Reviews

AFF Review: 21 Years: Richard Linklater

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21 years linklater

21 Years: Richard Linklater, which had its world premiere at Austin Film Festival on Oct. 24, primarily consists of two types of footage: interviews with charismatic actors who have worked with Richard Linklater, and scenes from the director's films up to and including Before Midnight (Boyhood is mentioned in passing). The result is often enjoyable but limited in scope, and ultimately the film comes off as more of a puff piece than an insightful documentary.

The question underlying 21 Years seems to be, "Why isn't Linklater better known and and as universally well loved as he is in Austin?" It's a good one to ask, but directors Michael Dunaway and Tara Wood don't so much answer that question as compile a series of examples that he is truly respected and admired by actors who have worked with him.

Repeat collaborators like Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Jack Black and Matthew McConaughey seem to have nothing but nice things to say about their pal Rick, and the enthusiasm and awe they exhibit is infectiously positive. From specific stories about filming to broad appreciation of his zen-like demeanor, the talking heads enlisted for this project are clearly happy to sing the praises of Richard Linklater.

Fans of the director and his movies will be helpless to resist the charms of attractive actors telling fun stories, and the sense of an underdog receiving his due makes it easy to be swept along with the pleasant nostalgia of watching clips from Slacker and Dazed and Confused, among other films. The fact that the discussion never goes deeper than surface-level adoration is a little disappointing, though; thoughts from people who have worked extensively with Linklater behind the camera (editors, producers, cinematographers) are nowhere to be found.

Unless you're watching 21 Years as a complete newcomer to the director's work, you won't learn anything about him. Making the film even harder to take seriously are the animated segments accompanying the interviews. Playful and silly, these images cement the fact that this production is all about fun and only tangentially concerned with substance.

AFF Review: Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs: An Austin Love Story

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Crazy Carl still photo

With the influx of transplants, the rise of condos and office buildings across the Austin skyline, and the gentrification of much of Austin's eclectic areas, it can be hard to remember the vibrant time of the past. You could people -watch all day at local cafes including the original Quack's on the Drag -- actually called "Quackenbush’s Intergalactic Dessert Co & Espresso Café" -- and Les Amis, then visit Sixth Street to listen to street musicians and buy a flower from a street vendor without having to step over the remnants of drunkenness.

Beef and Pie Productions filmmakers capture the nostalgia of old Austin in their 50-minute documentary film, Crazy Carl and His Man-Boobs, which premieres at this year's Austin Film Festival and screens again tonight at 7 pm at the Alamo Drafthouse Village. This quirky and entertaining film brings to light the forces that both created and are driving this phenomena away. As the economic and political landscape has changed in Austin, so has the heart and the people of this progressive city.

If you've ever been to Esther's Follies at Sixth Street and Red River, you may have seen Crazy Carl Hickerson. Best known for selling and spinning flowers, he can also be seen flashing his man boobs and dancing. What you may not know is that Hickerson has also been an Austin City Council candidate several times, with a penchant for odd platforms -- some even related to his foot fetish. Hickerson spends much of his time caring for his wife Charlotte Ferris, and the loving couple are a source of amusement with their good-natured tales.

AFF Review: Hardy

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Still from Hardy

Boxer Heather "The Heat" Hardy lives with her parents, sister, nephew and her own young daughter in a working-class Brooklyn neighborhood. She trains with her trainer/boyfriend Devon at the famed Gleason's Gym and dreams of making a full-time career out of fighting and moving out of her current crowded living situation.  In the documentary Hardy, from first-time filmmaker (and Austin native) Natasha Verma, the boxer asserts, "I don't wanna get paid like a female, I wanna get paid like a boxer."

The film shows Hardy's path toward signing with a big-time promoter and making more money.  In 2012, boxing became the last sport at the Olympics to accept women, and Verma's film displays some aspects of the macho culture still involved in the sport. Posters plugging fights for the male athletes adorn the gym, while Heather is responsible for selling a certain portion of tickets to her bouts. As she waits impatiently before one of her fights, rapper 50 Cent comes into the dressing room full of mostly men and makes disgusting jokes about domestic violence and women who fight back.

AFF Review: One Eyed Girl

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One Eyed Girl Still PhotoWriter and director Nick Matthews made his feature debut at this year's Austin Film Festival with One Eyed Girl, a riveting psychological thriller that takes place in South Australia but could just as easily occur anywhere. Co-written by co-star Craig Behenna (The Babadook), this film -- which just won the AFF 2014 jury prize in the "Dark Matters" category -- slowly reveals the layers of pain and guilt experienced by a psychiatrist and the unexpected rocky path to redemption and salvation.

Travis (Mark Leonard Winter) is a thirtysomething psychiatrist severely damaged by the death of former patient Rachel (Katy Cheel). Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Travis' relationship with Rachel extended beyond and was impacted by her mental health. Travis' inability to connect to his patients and Rachel is compounded by the desensitization to the violence and corruption of the modern world, as well as a refusal to accept his own identity. He is emotionally lost and on the brink of a nervous breakdown when he meets the mysterious teenager Grace (Tilda Cobham-Hervey), who's handing out brochures about a charismatic leader, Father Jay (Steve Le Marquand).

Review: Birdman

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BirdmanAlthough Michael Keaton has stated the personality of his character Riggan Thomas is the most dissimilar to himself of any he has ever played, Birdman, it could be argued, is his JCVD. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Biutiful) and scripted by Iñárritu along with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, it chronicles the efforts of a former Hollywood superhero to reignite the spark of his ailing career.

Hoping to regain relevance, pay homage to the hero who inspired him, and put his family life back together, Riggan Thomas is in the final days of launching a Broadway play he has written, directed, produced and stars in. Guided by an inner voice that sounds not unlike the growling baritone of Beetlejuice, Thomas confronts innumerable internal and external crises that threaten to crush the production.

Behind the scenes, his daughter (Emma Stone), fresh out of rehab, is intent on punishing him for being an absent father. On stage, he must deal with the antics of Mike (Edward Norton), the Broadway darling who is not only perfect for the role but will also bring legitimacy and more importantly, ticket sales to the production. Internally, he struggles with remorse, self-doubt, anger, desperation and an angry flirtation with being a drunken asshole.

So, Thomas has a completely different personality. Keaton may not bare his soul in this, but he bares nearly everything else. He and Norton spend a sizable amount of time in Birdman performing in tighty-whiteys, both for shock value and comedic effect. He doesn't stop at shedding his clothing, however, as even his hairpiece is stripped away. Layer after layer, we peek behind the stage, through the dressing room door, and beneath the clothing and pretense to explore the psyche of an A-list actor.

Review: Men, Women & Children

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Men, Women & Children

A better title for Men, Women & Children might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Internet. Another might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie.

I had hoped Jason Reitman's latest film would be up to the lofty standards of his best work, Juno and Up in the Air. But what could have been an insightful look at how the Internet has shaped our lives is instead a slight, heavy-handed and melodramatic cautionary tale about the dangers (at least from the film's point of view) that lurk online.

Shot in Austin, Men, Women & Children follows a group of teens and adults whose online activities land them in a heap of trouble. Among them are a mostly happy couple, Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Don Truby (Adam Sandler), who let their sexual boredom get the better of them; Helen finds extramarital action thanks to hookup site Ashley Madison, and Don hires an escort after perusing his son's favorite porn sites.

Meanwhile, paranoid and overprotective mom Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) obsesses over the online activities of her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), monitoring her every text and Facebook post. (She even tracks the poor girl's whereabouts via her cell phone.) Despite her mom's spying and smothering, Brandy still manages to carry on a secret relationship with football star Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), who quits the team so he can devote more time to online role playing games.

Review: St. Vincent

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St. Vincent

By the time St. Vincent draws to a close, you'll probably feel emotionally manipulated. You will have certainly realized that you've seen this story what feels like a million times before. If you're super nitpicky, you might even be inclined to make a list of films in the same vein that you like better (About A Boy and Rushmore immediately spring to mind). Unless you are as curmudgeonly as Vincent (Bill Murray) in this motion picture, I am betting you'll still find yourself giving in to this movie no matter how hard you resist. 

As Vincent's new neighbor Maggie, Melissa McCarthy turns in a surprisingly subdued performance as a single mother struggling to keep things afloat for her her 12-year-old son Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher in an outstanding debut). Things get off to a very rocky start and they don't get much better when Oliver gets locked out of his new home on the first day of school and Maggie has to convince Vincent over the phone to babysit him until she can get off work. As the grumpiest of grumpy old men, it's not a task Vincent is well suited for, but he could use the money so he reluctantly agrees. 

Review: The Overnighters

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The Overnighters

The searing documentary The Overnighters asks a lot of hard questions. The hardest may be, "What does community mean?"

Shot in Williston, North Dakota, filmmaker Jesse Moss's documentary -- which Drafthouse Films is releasing Friday in Austin -- captures the tiny town in the midst of the current North Dakota oil boom. The boom is a blessing and a curse: The townspeople welcome the unprecedented economic boost, but have mixed feelings about the influx of thousands of oil field workers.

The main problem is housing. Most new arrivals have nowhere to live, so many sleep in their cars, trucks and RVs, parked wherever they can. Another problem is less about logistics than human nature: The workers are roughnecks in every sense of the word -- desperately poor men, often with little education, all chasing quick money and some running from their pasts. To the good and decent citizens (in the ironic sense; more on this later) of Williston, the men are the others -- a scruffy, scary and unwelcome lot. The townspeople's hospitality ends where their fear begins.

The Overnighters focuses on Rev. Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor in Williston who opens his church as temporary housing for the workers. He does so because helping thy neighbor is one of his pastoral duties, of course; he's also immensely compassionate and nonjudgmental, a man who cares deeply about the often broken men who desperately seek the church's help. Far more than just their landlord, he's their counselor and friend.

Review: Kill the Messenger

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Kill the Messenger

'Tis the season for dark dramas, and Kill the Messenger may be this year's darkest, a film all the darker because it's based on a demoralizing true story.

The titular messenger is Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter who in 1996 writes a series of articles alleging a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan cocaine smugglers in the 1980s. According to Webb's Dark Alliance series, the CIA knew that huge amounts of Nicaraguan coke were sold as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, and the profits were funneled back to the Contras, CIA-backed rebel groups fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

Webb does not allege that the CIA was directly involved in smuggling or selling crack. Instead, he says the agency aided the Contras by looking the other way, withholding evidence from the Justice Department and Congress, and shielding the smugglers and dealers from prosecution. Webb also alleges that the Nicaraguan cocaine sparked the crack epidemic that spread to many U.S. cities.

Fantastic Fest Review: Alleluia

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Alleluia

Freely adapted from the "stranger than fiction" true tale of Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez (aka the "Honeymoon Killers" of the late 1940s), the movie Alleluia is a dark and twisted love story comprising four chapters titled for its female characters and centering around a specific crime. This is the second film in Fabrice du Welz’s trilogy about the Belgian Ardennes -- the first being the 2004 horror film Calvaire.

Gloria (Lola Dueñas) lives a fairly solitary life with her young daughter, with her primary companions ibeing the corpses that she prepares as a nurse in the morgue at a local hospital. Her friend Madeline (Stéphane Bissot) convinces her to go out with the handsome and charismatic Michel (Laurent Lucas), who she has found through an online dating site. It is quickly revealed that Michel is even worse than the men your friends warned you about on the Internet -- not only is he a gigolo taking money from women, but he is also psychotic.