Theatrical and DVD reviews.

Group Review: 500 Days of Summer


(500) Days of Summer

The three of us -- Debbie, Jenn and Jette -- enjoyed doing the group review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince so much that we decided to try it again with the romantic comedy (500) Days of Summer, which is opening in Austin today. Jenn and Jette caught the movie at SXSW, where it closed the festival this year; Debbie just saw it this week. What did we think?

Let's start with Jenn Brown this time:

(500) Days of Summer was certainly a hit at SXSW this year, and surprisingly, guys with allergic reactions to romantic films of any sort were raving about it. It's a flawed but worthy tale, spiced up by jumbling the story, skipping randomly through the relationship from initial crush to beyond, even when stumbling over cliched plot devices.

The story is as simple as its tagline: Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love. Girl doesn't. What makes it refreshing is that it's not only a bit of role reversal, at least by Hollywood standards, but focuses on the bittersweet aspects of romance. And there are few actors more engaging as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who always completely and enthusiastically embodies the roles he plays. Zooey Deschanel, as Summer, has some chemistry with Gordon-Levitt, but had more verve in Elf than she does in this role, making the object of affection not as believable as it might.

Review: G-Force


With numerous jam-packed action films to his name, producer Jerry Bruckheimer brings his first 3-D film to the screen with the comedy adventure G-Force, which opens in theaters Friday. Through the effective use of Disney Digital 3-D and projectors using Texas Instruments' Digital Light Processing device, viewers feel like they are part of the action. I jumped a couple of times when an insect almost seemed to fly directly over my shoulder and into the screen. The visual effects were quite convincing to the point of my "suspension of disbelief" kicking in. The only time I thought, "Did they get that right?" was the need to count whether a dancing roach had the proper placement of his three pair of legs (don't get me started about the factual errors in Antz).

The story is simplistic, and immediate -- a covert government program trains animals, including guinea pigs, to work in espionage with the use of high-tech spy equipment that would make James Bond cringe with envy. The program is about to be shut down, so the G-Force decide to prove themselves to upper management through a covert mission to prevent global domination.

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.

Group Review: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


Harry Potter 6

The latest Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, opens today in local theaters (and everywhere else). Rather than write the traditional long review, several of us at Slackerwood who have seen the movie thought we'd all pitch in and share our thoughts on the film. Let us know if you like this format -- we're considering it for other upcoming movies.

Let's start with Debbie Cerda:

As the sixth film in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is definitely made for an audience familiar with the young wizard and the history of Hogwarts. There is very little exposition, but the tight screenplay delivers a lot of the familiarity of many of the characters that fans have grown to love or hate.

DVD Review: Mississippi Chicken


Mississippi Chicken

John Fiege's documentary about the Latin immigrant experience, Mississippi Chicken, has recently been released on DVD. The 2007 documentary, which served as Fiege's MFA thesis film in Radio-Television-Film at UT Austin, was nominated for a "Best Film Not Playing at a Theater Near You" Gotham Award. You may have seen it locally in 2007 at Austin Film Festival.

The Deep South is not a place most people associate with Latino workers, but apparently the poultry factories in Mississippi have been trying to entice immigrant workers for decades. In the 1990s, they even began to bus workers in from border towns. Mississippi Chicken evocatively puts real faces to the exploitations of South and Central American immigrants and the obstacles they face, whether they are legal residents or not. These are people who feel it's a step up to work for the money available at a poultry processing plant, and the plants want them because they'll work there at least for awhile.

Review: Not Forgotten

Not Forgotten

The summer movie season started last Friday, which means most screens will be showing Hollywood's blockbuster hopefuls. Smaller films have to fight for screens, and usually don't last much longer than a week or two. Still, it's possible to see these films locally. Austin is currently the test audience for an Anchor Bay theatrical release -- a thriller currently playing at Dobie that will expand to screens in Los Angeles and Phoenix later this month.

Director Brad Soref and Producer Donald Zuckerman brought Not Forgotten to Austin this weekend, including a special Austin Film Society screening with a Q&A, and at least one sold-out screening on a sunny Saturday when Pecan Street Festival and other summertime events were all competing with each other.

Not Forgotten is a twisted thriller that begins with unsettling images of a murder then cuts to an idyllic small-town softball game. Jack Bishop (Simon Baker, pictured above) is coaching his daughter's team, and everything looks close to postcard perfect. Even Jack's wife, Amaya (Paz Vega) has a great relationship with her stepdaughter, Toby (Chloe Moretz).

SXSW Review: Artois the Goat


Artois the Goat

Here at Slackerwood, the focus is on Austin-related film, and Artois the Goat is about as local as it gets. Directors Cliff and Kyle Bogart are graduates of UT Austin, found their cast at University of Texas MFA acting program, and shot on location around central Texas‎. If you want to see just how local it is, you can go to the Artois the Goat website.

The story is simple. Virgil (Mark Scheibmeir) and Angie (Sydney Andrews) are in love, and like to picnic with exotic cheeses. When Angie takes a job out of state, Virgil's thrown into a tailspin. With a vintage cheesemaker's book to guide him, he's off on a quest to make the winning cheese at a competition to win her back.

DVD Review: Secondhand Lions


[Editor's Note: Please welcome our latest contributor, Jenn Brown.]

With SXSW just around the corner, and Tim McCanlies' latest film, The Two Bobs having its world premiere, it's a perfect time to review one of his earlier films, Secondhand Lions. McCanlies is a well-known figure in the local filmmaking scene as a writer, director, and co-founder of Fantastic Fest. His script for 2003's Secondhand Lions was known in Hollywood as one of the best unproduced scripts around, taking 10 years to make it the screen.

It's the 1960s, and Walter (Haley Joel Osment) is a weenie, even by his mother's low standards, so she abandons him to his great-uncles in rural Texas, with hopes of getting part of their rumored wealth. Garth and Hub (Michael Caine, Robert Duvall) after a mysterious 40-year absence, are back home and not taking retirement any more gracefully than the presence of greedy relatives and traveling salesmen. After Walter suggests they spend some of their money, the uncles start spending their wealth on the most outrageous items, starting with a skeet machine and culminating with a lion.

DVD Review: The Whole Shootin' Match


The Whole Shootin' Match

Editor's Note: We're starting a new feature at Slackerwood -- reviews of movies and DVDs that have a strong connection to Austin. If you're interested in contributing, let me know.

What better way to start Austin-related reviews on Slackerwood than with such a quintessentially Austin movie as Eagle Pennell's The Whole Shootin' Match? When I heard Watchmaker Films was releasing this movie in a set with The King of Texas, the documentary about Pennell, I knew I had to write about it here.

I watched The Whole Shootin' Match on a plane from Austin to Orlando, on my laptop. It turned out to be the perfect movie for the trip -- catching glimpses of Austin in the 1970s in a fascinating example of regional filmmaking from the time, as I headed closer to some of the most artificial places on earth. And now I'm back in Austin and I want to watch the movie again, this time maybe sharing it with a group. I figure when you want to re-watch something within a week of the first time, it must be a pretty damn good movie.

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