Don Clinchy's blog

Lone Star Cinema: The Education of Shelby Knox


The Education of Shelby KnoxAs we watch footage of Lubbock teenagers hanging out in a parking lot at the start of The Education of Shelby Knox, we also see some startling statistics: Lubbock's teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates are among the highest in the nation. One in 14 girls gets pregnant every year, and the teen gonorrhea rates are twice the national average.

Let's hope this situation has improved since The Education of Shelby Knox was released in 2005. But if this intriguing documentary about one girl's fight to bring sex education to her school is any indication, change comes slowly to places like Lubbock.

The movie follows Lubbock high schooler Shelby Knox's somewhat quixotic crusade to replace the Lubbock school district's abstinence-only sex education policy with a comprehensive sex-ed curriculum based on biology rather than ideology. Along with her fellow Lubbock Youth Commission members, Knox launches a well organized and impressively sophisticated campaign. The media-savvy group lobbies Lubbock residents and public officials, hoping to garner enough support to change the archaic policy. Later, Knox also gets involved in a gay student group's campaign for official recognition by the school district.

A study in contradictions, Knox is an ideal documentary subject. An evangelical Christian, she's devout in her faith and unfailingly respectful of conservative clergy. She's taken the True Love Waits pledge of sexual purity until marriage. But she's also progressive in her political and social views, a nascent liberal in Lubbock's sea of extremely conservative Republicans. A straight-A student, she's also a strong-willed teen who isn't shy about speaking truth to power. As self confident as she is, she sometimes can't hide her fears, one of which is that she'll anger her parents.

But Knox's parents -- evangelical Republicans with occasionally moderate views -- are surprisingly (and admirably) supportive of their daughter's crusade. They agree with her stance on sex ed, but are fully aware of the repercussions that await the family as Knox takes on the school board, the church and Lubbock's Bible-thumping citizenry. To their enormous credit, Knox's parents are more concerned about her welfare than their own. Never mind the price they may pay in their business and social circles; what matters most to them are their daughter's happiness and future.

Movies This Week: August 31 - September 6, 2012


The Breakfast Club

This holiday weekend brings eight new releases to Austin theaters, from the erudite and hilarious comedy Sleepwalk with Me to the slightly less erudite and probably not very hilarious horror flick The Possession.

If the new offerings don't grab you (but really, Sleepwalk with Me should grab everyone), the Paramount continues its Summer Classic Film Series with a weekend of modern classics, including E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Dirty Dancing, Pretty in Pink and one of my favorite Eighties films, The Breakfast Club (pictured above). See the Paramount and Stateside calendar for details.

Fans of short films won't want to miss the Texas Filmmakers Showcase on Thursday at the Austin Film Society screening room. Curated by the Houston Film Commission, the 95-minute showcase features seven Texas short films, including works from Austin's own Timothy Edwards, Micah Robert Barber and Carlyn Hudson. This event is a fundraiser for the Texas Filmmakers' Production Fund, so it's a great way to support the Texas independent film industry.

Movies We've Seen

The Ambassador -- In this Danish documentary, journalist Mads Brügger goes undercover as a European ambassador to uncover the African blood diamond trade. Rod has high praise in his review, saying "The Ambassador immerses you in the activities at hand. From start to finish, you feel like a participant in the conversations, an accomplice in the bribes, and one of the people that will take the fall should the lies and deceptions unravel." (Alamo Drafthouse Lake Creek, Slaughter Lane, South Lamar and Village)

Lawless -- Set in Depression-era Virginia, this movie (which opened Wednesday) follows a bootlegging gang threatened by authorities who want a cut of the gang's profits. Rod enjoyed the film, saying in his Comic-Con review that director John Hillcoat "draws out some great performances from his cast, transforming Guy Pearce into a demented sadist, Gary Oldman into an old-school gangster and Jessica Chastain into a bad girl gone good. Banner performances all around." (wide)

Robot & Frank -- In the near future, an ex-jewel thief's son buys his father a robot butler, which he has little use for until he discovers it can help him with a heist. Elizabeth enjoyed the film and praised its cast, saying in her review that "Frank Langella is amazingly earnest in his portrayal of this crotchety and cunning man who grows to care about his caretaker robot. Indeed, practically everyone delivers a winning performance in this movie, even the robot." (Arbor, Violet Crown)

Sleepwalk with Me -- This American Life's Ira Glass co-wrote this terrific comedy starring Mike Birbiglia as a comedian dealing with the stress of a struggling career, a strained relationship and a severe sleepwalking disorder. I'm a huge fan; as I said in my review, "The sharp and erudite Sleepwalk with Me is everything we would expect from a Birbiglia-Glass collaboration, an often bitterly funny movie of great humanity." (Violet Crown)

Review: Sleepwalk with Me


Sleepwalk with Me

If some films are smart, Sleepwalk with Me is NPR smart.

I call comedian Mike Birbiglia's terrific new comedy "NPR smart" for two reasons. First, the film is awash in the sort of sophisticated wit, wry observations and cultural relevance that make National Public Radio a welcome refuge for discerning radio listeners. Sleepwalk with Me has a very NPR-ish sensibility, playing like a mashup of the funniest lines from shows like Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me! and Car Talk (albeit without all the cackling).

The second reason why Sleepwalk with Me is NPR smart is that Birbiglia had the astonishingly good sense to enlist public radio god Ira Glass as a co-writer. (Glass hosts NPR staple This American Life, which co-produced the movie.) Birbiglia, Glass and co-writers Joe Birbiglia and Seth Barrish have delivered one of the funniest and brainiest films of the year.

Based on Mike Birbiglia's off-Broadway show and bestselling book, Sleepwalk with Me is the story of aspiring comic Matt Pandamiglio (Birbiglia), whose life and stand-up career are equally frustrating. "Career" is a generous term; Matt sometimes delivers short comedy routines -- and always bombs -- at the club where he tends bar. His relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Abby (Lauren Ambrose), has reached a critical juncture under pressure from friends and family to get married and start a family.

Review: Cosmopolis



Cosmopolis has confirmed my suspicions that while David Cronenberg's films are interesting, some of them would be far more interesting if they didn't implode under their own heavy-handed dreariness.

I tried to like Cronenberg's latest venture into relentless cinematic oppressiveness, hoping I would enjoy it the way I enjoyed the director's Eastern Promises and Crash, or at least find it as intriguing as A Dangerous Method. But while I'm a fan of dark films, Cosmopolis exceeded even my tolerance for movies that explore the bleaker aspects of human nature.

Based on a Don DeLillo novel, Cosmopolis has a simple premise: 28-year-old billionaire asset manager Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson, sans fangs) takes a limo ride across Manhattan in search of a haircut. While stuck in traffic due to a Presidential visit and violent street protests, Packer's ride turns into something of a nightmare. Protesters attack the limo, and he encounters an odd cast of characters who ruin his world as the day drags into night.

And that's really all there is to Cosmopolis, much of which happens within the ultra-swank confines of Packer's ultra-stretch limo, a none-too-subtle symbol of Wall Street excess.

Movies This Week: August 17-23, 2012


Searching for Sonny

Although it's a late-summer week -- and therefore back-to-school time -- nine new films are opening in Austin. Of course, the back-to-school crowd may have little interest in a documentary about a mysterious singer/songwriter or a Lebanese comedy about religious bigotry. But moviegoers weary of summer schlockbusters have many interesting new choices.

If a Sly Stallone actioner or Sixties girl-group drama aren't your thing -- they certainly aren't mine -- the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series wraps up its SciFi Week with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Planet of the Apes, The Terminator and A Clockwork Orange (one of my sci-fi favorites) this weekend. See the Paramount and Stateside calendar for details.

Not in the mood for a feature-length film? On Monday at Alamo Drafthouse Village, Austin Film Festival presents a collection of audience award-winning shorts from AFF 2010 and 2011. The films range from documentaries to narratives to animation to comedy, and admission is a bargain at $5. (And it's free for the first 30 AFF members.)

If you want to support the Texas film industry -- and really now, who doesn't? -- don't miss the Fort Worth-shot Searching for Sonny (pictured above), screening Tuesday at Violet Crown. The indie comedy/mystery is on tour around Texas this month as part of Texas Independent Film Network's Fall 2012 program. Refer to Mike's article about this event for more information.

Movies We've Seen

The Imposter -- In this acclaimed documentary, a Frenchman convinces a Texas family he is their 16-year-old son who has been missing for three years. Rod found the interviews with imposter Frederic Bourdin especially fascinating, saying in his review that "It does not take long for you to notice Bourdin's charismatic demeanor. Bourdin was as incredulous as you will be, when realizing that people actually fell for his story of kidnapping and abuse." (Arbor, Violet Crown)

The Odd Life of Timothy Green -- In this family film, a childless couple bury a box in their backyard with all their wishes for an infant. Their wishes seemingly come true when a child is born, but he's not all he appears to be. Debbie isn't a fan; among many criticisms in her review, she says "Despite Disney's promotional campaign appealing to family audiences, the underlying themes of infertility, death and loss are a bit much for younger audiences to comprehend. The sentimentality is quite heavy handed as well." (wide)

Searching for Sugar Man -- Mysterious Sevebties musician Rodriguez is the subject of this documentary in which two fans discover the fate of the American singer/songwriter, who was wildly successful in South Africa but found no success in his own country. As Jordan says in her review, "Despite pulling the historical and factual wool over my eyes, Searching for Sugar Man is still an engaging and intimate look at an enigmatic man and the music that keeps him alive." (Arbor, Violet Crown)

Where Do We Go Now? -- I really enjoyed this funny, politically charged film in which Lebanese women resort to various ruses to relieve tensions between the Christian and Muslim men in their village. As I said in my review, "Lebanese writer/director/actress Nadine Labaki has delivered a quirky, tragic and bitterly funny movie -- complete with musical numbers -- that finds humor without lessening the impact of unspeakable horror." (Tinseltown South)

Review: Where Do We Go Now?


Where Do We Go Now?

The long-standing Middle Eastern religious wars are unlikely inspirations for comedy. Bathed in bloodshed and seemingly endless, the strife between religious factions is no laughing matter; it is difficult to make a serious film about the ongoing tragedy, much less a funny one.

So it's to filmmaker Nadine Labaki's great credit that the absurdly comic Where Do We Go Now? (Et maintenant on va où?) works so well. The Lebanese writer/director/actress has delivered a quirky, tragic and bitterly funny movie -- complete with musical numbers -- that finds humor without lessening the impact of unspeakable horror.

Where Do We Go Now? is set in a remote, dusty, crumbling Lebanese village where Christians and Muslims have been battling for what seems like forever; thanks to frequent violence, the town appears to have more dead residents than live ones. In relatively peaceful times, both sides seem to focus on their common interests, such as watching grainy, static-filled TV broadcasts on a village hilltop and hanging out in a café owned by the film's central character, Amale (Labaki). A Christian, Amale has an obvious crush on Rabih (Julian Farhat), a Muslim painter who is renovating the café.

Tensions have been rising lately, with each side blaming the other for acts of vandalism at the village mosque and Christian church. News of armed conflicts elsewhere in Lebanon further inflames the situation, and soon the villagers see their temporary truce evaporating.

Lone Star Cinema: Logan's Run


Logan's Run

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?

Review: Ruby Sparks


Ruby Sparks

I'm all for romance and comedy, but I've never been a fan of romantic comedies. My problem with them lies less in the concept than the execution; most rom-coms are clichéd, formulaic, dumbed-down and totally unrealistic exercises in bad filmmaking. They tell script-by-committee stories wholly detached from the mundane and sometimes harsh realities of real-life dating, with pretty-faced actors portraying characters unlike anyone I know.

So, given that I'm less than smitten with the genre, you may be shocked -- shocked -- to learn that I like Ruby Sparks.

Not totally, mind you, and perhaps somewhat grudgingly. But Ruby Sparks is sufficiently charming, funny, observant and clever that I'll forgive its occasional forays into predictability. It's also about far more than relationships, a rare quality in movies of the romantic persuasion.

Ruby Sparks's story isn't new, but it feels unexpectedly fresh. Successful but lonely novelist Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) creates a female character, the titular Ruby (Zoe Kazan, also the film's screenwriter), who miraculously springs to life. She suddenly appears in his house as an incarnation of the ideal girlfriend of his literary fantasies -- among other things, she's painfully cute and a gourmet cook. While the long-single Calvin knows her only from the pages of a manuscript, she acts as if they've been dating for some time.

Movies This Week: August 3-9, 2012


King Kelly

After July's relative dry spell for worthwhile new releases, the first weekend in August brings a few good reasons to escape the heat in a movie theater. The dark, cynical Killer Joe is required viewing, but if you're looking for something less violently nihilistic, may I suggest the charming Ruby Sparks?

Elsewhere in Austin movieland are some intriguing special screenings. On Saturday and Sunday, Alamo Drafthouse Ritz is screening The Color Wheel, a portrait of two estranged and unmotivated twentysomething siblings, a brother and sister who grow closer and discover themselves while moving the sister's belongings out of her ex-lover's apartment. The Color Wheel -- which features Austin filmmaker Bob Byington in an acting role -- also shows nightly August 6-9 at Alamo South Lamar.

On Sunday night at Yellow Jacket Stadium, Cinema East presents my favorite film of SXSW 2012, King Kelly. (Read my excessively glowing review.) Shot entirely on cameraphones and inexpensive Canon ELPH digital cameras, King Kelly (pictured above) follows the titular Kelly -- who earns a living as a webcam stripper and drug mule -- and her hedonistic friends on a bizarre, sexy, drug-fueled adventure. An unflinching indictment of shallow, narcissistic online youth culture, King Kelly is fierce filmmaking at its best.

If you'd rather not watch Kelly and her friends self destruct on Facebook, the Austin Film Festival recommends Rain in a Dry Land, presented as part of Multicultural Refugee Coalition's Refugee Film Series. Screening Sunday night at the First Presbyterian Church, the film chronicles the lives of Somali-Bantu refugees who confront poverty, racism and culture shock as they resettle to America. And on Monday night, Jette recommends Music Monday at Ritz with the Waco-shot feature Sironia, which played AFF 2011 (review; interview). The movie will be preceded by a live performance from musician Wes Cunningham, who stars in the film, and filmmaker Brandon Dickerson will hold a Q&A after the movie.

Movies We've Seen

Killer Joe -- In this cringe-inducing Texas-set thriller, a deeply in debt man arranges to have his mother murdered to collect her insurance money. In her review, Debbie calls the film "a powerful, emotionally charged, gut-wrenching experience that will keep viewers on the edge," saying Matthew McConaughey plays the titular role "with such ferocity and intent that viewers will truly fear Killer Joe." (Arbor, Violet Crown)

Movies This Week: July 27 - August 2, 2012


Planet Terror

With the possible exceptions of Dark Horse (which may appeal only to Todd Solondz fans) and Klown (which may appeal only to fans of Danish gross-out comedies), it's another great week to seek out alternatives to the new releases.

My first suggestions are shameless, unapologetic repeats from last week: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Moonrise Kingdom, and Bernie. Really, people, your life will be incomplete until you see all three films. Stop reading immediately and go see them now.

If you're in the mood for some outdoor movie fun, the Blue Starlite Drive-In offers an irresistible, zombie-centric double feature on Friday night: Robert Rodriguez's Grindhouse: Planet Terror and George Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Presented as part of the Austin Film Society Summer Series, this event will be fun for the whole ... well, maybe not the whole family, but it's sure to be an enjoyable evening for the undead, their supporters and those who enjoy films about them.

Not a zombie fan? AFS is presenting Juventud (Youth), a film in which I assume all the characters are very much alive. Screening on Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar as part of the AFS Essential Cinema series, Juventud is set in 1958 Mexico and is the story of a young man who dreams of moving to Mexico City to pursue a writing career. Director Jaime Humberto Hermosillo made the film in his hometown of Aguascalientes as the culmination of an academic project, with a predominantly local and nonprofessional cast and crew.

Movies We've Seen

Klown -- In this lowbrow comedy based on a Danish sitcom and distributed by Austin's own Drafthouse Films, a man tries to prove his fatherhood potential to his girlfriend by taking her 12-year-old nephew on a debauched canoe trip. J.C. says in his review that Klown has its faults but still recommends it since the movie "has all the charms of a regular and only mildly vulgar American road-trip comedy ... It may or may not be your brand of comedy, but it's hard to argue that there's something special here." (Alamo Lake Creek, Slaughter Lane, South Lamar and Village)

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