Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

AFF Interview: Ashley Spillers of 'Dear Sidewalk' Remembers Her Sunscreen


Rachel Myhill and Ashley Spillers in DEAR SIDEWALK

One of the made-in-Austin films having its premiere at this year's Austin Film Festival is Dear Sidewalk, a romantic comedy about a mail carrier (Joseph Mazzello, Jurassic Park, Justified) who falls for an older divorcee (Michelle Forbes, True Blood, The Killing).  Also featured in the cast is one Ashley Spillers, who has acted in many buzzworthy local films of late (The Bounceback, Pit Stop, Loves Her Gun) and even appears in the viral short Hell No.

The former Austinite also stars in the horror-comedy Saturday Morning Massacre (aka Saturday Morning Mystery if you are buying it at Wal-Mart), which screens at the Housecore Horror Film Festival on, appropriately enough, Saturday morning.

Before Austin Film Festival started up, Spillers took part in this email interview for us.

Slackerwood: How did you come to be involved in Dear Sidewalk?

Ashley Spillers: Well, I auditioned! Beth Sepko was casting and she called me in to audition (while I was on set of Zero Charisma) for the role of the Barista, but Jake and Ford Oelman were in the room, and I guess they saw me more as a... Tracy! Which I was thrilled about, of course.

AFS Essential Cinema Brings Three Japanese Masters to Austin


High and Low/Utamaro and His Five Women

Two films each from directors Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, and Kenji Misoguchi form the basis for Austin Film Society's new Essential Cinema series, "6 by 3 Japanese Master Filmmakers." Lesser-known selections from each director's oeuvre will be shown at AFS at the Marchesa, on Thursdays from October 10 through November 14.  If you've only seen Ozu's Tokyo Story, Kurosawa's greatest hits, or you are not exactly familiar with Misoguchi's works, Austin Film Society is providing a perfect opportunity to discover more classics of Japanese cinema.

The six films include one of Ozu's early films (as well as his own technicolor remake), two films by Misoguchi reflecting on gender roles in Japan's history, and two crime dramas from Kurosawa. I asked AFS Director of Programming Chale Nafus about his selections for this series.

Slackerwood: Why were these films and directors chosen?

Chale Nafus: I generally program fairly recent films from Asia each year, but I decided to go back to the roots this time with representative works by the three best known Japanese directors introduced to American audiences in the 1950s -- Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu. I also wanted to show early and later works by each filmmaker to provide some sense of changes (or not) in style and content. In the case of Ozu, we will be seeing both his original 1934 Story of Floating Weeds and then his own remake of the same story in 1959.

Review: Enough Said


James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Enough Said

Enough Said comes from the mind of writer/director Nicole Holofcener, whose works tend to focus on foibles and miscommunications among small groups of upper-middle-class characters. Some of her characters can be gratingly obtuse, yet always have a grain of something relatable about them. This movie differs from her earlier work in that it veers more towards the romantic comedy genre. It's still very obviously a Holofcener film, however.

Divorced masseuse Eva, played by the marvelous Julia Louis-Dreyfus, begins to date divorced museum worker Albert (the late James Gandolfini in his second-to-last film role), and attempts a friendship with new client Marianne (Catherine Keener). She also worries about her daughter Ellen (Tracey Fairaway, webseries First Day), about to head off to college. These three relationships form the core of the film. Once Eva discovers that Marianne and Albert were once married, she decides not to tell either of them that she is involved with the other. What would a Holofcener movie be without things left unsaid?

Review: Baggage Claim


Baggage Claim poster

Oh, Baggage Claim, I wanted to like you. I really did. A romantic comedy wherein a flight attendant (Paula Patton, Precious) attempts to meet up with ex-boyfriends in hopes she can get engaged before her sister's wedding in 30 days sounded like a fun proposition (though silly, certainly). Unfortunately, Patton can't carry this ridiculous film. I kept wishing that Jill Scott, wasted here as close friend Gail, was the lead instead.

As Patton's Montana reclined on a hotel sofa (BTW, this movie is like a feature-length ad for Renaissance Hotels) talking on a phone to Gail, it struck me as too obvious that there was no one on the other end of her prop phone as the camera filmed her on a soundstage. If Patton can't convince me that she's playing this character, well, I just don't know. She holds a simpering grin through about two-thirds of the film. We only really see her personality in spurts.

This is as much director David E. Talbert's fault as anyone's. The screenplay, which he wrote, is based on a novel -- which he also wrote. I sincerely hope Montana in the book is more of an actual character, because she's not here. (Now again, if Jill Scott had played her, maybe things would be different...)

The plot of Baggage Claim is sadly predictable -- as soon as Derek Luke's character was introduced, I could see where things were heading. William and Montana have been friends since childhood, have never dated, but live in the same Baltimore apartment building ... on the same floor, even. How convenient!

Scott, Jenifer Lewis as Montana's wedding-happy mom, and the airline support staff recruited to help Montana in her quest (played by La La Anthony and Affion Crockett among others) are the high points here. I'm happy to see Derek Luke in any film, really, and he gives an earnest performance in this film.

Lone Star Cinema: Rushmore


Jason Schwartzman and Seymour Cassell in Rushmore

Rushmore tends to be a favorite among Wes Anderson fans I've known. Even people who don't typically like Anderson's movies still appreciate the 1998 prep school comedy. Anderson's second film, based on a screenplay he wrote with Owen Wilson, has bite to it, and isn't as overly stylized as his later works. 

Jason Schwartzman plays 15-year-old Max, who is overinvolved with extracurricular activities at Rushmore Academy, a boys' prep school. He's not as adept at academics, however. The headmaster (Brian Cox) refers to him as "one of the worst students we've got." In one fall month, Max becomes besotted with widowed grade-school teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) and befriends bored millionaire Harold Blume (Bill Murray).

Max is self-confident, yet struggles when Ms. Cross doesn't return his affections.  Both he and Blume stalk Ms. Cross periodically. During a recent re-watch, my friend and I found this harassment -- along with Max's shooting of an air rifle at the school campus that was supposedly funny at that time, I guess -- off-putting.  Max is finally humbled when his quest to build an aquarium in her honor (on school grounds) gets him expelled.

Polari 2013 Celebrates Dance, Announces First Films


Still from Five Dances

Polari Film Festival (which used to be known as the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival) recently announced the theme for their 26th year: "Don’t Just Sit There: Indulge. Engage. Create."

Artistic Director Curran Nault says about this year's slate, "Our theme and focus is on work that is uncommonly galvanizing, vibrant and sensuous." Among the nearly 100 films selected for the schedule will be a number of dance-themed movies.

The five films announced early for the fest, which runs October 16-20 at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and Stateside at Paramount, are:

Five Dances (2013) -- This opening-night selection is directed by Alan Brown, who will be at the screening with star Ryan Steele. Chip (played by newcomer Steele) is an 18-year-old dancer from Kansas bursting into the world of modern dance in NYC. [trailer on Vimeo]

2013 Guide to Fall Filmgoing in Austin


Stills from Lonesome, Willow, The American Astronaut & The Goonies

The coming of fall might mean fewer free or cheap film events to choose from than in summer months, but plenty of films are still on schedule now that school has started. I asked around at some of the local venues, and received eager responses from folks excited about their upcoming programming.

Of course, fall also means the return of Austin film-festival season. There’s Fantastic Fest from September 19-26, Polari (formerly aGLIFF) running from October 16-20, and Austin Film Festival from October 24-31. Smaller fests include the first annual Housecore Horror Film Festival from Oct. 24-27, Cinema Touching Disability from November 1-2 and the Austin Polish Film Festival, November 1-3.

Below are some of the events on the horizon for Austin in autumn.

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
Alamo Ritz starts their fall program with a Cinema Club screening of 1928 silent romance Lonesome (Mon, Sept. 9, $10) hosted by Caroline Frick from TAMI (Texas Archive of the Moving Image). Among the other September movies are the 1956 French black comedy Pig Across Paris (Wed, Sept. 11, $10), a FoleyVision presentation of For Y'ur Height Only (Sun, Sept. 15, $10), and doc Persistence of Vision (Sat, Sept. 28, 4pm) paired with Who Framed Roger Rabbit? in 35mm (Sat, Sept. 28, 7pm).  A special series on magicians in film will be shown in October, with the many films for the month to include The Prestige, Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay and Orson Welles' F for Fake.

AFS Moviemaker Dialogues: Writer/Director Mike White


Mike White Master Class

While in town to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The School of Rock, writer/director/producer Mike White took the stage with Austin Chronicle managing editor Kimberley Jones to talk about some of his past work. I was surprised at the relatively low turnout -- less than half the Marchesa was filled. Unlike the last Moviemaker Dialogue I attended, there was not much delving into how White (who scripted The School of Rock) started writing, or even his history here in town. Perhaps because there was only a little over an hour to discuss White's career, the conversation touched on only five of his works.

2000's Chuck and Buck, which White wrote and starred in, was nominated for many Independent Spirit Awards and won the award for best feature under $500,000. The clip we watched was the scene of Buck, played by White, presenting a homemade collage to his childhood friend Chuck (Chris Weitz, who would go on to direct About a Boy with his brother Paul).

Asked about choosing tone, White said that somewhere in between drama and comedy "feels right to me."  He commented that movies aren't fully able to depict how complicated people really are, but that they serve as a way for us to realize "there are other experiences other than your own."

Mike Blizzard Tracks Local History in 'Also Starring Austin'


Bus station in Slacker

For those of us who get our kicks seeing how many locations in locally shot films we recognize (see my Miss Congeniality review), producer/political consultant Mike Blizzard (No No: A Dockumentary) is currently working on a project along those lines entitled Also Starring Austin

Still in the works, this documentary will include clips from feature films, TV shows, shorts or music videos filmed in town to show the changes in Austin through the years. Slackerwood has already reviewed some of the movies (Don's review of Roadie is another example), but some are a bit harder to find. Also Starring Austin will also include interviews with people from the Austin film community.

In an interview we conducted by email, Blizzard, a current member of the Austin Film Society Board of Directors, explained more about the project.

Tickets to AFF's Film & Food Party Now On Sale


Austin Film Festival Film & Food Party poster

Are you looking for a place to network, bid on movie memorabilia, and nibble on tasty tidbits from local restaurants? Austin Film Festival's 11th annual Film & Food Party -- a fundraiser for AFF's Young Filmmakers Program -- offers you the chance to do just that in one night. 

Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) will be the honorary chair for the event on Wednesday, October 23 at the Driskill -- the night before AFF begins.

Jette took me as her plus-one to last year's party, and we got to taste a variety of flavors from local spots. While I was slightly disappointed that the "cheese balcony" only had two or three types of cheese available (I was expecting a ridiculous cornucopia of cheeses), I did enjoy them all. Mini cupcakes and sweet-and-spicy popcorn were among other yummy options available.

Restaurants involved in the Film & Food Party this year include Foreign & Domestic, Garrido's, Moonshine Patio Bar & Grill, and Kenichi ... along with many more.

To give you some idea of the scope of the silent auction, items in 2012 ranged from a leather messenger bag (which Jette bid on*) to spa bundles to autographed scripts and movie posters. The live auction is likely to include some nifty getaways. 

Slackerwood's own Marcie Mayhorn is on the planning committee for the festivities, so it's sure to be great. You can buy tickets on AFF's site; $100 online, $125 at the door, $80 for AFF members or badgeholders.

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