Movies on DVD
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.
Hard to believe it's been almost ten years since the Bush administration led the invasion of Iraq, and sometime-Austinite/Dixie Chicks lead singer Natalie Maines made her controversial comment during a 2003 London concert: "We're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Documentary directors Barbara Kopple and Cecilia Peck use behind-the-scenes from that notorious Dixie Chicks concert and others from their 2003 tour, then follow the pop-country trio as they work on their album Taking the Long Way in Shut Up and Sing.
The first time I saw this film was in 2006 at a free screening put on by Norman Lear's liberal org People for the American Way. Those were some angry, frustrated days. Since then I've spotted Natalie Maines at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar (while her dad Lloyd accompanied Terri Hendrix) and the Dixie Chicks have gone on hiatus.
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.