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'Butter' and 'Union Square' Bookend Austin Film Festival

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Austin Film Festival has just announced its opening-night, centerpiece, and closing-night films for the 2011 fest. The previously announced feature Jeff Who Lives at Home, directed by former Austinites Jay and Mark Duplass, will serve as the anchoring centerpiece selection, with Jay Duplass in attendance. Two newly announced titles will bookend eight days of films, starting in just two weeks.

The comedy Butter (pictured above) will open the fest on Thursday, October 20 at the Paramount. The feature film takes place in the "cutthroat" world of competitive butter sculpting, and stars Jennifer Garner, Hugh Jackman, Ty Burrell and Olivia Wilde. 

AFF's closing-night movie is Union Square, with actress Mira Sorvino in attendance. Union Square is the story of a reluctant reunion between estranged sisters. It's directed and co-written by Nancy Savoca (Dogfight, Dirt), and the cast includes Sorvino and Daphne Rubin-Vega (nominated for a Spirit Award for her performance in Jack Goes Boating). 

Fantastic Fest Review: Bullhead

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Bullhead

Fantastic Fest 2011 was marked by several "slow burn" thrillers this year, and the most exceptional film I saw in this category was Bullhead (Rundskop), the feature directorial debut of Belgian writer/director Michael Roskam that won the fest's AMD and DELL "Next Wave" Spotlight awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. What starts out as a movie about the mafia behind illegal bovine hormone use and trading in the Belgian agricultural industry turns into an intensive character study of one thug who is addicted to illegal hormones.

Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts plays Jacky Vanmarsenille, a young brute who works on his uncle's cattle farm and strong-arms other cattle farmers to do business as he demands. A local unscrupulous veterinarian who takes care of the Vanmarsenilles' cattle approaches them with a deal to sell their beef to notorious hormone trafficker Marc Decuyper (Sam Louwyck). The so-called "hormone mafia" trades in banned substances which when injected into beef cattle convert fat to lean flesh and stimulate artificial and increased growth rates, ensuring big profits for producers. Decuyper's brutality and ruthlessness is evidenced by the assassination of a federal policeman who had been investigating his illegal bovine drug trade.

Quick Snaps: What's That 'You're Next' Artwork at Alamo?

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You're Next mural with AJ and Simon

On a sunny Friday afternoon during Fantastic Fest, festgoers seated on the benches outside Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar noticed something unusual: a mural being painted on the Drafthouse wall nearby. An artist painstakingly worked on a mysterious figure, then text in bloody lettering, then a few gory touches. I took several photos during the process (posted after the jump), but Debbie's the one who snapped the almost-finished artwork you see above.

The gentlemen in the photo who are not wielding a brush are actor AJ Bowen and writer Simon Barrett, who both worked on the Adam Wingard thriller You're Next ... which is thefilm being promoted in the mural. You're Next was recently acquired for U.S. distribution by Lionsgate, and as a result, only screened one time during Fantastic Fest. I'm told it was an extremely popular screening even at midnight and up against the Fantastic Debates (where I was at the time).

Fantastic Fest Review: A Boy and His Samurai

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A Boy and His Samurai

In 2009, one of the biggest buzzed-about movies at Fantastic Fest was the Japanese Fish Story. In 2010, everyone scrambled to get a ticket for Golden Slumber. In 2011, before the movie even played, Fantastic Fest-goers went wild over A Boy and His Samurai (Chonmage purin) ... why? All three of these movies are directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. Many attendees were worried A Boy and His Samurai would not live up to the hype or to Nakamura's previous efforts, but it turns out the movie is one of the sweet delights of the fest.

A Boy and His Samurai is set in contemporary Tokyo, where single mom Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka) is trying to raise her son Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki) and keep her demanding yet fulfilling office job. The pair encounter a young man dressed in 19th century samurai garb, and at first dismiss him as a grocery promotion. But it turns out that Yasubei (Ryo Nishikido) is in fact from the early 19th century -- he had been praying to a Buddha statue and next thing he knew, found himself in the middle of a bustling 21st century city, 180 years in the future.

Lone Star Cinema: Bottle Rocket

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Bottle Rocket

[Editor's Note: Lone Star Cinema is a new series in which we look at Austin and Texas-shot/set movies that are available on DVD, Blu-ray or online.]

While some filmmakers need a few films to their credit before developing their styles, Wes Anderson's joyously skewed cinematic vision has been evident from the start of his career. Anderson's first feature, Bottle Rocket, has all the hallmarks of his later movies -- quirky characters, the presence of one or more Wilson brothers (in this case, three of them), an unlikely but somehow believable story (at least within Anderson's cinematic world) and a cheerful pop-music soundtrack, to name but a few.

Released in 1996 and based on an earlier short film with the same title, Bottle Rocket is the story of three Texas friends with grandiose plans to go on a crime spree, a goal for which they are wholly and hilariously unqualified. The plot revolves around Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson), who -- upon his release from a mental hospital -- joins his friend Dignan (Owen Wilson, who also co-wrote the script) in a vaguely defined and ill-advised scheme to commit various crimes with Dignan's former boss, Mr. Henry (James Caan).

Joining Anthony and Dignan is their oily, ne'er-do-well neighbor, Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave). Knowing nothing about the criminal arts and needing some cash, the three get in a little practice by robbing a bookstore. The heist goes awry, of course, and they go on the lam, ending up at a remote motel.

TIFN Brings 'The Happy Poet' and Other Indies to San Marcos

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The Happy Poet posterTexas State University-San Marcos has film and screenwriting classes. I know. I'm just as surprised as you are. Texas State may not be UT and the film and TV-related theatre classes and media studies minor may not be a full radio-television-film program, but with the arrival of former Texas Film Commission Director Tom Copeland in 2005, and recently, Austin Film Society Artist Services Director Bryan Poyser, college life is looking a little bit more film-y in the 78666.

The San Marcos premiere in September of Echotone, a documentary about Austin music culture, marked the burgeoning presence of the Texas Independent Film Network (TIFN) at Texas State University.

TIFN co-founder Ryan Long and Austin actor Chris Doubek attended the Sept. 28 screening of The Happy Poet at the Texas Music Theater in San Marcos during their statewide promotional tour for the movie. I had the opportunity to speak with Long, who's also the AFS programs and operations manager, and whom I had the pleasure of working with last summer as an AFS intern; and Doubek, who plays Curtis, the protagonist's moocher friend in The Happy Poet.

The Austin-shot micro-budget sleeper hit of SXSW 2010, The Happy Poet is the story of Bill (writer-director Paul Gordon), an out-of-work poet who uses the last of his money (and a loan) to buy an all-organic, mostly-vegetarian food stand. Read Jenn's review from SXSW for more details.

Fantastic Fest Photos: Angels and Airwaves Presents 'Love'

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Angels and Airwaves presents LOVE Red Carpet

Cinematographer William Eubank made his writing and directing debut earlier this year with Love (aka Angels & Airwaves Presents Love), a late addition to this year's Fantastic Fest lineup. Eubank was joined on the red carpet on Wednesday by executive producer Thomas DeLonge and lead actor Gunner Wright. The filmmakers were caught by a surprise special guest: Richard Garriott, real-life astronaut and star of Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, who moderated an engaging Q&A after the Fantastic Fest screening. 

Love is an inspirational and lovely cinematic journey into the past and future. After losing contact with Earth, astronaut Lee Miller becomes stranded in orbit alone aboard the International Space Station. As time passes and life support systems dwindle, Lee battles to maintain his sanity ... and simply stay alive. His world is a claustrophobic and lonely existence until he makes a strange discovery aboard the ship. The film was funded by the musical group Angels & Airwaves, led by Thomas DeLonge of Blink 182.

Check out more photos from the special screening after the jump.

Fantastic Fest 2011, Day Eight: Not With a Bang But a Blowout

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The last day of Fantastic Fest is often the most relaxed. Many have left to return home, and the Alamo patio feels like a ghost town compared to the first few days. Instead of five screens, films were playing on only three. Still, many of the best shows remained to be seen, including several fan-favorites with added screening times such as A Boy and His Samurai.

The day began with a South Korean thriller reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's Wait Until Dark. Blind is the story of Min Soo-Ah, a no-nonsense police academy trainee. Min's brother has a habit of getting into trouble of a criminal nature, and fed up with his latest exploit, she arrests him and handcuffs him to the car. The ensuing sibling catfight ends in a disastrous wreck, leaving Min blind and her brother dead. Min is expelled from the academy, not for her handicap, but for her irresponsible actions. Three years pass, and after Min is nearly abducted by a serial killer, she is the only witness who can help track him down. Unfortunately, nobody considers her a credible witness, not even the detective working her case. This was an exciting movie which, unfortunately, too many people compared to Daredevil. It works best in scenes where the emotional impact is high such as the wreck that blinds her, and the ongoing process of working through her guilt over that.

Two-time Fantastic Fest director Aleksey Balabanov (Cargo 200, Morphia) returned with another glimpse into an obscure corner of Russian history, Kochegar (The Stoker). This film tells a simple story about a broken war hero who lives only to support his daughter, shoveling coal into an industrial boiler day and night. The very simple story is stretched to 87 minutes, and we are introduced to the topic of racism in Soviet Russia by tales he tells of his native Yakut people as he entertains two local girls who visit him. Ultimately a tragic story, but a fascinating picture of life, death and revenge served cold.

Movies This Week: 50 Soul Interrupters Vs. Numbers

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Tonight, you can catch a special free screening of Amélie as part of the Whole Foods Sunset Supper Cinema; seating is limited, and starts around 6:30 pm. I'm seriously thinking of going to try some of the food specials, which include a crème brûlée shake.

Then get a triple-shot of filmmaker Ti West, who's been in town for Fantastic Fest. On Saturday he's doing a Moviemaker Dialogue over at the AFS screening room, on Sunday The Roost and The House of the Devil play Alamo Drafthouse Village, followed by an AFS Best of the Fest screening on Monday of The Innkeepers.

On Tuesday, check out the lastest Essential Cinema screening Peking Opera Blues over at Alamo South Lamar. And apparently AFS is kicking of a new "season pass" option -- Season Pass holders get into the Essential Cinema screenings for free.

Now on to the films opening in Austin today, many of which played SXSW to enthusiastic audiences, so don't pass up the chance to see them with an Austin audience before award season starts.

Movies We've Seen:

50/50 -- I've seen a lot of cancer-themed movies this year, but 50/50 stands out as it's inspired by the writer's own experiences. While the title relates to the survival chances, Don says in his review that it "also could refer to the odds that with a great cast and some genuinely poignant and funny moments, the movie can survive its entirely formulaic storyline."

The Interrupters – Using a disease prevention model, the Chicago-based, CeaseFire employs "violence interrupters" to curb the spread of violence through relationships, mediation and other alternatives. Often raw with no rhetorical punches pulled, it's about as different from Thunder Soul as you can get, but equally worthy. Read my review for more.

Thunder Soul (pictured above) -- You will regret seeing this equally moving and entertaining doc made in Houston celebrating the life and work of Conrad "Prof" Johnson, who brought international attention to the Kashmere Stage Band performing popular funk and original compositions that rivaled the work of professionals. You will be dancing in your seat. Read my SXSW review for more. (Alamo South Lamar)

Review: What's Your Number?

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Romantic comedies are a staple of the Hollywood moviemaking machine, and for good reason: people like to laugh and to enjoy a love story, an often unbeatable combination. Romantic comedies are also notoriously cheap to churn out, which explains why a retread with careworn tropes and outdated mores like What's Your Number? gets released.

Vacuous Ally Darling (Anna Faris) puts more effort in smoothing her unmussed hair and accentuating her already ample bust before her boyfriend rouses from bed than she does anything else in her life. But when she finds herself reading a women's glamrag article about the number of men the average woman sleeps with, she starts contemplating how many men she's bedded and to her horror realizes she's a slut, at least according to the magazine. Her insecurities go into overdrive as her sister's wedding approaches.

Cue the lothario Colin (Chris Evans) who lives across the hall, who first tantalizes us with obscured frontal nudity, then suddenly reveals he just happens to have the sleuthing skills to help Ally track down her exes so she doesn't sleep with one more guy and doom her to never marrying.

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