Don Clinchy's blog

Movies This Week: May 4-11, 2012


Yellow Submarine 

Discriminating filmgoers in Austin will be pleased to find that this week offers plenty of choices, a surprising number of which do not involve Joss Whedon.

The best retro offering of the week is the exquisite, digitally restored Yellow Submarine, playing nightly May 8-13 at various Alamo Drafthouse locations. Based on the seminal Beatles hit, animated in a vibrant oh-so-Sixties style and released when Joss Whedon was only 4, Yellow Submarine (pictured above) is a landmark film that stands the test of time. If you love Sixties pop culture, you'll love this movie. (And if you're too young to remember Sixties pop culture, watch Yellow Submarine and learn. Your life will be so much the better for hearing "Eleanor Rigby.")

In the mood for something trippy but not so psychedelic? On Monday the Austin Film Society and Justine's Brasserie are presenting L'Age d'Or, proto-tripster Luis Buñuel's 1930 follow-up to his masterpiece Un chien andalou (yes, the one with the sliced eyeball -- an image one cannot unsee). L'Age d'Or is every bit as surreal as its predecessor, but with an actual plot about two lovers who rebel against puritanical societal norms.

In the time flies department, it's been 20 years since Quentin Tarantino took "Stuck in the Middle with You" in a whole new direction with the joyously amoral Reservoir Dogs. To mark the anniversary, Bangarang! presents a one-time screening of the cult classic on Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz with Dogs star Michael Madsen in attendance.  Wear a black suit and enjoy the symphony of F-words.

Review: Monsieur Lazhar


 Monsieur Lazhar

Given its stellar competition at this year's Oscars, it's not surprising that Monsieur Lazhar did not take home the award for Best Foreign Language Film. But this quiet, deeply affecting Canadian import is no less deserving of the honor than the winner, Iran's A Separation. Set during a dreary Montreal winter that reflects the movie's tone in so many ways, Monsieur Lazhar is an astute commentary on the art of teaching, an exploration of the cyclical nature of life and a powerful meditation on loss and grief.

The film opens at the start of a typical elementary school day that delivers a shock to everyone: A teacher has hanged herself in a classroom, and two of her students, Alice (Sophie Nélisse) and Simon (Émilien Néron) are deeply disturbed after finding the body. The horrific event casts a pall over the school and leaves the stunned but stoic principal, Mme. Vaillancourt (Danielle Proulx) unable to find a suitable replacement teacher.

Enter Algerian immigrant Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag), who inquires about the teaching job after reading about the suicide in the local newspaper. Vaillancourt is skeptical at first, but Lazhar's personality and credentials convince her to give him a chance. (His major argument for being hired is rather convincing: No one else wants the job.)

Movies This Week: April 20-26, 2012



Astute Austinites should avoid most of the major new releases this week (four words: Zac Efron, Steve Harvey) and stick with the arthouse fare and special screenings.

Among the antidotes to the horrors at your local multiplex is the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema "Seefest Austin: Films of Southeast Europe" series, which continues on Tuesday with a screening of The Way I Spent the End of the World. Set in 1989 Romania before the fall of Nicolae Ceaușescu's Communist dictatorship, this 2006 film follows 7-year-old Lalalilu and his 17-year-old sister Eva, who is charged with a political crime and unjustly sent to a reform school. Vowing revenge, young Lalalilu decides to kill the country's "beloved leader."

The Violet Crown is screening the Dallas-made Wuss on Tuesday, presented by The Show! as part of the Austin Auteurs series. Wuss (pictured above) is the story of a high-school teacher whose students repeatedly beat him up until he fights back with a help from a young girl feared for her family's violent reputation. In her SXSW 2011 review, Jette called Wuss "charmingly disturbing," saying Austin filmmaker Clay Liford "chooses to dig past the obvious, and Wuss becomes a story about a character struggling to deal with a brutal world, when he lacks the necessary thick skin." Liford will attend the screening.

Today's date is 4/20, and those who appreciate the countercultural meaning of 4/20 won't want to miss tonight's screening of Dazed and Confused at Top Notch, where parts of Richard Linklater's classic teen comedy were filmed. Bring your lawn chairs and family (okay, maybe this isn't an ideal family film) and get there plenty early for a good spot in the parking lot. (The film starts at 8:30.) The Notch is offering food specials, and Oat Willie's will be on hand with door prizes. As David Wooderson would say, this event will be all right, all right, all right.

Finally, don't forget that Cine Las Americas starts next Tuesday, April 24, and runs through April 29 with an excellent lineup this year.

Movies This Week: April 13-19, 2012


Blazing Saddles

This week Austin moviegoers can choose from an unusually large number of new releases and special screenings offering everything from horror to slapstick. (Here's an intriguing mashup idea: The Cabin in the Woods and The Three Stooges.)

If the nine new releases simply won't do -- and if so, perhaps you're being a bit too picky -- the Austin Film Society is screening The Trap on Tuesday at the Alamo Lamar. This Serbian drama is the story of a father caught in a moral quandary: To afford life-saving heart surgery for his son, he must commit a terrible crime. The screening is part of the AFS Essential Cinema "Seefest Austin: Films of Southeast Europe" series.

My special screening pick of the week will surprise no one: the Blazing Saddles (pictured above -- and I swear this is the only available photo) Quote-Along on Thursday evening in Republic Park. What's better than Blazing Saddles? Blazing Saddles with beer ... and pie! This Alamo Drafthouse Off-Centered Film Fest event features a wide array of Central Texas craft beers, and the brewers will be on hand to tell you about their tasty beverages. The pies, alas, are not for eating -- but you can throw them at the brewers to raise funds for the Texas Craft Brewers Guild. I cannot imagine a more refined cinematic event. And remember: It's Hedley Lamarr.

Movies We've Seen

Blue Like Jazz -- In this fish-out-of water comedy, a Southern Baptist college student from Texas expands his horizons at a liberal campus in Oregon. J.C. reviewed the film at this year's SXSW festival, saying Blue Like Jazz is "filled with incredibly funny and really heartfelt moments that make it the kind of film anyone can really enjoy." (Gateway, Tinseltown North)

Bully -- I'm less impressed than many critics with this much-hyped documentary about bullying. As I said in my review, "Bully is very effective at generating great sympathy for its subjects; we certainly feel the kids' pain and share the grief of parents whose children were driven to suicide. What the film lacks, however, is any real journalistic depth." (Alamo Lamar, Arbor, Barton Creek)

The Cabin in the Woods -- Despite this horror film's seemingly tired concept (five friends get more than they bargained for while staying at the titular cabin), critics are raving about it. Based on his review, Rod is raving also: "This horror movie has the power to change your worldview of what a horror movie is and should be -- The Cabin in the Woods is a genre game-changer." (wide)

Footnote -- This Israeli import follows a father and son who are rival professors in Talmudic Studies. Debbie is impressed, saying in her review that she "found this film to be rather engaging -- I thoroughly embraced the humor and never felt isolated from the story or its characters." (Arbor, Violet Crown)

Review: Bully



With all the controversy over its MPAA rating, Bully has been more newsworthy than most documentaries. The publicity has been a blessing and a curse -- while it may boost the film's box office, all the hoopla also may raise the audience's expectations beyond what the film delivers.

In some ways, Bully does live up to its promise. The documentary about bullied kids is often powerful and poignant, a heartbreaking look at schoolyard taunting and abuse carried to tragic extremes. But while the movie effectively captures the harried world of bullied children and teens, Bully's narrow focus and shallow take on its subject won't satisfy viewers looking for a more sophisticated perspective on the issue.

While the absurd nature of MPAA ratings can raise any film critic's hackles, I want this review to focus on Bully's cinematic qualities rather than its ratings controversy. That said, the months-long feud between the ratings board and Bully's producers (The Weinstein Company) bears mentioning.

Lone Star Cinema: Roadie



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.

Movies This Week: March 30-April 5, 2012


Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Austin offers the usual eclectic mix of options for filmgoers this week. If the half-dozen new film openings don't interest you, check out the The Reconstruction of Asa Carter, which screens on Wednesday at the Violet Crown Cinema. This documentary tells the story of the notorious white supremacist Carter, who authored the critically acclaimed The Education of Little Tree, a "true story" (actually, a complete fabrication) about a Native American child. The event includes a reception and Q&A with filmmakers Douglas Newman and Laura Browder.

If you're looking for something lighter, try the Algerian comedy Masquerades. The story of an Algerian gardener who dreams of improving his family's fortune by marrying off his narcoleptic sister to a wealthy "real gentleman," Masquerades screens on Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse on Lamar as part of the Austin Film Society's Essential Cinema series "Children of Abraham/Ibrahim 6: Films of the Middle East and Beyond."

If you share my taste in cinematic guilty pleasures, your week will be incomplete if you miss the Alamo Drafthouse's Cinema Club exploitation double feature of Ed Wood's The Violent Years and James Landis's The Sadist at the Alamo Ritz on Sunday. Exploitation film expert Johnny Legend will be on hand to discuss the finer points of the genre.

Movies We've Seen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen -- Lasse Hallström directs this romance set in the Republic of Yemen. J.C. says in his review that "the performances from the main three leads carry the film beautifully ... This is the kind of movie you remember after you watch it, and chances are you'll remember it fondly." (Alamo Slaughter, Arbor, Violet Crown)

The Raid: Redemption -- Based on Rod's review of this much-anticipated Indonesian action film, I suspect he's a fan: "Every year there are films that receive a lot of hype. Sometimes these films live up to the hype and sometimes they disappoint. I recently saw one of these highly hyped films, The Raid: Redemption, and let me say it right now this movie lives up every bit of the hype." (Alamo Lamar, Violet Crown)

SXSW Review: The Taiwan Oyster


The Taiwan Oyster

Part rowdy road movie and part meditation on death, The Taiwan Oyster is an intriguing, lyrical and visually poetic film that explores the meaning of mortality.

Set in Taiwan in 2000, The Taiwan Oyster follows two American expat kindergarten teachers, Simon (Billy Harvey) and Darin (Jeff Palmiotti), who embark on a Taiwanese road trip to find the perfect burial site for a fellow expat. Although they never met their deceased countryman, Jed (Will Mounger), and knew of him only through mutual friends, Simon and Darin feel obligated to give him a proper burial when they learn no one has claimed his body.

Their mission has an inauspicious start when a morgue clerk demands a bribe to release Jed's body, and Simon and Darin make a clumsy attempt to steal the corpse. They succeed with help from disgruntled morgue employee Nikita (Leonora Lim), who abandons her job and joins them on their trip.

SXSW Review: Hunky Dory


Hunky Dory

The nostalgic British import Hunky Dory is a pleasant trip back to the 1970s with a dynamite soundtrack and strong acting that don't quite overcome the film's predictable, slightly syrupy story.

Set in summer 1976 in the Welsh coastal city of Swansea, Hunky Dory unspools the oft-told story of a rebellious, idealistic young teacher who battles her fellow teachers and the school administration to teach in a way that connects with her students. In this case, the teacher is Vivienne (Minnie Driver), a drama teacher determined to put on an unconventional end-of-year school musical -- a space-age rock opera version of Shakespeare's The Tempest.

The school's headmaster (Robert Pugh) is skeptical, as are Vivienne's fellow teachers, who regard their young colleague as a troublemaker for her enthusiasm and openness to new ideas. They're a hidebound lot of matronly schoolmarms and jaded, chain-smoking, painfully sexist men who wish Vivienne would stop trying to show them up with her energy and passion.

SXSW Review: Sunset Strip


Sunset Strip

There are few stretches of American road more familiar than the Sunset Strip, a street famous for its nightlife and infamous for its history. It's a mile and a half of legendary clubs, restaurants, stores and hotels, a boulevard with a name that evokes images both glamorous and debauched.

The documentary Sunset Strip captures the titular street in all its moods and guises, celebrating its colorful legends and explaining its history in fascinating detail. With its endless parade of photos, film clips and A-list celebrity interviews, the film pays loving tribute to a place that has mirrored American popular culture for nearly a century.

The Strip's somewhat lurid reputation dates back to its inception in the 1920s, when its location just outside the Los Angeles city limits -- and thus outside the LAPD's jurisdiction -- fostered a vibrant mix of nightclubs, speakeasies and casinos. Sunset Strip's simple, linear structure begins in this era, taking us back to a time when the road was barely more than a country lane. The Thirties, Forties, and early Fifties were a time of glamour and glitz, which the film documents with plenty of clips from movies of the era and glittering photos of Hollywood elites at the Trocadero and other legendary clubs.

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