Don Clinchy's blog
Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rich Boy
This often-repeated quote begins F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story Rich Boy, but it could be from Fitzgerald's magnum opus The Great Gatsby, a novel about the very rich. And the latest film adaptation of The Great Gatsby brings to mind a twist on the quote: Let me tell you about Baz Luhrmann's films. They are different.
Different, of course, can be wonderful. Luhrmann's proudly over-the-top style -- a mix of grand scale, busy, color-saturated visuals, daring anachronisms, hyperactive pacing and general excess -- works very well in his most successful features, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!.
Luhrmann's brand of filmmaking, however, doesn't work so well in The Great Gatsby for two reasons: The story is character driven, not visually driven. And Luhrmann doesn't realize that a little 3D goes a long, long way.
The Great Gatsby and Luhrmann should be a great match, as the filmmaker and the novel's central figure, the Jazz Age millionaire Jay Gatsby, share a love of artifice and excess. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) lives in an ostentatious mansion in the fictional Long Island village of New Egg, where he leads a life of leisure, self indulgence and extravagant parties, punctuated with the occasional shady business deal that finances his lifestyle.
It's not a banner week for new releases. Ardent Baz Luhrmann groupies may revel in his loud and gaudy take on The Great Gatsby. But the other new films -- a draggy period piece about Renoir, an artsy but lackluster comic drama about escaping one's past and a rom-com that bravely goes where many have gone before (don't they all?) -- make for a yawning time at the cinema.
Not to worry, film fans. As usual, Slackerwood's friends at the Austin Film Society offer some interesting alternatives. The AFS Spotlight on John Cassavetes series kicks off today with A Woman Under the Influence, the great director's 1974 drama starring a devastating Gena Rowlands as a woman who breaks down under life's pressures and Peter Falk as her well-meaning but loutish husband. The film screens tonight and Sunday at the Marchesa Hall and Theatre.
AFS also presents an Essential Cinema screening of revered Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert on Tuesday at the Marchesa. One of Antonioni's most memorable films, this classic 1964 drama captures an alienated woman's existential angst as she tries to survive in a bleak industrial landscape.
Trash Dance opens Friday for a weeklong run at Violet Crown Cinema.
The adage that one person's trash is another person's treasure is relevant to Trash Dance, but doesn't apply in the strictest sense. In the Austin indie documentary and the dance performance it celebrates, the treasure isn't the trash -- it's the unlikely beauty of trash collection.
Director Andrew Garrison's film is an inspiring look at the Trash Project, Austin choreographer Allison Orr's ambitious dance performance featuring 24 City of Austin Solid Waste Services Department employees and 16 large sanitation vehicles. (That's right -- trash trucks.) The performance and the film find artistry in the mundane world of picking up garbage; more importantly, they show us there is dignity in even the hardest and least desirable jobs.
Creating the dance was a year-long project starting in late 2008. Orr knew that to choreograph such a work, she had to get to know the workers, earn their trust, understand what they do and study their movements. So she spent many days the job with them, and not just as an observer. She emptied garbage cans, picked up litter, collected dead animals (a task she could barely stomach) and learned to appreciate the finer points of picking up trash. Garrison's film crew tagged along, capturing every messy detail and introducing us to some of the people who keep our world clean.
It's a human drama thing. It's more than just a contest and it's more than just winning the truck. -- Benny Perkins, Hands on a Hardbody
If you're unfamiliar with Hands on a Hardbody, the essential thing to know about this compelling documentary is that that it's not about trucks. It focuses on a contest to win a truck, but the tricked-out 1995 Nissan Hardbody pickup is merely a prop at the center of a fascinating collection of character studies and a great commentary on human nature. The movie has finally been released on DVD and will have a special screening in Austin on Friday.
In S.R. Bindler's cult-classic 1997 film, a Longview, Texas car dealership sponsors a contest in which two dozen contestants compete to win a new pickup. The event is a grueling test of endurance: The lucky (and exhausted) winner is whoever remains standing the longest with at least one hand on the truck. The rules are rather draconian -- contestants are allowed only a five-minute break every hour and a 15-minute break every six hours. They must remain standing the entire time; no leaning, squatting or kneeling is allowed. A contestant who removes both hands from the truck for even one second is out of the contest.
I'm not one to issue ultimatums, but this week's cinematic circumstances force me to do so: If you don't see It's a Disaster (pictured above), I'm afraid we can't be friends. I'll accept no lame excuses, people; we both know you can find the time to watch this indie comic masterpiece with strong ties to the Austin film industry. You must see it -- and don't think I won't ask to see your ticket stub next time we meet.
If you'd rather pick your own movie than be my friend, you have lots of other choices. The Cine Las Americas International Film Festival continues through Monday; passes and individual tickets still are available for the remaining films. If you're in the mood for a totally different sort of festival, the beer-centric and aptly named Off-Centered Film Festival also continues through Saturday. (Refer to Jordan's overview of the festival for more information.)
French New Wave fans shouldn't miss the Austin Film Society's screening of Zazie Dans Le Métro, Louis Malle's 1960 satirical fantasy about a 12-year-old girl who escapes the watchful eye of her uncle to explore the sights of Paris. Presented as part of the AFS Essential Cinema series, Zazie Dans Le Métro screens on Tuesday at the Marchesa Hall & Theatre.
It's another so-so week for new releases, with one notable exception: To the Wonder. Terrance Malick fans shouldn't miss the great director's latest meditation on love and life; I also recommend it for adventurous filmgoers unfamiliar with Malick's sometimes enigmatic style.
Austin has two film festivals to choose from this week. The Austin Jewish Film Festival starts Saturday night and runs through next Friday, primarily at Regal Arbor. Read Chale's preview for more info and some recommendations.
For fans of Latino and indigenous films, the Cine Las Americas Film Festival kicks off on Tuesday and runs through Sunday, April 21. Now in its 16th year, the festival features a wide variety of movies from Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula, including the latest narrative films by breakthrough directors, studio releases, documentaries, short films, entertaining animation series, and youth films. Film passes -- a bargain at $80 -- are available now.
The esteemed filmmaker's latest feature is in every way a Malick film, bearing his unmistakable stamp with its dreamy vibe, spiritual explorations and heavenly visual style. To the Wonder is gorgeous, complex, tragic, sometimes confounding and, like all of Malick's work, definitely not for everyone. I mean this as a compliment.
In To the Wonder's striking opening montage, we're drawn into the white-hot romance between Neil (Ben Affleck), an American traveling in Europe, and Marina (Olga Kurylenko), a Ukrainian divorcee raising her 10-year-old daughter, Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) in Paris. After a whirlwind affair, Neil invites Marina and Tatiana to live with him in a place rather unlike Europe -- his native Oklahoma.
Evil Dead. This week, these two words are all that matter to horror fans, as the long-awaited reworking of the cult classic The Evil Dead hits theaters. (Actually, two other words matter just as much: Bruce Campbell. I'm not into horror flicks, but yeah, he is the coolest.)
For the rest of us, there is the homegrown comedy Somebody Up There Likes Me (pictured above). Fellow River City film fans, I beg, urge and implore you to see this terrific Austin movie. Sadly (and unsurprisingly), the Friday night show with director Bob Byington and star Nick Offerman in attendance is sold out. But worry not -- there are plenty of other screenings. You also might like the Slamdance 2012 awardwinning feature Welcome to Pine Hill, screening at 9 pm Monday at Stateside.
True cinephiles won't want to miss this week's Austin Film Society Essential Cinema Plus series, which presents four recent films by legendary avant-garde filmmaker James Benning. Screening on Saturday at Alamo Drafthouse Ritz are 13 Lakes and Ten Skies, which document landscapes and skyscapes. On Sunday at the AFS Screening Room is the war, focusing on Russian activists. The series wraps up Monday at the AFS Screening Room with Stemple Pass, a study of the isolation of nature. Benning will attend all screenings; following 13 Lakes and Ten Skies, AFS Artistic Director Richard Linklater will conduct a Q&A with the director.
As a fan of Quentin Dupieux's delightfully Dadaistic 2010 feature Rubber, I had high hopes for his new film, Wrong. I envisioned a movie just as quirky as Rubber, but with a more mainstream plot about a man searching for his lost dog.
I was, well, wrong. (Sorry -- I couldn't resist.) Wrong certainly is quirky and absurd, but it lacks the endearingly odd humor, cool factor and narrative originality of Rubber. It's weird, but not engaging.
Wrong is the story of Dolph Springer (Jack Plotnick), who awakens one morning to find that his dog, Paul, has gone missing. What happens next probably will make no more sense in written form than it does on screen, so I'll just say that while looking for his beloved pet, Dolph embarks on journeys both physical and mental.
Along the way, Dolph encounters a host of strange situations and oddball characters, among them a flaky pizza restaurant employee, Emma (Alexis Dziena); his Hispanic gardener with a French accent, Victor (Eric Judor); a hot-tempered pet detective, Ronnie (Steve Little); and the mysteriously metaphysical pet-care book author, Master Chang (William Fichtner). All of them interact with Dolph in off-kilter ways, some of which make more sense than others in the context of the story.
Although set in 1980s Chile, the historical drama NO is eerily relevant to contemporary America, where politicians and political agendas are marketed like any other product.
A fictional story, NO is based on actual events during the campaign to oust Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1988. Under international political and economic pressure to bring democracy to his country, Pinochet is forced to call an election; the nation will vote yes or no on extending Pinochet's rule for another eight years.
Pinochet's opposition, commonly known as The NO, has 27 days to convince the voters to oust their leader, and is granted 15 minutes of TV airtime every evening to make their case. Pinochet also gives himself a nightly 15 minutes.
Opposition leaders hire René Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), a brazen but successful young advertising executive, to create their TV broadcasts. Not surprisingly, Saavedra envisions a brash and unorthodox campaign: Rather than pandering to voters' fears of Pinochet's violent regime, the ads will present a sunny and optimistic picture of the country's democratic future. The voters don't want to be reminded of murder and repression, Saavedra argues -- they want to be happy, and the campaign theme should be "Happiness is coming if you vote NO!"