Jenn Brown's blog

Review: Black Swan

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Don't be surprised if Darren Aronofsky's latest film, Black Swan, makes you want to see a ballet. From the first shot to the last, Black Swan is an allegorical performance piece wrapped up in a psychological thriller.

The twisted sister of Aronofsky's previous film The Wrestler, Black Swan centers on an emotionally fragile ballerina at a precarious cusp in her career, when her company is about to cast an ambitious re-imagining of Swan Lake. Obsessed with perfection, Nina (Natalie Portman) auditions for the coveted lead at the risk of her delicate psyche.

Like the roles she's rehearsing on stage, Nina is trapped by powerful forces beyond her control. Demanding artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) forces Nina out of her comfort zone, while her mother (Barbara Hershey) is passive-aggressively protective. Rival dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) is always around to remind Nina of what she is not, and just how insecure her position is.

Movies This Week: A Strange Warrior Unfinished

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This is such a weird week for movies; the Thanksgiving holiday push is over, but it's not yet the heavy-hitting Oscar contender releases that start later in the month. And believe me, there are some incredible movies debuting later this month. But for now, here's the new stuff ... none of which we've seen yet, but we hope to catch a few of these soon.

New Movies in Austin:

A Film Unfinished -- History buffs and misinformation junkies alike will want to check out this doc based on recovered footage of Ghetto, a Nazi propaganda film that was never finished, including some footage not found in the rough cut. (Arbor)

Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey -- 160 of Bollywood historical drama.  (Cinemark Tinseltown 17)

Ratha Charithram -- Ram Gopal Varma's latest Bollywood film is based on a leader of Andhra Pradesh, India's fourth largest state. (Cinemark Tinseltown 17)

Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields -- This documentary about songwriter Merritt, filmed over 10 years, has a week-long run at Alamo Drafthouse. Sponsored by SXSW. (Alamo Ritz)

Movies This Week: Welcome Tamara to the Cool Morning Skyline Gym Howl

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Looking for a good movie to watch in an Austin theater this weekend? Here are the movies opening locally this week -- a nice mix of indies and wide releases.

Movies We've Seen:

Boxing Gym -- Premiering at Cannes and screening at AFF, this documentary by Frederick Wiseman about Richard Lord's Gym on N. Lamar and the people training there gets a week-long run in town. Wiseman last brought us inside La danse - Le ballet de l'Opéra de Paris. Read Jette's review from Cinematical for details. Special news: We just learned that Wiseman and Lord will be doing two Q&As at the 4:25 and 7 pm screenings on Saturday, and tickets are still available ... which is great since the Sunday screening with Wiseman is sold out. (Alamo South Lamar)

Morning Glory -- It's hard not to be reminded of Broadcast News. Writer Aline Brosh McKenna is responsible for 27 Dresses and The Devil Wears Prada, so even if it's flowery, it's probably entertaining. Elizabeth tells you why she liked it in her review. (wide)

Skyline -- Aliens with Cthulhu spaceships! Written by two newer screenwriters (Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell) with extensive backgrounds in visual effects so you know it's going to be pretty. With the always watchable Eric Balfour (Six Feet Under, Haven). Mike saw it at midnight and has a review. (wide)

Movies This Week: Fair Colored Megamind Lions Due Inside Hill

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Looking for something to see in theaters this weekend? Here are the new movies opening in Austin today or within the week.

Movies We've Seen:

The Bridge on the River Kwai -- As part of their Digital Classics series, the Alamo is showing a digitally restored version of the WWII classic with the famous whistle. If you don't get the reference, get your ass over there to see (and hear). (Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar)

Fair Game --  When a CIA agent's cover is blown by White House official, it's big news and it was bound to get turned into a political thriller.  With Sean Penn and Naomi Watts in the cast, it's no surprise it's out in time for awards season. Read Elizabeth's review for more details. (Arbor)

Four Lions --  The first of the Alamo Drafthouse distribution comany films is out in limited release and -- no surprise -- Austin is one of the first cities for it to play. Jihad as a comedy? Why, yes. Read Mike's review to find out more. (Alamo Lamar)

AFF 2010 Review: Miss Nobody

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Likeable murderers in film are usually limited to those we admire for their style, not for being sweet and sympathetic. Miss Nobody is an exception and one of the sweetest black comedies you'll likely ever see from its vivacious opening credits til the startling final shot.

With its Pushing Daisies sensibilities, Miss Nobody is the colorful and cheerful murders-by-number tale of an insignificant admin assistant who takes a chance and becomes an executive ... with a pesky little body count. The invisibly mousey Sarah Jane McKinney (Leslie Bibb) follows up on her friend's suggestion to apply for a promotion, only to find her true calling as she climbs a particularly deadly corporate ladder. When a most fortunate accident launches Sarah Jane's career, she finds herself at the mercy of some of the most Machiavellian corporate execs on screen. This is a truly cutthroat business environment, leaving Sarah Jane no choice but to employ some creative career enders.

AFF 2010 Review: I Didn't Come Here to Die

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Take a classic slasher setup, a bunch of young people isolated in the woods, and turn the trope on its overly predictable ear and you get the indie horror film I Didn't Come Here to Die by Austinite Bradley Scott Sullivan.

With one of the best ever taglines ("Volunteer work is a killer"), Sullivan's screenplay takes a small group of "Volunteers of American Generating Goodwill" out to a remote location to start work on what will eventually be campgrounds for underprivileged urban youth. As the first team to work on the project, they're roughing it in tents, with no phone service, and supposedly, no alcohol and no fraternization. All the rules in place are for safety's sake, but once rules start being broken, everything and everyone starts down a slippery, bloody slope.

AFF 2010 Quick Snaps: Black List and 'By Way of Helena' Reading

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Austin Film Festival is over for another year, but we're still covering it. And now that official photos from AFF are available for the panels related to By Way of Helena, here they are. Above are DB Sweeney and Jeff Fahey, who took the lead roles during Friday's script reading.

AFF 2010 Daily Dispatch: Day Seven

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It was Ladies Night last night at Austin Film Festival. The most anticipated film of the festival, Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, played to a packed house with several people giving standing ovations when the credits rolled, despite no guests being in attendance.

Well, that's not entirely true. Ballet Austin's Artistic Director Stephen Mills helped AFF Film Program Director Kelly Williams introduce the film about a ballerina living her dream as a nightmare. Black Swan is a powerful, haunting and incredibly beautiful film won the hearts of the entire audience, critics and fans alike.  If you enjoyed the classic film The Red Shoes, you are going to love Black Swan.

A very different movie followed, but another all about the women.  Made in Dagenham is the story of the 1968 Machinists strike in the UK when women at a Ford plant outside London got fed up with getting less than half the wages men would for the same job. It's typical UK feel-good fare of the kind that audiences will eat up even with a film that telegraphs every move, especially those of us at a certain age and the female persuasion. Sally Hawkins will get robbed if she doesn't at least get a BAFTA for her performance as the housewife/factory worker who finally stands up for herself. Hearing a couple of women in the bathroom crowing "We've come a long way baby," then suddenly realizing we're still not there yet, proved Made in Dagenham is a relevant film, and well as the adage that reminds us that well-behaved women rarely make history.

AFF 2010: 'By Way of Helena,' or That Other Script Reading

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There's a lot of buzz about the script reading for the raucously funny The Hand Job on Sunday at the Rollins Theatre with Bill Hader, Colin Hanks, Jessica Alba and others. But earlier during the conference, AFF held another, quieter script reading on Friday in the stuffy little Maxmillian Room at the Driskill. What for? By Way of Helena, a twisty western revenge thriller as yet to be produced. 

Earlier in the day, screenwriter Matt Cook participated in the Black List panel, as his screenplay for By Way of Helena was voted one of the best unproduced screenplays of 2009 on The Black List. Immediately following, Black List founder Franklin Leonard introduced Cook for a reading of his script.  Helping Cook was an eclectic mix of well known and lesser known actors.  The entire lineup at the front of the room, in order, was Cook, Jason Newman (Silas, Clem), Lauren Wolf (Maria), Richard Dillard (Saul, Governor Ross), Yesenia Garcia (Marisol), DB Sweeney (David), Jeff Fahey (Abraham), Savannah Welch (Naomi), Karl Anderson (Isaac), Shannon McCormick (George) and John Spong (Narrator).

AFF 2010 Review: Dog Sweat

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Iranian cinema is not known for taking on complex social issues, particularly those that challenge the current regime's restrictive expectations. Somehow, Dog Sweat was filmed and has reached international audiences. Maryam Azadi's debut script features six young Iranians with intertwined lives struggling to reconcile their not-so-conservative longings with contemporary Tehran realities just prior to the 2009 elections.

Shot clandestinely throughout Tehran, Dog Sweat opens with Homan, Massoud, and Hooshang getting drunk while arguing the value of Johnnie Walker whiskey and contemplating some unusual tactics they'd employ if America invades, unequivocally establishing Dog Sweat as a very different film than the usual Iranian fare that makes it to American shores. Each character is at a crossroads, following one's heart's desires or cowing to societal pressures. The consequences aren't minor; these are criminal acts in Iran, and as each character makes their choice, there is no turning back.

Massoud is more concerned about where to get liquor, be it Johnny Walker Blue or home brewed "dog sweat." Hooshang enjoys spending all his free time with Homan, but considers the trappings of marriage as a means to finding freedom. Counterpoints to these young men are Katie, Katherine and Mahsa -- a self-proclaimed feminist hiding her affair, a shy girl who just wants to "have fun" with Kate's brother, and an aspiring singer who could be arrested for even attempting to fulfill her dream.

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