Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

AFS Essential Cinema Celebrates Wales


Paul Robeson (on L) stars in The Proud Valley

The next Essential Cinema lineup from Austin Film Society starts Tuesday night, with a focus on Welsh cinema. For those of us whose Welsh pop-culture exposure is currently limited to episodes of Gavin & Stacey and Torchwood, this late fall lineup gives us a chance to experience a little more of the country's cinematic culture. SXSW programmer Jim Kolmar is the guest curator for this series.

From November 13 through December 18, the movies in "Music in the Blood, Poetry in the Soul: Wales on Screen" will screen each Tuesday night at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. Tickets are free for AFS members at the LOVE level, $5 for members at the WATCH or MAKE level, and $8 for general admission.

Here's the lineup:

Patagonia (2010)
Tuesday, Nov. 13, 7 pm
This film pairs the stories of a couple journeying to a Welsh settlement in Argentine Patagonia and an elderly Welsh-Argentine woman traveling to Wales. The movie is filmed in both Welsh and Spanish languages (and has English subtitles).

Review: Skyfall


Daniel Craig in Skyfall

Bond: Everyone needs a hobby.
Silva: What's yours?
Bond: Resurrection.

Skyfall is so unlike a typical Bond movie, yet at the same time is the quintessential Bond film. The usual ingredients are all here: despicable antagonist, multiple international locations, disposable female characters, some of the same team at MI6 and many shots of a shirtless Daniel Craig (the last of which I will never complain about). In the hands of director Sam Mendes, however, Skyfall is the most masterfully shot film about James Bond I've seen.

The film starts in media res, chords from the Bond theme playing in the first shot as Craig's Bond quietly walks down a dark hallway. His boss M (the marvelous Dame Judi Dench) has him searching -- along with kickass Eve (Naomie Harris, 28 Days Later...) -- for a stolen hard drive that contains a list of all the NATO agents covertly working in terrorist organizations. M is catching flak from her new government overseer Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) for her lack of control over the situation.

Making Election Night a Truly Theatrical Experience


2008 Debate viewing party at the Alamo, by David Hill

As election date has drawn ever nearer, I've started to feel as annoyed as this little girl about the constant poll numbers and horse-race-media-analysis of this year's Presidential election. Can't it all just be over already? In all seriousness, though, GO VOTE today if you didn't vote early. Here's a nifty mobile application* if you need help finding a nearby polling place in Austin.

If you are still excited and eager about election night and all that means, some local venues have you covered! Each of the Alamo Drafthouse locations is hosting an Election Results party starting at 7 pm tonight.  A $5 voucher gets you in the door (and covers part of your food/drink order). State and local races will also be included in the coverage shown at the Alamo.

The Violet Crown Cinema will also host an Election Night Watch party. The televisions in their lobby and lounge will be showing election results, as will one of their theater screens. The night's menu will include such goodies as Red, White, and Bleu Cheese Pizza (red peppers, bleu cheese and prosciutto), an All-American Hot Dog, and Wateroak Chevre Panna Cotta with local blueberries and raspberries, as well as their usual fare. Both the Alamo and VCC state that all political parties are welcome!

AFF Review: Flight


Denzel Washington in Flight

Movies like Flight are why reviews are necessary. I had seen the trailer and expected the film to be a legal thriller: what happened to the plane Denzel Washington's character pilots to cause it to crash? And how was he able to land it with only a small number killed in the process? Well, the laugh was on me, because you discover the answers to these questions in the first 30 minutes of the movie. Instead of being a thriller, Flight -- which screened at Austin Film Festival and opens in wide release Friday -- is a drawn-out drama about alcoholism.

The movie kicks off with the Barenaked Ladies song "Alcohol," which pretty much tells you what you need to know about this movie. All the late-1990s music in the soundtrack had me wondering if the movie really was based in the 21st century. Pilot Whit Whitaker (Denzel Washington) lounges in a hotel bed, chatting on a cell phone as his flight attendant ladyfriend (Nadine Velazquez) walks around s-l-o-w-l-y getting dressed for the day and lighting up a joint. Whit finishes up a beer, snorts some coke and walks to his plane as Joe Cocker's "Feelin' Alright" plays. And then disaster strikes, and Whit is able to overcome it.

AFF Review: The Sapphires


Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy and Shari Sebbens in The Sapphires

Movies about the Aboriginal experience in Australia fascinate me, from the ridiculous Australia -- which I love anyway -- to the far more intense Rabbit-Proof Fence. The Sapphires shares some common themes with Rabbit-Proof Fence (as well as sharing actress Deborah Mailman), but otherwise is different from other Australian films I've seen. Like the 2002 drama, this musical touches on the damage the Australian government did to the Aboriginal communities by removing children (the "stolen generations") from their parents.

Sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Julie (Australian Idol Jessica Mauboy) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) used to sing with their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) as children until Kay was tragically taken away.  Now it's the late '60s and the adult sisters meet soul-music-loving organ player Dave (the always enjoyable Chris O'Dowd) through a talent contest.  Julie has found an ad asking for performers to entertain troops in Vietnam and the women -- along with their newly recovered cousin -- form a group and try out.

AFF 2012 Dispatch: Activists, Muslims and Looking for Old Friends


Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah in The Muslims Are Coming

I had a somewhat low-key start to my Austin Film Festival as I only attended one movie on opening night. I chose to watch Finding Mercy, which screened at the Bob Bullock Texas Spirit Theatre. I think there were only about 20 of us at the Thursday screening, which was a tad disappointing. 

In this documentary, filmmaker Robyn Paterson, who was raised in Zimbabwe, goes back to the troubled country on a quest to find her best childhood friend.  Considering Mugabe's iron fist rule in the years since she left the country as a child, Paterson almost fears the worst, but is determined. She meets up with other childhood friends in her journey -- the one who is now a wheeler-dealer is quite interesting. She cuts deals with a shady cop, is sent on something of a crazy goosechase and covertly chronicles her search throughout.

Finding Mercy moved me far more than I expected it to (there were tears involved), and I was satisfied in my film choice for the first night. [Facebook page]

AFF 2012 Interview: Elizabeth Mims, 'Only the Young'


Kevin and Garrison in Only the Young

Stopping at Austin Film Festival on a festival circuit, Only the Young is a look at a relationship between three evangelical teens in suburban Southern California: two skaters who are best pals and their female friend (sometime girlfriend of one of the guys). Austinite Elizabeth Mims is one of the directors of this documentary, and answered a few questions I had before watching the film.

Slackerwood: What is your connection to Austin?

Elizabeth Mims: I grew up in Austin and my family lives here. I even went to Austin High. I adore this town and I'm thrilled the film is playing here.

You co-directed Only the Young with Jason Tippet. How did the two of you meet?

Mims: Jason and I met while going to CalArts. After showing our work to the class it was clear we shared some stylistic choices. Together at CalArts we developed a style first by making a short documentary, Thompson. When embarking on the feature we already had an understanding of what worked from the short.

How did you decide that these Christian skater kids would be good documentary subjects? How much time was spent following these teens?

Mims: We decided that Garrison and Kevin would be good documentary subjects from the moment we met them. While checking out the new skatepark the kids approached us asking if we had lost keys to a Jag. These punk looking kids were making an effort to find the owner rather than just hunting for the car themselves in the parking lot... or throwing the keys over a fence as many of my high school peers would have attempted. It was also clear that Kevin and Garrison had been friends for a long time, speaking to each other in confident unconcerned tones that only come with years of friendship.

Was there ever a period of time when the kids got upset or uncomfortable with you filming them, or were they easygoing throughout the process?

AFF Review: Only the Young


Kevin, Skye & Garrison in Only the Young

In Canyon Country, California, teen skaters Garrison and Kevin and their female friend Skye frolic amongst the dry, desolate landscape. Skye and Garrison go on dates to an abandoned golf park and Garrison and Kevin have made an empty house their hangout. Only the Young, from directors Austinite Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet, depicts a period of time in the lives of these high schoolers. 

Skye describes on-again,-off-again boyfriend Garrison as "a conservative who loves punk rock." Her father is in jail, she recently found out her mom is not dead, and she currently lives with her grandparents. Skye is sharp-tongued and endearing -- well, really all the kids are somewhat endearing in this movie. Kevin and Garrison are best buds, and are trying to figure out what will happen after graduation. Their economic situation is somewhat up in the air.

AFF Review: Rising from Ashes


Team Rwanda in Rising From Ashes

The documentary Rising from Ashes follows the formation of the Team Rwanda cycling team. As director T. C. Johnstone told me, "In 2005, I traveled to Rwanda with my friends Dan Cooper and Tom Ritchey ... One morning we arrived in the parking lot to find 15 cyclists; Dan had met them on a previous trip. They rode with Tom for 100 miles and over dinner the idea of a team came together. They asked if I was interested in making a film about it. Seven years later, here we are!"

Johnstone's film, narrated by actor/producer Forest Whitaker, portrays the beauty of the recovering African country while introducing viewers to the members of the new team, as well as their coach, Jock Boyer.

AFF Review: Informant


Brandon Darby in Informant

Informant, a thrilling documentary from Jamie Meltzer, tells the story of Austinite Brandon Darby, the former anarchist who turned in Brad Crowder and David McKay during the RNC protests in 2008. How did Darby morph from someone who "would've attacked the government for what it was doing to people" in New Orleans during Katrina to someone who trusted governmental authority so much that he would inform on a planned/possible attack? Meltzer's film, through intimate interviews (almost like on-camera confessions) with Darby and some of his former associates, attempts to explain.

The movie introduces the viewer to Darby through his work with other activists co-founding the Common Ground Collective in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. He comes off as determined in his work to serve the people in the Ninth Ward. He and his pal Scott Crow (also an Austinite) brought guns to the city to combat the violence against "looters." Crow speaks of Darby's "revolutionary rhetoric." Then when you think you have some vague idea about the kind of guy Darby is, or rather was, a bizarro trip to Venezuela brings a change to his character.

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