If I Am Number Four feels something like a Smallville episode, it should come as no surprise to learn the screenplay was penned by Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar. This is compounded by the small-town high school setting, the orphaned-alien-with-superpowers plotline, and a lead actor -- Alex Pettyfer -- who bears an uncanny resemblance to Smallville's Justin Hartley (The Green Arrow). In fact, it plays like an extended pilot for a TV show that would develop a gigantic following on Fox only to be cancelled before the end of the first season. It's directed by D.J. Caruso, who also brought us Disturbia (the teen Rear Window) and Eagle Eye.
Evaluated by its big-screen merits, I Am Number Four still holds up as a strong film, which draws on familiar elements. The movie begins with an exciting bit of what I can only describe as "jungle parkour," which I could have watched for an hour alone. Another short scene at a beach party follows before the action moves to small-town Paradise, Ohio. John Smith (Pettyfer) has been dragged there, on one of many relocations, by his guardian and father-figure Henri (Timothy Olyphant). Rebelling against Henri's strict make-no-waves policy, he enrolls in the local high school where he picks up a new girlfriend (Glee's Dianna Agron) and picks a fight with her ex. From there, we're in standard teen romance territory until the bad guys eventually catch up to them.
My head is full of SXSW news this week, and I was up too late last night poring over the schedule. So it's difficult for me to get very excited about today's new releases in Austin theaters. Cedar what? Hey, My Sucky Teen Romance will premiere at the Paramount! Unknown ... well, it's unknown whether I should pick WUSS over Incendiary: The Willingham Case when they're in the same time slot. You see what I mean. We'll have some amazing Slackerwood coverage of the fest this year, but right now I need to stop planning and start telling you about what's in theaters right this minute.
Movies We've Seen:
I Am Number Four -- Mike Saulters caught this mystery/romance/action movie and calls it "a strong film, which draws on familiar elements." He also says it opens with some amazing action he calls "jungle parkour." Check back on Saturday morning for his full review of this film starring Timothy Olyphant, Kevin Durand (Lost), Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron (Glee).
Other New Movies:
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son -- I can't even think of anything snarky to say about the latest entry in the Big Momma series. If you are this desperately in need of entertainment, read Eric Snider's review at Cinematical, which is probably much funnier than the movie itself. And go rent Some Like It Hot.
It's been a very busy, newsworthy week for Austin film. Here are a few of the highlights:
- My favorite news of the week: Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson is going into the moviemaking business himself. Carlson and Brian Connolly, who co-wrote the book Destroy All Movies: The Complete Guide to Punk Film, have also worked on a feature film script called Destroy, about vampire hunters in a world where vampires don't exist. The movie will be directed by Michael Paul Stephenson, who brought us Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2 fandom that was partially shot in Austin and has screened here many times. Can't wait to see the finished film.
- The Texas Film Hall of Fame has announced their first 2011 award recipients: Rip Torn (a UT Austin alum) and Renee Zellweger (from Katy). The Star of Texas ensemble award will go to the TV show Friday Night Lights. And this year's emcee will be Wyatt Cenac. You may know Cenac from The Daily Show (or the amazing SXSW 2008 film Medicine for Melancholy), but he also has Texas ties: he's from Dallas and used to write for King of the Hill. Other special guests include Catherine Hardwicke, Luke Wilson, Richard Linklater and previous emcee Thomas Haden Church. Yes, of course we will be there with cameras.
- SXSW Film Festival posted its 2011 conference and film schedules this week. So start planning now. The fest also announced some key panelists for the Film Conference, including Paul Reubens, Ellen Page, Jake Gyllenhaal, Rainn Wilson, and filmmakers Duncan Jones (Moon, Source Code) and Todd Phillips (The Hangover).
- More from SXSW Film: Two videos are available to help you with your festgoing choices. About SXSW: 2011 SXSW Film Access explains the differences between badge, pass and ticket and offers advice on all options. It looks like the SXXpress tickets for badgeholders will be available again this year, if that's your cup of tea (I never seem to be able to make it to the box office at the right time for them myself). The second video, About SXSW: SXSW 2011 Film Venues and Shuttle Buses, is an excellent guide to getting around the fest. The video makes it sound like the shuttle will run every day of the film festival, which if true is wonderful news. The shuttle will also include Rollins this year (a new venue for SXSW that is part of the Long Center), but not Westgate or Arbor, which are essentially "satellite venues" meant to draw Austin filmgoers. Keep an eye out for our own Venue Guide in the next couple of weeks, which includes theater seat counts, bus routes and nearby dining options.
While poking around in the TAMI library for videos to feature in this article, I found three very interesting bits of Austin nostalgia from an unlikely source: the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which oversees the state's public education system. These videos are great examples of vintage state agency films, with high-quality production values, beautiful soundtracks and some surprising connections to Austin's fledgling film and music industries. (Then again, given the quality of these films, maybe these connections are not so surprising.)
The New American Schoolhouse is an early 1970s look at the career and technical programs the TEA's Department of Occupational Education and Technology offered to high-school students. Shot in Austin and Ft. Worth, it spotlights examples of career education in graphic arts, health care, retail, manufacturing, data processing and other vocations. (Remember data processing? I hear it was a career with a future.) Beyond showing these examples, the film promotes the then-novel idea that to prepare students for life after graduation, their education must combine classroom and real-world learning.
Like many films from this era, The New American Schoolhouse presents the expected parade of computer -- er, data processing -- equipment the size of refrigerators, hairdos nearly as large, yacht-sized American sedans, mini-dresses, striped sport coats, and hideous pantsuits that women now swear they never wore. (Such denial is pointless; there is plenty of photographic evidence of these fashion faux pas.) The film also has pleasantly artsy, film-schoolish visuals, from sometimes unflattering close-ups of students' faces to sweeping shots of urban vistas. The opening sequence's birds-eye view of downtown Austin is fascinating, as the camera pans over St. Mary Cathedral, City National Bank, I-35, and the hills west of Austin. One interesting scene was filmed at the Austin American-Statesman.
An unsettling aspect of Gerald Peary's 2009 documentary For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism is that so many of the critics interviewed are identified as "ex-critics" of print media such as The New York Times.
Yeah, things aren't so rosy for film critics these days, at least for critics seeking paychecks from traditional newspapers and magazines. Film criticism jobs are disappearing as fast as the classified advertising that once funded them. In the face of falling revenues and online competition, periodicals are jettisoning everything from foreign news bureaus to op-ed columnists to local arts coverage.
But all is not hopeless, as For the Love of Movies tells us. Film critics are adapting to the brave new media world, and as long they remain passionate about movies, the century-old tradition of reviewing them will continue.
The future of film criticism was no doubt on everyone's mind at a February 10 screening of For the Love of Movies presented by the Austin Film Society at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. Peary was in attendance for a brief post-screening Q&A, followed by a panel discussion moderated by UT professor Thomas Schatz and featuring local critics Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle, Charles Ealy of the Austin American Statesman, Slackerwood's own Jette Kernion, and Austin Film Critics Association founder and president Cole Dabney.
While visiting the set of The Man Who Never Cried last fall, I was amused by the t-shirt worn by director Bradley Jackson (above on the right, with lead Keir O'Donnell, left). The phrase across his chest read "Please Lord, Let me Prove to You That Winning The Lottery Won't Spoil Me."
Jackson will have to do just that, with the recent announcement that the $100,000 grand prize for the Doorpost Film Project went to The Man Who Never Cried. The local film that received tips and script edits from the likes of Austin filmmaker Richard Linklater and other industry veterans. In addition to winning first place, the film took several other awards at last week's awards ceremony, including the Audience Choice Award. Find out what other honors the local independent film received are after the jump:
With a screenplay adapted by Jeremy Brock from the 1954 novel "The Eagle of the Ninth" by author Rosemary Sutfcliff, The Eagle provides light entertainment for the sandals-and-swords film buffs. This pre-holy Roman Empire tale that was written for young readers has been brought to the big screen for a wider adult audience.
The Eagle centers around the young Marcus Aquila (Channing Tatum), a Roman soldier who attempts to restore his family name. His father had been stationed in the northern wilderness of Britain 20 years prior, and had led the the famous Ninth Legion, which disappeared behind Hadrian's Wall and was presumed dead. The symbolic golden eagle of the legion was lost, bringing shame to the Aquila family.
After receiving a promotion to Centurion, Aquila is sent to the northern reaches of Britain to head a fort. Aquila is critically injured while rescuing his men during an attack, for which he is honorably discharged from the army. Recovering at the home of his Uncle Aquila (Donald Sutherland), he struggles with his injuries and frustration at not being able to restore his family's reputation -- being a soldier is all that he has ever desired and known. However, after rescuing the British slave Esca (Jamie Bell), the young Aquila takes up his goal: to cross Hadrian's Wall, confront the savage tribes of the Highlands and bring back the golden eagle.
Looking at this week's new releases, I'm amused that we have two animated movies opening that could not be more different. One is a bright perky children's movie that tidily removes everything tragic from a classic tragedy; the other is a poignant, beautiful, quiet film with a melancholy air. And the photo above comes from neither one -- it's from The Gruffalo, part of a collection of Oscar-nominated shorts that also opens in Austin today. Other non-animated choices include a Hollywood romantic comedy, an epic set in ancient Rome ... and Justin Bieber. How can you go wrong?
Movies We've Seen:
- Gnomeo And Juliet -- Don's review tells you everything you want to know about this upbeat reworking of the tragic Shakespearan play using garden gnomes. But my favorite comment so far comes from Kimberley Jones' review at the Austin Chronicle: "That's 10 screenwriters if you count Shakespeare, but had he the chance, I bet he'd lobby the Writers Guild for an Alan Smithee credit." (wide)
- The Illusionist -- If I could, I would stop what I was doing right now and go see The Illusionist again. The animated movie is directed by Sylvan Chomet from a script by the late Jacques Tati. You won't believe me, but this is a much better movie than the front-runner for Best Animated Feature Oscar, Toy Story 3. Read my review to find out why. (Arbor)
- The Eagle -- Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell star in this sword-and-sandal adventure that is so macho, there are no speaking parts for women. (Well, the same can be said for The Great Escape, which I like very much.) Debbie caught this movie; look for her review this weekend. (wide)
Sad and beautiful, that's The Illusionist in a nutshell. This animated movie is not geared toward small children -- it's from the same filmmaker who brought us The Triplets of Belleville, Sylvain Chomet. But where his previous film was riotous and joyful and just plain insane at times, The Illusionist is quieter, more structured and not afraid to venture into melodrama. It may not be upbeat, but that doesn't mean it was disappointing, at all.
The Illusionist originates from a script by the late French actor/filmmaker Jacques Tati. If you've seen The Triplets of Belleville, you know Chomet is a big fan of Tati -- there are a few Tati references sprinkled throughout the film, and the humor matches some of Tati's more chaotic comedy. But Tati's standard "M. Hulot" character also had a more dramatic side, which prevails in this movie.
Dialogue is minimal, the characters barely have names, and the storyline is uncomplicated. The title character (Jean-Claude Donda) is a French magician whose illusions are no longer in fashion by the late 1950s. Music halls in Europe prefer Beatles-like boy bands that draw crowds of groupies. He lands a gig in a remote Scottish village, where he delights crowds in a small pub ... including young Alice (Eilidh Rankin), the hotel maid. He's kind to Alice, so she follows him when he leaves the village and tries to make his living in Edinburgh.
Midway through Gnomeo and Juliet is the line, "I wish I could quit you."
Ahem. This probably is a first for an animated family film: a slightly altered quotation of the most famous line in Brokeback Mountain.
Yeah, I know: Wink, wink -- here's yet another slightly risqué adult pop cultural reference designed to entertain us grownups while sailing harmlessly over the kiddos' heads. Such references are now fundamental to the animated family movie formula, invariably a mix of endless 3D action sequences, ADD-friendly bits of dialogue, a chaste romance that blossoms to a soundtrack of insipid pop songs, and adult-oriented references to The Matrix, Scarface and/or CSI. Oh yeah -- there also may be a cutesy dancing thing at the end.
Sometimes this formula works smashingly well, as in the Toy Story franchise. But it's hit or miss in Gnomeo & Juliet, a frenetic, too-cute tale very loosely based (emphasis on very loosely) on Shakespeare's tragic love story.