my Movie
Austin Film Festival 2006 (10.19.06 - 10.26.06, 11 movies)
Date Viewed Movie Director Notes
10.19.06The TV SetJake KasdanAFF 2006. 8 days of... pretty casual festival movie-watching. Thanks to their venues and scheduling, it's really pretty tough to watch more than 2 movies a night all week, but since I've somehow ended up with a weekend badge to get into all the screenwritery day panels, this first weekend will actually be pretty full, which is nice. So if you are a freak for festival coverage and don't want my condensed articles appearing on, you can always follow my adventures detail by detail here.

I guess I just set myself up for a hell of a lot of writing huh.

The festival officially started for me with my buddy Jarratte buying a badge so he wont have to stand in the film pass line alone. It doesn't hurt that the badge is under a hundred bucks and gets him into Saturday's panels... but it did mean he had to wait there in the registration office for over an hour while they didn't print his badge out. He finally had to talk his way into the first film with his receipt and a smile. It's alright though... although the orchestra seating was fairly full for this opening night film, the very fine eldery of the Paramount roped off the balcony so I guess seating isn't so much an issue this year.

Which is weird because This is a conference for screenwriters and The TV Set is a movie about screenwriting, filled with war stories involving familiarly frustrating studio execs, spineless managers, and a constant barrage of compromise in the face of one man's original vision. While it does ring of truth, this is not exactly a love letter to the network TV industry.

Strong performances from David Duchovny, Sigourney Weaver, and other less famous people... smart writing that seems to come from both experience and a sharp sense of satire, and good music all make this movie pretty funny, especially if you're a writer.

One scene takes place in a network meeting room with a big board of their line-up in the background. I got a particular kick out of the fake show names interspersed with real titles. So much so that I wrote them down. Check them out: Slut Wars, Out of my Way, Stat, Go to Your Room, World's Grossest meals, Malibu D.A., and Bart's Your Uncle.

Sigourney Weavers character, a concotion of the worst stereotypes of every tv exec, also has some particularly choice lines, such as citing some unnamed study that proves "suicide is depressing to like 82% of everyone." When Slut Wars gets particularly good ratings, she pops the champagne and yells in triumph "19 Share, Motherfucker!"

Jake Kasdan was there to introduce the film and answer questions afterward. One particular insight was that Weaver's character was original cast with Ben Stiller. That gives Weaver's foul-mouthed character a lot of context, but I think she's the better choice. Kasdan also brought up an interesting point that in TV, getting 8 million viewers means the show is in trouble. So if every person in LA watches your show but nowhere else in the entire country, you're gonna get cancelled. So, because of that, every show (dependant on ratings for their advertising dollars) needs to reach as wide an audience as possible. Therefore most people in the tv industry are not so much worried about making good entertainment but running the numbers in order to keep their jobs and support their families. That sounds pretty depressing... but this movie is funny.

In a perfect world, this would have been the first half of an opening night double feature with For your Consideration, but this'll do.

Instead of heading to the IMAX to see The Queen, we decided on eating then hitting up Terror Thursday instead.
10.20.06 Walking to WernerLinas PhillipsI started day two of AFF at the Stephen F. Austin Intercontinental hotel (SFA to the pros), where they set up a small screen and put out ballroom chairs, turn the lights off, and call it a theater. I'm too afraid to see movies at The Hideout so I can't know for sure but this sucks for watching movies. Worse than the Convention Center with the plastic fold-up stadium seating. Oh well, I'm trying not to let it get to me. I'm here to see this movie about... well...

OK so at some point, German film director/crazy man Werner Herzog decided that instead of flying from (I'm guessing) Berlin to Paris to see his dying friend, he would walk there on foot. And his walking would keep her alive. The cool thing about the story is that Herzog is so crazy that his friend actually lived for the month or whatever that it took him to cross the lush rolling hills of Europe. So this guy Linas Phillips, who is probably just as crazy as Herzog but in a very different way, takes this as... perhaps it's inspiration maybe it's just boredom, and decides to walk from his home in Seattle down to LA (well, Santa Monica, "the same thing" as he says late in the film) to Herzog's home and make a doc of it and call it a spirit quest or... something.

Linas starts by contacting a friend of Werner's to get in contact with the man himself. He doesn't hear back immediately however so he decides to start his walk anyway.

OK. I'm trying to figure out the best way to present this movie. It's a real success if you count unintentional humor as an asset. I'm so glad the director/subject wasn't in the audience though, because then I would've felt guilty for having such a good time at this movie's expense. So I guess the best way to describe it is just to start.

This guy Linas... he's a very prototypical long-haired hippie type. He walks around town holding up a camera shooting himself and gets frustrated by attempting to talk about what he's planning on doing and why. "Argh! I don't want to talk about it!" he screams to himself as he turns in circles on a random street corner, followed momentarily by "this camera is heavy!"

He starts his quest with a support staff of a producer who I guess is supposed to line up his hotel reservations and a buddy who drives along for a leg of the journey to shoot him at scenic locations. Mostly though it's just linas walking along highways with a camera in his hand, talking to himself and either going insane or slowly laying out his existing insanity on tape. Pretty quickly he gets a voicemail from Werner saying he just got back in town and he's on his way out to Thailand to shoot a movie (which I'll see Sunday) so good luck on the walk but he won't be home when he gets there. HA! He can't turn around now though, he's already walked like 300 miles or something. So he talks to himself about that, tries to angle flying to Thailand for an interview to end the film with and Herzog says no. This is an awesome movies that I'm so glad I'm watching.

Now, as all this is happening it's shot after shot of random roadkill, rainy landscapes, shaky shots of cars driving by him on the road, and his face in a bevy of expressions ranging from pained to frustrated to concerned. They glean excerpts from various DVD commentaries that Herzog's done to try and relate some sort of meaning or profundity to what we're seeing but really it's just a guy walking down a road and not really knowing why he's doing it.

Eventually, he runs into the invariably more interesting roadside prophets that probably all deserve docs more than the director and things get interesting in an Americana, crazy-rural-type way... The director is repeatedly mistaken as a woman due to his long blonde hair and soft voice. He goes even more crazy. In one scene he comes upon a heard of cows that approach. He gets all confused because they were so friendly by coming up to him at first but now "it's like I'm a stranger" when they lose interest in him. He just can't figure it out! It vexes him. He's thoroughly vexed. From there it gets even more self-important and bizarre.

He interviews a man who admits that he's thoroughly blitzed... the man steals his pen and paper and Linas yells after him "hey, man! That's not cool! I think you're a cool person but that's not cool!"

He absolutely goes apeshit when his buddy drives him a few miles down the road because he couldn't find a place to stop. As he's walking back north to make sure his journey is 100% pure, he spews all sorts of nonsensical hate, including the incredibly amazing observation that "you cannot push yourself into the future with your feet!" But you know... isn't that what we all do all the time? think about it... yeah.

I think my favorite quote of his in the movie is this though: "You can't vacuum the dirt off your soul." Deep.

You know what though? For as idiotic and pointless as this movie is, and for as hard as it tries not to be idiotic and pointless, by the end when Linas finally reaches LA (well, Santa Monica) and walks up to Werner's door, I actually wished that Herzog would be there... home from Thailand for some random weekend to pay taxes or rescue someone in a car wreck or something so he can be there when Linas finally walks up and rings the bell. So on a certain level I have to say that this movie got to me... by the end I was genuinely hoping that his long walk would yield some reward, even though the fact that it didn't probably means more.

Ironically, the most honest and rewarding moment comes right afterward when Linas takes a seat on Werner's front stoop and says "it feels good to sit." Indeed it does, Linas. Indeed it does.

So, aside from the fact that they projected it in the wrong aspect ratio in a conference room, I had fun with this movie and am very glad that I saw it.
10.20.06 Catch and ReleaseSusannah GrantSusannah Grant's new movie (which she directs as well as writes) stars Jennifer Garner as a newlywed-cum-widow who deals with her fiance's death along with all of her/his friends and whatnot. A thousand nipples and explosions could not make this a male-friendly movie, but you know... I sort of have a soft spot for these sapfests when they're done right and Grant's contribution to In Her Shoes granted me some interest in this. Unfortunately, I think a lot of people were disappointed to learn that Kevin Smith, who acts in the movie (he's the fat non-sexual friend) cancelled his appearance and guearanteed-to-be-entertaining Q&A. We did get an ego boost from Grant though, who said she just finished the movie on Tuesday and that we are the first audience to see this movie, so yay for that.

OK, here are the things that made it stand out from every other romantic comedy for me:

-It's set in Boulder, Colorado. I'm a general fan of movies that are set in specific locations that are not LA or NYC. It means they actually went somewhere and paid attention to the locations, which mean the movies have a bit more aesthetic identity (like Tao of Steve being in New Mexico or Wonder Boys being in Pittsburgh). Plus I lived in Boulder for a few years when I was a kid so the flatirons in the background were cool to see in a movie.

-Timothy Olyphant, presumably because of Deadwood, is now a romantic leading man! He still has to have some of that dangerous 5-day-stubble sexual predator look to him but it's cool that studios think he can carry films now, because he's a good actor.



So OK it's not a radically out-of-the-box approach to the genre, but hey... how many romantic comedies are? The important point (for you chicks out there) is that it will make you cry because you're sad and then cry again because you're happy. neat.

Unfortunately, Austin and/or AFF festivalgoers did not prove themselves incredibly competant during the Q&A afterwards. I've come to expect one or two idiotic questions but come on people... One person asked why one character, in the midst of a little mini-struggle kissed another character instead of headbuttng him. Huh? Maybe they thought they were at the Shane Black screening instead of Susannah Grant. Another person asked what her inspiration was. Someone said the music was good, and the rest were about Kevin Smith. sigh.

Surprisingly, I actually did get some info from Grant's answers. Apparently the rough cut of this movie ran three hours long, so lots and lots of material got cut, much of it including back story on Olyphant's character. If you're googling this from the future because you want to know what that lost backstory was, here you go: He starts the movie working for some trashy horror flick (uh huh, because romantic comedies are SO much more honorable) and he gets the news that his friend in Colorado just died so he walks off the set and takes a big powder for the entire movie. So there's lots of stuff with his phone ringing, people trying to figure out where he is and what's happening, lawyers contacting him because it's a big production that he's putting in jeopardy, etc. And the original ending had tons and tons of callbacks to all this stuff (which, after cutting it all out, made no sense) so they actually reshot the ending in a much simpler way that you can probably guess (it involves a beach and the line "what took you so long").

Also, apparently she never writes characters with specific actors in mind. huh.

So... more people were here for this than TV Set (cough kevin smith cough), and I guess it wasn't a bad movie but it didn't really give me heat flashes either.
10.20.06 Perfume: A Story of a MurdererTom TykwerSo the persons who told me that this movie was good neglected to mention that it was two hours forty minutes long. Whatever. Tom Tykwer's succeeds in making a magical epic creepy fairy tale drama that does everything film can do and a bit more.

Maybe it's just the perfume angle but I couldn't help but be reminded (for the second time recently) of the Tom Robbins book Jitterbug Perfume, where the realm of smell is treated with such gravity and power capable enough to control the world. More than that though, the movie's frosted with fantastical elements that give it a whimsy and sense of controlled reality; the difference being this world is pretty dark. Lots of death going on and it's treated very seriously. Luckily enough though, it's usually accompanied by incredibly gorgeous women being nude... so it constantly puts your emotion (well, my emotion at least) in that gray zone between horror and eroticism, without ever really being a horror movie.

A big yay for hot naked chicks, even if they are dead.

Seriously, the two redheads in this film are beautiful in a way that's incategorible. Both women are the kind of beauty that a part of every man would like to kill just to be able to smell them all over. You may not admit it, but I know you do.

but it's also about perfume, which I find kind of a slyly mysterious subject anyway. Like you might not think a movie about perfume would be interesting at all, but think about it for a bit. How did it start? how did they make it? All that old-timey crap... I dunno, I find it interesting. Distilling base oils and whatnot, so it had that going for it as well. But mostly I loved that the movie is really dark even though it sort of shouldn't be. Like, you'd think it's just some chick flick and not a story about a pervert murderer with a really good nose, you know? So I was really taken with this one. Loved it.

The next day: All about panels today. I'm seeing Return of the Living Dead tonight and there's no good 7pm slot so I'm only seeing panels today AFF-wise. Since panels aren't movies, let's share some notes in this entry for the entire Saturday of the fest.

First up was David Milch's panel which was called showcase or up close and personal or something else that means the same thing: excuse to hear him talk. Milch has probably the most interesting and exterior process of writing that I've heard of, and his personality (a mix between lit teacher and street brawler) makes any sort of anecdote or point that escapes from his lips a treat. A self-admitted sociopath, Milch sat down to talk about his career (or whatever) this morning to an excited crowd. Right when it got going, Ian McShane walked in and sat in the front row. Someone somewhere whispered loudly "it's AL!"

To skip forward a bit, McShane was looking for Milch after the third panel of the day and I had a little interchange with him:

Mr. McShane (heretofore known as Ian since I'm such huge pals with him now): (to an elderly paramount usher) ...I don't see him, I guess he's not down there.
Me (yeah you know it): Are you looking for Mr. Milch?
Ian (looking fiercely right at me): Yeah
Me (pointing with confidence): He's right down there in front on the side.
Ian (having attained peace by knowing me): thanks.

To second-degree this tangent, just now as I sat down in the Driskill lobby to write these notes down, Milch and McShane walked by talking about something. Milch suddenly turns around and introduces himself to this guy on a wheelchair (coincidentally the same guy in the wheelchair who got wheeled out of the way at the Pan's Labrynth screening), saying that he saw him at an earlier panel and wanted to say hi. They talk for a bit and Milch says he'd definitely do an interview with him and starts to sit down. Apparently (as I found out three minutes later), he had an interview with Danny Trejo lined up so he couldn't just then, so Milch says he has to catch a plane in an hour so he gives him his phone number and says to call for that interview. So this proves that a) Milch is kind to the handicapped and b) maybe karma isn't just a name of a bar here in town).

Anyway, the hour spent listening to Milch was great. He talked about NYPD Blue (and hating David Caruso), his writing method, deadwood, airline urination, his new show John From Cincinnati (the star of which was in attendance, along with Susannah Grant and a someone that looked just like Sheryl Lee... and maybe other celebs too who knows), the Hayes code and how it influenced classic Hollywood westerns, teaching, Saint Paul and his pitch for an HBO Rome show, deadwood's future, how words are electricity, and a pretty sweet acid story involving shooting a shotgun at a cop car.

He's not a fast talker but he uses plenty of big words like "exigeses" and "penumbra" and is seemingly full of these obscure quotes that are both short and profound ("facts become articles of commerce") and like a paragraph long. I listen to this guy talk and have no problem believing that he writes every word of every episode of Deadwood. Yet he's funny and self-deprecating as well. Plus he's full of these little sayings that I now want to start using in everyday life, like "that's why they make chocolate and vanilla" instead of the decidedly low-brow, borderline porn saying of "different strokes for different folks." Ice cream comparisons are much cooler.

So some little nuggests of info, listed willy nilly:

-He describes the thematic question of NYPD Blue as "the illusion of law versus the reality of order."

-The two 2-hour tele-movies that will end Deadwood is "the fiction that we're embracing today." He wanted to continue the show much longer, but didn't want to get into the specifics of why that's not happening.

-His new show, which is supposed to be like a surfer noir, is also about quantum mechanics. He brought up this idea with islands; about how you think islands are separate but it's really only the water that makes you think that. They are connected with the same earth; the water just gives an illusion of separateness (he somehow related this to all of mankind, something about watching a boxing match and the sound a crowd makes on the first site of blood)

-He was various forms of alcoholic, heroin addict, and freon nut for 20 years, only being 8 years sober right now. That puts him loaded up his entire teaching career and much of NYPD, which I find interesting.

-His house has a drawer with like 30 broken phones because if his wife isn't home to answer the phone, he'd rather smash it than answer it. Actually that's why he writes the way he does; he can't stand to put his hands on anything like a keyboard or anything because the second he comes into contact with any sort of order, he freaks out. He said that he once spent a year writing the same 12 pages word-for-word every morning. Crazy.

So yeah, interesting guy. He spoke more during the third panel of the day but more on that later.

The second panel I attended today was with Michael Showalter, Michael Ian Black, and David Wain AKA Stella slash 3 parts of the 11-member group The State, creatively responsible for Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, and the upcoming film The Ten.

These guys are funny, but you knew that. Since they showed a bunch of Stella shorts last night, MIB came out sporting an Alamo t-shirt (Huzzah). The other two wore significantly less cool shirts of different kind. They played a 15-minute clip reel quickly chronicling their history with clips of theier beginnings in the New Group at NYU, The State on MTV's show You Wrote It, You Watch It (or whatever it's called), The State's own show, The CBS State special, Stella stand-up in NYC, Stella Shorts, Wet Hot American Summer, The Baxter, and Stella on Comedy Central. Yeah... the Stella short they showed most of is a short called Dickfish which is... pretty funny but still fitting with the usual amount of dildo-humor that seems to go on with most Stella stuff.

From there, the moderator asked the typical history questions, they went through a detailed account of how they came together and blah blah blah. Lots of interesting stuff, lots of funny stuff. Lots and lots of questions from the audience (like 50 minutes' worth... by the end it was people scrambling to ask anything... they got the dreaded "what do you order at starbucks?"), lots of funny stuff in the interplay between the three guys.

Let's see, some of the more interesting bits that I thought to note:

-They related a hilariously horrible story about being in a meeting with an incredibly racist CBS executive (named John Pike) who referred to all black people as being from Cracktown and watching late-night comedy because they didn't have to be up in the morning and all this horrible stuff and them mentioning it to this reporter who was doing a big piece on them at the time (apparently that piece is up at, hence their short stay at CBS.

-Someone asked if they liked working for VH1 on those "I love the __s" shows and Showalter said he really sucked at them because he'd feel like a fraud, like he doesn't miss the slinky at all. He doesn't care about the slinky, it's stupid. He then explained how that show works and gave an example of how he sucks at it and how Ian Black's great at it. He said he was looking at this list of topics he had to talk about and spent a half hour trying to come up with a joke about how he thinks Nick Nolte's mugshot looks, and he's coming up with really wacky bad stuff like a mix between james brown and a vacuum cleaner (I don't actually remember his joke, that was mine) and he's talking to MIB on the phone and he just asks, for the hell of it, what he'd say and Michael Ian Black says "...bad. It looked really really bad." and there you go.

-Someone asked for their comedic inspirations and David Wain answered by saying Tati. But he said it in a snobbish French way and it was pretty clear that this AFF audience here on a freakin screenwriting conference about MOVIES didn't know who the hell he was talking about (sigh). So Showalter says "have you seen Mon Oncle?" also pronounced very french (mon onk) and he gets laughs, so he says "Or Le Weekend?" to more laughs. Then he's like "i'm serious, go to the video store and ask if they have Tati's Mon Oncle" to even more laughs. I guess he was saying it "funny" but... it also made me sad.

-They also gave us an update on their projects. Wain's movie The Ten looks really funny and Micahel Ian Black has also written and directed a movie, the title of which is certain to change to some undetermined new better thing so he couldn't tell us. He did tell us the political reasons why neither Showalter or Wain would be in it though, which were candidly interesting (he set up with a company that blamed Wain for his earlier movie not getting into Sundance because Wet Hot American Summer did), which was funny because I ran into this guy Fernando who works at the Alamo - hilarious guy - and he told me that he ran into David Wain at a party last night at Ruth's Chris steakhouse. At first he said Wain was a dick and I asked really? and he said "well, I was pretty drunk. I don't remember what I said to him, but he made fun of me." hilarious.

All in all, I wish Perfume wasn't playing last night so I could've gone over to the Alamo and saw them talk more with their Stella shorts, I wish Return of the Living Dead wasn't playing tonight so I could've gone over to Emo's and saw the two Michaels' stand-up, but oh well... Since I still don't have the power to control time I'll have to do with seeing these funny funny man-people here on this panel and hearing all sorts of interesting talk about The State and Stella and all that. Oh, on that clip reel it was great to hear the State intro song again... man i used to love that song every week.

OK, so the last panel of the day (and the glorious end to this note) was called "Creating Classic Characters" with a panel made up of David Milch, Shane Black, Sydney Pollack, and some moderator guy. They moved this to the paramount because it's such a superstar panel that pretty much everyone with a badge showed up. I guess the topic of these kinds of panels is really just an excuse to get the celebs talking to each other but come on... creating classic characters? oh well... so right off the bat the moderator asks how Milch came up with Sipowicz (his dad), how Shane Black came up with Riggs and Murtaugh (western heros), and how Pollack... well.. something about Out of Africa. Sydney was quick to say that, as a director who's never sat down at a blank page and created any sort of character at all, he didn't really belong here. Buut then he talked anyway (thankfully) and then Milch rang in saying that Pollack saying that was just his particular lie that he tells himself to allow his particular style to happen and they were off and running. It was actually a really great mix of personalities. Most of the time, Black peered out at the audience with a grimace on his face like a hung over demon looking for prey. Milch did a lot of talking that sounded like a lit professor, Black would always be sharp and quick and funny, and although Pollack was silent much of the time, he did speak up occasionally, always with something worth hearing. Talking about Tootsie, Pollack said he turned it down the first few times because he thought it was a one-joke movie... so the way it eventually worked out is that he, Dustin Hoffman, and the writer all sat in a room for a week to really work it all out, and Pollack, not being comfortable hanging a whole movie on just character, needed some sort of spine, so he saw that as his job in that situation... to find the spine. To that Shane adds "yeah, but for you aspiring screenwriters out there, this is Sydney Pollack we're talking about. Normally, you have to find the spine before you give it to him. It sort of is your job!"

That's actually how the whole thing went. Pollack would say something inciteful on the director's end, Black would communicate solid notes and lessons directly to the screenwriters out there, and Milch would come in with much more complicated reference-filled notes that end up being really profound... if you can follow them. But then he'd interject a story like how he hated Caruso so much on NYPD that one time he was yelling at him and he had a heart attack, but he hated the guy so much that he didn't want to give him the satisfaction so he pretended like he was fine until the argument ended, then went over to a friend and calmly said "ok, now I need to go to the hospital."

A fairly major point that everyone talked about was the use of dialogue and what makes dialogue great. THey kind of each sited a single line that holds tremendous dramatic power that really defines the entire movie for you... talking about what's great is not the line itself but the character and his vocabulary and the situation and how appropriate everything is to the world that's protrayed on screen. So Whether it's some eloquent Shakespearean verbage in the midst of King Lear, or Marlon Brando's blunted frustration in On The Waterfront, they're both great because they fit.

Later on, to answer a question about how he wrote the female character in Long Kiss Goodnight, Shane Black told a story about how when he was young his mom had some troubles, borderline suicidal type stuff... so growing up, they always had to be on eggshells because they knew that if they upset her, she might hurt herself. So, on this subconsciouss level, in the movie when someone finally yells at this girl and tells her to calm down (or whatever), what happens directly after that is a guy with a shotgun comes through the door and all hell breaks loose. So, he said "sometimes you don't realize it while you're writing, but all that stuff still comes through. Anyway, there you go." And David Milch launches into this dissertation on how, really, all great dialogue and everything we speak in normal life is the culmination of our entire past projected onto the present. And that works both for in movies and right now... and he proceeds to dissect Shane's story while he listens on and ends up with a really complicated but completely correct deconstruction of his story and how it all added up to the words "anyway, there you go." Milch: "and THAT's dialogue."

After a second, everyone started to clap. Including Black and Pollack.

So that was interesting. I mean, it was also really funny... it wasn't all that kind of heady stuff... it was actually a really great panel.

whew. done.
10.22.06 Rescue DawnWerner HerzogThe last day of the screenwriter's conference here at AFF also brings the "centerpiece" film of the festival: Werner Herzog's dramatization of his earlier doc Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Not only is it new narrative Herzog, but it's Herzog back in the jungle. Next to that, I don't care about any controversial Death of a President movie, even if it is screening at the Texas State History Museum.

Christian Bale plays Dieter, a pilot who gets shot down on a secret bombing mission over Laos and has to survive. It's really Bale's movie but the supporting cast is filled out with Steve Zahn, Jeremy Davies, and a handful of familiar faces (including the guy who played Andy the small pox'd preacher in Deadwood and the guy who played Stumpy in Carnivale). Davies' anorexic physique is showed off and Zahn wins the beard contest for sure though, leaving Bale's transforming weight much less of a showcase than in The Machinist. They are all definitely troopers though... dunking their heads in dirty jungle rivers, getting down in the muck, and even letting real leeches suck on them in one scene. It all looks very real and very jungly and somewhere where I really wouldn't want to be, whether it's for real or just to make a movie.

Surprisng to me though, this is Herzog's most commercial movie to date. With the leverage that Grizzly Man gave him, this is a great movie to vault him into mainstream American households... which would be funny since he's like 60 and has already made 50 movies. But even though it's commercial that doesn't mean it's bad. Once again Herzog portrays the jungle itself as a character, showing its voracious and relentless growth, covering and strangling anything in its path. In a few scenes Bale and Zahn machete their way through the bush. Herzog shows this process and its difficulty with real authenticity to potent effect... it's literally like the plants are alive and trying to hold you back. With the constant reminder that Herzog's already done the documentary form of this story - that everything we're seeing actually happened to the real Dieter Dengler - man that guy went through some shit to stay alive. The music is also very effective, perhaps the most "herzog-ian" aspect of the film, with a subtle undercurrent of trembling strings accenting the sounds of the jungle, blooming into fully dramatic score in key moments.

Really the only thing this movie is missing is some sort of voice-over from Herzog himself... but I say that about pretty much every movie, whether Herzog's attached to it or not. My favorite scene was probably the one with Zahn and the farmers. It's so crazy and sudden and even though it's not dreamlike at all you still have to ask yourself if that really happened.

I guess this movie will get lots of comparisons to The Deer Hunter because of the whole concentration camp angle... and that's valid. But Herzog's take on this somewhat familiar genre stands alone and is pretty great.
10.23.06 Sleeping Dogs LieBobcat GoldthwaitWell the weekend's over, the LA people are gone... now it's just us festival-goers getting to see Bobcat Goldthwait's new film. It's a dark comedy about a girl and her family and her relationships and whatnot, dealing with the subject of honesty and how even though everyone says it's great to be brutally honest with one another, some things are better left unspoken. What would the best way be to examine this idea? Why, bestiality of course!

In college, this girl blows her dog. It happens right at the beginning of the movie and is just there in your mind forever. They don't show it or anything - it's not like the actress actually does any blowing - but it's definitely part of the story and serves pretty well as a secret so dark and disgusting that she doesn't want to tell even the closest people in her life about it. From there, the movie is a bit like Meet the Parents but with way bigger balls. Instead of having a pot-smoking hip-hop-listening brother, this girl has a meth-smoking paint-huffing brother. The fiance is there to ask the girl's dad's blessing to marry, he's straight-laced and thinks she's perfect... they unsuccessfully try to have sex in her parents' house, etc. Except in the beginning of the movie... SHE BLOWS A DOG. so that makes everything funny.

Eventually, we learn some disgusting truths about other family members... Roy Orbison gets mentioned, the phrase "shoot the cookie" gets said, Elvis may be involved in some way... generally, the first half of the film is very funny. Then the cat (or in this case the dog) gets let out of the bag and the movie has a real serious turn (I was reminded of Jodie Foster's Home for the Holidays in that way) and there is some genuinely emotional relationship-y stuff that goes on... a death in the family even so it gets downright sad in parts. And then funny again at the end.

Bobcat was there to intro and Q&A the film which was great. He told a little story about seeing this with an audience and seeing this woman who was getting up to leave at the beginning and her friend talked her into staying... then later on in the film Bobcat's daughter leans over and whispers for him to look at the woman, who is now crying. "yeah, you cry, bitch" she says. I don't know Bobcat Goldthwait's daughter's name or anything about her, but that story alone puts her in my cool book.

He also said that the film cost 40 grand, was written in 3 days, shot in 16 (mostly with crew found on craigslist made up of underage students), completely without permits (in fact, he broke into some random person's garage to shoot one scene, telling the crew to be quiet tonight because "it's a heavy scene for the actors"). When asked for his inspiration, he said "my dog is really hot."

ALso funny, he said he auditioned actors for the meth-smoking brother and, oddly enough, most of the actors would turn into werewolves after taking a hit... like that's how they thought meth addicts acted or something. funny.

So yeah, this was good. It was funny then sad. Pretty good for a dog blowjob movie.
10.24.06 Comeback SeasonBruce McCullochI guess Bruce McCulloch got tired of being funny and decided to write and direct a romantic comedy about a guy who loses the girl and tries to get her back. I don't know where he came up with that idea but it's a good one! in fact, they should make about 300 movies just like this one! oh wait, they already have.

Ray Liotta plays a businessman who sleeps with his assistant. In the midst of an anniversary dinner (just after his daughter accepts her boyfriend's marriage proposal), Liotta's conscience gets the best of him and he confesses. He gets thrown out, has a series of unfortunate events, and winds up in jail.

Meanwhile, this high school football player gets injured, and also winds up in jail. So through some plot contrivances too shameful to get into, Liotta and this football guy ends up living together. Liotta tries to get his family back, but his wife and daughters both hate him, take away all his money, give all his furniture and clothes away, and refuse to talk to him. HIlarious, right?

Actually, this movie must be made for 13 year old girls because, from my perspective, all these women are bitches. Hateful spiteful bitches. Especially the daughters, man. Not only do they drain all of Liotta's accounts but they also ask him to dip into his retirement fun to pay for the wedding that he's not allowed to go to. I guess all of this harshness would be justified (you know, because he slept with another woman) but at the end both daughters turn on their mother, saying it was just as much her fault as his. huh?

There's also a b-story with the younger daughter and the football guy that I don't even want to get into. Actually, I've spent enough time talking about this movie as it is. It's like a TV version of a poorly-done knock-off of a mediocre romantic comedy. sigh...
10.25.06 SpecialHal Haberman, Jeremy PassmoreSpecial is a little story about a meter maid (Michael Rappaport) who enrolls in an experimental drug program that supposedly boosts your self-confidence. At first this sounds awfully familiar to School for Scoundrels, but pretty quickly becomes much more like Unbreakable or Mystery Men when we see that he slowly develops super powers.

Well, sort of. Actually he's having a psychotic reaction to the medication. While my initial impression was that the movie would have been much more entertaining if he actually did have the power to float 6 inches off the ground, the tone of the film eventually won me over. Although there is some humor early on (such as when he believes he can run through walls but actually just smacks into them), the film takes a dramatic turn and ends up pretty heavy. Rappaport does an excellent job of making us feel for his mixed-up character; he makes us wish he really had powers as much as he does. It ends a little sad, a little harsh, but also a little uplifting.

While Special wasn't anything like the movie I thought it would be, it still proved to be just as charming and effective a film as I had hoped. It's kind of a small film - in a minor key let's say - but good nonetheless.
10.25.06 American StagBenjamin MeadeThis documentary about stag films got off to a somewhat controversial note when filmmaker Ben Meade told his story of submitting to South by Southwest and getting rejected. They cited his film as pornography, which made him wonder if they'd even bothered to watch it. After sxsw offered to take another look at the film, Meade decided to go to the press instead, insisting that the festival did not watch the films that filmmakers paid money to submit. So this didn't play at south by. Instead, AFF asked to play it so he flew out here on his own dime to support the festival.

And while I wouldn't call the film itself pornography, it's definitely ABOUT porn and offers plenty of chances to see some vintage full-frontal female bodies. He seems to draw the line at the male member, always cutting right before her hand takes it out of his pants or it enters the frame or whatever, but large portions of the film are these clips from stag films... so I'm not so sure the whole sxsw thing had a clear right and wrong to it, but hey... if they can play a doc on the word "fuck" then they can play a doc on stag films, right?

The fact that Fuck was better than this might also have something to do with it.

Anyway, in addition to the numerous clips (obtained over a year thanks to ebay and craigslist according to the director and his wife), Meade also interviews several experts in the field (including Film Threat's Chris Gore) and a few professional personalities like Adam Corolla, Tommy Chong, and Melvin Van Peebles. They cover the baseline facts of the genre (1700 of them made, died when porn theaters and video started) and talk about several celebs who supposedly appear (Babra Streisand, Marylin Monroe, Jayne Masnfield, Joan Crawfod) and Meade does an admirable job in showing the film in question, making a little game out of it whether you think that's actually her or not.

Overall, the movie is marginally interesting if you're a pervert like me. Apparently this was just picked up by Bravo, and that fits. This would make a decent diversion on TV some night for sure.

The director though... something was odd about him. He came out and started giving us lessons on how to make independant film or something... telling us to pick subjects that would be interesting to other people like getting screwed out of car insurance money, and to always support film festivals because lots of times those are the only places to see these movies in a theater. Where all that stuff came from I'm not sure. I think he maybe thought he was somewhere else... like his panel got cancelled or something. It was a little odd to me. Oh well.
10.26.06 Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny'Liam LynchClosing night at AFF: Tenacious D. Unfortunately we got no JB in person but there was a pretty decent crowd, all of us anxious to see this film.

The lights go down and animated caricatures of Jack Black and Kyle Gass walk on screen. Gass burns a fatty, swallows a bean & cheese burrito, and proceeds to fart around the theater in surroundsound. a large metallic THC springs up with the tagline: "The audience is baking."

From there, we launch into an amazing musical introduction where several stars of the universe align to let you know that this movie is tons of fun. The kid they got to play young JB is, well could be illegitimately his. JB's dad, the posters on his wall, who he prays to, everything. This introduction truly rocks your socks off. And the best thing about the introduction is that it isn't the best thing in the movie. The film stays at this level of intense rock-tacular hilarity until an equally-rock-tastic musical finale that blows your socks off again! Really. Supranatural levels of fun.

The trailers on this one are extremely deceiving. Apparently the marketing people want you to think that this is watered-down D, a D incapable of rising above nutcracker and powerslide jokes. Those marketing people are wrong. This movie is 110% D. It's literally impossible to make this movie any more Tenacious D. It kind of borrows from the old HBO shorts, some of their best songs, and fills in a whole bunch of blanks in perfect ways. As just a casual fan of their music, I believe this is the best they've ever been. Watching them is more fun than listening to them for me but when you can do both... shit.

Also, be sure to stay for the credits. It's not a X3 level of revelation/plot cancellation but there is a funny gag worth staying for.
10.26.06 Nightmare DetectiveShinya TsukamotoFor the last film of the fest, I decided to fit this recently-announced film in before Terror Thursday.

I think this screening was hurt by the venue. IMAX is great for IMAX films, but for blow-ups of Japanese Horror movies, especially those of Shinya Tsukamoto, it's dangerous. In this case, there was so much goddamned shaking and handheld photography that I was noxious by the end, having to close my eyes every minute or so to keep my head on straight. It doesn't help that the whole movie depends on that shakycam barely-see-whatever's-there "technique" to bring any sort of horror... something I hate even on my crappy small TV at home.

The story is about... I guess some guy is getting into other people's dreams and killing them, making it look like suicide. So this psychic is brought in to help. Except the psychic's not in most of the movie. They bring him in at the very end. Before that it's just cops looking at crime scenes and the same thing happening three or four times in a row. It's a shame too. If they'd only seen other movies Shinya Tsukamoto's been in they could've just looked for him and assumed he's the weirdo killer. I'm not a real specialist when it comes to Japanese horror, but I know I have seen like 5 movies with him either acting or acting and directing and in every one he plays the villain. I'd think by now he'd be on the quick-dial for cops. "ooh someone died in a weirdo freaky potentially-supernatural way, it's time to call Tsukamoto." I guess since this is his movie he gets to pretend like everyone doesn't already know it's him and has to, you know, find out at the end in some vague explanation that makes no sense. Great.

So lots of people walked out of this one. I'm not sure if it was due to boredom or nausea though. It also had 15 endings... but I think that's because time was running out to get to Terror Thursday so I just wanted it to end.

So that's the festival. Biggest highlight was probably Rescue Dawn and Tenacious D. Biggest grumble was the ongoing and consistent projection issues with nearly every film I saw. But oh well.