Jenn Brown's blog

Fantastic Flashbacks: 2006

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Faceless mask

Got your attention, huh? Brownie points if you can name the film that prop on the left is associated with. Hint, it screened at Fantastic Fest 2006.

Last week we started the Fantastic Flashbacks, a five part series looking back at the first five years of Fantastic Fest, starting with year one. Today, let's remember 2006, when the fest extended to its now-usual week of films and events.

There were quite a few celebrities at Fantastic Fest 2006, kicking off with R. Lee Ermey for Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, so you know they played his "Take Your Ass Out" Alamo promo. And you know the crowd went wild. Ermey may be a badass on the screen, but he was an absolute sweetheart to the many fans talking to him before the film in the lobby. He wasn't the only celebrity on hand; there were many geekgasms over the presence of Darren Aronofsky, and even though Mel Gibson's presence seemed like a PR opportunity to soothe over his first foot-in-mouth debacle, the special rough-cut screening of Apocalypto -- the first of the ever-popular "secret screenings" at Fantastic Fest -- was worth it.

That's not to say they were the only "names" there. Lucky McKee, the director of May, was there with his new film, The Woods, along with May's leading lady, Angela Bettis, who directed McKee in her film, Roman (which would make a great companion film to May, but that's another post).

Fantastic Fest screened so many films this year, it was impossible to see them all. Like the occasionally tepid Beowulf and Grendel with a then not well known Gerard Butler. He wasn't there, but it's entertaining to remember a film before he was well known.

First among the bigger films is Severance -- for the buzz alone. The tagline says it all: "Another bloody office outing." This team building retreat plays well as a survival horror and for black humor. The cast is fantastic and the script smartly takes sudden turns when little moments look predictable. I ended up seeing this three more times at fests and special screenings and I'm still annoyed it didn't do better in theaters. It was like I was stalking the film, but honestly I wasn't. If you've ever worked in corporate cubefarms with soul sucking lights and bizarre policies and even stranger people, well, it hits home.

Movies This Week: Dinner for Cats and Charlie Restrepo

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Two films stand out among the opening films this week: a documentary on the nuclear age, and a Korean war drama. This has been a really light summer for blockbusters, hasn't it?

Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore -- I am not so crazy a cat lady I had to watch this. In fact, I made a point not to. But I've heard not-so-bad things about this kid film. Don saw it, want to know what he thought about it? Read his review. (wide)

Charlie St. Cloud -- Zac Efron vehicle about a young man who hangs out with his brother's ghost. OK. Well, maybe Debbie can explain it; read her review for more. (wide)

Countdown to Zero -- Doc about the history of the atomic bomb from origin to current affairs. I suspect this will be rather chilling, considering mutually assured destruction isn't so effective in the era of suicide bombers. (Arbor)

Dinner for Schmucks -- The irony is I had Francis Veber's 1998 comedy The Dinner Game in my Netflix queue, and immediately returned it back in April when I was attending a fest and had no time. Why? Because now I can't make any comparison to the remake starring Paul Rudd and Steve Carell with the more revealing title than the French original. We didn't review this, so do tell us how it turned out.

Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: 2005, Year One

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Last month I started getting nostalgic for Fantastic Fests Past as I was de-cluttering and packing for a move. And while it is only July, fans of the festival are already getting excited for the 2010 edition, with two more months to go. If you're on Twitter or Facebook and live in Austin, you probably saw an explosion of tweets anticipating -- then commenting on -- the first round of films announced for the 6th annual Fantastic Fest last week. Seems like a perfect time to reminisce about the first five years of Fantastic Fest to me. Let's start at the logical place ... Year One, October 2005.

The inaugural year of Fantastic Fest was a sparse program compared to later years -- only four days long, and just two screens at a time for films and special events. There weren't distinct programs yet, other than a retrospective of post-apocalyptic films from around the world, starting a tradition of popular retrospectives that get some attendees as excited as the new releases. With a heavy representation of Asian horror, it's no surprise in later years that trend would continue.

Buying a VIP badge got you all sorts of goodies, mostly stuffed in a SXSW bag. We had the coolest badges ever in 2005, though -- these padded deals with a little flashlight in them, very helpful for reading the black with tiny white font programs.

Movies This Week: Ramona And the Secret Salt Kids

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It hasn't been a great summer this year for big summer blockbusters, but if you look closely, it's been a great simmering summer for the arthhouse films, at least in Austin. Exit Through the Gift Shop is still holding on at the Dobie, and The Secret in Their Eyes is back. Micmacs is still doing well at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, and the Grease Sing-A-Long has five new screenings peppered into the South Lamar schedule through Wednesday. Here's what's opening this week:

The Kids are All Right -- This tale of an "alternative" family is too self-aware and overloaded with self-concious acting in the first half, despite having some of the best actors available today. Still, by the end it's the kids that won me over. Elizabeth can tell you more in her review. (wide)

Salt -- Angelina Jolie as a spy fighting to clear her name after a defector accuses her of treason. The heavily marketed film also includes acting heavyweights Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andre Braugher, which makes this potentially one of the more watchable films of the summer. But two questions remain; is Evelyn Salt a double agent, and is Salt really watchable? Elizabeth's review can answer one of those questions. (wide)

The Secret in Their Eyes -- This brilliant, complex, Oscar-winning thriller returns to Austin. If you love nuanced performances wrapped in layered stories, this is a must-see. Read Don's review for more. Then go see it. (Dobie)

Movies This Week: The Nature of Coco's Apprentice Inception

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At first I thought only a couple films were opening in Austin this week, but I was mistaken. The diversity couldn't be greater, from standard family fare to existentialism, and more Swedish thrillers. And guess what? We've seen most of 'em, to help you decide which ones to catch now, or later.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky -- I'm not up for yet another Coco Chanel flick, but Mads Mikkelsen is in it. Chris Greenhalgh adapted his novel Coco & Igor for director Jan Kounen. I need to read Debbie's review, and I recommend you do, too. (Arbor)

Daddy Longlegs -- As part of the SXSW Presents series, Alamo hosts a limited run of the latest film from the Safdie brothers. The semi-autobiographical story features Ronnie Bernstein (director of Frownland, which played SXSW 2007) as a father trying to get his annual two-week visitation time with his kids to work. The movie played Cannes in 2009 and then Sundance in 2010. We don't have a review; go read Roger Ebert's instead. (Alamo Ritz)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo -- This SXSW selection may be out on DVD (read Jette's review), but it's back in theaters. I highly recommend seeing it before checking out the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which opens this weekend. (Dobie)

Review: Inception

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Christopher Nolan's 2000 breakthrough film Memento set up an expectation for complex, intelligent storytelling. Inception secures Nolan's reputation as an outstanding director and writer.

In Memento, Nolan skillfully turned a relatively simple story into a complex thriller by toying with the timeline. In Inception, he's taken a complex story and simplified it by focusing on two things: one final job and the fundamental emotional reason why it's both necessary and more risky than his colleagues realize.

Inception is a science fiction thriller about Extractors, who construct shared dreaming scenarios to steal secrets. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team take corporate espionage to a new level, and after a botched job, are offered a job they can't refuse -- an Inception. Unlike Extraction, where thoughts and memories are stolen, Inception is planting a thought. Inception is thought to be impossible, but Cobb feels up to the job; after all, he's not only in no position to refuse, but his payment includes something he would do anything for.

Review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice

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What happens when Disney recycles one of its classics? In the case of The Sorcerer's Apprentice, it gets a perfectly genial summer fantasy action tale likely to please most audiences. Based on a 20th century short film based on an 18th century poem, Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) has created an energetic if uneven adventure about a young man who inherits magical powers and along with his unwelcome mentor, tries to save the world.

"Der Zauberlehrling" was written by Goethe in 1797. In the original, an apprentice uses magic beyond his means to clean while his master is away, resulting in comical disaster. In 1940, the poem was adapted by Disney into an animated short featured in Fantasia, and remained so popular it was included in Fantasia 2000.

The original story has exploded from a simple mishap into a centuries-old battle between evil sorcerers (Morganians) and the good ones (Merlinians), with Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), the last of Merlin's apprentices, seeking out an heir to Merlin's power. After a brief and traumatic encounter, young David (Jay Baruchel) has put the episode behind him, only to have his life turned upside down again. Now Balthazar and David have to stop the Morganians from completing a particularly heinous spell that will end the world as we know it.

Movies This Week: Despicable Grease Cremaster Predators

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It's  a surprisingly light weekend for new films in Austin, but there's no holiday and we're smack into the middle of the summer doldrums. But that's not to say there aren't options -- some fun, some mind boggling. 

Cremaster 1-5 and De Lama Lamina  -- When I was looking up the new releases in town, I was a bit gobsmacked. Five films, or is that six? I can't really tell, and the Cremaster website makes it even more confusing.  The Cremaster films by writer-director Matthew Barney seem to be avant garde gone wild, with little dialogue, and are not necessarily numbered in order. Apparently the lengths of the films vary as well.  If any of you see it, do let us know what you think. (Dobie)

Despicable Me -- Pixar doesn't have a monopoly on animated family fare. Universal's latest mixes villains and moppets and minions, and despite the trailer, it's not so fluffy. Read my review for more, and you'll probably want Minion finger puppets, too. (wide)

Review: Despicable Me

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Any animated kids' movie following a Pixar release has its work cut out for it, with Pixar being a gold standard for family-friendly tales and animated excellence. But Universal's Despicable Me shouldn't be dismissed just because it lacks the Pixar brand, and releases right after the last Toy Story feature. 

Gru (Steve Carell), a curmudgeonly villian living in Suburbia, is happy in his misery until someone else pulls off the biggest dastardly deed ever. Not to be outdone, Gru will let nothing and no one interfere with his plans to make his most evil dream come true, even pesky orphans hawking cookies and an ubergeeky villian wannabe. Gru seizes an opportunity to use the orphans ... only they're not the simple means to an end he's anticipated. Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Agnes (Elsie Fisher) and Edith (Dana Gaier) have dreams of their own.

Review: Grease: The Sing-A-Long

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The 1978 hit movie musical Grease has been re-fashioned into Grease: The Sing-A-Long and is back in theaters for limited-run engagements, here in town at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar starting July 8.

The musical -- which once held the honor of longest running show on Broadway -- was turned into a movie seven years after it premiered onstage. The 1978 film is back on the big screens with the addition of lyric subtitles, hoping to find a new audience and bring out fans looking for some nostalgia and a young Travolta. It's the same movie: Rebellious Danny (John Travolta), straightlaced Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) and their friends grappling with love and lust in Rydell High School's class of 1959, with an often clever mix of nostalgia and sharp wit that shows happy days weren't always so happy and innocent.

If you aren't familiar with the story, Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson have had an idyllic summer romance far from Rydell High. Only when school starts, Sandy's there too, sending both partners into a tailspin and trying to win each other back over. Not helping matters is the brassy Rizzo (Stockard Channing), the biggest rebel of the bunch, who constantly stirs things up even as she falls for Kenickie (Jeff Conaway, who played Danny in the Broadway production). 

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