February 2014

Movies This Week: February 28-March 6, 2014


The Wind Rises

The next few weeks of specialty screenings are going to be directly impacted by the SXSW Film Festival, but there are definitely some unique events on the horizon that you need to know about. We've already covered this weekend's Noir City festival at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz in great detail here. It's an incredible opportunity to catch 10 rare film noir titles in 35mm, many in newly restored prints. There isn't much else going on at the Ritz for the next few weeks due to SXSW, but they will have select screenings of 12 Years A Slave and The Wolf Of Wall Street for those of you who still need to catch up.

The Alamo Slaughter Lane has a screening on Saturday afternoon of Medora, a sports documentary that played at SXSW last March about an underdog basketball team. Veronica Mars fans will want to head to the Alamo Village on Monday night for an Austin Film Festival screening of Beside Still Waters, the directorial debut of Chris Lowell who played "Piz" on the show. It was an Audience Award winner at AFF last fall. 

The Paramount 100 screening this week is happening on Tuesday night because of SXSW getting ready to take over that theater as well. They'll be showing a digital restoration of 1924's The Thief Of Bagdad. Starring Douglas Fairbanks, this was one of the most expensive films made in the 1920s. 

Review: Non-Stop



Director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, House of Wax) has worked with Liam Neeson previously on the movie Unknown, but there is another clear reason Neeson was cast for the role of alcoholic air marshal Bill Marks. The actor has the talent and star power to elevate an otherwise unremarkable, movie-of-the-week script like Non-Stop into a moneymaker with wings. 

The story, penned by a team whose credits include TV's Big Brother and WWE/WrestleMania, lands Neeson in the role of Bill Marks, an air marshal on a transatlantic flight. He's confronted with text messages from an anonymous villain who promises to kill someone on the flight unless the exorbitant sum of $150 million is wired into an account within an unlikely time limit of 20 minutes. With the clock ticking and no clues to help him, he must reveal the hijacker even as the villain's complex plan unfolds to frame him for the deed.

The ensuing tense whodunit occupies the audience with guessing games, attempting to lead them astray with characters that play on ethnic stereotypes and dirty looks as Marks and his allies Jen Summers (Julianne Moore) and Nancy (Michelle Dockery) attempt to expose the culprit.

As the flight's body count increases, so does Marks' level of stress, until Neeson is enraged, throwing passengers around like rag dolls and progressing only in cementing his image as a hijacker, already being painted in the media on the ground.

Non-Stop is best enjoyed by those who don't pick apart a script and can allow themselves to be caught up in the tense situation. Collet-Serra has a few tricks to keep the pace moving, including some impressive hand-to-hand choreography within the confines of the plane's lavatory. These tricks make for an enjoyable film, in spite of the descent into monologues as the clock is ticking and swift loss of direction when the hijacker is finally revealed.

Review: God Loves Uganda


god loves uganda still

Earlier this week, a law was signed by the president of Uganda that makes homosexuality an offense punishable with life imprisonment. While this legislation is being called reprehensible by human rights advocates around the world, many Ugandan politicians and citizens stand adamantly by it, holding fast to Christian-based beliefs that God-approved, male-female relationships are right and everything else is wrong. 

How did such an anti-gay climate -- one that often results in acts of violence committed against both open and suspected homosexuals and their allies -- come about in this small East African nation in the first place? This is the complex and important question that God Loves Uganda attempts to answer. 

Director Roger Ross Williams interviews several observers and activists from both sides of Uganda’s culture wars but largely focuses on the efforts and effects of missionary workers from Kansas City. Part of a megachurch operation known as the International House of Prayer (IHOP), these mostly white and very passionate "soldiers of God" have set their sights on Uganda in particular as a place that needs their spiritual attention. 

Austin at SXSW 2014: Matt Muir and Chris Ohlson, 'Thank You A Lot'


Chris Ohlson and Matt Muir of Thank You A Lot

In August 2012, I visited the set of the movie Thank You A Lot, which features Texas singer/songwriter James "Slim" Hand as a fictionalized version of himself along with actor Blake DeLong as a small-time music agent who struggles within the Austin music scene. Texas musicians who appear in the film include hip-hop artist Da'Shade Moonbeam, members of the Austin band Hundred Visions and jazz vocalist Keri Johnsrud.

Thank You A Lot will debut at this year's SXSW Film Festival in the Narrative Spotlight category, with the premiere screening at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH on Friday, March 7 at 7 pm. Additional screenings take place on Sunday, March 9 at the Marchesa and Saturday, March 15 at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center.

I recently spoke with writer/director Matt Muir and producer Chris Ohlson to continue our discussion about the journey of Thank You A Lot from the set to the screen. Muir and Ohlson are business partners in the film and video company Revelator, and the duo perform commercial and corporate work while developing film projects within their schedule.

Ohlson also produced David and Nathan Zellner's critically acclaimed narrative Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (my Sundance review), which makes its regional debut at SXSW on Tuesday, March 11, 1:45 pm, at The Paramount Theatre.

Texas at SXSW 2014: The Shorts


Elizabeth filled us in on the Austin and Texas feature films that are going to be playing at this year's SXSW Film Festival.  In an effort to keep you in the loop, as well as to proudly support our local filmmakers, we here at Slackerwood bring you the Lone Star short films that are playing in the 2014 film lineup. Most but not all are in the Texas Shorts block.

Texas Shorts

Dig -- Fellow contributor Debbie Cerda got to check out this film (her review), which premiered at Sundance last month. This is the directorial debut of Dallas-area producer Toby Halbrooks, and was produced by DFW-based production company Sailor Bear. The film stars the very adorable Mallory Mahoney as Jenny, a young girl who is intrigued by the hole her father (Austin actor Jonny Mars) is digging in their backyard. 

Easy -- Dallas filmmaker Daniel Laabs brings us a short that follows two brothers who are on the verge of different stages of adulthood.  His last film, 8, won the Grand Jury Prize for short films at SXSW 2011. This is Laabs' fifth piece as a director, with Austin's own Ashland Viscosi on board as a producer. Texas Theatre co-owner Adam Donaghey produced this as well as I Was A Teenage Girl.

New Film Fest This Weekend: The First Annual Noir City Austin


There’s usually very little to look forward to at the movies during the uneventful dog days of winter. This weekend, apart from the release of what looks like a passable popcorn thriller called Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, it seems like there’s nothing in the way of big-screen entertainment to get jazzed about.

The game changed, though, when The Film Noir Foundation announced the First Annual Noir City Austin, a three-day film festival taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz from February 28- March 2. The weekend features ten lesser-known film noir gems starring the likes of John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Peter Lorre and Robert Cummings, among others, and promises to be the ultimate gin-swilling, cigarette smoking gift from the movie gods themselves. 

The lineup is as follows:

Too Late for Tears (1949) -- Friday 2/28

Through accidental circumstances, Alan and Jane, an average married couple, come into possession of a satchel full of money and quickly find themselves at odds about what to do. When Jane decides to keep the money, she finds herself going down a dark path from which there is no return.

Try and Get Me! (1950) -- Friday 2/28

Based on a sensational crime story from the 1930s, Try and Get Me! tells the story of down-on-his-luck family man Howard, who is pulled into a life of crime by ruthless criminal Jerry. Though lucrative as their life of crime is, it's their final caper that proves to be their most deadly.

Austin at SXSW 2014: John Fiege, 'Above All Else'


John Fiege filming Above All Else, courtesy of Keegan Curry

John Fiege is an Austin director whose interest in environmental issues -- he holds an M.S. in cultural geography and environmental history -- plays into his filmmaking decisions.  His 2007 film Mississippi Chicken (Slackerwood review) documented immigrants working at a rural Mississippi poultry plant, and his newest work follows Texan landowner David Daniel as he protests the Keystone XL pipeline.

Fiege directed, produced and served as cinematographer on Above All Else, which will have its world premiere at SXSW in a couple of weeks. Before the fest, he was able to take part in the following interview via email.

Slackerwood: What drew you to document David Daniel’s fight against the Keystone XL pipeline? How did you first hear about his story?

John Fiege: In fall of 2011, I started making a film about the BP oil spill in South Louisiana, but the Keystone story was in the news and caught my attention. It was another potential environmental disaster with people from a wide diversity of backgrounds organizing to stop it before it became another BP. The pipeline was slated to end in Texas, where I live, so I began hunting for Texas landowners fighting the pipeline.

Lone Star Cinema: The Iron Giant

Still from The Iron Giant

The Iron Giant may not have been a box-office success upon its original 1999 release, but the animated film based in 1957 Maine has come to be loved and appreciated by many in the years since. The quirky, heartbreaking sci-fi tale pairs the beauty of its hand-drawn animation with a powerful message.

Hogarth (Eli Marienthal, American Pie) is a young boy in fictional coastal town Rockwell (presumably named after this Rockwell) who stumbles upon a ginormous alien machine one night. Hogarth befriends the giant, who has lost most of his memory, and attempts to pass knowledge on to the larger being. Harry Connick, Jr. figures into the voice cast as a hipster scrap metal collector/artist who supervises some of Hogarth and the giant's interactions.

Meanwhile, Hogarth's widowed mom Annie (Jennifer Aniston) rents out a room to government agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald, Thelma & Louise), sent to the town after reports of metal monsters and strange happenings make their way to Washington.  As Hogarth tries to teach the giant that he can choose to be what he wants (instead of what the machine may have been designed for), Mansley is determined to prove the dangerous existence of the imposing metal figure.

Austin at SXSW 2014: Kat Candler, 'Hellion'


Kat Candler at Sundance 2014 by Leslie Langee, all rights reservedLast month while at Sundance Film Festival, I spoke with local filmmaker Kat Candler -- seen above at the Sundance 2014 premiere -- about directing her feature film Hellion. which makes its regional debut in the Festival Favorites section at SXSW on Sunday, March 9, at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH. Check out my Sundance review of Hellion here.

This was the third year in a row that Candler and Austin producer Kelly Williams (Cinema Six, Pit Stop) made the trip to Park City in support of their film projects. In 2012, the filmmakers attended the fest for the premiere of the short version of Hellion. Last year, the gripping dramatic short film Black Metal debuted at Sundance and was even selected for the Sundance Festival's online Screening Room. Williams also received a fellowship to the 2013 Sundance Creative Producing Lab, where selected producers receive creative and strategic support as well as direct funding for development and production.

This year brought even more attention to the talents of Candler with the feature-length movie Hellion, starring Aaron Paul, Juliette Lewis and in his acting debut, Dallas-based Josh Wiggins. The supporting cast includes actors from the original short including Deke Garner and Jonny Mars in this emotional drama about a widower and his sons who are grieving for their deceased mother in their own destructive manners.

Slackery News Tidbits: February 24, 2013


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Fifth Annual RxSM Self-Medicated Film Expo will take place March 6-13 at various locations around Austin. The free festival will feature more than 130 movies at four venues that honor "edgy, boundary-expanding storytelling," like the East Texas-shot documentary Little Hope Was Arson (Elizabeth's dispatch), which played at last year's Austin Film Festival, and native Dallasites Luke and Andrew Wilson's Satellite Beach, a short drama about the journey of two space shuttle transports. You can RSVP for the festival, which kicks off at the Spider House Chapel (2908 Fruth St.).
  • Speaking of AFF, their annual Oscar Prediction Contest is now open and will close on Sunday, March 2 at 6 pm, the start of the award show's telecast. The top five entrants who most closely predict the winners of the 86th Annual Academy Award winners will each win a Lone Star Badge to this year's festival and conference. 
  • The Alamo Drafthouse's South Lamar location and popular bar, The Highball, both of which closed in January 2013 (Rod's dispatch), will open this summer in the newly redeveloped Lamar Union complex at the previous address, according to Austin Movie Blog. The Highball, which will be adjacent to the movie theater, will feature karaoke rooms, a ballroom with dance floor and stage, a lounge area and an outdoor patio.

Movies This Week: February 21-27, 2014


 Like Father, Like Son

Austin Film Society's terrific Godard vs. Truffaut series closes out this weekend with a 35mm print of Love On The Run. It plays tonight and again on Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa. Also playing Sunday is an collection of The Films Of Vincent Grenier. Co-presented with Experimental Response Cinema and the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston, this presentation will feature the filmmaker in person. There's more Avant Cinema scheduled for Monday night with the rarely screened Anti-Clock from 1979. On Wednesday night, Richard Linklater is bringing us a 35mm print of Warren Beatty's Reds, which he says is on his all-time personal Top 10 list. Finally, Essential Cinema has the 2012 documentary Uprising on Thursday night. 

Women In Cinema will be hosting a "Casting and Directing Actors" panel on Monday night. Kat Candler (Hellion) will be moderating the panel, which is expected to feature Casting Director Vicky Boone (Ain't Them Bodies Saints, The Tree Of Life), Director Katie Graham (Zero Charisma), Director Emily Hagins (Grow Up Tony Phillips) and Actress Katherine Wilis (Friday Night Lights). This special event happens from 7-9pm on Monday night in the CMB Building, Studio 4D on the UT Austin campus. 

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz has special screenings this week of John Waters' Cry-Baby (in 35mm on Sunday night), Jess Franco's Succubus (in 35mm on Monday night) and Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind (in 35mm on Wednesday night). The Alamo Village is down to their last Miyazaki retrospective title before The Wind Rises opens next weekend. You can see Spirited Away in 35mm daily through next Thursday.

SXSW Photo Preview: 'Boyhood' Red Carpet at Sundance

Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette, and Richard Linklater of Boyhood by Debbie Cerda

Attendees at this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival will finally have an opportunity to watch the coming-of-age family drama Boyhood, written and directed by local writer and director Richard Linklater over a period of a dozen years. Shot for a total of 143 scenes in intermittent 39 days, Boyhood was well received at Sundance Film Festival last month where it debuted even before the credits were completed. Linklater -- seen above with Boyhood stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette -- seemed quite pleased that the movie had reached its own maturity.

Filmed from 2002 to 2013, Boyhood covers 12 years in the life of a family with a focus on the young Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his older sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). They must deal with the impact of their divorced parents' decisions and actions while maturing into their own individuals who can determine the course of own lives. Read my Sundance review here.

TAMI Flashback: Be Careful, Kids!


Are You Listening?

This article is the sixth in Slackerwood's second series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article in the first series.

This month's TAMI Flashback installment features three short films for children. But grown-ups may find them entertaining also, because they're so wonderfully odd.

For TAMI fans of a certain age -- middle age, that is -- Mission Possible: Bike Safety may evoke childhood memories of cruising the neighborhood on a way-cool Schwinn Sting-Ray. Actually, cruising is the wrong word -- in that era, any self-respecting kid rode like a bat out of hell. Traffic laws were for cars, right? And bicycle helmets were 20 years away. It's a wonder any of us survived into adulthood.

A goofy imitation of the Mission: Impossible TV series, Mission Possible: Bike Safety is a well intentioned but probably pointless attempt to teach kids about bicycle safety. Shot in Austin in 1975, the film features a Mission: Impossible-style team of careful, law-abiding kids who must teach bike safety to two reckless children, Dirty Larry and Careless Carol. Larry (whose face is actually dirty) and Carol are the terrors of Austin's Allandale Neighborhood and the Village Shopping Center on Anderson Lane, running stop signs on their battered bikes and nearly mowing down pedestrians.

AFF Is Bringing Us Writers All Year Long


AFF LogoAwards season is in full swing, and the Austin Film Festival, known for its recognition of screenwriters, announced last week that Academy Award-winning writer/director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot) will receive this year's Distinguished Screenwriter Award, joining past award recipients Harold Ramis and Robert Altman, among others. Sheridan will accept the award at the fest's annual awards luncheon on Oct. 25 and will also speak on panels during the 2014 conference. 

Other confirmed panelists at the 21st annual AFF and Screenwriters Conference, which will take place Oct. 23-30, 2014, include writers and producers from such television series as Breaking Bad, Girls and Seinfeld and movies like Fight Club and Donnie Darko. Some of these industry insiders will be present for meet and greets and roundtables during the conference, as well. Read the full list of 2014 panelists at the bottom of this article.

But you don't have to wait until October to stay up to date on the movie industry. This Saturday, Beau Willimon -- creator of the Netflix Original Series House of Cards -- will discuss the show's creative process at 2 pm at the Harry Ransom Center through AFF's Conversation in Film Series

Ready, Set, Fund: Pre-SXSW Film Crowdfunding Updates


Rat Pack Rat Still

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

Several local film projects that ran successful crowdfunding campaigns are making their regional premiere at this year's SXSW Film Festival including the experimental documentary Yakona from San Marcos-based filmmakers Anlo Sepulveda and Paul Collins, Thank You A Lot from Matt Muir and Chris Ohlson, Jeffrey Radice's No No: A Dockumentary, and Todd Rohal's Rat Pack Rat (pictured above). Yakona also received two Austin Film Society Grants (formerly known as the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund), as did local filmmaker Kat Candler for her feature-length version of Hellion, which also makes its Texas debut at SXSW.

The SXSW Film Conference will feature several sessions that should be of interest to filmmakers who want to learn more about achieving funding for their projects.

"Meet the Insiders: Funding and Special Organizations" will feature several speakers from the nonprofit film world and they'll speak about "what NOT to do in your proposals to grants, fiscal sponsors, film labs, and other programs." Independent Film Project Producer and Program Manager Rose Vincelli Gustine will moderate this panel, which includes industry experts such as Sundance Film Fund Director Rahdi Taylor, Independent Lens Senior Series Producer Lois Vossen and Chicken and Egg Pictures Operation and Programs Manager Iyabo Boyd.

Slackery News Tidbits: February 17, 2014


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Local filmmaker Richard Linklater won the Berlin Film Festival's Silver Bear award for best director for his long-awaited feature Boyhood, which chronicles the life of a child from age six to 18 and stars native Texan Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, Indiewire reports. University alumnus Wes Anderson's movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, slated to hit U.S. theaters March 7, also won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize (a kind of runner-up to the Golden Bear for Best Picture).
  • Drafthouse Films-distributed documentary The Act of Killing (Elizabeth's review) took home the Best Documentary Feature award at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) ceremony on Sunday. The Best British Film award went to the movie Gravity, which stars Austin-based actress Sandra Bullock.
  • Variance Films has partnered with filmmaker Chris Eska to bring his feature The Retrieval (Don's review) to theaters this spring, according to Variety. The Civil War drama tells the story of a boy who is sent north by his bounty-hunter gang to retrieve a wanted man.
  • The Austin Film Society will host a special screening of From Dusk Till Dawn, about a duo of criminals and their hostages who unknowingly seek refuge in a bar populated by vampires, on Wednesday, March 5 at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre. Tickets go on sale Feb. 26. Actor Fred Williamson, who played Frost in the movie, will speak at AFS's Moviemaker Dialogue before the screening.

Review: Winter's Tale


Winter's Tale PosterI have to be honest, I initially thought Winter's Tale was an adaptation of one of my favorite Shakespeare plays, The Winter's Tale -- I hadn't heard of author Mark Helprin's 1983 novel, adapted into the new movie, until watching the trailer.

It's no coincidence that the movie made its U.S. theatrical debut on Valentine's Day -- a marketing ploy, of course, to get couples to hunker down in the dark for two-ish hours to watch actor Colin Farrell make love look even more confusing than it already is. This says something about Farrell, a chap whose real-life romantic mishaps have made headlines and had heads shaking (lest we forget his public outings with Britney Spears). 

And its hard to forget this in the aptly named Winter's Tale because Farrell plays the burglar-with-a-heart-of-gold, Peter Lake, so much like his public persona: greasy, strangely-cut hair and all... with an Irish accent. 

There really is no need for Peter to have an Irish accent because he was raised in New York City. The same can be said for the movie's female lead, Beverly Penn (Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay), whose convenient English accent is only briefly explained as a byproduct of her birth across the pond, despite her newspaper tycoon father's (William Hurt) American accent. 

But this is just the tip of the unexplained plot point iceberg in Winter's Tale

This trans-century romance begins on Ellis Island, where baby Peter is left in a model boat and sent afloat into New York Harbor by his parents, who are refused entrance into the country because of his father's supposed illness. Somehow, someway Peter becomes the unwilling scion of the Devil's (Will Smith) minion, Pearly (an over-earnest Russell Crowe). When Peter rejects Pearly as a father figure, he is hunted by even lesser minions and stumbles across a Pegasus-like horse, which he names Horse. How original. 

Oh, that's right, writer/director Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) is trying to shove theological and philosophical metaphors down audiences' throats. Of course, Horse acts as both spirit guide and guardian angel to Peter, and according to a Google search, there is a difference between the two terms. 

Review: The Great Beauty


the great beauty

With a sprawling and often dreamlike narrative that examines grand themes of life, death and art, The Great Beauty (La grande bellezza) is novelistic in its storytelling and enthrallingly ambitious. 

Directed and written by Paolo SorrentinoThe Great Beauty was Italy's submission for this year's Best Foreign Film Academy Award and it has made the cut to compete for the Oscar alongside four other films. Mirroring the scope of other lofty Italian films (Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 and La Dolce Vita certainly come to mind) as well as the work of revered writers like Marcel Proust, Sorrentino is passionate and audacious in his approach to a story that is classically familiar in its basic framework and often surprising as well. 

At the story's center is Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo). He wrote a moderately successful novel as a young man, and following that chose to veer into a life of partying, carousing with beautiful people and rarely making it to bed before dawn. As the film opens he has just turned 65, and after hearing some painful news that reminds him of his younger days and the great love he lost, this well-dressed, smarter-than-average socialite is beginning to tire a bit.

Movies This Week: February 14-20, 2014


 The Great Beauty

The Austin Film Society's Godard Vs. Truffaut series continues on this weekend with a 35mm print of Godard's A Woman Is A Woman tonight and Sunday afternoon at the Marchesa. There's also an austin premiere on tap Sunday afternoon for The Big Shootout with director Mike Looney, Edith Royal and members of the 1969 UT football team in attendance. The Q&A will be moderated by KLBJ's Ed Clements.

On Monday night, you can head back over to the Marchesa for "An Austinite's Guide To The 2014 SXSW Film Festival." It will feature a Q&A with festival programmers Janet Pierson, Jarod Neece and Claudette Godfrey as well as a happy hour and a filmmakers' chat about how to make the most of the fest. On Wednesday, Richard Linklater will be hanging out with a 35mm print of Sam Fuller's White Dog and Essential Cinema is bringing you a newly restored DCP of the 2002's Aleksandr Sokurov's Russian Ark on Thursday. 

If you're looking for Valentine's Day ideas, we already covered the special romantic events going on this weekend at the Blue Starlite. There will also be Casablanca feasts happening at the Alamo Ritz and the Alamo Slaughter Lane tonight. If you want to save some dough, Casablanca will continue to screen in 35mm at the Ritz from Sunday-Thursday afternoons. If romance isn't your thing, the Ritz is going to be paying tribute to the late Philip Seymour Hoffman with a 35mm screening of Synecdoche, New York on Saturday afternoon. Proceeds from the event will be going to Hoffman's Labyrinth Theater Company in New York. A Cinema Cocktails presentation of Billy Wilder's Sabrina on Sunday at the Ritz not only has drink specials, but also includes free mini macarons from la patisserie. The movie plays again on Tuesday at Lakeline, sans free sweet treats.

Justin Arnold on 'Love & Air Sex'


Love and Air Sex posterPart-time Texan Justin Arnold credits his role as Levi in the indie drama 5 Time Champion as the reason why he had the opportunity to audition for former Austin Film Society staffer Bryan Poyser's latest movie Love & Air Sex, formerly called The Bounceback (Don's review), which opens a weeklong run tonight at Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter during the movie's nationwide roadshow.  

Poyser enjoyed 5 Time Champion, winner of the Texas Filmmaker Award at the 2011 Dallas International Film Festival, Arnold said. This and the friendship between Poyser and the movie's director, Berndt Mader, led to Arnold being cast in Poyser's comedy short The Fickle

"Bryan, he's the man," Arnold said. 

But that doesn't mean Arnold wasn't put through a rigorous audition process for Love & Air Sex

"(Poyser) put me on the hot seat for about two hours," he said. 

Arnold plays Tim in the Austin-shot comedy that premiered at SXSW 2013. It follows a group of twentysomethings looking for love during a weekend in the Live Music Capital of the World (and the soundtrack includes some toe-tappin' ditties by artists like Austinite Shakey Graves). 

And Arnold can relate to some extent to the movie's lead, an actor-turned-pizza-delivery-guy in Los Angeles. Not to say that he's struggling -- he has a number of movie's in post-production -- but he admits it took some time for him to find a day job, working for a veterinary clinic, when he moved to L.A. about a year ago. 

"L.A. is what you make of it," Arnold said optimistically. He recently moved into a new apartment with another actor not too far away from his Love & Air Sex costars Sara Paxton and Zach Cregger. Although Arnold didn't know any of the movie's cast prior to his 15 days on set, he said it eventually felt like home.

Review: RoboCop



It has been 27 years since one of the seminal 80s sci-fi films, RoboCop, blasted onto cineplex screens. By today's Hollywood formulas, it's the perfect age for a remake that can bring the franchise name to new viewers and cash in on an audience eager to see an updated favorite.  Too often, this results in a disappointing flop like 2012's Total Recall, a development that wouldn't have surprised with Jose Padilha's modern take on the Verhoeven blockbuster.

It is impossible not to compare the two versions, for better or for worse.  Verhoeven's movie had a signature gritty, steely dystopian feel that contrasts against Padilha's sleek modern curves and smooth black gloss. As the first set photos from the new RoboCop made their way to the internets, angry fans denounced the insectile look of the black armor that replaced the familiar brushed steel. Fortunately, a more familiar steel uniform does appear, and the black suit is explained away, eliminating this minor quibble. Drastic changes in the look of the film are surprising given the casting of relative unknown Joel Kinnaman, whose greatest talent appears to be a strong chin resemblance to Peter Weller.

The differences in this remake go far beyond visuals, however. Joshua Zetumer has adapted the original script into something with a vaguely similar plot but drastically altered themes. A PG-13 rating ensures the remake, while more marketable, has lost much of the hyperbolic action.  Padhila's version is also entirely sanitized of the satirical advertising used so effectively by Verhoeven in scene transitions, confining overt political commentary to Samuel L. Jackson's appearance as host of an O'Reilly-esque conservative news program.

I mentioned altered themes, and the most significant concerns the title character. Verhoeven's RoboCop was a machine that begins to remember it was once human. Padilha's RoboCop is a human struggling with the horror of being placed in a machine body and fighting the programming that seeks to strip him of his humanity. This reflects the fundamentally different approach where Verhoeven's film satirizes the unreliability of technology, Padilha's celebrates its ability to perform better, faster than the human brain. 

Blue Starlite Offers Classic Romance for Valentine's Day


By Charity Lee

When you think of the perfect movie-loving date night, you definitely have a Texas-sized menu of options. You could enjoy the Austin Film Society-sponsored “Goddard vs. Truffaut” series at the Marchesa, a night on the town at the Paramount on Congress, or even woo your date with a melody at one of the famous local Alamo Drafthouse sing-alongs. However, if you want to get retro, the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In is the perfect classic alternative to an in-house film this Valentine's Day.

On the most romantic night of the year, the Blue Starlite will present a classic double feature of Breakfast at Tiffany's, starring Audrey Hepburn as the sassy and wild young bachelorette, Holly Golightly; and Casablanca, starring the hunky Humphrey Bogart. I’m a big fan of the former with its hilarious featured roles and its non-conventional romantic comedy setup. I also have never been to an outdoor movie so my tickets are printed, my vintage drive-in speaker is ordered and I’m ready to snuggle right from the seat of my little Nissan Sentra. 

Austin at SXSW 2014: All the Features


Jason Dohring and Kristen Bell in Veronica Mars

More keynotes (Tilda Swinton!) for this year's SXSW Film Festival were announced yesterday, with a few more films added to the schedule. Many features and documentaries with Austin and/or Texas connections are on the schedule for SXSW 2014, which takes place from March 7-15. Here's the rundown, with some familiar names joining new voices.


Veronica Mars -- Creator/writer/director/Austinite Rob Thomas kickstarted the budget for this silver-screen continuation of the cult favorite TV series. Kristen Bell (Veronica) and Jason Dohring (Logan) -- and many more from the original series cast -- reprise their roles when this detective movie makes its world premiere at SXSW. (screening times)

Joe -- Current Austin resident and director David Gordon Green, whose Prince Avalanche played at SXSW 2013, directed this Nicolas Cage vehicle about an ex-con (Cage) who befriends a teenage boy (Tye Sheridan, Mud). The movie was shot in Austin, Bastrop, Lockhart and Taylor, and Austin-based actress Heather Kafka has a brief but memorable role. Jette caught this at a press screening and says you do not want to miss it. (screening times)

SXSW Photo Flashback: How We Met Greta Gerwig



Yesterday, we learned that actress Greta Gerwig had signed to produce, write and star in a TV sitcom, How I Met Your Dad. She also starred in one of my favorite films of 2013, Frances Ha. But many of us who frequent SXSW still remember her on the stage of the Paramount after Hannah Takes the Stairs premiered at SXSW 2007, where the actress admitted that the belt she was wearing was the one she'd worn in the movie, because she wore her own clothes for the film. That's microbudget indie production for you.

I was at the theater that night with my crummy little point-and-shoot and took some photos too. Here's a close-up of Gerwig in her stripey dress along with Mark Duplass (second from the left), who also acted in the film, and director Joe Swanberg (between Duplass and Gerwig).

Submit Your Short to the AFS ShortCase at SXSW

SXSW Film 2014 LogoAustin Film Society (AFS) 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.

To submit, you must be a current AFS Make-level member (or above) and 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.

This will be my third year curating the ShortCase film series. This year's jury includes AFS Film Programmer Lars Nilsen and local AFS filmmaker Clay Liford, who produced the Sundance award-winning short Rat Pack Rat, which also screens in the SXSW regular programming.

We remind AFS filmmakers to take advantage of the wealth of member resources provided through AFS Artists Services, including the AFS Grant and Moviemaker Dialogues.

Highlights for this year's AFS ShortCase submission process:

  • Submit films using online screeners with private or password-protected links (either via Vimeo, Youtube or any other streaming service). If you set an expiration date for viewing, it should be available until at least March 15, 2014.
  • Your submission form must be submitted by Monday, February 17, at 6 pm CST -- be advised this is not a "postmark-by" date.
  • Short films must be no longer than 20 minutes, so we can open up the screening to more AFS filmmakers.
  • Entries are limited to one submission per membership, so send your best work -- no works-in-progress.

Slackery News Tidbits: February 10, 2014


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Texas Filmmaker's Showcase is now accepting entries to its annual short movie contest until April 1. Filmmakers whose projects are selected to participate in the showcase will be flown to Los Angeles in June for a screening of all chosen works and will have opportunities to meet various industry professionals. 
  • Gravitas Ventures has acquired the rights to Austin-based Hammer to Nail magazine editor and filmmaker Michael Tully's feature Ping Pong Summer, Indiewire reports. The coming-of-age comedy, based on Tully's own childhood experiences, premiered at Sundance (Debbie's review) and is scheduled for an early summer theatrical and digital release.
  • KLRU will air One Square Mile: Austin, an episode of the documentary television series One Square Mile: Texas, on Thursday at 8 pm. 
  • Dallas actor Barry Nash, star of the DFW area-shot movie Bob Birdnow's Remarkable Tale ..., won the Mississippi-based Oxford Film Festival's Special Jury Prize for Best Performance in a Narrative Feature for the drama. 

Movies This Week: February 7-13, 2014


 A Field In England

The Austin Film Society has a few more screenings of the restored version of Herzog's Nosferatu this weekend. You can catch it this evening and again on Sunday at the Marchesa. The same can be said of Truffaut's Bed & Board, while the acclaimed new release Let The Fire Burn screens on Tuesday for Doc Nights. Richard Linklater had to travel to Berlin for a screening of his new film Boyhood, so he's recorded a special video introduction to Wednesday evening's 35mm presentation of Valley Girl and Lars Nilsen will hold down the post-film discussion with Louis Black. 

The Alamo Ritz is bringing West Side Story back to the big screen for the next week, just in time to get you ready for Valentine's Day. They'll be screening a 70mm print, presumably the same one that played last year which was in absolutely beautiful condition. Also at the Ritz this week: Punk In Africa and The Lorelei's Grasp on Monday night and Fellini's Casanova on Wednesday night. Alamo Lakeline and Alamo Slaughter Lane are bringing back the Oscar-nominated documentary The Act Of Killing for a special engagement. Director Josh Oppenheimer will be participating in a Skype Q&A at the 4:35pm screening on Saturday afternoon.

Alamo Village has a subtitled 35mm print of Kiki's Delivery Service on Saturday and Sunday afternoons while Porco Rosso gets the same treatment on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. These screenings are part of the Miyazaki Madness series and last weekend's showings of My Neighbor Totoro sold out, so buy your tickets early to avoid disappointment. 

Review: 2014 Academy Award Nominated Short Films


Updated 2/9 to include a review of Prison Terminal.

In previewing all of the short films that have been nominated for the 2014 Academy Awards this season, I must give a shout out to film programmers here and around the world.  I don't know how you guys do it, but trying to watch an amalgam of films (short and feature length) and deciding which you like best makes my brain turn to oatmeal.

Okay, so that's a little dramatic, but I have a new respect for both programmers and short filmmakers alike. To make a feature is an incredible feat, but to try and tell a story in under 20-30 minutes? The thought alone could make one's head spin. Thankfully, the Academy has already narrowed down which films they think are the cream of the crop, and it's easy to see why.

Animated Shorts

I've always been one to gravitate towards this category. Perhaps its the inner child in me longing to still watch Disney films, but I truly love the craft of the animation process and am fascinated to see how it is constantly evolving.  Get A Horse! is probably the most recognizable name in this bunch, as it's the short that preceded this past year's Disney hit, Frozen. Although I always enjoy a good Disney short, my favorites of the bunch were Room on the Broom (United Kingdom), about a young witch and group of animal friends who have a daring adventure, and Mr. Hublot (France), about an eccentric robot man who finds his life changed upon taking in a robot dog.

Review: The Monuments Men


The Monuments Men posterWhen my friend jokingly asked before our screening of The Monuments Men if this would be like an Ocean's Eleven part 4, she wasn't far off. Actor/director George Clooney assembles a cast of heavy-hitters for this World War II dramedy and only barely taps into their talent. I have a feeling the actors were having a better time chumming around together off the lot than we did watching the resulting movie.

Clooney's film is based on a group of men past conscription age -- art historians, architects and art directors -- who volunteer to go to Europe to save important works of Western art from Nazi capture or destruction. The characters all have names, but with the lack of any real character introduction or development, good luck remembering them. I could only keep the people straight by recognizing the actors involved. 

John Goodman and Bill Murray play architects, Bob Balaban (Moonrise Kingdom) is an art director/possible choreographer, Matt Damon and Clooney play art historians, then there's a Brit in need of redemption (Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey) and a French museum curator (Jean Dujardin, The Artist). The team goes through basic training, then splits up to recover works of art endangered by the Nazis (specifically the Ghent altarpiece and Madonna of Bruges). Cate Blanchett is the only female with a sizable role -- she actually may be the only woman with a speaking role in the film! -- as a French secretary to a Nazi officer. 

The plot is formulaic, and the script is schmaltzy and heavy-handed. The confused tone reminded me of an episode of Futurama ("War Is the H-Word") that pokes fun at M.A.S.H. with a Hawkeye-style robot who can only switch between irreverent and maudlin.

The Monuments Men knows how it wants you to feel, and it will be explicit about it. Alexandre Desplat's score, far from his best work, soars at a moment punctuated by a remember-why-we're-here-Art-is-important voiceover by Clooney's character, and you are meant to feel sad right then. Too bad the film fails at emotional manipulation... except for the Battle of the Bulge scene with Murray's character silently crying in the shower tent as his daughter (via recording) sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Some of us just tend to get choked up when that song plays.

What's Streaming: Different Shades of Love


For being such a short month, February has a lot going on. With Black History Month, Valentine's Day and Groundhog Day, this month seems to encapsulate feelings of reflection, hope and love all in just a few short weeks. I started my film watching for this month in a cheery, romantic comedy mindset. "I'll write about finding love! And happily ever afters!" I thought, focusing on Valentine's Day as my main element.

After a day or two of being on a romcom kick, I finally calmed down, took a breath, and looked at all of the people that I know in my life. I thought of the love of dear friends near and far, of parents, of the people lost over the years. It can be so easy to think that a romantic type of love is all that this month celebrates... but really, it's all of the love you share with others in your life.

Single, in a relationship, married -- whatever your status is, take the time to focus on the different kinds of love you have in your life. Maybe these films will help you to remember some of them. Happy February!

SXSW Announces 2014 Midnight Features and Shorts


SXSW Film logoThe SXSW 2014 Film Festival and Conference released their feature film lineup last week, and have now let audiences in on what the lineup will be for their Midnight Features and Short Film selections.

As someone who has never attended the Midnight Film Series before, quite a few titles and descriptions caught my attention. Stage Fright from Jerome Sable (which was just picked up for distribution by Magnet) promises to be a combination of "Scream meets Glee" in a genre-bending horror musical. Home from Nicholas McCarthy is described as being about a realtor trying to sell a home where a teenage girl sold her soul to the devil. Naya Rivera leads the cast, although I must say I was sad to see she wasn't in the Glee/Scream fusion. Both films are world premieres.

Another film that caught our attention here at Slackerwood is The Guest, from director Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett. Their previous film, You're Next, screened at 2011's Fantastic Fest, and later at the 2013 SXSW Film Fest. Based on the reception and raving audience reviews of that movie, we're sure their latest work will be at the top of a lot of filmgoers' lists.

SXSW Producer and Senior Programmer Jarod Neece expressed his excitement about their provocative, after-dark features lineup. From the press release: "What an amazing year for genre film! We were blown away by the quality of work submitted and narrowing them down was no easy task.  We have first-time filmmakers, female filmmakers, SXSW veterans and genre filmmaking legends -- all hoping to scare the crap out of you in the wee hours of the night."

Park City 2014 Wrap-up: Balancing Film Fests


Park City EssentialsHere at Slackerwood we often publish survival guides prior to film festivals to help attendees get the most of our their fest experience. Therefore my wrap-up of my 2014 adventure to Park City for the concurrent Sundance and Slamdance Film Festival will be worth re-visiting for the "lessons learned" for future years. As seen above, there are a lot of critical essentials -- chargers, transit maps, food and hydration supplies, hand sanitizer -- plus some extras to include when packing for a 12-hour day out and about in Park City.

Tackling two festivals in seven days proved a bit tricky as I tried to fit in as much content as possible, while skipping most social and party events. In hindsight, I regret not staying long enough to attend the Slamdance awards ceremony and closing party. It was a bittersweet and anxious experience to wait for Slamdance award announcements via social media as I was homeward bound on a late flight.

Sundance Review: Alive Inside


Alive Inside Still PhotoOf the five documentaries nominated for Academy Awards this year, four played Sundance Film Festival 2013. Festival Director John Cooper credited this to the heightened aesthetic excellence in the films at the festival as well as that "the world is accepting non-fiction in really interesting ways." During a discussion of the business and profits of independent films, Cooper stated that "at Sundance, we have to think a little differently. We think of impact. When you look at something like Invisible War is changing policy, when you look at Blackfish -- awareness is actually changing how things are done in our world. It's as important as how much money they (the films) make -- and actually way more important to us."

The documentary film that most affirmed this vision at this year's festival for me was director Michael Rossato-Bennett's documentary Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory. This moving and groundbreaking documentary received the Sundance Audience Award for U.S. Documentary, as well as a standing ovation at its premiere at Sundance 2014.

As high as I'd set my expectations for Alive Inside, the film far exceeded what I'd imagined. I nearly left the press screening that I attended simply because I was emotionally overwhelmed and in tears, while still a response that I would still describe as a positive experience from the aspect of grieving and healing after personally witnessing the mental deterioration of a beloved elder. Anyone who has ever had a loved one suffer from Alzheimer's disease, dementia, stroke or mental illness will recognize the profound impact of this film's core message -- that personalized music therapy can not only awaken but in some cases prolong our emotional and mental faculties.

Slamdance Review: La Bare


La Bare Still ImagePreconceived notions about the male entertainment industry can drive some viewers away from film content, and I myself had little interest in seeing Magic Mike when it was released in 2012. However, a timely discussion with local filmmaker Richard Linklater about Matthew McConaughey's stellar roles of that preceding year led to his recommendation of Magic Mike due to the depth of McConaughey's performance as male strip club owner Dallas.

Joe Manganiello co-starred as Big Dick Richie in the film, which became a smash hit. Manganiello was so inspired by the discussions about the film's related topics of "objectification and post-feminist relations between the sexes" and interest in the characters that he and his brother Nick Manganiello decided to capture the men's stories themselves. The 3:59 Incorporated production team went to the birthplace of male entertainment -- the first La Bare club in Dallas, Texas, which has been open since 1978 -- resulting in their documentary, La Bare.

The men of La Bare are each unique and engaging in their own right. First up is the veteran Randy "Master Blaster" Ricks, a self-professed "205 lbs of twisted steel and sex appeal" who has danced at the club since its opening. His elderly mother Mary Lou supports him in his endeavors, even helping to run a side strip-o-gram service. Backing up Randy are the younger generation who go by first-name-only nicknames -- "Channing," "Chase," "Cesar," for example -- and who come from various backgrounds, including ex-military.

Lone Star Cinema: Screen Door Jesus


Screen Door Jesus

According to the faithful, images of Jesus have appeared on many objects -- tortillas, turtles and moldy drywall, to name a few. One alleged appearance happened in 1969 in Port Neches, Texas, where followers of the J-man claimed to see his likeness on the screen door of a house. The image attracted hordes of true believers and curiosity seekers until the owner tired of the crowds and removed the door.

This bit of Southeast Texas lore inspired Port Neches native Christopher Cooke to write the acclaimed anthology Screen Door Jesus & Other Stories, which filmmaker Kirk Davis adapted for his debut feature Screen Door Jesus. The 2003 film is an uneven but largely accurate look at religion in a small East Texas town.

Screen Door Jesus weaves many loosely related story lines into a narrative about religious fervor and religious doubt. The film's central story involves Mother Harper (Cynthia Dorn), who sees Jesus on the screen door of her home. Her front yard becomes a Mecca of sorts for local Christians, dozens of whom spend day after day praying before the image.

Slamdance Review: Copenhagen


Copenhagen Still Photo

The Slamdance Film Festival tends to be overshadowed and thus overlooked by its larger concurrent counterpart, which is a shame due to the quality independent programming that takes place on the two screens at Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City.

This year was no exception, with writer/director Mark Raso leading the charge with the artistic storytelling of coming of age with his Slamdance Audience award-winning narrative feature, Copenhagen.

At first glance one might think this story transcends locale, but Raso's unique twists affirm the selection of Denmark's capital for the setting. The colorful facades of the 17th-century buildings and deep canals of the Nyhavn district serve as the background of a lushly told story of young love and personal redemption for its main characters, Will (Gethin Anthony) and Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen).

Slackery News Tidbits: February 3, 2014


Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The "completely insane" zom-com Buck Wild, which premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival and then screened at the Hill Country Film Festival (Jette's dispatch), has been acquired by Millenium Entertainment. This tongue-in-cheek buddy adventure, about a hunting vacation gone awry, is scheduled for a VOD/DVD release on March 18, with an early digital release on Feb. 18.
  • The Houston Film Commission is currently taking submissions for its annual Texas Filmmaker's Showcase of short films. Selected films are screened in Los Angeles in June, as well as at other venues in Texas.
  • Entries are now being accepted for the Austin Film Festival's Screenplay and Teleplay Competition. The final deadline is May 31.
  • In more AFF news, the AFF 2012 Official Selection Punk in Africa, which traces the multiracial punk movement in three countries, will screen at 9:35 pm on Feb. 10 at Alamo Ritz as part of the theater chain's Music Mondays series. The documentary is also scheduled for a DVD release March 11.