Jenn Brown's blog

Fantastic Fest Reveals More Movies and a New Director

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The seventh annual Fantastic Fest is just over a month away, and the anticipation is building, especially with the newly announced second wave of programming.

What stands out the most for me is the announcement that Alamo Drafthouse veteran Kristen Bell is officially the Fantastic Fest Director. If you've ever spent any time at the South Lamar Alamo, you've probably seen Kristen (not to be confused with the star of Veronica Mars) as General Manager, taking care of business and making sure guests have a good experience. She's been an integral part of making Fantastic Fest a success in years past. Fantastic Fest co-founder Tim League said, "We are all excited to have Kristen assume this expanded role at the festival and look forward to working with her to continue to improve what is undoubtedly my favorite eight days of the year." Congratulations, Kristen!

As deserving as Kristen is, you're probably more interested in hearing about what's going to be onscreen and not behind the scenes at next month's fest. The second wave of titles includes 17 new world, North America and U.S. premiere films, including a special vintage program of Asian Grindhouse titles called "Movies on Fire: Hong Kong Action Classics," which will be introduced by New York Asian Film Festival's Grady Hendrix. The first wave was announced in July.

Review: Cowboys & Aliens

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Take scrappy Wild West folk and pit them against interstellar aggressors, and what should you get? With Jon Favreau directing, you might expect something smart, fast-paced and fun. After all, Favreau's Elf endeared Will Farrell to audiences who had no appreciation for the man -- no small feat -- and Iron Man and Iron Man 2 were both satisfying summer blockbusters. Unfortunately, Cowboys & Aliens has more in common with Snakes on a Plane than with Iron Man.

The concept of "cowboys versus aliens" couldn't be simpler, but the movie plods along with too many subplots. Understandably, archetypal western characters abound. Daniel Craig's broody, silent stranger upsets the uneasy peace of a dirtwater town run by a dictatorial cattle baron, Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford). Townspeople like saloonkeeper Doc (Sam Rockwell) suffer the patronage of Dolarhyde's spoiled, mercurial son (Paul Dano), thanks in part to worshipful ranch hand Nat Colorado (Adam Beach). The dutiful, tolerant sheriff (Keith Carradine) cares for his orphaned grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer). Gingham clad gun-toting Ella (Olivia Wilde) slouches along in the background and says even less than the preacher (Clancy Brown). After alien raiders strafe the town and steal away many townsfolk, a tenuous alliance forms to recover loved ones.

Movies This Week: Building First Incendies Tree

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Apparently it's nostalgia day for me. I missed the fact that Nora's Will opened last week in Austin. This fantastic little feature is a witty and heartfelt tale about the first five days after a woman's death, and won over audiences at Cine Las Americas a couple of years ago. Thankfully it's still playing up at the Arbor. You might want to check it out if you make the mistake of trying to get tickets to Terrence Malick's latest this week, which is sure to be SRO and not just because he's local, and it's a local production. Many Years Ago, Malick's Days of Heaven was featured in the "Film as Literature" course at my college, and we discussed the sumptuousness of that film's cinematography along with other laudable attributes at length; word has it Malick's skill hasn't lessened.

Movies We've Seen:

Building Hope -- Local filmmaker/activist Turk Pipkin's latest documentary about the Nobelity Project's endeavors screened at SXSW this year. Now it's having a weeklong theatrical run in Austin. AFS is hosting two screenings tonight that include a reception with Pipkin at the theater. Debbie calls the documentary "well paced and balanced" in her review from SXSW. (Violet Crown)

The Tree of Life -- Filmed in Smithville by Texas filmmaker Terrence Malick, this is arguably one of the most anticipated films in years, and it doesn't hurt that it just won the Palme d'Or in Cannes. As this coming-of-age tale is only playing at one theater in town this week, I highly recommend getting your tickets in advance. Don reviews. (Arbor)

X-Men: First Class -- The X-Men franchise gets a prequel with Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) at the helm, and a plethora of stars established and new, including James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Kevin Bacon and Jennifer Lawrence. Read Mike's review for more. (wide)

Review: The Beaver

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Despite the pun-magnet title, The Beaver is an unexpectedly dramatic film that succeeds in part because of -- and at times despite of -- its star.

When Walter Black (Mel Gibson) has a midlife crisis, he implodes more spectacularly than the average person. But Walter isn't an average person; he has a beautiful house, a beautiful wife Meredith (Jodie Foster), two children (Anton Yelchin, Riley Thomas Stewart) and a big family business that many would envy. Yet he cannot manage any of it and it slips away out of his unclenched grasp.

Instead of finding his inner child when he finally rallies, Walter creates the distance he desperately needs as well as the momentum to start moving forward through an alter-ego in the form of a old beaver hand puppet. Those around him seem to control their misgivings to different degrees, with his teenage son (Yelchin) clearly resenting it, his wife somewhat appalled but desperate to get her husband back, and the younger son who embraces it with the resiliency most kids show.

Movies This Week: Five Better Certified Assassins

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Since the Dobie closed last year, there's been a void in town, but now with the Violet Crown open, Austin has a new dedicated arthouse cinema. No more trips up north for me. And for those of you relying on mass transit, it's conveniently downtown in the Second Street district (and on one of the most frequently running routes, the #3).

Movies We've Seen:

13 Assassins -- Takashi Miike's popular tale of a group of samurai warriors on a suicide mission to kill an evil lord has played both Fantastic Fest and SXSW. That pretty much speaks for itself. Read Jette's review from Fantastic Fest. (Ritz)

Other Movies Opening in Austin:

Certified Copy (pictured above)  -- Juliette Binoche stars in this chance encounter between a gallery owner and a writer who end up touring the Tuscan countryside, and are continually mistaken for a married couple. Binoche's performance earned her a Best Actress prize at Cannes. (Violet Crown)

Movies This Week: The Greatest Big Happy American Cats

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It may still be early spring, but we're definitely seeing summer weather, which means people are going to the movies to cool off. A whole lot of films are opening in Austin this week, see for yourself. In addition, Cine Las Americas is underway all week at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar and -- screenings are free at this venue -- the Mexican American Cultural Center. Read my preview for details.

Movies We've Seen:

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold -- Morgan Spurlock, the man who took on McDonalds and super-sized meals, now takes on product placement, with the help of POM Wonderful in this SXSW 2010 selection. Read Mike's SXSW review. (Arbor, Alamo Lamar)

Echotone -- Jette says: This AFF 2010 documentary about the Austin music scene and how it's affected by local development is back in town for a four-night run. It's also a very lovely movie with some great music. Read Debbie's review from AFF or my review for Cinematical. Don't miss seeing it in a theater. (Alamo Ritz)

Cine Las Americas: A Preview of This Year's Fest

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Cine Las Americas is almost upon us so it's high time to do a little preview before opening night on Thursday. If you aren't familiar with Cine Las Americas, it's a festival celebrating the films and realities of those of Latin and Indigenous America, including a diverse selection of narratives and documentaries. Unlike most of the festivals in town, a great deal of the programming for Cine Las Americas is free.

This year, the primary venues are Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar and the Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC). The MACC screenings are free, and this year, the MACC is the main venue. In addition, two satellite venues offer a few additional free movies: the Jones Auditorium at the Ragsdale Center (St. Edwards University), and the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-in. Plus there are those Master Classes I mentioned last week. That means a whole lot more free. Sure, passholders (the equivalent of badges) get priority seating, but that just means with a little patience, you can see a lot of world-class cinema regardless of how tight your budget. Besides, the passes are pretty affordable anyway.

Movies This Week: Even the Irishman Conspirator Scream Poem

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It is a week full of narratives based on true stories ... and in one case, a classic work of literature. It's also one of those rare weeks when we haven't seen many of the movies opening in Austin. But that's okay, we've got the Off-Centered Film Festival happening this weekend, not to mention impatiently waiting for Cine Las Americas and the Violet Crown Cinema opening later this month.

Movies We've Seen:

Even the Rain (Tambien La Lluvia) -- I regret not getting a chance to see this dramatization starring Gael García Bernal. This story is about a controversial film production in Bolivia as locals face privatization of water in this eerie parallel of exploitation in both the past and present. Don has seen it and has a lot to say about this true story in his review. (Arbor)

Cine Las Americas Offers Free 'Master Classes'

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Cine Las AmericasWith the 14th annual Cine Las Americas looming on the horizon, we thought there is something you should know. Not only do they have another schedule packed full of films encompassing the breadth of Latin American and indigenous American cinema, this year Cine Las Americas also has four "Master Classes" available to the public.

That's right -- available to the public, as in free, gratis, no dinero, won’t break your piggy bank. Of course there is a slight catch: If you have a film pass for Cine Las Americas, you get priority seating, so if you do want to attend, get there early to be at the front of the line. Or spend a few bucks and get a pass for one of the best kept secrets in film in a movie-hungry town (get one now and save on full price).

The four classes run from Monday, April 25 to Thursday, April 28, and take place at 4 pm in the Black Box Theater at the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center (MACC). The MACC has been a venue for Cine Las Americas for a while now, and this year more films are screening there, meaning you can easily catch a master class then make the evening's films.

  • Monday, April 25 -- Carmen Marron, writer/director/producer, Go For It! talks about getting U.S. distribution for her inspirational dance film. Go For It! Opens theatrically on May 13, released by Pantelion Films (Lionsgate).
  • Tuesday, April 26 -- Andrés Martínez-Ríos, founder and director of Aatomo Rentas/Chemistry Cine. This case study of the film Jean Gentil (dir. Laura Amelia Guzmán and Ismael Cárdenes) will be a discussion of current state of international cooperation in production and post-production, with a focus on Mexico and the United States.

Movies This Week: Hanna Highness Born to Win

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New movies in Austin this week include big goofy Hollywood comedies as well as some indie gems.

Movies We've Seen:

Born to be Wild -- Narrated by Morgan Freeman, this documentary is the story of orphaned and rescued orangutans and elephants. Read Debbie's review for more. (The Story of Texas IMAX Theater)

Hanna (pictured above)-- A girl who's trained her entire life for a deadly confrontation with a mysterious woman from the CIA sounds like it would be a great thriller, but it tries too hard and too loudly to be clever to the point not even Cate Blanchett, Saoirse Ronan and Tom Hollander can save it. Although they certainly try. Read my review for the whole scoop. (wide)

Win Win -- A small-town lawyer barely making ends meet takes in a teenager with unforeseen consequences to his life and family. If you liked The Station Agent and The Visitor, you'll like Tom McCarthy's latest which was also a SXSW Selection.  See my review for details.  (Arbor)

Your Highness -- The Pineapple Express team takes on medieval times with a lowbrow comedy twist.The more trailers I see for this one, the less I want to see it. Mike has seen and enjoyed it, so check out his review.  (wide)

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