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Quick Snaps: Shiloh and Rider Strong Summon 'The Dungeon Master'


Shiloh and Rider Strong

Screening before the delightful Icelandic movie Summerland at Fantastic Fest this week is a clever short film by actors -- and brothers -- Shiloh and Rider Strong. The Dungeon Master features a nerdtastic performance by Alexander Polinsky of Charles In Charge as a wizard/dungeon master who turns the tables on a group of bullies. Both of the Strong brothers were at the fest on Friday to present their short, and during the Q&A they revealed they have acquired funding to turn the Dungeon Master concept into a full-length feature.

The script was light and funny, relatable to gamer nerds and regular mortals alike. In addition to Polinsky, stars included Adam Busch of TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Travis Schuldt of Scrubs and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Jason Marsden. You might recall Busch was at Fantastic Fest last year with the comedy Drones.

The Dungeon Master screens again at Fantastic Fest in tandem with Summerland on Wednesday, September 28 at 6:45 pm.

Quick Snaps: 'Footloose' in Austin


Last week, I attended a special "Cut Loose with Footloose" advance screening of Footloose hosted by Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar and Paramount Pictures. Actor Kenny Wormald and director Craig Brewer (pictured above) were at the event for a Q&A after the movie. I've posted more photos from the event after the jump.

aGLIFF 2011, Dispatch #5: Pounding Ground to Going Down


Sean Paul Lockhart, Allison Lane, Richard Harmon, Chris Oakleaf, JT Tepnapa, Carlos Pedraza

I must start my coverage of my second half of aGLIFF by correcting a grievous omission in my coverage of the first half. Hollywood to Dollywood screened along with two notable shorts. The first of these was a mind-blowing three minutes of J-Pop music video meant to explore ideas of body image and gender identification. DOKKA DOKKA (Pounding Ground) is viewable on YouTube and worth a watch. The second of the two shorts was an intriguing and contemplative piece. Tu E Eu presented a couple's argument and breakup over the phone, but the conversation was repeated by different pairs of varying races and genders. As they argued about their parents' refusal to accept their choice of partner, viewers are left to reflect based on their own assumptions about the participants.

Moving on, the weekend encompassed the bulk of the festival. Because of traffic and Austin's new extended parking meter hours, I avoided Friday Night's activities at the Paramount which included the centerpiece film Mangus and a dance party on the Paramount stage. Saturday, however, kept me busy. My selections overlapped quite a bit with those Don covered in Dispatch #4, starting with Buffering.

Review: Warrior


WarriorWhile I'm not generally a fan of sports or fight movies, writer/director Gavin O'Connor's film Warrior has made me a believer. Echoing the struggles in Rocky and The Fighter, Warrior includes more than just incredible MMA fighting action; it's an amazing character piece that tells two very different stories about brothers from a broken family and smashes their worlds back together.

People are already talking about Nick Nolte for an Oscar in this incredible role modeled after his own experiences with alcohol and substance abuse. As an estranged father who hasn't seen one of his sons for 14 years, Nolte's character has cleaned up his act but struggles to reconnect with children who hate him for the mistakes that destroyed their family. Nolte is desperate for a chance to rebuild his relationship with sons Tommy (Tom Hardy) and Brendan (Joel Edgerton), who themselves are estranged.

Tom Hardy is comfortable by now with quiet, angry roles and bulked up for his performance as Bane in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. As Tommy Conlon, he is a soldier returned from Iraq motivated by a mysterious past. He seems to work out his anger aggressively on his opponents in the ring and constantly, silently threatens to explode outside the ring. He is hammered by his past but not beaten as he doggedly pursues the MMA title.

aGLIFF 2011, Dispatch #3: We Speak Film


We Speak FilmJames Loftus & Stephen MercerThe programming for this 24th year of aGLIFF offers a frequently dark and somber lineup of selections. Opening-night film The Lulu Sessions, covered by Jenn in Dispatch #1, was a sobering look at the final days of a terminal cancer patient. This was presented along with Communication, a 20-minute short that also dealt with the death of a loved one, as a youth contemplates the missed possibility of an almost-relationship with his former professor.

Though I was unable to attend the earlier screenings Thursday, they continued the morbid trend with So Hard to Forget, which includes the words "painful" and "bitter loss" in the synopsis. Meanwhile on the other screen, We Were Here documented the early days of AIDS with a movie that was described by one viewer as "devastating, but incredibly well done."

In the later time slot was Amphetamine, a Chinese romance complicated by drug addiction. However, I opted for something lighter and more frivolous, which turned out to be delightfully touching. Twin brothers/reality stars/actors Gary and Larry Lane document their love of Dolly Parton in Hollywood to Dollywood.

Review: Colombiana


ColombianaColombiana is ten pounds of The Fifth Element in a five-pound bag. This violent flower is covered in Luc Besson's stench, but lacks the humor, heart, and wit that made his previous work such a hit. Co-written by Besson and Robert Mark Kamen, who also penned the screenplay for The Fifth Element (as well as The Karate Kid and Transporter 3), Colombiana is directed by Olivier Megaton (Transporter 3).

Zoe Saldana stars as Cataleya Restrepo, named for the unique orchids that grow only in her grandmother's village in Colombia. Forced to watch her parents' murder, young Cataleya escapes and makes her way to Chicago to live with her grandmother and uncle Emilio (Cliff Curtis, The Last Airbender). There, she plots revenge on the drug lord who ruined her life, while her uncle trains her to be a stone-cold killer.

Like The Fifth Element, the characters in Columbiana are all driven by simple motivations. There is no complex plot, and there are no strong personalities to make this film  memorable. The action is decent, and in a few scenes the movie really shines with Cataleya's cat-burglar-ninja assasinations. Unfortunately, the initially intriguing setup fails in execution as any potential surprise is telegraphed with foreshadowing so excessive, the term needs to be redefined as foreblackholing. I'm no fan of loose threads, but Besson and Kamen could have at least tried to throw a few curveballs.

Photo Essay: Blood and Bones at Drafthouse Sneak Previews


Franco, Yelchin, Mintz-Plasse

Austin film fans were treated to two very special events last week as the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar hosted advance screenings with special guests for both Fright Night and Conan the Barbarian.

At the Fright Night screening, stars Dave Franco, Anton Yelchin and Christopher Mintz-Plasse showed up for a post-movie Q&A, as shown in the above photo.

Mintz-Plasse, who was in Austin for his third Drafthouse premiere (Superbad and Kick-Ass were #1 & #2, respectively) dominated the Q&A with the comfort and confidence born of familiarity with Austin audiences, while Yelchin and Franco were generally more shy and reserved, as you can see in the following picture.

Review: Conan the Barbarian


Conan The BarbarianJoining the ranks of this summer's excellent slate of reboots, rehashes and reimaginings is Marcus Nispel's movie Conan the Barbarian, a 3D adventure starring Jason Momoa, Stephen Lang, Rachel Nichols, Ron Perlman and Rose McGowan. With a story little resembling that of the 1982 hit that made Arnold Schwarzenegger a household name, the 2011 Conan the Barbarian could best be described as a total reboot. This is not a bad thing, after all -- no sense fixing what was never broken.

The movie begins with a Morgan Freeman Patented Voiceover explaining the backstory about ancient sorcerers, their war with the barbarian tribes and a prophecy about a great warrior born on the field of battle. The first third of the film is therefore an origin story modeled on Robert E. Howard's writings with Ron Perlman as Conan's blacksmith father. Perlman's work here is outstanding, the best acting in the film and perhaps the best of his career.

After the pillaging of Conan's village and the murder of his tribe, Conan the Barbarian jumps 15 years, and Jason Momoa is finally introduced. His is a better image of Conan than Arnold gave us: more catlike, more intelligent and closer to the barbarian described by Howard's original works. The rest of the movie is concerned with his quest to track down and kill the warlord Khalar Zym (Stephen Lang), who murdered Conan's father, as well as the other warriors involved.

Nispel shows off his skills as an action director here with a solid fight sequence in almost every scene. Little time is wasted in exposition or idle conversation. This is, however, unfortunately one of those films that gains nothing from being shot in 3D except for the rich detail of Momoa's bare ass in one brief sex scene. The only place 3D was used to any effect was in the opening titles.

Review: Fright Night


Fright NightThis summer's movies have included a number of remakes, revisits and reimaginings. The latest of these, opening this weekend, are Conan the Barbarian (look for my review this weekend) and Fright Night, Craig Gillespie's take on the 1985 suburban vampire hit. Newcomers will love this horror-comedy set on the outskirts of Las Vegas, and fans of the original should have no complaints.

This remake was in good hands as Gillespie has a short but sweet resume with the Ryan Gosling hit Lars and the Real Girl, Mr. Woodcock, and a number of episodes of United States of Tara. Handling the screenplay was Marti Noxon, who is no stranger to vampires after writing for Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer in addition to a number of other TV series, and she did a fantastic job. Her script echoes the 1985 source but takes surprising and unexpected turns.

Not the least of these is the reimagining of Peter Vincent as portrayed by David Tennant. While Tennant has similar voice and facial features to Roddy McDowall, as well as the energy and British accent, this Peter Vincent is a rock star at the peak of his career as opposed to McDowall’s older foundering TV host. Tennant is reported to have visited Las Vegas to watch Criss Angel, and his performance here is at times an unflattering caricature of the performer, but perfect for the story as written. Tennant fans will find this a treat and a glimpse of what we can expect from him post-Doctor Who.

Anton Yelchin as the teenage hero of the movie, Charley Brewster, is the focus of the story.  Having just "grown up" and traded in his nerdy best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Charley tries being part of the jock crowd to impress his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). After a few people have gone missing, Ed approaches with wild stories about Charley's new neighbor, and then the action begins. While 1985's Fright Night involved a slower build up, Gillespie's hits hard and doesn't stop, making for a more exciting while only slightly less suspenseful update.

Review: 30 Minutes or Less


30 Minutes or LessThe movie 30 Minutes or Less (directed by Ruben Fleischer, Zombieland) is the best comedy opening this weekend. That’s not saying much, but maybe it’s enough. I'm of mixed opinion on this one, as nothing about it was particularly bad, but certainly it never rose to any moments of greatness.

The best comedies for me are first and foremost smart, something to which 30 Minutes or Less, like any Danny McBride flick, could never hope to aspire. Failing to be smart, a good comedy could at least hope to be clever and again, that’s out of McBride’s league. If not smart nor clever, some comedies go for silly or outrageous, but this one is watered-down, middle-of-the-road mediocre.

Danny McBride as Dwayne is a complete loser with no redeeming values.  Resentful of his father (Fred Ward) and hoping to inherit his lottery winnings, Dwayne needs a hitman. To pay the hitman, he enlists the help of his best friend Travis (Nick Swardson) to kidnap someone and force them to rob a bank. The victims are unfortunate pizza delivery boy Nick (Jesse Eisenberg) and his best friend Chet (Aziz Ansari). With a bomb strapped to his chest and the threat of a remote detonator if he talks to the police, Nick has just hours to get the money from the bank and to the hitman.

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