Jenn Brown's blog

Review: Take Shelter

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What's the bigger nightmare: Extreme violence, or an ambiguous but growing sense of threat to all your hold dear? Austin's Jeff Nichols proves it's the latter in Take Shelter, as a family man becomes increasingly obsessed with visions of storms, putting all he holds dear at risk as he tries to keep them safe.

Curtis (Michael Shannon) is an upstanding guy with a devoted wife Samantha, an adorable daughter Hannah, a responsible job and a comfortable home. Life isn't perfect, but they all happily weather the storms of life until Curtis's nightmares start interfering with waking life. The more Curtis tries to protect his family and regain a sense of security, the faster it erodes. 

There is nothing to substantiate Curtis' fears, which is both the foundation and the power of Nichols's script. Nichols (Shotgun Stories) deliberately doesn't distinguish reality and nightmare; there is no discernible change in film stock and nothing to indicate which is which. As the film progresses, it's harder for the audience to distinguish between the two, increasing the tension despite the movie's slow and steady pace. But instead of being distracting, it makes it easier for the audience to relate to Curtis' plight. Even the CGI is minimal, and only enough to enhance the story. The overall effect is nearly exhausting as the audience gets caught up in Curtis' plight.

AFF Photo Essay: 'The Nice Guys' Drop Trou, Delight Audience

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There was a lot going on at Austin Film Festival on Sunday, and unless you could clone yourself, you may have missed it. Thomas Jane dropping trou for The Nice Guys script reading for one.  (More photos after the jump.)

SXSW Announces First Film Panels for 2012

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SXSW has announced its first round of confirmed sessions today for the 2012 Film Conference in March. SXSW Film Conference and Festival Producer Janet Pierson said, "We’re particularly thrilled with how well our PanelPicker interface harnesses the intelligence and passions of our creative community to help define the most interesting and relevant topics of the day."

Thousands of proposals were submitted for the SXSW film conference panels through the PanelPicker tool, which allowed anyone with an internet connection to submit a proposal, then let the public vote on them this summer. Nearly 40 sessions were announced today on a wide range of topics near and dear to filmmakers' hearts, including several "convergence" titles that are open to all Film, Interactive, Gold and Platinum badgeholders.

The confirmed Film sessions (panels and otherwise) are  listed after the jump.

AFF Review: Harold's Going Stiff

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Just when you thought the Brits had cornered the market on reinventing the zombie genre, writer/director Keith Wright brings us a fresh new take in Harold's Going Stiff, which won the Austin Film Festival Narrative Feature Competition this week.

Using a mockumentary structure, Wright introduces us to pensioner Harold (Stan Rowe), whose stiffening joints and painful muscles aren't merely old age. he titular Harold is the first known sufferer of "O.R.D." or Onset Rigor Disease, an infliction that starts with painfully stiffened muscles and ends up with the classic diminished intelligence, lack of speech and violence of a zombie-like state. His new visiting nurse Penny (Sarah Spencer) cheerfully tortures Harold with painful therapies to help him keep the disease from progressing. In the meantime, controversy reigns over vigilantes hunting down the afflicted who've reached the final stage of the disease.  

AFF Review: A Swingin' Trio

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A husband slaving over the stove for dinner. A Valentine's dinner set for three. This is not the usual setup for a romantic drama, but it is for the promising debut A Swingin' Trio.

Kelvin Phillips and Carla Jackson's first feature is a tense tale of secrets, lies and revelations interspersed with the cool jazz stylings of the Jeff Lofton Trio. Homer (Johnny Walter) is a writer married to successful producer Trude (Timeca Seretti). He has all the time in the world while collecting rejection letters on his literary masterpiece. Meanwhile, Trude can't seem to detach herself from her phone and her business deals, breezing through the house as if it's a hotel. Homer has something special planned for Valentine's Day dinner, but it's not just his signature seafood gumbo. 

AFF Review: Sironia

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Sironia

If you're a fan of music-heavy movies, you will likely love Sironia. If you usually shy away from them, especially when the lead is a musician himself, you'll be pleasantly surprised with Brandon Dickerson's feature film debut. 

"Life is what happens when you're making other plans." In the case of Thomas (Wes Cunningham), when plans for stardom start requiring compromise, he and his expectant wife escape to Sironia, Texas for a simpler life. As it usually happens, the act of running from instead of running to is never fast enough. 

Early in Sironia, the movie seems like it might follow the trope of artistic integrity versus money, and be merely a vehicle for showcasing Cunningham's songs. However, Sironia isn't a vanity film, and the longer it progresses the more impressive it gets. While Cunningham's music is integral to the story and in fact written prior to the script, the songs are seamlessly worked in and never overwhelm the core story. It's not quite a cinematically realized concept album like Once, although in both cases the music is integral to the film. Sironia isn't just about a moment in time, but about lives trapped by holding on to a particular moment.

AFF 2011 Interview: Ben Foster, 'Strings'

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The 18th Austin Film Festival is here. To help celebrate all the locally connected movies at this year's fest, we've reached out to a number of filmmakers to find out about their Austin and Texas-tied films screening at the fest.

Strings is a a thriller co-directed by Austinite Ben Foster and written by co-director Mark Dennis (pictured above at Tulsa Film Festival with Ben on the left). The film is about a grieving man who opts for an experimental therapy to start a new life with unexpected consequences.  I haven't seen the movie yet, but Austinite Karl Anderson, who has a significant role in the film, was very impressive during the script reading of By Way of Helena at AFF last year, so I can't wait to see his peformance on screen.  In the meantime Ben Foster graciously took the time to answer some questions about Strings, AFF and Austin. 

Slackerwood:  Describe your film for us, in a quick and dirty paragraph.

Ben Foster:  Strings is about a musician that discovers his therapist is using patients to commit vigilante crimes. He gets involved with this underground crime ring and can never return to his old life. 

AFF 2011 Interview: Eric Steele and Adam Donaghey, 'Uncertain, TX'

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We're deep in the heart of the 18th Austin Film Festival we've been spotlighting the Austin films, but Uncertain, TX has so many Texas filmmakers working on it, we just had to do a quick interview with director Eric Steele and producer Adam Donaghey, both based up in the DFW area. Austin's Clay Liford (Wuss, Earthling) did the cinematography. Uncertain, TX may be Steele's first feature film, but he's been active in the local film community. Steele, Donaghey, Barak Epstein and Jason Reimer are all part of Aviation Cinemas, which revived the historic Texas Theatre in 2010.

Describe your film for us, in a quick and dirty paragraph.

Eric Steele: Uncertain, TX is, in essence, the worst bed and breakfast experience imaginable. Two drifters happen upon an old bed and breakfast in a bayou town near the Louisiana/Texas border and encounter a very odd family who psychologically torments them during their stay. It’s a tragicomedy at its core and is purposefully theatrical - inspired by film versions of Shakespeare.

Tell us one thing about this film that is going to make it impossible for people to resist seeing it at the AFF?

Eric Steele: Blind B&B owners. Vast, sprawling Caddo Lake as the backdrop. Nutria. Gar. What else could you want?

Adam Donaghey: Boogie-woogie!

AFF 2011, Day Two: Super Woman Shoes and Free Firefly

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Just who is the girl in the picture and why is someone getting her autograph? It's Stella Otto, one of the stars of Sironia.

But first, let's start at the beginning. Today was a packed day, despite only making it to one panel. Had to decide between much needed sleep and a panel, and the sleep won out. But I did make it to one of the Pixar panels.

Kiel Murray and Mary Coleman talked about "Pixar's Story Development Process" and how the innovative animation studio approaches the development of stories and films. Unsurprisingly, no one at Pixar works in a vacuum; while they have directors on staff, every director has to come up with three separate and unique stories to pitch before the script process. Then an iterative approach is used that involves a "brain trust" feedback process as well as feedback from the entire staff of 1200 people. It was refreshing to hear that Pixar films don't get test screenings with kids (which would explain why they work so well for adults). They also use a similar development process for shorts, only anyone at Pixar can submit a story idea.

Movies This Week: The Names of Paranormal Mixtape

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Yes, we're in the midst of Austin Film Festival. But there are other film things going on if you're not attending AFF. On Monday night, Austin Cinematheque is showing a (free!) screening of Werner Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser at the Texas Union Theater, 

The next Essential Cinema screening in the "Goin' for Baroque" series is Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover on Tuesday at Alamo South Lamar. Starring Helen Mirren, Michael Gambon and Richard Bohringer about a bored wife considering an affair, this is the only movie I ever stopped watching after a few minutes back in the days when VHS was king, so I need to give it one more try.

Love music and documentaries? Directors Lev Anderson, Chris Meztler are bringing thier doc Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone to town on Wednesday and will be in attendance along with Fishbone's John Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore. The screening coincides with the release of a new album and a concert tour. Check the event details on the AFS website for more. 

Free screenings this week include a number at the Austin Public Library, and the Whole Foods Sunset Supper Cinema tonight featuring E.T. The Extraterrestrial complete with a costume and pumpkin contest).

Movies We've Seen:

Paranormal Activity 3 -- Jumpscares and stationary cameras. But does it work?  Mike saw it at Fantastic Fest and says, "Paranormal Activity 3's anachronistic horror ups the ante. Like the demon in the films, fans of the series will keep coming back." Look for his review this weekend. (wide)

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