Don Clinchy's blog

Lone Star Cinema: Dancer, Texas Pop. 81


Dancer, Texas

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.

Movies This Week: July 20-26, 2012


Bottle Rocket

If you've been waiting all summer for The Dark Knight Rises, you'll no doubt be elated to hear that it's opening at no less than 23 theaters in the Austin area, on who knows how many screens. (According to my possibly imprecise calculation, Austin fans of the Caped Crusader can choose from 17,438 screenings -- and that's just on Friday night.) In fact, so many theaters are showing The Dark Knight Rises that it's this week's only major movie release.

To which non-Batman fans like me say meh and avoid the megaplexes. Please join me this weekend, cinephiles, at the Alamo, Arbor, Violet Crown or wherever you can catch the stunning Beasts of the Southern Wild or Moonrise Kingdom (arguably Wes Anderson's best film ever) or the hilarious Bernie, still chugging along in theaters three months after its release. Do this to reassure yourself that in quiet little corners of our culture, people still create and appreciate works of cinematic genius.

Another way to avoid the citywide batfrenzy is to leave town. The Alamo Drafthouse Rolling Roadshow is screening Bottle Rocket (shown above) on Saturday night at the Days Inn in Hillsboro, where much of Wes Anderson's quirky debut feature was filmed. To complete your Bottle Rocket experience, you can even stay at the motel after the screening. No guarantee that you'll cross paths with the Wilson brothers or fall in love with a hotel maid, but Rolling Roadshow screenings always are a great time.

Review: Extraterrestrial



If you're in a summer movie frame of mind and looking for an FX-laden sci-fi adventure, a title like Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre), opening Friday for a week-long run in Austin, might seem like an obvious choice.

But it isn't. Despite the movie's title and summer release date, the extraterrestrial elements in this Spanish import from Fantastic Fest regular Nacho Vigalondo serve only as a backdrop for an intriguing, witty and rather minimalist comedy about the relationships between four characters. There is little action and barely a hint of digital effects; although Extraterrestrial is set during an alien invasion, it focuses on a far more interesting story about human nature.

The film opens as a young Spaniard, Julio (Julián Villagrán), awakens after a very successful night of drinking and womanizing. He finds himself in the apartment of Julia (Michelle Jenner), a woman no one would mind picking up in a bar. The two had overindulged to the extent that amid the headachy haze of their hangovers, they can't even remember each other's name -- much less the details of what exactly transpired the night before.

Review: Magic Mike


Magic Mike

Magic Mike is aimed at two mostly divergent groups of filmgoers: Steven Soderbergh fans and people who want to see Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey all but naked (as opposed to all butt naked, I suppose, although I do recall Tatum actually being butt naked in one scene).

Sadly, Soderbergh's feature about the sordid world of male strippers is unlikely to please either camp. Oh, there is plenty of well oiled and tanned beefcake; based on the reactions of the mostly female audience at the screening I attended, those who seek nothing more than male eye candy will like what they see. But a parade of perfect pecs, abs and glutes does not a great movie make, and the eye-candy crowd may find the rest of the film mostly dull. As for Soderbergh fans? They'll likely agree with me that this is far from the talented filmmaker's best work.

The titular Magic Mike (Tatum) is a stripper who dabbles in other business ventures when not doing the bump and grind before legions of tipsy, rowdy women at a Tampa strip club. Mike recruits fellow construction worker Adam (Alex Pettyfer) to earn a few extra bucks doing odd jobs in the club. When a stripper gets too drunk to perform, club owner Dallas (McConaughey) sends 19-year-old Adam -- who's never set foot in a male strip club before, much less danced -- on stage to entertain the ladies, which he does all too well.

Movies This Week: June 29 - July 5, 2012


Ferris Bueller

The Fourth of July holiday week brings plenty of well hyped Hollywood product to your local multiplex, along with Matthew McConaughey's oiled glutes. I'll just stop there and move on to the special screenings.

Missing your high school days? You can't get them back, but you can revisit them via Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Fast Times at Ridgemont High at the Paramount on Thursday. They're perfect summer films; Bueller's antics are legendary, and Slackerwood editor Jette Kernion knows I can't mention Fast Times without also mentioning the watershed moment in film artistry that involves Phoebe Cates and a swimming pool. See the Paramount and Stateside calendar for details.

On a slightly more serious note, the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series continues with a screening of Soy Cuba on Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov's 1964 documentary is known for its astounding cinematography as much as its pro-revolutionary rhetoric.

Your kids no doubt are bored with summer already; help them beat the heat at a free 3D screening of the superb Coraline on Sunday morning at Alamo South Lamar ... or any weekday morning through Thursday. This charming, wondrously animated fantasy about a young girl discovering an alternate version of her life will please any kid (or adult) looking for cinematic adventure.

Movies We've Seen

People Like Us -- In this family drama, a salesman discovers a sister he never knew about, leading both siblings to re-examine what they know about their family. Debbie praised the film in her review, saying People Like Us is "a thoughtful and compelling film that tugs at both the guitar and heart strings." (wide)

Your Sister's Sister -- Emily Blunt and the increasingly (and deservedly) ubiquitous Mark Duplass star in this story in which a young woman invites her friend to stay at her family's remote island cabin after his brother dies. A drunken encounter between him the woman's sister sparks plenty of relationship drama. Mike has lots of great things to say about the film in his review, calling it "a charming, funny and lovely diversion into an unlikely reality." (Arbor, Violet Crown)

Movies This Week: June 22-28, 2012


North by Northwest

There aren't many weeks when new releases feature the end of the world, indie darling Greta Gerwig, an arrow-shooting princess, vampires and Abe Lincoln (the latter two in the same movie), so don't accuse film distributors of offering the same old thing this week. (You are, however, welcome to accuse film distributors of many other things.)

If alternative versions of presidential history or Gerwig's mystifying appeal (don't get me started) aren't your thing, may I suggest a Hitchcock film or two? The Paramount Summer Classic Film Series is screening The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much, North by Northwest (pictured above) and Strangers on a Train this weekend. Check the Paramount and Stateside calendar for details.

In the mood for a foreign film? Check out Vaho (Becloud), a Mexican drama about the lives of three young men and the fate of an orphaned infant rescued from the Mexican desert by a prostitute and her customer. Vaho screens at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar on Tuesday as part of the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series.

Does the name Bob Dorough ring a bell? You may not know his name, but you undoubtedly know his work: Schoolhouse Rock!. This isn't technically a movie event, but the Alamo South Lamar is hosting Dorough -- who wrote and performed many of the legendary educational shorts -- on Saturday afternoon. Dorough (now 88, but you'd never know it from his work schedule) will lead a sing-along guaranteed to bring back a lot of warm, fuzzy memories of Seventies and Eighties Saturday morning TV. I may just borrow a kid or two, so I have an excuse to attend. (All together now: I'm just a bill. Yes, I'm only a bill ...)

Movies We've Seen

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter -- Honest Abe takes on the undead in this horror fantasy, an intriguing tale somehow left out of the history books. As if enough blood isn't shed during the Civil War, our 16th president must also deal with bloodthirsty vampires intent on taking over America. J.C. agrees with many critics in his review: "Despite some really hokey dialogue, and myriad easy-to-point-out problems, I still had a lot of fun with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. It had some great action sequences and managed to weave together an interesting story." (wide)

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World -- In this doomsday comedy, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley star as a lonely man and his neurotic neighbor who embark on a road trip as an asteroid approaches the Earth. (If doomsday meant an end to Hollywood rom-coms, would that be a bad thing?) In his review, Rod calls the film "quirky and charming," saying, "In a summer filled with large tentpole films, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a nice diversion." (wide)

Lone Star Cinema: Fandango


Fandango posterJudy: Then she had her utopian tubes removed.

Gardner: No, that's fallopian, darlin'.

Judy: Fallopian? Them's books of the Bible silly...first and second Fallopians!

These immortal lines from Fandango are probably the film's most quoted dialogue, but they have plenty of hilarious competition. In another famous exchange, one frustrated character says to another, "You are the most irresponsible person I've ever met." The response: "Well, somebody had to be."

Released in 1985, Fandango is something of a cult favorite. Few critics would argue that the Texas-made film is a great movie, but it has enough snappy dialogue, colorful characters and memorable scenes to have earned a loyal fan base and a significant place in Texas film history.

Fandango's plot is summer-movie simple: Essentially, it's a road movie about five newly minted 1971 University of Texas graduates who call themselves the Groovers. Facing the frightening prospects of their post-graduation futures, they embark on a road trip through southwest Texas.

Their next steps in life are daunting. Kenneth Waggener (Sam Robards) is engaged, but announces he has called off his engagement because his student draft deferment has expired, and the Army has wasted no time in drafting him. Gardner Barnes (Kevin Costner) has been drafted also. The fate of ROTC member Phil Hicks (Judd Nelson) is also sealed; like the others, he expects to ship off to Vietnam within a few months. The fate of Lester Griffin (Brian Cesak) is less clear, mainly because he remains passed out through almost the entire film. The fifth Groover is quiet, introspective seminary student Dorman (Chuck Bush), whose future is also unclear; he spends most of the film silently observing the others' rowdy behavior.

Review: That's My Boy


That's My Boy

Modern Hollywood movies are sorely lacking in sociopolitical relevance. In this age of mindless comic book-based action spectaculars and focus-grouped romantic comedies, the American mainstream film industry has all but abandoned features that have anything to say about the human condition.

But do not abandon hope, all ye who enter the multiplex in search of thoughtful, provocative cinema; seek cinematic enlightenment and you shall find it, if all too rarely. You shall find it perhaps where least expected, as I recently did in a movie destined to be remembered as one of the finest films of this or any other year.

I refer, of course, to the cinematic triumph that is Adam Sandler's That's My Boy. This subtle, multilayered masterpiece of social criticism is the rare film that transcends mere excellence. It is, dare I say, important. Like no other film I've seen this year -- including Bobcat Goldthwait's poignant celebration of the human spirit, God Bless America -- That's My Boy holds us spellbound before a mirror that reflects who we are, where we've been and where we're going. It is the necessarily unflattering portrait of American life that Hollywood has left unpainted for far too long. And it is a film worthy of a somewhat scholarly analysis, rather than a brief review.

First and foremost, That's My Boy is a searing indictment of our crumbling educational infrastructure. At first glance, this story of a young teen who fathers his teacher's child in the early 1980s appears entirely prurient and superficial. But if you probe deeper into its significance, much the way young Donny (Justin Weaver) probes the alluring Ms. Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino) in the film's opening sequences, its metaphorical nature becomes readily apparent: Donny and his teacher's extracurricular activities no doubt symbolize the way our underfunded schools are totally screwing our children.

Lone Star Cinema: The Underneath


The Underneath

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.

Movies This Week: May 11-17, 2012


Mommie Dearest

This week offers a curiously blockbuster-free list of new releases, giving film fans a chance to avoid the madding crowds and see less-hyped fare, or maybe even take Mom to an indie movie to celebrate her special day. (She'd probably like that more than flowers.) For example, Richard Linklater's Bernie (my review) expands to include the Arbor and Tinseltown North as well as Violet Crown.

Speaking of Mom, there are few worse maternal role models than Joan Crawford -- and therefore few more appropriate Mother's Day films than Mommie Dearest. As part of the Celluloid Handbag series, the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar is hosting a Mother's Day Mommie Dearest Brunch for you, Mom and anyone else who needs a stern reminder not to use wire hangers. (This being an Alamo event, everyone of course gets a free wire hanger.) Even if your mother drives you crazy sometimes, watching Mommie Dearest will remind you that at least she's not Joan Crawford.

If you missed last week's screening of Luis Buñuel's L'Age d'Or, you actually didn't. (Doesn't that sound suitably surreal?) The screening was rained out and has been rescheduled for Monday, May 14. Refer to last week's Movies This Week or the Austin Film Society site for details.

The Austin Film Society is presenting 2012 ShortCase & Brews, an encore presentation of the AFS Member ShortCase from SXSW 2012 on Thursday, May 17 at Austin Studios. AFS Filmmakers will screen and talk about their short films -- and there will be beer. Co-sponsored by North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery, the event features complimentary craft beers, and local brewers will be on hand to celebrate American Craft Beer Week. Really now, what better week is there to celebrate?

Movies We've Seen

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel -- This British film is a somewhat predictable story of a group of British retirees who move into an Indian hotel that's definitely exotic, if in all the wrong ways. Although Jette considers it a bad habit to call a film a "pleasant surprise," her review calls the film ... a pleasant surprise: "While some of my general predictions about the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel were indeed pretty accurate, the movie still surprised and delighted me." (Alamo Lamar, Arbor, Violet Crown)

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