Friday, September 8, 2017

"Black Mirror for the Big Screen"... What Critics are saying about MARJORIE PRIME

Tim Robbins and Jon Hamm

MARJORIE PRIME, the new film by Michael Almereyda (HAMLET [2000], EXPERIMENTER), opens today at AFS Cinema. Alemereyda's adaptation of Jordan Harrison's Pulitzer-Nominated play features an all-star cast including Jon Hamm, Lois Smith, Geena Davis, and Tim Robbins. Set in the near future, a time of artificial intelligence: 86-year-old Marjorie (Smith)—a jumble of disparate, fading memories—has a handsome new companion (Hamm) who looks like her deceased husband and is programmed to feed the story of her life back to her.

We're fans of the movie here at AFS, but we'd also like to share a few of the glowing reviews from critics:

“MARJORIE PRIME [is] one of the most riveting, moving films of the year.” – Marc Savlov, The Austin Chronicle

"There's more going on in this movie's 90-plus minutes than in many summer blockbusters nearly twice its length" - Glenn Kenny, New York Times Critics' Pick

"MARJORIE PRIME is exquisite - beautiful, intense, shivering with empathy." - David Edelstein, Vulture

“MARJORIE PRIME contains asteadily accumulating stream of ingenious plot twists, sometimes very subtle orsubtly revealed.” – Godfrey Cheshire,

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Meet AFS' New Filmmaker & Community Media Resource Director Erica Deiparine-Sugars

We interviewed our new colleague, Erica Deiparine-Sugars, who has just joined us as Director of Programs for AFS’s Filmmaker and Community Media Resources Department. Erica most recently worked in the public media system at ITVS, where she spent nine years collaborating with filmmakers as the Managing Director of Programming and Production. Erica’s new role will encompass artist services, education and community media programming out of Austin Public, our community media center and the home of the public access television stations for the City of Austin.
AFS Viewfinders: Tell us more about your background, and some of the highlights of your over 20 years working in media.

Erica Deiparine-Sugars: My background is in film and TV production. As a student in production, I had the opportunity to intern with a few television stations, mostly in the areas of live news or current affairs programs. While I found more opportunities in broadcast TV, I always tried to work on short films and independent projects where I could. I worked at KXAN in Austin in the mid-1990’s, first on the floor crew then as a director for the morning news broadcast. I have a lot of fond memories from that time. 
I got interested in media literacy education later while I was in my grad program in documentary production. I started working with a local youth media organization in Chicago called CTVN (Community Television Network) that had a long-running youth-produced program on Chicago Access Network TV (CAN-TV). The show is over 30-years old! That experience really had an impact on my career and my desire to support more storytelling by and for communities that are underrepresented or ignored by mainstream media. 
For the last nine years, I worked for ITVS, a non-profit organization that funds, co-produces and presents independent documentary films for public television. I headed up the team that selected the content to fund and worked with independent producers through development and/or production. I was so fortunate to work with and learn from some amazing independent filmmakers. I am very proud to mention the organization just received an Institutional Peabody Award this past Spring and is the recipient of the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences 2017 Governors Award.

AFS Viewfinders: What excites you most about this move? Both about Austin, and career-wise? 
Erica Deiparine-Sugars: I have always been interested in working with mission-driven media organizations that are dedicated to supporting diversity of voices and making media accessible to all people. AFS’ origin story and mission really resonates with me. 
I have been working specifically with documentary filmmakers and public media over these last nine years so I am looking forward to the ability to expand my experiences with narrative filmmakers and community media makers. AFS also has a very dedicated and talented staff. There is an excitement and optimism about the new opportunities and possibilities on the horizon with Austin Public and now, the AFS Cinema. It’s hard not to want to be a part of it. 
And I love Austin. I moved to Austin in 1994 after I finished college. Like most people entering the film/TV industry, you hustle and try to jump into a lot of things. The people I met and worked with were really supportive. It is the place I feel that I got my start. I know that much has changed both with the city and the industry since I left Austin in 1997. Like many major cities, there has been a lot of growth and with it cultural shifts. But what I admire is that Austin has always been rich in creative talent and innovative thinking yet strives to stay unique and independent. I also grew up in the South (New Orleans) so Austin’s friendly, laidback cultural vibe suites me. 
AFS Viewfinders: What is your take on why media literacy is important to our community?

Erica Deiparine-Sugars: Ohh—this is a juicy question and one that I could discuss in length. So I will try to be brief. But I am encouraged by AFS commitment to media literacy and hope there are more opportunities to engage with the community around this. 
I have always believed media literacy to be a basic skill in the digital age. The definition of media literacy is the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create media in various forms. I know most people think that “media literacy” seems overly academic but it is really a critical component for being an active and informed member of society. Many of us have likely used some part of these skills as we interact with media and communicate daily; watching TV, searching the internet, listening to music, posting a photo on Instagram, etc. These daily images, sounds and words have an affect on our behaviors, feelings and thoughts and those of our peers whether or not we are fully aware of it. Media literacy is about being active and conscious. It is the ability to really step back and think critically about what is going on. 
The mastery of these skills can actually level the power dynamic that exists in current “mass” commercial media. In addition to being a 21st century learning skill, media literacy is also one that supports social justice and equity as more people, people from different communities and socioeconomic backgrounds can access, understand and create their own media. They can start to control their own images. 
AFS Viewfinders: As a storyteller, what inspires you in your work? What drives you to help people tell their own stories? 
Erica Deiparine-Sugars: Like many of my peers, I grew up watching my fair share of television and going to movies. What struck me was that a lot of people on TV and in the films I saw didn’t look like me or have experiences that I could really identify with. Additionally, there was often a lot of homogeneity or generalities in the ways that women and people of color were portrayed. They weren’t always prominent or important characters in the storytelling. I remember being amazed and excited when I did see stories about women and communities of color particularly if it showed me something new or gave me a different perspective. I wanted more and knew there were so many stories out there that weren’t being told. 
AFS Viewfinders: Now for the required AFS Viewfinders question-- what are some of the films that have most strongly influenced you?

Erica Deiparine-Sugars: My favorite movies list is growing long and varied. So I’ll just list a few older ones (in no particular order) that have stuck with me. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

"So Much Innocence": Wes Anderson on Truffaut's SMALL CHANGE

Francois Truffaut & cast members, behind the scenes of SMALL CHANGE

Francois Truffaut's 1976 film SMALL CHANGE screens twice at the AFS Cinema in 35mm. On Sunday 8/27, as part of the family-friendly Sunday School program and as an encore screening on Wednesday 8/30.

In 2002, when director Wes Anderson, fresh from THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, was approached by the New York Times to talk about a movie that was deeply meaningful to him, he chose Truffaut's SMALL CHANGE, a charming, mostly improvised comedy about school kids in a small French town. The interview is very interesting, especially in light of some of Anderson's subsequent work, especially the very SMALL CHANGE influenced MOONRISE KINGDOM.

Anderson goes on at some length about SMALL CHANGE's specialness:
''There are all of these threads, all of these people and story lines, but it also feels very free, as though we can join any character at any moment. There are some characters who have just one scene or just one moment, and then a few who kind of continue throughout the whole movie and have their own developing stories. But when they're introduced, they're all introduced in the same way, so you're never sure who is going to turn out to be important and who's making their only appearance. It's very rare to introduce characters that way, yet it doesn't feel like a stunt the way Truffaut does it. It feels very natural.''

And remembers his time as an undergrad at the University of Texas when he read Truffaut's letters and gained a greater insight about the man and his work. He describes a letter from the very young Truffaut to a friend:
''There is a letter of apology from Truffaut that is so overstated,'' he said. ''The language is very flowery, and you get the feeling that, in this relationship, Truffaut felt himself to be intellectually superior and was the dominant personality between the two. But at this point, he was clearly guilty and kind of vulnerable and exposed, and he was trying to maintain the upper hand in their relationship at the same time he couldn't be more guilty. What's interesting is to see how this kid, who came from such a brutal background, went through all of this and came out, in the 1970's, with this humane, gentle attitude about it all.''

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The New 4k Reissue of SUSPIRIA Looks Amazing: Here's Why

The AFS Cinema is proud to present the new restoration of horror legend Dario Argento's 1977 horror classic SUSPIRIA, starting September 1. Tickets are on sale now.

Over the past four years, Synapse Films has partnered with some heavy hitters to reconstruct what is sure to be the definitive version of Argento's seminal vision. Presented in its original 98 minute runtime, rescanned from the original uncut, uncensored Italian 35mm camera negative in 4K resolution at Technicolor Rome in Italy, with the supervision of Argento's director of photography Lucian Tovoli, it's possible the film has never looked better.

Colors are everything in this film, and Tovoli's supervision has ensured they pop like severed arteries. Possibly an even bigger revelation is the sound, sourced from the original 35mm magnetic tape four-track soundtrack which accompanied SUSPIRIA during its initial first-run tour through Europe in the 1970s and has not been heard since—the pulsing score performed by longtime Argento collaborators and Italian progressive rock legends Goblin is louder and more present than ever.

The film depicts the terrifying experience of an American ballet dancer Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), as she arrives in Germany to study at the Tanz Dance Academy. During the course of her study, Suzy realizes the school, its origins, and instructors are not what they seem in this strangely beautiful nightmare of a film. Argento's remarkably bold camera movements explore the diabolically decadent cinematic environment while each measure of Goblin's frenetic, bewitching soundtrack pulls audiences further from safety. Blood pours and screams resound as each meticulously crafted frame of fear grips the screen. 

Over the years, SUSPIRIA has become a cult staple thanks to home video, its fantasy casting spells over late night party-goers and cinematic thrill seekers. And Argento's decidedly fashionable flourish in designing death continues to hex audiences worldwide. While Argento made a good number of beloved films, nothing quite affects audiences like SUSPIRIA, arguably the purest distillation of his cinematic vision.

Monday, August 21, 2017

"A Poetic Spellbinder..." What Critics are Saying About COLUMBUS

If your social media feed looks anything like mine, you've been hearing more and more people singing the praises of the terrifically engaging new film COLUMBUS. It is certainly the best-reviewed film out there today (98% on the Tomatometer), and many of the critics are pulling out the superlatives. Note Richard Brody's review below. Brody is not a guy who dusts off words like "genius" very often.

COLUMBUS opens at the AFS Cinema this weekWriter/director Kogonada will join us for our Saturday night 8/26 screening - tickets are going fast - and we look forward to talking with all our friends about this moving and daring film that shows us many new facets of our lives and surroundings. We've written about Kogonada's noted video essays before, and we can see in COLUMBUS how well he has absorbed the lessons taught by his filmmaking masters.

Yes, it really is about two people (John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson) who walk around Columbus, Indiana talking about architecture. Along the way, it becomes visual music as the characters' tumultuous inner lives are soothed and guided by the modernist spaces around them. Full admission: this kind of narrative is a tightrope walk, but we're pleased to report that Kogonada succeeds with aplomb and even manages to add some graceful flourishes along the way.

But if you don't believe us, check out what these critics have to say.

The New Yorker's Richard Brody says "Few performances—and few films—glow as brightly with the gemlike fire of precocious genius."

The Playlists' Jessica Kiang calls it "a gentle but sharply defined story, brimming with grace, compassion and performances of perfect naturalism, it is unashamedly intellectual yet deeply human."

Variety's Geoff Berkshire calls COLUMBUS a "hypnotically paced drama carried by the serendipitous odd-couple pairing of John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson is lovely and tender, marking Kogonada as an auteur to watch."

Justin Chang for the Los Angeles times writes, "What's remarkable about this wondrously assured debut is that technique never overwhelms feeling, in part because Kogonada makes the two seem inextricably, harmoniously linked."

Friday, August 18, 2017

What the Critics are Saying About Alejandro Jodorowsky's ENDLESS POETRY

Portrait of the artist as a young man, relentlessly hounded by winged death, ceaselessly threshing the tumultuous sea in a, uh, purple boat

The Chilean-born writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky has been making films for a long time - his first feature film was made nearly 50 years ago - but he was nearly 40 years of age then, and had been active as a writer, puppeteer and mime for years before then.

In his latest film ENDLESS POETRY, the 88-year old Jodorowsky tells an autobiographical tale that, for all its veracity to the circumstances of his life, is on a par with the haunting surreal-pulp aesthetic that permeates his earlier films like THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and SANTA SANGRE.

The film, which opens today at the AFS Cinema, has been roundly lauded by critics. Here's a bit of what they're saying:

Austin Chronicle's Marjorie Baumgarten offers a "guarantee the viewer will not go home unsated."

Aaron Hillis at the Village Voice calls it, "Loopy, irreverent, and more intensely personal than anything its mystic creator has invented before."

Simon Abrams of says, "ENDLESS POETRY is as galvanizing as a lightning rod because it's equally accepting, and intolerant, a pro-individualist work about celebrating and cultivating yourself."

Variety's Owen Gleiberman says, "Make no mistake: ENDLESS POETRY is still very much a Jodorowsky film, dotted with his trademark phantasmagorical conceits, which are like candified bursts of comic-book magic realism. Yet more than any previous Jodorowsky opus, it’s also a work of disciplined and touching emotional resonance."

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Joan Crawford: Forsaking All Others

The AFS Essential Cinema Series Bette & Joan, spotlighting two of the greatest film actresses of Hollywood's Golden Age Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, is currently underway at the AFS Cinema. The series culminates in a Movie Madness party and screening of WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? on August 25.

Though they shared a profession and were contemporaries, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were notorious enemies. Both were fine actresses, and both had long careers that went through many seasons, from their years of radiant youth, through to their critically acclaimed peak years, and, much later, as stars of horror and thriller films in the PSYCHO mold. For this Essential Cinema series we lightly scratch the surface of these remarkable careers. Naturally we conclude it with the film that brought their rivalry to a screaming climax, WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

See the trailer here:

Born Lucille LeSueur in San Antonio sometime between 1904 and 1906, the young woman who was to later be known as Joan Crawford developed an affection for the stage at an early age. Her stepfather ran the Opera House in the family's adopted hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma and the young Lucille was exposed to a wide variety of touring performers. Her home life, however was unhappy. The stepfather was a lech at home and an embezzler at work.

The family relocated to Kansas City, where the mother and stepfather soon split up and pre-teen Joan was compelled to work her way through Catholic school, scrubbing toilets. All this time, Crawford harbored a love of show business and as she grew up she became an uncommonly beautiful young woman with enormous eyes and radiant good health. Soon, show business began to meet her halfway.

She became a chorus girl in a number of traveling revues and, while in New York, she caught the eye of a talent scout who took a screen test of the gorgeous young woman and sent it to Hollywood. MGM, then the most prestigious studio in the movie capital, signed her to a modest contract in 1924. She was to remain with MGM for nearly nineteen years, becoming in the process one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and suffering a downfall in popularity - largely caused by a decline in script quality - that mirrored the arc of her contemporary and rival Bette Davis.

During the course of her stardom she largely created the template for what we consider a glamorous movie star to be. She capped her teeth, spent endless hours toning her legs and shoulders, drove herself to study elocution, acting, modeling, etc. She made herself into a kind of dream figure and set the standard for Hollywood goddesses to follow. In GRAND HOTEL she holds her own against the stars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. She had already become a capital-S star.

When Crawford was dumped by MGM in 1943, she pursued her comeback with the same dedication and fervor, and it worked. She signed a budget deal with Warner Brothers to do three films. The first two movies were not hits but she had her eye on one property - an adaptation of James M. Cain's novel "Mildred Pierce." It was Bette Davis who Warner Brothers' contract director Michael Curtiz coveted for the role of Mildred, but Davis turned him down. He pursued his second choice, free agent Barbara Stanwyck, but studio head Jack Warner insisted that the role go to Crawford.

The rest is history. Crawford brought all her considerable talent to the role. It was a sensation at the box office and in the critic's columns and Crawford won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Now a bigger star than ever, Crawford became the Queen of the Hollywood Melodrama and sustained this run for several years.

As her star fell for the final time, Crawford stayed active in the business world and played occasional parts. Even in such unfortunate films as William Castle's STRAIT-JACKET and the real bottom-of-the-barrel TROG, she maintained her dignity, even when the rest of the production did not rise to her standard.

Here are the remaining titles in the Bette & Joan series:

GRAND HOTEL 8/10 & 12
Edmund Goulding, USA, 1934, 35mm, 112 min

At the center of this soapy, star-studded MGM spectacular is their versatile young romantic actress Joan Crawford, third-billed after superstars Greta Garbo and John Barrymore. Amid the parade of glamour and decadence, Crawford's beauty stands out as the film’s symbol of life and hope.

JEZEBEL 8/17 & 19
William Wyler, USA, 1938, 35mm, 104 min.

Bette Davis, passed over for the part of Scarlett O'Hara, goes after the role of a spoiled southern belle with astonishing ferocity in William Wyler's still-surprising costume drama. Henry Fonda ably holds his own as her betrothed.

Michael Curtiz, USA 1945, 35mm, 111 min.

Joan Crawford's career seemed to be at an end in 1945. But her will to survive was mirrored in her next part, the title role in this film, one of her career mileposts. She plays a devoted mother who stands by her daughter through everything, including murder.

Robert Aldrich, USA, 1961, DCP, 134 min.

One of the strangest films ever made in Hollywood, Robert Aldrich (KISS ME DEADLY) directs Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in a show business-centered thriller that allows these two great actresses and forces of nature (who genuinely hated one another) to truly vent.