J.C. De Leon's blog

Quick Snaps: A Sneak Peek at 'Christmas with the Dead'

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Christmas with the Dead

I recently had the chance to attend a sneak-peek screening of the East Texas-shot movie Christmas with the Dead, adapted from a novel by Joe R. Lansdale, who's also one of the film's producers. I've posted some stills from the film after the jump.

The Nacogdoches author might be best known to genre film fans for his association with the cult classic movie Bubba Ho-Tep, which was adapted from his novella. He's also written graphic novels, short stories and TV scripts. 

Directed by T. L. Lankford and adapted by Keith Lansdale (the author's son), Christmas with the Dead brings some new elements to the zombie genre, which at this point in cinematic history is a very important thing. Zombie films aren't separated by a very distinct line anymore, and it's great to see a film that challenges the norms we've all come to expect.

Here’s the official plot synopsis from the movie's website: "The Christmas spirit never dies. Even after people started becoming zombies, Calvin (Damian Maffei) is haunted by the memories of Christmases past. Years after the painful grief of losing his family and everyone he knows (made worse by the monotony of loneliness), Calvin decides he can't take any more of this existence … and that it's Christmas."

Review: The Watch

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The Watch

Superbad writers Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen teamed up with Bolt writer Jared Stern, Saturday Night Live writer-director Akiva Schaffer, and of course a band of familiar faces for the late-summer movie The Watch. Late-summer films have a strange tendency and can go either way when it comes to their quality. Last summer had a slew of pleasant late-summer surprises in Return of the Planet of the Apes, Fright Night and Shark Night 3D. But 2011 didn't deliver any films as huge as The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, so this crew might have a very tall task on their hands here.

Starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill and Richard Ayoade (whom fans of The IT Crowd will of course recognize), The Watch centers on small-town do-gooder and busybody Evan Trautwig (Stiller), a general manager of a Costco. He lives an innocuous existence in what he calls the greatest city in the greatest country on the greatest planet: Glenview, Ohio. When his world is turned upside down after his store security guard is brutally murdered, Evan puts together a neighborhood watch group composed of the most ragtag individuals possible. While on the search, they discover that the killer they're searching for is a creature from another planet.

Review: Klown

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Klown

Even though Drafthouse Films, the film distribution arm of Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas that started here in Austin, is brand new, they've certainly made an indelible mark on the world of independent film. They haven't distributed many films, but it's easy to see that you can't lump their films into one genre. Drafthouse Films just releases films they think should be seen,  from an Academy-Award-nominated foreign drama to a downright silly film based on Dance Dance Revolution battles. This time, the folks over at Drafthouse Films bring moviegoers Klown (Klovn: The Movie), a film based on the Danish sitcom of the same name.

The sitcom was filmed in a similar style to The Office and has a pretty decent sized following. The movie follows the sitcom's characters, Frank (Frank Hvam) and Casper (Casper Christensen), as they go off on a canoeing and camping trip where Frank can prove to his girlfriend that he's ready to be a father, and happily married Casper can find some women to sleep with.

What sounds like an innocent road-trip comedy is anything but. Klown is incredibly vulgar and may not be for everybody, but it is great and nothing less should be expected from Drafthouse Films.

Review: To Rome with Love

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To Rome with Love

For the last several years, Woody Allen films haven't exactly delivered on the same quality as some of his earlier work. When it appeared that some of the magic might have escaped his director's chair, last year he came through with the wonderful and charming Midnight in Paris.

His latest film would go back to a beautiful European city in To Rome with Love. Much like Midnight in Paris, To Rome with Love has a sizable and talented cast, including Allen himself. When a film as great as Midnight in Paris comes out, it's only natural that the director's followup come with very high expectations. Perhaps the expectations are so unfairly high that To Rome with Love doesn't quite meet them.

The movie doesn't focus on a single narrative story. The ensemble cast's characters each have their own storyline and they never intertwine, but all are done so against the beautiful backdrop of maybe the most beautiful city in the world.

Review: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

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Abraham Lincoln Vampire HunterThere's an understanding you need to have with yourself before you sit down and watch a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. You've got to understand that you're about to sit down and watch a movie called Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. You've got to know that what you're about to see isn't going to be on the list of films in a discussion that comprise some of the greatest films of all time. This new high-concept film from Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted) brings an aura of ridiculousness to the legacy of our 16th U.S. President, Abraham Lincoln. But it's fun. It's a lot of fun.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter begins as an older President Lincoln (Benjamin Walker, who does an amazing job channeling a young Liam Neeson) is writing in a journal. As he begins telling the story of his life, at one point he tells the story of the death of his mother. He witnessed a man break into his home and infect his mother with some disease that slowly killed her. Filled with rage, he lived his life waiting for the moment to exact his revenge only to discover that the target of his rage could not be killed, because he is a vampire. Henry (Dominic Cooper) turns out to be an expert on vampires and trains young Lincoln in the ways of vampire hunting.

Walker and Cooper prove to be a very good pair on screen, but where the film really excels is in the action scenes. There's only one action sequence that is riddled with bad CGI but every other sequence is great. The slo-mo seems a little overdone at times, but when Walker is spinning that axe around, it will seem like there haven't been very many things in horror movies quite as cool as those scenes.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a unique film. Every flaw in this film, of which there are many, can be easily pointed out. It fast forwards through too much of Lincoln's life, specifically his courtship with Mary Todd. It's written lazily. At one point Henry says there's a reason that vampires can walk around in sunlight, but then never explains it. The CGI is really bad a lot of the times. There's an incredibly silly and almost cringe-inducing chase during a horse stampede that will reinforce this point. There are many other flaws, but those are the most glaring.

Review: Prometheus

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Prometheus posterOne thing cannot be denied about Ridley Scott's return to science fiction with Prometheus, and that is that this film is even more epic than it appears to be on the surface. His return to the genre comes with much fanfare and anticipation, and in a lot of ways Prometheus doesn't disappoint. It's absolutely beautiful to look at, the visual effects are stunning and it's even a good 3D movie. He's created this movie in a massive universe, one that we're all familiar with, yet the story is intimate and small. It's also filled with tension that only the creator of the Alien franchise can deliver.

In the mysterious opening sequence, a human-like being is left by a ship near a remarkable waterfall and he ingests something that kills him as he falls into the water, becoming nothing but ash and smoke. We learn later on that these are the beings who have left the paintings discovered by scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green). Years after the couple's discovery, the Weyland-Utani corporation is funding an expedition to the planet where Shaw and Holloway think the "engineers" originated from, as well as the origination of our species.

The film itself is told in a very small world, but it reveals a much bigger universe than indicated in the Alien franchise. The most interesting thing about that fact is that Prometheus takes place many years before the events in the 1979 film Alien. So much further before than it shouldn't be considered a true prequel, as has been indicated by Ridley Scott already in several interviews.

Any expectations you have of this movie being related to Alien should be put on hold. That being said, there's still a lot of great stuff to focus on. Michael Fassbender's performance as David is beyond great and is every bit the great performance that Fassbender delivers on a consistent basis with every role he's in.

Interview: Sam Eidson, 'Jurassic Live!'

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Jurassic Live

A few months ago, I wrote about a special type of show that treats movie geeks around Austin to a very special brand of comedy. Local audiences have witnessed The Old Murder House Theatre perform renditions of Die Hard, Home Alone, even a brilliant Aliens on Ice production. The theater company has a new show coming up, and it's part of their first national tour, which was successfully funded on Kickstarter. For their new show, for their biggest show -- Jurassic Live: Dino Action Show -- they've decided to take on one of the biggest movies in recent history, Jurassic Park.

The Old Murder House Theatre company is headed by local actor Sam Eidson, whom you might have seen in Austin movies such as My Sucky Teen Romance and Austin High. You might recognize some of the other cast and crew involved too from other local films. I had the opportunity to interview Eidson about some of the origins of this show, elaborate on their upcoming tour of Jurassic Live, and where they might go from here once the tour is done.

Slackerwood: How did the idea of doing a show like this come about?

Sam Eidson: It happened in Savannah, Georgia in 2008 when me and Josh Jones, Mike Bailey and Linda McNeil put together a Jurassic Park show for our friends. Our friends liked it so we did more. Me and Josh moved to Austin and kept doing it and Jurassic Park here will be our fifth show.

Review: Battleship

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Battleship posterWhether or not it's a fair comparison, people are going to think about Michael Bay when they watch Peter Berg's movie Battleship. This movie proves though, that only one person can do Michael Bay action correctly, and his name isn't Peter Berg.

Battleship is every bit the type of film that you can "turn your brain off to." It isn't going to win over a lot of critics, and it may not even win over the casual moviegoer, but give it some time after the first 30 minutes or so and you'll either not care anymore and enjoy the ride, or you'll just have to brace yourself for a pretty miserable 90 more minutes of what you just sat through.

Based on the famous board game of the same name, Battleship starts out with a bizarre storyline. Scientists have apparently figured out that they can send a signal to a galaxy that has a similar planet to ours and so, you know, they do it. A few years later, an alien invasion begins. That's pretty much it. There are other characters and storylines of course, but they're just footnotes on the outlandish actions scenes that dominate the movie after the 30-minute mark.

Some of the characters include Lieutenant Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), who is dating Admiral Shane's (Liam Neeson) daughter Sam (Brooklyn Decker). Alex is also the brother of Commander Stone Hopper (Alexander Skarsgård). Stone is the overachieving opposite of Alex's wasted potential despite his skill. Battleship has a large cast of smaller characters but the story pretty much revolves around those four people.

The story taking such a small focus is one of the biggest problems with Battleship. The film had an opportunity to make a really epic story with an international and world-ending focus similar to Independence Day, but instead chose to literally put all of the main characters in a bubble (you'll see what I mean). It was a matter of silly convenient timing that the aliens attack during RIMPAC, a multinational war games event hosted by naval battle forces of dozens of different countries, but then the film completely ignores the fact that the other countries could maybe help fight off the aliens, and those forces are nowhere to be seen.

Review: What to Expect When You're Expecting

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What to Expect When You're Expecting

What to Expect When You're Expecting is the epitome of what's wrong with the romantic comedy genre. Sure, it's actually a mildly entertaining movie, but what makes it seem that way is the fact that it includes a few genuinely hilarious laughs in an otherwise stale plotted movie. Most of the hearty laughs come from supporting characters who don't have much to do with the story at all or are otherwise a subplot of a far less interesting storyline.

What to Expect When You're Expecting is far from the worst thing you'll ever see in theaters, but its cheap laughs might trick you into thinking you've seen a decent movie until you start really thinking about it.

If the film has a centralized story, it's that of Jules Baxter (Cameron Diaz), who hosts a TV show called Lose It and Weep and is currently a contestant on a celebrity dance-off show where she has been intimately involved with her dance partner. In what turned out to be the most elaborate "pregnancy nausea" gags, it's revealed that her and her partner have gotten pregnant.

Dallas IFF 2012 Dispatch: Robocop Finale

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ROBOCOP 25th Anniversary Screening

Apologies for the late post on my third and final day at The Dallas International Film Festival. The day began by catching up with old friends, but then making sure to prepare adequately for the night's premiere event, the 25th Anniversary Screening of RoboCop in 35mm at The Texas Theater.

Why RoboCop, you ask? Well, in addition to being awesome and totally worthy of a screening because it's a damn near perfect film, to the surprise of many audience members in my screening, RoboCop was filmed in Dallas. Many Dallas cast and crew members attended the event, as you can see from the above photo.

In addition to the film playing the festival, actor Peter Weller, writers Michael Miner and Ed Neumeier, and executive producer Jon Davison were on hand for a very entertaining Q&A.

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