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Lone Star Cinema: North Dallas Forty


North Dallas Forty

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.

Movies This Week: November 30 - December 6, 2012


Thelma & Louise

Five new films open in Austin this week, but all have tepid reviews. But not to worry, film fans: For the rest of the year, terrific special screenings are piling up like presents stacked under a Christmas tree. (Or grievances aired around a Festivus pole, or whatever symbols are part of your holiday tradition, if indeed you have one, and it's fine if you don't. Whatever your holiday tradition -- or lack thereof -- the always-inclusive folks at Slackerwood wish you happiness. Or not, if you prefer unhappiness.)

There is, of course, the expected onslaught of holiday film screenings this week. The Alamo Drafthouse offers its usual eclectic mix of holiday movies, from the traditionally warm and fuzzy (It's a Wonderful Life) to the anti-sentimental (the slasher flick Black Christmas, with a live appearance by Margot Kidder) to Jette and Chip's favorite holiday tradition, Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. Check the Alamo Drafthouse calendar for locations and showtimes.

Looking for free entertainment? The Austin Public Library offers free film screenings throughout December. This Saturday's screenings include Up and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Arthur Christmas screens on Monday, and on Tuesday the screenings include Trollhunter and the outstanding documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing (Jette's review). Refer to the Austin Public Library site for locations and times.

The election may be over -- but the politics behind it go merrily on. Politics junkies should not miss Koch Brothers Exposed, Robert Greenwald's expose on the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who financed the conservative super-PAC Americans for Prosperity. Presented by Progress Texas on Monday at Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar, the screening includes a discussion led by political experts familiar with the Koch brothers' influence on the Texas Legislature.

Climate change is a bummer, but at least it's creating excellent drive-in movie weather in late November. Check out the Road Rage Drive-In screening of Thelma & Louise (pictured above) at the Colorado Chapel Cemetery east of Austin on Saturday. Ridley Scott's classic 1991 road movie stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis, and you can enjoy sandwiches from Franklin Barbecue as you watch the two bad-girl outlaws open cans of whoopass on some rather misogynistic men who deserve everything they get.

Speaking of drive-ins, Slackerwood and the Austin Film Society are presenting the Austin premiere of the Central Texas-shot indie comedy Cinema Six tonight at Blue Starlite Urban Drive-In, with filmmaker Mark Potts and actor Kevin M. Brennan in attendance. Refer to this Slackerwood article for details. Tickets are still available for individual seats (bring your own chair) and car slots.

Review: A Late Quartet


A Late Quartet

The chamber music-themed drama A Late Quartet is the kind of movie that film critics and our culturally elitist friends so want to like. We would love to discuss the film's mastery of metaphor over a few pints of craft-brewed beer, or turn down the volume on All Things Considered while en route to Whole Foods in our Prii (yes, the plural of Prius is Prii) and ask our passengers, "Wasn't Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance astonishing?"

Alas, there can be no such discussions. While the erudite and painfully highbrow A Late Quartet is straight out of Stuff White People Like, it's also mostly a bore.

Which is a pity, because the film has many essential ingredients of an entertaining meditation on music as a reflection of human nature, the sort of high-culture anti-Twilight that excites those of us with discerning (and slightly snobby) taste in film. Aside from Hoffman, the cast includes Catherine Keener! And Christopher Walken playing against type! And Wallace Shawn! And lots of Manhattan locales! And lots of Beethoven! And to keep things from becoming too stuffy, a gratuitous sex scene with gratuitous nudity!

Movies This Week: November 16-20, 2012


Celine and Julie Go Boating

This weekend brings what may be the year's ultimate clash of cinematic titans: Steven Spielberg's Lincoln battles The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 for the hearts, minds and wallets of America's moviegoers. Which one will take home the box-office gold? I think we all know the answer. Which one will take home the critical acclaim? We all know the answer to this question, too. Which one will your teenage daughter see? Hopefully, Lincoln. (Tell her that those who do not remember the past are condemned to fail their history exams.)

If you don't know Team Edward from Team Jacob and think the Civil War is so 19th century, how about a little French New Wave? On Saturday and Sunday at the Alamo South Lamar, the Austin Film Society presents Jacques Rivette's celebrated 1974 experimental narrative, Celine and Julie Go Boating (pictured above). This surrealistic tale recounts the adventures of two women who, with the help of some magic candy, get plugged into a bizarre drama in a mysterious house. One of the seminal films of the Seventies, Celine and Julie Go Boating is regarded as Rivette's most accomplished film.

Many younger film fans have seen The Godfather, but not so many have seen it on a big screen. You haven't? Then don't miss the film's 40th anniversary screenings this Saturday and Sunday at Alamo Ritz. If any film demands to be seen in a theater, it's Francis Ford Coppola's masterpiece.

And Jette has to butt in here briefly because Preston Sturges movies are being shown in Austin and she is extremely Team Preston. Alamo Drafthouse is screening 35mm prints of Sullivan's Travels, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and (yes!) The Palm Beach Story over the next few weeks.

This week's most unusual film event no doubt is the Alamo Drafthouse Road Rage Drive-In screening of Wild at Heart on Saturday at the Colorado Chapel Cemetery east of Austin. As if David Lynch's critically acclaimed 1990 road movie about a young couple of outcasts isn't enough of a draw, the screening also features sandwiches from Franklin Barbecue.

Movies We've Seen

A Late Quartet -- In this drama structured around a Beethoven opus, members of a renowned string quartet struggle to stay together when the group's cellist receives a life-changing diagnosis. The highbrow A Late Quartet has the noblest of intentions, but it's a bore. As I said in my review, "Even the film's solid performances, occasional humor and confrontational sparks can't overcome the mostly lifeless script and sometimes plodding direction." (Arbor)

Silver Linings Playbook -- In this romantic comedy, a former teacher moves back in with his parents after a stint in a mental institution and tries to reconcile with his ex-wife. Enter a mysterious girl with her own problems, and things get complicated. Elizabeth really enjoyed the film, saying in her review, "Although it's a movie about a couple dealing with mental health issues, Silver Linings Playbook consistently made me laugh while growing to care for the romantic leads, Pat and Tiffany, as well as the supporting characters." (wide)

This Must Be the Place -- Sean Penn stars in this comedy as a retired rock star who searches for the man who humiliated his deceased father during WWII. Debbie's review praises the performances, but not the rest of the film: "Unfortunately, the meandering narrative makes it difficult to remain engaged in This Must Be the Place, as it's difficult to understand what this film is meant to be." (Metropolitan)

Review: The Sessions


The Sessions

If John Hawkes's stunning performance in The Sessions doesn't win him an Oscar, what will?

The venerable, versatile actor came close to Oscar glory once before, with a best supporting actor nomination for his harrowing portrayal of meth addict Teardrop in Winter's Bone. If there's any justice in Oscar land -- hope springs eternal, folks -- Hawkes will take home the best actor gold this time for his dead-on turn as a lonely man in an iron lung.

Set in 1988 and based on a true story, The Sessions centers on Mark O'Brien (Hawkes), a 38-year-old journalist and poet confined to an iron lung for all but a few hours a day and determined to lose his virginity. A childhood victim of polio, Mark has lived an expectedly hard life, and one without dating or relationships. So, with help from his therapist, Vera (Moon Bloodgood), and the blessing of his priest, Father Brendan (a dry, wry and hilarious William H. Macy), Mark arranges for the services of professional sex surrogate Cheryl Cohen-Greene (Helen Hunt).

Review: Smashed



Thanks to a heavy dose of realism and the fearless performances of its two leads, Smashed is a riveting take on an old story.

The bitter toll that addiction takes on relationships is nothing new in films, and Smashed is only the latest in a very long line of movies about unions torn asunder by the ravages of substance abuse. In this case, the culprit is alcohol; it has enveloped the lives of married twentysomethings Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), expanding their frequent leisure time binges into more or less nonstop drinking and often-as-not drunkenness.

As the film opens, it is apparent the two have been generally functional alcoholics for a while. Kate holds down a job as an elementary school teacher, drinking a beer during her morning shower and taking a nip from a flask in her car at the start of each school day. Charlie is functional also, if not exactly gainfully employed; his would-be writing career seems to consist of writing an occasional live music review when not partying with his friends. The couple douses any possible worries with alcohol -- not the best way to confront life's challenges, but hey, it works for them.

Lone Star Cinema: You're Gonna Miss Me


You're Gonna Miss Me

You're gonna wake up one morning as the sun greets the dawn.
You're gonna wake up one morning as the sun greets the dawn.
You're gonna look around in your mind, girl, you're gonna find that
I'm gone.
-- Lyrics to "You're Gonna Miss Me," by the 13th Floor Elevators

Roky Erickson isn't gone. But for much of his adult life, he was mostly so.

The legendary Austin rocker's life is a harrowing story and cautionary tale encompassing everything from family drama to drug war politics. The frenetic front man for the pioneering psychedelic Austin band The 13th Floor Elevators in the 1960s, Roger Kynard "Roky" Erickson was busted for marijuana possession in 1969. He entered an insanity plea and found himself an inmate at the Rusk State Hospital, a mental institution where he spent three years in the company of violently mentally ill offenders. He emerged a changed man, and not for the better: He sang increasingly bizarre songs, called himself "the evil one" and insisted he was an alien. Eventually he stopped recording altogether and virtually disappeared, leaving reality behind along with his career.

Erickson's life is, of course, unbeatable fodder for a documentary, and You're Gonna Miss Me captures the singer's life in every insane detail. Released in 2005 to great critical acclaim, the story opens on Erickson's life in the late 1990s, when he had been living as a recluse for years, spending his days in a filthy apartment, collecting stacks of junk mail and listening to a wall of white noise from several radios, TVs and amplifiers playing at once. He opened the door for no one but his weary mother, Evelyn. Again: not quite gone -- but mostly so.

Movies This Week: October 26 - November 1, 2012


Otis Under Sky

This week's new releases are mostly forgettable, other than the much-anticipated and well reviewed Cloud Atlas. My fellow hard-core Texas politics nerds may enjoy the informative but dry political documentary The Revisionaries, and those wanting to see Zac Efron in his underwear may tolerate the gratuitous sex and violence in The Paperboy. But most filmgoers will be better off at this week's special screenings, some of which aren't even Halloween related.

Of course, some are. The Alamo Drafthouse continues its ghoulish parade of horror films with American Werewolf in London at the Village Monday through Wednesday, The Blob at the Ritz on Tuesday and The Wolf Man at the Ritz Saturday through Monday. Night of the Living Dead once again gets the Master Pancake treatment at the Ritz on Friday and Saturday, as does Halloween at South Lamar on Saturday. Check the Alamo Drafthouse calendar for complete listings.

Less scary but just as Halloween-y is Cinematic Symphony's Halloween Concert on Sunday at Anderson High School. The symphony will perform scores from various frightfests such as Beetlejuice, Young Frankenstein and Ed Wood. All ages are welcome -- and welcome to enter the costume contest. (I would wear my Scare-ah Palin costume, but I won't; other contestants should have a chance to win.)

And finally, Blue Starlite Drive-in is showing a variety of seasonally appropriate movies nightly through Oct. 31, from Beetlejuice to the original Halloween.

Review: The Paperboy


The Paperboy

Filmmaker Lee Daniels's follow-up to the astounding Precious is, well, no Precious -- but The Paperboy may be just as memorable, if partly for the wrong reasons.

The Paperboy is an odd beast, a sweaty, gritty, bloody mashup of visual lyricism, noir clichés, social commentary and gratuitous everything. The film is nothing if not unique; not many movies combine an underwear-clad Zac Efron, retro split-screen effects, alligator guts and discussions of journalistic integrity. The problem is that The Paperboy doesn't combine these elements -- and so many others, many of them a bit off-putting -- terribly well. It's an intriguing story wrapped in sometimes ridiculous packaging.

Based on a novel by Peter Dexter, The Paperboy takes us back to 1960s Florida, where Miami newspaper reporter Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey) returns to his small and swampy hometown to chase a story about a sensational murder. With the help of his partner, Yardley Acheman (David Oyelowo), Ward tries to prove that career felon and death row inmate Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack) was framed for the local sheriff's murder.

AFF Review: It's a Disaster


It's a DisasterIt's a Disaster is the funniest movie I've seen this year.

This isn't hyperbole. As a longtime fan of film comedy -- it's my second-favorite genre, after documentaries that make me hate America -- I don't bestow such lofty praise lightly. And I'm no fan of what usually passes for humor in mainstream American film "comedies," most of which cater to people who think it's funny when Adam Sandler farts. So when I label a film the funniest movie I've seen this year, rest assured that it's damned hilarious -- and damned smart.

If great things come from small beginnings, so it is that great laughs can come from small films. And they don't get much smaller than It's a Disaster, which happens entirely in one Los Angeles house, where eight characters are trapped when a civil emergency forces them to stay indoors. The four young couples gather for what is supposed to be a pleasant Sunday brunch, but the party goes awry almost immediately. The conversations turn awkward and the arguments turn heated even before everyone discovers they've lost Internet, cable and -- the horror! -- cell phone service.

Things only get worse from there, as the couples -- who know little about what's going on -- make farcical attempts to deal with the situation. While waiting to see what happens next, they engage in the sort of fatalistic and bizarre are we all gonna die? conversations and behaviors we would expect in what may (or may not) be their final hours.

I won't describe what traps everyone in the house, but not just to avoid spoilers. I'll skip the details mostly because they aren't really important. What matters is that eight people, most of them longtime friends, are forced to confront not only what's happening in the world outside, but also what's happening in their lives, marriages, relationships and friendships. Above all, they must confront their own mortality. It's a Disaster is an apt and perfect title; it applies to disasters civil and personal, possibly global and entirely intimate.

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