Mumblecore

Austin Cinematic Limits

A New Orleans native, writer-director Todd Berger moved to Austin to attend The University of Texas. After graduating from UT’s Radio-Television-Film program, Berger was quickly swept away to the always sunny shores of Los Angeles. With The Scenesters (2009) and It’s a Disaster (2012), Berger has become yet another success story to come out of UT’s film program; and even though he did not spend very much time in Austin, Berger has maintained very strong ties with the Austin film community. So, when we heard that Berger was coming to Austin for the regional premiere of his latest directorial effort, It’s a Disaster, at the 2012 Austin Film Festival we thought it would be fun to get his outsider perspective on the Austin…

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There are a good number of reasons to get excited for Your Sister’s Sister, not the least of which is that our own Robert Levin saw it at Sundance and ended up enjoying it quite a bit. The biggest reason to get excited today, however, is the release of the film’s trailer. Taking place in the gorgeous scenery of the Pacific Northwest, Your Sister’s Sister tells the tale of a depressed gent (Mark Duplass) who gets sent away by his best friend (Emily Blunt) to her family’s island cabin. Hijinx ensue when Blunt’s equally depressed sister (Rosemarie DeWitt) is unexpectedly already at said cabin, and some drunken sexy time commences. Drama ensues when Blunt shows up the next day, also unexpectedly, and everyone has to work through a tangled web of complex interpersonal relationships and suppressed feelings.

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Culture Warrior

As much as I admire the incomparable films made during the era, New Hollywood (the term referring to innovative, risk-taking films made funded by studios from the mid-60s to the mid-70s) is a title that I find a bit problematic. The words “New Hollywood” better characterize the era that came after what the moniker traditionally refers to. Think about it: if “Old” or “Classical” Hollywood refers to the time period that stretches roughly from 1930 to 1960 when the studios as an industry maintained such an organized and regimented domination over and erasure of any other potential conception over what a film playing in any normal movie theater could be, then if we refer to the time period from roughly 1977 to now “New Hollywood,” the term then appropriately signifies a new manifestation of the old: regimentation, predictability, and limitation of expression. Where Old Hollywood studios would produce dozens of films of the same genre, New Hollywood (as I’m appropriating the term) could acutely describe the studios’ comparably stratified output of sequels, remakes, etc. What we traditionally understand to be New Hollywood was not so much its own monolithic era in Hollywood’s legacy, but a brief, strange, and wonderful lapse between two modes of Hollywood filmmaking that have dominated the industry’s history.

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Jay and Mark Duplass were two of the biggest names at the forefront of the Mumblecore movement in filmmaking that sprung up a half-decade or so ago. What is Mumblecore? Many critics of cinema would lead us to believe that it’s a new genre, one in which realism takes precedence over everything else. It utilizes unknown actors, it shoots in real locations, and the scripts are largely improvised. Personally, I just think young filmmakers like the Duplass brothers were too broke to make movies in any sort of traditional way, so they just started making them in their houses and with their friends. Any sort of genre labels or rumblings of an artistic movement came later when writers were trying to digest what they’d seen in movies like The Puffy Chair or Baghead. And that’s bound to happen. Critics, bloggers, and essay writers need to find things to talk about, so they come up with labels, they put things in categories. Is it a coincidence, then, that the new project being developed by two filmmakers whose careers were launched largely due to online and word of mouth buzz would be about the same writers who created their monster? Maybe, I don’t know.

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Culture Warrior

Acts of spontaneity have been an essential component of artistic expression in the twentieth century, based in the notion of a perceived “purity” within the spontaneous act that allows art to be directly articulated without mediation or interference from social pressures and constructs. From the improvisatory paintings of Jackson Pollock to the idea of the rewrite as heresy within Jack Kerouac’s prose, spontaneity in many cases is seen as the only way to make art that has any “real” meaning. According to Daniel Belgrad, mid-century efforts toward artistic spontaneity provided a means of expression free from the constrains enforced by an oppressive, conformist hegemonic culture: “This new avant-garde shared the belief that cultural conditioning functioned ideologically by encouraging the atrophy of certain perceptions and the exaggeration of others…In the recovery of such an alternative “reality”…they saw the only basis for constructively radical social change.” Spontaneity through art then doesn’t alter perception as much as its restores it to its ideal original state, allowing artists and spectators of art to see beyond a regime’s oppressive confines.

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One great thing about covering the rise of digital DIY independent filmmaking is that over time you get to see a filmmaker grow and mature into their development of a signature style. This process ultimately reveals whether or not the filmmaker really has the chops for a continued career, and if they have anything new to say after their first couple of films. Aaron Katz seems to have quite the career ahead of him as his latest, Cold Weather, signifies something of a great leap forward in his development as an artist.

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Cyrus

I’ve gotten a bit tired of John C. Reilly doing so many comedies recently. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a damn funny man who elevates everything he’s in, but I’ve been increasingly afraid that a man with as strong of dramatic chops as he will continually fall into typecasting through the short-term memory of Hollywood. Enter Cyrus, the first high-profile, star-studded effort by those kooky mumblecore kids Jay and Mark Duplass.

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Whether you love or hate the new movement of random actors coming up with semi-interesting things to say about their middle-class, twenty-something boredom, the new trailer for Nothing But Everything is good for a laugh.

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alexander-the-last-1

In an exclusive interview Joe Swanberg talks to us about Alexander the Last, the current state of mumblecore and simultaneously premiering the film at SXSW and on-demand.

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Alexander the Last

We risk losing our doctored press badges and sneak behind enemy lines to get an early look at a film playing at SXSW – Alexander the Last.

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humpday-2

Sundance may be over and all of my reviews may be posted, but there is still a ton of cool stuff that I’d like to share with all of you. Chief among those things are some video profiles of some of Sundance’s emerging talents. Among those talents is Humpday director Lynn Shelton…

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humpday-1

If there is one thing that we can take away from director Lynn Shelton’s awkward sex comedy Humpday, it is that there is nothing more uncomfortable to watch yet strikingly hilarious than two straight men who set out to have sex on camera.

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