Austin Film Festival

Quick hits: The good, the bad and the behind-the-scenes at Austin Film Festival — Friday, October 21

Quick hits: The good, the bad and the behind-the-scenes at Austin Film Festival — Friday, October 21

Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_Johnny Depp2
Johnny Depp walks the red carpet answering questions and signing autographs. Photo by Jon Shapley
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_marquee
The Paramount Theater marquee showing The Rum Diary with Johnny Depp Photo by Jon Shapley
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_waiting
Fans and moviegoers wait in line to get a glimpse of Johnny Depp. Photo by Jon Shapley
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp walks the red carpet answering questions and signing autographs. Photo by Jon Shapley
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_BBQ
Presented by the Texas Association of Film Commissions - the Austin Film Festival's Film Texas BBQ Supper was held at The French Legation Museum Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_food
Lines were long for a plate of The Salt Lick's BBQ. Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_BBQ tent
The Film Texas BBQ is one of the most anticipated events of the festival. Photo by Jessica Pages
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_Johnny Depp2
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_marquee
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_waiting
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_Johnny Depp
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_BBQ
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_food
Austin Photo Set: News_AFF Recap day two_Oct 2011_BBQ tent

As the 18th annual Austin Film Festival takes over our town, bringing hundreds of screenings (and more than a few late night parties) through October 27th, CultureMap contributors are busy trying to catch as many features, documentaries, shorts and panels as possible while also keeping up with festival news to help you navigate the lines (and, of course, plenty of celebrity gossip). Every day, we’ll be recapping our AFF highlights: films we’re begging you no to miss, tips for planning your week and the you-had-to-be-there moments you may have missed. 

Day Two: Friday, October 21st

The good:

The opening announcement from a festival staffer before Freak Dance seemed downright portentous: “After 15 minutes, the doors will be closed and no one will be allowed to enter or exit the theater to preserve the experience for the rest of the audience.” What were we in for, exactly? The answer to that question is less ominous than you might think: mostly, it’s a musical parody of the 21st century Teen Dance Movie genre, because sure, we need one of those. The movie runs a bit long, but it also reaches some impressive high points in its 98 minutes. Freak Dance comes from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade improv theater (and includes UCB alum Amy Poehler in a small role), and it aims to be a bit more incisive than the Scary Movie / Stan Helsing, "here's a scene from a hit movie, but with comedians re-enacting it" brand of Hollywood spoof. Yeah, they pick some of the low-hanging fruit from movies like the Step Up and the recent Footloose remake – there’s the “dancing as fighting the man” gag, and the “uptown girl with downtown guy” romance trope is poked fun at – but Freak Dance also takes shots at the way those movies condescend to their characters from “the streets,” the absurd anti-drug messages they cram into the scripts and the presentation of characters of color as hyper-sexualized. In short, for a movie with songs like “Rich White Bitch Work That Butt” in it, Freak Dance manages to balance being weird, gross, and uncomfortable with being really funny and successful satire. It could probably stand to lose 15 minutes from its run time – there were more than a few phone-checkers in the crowd as the third act started – but with genuinely impressive dancing, funny songs, and enough weird-ass jokes to carry the thing, Freak Dance works. It’s awfully weird, but it works.  [D.S.]

Nick Brandestini's documentary Darwin gives voice to the 35 residents of an isolated, barely-habitable township in Death Valley of the same name (christened for a failed gold prospector named Darwin French). They live a quiet, philosophical life amidst the desert heat and ruins of a once-bustling mining hub, waned to a ghost town of dusty trailers, oddly-shaped houses, and a solitary post office. But as the eccentric residents of Darwin talk to Brandestini's patient camera, the remarkable thread that emerges is one of emotional survival- former criminals and roughnecks with distant regrets, parents with children lost to drugs, and a transgender man struggling for acceptance have all taken refuge in Darwin, and unburden themselves with remarkable frankness. Darwin wanders to the finish, with a shambling oral history its only through-line, but the growing emotional confessions and the stunning desert vista backdrops make it a more than worthwhile visit. [D.C.]

Some Guy Who Kills People is certainly one of the best films to have ever been been included in AFF's Dark Matters program. It's an assured blend of dark comedy and splatter executed by a perfect ensemble cast led by front man Kevin Corrigan who plays Ken Boyd, a aspiring comic book artist recently released from a mental institution. Still plagued by the memories of his ridicule at the hands of a group of guys back in high school (who are now mysteriously and violently dying off one by one) and living with his hateful mother (Karen Black looking like she's having more fun with a part than she has in years), Boyd's mental balance seems precarious at best. And then Amy (a superb Ariel Grade), the daughter he didn't know he had, comes into the picture. What screenwriter Ryan A. Levin and director Jack Perez get right (and so many other dark-leaning indie features get very wrong) is the character work, they put individuals worth caring about on screen and, even though there are heads being chopped off from time to time, there are identifiable stakes at play. Throw in a scene-stealing comedic performance from Barry Bostwick as the sheriff investigating the growing pile of bodies and I'd say Some Guy Who Kills People is worthy of a Marquee Screening. [B.K.]

The Texas Spirit Theater at the Bob Bullock History Museum offers a surprisingly comfortable and intimate movie watching experience. With its Texas themed carpet (look down!) and a big red neon star, it places the waiting audience deep in the heart while still being sophisticated enough for the big city folk. The venue can pack its house, despite its distance from the Driskell and Paramount. The sound and picture quality are good, and it doesn't have the makeshift feel that that the Convention Center can inspire. There doesn't seem to be anywhere for the special guests to hide so if the cast or director are there for the screening, you might seem them milling around while you wait in line. [K.C.]

The bad:

Before the screening of 6 Month Rule, an AFF staffer introduced the movie by saying he “didn’t usually like chick flicks,” but that he’d made an exception for this one. If that overwhelmingly dude-centric movie qualifies as a “chick flick,” we’re pretty sure anything without zombies or a World War II Pacific Theater setting does. (Somewhere, someone just greenlit Okinowan Zombies In Love. Is nothing sacred?) [D.S.]

6 Month Rule was a big disappointment. The cast includes likeable stars Martin Starr, Dave Foley and Natalie Morales, but the film is chock full of strange misogyny and meditations on whether or not blended coffee drinks are emasculating (hint – they are). The main character, Tyler (writer/director Blayne Weaver) is a super cool bachelor with all leather furniture and a mysterious ability to get women into bed by being a total creepster. He meets Sophie (Natalie Morales) while they're both at a bookstore and then keeps running into her all over town. Sophie nicknames him “Creepy Book Guy,” yet somehow 6 Month Rule assumes that the audience will believe that she's interested in and attracted to him anyway, because that's just how movies go. It's a hard sell, made harder by Tyler's casual scorn of women and a screenplay loaded with “she's a bitch because she likes mojitos”-type jokes. The film does teach some important lessons, however, such as: 1. A cult star cannot save your movie. Martin Starr was great in Party Down, and his character Alan's drunken protestations of “You're an asshole” to Tyler get some of the biggest laughs of the night. But when your one kinda-sympathetic male character spends most of the movie drunkenly rambling to strangers about his terrible ex-fiance, you need a new emotional center. 2. Ladies are mysterious and easily flustered by compliments. Tyler bamboozles his agent's secretary by telling her “You're so cute!” and watching her fall to pieces. Sophie rides a small motorcycle and for some reason won't jump right into bed with Tyler, so the audience immediately knows she's deep and worth pursuing. 3. Filmmakers expect you to endure a solid hour of cliches in the hope that redemption is coming. The worst part of the offensive nature of 6 Month Rule's characters is that they're so trite. We don't need a movie to make the point that people who are jerks are unpleasant – we know that already, and there's no need to sit through an entire movie just to have that spelled out. [K.C.]

The Rum Diaries is both entertaining and frustrating. It's entertaining due to the great performances of Depp and a terrific cast, but frustrating because one leaves the theater thinking it could have been so much more. The narrative is engaging, the cinematography gritty yet beautiful, but the film has significant gaps; I suspect they are due to over-editing for time, or maybe the script just isn't that good. There are moments that leave you scratching your head wondering what just happened or why. It's not the fault of star Johnny Depp, who manages to maintain the momentum of the film throughout with his skillful use of facial expression and body language. The Rum Diaries certainly is worth spending time on if for no other reason than to watch one of our era's great actors perform with such precision. [K.B.]

The behind-the-scenes:

Spotted on 6th Street: David Boreanaz, Angel himself, wearing a leather jacket and generally nonplussed expression, walking past Esther's Follies around 9:25 pm. [D.C.]

At 2 pm the line began forming outside the Paramount and by 6 pm it had worked it's way north to 8th Street, then east to Brazos, around the corner and south to 7th Street, then west again to Congress. Yes, Johnny Depp fans waited patiently. At 6:45, Captain Jack arrived to screams, flashes and TV cameras; 15 minutes later he was whisked inside and introduced to the audience and his latest film, The Rum Diaries. The post-screening Q&A became a story in itself, as writer / director Bruce Robinson clearly was not well, or perhaps enjoyed Austin just a little too much, as he had trouble even getting a full sentence out of his mouth. Depp, always the gentleman, answered questions for his friend and discussed his innate ability to channel his characters—in this case his second time playing Hunter S. Thompson. Depp talked about his time spent with Thompson as he prepared to play the iconic gonzo journalist for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Though Thompson died in 2005, Depp clearly was able to draw on that same experience for Rum Diaries. [K.B.]

It was made clear shortly after 6:30 that The Rum Diaries screening at the Paramount was at capacity (1100 people!), but that didn’t keep several lines of hopefuls from snaking all the way down Congress to 7th Street, and halfway to Brazos, with the dream of being in the same room as Johnny Depp clutched tightly in their hearts. Who knew that some guy from 21 Jump Street was remembered so fondly? In any case, as the opening night generosity of some of the Deadhead filmmakers who granted a few film passholders access to an otherwise sold out screening can attest, sometimes the faith that you’re going to get in to a screening even after they’ve announced that it’s full can pay off – but the odds of the Paramount staff finding 300 extra seats seemed pretty unlikely. Still, fans of the relatively obscure films that Depp has appeared in, like John Waters’ Cry Baby and Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, are known to be a determined bunch, and their attempts to see the cult star of those pictures in the new movie from the director of Withnail And I were admirable, if ultimately fruitless. Maybe Depp can parlay this notoriety into a more iconic role some day? [D.S.]

There just aren't enough movie theaters close together to ever make a film festival in Austin easy for the out-of-towners (or locals) without a car. Walking the twelve blocks from the Paramount to the Texas Spirit Theater, then running south of Ladybird Lake to the Long Center, then trying to make it up to the Regal Arbor all in a day is exhausting and confusing by foot, bike and bus. While this does mean that lines are often shorter at the Arbor, it doesn't do a festival goer much good if she can't get up there. Car2Go can help with this – there is a whole fleet of 'em by the Convention Center – and a herd of cruising Segways caused some envy. Yeah, they look super goofy but so do sweat stains in October. Maybe AFF could organize a fleet of them for next year and see who's willing to try and make them cool. [K.C.]