Debbie Cerda's blog

Review: The Mechanic


The Mechanic

I hope this confession doesn't impact my credibility, but I have no shame in admitting I enjoyed the action film Con Air with veteran actors Nicolas Cage, John Malkovich and John Cusack. Despite the over-the-top Velveeta cheesiness and explosions, this film has just the right balance of action, violence, and melodrama that it continues to entertain me even today. A lot of credit goes to director Simon West, and therefore I was excited to see how West would handle a remake of a Charles Bronson action movie. The result is The Mechanic, another testerone-charged film that lacks the balance and strengths of West's previous film projects.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) answers vague advertisements for a mechanic, which translates to fixing things by cleanly taking out targets as a professional elite assassin. His assignments come from a company that is partly controlled by his close friend and mentor Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland). Bishop has no difficulties remaining detached from his targets until his assignment is to eliminate Harry. The company is not happy with Harry after a botched job in Capetown, and his ailing health and wayward drug-addicted son Steve (Ben Foster) isn't helping matters. With his skills and close attachment to Harry, Bishop accomplishes his mission quite easily and cleanly -- until Steve shows up on his doorstep. Steve wants to seek revenge on the "carjackers" that killed his father, and he is determined to have Bishop teach him the skills of the trade. Whether out of guilt or loyalty to Harry, Bishop takes on the impulsive hot-headed student who jeopardizes Bishop's typically deadly silent method and things get messy. 

Review: The Man Who Never Cried


Jess Weixler of The Man Who Never Cried

Amongst the many short films that I enjoyed at Austin Film Festival 2010 was I Love You Will Smith by local writer/director Bradley Jackson. This amusing film depicted how a casual office conversation about Will Smith’s latest movie can lead to a psychological breakdown -- and physical beatdown -- for some fans. I've found myself referencing Jackson's short in conversations with co-workers about movies so I'll admit I'm hooked. I Love You Will Smith was a Doorpost Film project finalist last year and can be watched on the Doorpost Film Project website here.

After seeing Jackson and his filmmaking crew in action on his latest short film The Man Who Never Cried during a set visit last fall, I was curious to see how the final film would turn out. The Man Who Never Cried has just received a $10,000 Audience Choice Award from the Doorpost Film Project, a prize that was determined by number of online votes through the Doorpost website. You can watch it in full at the end of this review.

The movie's central character, Ralph "it's pronounced Rafe" Winston (Keir O'Donnell), has never cried in his life, not even during his birth or as an adult when his former wilfe has a miscarriage. His inability to express grief and loss through tears has distanced himself emotionally from others. Ironically, his job as a clown enables others to express joy and laughter.

Review: The Dilemma


The Dilemma

When previews for The Dilemma aired on TV, I had little interest in seeing what appeared to be the latest bromantic comedy starring Vince Vaughn and Kevin James. I typically enjoy this style of comedy, and James's performance alongside Will Smith in Hitch is one of my favorites in the genre. However, I was apprehensive about whether there would be enough chemistry between James and Vaughn to believe an almost brotherly bond. I decided to take a chance after I learned that producer and director Ron Howard (Parenthood, The DaVinci Code) was heading this project. With his directorial talent, I expected The Dilemma to be well developed and more complex than the standard bromance.

The Dilemma starts off harmlessly enough as we meet confirmed bachelor Ronny (Vaughn) and happily married Nick (James). Buddies since college, they're partners in an auto design firm and are set on taking their company to the top with an innovative project to produce muscle-car sounds in environmentally friendly electric cars. Supporting them in their endeavors -- and in past trouble of Ronny's gambling addiction -- are Ronny's girlfriend, Beth (Jennifer Connelly), and Nick's wife, Geneva (Winona Ryder).

2011 Off-Centered Film Fest Submission Open



As a craft beer enthusiast, my favorite show on the Discovery Channel this season is Brew Masters, which follows innovative and always entertaining Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione as he travels across America and around the globe, exploring new ingredients and techniques for the next great brews often based on ancient traditions.

Calagione is no stranger to Austin -- he annually teams up with the the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema to host the Off-Centered Film Fest short film competition in Austin every April. This year is no exception and promises to be bigger than ever, with submissions for the festival currently being accepted. The early bird deadline is January 29, with a final deadline of March 1 to enter.

On Set with 'The Man Who Never Cried'


On the Set: The Man Who Never Cried

On a hot but breezy September afternoon, I joined the cast and crew of The Man Who Never Cried at a small cemetery tucked away east of I-30. A short film by Austin-based director/screenwriter Bradley Jackson, The Man Who Never Cried features Keir O’Donnell (Wedding Crashers, Miss Nobody), Jess Weixler (Teeth), and local actresses Madison Burge (Friday Night Lights) and Heather Kafka (Lovers of Hate). The story's central character is Rafe Winston (O'Donnell), who has never cried in his life. When his father passes away, he must find a way to cry so he can finally connect with the rest of humanity. He attempts to shed his first tear before the funeral -- but will he succeed? 

The Man Who Never Cried was selected earlier this year to compete as a finalist in the Doorpost Film Project, an international film competition based out of Nashville. Hundreds of submissions were sent to the competition, and The Man Who Never Cried was first selected as one of 21 semi-finalists and then as one of four finalists to receive $40,000 to make the short film. The other filmmaking teams come from Los Angeles, Atlanta and Perth, Australia, with the winning team to receive $100,000. Find out how you can help this Austin film win the grand prize after the jump.

Review: The Tourist


The Tourist

Academy award winner writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others) takes the helm of the suspenseful drama The Tourist as it sails through from a cafe in Paris to the canals of Venice. Joined by seasoned writers Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, The Usual Suspects) and Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, Vanity Fair),  Donnersmarck would at first glance appear to be making an homage to Stanley Donen's classic espionage thriller Charade, which starred Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. However, The Tourist is actually a remake of French writer/director Jerome Salle's 2005 crime thriller Anthony Zimmer, which starred French film star Sophie Marceau.

The Tourist centers around Frank (Johnny Depp), a math teacher from Wisconsin who is traveling through Europe. What appears to be a chance encounter on a train with a mysterious beautiful woman is actually no mistake. Elise (Angelina Jolie) deliberately picks him out to throw police off the trail of her lover and embezzler Alexander Pierce, who stole over two billion dollars from his mobster boss Reginald Shaw (Steven Berkoff). Since both Pierce and Shaw are British citizens, the British authorities want the taxes from the money. To complicate matters, no one but Elise knows what Pierce looks like and he is rumoured to have had millions of dollars worth of plastic surgery to alter his physical appearance.

Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


The Door in Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Earlier this week I had a flashback to my childhood Christmases -- the sound of springs creaking on an unseen attic door as it opened evoked a sense of excitement and anxiety. As a child, I imagined it was Santa Claus coming down from the attic because we did not have a real fireplace. As I grew older I realized that my parents hid our presents up there. It was a bit unnerving and overwhelming to think that Santa knew if whether I was bad or good, and could enter our house at will.

In the movie Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, opening at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar tomorrow just in time for the holidays, Finnish writer and director Jalmari Helander reminds us of the not-so-jovial myths behind the mystic icon of Father Christmas. Helander first introduced his take on the origin and life history of Santa Claus in the short darkly humorous films Rare Exports Inc. (2003) and The Official Rare Exports Inc. Safety Instructions 2005 (2005), which went viral on the internet. Find out where to watch these award-winning short films after the jump.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale begins a couple of weeks before Christmas with a secretive dig in the depths of the Korvantunturi Mountains, located on the border between Russia and Finland. An American businessman with a multinational corporation delivers specific safety instructions to the site supervisor, as it is revealed that the "mountain" in which they are digging is actually the ancient tomb of Santa Claus. Two young boys, Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) and Pietari (Onni Tommila), misbehave by sneaking in through the border fence to investigate the dig. Pietari researches the story of Father Christmas, and is disturbed by what he finds.

Quick Snaps: A Drink and Chat with Geoff Marslett about 'Mars'


Johnny Livesay and Geoff Marslett

If you missed my Fantastic Fest 2010 Guide: How to Drink Like an Austinite, than you might not know that I'm a craft beer enthusiast. I am also a member of Black Star Co-op, the world's first cooperatively owned and worker managed brewpub. I stopped by the pub this week to try out featured beers from Jester King, a new brewery located between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs.

A fellow member at the bar struck up a conversation about our agreed-upon favorite -- the Wychmaker Rye Pale Ale -- and told me he was one of the earliest members of the co-op. With almost 2,500 members, being one of the early charter members is pretty impressive. However, he said that he's been so busy working and promoting a movie that he'd not been able to visit the newly opened pub until now. Of course I had to ask about his film -- an animated romantic comedy. His name? Geoff Marslett.

Marslett premiered his animated film Mars at this year's South by Southwest Film Festival. Mars was developed in a graphic novel style, using a unique animation process Marslett created for this feature film.  Jenn Brown interviewed him in this SXSW Spotlight and also reviewed the movie. Mars is on its way to New York for a one-week run from December 3 - 9 at the reRun Gastropub Theater in Brooklyn. Tell your New York friends to get tickets early for this small 60-seat theater as Marslett and other members of the cast and crew will be in attendance this weekend.

Review: Cool It


Bjorn Lomborg of Cool It

As a ecology and conservation biology student at UT, I had a rather idealistic view of environmentalism -- until I took a course that focused on conservation, economics and technology. Between those teachings and 10 years at an environmental regulatory agency, I've become aware of the need for a more balanced and feasible approach. And yet it wasn't until seeing the documentary Cool It this week that I've admitted my skepticism about the doomsayer films that serve to alarm through extreme viewpoints rather than address the important global environmental issues.

The 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth has been credited with revitalizing the environmental movement and creating a better awareness for the general public about global warming. However, An Inconvenient Truth has been criticized of being both an exaggeration and alarming in context. Cool It centers around controversial author and Danish economist Bjorn Lomborg, who asserts that the attention global warming receives is unwarranted -- that the problem is not as bad as it's portrayed, nor are the solutions that have been proposed going to have very much impact.

Director Ondi Timoner (Dig, We Live in Public) presents a more pragmatic view of the issues at hand in Cool It, through a positive profile of Lomborg, who is often referred to as a enviro-contrarian. Much of the controversy surrounds this former Greenpeace supporter due to his most famous book, The Skeptical Environmentalist. However, Lomborg's advocacy of alternative energy and discussions on what impact various technologies can have on our environment seem quite reasonable as they are presented by various researchers and engineers. Only one dissenting voice is heard firsthand within the movie, and yet the professor's solutions to issues aren't that far off from Lomborg's so that his criticism carries less weight.

AFF 2010 Review: Veterans


VeteransI've been planning on wrapping up my Austin Film Festival content with capsule reviews for some of the short films I saw at this year's festival. However, after reflecting on Veteran's Day I thought it only fitting to give special attention to one short film in particular that I'd not covered in the AFF 2010 Preview: Selected Shorts: Veterans, directed by Miguel Alvarez (Mnemosyne Rising) and funded by a 2006 Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund grant. With so many great short films at AFF this year, Veterans hadn't originally made it to the top of my list. However, after subsequent viewings I have to admit that this poignant and somber short film is a "must see." It's a touching story of sacrifices not just made for our country, but for loved ones.

Shot on Super 8 by cinematographer Bear Guerra, Veterans has a home movie film feel but with higher production value and striking visual imagery. The story is told through a series of images of family photos and movies along with mementos, and is narrated by Joe Alvarez, the director's father. The film opens with Joe Alvarez recounting his memories of dreams at 17 years of age, a premonition that he was hit by a bomb and sent flying through the air. He had the same nightmare every week -- until it actually happened while he was in Vietnam. 

Joe Alvarez's father had also served in the military. During World War II, he was given an option to either join the army or go back to Mexico. Being patriotic, he decided to go to war despite family attempting to convince him that it wasn't his war with the response, "This country gave me everything I got, and now I'm giving my life for this country."He took part in the invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, where he was hit with shrapnel in the back, knocked out and hospitalized. His experiences left him with a lot of anger and frustrations that he internalized. He kept secrets in his handmade souvenir box, including a collar from a German officer that he'd overtaken in a foxhole.

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