The 70th Cannes Film Festival wrapped Sunday with jury prizes, including best director Sofia Coppola for her film “The Beguiled.” The Palme d’Or went to “The Square,” a Swedish satire set in the art world. See the full list of winners here.
Charles Ealy, who attended his 20th Cannes Film Festival this year, wrote about the challenges facing the storied event as it reacts to changes in viewing habits and technology. There were no high-profile studio films to draw mass attention, but Ealy says the lineup, with an emphasis on arthouse and European titles, was one of the fest’s strongest in its 70 years. Read that story on MyStatesman.com.
Also on MyStatesman.com, Ealy writes about going through a virtual reality installation by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alejandro G. Iñárritu, titled “Carne y Arena (Virtually Present, Physically Invisible).” The experience puts participants with migrants on a journey across a desert border. From Ealy’s story: “They’re old and young. Some are injured and tired. Most are scared of what lies ahead. You can’t make conversation with them, but you can go up to them, and if you get close enough, you can see their hearts beating.”
The 2nd annual Indie Meme Film Festival, highlighting contemporary South Asian cinema, starts tonight at the Regal Arbor.
Look for four days of narratives, documentaries and short films from in and around the subcontinent. All films have English subtitles.
Programming kicks off Friday night with “An Insignificant Man,” a 2016 documentary on the stunning rise of activist Arvind Kejriwal.
Also be sure to check out “The Cinema Travellers,” a doc following a group of movie exhibitors who bring the magic of movies to remote Indian villages once every year. It’s about wonder and technology, digital vs. 35 mm, art vs. commerce. That one screens 1:45 p.m. Saturday.
Some people see “The Honor Farm” as a psychedelic metamorphosis. Others see it as a prom nightmare. Some see it as a sweet horror movie. But Austin writer/director Karen Skloss says she sees it as a ghost story.
She’s reluctant to use the word horror, in part because she’s subverting that genre. “I feel like people who are expecting traditional horror and traditional scares are going to be disappointed,” she says. “The movie uses horror themes as a way to tell a story on coming of age, in the way that ‘Donnie Darko’ uses scary elements that make movies appealing for young adults. It’s a way in.”
So, just what is “The Honor Farm”?
The quirky movie deals with two young women, Lucy and Annie, who are attending prom with two young men, and Lucy is expected to lose her virginity to her date, the high school quarterback. But he gets awfully drunk and makes crude advances, so the two girls bail on him and take up an offer from an edgy group of kids to take a trip out into the country, to go into the woods to explore an old abandoned prison where people were once allegedly tortured. It’s said to be haunted.
As you might guess, when kids go into the woods, strange things happen. And strange things especially happen when you eat a couple of psychedelic mushrooms, as Lucy and Annie do, along with their new pals.
Olivia Applegate, a Houston native and University of Texas graduate, plays Lucy with a goofiness and innocence that’s quite charming. And Applegate says she thinks the movie works, in part, because the cast “really bonded while making this movie.”
She points out that she almost abandoned acting as a career choice. “I said, ‘you know what, theater and acting are so impractical, and I’ll do philosophy and be pre-law.’ And then suddenly there’s this open casting call and it’s so right for you. And so I go in, I meet them and get cast in the movie, and that started the whole domino effect.”
She also has a role in “Song to Song,” the Terrence Malick movie that opened South by Southwest this year. “I made the cut! It’s a miracle! What’s funny, too, is that I got cast in that immediately after ‘The Honor Farm,’ ” she says.
She says she’s grateful that an acting career has opened up and she skipped law school. “I never wanted to have a real job ever,” she jokes. “I grew up in high school with all honors classes played cello, was on the tudent council. I was prom queen. I had some boyfriends who were popular, all of that stuff. And then I moved to Austin for college and started singing in a band. … I realized that I was not realized interested in being a square as I thought.”
So her role in “The Honor Farm” sort of mirrors the trajectory of her actual life, which has taken an edgy turn. “The edgy people are the interesting ones,” she says.
Much of the tension in “The Honor Farm” deals with whether the edgy new friends of Lucy and Annie are dangerous. And Skloss keeps you guess for much of the movie.
She says she tested out the dialogue with her 17-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who’s a junior at McCallum High School. “We have a close relationship… and she’s a good storyteller, and when I showed her the script, she had opinions right off the bat. Jasmine and I would read the script out loud together, and she would say, ‘No, no one would ever say that.’ She was a good teenage reader.”
Skloss adds that she’s making the movie “for her demographic, you know, like edgy young adults. And the more we worked together, the more I realized that she deserved to be credited.” So Jasmine gets a credit as co-writer.
The movie was shot a couple of years ago in and around Austin. And when you watch it, you’ll probably wonder where some of the scenes take place.
The big swimming scene was shot at Krause Springs, near Austin. The actual honor farm building was an abandoned site around San Antonio. And the big suburban development scene at the beginning of the movie was shot in Leander.
Austin folks will also probably recognized the distinct music provided by Graham Reynolds and The Black Angels. Executive producers include Louis Black, Sandy K. Boone, Nicolas Gonda and Morgan Coy. Matthias Grunsky heads up the cinematography, while Mike Saenz and Spencer Parsons provide editing. Vicky Boone headed up casting, and was crucial in recruiting Applegate and getting her the job in “Song to Song,” too.
“The Honor Farm” doesn’t have a distributor yet, so it doesn’t have a release date. But it’s a good bet that it’ll get some special screenings around Austin in the future.
Melissa Leo delivers a powerhouse performance as the Austin atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair in director Tommy O’Haver’s “The Most Hated Woman in America.”
As O’Hair, Leo is foul-mouthed, in your face, unapologetic and downright nasty at times as she battles most of the rest of the world in fighting for First Amendment rights. In case you’ve forgotten, O’Hair got the “most hated woman” description after she filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore school system, eventually forcing that district as well as others across the nation to stop having school prayer.
The Supreme Court decision is still be debated today, and O’Hair was at the center of the battle in 1963.
O’Hair parlayed that fame into setting up an Austin nonprofit called American Atheists. She was a regular on TV talk shows and at one point toured the country debating a televangelist, played in the film by Peter Fonda.
Leo throws herself into the role, donning a fat suit for O’Hair in her later years when her girth widened substantially. And she doesn’t hold back on the anger or bluster. It’s almost shocking to see the early O’Hair, so out of place with her outspokenness and so unapologetic about her personal circumstances.
The movie opens with O’Hair telling her parents that she’s going to have yet another child out of wedlock. She has Bill Murray Jr., and a son named Garth is on the way.
Her deeply religious parents are appalled, of course, but O’Hair doesn’t flinch. And when she accompanies Bill Jr. to school one day and hears a teacher leading the students in the Lord’s Prayer, she starts yelling at the teacher and promising to put a stop to what she sees as a violation of church and state separation.
Nearly every man in O’Hair’s life, except for her youngest son Garth, betrays her. The first betrayals, of course, are from the men who don’t step up to help father their sons. But O’Hair suffers another setback when her oldest son, Bill, decides to become a Christian and disassociate himself from the family.
Then there’s David Waters, played by Josh Lucas, whom O’Hair groomed to take over the family business. Waters and O’Hair had a falling out eventually, and Waters came up with the scheme to kidnap O’Hair, her son Garth and her granddaughter Robin and demand that they turn over assets held in a supposedly secret account in New Zealand.
When the three disappear, a family associate notices their house is empty and that the dogs have been left behind, unattended. So he’s naturally alarmed. But law enforcement officials simply suspect that O’Hair has taken off for New Zealand to enjoy some time away from home. Then the passports are found, and then the family friend contacts a reporter in San Antonio, and finally, people begin to take matters seriously.
Meanwhile, the O’Hair family is still being held captive until a tragic event one night unleashes a fury that will leave all of them dead.
Leo’s final scenes in the film are heartbreaking, as she realizes what is happening. And you almost think that there will be some kind of redemption, some kind of grace, if O’Hair would ever accept such a concept. But Leo plays the scene note-perfect. And you know the tragedy will not be softened.
As Waters, Lucas has the second-strongest role. He captures the quintessential handsomeness and sleaziness that’s necessary. And Fonda is a hoot as a televangelist who challenges O’Hair to accompany him on a road show. It wasn’t O’Hair’s finest hour, ethically, but she did what she had to do, as Leo shows so well.
“The Most Hated Woman in America” premieres on Netflix on March 24. It screens again at SXSW at 11:30 a.m. March 18 at the Zach Theatre.
What a cool idea for a movie: Tell a story that subverts every aspect of the horror genre, not in a satirical way but in a sweet and very mushroom-trippy way.
That’s the essence of Austin director Karen Skloss’ “The Honor Farm,” which is part of the Midnighters section at South by Southwest.
This is Skloss’ first narrative feature, after a documentary feature about being an unwed mother called “Sunshine,” but you can’t tell it by what’s on screen. It’s quite good.
The story focuses on two friends, Lucy (Olivia Applegate) and Annie (Katie Folger), who are going to prom with a couple of guys. Lucy, who has been a “good girl” all her life, is expected to go to bed with her boyfriend, the football team’s quarterback. But Lucy thinks she’s just going through some hollow ritual and wonders whether it’s worth it. She gets her answer when her boyfriend gets blind drunk and makes a move that’s stupid.
Lucy has enough sense to bail on the guy, and Annie has enough sense of adventure to accept an invitation from a group of edgy, gothy-looking kids to go to a party at an “honor farm” where prisoners were tortured, the ghosts still inhabiting the abandoned structure.
Once they go into the woods, they find some other folks who are already there, and one of them is the hunky JD, played by Louis Hunter, who offers a sensitive alternative to the drunken quarterback back at the prom.
And suddenly, coming of age doesn’t seem as scary as it once did for Lucy. But there’s this big problem. All of them have eaten psychedelic mushrooms, and their imaginations are running wild in a place where craziness has happened in the past. Will it happen again? Or will JD and Lucy find a bond that brings them through the night safely?
Applegate, a Houston native and University of Texas graduate, is a joy to watch, with a slight Diane Keaton goofiness and intellectuality. And she pairs well with the JD character played by Hunter, who’s about as far from a quarterback type as you can imagine, but still hunky.
The supporting cast, including Folger and Dora Madison Burge as Laila, are also excellent. There’s a chemistry among all the characters who go into the woods, with one exception — a rather creepy dentist. Poor dentists. They never get a break on the big screen.
“The Honor Farm” screens again at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Alamo South and at 12:15 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo South.
With all of the bathroom debate going on at the state Capitol in Austin, SXSW has decided to highlight a new documentary about Brazilian performers who were born male and pursued a life of dressing up as women and singing — and “acting!”
“Divine Divas” tracks the lives of the first generation of Brazilian transvestite and drag artists of the 1960s. And yes, there’s a difference between transvestites and drag artists, and that difference can be easily Googled. But this documentary includes both. Some are transgender as well, although this word apparently isn’t used in Brazil the same way it’s used in the United States. It’s complicated.
They all started performing a generation ago at the Rival Theatre in Rio de Janeiro, one of the first venues to embrace such artists. It was founded by Americo Leal, the grandfather of the director of “Divine Divas,” Leandra Leal.
The rise of such divas in Rio was highly controversial, as the director points out, in part because the performers challenged the rigid moral standards of a military dictatorship and insisted on individual freedoms.
“Divine Divas” brings eight of these performers back together again after they have entered their 70s. And it celebrates their 50 years as performers.
They get to tell their stories, and no two stories are exactly alike. Some have chosen to have hormone treatments. Some chose to have surgery. Some live as women. Some do not. It’s complicated, as life usually is. But there’s a general enjoyment of life, with few regrets.
The performers sing their own songs, and some are quite good. The documentary takes us behind the scenes to show how some of the people transform themselves into their stage presences. And they talk of the difficulties they faced when they were much younger.
In the press notes for the movie, the director says she “understood that each of their lives — every one of them — was a work of art, but also a political gesture. As artists, they allowed themselves to build a new identity, to sculpt their bodies to be on stage, to live from their dreams and, for that matter, to live the great spectacle of being who you truly are.”
Now that’s a great line — living the great spectacle of being who you truly are.
“Divine Divas” screens at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Alamo South.
“Pornocracy” takes a look at the porn industry from a self-described feminist perspective, so you might think it would be anti-porn. Not so fast.
The director is France’s one-name phenomenon and so-called “porn-star intellectual” Ovidie.
In a Q&A from the press kit, Ovidie describes how she Googled herself one day and found “certain pirated videos featuring me in them” and that they were on “Tube” sites, and that “it was impssible to get them taken off. “Some of the videos were from films I performed in toward the end of the ’90s, films that only had a few hundred copies made — they had suddenly resurfaced and been seen by upwards of several million people,” she told interviewer Jason Whyte.
If you’re wondering about specific examples of such “Tube” sites, one such site, Ovidie contends, is called “pornhub.”
By the time of this discovery, Ovidie had moved into film production and direction, with lots of studies and research devoted to erotica, which eventually led her to complete her dissertation. So Ovidie began to collect information about sites, and it turned into an international investigation as well as the new documentary.
The essential point of the documentary is this: that websites showing amateur and pirated clips have transformed the way porn is made and consumed — and that a group of programmers have hijacked the adult industry to creat a multinational corporation that has a big influence on the international industry.
So, what has been the influence: Ovidie contends that traditional porn studios are closing, and actresses “are forced to shoot increasingly hardcore scenes for less and less money and protections.”
It’s a challenging documentary, and it doesn’t address head-on some of the feminist criticism of porn. Instead, Ovidie thinks that pornography should not be left purely in the hands of men.
“Pornocracy” will not please such feminist critics. Then again, SXSW has always been about stirring up controversy and presenting different points of view. With “Pornocracy,” the festival has succeeded.
“Pornocracy” screens again at 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Alamo South and 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Stateside Theatre.
The American-Statesman’s film critic Joe Gross watched the much-hyped film during the SXSW screening on Friday night. As previously mentioned, the film doesn’t live up to its Austin music scene billing nor do the Gosling and Mara portray being a musician with much authenticity in the first place.
No wonder these two are struggling. They might as well be plumbers or lawyers or farmers for all of the songwriting they do.
Gross also touches on the “California-meets-Texas” attitude of the film, a genuine confusing identity experienced by residents of the Live Music Capital of the World.
If beloved Austinite Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” which opened South by Southwest on Friday, is a meditation on the shallow, flash-over-substance, Los Angeles-ization of Austin, then it is a bullseye.
The Independent’s Christopher Hooton raves about the film, calling it “life-changing.” Clearly in awe of the film, Hooton lists some “impressive things about the film,” including:
The notion of the ‘camera as a character’ is cliché, but if it were one here it would simultaneously be a drunkard lost on the way to the canapé table, a fan with reverntially documenting a star with an iPhone, and God himself.
Hooton gives the film a perfect 5-star rating, explaining that though “Song to Song” is largely “avant-garde stuff,” it all comes together perfectly.
The Wrap names three Hollywood stars given “the famous Malick chop.” Christian Bale, Benicio del Toro and Haley Bennett were sliced out of the already-ensemble cast during production despite being named in the initial casting announcement.
Both Bale and del Toro shot scenes with Malick back in 2011, with Bale’s character having a lot in common with Fassbender’s.
Fassbender’s character, a toxic music executive, was said to be so similar to Bale that no one was sure if he would be included at all, the insider added.
The Wrap goes on to call the film a “gorgeously-shot love letter to the liberal Texas city.”
Deadline focused its attention on the mind-boggling fact that the original cut of the film was eight hours long.
Josh Dickey writes the film is a buffet of things we’ve come to expect of Malick, including actors Keeping Austin Weird with each other in an impressively long list of ways.
Here’s where it all devolves into a muddled pastiche of Malick clichés: gorgeous nature shots, hissy-whispering nonsensical voice-over, and his latest kick, which is two movie stars — pick a combination, any combination — in a room, or a field, or a puddle, doing incredibly weird things to each other’s bodies.
Dickey also reminds readers this is definitely not a film about the Austin music scene.
Speaking of the music industry — don’t be fooled, SXSW fans. Song to Song says about as much about the Austin music scene as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift says about the Austin music scene.
So is “Song to Song” worth movie fare? Decide for yourself when the film hits theaters nationwide March 17.
For three generations in Grantham, Virginia, the Tildens have owned and operated the local morgue and crematorium. Tony (Brian Cox) has been showing his son Austin (Emile Hirsch) the ropes, but he’s not too excited to carry on with the family business. His girlfriend Emma (Ophelia Lovibond) is ready for him to come clean with his father and Austin is close to mustering up the courage to tell him.
After a long day at work, Austin and Emma are planning to head out to the movies when the local sheriff drops in with a new body. It’s an anonymous “Jane Doe” found buried in the basement at the site of a home invasion. The cops at the crime scene can’t figure out what happened, saying that it looks like the other victims “were trying to break out” of the house. Sheriff Sheldon needs a cause of death for the Jane Doe body before he can fully report on the case to the press. He asks Tony and Austin to work into the night to tell him what really happened to her.
Tony is a self-professed traditionalist. He is less concerned with the crime scene details and more interested in nailing down the exact specifics that led to death. Each step of trying to uncover the story behind Jane Doe’s demise leads farther down a path of confusion.
This is the English-language debut for “Troll Hunter” director Andre Ovredal. He masterfully manages a foreboding sense of dread as each new secret comes to light during the autopsy. Not for the squeamish, the procedures in the film are detailed in a very graphic manner as the potentially ritualistic murder of this woman is slowly revealed.
To say much more would spoil the film’s surprises, but it’s fair to say that it hits all the right notes. Not only is the story clever, but the performances from Cox and Hirsch absolutely take it to the next level. As a powerful storm rolls in and the power starts to flicker, these actors elevate what could’ve been a simple genre exercise into something far more effective and truly terrifying.
“The Autopsy of Jane Doe” plays again at Fantastic Fest on Wednesday at 9 p.m. It has been acquired by IFC Midnight and is expected to be released in late December.
In her second full-length film, writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour throws us into a fairly specific post-apocalyptic world of her own creation and provides viewers very few details.
In this (possibly) not-so-distant future, those in society who are most unredeemable are tattooed with a number behind their ear and thrown through a perimeter fence into a far-flung wasteland that is, or at least was, part of Texas. If this happens to you, you’re in the “bad batch.”
When we meet Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), she’s freshly inked and dropped off into the desert with only a sandwich, some water, and a pair of very colorful jean shorts. While there appears to be nothing in the distance as far as the eye can see, it isn’t long before Arlen is captured.
You see, there appear to be two distinct ways of survival if you are an awful enough to be exiled here. Some people make it to Comfort, a safe-haven community where anything is available for a price. Those picked up before they arrive in Comfort are snagged by “bridge people,” a cannibalistic tribe of bad batchers (many of whom are inexplicably bodybuilders) who survive by dismembering their prey and honing some serious butchering skills.
Arlen’s price for survival is literally an arm and a leg. She escapes from her predators and makes her way to Comfort, which is like if “Mad Max: Fury Road” went to Burning Man. Five months after her traumatic limb losses, Arlen is out scavenging for scraps, when she comes face-to-face with a woman and her young daughter. These are bridge people who are unfortunate enough to have crossed her path.
This setup of this first thirty minutes or so are incredibly promising, but then we get ninety more minutes of nonsense. The film’s widescreen frame is filled with striking visuals and heavily detailed set design. The technical merits are plentiful, but the film is overloaded with a bloated storyline and groan-worthy dialogue. Along the way, we’re treated to an unrecognizable Jim Carrey and the guru of Comfort played by Keanu Reeves. In one particularly awful scene, he explains his power and influence by regaling Arlen with a story about how he makes the sewer system work. He also appears to be managing a baby farm, surrounded by young pregnant women all wearing shirts that say “The Dream Is Inside Me.”
Unfortunately, “The Bad Batch” presents many more questions than it answers and survives on style over substance. Amirpour does have an uncanny knack for setting the tone with an incredibly propulsive soundtrack that features music from Darkside, Pantha Du Prince, and White Lies. It’s a shame that these audiovisual merits of the film far exceed the storytelling.
The film does not have any scheduled encore screenings at Fantastic Fest. It has been acquired by Screen Media Films and Netflix, who will premiere it in early 2017.