Movies on DVD
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.
Steven Soderbergh has been a prolific filmmaker, cranking out a movie every year or two (and sometimes twice a year) since Sex, Lies, and Videotape propelled him to fame in 1989. Always willing to venture into new genres, Soderbergh tried his hand at film noir with his fourth feature, The Underneath.
Released in 1995 and shot in Austin, The Underneath (also known as Underneath) is a remake of Criss Cross, a 1949 thriller based on Don Tracy's 1934 novel of the same title. The story is classic (some would say clichéd) noir, a grim tale of how addiction, lust, jealousy and greed can inspire evil acts, compelling desperate people to take desperate measures.
The film centers on gambling addict Michael Chambers (Peter Gallagher), who returns home to Austin for his mother's wedding. Michael had left town abruptly years earlier to escape his gambling debts, leaving his wife, Rachel (Alison Elliott), to deal with the mess her husband created. Vowing that he's changed his ways, Michael tries to patch up his relationships with his mother and brother, moves in with Mom and takes a job working with his new father-in-law, Ed Dutton (Paul Dooley), as an armored car driver.
I originally saw Hope Floats in the theatre the weekend after I had my wisdom teeth removed. I loved the film, and even bought myself the soundtrack on cassette tape. As the pain medication I was taking wore off, I wondered if the movie was quite as lovable a film to watch when completely lucid. So, over ten years later, I re-watched the movie (to write up for this site).
Sandra Bullock stars as housewife Birdee, whose heart is broken on national television when her best pal confesses the long-term affair she's been having with Birdee's hubby. So Birdee and her forlorn child Bernice (Mae Whitman) pack up their Ford Taurus station wagon and head to her Texas hometown, where Birdee's mom Ramona (Gena Rowlands) still lives. The three females learn about each other, and Ramona practically forces her newly-separated daughter into a new relationship.
I imagine that no one involved in the making of Roadie considers the film a career highlight. And a few of the cast and crew probably wish the film never happened. Yes, folks -- Roadie is that bad.
Sorry to be so harsh in my assessment of the film, but…actually, no, I’m not sorry, for this 1980 rock’n’roll "comedy" is an execrable mess. Even the ubiquitous presence of Meat Loaf -- who has done respectable and entertaining work in many other films and TV shows -- can’t save Roadie, a film so profoundly dumb and unabashedly horrid that a more suitable title might be Roadkill.
That said, for better or worse Roadie is a significant part of Texas film history. While it’s isn’t worthy of praise, it is a Texas cultural artifact worthy of inclusion in Slackerwood’s Lone Star Cinema series.
Roadie is the story -- and I use the term story loosely -- of Travis W. Redfish (Meat Loaf, in all his hairy and rotund early career glory), a Shiner beer truck driver who happens upon a broken-down RV delivering Hank Williams Jr.’s sound equipment to Austin. Redfish fixes the RV and drives it to Austin in the nick of time. To return the favor, band manager Ace (Joe Spano, later of Hill Street Blues fame) and concert promoter Mohammed Johnson (Don Cornelius, who wisely kept his Soul Train day job) offer Redfish a job as a roadie for Johnson's travelling rock'n'roll show.
Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone originally screened at SXSW in 2011, and the filmmakers and the band were back in town last October to support Austin Film Society with a special screening and Q&A, as well as a sold-out show at Emo's Austin. I thoroughly enjoyed this compelling and dynamic tale of punk rock pioneers Fishbone and their rise, fall and subsequent revival -- read my review. The documentary was released on DVD this week, and is available for purchase on the Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone website. Bonus features include deleted scenes, band commentary, interview outtakes, and rare concert footage sure to please any Fishbone fan.
During their October movie-and-music tour, I spoke with band members and frontmen Norwood Fisher and Angelo Moore -- listen to the podcast interview -- as well as filmmakers Chris Metzler and Lev Anderson. Find out how Metzler and Anderson used a variety of visual storytelling techniques to portray the story of one of the most influential punk rock bands of the last 20 years and the social and personal issues surrounding them after the jump.
Miss Congeniality, released in 2000, was filmed in New York City and San Antonio, but mostly in Austin. I recall it was a big deal when they filmed the movie in town because they closed down a section of Congress, and people attempted to catch a glimpse of the stars around town.
The Sandra Bullock feature has her playing FBI agent Gracie Hart, assigned to a team investigating a threat to the Miss United States pageant. Benjamin Bratt plays her colleague/team leader/love interest Eric Matthews, who decides Hart will go undercover at the beauty pageant. Overseeing her entry into the pageant world is Michael Caine, who camps it up in this movie. Candice Bergen is the pageant -- er, scholarship program -- coordinator, and Heather Burns almost steals the show as a clueless Miss Rhode Island.
Miss Congeniality is your standard ugly-duckling-gets-turned-into-a-lovely-swan-by-federally-sponsored-beauticians tale. Hart is initially abrasive and female friend-less and by the close of Miss Congeniality has come to know and appreciate her fellow contestants ... after they have bonded over neon-paint-drumming (!!), Mr. Gatti's pizza and a makeover. The film aims for a girl power message, but it is far too muddled.
In a career spanning more than four decades, director Wim Wenders has delivered an eclectic mix of feature films, shorts and documentaries for the big screen and television. With Wenders's latest documentary, Pina, opening in Austin soon, it's a good time to look back at what may be his most celebrated movie, the inimitable Paris, Texas.
Released in 1984 to wide critical acclaim, Paris, Texas is the story of reticent oddball Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), who wanders deliriously out of the desert into Terlingua, Texas as the film opens. A local doctor treats him and contacts his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who travels from Los Angeles to reunite with Travis, a lonely and damaged soul who has been estranged from the family for years.
On a difficult road trip back to Los Angeles -- Travis refuses to speak at first and has a penchant for disappearing if left alone -- the two brothers gradually warm up to each other again. We learn that Walt and his wife, Anne (Aurore Clément), have been raising Travis's 7-year-old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson). Travis's wife, Jane (Nastassja Kinski), is also estranged; beyond making monthly deposits from an unknown location into a bank account set up for Hunter, she has no contact with the family.
With the Oscar nomination buzz surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio for his titular performance in J. Edgar, it's a good time to take another look at a Texas-made movie from early in DiCaprio's career, the terrific What's Eating Gilbert Grape.
Released in 1993, director Lasse Hallström's highly praised film follows the Grape family, a close-knit but intriguingly dysfunctional clan living in the fictional Iowa town of Endora (although actually shot in Central Texas). Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) spends much of his time watching over his mentally retarded younger brother, 17-year-old Arnie (DiCaprio, in an Oscar-nominated performance), while his sisters, Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) slave away in the kitchen. Ruling the roost is the siblings' widowed, depressed and morbidly obese mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates), whose girth and mental state have prevented her from leaving the family's rural house for years.
Society has long had a love-hate relationship with pornography. We often condemn it for reasons both moral and aesthetic -- but the porn industry has been thriving for decades, so somebody (not us or anyone we know, of course) must be buying all those dirty magazines and movies.
This often hypocritical relationship is the subject of Dear Pillow, one of my favorite Austin-made films of the last decade. Writer and director Bryan Poyser's engaging story about a friendship between an awkward teenager and a middle-aged writer of erotica is a frank, unflinching look at how adult entertainment reflects human sexuality.
Released in 2004, Dear Pillow is the story of pudgy, mop-haired teen Wes (Rusty Kelley), whose love life (okay, his sex life) isn't exactly on fire. He's your basic flop with chicks; the closest he gets to any real action is eavesdropping on the wireless conversations of a woman selling phone sex somewhere in his apartment complex. Wes's home life isn't much better; he shares a tiny apartment with his divorced father (billed only as Dad and wonderfully played by Cory Criswell), a loving but boozy and mostly inept parent whose idea of a suitable birthday present for his son is an evening at a local strip joint.
The big movie news late last week was from Netflix: the company is restructuring its subscriptions to separate DVD rental plans from online streaming. Right now, I pay $9.99/month for one DVD out at a time plus unlimited streaming; under the new plans, I'd pay $7.99/month for unlimited streaming and another $7.99/month to rent one DVD at a time (and that doesn't include an extra fee for Blu-ray rentals).
The decision was easy for my husband and me: we can't remember how long the Netflix DVD has been sitting on top of the TV stand, nor even which movie is actually on that DVD. Therefore, we're going to refuse the DVD-only subscription and subscribe only to online streaming, which we use like crazy. And if we want something that's not on Netflix Watch Instantly, where will we get it? From our neighborhood video store, quite possibly.
I'm wondering how many other people are deciding the same thing, and if this could potentially help Austin video stores. Some people might figure if they're saving $6 a month, they could buy the occasional DVD and still come out ahead. Some might add Hulu Plus, which now has the Criterion Collection movies available for streaming, or rent streaming movies/TV from Amazon. And some might try the increasingly popular Redbox. But I like to think -- okay, I hope -- this change could give our remaining local video rental stores a little boost.