Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Bernie: locally filmed movie a local attraction

Violet Crown CinemaThe movie Bernie is must-see entertainment.

It’s now playing in town at the Violet Crown Cinema and at the Arbor. On-line advance purchase appears to be requisite to see it at the Violet Crown; an attempt to purchase tickets at the door there was met with information that the next two shows were already sold out. So it was on to the Arbor, where the much larger house was nearly sold out.

This movie is laugh-out-loud fun. The audience even applauded spontaneously a few times. Look for familiar scenes from San Marcos, Bastrop, Smithville, Austin, and more. Quita Culpepper and Dale Dudley are on-screen presences.

Everyone loves different aspects of this movie. Here are some of my favorites: Jack Black’s singing, the singing and especially the choreography of the stage scene of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from The Music Man, the dialogue, the costumes, the humor generally, and the performances of everyone, in particular that of Richard Robichaux and, yes, those of Shirley MacLaine and, especially, Matthew McConaughey.

This would be a movie to see even if it weren’t set in Texas and weren’t filmed in part nearby. You won’t have a favorite scene to compare with the favorite scenes of others if you don’t go see it while it’s here.

Dreams of a life (SXSW)

So, I’ve never formally attended SXSW, and always wondered how I’d justify buying a wristband with so much free stuff already happening. Of course, I’ve never taken a week off work to attend either. This year see’s the normal chaotic schedule but one item is a standout for me.

British film, Dreams of a Life is scheduled for four showings between the 10th and 17th of March, starting on the 10th at 4:45pm at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. The Director Carol Morely will be on hand on Saturday to answer questions about the film, the background to the film and, inevitably the real life of Joyce Vincent and implications for a society which increasingly is moving from real to virtual, and online “friendships”.

The film explores how a young, popular party girl could disappear effectively without anyone noticing, only to be found 3-years later in her own apartment, dead, in front of the TV which was still turned-on. It’s part dramatic recreation, part documentary, part forensic anthropology and forensic archaeology. Director Morely(1) handles the topic inquisitively and sensitively, walking a fine line between being sensationalist or depressing. I left thinking about “lost” friends and actually did get in touch with a number of people in my immediate past, but also reached out to a number from a more distant past and was delighted to learn that someone I’d “heard” was dead, was in fact alive and well touring with musicians.

Dreams of a Life will make you wonder, who you are, and what happened to that friend, you know, the one you have not heard from for a while, go ahead, get in touch now, don’t wait until you’ve seen the film.

(1) Carol Morley received the Best Documentary Award at Melbourne International Film Festival for “The Alcohol Years”. In 2001 she was nominated for a BAFTA and received a special Grierson Award. Her first feature film “Edge” has been officially selected for the BFI London and Shanghai International Film Festivals.

Chinese movie, Chinese food

Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a spectacular extravaganza that has been in very limited release. Thank you, Alamo Drafthouse, for giving us the opportunity to see this wonderful movie, with a stellar cast directed by Tsui Hark and action choreography by Sammo Hung, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

Following this enthralling entertainment, we were inspired to check out Taste of China Express, 2510 South Congress, just south of Oltorf (telephone 326-8808). This is certainly one of the best values in town, allowing a choice of steamed rice, fried rice, or noodles, plus one entree for $4.99, two entrees for $5.99 (including soup and an egg roll), or three entrees for $6.99 (adding a beverage to soup and an egg roll). The entrees and rice or noodles are dished up in massive quantities for dining in or to take home, either picked up at the counter or at the busy drive-up window. Those willing to wait a bit may place orders for takeout from the larger menu, and entrees will be cooked to order.

For those dining in or for takeout patrons with time and money to make a selection beyond what’s ready on the spot, there are additional appetizers and many additional main courses. The hot and sour soup did offer flavor and heat; the egg rolls were like small spring rolls and we found them to be very appetizing. Today, we tried moo goo gai pan (among the vegetables were coins of fresh zucchini) and double cooked pork (the fresh carrots that were part of the dish were delicious). Next time, we’ll try the jalapeno chicken, that favorite of the massive buffets so popular these days.

Dishes that aren’t already prepared and ready in small quantities can be heard being cooked to order. Today’s ready entrees included sesame chicken, jalapeno chicken, shrimp wit vegetable, green beans with port, and others. The staff was jolly and peppy; among them is at least one fluent speaker of Spanish. Little samples of the ready dishes were offered on a toothpick for those wishing to try before ordering.

I found no Web presence for Taste of China. Its little menu says “Fast, Fresh, Tasty and Good Price,” which is a very fair assessment, particularly the quantity for the price.

Predators Premiere Tonight at the Paramount

Tonight at The Paramount is the premiere of “Predators”. Tickets can be purchased here for between $30-$500 depending on what you want.

I had the pleasure of working on this film (which was filmed largely here in Austin at Troublemaker studios as well as locations here and in Hawaii) as the stand-in for Walton Goggins who plays “Stans” and I have to say, I’m pretty psyched to see the film. The director, Nimrod Antal, was an amazing guy as was everyone I met on the cast and crew. I have high hopes for this film. Check out the trailer here.

TWC vs FOX – The faux Fighters

So, a mock battle blew into town today with the latest war of words between 21st century robber barons Time Warner Cable and Fox TV. TWC have an almost total lock on Cable TV here in Austin, as well as commensurate hold on wired broadband. Fox, who are part of the Murdoch News Corporation media empire, whose influence, especially in a waining market for traditional news and entertainment, continues to grow. They both have ads in todays Statesman, whose Brian Gaar has been covering the squabble since back before Thanksgiving.

It’s a virtuous circle, Statesman cover the “faux fight”, TWC and News Corp aka Fox buy space in the Statesman; TWC charges us for cable, Fox charges TWC for their coverage; Fox sells advertising space during and between it’s coverage, and when they can, they charge directly for the product; the advertisers put up their price to cover their additional cost. The common theme here… we get charged more for what is little more than a fake fight. In the end we know the corporations will settle, it’s in all their best interests. They just want to obfuscate the issues so much that in the end we will just accept what ever we are told. The “opposing” sides have already launched web sites with their own version of the truth.

TWC would have it that FOX are demanding a 300% rate hike in order to carry their programming. According to the Statesman, Time Warner’s current deal with FOX in Austin, and several other markets (like Dallas, LA, Detroit, Orlando, and Tampa) expires at midnight Dec. 31st. We’ve seen this before with TWC, and the same “play” is also running between Comcast and Directv over teh Versus network. At the heart of the issue is the same seen in previous other disputes between cable network providers and the cable company: Money.

Given the channel bundles that are forced on us on all the TV providers, not just TWC, a 300% rise isn’t really such a big deal, TWC carry hundreds of channels, and charge a bundle for anything over the legal minimum channel bundle. Fox on the other hand have dozens of channels. which I for one never watch. Ok, I do record games off the Fox Soccer Channel, check the result and if it looks like a good game, put it on one evening. Fox would have it that TWC has a license to print money, and what it is asking compared to what it provides, the additional charge is easily justified. TWC on the other hand is raking money in from both charging for basic programming, and cable bundles, as well as from video/movies on demand and profits and revenue is up…. Fox looks on admiringly and wonders, “how can we get a piece of that action?”

The real issue here is the lack of transparency and obfuscation. TWC should be subject to two rules in any market where they provide cable. ONE. They should allow customers to select their own cable channels and channel bundles. Trust me, I wouldn’t want any of the News Corp. aka Fox channels, and given the quality of most of the non-HD channels on TWC, I’d even pass up on the Fox Soccer Channel, as you really can’t tell who has the ball during a long shot. That would allow TWC to defray the charge demanded by Fox, since the Fox signal actually isn’t being broadcast to however-many-million viewers. TWO. On their web site, TWC should be be REQUIRED to list the constituent rebroadcast costs for each channel and for the services that TWC provide.

Of course, neither TWC or News Corp. would want that. It allows customers to have a real choice, which they don’t have now. It also effectively eliminates these faux battles that get drummed up as negotiating tactics by marketing departments every time a deal is up for renewal. 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not on TWC’s side. They provide a service which is barely out of the 1990’s, and their DVR/Cable box and remote, barely out of the 1980’s. I’m certainly not on FOX’s side, since I really don’t watch any of their coverage and mostly the only time I see any of their “news” its when it is being lampooned by Jon Stewart, which interestingly, I watch on the Internet for free…

[TIA: I updated a number of minor typos in this post, my apologies]

Extract Premiere

Extract-Jason-Bateman2Thanks to some friends with connections at the Paramount, I managed to get a seat at the world premiere of Mike Judge’s new film, Extract, last night. It has a similar feel to Office Space, a film that didn’t do so well at the box office, but built a huge following on video.

The cast includes Jason Bateman, Ben Affleck, Mila Kunis and Gene Simmons as a smarmy ambulance chasing lawyer.  It’s also filled with a raft of scene stealing performances by the cast in smaller parts. The opening scene in a music store is hilarious and sets up the character of Cindy very well. I was pleasantly surprised to see T.J. Miller as the character of Rory, the heavy metal forklift driver. My wife and I were big fans of his character Marmaduke on the short lived ABC comedy, Carpoolers. J. K. Simmons continues his run of scene stealing performances (Spider Man, Burn After Reading) as Brian, the supervisor who can’t be bothered to remember any of his employee’s names. David Koechner plays the annoying neighbor, Nathan. Matt Schulze is great as the atypically aggro stoner boyfriend of Cindy and Brent Briscoe is amusing as a Pepsi swilling couch potato. Judge makes a cameo near the end as one of the factory workers.


SciFi Fun At The Paramount

I took my 10-year-old son to see the double bill of The Day The Earth Stood Still and Forbidden Planet at the Paramount last night as part of the awesome annual Summer Film Series. I love seeing old films there.  My wife and I used to go when we were dating. It’s only $8 for both films. I remember seeing a double feature of Rear Window and Vertigo that included a buffet in between features. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. The theater is a real local treasure that should be preserved and the best way to do that is to attend the films. It’s a win-win.

No buffet last night, but we did have an unexpected treat. Tom Savini, well known horror movie makeup and effects artist, was sitting in the row in front of us during Forbidden Planet. I was pretty sure it was him, but opted not to bug him. I wondered if he might be in town for Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, which is filming here in Austin right now. Turns out I was right.


TrektacularThis is window art at the Metropolitan 14 South. I always photograph window art when I see it if I have my toy camera along with me. The artist’s name in this case appears to be Poliakoff. Ditching other responsibilities, I wasn’t there to see the Star Trek movie. I joined the laughing audience for Next Day Air. I do like this sign though: “Have a Trektacular time.” Who is the mysterious Poliakoff?

Time Warner Cable, Tiers and tears

Over on, Omar Gallaga is reporting that Time Warner Cable have annolunced the tiers they are going to use for capping and overage-charging for their broadband cable offering. For the last couple of weeks this has been a hot topic on the interweb thingy, and has generated piles of bile, some useful analysis but much of it missing the point.

There is no doubt, there are out there amongst us interweb users, some leaches and obsessive, compulsive overachievers. In opposition to the TWC changes people are marching out all sorts of claims and justifications for being big-data users, why they are the “bleeding edge”. What they do today, will be the norm’ in a few years time. Well, that maybe, but probably not.

Time Warner Cables business model is under attack on all fronts. They are doing what all nascent monopolies do when under attack, they push the boundaries of what can get away with. This usually more broad in America than in Europe, because America is the great defender of free enterprise, freedom of choice, and commercial innovation. No amount of facebook pages is going to change that.

Only, we just don’t have any of those things really when it comes to digital communication. Cellphones here in the US are restrictive, expensive, fragmented and fine examples of monopolistic practices. Some of the best cellphones in the world are now crippled when sold outside the US, so that when they are used in the US, they don’t get full network, 3G speeds, meaning the “network” operators can charge and tie you to multi-year contracts, oh and it’s OK coz we get “free” phones.

Cable TV here in the US has hardly changed in 30-years. The addition of HD has been done in a haphazard, fragmented way with no real innovation. Unlike Europe where broadcast, often free to air, HD offers many more channels and multi-screen viewing, interactive services etc. See for example what Sky and the BBC have done with that little red-button in the UK. Why is it for example, that when watching a “home shopping channel” you have to dial 1-800 and wait, press buttons and speak to a person? Broadband, is bi-directional you know…

When the cutover to broadcast HDTV happens here in the US, it will be a pure swap, no new advance services, just the same old channels, mostly showing repeat programs(not in HD) and thats about it. What most Americans will find is that the signal will break up frequently during rain storms and other bad weather thats affects b roadcast quality. Unlike conventional TV(non-digital) though, you won’t get a degraded picture, you’ll get nothing at all.

And so, back to Time Warner Cable. I’m a triple play subscriber. I don’t watch much TV, mostly I record a few shows per week and only watch them on Sunday evenings. I have my home phone service through TWC, although heaven knows why. No one has the number, and I don’t use it for outgoing calls, especially now I don’t work from home. Many people don’t have “home” phones now, they use their Cellphones, I should join them, except my cellphone has no docking station and really isn’t suitable for a 2-hour conference call using any kind of headset.

Here is another example of lack of innovation in the US. When was the last time you saw a phone in the US that was your cellphone when outside the home, and when inside the home, used the broadband service to connect rather than wireless, and allowed you to switch seamlessly between the two as you walk out of the house, without dropping the call?

I think that in the 2.5 years I’ve had my TWC service, I’ve watched maybe 5 on-demand movies. This is an area that most people focus on when analyzing the effects of broadand usage capping by TWC. It’s clear, isn’t it?

TWC have every reason to stop you downloading legally or otherwise, movies from the Internet or watching them online. If they can stop or price that to discourage, THEY can charge you for the same movies, either through subscription channels, or on-demand.

So, lets recap. TWC offers four services:

– Basic cable inc. subscription channels
– Basic internet cable broadband connectivity, soon to be tiered by usage
– Landline telephone service(wired)
– On-demand movies(chargeable)

The threats to their business are:
– Declining use of basic cable, subscription channels and on-demand movies because people get their entertainment elsewhere.
– Telephone service is under attack from cellphones and VOIP, Vonage, Skype etc.
– Basic broadband is underattack from “unlimited” subscription and pre-pay cellphone data plans, 802.11 wireles in coffee shops, down at Austin City hall etc.
– Basic cable is stagnent, uninteresting, overloaded with cheap promotional shows and home shopping networks and 24-hour news channels that basically make the news up as they go along.
– Consumers are also increasingly savy, well you’d hope so. What many realize is that it’s all data. The cable you watch, the telephone calls you make, the on-demand movies, even if you do everything the TWC way, it all arrives and leaves your house as data.

So, here we have a high-noon showdown. The customers don’t understand why part of their data service should be metered and priced seperately from the other parts of the same data connection. The cable company, in this case, TWC, is playing the typical, dumb, fat and happy monopoly that can and will charge as it sees fit, easy things first and trying to paint a small section of their customers as the problem.

TWC should be forced to compete for my business, not get it on a plate. After all, if I don’t subscribe, I can’t get anything back for the ugly, 1920’s style cabling and poles that litter my street, having to have the trees cut back to protect their golden-egg.

First, TWC should be forced to unbundle it’s TV service. The cable channel selections should be offered in more flexible groupings or by individual channels. It is simply way past time this should have been done. I’d pay a premium for about 8-channels total and would prefer more bandwidth than more channels.

Second, the broadband service offered by TWC should be split into two. A bulk data backbone service and a last-mile service. The bulk data backbone service has to be sold, on a tiered/metered service to companies that handle the last-mile service. TWC is more than welcome to compete as a last-mile provider. Yep, this is effectively turning TWC backbone into a “utility” by the back door.

Third, irrespective of the first two, the home telephone service offered by TWC should be unbunlded. If the first two recommendations are adopted, this becomes largely irrelevant as the last-mile providers will need to provide advanced services, or just compete in race-to-the-bottom cheap pricing. If race-to-the-bottom pricing is the only innovation, then overtime TWC will just rebuild it’s monopoly through acquisition. This is exactly what allowed AT&T to come back from near death to semi-monopolist(and yes, I know it’s not the same AT&T and it didn’t really come back, it’s just branding, but the point remains.)

Fourth, again irrespective of the first three, TWC needs to design, develop and deliver REAL digital cable offerings. This isn’t just the same old channels and a 1980’s style programming guide sent down a digital channel. It’s interactive TV; it’s online HD games delivered without a PC or gaming system; it’s an interactive YouTube channel; it’s interactive news; it’s bidirectional video calling; it’s something that America and especially here in Austin we could be proud of.

Arguing about broadband caps/tiering, overage pricing is just missing the point, and will end up in tears in 10-years time, TWC will be the next GM looking for bailouts to subsidize it’s “essential” services. And please Omar, suggesting stimulus money now for TWC is just rubbing salt in.

Office Space 10th Anniversary Round-Up

Office Space 10th Anniversary - Photo by Jette K

Office Space 10th Anniversary - Photo by Jette K

I’m a little late on this, but that’s nothing new. I’ve seen several posts re-capping the Office Space 10th Anniversary screening at the Paramount a little over a week ago and have been insanely jealous and kicking myself for not trying to get tickets.

If you’ve never seen Office Space, go out and rent it immediately. Better yet, buy it. You’ll want to see it again once you’ve seen it the first time anyway (and after that go rent Idiocracy). The 10th anniversary was held here probably because it was filmed in Austin and is Mike Judge’s home town. I used to see him at several South Austin eateries.

I sent out the first link on Twitter a week or so ago. Jette K, Austin film critic extraordinaire, has posts on Cinematical and Slackerwood with reviews of the events along with some pretty great shots.

The Alamo Drafthouse blog also had a couple of posts: one pointing to a Flickr photo set and the other about a  G4 Attack of The Show episode that covered the anniversary festivities.

An old co-worker spent most of the summer of ’98 as an extra in the film for about 5 seconds of screen time.

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