Jenn Brown's blog

Review: Win Win


Writer-director Thomas McCarthy knows that even the smallest of choices can have a profound impact on ordinary lives. His latest movie Win Win, which played SXSW and returns to Austin theaters on Friday, proves McCarthy is a master filmmaker, taking an otherwise ordinary life into another profoundly moving film.

Paul Giamatti stars as Mike, a mostly content family man with a struggling law practice. Like everyone else these days, he's just one bad month away financial disaster. When Mike seizes an opportunity to ease the strain, the consequences include an unexpected addition to his household in the form of  teenager Kyle (Alex Shaffer).

Like other McCarthy protagonists, Mike's quiet existence is interrupted by a stranger's intrusions and reluctantly embraces the change. Kyle simply wants to see his grandfather (Burt Young), who now resides in a senior care facility, so Mike and wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) take him in until they can talk to his mother (Melanie Lynskey).

Review: Hanna


Despite a promising premise, Hanna tries too hard to meld "stranger in a strange land" with "spy versus spy" and trips over itself.

From the movie's opening shot, director Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice) sets the bar high, showing Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) as a gifted hunter being raised in isolation and without modern luxuries. However, the story often makes illogical choices to drive home Hanna's alienation and unfamiliarity with the modern world.

Co-writer David Farr has experience writing spy thrillers, having penned several episodes of the hit British series MI-5 (aka Spooks) about the UK equivalent of Homeland Security, a combination of espionage and frothy drama. The script penned with Seth Lochhead tries too hard to be clever, with more brute force than subtlety, sapping too much tension from what is clearly meant to be intelligent thriller. Most everything onscreen is too obvious, from Cate Blanchett's cold-blooded spy-master, to Hanna’s isolation and her lack of practical education from the man who raised her to be lethally self-reliant.

Movies This Week: Insidious Rubber Concert Code


To say this week's new movies are an eclectic mix is an understatement. Read on ...

Movies We've Seen:

The Concert -- Mélanie Laurent stars in this comedy about a once celebrated conductor who intercepts a invitation for his former orchestra to perform in Paris. Read Debbie's review for more details. (Arbor)

Source Code -- Duncan Jones' sophomore feature also deals with classic science fiction themes, although this time there's a much larger cast, and much more at stake as Jake Gyllenhaal tries to stop a terrorist attack and save the girl. I agree with Jette's review -- put this on your must see list. (wide)

The King's Speech (PG-13 version) -- Honestly, I haven't seen this new censored version of the film reworked to remove the (therapeutic) profanity in the original release version. But hey, if it means 13 year olds won't act like 3-year-olds repeating what they've heard before, more power to 'em. Read Elizabeth's review of the original R-rated version. (wide)

SXSW 2011: 'Apart' Director Aaron Rottinghaus


Romantic thriller Apart had its world premiere at SXSW earlier this month, and will be playing in competition at the Dallas International Film Festival on April 3 and 5. I interviewed star Josh Danziger and writer/director Aaron Rottinghaus while they were in Austin to promote the movie (read my review for more details).

But before I get into my conversation with Rottinghaus, allow me to take a moment to share what actress Joey Lauren Adams had to say, when I spent a few minutes chatting with her. Adams (Chasing Amy) hired Rottinghaus as an editor on her writing/directorial debut Come Early Morning, which Austin Film Festival in 2006 after a Sundance premiere earlier that year.

"In the process of editing [Come Early Morning], we became friends and he went above in beyond in helping me with my project," Adams told me. So she returned the favor to take a small but significant role in Apart.

"Once he gave me that first bit of direction, he was really good. And all at once he was my director and I was his actor, and I trust him. Aaron had a vision, whether you liked the film or not, and it was very thought out and very detailed. He did a great job on it, and he stuck with it." Would Adams work with Rottinghaus again? "In a heartbeat. As a director, or an editor."

SXSW 2011: 'Apart' Actor Josh Danziger


Arguably the best thing about SXSW is discovering "new" talent, both onscreen and off. One of the world premiere films at SXSW 2011 was Apart, the feature directorial debut of Aaron Rottinghaus. The movie starred Texas native Josh Danziger, who worked on the original story with Rottinghaus (read the Slackerwood review). Both took time out of their whirlwind week to talk with Slackerwood about their romantic thriller, the story of a young man haunted by the past and the girl he cannot remember.

Below are excerpts from my conversation with Danziger, who was in town to support the movie and to celebrate making it in his home state of Texas. We're confirming he's also going to be in Dallas for the screenings of Apart at the Dallas International Film Festival in less than a week.

Movies This Week: Elektra Sucker Devil Jane



Did you miss Movies this Week last week?  We're back, even though we're still recovering from SXSW. 

Movies We've Seen:

Elektra Luxx  -- Sebastian Gutierrez's second film featuring the title character (the first being Women in Trouble), focuses on Carla Cugino as a retired porn star. The first movie left me cold, so I skipped the sequel.  Mike has seen it and can tell you more in his review. (Arbor)

I Saw the Devil (pictured above) -- This near-perfect Fantastic Fest 2010 selection is gritty, violent and suspenseful, and a must-see for those who appreciate Korean crime dramas and/or unapologetically dark revenge thrillers.  Byung-hun Lee plays a government agent out for revenge after his fiancee is murdered. (Alamo Ritz)

Jane Eyre -- Arguably Charlotte Brontë's story of the reclusive Mr. Rochester and the stalwart young Jane Eyre is responsible for more undeserved forgiveness in relationships than any other classic story. Cary Fukunaga's interpretation of the classic novel is hurt by the running time, as the subtleties of the relationship in this gothic romance just don't have enough time to develop.  Read Elizabeth's review for more. (wide)

SXSW Review: A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt



A Matter of Taste: Serving Up Paul Liebrandt may seem like it's riding on the coattails of foodie phenomenon of recent years. Nine years in the making, the documentary about a rising-star New York chef pre-dates Top Chef by some years.

Liebrandt made a splash on the New York City food scene as the epitome of enfant terrible chef, arrogant with the skill to back it up. But as A Matter of Taste reveals, all the skill in the world does not equate to success, especially when your art depends on location, reputation and finances. At 24, Liebrandt was the youngest chef to receive a three-star review from The New York Times, but outside of New York you may not have heard of him. Until now. 

Sally Rowe's feature directorial debut focuses as much on the business side of restaurants as the man as Liebrandt matures as a chef and a person. When Rowe started filming him, Liebrandt was on the verge of culinary stardom only to have it elude him in arguably the most competitive restaurant arena in the world. Filled with interviews of food critics and celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller and Eric Ripert, A Matter of Taste is insightfully engaging as Liebrandt's journey is documented, with Liebrandt is the viewer's guide to into the kitchens of New York. Most people know about "location, location, location" but the economic realities are much more involved, as is the personal toll of working the hours necessary to bring those gorgeous dishes to your table.

SXSW Review: Incendiary: The Willingham Case



No matter what side of the death penalty issue you're on, the aptly-titled documentary Incendiary: The Willingham Case is a must-see for anyone who believes in government transparency and protecting civil rights.

In 1991, an incomprehensible tragedy happened in Corsicana, Texas; three small girls died in a house fire. In 2004, their father was executed for their murder. And in 2011, the provocative documentary Incendiary brings focus to the controversial investigation that not only led to a man's death but illuminated the intractability of the Texas state government. The Willingham case has been making headlines because the state of Texas -- and particularly Governor Rick Perry -- has vehemently refused to reconsider the case, even when they could have stayed the execution when reports of a flawed investigation came to light.

SXSW 2011: Day Nine


"A man walks into an Alamo Drafthouse for the first time" sounds like the start of a joke. But no matter how many times I see someone get giddy over the experience, it makes me happy to live in Austin. The man in question was a SXSW Platinum badgeholder who finally was taking the opportunity to catch a movie on the last evening of the festival.  I don't know if he liked the film, but he sure made the waitress laugh with his enthusiasm at being able to order food and beer at his seat.

As for me, I made it to three more films; four technically, but the last film wasn't holding my attention and being so exhausted, I figured it was better to walk and and wonder if it got better.

The funny and controversial Kumaré, about a man who pretends to be a guru and collects a following, played to a packed house but unfortunately without a Q&A. As James Rocchi described it, Kumaré  is "Being There plus The Music Man, with real heart and insight with the absurdist comedy." He said it better than I could.

Updated! SXSW News: The Award Winner Screenings Friday and Saturday


Updated with all Audience Award winners

Trying to match the SXSW award winners with their encore screenings the last two days of the SXSW Film Festival? We're making it easy for you with a listing right here, for screenings this afternoon through tomorrow.  The last three audience award titles will be announced tomorrow morning but we have placeholders for them so we can quickly update this page.

Editor's correction/retraction: When we published this article on Friday, it included a couple of errors, including mislabeling the Lone Star States Jury Award winner as the Audience Award winner. We have corrected the errors, and apologize for any confusion and misunderstanding that they caused. Please don't hesitate to contact us immediately if you notice anything incorrect on our website in the future.

Friday Special Screenings 
Grand Jury Award Narrative Feature: Natural Selection (yes, it's playing twice today)
2 pm, Rollins Theater

Audience Award Winner, Documentary Competition Feature:  Kumaré
6:30 pm, Regal Arbor (satellite venue)

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