Movies on DVD
Opening to the hymn "Blessed Assurance" and closing to "In the Garden," writer/director Robert Benton sets Places in the Heart firmly in the Bible Belt. The 1984 movie is based, and was filmed in, Benton's hometown of Waxahachie, Texas. The year is 1935 and the small town is muddling through the Depression.
Sally Field centers the film as Edna Spalding, a mother trying to hold on to her home after her sheriff husband is unexpectedly killed. In the first few minutes of the film, he is accidentally shot by a drunk young man on the train tracks. The young man is black in the Jim Crow-era South, and the repercussions of his actions are horrific. Benton chooses to parallel the deaths and funerals of the two men so we can compare, contrast and think on them.
Edna seems uncertain of her identity, role and future now that her husband is gone. The day of her husband's funeral, young hobo Moze (Danny Glover) asks Edna for work and suggests a possible way for her to make money: Plant cotton in her fields. With the help of Moze, her blind tenant Mr. Will (John Malkovich), and her young kids Frank and Possum (Texans Yankton Hatten and Gennie James), Edna does just that.
Fantastic Fest is just around the corner. So that means your time to catch up and do your homework on films screening at the fest is growing shorter every day. Some favorite directors from Fantastic Fest past are returning and others are making their first appearance. I know some of my most anticipated are hard to familiarize yourself with beforehand (New Kids Turbo), but you can find most of these films at your favorite local video store (Vulcan! I Luv Video!) or streaming online. Hurry now because you're losing days at this rate.
Stephenson's previous film Best Worst Movie premiered at SXSW 2009, and documented the cult phenomenon Troll 2. The filmmaker's latest documentary stays in the same genre yet takes a look at three passionate haunted house enthusiasts as they prepare their home to scare the living hell out of those who walk through it. The American Scream producer Zack Carlson appears in Best Worst Movie as well.
Prep work: Best Worst Movie is available on DVD. Look for it in the documentary section (just see if you can spot the terrific Tyler Stout artwork). It's also available for rental on Amazon Instant Video ... and embedded below, via Hulu.
Reading Mark Harris's wonderful Pictures at a Revolution last month, I was reminded that Bonnie and Clyde has some deep Texas ties. The original idea for the 1967 film -- Warren Beatty's first producer credit -- was conceived by first-time screenwriters David Newman and Robert Benton. Benton, who was born in Waxahachie, grew up hearing about the real-life bank-robbing duo who came to a violent end. Benton's dad even attended Parker and Barrow's funeral!
Newman and Benton came to Texas as they worked on their screenplay to talk to small-town residents who witnessed the crimes and remembered the stories. Later, as the movie was being shot over ten weeks in north East Texas, some of these same townspeople were used as extras.
The long tale of how Bonnie and Clyde (finally) made it to screen is fascinating, especially the way Harris tells it (I can't recommend Pictures at a Revolution enough, seriously). French directors Francois Truffaut, who Newman and Benton really wanted, and Jean-Luc Godard passed up the chance to make Bonnie and Clyde. Despite his initial resistance to the film, Arthur Penn ended up taking the reins.
Faye Dunaway's Bonnie is all sharp angles, sass and sexual frustration. Clyde, played by Beatty, was bisexual in the original script for Bonnie and Clyde, but Penn chose to make him impotent instead. In the first ten minutes of the film, Bonnie fondles the gun Clyde has pulled out to impress her. I wrote in my notes as I recently rewatched the movie, "So much sexual tension!" Another thematic constant in the film is the foreshadowing of their death. Bonnie runs in a field of dry, dying wheat, and a playful tumble on a hill by one of the kids in her family mimics the final movement Clyde makes at the end of the film.
The Texas-produced feature film Searching For Sonny is on tour around Texas this month as part of the Texas Independent Film Network's Fall 2012 program. It returns to Austin after having its world premiere at Austin Film Festival 2011. After winning 13 major awards on the festival circuit -- including the Best of Fest at the Hill Country Film Festival -- writer/director Andrew Disney (pictured above) will be at the screening when the roadshow lands in Austin next week.
You can buy tickets now to see the Fort Worth-shot movie at the Violet Crown Cinema on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 pm. I saw it at AFF and my review describes it as "kinky and subversive, dark and outrageous." Here's my synopsis from that review:
"Jason Dohring stars as Elliot Knight, an unsuccessful 28-year-old pizza delivery driver. Jason receives a surprise invitation to his 10-year class reunion from his estranged best friend, Sonny (Masi Oka). As soon as he arrives at the reunion, he meets up with twin brother Calvin (Nick Kocher) and classmate Gary (Brian McElhaney). Together, the three of them set out to find Sonny, following clues left on their postcard invitations, and uncover a larger scheme involving their former high-school principal."
Watching Logan's Run -- which, if I remember correctly, I last saw on VHS nearly a century ago -- brings to mind the following bit of wisdom: Those who cannot remember the Seventies are condemned to repeat them.
And on a related note: Those who cannot remember bad Seventies sci-fi movies are condemned to remake them. Alas, humanity has not learned this lesson, for a Logan's Run remake is in the works.
To be fair, there are far worse ways to kill a couple of hours than watching Logan's Run. Released in 1976, the Texas-made film is mostly schlock, a cheese-smothered exercise in ridiculous, clichéd sci-fi silliness. But in its better moments, it's highly entertaining silliness. And when viewed through the lens of cinematic history, Logan's Run serves as a great primer in the look and feel of Seventies sci-fi filmmaking, one that begs the question What were they thinking?
In an early scene in Dancer, Texas Pop. 81, an out-of-tune little band plays "Pomp and Circumstance" at a graduation ceremony. The band -- three kids playing their instruments gamely but very badly -- is a great metaphor for life in the dwindling West Texas hamlet of Dancer, a place as tiny as the band and in many ways just as hopeless.
Writer/director Tim McCanlies's 1998 film follows four of the town's new high-school graduates -- there are only five students in the graduating class -- as they spend their last day or two in Dancer before leaving town for new and hopefully far more exciting adventures in Los Angeles. Dancer, Texas Pop. 81 is in some ways a scaled-down, Permian Basin version of American Graffiti, a story of young people torn between the familiar but limiting comforts of their current lives and the uncertain but enticing possibilities of adulthood.
Although Office Space wasn't a mega-hit in theaters, the workplace comedy has become a cult classic. The 1999 movie, shot in Austin and Dallas, has lent such lines to the lexicon as "Looks like someone has the case of the Mondays." Mike Judge's first full-length live-action movie follows the plight of workers at a generic white-collar company called Initech.
Office drone Peter (Ron Livingston) has a job he hates, stuck in a cubicle across from a lady who repetitively answers her phone in a high-pitched tone, overseen by eight bosses -- one of which is Lumbergh (Gary Cole in ginormous specs). Peter's work buddies are Samir (Ajay Naidu) and Michael Bolton (David Herman), both of whom constantly vent frustrations on their wonky fax machine. Bolton is beleagured by folks who ask if he's related to the singer. When asked why he won't go by Mike instead, he responds, "Why should I change, he's the one who sucks."
Peter dreams of dating waitress Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) who serves at Chotchkie's, a TGIFriday's/Applebee's/Bennigans (RIP) mashup. After his (soon-to-be ex) girlfriend takes him to an occupational hypnotherapist (Michael McShane, whose appearance made me reminiscent for the early days of Whose Line Is It Anyway?), Peter undergoes a sort of attitude adjustment; he gets up the nerve to ask Joanna out and stops going to the office.
I both read the original Billie Letts book and watched the film version of Where The Heart Is very closely together in 2001 -- so closely together I can't recall whether I saw the movie or read the book first. Either way, I remember that I didn't care too much for the movie but I really liked the book. If only I had realized, during this truly homesick year of my life spent in Minnesota, that the 2000 film was shot in Central Texas, I'm certain it would have made more of a sentimental impact on me.
There really are not many locational hints in Where the Heart Is to tell you that the movie was filmed in Texas, unless you recognized the Baylor campus at the end. When I watched it more recently, I spied Sixth Street standing in for Nashville and I spotted a building in Lockhart's town square appearing quickly as a hotel (I only recognized the building because I had been in Lockhart the previous weekend on a Waiting for Guffman quest, but that's another post!). Mainly the Central Texas locations stand in for the fictional town of Sequoia, Oklahoma, as plucky pregnant teen Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) is stranded at the Wal-Mart there by her mulleted douchebag boyfriend (Dylan Bruno).
Judy: Then she had her utopian tubes removed.
Gardner: No, that's fallopian, darlin'.
Judy: Fallopian? Them's books of the Bible silly...first and second Fallopians!
These immortal lines from Fandango are probably the film's most quoted dialogue, but they have plenty of hilarious competition. In another famous exchange, one frustrated character says to another, "You are the most irresponsible person I've ever met." The response: "Well, somebody had to be."
Released in 1985, Fandango is something of a cult favorite. Few critics would argue that the Texas-made film is a great movie, but it has enough snappy dialogue, colorful characters and memorable scenes to have earned a loyal fan base and a significant place in Texas film history.
Fandango's plot is summer-movie simple: Essentially, it's a road movie about five newly minted 1971 University of Texas graduates who call themselves the Groovers. Facing the frightening prospects of their post-graduation futures, they embark on a road trip through southwest Texas.
Their next steps in life are daunting. Kenneth Waggener (Sam Robards) is engaged, but announces he has called off his engagement because his student draft deferment has expired, and the Army has wasted no time in drafting him. Gardner Barnes (Kevin Costner) has been drafted also. The fate of ROTC member Phil Hicks (Judd Nelson) is also sealed; like the others, he expects to ship off to Vietnam within a few months. The fate of Lester Griffin (Brian Cesak) is less clear, mainly because he remains passed out through almost the entire film. The fifth Groover is quiet, introspective seminary student Dorman (Chuck Bush), whose future is also unclear; he spends most of the film silently observing the others' rowdy behavior.
Varsity Blues is truly of its time. When the film was released in 1999, star James Van Der Beek was riding high on his fame from popular teen soap Dawson's Creek. This was the first movie produced by MTV Films, and the soundtrack includes such late '90s hits as Collective Soul's "Run" and the Foo Fighters' "My Hero." Buzz Bissinger's influential book Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream had been published nine years previous, but had yet to be dramatized for either the big or small screen.
Filmed in Austin -- as well as Georgetown, Elgin and Taylor -- Varsity Blues follows Mox (Van Der Beek), a high school senior in fictional small-town West Canaan, Texas. He dates his friend's younger sister, Julie (Amy Smart), who works at the Top Notch. He dreams of going to Brown University, and only plays football because his dad makes him. During games, Mox sits on the sidelines reading Vonnegut behind his playbook. Then Julie's brother, game-winning quarterback Lance (Paul Walker), is seriously injured and the evil Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight) calls Mox off the bench.