Frank Calvillo's blog

Austin Transforms Into Noir City at Inaugural Fest


Too Late for Tears

In the midst of all the excitement over the Texas Film Awards and SXSW 2014, another film-related event took place recently: the first annual Noir City Austin. While free of a red carpet and movie stars in the flesh, this festival celebrated its inaugural weekend at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz from Feb. 28 to March 2.

Hosted by the Film Noir Foundation, Noir City Austin screened 10 films straight from the genre’s heyday, and featured many faces familiar to devoted noir fans, such as Shelley Winters, Peter Lorre, Ray Milland and Lizabeth Scott.

Yet rather than screening such noir staples like The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity and The Big Sleep, the foundation chose  lesser-known titles that, though unknown to the majority of those in attendance, still contained all the necessary ingredients essential to any noir. More than that though, the movies selected tended to go beyond the conventions of the standard noir by incorporating elements of faith, surrealism and the supernatural within its plots.

New Film Fest This Weekend: The First Annual Noir City Austin


There’s usually very little to look forward to at the movies during the uneventful dog days of winter. This weekend, apart from the release of what looks like a passable popcorn thriller called Non-Stop, starring Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, it seems like there’s nothing in the way of big-screen entertainment to get jazzed about.

The game changed, though, when The Film Noir Foundation announced the First Annual Noir City Austin, a three-day film festival taking place at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz from February 28- March 2. The weekend features ten lesser-known film noir gems starring the likes of John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Peter Lorre and Robert Cummings, among others, and promises to be the ultimate gin-swilling, cigarette smoking gift from the movie gods themselves. 

The lineup is as follows:

Too Late for Tears (1949) -- Friday 2/28

Through accidental circumstances, Alan and Jane, an average married couple, come into possession of a satchel full of money and quickly find themselves at odds about what to do. When Jane decides to keep the money, she finds herself going down a dark path from which there is no return.

Try and Get Me! (1950) -- Friday 2/28

Based on a sensational crime story from the 1930s, Try and Get Me! tells the story of down-on-his-luck family man Howard, who is pulled into a life of crime by ruthless criminal Jerry. Though lucrative as their life of crime is, it's their final caper that proves to be their most deadly.

Austin Polish Film Festival 2013: Polanski, Closed Circuit and The Girl from the Wardrobe



The final day of the Austin Polish Film Festival held, by far, the most intriguing of all the films screened that weekend; each one more different than the last, and each one mesmerizing and completely unforgettable.

Up first was Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir by film historian and documentarian Laurent Bouzereau. I must confess this was the film I was looking forward to all weekend, being after all a student of film, an admirer of Bouzereau and a fan of Polanski. The movie was shot during Polanski's time under house arrest in Switzerland following his entry into the country in 2009.

Shot as a conversation between Polanski and his long-time friend and collaborator Andrew Braunsberg, the famed director gave what is perhaps his most frank and candid interview ever. No subject was off-limits for Polanksi, including his experiences as a child during the invasion of Poland, the murder of his wife Sharon Tate and their unborn child, and the charges brought against him that still prevent him from ever returning to the United States.

Austin Polish Film Festival 2013: Baczynski, Baby Blues and Bikes



I knew going into Saturday's collection of Austin Polish Film Festival films that I was going to discover aspects of the country that were completely alien to me. This was never more true than when I attended the screening of Baczyński (pictured at top), a documentary/narrative focusing on the all-too-brief life of Polish poet Krzysztof Baczyński. The film tells the story of the invasion of Poland and a young soldier who finds escape from the battle and the bloodshed through poetry.

Part talking-head documentary and part narrative feature, the film particularly struck me with its cinematography. It would have been so easy to make the surroundings within the film as bleak as the events taking place, and yet the filmmakers put together such vivid colors and images that in a way it signified the indestructible beauty and spirit of the country. Meanwhile, the weaving of Baczyński's words alongside images of war and horror was really effective. I was most taken with the poems themselves, which called to mind those thoughtful and pensive moments that one wouldn't ordinarily attribute to times of war. I found it really moving that in spite of such times, this young poet never lost sight of what made his country great. Perhaps the greatest element of Baczyński was the intercut shots of Polish young people in the present day sitting in the audience as they took turns reciting Baczyński's own words, which still had meaning and resonance decades later.

Austin Polish Film Festival 2013: Young Polish Filmmakers


When I saw the chance to cover the 8th Annual Austin Polish Film Festival and Poster Exhibit, I jumped at it mainly because of a Roman Polanski documentary that was slated to screen. While I knew the Austin Polish Society was a thriving organization here in Austin, my knowledge of the country itself is limited to school history books. I took my lack of information as a blessing in this case, as I went into the three-day festival ready to let the collection of Polish filmmakers and their differing views on their land and countrymen wash over me.

Friday night was geared towards young Polish filmmakers. Two in particular, Julia Kolberger and Kuba Gryzewski, both graduates of Polish film schools, each exhibited two of their short films.

The first pair of films, I Won't Be Here Tomorrow and Easter Crumblewere written and directed by Kolberger. Both are family-centric stories about individuals of different ages who all come to a crossroads, and they each had a definite literary feel that comes from the normal everyday. They reminded me of an author named Peter Cameron, whose novels tend to lean towards the internal conflicts of life. Kolberger creates with the same sensibilities; while there is confrontation among her characters, the most explosive ones are with themselves.

Housecore Horror Fest 2013: From Suspiria to Manson



When Sunday came around, the organizers seemed (understandably) tired, but the audiences still wanted more gore and continued to turn up for it. I started off the morning by paying tribute to a film shot right here in my new adopted city. I Didn't Come Here to Die (our review) is the tale of several twentysomethings setting out to do volunteer work in the woods where they come upon evil and sinister forces. The setup might seem a tad familiar -- in a way it does kind of read like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil from the preppy kids' point of view. However, the sort of guerilla filmmaking used in I Didn't Come Here to Die calls to mind past classics while breathing new life into a genre so obsessed with remakes. It's a feat most horror movies try, but fail at hopelessly. At least there's one that hasn't. 

In order to illustrate that the folks at Housecore weren’t just offering up one blood splatter flick after another, I attended, along with a good number of other festivalgoers, a documentary called Art/Crime. The film focused on a special effects artist named Remy Couture from Quebec, who for years had created photo shoots and short films depicting scenes of gruesome horror and violence using live models as his subjects, which he published on his website, Inner Depravity. The film explores his 2009 arrest for obscenity and the corruption of morality long after he stopped actively posting to his site due to his career as an effects artist on feature films.

Art/Crime is perhaps one of the few documentaries to explore the subject of censorship in such a careful and honest manner. Couture's work is perhaps some of the most explicit I've even seen, and while I have been watching gore fests since I was in elementary school, even I was a bit taken aback by some of his work. While I've always been a fan of gore, I never actually looked at those scenes as works of art. Yet through Couture's eyes, the vibrant colors, the unnatural shaping, and the positioning of the subjects do give off a truly dark beauty. I found myself getting more and more angry at the bogus claims brought against Couture. Anyone who has ever seen at least one police procedural could see this as nothing more than a witch hunt. Yet its idea of how easy it is for artists of all kinds to become victims of representation is stark and real. 

If I'm being honest, I believe there are very few people who aren't fascinated by Charles Manson and his "family" on some level. From the countless documentaries to the classic (some would call it) Helter Skelter, the story of Charles and his followers has been told from many points of view. However, with the screening of The Manson Family, the family members themselves finally get to tell their story. Shot in the late 90s but not released much of anywhere, it was a rare opportunity to catch this new take on this part of 1960s California. I won't rehash the events that took place, except to say that the film portrays them accurately without dwelling on any one moment longer than necessary.

Vintage Austin Theater Tour: Fox Triplex


Fox Triplex

Not many cinemas in Austin can claim to have had an opening night consisting of a true Hollywood red carpet, a gala premiere, high-profile attendees and a movie star or two on hand for its first night of business. Yet the hopes and expectations attached to Austin's then-new Mann Fox Theatre weren't the same as they were for most other movie houses of the time. While most movie theaters aimed to attract local families or groups of teenagers looking for a fun night out, the Mann Fox Theatre sought to make going out to the movies a more upscale affair.

The idea of having the Mann Fox Theatre appear as a grand moviegoing experience was in sharp contrast to Austin's then-current state. By the mid-to-late 1960s, the city had become one of the hotbeds of the counterculture with its share of social unrest, psychedelic drugs and revolutionary musicians who would go on to define the decade. However, Austin's potential as a cosmopolitan city was not lost on Ted Mann, owner of Mann theaters, who along with President Eugene V. Klein, thought Austin was ready for a theatre of Mann quality.

No expense was spared when it came to the Mann Fox's design. The famous L.A.-based Pearson and Wuesthoff architectural firm was brought in to handle the stylish look desired for the theater. There was a curved main screen with gold travelers and rows consisting of bodi-form chairs, while the theatre's projection and speakers were considered state of the art for the day.

Housecore Horror Fest 2013: Scum, Zombies and Maniacs



The Housecore Horror Film Festival debuted in Austin this weekend. An offshoot of Housecore Records, the four-day long event was a combination of a series of concerts from many heavy-metal bands as well as a showcase of indie horror flicks that ranged from classic to little-seen, plus advance screenings.

"First year" was a term thrown around quite a few times over the weekend as a reminder that this was the festival's inaugural year, and understandably so. A few screenings were delayed, while others were postponed or canceled -- and occasionally zombies on the screen had to compete with goblins on the stage with only several feet of space separating the two.

Yet, despite unavoidable mishaps, for a festival in their "first year," Housecore presented one of the most eclectic and impressive lineup of horror titles, leading this scare fiend to wonder what kind of blood splatter future years will hold.

Austin Vintage Theater Tour: The Americana



When the Paul Scharader/Bret Easton Ellis collaboration The Canyons was released last month, many were no doubt focusing on some of the more salacious elements from the film. Yet one of the more telling aspects, which went almost unnoticed, was the opening credit sequence comprising shots of old abandoned Los Angeles movie theaters. The sequence not only shows how the art of cinemagoing is in decline, but also how these elaborately built movie houses that once offered escape and wonder to audiences are now left in ruins.

In this series, I'll focus on similar cases here in Austin -- cinemas that thrived in their heyday until, for various reasons, they were forced to switch off their projectors and close their doors before being given a second life.

The first theater in the series is The Americana Theatre, which opened in 1965 in what was then a small neighborhood located just off of Burnet Road. The theater was built by Earl Podolnick, President of Trans-Texas Theaters Inc., in an effort to raise the community's local profile.

Summer Films Antidote: August 2013


 Little Trip to Heaven

August is usually seen as the "dumping ground" month by some due to the fact that most of the bigger summer films have already come and gone. This month will see the studios release their latest inventory of titles and stars that, for whatever reason, didn’t make the July cut yet still have late-summer hit potential. As usual however, there are always alternative choices to beat those August movie blues.

In theaters: 2 Guns (8/2)

One of the few star vehicles of the summer, 2 Guns sees Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg compete for screen time in this bullet-ridden crime caper about drugs and stolen money, which plays off of both stars’ box-office personas.

Antidote: A Little Trip to Heaven (2005)

From 2 Guns director Baltasar Kormákur, A Little Trip to Heaven is the Icelandic filmmaker's little-seen English-language debut starring Forest Whitaker as an insurance investigator sent to a small town to explore the death a $1,000,000 policy holder and question his surviving sister, played by Julia Stiles. The film may have bypassed most theaters during its release, but it has certainly earned its place in the tradition of modern-day noir. The atmosphere is appropriately chilling, small details stand out in virtually every scene, and Kormákur’s knack for carving out suspense never wavers. Most impressive of all are the three leads (which also includes Jeremy Renner as Stiles’ husband); each one is morally corrupt and fatally flawed. While certain elements could have been tweaked (i.e.  Forest Whitaker’s Irish accent,) A Little Trip to Heaven is one of the more impressive American debuts from a director whose best is still to come. 

Syndicate content