Jenn Brown's blog

SXSW Review: The Runaways

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How perfect is it that a headliner film at SXSW would be a biopic of a groundbreaking all-girl rock band that jump started the careers of rock-and-roll legends? Maybe not perfect, but certainly entertaining.

Floria Sigismondi, a veteran of music videos, penned and directed the biopic of The Runaways, a 1970s band that included Joan Jett and Lita Ford. Jett (Kristen Stewart) is the focus along with lead singer Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), and the movie follows them in the classic rise and fall expected in most rock-and-roll tales. 

One would think that a film that starts off with a graphic punctuation of coming of age would be more risky. After so many rock films, especially Sid and Nancy, it's hard to be shocked anymore. The closest thing to shock value is the raw sexuality of Jett and Currie, singularly and together.  Joan Jett apparently hasn't publically declared her sexuality (although she's been seen with "Dykes Rule" slogans), and Sigismondi's script doesn't try to categorize it while playing up the attraction between Jett and Currie. The disturbing part of the film is the sexualization of Currie, who at 15 becomes a sex symbol onstage and off despite being underage, and neither Fanning nor Sigismondi back away from any line. Fanning is disturbingly sexual, emphasizing the underage aspect to the sexuality and the exploitation of a girl in the name of success.

Review: A Prophet

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Director Jacques Audiard's follow up to the memorable The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s'est arrêté) has finally reached Austin, nearly a year after taking Cannes by storm.

A Prophet (Un prophète) is a complex prison tale that both condemns the system in all its forms and celebrates the perverted way it transforms lives. Nineteen-year-old Malik El Djebena (Tahar Rahim) is sent to prison for attacking a cop. Friendless, with no family and fewer clues, Malik quickly finds himself faced with committing a terrible crime or die. The reward is the dubious protection of a Corsican kingpin (Niels Arestrup) who takes Malik under his wing, but like an abusive father, this boon comes with a hefty price tag.

While Arab in ethnicity, Malik has little cultural ties with other Arabs, making him a man without any affiliations other than what he forges. His only resources are his mind, his resilience and his patience, and his evolution is marked by chapters most often associated with the people in Malik's life.

SXSW 2010 Day 7: Liford Mars and Loved Ones

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Decided on another late start today, I just needed that extra sleep. But I did have a nice talk with Clay Liford before the last SXSW screening of his latest, Earthling. If you missed the film, it's playing at the Dallas International Film Festival next month, and a few others in the coming weeks.  I hope you caught it.

I barely made it back to Alamo Lamar for Geoff Marslett's Mars, but I did, with two whole minutes to spare. Phew. This animated space rom-com was sweet and funny, and occasionally sly with a twangy Austin style soundtrack.  Personally, I loved all the BSODs. I want one of the little creatures as a plush toy, it was so cute.  I wish I could have made it over to the party at the Gibson, but I felt compelled to at least try to see three films today.

So I watched Cold Weather, a mumblecore-ish sleuthing tale. I think I liked it. I shouldn't mind the complete lack of resolution, but I don't think I do mind the lack.

SXSW 2010 Days 5 and 6: Between Floors and Red White and Blue Language

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I feel like a wimp. I used to be able to do 4-5 films every day. But then I didn't have interviews to do and transcribe and reviews to write. And I didn't get to bed until 5 am. Yep, I'm a wimp. And Day 6 for me was for rest and recuperation from an impromptu after-after party.  

Didn't make it to Cold Weather, but it's playing again on Thursday. [Jette interrupts: I saw it and liked it, go see it.] I did make it to Between Floors, a non-SXSW screening for a local production that didn't make it into the festival, but should have. Jen White (pictured above) filmed in Austin and San Marcos elevators, with five separate narratives. 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 over-capacity elevator. It's a great "watch with a crowd" film, so check it out again on Monday when it plays a special engagement at the Alamo Ritz.

I finally watched Simon Rumley's Red White & Blue. I picked the night to watch it, too, apparently, complete with an outburst from an audience member that resulted in the usually laid-back Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League shutting her down with a heated expletive. 

SXSW Review: The Happy Poet

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Paul Gordon's The Happy Poet had its world premiere this week at SXSW to an over-capacity and appreciative crowd at Alamo Ritz.

Bill (Paul Gordon) has a dream to open a healthy and organic food cart. This simple dream seems impossible due to poor credit and no experience (he's a poet), and no one believing in him, but he's determined to make it work, despite the pressure to open a hot-dog stand instead. With the unlikely allies of unemployed friend Donnie (Jonny Mars), a slacker-philosopher who haggles for the first sandwich (Chris Doubek), and Agnes (Liz Fisher), who quickly becomes a regular, it looks like his dream will take off. But can the Happy Poet food stand make a stand for healthy food, or will Bill be forced to sell out and sell hot dogs?

SXSW 2010 Day 4: Earthling and Centurion

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Only four hours of sleep.  But the beer-soaked clothes are cleaned, and I'm as awake as I expect to be on day four of SXSW. 

This afternoon I had the opportunity to chat with Erasing David's David Bond. His documentary on the lack of secure privacy in government databases is a wake-up call to anyone who thinks, "I've done nothing wrong, so there is nothing to worry about." Check out my review. You have another chance to see Erasing David at the G-Tech theater in ACC at 11 am. Not only will Bond be there, but one of the investigators tasked to finding him as he attempted 30 days off the grid. Based on our lively conversation today, I predict it will be a good Q&A.

Yesterday I took a quick tour of the incredibly packed Film/Interactive Trade Show. What a circus. Today, I actually spent a little more time there, or tried to. I just was not feeling it.   But then, I hadn't had breakfast yet. It took me nearly 9 hours between an orange juice and an actual meal. I got a kick out of seeing the matador and the bull heading over to the trade show together. 

SXSW 2010 Day 3: Happy Poet and Spilled Beer

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I am so tired. I hope this all makes sense.  Today I managed to make it to The Happy Poet world premiere.  I'm really glad I asked for a reserved seat as a guest of the filmmakers, because badges got turned away. It was in fact so packed, that the filmmakers were standing in the back to give up seats, and one guy was sitting on a table. Seriously, space was indeed reserved for Dave's butt. 

As it turns out, all of us made a great choice to see The Happy Poet because it's a fun film. In fact, I have to say that The Happy Poet is my favorite film so far at SXSW.  Writer/director/star Paul Gordon's delivery are very deadpan yet reflect the earnest wish of a man with little resources and no food service experience to open up an organic food stand.  The cast is a charming ensemble, all portraying characters rooting for Bill (Gordon) as he struggles to start a business and find his voice. 

SXSW Review: Wake

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Among the world premieres at SXSW 2010 is Texas native Chad Feehan's feature writing/directing debut, Wake, which screened at the Paramount this afternoon. Wake is a twisty thriller featuring The Bone Collector's Josh Stewart and Soprano's Jamie-Lynn Sigler as a couple on the way to a wedding when they decide to stop for the night in a roadside motel. Instead of a restful night's sleep, strange encounters force them to deal with a haunting secret from the past, including a overly helpful and creepy hotel clerk. 

Very slowly two apparently unrelated storylines evolve that eventually collide with devastating results.  While atmospherically shot, Wake suffers from simultaneously trying to be too clever and making sure all the pieces are tightly assembled.  One of the more frustrating aspects of catching films at festivals is finding ones with an intriguing concept that doesn't quite work as delivered to the screen. 

SXSW 2010 Day 2: Stormtroopers, Cherry Confessions, and Monsters

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Despite my wishes, I was felled by a migraine overnight. I had hoped to make it to some panels, a press conference and 4-5 screenings.

Thankfully, I didn't miss out on Wake or Micmacs, as I'd seen them earlier. I hope you had a chance to see Micmacs, because Jeunet was here in town, and he's such a great, distinctive director.  My review of Micmacs has to wait, but the one for Wake should be up soon. Wake is one of those films that's a bit frustrating while proving the director is one to watch. 

I also missed the world premiere of Mars, by Austin's own Geoff Marslett. Jette and I talked with Marslett a few weeks ago, and I was really hoping to be there for the panel and the premiere. I did hear the line was already to 7th Street an hour before the screening was scheduled to start, so I can safely say it was a sold-out crowd.  And thankfully, Mars screens twice at the Alamo Lamar. 

SXSW Review: Erasing David

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Just how much privacy do we have these days? Director David Bond decides to find out on a personal level by attempting to disappear for 30 days in the documentary Erasing David.

With a wife and child at home, he plans to leave home and avoid two trained investigators who will try to chase him down. In the beginning, Frank M. Ahearn, privacy consultant and co-author of How to Disappear (Volume 1) advises Bond of ways he can be tracked and just how easily surveillance can be initiated. But the comical interludes with Ahearn set up some very real and understandable paranoia. 

Erasing David picks up where Ondi Timoner's We Live in Public leaves off -- instead of choosing to live in public and seeing the results, Bond focuses on a relatively ordinary life and how invasive the lack of data privacy is within the Information Age.

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