Review: Weekend

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Weekend

We've all seen love stories that make us wish we had the chance to be as happy as all of the beautiful people on the magnificent big screen. Often times the stories are cheesy, way too impossible to ever happen, or simply too perfect to ever happen to anyone, much less you. Andrew Haigh's film Weekend tells a (sort of) love story between two guys over who meet over a weekend hookup in October in England. It's a seemingly honest look at a burgeoning relationship between two gay men and the issues and/or topics that come up for discussion as they contemplate going public.

Russell (Tom Cullen) goes out to a gay club one night after hanging out with his straight friends and he catches the eye of Glen (Chris New). Fast forward to the next morning where Glen very enthusiastically wants to chat about the night they just shared, while Russell is very sheepish about it.

Review: Fireflies in the Garden

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Fireflies in the Garden

On a surface level, Fireflies in the Garden looks like a film that could easily be ignored amongst the myriad of options that filmgoers have to choose from. Cheesy tagline, a poster reminiscent of a Lifetime Channel movie, and Ryan Reynolds with a beard, which means he'll be serious and not that funny. As life should have taught us all by now, you never judge a book by its cover and Fireflies in the Garden is a good example why. Illustrating the sad and unfortunate way that life has a tendency of being when it shows a family what's really important, this film examines how one family deals with the pain of a sudden loss -- the loss of the one piece of the family that didn't deserve to leave in the first place.

Michael Taylor (Reynolds) is a famous author on a plane to visit his home for his sister's college graduation. In between consciousness on the plane, he flashes back to his childhood to a memory where his father Charles (Willem Dafoe) is berating him for "being so God-damned smart," while his mother Lisa (Julia Roberts) coddles and defends Michael. On the way to celebrate the graduation of their daughter Ryne (Shannon Lucio), Michael's cousin Christopher is playing in the street and when Charles swerves to miss, they run into a pole instantly killing Lisa. This causes a rift in the family bigger than the rift between Michael and Charles.

Review: El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

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Opening with a headshot of chef Ferran Adrià sampling a luminescent fish popsicle in the dark, El Bulli: Cooking in Progress immediately lets you know this isn't just another food documentary. The movie returns to Austin after screening at SXSW this year for a run at Violet Crown Cinema.

A pioneer in the molecular gastronomy movement, Adrià is a controversial chef whose legend is based on the extreme re-imagining and deconstruction of food both common and exotic, and whose restaurant was considered the best in the world. While some dishes are as visually sensual as a Georgia O'Keefe painting, some are more remiscent of an Edward Weston photograph, transcending the commonplace. What looks like a peanut in the shell may actually be completely edible, with a salty "shell" enveloping a liquid peanut, or a mojito cocktail contained within sugarcane.

At the beginning of the film, Adrià and his staff are packing up the restaurant at the end of its typical six-month season. But Adrià and his three head chefs are not off for a vacation; instead they head to Barcelona and the laboratory where they meticulously document their experiments to create new dishes. Starting with something as simple as the lowly sweet potato, the chefs painstakingly try different methods to bring out the flavor in a juice form, which will become a meringue.

Fantastic Fest 2011: All Our Coverage

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Updated October 11, 2011.

Slackerwood was all over Fantastic Fest 2011. Here's a list of all our coverage (after the jump) in one handy-dandy location.

Ready, Set, Fund: From 'La Perdida' to 'The Wolfman'

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La Perdida still photo

Austin filmmaker Miguel Alvarez caught the attention of local audiences with his short films in 2010: the science-fiction themed Mnemosyne Rising, which premiered at SXSW, and the biographical Veterans at Austin Film Festival -- check out my AFF 2010 review of Veterans. This year, Alvarez contributed to a segment of Slacker 2011 -- read Elizabeth Stoddard's interview with Alvarez and producer and former AFF Film Program Director Kelly Williams here. Alvarez is now undertaking his first feature film with La Perdida (pictured above), a re-imagining of the traditional Mexican folktale of La Llorona combined with the Greek myth of Cassandra, but set in the middle of the 21st century. Described by Alvarez as a "lo-fi sci-fi drama," this movie will explore the universal themes of loss and redemption combined with time travel.

Alvarez is currently seeking funding for pre-production expenses of La Perdida through the crowdfunding site United States Artists here. Funds raised will provide Alvarez with a six-week research and writing sabbatical in Mexico City, where the story takes place. Alvarez's goal of $6,500 by Friday, November 4, will help get the project off the ground by covering pre-production expenses. You can learn more about the project in this pitch video.

Kelly Williams is also producing Pit Stop, which is seeking funding from the community. Find out more about this and other interesting and deserving projects in need of donors after the jump.

Eenie Meenie Miney Movies: October 2011

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Rocky and Bullwinkle

Ssshhhhh ... you hear that? That's the sound of a very quiet month for family features in theaters. The closest we'll come in the month of October is Real Steel (Mike's review), a PG-13 robot-brawl movie with Hugh Jackman, and that's really only for older kids. There are a few special events mentioned below, but October is a wasteland for new releases for families.

Fortunately there's a whole world of home video options – so many, in fact, that it makes recommending home videos problematic. In this column, I focus on DVD/Blu-ray releases (which can be confusing as older movies make their first appearance on Blu-ray) and the Netflix "Watch Instantly" streaming service. (I call it Netflix Instant but the streaming service seems to have had a number of names over the years.) This can make my recommendations somewhat repetitive as a film like Disney's Tangled makes its way down the chain from theatrical to DVD and finally to Netflix Instant. Imagine how much more repetitive it would get if I included the other services, each of which has its own release windows.

Since there aren't any theatrical films to recommend this month, I'll use this space to spell out the different tiers of service available for home video -- maybe it will help you make some decisions about what services you want to use. If you don't need the discussion of video rentals, you can skip down to the home video recommendations below.

Slackery News Tidbits, October 11

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Here's the latest Austin and Central Texas film news, as well as some special screening information.

  • Austin-based director Michael Dolan will be present at two area screenings of his 2010 feature film Dance With The One, as part of a tour sponsored by the Texas Independent Film Network. The San Marcos premiere of the movie will take place on 7 pm this Wednesday, Oct. 12, in room 206 of the Texas State University-San Marcos Department of Theatre and Dance. In addition, Dolan and actress Dana Wheeler-Nicholson will be at the Austin Film Society screening room on Friday, Oct. 14 to show the film. Dance with the One (Debbie's review) is about a small-time Texas pot dealer who gets in over his head when the million dollars' worth of hash his boss has given him suddenly goes missing. The movie stars Austinite Gabriel Luna and is the first film made by the University of Texas Film Institute, a non-profit organization in the UT College of Communication.
  • The Austin School of Film and the Texas Archive of the Moving Image will host a free Home Movie Day at 7 pm on Saturday, Oct. 15 at Austin School of Film. People are encouraged to bring their 8mm, Super 8 and 16mm home movies to screen during the event. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image will also screen selected movies from the organization's travels around Texas.
  • Podcasts are now available for free from John Pierson's UT RTF master class. Guests from the film and television industry, such as Fight Club producer Art Linson, Sin City producer Elizabeth Avellan and actor Steve Buscemi (Fargo) have spoken with RTF students through the department's visiting guest program. The 30-minute master class sessions can also be heard monthly on KUT FM.
  • Alamo Drafthouse Village will be closed for about 10 days this month (Oct. 17-27) due to construction. They're expanding their lobby area, and should be open just in time for a pre-Halloween screening on The Rocky Horror Picture Show on Oct. 29.

Fantastic Fest Interview: Harry Knowles, 'Comic-Con Episode Four'

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Harry Knowles

Austin's Harry Knowles is the creator and editor of the website Ain't It Cool News and a co-founder of Fantastic Fest. In addition, he's produced a documentary, Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope, which was this year's Fantastic Fest closing-night selection. The movie is a look inside San Diego Comic-Con and is directed by Morgan Spurlock; the film's other producers include Joss Whedon and Stan Lee. You can read Jette's review for details.

I sat down with Knowles before the fest began to ask him a few questions about Comic-Con Episode Four.

Slackerwood: You've worked at producing other films, such as John Carter of Mars and Ghost Town. How did you get involved in this one, and why do you think this is the first one to be made after others fell through?

Harry Knowles: With John Carter, it was a situation where the studio kept changing hands. Every single time we had a new studio head we had to get a new director, which was counter-productive. Every time we had a script that we all agreed we were going on, suddenly the head of the studio would change and we'd have to basically start from scratch again, which was a demoralizing sort of thing. And with Ghost Town, Revolution Studios went under before we were able to make the film. Since then I've been pretty quiet about everything I've been producing, because the thing you learn when you're working in the film business is, it's not real until it is in the can and on Blu-ray.

Fantastic Fest Review: Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope

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Comic Con Episode FourDocumentaries aren't normally gala closing-night picks for film festivals, but you couldn't find a better movie to end Fantastic Fest this year than Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope. The frothy, upbeat doc from filmmaker Morgan Spurlock celebrated fandom -- and not exclusively, or even primarily movie fandom -- with a focus on a variety of attendees at Comic-Con San Diego.

Wait. Stop. I know what you're thinking. You've seen Spurlock's documentaries and you're wondering how he's managed to wedge himself into this particular scenario. But I bet that for most people, if you didn't know Spurlock directed this movie, you would never guess. The Super Size Me filmmaker doesn't appear onscreen at all -- you don't even hear him in a voiceover. This time, he lets many other voices and faces, both well-known and newcomers -- tell the story.

And it's a nice story, respectful of everyone who swarms San Diego annually for the giant Comic-Con gathering, whether they're aspiring artists, collectors or cosplayers. Comic-Con Episode Four: A Fan's Hope focuses on a few diverse attendees from Comic-Con 2010 to draw us into the event: comic-book dealer Chuck Rozanski, who's had a booth at Comic-Con for decades; first-time attendees Skip Harvey and Eric Henson, who want to illustrate comic books; Holly Conrad, who's been working on costumes for a giant Mass Effect-themed presentation at the Masquerade; and James Darling, who hopes to buy a ring at Comic-Con and propose to his girlfriend Se Young Kang during a panel featuring Kevin Smith.

In between the adventures of these attendees, Spurlock intersperses clips from interviews with Comic-Con regulars, some of whom are very familiar if you are a fan of film and/or comic books, others of which are simply interesting people (or people in very interesting costumes). I spotted Eli Roth, Frank Miller, Guillermo del Toro and Olivia Wilde, among others. The interviews include several of the film's producers -- Joss Whedon, Stan Lee and Harry Knowles -- and watching Lee interact on the con floor with attendees of all ages is a delight. Another unexpected delight was filmmaker Kevin Smith, showing us his best charming fanboyish side, causing me to forget briefly and almost forgive all the anti-critic ranting we've heard from him this year.

Review: Real Steel

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Real Steel

In jest, I'm calling it "Robot Rocky" to my friends, but Real Steel is the most fun I've had in a theater all year. Call it a movie for 11-year-old boys if you like. It certainly has enough action, but it's a great family film with solid appeal for all ages.

Hugh Jackman is admittedly not at his best here; Charlie Kenton is not Jackman's usual heroic role. However, newcomer Dakota Goyo (who made a brief appearance earlier this summer as a young Thor) will be making a name for himself with Real Steel. The movie is almost entirely one-on-one between the two, and Goyo holds his own against a much older and more seasoned actor.

Evangeline Lilly's Bailey is charming but little more othan an afterthought in this script, present only to provide a little exposition on Charlie's backstory. Kevin Durand rounds out the main cast with an unsurprisingly bad guy named Ricky. It would be refreshing just once to see him play a sympathetic character, but now when he shows up in the credits, I automatically know he'll be showing up as a villain.

I was surprised to see Danny Elfman credited with the score. His muted guitar work was a mighty leap from the direction of familiar (and beloved) pieces like Beetlejuice and Batman. Instead of a circus musicbox chorus, Elfman scored Real Steel with a country sound reminiscent of Gustavo Santaolalla's in Brokeback Mountain. Much of the film is set in Texas (although shot in Michigan), so the feel is appropriate.

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