Movies on DVD

Lone Star Cinema: Rushmore

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Jason Schwartzman and Seymour Cassell in Rushmore

Rushmore tends to be a favorite among Wes Anderson fans I've known. Even people who don't typically like Anderson's movies still appreciate the 1998 prep school comedy. Anderson's second film, based on a screenplay he wrote with Owen Wilson, has bite to it, and isn't as overly stylized as his later works. 

Jason Schwartzman plays 15-year-old Max, who is overinvolved with extracurricular activities at Rushmore Academy, a boys' prep school. He's not as adept at academics, however. The headmaster (Brian Cox) refers to him as "one of the worst students we've got." In one fall month, Max becomes besotted with widowed grade-school teacher Ms. Cross (Olivia Williams) and befriends bored millionaire Harold Blume (Bill Murray).

Max is self-confident, yet struggles when Ms. Cross doesn't return his affections.  Both he and Blume stalk Ms. Cross periodically. During a recent re-watch, my friend and I found this harassment -- along with Max's shooting of an air rifle at the school campus that was supposedly funny at that time, I guess -- off-putting.  Max is finally humbled when his quest to build an aquarium in her honor (on school grounds) gets him expelled.

Lone Star Cinema: A Perfect World

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A Perfect World

A Perfect World is a somewhat forgotten Clint Eastwood film, which is a shame. It may not be quite in league with Eastwood's best work (that's a very tall order), but this unconventional crime film is both a gripping chase movie and a nuanced tale of a relationship between a misunderstood criminal and a young boy.

Eastwood directed and starred in this 1993 drama set in 1963 Texas, in which he plays Texas Ranger Red Garrett, a seasoned lawman in pursuit of prison escapees Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner) and Terry Pugh (Keith Szarabajka). Shortly after their escape, Butch and Terry break into a house and kidnap 9-year-old Phillip Perry (T.J. Lowther), son of a devout Jehovah's Witness mother.

Lone Star Cinema: Along Came Kinky...Texas Jewboy for Governor

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Along Came Kinky

Why the hell not?
-- Campaign slogan for Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman

Should Kinky Friedman be governor of Texas? There are plenty of reasons why the hell not. There also are plenty of reasons to watch Along Came Kinky ... Texas Jewboy for Governor, a lively 2009 documentary about Friedman's quixotic campaign for the office.

A mystery novelist, satirist and proudly offensive musician by trade (his band, the Texas Jewboys, was famous for songs like "Asshole from El Paso"), Friedman entered the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race with no political experience but plenty of name recognition as a Texas icon. He found himself in an unprecedented four-way race that offered voters and pundits plenty of political Lone Star lunacy.

The campaign was surprisingly fierce and competitive, at least to determine who would be runner-up to incumbent governor Rick Perry. Perry relied on his incumbency and redder-than-red conservative record to remain comfortably ahead in the polls and fly above most of the political fray throughout the race. Meanwhile, Friedman locked horns with mostly unknown Democrat Chris Bell and brash longtime Texas politician Carole Keeton Strayhorn (like Friedman, an independent candidate) in a battle for the voters' attention, if not a realistic bid for victory.

Lone Star Cinema: Rush

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Rush

Gregg Allman has had a fabulous career as a musician, but he could have been just as successful as a drug dealer.

That is, if he could be as intimidating as his drug-dealing character in the crime drama Rush. Allman portrays dealer William Gaines in an almost wordless performance; Gaines rules his seedy empire with quiet, menacing stares, making customers, rivals and cops think twice about crossing him.

Allman's performance is terrific, as are several others in Rush. Set in 1975 and released in December 1991, the Houston-filmed movie Rush is a gritty, tragic tale of two small-town Texas cops who go undercover to infiltrate the town's drug scene. It's an unnervingly realistic film about the morally murky world of drug trafficking and narcotics enforcement, where the line between right and wrong isn't always clear.

Rush's story is gripping if not original. Assigned the difficult and dangerous job of bringing down Gaines, veteran narc Jim Raynor (Jason Patric) chooses young officer Kristen Cates (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as his partner. Cates has no experience with drug enforcement or undercover work, so Raynor's first job is to teach her to be a convincing junkie, to the point of doing drugs with the dealers to establish credibility.

Lone Star Cinema: Lone Star

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Chris Cooper in Lone Star

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. 

DVD Review: Upstream Color

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Upstream ColorSome 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.

Lone Star Cinema: Silkwood

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Meryl Streep in Silkwood (with a blurry young David Strathairn in the background)

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.

Lone Star Cinema: Hands on a Hardbody

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Hands on a Hardbody

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.

Lone Star Cinema: Before Sunset

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Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset

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.

Lone Star Cinema: Baby, the Rain Must Fall

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Baby, the Rain Must Fall

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.

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