Jenn Brown's blog

Review: Date Night


Take two genuinely funny people, put them in a comedy ... and then ruin it by trying to make it really funny. You know the emphasis in that sentence, right?

Date Night stars two of the funniest people on the planet -- Steve Carell and Tina Fey -- as Phil and Claire Foster, two comfortably marrieds with kids whose attempt to shake up date night gets sidetracked by mistaken identity. The Fosters end up running all over Manhattan to get clear of the criminals and, well, hilarity does not ensue.

Like many Hollywood comedies, many of the jokes in Date Night seem to be planned by committee, from one particularly lame attempted getaway from gun-toting thugs involving penis meds, to bad physical comedy attempts to be sexy. Every time it seems to get interesting, something stupid happens to sabotage any chance of really enjoying it. It's surprising only one writer (Josh Klausner) is credited.  Interestingly, he also wrote Shrek the Third, another derivative and unfunny comedy. 

B-Side Festival Genius is Back!


Chris Hyams, by Chris Holland, 2006File this under Couldn't Be Happier Unless I Had Angel Money to Do This Myself... Austin-based B-Side has been acquired by Slated, and the much missed B-Side Festival Genius has been licensed to long time indie nonprofit IFP.

Just announced Thursday night, the film community rejoiced that the best technological tool for film festivals has been revived. People were downright twitterpated, you could say. I'm re-using the same picture Jette used when she had to announce the sad news about B-Side closing its doors, because, well, B-Side founder Chris Hyams looks equally celebratory and defiant, and that attitude seems to have helped B-Side find a new home.

Personally I could not be happier for Chris and the core members of his team (Chris Holland, Jesse Trussell and Mike McCown) who are all back to work a mere six weeks after the unexpected announcement that B-Side was closing its offices. Hyams and McCown go to Slated, Holland and Trussell to IFP. I speak for Slackerwood and perhaps all of Austin’s film geeks in saying congratulations, guys. These last few weeks must’ve been tough, but we’re very glad to see you land on your feet, and even gladder that a great company and a great tool aren’t left languishing.

If you’re not familiar with IFP, they’re the oldest and largest organization of -- and advocate for -- independent filmmakers.  Slated is a New York-based entertainment and media company. 

Whole Foods Launches 'Let's Retake Our Plates' Film Series


I started poking around the web this week to see if details on any summer film series were up yet, and look what I came across ... the Whole Foods Let's Retake Our Plates Film Series

Apparently this isn't just a local event; Whole Foods is sponsoring screenings around the country. But unlike in the other cities, the movies in Austin are free. This is a perfect time to put thought into what you put on your plate, with the warmer weather making people crave fresher food.

The local schedule features three nights of provocative documentaries: 

2010 Austin Film Race Starts April 23


The 2010 Austin Film Race is only a few weeks away -- are you ready?

For the last three years, film racing has been an annual event in Austin, with local filmmakers competing with each other to make an original short in 24 hours.  Films are limited to four minutes in length and must adhere to the year's theme as well as incorporate a surprise element, either a prop or an action. All of the films will screen at the Dobie after the competition ends on April 29 at 7:00 p.m, and a selection of the best films will continue to the national competition.

Adam Donaghey, who produced Lovers of Hate, Earthling and Audrey the Trainwreck this year alone is also producing the local event. That made me think, if Chris Doubek was the SXSW 2010 Most Frequent Actor, does that make Donaghey the Most Frequent Producer?

Anyway, a whole variety of prizes are being given out for several categories. Last year's top local winning film, "Breathe" by the Fiction Factory team, is only 2:49 minutes in length, and took home the bulk of the awards. The theme was hunger, with the surprise element an action -- waving. Check it out after the jump (and you can see more on the official website).

Cine Las Americas Announces 2010 Fest Lineup


On Saturday night, the Cine Las Americas team made most of their festival lineup public, with 100 films from Latino and indigenous filmmakers around the world. The 13th Annual Cine Las Americas International Film Festival (CLAIFF) runs April 21-29 at three different venues around Austin. The opening-night and closing-night events are still yet to be announced.

CLAIFF is one of the smaller festivals around town, at least in terms of visibility to Austin's film geeks.  Despite being in the shadow of SXSW, CLAIFF has an international film festival, with submissions coming from 23 countries. But it's not just a festival about the Latin experience, it's a celebration of indigenous culture as well. 

I've seen some of the films that were accepted in the CLAIFF program this year, and I have to say that if you think you’re an Austin cineaste and you haven’t yet attended Cine Las Americas, you really need to correct that shortcoming. The mix of documentaries and narratives includes a little something for everyone, and you will likely find yourself pleasantly surprised, and in some cases have your worldview changed.

Vigils against alien invaders. Haunting memories overshadowing current experience. Struggling to survive in Haiti prior to the earthquake. Musical traditions unheard of by the outside world. People chosen to maintain balance in the world. A homophobic son who learns his father is gay.  A musician returning an instrument to his elderly teacher. These are just a few of the stories in the narratives and documentaries accepted into the 14 programs at Cine Las Americas this year. 

The Oscar and Spirit Award nominated documentary feature Which Way Home, an eye-opening look at the struggles of children from South and Central America trying to cross into the U.S., is among the nine films in the Documentary Feature Competition program.

Movies This Week: The Girl with the Yellow Titan Too


I'm channelling Lily von Shtupp right now, I swear. SXSW is exhausting enough, but trying to wrap it up ... I'm beat. Good thing there's all this gorgeous weather right now, huh?  If you need to get out of the sun because you forgot your sunscreen, there's a lot out there:

Clash of the Titans -- I skipped the screening because I'm still recovering from (and writing about) SXSW, but I'm sad I missed it because of all the snarky tweets ranting about the bad retrofitted 3D.  Debbie can tell you more, so read her review.  (wide)

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo -- This SXSW 2010 film from Sweden (pictured above), based on a murder mystery novel by Stieg Larsson, is long at 152 minutes. If I weren't so tired, I would've gone to the press screening earlier this week. It looks like it's the first film in a trilogy. (Arbor)

Not Quite SXSW Review: Between Floors


Have you ever been stuck in an elevator? You can probably see the comedy in that, right? And the drama? Imagine five stuck-elevator scenarios, and you can imagine Austinite Jen White's award-winning feature Between Floors.

Five very different stories play out in five separate elevators. Often funny and sometimes poignant, the tales include a lone business man, a man with a video camera, a family on their way to a party, a bloodied man and someone in a bad gorilla-in-drag suit ... and one very over-capacity elevator. The stress of being trapped and blind to any efforts to rescue them, the veneer of composure breaks down in sometimes unexpected ways.

White cuts between the elevators as each of the stories in Between Floors unfolds. With the tagline of "Sometimes getting stuck is the only way to break free," each elevator contains a different dynamic forcing the occupants to let go of some harbored anger. Ironically, the most diffuse story concerns the overcapacity crowd, but with so many potential stories, it has to be. Instead of wasting time developing those stories, White focuses on group dynamics of strangers, with amusing and insightful results. The two solo occupants do not get a chance to explain their stories, but they are still interesting to watch, one with hilarious results and the other heartwrenching.

SXSW Review: Red White & Blue


The Austin-shot feature Red White & Blue, Simon Rumley's follow-up to The Living and the Dead, is a revenge-driven thriller that could be summed up as "sin begets sin." While violent and disturbing, Rumley's story explores how wrong people can go in certain circumstances, with three people with very different backgrounds creating a perfect storm of vengeance. 

Erica's (Amanda Fuller) only occupation is trying to keep a roof over her head as she drifts from bar to bar, sleeping with any man who will have her. Spontaneous kindness from a drifter living in the same boarding house seems to bring stability and hope for something more, when one of her hook-ups discovers the cost of sleeping with her. Her history has turned her into the walking wounded, extracting a passive/aggressive Russian roulette on men who'll sleep with anyone. Nate (Noah Taylor) reveals the one trigger that will make him abandon his carefully maintained control.  Franki's (Marc Senter) aspirations and indulgences cannot hide his infantile tendencies.

SXSW Review: Thunder Soul


What you should do instead of reading this review is find a way to see the movie Thunder Soul; I guarantee within the first few minutes you'll be hooked. 

Perhaps you need more than an urging from me and all the other people who loved it. The best documentaries expose us to things we might not otherwise be aware, educate, motivate and entertain, and prove that fact can be wilder than fiction. The best can do all of the above. Thunder Soul, directed by Mark Landsman, is a documentary that has done all of the above, and will make you reach for your wallet to help fund music in schools and to buy high school students music. It proves just how important a music program can be to the students of your local school. 

Thunder Soul is both a profile of stage band director and composer Conrad O. Johnson and a celebration of the music he and his students created. Between 1968 and 1977, the Kashmere High School in Houston's 5th Ward had a stage band performing music that put professionals to shame. With 42 regional titles, 2 national titles, and invitations to play in Europe and Japan, the Kashmere Stage Band took the world by storm.  

SXSW Review: Earthling


What do you do if it turns out your very existence is a lie? Clay Liford's feature film Earthling explores identity, relationship and the meaning of home in his follow-up to his Sundance selection short My Mom Smokes Weed.

After a mysterious "atmospheric event," teacher Judith (Rebecca Spence) finds herself at odds with her life, and haunted by an enigmatic student, Abby (Amelia Turner). Judith realizes that the life she thought she had has been a pretense, and after Abby's insistence they are connected, Judith's life starts falling apart.

Clay Liford defies current science-fiction convention, eschewing rockets, robots and rayguns (the "r-cubed" he mentions in our earlier interview) to employ a low-budget indie style that emphasizes the story. Earthling employs an old-school, pre-Star Wars science-fiction style, when the story was more important than the dressings, such as Tarkovsky's Solyaris (or even Soderbergh's remake Solaris). It's more like The Quiet Earth or Shane Carruth's Primer, a 2004 indie time traveller sleeper that shook up the indie/sci-fi world a bit.  Primer was also filmed in Texas (Addison, to be exact; Earthling was filmed in Dallas).

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