New Releases

Review: Zombieland



Despite seeing over 20 films in the last ten days, the most memorable movie quotes that have stayed with me are from Zombieland. The zombie carnage and laughs start with the opening credits. The action continues as an unlikely band of survivors make their way from Texas to a zombie-free nirvana, an amusement park on the West Coast.

Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has neurotic tendencies which prove to be assets in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies. His set of rules which include "Beware of bathrooms," "Double tap" and "Seatbelts" help him survive until he meets up with Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). Harrelson's performance as the zombie-killing, ass-whuppin' Twinkie-lovin' Tallahassee hits the mark in toughness and wittiness. Emma Stone as Wichita turns in a strong performance as the older sibling in a grifter team, but it's Abigail Breslin as Little Rock who holds her own in an exchange with Tallahassee about Hannah Montana.

Review: The Horse Boy


Rupert Isaacson, Rowan and Ghoste in Mongolia by Justin Hennard Since I've not personally known anyone with autism, it's not an issue I could relate to until seeing Michel O. Scott's The Horse Boy, which is currently playing at Arbor Great Hills. You may also remember it under its working title, Over the Hills and Far Away. This film, which was partially funded by the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund, was nominated in 2009 for a Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival and received the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival. The compelling documentary portrays the challenges of dealing with a young child stricken with autism, and chronicles the family's attempt to improve their quality of life by exploring non-traditional healing in Mongolia.

Having met abroad in India, Rupert Isaacson and his wife Kristen Neff found themselves unable to travel effortlessly to the store after their son Rowan was diagnosed at 2 1/2 years of age with autism.  At the time The Horse Boy was filmed, 5-year-old Rowan was prone to autistic tantrums that could last for over four hours, and was incapable of using the toilet. It is surprising then that the family would endeavor to travel across the world to Mongolia, meeting with shamans and then ascending 12,000 feet near the Russian border to visit the shamam of the reindeer herders.

I was amazed by the unflinching optimism of the parents through such a laborous journey, but considering Isaacson's role as producer of the Horse Boy (with book option), it's understandable there's a reduction in objectivity. However, filmmaker Michel O. Scott successfully interlaces scenes from the family's "routine" life in Elgin, Texas and their expedition across Mongolia by van and horse with experts who offer insight into autism.

Review: Extract


Austin has a special place in its collective heart for Office Space, and no surprise -- not only was it filmed in town, there are plenty of cube farms were every character is represented, where TPS reports line the cube walls, and people know the mere mention of a stapler will invoke a quote-athon. Ten years later, Mike Judge's latest is the ultimate companion film about the other side of the desk, Extract.

Jason Bateman plays Joel, who's considering selling the flavor extract business he started from the ground up, but a freak accident and some bad judgment put his life into a tailspin. Joel suddenly finds himself battling lawyers, lotharios, the world's most annoying neighbor and a con artist, when all he really wants is some quality time with his wife.

Bateman, whose comic genius lies in his uncanny "straight man" abilities, is made for the role of the hapless Joel. But what makes him shine is the supporting cast, including Kristen Wiig (Adventureland), Beth Grant (No Country for Old Men, Jericho), J.K. Simmons (Juno, Spider-Man), and Clifton Collins Jr. (Sunshine Cleaning, Star Trek). Every one of them you'll recognize, both as outstanding performers and the characters they play, including an uncredited performance by Judge himself.  Ben Affleck again proves he's not just a pretty face, but one that does best in snarky comedy.

Review: Taking Woodstock


Taking Woodstock

It has been quite a while since Ang Lee last took on comedies with The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (1994), and it shows in his new film Taking Woodstock. It is a decent and enjoyable movie, but it often meanders and is less about comedy and more about transformation and turmoil of the Vietnam era in 1969.

Taking Woodstock takes place at a rundown motel in the Catskills, and is centered around Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin), who is based on Elliot Tiber and his book Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life. Elliot sacrifices what little money he's made as an interior designer in New York City to keep his Russian immigrant parents from losing their rundown motel in the Catskills, and moves back to help. As president of the local chamber of commerce, he jumps at the chance to give the Woodstock festival a home after nearby Wallkill, N.Y. forces the concert promoters out. Elliot convinces local dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) to agree to hosting the concert on his farm.

Group Review: Funny People


Funny People

This week, Debbie and Jette and Jenn all watched Judd Apatow's latest film, Funny People. The comedy stars Seth Rogen as Ira Wright, an up-and-coming comedian who lucks into a job assisting the rich and famous comic/movie star George Simmons (Adam Sandler). George is fighting some health problems, which leads him to reminisce about his long-lost love Laura (Leslie Mann). The cast includes Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzmann, Eric Bana, and a number of other comedians, as well as other members of the Apatow family.

Austin has a very small connection in this film: Jonah Hill is wearing an Alamo Drafthouse t-shirt -- one of the Badass Cinema shirts -- during one scene in the film. No, Seth Rogen does not appear next to the Alamo South lobby's hot dog in this movie, but we live in eternal hope.

Let's start with Jette this time:

Funny People is supposed to be writer/director Apatow's Big Important Movie. And perhaps it is, but I didn't find it all that involving ... or all that funny. For one thing, the film would have been vastly improved by having about a half-hour trimmed. It would also have helped to have at least one character that I liked or empathized enough with to care about what was going on with them.

Forgiving the Film: Summer Adaptations, Reboots and Sequels


three summer film posters

[Warning: Portions of this article may constitute spoiler material if you haven't read the Harry Potter books.]

Have you ever given a film or a filmmaker credit, even for the failings of a film?

It's been an interesting summer. Early this year, some of us very lucky Austinites caught the unofficial world premiere of Star Trek, resulting in quite a bit of flak from the media. Paramount was accused of stacking the deck with Trekkies (not true), and it wasn't until the press outside of Austin had an opportunity to see Star Trek for themselves that suddenly, they were agreeing with us.

The interesting thing is that for all the glowing reviews, Star Trek is a flawed film. But its flaws were easily marginalized because the director and writers clearly understood the Star Trek universe, the characters and how to tell a good story. We could discuss some of the logic breaks, or the lack of character development outside of Kirk and Spock, but what really matters is that was fun, thrilling and made us want more. I say "we" because I know I'm not alone. At least on Slackerwood.

Pan's Labyrinth, Volver in Austin

Some notable foreign-language/arthouse films are finally opening in Austin on Friday:
  • Pan's Labyrinth—Playing at Alamo South Lamar, Dobie, and Arbor. I saw this movie at Fantastic Fest, and considered it my favorite movie of 2006. I'm looking forward to seeing it again. Read my Cinematical review for more details.
  • Volver—Playing at Arbor. Pedro Almodovar's latest film is getting a lot of attention. I liked it, but not as much as some of his earlier films (Law of Desire), and not quite enough for my Top Ten of 2006. Penelope Cruz stars in the story about two sisters trying to deal with the (figurative, or literal?) ghost of their mother. Although I like watching movies in theaters, I think this film would be just as watchable on DVD, frankly.
  • Curse of the Golden Flower—Playing at Alamo South Lamar, Dobie, Arbor, Cinemark Tinseltown (Pflugerville), and AMC Barton Creek (in the mall). Someone nicknamed this film "Curse of the Golden Corset" and now that title has stuck in my head more than the actual one. The film does include lots of shots of young women about to pop out of their tops. Imagine if Douglas Sirk had made a movie about a Chinese imperial family in 900 AD, but with a big battle scene. Very pretty, and enjoyable on a superficial level -- if you're going to see it, see it in a theater.
Other movies opening this week: Alpha Dog, Notes on a Scandal, Primeval, and Stomp the Yard. (I'm finishing my Stomp the Yard review now, but the short version is that it was more watchable and interesting than I expected.)

Borat scaled back - where to see it in Austin


BoratIf you've been champing at the bit to see Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, you probably bought advance tickets to one of the Alamo Drafthouse's screenings. You will also need to get a refund for those tickets from the Drafthouse South Lamar and Village.

Due to an unexpected rollback from Borat's distributor, Twentieth Century Fox, screenings all over Austin were cancelled as the film's release at some venues has been postponed until next week. Included are Austin's cinema mainstays like the Alamo Lamar and Village though not, apparently, the Alamo Lake Creek. (I assume this is because the Lake Creek Alamo is under different ownership and management than the others, though why Fox would choose to keep the screenings at the Lake Creek and not the others is a complete mystery.)

Movies This Week: The Resurrection


I know I said I was so happy not to have to write any more weekly columns about movies playing in Austin. I had a couple of blissful weeks of respite -- except they weren't all that blissful, because a voice in my head kept saying, "Look at that movie playing tonight at the Alamo, why didn't you post anything about it? And what about that special screening over at Cafe Mundi?"

More to the point, if I don't write about this stuff, then I forget it and next thing you know, the Tom Waits concert film I wanted to catch is long gone. Damn. (Okay, that happens anyway, but it's happening more often now.) Also, I feel guilty not sharing the news about cool film stuff in town. And finally, someone kept telling me how much they liked the column, and I couldn't disappoint that person.

I'm not promising I'll do this every week, but for your delight and edification, here's some info on Austin's movies this week:

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