Movies on DVD
The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. serves as a continual inspiration to director John Sayles, it seems. Someone asked him about this recurring theme after the Go for Sisters screening at SXSW earlier this year, and it shows up in that film as well as earlier works Hombres Armados (Men with Guns) from 1997 (all right, that movie is only based in Mexico, but still), and the 1996 movie Lone Star.
Lone Star takes place in fictional Frontera (that's Spanish for "border"), Texas. Since it's the late '90s, this is before any border walls were up, and you didn't need a passport to travel between the countries. Which is not to say that there aren't border politics in this film.
Sayles, as in his later Sunshine State, attempts here to give voice to those whom we don't typically see in film as he portrays issues endemic to our state. For instance, an argument amongst parents in a classroom over how Texas history appears in textbooks still seems sadly relevant in 2013.
Some movies simply aren't going to be for everyone. That's not to say that they aren't good movies, or that the director didn't try hard enough to make a great film -- the problem only lies with you. Upstream Color fits that bill with every frame of its being. From the writer/director of Primer, Shane Carruth this time takes his audience through a strange world of interweaving storylines and has constructed a strange, but beautiful film ... one that is incredibly well made and acted, especially by lead actress Amy Seimetz.
Upstream Color is told in several different parts, but they all interweave in some form or fashion. Seimetz plays Kris, who's gone through some hardships -- her story involves drugs, kidnappings and a cute little piglet. That's all fine and dandy, but it can be confusing at times. The story starts to make a little more sense once Jeff (played by Carruth himself) comes along. As a love interest/threat to Kris, his turn onscreen is a fascinating one.
To be vague in a film review is often the mark of an incomplete review, but in this case it would suffice. What can be plainly seen and heard while watching Upstream Color is an extremely well-made film, one that deserves to be studied and rewatched. It is impeccably acted -- Seimetz is quickly becoming a legend in her own right in the indie film circuit. The amazing score was written by Shane Carruth. There are moments where you're enveloped in some truly fantastic sounds. A good comparison to how essential the score feels is Cloud Atlas.
Despite all that praise, I am someone that this film was not made for, although it did benefit from a rewatch. Movies like Upstream Color tend to stand the test of time, and while it's a little early for a film like this to make that distinction, it could get there. It would have been nice if this combo DVD/Blu-ray package, released by New Video Group/Cinedigm, would have had some special features. However, the disks have great visuals and at times perfect quality sound. The DVD/Blu-ray is still a great purchase for Shane Carruth fans or fans of Upstream Color.
When writer/director Nora Ephron died months ago, I was surprised to see Silkwood mentioned along the many other credits in her obits. Little did I know Ephron co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for this 1983 drama alongside Alice Arlen. Then I found out via IMDb searching that the movie was filmed in Texas! Obviously, I had to move it up my Netflix queue.
Silkwood is based on the true story of the woman of the same name, Karen Silkwood, who was born in Longview and spent some time in Beaumont. When we meet her in the film, however, she's a gal in her mid-twenties, played by Meryl Streep, working at a nuclear facility in small-town Oklahoma. Karen lives with boyfriend Drew (Kurt Russell) and best friend Dolly (Cher), who both work in the plant as well.
There are many other recognizable faces in this movie. David Strathairn and Fred Ward (who I know best from my childhood favorite Big Business) play co-workers in Silkwood's division, Craig T. Nelson appears as a smarmy guy at the plant, and I even spied Bill Cobbs (I'll Fly Away, Go On) in a lunchroom scene.
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.
In Richard Linklater's movie Before Sunset (2004), we meet up again with Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy). Jesse stops in Paris to promote his book, This Time, a fictionalization of the experience he had with Celine in Vienna nine years prior. And who does he spot in Shakespeare & Co. but Celine herself? They decide to have coffee and chat before Jesse has to catch a flight in the evening. The film is something of a real-time depiction of how they spend the next couple of hours.
The naivete of the kids from Before Sunrise is nowhere to be seen here. Jesse and Celine are now in their thirties and have dealt with some blows from life. The rhythm of their conversation flows realistically -- at the start of their time together again somewhat hesitant and impersonal, slowly opening up to show their real selves to each other as the afternoon proceeds. The screenplay from the combined forces of Linklater, Delpy and Hawke is natural and honest.
I felt like I understood Celine far more clearly in this outing. She gets to say such lines as "Memory's a wonderful thing if you don't have to deal with the past." At one point Celine and Jesse are being driven somewhere and Delpy's character spouts some angry, emotional truths to Jesse. I wanted to give her a high five or fist bump or whatever the cool kids do to signal agreement nowadays.
Baby boomers and younger fans of Sixties pop music may remember folk singer Glenn Yarbrough's "Baby, the Rain Must Fall," a major 1965 hit that remains a staple of oldies radio station playlists.
Less well remembered is that Yarbrough's hit is the title song from Baby, the Rain Must Fall, a 1965 movie starring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick. In many ways, the lackluster drama deserves its relative obscurity. But with many Texas connections, it's a significant part of the state's film history.
Set in Columbus, Texas, Baby the Rain Must Fall is the story of Columbus native Henry Thomas (McQueen), an aspiring rockabilly singer/guitarist recently paroled after serving a sentence for stabbing a man during a bar fight. Thomas does his best to stay sober and out of trouble with help from Deputy Sheriff Slim (Don Murray), a lifelong friend who keeps an eye on him. Not so helpful is Henry's elderly, controlling foster mother, Kate Dawson (Georgia Simmons), who wants him to give up his singing career and threatens to have him sent back to prison if he doesn't abide by her wishes.
In 1995, I saw Before Sunrise at the Highland movie theatre (now Galaxy Highland) with a couple of friends. I recall a discussion between us afterwards about whether we enjoyed the open, yet hopeful, ending of the Richard Linklater film (I believe the consensus was yes). The continuous dialogue between the two main characters in the film reminded me of the type of conversations I had with my own friends at the time -- so like my life. But I didn't watch the movie again ... until just recently.
In this romance, young American twentysomething Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Sorbonne student Celine (Julie Delpy) meet cute on a train. They lunch together, then Jesse asks Celine to get off the train with him in Vienna; he's heading back to the States the next morning, can't afford a hotel room and would love to have someone to chat with while walking around the Austrian city. And there you have it. Celine is fairly easily convinced (Jesse is very attractive, despite his scruffy facial hair) and spends the rest of the day and night with him.
The Brewster McCloud DVD cover advertises the movie as "A different kind of film from the director of M*A*S*H."
Different. Now, there's an understatement.
Robert Altman's 1970 avian-themed follow-up to M*A*S*H is, well, an exceedingly odd bird. A sloppy mishmash of satire, crime caper and comic (but not terribly funny) weirdness, Brewster McCloud is hardly the renowned director's best work. But it's an interesting movie -- I wouldn't say it's a good one -- and one worth watching, if only to inspire a post-viewing discussion of what the hell Altman was thinking when he made it.
One thing Altman apparently wasn't thinking of is a coherent story. The titular McCloud (Bud Cort) is an introverted, intellectual young man who lives in the bowels of the Astrodome. His dream is to build a set of mechanical wings and fly, so he spends his days studying birds, building his wings, exercising to build up his muscles and sort-of-rejecting the advances of kooky Astrodome tour guide Suzanne Davis (Shelley Duvall, in her debut role). Watching over McCloud is Louise (Sally Kellerman), a guardian angel of sorts (she's certainly no angel) who gives him encouragement and protection.
Just in time for the holidays, Killer Joe (my review) is available on DVD and Blu-ray this Friday. With its NC-17 rating, however, this dark and often violent Texas-set film written by Tracy Letts and directed by William Friedkin is not family-friendly viewing. Starring Matthew McConaughey in the title role, along with Emile Hirsch, Juno Temple, Gina Gershon and Thomas Haden Church, the movie portrays a dysfunctional family dealing with betrayal and greed.
What are your thoughts on the NC-17 rating for Killer Joe, was it justified?
Thomas Haden Church: I think it is, but certainly you don't go into a room with investors and say, "We're going to make the best damn NC-17 movie ever to hit theaters in America" -- that's a death sentence. Just like you don't go in and say, "We're going to make an amazing black-and-white film." You go in thinking this could be an R, but when you go get the money as they did in early 2010 -- you have the play, you know what's in the play and you know how the play was put up at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, or the Goodman Theatre and then Broadway and the West End of London.
Better football through chemistry.
This four-word quote from North Dallas Forty says nearly all you need to know about the film. Uttered by aging, battered wide receiver Phil Elliott (Nick Nolte) as he receives a numbing injection in his knee -- thus allowing him to limp through another game -- it's one of many cynical quotes in an entirely cynical movie.
The cynicism about professional football is well deserved, at least if you believe novelist Peter Gent's take on his years as a Dallas Cowboy in the 1960s. Gent was none too charitable toward the Cowboys in his 1973 novel North Dallas Forty, on which the film is based. (Gent also co-wrote the script.) He tells a sordid tale of professional football's win-at-all-costs mentality, with greedy team owners and victory-obsessed coaches doping up players so they can play with crippling injuries. It's also a tale of brutish machismo; the players live in a testosterone-fueled, disgustingly misogynistic world where the biggest and meanest among them make the rules.
Unsurprisingly, most Cowboy fans -- ever a blindly faithful lot -- considered Gent's novel nothing short of blasphemous. The NFL was no less outraged, condemning the story as grossly exaggerated and dismissing it as little more than an act of revenge by a disgruntled former player. (If Peter Gent wanted to be a pariah, he succeeded.) Released in 1979, the film version of North Dallas Forty fanned the flames of outrage once again, despite being a somewhat sanitized and more comic version of the original story.