Debbie Cerda's blog

Review: Leaves of Grass


Leaves of Grass

I mentioned recently how much I enjoyed the History of Film class I'd taken at Texas A&M, but what I didn't share was how much I disliked much of the required Liberal Arts curriculum. I found philosophy and classic literature to be dry, boring and uninspiring. However, if I'd had Tim Blake Nelson as a classics professor perhaps I would think differently now and my life would have taken an alternate path. As writer and director of  Leaves of Grass, Nelson introduces themes of classic literature in a very modern and engaging manner. Leaves of Grass is not a typical stoner comedy, as it switches to more of a drama and thriller about halfway through the film.

Edward Norton stars as Bill Kincaid, a conservative Ivy League college classics professor who reluctantly returns to the backwoods of southeastern Oklahoma after learning of the murder of his identical twin Brady (also played by Edward Norton). However, Bill discovers that his pot-growing brother is not actually dead but rather faked his death so that Bill would come home for his wedding -- although we quickly learn Brady has alterior motives. The more selfless motive is for Bill to reconcile with their hippie mother (Susan Sarandon), who lives in an adult care residence despite the fact that she is ten years younger and healthier than the other residents.

Turns out that Brady is in debt for his state of the art pot-growing facility to Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss), a Jewish druglord from Tulsa. He and his sidekick Bolger (Tim Blake Nelson) come up with a plan to deal with Rothbaum who is wanting them to branch out into harder drugs. Meanwhile, Bill meets Janet (Kerri Russell), a writer who can "noodle" and quotes Walt Whitman while gutting a catfish. This comedy of errors results in a rather tragic resolution. 

Interview: Tim Blake Nelson and Edward Norton, 'Leaves of Grass'


Edward Norton at CYRUS Premiere

Austin fans of actor Edward Norton (Fight Club, American History X) will be able to get a double -- or should I say triple -- dose of him this weekend with two major film events. Norton will be in town for the premiere of Stone at Fantastic Fest on Friday, September 24 at 7 pm -- a gala screening at the Paramount Theatre. He'll also be at Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz for the sold-out 8 pm showing of Leaves of Grass, which opens in Austin this weekend.

Don't assume Leaves of Grass is a "stoner comedy," as I almost did. This movie defies typecasting into one genre, as it ranges from comedy to drama to thriller. Norton stars as twin brothers -- Bill, a straight-laced Ivy League professor; and Brady, an uncultured pot grower in the backwoods of Oklahoma. Actor and director Tim Blake Nelson also wrote the screenplay, which is centered more around classical tragic themes in such a manner that viewers won't take long to forget that the characters are played by the same actor.

I sat down with several other film critics during SXSW this past March for a roundtable discussion with Norton and Nelson the day after Leaves of Grass played the fest. To find out why Nelson has inspired me to read classic Latin literature, read his and Norton's responses to our questions after the jump, and check out my review of the film appearing later this week:

Fantastic Fest Review: Let Me In


Let Me In

When it was announced that the Swedish horror film Let the Right One In would be remade for American audiences, many responses were skeptical. The selection of Matt Reeves as director for Let Me In left fans and film critics conflicted. Cloverfield had such a distinct cinematographic style that many folks were left wondering if Reeves could possibly stay true to the spirit of John Ajvide Lindqvist's novel on which the films are based, as well as meet the bar set by director Tomas Alfredson and Lindqvist's original screenplay. Let the Right One In was so compelling that I immediately followed up by enjoying the book, so my expectations for Let Me In -- this year's Fantastic Fest opening-night film -- were not very high. However, Reeves has delivered a worthy homage to the original movie while adding more emotion to the lead characters.

Let Me In focuses on Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), a stereotypical young 98-pound weakling. The school bullies terrorize him on a daily basis, and the only person he could possibly confide in is his mother (Cara Buono) who drinks herself into a stupor every night. Instead he lies about injuries suffered at the hands of his attackers as he is subjected to public humilation.

When Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves in next door with her guardian, Owen befriends her despite her protestations. We quickly learn that she must consume blood to live, and that her guardian "Father" (Richard Jenkins) is charged with the precarious task of finding fresh blood sources on a regular basis. Father gets sloppy, and a frenzied Abby takes matters into her own hands, which jeopardizes their new home. Meanwhile Abby encourages Owen to stand up for himself and fight back. Although he succeeds in turning the tables on his tormentors, it backfires by making him the target of the head bully's older brother in a supernatural climax reminiscent of Carrie.

Fantastic Fest 2010: Ready...Set...GO!


Fantastic Fest First Day Prep

Does it get any better than this? Yes, by reading Jette's Fantastic Fest 2010 Survival Guide I'll be better prepared for my sixth year at Fantastic Fest. You'll notice in the picture above the whole family recognizes how much I enjoy spending time at the Alamo Drafthouse -- thanks, Dad, that present is a perfect fit!

Although I managed to buy a VIP badge in the short minutes they were available last year and I have the first boarding passes for Transfer and Golden Slumber, it's not a perfect scenario. My fiance missed by seconds and has a regular film badge this year, so we'll either have to coordinate our schedules or go our separate ways.

Quick Snaps: The Red in 'Red White and Blue'


Since Simon Rumley's Red White & Blue will be returning for a screening at Fantastic Fest this week, I felt it was high time I shared an exclusive behind-the-scene photo I'd taken during the shoot at our house, where part of the film was shot. Nick Ashy Holden ("Alvin") was taking a coffee break while Emmy award nominee makeup artist Meredith Johns (off-screen) put, the finishing touches on his special effects makeup. 

With all the new media nowadays it's increasingly difficult for filmmakers to keep a lid on their projects, but it's also a great way for filmmakers to promote their films with less money and effort if done properly. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger are not only free, but can have a viral effect if fans help promote a film. Red White & Blue was able to secure locations and extras through the Alamo Drafthouse blog, and is how our house was selected as a filming location. Check out more behind-the-scenes photos after the jump.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Preview: Selected Shorts



As mentioned in my blog entry Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: Appreciating the Shorts, you'll never find a lack of high quality and innovative short films at Fantastic Fest. This year, the shorts are split almost evenly between screenings before feature films, or one of the two shorts programs: Short Fuse! Severe Fantastic Fest Shorts and Drawn and Quartered: Animated Shorts. Thanks to Fantastic Fest programmer Zack Carlson, I had the opportunity to preview over 30 of the 50-plus shorts that will be screening over the course of the next week. Hundreds of filmmakers from around the world submitted short films to Fantastic Fest, and judging from the final selections, it must have been challenging to narrow down. Here are some highlights from this year's shorts, including my personal favorites.

Quick Snaps: Thomas Haden Church of 'Zombie Roadkill'


Thomas Haden Church

Texas-born actor Thomas Haden Church returned to Austin this past March to lend his dry wit and charm as emcee of the Austin Film Society's annual Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards. Church first served as emcee in 2009, and personally I would love to see him become a long-running host. It's probably not that unlikely -- Church resides on his cattle ranch near Bandera, Texas.

I've been a fan of Church since his eccentric role in the 1990s television sitcom Wings, and enjoyed his conflicted portrayal of villain Flint Marko aka "Sandman" in Spider-Man 3. He recently appeared in the teen comedy Easy A, but can also be seen in Zombie Roadkill, a new FEARnet web series. The trailers and PSAs for the series are hysterical and had me jumping out of my seat. Check out my favorite PSA after the jump.

Fantastic Fest attendees have a chance to see the first two episodes before their online debut at a special screening on Friday, September 24, at 8 pm. Director David Green, stars Thomas Haden Church and David Dorfman, producer Ryan Hendricks and writer Henry Gayden will be in attendance. The screening will be followed by the FEARnet party at The Highball.

Fantastic Fest 2010 Guide: How to Drink Like an Austinite


Draft beers at The High Ball

Being a native Texan and a craft beer enthusiast, I feel the need to dispel a misconception about Texas beer -- Lone Star is NOT the national beer of Texas. Former Governor Ann Richards unofficially declared Shiner Bock the "national" beer of Texas during her term, as it was her personal favorite hailing from the Spoetzl brewery in Shiner, Texas. Sure, Lone Star beer will quench your thirst when you're floating down the Guadalupe River on an inner tube, but if you have a palate for real hop flavor or a good malt backbone, Texas offers many more and much better beers.

With an increase in the number of microbreweries in Texas, The Texas Craft Brewers Guild has finally come to realization. Central Texas has three microbreweries that have been producing and distributing for several years -- Live Oak, Real Ale, and Independence Brewing. (512) Brewing just celebrated their second anniversary and Thirsty Planet began hitting local taps in July. As if five microbreweries around Austin isn't enough, another eight new craft breweries are slated for Central Texas within the next two years.

What does beer have to do with the Austin film scene and Fantastic Fest? Plenty, if you want to enjoy the "draft" in Alamo Drafthouse Cinema.

Quick Snaps: 'Man on a Mission' Owen and Richard Garriott


Owen and Richard Garriott of Man on a Mission

I thoroughly enjoy interviewing filmmakers and actors, but I was particularly enlightened by Austin video game developer and recent astronaut Richard Garriott during our podcast interview about the documentary Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission, specifically regarding his motivation. I asked Garriott what science-fiction authors had inspired him in his youth, to want to travel to space. The answer? None -- he read fantasy, hence the inspiration for his first game, Ultima.

For Garriott, space travel wasn't anything out of the ordinary. His father Owen Garriott was an astronaut, and all of their neighbors were in the NASA space program as well. It wasn't until Garriott was older that he discovered that not everyone goes to space, and his poor eyesight would prevent him from being a part of the NASA space program. He was determined to find a way to travel to space, and in 2008 it became reality as he joined a Soyuz mission into space.

If you didn't get a chance to see Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission during SXSW 2010, be sure to catch an encore screening at Fantastic Fest, which begins next Thursday. Screenings will be announced here.

Fantastic Fest Flashbacks: Appreciating the Shorts



As a film fan, I love short films for the same reason I enjoy short stories -- I get almost instant gratification with little investment of time, and then it's on to the next short. The stories and films might seem easier to forget, but that's not the case when a good story can be told in fifteen minutes or less. Such is the case with several short films I've seen over the years at South by Southwest Film Festival and Fantastic Fest. In the past it was difficult to see these films outside of a film festival, but thanks to the Internet more short films are available to a larger audience.

The most memorable shorts I've enjoyed were those I viewed at Fantastic Fest from 2006-2009, including Phil Mucci's gothic horror film The Listening Dead (view after the jump) which won the Short Film Jury Award for Best of Show in 2006. That same year was the Fantastic Fest debut of British filmmaker Simon Rumley with the well-directed short The Handyman starring Greta Scacchi, along with the full length psychological thriller The Living and the Dead. Rumley has a great behind-the-scenes making of The Handyman.

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