Recommended at AFF
Can't make up your mind what to watch? Here are eight good bets.
Holy HellAustin Screens, World Premiere
D/W: Rafael Antonio Ruiz; W: Lowell Bartholomee; with Ken Edwards, Ellie McBride, Kenneth Wayne Bradley, Liz Fisher, Edwin Neal, Ben Wolfe, Lana Dieterich, Tiger Darrow, Carla Nickerson, Douglas Taylor, David Walter, Wayne Alan Brenner, Christopher Hitchens.
When a small, financially failing church group decides to produce a horror film in order to raise funds, all kinds of hell break loose. The church members are not daunted by their complete lack of knowledge – they recruit a makeup artist from a local hell house, and one of the screenwriters gets the task because she's a top commenter on Amazon.com – but things boil over when an attack group wages a vocal protest of their endeavor. The campaign against the church's damnable act of making a horror movie gains national attention, and soon the grassroots pastor is debating on TV no less an authority on atheism than Hitchens. With a script co-written by director Ruiz and Austin theatre legend Bartholomee, the film features a cast and crew full of local theatre stalwarts. Led by a quietly dominant performance by Edwards as Pastor Lane, this Austin community theatre showcase does the city proud. – Marjorie BaumgartenThursday, Oct. 22, 7pm, Rollins Studio Theatre; Wednesday, Oct. 28, 7pm, Rollins Studio Theatre
The MessengerCenterpiece Film, Regional Premiere
D: Oren Moverman; W: Moverman, Alessandro Camon; with Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Steve Buscemi, Jena Malone.
This directorial debut from the screenwriter of I'm Not There and Jesus' Son has already made waves internationally – The Messenger took home prizes from the Berlin and Deauville film festivals – but, as ever, the question remains how stateside audiences will respond to a film that reminds Americans we're currently fighting two wars, the wages of which have been devastating. The Messenger takes place entirely on American soil, where wounded vet Will Montgomery (Foster), running the clock out on his last tour of duty, is enlisted as a casualty notification officer. Harrelson plays his recovering alcoholic superior officer, who trains Will in how exactly one delivers the most awful news imaginable to a parent or spouse or sibling. This is grueling stuff, to be sure, although Harrelson and Foster settle into a comfortable rapport that brings some levity to the drama. Morton, as a new widow who attracts Will's attention, is wrenching; in a few short scenes, she makes vibrant and raw a lesser seen lens on the war: the shattered home front. – Kimberley JonesSunday, Oct. 25, 7pm, Paramount
The ScenestersComedy Vanguard, World Premiere
D/W: Todd Berger; with Berger, Sherilyn Fenn, Blaise Miller, Suzanne May, Jeff Grace, John Landis, Kevin Brennan, James Jolly.
Movies and crime fit together like film and noir. In this comic murder-mystery, the talents of the Vacationeers come together to produce the visual comedy group's first feature-length film. Imaginatively composed in color and black-and-white segments that traipse across time, memory, and narrative tones, The Scenesters unfolds in the real time of a courtroom dissection and the reflective time of recollection and reverie. A would-be filmmaker (played by writer/director Berger, a University of Texas grad, along with several other members of the L.A.-based crew) takes a job with the L.A. Police Department as a crime-scene videographer. Soon he and a couple of confederates are on the trail of a serial killer, although they try to crack the case on their own without informing the cops. Soon the killer grows wise to their investigation and sends them his own movies of his crimes. Can it get any weirder or more complicated? – M.B.Friday, Oct. 23, 10:15pm, the Independent at 501 Studios; Sunday, Oct. 25, 8pm, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
StonerAustin Screenings, World Premiere
D/W: Michael Greene; with Greene, Eddie Mathis, Caitlin Rose, Dan Bui.
"I wish I could be the kind of person who could change things," is the lament of aspiring writer Michael (Greene), but for the moment he's more wake and bake than Awake and Sing! Nevertheless, the pressures of impending graduation, a crap day job, and a trio of roommates intent on proving Kermit the Frog wrong – it is easy being green (and sticky) after all! – are taking their toll, and stoners rarely change things. Greene's locally shot film is an affectionate portrait of friendship, responsibility, love, and, no pun intended, killer buds. It's sweet and funny, full of stony wit and perfectly sketched characters. Just say no? To heck with that. A better question is why be NORML? – Marc SavlovSaturday, Oct. 24, 3pm, the Independent at 501 Studios; Tuesday, Oct. 27, 7pm, Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek
Todd P Goes to AustinOff the Record, Regional Premiere
D: Jay Buim; W: Buim, Otto Arsenault, Taylor Cohen; with Todd Patrick, Matt & Kim, Dan Deacon, Mika Miko, the Death Set, Best Fwends, Juiceboxxx, High Places, Team Robespierre, the So So Glows, Telepathy, Japanther.
Todd Patrick made a name for himself booking all-ages shows at nontraditional venues in Brooklyn for the last eight years, but his South by Southwest side shows at Ms. Bea's have become just as infamous. Patrick is a promoter, and obviously a good one or this doc wouldn't exist, so he can be forgiven for some of his loftier proclamations in the mini-interviews, but Todd P hinges on the bands, which include Matt & Kim, the Death Set, and Mika Miko. All three film their treks to SXSW '08, a nice glimpse into the life of a touring band when DIY is a necessity. Here, "Let's make it happen" means getting to the next show and maybe getting paid, not sweaty handshakes and record deals. The destination is the Fest, but the trip is the story, and it's more promising than anything that there's still romance in broken down vans and bucking the system. – Audra SchroederSaturday, Oct. 24, 10pm, the Independent at 501 Studios; Thursday, Oct. 29, 9:15pm, the Independent at 501 Studios
Tales From the ScriptMarquee Screenings, Regional Premiere
D: Peter Hanson; W: Hanson, Paul Robert Herman.
Tales From the Script has the piss-poor production values of a corporate educational video, but what matters – at least to the Austin Film Festival's target audience of writers (employed or otherwise) – is the message, not the manner of its delivery. This is a talking-head doc, a pile-on of interviews bracketed by the occasional film clip, which range from the sublime (In a Lonely Place) to the just-plain-stinks (William Shatner in Shoot or Be Shot). But the talking heads Hanson manages to corral are nothing to slouch at: William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost), Allison Anders (Ma Vida Loca), and unofficial festival mascot Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), to name a few. The tales they tell run the gamut from hopeful to horrific; the funniest of the bunch has to come from the enjoyably loose-lipped Guinevere Turner (Go Fish), slashing-and-burning her way through a recollection of writing the BloodRayne script for the outlandishly bad director Uwe Boll. Musing on the film's future legacy, she wonders if it will have the kind of spoiled-goods lasting power of, say, a Showgirls. "I think it's gonna ripen," she grins. – K.J.Friday, Oct. 23, 7:30pm, the Independent at 501 Studios
The Vicious KindMarquee Screenings, Regional Premiere
D/W: Lee Toland Krieger; with Adam Scott, Alex Frost, Brittany Snow, J.K. Simmons.
Scott plays construction worker Caleb, a fuckup with a code (why are the fuckups always the most righteous?) and deep bruise marks from a recent breakup. According to Caleb's backward logic, in order to protect his younger brother, Peter (Frost), he has to hurt him, which can only spell trouble when Peter brings home a comely, complicated girlfriend (Snow) for Thanksgiving dinner at the fractious house of their dad (Simmons). "Vicious" understates: This fourpiece character study can turn downright toxic in its tunnelings into sexual and familial dynamics. It's also funny, likably profane, and smart enough to skirt away (if not entirely avoid) the built-in expectations of its premise. Krieger mentored with Neil LaBute, who executive produces, and while there's a mutual inclination toward acid-bath colloquy, Krieger's outlook is significantly more hopeful, at least for his male characters. (Krieger's a more artful imagist, too.) Still, the pivotal character of Caleb – manic, misogynistic, self-absorbed, and striking out like a wounded animal – would grow tedious were it not for the deft touch of Scott, an underrated character actor (Party Down, Tell Me You Love Me). He's sensational here, and somebody should just make a movie star out of the guy already. – K.J.Saturday, Oct. 24, 6pm, Texas Spirit Theater; Tuesday, Oct. 27, 9:30pm, Arbor
Tickets will be available to the general public for purchase at theatre box offices, but badgeholders will receive priority. Arrive early for smaller venues. For more info, visit www.austinfilmfestival.com.
For ongoing festival coverage, be sure to check out Picture in Picture, the Chronicle's Screens blog, at austinchronicle.com/pip.