminiscent of Girl Walk // All Day in sight if not sound.

Review: Now You See Me


Now You See Me posterWhen you assemble a cast like the one in Now You See Me, something magical happens. Terrible pun aside, an ensemble like this really is capable of pulling off some onscreen magic. As clichéd as it might be to say, there's a part in a lot of us that wants to believe in something as cool as magic. What may seem like impossible tricks often have very simple and logical explanations, but where's the fun in that? It's better to sit back and enjoy what the great cast of Now You See Me delivers.

The incredibly charismatic Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), a talented all-around magician; a beautiful illusionist, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher); a mentalist, Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson); and an elusive pickpocket, Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are four street magicians who are brought together under mysterious circumstances by an unknown force. A year after we're first introduced to them, they are the stars of their own traveling magic show. At the finale of their first show, they seemingly rob a back in Paris, all the way from Las Vegas in under five seconds. This draws the ire of investigator Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) and Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent).

Now You See Me isn't told like your typical heist film. We are almost entirely with the investigative perspective of the movie, which gets us in close with Ruffalo and Laurent's characters. That isn't a bad thing at all because they are fantastic actors, and they are given a lot to do with with the clever writing of the script. The same goes for the four actors playing the magicians. Every character is given their moment to shine, and with a cast like this that also includes screen legends Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, this is without doubt a fun film to watch in the summertime.