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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.

Movies This Week: Ides of Real Restless Hedgehog

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The Sunset Supper Cinema at the Whole Foods flagship on Lamar is showing the 1982 musical Annie tonight as a sing-along. With the cooler weather, it's sure to be crowded, so get there early. And don't forget the free movies at various Austin Public Library locations; check out the August Insider's Guide for details.

Austin Film Society's next Essential Cinema series, "Goin' for Baroque: Ken Russell, Peter Greenaway, Derek Jarman," kicks off Tuesday with Russell's iconic rock opera Tommy. And you know what they say: "That deaf, dumb, and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball." Check the event details on the AFS website for more.

On Wednesday and Thursday, do not miss the SXSW Presents screenings of Where Soldiers Come From (Jette's review) at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. It's one of the incredible documentaries supported by the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund, directed by Austin filmmaker Heather Courtney, with an internationally relevant story. Courtney's on the cover of the Austin Chronicle this week, with a great feature story about the film.

Movies We've Seen:

The Human Centipede II (Full Sequence) -- The sequel to the anatomically plausible horror film The Human Centipede was the opening night film at Fantastic Fest, but wasn't a crowd pleaser. Read Rod's fest review. (Alamo South Lamar)

The Ides of March -- A contemporary political thriller with elements of old school, slow-build potboilers sure to please most cyncics regardless of their political affiliation. In fact, Don says to skip it if you're looking to restore your faith in politics; read his review to find out more. (wide)

Review: The Ides of March

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The Ides of March

Looking for a feel-good film that will restore your faith in American politics? By all means, skip The Ides of March.

George Clooney's latest directorial effort is cynical to the core, a powerfully bitter statement about the sorry state of our political system. Based on the play Farragut North by Beau Willimon (which, in turn, is loosely based on Howard Dean's 2004 Democratic primary campaign), the movie The Ides of March is less the story of one campaign than an indictment of campaigns in general.

Set during the final days of a hotly contested Ohio Democratic presidential primary, The Ides of March centers on Stephen Myers (the currently ubiquitous Ryan Gosling), a young and idealistic press secretary for Democratic presidential candidate Gov. Mike Morris (Clooney). The race is far closer than it should be, and Morris's victory hinges on an endorsement from Ohio Sen. Thompson (Jeffrey Wright), who, of course, would like something in return. It's up to Morris, Myers and campaign manager Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to secure the endorsement without making a deal they find too unpalatable.

Review: Margaret

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It's never a good sign when a film spends over five years between production and release, and Margaret, writer/director Kenneth Lonergan's follow-up to You Can Count on Me, is a classic example of why. No amount of star power in its cast can redeem this confused tale of consequences and affluent angst.

Lisa Cohen (Anna Paquin) is a spoiled teen whose self-centeredness contributes to a fatality, and emphasizes her disaffected life with an equally narcissistic mother and a father distracted by his new life in California. In theory, Lisa's life implodes, but little that happens in the movie shows any real difference between the before and the after. Instead, Lonergan's script alienates with the sheer banality of upper middle class life in New York City.

Review: Restless

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All too often, when a movie can be described as sentimental, it's usually not a compliment. Gus Van Sant's latest film Restless however is a welcome reminder that death-themed films needn't rely on the suffocating pedestrian solemnity so common in heartfelt fare.

A solemn young man (Henry Hopper) meets an effervescent young woman (Mia Wasikowska) at a funeral of all places. After a few more chance encounters, the pair finds they both have a fascination with death, but neither obsession is quite what it seems; Enoch is trapped by his past, and Annabel has embraced her future. For a while they have a whimsically sweet present, as they humor each other's morbid fantasies with a faith in one another rarely seen in real life, let alone on the jaded silver screen. But it starts seeming less healthy and more a folie à deux to Annabel's protective sister (Schuyler Fisk), especially after Enoch and Annabel share confidences, and Annabel so easily accepts the existence of Enoch's spectral best friend, Hiroshi (Ryo Kase).

Fantastic Fest Review: Juan of the Dead (Juan de los Muertos)

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Juan of the Dead

I'm a sucker for anything zombie: books, graphic-novels, posters and of course movies. A few months ago, a new trailer surfaced for a low-budget Cuban zombie flick called Juan de los Muertos (Juan of the Dead). The trailer was awesome (I've embedded it at the end of this review), and I knew I had to see this movie. When I found out Juan of the Dead was selected for Fantastic Fest I was muy happy. After watching this film I was muy muy happy -- Juan of the Dead is an amazing film.

Juan of the Dead tells the story of Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas), a slackerish Cuban always looking for his next score. When a zombie outbreak occurs, Juan doesn't see it as a crisis but as an opportunity. Juan and his buddies set up shop helping people dispose of friends and loved ones who have turned into the undead.

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