Jordan Gass-Poore''s blog

AFS Brings 'About Sunny' to Austin This Week

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"About Sunny"

Amid the desolate Las Vegas skyline, a young single mother must decide what sacrifices need to be made in order for the survival of herself and child in writer/director Bryan Wizemann's feature-length debut film About Sunny, which Austin Film Society will screen Thursday at 7:30 pm in the AFS Screening Room as part of its Best of the Fests series. 

The drama, which premiered on the festival circuit under the less emotional and more unfocused title Think of Me, is based on Wizemann's childhood experiences with his single mother in Las Vegas. 

As a child of a single mother myself, I was drawn to the relationship between Angela (Lauren Ambrose) and her eight-year-old daughter Sunny, played by newcomer and Texan Audrey P. Scott. The duo's interactions with each other involve relatively little dialogue, and when they are having a conversation it feels trite and one-sided, making it apparent that Angela is fighting to keep her head above water. But Ambrose and Scott appear to slip seamlessly into the psyche of their characters, down to the way Angela self-consciously holds her cigarette and stares longingly out of a taxi window. 

Slackery News Tidbits: July 8, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news. 

Interview: Brad Bell, 'Husbands'

"Husbands" 

Since its 2011 premiere, the online series and recent CW Seed addition Husbands, a twist on the classic newlywed sitcom that's been dubbed the "world's first marriage equality comedy," has been gaining a loyal following. And its showrunner and star, Dallas native Brad Bell, has been making a cheeky name for himself in L.A. and beyond.

Bell recalled an instance where he was sitting at a coffee shop doing the usual headphone/laptop thing when an attractive man approached him. Sadly, he said, the man didn't want his phone number, but ended up boosting his ego anyway by asking him if he's the person who plays Cheeks, the controversial tabloid personality in the show who can wear sparkly necklaces like it's no one's business. 

I might have guessed it: the name for Bell's alter ego spawned from what he described as people's "polite" way to describe him.

"I was a little unrefined then," he said. "...Depending on how people know me, people tend to see different aspects of Cheeks." 

The character of Cheeks has given Bell a platform to satirize celebrities while showcasing his writing talent. All of this for some reason made me nervous to talk to him. 

But it's all for the cause. 

Slackery News Tidbits: July 1, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • The SXSW Film PanelPicker goes live today. Participants have until July 26 to complete an online application for 2014 film conference content, including which panels, workshops and conversations, as well as speakers they would like to see. Proposals will then be made viewable to the public for voting and commenting from Aug. 19 through Sept. 6. 
  • Former Austinite Jacob Vaughan's SXSW 2013 feature Milo (Mike's review) has been renamed Bad Milo! and given an August 29 On Demand release and Oct. 4 theatrical release by distributor Magnet Releasing. Fellow former Austinites Jay and Mark Duplass serve as executive producers on the horror comedy about a man (Ken Marino) who, after experiencing intense stomach pains, discovers a creature inside of him. Vaughan previously worked with the Duplass brothers as an editor on Jeff, Who Lives at Home. His previous filmmaking experience includes collaborations with Bryan Poyser on the locally shot features Dear Pillow and The Cassidy Kids.
  • The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently announced that Austinite Jeff Nichols (Mud), Texas Film Hall of Famer Catherine Hardwicke and Longview, Texas native John Lee Hancock are among its 276 new members, according to IndieWire
  • Nearly seven years after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Austin-shot horror film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane may see U.S. theaters. Film School Rejects reports the Weinstein Company has announced a September 6 VOD release and an October 11 theatrical release date for Jonathan Levine's first feature (he's made three since then). The cast includes Amber Heard, Anson Mount (my interview) and musician Robert Earl Keen.

ATX Television Fest 2013: Anson Mount, 'Hell on Wheels'

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Hell on Wheels

My meeting with actor Anson Mount of AMC's Hell on Wheels at this year's ATX Television Festival conjured up memories of me at elementary-school-age slumber parties, where I distinctly remember watching the Britney Spears-fronted Crossroads and the horror flick Urban Legends: Final Cut. Oh, the early 2000s. Both films starred Mount in his days as the stereotypical clean-cut, good-guy romantic lead.

If his performance in Hell on Wheels wasn't enough to prove that the 40-year-old has come a long way from his Razzie-nominated performance in Crossroads, meeting him in person definitely did. He still seems as charming as my 10-year-old self remembers, but definitely more confident and scruffy than he was in his twenties. Some good old-fashioned manual labor (even if it may be only onscreen) has done this Tennessee native good and has provided him with a platform to show off his acting chops.

Since the show's release in 2011, both Hell on Wheels and Mount have been gaining steam. Mount plays Cullen Bohannon, a former Confederate soldier who works as a foreman on the railroad in the late 1860s. The series centers on the settlement that accompanied the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. Fun fact: Mount's great-great-great grandfather was a Confederate cavalry colonel in the Civil War. But Mount told me he doesn't understand why reporters keep asking him if this helped in any way in his portrayal of Cullen... because it didn't.

I had the chance to speak with Mount about his teaching experiences at Columbia University (he's an adjunct assistant professor at the university's School of the Arts), where he graduated with an MFA in 1998. He can next be seen in the third season premiere of Hell on Wheels on Aug. 3 and in the action thriller Non-Stop, scheduled for a U.S. theatrical release Feb. 28, 2014.

Slackery News Tidbits: June 24, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Austinite Nicolas Gonda, co-founder and CEO of Tugg, is one of 40 people and companies from North America featured in this year's Indiewire Influencers, a list of those who are changing independent film. Tugg, a web platform that allows audiences to choose which films play in their local theaters, launched in 2011 and now has more than 1,000 titles in its catalog. 
  • Alamo Drafthouse founder and CEO Tim League may be in a league of his own... creation. The Austinite and UT alum made the Indiewire list not only because he's slated to open 50 more Drafthouse locations across the nation by 2017, but has expanded the brand to include a distribution arm (Drafthouse Films), genre-celebrating film festival (Fantastic Fest) and a poster and apparel company (Mondo Gallery). 
  • League's collaborator on Fantastic Market/Mercado Fantastico collaborator (an international co-production market for genre films set to at this year's Fantastic Fest), Robert Rodriguez, made the list for his move to the small screen with the upcoming launch of El Rey, an English-language, Latino-centric TV network he co-created. Rodriguez and his Austin-based Troublemaker Studios are also gearing up for the theatrical release of Machete Kills in September and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, which Austin Movie Blog reports has delayed its release to 2014.
  • Indiewire also highlighted the careers of sometimes Austinites and UT alums Jay and Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair). The duo recently completed the HBO pilot for their original series Togetherness and played midwifing specialists on the TV sitcom The Mindy Project. And if that's not keeping the duo busy, Mark has a recurring role on F/X's The League and can next be seen on the big screen in Tammy.

The Latest Additions to AFF's 2013 Conference

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AFF 2013 logoThe Austin Film Festival keeps the typewriter smoking this summer with its recent announcement of this year's second round of conference panelists, which includes DFW-area filmmaker David Lowery (Ain't Them Bodies Saints) and Jose Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries). 

From October 24-31, Lowery and Rivera (and maybe even you) will join the minds behind such films as the upcoming Fifty Shades of Grey, (500) Days of Summer, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club and television shows like Veronica Mars, House of Cards and Breaking Bad

There wouldn't be panelists if there weren't panels. AFF will continue its "Conversation With..." series, which joins filmmakers and moviegoers for in-depth, one-on-one discussions about their experiences in the industry.

Participants include this year's AFF Outstanding Contribution to Filmmaking honoree, director Jonathan Demme, who won an Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs; creator/executive producer of Breaking Bad, Vince Gilligan, who is this year's Outstanding Television Writer honoree; writer Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind); Academy Award-winner Barry Levinson (Rain Man); Robin Swicord, whose writing credits include Memoirs of a Geisha, Matilda and Little Women; and Beau Willimon, executive producer/showrunner/creator of the Netflix series House of Cards.

Slackery News Tidbits: June 17, 2013

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Here's the latest Austin and Texas film news.

  • Texas is set to offer $95 million in incentives to bring film productions to the state over the next two fiscal years, Austin Business Journal reports. The money's in the state budget that's yet to be signed by Gov. Rick Perry. 
  • An attic in Pflugerville caught fire last week during filming of the as-yet-untitled fourth Transformers movie, according to Austin Movie Blog. The minor blaze was ruled as an accident by the Pflugerville Fire Department Lieutenant Tim Wallace. It started while the crew was filming a scene outside and caused significant damage to the attic, which is now back in the hands of the owners.
  • The latest Transformers flick also transformed small town Taylor, Texas. KXAN reported that parts of the city's West Second Street were shutdown for production. Mark Wahlberg and a silver Dodge Challenger spottings ensued.
  • Only God Forgives, the latest movie to receive the "Drafthouse Recommends" title by the Alamo Drafthouse, will have a pair of advance screenings on June 19 at Alamo Slaughter with director Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and composer Cliff Martinez in attendance. Ryan Gosling fronts this film about a drug smuggler in Bangkok whose life is further complicated when his mother asks him to kill the person responsible for his brother's recent death. Only God Forgives opens in theaters July 19.

Review: The East

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"The East" Movie Still

Yes, I agreed to cover the red carpet of The East, this year's SXSW closing-night film, for my campus radio station because I wanted to meet actor Alexander Skarsgard (Eric Northman on True Blood). And it's tempting to go on about my reaction to meeting Skarsgard briefly and shaking his hand and how I made him laugh, but I'll spare everyone the details. I wasn't so much there on the red carpet to profess my like for him as I was to watch The East, in which he plays Benji (yes, like the dog, and with his Jesus-like beard throughout much of the movie he doesn't look that different), the charismatic leader of the eponymous group out to give corporate America the finger through "jams" -- targeted eye-for-an-eye-style attacks on the people they feel are responsible for destroying the environment.

Corporate negligence aside, I'm one to believe that not one, two or even a handful of people are to blame for, say, pollution of a community's water source that may have caused or been a cause of a person's cancer diagnosis. Members of The East have complicated rationales for their crimes that contradict their actions, and much of the dialogue incorporates fallacies that would make even philosophy majors balk. But I'm getting ahead of myself.  

The East is actress/writer/producer Britt Marling's sophomore effort with writer-director Zal Batmanglij (whose brother is the keyboardist for the band Vampire Weekend). The duo previously collaborated on 2011's Sound of My Voice, which explored similar themes about Stockholm Syndrome and cults.

Interview: Craig Whitney, 'The Garden and the Wilderness'

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"The Garden and the Wilderness" Movie Still

In Greek mythology, Icarus is given a pair of wings constructed out of wax and feathers by his father, with the advice that he is to follow his flight path and not to fly too close to the sun or the sea. Icarus ignores his father's advice and, through his curiosity, unknowingly flies too close to the sun, which melts his wings and sends him falling to his death in the sea. The popular understanding of this tale is the consequence of not minding elders and of personal over-ambition. But maybe filmmaking legend Stanley Kubrick had it right during his 1997 D.W. Griffith Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech: The moral really is to build better wings.

Austin filmmaker Craig Whitney has taken Kubrick's advice to heart. Instead of searching for film projects to suite his taste, he "built better wings" and started Better Archangel Pictures in 2008 to coincide with the release of his first short film, the award-winning Harvest Home. The University of Texas alum, who was quick to point out that he had no formal filmmaking training, has swiftly navigated his way through the industry (Harvest Home premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival's Short Film Corner). His second short, The Garden and the Wilderness, was recently chosen by the Houston Film Commission to represent the state at this year's Texas Filmmaker's Showcase on June 30 in L.A.

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