Debbie Cerda's blog

Movies This Week: September 7-13, 2012

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Let There Be Sight Still photoThe Lights. Camera. Help. annual nonprofit film festival is now in its fourth year, and runs Wednesday, September 12 through Friday, September 14 at the Texas Spirit Theater and the Scottish Rite Theater. This three-day event focuses on short and feature-length films, including PSAs, that convey messages for charitable organizations and important causes. The keynote speaker is local filmmaker Turk Pipkin, who will also premiere his new short film, Let There Be Sight, which tells "the incredibly hopeful story of The Nobelity Project's partnership with The Seva Foundation, an eyesight surgical camp in Nepal."

The school year is well underway, but kids and parents can still enjoy an entertaining and family-friendly time on a school night courtesy of Austin Public Library on Tuesday, September 11, at 6:30 pm with a free screening of The Lorax at the Twin Oaks location. Folks interested in more adult and "queer poetics and politics" content can attend a free screening Tuesday at 6:30 pm on the UT campus of The Meeting of Two Queens, Looking for Langston and Dottie Gets Spanked courtesy of Emily and Andy's Film Club.

Award-winning filmmaker Spike Lee will be in Austin on Saturday at 7:30 pm for a conversation and Q&A before a special screening of his 1999 film Summer of Sam at the Paramount Theatre with tickets still available here. For folks only wanting to watch the movie at 8:40 pm, tickets are available here.

Finally, a restored version of Raiders of the Lost Ark is playing all week at Gateway and Barton Creek Square Mall.

Movies We've Seen

Neil Young Journeys -- Classic rock legend Neil Young returns home and reminisces about his youth in Ontario in this documentary that also showcases new tunes and classic favorites. As much as I enjoyed Young's storytelling, the musical performances were overwhelming and loud at times. Read more about this film in my review. (Regal Arbor)

The Words -- This romantic drama portrays a young writer who falsely achieves literary success through a novel he didn't actually write himself. J.C. says in his review that "it’s an absolutely brilliant script that will stay with you long after you watch it." (wide)

Review: Neil Young Journeys

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Neil Young JourneysAfter almost 40 years as a filmmaker, Jonathan Demme has made his mark not only with his feature films but also as a documentarian. Demme's Stop Making Sense (1984) featuring The Talking Heads and his movie version of Spalding Gray's Swimming to Cambodia (1987) effectively portrayed the eclectic nature of his documentary subjects. Demme thrives on providing an intimate view of iconic characters, most notably his collaboration with the rock legend Neil Young.

Neil Young Journeys is Demme's latest and third film project with Young, preceded by Neil Young: Heart of Gold in 2006 and Neil Young Trunk Show in 2009. Like Heart of Gold, Journeys was filmed over the course of two nights of musical performances. The comparison ends there as Heart of Gold dealt more with Young's personal tragedy and health issues, but Journeys is less dramatic and more a drive down memory lane with Young in a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria.

As Young drives from his hometown of Omemee, Ontario, to historic music venue Massey Hall for the final performances of his May 2011 solo world tour, he relates personal stories and intimate details about himself and his family. His dad Scott Young -- who died just a few months before Heart of Gold was filmed -- was the only white male in a minstrel show, and was quite famous in Canada as a writer. Young points out all the places that are gone in Omemee as well as those still standing, and while driving he reveals that he only listens to music in cars.

On the Red Carpet and Onstage with 'El Mariachi'

Antoinette Alfonso Zel (CEO of El Rey Network) and Robert RodriguezLast week the Austin Film Society hosted a special screening of cult favorite El Mariachi as a benefit for the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund (TFPF), with special guests including a live performance by filmmaker Robert Rodriguez's band Chingon. Antoinette Alfonso Zel, CEO of Rodriguez's general entertainment cable channel El Rey Network -- seen above on the red carpet with Rodriguez -- was in attendance, as well as El Mariachi stars Carlos Gallardo (Desperado, Bandido) and Peter Marquardt.

The event took place the day after the 2012 TFPF recipients were announced, with over $89,000 in cash grants bestowed to 16 projects from emerging Texas filmmakers. I spoke to AFS Executive Director Rebecca Campbell about the significance of the screening as a TFPF fundraiser, and she stated: "Here we are giving out grants to help the next generation of emerging talented Texans, and maybe some of them will go on to have a successful career and keep it in Texas -- just like Robert did." 

Find out more about the special event and see more photos after the jump.

Film on Tap: What's Brewing in Austin

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Diane and Forrest Rogness of Rogness Brewing

Film on Tap is a column about the many ways that beer (or sometimes booze) and cinema intersect in Austin.

Growth of the Texas craft beer industry continues this summer with more breweries and brewpubs coming online or in the planning stage. The Texas Craft Brewers Guild recently released the 2012 annual update of the "Economic Impact of the Texas Craft Brewing Industry." Commissioned by the guild, this study estimates "the size and economic impact of locally owned breweries operating within the state of Texas, specifically focusing on current and potential output, job generation, and wages." The 78 actively licensed small manufacturers of craft beer in Texas -- up from 52 in 2010 -- are estimated to have had an economic impact of $608 million on the state in 2011. The study projects that the industry’s economic impact "could reach $5.6 billion annually in less than a decade should its development resemble that of the Texas wine industry."

As reported early this year in January's Film on Tap, this boom in the Texas craft industry has caught the attention of several documentary film projects including Crafting A Nation and Brewed in Austin - The Zymurgence of Craft Beer in Central Texas. Produced and directed by Chris Erlon of sound post-production studio Digital Domain of Austin (Friday Night Lights), Brewed in Austin tells the story of the boom and bust of Austin craft brewpubs and brewpubs in the 90s, as well as the recent emergence of new local breweries and the impact of recent legal action and legislative efforts on the industry. Rather than use narration, Erlon is relying on several brewers and key players in the local craft beer industry including Diane and Forrest Rogness of Rogness Brewing (pictured above), Chip McElroy of Live Oak Brewing Company, and Christine Celis, who recently gained back the intellectual property and rights to her father and brewmaster Pierre Celis' legacy of Celis Brewing.

Find out more about Brewed in Austin - The Zymurgence of Craft Beer as well as other boozy movie news after the jump:

Movies This Week: August 24-30, 2012

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The Call of Cthulhu movie posterSummer blockbusters are behind us, and it's time to start preparing for Austin's fall film festivals. Fantastic Fest has released two waves of its programming for the September 20 - 27 festival, the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival (aGLIFF) has announced four of the 96 films to screen October 3-7, and Lights. Camera. Help. has announced the schedule for the annual nonprofit film festival to be held September 12-14. The 2012 Austin Film Festival (October 18-25) should be announcing their first round of films soon.

Austin Film Society presents Avant Cinema 5.5: Two by H.P. Lovecraft on Wednesday August 29, 7 pm, at the AFS Screening Room at Austin Studios. Two films created by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society using the self-described "Mythoscope" process of mixing vintage and modern filmmaking techniques will be featured, including Sean Branney's The Whisperer in Darkness and The Call of Cthulhu. The Whisperer in Darkness is based on one of the most frightening Lovecraft short stories that I've ever read -- it follows an assistant professor and scientist as he attempts to investigate the legends of the The Old Ones. His discovery leads him down into a horrific path unexplainable by science.

The Call of Cthulhu is "deemed the best H.P. Lovecraft adaptation yet by some critics and has been praised for its unique construction, being one of a handful of silent films made within the past decade" (Aaron Malazahn, Austin Film Society). Similar in plot to The Whisperer in Darkness, this story centers on the investigations of Francis Wayland Thurston into cult worshipers of The Great Old Ones. Thurston travels the Pacific Ocean with sailors of the Emma, finding horrors beyond comprehension aboard an abandoned boat.

Speaking of AFS, don't forget the special El Mariachi screening/Robert Rodriguez and Chingon concert Thursday night. Tickets are still available. And if that isn't to your taste, Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar is screening The Incredibles that night with composer Michael Giacchino in attendance.

Movies We've Seen

Hit and Run -- Actor/writer/director Dax Shepard (Parenthood, Brother's Justice) pays tribute to Smokey and the Bandit and other classic car chase movies in his rough-shod style but surprises with realistic emotional drama with the addition of fiance Kristen Bell to his standard ensemble cast. Personally I could do with less gratuitous nudity, read more in my review. (wide)

Celeste & Jesse Forever -- Andy Samberg and Rashida Jones portray a young couple embroiled in their divorce while attempting to maintain a friendship and move on with their individual lives in this romantic comedy. In regards to actress/ writer Jones, Jordan states in her review, "Her deft performance and the beautiful cinematography by David Lanzenberg help lift Celeste & Jesse Forever above the traditional rom-com pack." (Violet Crown Cinema)

The Revenant -- This film defies classification into one particular genre, successfully blending a dark buddy comedy with horror and more. After being killed in Iraq, a soldier is returned home -- and from the dead. With the help of his best friend, he must find a way to survive or risk decomposing. Find out more in my review. (Alamo South Lamar)

Review: The Revenant

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still photo of The RevenantAfter a three-year wait, festival favorite The Revenant finally hits theaters today in a limited release that includes Austin. Director D. Kerry Prior won the Best Director Award at Fantastic Fest in 2009 (my podcast interview). At the time Prior mentioned he still had the challenge of securing distribution for his feature as well as finalizing visual effects. After a successful festival run, Prior re-cut portions of The Revenant to tighten up this dark comedy. The final cut enhances the darkness of this genre-defying film while ensuring its placement in the hall of "must-see" movies of the undead nature.

The Revenant centers around Bart Gregory (David Anders), a soldier who is killed in Iraq during a nighttime ambush. Bart is laid to rest as his best friend Joey (Chris Wylde) and girlfriend Janet (Louise Griffiths) mourn his death ... only it turns out that Bart isn't done with living. He reunites with Joey, who helps him make the best of his undead state. What ensues is an oddball execution of securing blood for Bart to consume so that he can "survive" as a non-glamorous and moldering walking corpse referred to as a revenant. After stumbling into a convenience store hold-up, the duo decide to kill two birds with one stone by taking out criminals in LA including drug dealers, rapists and robbers.

Prior pulls from his background in special effects to deliver great horror by relying very little on CGI and mostly on digital compositing. Practical effects were implemented as well. One particular visual effect early in The Revenant that had me cringing even during a second viewing is that of an embalmed Bart cutting through the threads of his stitched lips.

Review: Hit and Run

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Hit and Run still photo
Escaping one's past is not an easy task, especially in the film industry. Many actors, writers and directors find themselves pigeonholed into a specific genre from which escape appears impossible. Others are stuck with moviegoers' preconceived negative expectations of their movies. For example, I've been flabbergasted by the relentless bashing of Uwe Boll (Rampage, Attack on Darfur).

Actor/filmmaker Dax Shepard is another actor/filmmaker who suffers from the same stereotyping as Boll. Despite his success in the television series Parenthood, it doesn't help that Shepard got his start as Ashton Kutcher's stooge in the MTV hidden-camera show Punk'd, along with roles in Let's Go to Prison and Without a Paddle.

Shepard received little critical acclaim for his directorial debut: the 2010 mockumentary Brother's Justice, in which he pretends to change genres from comedy to martial-arts action films. Expectations for his latest project, the road-chase movie Hit and Run -- which Shepard wrote, directed, edited and starred in -- have been low. However, Shepard demonstrates that he is capable of maturing as a writer when he focuses on drama rather than comedy.

Ready, Set, Fund: Texas Two-Step

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James Hand

Ready, Set, Fund is a column about crowdfunding and related fundraising endeavors for Austin and Texas independent film projects.

This month is full of worthy film projects that are fundraising for all stages of production, with last month's Ready, Set, Fund spotlight project and documentary Merch Girl exceeding its goal of $30K before it ends on Thursday. A couple other upcoming film productions also portray Austin's diverse musical culture, including Thank You A Lot, which was featured in a recent Slackerwood photo essay. This film, which is funding through Wednesday, August 29, features local and legendary artists including James "Slim" Hand in the tale of a two-bit music agent whose job depends on being able to sign his reclusive, legendary father.

Another film project that embraces music is Dance Like No One's Watching from former Austin filmmaker Jenn Garrison (Prize Whores, Greg). While writing a feature script (Quick Quick Slow) that's set in a gay country western bar in Texas, Garrision discovered The International Association of Gay/Lesbian Country Western Dance Clubs (IAGLCWDC, or "Iggle Wiggle" as they call themselves). Garrison traveled back to Austin from Los Angeles to film research footage for her feature at the annual International Dance Competition. Her extra footage is the basis for this documentary portraying the dynamic and enthusiastic community that participates in same-sex dance competitions, and the freedom and independence this culture evokes.

Check out the teaser for Dance Like No One's Watching after the jump.

Photo Essay: Visiting 'Thank You A Lot'

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On the Set with Thank You a Lot

With so many independent film projects in Austin, it can sometimes be challenging to stay up to date on local production news. Promotions usually don't occur until after a film has been completed, but now and then filmmakers offer the unique opportunity of a set visit. These behind-the-scenes experiences reveal that the "magic" of moviemaking is really about the blood, sweat and tears a filmmaking team will sacrifice for their project. Specifically, the dedication and passion behind bringing a story to the screen, the physical conditions endured, and the frustration of funding dissolving at critical moments.

An upcoming film project that had hit my radar while researching for my monthly "Ready, Set, Fund" column is the feature Thank You A Lot I was intrigued that Texas singer/songwriter James "Slim" Hand was prominently featured in this film, as well as local Austin musicians.

Set in Austin as well as nearby Marble Falls, Texas, Thank You A Lot is about Jack Hand (Blake DeLong), a small-time music agent, who is forced by his management company to sign his reclusive and legendary musician father (James Hand) from who he is estranged. Jack hustles his way through a vibrant and diverse Austin music scene, trying to protect his current clients while discovering the real person behind his musician father. In addition to DeLong and local favorite Sonny Carl Davis (Bernie, Thelma and Louise), real musicians portray many of the supporting cast including hip-hop artist Da'Shade Moonbeam, members of the Austin band Hundred Visions, and jazz vocalist Keri Johnsrud.

Interview: Thomas Haden Church, 'Killer Joe'

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Rebecca Campbell, Executive Director of Austin Film Society with Thomas Haden Church Actor Thomas Haden Church traveled to Austin recently from his ranch in Bandera County for Austin Film Society's reception and special screening of the darkly provocative and often brutal film Killer Joe (my review). While in town, Church met with local press to talk about the Texas-set movie, adapted by Pulitzer and Tony Award winner Tracy Letts from his own play, and directed by Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin.

During our roundtable interview, AFS Executive Director Rebecca Campbell dropped in for a chat, thus the photo above. Never at a loss for words, Church -- who emceed the Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards in 2009 and 2010 -- expressed his support of Austin Studios and AFS as well as the Texas Film Commission. He also spoke at length about the Lone Star setting of the film, shooting in New Orleans (which pretended to be Dallas) and working with legendary filmmakers.

Slackerwood: What attracted you to the Killer Joe project?

Thomas Haden Church: Chiefly William Friedkin and then this script, which was based on the Tracy Letts play. Whenever Matthew McConaughey became involved, it all started to happen really quickly. I wanted to work with Billy [Friedkin], and I thought the screenplay was dark and violent and funny, and edgy. All the things that challenge an actor in a character.

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