Reviews

Theatrical and DVD reviews.

AFF Review: Hockey Night in Texas

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Hockey Night in Texas

The documentary feature Hockey Night in Texas follows two Austin teams through an entire season as they compete for the championship. The 400 members of this recreational adult hockey league come from all walks of life, from artists to chefs to doctors to execs at major corporations. From all skill and experience levels, what they share in common is the desire to play hockey and drink beer.

The film features footage of the B-Division in action along with behind-the-scenes encounters with the team captains. Also mixed in is commentary from hockey professionals from the Dallas Stars, including assistant coach Mark Lamb and play-by-play announcer Ralph Strangis. Strangis talks about both the beauty and the violence of the game, comparing it to the gladiators of Rome.

AFF Review: Alabama Moon

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Alabama Moon

Austin filmmaker Tim McCanlies (Secondhand LionsThe Iron Giant) premiered his latest family-friendly film Alabama Moon during Austin Film Festival at the Paramount. Based on the coming-of-age novel by Watt Key, this film's plot tugs at the heartstrings, reminiscent of the Disney film Old Yeller and other family classics.

After the unexpected death of his survivalist father, 11-year-old Moon (Jimmy Bennett ), who was raised in the Alabama wilderness, must learn how to make his way in the modern world. Doing so isn't very easy, with a local law officer (Clint Howard) intent on making sure that Jimmy stays a ward of the state in a reform school. There Moon meets and interacts with other boys, including the bully Hal (Gabriel Basso) and sickly Kit (Uriah Shelton) who become his friends and cohorts on an escape.

Review: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men

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BriefInterviewsWithHideousMen

When I saw Neil LaBute's In the Company of Men at the 1997 SXSW Film Festival, I was unsettled by the brutal portrayal of misogynistic behavior of its main characters.  Though I originally intensely disliked the film, I realize now my references to LaBute's work twelve years later is compelling evidence of the film's ability to hit a nerve. John Krasinski's directorial debut of Brief Interviews with Hideous Men evokes a similar response, as it explores the dark and disturbing nature of men and their complex relationships with women. Based on the book by David Foster Wallace, this film pushes viewers out of the comfort zone and exposes the darker nature of human interactions.

Review: Pirate Radio

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Pirate Radio

As a kid growing up in the late Sixties, my secret late-night habit was to listen in the dark to pop music on my tabletop Hi-Fi transistor radio, glowing on the lightstand next to my bed. As I listened to the DJ, I imagined that the band was playing right there in the studio. The new ensemble comedy Pirate Radio -- released in the U.K. as The Boat That Rocked -- captures the romance between pop music and the young people of the Sixties.

Review: 2012

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2012 featuring John Cusack and Woody Harrelson

If disaster porn is your thing, you'll like 2012. If, however, you like to have something, anything plausible to suspend your disbelief on, don't bother with 2012. Not even the roster of normally outstanding actors can save it.

Under the premise that the cataclysmic events associated with the Mayan calendar are true, 2012 assumes that solar flares will cause tectonic plate shifts, scientists rush to save the world with a little over two years til D-Day, aka December 21, 2012.  An earnest geologist, Adrian (Chiwetel Ejiofor) meets with a peer in India (Jimi Mistry, who rates lower in the credits than two brothers in their first role who can't act).   Dr. Satnam Tsurutani (Mistry) melodramatically opens a hatch to show boiling ground water.  Much gravitas and the requisite losing of cool at an official at a fundraiser, and "Call me Adrian" is suddenly leading the charge to save civilization. Said official, Anheuser (Oliver Platt), gets immediately set up as a Machiavellian plotter.  

Review: Bronson

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bronson by Alamo Drafthouse.

How do you make a film about one of the most documented delinquent characters in the British penal system? Turn it into an interpretive theatrical extravaganza. And that's just what director Nicolas Winding Refn does in the Fantastic Fest hit Bronson

Charlie Bronson, who's earned the epithet of most violent/famous/expensive prisoner in the UK penal system, has more character than most 10 people put together. And he knows it.  Looking at a list of the man's escapades, with violence and ridiculous demands, it make sense to turn the story into an absurdist commentary on the cult of celebrity and the addiction to fame. 

Review: An Education

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An Education

The premise of An Education sounds icky, quite frankly: an older man dating a high-school girl with the permission of her parents. Even in the Sixties ... creepy. Distasteful. But when the older man is Peter Sarsgaard, the young woman is Carey Mulligan, and the screenwriter is Nick Hornby, the charm factor increases substantially and the ick factor, while still adding a dollop of tension, doesn't prevail.

An Education is based on the memoirs of British journalist Lynn Barber, transformed here into young Jenny. It's early 1960s London, and Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is in her last year of high school (or whatever they call it in England), trying to keep her grades up so she can get into Oxford. Her suburban parents (Alfred Molina and Cara Seymour) are eagerly supporting this ambition -- in fact, they're probably the ones behind it. When an older man helps Jenny get her cello home one day (no, that's not a euphemism), he turns out to be David (Peter Sarsgaard), a wealthy and cultured real-estate agent. He and his dashing friends want to include Jenny in their social circle, and her parents succumb with only a few little white lies.

AFF Review: Herpes Boy

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Herpes Boy

Herpes Boy won the Austin Film Festival Audience Award in the Comedy Vanguard category, which should come as no surprise to anyone fortunate enough to catch either of the sold-out AFF screenings. The  filmmakers and stars -- including the charming Beth Grant who also co-produced the film -- chose to stand during both screenings so that more festival attendees could see their film. With such an endearing and supportive force, it's no wonder that heart and passion transfers to the screen in this funny and poignant film.

Herpes Boy was directed by Nathaniel Atcheson and is based on the Herpes Boy YouTube web series created by Byron Lane in 2007. In the screen adaptation Byron wrote, he plays the lead character Rudolph Murray, who hates his life and is a bit of a hypochondriac. He has a large purple birthmark on his upper lip and everyday he finds someone staring, pointing, or calling him names—like "Herpes Boy."

Rudolph makes videos for the Internet in which he rants about his quirky life and zany family, including his New Age mother played by Beth Grant (No Country For Old Men, Little Miss Sunshine, Donnie Darko), emotionally distant father played by Michael Chieffo (L.A. Confidential), and grumpy grandmother (Julianna McCarthy). When his "actress-slash-model-slash-dancer" cousin Christeee -- yes, with three e's -- played by Ahna O’Reilly (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) re-edits his videos, it attracts a huge new audience. Rudolph becomes an unwilling cyber-celebrity at the worst possible time in his life.

AFF Review: Holy Hell

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What happens when a financially strapped Church can't afford to continue? They make a horror movie, of course.  At least, that's the premise of Holy Hell, a well-named Austin film by Rafael Antonio Ruiz and co-writer L.B. Bartholomee.

Reverend Lane (Ken Edwards) as a humble man who lives the Bible, instead of forcing it down other's throats.  But his flock is dwindling, and his church doesn't have the money to keep the doors open.  The decision to make a film stirs up more controversy than they'd ever expect, especially as word gets out it's a horror film.  Suddenly they find themselves at odds with a superchurch, which sends an army of protesters to shut them down.

AFF Review: Straight to the Bone

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Everything changes, cities as well as relationships.  That theme is underscored in Erik Mauck's latest film, Straight to the Bone, which premiered at the Austin Film Festival.   Mauck's previous film, the Austin based documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie, played Fantastic Fest last year.

Living in Austin for any length of time eventually results in the lamentation of how much the city is changing, and as hard as change may be for some, growth is essential for every living organism or relationship.  No longer a student, Shannon wants something more meaningful in her life, but her boyfriend Jay is content with the status quo.  Happening upon an act of kindness makes it impossible for Shannon (River Gareth) to remain complacent.  Blake (Ryan Edgerly), a stranger, makes her realize just what she's missing. Jay (Matt Thornton) doesn't take well to the notion that good enough isn't enough anymore, and after a fight over his annoyance at her sense of responsibility, he takes off in a childish snit.

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