J.C. De Leon's blog

Alamo South Lamar Memories: Not Quite Pineapple Express



One of my biggest regrets in life is not having the foresight to sear into my memory bank, the first ever Alamo Drafthouse experience I had. I cannot for the life of me remember what it is. I remember at one point recommending people come to this theater because they had some of the best pizza I've eaten in my life (they still do, and I still do), but I just can't remember what movie I saw at an Alamo the first time I ever went.

I don't remember the first movie I saw at South Lamar either, but I do remember the first movie I almost saw there. There was a promotional screening for Pineapple Express, and Seth Rogen was going to be there. At the time, I was still enamored with the idea of seeing a famous actor in person, and so I went to stand in line for hours.

AFF Review: The Exquisite Corpse Project


The Exquisite Corpse ProjectAn "exquisite corpse" has many definitions and variations. At its most basic, it's a collaboration project, in which each collaborator puts in his contribution, followed by a peer who has to abide by a specific rule. For example, if three people were assigned to draw a character, each would take a different part: head, torso and legs. Each person would draw their portion with no knowledge of the others' work. This type of collaboration is the basis for the movie The Exquisite Corpse Project.

The Olde English comedy troupe has seen success, but the peak of their success has come and gone. Each member of the troupe has gone off on their own and started to establish their careers in different ways. But troupe member Ben Popik has an idea for an exquisite corpse project that would serve as the group's final hurrah.

Each member writes 15 pages of a script for a feature film, and the rules are that the person following could only read the previous five pages of the script ahead of them in the line. Each participant also provides a cast and location list. The result is absolute mess of a movie, but a hilarious atrocity. Interspersed between the footage shot for The Exquisite Corpse Project is a documentary-style presentation of interviews with each member of the troupe candidly speaking about the project and other topics.

To look at this film as a straight documentary would be a disservice. At the same time, to look at The Exquisite Corpse Project only for the 75 minutes of "film" footage shot is only going to make your head explode. The untitled movie-within-the-movie is an absolute disaster. Not only is each portion written differently, but continuity isn't maintained, and the direction differs in each segment. The performances are over the top, and characters are given strange names that no one can pronounce from segment to segment. Nothing about this should work on any level. But it does.

It works because one thing remains constant throughout each segment, and that is the honesty with which each member of the troupe approaches their pages. They each try to predict what the other will write and try to confuse the one coming after them. It's a big-screen version of the way they try to outshine each other comedically in the short films that made them famous.

AFF Review: Spring Eddy


Spring Eddy

If you were to mash up No Country for Old Men with equal parts The Getaway and any romantic comedy, you'd have Spring Eddy. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but one can't help but think about that while watching this movie. Making his feature film debut, Spring Eddy was written and directed by George Anson. It's got all the markings of a complex crime dramedy, complete with a lot of notable Texas landmarks and some funny performances.

Eddy (Gabriel Luna), a small-time Chicago criminal who commits some dim-witted schemes, is on the run. He ripped off his boss, and now he's heading to Mexico ... but gets distracted by a pretty hitchhiker on the way. What started as a normal everyday hookup ends with Eddy beaten up, broken down and penniless somewhere in Texas.

Review: Paranormal Activity 4


Paranormal Activity 4

It's October, and there are no more Saw movies to occupy our ritualistic annual watching of horror movies, but we do have the Paranormal Activity franchise. The franchise up to this point has certainly been intriguing, and it turned the horror genre on its head in 2007 when it unexpectedly scared audiences in droves. The simplistic story has evolved into an intriguing tale of demonic possession that dates back to the childhood years of the people involved, specifically Katie (Katie Featherston) and her nephew Hunter. Paranormal Activity 4 at first doesn't seem like it will have anything to do with the previous three movies. It takes place in a different city and years after the events of the second film (the third film was a prequel).

It begins innocently enough, as these films often do. Alex (Kathryn Newton) is your typical 15-year-old teenage girl. She has fun filming everything with her camera and is a very responsible big sister to her adopted brother Wyatt. One day, while her and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shively) are touring Alex's backyard, they encounter the strange boy from across the street, Robbie (Brady Allen). Robbie is quiet and awkward, and when his mom has some sort of accident across the street, he has to stay with Alex and her brother for a few days. That's when strange things start happening.

AFF Review: The Rep


The RepChances are if you're reading this, it's because you love film. Whether it's Texas-centric films, or the occassional Hollywood blockbuster that you enjoy reading a review about, it doesn't matter. Either way, you're here and you're here because you love movies. The Rep understands that love, and the documentary focuses on three people who were willing to risk their livelihood to share that love with the people in their hometown in Canada. Alex Woodside, Charlie Lawton, and Nigel Agnew are the proprietors of the Toronto Underground Cinema, a single-screen repertory theater that caters to the film nerd community who crave seeing films the way they were meant to be seen.

Backed by a single investor, in a theater hidden underneath a giant condo building, the underground cinema sits away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets, visible to no one. That didn't stop the three cinephiles from trying to make their dream a reality, to run their own cinema that plays the films they love on the big screen.

The Rep starts out with interviews that include a few prominent names, such as  Kevin Smith, George Romero, and folks who represent other repertory cinemas. Austin's very own Lars Nilsen of Alamo Drafthouse shares more than a few poignant views on the joys and difficulties of running a repertory cinema, or "rep house" as their affectionally called in the film.

The Rep is put together in a really great way. As the Toronto Underground Cinema launches with much fanfare at a free screening, it seems as if this risky venture wouldn't be so risky. But the passionate trio quickly learn that if you build it, they don't always come. Despite the apparent lack of initial success, there are still moments that would make anyone realize the true power of cinema and how much it can really affect someone. Andrew Parker, a local film critic in Toronto, was literally on the verge of suicide until he happened upon the Toronto Underground Cinema. Even though the theater was in desperate need of every dollar they could get their hands on, Charlie gave him some free passes to help cheer him up on what he thought was just a movie fan having a bad day. He wrote a blog post about this experience, which you can read here.

Review: Here Comes the Boom


Here Comes the Boom

Actor Kevin James has starred in some pretty terrible movies. It's a shame that he's become a part of the Happy Madison team that has wantonly doled out dreck film after dreck film. He's a comedic actor that has some real talent, and he's capable of being physically funny while maintaining a sense of boyish vulnerability. Here Comes the Boom, which he also co-scripted, is the closest James has come to making a good film, and in it, he exhibits some of the strengths mentioned earlier. The trouble with Here Comes the Boom is that it has way too much of that Happy Madison brand of comedy, so any goodwill the film builds is diluted.

Middle school teacher Scott Voss (James) isn't a very good teacher. He rides the coattails of a Teacher of the Year award he won ten years ago and is a constant thorn in the side of school administrators with his tardiness and indifference. He's got one friend in the music teacher Marty Streb (Henry Winkler). When Marty gets in a potential financial bind, and it looks like the school is going to cut the music program, thus putting Marty out of a job, Scott valiantly stands up for what's right and declares that the teachers will help raise the money together. While trying to raise money, he befriends a former MMA fighter and enlists his help to train him to raise money in an incredibly dangerous and irresponsible way.

Review: Taken 2


Taken 2It's one thing for a movie to be bad. That happens. It's the risk you take when you take the time to venture out of your home and into the streets of your city. A bad movie can be forgivable most of the time, a lot of effort goes into filmmaking and most civilized moviegoers realize that. Sometimes it's kind of a cop-out to label a movie with a one-word descriptor, but if ever a movie could be described in a single word, it would be Taken 2, and that word would be "lazy."

Taking place a couple of years after the events in the 2008 movie Taken, we find that Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) is still being overprotective -- although, after the first film, maybe just appropriately protective -- of his young daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). His ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) tells him to back off slightly -- everyone is grateful for him having saved Kim's life, but they each need to move on in their own way. And hat better place to move on than returning to Europe, where the surviving family members of the criminals Brian killed in the first film are plotting their revenge? Sure enough, kidnappings happen, and Liam Neeson gets to do what he does best.

After the dreadfully long first act, once the action finally takes place, it's just stale. The action never feels tense, the writing is horrible, the action is shot so close that you can't discern anything happening.

That's the generalized statement of how bad Taken 2 is. For more specific criticisms, the situations unfolding onscreen are so mind-numbingly dumb, it's a wonder anyone greenlighted the screenplay. We have Kim -- you know, the kidnapped victim from the first film who should be in some way permanently traumatized on a non-functional level -- put in a position where she isn't kidnapped this time. Instead, she has to help her father figure out where he's been stashed because both he and his ex-wife have been taken. He instructs her to detonate grenades all over Istanbul so he can figure out how far away and from what direction she'll be coming from.

In addition, Kim also inexplicably is still young enough to be an inexperienced driver even though she is clearly 30 years old. Yet she is also given the task of leading a high-speed chase through busy streets and causing all sorts of destruction with no penalty.

Review: For a Good Time, Call...


For a Good Time, Call ...

In what could very well be the best romantic comedy of 2012, For a Good Time, Call... turns the notion of the rom-com on its head. And the movie doesn't do it in a way that has to majorly push the envelope with an overly sexual (or homosexual) agenda. It does it from the way the best relationships begin, with friendship.

Co-writer/actress Lauren Miller and her co-star Ari Graynor anchor this ultra-charming film about how a beautiful friendship can develop despite a few differences when a thriving business is involved. It also proves that nothing can bring two women together like phone sex. Lots and lots of dirty phone sex.

Lauren (Miller) is one half of a boring couple. They lead boring lives, have boring friends, and have boring sex. When her boyfriend takes off to work for the summer in Italy, it seems the perfect time to take a break, which comes as a shock to Lauren. With the help of her gay best friend Jesse (Justin Long), she finds a place to live that is perfect ... except for the current tenant, a wild partier whom Lauren has met before, Katie (Graynor). Lauren's held a grudge for 10 years, and isn't looking forward to living here, until she discovers Katie is a phone-sex operator. Desperate for money and having just lost her job, she helps Katie set up her own business for a much bigger profit.

Review: The Words


The Words

Words are extremely powerful things. They're capable doing so much, and in essence they are such small things. That's what The Words is all about. It's a film inside of a film inside of another film in a kind of set of Russian nesting dolls disguised as a complete film.

More so than the importance of words in this movie is the idea that nothing is as important as your own words. To plagiarize is to outright lie, and it's a mistake that can never be taken back, whether or not things are made right on the surface, they can't ever be right again. The emptiness that plagues a plagiarist drives the most interesting part of a strong script from writer/directors Brian Klugman and Lee Sternthal, backed by some terrific performances.

Author Clay Hammond (Dennis Quaid) is giving a reading of his new novel The Words, about an aspiring novelist named Rory (Bradley Cooper). Rory isn't without talent -- he's got some, he's just not quite where he would need to be in order to be a successful published writer. Halfway given up on his dream, he takes up a job in a publishing firm.

Review: The Expendables 2


The Expendables 2

The Expendables started as an idea, albeit a simple one: Gather all the greatest action movie stars in one movie. It'll be bloody, fun and filled with more bullets than should ever be shot by one group of men at another. But for some, The Expendables didn't deliver. There was way too much dead space and odd pacing, and although the action was good, it certainly wasn't special or on the level promised by the prospect of so much bullet-ridden testosterone. It was almost too cerebral, like it didn't want to perpetuate whatever dismissive stereotypes a more sophisticated moviegoer would label this idea.

Yet the idea was good enough that massive amounts of potential still existed for a film like this to succeed on a level that would make the inner blood-hungry teenager in all of us emit delightful, girly squees. Enter The Expendables 2. Same premise, only this time, more of the greatest of the great would be added to the cast. Greats like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, who would have bigger roles than the cameos in the first film, plus Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme, who actually turned down an offer to be in the first film.

The plot is paper thin, and it's not necessary to have seen the first movie to gather what's going on. A CIA operative, Church (Bruce Willis) lays it out in one scene after the insanely bullet-riddled opening of the film. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) and his crew are to retrieve a case from a safe stashed inside a gunned down airplane in Albania. The contents of the case aren't any of Ross's business, but it will clear up all of his debts to Church and band of psychotic mutts that are The Expendables will be free to live their lives doing what it is they do best.

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