The 19th annual Austin Film Festival & Conference—”wide-ranging, screenwriter-centric,” as Kimberley Jones calls it, introducing the Chronicle‘s preview package—opens tonight with David Chase’s Not Fade Away and closes on October 25 with Billy Bob Thornton’s Jayne Mansfield’s Car. We’ll get to Not Fade Away in a moment, but first, Leah Churner: “When Nigel Agnew, Charlie Lawton, and Alex Woodside launched the Toronto Underground Cinema in a vacant basement theatre two years ago, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into…. As the film industry struggles through the digital transition—its greatest period of turmoil since the advent of sound—[repertory theaters] are struggling to survive…. Against this perfect storm of a backdrop, The Rep presents a year in the life of the Underground, interspersed with interviews with programmers at prominent rep houses, including Bruce Goldstein from Film Forum in New York City, Edward Schiessl from Bijou Art Cinemas in Eugene, Ore., and Austin’s Lars Nilsen from the Alamo Drafthouse. As a film advocating 35mm presentation (albeit shot and presented digitally), The Rep offers a strong counterpoint to the recent Keanu Reeves-produced documentary Side By Side, a supposedly nonpartisan look at digital film production. In contrast to The Rep‘s passionate paean to purist cinephilia, Side By Side feels like an infomercial for Red digital cameras.”
Also in the Chronicle, Marc Savlov talks with Don Swaynos about his narrative feature debut, Pictures of Superheroes, noting: “It’s not an easy film to describe without using the words ‘Austin-y,’ ‘Slacker-ish,’ or referencing Steven Soderbergh’s early exercise in cinematic absurdism, Schizopolis.”
Savlov also previews three scary movies in the Dark Matters sidebar: “Spencer Parsons ventures into terror with the atmospheric and impressively creepy horror-comedy hybrid Saturday Morning Massacre…. Duane Graves and Justin Meeks’s Boneboys is not only packed to the rafters with homage’s to the Tobe Hooper classic [The Texas Chainsaw Massacre] and its underrated sequels… it’s also scripted by Kim Henkel, who co-scripted the original ’74 classic with Hooper back in the day.” And “Scooter Downey’s full metal creepout It’s in the Blood builds on an initially unclear but obviously tense relationship between a rural Texas sheriff, Russell (played by genre icon Lance Henricksen, late of Pumpkinhead and Aliens, among nearly 200 [!] other fear-features) and his estranged son October (Sean Elliot).”
The Chronicle‘s also got capsule previews of five documentaries: Richard Whittaker on Brett Whitcomb’s GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Michael King on Jamie Meltzer’s Informant, Russ Espinoza on T.C. Johnstone’s Rising From Ashes, and Kimberley Jones on Thomas Bean and Luke Poling’s Plimpton! Starring George Plimpton as Himself and Negin Farsad and Dean Obeidallah’s The Muslims Are Coming!
Now then, Not Fade Away. Raoul Hernandez interviews Chase and, when it premiered as the centerpiece of the New York Film Festival, Stephen Holden called it “a vigorous rock-’n’-roll coming-of-age movie” in the New York Times: “Doug (John Magaro), its central character, is an aspiring rock star who physically resembles the young Bob Dylan but is no budding genius. This antiromantic reminiscence of a squabbling suburban New Jersey family (James Gandolfini plays Doug’s roughneck father) and a struggling band unlikely to succeed is opposite in spirit to a grandiloquent ode to the period like Julie Taymor’s Across the Universe, from 2007. In its scrappy fragmentary vision of 1960s America Not Fade Away shows accelerated cultural change leading to collective disorientation and bewilderment.”
“For admirers of Chase’s achievement in turning The Sopranos into one of the zestiest, most impressive TV epics, Not Fade Away is likely to be a big disappointment,” found Time‘s Richard Corliss, but, blogging for the Voice, Nick Schager wrote that “Not Fade Away treats its characters with just the right balance of gravity and sense of humor, respecting their earnest sincerity and yet pricking them for their prejudices and pretensions, a tonal balancing act that, concluding misstep aside, turns the material reflective without being cloying.” More from Ryan Brown (Ioncinema, 1.5/5), Jaime N. Christley (Slant, 3.5/4), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, C+), Benjamin Mercer (Reverse Shot), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, C+), and Stephanie Zacharek (Film.com).
“Those of us who believe Bill Murray to be God are quite sincere in our belief,” writes Tom Shone, and “his role as FDR in Roger Michell’s Hyde Park on Hudson is heaven-sent — the most seamless dramatic performance Murray has given in his career to date and the most skilled, purely pleasurable performance from an actor you are likely to see this year. It’s pure bliss. Blinking, owl-like, over his pincez-nez, his voice hoisted up a register in imitation of FDR’s famous patrician drawl, his martini glass brimming o’er with Wodehousian good cheer, Murray doesn’t disappear into the role so much as disappear into the air of moonlit mischief that hangs over Roger Michell’s charming, if slight, movie.”
Not everyone who’s caught Hyde Park on Hudson in Telluride, Toronto, or the NYFF—it screens in Austin on Saturday—has experience such bliss. “Hyde Park on Hudson is not, in any meaningful sense, a historical drama,” writes John Semley in Cinema Scope. “Rather, it’s a moronically schmaltzy weepie that uses the diaries of Roosevelt’s fifth (or sixth) cousin and lover, Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley (Laura Linney), as an entry point into the 1939 meeting between England and America. Daisy’s the fly-on-the-wall, but the bulk of the film’s talky action (a fancy dinner, a closed-door cocktail tête-à-tête between King George and FDR) shuts her out entirely, leaving not so much as a keyhole to peep through. Linney’s flat, vacuous Daisy offers nothing but a lurid way into this lost weekend; Michell barely attempts to dramatically invest in Daisy and her distant cousin’s sexual liaisons (she was apparently one of a harem of mini-concubines that the former president kept scattered throughout cabins in the hills around Poughkeepsie). Her revelation that her secret lover is pursuing more than an extramarital affair is sunk by cliché horror tropes, as she flees the president’s aides hightailing it through the forest. The voiceover seems like the stuff of escapist historical erotica, if such a genre even exists. (If not, we have Hyde Park to thank for stumbling over its invention.)”
The Guardian‘s Catherine Shoard isn’t quite as harsh, granting Hyde Park 3 out of 5 stars and noting that it “exists because someone has calculated that if you multiply The King’s Speech to the power of Roosevelt and then add Bill Murray, the tills that rang out (to the tune of $250m) for Tom Hooper’s film are going to be Liberty bell loud this time around.” We’ll see. It opens in December.
More from Richard Corliss (Time), Jason Gorber (Twitch), Eric Kohn (Indiewire, C), R. Kurt Osenlund (Slant, 1.5/4), Rodrigo Perez (Playlist, C), Ted Pigeon (House Next Door), Eric D. Snider (Movies.com, 3/5), and Stuart Weinstock (Cinespect).
Update, 10/22: The jury “has chosen its 2012 Screenplay and Teleplay Competition winners from a record-number of 6,500 submissions,” reports Maggie Lange at Thompson on Hollywood.