|Austin Film Festival 2007 (10.11.07 - 10.18.07, 9 movies)|
|10.11.07||The Walker||Paul Schrader||Another year of Austin Film Festival. To be honest, I'm not really in the mood for another festival right now. Real life is trying to intrude. But I paid for my badge this year so there's no obligation to cover anything so my notes will probably be pretty lax and my schedule is not what I'd call strenuous. Plus the programming this year looks... eh. Nevertheless, I have around 10 movies picked out that I want to see and there's a few first-runs that are also on my list so... should be a decent week.|
Didn't start off too well though. This movie stars Woody Harrelson as a deep-south gay dude who hangs out with important peoples' wives in Washington DC. A murder happens, some sort of thing that could be mistaken for tension ensues. Maybe it's just my unexplainable dislike for Kristin Scott Thomas but I found this movie to be pretty boring most of the time. There are some good actors here (Ned Beatty, Lauren Bacall, Lily Tomlin, and Willem Dafoe in a small part) but like every scene is people talking about something someone else. Maybe they talk about more things... I dont care. I didn't care who killed the guy or why or who would get blamed. But I thought it was funny at the end when Harrelson busts into Beatty's office and it's like... he reached the end of the board game. Oh! You made it to my office, i'll stop doing all the bad stuff to you now! Good job on making it... to my office. You still have no proof and I could keep sending thugs to kill you or whatever but since, you know, you're talking to me face to face I guess I'll let everything drop. good job on getting past my wife so you could get into my office!
I guess it's not a BAD movie per se, just not something I'd ever be interested in seeing again.
|10.12.07||Big Wednesday||John Milius||I'd never seen this before so it was cool to not only see it theatrically but on an IMAX screen (they didn't use the full screen but they did use the full width so the display was quite large). I liked it a lot. I am usually a bit wary on movies that span large amounts of time and have actors age but I think this pulled it off nicely and the music lent it an aire of epic-ness that elevated the whole thing. The surfing footage was also quite good.|
Gary Busey was awesome in this. I don't know why I didn't know he was in this but I'm glad I do now. I really want him to have one surfing scene in Point Break now so I can pretend that after Big Wednesday the same character settled down and became a FBI agent (like how I pretend John Cusack's character in Grosse Point Blank is really a grown-up Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything). Busey's crazy in this movie and I like it. The scene where they try and dodge the draft his great and perhaps my favorite. I even like Jan Michael Vincent here.
And Milius talked a bit afterward, which was great. This will really motivate me to get up tomorrow morning and make it down to the panels. He's a concise and entertaining speaker and I can't wait to hear more of his stories.
|10.13.07||Born on the Fourth of July||Oliver Stone||Busy day at AFF but only two movies. It started out with a morning "conversation" (read: extended Q&A) with Oliver Stone that was packed and for the most part interesting and awesome, followed by an afternoon "conversation" with John Milius (equally interesting and awesome but less people) followed by the mega "Writing the War Film" panel with Oliver Stone AND John Milius (even more people, even more interesting and awesome even though I've now heard a couple of Stone and Milius' answers to more common questions three times). Finally, Stone stuck around to screen Born on the Fourth of July and do one more Q&A. whew!|
So, I remember watching this movie when it first came out on video and my parents rented it. I remember thinking it was like three hours long and mostly about Tom Cruise whining about being in a wheelchair and yelling the word Penis at his mom. It's funny how my memory has distorted over the years with some things but remains the same with others. Willem Dafoe slurping up the tequila worm? exactly the same. All the stuff with Cruise as a kid doing push-ups rather than kissing the girl and the 4th of July parades and him growing up that I thought took up like 25 minutes? All wrapped up in the beginning titles.
...And there's still a heck of a lot of Tom Cruise whining about being in a wheelchair and yelling Penis. But I noticed other stuff this time around too. Like I don't know if this was just when steadicams became available or what but it felt like 95% of this movie was either shot handheld or steadi. It's increadibly mobile. It must've settled down for the more dramatic parts (There was also a lot of use of close up) but it mostly felt on the move. I think it's great how clear Bob Richardson's evolution as a DP is through Stone's films. Here it feels right on the cusp. They're clearly trying some radical things with color and movement and a little with lighting (you see the burned out surfaces a little but he hasn't moved on to the JFK/NBK extreme yet) but there's still plenty of standard set-ups. I really wonder when his hair turned gray and if working for Oliver Stone had anything to do with it.
From his films and reading that Killer Instinct book, I really expected Stone to be an aloof, philosophical, poker-faced guy in person but in hearing him speak today I found him to be much the opposite. He's warm, polite, concise and expressive. He definitely has his opinions but he communicates them very well and - this it the part that really impressed me - it sounds like he still loves movies. He still watches movies and his trivia brain seemed a pretty deep well. When he and Milius spoke about favorite war films both were quick to mention a handful I'd never heard of before and Stone was right there with actors, plot synopses, and in some cases exact running times (I'm too lazy to check if Lawrence of Arabia is actually 3 hours 48 minutes but he seemed pretty sure). It always bothers me when directors act like they're too good to like movies anymore or they never liked them to begin with. I always kind of suspected that was the case with Stone because he seemed to fall into filmmaking after returning from the war just because it was there and most of his movies carry a very blatant agenda and never really settle for just being an entertaining movie. I don't think that's the case anymore though. When someone asked them how they feel about Sam Fuller, Milius immediately responded with "Oh I LOVE Fuller. Love him!" and Stone looks at the stage and says "He's loved by critics and that's good" then after much prodding admits that "he's a pulp director that always seemed of the Roger Corman/Sam Arkoff variety to me, but The Steel Helmet is one of my favorites." After hearing that, I can buy how his outlook on cinema is for more than pure entertainment which probably points to a deeper love of the medium than those who indulge in simple genre execution.
So... I should also mention that Milius was not without his fair share of opinions. After explaining how he's been blacklisted by the liberal majority of Hollywood after making Red Dawn, he also casually mentioned how the Mexicans are slowly invading our country, using the old German WWII plan of coming up through our midwest and dividing the country in half. "They're doing it now and they don't even need a war. And they're gonna win by the way... but that's ok. Change is good." Sounds like it's time to get the Wolverines back together!
He also mentioned how he liked the draft and think it should be re-instituted but that's a whole other discussion.
So they were both great to hear speak. They also both seem like perfect guys to sit down with for a few hours and just talk over cigars or something. Several times during the various panels I had urges to ask small follow-up questions to keep them talking because I could tell there's a lot more there, but had to remind myself that this was a Q&A and not him hanging out at my house. That's a shame though. More bigshot directors should hang out at my house, and they should do it more often.
Anyway, Good times with hearing what these two have to say, and I'm glad I saw this movie again. I still can't say it's my favorite of Stone's but I'm glad I've refreshed it in my mind.
|10.13.07||Control||Anton Corbijn||This was like the number one movie I wanted to see at this fest. Although I'm just a casual fan of Joy Division so I can't speak to how accurate it was or how close the actors look/behave like their characters but I can say that everything seemed 100% dead on. It's not a short movie (I think what I saw ended up at around 130 minutes) but very good. The live shows were all really well done (A producer was in attednance and said that all the actors had to learn their instruments (Sam Riley knew how to sang but had to smoke a bunch of cigarettes to lower his voice) and by the time they shot the gig scenes they actually performed the songs then acted to their own playback... which is great considering how it sounds. Yes it is a tad different but it also has all the messiness of a live performance so... I was impressed.|
Everyone already knows how pretty it is, but it's really shot as if from moving black and white photos. I'm not sure the camera ever moved (it probably did, I wasn't keeping a tally or anything, but after watching the previous film (which felt like 90% handheld and steadicam work) this felt extremely static and composed.
I think this makes a great companion to 24 Hour Party People in that it both clears up that film's treatment of Curtis (When I saw that movie I thought it seemed more like he committed suicide out of boredom than anything else) and it gives greater context to the atmosphere and music of the time. I loved all the gig posters in the background and little touches in set decoration and costuming that made this feel all the more authentic. I guess I don't really KNOW if it's actually authentic or not (being too lazy to read the books), but it certainly feels that way.
|10.14.07||Juno||Jason Reitman||So first of all... before I talk about the movie at all, there's really no excuse for this screening starting 45 minutes late. It's the first film in the theater, the special guests were there on time, and security guys were outside like an hour ahead of time telling everyone to take their cameras back to their car. Why they wait till quarter till to even start seating, I have no clue. So thanks to this I missed the next film of the night, so thanks.|
Anyway, whining aside, this was really funny. It does kind of fit into the Knocked Up/Superbad grouping but has a much more feminine perspective and point of view. Writer Diablo Cody (afterward in the Q&A she told her story of basically being a blogger in Minnesota and having a LA guy call her up and saying she should write screenplays so she wrote one in two months and sold it pretty quickly. Every wannabe writer in the room (and there were a lot of them) probably cursed her out and fell in love with her simultaneously) wrote a pretty great script (if you buy 16 year old girls being that clever) in a pretty interesting voice. A very-much blogger voice actually. But thankfully the adult characters talk like adults. J.K. Simmons as the dad is great. I also like Allison Janney's stepmother character in that she's actually very nice but Ellen Page rebels against her anyway just because she's 16. Everyone's great in it.
I did find one interesting thing during the Q&A. Apparently everyone hates Jason Bateman's character but I totally didn't. If anything I found Jennifer Garner's character to be less sympathetic but I guess that's because I'm a man and EVIL.
Oh, and Jason Reitman cast Cut Chemist as a chemistry teacher. that alone makes the movie cool to me.
So... I have to go but this is a pretty great movie. I think Reitman's showcasing his intelligent sense of humor just as well as Thank You for Smoking and he's quickly making a name for himself other than being the son of Ivan Reitman. Everyone will see this soon and agree.
|10.16.07||Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade||Lincoln Ruchti||Watching this on an old prijector using half an Alamo Lake Creek screen. yay, AFF. Anyway, this is about all the old video game record-holders from the early 80s and where they are now along with Twin Galaxies guy Walter Day. For those that have seen The King of Kong, this film fits nicely as a companion, filling out a bit more on the other people in that Life Magazine photo and offering a slightly different perspective on people like Billy Mitchell and Steve Sanders. Donkey Kong is no more centered on than any of the other classic games and Steve Weibe isn't here at all, but you do get to find out fun facts like Twin Galaxies referee Robert Mruczek pinup art collection and how one of the guys ends up as a sleazy pimp.|
While this was a funny doc just like King of Kong, I felt the humor in this one was much more malevolent toward its subjects. True, it IS pretty easy to laugh at these guys (who were geeks then and - Surprise! - are mostly still geeks today) but where KoK managed to find heart and an identifiable basic human goal underneath the retro geekiness, this film seems content with just showcasing how funny/pitiful these characters are.
Still well worth watching for anyone ever into video games or movies like Joysticks, but I dunno... King of Kong wins.
|10.16.07||Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project||John landis||As a friend said before the movie started, It's about Don Rickles; Uwe Boll could direct it and it'd still be hilarious. While I guess that technically is true, I think Landis still did an admirable job in gaining the access and permission required of Rickles to be able to make the movie. From what the producer said during the Q&A afterward, pretty much everyone was interested in appearing in the movie and they even had to cut out a bunch of people (going on the DVD extra features) so the caliber and amount of big names interviewed here... well, hard to get or not it's still fun to see so many people affected by Rickles.|
I was often reminded of the great doc Kier-La played as a Music Monday about the Vegas lounge acts while I watched this. Rickles' show seems just like that. he sings, he makes people laugh, he's fast and loose and works every night. While I'm sure the energy of seeing him live doesn't fully translate to the screen, it's still damn funny to watch.
Damn funny movie.
|10.17.07||The Savages||Tamara Jenkins||This... was a bad time for me to see this movie. A drama with comedic moments about the mortality of one's parents was pretty much the last kind of movie I wanted to see tonight. So I found it pretty fucking depressing. Good turns by Laura Linney and Phil Hoffman and it was... not fun but familiar to visit dreary-ass upstate NY again so I think it was a good movie... quite a downer for me though.|
Afterward I tried to see Darjeeling Express before Weird Wednesday and the line was so long I gave up and went home instead. Video games and South Park never let me down.
So tomorrow is the last night. Looking at my schedule, I won't be able to see both films due to scheduling. You'd think with only two slots a night they'd put a little more thought in the schedule to let film fans see more of the films that they want to see. It's funny how there's almost no problem seeing 5 or 6 movies a day during SXSW but one can't see 2 movies a night at AFF. It's just another sign (along with poor projection, lacking venues, and frequent lateness) saying that the movies are secondary to the conference in this festival, which I believe keeps its reputation as the "lesser" festival in town intact.
|10.18.07||Grace is Gone||James C. Strouse||Last AFF film of the year for me. I wanted to catch the new Lumet film as well but.. scheduling. OK enough complaining. This movie's really good and REALLY sad.|
John Cusack plays a father of two daughters who hears that his wife's died in Iraq and has to figure a way to tell his daughters. The film works primarily because of the absolutely stellar acting from Cusack as well as the two kids.
And Clint Eastwood wrote the score.
So... yeah this is weepy as hell but really good. Cusack really showing his acting chops.