Review: Buck



"A lot of times, rather than helping people with horse problems," says Buck Brannaman, "I'm helping horses with people problems."

The subject of the documentary Buck, horse trainer Brannaman travels America teaching horse owners positive ways to communicate with their animals. He is the gentlest of gentle souls, a skilled cowboy whose believes the best way to train a horse is through leadership and sensitivity, not brutality and punishment. Buck is as gentle as its subject, a finely made, ever thoughtful film that shows us how Brannaman's approach applies not only to horses, but to people as well. The movie opens Friday in Austin.

Brannaman's skill with horses is amazing. As he transforms a frightened, unruly horse into a calm, obedient one in a matter of minutes, it's as if he has unique insight into the equine mind. But Brannaman would be the first to say that while he has many well honed skills, he has no special relationship with horses. He merely understands that the best way to work with a horse -- or a human -- is to instill trust, not fear.

DVD Review: True Grit


True GritI didn't review True Grit when it opened in theaters late last year because I did something film critics should never, ever do: I watched the movie and then I read the book before writing my review. Details from the book jumbled with the movie and I couldn't always remember which was which. Fortunately, Mike was happy to write a review for Slackerwood instead.

So I'm pleased to have the chance to see True Grit again, now on DVD and Blu-ray, and start over with a clean slate. Filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen have brought us an excellent movie that plays very well on home video, although the visuals aren't quite as breathtaking as they might be on a theater screen. It's a movie I not only like but could watch with a mature adolescent or with my parents, and how often can you say that?

I enjoyed the Charles Portis novel more than the film adaptation (the narrator is a hoot), but this doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the movie, primarily due to the admirable performances. Newcomer Hailee Steinfeld is able to hold her own as Mattie Ross up against Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn and Matt Damon's Redford-esque turn as LeBoeuf. The Coens focus their movie of True Grit on Steinfeld's character (despite what the DVD cover implies), as in the novel and as opposed to the 1969 movie, which was more of a vehicle for John Wayne.

For those of you who don't know the story from the novel or the earlier movie, Mattie Ross is a headstrong teenage girl who wants to hire a U.S. marshal to help her track down Tom Chaney, to bring him to trial for killing her father. She sets her sights on Cogburn, a hard-drinking U.S. Marshal with a determination she finds appropriate for the job. However, Texas Ranger LeBoeuf also wants to track down Chaney and bring him to Texas for a significant reward. The men might be amenable to working together but neither wants a 14-year-old girl on his hands. They find out quickly that Mattie Ross is one of the stubbornest characters ever to grace the page or screen, and she insists on having things her way.

Slacker 2011: Ben Steinbauer Can't Return to Les Amis Cafe


Still by Ben Steinbauer

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the Austinites participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Ben Steinbauer, director of the 2009 acclaimed documentary Winnebago Man (Don's review), which won the Austin Film Critics Association Award for Best Austin Film in 2010.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film are you reshooting?

Ben Steinbauer: I'm re-shooting the scene with the angry hitchhiker who gets interviewed by a young video crew outside Les Amis Cafe. The hitchhiker is bumming cigarettes off the people sitting on the patio and gets approached by a video crew who inadvertently give him the opportunity to rant directly into their camera.

Share Your Panel Ideas for SXSW 2012


SXSW 2012 Panel Picker

It may seem hard to believe that planning for the 2012 SXSW Festivals and Conferences has already started, but that's how SXSW is able to offer a staggering amount of programming every year. The PanelPicker entry process for SXSW 2012 opened this week, and SXSW welcomes ideas for their daytime programming from the community.

Proposals will be accepted now through the end of the day on Friday, July 15. Are you knowledgeable on a particular film, music, or interactive related subject, or can come up with a panel of experts? Enter a proposal for a solo presentation, workshop or panel via the PanelPicker and your idea could possibly be included in the 2012 SXSW Festivals and Conferences.

SXSW is particularly looking for daytime programming to include the future of new media, music and filmmaking. To learn more about this year's panel submission process, read the PanelPicker FAQ, which contains answers to just about any question you can think of.

Slacker 2011: Alamo's Daniel Metz Revisits the Continental Club


Still by Peter Simonite

In celebration of Slacker's 20th anniversary, local filmmakers are re-creating scenes from the Richard Linklater movie for Slacker 2011, a fundraising project benefitting the Texas Filmmakers Production Fund. As we await the August 31 premiere, we're chatting with some of the Austinites participating in one or more of the short films that will comprise the project.

Today's interview is with Alamo Drafthouse film programmer Daniel Metz, who programs Alamo Cinema Club and other series. Metz is the producer for the Alamo Drafthouse segment of Slacker 2011.

Slackerwood: Which scene from the film are you reshooting?

Daniel Metz: We're filming the "anti-artist" scene that takes place in the Continental Club. Originally the scene features the iconic Austin band Ed Hall playing in the background, and local personality Wammo plays the bartender. Instead of trying to re-unite Ed Hall, we decided to try to find a band that is to Austin now what Ed Hall was to the city then; after a bit of soul searching, we came up with the Invincible Czars.

Slackery News Tidbits, June 20


Here's the latest Austin movie news.

  • The Austin/Texas films at Los Angeles Film Festival are gathering plenty of attention and critical acclaim. The opening-night film on Thursday was Richard Linklater's latest feature, Bernie, starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey, and based on a Texas Monthly article. Austin Movie Blog has a good roundup of reviews and responses, plus photos.
  • Also at LAFF, former Austinite Steve Collins' film You Hurt My Feelings premiered over the weekend. The cast includes Collins regulars John Merriman, Courtney Davis and Macon Blair. IndieWIRE has an email interview with Collins about the movie. Check out Paul Sbrizzi's thoughtful review at Hammer to Nail.
  • And last night, LAFF screened An Ordinary Family, from local filmmaker Mike Akel (Chalk), which has a local cast/crew including a brief appearance from Merriman. It's still early for reactions, but Moving Pictures Network has a review.
  • Speaking of film fests, congrats to the filmmakers and crew of local film Sushi: The Global Catch, which won the Documentary Special Jury Award at the Seattle International Film Festival last week. The doc about the effects of sushi popularity on the environment was directed by Mark Hall, edited by Sandra Adair and Catie Cacci, and had a score composed by Brian Satterwhite. Looking forward to seeing it in Austin (and hoping it doesn't make me feel guilty about my sushi love).

Movies This Week: Green Submarine Penguin Art



It's Father's Day weekend, and why not take your dad or other father figure to the movies? Submarine includes a couple of lovely father-son scenes. Or perhaps your dad would like a comic book movie like Green Lantern? Probably not a children's book adaptation unless he's a fan of Jim Carrey or penguins, though.

If my dad lived in town, I'd wait until Thursday night and take him to the Paramount for a movie we loved watching on TV when I was growing up: the 1974 Sidney Poitier/Bill Cosby comedy Uptown Saturday Night. It's paired with Stir Crazy, which I wasn't allowed to watch at that age. Or we could drive out to Waxahachie on Sunday night for the Rolling Roadshow screening of Tender Mercies.

I may head over to Austin Studios next Wednesday night for an outdoor screening of Slacker with filmmaker Richard Linklater in attendance -- free for AFS members. If it's not too hot, I might go to Blue Starlite this weekend, where they're showing The Blob, The Mummy and Young Frankenstein.

Movies We've Seen

Green Lantern -- Mike tells us in his review that the audience at the screening he attended was extremely underwhelmed with this latest comic-book movie. He also recommends you pick the 2D version this time. I hear Peter Sarsgaard is in it but I think I may find one of his earlier movies to watch instead. (wide)

Submarine -- This is the kind of movie that reminds you of other movies, but in a good way ... possibly because what we're watching may be one character's internal movie of his life. Read my review, then go see the movie. (Arbor)

TrollHunter (Trolljegeren) -- Debbie saw this at Fantastic Fest, and here's her reaction: "I loved it -- kept me on the edge of my seat. The writer/director creates a plausible life history of trolls while at the same time the audience engages with the protagonists (troll hunter and documentary film crew). Should not be dismissed as a "Blair Witch" hyper-realism film. I look forward to seeing it again. (Alamo South Lamar)

Review: Green Lantern


Green Lantern In a summer of blockbuster comic-book movies, maybe we've grown spoiled. The overwhelming audience reaction to Green Lantern when I saw the film was, well, patently underwhelmed.

Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, The Legend of Zorro), Green Lantern was perhaps the most anticipated film of the summer for legions of fans of the comic book. When I saw it was scripted by Greg Berlanti (Broken Hearts Club), I should have heard warning bells ringing in my head.

Berlanti, writer and producer for screens big and small, is responsible for some of the most original (and most short-lived) series on television: Dawson's Creek, Brothers & Sisters, Eli Stone -- all highly acclaimed but brief. Does he have experience with comic book-style superheroes? You need look no further than his latest failure on ABC. No Ordinary Family failed for exactly the reasons Green Lantern is so weak. Endless excessive mopey dialogue before we get to see any action and characters that act against not only their type, but against rational judgement. This works in a Sunday night drama soap opera like Brothers & Sisters, but it murders a $150,000,000 action film.

If you're a serious Ryan Reynolds fan who can't wait to see him in his titey whities, go see Green Lantern. Plenty of abs are on display, and it's obvious he's been working out harder than ever. And if you're a big Green Lantern comic-book fan, you should enjoy a very faithful adaptation of the comic to the big screen, once 45 minutes of exposition and poorly-executed love story get out of the animators' way. Campbell is no stranger to action directing, and those are the parts that work. Everything that takes place away from Earth is visually exciting, even stunning.

Back on our home planet, however, Reynolds' character dwindles into a cutout cardboard puppet flipping between the actor's limited repertoire of two expressions: mischieviously giddy and sad puppy dog. Reynolds was never my preference to portray Hal Jordan (they should've gone with Nathan Fillion), but at least whenever he dons the mask, the animators expand the character's range by two or three more expressions. Co-star Blake Lively likewise is either frustrated and upset or exuding doe-eyed passion. Peter Sarsgaard, as tortured villain Hector Hammond, is the only actor on Earth who does anything remotely interesting. Even Tim Robbins phones in his role as Hammond's scheming Senator father.

Review: Submarine



Free yourself from the trappings of time and imagine a very young Bud Cort in a coming-of-age movie written by Bill Forsyth (Gregory's Girl) and directed by Bob Byington (Harmony and Me), transport the scenario to Wales, and you have an idea of what you're getting into with Submarine, which opens in Austin this week.

Submarine is one of those movies I feel I really shouldn't like. Too precious. Quirkiness for its own sake. Voiceover narration, and you know how I feel about that unless Billy Wilder is involved. And it's yet another coming-of-age movie, a period piece even, and isn't that done to death?

But somehow, like its main character, Submarine is weirdly likeable. Maybe even lovable in spots. The sense of humor is off-kilter and the movie reminds me quite strongly of my own high-school days, but doesn't resort to nostalgia or anything the least bit sappy. I want to give the movie and all its characters a hug … or perhaps, like one of the female characters does to her boyfriends, burn its leg hair. It's an impressive feature directorial debut for actor Richard Ayoade, whose last name I hope someday to be able to pronounce correctly.

Ugly Dogs Everywhere in 'Worst in Show' Doc


Sam the dog

The first thing the title Worst in Show brings to mind is the 2000 Christopher Guest mockumentary Best in Show. Like that award-winning entry from the Waiting for Guffman crew, Worst in Show by filmmakers John Beck and Don Lewis is less interesting for the contestants than for the people who actually own the dogs. The documentary, which will have a special benefit screening in Austin this weekend, focuses largely on the officially trademarked World's Ugliest Dog contest hosted by the Sonoma-Marin Fair each year in Petaluma, California. There, the internet sensation Sam (pictured at right), owned by Susie Tautrim, won from 2003-2005.

Mai Tai, Chi Chi, Miss Ellie, Elwood -- all huge names in the ugly dog world (and now all deceased). They are all Chinese Crested, the dog breed you would least want to be reincarnated as. We're talking the Steve Buscemi of dogs, so ugly even John Waters won't make a movie about them. Competing against these, you have various mutts, boxers, bulldogs, chihuahuas, often rescue dogs, sometimes sick or suffering birth defects. At the Petaluma contest, Chinese Cresteds have enjoyed a winning streak from 2002 to 2008. The streak was finally broken in 2009 by Pabst, a boxer mix owned by Miles Egstad.

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