Austin Cinematic Limits

Austin Cinematic Limits

In what felt like a modern reinterpretation of a Samuel Beckett play, the cast, crew and friends of Saturday Morning Massacre (the Scooby Doo-channeling indie horror flick) wandered the streets of downtown Los Angeles early Sunday morning in search of a bar in which to celebrate the success of their world premiere screening at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival. It was an absurdly repetitious loop of our crowd of fifty or so entering seemingly open drinking establishments only to be informed that we just missed last call. Considering that our fruitless quest began at around 1:00 am, it did not seem all that unreasonable an expectation for us to believe that we could find a bar willing to sell fifty or so drinks to our thirsty group. After being turned away by five or six downtown bars, I decided to abandon the group and head home, but I can only assume that, like Godot and Guffman, Team SMM probably never got those drinks that they were searching for. That is not to say that their desire for celebration was unreasonable. Despite some synch issues with the projection (which were probably unnoticeable to a majority of the capacity audience), the screening went very well. Considering that SMM is a strange hybrid of comedy and horror, at times the audience did seem a little unsure about whether or not it was okay to laugh; but, most of the time the comedy got the exact reaction I would expect. Eventually, once the […]

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Austin Cinematic Limits

I know, I know. A modern day, live action reinterpretation of Scooby Doo sounds like a really horrible Hollywood pitch. But, c’mon just hear me out… Because if any film community would be able to spin this particular pitch into gold, it would be Austin. The idea was originally hatched by Jonny Mars and Jason Wheling. They eventually brought Spencer Parsons (I’ll Come Running) on board as the director. Next, Aaron Leggett and Jory Balsimo were hired to flesh out the idea into a fully realized script. Then, the true moment of genius came — the casting. The slightly-skewed Scooby gang became embodied by Ashley Rae Spillers, Josephine Decker, Jonny Mars and Adam Tate, with masterful supporting turns by Chris Doubek, Paul Gordon, and Heather Kafka. The end result is Saturday Morning Massacre, a film that plays in dutiful homage to 1980s horror films with gory practical effects and boatloads of blood. Though known for being a dramatic director, it is quite obvious that Parsons has studiously memorized the unabridged history of horror films. He understands the importance of sound, lighting and framing in developing spine-tingling horror; but Saturday Morning Massacre really showcases Parsons’ inherent knack for timing, both in terms of comedy and frights. As the Saturday Morning Massacre cast and crew prepare for the film’s world premiere at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival, we chatted with Parsons and Spillers about the making of the film.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

I had mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it was the Paramount Theatre’s Summer Classic Film series that lured me to Austin 14 years ago, but Austin truly became the city of my dreams during the Summer of 2010 when Cinema East began. Life really does not get much better than spending warm summer nights, outside on a picnic blanket, with a six-pack of beer (or bottle of wine), watching some of my favorite films of the festival circuit with an audience of 400-700 people. Sure, I could do without the humidity and the mosquitoes, but otherwise Cinema East is as close to heaven as I might ever get. Now in its third summer, Cinema East kicks off on June 10 with Bob Byington’s newest feature, Somebody Up There Likes Me, with Byington and star Nick Offerman in attendance for a Q&A. Cinema East will run every other Sunday through August 19, featuring screenings of Gayby (June 24), Kid Thing (July 8), Sun Don’t Shine (July 22), King Kelly (August 5), and Girl Walk // All Day (August 19).

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Summer is almost here. Are you still looking for something to keep your movie-loving kids (ages 9-18) busy this summer? Sure, you could drop them off at the multiplex every morning on your way to work, but allow me to recommend something much better — Austin Film Festival’s Summer Film Camp. Don’t worry, I am thinking exactly what you are thinking. “Why didn’t something like this exist when I was a kid?” Yeah, I know, kids have it so much easier nowadays! For example, I remember when I had to walk barefoot in the snow, uphill for ten miles to get to some lame-ass summer camp when I was a kid. Twenty years from now, do you really want your kids to be stuck in mindless office jobs reminiscing about their oh-so-boring childhoods while stressing out about what to do with their kids over the upcoming summer? Yes, that’s right, maybe if you enroll them in AFF’s Summer Film Camp they won’t grow up to have tedious office jobs; but, first and foremost, they certainly won’t have bad memories of their childhood summers.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Flashback to the spring of 1998 — yours truly is living in Philadelphia and desperately looking for another city to call my home. I am not ashamed to admit that I plan on basing a significant part of this decision on the quality of programming at movie theaters in each city. Austin is the clear favorite in this category. I fondly remember falling in love with the Alamo Drafthouse during SXSW 1998 (beer! food! movies!), but it is my virginal foray into the Paramount Theatre that remains emblazoned upon my mind. Despite earning a masters degree in cinema studies, I never had access to a repertory cinema before. Sure, I studied the history of cinema but I watched all of the films on television. Now, I am finally experiencing those films in the way that they were intended to be seen! It might be hard to believe, but up until that fateful summer, I had never seen a film released prior to 1975 on the big screen. Flashforward 14 years — I find myself at the Hideout Cafe sitting across the table from the Paramount’s film programmer, Jesse Trussell, on the eve of the official release of the 2012 Summer Classic Film series schedule.  Trussell hands a photocopy of the schedule to me. I scan it quickly. My jaw drops.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

What have I been doing lately? I have been stalking Bryan Poyser (Lovers of Hate) on Facebook. Well, it is not technically stalking since he accepted my friendship, right? Truth be told, I am not actually a Facebook stalker, I am merely doing my job. (Really!) I am keeping tabs on the production of Poyser’s latest film, The Bounceback. As I write this, Poyser is entering week three of the Austin-based production which stars Ashley Bell (The Last Exorcism), Michael Stahl-David (Cloverfield), Sara Paxton (The Innkeepers), and Addison Timlin (Californication). The primary cast might not be very Austin-centric, but the crew – which includes producer Megan Gilbride, cinematographer PJ Raval, and editor Don Swaynos – certainly is. My love for Lovers of Hate and Dear Pillow knows no bounds, so let’s just say that I am eagerly awaiting the release of The Bounceback. Poyser is not the only Austin filmmaker lucky enough to be stalked by yours truly. A couple of weeks ago, I ran into the seemingly ubiquitous Alex Karpovsky at Tribeca 2012. Okay, I was not really stalking him, he was hanging out in the press lounge. (Really!) A periodic Austinite, Karpovsky mentioned that he will be in Austin in the very near future to act in Carlyn Hudson’s (Z and Beau) next film. As a fan of Hudson’s segment of Slacker 2011 as well as her short film Z and Beau, I am very excited to find out more about her project with Karpovsky.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Ever since I moved to Austin 14 years ago, the summer has meant one thing to me (well, besides several months of brutal triple digit temperatures): Paramount’s Summer Classic Film Series. More recently, Cinema East has developed into a staple for my Sunday evenings during the summer months. While I anxiously anticipate announcements from the Paramount and Cinema East regarding their 2012 summer programming, the Alamo Drafthouse is the first out of the gate with a couple of announcements that have pushed my calendar well beyond its cinematic limits for the next few months. First off, Alamo Drafthouse and Mondo announced their partnership with Martin Scorsese’s film preservation organization, The Film Foundation. Created in 1990 by Scorsese, The Film Foundation is dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history. By working in partnership with the leading archives and studios, the foundation raises awareness of the urgent need for preservation and has saved over 560 films.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Up until last week I never heard of Adventure Time. (I will chalk this up to not having easy access to cable television, specifically Cartoon Network, rather than my utter lameness.) So, it was not until the announcement that Mondo Gallery was opening an Adventure Time themed art show — featuring 40 pieces of original art and posters from 31 artists (the show is on display through May 26) — that I first heard of Finn and Jake and the Land of Ooo. Considering that Mondo’s tastes are typically in line with my own, their love for Adventure Time intrigued me. Luckily, the gallery opening was to be paired with an Adventure Time Marathon Screening and Feast — hosted by Mondo and featuring series creator Pendleton Ward and voice actor Tom Kenny (Ice King) — at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. What better way to get introduced to Adventure Time than with a two-hour immersion into nine episodes (including two world premiere episodes), served up with a three-course menu (including “Everything Burrito”, “Wizard Rainbow Dogs”, “Decorpsinator Puffs” and “Meatman Meat”) designed by Alamo Executive Chef John Bullington, and seated alongside a sold out audience of rabid Adventure Time fans? Oh, yes, the fans! Seeing all of the fans decked out in Adventure Time costumes got me all the more excited to experience whatever it was I was about to see. I mean, how often do people dress up like characters from bad television shows? (Okay, don’t answer that.) I was […]

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Okay, I admit it. I used to watch Dawson’s Creek – only the first two seasons though, and I only watched it for its dialogue. Really! Other than introducing me to the acting talent of Michelle Williams, Dawson’s Creek also provided me with a glimpse of Rob Thomas‘s writing style. Though Thomas was only credited as a writer on two episodes during season one – Prelude to a Kiss and In the Company of Men – his knack for whip-smart dialogue really left an impression on me. Nonetheless, I was always too embarrassed to admit to ever watching Dawson’s Creek. Six years later, I got hooked on Veronica Mars – which Thomas created, executive produced, wrote 64 episodes of, and directed two episodes for. I used to get mocked and ridiculed by friends for watching a television series about a teenage detective, but I didn’t care. The writing was so incredibly intelligent, the music was fantastic (I love the Britt Daniel karaoke scene in season two), and I actually got all of the pop culture references; so I felt like the series was written for me, not teenagers. With the cancellation of Veronica Mars came Party Down – a television series created by Thomas, John Enbom, Dan Etheridge, and Paul Rudd. Other than serving as a co-creator and executive director, Thomas was not very involved in Party Down; he co-wrote the unaired pilot and one episode for season one (most of his time was relegated to working on Cupid for ABC). Nonetheless, Party Down still bares the undeniable mark […]

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Austin Cinematic Limits

I first became aware of Jonny Mars during SXSW 2010, thanks to his role as Donnie in The Happy Poet. I have never been one to judge an actor on one performance, so it was not until I saw Mars the next time – as Steve Worth in Wuss – that I realized his talents as an actor. I remember wondering to myself, why hasn’t Mars run off to Los Angeles to become a big star? Then, after watching Mars truly own his couple minutes of screen time in Hellion, I knew it was time to pose that question to the man himself. Before I got a chance to speak with Mars, a funny thing happened: I learned that Mars is also a director, and his directorial debut, America’s Parking Lot (which premiered at SXSW 2012), is a multi-faceted documentary about the renowned Dallas Cowboys’ Gate 6 tailgaters. Mars once again astounded me, this time for his astute understanding of the documentary form. In terms of its narrative arc and development of conflict, America’s Parking Lot is damn near perfect. If I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed America’s Parking Lot was directed by a seasoned veteran, not a first-time director. Now I really needed to chat with Mars, post-haste!

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Austin Cinematic Limits

The Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane enjoyed a very successful soft opening in early March, but they chose to wait until the dust settled after the 2012 SXSW Film Festival to officially celebrate their grand opening. On the morning of Thursday, March 22, friends of the Alamo and local press flocked to the newest and grandest Alamo Drafthouse location in Austin where they were treated to tacos, coffee, Bloody Mary’s and mimosas. Special guest Robert Rodriguez (Spy Kids, Machete) held the ribbon as Alamo Drafthouse CEO Tim League cut it with a saber; then League held a champagne bottle as Rodriguez slashed it open with a saber. Thankfully, no filmmakers or CEOs were injured by the saber. Shortly after the grand opening, with the saber stowed safely out of reach, we discussed the new Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane location with League — the man whom Rodriguez referred to as the most “innovative exhibitionist in the country, if not the world.”

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Austin Cinematic Limits

I know you are all wondering which local film was my favorite at SXSW 2012, and though I know that you know that by asking that question you are placing me in a very awkward position because I do not like to play favorites I will oblige your request nonetheless. Kid-Thing. There, I said it. Are you satisfied now? I suspect I will find a severed horse’s head in my bed courtesy of Jonny Mars (America’s Parking Lot) and/or Bob Byington (Somebody Up There Likes Me) as early as tomorrow morning. Thanks a lot! Well, can I backtrack and say that they were all great?

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Writer-director Kat Candler (Cicadas, Jumping Off Bridges) has an undeniable knack for creating lush atmospheres within her films, developing cinematic worlds that relish in youthful ecstasy and naivete. The dreamlike visual qualities of Candler’s films play like not-so-distant memories of youth; yet the characters and their actions are incredibly realistic. All of Candler’s films remind me in one way or another of my own youth, and that right there is something very few filmmakers have ever captured. I hate to play favorites, but Candler is one of my favorite Austin-based filmmakers. Her latest film Hellion (which premiered at Sundance 2012) is programmed in what is clearly the strongest Texas Shorts program in SXSW Film history. I chatted with Candler on the eve of her regional premiere of Hellion to discuss her career as a filmmaker in Austin…

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Austin Cinematic Limits

It is still very unclear to me why SXSW Film opted to forego their Lone Star States category in 2012, but what seems abundantly clear is the shortage of feature-length films by local filmmakers at the festival this year. As I continue to rummage through the schedule to plan my nine-day marathon of film screenings, various questions keep popping into my mind. Did fewer local filmmakers submit their features to SXSW this year? Has SXSW lost the desire to support local filmmakers? Do SXSW’s standards exceed the quality of local film productions? What does all of this say about the Austin film community? Inquiring minds want to know! The lack of local films in this year’s feature-length film categories would not have been as much of a shock if Austin had not enjoyed such a powerful presence at SXSW 2010 and 2011. In 2010, SXSW Film screened seven feature films by Austin filmmakers: Dance with the One, Earthling, The Happy Poet, Lovers of Hate, Mars, Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, and When I Rise. In 2011, SXSW screened eight feature films by Austin filmmakers: Blacktino, Building Hope, Five Time Champion, Incendiary: The Willingham Case, My Sucky Teen Romance, Otis Under Sky, Outside Industry: The Story of SXSW, and Wuss.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

When Austin’s very own homegrown distributor Drafthouse Films signed on to distribute the 30th anniversary re-release of Comin’ At Ya! in the United States, I really wasn’t sure what to think. I had heard that the screenings at Fantastic Fest 2011 went over like wildfire, but I suspected that those screenings were essentially just preaching to the choir. What would other audiences think? Then I watched the fully restored Comin’ At Ya! and realized exactly what is so damn special about this film. Sure, Comin’ at Ya! is ridiculously gimmicky but that’s exactly what makes it so much fun. The first-ever 3D spaghetti-western, Comin’ at Ya! does precisely what the title promises. Rather than using 3D technology to add greater depth to the scenes — like most of the namby pamby 3D films released today — Comin’ at Ya! breaks out from the confines of the silver screen and attacks the audience with a relentless barrage of… well… everything but the kitchen sink. From the brilliantly conceived opening title sequence, it seems like there is always something jumping off of the screen and into your face. Watching Comin’ at Ya! is more like strolling around inside a wacky fun house (or a haunted house) than a traditional cinematic experience. It will rarely scare or thrill you (though the flaming arrows are pretty effective), but it never fails to conjure up laughs and cheers from the audience. Upon its initial release in 1981, Comin’ At Ya! single-handedly ignited the resurgence of […]

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Occasionally, Austin Cinematic Limits is going to post interviews with key players in Austin’s film community. It might be common knowledge that there is a rich pool of directors in Austin, but there are also a ton of fantastic actors, cinematographers, composers, animators, make-up artists, and other cinematic people with whom we also want to converse. Maybe — just maybe — we will gain a better understanding of why all of these talented people have chosen to live and work in Austin rather than Los Angeles or New York City. We are starting with producer Kelly Williams — partly because there are only a handful of producers who actually live and work in Austin, but also because he is currently juggling so many great projects. Since resigning from his role as Film Program Director at the Austin Film Festival in June 2011, Williams has already produced Kat Candler’s Hellion (premiered at Sundance 2012), the anthology film Holiday Road (premiered at Slamdance 2012) and Mark Pott’s Cinema Six (scheduled to premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival in April 2012). Don Swaynos’ Pictures of Superheroes just completed post-production and Williams has two more films already in the pipeline, the feature-length version of Hellion and Yen Tan’s Pit Stop.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Okay, I’ll come right out and say it: I really hate Valentine’s Day. It’s just another Hallmark holiday that was created to give retailers a huge boost in sales during what would otherwise be a slow month on their fiscal calendar. Of course, if you are in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is a really tough holiday to ignore because our society deems that everyone must at least purchase chocolates, roses, and/or a greeting card for their significant other; a romantic dinner is also a good idea and maybe a movie afterwards… Life on February 14th is not any easier if you are single (but if you are, you should probably check out our FSR Dating site), because you definitely cannot go out in public without a date on Valentine’s Day unless you want to look like a totally unlovable loser. On that note, I will quit my bitching and tell you about all of the great cinematic events going on in Austin on the dreaded 14th of February.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

Co-founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and Toshio Suzuki, Japan’s Studio Ghibli is famous for its masterfully crafted animated films. A retrospective series of newly struck, 35mm (subtitled) prints of Studio Ghibli’s films is coming to Austin thanks to Alamo Drafthouse. Each film will screen for one week at the Alamo South Lamar, beginning with Spirited Away on February 10th. The touring retrospective is intended to build anticipation for the famed Japanese animation studio’s latest U.S. theatrical release, The Secret World of Arrietty (the directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, co-written by Hayao Miyazaki). If you were to ask me whom I believed to be the three greatest Japanese filmmakers of all time, my first two responses – Akira Kurosawa and Yasujirō Ozu – are all but indisputable; the question is whether or not a director of animated films, namely Miyazaki (who is by far the most prolific director on the Studio Ghibli roster), could be considered in the same high regard as Kurosawa and Ozu. To accept Miyazaki as a legitimate filmmaker, one might need to overcome the opinion that animated films are merely for kids. For example, even though Spirited Away is ranked among the top ten on BFI’s list of 50 films you should see by age 14, the film is more than just a “kids’ movie.” The narrative is light-years more mature, intricate, complex and thoughtful than most modern Hollywood dramas – and the same can be said for any of Miyazaki’s films.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

As Austin’s filmmaking community migrates back to Austin from the snowy slopes of Park City, everyone is anxiously awaiting to hear whether or not their latest film(s) has been accepted into the 2012 South By Southwest Film Festival (March 9-17, 2012). According to SXSW,  “no news is good news! If you haven’t heard from [SXSW] yet it means your film is still in the running.” All filmmakers will be sent notification one way or another by Thursday, February 9, 2012.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

I promise not to begin every Austin Cinematic Limits post with a discussion on Richard Linklater’s significance to Austin’s filmmaking community, but he is an integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to Austin’s long-standing relationship with the Sundance Film Festival. Other Austin filmmakers may have traveled with films to Sundance before him (though I am not sure who they are), but Linklater deserves the credit for initially spraying Austin’s mark on the snowy slopes of Sundance with his regional premiere of Slacker in 1991 — and Linklater did not end his relationship with Sundance there, as he holds the distinction of being the Austin director who has screened the most feature films at Sundance (Slacker [1991], Before Sunrise [1995], SubUrbia [1996], Waking Life [2001] and Tape [2001]). Ever since Linklater plowed that initial path in January 1991, Austin filmmakers have frequented the silver screens at Sundance year after year. In fact, no matter how you define an Austin filmmaker or Austin film production, I guarantee that Austin ranks extremely high on the list of cities that have sent the most films to Sundance. In turn, Sundance has done a lot for Austin’s reputation as the “Third Coast” of filmmaking in the United States; Sundance has also helped launch the careers of several now-famous Austin filmmakers including Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi), Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket [13 min short]), Catherine Hardwicke (thirteen), and the Duplass brothers (The Puffy Chair).

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published: 12.23.2014
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published: 12.22.2014
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published: 12.19.2014
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