Jenn Brown's blog

Movies This Week: Chekhov's Lost Resident Hit

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How desperate is Hollywood for box-office money? Not only was Avatar re-released a couple of weeks ago, now The Twilight Saga: Eclipse is getting a re-release as well. But I'm liking the fact that the Winnebago Man travels over to Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar this week, and is getting some other screenings at various Alamos, so check their schedule to see all the options for seeing it.

Meanwhile, here's what's opening in Austin this week -- sadly, none of these movies screened for press, so we have no reviews. We've been watching aGLIFF movies instead, and urge you to do the same through Sunday.

Anton Chekhov's The Duel -- A Chekhov book is adapted for the big screen by director Dover Koshashvili (Late Marriage). (Arbor)

Everyone Else -- Vacationing on the Mediterranean tests a German couple's relationship (pictured above, courtesy The Cinema Guild). (Arbor)

aGLIFF 2010 Daily Dispatch: Day One, or Hermine WHO?!

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What a night, huh? Having a tropical storm camp out over Austin didn't stop the festivities at aGLIFF's Opening Night. While a few empty seats were spotted in the front row, and not a few drenched people including yours truly, the opening-night film was a rousing success.

Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls was the crowd pleaser it was expected to be. This historical retrospective wrapped up in a performance/tribute had something for everyone; music, activism, comedy and a whole lot of heart.  But what impressed me is yet again, aGLIFF programs director Jake Gonzales pulled off a technological magic trick. The Topp Twins themselves couldn't be there in person but were ready and willing to do a web chat with the audience. The Alamo staff was up for the challenge but kept insisting they couldn't promise it would work, and unfortunately a web chat was not possible.

Dunno if that pesky Hermine was part of the problem but that didn't stop Jake.  He was using Skype on his iPhone to talk to the twins while setting it up, so simply held his iPhone to the microphone and the Q&A was on. Turns out the Topp Twins played the Cactus Cafe some years ago. And they're working on another U.S. tour. At the end of the Q&A they sang us a short song in Maori while the thunder boomed overhead for us.

A Sneak Preview of aGLIFF 2010

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The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival -- aGLIFF -- starts tonight. Are you ready? It's going to be another year of diverse films that touch the lives of the LGBTQI community, which means just about everything that also touches the lives of everyone. Austin has some great niche festivals and the Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival is no exception. I've seen some of the films and I can tell you, if you do not go, you're missing out.

For example, the Topp Twins: Untouchable Girls is a surprising documentary that is equally a music doc, a comedy, and an historical retrospective about the last three decades in New Zealand and in fact, the world. Never heard of the Topp Twins? Well, they're in the New Zealand music hall of fame, and among those talking about them is Billy Bragg. There's a little heartache and a whole lot of exuberance about two sisters who happen to be yodelling country comedian twins -- who just happen to be lesbian. aGLIFF couldn't have picked a better film to open the fest, and while the twins are in New Zealand they will be there not only in spirit, but through the wonders of technology, live on the big screen. And don't forget the opening-night party is at Annie's downtown on Congress, so hope to see you there.

The documentaries are strong, and Gen Silent is no exception, focusing on LGBT elders facing the end of their lives and still having to deal with discrimination in healthcare. Last year's A Place To Live: The Story Of Triangle Square touched on the subject with a housing project that resolves the issues, and Gen Silent brings some of those issues home, with long-term couples and others fearing the consequences of being in an environment where they have no control, and the fact that LGBT eldercare is not something long-term care facilities consider. Other documentaries include The Sons of Tennessee Williams and Freeing Bernie Baran (making its world premiere at aGLIFF), two eye-opening docs about hidden gay history. The The Real Anne Lister provides an intimate look into the life of a woman considered "the first modern lesbian," living in Yorkshire England during the Regency, and whose coded diaries were found and decoded in the latter part of the 20th century

Movies This Week: Mao's American Machete Distance

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Next week is aGLIFF, and in less than three weeks Fantastic Fest starts. It's hard to focus on anything else, but just for you, we have the latest releases in Austin.

The American -- As much a meditation as a movie, Clooney's latest is a character study wrapped up in a retro-thiller wrapper.  If you need big booms and quick-cut editing, this is not the film for you. However, if you like cerebral old-school thrillers chock full of symbolism, it's the film you need to see this weekend.  Read my review for more. (wide)

Dogtooth (pictured above)-- Only a two-day run, but this SXSW cautionary tale of over protective parents shielding their children from the world needs to be seen by cinephiles and anyone with an opinion on modern society, but be warned, this is one fractured fairy tale. (Alamo Ritz)

Going the Distance -- Long distance rom-com between real life exes Drew Barrymore and Justin Long.  Can they meet each other halfway? Directed by Nanette Burstein (On the Ropes, The Kid Stays in the Picture) and written by Geoff LaTulippe, who's only other credit is a film in development called Breathers: A Zombie's Lament. Now that makes me want to see this. Read Elizabeth's review for more. (wide)

Review: The American

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Opening with a silent panoramic shot of winter twilight in remote Sweden, The American quickly separates itself from typical international thrillers. Unfortunately, it also means that it won't find the audience normally drawn to such films.

Based on the Martin Booth novel A Very Private Gentleman and adapted by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later), The American is the tale of Jack, an assassin (George Clooney) at the end of his career, paranoid and tense, and reluctant to take one last assignment. After Jack is targeted by a hit squad, he runs to Italy only to have his handler set up a place to lay low in a remote town.

Director Anton Corbijn leans heavily on moody imagery and panoramic shots to set the mood. Corbijn, whose background is in music videos and documentaries, relies more on imagery than dialogue to drive the story. The frequent wide shots set a tone of increasing isolation and sense of entanglement in Jack/Edward's life, whether he's talking to his handler, a client, or the people who insist on getting involved with him.

Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: 2009

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Highball, deer

I'm so tired. But I'm a bit tense. only two days left, and I can feel the start of Post-Fest Depression wanting to rear its ugly head. But there's two full days left...

That's how one of my 2009 Fantastic Fest Daily Dispatches started. It brings me right back to the fest. This is it, the final entry in our Fantastic Fest Flashbacks (we've already covered 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008). How the fest has grown. I'm looking at the screening schedule and it's now two columns of small fonts filling the page. So much to do and not enough hours to do it. The 2009 lineup ranged fromhorror-lite targeted to a younger audience like The Vampire's Assistant and Under the Mountain to the shocking Antichrist, and every possibility in between and around them. Literally something for everyone, Fantastic Fest 2009 seemed about as big as it can get, although we already know this year will be even bigger.

The opening-night film, Gentlemen Broncos, may not have been an audience favorite, but everyone seemed to enjoy the opening-night Party with cast and crew at the newly opened and not quite finished Highball, another venture by the intrepid Tim and Karrie League. The Battle Stag from the film could be seen in the Highball throughout the fest, and post-fest everyone was sad to see it leave. Other gala films screening at the Paramount had a stronger response, including Zombieland, which made everyone happy with a particular cameo from a 2008 Fantastic Fest alum, not to mention the Austin mention. I'm still regretting missing Survival of the Dead, but with so much to cover, and knowing how crazy downtown was with a UT home game and the Pecan Street Festival over the weekend, the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar was the place to stay for me. And guess what? Same thing is going to happen this year on Saturday; there's a UT home game and the Old Pecan Street Festival again on Saturday night.

Movies This Week: The Last Animal Takers

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So happy to see Get Low expand to more theaters this week, and Winnebago Man is getting another week at both Alamo Drafthouse Ritz and South Lamar. As a matter of fact, Austin theaters don't have a lot of changes in their arthouse film offerings this week, other than one new movie, and good for them. I was surprised to see Avatar coming back to theaters. Guess it hasn't been such a great summer for big movies if they have to pull that back out, huh? Last week there were a lot of new releases -- this week, not so much.

Animal Kingdom (pictured above) -- Tourism Australia won't be endorsing this gritty, depressing crime family drama about a young man caught between his estranged family and the law co-starring Guy Pearce and Joel Edgerton. Written and directed by David Michod,  who wrote the short film Spider that played with The Square earlier this year and at SXSW in 2009. Read my review for more. (Arbor)

The Last Exorcism -- Nearly brilliant thriller with strong horror themes, but ultimately dimished by eventual use of cliched devices, the director of SXSW 2008 selection A Necessary Death brings us another documentary style drama that is sure to get people talking. Read my review for more. (wide)

Review: The Last Exorcism

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When it comes to contemporary scary tales, most films resort to fantastic gorefests and extremism to provoke reactions from the audience. Thankfully, The Last Exorcism rarely resorts to such cliched convention.

Shot in documentary style, the subject is Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a reforming evangelist who's out to prove how believers can be convinced that demonic possessions and exorcisms are faked to exploit them. Cotton is arrogantly charming, fully aware of his power to persuade, and how that factors into his ability to hoodwink the faithful. When he randomly selects a request to perform an exorcism to expose the trickery behind them, he and the documentary crew are off to rural Louisiana to answer a desperate farmer's pleas. Unfortunately for Cotton, he is asked by a desperate father to perform an exorcism he never wants to do; one on a child.

The acting in The Last Exorcism is outstanding, starting with Fabian (Big Love) as Cotton, whose glee at revealing his tricks could have been annoying, if it wasn't clear his goal is to help people. Ashley Bell, Caleb Landry Jones and Louis Herthum as the Sweetzers all seem straight off the farm, with homespun earnestness and love for their family that expresses itself in different ways for each character.

Review: Animal Kingdom

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When a teenager suddenly finds himself reunited with his estranged criminal family, his life spins out of control until he's forced to decide his place within the Animal Kingdom.

"J" Cody (James Frecheville) has no memory of his dysfunctional extended family, whose criminal background keeps them under surveillance. A sullen and quiet young man, J has no clear place in their world or any power in it. His grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) is cheerfully indulgent and prone to barely appropriate displays of affection with her unstable sons (Luke Ford, Ben Mendelsohn, Sullivan Stapleton). When rogue police take action against one of their own, J is pressured to choose between his family and the law.

Few of the characters in Animal Kingdom have any redeeming qualities, and what few there are usually mask a darker purpose. Director and writer David Michod made sure every character had a dark side. Animal Kingdom may bring to mind the Nash Edgerton feature The Square and Spider, the short that played with it, and for good reason: Spider and Animal Kingdom were both written by Michod. But unlike those films, there's not even any redeeming circumstances.

Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: 2008

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Fantastic Fest 2008: 'Road Warrior' screening

By 2008, after three fantastic years (2005, 2006, 2007), Fantastic Fest was no longer a fledging fest. There were definitely growing pains as the fests popularity grows. And why wouldn't it? The fest was based at the best theater in the world with world-class cinema that was well, fantastic on so many levels.

My favorite part about 2008 was the special online screenings, with a mix of shorts and features available for online viewing through B-Side. It made it possible to see more films that I would have otherwise. I got to see the disturbingly entertaining documentary; I Think We're Alone Now, profiling two Tiffany stalkers. Yes, that Tiffany, and yes, it was a recent documentary.

I love the docs at Fantastic Fest, they're very interesting, and I hope to see more. That's not to slight the Austin-based documentary about our youngest auteur, Emily Hagins, Zombie Girl: The Movie. Emily is currently working on her third feature film, My Sucky Teen Romance (which deserves kudos for the best title this year). And then there was Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation! a doc about Australian filmmaking in the late 70s through the 80s, which played along with the Ozploitation film program featuring some of the same, from Mad Max to Turkey Shoot.

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