Local Indies

SXSW Review: Arlo and Julie

in

Alex Dobrenko and Ashley Spillers in Arlo & Julie

Arlo (Alex Dobrenko, Hell No) and Julie (Ashley Spillers, Loves Her Gun) are your typical young twentysomething Austinites. Arlo works at a software company but writes historical articles about General Grant on the side. Julie is a waitress at a restaurant that looks like Eastside Cafe. They live, love and get by in a fourplex on W. 29th. One day, Julie receives a couple of puzzle pieces in the mail.

Such is the premise for director Steve Mims' adorable mystery-comedy Arlo and Julie. Filmed around Austin -- and on a soundstage at UT's RTF department -- this movie is a quirky look at obsession. As Julie and Arlo become more and more engrossed in this puzzle of puzzles, their lives and goals are ignored. The script, which Mims also wrote, is filled with laughs and bits of Civil War trivia. 

Old jazzy numbers punctuate scenes of Julie and Arlo waiting for the postman (Chris Doubek, The Happy Poet) or chatting with their friends Trish (Mallory Culbert, Saturday Morning Mystery), Rob (Hugo Vargas-Zesati) and Dirk (Sam Eidson, Zero Charisma). The music, witty banter, and backdrop of the downtown skyline bring to mind the best aspects of Manhattan.

SXSW 2014: An Unexpectedly Musical Finale

in

Kevin Gant, SXSW 2014

My last movie for SXSW this year was the amusing Space Station 76, at Stateside. I planned to walk a little bit around downtown afterward and maybe take some photos of various interesting SXSW sights, if it didn't rain again. I chatted a little outside the theater with local actor Sam Eidson (Zero Charisma, SXSW 2013), who was still planning to see movies that day. I almost literally ran into Austin filmmaker Emily Hagins (Grow Up, Tony Phillips, SXSW 2013) as I walked down Congress to Sixth.

As I was passing Wholly Cow Burgers, a musician was playing a guitar under the awning, a frequent sight during non-rainy SXSW days. He looked so energetic and happy that I snapped his photo a couple of times, and we exchanged waves. I stopped briefly to listen and liked the music -- not a crappy cover pandering to passersby, not someone loudly learning to play. And he looked familiar. Why would a guitarist playing on the street look familiar?

I walked another block and remembered someone on Twitter mentioning they'd seen Kevin Gant playing on the street at SXSW, which at the time I thought was far-fetched. But ... did I just pass Kevin Gant, longtime Austin musician and the subject of Jay Duplass' short doc Kevin, which screened at SXSW 2011? Did I? If only I'd had the following photo with me from the Kevin premiere so I could compare ...

SXSW Review: Butterfly Girl

in

Butterfly Girl Still PhotoAs the main subject of the documentary Butterfly Girl, written and directed by Houston-based writer and director Cary Bell, lovely 18-year-old Abigail Evans appears to be a typical teenager -- moody, stubborn, and sometimes overly dramatic -- longing for her first alcoholic drink and someone to hold her who is not a parent. However, her everyday drama and challenges are far apart from the usual high school experience. Abbie was born with the life-threatening skin disease of epidermolysis bullosa (EB), and has been homeschooled by her mother Stacie so that she can be safer at home or on the road with her father, Austin musician John Evans.

Much of Abbie's life has been spent in hospitals being treated for her genetic disease and the physical damage wreaked upon her hands, skin and esophagus. She depends on her mother as a caregiver, who does her laundry and housework. Unable to eat regularly due to blisters in her esophagus that require multiple surgeries a year, Abbie must supplement her caloric intake through a gastrostomy tube daily.

SXSW Review: Above All Else

in

Above All Else

East Texas isn't exactly a hotbed of political activism -- at least not the kind of activism that makes the world a better place.

The heavily wooded, mostly rural region of Texas is one of the reddest parts of a mostly red state, a place firmly rooted in Southern cultural tradition, deeply conservative religious fervor, economic libertarianism and anachronistic good ol' boy politics. It's the last place you'd expect a bunch of hippies to pick a fight with a giant corporation.

But a bunch of hippies did. Their battle is the subject of Above All Else, filmmaker John Fiege's engaging and enraging documentary about a group of activists and landowners determined to stop construction of the reviled Keystone XL oil pipeline on their land.

The pipeline is slated to carry tar sands oil -- a particularly dirty, viscous, gritty kind of petroleum -- from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Pipeline proponents claim it will increase North American energy independence and create jobs; opponents claim it's potentially dangerous and will kill more jobs than it creates. They also oppose the continued burning of fossil fuels, which exacerbates global warming.

SXSW Review: Two Step

in

Two Step

For decades, law enforcement agencies have been warning people of a common phone scam: An elderly person receives a phone call from someone pretending to be the person's grandchild or other family member. The caller says he's desperate for money, and asks the victim to deposit money in a bank account. This scam is often successful; the elderly victims, feeling lonely and forgotten, want to help their family members and are easily conned.

Normally, the victims lose money but never meet the con artists or suffer any physical harm. But in the stylish thriller Two Step, the scam turns deadly and personal.

In the Austin-made film, career criminal Webb (James Landry Hébert) is part of ring of phone scammers, making his calls from prison. When he's released, he's ready to continue his criminal ways and reunite with his girlfriend and fellow scammer, Amy (Ashley Spillers). But the reunion doesn't go as planned. Fed up with Webb's physical and emotional abuse, Amy leaves him the minute he returns home, taking their ill-gotten cash with her. Even worse, he owes $10,000 to the ringleader, Duane (Jason Douglas), who banishes him from the ring for his erratic and violent ways. But Webb is determined to repay the money and make amends with his boss.

SXSW Review: No No: A Dockumentary

in

no no a dockumentary

No No: A Dockumentary was directed by Austinite Jeffrey Radice and came about with much local support and funding (including a grant from Austin Film Society), so it was no surprise that it made its SXSW premiere to a big and welcoming crowd at the Paramount last Saturday.

The film explores the life of Dock Ellis, a Major League baseball player known for his talent as a pitcher as well as for the memorable feat of pitching a no-hitter (aka the "no no" of the title) while high on LSD. He also played at a time rife with racial tension and when illicit but quietly accepted drug use was rampant among players -- and rather than remaining a passive bystander in terms of baseball politics, Ellis was vocal and persistent in sharing his opinions.

SXSW Review: Thank You a Lot

in

Thank You a Lot

"Failure."
-- James Hand in Thank You a Lot, when asked what makes a good songwriter

In a single word, the fictional musician James Hand -- played by the real musician James Hand -- sums up a central theme of Thank You a Lot.

The poignant and perceptive film by Austin filmmaker Matt Muir explores many forms of failure: in parenthood, family relationships and artistic fulfillment. But it's also a hopeful film about redemption.

At the center of Thank You a Lot is Jack Hand (Blake DeLong), a bottom-feeding hustler and music manager whose only remaining clients are the hapless indie rock band The Wintermen and struggling hip-hop artist Desmond D (Jeffery Da'Shade Johnson). Jack spends his days trolling Austin's music scene for any deal he can work to his advantage; petty fraud and extortion are his stock in trade, and it's obvious his ethical compass broke long ago.

Check Out the AFS ShortCase Lineup for SXSW 2014

in

Whitewash

The Austin Film Society jury has chosen eight selections for the AFS ShortCase program, which annually presents to SXSW attendees a diverse mix of shorts created by AFS members. The 2014 jury included Austin filmmaker Clay Liford (Wuss), AFS programmer Lars Nilsen and Slackerwood contributor Debbie Cerda.

The ShortCase screening will take place during the first weekend of the fest, Saturday March 8 at 2 pm at the Marchesa. (Add the screening to your schedule here.) It's free and open to the public even if you don't have a SXSW badge or wristband -- but get there early, because last year this event filled up fast and a number of people were turned away.

The short features and documentaries include:

Digging for the Water (Joshua Riehl) -- In the hilltop village of Creve, Haiti residents have no electricity or running water. Their only supply, which they must carry by hand from a neighboring village, is contaminated with bacteria. Volunteers from the organization Mountain of Hope and The University of Texas at Austin arrange to help drill a well for the village.

Austin at SXSW 2014: Matt Muir and Chris Ohlson, 'Thank You A Lot'

in

Chris Ohlson and Matt Muir of Thank You A Lot

In August 2012, I visited the set of the movie Thank You A Lot, which features Texas singer/songwriter James "Slim" Hand as a fictionalized version of himself along with actor Blake DeLong as a small-time music agent who struggles within the Austin music scene. Texas musicians who appear in the film include hip-hop artist Da'Shade Moonbeam, members of the Austin band Hundred Visions and jazz vocalist Keri Johnsrud.

Thank You A Lot will debut at this year's SXSW Film Festival in the Narrative Spotlight category, with the premiere screening at the Topfer Theatre at ZACH on Friday, March 7 at 7 pm. Additional screenings take place on Sunday, March 9 at the Marchesa and Saturday, March 15 at the Vimeo Theater in the Austin Convention Center.

I recently spoke with writer/director Matt Muir and producer Chris Ohlson to continue our discussion about the journey of Thank You A Lot from the set to the screen. Muir and Ohlson are business partners in the film and video company Revelator, and the duo perform commercial and corporate work while developing film projects within their schedule.

Ohlson also produced David and Nathan Zellner's critically acclaimed narrative Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter (my Sundance review), which makes its regional debut at SXSW on Tuesday, March 11, 1:45 pm, at The Paramount Theatre.

Texas at SXSW 2014: The Shorts

in

Elizabeth filled us in on the Austin and Texas feature films that are going to be playing at this year's SXSW Film Festival.  In an effort to keep you in the loop, as well as to proudly support our local filmmakers, we here at Slackerwood bring you the Lone Star short films that are playing in the 2014 film lineup. Most but not all are in the Texas Shorts block.

Texas Shorts

Dig -- Fellow contributor Debbie Cerda got to check out this film (her review), which premiered at Sundance last month. This is the directorial debut of Dallas-area producer Toby Halbrooks, and was produced by DFW-based production company Sailor Bear. The film stars the very adorable Mallory Mahoney as Jenny, a young girl who is intrigued by the hole her father (Austin actor Jonny Mars) is digging in their backyard. 

Easy -- Dallas filmmaker Daniel Laabs brings us a short that follows two brothers who are on the verge of different stages of adulthood.  His last film, 8, won the Grand Jury Prize for short films at SXSW 2011. This is Laabs' fifth piece as a director, with Austin's own Ashland Viscosi on board as a producer. Texas Theatre co-owner Adam Donaghey produced this as well as I Was A Teenage Girl.

Syndicate content