Debbie Cerda's blog

AFF Review: Hockey Night in Texas

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Hockey Night in Texas

The documentary feature Hockey Night in Texas follows two Austin teams through an entire season as they compete for the championship. The 400 members of this recreational adult hockey league come from all walks of life, from artists to chefs to doctors to execs at major corporations. From all skill and experience levels, what they share in common is the desire to play hockey and drink beer.

The film features footage of the B-Division in action along with behind-the-scenes encounters with the team captains. Also mixed in is commentary from hockey professionals from the Dallas Stars, including assistant coach Mark Lamb and play-by-play announcer Ralph Strangis. Strangis talks about both the beauty and the violence of the game, comparing it to the gladiators of Rome.

AFF Review: Alabama Moon

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Alabama Moon

Austin filmmaker Tim McCanlies (Secondhand LionsThe Iron Giant) premiered his latest family-friendly film Alabama Moon during Austin Film Festival at the Paramount. Based on the coming-of-age novel by Watt Key, this film's plot tugs at the heartstrings, reminiscent of the Disney film Old Yeller and other family classics.

After the unexpected death of his survivalist father, 11-year-old Moon (Jimmy Bennett ), who was raised in the Alabama wilderness, must learn how to make his way in the modern world. Doing so isn't very easy, with a local law officer (Clint Howard) intent on making sure that Jimmy stays a ward of the state in a reform school. There Moon meets and interacts with other boys, including the bully Hal (Gabriel Basso) and sickly Kit (Uriah Shelton) who become his friends and cohorts on an escape.

Review: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

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BriefInterviewsWithHideousMen

When I saw Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men at the 1997 SXSW Film Festival, I was unsettled by the brutal portrayal of misogynistic behavior of its main characters.  Though I originally intensely disliked the film, I realize now my references to LaBute's work twelve years later is compelling evidence of the film's ability to hit a nerve. John Krasinski's directorial debut of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men evokes a similar response, as it explores the dark and disturbing nature of men and their complex relationships with women. Based on the book by David Foster Wallace, this film pushes viewers out of the comfort zone and exposes the darker nature of human interactions.

Review: Pirate Radio

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Pirate Radio

As a kid growing up in the late Sixties, my secret late-night habit was to listen in the dark to pop music on my tabletop Hi-Fi transistor radio, glowing on the lightstand next to my bed. As I listened to the DJ, I imagined that the band was playing right there in the studio. The new ensemble comedy Pirate Radio -- released in the U.K. as The Boat That Rocked -- captures the romance between pop music and the young people of the Sixties.

Interview: John Krasinski

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John Kraskinski on the set of Hideous Men

John Krasinski (Away We Go, The Office) will be in Austin this weekend to premiere his directorial debut of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men as part of the Celebrity Guests Signature Series at the Alamo Downtown. I spoke with John by phone before his arrival in Austin, and here's what he had to say.

Tell us about your film Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

It's a book by David Foster Wallace that I had read in college. Without being overly sentimental, it's basically not only been my passion to get it made into a movie, but it was also the thing that made me want to be an actor. I had been acting in college just for fun with friends, and after being a part of this staged reading that we did, it made such an impact on me emotionally. In one of those big ways it had a huge impact by how provocative and honest it was. It was one of those things where I really wanted to give acting a shot after that.

AFF Review: Herpes Boy

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Herpes Boy

Herpes Boy won the Austin Film Festival Audience Award in the Comedy Vanguard category, which should come as no surprise to anyone fortunate enough to catch either of the sold-out AFF screenings. The  filmmakers and stars -- including the charming Beth Grant who also co-produced the film -- chose to stand during both screenings so that more festival attendees could see their film. With such an endearing and supportive force, it's no wonder that heart and passion transfers to the screen in this funny and poignant film.

Herpes Boy was directed by Nathaniel Atcheson and is based on the Herpes Boy YouTube web series created by Byron Lane in 2007. In the screen adaptation Byron wrote, he plays the lead character Rudolph Murray, who hates his life and is a bit of a hypochondriac. He has a large purple birthmark on his upper lip and everyday he finds someone staring, pointing, or calling him names—like "Herpes Boy."

Rudolph makes videos for the Internet in which he rants about his quirky life and zany family, including his New Age mother played by Beth Grant (No Country For Old Men, Little Miss Sunshine, Donnie Darko), emotionally distant father played by Michael Chieffo (L.A. Confidential), and grumpy grandmother (Julianna McCarthy). When his "actress-slash-model-slash-dancer" cousin Christeee -- yes, with three e's -- played by Ahna O’Reilly (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) re-edits his videos, it attracts a huge new audience. Rudolph becomes an unwilling cyber-celebrity at the worst possible time in his life.

AFF Review: Stoner

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Michael in Stoner

When I moved to Austin in 1993, I was stunned by the overwhelming and fairly open marijuana use, especially amongst my fellow UT classmates. Apparently that hasn't changed much, as evidenced in UT graduate Michael Greene's first feature film about his college experiences in the indie comedy Stoner. Greene writes, directs, and acts in this film, which centers around the lead character Michael as he prepares for graduation. How he's managing to graduate is a mystery, since he's more of a "wake and bake" stoner with a dead-end job in a copy center, unable to get to work on time.

Austin Film Festival Announces 2009 Audience Awards

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AwardsAustin Film Festival (AFF) has announced the 2009 Audience Award winners, and I'm happy to report that among the winners were a few Texas films as well as some of our favorites from the fest. AFF also announced the dates for next year's film festival and conference: October 21-28, 2010.

Throughout the week of the festival, audience members were invited to rate films by ballot after each screening. Check out Jenn Brown's review of Happy Ending, which was written and directed by Atsuriho Yamada, and which won the AFF Narrative Feature Competition audience award.

Another favorite film that won was Herpes Boy, in the Comedy Vanguard Audience Award category. I caught up with writer Byron Lane and director Nathaniel Atcheson at their second screening after-party, and they expressed gratitude to AFF for allowing them to premiere their film in Austin.

Texas writer/filmmaker Tisha Blood also scored a win in the Documentary Feature category for Torey's Distraction, which made its world premiere at AFF 2009. Torey's Distraction is the first in a slate from Dallas' M3 Films filManthropy division, which uses traditional and philanthropic business practices to produce and distribute movies with a message, and in turn, generate awareness and funding for nonprofit, philanthropic ventures. Their next project will document the efforts of Forgotten Diamonds, an organization that focuses on improving the literacy of people impacted by civil war in Sierra Leone.

Finally, congrats to Austin filmmaker Kat Candler (Jumping Off Bridges), whose short Love Bug won the Narrative Short Audience Award. A complete list of audience award winners is after the jump.

AFF Review: Calvin Marshall

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Calvin Marshall

At first glance, writer/director Gary Lundgren's Calvin Marshall could be mistaken for just another "baseball movie," but this poignant and humorous film delivers much more. Baseball is the focus of the main character, yet the heart of this film, which had its world premiere at Austin Film Festival, is more about passion and human nature.

Title character Calvin (Alex Frost) lives and breathes baseball, getting up before dawn to practice -- unfortunately it's a lost cause, as he just doesn't have the skills for the local junior college baseball team. Despite his gruff exterior, the team's head coach (Steve Zahn) has a soft spot for Calvin, and can't bring himself to cut him from the team despite the constant urgings of his assistant Coach Dewey (Abraham Benrubi).

Review: The House of the Devil

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Tom Noonan in The House of the Devil

Just in time for the Halloween weekend, horror film The House of the Devil opens in theaters nationwide. This film is set in the 1980s, but takes viewers back even further to the psychological horror films of the late 1960s and 1970s, including horror classics Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. Like its predecessors, The House of the Devil delivers horror built on slowly built tension and Satan worshippers.

Jocelin Donahue (The Burrowers) plays Sam, a pretty college sophomore who accepts a babysitting job at a remote Victorian mansion deep in the woods despite the misgivings of her best friend, played by Greta Gerwig (Hannah Take the Stairs, Baghead), and lack of an actual baby to watch. There Sam meets Mr. and Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov), who don't seem quite right. As the night progresses and a lunar eclipse begins, things get even worse for Sam, culminating in climatic and final scenes worthy of classic horror.

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