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SCREEN GEMS

By The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

This article was published March 9, 2007 at 5:24 a.m.

If you're in the mood >for pure spectacle, be advised that a triple feature of 3-D films originally designed for the giant screen IMAX format is opening today at Little Rock's Colonel Glenn 18.

The three films - Encounters in the Thrid Dimension (that's the official title, though the "thrid" is quickly corrected to "third"), Haunted Castle and Haunted House - have a combined running time of about 90 minutes, which is about as long as anyone might care to wear the special glasses required to experience the effects.

The films have pretty skimpy story lines; the purpose seems not so much to involve us in a narrative but to serve as the foil for special effects.

In the 40-minute Encounters, released to IMAX in 1999, Stuart Pankin plays a doddering professor demonstrating his "breakthrough" in 3-D technology with flying robot pal M.A.X. - whose main function is to seem to buzz out into the audience. Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson) shows up to provide celebrity flash to the proceedings.

While the film promises a tour through the history of stereoscopic effects, the survey is pretty cursory, with a lot of old Stereopticon cards and clips from 3-D movies from the form's early 1950s heyday like Bwana Devil (1952). And what's so new about the professor's process is hard to detect - it's eye-popping 3-D, but so are the old examples.

The 38-minute Haunted Castle seems like a genuine, if dramatically uninspired, attempt to use the effects in service of a story. A young rock 'n' roll musician (Belgian singer/songwriter Jasper Steverlinck) is summoned to his estranged mother's castle after her untimely death. There he encounters diabolical Mephisto and Mr. D (both voiced by Harry Shearer) who offer him a Faustian bargain, but not before taking him on a roller coaster tour (a recurrent theme in these films - nWave Pictures, which co-produced all three of these features, also designs theme park rides) of musicians' hell.

Maybe if they had concentrated on the temporal pleasures Johnny would gain from the bargain rather than the eternal torment part, he might have been more likely to sign.

Saving the best for last, the 13-minute Haunted House (2003) is a kitty's-eye ramble through the titular structure, complete with zombie toys and ghostly dogs. It's the most efficient and well-imagined of these shorts, though it repeats a lot of the same themes.

While these films are more demonstration reels than actual movies, they suggest that the technology might someday be employed effectively as more than a novelty. When that someday will be is still anyone's guess.

The 2007 South by Southwest Film Conference & Festival opens today in Austin, Texas. Amongrecent additions to the schedule:

Actor Shia LeBeouf and director D.J. Caruso are expected to attend a screening at 7 p.m. today of their film Disturbia at the Alamo Downtown Theater.

Pop star James Blunt will attend the world premiere at 9:15 p.m. Saturday at Alamo Lamar 2 Theater of Steven Cantor's documentary James Blunt: Return to Kosovo, which chronicles Blunt's trip to the battlefields where he served as a British soldier before finding success in music.

A panel titled "A Conversation With Elizabeth Avellan" will be held from 3-4 p.m. Monday at the Austin Convention Center. Avellan, the producer of Sin City and Grindhouse, will share stories from her career walking the line between Hollywood and indie film.

Book and DVD signings with John Sayles (Lone Star), and John Cameron Mitchell (Shortbus) are planned for Tuesday afternoon at the Austin Convention Center.

Connie Britton, co-star of NBC's series Friday Night Lights, is scheduled to attend a screening of her film with director Sarah Kelly, The Lather Effect, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Paramount Theater.

A screening of Reign Over Me (starring Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler) has been added at 9:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Paramount Theater, with some cast and crew members expected to attend.

The festival's opening night film is Scott Frank's The Lookout (9 p.m., Paramount). The closing night film March 17 is Chanwook Park's I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK (7:30 p.m., Paramount). Updates and schedules can be found online at www.sxsw.com/film.

The highest bidder will win a chance to be killed on-screen by a vampire. And get credited in the closing credits as Vampire Victim No. 1. That's what movie director/producer Charles Band is offering through an auction sponsored by The September Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships to children of police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who are entering their first year of college.

Band is responsible for the Puppetmaster series, Troll and Ghoulies, among others. His new movie, Decadent Evil II, will be filmed in Little Rock during April. In addition to the nonspeaking role, the winner of the auction will be invited to the film's VIP wrap party.

Fifty percent of the net proceeds of the auction will be donated to The September Fund, established by The Corey and Jay Show on radio station KQARFM, 100.3, The Edge. Since its inception, the fund has awarded $17,000 in scholarships.

A link to the 10-day auction on eBay can be found at: www.coreyandjayshow.com/DecadentEvilRole.html .

MovieStyle, Pages 45 on 03/09/2007

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