Theatrical and DVD reviews.

Review: We Live in Public


We Live in PublicEver wonder about how much people share their lives in social media these days?  Believe it or not, someone was actively exploring those very possibilities long before the new millennium. DIG! Director Ondi Timoner brought her latest documentary, We Live in Public, to Austin for a special one-week engagement. 

The film focuses on Josh Harris, a dot-com entrepreneur who was ahead of the curve, and a social media pioneer long before MySpace. Harris's story is the cautionary tale of a dot-com pioneer, but the story told here is much more. Harris didn't just have skyrocketing success only to crash in the dot bomb. Even his parties had ulterior motives. 

Among his projects was "Quiet: We Live in Public," a social experiment where artists lived in a sealed community -- eating, sleeping and living with every action being recorded.  There was no privacy of any sort, and every imaginable action was recorded, including some you might not consider. Even after "Quiet" ended, Harris's experiments didn’t, with both celebrated and condemned results.

Director Ondi Timoner not only explores Josh Harris's history as a social media pioneer, she was a participant in "Quiet," so has intimate knowledge of that project. Despite her insider knowledge, Timoner balances the story in We Live in Public with material that contemplates the consequences of living without boundaries.

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: Lorna's Silence


Lorna's SilenceAwarded Best Screenplay at Cannes 2008, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Lorna's Silence is an arthouse drama that stretches another short story into a feature-length film, only not for the ADD crowd.  The performances are good, but a major plot twist is so contrived it diminishes the slow build to the conclusion.

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) is an Albanian immigrant who just got her Belgian citizenship card and dreams of opening a snack shop with her lover, Sokol (Alban Ukaj). Lorna is willing to participate in passport schemes to make her dreams come true, to the point of marrying for papers of her own. She lives with Claudy (Jérémie Renier), a junkie, who sold his name for heroin money. Add in a taxi-driving gangster (Fabrizio Rongione) and a Russian looking for a passport of his own, and the plot gets convoluted quickly. 

Everyone in Lorna's Silence has plans, but everyone knows what happens to the best-laid plans. Lorna has a goal she intends to meet, but no one expected her to start caring for Claudy, even Lorna herself. While the rest of the conspirators consider Claudy disposable, Lorna genuinely wants him to kick his habit.  Lorna is quiet and almost callous, but cannot remain unmoved by Claudy. Her consequent decisions lead to an improbable plot twist where she transforms from comatose to expressive, hence the title. 

Review: It Might Get Loud


It Might Get LoudIt Might Get Loud follows a simple formula: take two rock'n'roll legends, throw in an upstart musician, and blend into a documentary on the electric guitar that belongs in any contemporary musicologist's library. Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White are interviewed separately and together, along with some musical interludes that show an evolution of rock based on the earlier two performers' history and the latter's obsession with blues.

Page, known primarily known as the guitarist in Led Zeppelin, has a career that extends much farther back than non-aficionados know. Watching Page in It Might Get Loud is a real treat, as he tours the house where a Led Zeppelin album was recorded, talking about how the architecture influenced the sounds, as well as the initial critical pans of a now considered seminal album. Unassuming and genial, Page is riveting. 

The Edge, is equally unassuming and mesmerizing, explaining how he creates his sound, and discussing his early days in U2.  White, on the other hand, is jarring, with his obsession with obscure blues artists and aching to bleed for his art. Where Page and The Edge focus on their music, White seems driven by ego to focus on his process.  It makes an interesting comparison.

Review: 9


the feature '9'

Shane Acker's Oscar-nominated short of the same name was so popular, people were talking about 9 long after it didn't win. It's a very solid short, both satisfying and leaving viewers wanting more. The announcement that the stitch-punk short was getting a feature adaptation was received with enthusiasm which kept building. Unfortunately, the feature-film version of 9 doesn't live up to the short.

Acker, who wrote and directed the original, only gets story and director credit for the feature. Pamela Pettler has the screenplay credits; she also co-wrote Monster House and Corpse Bride. Timur Bekmambetov (Wanted, Nochnoy dozor) and Tim Burton get producer credits, and you can see their influence, especially in the monsters. 

Jenn and Jette Hook up on 'Humpday'


HumpdayThe independent film Humpday, which played at SXSW this year, is (finally) getting a theatrical release in Austin this week. The comedy is screening at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar. Jenn Brown and Jette Kernion both caught this film in March and have some thoughts to share.

Let's start with Jenn:

This cautionary tale of a bromance taken to its competitive limits is one of the smarter comedies this year. 

Former Austinite Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair) and Houstonite Joshua Leonard (The Blair Witch Project) star as two friends who take their competitive tendencies to the limit when they decide to enter an erotic film competition. You know these guys: apart, the adorable, doting husband, Ben (Duplass), the vagabond Andrew, with his exotic stories and need for a couch to surf (Leonard). Together, these old college buddies can't help but slide back into their old pattern of trying to outdo each other. As their lifestyles collide, and they egg each other on to meet the film competition deadline, their bromance is taken to the limit. 

Leonard's Andrew is simultaneously annoying and endearing, and Duplass is as charming as ever as Ben.  Alycia Delmore had some particularly strong moments as Ben's wife, Anna. Writer-director Lynn Shelton plays Andrew's bohemian love interest.

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.

Group Review: World's Greatest Dad


World's Greatest Dad

The indie comedy World's Greatest Dad, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, finally hits Austin theaters this week after debuting at Sundance earlier this year. Jenn and Jette both saw the movie and are very much divided in opinion. One thought it was "edgy in all the right ways" and the other complained that "the stale humor and often flat acting put me to sleep." Keep reading to find out more.

The Summary:

Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) is a high-school poetry teacher who really wants to be a published author. He's having trouble getting his girlfriend (Alexie Gilmore) to commit, too -- she seems more interested in a colleague who's a more successful writer and teacher. But Lance's biggest problem is with his sullen, sex-crazed son, Kyle (Daryl Sabara), who wants to spend all his time looking at extremely kinky pictures on the Internet, occasionally taking a break to insult everyone around him. Kyle is driving Lance up the wall, and then something happens to Kyle that changes everything.

Let's start with Jenn Brown:

If World's Greatest Dad was a festival film, I would have walked out, even as someone willing to give slow and seemingly pointless movies a chance. I like black comedy, and stories that challenge social mores and questions. It took forever to get to the first point: the loss of a son only a father could love. The stale humor and often flat acting nearly put me to sleep. With a protagonist sleepwalking through life until tragedy wakes him up, there needs to be greater care taken in bringing the story to life.

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.

Review: Shorts


I had the opportunity to attend the Shorts premiere here in Austin last Sunday, with writer/director Robert Rodriguez and the young cast in attendance. The film is about a group of kids who find a magical rock that like the morbid "Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs that does more damage than good.

Shorts: The Adventures of the Wishing Rock takes place in the fictional surburbia of the Black Falls, where most residents work for Black Box Unlimited Worldwide Industries Incorporated. Mr. Black (James Spader) has created the Black Box do-it-all gadget that is found in everyone's household. The Wishing Rock can do even more, and everyone including the megalomaniacal Mr. Black wants to get their hands on the rock. Wishes wind up with unexpected results, leaving the residents of Black Falls dealing with walking crocodiles, tiny spaceships and a monster from a most disturbing origin. The kids must band together to save the day.

Just as Racer Rodriguez had inspired his dad to create The Adventures of Shark Boy & Lava Girl, older brother Rebel came up with the basic concept of Shorts -- it's a series of shorts, the kids are short, and they wear shorts -- after watching the classic kids' gang comedy series The Little Rascals.

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