J.C. De Leon's blog

Dallas IFF Review: LUV



It's a shame that a film like Training Day already exists, and although Denzel Washington deserves all of the accolades he received for that role, LUV is a very similar film with a similar feel but a much more impacting story. Rapper turned actor Common turns in just as good if not better a performance here in his role as a forced-upon mentor to a young child. The nine-year project of burgeoning filmmaker Sheldon Candis, who previously proved to be a very good short film director, LUV is a film that feels more genuine than Training Day. Although the comparison might be a bit unfair and definitely simplistic, it's a better film than even that obvious a description.

Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) is a shy 13-year-old who lives with his slightly senile grandmother. He puts up a good front to all those around him except for his uncle Vincent. Vincent (Common) is a recent parolee and when he realizes his nephew has a lot to learn about life and being street smart, he takes him along on a day when he's trying to set up a legitimate business. One thing leads to another and Woody gets a different type of education than he ever bargained for.

Dallas IFF 2012 Dispatch: Animal Style Friday


In n Out Burger

Day 2 of my Dallas International Film Festival experience started on an interesting note. I'm used to waking up really early to begin my day, and when I realized that I didn't have to set an alarm because the first movie didn't start until 4 pm, I woke up sans alarm clock and it was glorious.

I woke up with enough time to get some work done and even partook in my first ever In-N-Out Burger. I sought advice from everyone who's ever been there before and was advised to get a neapolitan milkshake and my fries "animal style." My friends are all smart people and they did not steer me wrong. I'm not a foodie who normally takes pictures of his food, mainly because I don't eat all that healthy, but that's what my meal looked like in the photo at the top.

My first film of the day was Tonight You're Mine, a UK romantic comedy set in a music festival where two arguing musicians are handcuffed together by a peace-loving security guard. At first they hate each other, but eventually ... well, it's a romantic comedy, it's not hard to figure out what comes next. Fans of Attack the Block get to see Luke Treadaway in a lead role here and he does a really fantastic job in this film.

Dallas IFF 2012 Dispatch: Thursday Luv Compliance


Dallas IFFI didn't have a lot of time to get situated on my first day of the Dallas International Film Festival. As soon as I arrived, I went to pick up my badge and get my bearings as to where everything is located (I've never been to Dallas).

I immediately went to find The Magnolia theater so I could see LUV, a film I didn't know too much about ... but I did know Common is in it, and he's one of my favorite rappers and actors. He didn't disappoint, and a full review will be coming soon.

I then met up with my good friend, the lovely Gwen Reyes (Reel Vixen, Red Carpet Crash), who treated me to some awesome gelato at the fancy West Village shopping center where The Magnolia theater is located.

Little did I know that the awesome was yet to come. We then went to the Dallas International Film Festival Lounge only open to press and filmmakers and what I saw there I couldn't believe. Free alcohol, free food, free wifi, a DJ playing all day, all in a dimly lit and relaxing environment. I'd live there if I could, and in that moment I decided I'd come back next year (I'm easy, what can I say?)

The lounge is right next to the Angelika Film Center, where I saw Compliance for a second time. That's a rough film to see for a second time but I was interested in seeing actor Pat Healy in a Q&A for it, as this movie elicits some intense emotions while watching. Sure enough, the Q&A got a little heated at times, but Pat kept his cool among the negative vibes in the room.

I'll be back tomorrow for a full day of The Dallas International Film Festival, and I'll even give an account my first-ever trip to In-N-Out Burger.

Review: Touchback


TouchbackIf we could go back and change one aspect of our past that would change everything about our future, how many of us would take that chance? Questions like that are obviously silly and they serve merely as discussion points rather than actual situations, but the question is an interesting one nonetheless. The football film Touchback even asks a great question with its tagline, "Would you give up everything you love for a shot at everything you've wanted?" When worded that way, a simple premise becomes infinitely more interesting.

Scott (Brian Presley) is the quarterback of the high-school football team in a small Ohio town, and in 1991 he leads the improbably successful team all the way to the state championship. On the final drive with his team down, he must take the ball and run down the field to score because he missed a wide open receiver. As he dives above the goal line, he badly injures his knee and from one second to the next he goes from a future college football with definite NFL aspirations to never being able to play football (much less walk properly) again.

Fast forward 20 years and Scott's the only farmer in town farming soy beans -- no one tells him this will work. He's got a loving wife and two great kids and his friends are some of his old high-school teammates. As much as this town loves football, he's as far removed from it as possible. Never going to games or even watching them on TV, it's obvious he regrets the turn his life has taken. Until one day he wakes up and he's somehow been transported back in time to that fateful week 20 years earlier and he realizes he's got a chance to right the ship that is his life. But will he do it?

The beats are predictable, and the story itself as stated earlier isn't the most original. Kudos deserve to be handed out for Touchback, though, because no one mails in their performance. Kurt Russell as the head football coach is as heartfelt as any role can be. It's maybe a bit underwritten, because the closeness of a football coach to one of his players is more implied than actually shown here. But writer/director Don Handfield has crafted a really good film. One that football fans can certainly relate to and enjoy.

Review: The Three Stooges


Three Stooges

There's a lot you can say about Bobby and Peter Farrelly, aka the Farrelly brothers. Among all of the things you can say about them, one thing you certainly can't say is that their movies are lazy. Though their last few films have lacked in quality, they have been full on heart and and they've certainly stuck to the formula that gave them some early success. It's a shame that early success hasn't been more consistent as of late and their homage to some classic comedians, The Three Stooges fits more along their mold as of late than it does their earlier films.

It opens with a flashback, the way a lot of Farrelly brothers films do, at an orphanage run by nuns. There are children happily playing until Sister Mary-Mengele (played amazingly by Larry David) ruins their song-and-dance routine. What seems like a normal day is disrupted by a speeding car that drops off a bag with three bundles of joy by the names of Larry, Curly and Moe. At first everyone in the orphanage can't wait to hold the three adorable babies, but soon the tide turns and the three boys are the bane of the orphanage's existence. One day a couple comes and adopts Moe, but since he's not adopted with his two friends he chooses to stay.

Years later, when they're adults, they learn that the orphanage is in a massive debt and must be shut down unless $830,000 can be raised. The boys are determined to raise the money and off they go on an adventure to try to save the orphanage they've called home since they were babies.

Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen


Salmon Fishing in the YemenSometimes a romantic story can come from a strange place. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen proves that if your character exhibit a mutual passion towards a specific goal, a blossoming romantic relationship is an easy sell at the movies. Adapted by Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours) from Paul Torday's novel, the film is obviously comfortable with its dramatic bits, but it's the characters involved that were carved out incredibly. They were written well, but also directed well. Lasse Hallström did a wonderful job crafting the chemistry shared onscreen with leads Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt. Given the filmmaker's history, though (Dear John, Chocolat), directing romance isn't a stretch for him.

British Government fishing expert Dr. Alfred Jones (McGregor) leads a very mild-mannered life. One day he gets a very polite letter from a Ms. Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Blunt) describing a project conjured up by her client, a rich sheikh from the Republic of Yemen. The sheikh's dream is to build a river in the middle of the Yemen desert and fish for salmon in that river. Thinking this proposition is a joke, he declines the request and doesn't give it another thought. When faced with a plethora of negative headlines from the Middle East, the Prime Minister searches for a feel-good story and comes across word of this project. Needless to say, Dr. Jones then gets a friendly nudge to help the project come to fruition.

Simply stated, that is the plot of Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and its main driving force, but as the best-laid plans of mice and men proverbially go, obstacles stand in the way. The people in Yemen don't want outsiders building something so massive on their land, Ms. Chetwode-Talbot's boyfriend is missing in action in Afghanistan, and Dr. Jones's marriage is falling apart, leaving him no one to talk to but his koi fish. The improbability of the success of the project notwithstanding, the main characters each have their own internal conflict to deal with. At times this extra conflict was a little off-putting and seemed to pad the story too much. For the most part though, it's handled well enough, that you're only ever taken out of the film's story for a small amount of time.

SXSW Review: Blue Like Jazz


Blue Like Jazz

However people decide they feel about the comparison about the similarity of Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas, if you watch Blue Like Jazz, there's certainly some validity to the argument that people in both cities are cut from the same cloth. Based on a novel of the same name, the movie Blue Like Jazz plays like the sort of coming-of-age tale that many sheltered adolescents no doubt experience when they first go off to college. It's the second novel from Donald Miller and is a collection of essays and personal thoughts written as he was experiencing college and learning more about God and nature.

As small-town Texas young adult Don (Marshall Allman) is choosing where to go to college, he learns that his mother has been having an affair with Don's friend, who's also the youth pastor at their church. This shock to the system leads Don to take his father up on his offer of free schooling at Reed College, one of the most liberal schools in the country. While there, he meets an unusual cast of characters who show him there's more to life than a strict Baptist upbringing, and he learns more about himself than he ever has.

Review: 21 Jump Street


21 Jump Street

Sometimes when you watch a movie that you end up loving, you can pinpoint the exact moment that you say to yourself, before the film is even done, "Yeah, I'm gonna like this." 21 Jump Street has a moment like this. It pokes fun at the idea of Hollywood being so unoriginal it has to churn out remakes by rehashing, and it's done so in such a flippant way that it couldn't have possibly be delivered by anyone other than Nick Offerman. This is the moment where you'll either check out of the film, or you'll be totally on board.

You won't have to buy into the concept so much as just appreciate the comedic stylings of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, and it may seem hard to believe but yes, Channing Tatum does indeed have some great comedic chops under his emotionless face.

Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) are two former high-school classmates who didn't run in the same circles back in high school. Fast forward a few years when they both join the police academy and realize they can help each out because of their different skill sets. When they eventually make their first arrest, they manage to spectacularly botch it and they get assigned to an undercover unit as a form of punishment. Their mission is to stop a new drug that is currently contained to one school from spreading and making it harder to eliminate. They're not supposed to drink or do drugs with the kids, but it's been established at this point that they're not very good cops, so what else would you expect?

SXSW Review: The Do-Deca-Pentathlon


The Do-Deca-Pentathlon

Austin locals and indie film champions Jay and Mark Duplass have always stayed true to their philosophical roots. This is evident in every movie they've made. The only difference as you go along their filmography in chronological order is that they are able to secure more famous acting talent than the movie prior to it. Despite the enormity of talent they're able to bring in, every film still manages to be charming and full of heart.

The Do-Deca-Pentathlon will be about as close as you can get to the Duplass brothers going back to their true roots. They filmed it immediately after Baghead in 2008, and it stars one of the same actors. After Baghead, they signed a deal to make Cyrus, and they've been two of the hardest working filmmakers in the business ever since. They were thrilled to finally show this movie to an audience.

In 1990, Mark (Steve Zissis) and Jeremy (Mark Kelly) embarked on the brotherly competition to end all brotherly competitions, the do-deca-pentathlon. The 25-event competition would declare the winner the champion of all time, but when they were tied, the final event ended in controversy due to some interference from a well intentioned father. This started a feud between the brothers that Mark never got over. Fast forward to when the brothers are now adults. Mark has a beautiful family and Jeremy is a professional poker player. On a weekend getaway for Mark's birthday, Jeremy comes back and antagonizes Mark into doing the do-deca again, much to the chagrin of his Mark's wife Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur).

SXSW Review: God Bless America


God Bless America

Upon first glance of the trailer, or even hearing that God Bless America is a movie written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait -- you know, that guy from the Police Academy movies -- it'd easy to dismiss the film as a dumb and very violent action comedy with nothing to say. That couldn't be further from the truth. It's got a lot of things to say, and it will say something to everybody. Not everyone will be ready for this a harsh a dose of reality, but it's a film that people in this country could clearly benefit from watching.

What would you do if you were at your lowest point? Fired from your job, everything on TV makes you miserable, your daughter hates you and you just can't catch a break. This is where Frank (Joel Murray) finds himself, and to make matters worse, he's diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer. When he's just about to take his own life, Frank watches the most vile of reality TV characters, a 15-year-old teenager in a rich family. He decides to track her down and end her life, righting a small wrong in the world before he will leave it. He's witnessed by a young girl named Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), who has a similar disdain for the victim but also, like Frank, for the rest of the country. Together they decide who should die and who should live as they venture across the country.

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