Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry


Ai Weiwei and one of his many cats in Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Through his 30 years in the art world and his concurrent works of activism, Chinese native Ai Weiwei has become a larger-than-life figure. We have a tendency to almost canonize people who work for the betterment of their societies (see: Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa), and I admit I had started thinking of Ai in this fashion. The movie Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry reminds us that there is most definitely a man, foibles and all, behind the works of art and activism.

American director Alison Klayman's first film documents a few years (2008-2011) in the life of Ai. The Chinese artist is interviewed by various media, as well as the director, throughout the documentary. We are told some of his family history -- his dad, poet Ai Qing, suffered persecution and imprisonment by the Chinese government through large chunks of his life.  This gives some background into Ai's determination to make noise and be heard (also, it seems watching the Iran Contra hearings on TV while he lived in NYC made a large impact on him as well). "Chinese law is a big joke," he tells the camera at one point.

Ai Weiwei really burst into the international spotlight with his work on the Bird's Nest stadium for the Beijing Olympics, followed by his outspoken refusal to attend the 2008 Olympics in his home country. The audience is shown glimpses of his artistic process for a few of his works. "I mainly make the decisions," he says, leaving assistants to do further work on his pieces.

Quick Snaps: Alamo Drafthouse Returns to Reserved Seating


Alamo Drafthouse tickets from 1999

The Alamo Drafthouse announced earlier this month that they are finally moving towards full reserved seating. So far, the Village location is the only theatre in the chain where it will be implemented. All shows at the Village are 100 percent reserved seating, which started yesterday (July 30).

Unlike earlier tests, however, there will be no upcharge for reserving your seat. In recent years, the Alamo Drafthouse team has been considering alternatives to their general seating plan (you know, folks showing up about 45 minutes before screening time, lining up in loud queues in the lobby, hoping to snag a good seat when the theatre opens). They tried out something like the Southwest Airlines cattle-call, priority seating.

Traverse City Film Festival's Strange Attraction to Austin


Bob Byington in Traverse City in 2009

The eighth annual Traverse City Film Festival will be held July 31 through August 5 in Michigan. The festival was founded by filmmaker/activist Michael Moore in his hometown. Moore recently wrote about his decision to restore the theatre in Traverse City and start a film festival there. Unlike other film festivals that tend to be pricey, Moore says, "Tickets are cheap, and many events -- like the nightly outdoor films we show on a 100-foot screen by the water --– are free."

Of the 91 shorts and features scheduled during the 2012 fest, six have Texas connections. Bob Byington's Somebody Up There Likes Me (SXSW review), Richard Linklater's Bernie (SXSW review), Jeff Nichols' Take Shelter (review), Alex Karpovsky's Red Flag (LAFF review), and Dallas native Terence Nance's An Oversimplification of Her Beauty will be screened at the Michigan festival. Kat Candler's short film Hellion (SXSW review) will be shown as a midnight short.

Byington, who was awarded the Stanley Kubrick Award for Innovative Filmmaking at the 2009 fest, will appear on a panel about comedy in film with Larry Charles.

Austin 48 Hour Film Project Meetup This Thursday


Katie Schneller holds the slate during the 2007 48HFP. 

The 48 Hour Film Project competition happens this summer, and there will be a meet-and-greet on Thursday, July 19 for folks interested in taking part. Thursday's free get-together [RSVP here] will be held at Vuka Coop from 7-10 pm with music provided by DJ kidGorilla. Registration for August's project will be held at the event -- it's $140 until July 30 (when the registration price increases).

The project gives participants 48 hours (August 24-26) to complete a short film; more than 4,000 films are expected to be created through this year's international competitions. Screenings of the Austin-made films will be held on August 28-30, when the shorts will be scored by the audience and a special panel. The film that wins Austin's competition will then show at Filmapalooza, the annual awards put on by the 48 Hour Film Project, and could make its way to the screens at Cannes 2013.

Lone Star Cinema: Office Space

 Ron Livingston, David Herman and Ajay Naidu in Office Space

Although Office Space wasn't a mega-hit in theaters, the workplace comedy has become a cult classic. The 1999 movie, shot in Austin and Dallas, has lent such lines to the lexicon as "Looks like someone has the case of the Mondays." Mike Judge's first full-length live-action movie follows the plight of workers at a generic white-collar company called Initech.

Office drone Peter (Ron Livingston) has a job he hates, stuck in a cubicle across from a lady who repetitively answers her phone in a high-pitched tone, overseen by eight bosses -- one of which is Lumbergh (Gary Cole in ginormous specs). Peter's work buddies are Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman), both of whom constantly vent frustrations on their wonky fax machine. Bolton is beleagured by folks who ask if he's related to the singer. When asked why he won't go by Mike instead, he responds, "Why should I change, he's the one who sucks."

Peter dreams of dating waitress Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) who serves at Chotchkie's, a TGIFriday's/Applebee's/Bennigans (RIP) mashup. After his (soon-to-be ex) girlfriend takes him to an occupational hypnotherapist (Michael McShane, whose appearance made me reminiscent for the early days of Whose Line Is It Anyway?), Peter undergoes a sort of attitude adjustment; he gets up the nerve to ask Joanna out and stops going to the office.

A 'Waiting for Guffman' Trip to Lockhart


Blaine townhall & Corky's apartment

If you didn't pick this up from my gushing post last year, Christopher Guest's Waiting for Guffman is one of my favorite films. Upon finding out that the comedy is showing at the Paramount this summer (July 10 and 11), my friend April and I decided a visit to Lockhart was in order. We would search out the exteriors used in the 1996 comedy about Blaine, Missouri's sesquicentennial, and eat some delicious barbecue as well!

After some online location hunting, April and I headed out to Lockhart on the morning of Father's Day (my dad condoned this trip as long as we ate at Black's). Our first stop in town, once we drove by Black's and noted that there was absolutely no line, was near the silos used in the early shots of the movie. These are on North Pecos Street, by the railroad tracks.

Review: Leave It on the Track


Dirty Blonde and Dee Toxin in Leave It on the Track

Leave It on the Track, premiering this week at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, is a sort of ode to the women of roller derby. The documentary, from local actor/director Benjamin Pascoe, depicts the Fall 2009 championship bout between the Hellcats and the Cherry Bombs, teams in the banked-track TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls league in Austin.

For newbies to the sport, the film includes explanations of how roller derby is played and how it was revived in Austin and has since spread through the nation (and the world). I haven't yet attended any games (I know, I know), so it was nice to have a refresher on the rules of the game. Cherry Chainsaw (Olivia Vernon) leads the Cherry Bombs, a team that's a recent addition to the league. Chainsaw is harsh and fearless -- okay, most of these ladies are, but we are told by players, and shown clips exhibiting, that she is one of the fiercest. The Hellcats have been in the league from the formation of the TXRD and are managed by Jonny Stranger (a local filmmaker who also serves as one of the producers for the film).

The teams are vying for the Calvello cup, named after Ann Calvello, a tough broad and one of the early legends in roller derby. The women on these teams are strongly dedicated to this sport, which takes so much out of them and doesn't give much in way of financial benefit. Some of the league members have little or no health insurance. One player sustained an injury so bad that folks expected her to leave the game, but she was back on the track as soon as she could be. It's all about the love for the sport, as well as the connection with their team mates.

Lone Star Cinema: Where the Heart Is


Natalie Portman in Where the Heart Is

I both read the original Billie Letts book and watched the film version of Where The Heart Is very closely together in 2001 -- so closely together I can't recall whether I saw the movie or read the book first. Either way, I remember that I didn't care too much for the movie but I really liked the book. If only I had realized, during this truly homesick year of my life spent in Minnesota, that the 2000 film was shot in Central Texas, I'm certain it would have made more of a sentimental impact on me.

There really are not many locational hints in Where the Heart Is to tell you that the movie was filmed in Texas, unless you recognized the Baylor campus at the end. When I watched it more recently, I spied Sixth Street standing in for Nashville and I spotted a building in Lockhart's town square appearing quickly as a hotel (I only recognized the building because I had been in Lockhart the previous weekend on a Waiting for Guffman quest, but that's another post!). Mainly the Central Texas locations stand in for the fictional town of Sequoia, Oklahoma, as plucky pregnant teen Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) is stranded at the Wal-Mart there by her mulleted douchebag boyfriend (Dylan Bruno).

Austin Music and Film Collide in Two Upcoming Events


'Extract' World Premiere in Austin

A panel on music and film and a musical performance from a movie star, all in one week -- that's Austin for you.

Next Wednesday, June 27, join Austin Film Society for the "Music in Film in Music" panel at Soundcheck Studio on the Austin Studios lot. Director Andrew Shapter (Before the Music Dies) will moderate the panel, which includes music supervisor Dominique Preyer and sound editor Tom Hammond. The panelists will discuss how to find music for your film -- or how eager musicians might connect with the right film to score.

This event will also include the results of a scoring competition. Audience members and panelists will view a clip from the in-progress documentary Yakona, accompanied by music from the winning composers.

Blue Starlite Drive-in Announces Summer Schedule at Austin Studios


Still from Waking Life

Austin's own mini urban drive-in, Blue Starlite, is revving up for the summer. The drive-in will kick off this season's schedule at their new location on July 4. The Blue Starlite is even building a movie screen for their new site at Austin Studios.

Besides the holiday-appropriate screening on July 4 and a special late-night horror screening, most of the films for the month of July have a distinctly Austin flavor, thanks to a partnership with Austin Film Society.

Bike-in or walk-in tickets for the movies are $5, but you'll need to bring your own seating. Car packages range from $25 to $55. Note for cars: For any double features, an additional $10 lets you stay for the second film.

Here's the lineup:

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