Debbie Cerda's blog

Quick Snaps: AFF 'Herpes Boy' Afterparty


Byron Lane and Ahna O'Reilly

The comedy Herpes Boy sold out both its screenings during Austin Film Festival (AFF) this week. The director, producer and cast gave up their seats at the second screening so more festival attendees could gain admission. Speaking afterwards with writer/lead actor Byron Lane and lead actress Ahna O'Reilly (who is Tim O'Reilly's niece) confirmed the humility and enthusiasm of cast and crew for what proves to be a funny and poignant film. I also enjoyed talking with director Nathaniel Atcheson about the film and festivals, but the true gem was co-producer and actress Beth Grant. I spent more time talking with her over the last few days than any other filmmaker at AFF. Keep an eye on Slackerwood for a special podcast where Beth talks about Herpes Boy along with Donnie Darko, Rain Man, Sandra Bullock, Marlo Brando, Johnny Depp and so much more.

[Photo credit: Byron Lane and Ahna O'Reilly at Herpes Boy Afterparty, by Debbie Cerda. More photos on Flickr.]

AFF09: Debbie's Conference Wrap-up


Documentary Fillmmakers at AFF

This is the first year that I've attended panels during the conference portion of Austin Film Festival (AFF). Overall I'd say that I was not disappointed, other than the disadvantage of having to miss some screenings I'd really wanted to see such as the screening of Texas Weather at the Texas Spirit Theater.

I thoroughly enjoyed the honest and informative "Texas Film Incentives" panel with Paul Alvarado-Dykstra, Central Texas Representative of the Texas Motion Picture Alliance (TXMPA), along with filmmakers James Crowley (The Rookie, Hidalgo) and Dominic Cancilla (Hope Floats, A Scanner Darkly).

James talked about the high quality of production crews in Texas, with Dominic pointing out that Dicky Deats is the only key grip ever to win an Academy Award, for Hope Floats. During the discussion it was also confirmed that Whip It, which shot primarily in Michigan, is still waiting for incentives because funds are depleted in some other states' incentive programs.

Quick Snaps: 'Calvin Marshall' Director and Stars


Calvin Marshall Crew at AFF

Calvin Marshall director Gary Lundgren and several of the film's stars, including Diedrich Bader and Andrew Wilson, came to town to support the film's debut during AFF at the Paramount Friday night. I had a chance to interview them on Friday. They talked a lot about the state of the movie industry, independent film, and music -- and of course, Calvin Marshall. If you missed a chance to see their movie at the Paramount on Friday, stay tuned for our review, distribution and release news. We will have the full interview available soon as a podcast here.

[Photo credit: Diedrich Bader, Gary Lundgren, and Andrew Wilson, by Debbie Cerda on Flickr]

Review: Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant


Vampire's Assistant

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant was one of the Fantastic Fest gala events last month, and demonstrates that we just can't get enough vampire movies at the moment. This film is based on the popular series of books by Darren Shan called The Saga of Darren Shan, a fantasy-adventure about a teenager who unknowingly breaks a 200-year-old truce between two warring factions of vampires. Though the main character in the book is 12 years old, in the film Darren is 16. He is introduced to a fantastic world of sideshow freaks, vampires and creatures of unknown origins.

The exposition takes viewers on a fast track, so if you aren't familiar with the books you might be confused by references to the "Vampaneze." The special effects and scenery in Cirque Du Freak are visually striking, but they can't hide the stilted acting. John C. Reilly as Larten Crepsley has great comedic timing, but it is difficult to see the character instead of the star power of Reilly. The young stars Chris Massoglia and Josh Hutcherson do well for their first major film, but it is consummate actor William Dafoe who lends his own personal touch without overshadowing the character that really steals the show.

Austin Film Festival Guide for Newbies and Non-Badgeholders


Red Carpet by wenno on Flickr

Austin Film Festival starts today and runs through next Thursday, October 29. The screenwriters conference ends on Sunday, but the films play for a whole week. Here are some tips for those of you who just want to see a few films, and not bother with buying a badge.

New this year: AFF has a few new venues for the film screenings and conference. Learn the lay of the land by viewing our AFF Film Festival 2009 Film Venue Guide.

Seating priority: For every movie at AFF, badgeholders are seated first, then film-pass holders, then anyone who's bought tickets if space remains.

Best value: If you only plan on seeing a couple of movies, take your chances and buy individual tickets at the box office . If you plan on seeing at least five films, I highly recommend the 2009 Film Pass. For only $42, film-pass holders have access to the second-tier Film Pass line, admitted ahead of individual ticketholders at all venues.

Review: Coco Before Chanel


Alessandro Nivola and Audrey Tautou in Coco Before Chanel

Coco Chanel is a name synonymous with a classic style, of simple lines and comfortable fit but not always for everyone. Such is the film Coco Before Chanel, a biopic by Anne Fontaine based on the book Chanel and Her World: Friends, Fashions, and Fame by Coco's official biographer Edmonde Charles-Roux. Fontaine's film is less about the events of Chanel's life and more a window into the provincial beginning and formative years of a woman who defied standards and became an internationally known icon.

Young Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel and her sister were abandoned in an orphanage after the death of their mother. As young women, the Chanel sisters become chanteuses in provincial France. While working as a part-time seamstress, Coco (Audrey Tautou) meets and becomes the courtesan of millionaire playboy Balsan, devilishly played by Benoît Poelvoorde. She moves into his country house, where she hides from his guests at the request of the baron. During this time Coco meets and drinks with Balsan's polo-playing friends, which includes the affluent and self-made Arthur "Boy" Capel, dashingly portrayed by Alessandro Nivola.

Fantastic Fest 2009: Debbie's Wrap-Up

Debbie battles a zombie

The out-of-town fans, actors, filmmakers and film critics have gone home, the parties are over and the post-fest colds are slowly fading after Fantastic Fest 2009. It seems like a good time to reflect over and share my personal festival experience this year, including some films you might want to check out.

Movie highlights:

Solomon Kane - The talented and charismatic British actor James Purefoy portrays the title fictional character created by pulp-era writer Robert E. Howard, best known for his Conan the Barbarian series. Sword and sorcery adventure takes a twist, set in the Puritan era in a grim time portrayed through rain and snow. Despite all the action that packs a wallop in this film, what is truly the core of Solomon Kane is the vision of one man's path to redemption, found in an unlikely manner. The supporting characters in the Crowthorn family were well-cast, with Pete Postlethwaite and Alice Krige as the protective parents and siblings Rachel and Patrick Hurd-Wood as two of the Crowthorn children. Max Von Sydow also makes an appearance.

Q & A highlight: I especially enjoyed writer/director Michael J. Bassett talking about the process of determining the effects of certain weapons, which I described in our latest podcast. It's a technique that will make me question every action film I see involving a weapon from now on.

Review: Zombieland



Despite seeing over 20 films in the last ten days, the most memorable movie quotes that have stayed with me are from Zombieland. The zombie carnage and laughs start with the opening credits. The action continues as an unlikely band of survivors make their way from Texas to a zombie-free nirvana, an amusement park on the West Coast.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has neurotic tendencies which prove to be assets in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies. His set of rules which include "Beware of bathrooms," "Double tap" and "Seatbelts" help him survive until he meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Harrelson's performance as the zombie-killing, ass-whuppin' Twinkie-lovin' Tallahassee hits the mark in toughness and wittiness. Emma Stone as Wichita turns in a strong performance as the older sibling in a grifter team, but it's Abigail Breslin as Little Rock who holds her own in an exchange with Tallahassee about Hannah Montana.

Quick Snaps: Rue McClanahan in Austin


Rue McClanahan

Television and theater star Rue McClanahan was in Austin last weekend for the Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas (BCRC) annual benefit. She kept several hundred attendees entertained and engaged with stories about acting onstage, how she met her current husband Morrow Wilson, and how she discovered that she had cancer.

Although best known for her role as Blanche Devereaux in Golden Girls, McClanahan has also appeared on the big screen throughout her acting career including the comedy Out to Sea (1997) and Starship Troopers (1997).  I asked Ms. McClanahan about her Starship Troopers experience, and she stated that she'd loved working with that nice Dutch director, Paul Verhoeven.

At the end of the keynote speech, the audience and Rue participated in the creation of a new "no talking during the movie" bumper for the Alamo Drafthouse. I won't reveal the details, but suffice to say Rue handled it firmly and elegantly.

Fantastic Fest Rolls Out the Undead Carpet at the Paramount


Dead Carpet

This year's Fantastic Fest has featured several gala events that brought all kinds of people to the historic Paramount Theater. Last Friday, Zombieland was the featured premiere. Moviegoers could be "zombified" by makeup artists from Eerie Industries, which also assists with the special effects for Zombie Manor, a haunted adventure in Arlington. Zombie Manor brought along some of their star zombies, who walked the red carpet before the living celebrities arrived. Director Ruben Fleischer and co-stars Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone were in attendance for the special screening. The event was open to the public as well as Fantastic Fest attendees.

The horror comedy Zombieland focuses on two men -- Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) -- who have found a way to survive a world overrun by zombies. I saw a press screening earlier in the week, and had to resist referencing Columbus's "Zombie Rules" afterwards.

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