Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Review: In a World...

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L: Fred Melamed and Lake Bell, R: Demitri Martin and Lake Bell in IN A WORLD...

In a World... is the kind of film you find yourself recommending to various friends the week after seeing it -- or at least I did. Lake Bell wrote and directed the feminist comedy*, in which she also plays Carol, a struggling female voiceover artist in a world of men, ahem. In between gigs -- which is most of the time -- she works as a vocal coach. When an opportunity arises for her to compete against men who are better known in the business, she takes it.

Carol has grown up in the shadow of her father, Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), a renowned voiceover artist. Sam hopes to hand off his legacy to heir apparent Gustav (Ken Marino, Wet Hot American Summer) and tells his daughter that the "industry does not crave the female sound." That's just a taste of the institutional sexism Carol has to confront. She stammers her way through awkward situations, yet she's utterly composed in the recording booth.

Interview: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, 'The World's End'

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Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost at Alamo Lakeline by Jack Plunkett

I had the chance to participate in my first roundtable interview in late July when writer/director Edgar Wright, writer/actor Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost stopped in Austin on their "Last Call Tour." They met with press on a Saturday afternoon and did a Q&A at the Alamo Drafthouse's new Lakeline location that night (pictured above), all to celebrate their latest film together, The World's End.

In The World's End, a group of men in their forties are reunited by Gary (Pegg), a man who aims to be cool and is determined to take on "The Golden Mile" -- a pub run -- with his former schoolmates. The planned excursion will finish in the wee hours at the final pub, The World's End... if the group can make it that far.

To combat any nervousness I had, I re-watched some episodes of Spaced on Netflix before heading up to the Four Seasons Hotel. When I walked into the room where Pegg and Frost were sitting (Wright was running late), it felt somewhat similar to running into old friends. After seeing his bleak look in The World's End, I had worried Pegg was aging prematurely, but he looked perfectly fine that day in a polo shirt and glasses. Frost also wore specs with his dark, pearl-buttoned shirt.

Lone Star Cinema: Local Hero

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Peter Riegert, Burt Lancaster and Peter Capaldi in Local Hero

Just a few weeks ago, there was much buzz around the internet about the new Doctor picked for the BBC series Doctor Who: Peter Capaldi.  Sure, he's best known now for his acerbic Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and In the Loop, but Local Hero is what first brought Capaldi to my attention many moons ago. It seems a good time to revisit the 1983 film about a Houston oilman's visit to a small Scottish town.

The film opens to jangly guitar music as Mac (Peter Riegert) navigates a highway in Houston. He is about to be assigned a trip to Scotland in hopes he can negotiate a deal to buy out the seaside village of Ferness.  The company for which he works, Knox Industries, has plans to gut the town and place an oil refinery on that coast.

The head of this company is Felix Happer, played by Burt Lancaster. Happer lives in a penthouse atop the company's downtown office building, somewhat closed off from the world except for abrasive visits from his therapist and phone calls from prime ministers. Happer is an astronomy enthusiast and instructs Mac, before he sends him off, "Keep an eye on Virgo for me." 

AFF Screens Texas Shorts on Wednesday

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AFF Texas Shorts imageThe Austin Film Festival has compiled a slate of short films for "An Evening of Texas Shorts" as part of their 20th anniversary celebration. This Wednesday evening at the Texas Spirit Theatre of the Bob Bullock State History Museum, 11 shorts with Texas ties from past AFFs will be shown (tickets are $5, free for AFF members).

In the program:

Some Analog Lines (2006), David Lowery
An essay film about technology. Lowery's buzzworthy feature Ain't Them Bodies Saints comes out later in August.

The Significant Other (1994), Tassos Rigopoulos
A single woman's friends bug her about finding a guy. Filmed at an Amy's Ice Creams (it looks like it's the original Guadalupe location) in 1993 and shot on 16mm.

Oh My God (2004), John Bryant
Looks like this one is a very dark comedy. Jette says, "I had to watch it peeking between my fingers over my eyes, but it was hilarious." The short also screened at Sundance Film Festival. Bryant is currently running a crowdfunding campaign for another dark comic short, John 3:16.

Pigeon: Impossible (2009), Lucas Martell
Animated short about a special agent troubled by a pigeon in his suitcase. Martell is now working on a new short film, The OceanMaker. Watch Pigeon Impossible below:

Review: The Act of Killing

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Anwar Congo and dummy in The Act of Killing

Anwar Congo is a slender, grizzled old man from Indonesia who enjoys spending time with his grandkids. But back in the 1960s, he tortured and killed hundreds of people suspected of being Communists. He is one of several such men that filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer spent years filming for his movie The Act of Killing. Oppenheimer had hoped to make an earlier film about the culture of fear in Indonesia, but was thwarted along the way. So he asked these boastful killers to participate in a film where they would play themselves and/or the victims they murdered.

This idea isn't as bizarre as it sounds. During the course of their filmmaking, selective memory is evident as a former prison guard confesses he had no idea that folks were being tortured in the office next to him (doubtful!).  Sadism serves as a sort of theme. Congo frets that he doesn't want to come off as sadistic in the film they're making, and repeatedly says -- almost as if to assure himself -- that he was never sadistic in his treatment of the people he killed. And yet. During a break from shooting a pillage scene, one of Congo's pals (trigger warning!) fondly remembers his days of raping 14-year-old girls, and the group around him makes sounds of approval. Another of Congo's contemporaries recalls killing Chinese people in the streets -- including the father of his girlfriend at the time. 

Alamo Spotlights Women in Westerns

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Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden in Johnny Guitar

Alamo Drafthouse Ritz will showcase kick-ass women in Westerns in August, under the theme "She Died with Her Boots On: Women and the West." While my favorite female-led Western Cat Ballou didn't make the cut, the four films chosen look like a good blend of the slightly unusual, the bizarre and the more traditional, all featuring tough broads.

The movies will screen at Alamo Ritz at 7 pm on Wednesday nights:

Westward the Women (1951) -- Wednesday, August 14
Robert Taylor leads a large group of women from Chicago to meet their new husbands in California. The typical trail problems (rivers to cross, illness) beset them, along with other difficulties they must face as women (such as having a baby during the journey or being sexually assaulted).

Essential Cinema Celebrates Pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck in August

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Barbara Stanwyck and David Manners in The Miracle Woman

I was overjoyed to hear that Austin Film Society has picked one of my favorite actresses as their focus next month. Tuesday evenings in August, four films that Barbara Stanwyck made before the Hays Code was in effect will be shown at AFS at the Marchesa.

These pre-code movies have attention-grabbing storylines. Unlike films produced under the code, there isn't necessarily any punishment for the naughty or driven woman. And, boy, does Stanwyck play the naughty woman well! She also portrays working-class women with aplomb.

I asked AFS programmer Lars Nilsen why he chose Stanwyck for August's theme and he told me, "The idea for the series came to me when I was rewatching Ladies They Talk About. I had seen many other Stanwyck pre-code films, but on this viewing I began just admiring everything about Stanwyck's gifts as an actress and as an especially authentic individual, even in an age that prized personal authenticity in its stars. I could feel the love that contemporaneous viewers must have felt for her in these early films... She's like a female Cagney, a little tough guy, with the advantage of glamour that she can turn on and off as it suits her. Her personal charm and character are all her own. She earned them."

APL Invites You to the Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Bad Film Festival

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attack of the crab monsterOn Mondays and Wednesdays starting today (July 22) through August 5, Austin Public Library's Carver Branch invites you to watch some wonderfully terrible movies. The library is calling it the Return of the Revenge of the Son of the Bad Film Festival. These screenings are free and open to the public, showing in the Carver library's meeting rooms [map] at 6:30 pm. Do you dare to partake?

Here's the lineup:

  • Monday, July 22, Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957) -- Directed by Roger Corman, this film has folks stuck on an island under the control of giant crabs who happen to eat brains.
  • Wednesday, July 24, The Thing with Two Heads (1972) -- Ray Milland plays a bigot who has to share a body with convict Rosie Grier.  Here's the trailer:

Slackery News Tidbits: July 15, 2013

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Dominic Monaghan and Elijah Wood

Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The Austin Film Society's "AFS at the Marchesa" campaign was a success, raising 104% of the goal amount. The donated funds will soon be put toward improvements at the Marchesa venue, such as a digital projector, a 35mm changeover system, and setting up the theatre for Dolby 5.1 surround sound.  Donations are still welcome if you haven't pitched in yet.
  • In other AFS news, Carol Pirie has joined the staff as Executive Administrator. Pirie comes with decades of experience from her work at the Texas Film Commission. Stephanie Baker, Austin Film Society's Marketing Director, says, "As we go to expand Austin Studios with the acquisition of the former National Guard Armory, using $5.4 million from the 2012 bond election, we'll be doubling, at least, the number of tenants at Austin Studios. Carol will be instrumental in the many transactions and details involved in the expansion. We created this position to prepare for the expansion, and Carol, with her 23 years of experience at the Texas Film Commission, is the first person who came to mind. Carol brings many relationships along with her that will be beneficial as we grow. Her position will also play a key role in all matters that keep the Film Society going, including strategic planning, fundraising and stakeholder relations."
  • Locally-made movie Zero Charisma is set to have its international premiere at Fantasia Fest. The narrative feature (Jette's SXSW review), about Dungeons and Dragons player Scott who doesn't deal well with change, will screen July 20 and 27 in Montreal.

Alamo Lakeline Ready to Host Grand Opening -- and 'Machete Kills'

Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline under construction

Alamo Drafthouse Lakeline has announced its grand opening for the week of July 22. The new location, near Lakeline Mall on 183 North, is the largest Drafthouse so far with ten screens and seating for almost a thousand attendees.

Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek shows its last movie on Sunday, July 21, with programming at Lakeline set to start Monday, July 22. About the closing of the Lake Creek location, founder and Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League says, "I built the original Lake Creek Alamo with my own two hands... I am excited that more skilled craftsmen than myself have replaced it with a brand new state-of-the-art cinema for the neighborhood."

The special programming for Lakeline's grand opening includes a screening of Planet of the Apes on Friday, July 26 [info], with moviegoers encouraged to wear primate-inspired clothing in honor of the ape-themed lobby in the new facility. A Girlie Night advance screening of The Spectacular Now will take place Thursday, July 25 [info], a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed pizza party on Saturday, July 27 [info], and a Curious George family red-carpet event co-sponsored by KLRU [info] late Saturday morning.

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