Mike Saulters's blog

Preview: aGLIFF Polari 2012



The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival, rebranded "Polari" for its 25th year, takes place this week with screenings -- and parties -- in a number of downtown Austin venues.

The movies begin with the opening-night film at the Stateside Theater, continue Thursday at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, include screenings at the Paramount on Friday night, and then finish at Stateside and Ritz on Saturday and Sunday ... not to mention a couple of shows at Violet Crown Cinema on Saturday. FYI, the Violet Crown shows require ticket purchase in advance.

So, where should you spend your time? Should you jump around downtown, or pick your favorite theater and stick to it? The aGLIFF Polari programming team puts in a lot of work to make the best selections, and you can almost guarantee the only way to lose this game is not to play.  If you'd like to take take a tour of the venues, here are some selections of note each night.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Fantastic Sounds


Holy Motors

Every year we celebrate the films of Fantastic Fest, awarding prizes for best films in various genres, best actors and actresses and best director. But many of this year's entries, it's safe to say, can be recognized for something that often goes unmentioned at the fest: their music.

Studio films, independents, narratives and documentaries all were well represented in the soundtrack department this year at the fest. One of the audience favorites was a sci-fi musical comedy featuring tunes from a two-man band, Future Folk, who performed live during the closing night party. By the midpoint of the fest, links to a track from one film had already begun circulating on Twitter feeds.

We've collected the following as a sampling of the sounds of Fantastic Fest 2012.

"Strange Love" from Frankenweenie -- This music by Karen O plays as the credits roll.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Mike's Best of the Fest



As I wrap up the last day of Fantastic Fest 2012, I've got my top ten selections that I thought were the best movies from this year's festival.

10. My Amityville Horror -- As a complete stranger to the Amityville story, I thought this would be a great way to learn what it was all about. This documentary covering the untold story of Dan Lutz was an eye-opener. Good pacing and a charismatic subject held my interest throughout. It can be difficult to approach a nearly 40 year-old tragedy from a new angle, but My Amityville Horror did that nicely. (Austin connection: Producer Christine Irons is from Austin.)

9. Sightseers (pictured at top) -- The first of two secret screenings, this dark British road trip comedy from director Ben Wheatley was original and clever. It takes murder from a guilty pleasure to a joyful enterprise. Great character performances ensure the success of a film with sometimes uncomfortable subject matter.

Fantastic Fest Review: The Final Member


The Final Member

Directors Jonah Bekhor and Zach Math follow the final work of the creator and curator of the Icelandic Phallological Museum, the only penis museum in the world, in the documentary The Final Member. Beginning in 1974 when he was 17 as the result of of a joke, Sigurdur Hjartarson has collected specimens from every known species of mammal save one.

Documenting Hjartarson's mission to complete the collection takes the filmmaking team from Iceland to the U.S. to meet a man who wants to donate his own member to the museum. His desire to achieve fame for his penis becomes a large focus of the documentary, which pits him against a famous Icelandic nonogenarian who also wants the honor of being the first donor. The ego battle between them is perhaps more interesting than the museum collection itself.

Fantastic Fest Review: Looper


LooperIf you haven't already seen Brick or The Brothers Bloom, then Looper is certainly a great way to introduce yourself to writer/director Rian Johnson. A frequent visitor to Austin, Johnson premiered Looper before a Fantastic Fest audience on Sunday night at the Alamo Drafthouse, the same location where he introduced The Brothers Bloom in 2007.

Looper is an unusual combination of sci-fi action and thought-provoking drama. This duopoly is fitting for the story, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays an assassin, aka a "looper," who must execute his older self --  portrayed by Bruce Willis -- as a condition of his employment and continuing survival, a task known as "closing the loop."

With a team of his fellow assasins hunting him, young Joe's only hope to survive and enjoy the wealth he has saved is to complete his mission, but his older self also has a mission to preserve the life he has lived. As he faces himself, young Joe is decisive and quick to act, with the advantage in the knowledge that he can't be killed by his older self. Old Joe, however, has the benefit of 30 years of training and experience as well as memories, though they are in a state of flux caused by his presence in the past.

Though time travel is essential to the existence of this story, it is not a hardcore time travel story. Old Joe speaks on behalf of Johnson to the audience when he says, "I don't want to talk about time travel!"  If you pick it apart, Looper could unravel, but a deep exploration into the effects of changing the timeline isn't the story Johnson wants to tell.

Old Joe is no android sent back to ensure the destruction of humanity. He's absolutely human and operates based on ultimately humane motives. Even Abe (Jeff Daniels), the head of the Looper organization, is not a malevolent agent. He has chosen and fostered unwanted young men who would otherwise face a short life of poverty, providing a father figure to them. Technology and time travel serve only as enablers for the human elements of the story.

Fantastic Fest 2012: Mid-Fest Buzz


Fantastic Fest 2012 tickets

We're halfway through Fantastic Fest 2012, and that means we still have four more days of amazing movies, friends and partying. Many filmmakers and industry types have left or will be leaving, to be replaced with second-half badgeholders. For those of you just arriving, we've got some tips and updates.

First, you must navigate the ticketing system. At 9:30 am you have two choices. You can stand in line at the South Lamar box office, or you can go online at http://tix.fantasticfest.com and click the Reserve Boarding Passes button, which puts you in the ticket queue. When your turn comes up in the queue, you enter your badge number and then select from the available films in each timeslot for the day. When you're finished, click the button at the bottom of the page to return to the Fantastic Fest homepage. There will be no other confirmation that you are done. Also, you must still go to the box office to have your tickets printed and number assigned. (Don't be scared by the high numbers. You can get a pretty good seat even with a number above 200.)

Review: Trouble With the Curve


Trouble With the CurveClint Eastwood talked to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention this summer. He begins his new film, Trouble With the Curve, talking to a toilet ... so maybe that was his idea of a clever marketing campaign. Aside from that oddity, the movie is actually a fun, sometimes sober, oddball look at growing older and coming to terms with past regrets.

Penned by first-time writer Randy Brown, Trouble with the Curve is directed by Robert Lorenz, likewise sitting in the director's chair for the first time, though he has assisted on many films.

The story, which could be called an answer to Moneyball, centers around Eastwood's character Gus. An aging baseball scout, Gus operates in a technology vacuum, making him a target for ladder-climbing Phillip Sanderson, played true to type by Matthew Lillard. With the end of his contract nearing, Gus embarks on what may be his last scouting trip.

Fearing for Gus, best friend Pete (John Goodman) asks Gus's daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to accompany her dad on his scouting trip. She takes a break from her law practice to join him, and they soon encounter Johnny (Justin Timberlake), an old recruit of Gus's who is now a scout himself. The story then splits its focus as it explores a budding romance between Mickey and Johnny as well as the tensions between Gus and Mickey.

Trouble with the Curve is a solid, fun film that doesn't try to make any big statement other than perhaps "Growing old sucks, so you'd better make the best of it." Eastwood seems to be having fun with the role, knocking one-liners out of the park. The cast includes a number of other notable character actors including Chelcie Ross, Bob Gunton, and Robert Patrick. Look also for Clint's son Scott Eastwood, who appears in a scene with his father.

But it is Amy Adams who carries this picture. Lovely as ever, the Oscar-nominated actress is at the center of both storylines in Trouble with the Curve, essentially performing in both a romantic comedy and a light drama. 

Fantastic Fest 2012 Day One: Slow Burn



After almost a week of cooler than usual weather, Austin returned to the upper 90s just in time for the first official day of Fantastic Fest. Badgeholders lined up at 9:30 am to pick up their tickets for the day's shows, and travellers continued arriving throughout the day.

The Mondo pop-up store opened at noon, with new posters for festival films as well as the infamous "flat file" stuffed with goodies as well as a preview of the gallery's October show, which will feature Universal monsters.

Well before its 6:00 pm showtime, Frankenweenie had drawn crowds of festival-goers as well as dozens of dog owners dressed to the nines with their dolled-up pooches. Frankenweenie was followed by a Q&A with Director Tim Burton as well as stars Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and producer Allison Abbate. Read Rod's review to find out more about the movie.

Hot Tickets at Fantastic Fest 2012


Fantastic Fest

Today is the beginning of another (8th, in fact) Fantastic Fest, the homegrown brainchild of Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League, Ain't It Cool head geek Harry Knowles, Paul Alvarado-Dykstra  and Tim McCanlies, which has grown into an international powerhouse of the genre film world. The fest runs through Thursday, September 27, and genre film lovers are arriving in Austin from around the country ... around the world, even, as the emphasis on international films brings filmmakers from countries including Chile, Denmark, Spain and Japan.

The films have been chosen, attendees are arriving, and the schedule has been set (though some surprises may yet lie in store).  As you look at the schedule planning which films to see this week, consider these hot-ticket shows:

  • Sinister -- No one can fail to mention this homecoming film to be released on October 12, scripted by Austin writer C. Robert Cargill. J.C. reviewed the movie after its secret SXSW screening. Sinister will only screen once, on Friday at 8:30 pm. This is perhaps the hottest ticket of the fest not only because of local roots, but because of the overwhelming positive reception it has received from critics and audiences alike.
  • Dredd 3D -- Karl Urban returns as a Fantastic Fest guest (he appeared previously for a Q&A with RED in 2010). Early reports say Dredd is a winner. Debbie has seen it and says she "didn't want to like it due to the ultra-violence and mounting indiscriminate body count, but a well-developed character arc and the pacing engaged me more than I initially intended." It screens tonight at 9:05 pm -- if you don't have tickets already, you'll want to get in the standby line.

Review: Premium Rush


Premium Rush"Fixed-gear, no brakes, can't stop, don't want to either" -- Watching Premium Rush, my first thought was that it seemed somehow familiar. That may be because it brought to mind the short-lived 1995 sitcom Double Rush, which featured an opening-credit sequence shot by Spike Jonze. Watch it at the end of this review and compare it with the Premium Rush trailer. Purely coincidence, no shared DNA here besides the shared bike messenger subject material, but an interesting comparison.

Eighteen years later, David Koepp has directed an exciting flick that unlike its sitcom sister takes place almost entirely on two wheels. Written by Koepp and John Kamps, who previously collaborated on Zathura, the movie Premium Rush takes its name from the highest-priority delivery service (just like Double Rush). The story centers around one particularly important delivery and the efforts Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character Wilee must make to see it through to the destination.

What should be a simple pickup and dropoff is complicated by a rival messenger who wants to steal Wilee's girlfriend, a bicycle cop who wants to shut him down and one very bad villain who wants the contents of that envelope. Michael Shannon plays this last role with frightening intensity. If he had looked straight at the camera, I would have feared to look back.

Wilee is a live-fast, party-hard anti-establishment hipster law school graduate who refuses to take the bar exam because he doesn't want to live his life stuck behind a desk.  He almost never stops moving through a film that looks as slick as a Fedex commercial. It's a great role for Gordon-Levitt, though the impressive bike riding involved the support of five doubles (one for stunts/crashes, one for tricks, etc.) collectively making him look like the Superman of bike riding.

Unfortunately, the conclusion of Premium Rush, after so much action, slows to a crawl and puts back on the training wheels. The promise of a "flash mob" yields something somewhat less satisfying (read: underwhelming) and the best stunts are confined to the middle of the film.  So, this movie isn't quite a "'premium" experience, though it's still fun, light-hearted entertainment with some great action.

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