Jette Kernion's blog

Review: The To Do List


The To Do List

The 80s and 90s brought us numerous coming-of-age comedies about the innocent young man who wants to gain experience with young women and finds himself in the middle of any number of raunchy and/or outrageous situations.

With The To Do List (it's killing me not to put a hyphen in there) the scenario is reversed, and this time a young woman seeks sexual experience and adventures. Set in the early 1990s, the movie intentionally calls back to those male-centered raunchy sex comedies, but this time a female actually experiences sexual gratification onscreen. 

It is a refreshing change. When was the last time you watched a movie in which a female character had an orgasm? (Sorry, Mom.) And not a pretend one in a deli, either. I am talking about a woman who enjoys sex and isn't punished for it by being eaten by a shark or knifed by a serial killer or the victim of a fatal disease. It grows very tiresome.

Brandy (Aubrey Plaza) is her high schools' valedictorian, graduating with every academic honor under the sun ... but knowing nothing about sex or intimate relationships. She finds this out the hard way (no, that's not a pun, stop it) and addresses her lack of knowledge and experience in a way that any brainy teenage girl might: She compiles a list of activities that will prepare her for being sexually comfortable and experienced when she arrives at college.

Review: Only God Forgives


Only God Forgives

When a filmmaker is present at a screening of his or her movie, often the audience is extra-passionate with their applause at the end of the film. But as the end credits rolled for Only God Forgives, a stunned silence fell. After a few moments, some audience members recalled themselves and applauded enthusiastically, but when the house lights were raised I could still see many dazed and confused faces.

What is Only God Forgives? What goes on in the brain of filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn? If you're expecting Drive, shut that down right now. If you're hoping for another Bronson ... no, but you might be partially prepared for the surreality. Only God Forgives isn't like anything else I saw this year. Did I like it? I have no idea. Was it good? It was vivid and disturbing enough to stick with me for days, and you can't discount a film that does such a thing.

Only God Forgives opens with the scenario that Julian (Ryan Gosling) is running a Bangkok boxing club as a front for some drug smuggling, which he's been doing since he killed someone ten years previously. His brother is murdered, and their mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) arrives in Hong Kong demanding that Julian avenge him.

A Cinematic Guide to Texas Politics


Along Came Kinky

Over the past few weeks, many people in Texas and out are being exposed to Lone Star political and legislative processes and quirks for the first time. It can be puzzling, rage-inducing and sometimes hilarious. (Occasionally, all three.)

Fortunately, many filmmakers have documented both the broad -- often as in comically broad -- and fine points of Texas politics over the years. So if you want to figure out what's been going on over there in the Capitol, perhaps some of the movies on this list might help you out. Or they'll give you a good laugh to help distract you from what's going on. Or you can treat them like old-fashioned melodramas and boo and hiss some of the villains. (This really has happened during some screenings of political movies I've attended.)

I'm sorry these all aren't available through streaming -- you might have to buy a DVD through the movie's website. Local filmmakers, please follow the lead of David Hartstein, who was motivated when I told him about this article to put Along Came Kinky (pictured at top) on Vimeo video-on-demand.

Incendiary: The Willingham Case (Don's review) -- The SXSW 2011 screening I attended was one with a lot of booing, mostly of Gov. Rick Perry. It's about the battle of science versus folklore -- with a strong assist from politics. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 after being convicted for the 1991 deaths of his two children in a fire. Perry declined to issue a stay of execution despite evidence that showed the arson theory, which was the basis of the conviction, was faulty. (Available on DVD, iTunes, and through Tugg.)

Review: Pacific Rim


Pacific Rim

In the middle of the summer movie season, it's always a delight to find that one movie that handles its blockbuster premise with some degree of intelligence, that turns out to be an escapist movie for smart people, that offers the surprise of some cleverness or well-earned emotional depth even if the movie is flawed.

Pacific Rim is not that one movie.

Despite being directed and co-written by Guillermo del Toro, a filmmaker who has brought us some intelligent and emotionally moving stories (Pan's Labyrinth among them), Pacific Rim is fun in the same way as a rickety rapid-fire rollercoaster ride -- and afterwards, you walk away with the same slight dizzy feeling, perhaps leading to mild headache.

Pacific Rim is a movie where robots fight monsters, and if that excites you greatly, details like character development, plot, dialogue and even empathy aren't important. Unfortunately, even that level of enjoyment is tempered in 3D, which causes the screen to look muddy and the monsters to appear as little more than brown blobs with a few pretty lights attached.

In the near future, kaiju-like creatures (see: Godzilla and that crowd) appear from under the Pacific Ocean in a dimensional rift and rampage the planet. Mankind develops giant robots called Jaegers, each operated by a pair of fighters, to combat the creatures. Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) was involved in a terrible tragedy when his Jaeger was damaged in battle, and resolves not to fight again until years later, his old commander (Idris Elba) persuades him that he's needed to save the world. He joins a bunch of other guys and one smart, determined woman (Rinko Kikuchi) in one last grand attempt to keep the monsters from conquering Earth.

Movies This Week: July 5-11, 2013


Trash Dance

If you've had enough fireworks and barbecue and outdoor holiday fun, perhaps you'd like to spend some time in a nice air-conditioned movie theater. You've got all kinds of choices, luckily.

This is an excellent week to catch Austin movies. On Saturday afternoon, Austin Film Festival hosts a special screening of family-friendly Holes, which local author Louis Sachar adapted from his novel, at the Texas Spirit Theater in the Texas State History Museum. Trash Dance (Don's review), the delightful doc about the choreographed Austin Waste Services project (pictured above), screens at Alamo Ritz on Tuesday night. And AFF teams up Wednesday night with the Texas Film Commission to screen the locally made film Holy Hell (AFF 2009 review) at the Texas Spirit Theater, as part of the Made in Texas series.

The Paramount and Stateside movie calendar is full this week. One of my all-time favorite movies screens Tuesday at the Paramount: the 1940 film Ball of Fire, starring Barbara Stanwyck -- directed by Howard Hawks and written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. I can't recommend it enough. It's on a double-bill with the 1932 Marx Brothers movie Horse Feathers. And the lovely and amazing Wings of Desire, a film I adore, screens next Friday nighs, a double-feature with Bicycle Thieves. (Originally I had written that it screens on Thursday night too, but it has been pre-empted by a preview of The Conjuring. Imagine my reaction.)

Austin Film Society has a treasure-trove of programming this week. In a circus mood? The French comedy Yoyo screens Sunday at the Marchesa as part of the Traveling Circus series. Want Marilyn Monroe? Catch Bus Stop Tuesday night at Alamo Village. Or you might enjoy the 2012 documentary Bert Stern: Original Mad Man on Wednesday night at the Marchesa. And Thursday night, AFS brings the indie drama About Sunny to Austin as part of its Best of the Fests series.

Review: Somm


Somm posterI know very little about wine, and in fact I don't even drink it very often. And yet I was fascinated by the documentary Somm, about a handful of candidates for the extremely challenging master sommelier test, which many attempt and very few pass. I caught the movie at Hill Country Film Festival in May, and it opens today in Austin at Violet Crown Cinema.

Somm, the first feature-length film from Jason Wise, focuses on four sommeliers preparing for the test, starting three weeks out and going through the test weekend in Houston. They must pass three exams: theory and history, service and blind tasting. In between time with the candidates, other sommeliers and professionals in the wine industry check in on aspects of being a sommelier, tasting wines and preparing for this test.

The four candidates are fascinating to watch and easy to differentiate, all with distinct characteristics. Ian, who is extremely serious about the test prep, seems to get a little more screen time than the others. My favorite may have been DLynn, whose coworkers call him "Mr. Smooth," who was a lot of fun to watch. The candidates all know one another to some degree, and help each other through the prep.

The film starts to lag a little bit about two-thirds of the way through, when we are familiar with who these guys are and what they're doing, and we just want them to get to the test already and find out how they fared.

Fortunately, amusing anecdotes and colorful characters pull Somm through its slower segments. The most memorable interview subject is Fred Dame, the first American to pass this test, who helps mentor and test the candidates. I like watching him pretend to be an irate customer during DLynn's practice service test. Next he grills the hell out of Brian during a practice tasting session. Other sommeliers have some very funny stories about Dame as well.

Another entertaining segment of the documentary focuses on the ways sommeliers learn to smell wines and describe what they're smelling. There's a difference between fresh herbs and dried herbs, and the notes they describe include tennis balls, garden hoses, and cat pee ("the code word for that is blackcurrent").

Refn and Martinez Bring 'Only God Forgives' to Austin


Only God Forgives in Austin

Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive, Bronson) and composer Cliff Martinez (Drive, Traffic) stopped in Austin briefly last week for what was unofficially the North American premiere of Refn's latest movie, Only God Forgives, at Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter. I was at the first of two evening screenings and enjoyed a very lively post-film Q&A from Martinez and Refn (pictured above).

Tim League brought Refn on stage to introduce the film. The writer-director noted that if his previous film, Drive, was the cinematic equivalent of an all-night cocaine binge, then Only God Forgives would be "a really good old-school acid trip." (He said the same thing at the official premiere at Los Angeles Film Festival the next day, but why not? It's a great intro.) He then left the stage so we could find out exactly what that might mean.

You can read my review when the movie opens on July 19, but I will say that it took at least 12 hours for me to decide what I thought about the movie, and even now I'm not so sure. It is stunning in a very literal sense -- I got the impression I wasn't the only one who felt stunned as the closing credits rolled.

Review: Frances Ha


Frances Ha

The trope of Two Girls Together in New York is one that permeates both juvenile literature and grown-up pop culture. Watching Frances (Greta Gerwig) and Sophie (Mickey Sumner) in Frances Ha, however, I didn't initially think about the dramatic and sometimes grim looks at women in the city -- everything from Valley of the Dolls to Sex in the City to recently, Girls.

No, what the two twentysomething friends reminded me of was classic young-adult-lit characters like Betsy and Tacy, teenagers dreaming about moving to New York and living together after their trip around the world. Or Daisy Fay and her friend Pickle imagining their cosmopolitan future in Manhattan. Young female friendships that inspire dreams of the future that include those friends.

Somehow Frances and Sophie call to mind these characters, if they'd grown up and actually made it to New York together as they planned. The two women in their twenties share a tiny apartment while Frances tries to land a spot in a dance company and Sophie starts to make her way up the publishing ladder. They're downright cute together -- a banjo soundtrack accompanies their antics around town, oddly reminiscent of Girl Walk // All Day in sight if not sound.

Photo Essay: A Weekend at Hill Country Film Festival


HCFF 2013

For the second year in a row, I spent a lovely spring weekend in Fredericksburg for the 2013 Hill Country Film Festival. This is not one of those film fests where you get up early to get a good ticket reservation/spot in line and then proceed to watch four or five films, and then at 2 am collapsing in exhaustion (or going into overtime with karaoke) before getting up early to do it again, downing Red Bull and energy bars for sustenance.

This is a film festival where you watch a movie, and then go have some brunch, and then watch another movie, and perhaps go shopping, and enjoy cocktails with filmmakers, and maybe watch another movie or have a leisurely dinner, then go to a party and talk about the movies you watched while enjoying more cocktails. There was a screening in a winery (pictured above) on Sunday and yes, there was wine as well as sausages from Austin restaurant Frank. I took it very easy, which is why my dispatches are coming to you after the fest and not during.

Look for my capsule reviews/descriptions of many of the shorts and features I saw later this week. In the meantime, I thought I'd share some photos from my time at the fest.

Marfa Film Festival Announces 2013 Lineup


Marfa Film Festival 2013 logoThe Marfa Film Festival is back after a hiatus of a couple of years, and several of us at Slackerwood couldn't be more thrilled. Yesterday, the fest announced most of the movies that will screen from June 26-30. The lineup includes several films with Austin and Texas connections:

  • An Oversimplification of Her Beauty -- Dallas native Terence Nance's narrative film is about what happens when a young man is stood up. It will screen here in Austin at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz later this month.
  • The Taiwan Oyster -- Don reviewed this movie about two Americans on a road trip in Taiwan when it screened at SXSW 2012. He said, "The Taiwan Oyster is a gorgeous and captivating film, a physical and spiritual journey in an exotic land. It has much to say about life, loneliness and death, and our eternal struggles with all three." Filmmaker Mark Jarrett is from Austin.
  • The Passage -- Houston filmmaker Alex Douglas shot this documentary about the Panama Canal. The movie will have its world premiere in Marfa.
  • Houston -- This German film was shot partially in the title city. A German headhunter is sent to Houston on a business errand and finds his life upended. Director Bastian Gunther is now living in Austin.
  • See the Dirt -- This short documentary from local filmmakers Eric Mauck and Chelsea Hernandez is about a 14-year-old boy who collects and is fascinated with vacuum cleaners. It won the documentary short jury prize at Austin Film Festival 2012.
  • Sahasi Chori (Brave Girl) -- Former Austinite Erin Galey made this short about a 13-year-old Nepalese girl traveling to her first job in the city. Brave Girl was one of the Austin Film Society ShortCase films this year -- see Debbie's article for more details and a short interview with Galey.
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