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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: SXSW

SXSW 2012: A porn shoot and a senior citizen in 'Starlet'

March 14, 2012 |  6:00 am


Dree Hemingway and Stella Maeve in "Starlet"

"Starlet," which premiered this week at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, is a drama of self-discovery and self-acceptance fueled by two discoveries: Dree Hemingway, daughter of Mariel Hemingway, who gives a performance of flaky charm and tender sensitivity in her first leading role, and 85-year-old Besedka Johnson, who in her first-ever acting role is tough but lovable as a woman who didn't expect to make any more friends in life.

Hemingway plays Jane, a 21-year-old struggling to get by on the fringes of the San Fernando Valley. When she buys something at a yard sale held by Sadie (Johnson), the two quarrel over whether it's a Thermos or a vase. When Jane gets the object home, she discovers a substantial amount of cash inside it. Unsure of what to do, she insinuates herself into Sadie's life, helping her with errands and the like. As the two reveal more of themselves to each other, their relationship deepens.

The film was directed and co-written by Sean Baker, and, like his previous films, "Prince of Broadway" and "Take Out," there is an air of the ethnographic film about "Starlet." But rather than explore the immigrant experience as he did before, this time Baker is looking at the lives of two women who might not normally be given the space to take center stage.

"I think with 'Starlet," with 'Prince,' and even 'Take Out,' they were worlds that I was interested in and wanted to explore," he said. "I was right on the fringe of those worlds."

While working on his short-lived MTV comedy show "Warren the Ape," Baker would cast porn stars in small roles, he got to know a few of them through the production. He was taken by how lonely, bored and nomadic they seemed, living decidedly unglamorous lives. He thought one of these women in her off hours would make for a compelling film. When he combined this idea with a story he had about some money found at a yard sale, the treatment for "Starlet" was born.

For the 24-year-old Hemingway, who has had success as a fashion and photography model -- "I consider myself an actress and a model. I'm like a walking cliche," she said jokingly -- she wasn't concerned with whether people might assume the off-beat naturalism of her performance was just her being herself.

"Everything in acting for me is about how you bring pieces of yourself and then you apply it to the character," she said. "I think for Jane I wanted her to come across as kind of, she's been thrown into this world but she's kind of trying to figure it out. She's not sold on anything quite yet, and is just kind of going with it."

It is difficult to talk about the story without giving away too much. Baker carefully modulates how and when information is revealed, so viewers can get to know the characters without instantly judging them.

"We intentionally have a lot of reveals in the film," Baker said, "because it's all about breaking these preconceived notions you might bring. It's about breaking stereotypes, people going past first impressions. The reveals were intentional."

The film features one major scene of explicit sex, a behind-the-scenes look at the workaday world of a porn shoot. The scene would likely push the film, which is looking for distribution, into NC-17 territory. 

"I'm not concerned about it," Baker said. "We obviously know this film will be either unrated or NC-17. There's no way around it. This is how I see it -- the film is for adults, made for adults. The state of independent film now anyway, you're going to play a few theaters in the major cities and then do well on [video on demand]. If anything I could see this only enhancing that. This might even be a film people would be more comfortable watching at home, even though I would love people to see it on the big screen."


SXSW 2012: Lena Dunham returns as one of the 'Girls'

SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

-- Mark Olsen in Austin, Texas


Photo:  Dree Hemingway and Stella Maeve in "Starlet." Credit: South by Southwest Film Festival

SXSW 2012: Lena Dunham returns as one of the 'Girls'

March 13, 2012 | 12:17 pm

The cast of "Girls"

Writer-director-performer Lena Dunham is one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the South by Southwest film festival. She first came to Austin, Texas, in 2009 — also the first year for current festival producer Janet Pierson — with the short feature "Creative Nonfiction." Dunham met a number of people who would become key collaborators on her breakthrough film, "Tiny Furniture," which won multiple awards at SXSW in 2010, and she was back in Austin on Monday to premiere the first three episodes of her HBO series "Girls."

The show centers on Dunham's character, two years out of college and recently cut off financially by her parents, struggling to make a go of things in New York City surrounded by a circle of friends. The show has Dunham's signature blend of incisively urbane wit and wince-inducing self-involvement, such as when her character rebuffs her parents with, "I have a dinner thing and then I am busy, trying to become who I am."

Dunham was joined onstage at the Paramount Theatre by the show's executive producers, Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner. Moderating the event, Pierson chuckled at a question regarding the inspiration for the show, as Dunham simply pointed to herself.

"I made this film 'Tiny Furniture,' " explained Dunham, "which was about this sort of moment immediately after college that I had experienced as extremely confusing.... Historically I have been interested in the female experience — that's a ridiculous thing to say out loud — but there was stuff that I wanted to continue to explore."

Apatow compared "Girls" to previous projects he has been involved with, the film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and the television show "Freaks and Geeks," both for the way it turned out better than he expected and how the cast — which includes Allison Williams, Jemima Kirke, Zosia Mamet, Adam Driver and Alex Karpovsky — seems made up of many potential stars. He also acknowledged how much of his previous work is seen as dude-centric.

"I've never been around so many women before," said Apatow of his involvement in the production. "That was a new thing. No bongs, no penises, and they don't really like pornography. It was all very new for me in this collaboration."

"For me it's been low-stress," he added. "I'm like, it's Lena's show."

While it might seem unusual for a film festival to air episodes of a television show, the decision was motivated partly by the desire to continue to showcase Dunham and also as a way to include a medium where many currently find vibrant narrative storytelling.

"That's intentional," said Pierson in a phone interview before the start of the festival. "I think there's a lot of talent working in television, and we've been trying to figure out how to celebrate that kind of great filmmaking even if you're watching it on HBO or Showtime or AMC. It's great entertainment that you see on a screen. We've been trying to figure out for a number of years how to spotlight it, and the program with 'Girls' came together perfectly."


SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo: Jemima Kirk, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet in "Girls." Credit: HBO.

SXSW 2012: '21 Jump Street' star Channing Tatum keeps his shirt on

March 13, 2012 | 11:04 am

"21 Jump Street" premieres at SXSW

Actor Channing Tatum proved the main attraction Monday night for the high percentage of very young women who turned up at the Paramount Theatre in Austin, Texas, for the premiere of "21 Jump Street" — the comedic re-imagining of the 1980s-era television show. Cheers filled the auditorium as the cast and filmmakers took the stage following the screening, with Tatum and costar Jonah Hill dressed in the same ill-fitting bicycle cop uniforms they wear in the movie.

"It's a bromance," said Tatum, when asked about making the shift to comedy following his streak of romantic roles in films such as the recent "The Vow." Tatum was also asked by one questioner why he didn't take his shirt off in "Jump Street" and could he do so right there. Mentioning the amount of salty food and beer in both New Orleans, where the film was shot, and Austin, he declined.

"21 Jump Street" casts Hill as the brainy Schmidt and Tatum as his brawny partner Jenko, two fairly inept cops who are sent back to high school as part of an undercover effort to stop a drug ring. The mission puts them in the orbit of the cool clique, headed up by Dave Franco's ecologically minded Eric (the actor is James Franco's younger brother). Much of the comedy derives from how much has changed since Schmidt and Jenko were students — with Schmidt finding his geeky stride and Jenko spending some quality time with the misfit kids in the AV club.

Hill, who, along with Tatum, is also an executive producer on the film, seemed particularly excited about the uproarious response the R-rated film received from the crowd.

"No matter what happens next week," Hill said, "all the concerns of what happens to it, what happens when it goes in the world, we'll have this night forever."

Hill and Tatum were joined onstage by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, screenwriter Michael Bacall, actors Franco and Rob Riggle and the festival's Rebecca Feferman. Hill busted on Franco for his role in "Charlie St. Cloud," or, as HIll called it, the "Zac Efron ghost brother movie," while celebrating Riggle for an outrageously vulgar improvised stunt.

Those onstage also all discussed the not-to-be-spoiled-here surprise cameo in the film, which included years of legwork to pull of.

Hill joked throughout the Q&A about the possibility of a sequel and how any of them could potentially be replaced by Ryan Gosling. Getting serious for a moment, Hill noted, "All of us up here would love to do a sequel, but it's no longer in our hands. So if you tell your friends that the movie was great and they go watch it and it makes a bunch of money, then we will all be making a sequel very soon. If not, you will never see us ever again. It's in your hands, no longer ours."


SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo: Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street." Credit: Scott Garfield/Columbia Pictures.

SXSW 2012: Sarcasm, romanticism in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

March 12, 2012 |  5:26 pm

Nick Offerman in "Somebody Up There Likes Me"

Bob Byington's "Somebody Up There Likes Me" — a story of tumbling through on a streak of good luck and a little help from a magic suitcase — had its world premiere Sunday night at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas.

The screening began with costar and producer Nick Offerman taking the stage with a guitar and beginning to sing "Rhinestone Cowboy." Festival producer Janet Pierson had to inform him this was a SXSW film event, not a music event, and so the concert stopped and the screening began.

Following up on the sweet melancholy of his 2009 film, "Harmony and Me," director and co-writer Byington has crafted something of a sarcastic fable in which aging is held at bay but not quite defeated and love and friendship are truly put to the test of time.

The story covers 35 years in the life of Max (Keith Poulson), his best friend, Sal (Offerman), and the woman they both come to love (Jess Weixler). They are all aided by a magical suitcase that slows the aging process through hookups, breakups, weddings, birth, divorce and a funeral. (The special valise is never particularly explained or discussed; it's just part of the fabric of the story.)

Both Poulson and Offerman have roles in "Harmony," and Byington wrote their parts in "Somebody" with them in mind.

"It's really where the movie kind of sprang from," the Austin-based Byington said in a phone interview before the festival. "I imagined these two actors as friends, and I imagined a woman sort of coming between them, but not really. ...

"And that was the basis for the tone of the movie: how these two guys could communicate and that something cataclysmic might happen to them but that wouldn't affect them too much. The whole tone ended up being off-kilter or fable-like."

Though Offerman is a star of TV's "Parks and Recreation," Poulson has far less experience as an actor. (He's also a musician.)

"Keith has some type of presence, and it's not necessarily an actor-type presence," Byington said. "We did that on 'Harmony,' and I like to throw actors and non-actors together. I'm not sure what happens exactly, but I do think the impulse to write for Nick and Keith in the first place came out of this idea that there is some type of sparks that fly out of a thing. I don't fully understand it, but I think a scene can get a little dead if it's just actors."

The purposeful unreality of the main conceit in "Somebody" brings into relief the tart humor and jaundiced romanticism of the story. But Byington said he didn't intend to make viewers uneasy. 

 "There's never an impulse to make anyone uncomfortable. That's got to be the dumbest thing you could possibly have as an agenda as a filmmaker, making people uncomfortable," he said. "Do you go to a movie to be uncomfortable? Why not just open a theater and turn the heat up really high? I know there are great films by great filmmakers where the impulse is unsettling people. I'm just not interested."

For the post-screening Q&A, moderated by actor and filmmaker Alex Karpovsky, Byington was joined onstage by Poulson and Offerman, actresses Kate Lyn Sheil and Stephanie Hunt and composer Chris Baio from the band Vampire Weekend. The group was in fine spirits following the pressure-valve release of their first screening, and answers tended to drift off into sarcasm or what seemed to be inside jokes.

Asked about the decision not to use makeup or effects to age the actors during the time shifts of the story, Byington curtly responded, "Incompetence, basically."

Offerman closed the evening with a little sincerity when he noted (acknowledging the rapidly changing landscape for independent film releasing), "It's nice when you finish a movie and they show it in a theater."


SXSW 2012: Unusual buzz-building with 'frankie go boom'

SXSW 2012: A vision of nocturnal New Orleans in 'Tchoupitoulas'

SXSW 2012: Two sides of opening night with 'Cabin' and 'Babymakers'

— Mark Olsen, reporting from Austin, Texas


Photo: Nick Offerman in "Somebody Up There Likes Me." Photo credit: SXSW Film.

Jessica Biel, Nazis top SXSW midnight movies lineup

February 8, 2012 | 12:00 pm

Jessica Biel in THE_TALL_MAN

The South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival announced its midnight features and short film slate Wednesday, a horror and sci fi-heavy list of films that includes Jessica Biel going up against a child abductor in "The Tall Man," a gory anthology from directors including Ti West and Joe Swanberg called "V/H/S" and a comedy about Nazis on the moon starring Udo Kier called "Iron Sky."

SXSW's Midnighters section tends to reflect the festival's genre-friendly ethos, with an even more independent streak. ("Can college dropouts John and Dave save humanity? No, they can't," reads the tagline for "John Dies at the End," a midnight premiere from director Don Coscarelli.) It's the part of the Austin festival that helped launch the careers of horror directors West and Eli Roth, for instance, and last year premiered Joe Cornish's British sci-fi sleeper "Attack the Block."

The SXSW shorts slate is also a quirky mix -- a documentary narrated by Tom Waits called "A Brief History of John Baldessari" from "Catfish" and "Paranormal Activity 3" filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, and animated films from cartooning world stalwarts Don Hertzfeldt ("it's such a beautiful day") and Bill Plympton ("Bummer Summer").

The SXSW festival takes place March 9-17. For more information on  Midnighters and the complete SXSW film lineup, visit sxsw.com/film.


'21 Jump Street,' Bob Marley doc to premiere at SXSW

'The Cabin in the Woods' to premiere at SXSW

--Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Jessica Biel in "The Tall Man."Credit: SXSW


Word of Mouth: SXSW announces its film slate [video]

February 3, 2012 |  2:32 pm

Next month's South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival announced its feature film slate this week. With a lineup that includes the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum comedy "21 Jump Street" and the Joss Whedon-produced horror film "The Cabin in the Woods," the Austin festival continued its tradition of selecting unconventional genre pictures and R-rated comedies apt to play well with its rowdy young audiences.

Times staff writer Rebecca Keegan discusses the SXSW slate in this story and this video.



SXSW: Texas two-step

'The Cabin in the Woods' to premiere at SXSW

SXSW 2012: Cliff Martinez, Jeffrey Tambor announced

— Rebecca Keegan


'21 Jump Street,' Bob Marley doc to premiere at SXSW

February 1, 2012 | 12:01 pm

Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street"

Next month's South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival in Austin will premiere the Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum comedy "21 Jump Street"; "Marley," a much-anticipated documentary about musician Bob Marley; and "Decoding Deepak," a film about spiritual icon Deepak Chopra directed by his son, Gotham Chopra, organizers announced Wednesday.

The lineup, including the previously announced premiere of the Joss Whedon-produced horror film "The Cabin in the Woods," continues the Texas film festival's historic focus on genre movies, comedies and music documentaries.

"We look for stuff that’s smarter, edgier, raunchier and with a point of view," Film Conference and Festival Producer Janet Pierson said. "If there’s something that makes people uncomfortable and is pushing boundaries, we’re embracing it."

"Marley," which was directed by "Last King of Scotland" filmmaker Kevin MacDonald with the participation of the Marley family, is one of multiple music films SXSW is showcasing: "Under African Skies," about the making of Paul Simon's historic "Graceland" album, will also screen; and "Big Easy Express," which follows the bands Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show on the road, will close the festival.

The SXSW lineup also includes "Killer Joe," William Friedkin's dark comedy starring Matthew McConaughey as a contract killer; "Fat Kid Rules the World," Matthew Lillard's directorial debut about a depressed overweight teen; and "Small Apartments," an urban murder story starring Billy Crystal and Johnny Knoxville.

Multiple documentaries of interest to a Los Angeles audience are premiering, including "The Announcement," about Magic Johnson's 1991 revelation that he was HIV-positive and retiring from basketball; "Uprising: Hip-Hop & the L.A. Riots;" and "Sunset Strip," a 100-year history of the so-called loudest street on the planet.

A total of 130 features will screen at the 19th annual festival, which will take place March 9-17.


'The Cabin in the Woods' to premiere at SXSW

SXSW 2012: Cliff Martinez, Jeffrey Tambor announced

SXSW: Texas two-step


— Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Jonah Hill, left, and Channing Tatum in "21 Jump Street." Credit: Scott Garfield / Columbia Pictures.

Joss Whedon's 'The Cabin in the Woods' to premiere at SXSW

January 12, 2012 | 12:00 pm

Cabininthe woods

"The Cabin in the Woods," a horror movie produced and co-written by Joss Whedon and directed by "Cloverfield" screenwriter Drew Goddard, will have its world premiere at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival's opening night March 9, festival organizers announced Wednesday.

About a group of friends (Chris Hemsworth, Jessie Williams, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz and Kristen Connolly) who decamp to a remote cabin for a weekend of excess, "The Cabin in the Woods" continues SXSW's historic focus on genre movies. In addition to premiering the film, Whedon will participate in a conversation at the festival March 10.

SXSW also announced that it will premiere the first three episodes of Lena Dunham's new HBO series "Girls," and Dunham and executive producer Judd Apatow will participate in a panel March 13. For Dunham, it will be a return to the festival that launched her career -- Dunham's indie comedy "Tiny Furniture" premiered at SXSW in 2010.

Additional films announced include Kevin Macdonald's Bob Marley documentary, "Marley"; Jonas Akerlund's black comedy "Small Apartments"; "Beauty is Embarrassing," a documentary about artist Wayne White; "Citadel," a psychological horror film from Irish director Ciaran Foy; and a special presentation of the 1919 Ernst Lubitsch silent film "The Oyster Princess," with an original live score performed by the instrumental quintet Bee vs. Moth.

The complete festival lineup will be announced in early February. More information about the lineup so far is available at SXSW.com/film. The 19th annual South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival will take place from March 9-17 in Austin, Texas.



SXSW 2012: Cliff Martinez, Jeffrey Tambor announced

SXSW: Texas two-step

--Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Curt (Chris Hemsworth), Holden (Jesse Williams), Jules (Anna Hutchison), Marty (Fran Kranz) and Dana (Kristen Connolly) in "The Cabin in the Woods" Credit: Diyah Pera

'The Other F Word': Jim Lindberg on punk rock fatherhood

November 3, 2011 | 10:36 am

Jim Lindberg & Family

If you make your living thumbing your nose at authority, how do you lay down the law with your own child? That’s one of the questions posed by the documentary “The Other F Word,” which chronicles the colorful and often oxymoronic lives of punk rock dads.

The film, from director Andrea Blaugrund Nevins and producer Cristan Reilly, begins with Jim Lindberg, lead singer of the L.A. skate punk band Pennywise, packing for tour under the watchful eyes of his three daughters, one of whom tucks a Barbie doll into his bag. Lindberg’s heavy heart at having to travel during his daughters’ formative days is the central conflict of the film.

Other punk rockers who tell their unlikely and often surprisingly poignant fatherhood stories include Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea, Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath, Everclear’s Art Alexakis and the Adolescents’ Tony Adolescent.

Lindberg, who also wrote a book in 2007 called “Punk Rock Dad,” spoke with 24 Frames' Rebecca Keegan about the challenges of raising kids while raising hell, the surprises he learned about his punk brethren and what it takes to turn rockers into softies.

"The Other F Word" opens Friday.

Rebecca Keegan: When did it first occur to you that being in a punk band and being a dad are incongruous activities?

Jim Lindberg: While I was living it. I knew I was in a unique situation, trying to live up to the stereotype of being a crazy frontman in a punk band and then coming home and dealing with diapers, homework and making school lunches. More and more I realized as my kids started getting older and I was trying to be an authority figure how hypocritical it was of me to be singing a song like "F… Authority."

R.K.: Do you think being a singer in a punk band is just a more extreme version of what many parents go through?

J.L.: A lot of people are more punk rock than they know. Punk rock is about teenage and adolescent angst. It’s about rebellion and not wanting to do what your parents tell you. Most people are stuck in adolescence for a very long time. Having kids and a family forces them to grow up. A lot of parents try to be their kids’ best friend and it just doesn’t work. You have to teach them that the frying pan is hot, that they have to look both ways before crossing the street. You have to tell them what to do a lot and you become the authority figure for them.

Continue reading »

Around Town: True crime, reel comedy, cowboys, aliens, rock docs and more

July 21, 2011 |  5:30 am


Crime takes over the Los Angeles County Museum of Art's Bing Theatre this weekend with an eclectic roster of favorites beginning Thursday with the 1970 drama "The Honeymoon Killers," about the famed Lonely Hearts Killers Raymond Fernandez (Tony LoBianco) and Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler). Humphrey Bogart gives one of his most complex performances in Nicholas Ray's acclaimed 1950 film noir, "In a Lonely Place," screening Friday along with Robert Altman's 1973 version of Raymond Chandler's "The Long Goodbye" with Elliott Gould as gumshoe Philip Marlowe. Saturday's early evening screening is Luis Bunuel's surreal 1962 film, "The Exterminating Angel," with David Lynch's offbeat 2001 mystery thriller, "Mulholland Drive," screening later in the evening.

LACMA's Saturday monster movie matinees continue with the 1959's "Journey to the Center of the Earth," with James Mason and Pat Boone; the Tuesday matinee at LACMA features MGM's all-star 1933 comedy "Dinner At Eight," directed by George Cukor.  http://www.lacma.org

Two comedies starring Steve Martin at his wild and crazy best -- 1979's "The Jerk" and 1986's "Little Shop of Horrors" -- screen Thursday at the American Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica. The laughs continue Friday evening with a series of shorts starring the great silent comedians Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

Continue reading »


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