Don Clinchy's blog

2014 in Review: Don's Top Ten and Other Lists

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Boyhood

Here are my top ten and other notable films of last year.

To be eligible for my lists, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2014 and screen in Austin in 2014 also. Some well-reviewed 2014 releases have not yet screened in Austin.

10. Joe

Nicolas Cage is at his understated best as an ex-con who hires a desperately poor teenager (Tye Sheridan, also terrific) to help clear a forest for development. Shot in Central Texas, David Gordon Green's haunting film explores the ravages of poverty and the nature of redemption. (Jette's review)

9. Thank You a Lot

Every year, I hope to discover a low-budget local indie that deserves a place on my top 10 list. This year's honoree is Austin filmmaker Matt Muir's Thank You a Lot, a poignant tale of a hard-luck music manager who will lose his job unless he signs a reclusive country music singer who's also his estranged father. In his acting debut, Austin music legend James Hand gives one of the year's best performances as a fictional (mostly, that is) version of himself. (my review)

Review: Foxcatcher

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Foxcatcher

If you're rich, they call you eccentric instead of crazy.

John du Pont was plenty rich enough to be called eccentric. An heir to the du Pont family fortune, he had wealth almost beyond imagination, a fortune so intimidating that those who knew him -- especially anyone dependant on his philanthropy -- didn't dare call him insane.

Foxcatcher, however, dares calls him insane; it pulls no punches in its depiction of his erratic behavior and sometimes terrifying mental instability. With a brilliant performance by Steve Carell as John (by far the best of Carell's career), the film paints him as a deeply troubled man whose wealth couldn't buy him self esteem or sanity.

Based on a true story, Foxcatcher focuses on John's interest in wrestling. (He led an eclectic life; he also was a philatelist and accomplished ornithologist.) As the film opens in 1987, John recruits Olympic wrestling gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) for a wrestling team he hopes will compete in the 1988 Olympics. The team, named Foxcatcher after the du Pont family's thoroughbred racing stable, trains at a state-of-the-art facility John built on his Pennsylvania farm.

Review: The Theory of Everything

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The Theory of Everything

There is surprisingly little science in The Theory of Everything, a film about famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking's personal life. There is, however, a lot of kissing.

Well, maybe not that much kissing -- at least compared to other romantic films -- but the movie contains far more romance than science. Want to learn about Hawking's groundbreaking work? Skip the deceptively titled The Theory of Everything, which focuses on Hawking's relationship with his first wife, Jane Hawking, and barely touches on his brilliant scientific ideas.

Based on Jane Hawking's memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, The Theory of Everything opens as grad students Stephen (Eddie Redmayne) and Jane (Felicity Jones) begin dating at the University of Cambridge in 1963. All is well with their courtship at first. But within a few months, Stephen is diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease), a progressive disorder that causes motor neuron degeneration and muscle weakness and atrophy.

Review: Men, Women & Children

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Men, Women & Children

A better title for Men, Women & Children might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Internet. Another might be The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Movie.

I had hoped Jason Reitman's latest film would be up to the lofty standards of his best work, Juno and Up in the Air. But what could have been an insightful look at how the Internet has shaped our lives is instead a slight, heavy-handed and melodramatic cautionary tale about the dangers (at least from the film's point of view) that lurk online.

Shot in Austin, Men, Women & Children follows a group of teens and adults whose online activities land them in a heap of trouble. Among them are a mostly happy couple, Helen (Rosemarie DeWitt) and Don Truby (Adam Sandler), who let their sexual boredom get the better of them; Helen finds extramarital action thanks to hookup site Ashley Madison, and Don hires an escort after perusing his son's favorite porn sites.

Meanwhile, paranoid and overprotective mom Patricia Beltmeyer (Jennifer Garner) obsesses over the online activities of her daughter, Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever), monitoring her every text and Facebook post. (She even tracks the poor girl's whereabouts via her cell phone.) Despite her mom's spying and smothering, Brandy still manages to carry on a secret relationship with football star Tim Mooney (Ansel Elgort), who quits the team so he can devote more time to online role playing games.

Review: The Overnighters

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The Overnighters

The searing documentary The Overnighters asks a lot of hard questions. The hardest may be, "What does community mean?"

Shot in Williston, North Dakota, filmmaker Jesse Moss's documentary -- which Drafthouse Films is releasing Friday in Austin -- captures the tiny town in the midst of the current North Dakota oil boom. The boom is a blessing and a curse: The townspeople welcome the unprecedented economic boost, but have mixed feelings about the influx of thousands of oil field workers.

The main problem is housing. Most new arrivals have nowhere to live, so many sleep in their cars, trucks and RVs, parked wherever they can. Another problem is less about logistics than human nature: The workers are roughnecks in every sense of the word -- desperately poor men, often with little education, all chasing quick money and some running from their pasts. To the good and decent citizens (in the ironic sense; more on this later) of Williston, the men are the others -- a scruffy, scary and unwelcome lot. The townspeople's hospitality ends where their fear begins.

The Overnighters focuses on Rev. Jay Reinke, a Lutheran pastor in Williston who opens his church as temporary housing for the workers. He does so because helping thy neighbor is one of his pastoral duties, of course; he's also immensely compassionate and nonjudgmental, a man who cares deeply about the often broken men who desperately seek the church's help. Far more than just their landlord, he's their counselor and friend.

Review: Kill the Messenger

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Kill the Messenger

'Tis the season for dark dramas, and Kill the Messenger may be this year's darkest, a film all the darker because it's based on a demoralizing true story.

The titular messenger is Gary Webb (Jeremy Renner), a San Jose Mercury News investigative reporter who in 1996 writes a series of articles alleging a link between the CIA and Nicaraguan cocaine smugglers in the 1980s. According to Webb's Dark Alliance series, the CIA knew that huge amounts of Nicaraguan coke were sold as crack cocaine in Los Angeles, and the profits were funneled back to the Contras, CIA-backed rebel groups fighting to overthrow the Nicaraguan government.

Webb does not allege that the CIA was directly involved in smuggling or selling crack. Instead, he says the agency aided the Contras by looking the other way, withholding evidence from the Justice Department and Congress, and shielding the smugglers and dealers from prosecution. Webb also alleges that the Nicaraguan cocaine sparked the crack epidemic that spread to many U.S. cities.

TAMI Flashback: Technology in Texas

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The Computer Tutor

This article is part of a series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article.

This month's TAMI Flashback videos feature cutting-edge technology -- cutting-edge more than 40 years ago, that is. Produced by Dallas-based Bill Stokes Associates, the three videos highlight the state of the art in late Sixties and early Seventies computers and electronics. The technical details may appeal only to your inner nerd -- but with their innovation-a-go-go vibe, the videos are entertaining looks at an era when most people had little exposure to high-tech equipment.

Made in 1966, The Computer Tutor is a cheery and sometimes amusing look at a then-new technology that still isn't perfect: optical character recognition, or OCR. The video sings the praises of an "electronic retina computing reader," which greatly improved OCR accuracy. Invented by Dallas-based Recognition Equipment, the device could read up to 2400 characters per second (or so the video claims) with less than one error per 100,000 characters, while simultaneously processing the data. By scanning in text, the device eliminated the need for the slow, expensive and error-prone process of transferring the information to punch cards.

aGLIFF 2014 Dispatch: 'Appropriate Behavior' for Closing Night

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Appropriate Behavior

The Sunday evening screening of the aGLIFF closing-night narrative film, Appropriate Behavior, was a great way to wrap up my time at the festival.

It’s no surprise that the movie was a hit at this year's Sundance Film Festival; it's a terrific debut feature from writer/director/star Desiree Akhavan. I'm generally not a fan of romantic comedies, but Appropriate Behavior is so thoroughly snarky -- and often so defiantly anti-romantic -- that it's a rom-com even a cynic could tolerate.

Akhavan stars as Shirin, a young Brooklynite who's something of a poster child for the angst of young adulthood. She's still smarting from a hard breakup with her ex-girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson). She struggles to be part of her perfect Persian family and is afraid to tell her parents she's bisexual. And her filmmaking career exists only in theory; the closest she comes to making movies is teaching her art -- more like attempting to teach it -- to a class of hyperactive 6-year-olds.

aGLIFF 2014 Dispatch: 'Queens & Cowboys' and 'Regarding Susan Sontag'

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Queens & Cowboys

aGLIFF's lineup is heavy on documentaries, and on Saturday I saw two outstanding ones: Queens & Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo and Regarding Susan Sontag.

Queens & Cowboys is an enlightening look at 2011 season of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), following a group of cowboys and cowgirls as they compete to qualify for the association's World Finals.

The most enlightening aspect of the film may be the way it portrays the gay rodeo circuit as, well, rodeo; the circuit emphasizes the sport more than the cultural politics. The men in drag and rainbow paraphernalia give the festivities their own personality, but they're a sideshow to the real business at hand: bull and bronc riding, calf roping and the usual assortment of bone-jarring competitions. Aside from allowing women to compete in all events, a gay rodeo is essentially the same as any other rodeo.

aGLIFF 2014 Dispatch: 'Invisible' and 'Eternity: The Movie'

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Eternity the Movie

My 2014 aGLIFF adventure continued Thursday night with two films that could not be more different: Invisible and Eternity: The Movie.

A dark and dour documentary about male sex workers in Providence, Rhode Island, Invisible is a reminder of why so many moviegoers avoid documentaries.  Not for its quality; it's competently made and tells a compelling story. But that story is one most people don't want to hear, a grim tale of tragic and mostly hopeless lives. Invisible is a window on a world many of us pretend doesn't exist.

Filmmaker Dio Traverso's documentary centers on Richard Holcomb, an activist and former sex worker whose mission is to improve male sex workers' lives and help them avoid contracting HIV/AIDS. Holcomb roams the gritty streets of Providence, handing out condoms and helping his clients find medical care, counseling, and whatever else they need to survive. He also lobbies the local and state governments to support long-term solutions to the sex workers' problems. (Not surprisingly, the government officials promise a lot but do very little to help.)

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