Don Clinchy's blog

Review: Pariah

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Pariah

In a word, Pariah is authentic.

So authentic, in fact, that I didn't understand some of the dialogue. Pariah's characters, most of them African-American teenagers living in Brooklyn, discuss sex and relationships with a refreshing frankness, if in a vernacular that middle-aged Texan white guys like me can't always decipher. But I easily understood the gist of their conversations from the context; having been a teenager in the late Mesozoic era, I had no trouble relating to the characters' struggles with relationships and sexual identity.

Based on writer/director Dee Rees's 2007 short film of the same title, Pariah follows 17-year-old Alike (pronounced ah-lee-kay and superbly played by Adepero Oduye), a gifted student who is openly lesbian among her friends but hasn't found the courage to come out to her parents, Audrey and Arthur (Kim Wayans and Charles Parnell).

2011 in Review: Don's Top Ten and Other Lists

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Five Time Champion

Here are my top ten and other notable films from last year. To be eligible for my list, a movie had to release in the U.S. in 2011 and screen in Austin in 2011 also. (Some well reviewed 2011 releases have not yet opened in Austin.)

1. Hugo
Martin Scorsese leaves his cinematic comfort zone with this family-friendly film, and the result is spectacular. Set in 1930s Paris, Hugo is the story of an orphan absorbed in a mystery involving his late father. But it's really an unabashed love letter to the magic of movies -- something Scorsese understands as well as anyone. Combining a captivating story, amazing 3D visuals (far more than a gimmick in this film, they're used to great effect) and a deep and abiding love of filmmaking, Hugo is no less than a masterpiece. (Mike's review)

2. Shame
A frank, raw and unnerving look at sexual addiction with a rare NC-17 rating, Shame follows soulless, bitter New Yorker Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) and his depressed and directionless sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) on their downward spirals into emotional hell. Fassbender and Mulligan give the year's most fearlessly provocative performances in what is arguably the year's most fearlessly provocative film, one that lays bare many ugly truths about human relationships with brutal honesty. Looking for the feel-good film of the year? Skip this one. (my review)

TAMI Flashback: The Legends of Austin

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Legends of Austin

This article is the twelfth in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

I'm wrapping up a year of the nostalgic TAMI Flashback series by featuring a doubly nostalgic video. The Legends of Austin -- itself nearly a half-century old -- examines more than 70 years of Austin history that came before it.

Produced in 1962 as part of Austin National Bank's Progress Report Austin series, The Legends of Austin is a sequel to a similar program that aired a year earlier. (Sadly, the original video is not in the TAMI library.) This fascinating program presents an eclectic montage of the city's history, with plenty of old photos and stories about Austin's famous citizens.

Much of the film's content is familiar; we've all seen photos of an unpaved (and hopelessly muddy) Congress Avenue, an equally muddy Sixth Street and various long-gone courthouses, hotels and other buildings. But other images are less common, such as a shiny new Braniff airliner at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport in 1935 and a slightly erroneous sign at 11th Street and Congress Avenue marking the Chisholm Trail. (Austin was on the trail, but no one drove cattle up Congress; the herds crossed the Colorado River near the Montopolis Bridge and below Mt. Bonnell.)

Review: A Dangerous Method

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A Dangerous Method

Given its fascinating subject matter -- the friendship, collaboration and often bitter rivalry between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung -- I had high hopes for A Dangerous Method.

After all, David Cronenberg's elegant period piece has the underpinnings of first-rate Oscar bait. Aside from its sexy true story of love, rivalry and fetishes (based on a well reviewed nonfiction book by clinical psychologist and historian John Kerr), A Dangerous Method also has a first-rate cast: Viggo Mortensen as Freud, Michael Fassbender as Jung and Keira Knightley as Sabina Spielrein, a young woman who was Jung's patient and lover as well as Freud's colleague and confidante.

But in spite of this pedigree, I'm ambivalent about the end result. Despite its sometimes startling sexuality, insights about the human mind, witty dialogue, strong performances (with one exception I'll get into later) and flawless attention to period detail, A Dangerous Method is surprisingly emotionally flat and languidly paced. A movie about sadomasochism and the birth of psychoanalysis should be more gripping than this.

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Move over, Noomi Rapace -- there's a new Lisbeth Salander in town. And she's as kick-ass as ever.

The relatively unknown Rooney Mara has pulled off an unlikely cinematic coup, claiming Rapace's iconic role as her own. As the tough, taut and tortured Salander, Mara all but owns the new English-language version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with her brave and stunning performance. If there is any justice in the movie world, she has hacked, pummeled and snarled her way to an Oscar nomination.

For the rare film fan who hasn't read Stieg Larsson's bestselling Millennium trilogy of crime novels, seen the trilogy of Swedish (but energetic, and therefore not very Swedish) films, or otherwise been exposed to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's plot and characters, I'll summarize the movie as best I can without spoilers. (This isn't easy for such a dense, complicated story with plenty of surprises.)

The story opens as grizzled Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has lost a libel lawsuit over allegations he made against billionaire industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. Soon thereafter, fellow industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), patriarch of a wealthy Swedish family, hires Blomkvist ostensibly to write the Vanger family history, but actually to solve a decades-old mystery: Vanger's great-niece Harriet (Moa Garpendal) disappeared from the family's remote island home more nearly 40 years earlier, and Vanger suspects a family member murdered her. As payment, Vanger promises Blomkvist a substantial salary and evidence against Wennerström that will exonerate Blomkvist.

Review: Shame

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Shame

It's a bit early to make Oscar predictions, but I'll make one anyway: Michael Fassbender will not garner a Best Actor nomination for his role as Brandon Sullivan in Shame.

I make this prediction because although Fassbender arguably deserves to win the award for his gut-punching performance, the Academy simply won't go near a film like Shame, a frank, raw and unnerving look at sexual addiction. Of course, plenty of dark films have found Oscar success, as have actors in cringe-inducing roles. But Shame lays bare so many ugly truths about human relationships that to reward its brutal honesty with Oscar gold would be to admit that yeah, human nature really is this messed up.

No, Fassbender and Shame won't be Oscar darlings -- but no matter, because Shame will be this year's most memorable movie. We'll be talking about it and Brandon Sullivan long after we've forgotten the Oscar winners.

Lone Star Cinema: What's Eating Gilbert Grape

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Gilbert Grape

With the Oscar nomination buzz surrounding Leonardo DiCaprio for his titular performance in J. Edgar, it's a good time to take another look at a Texas-made movie from early in DiCaprio's career, the terrific What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

Released in 1993, director Lasse Hallström's highly praised film follows the Grape family, a close-knit but intriguingly dysfunctional clan living in the fictional Iowa town of Endora (although actually shot in Central Texas). Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) spends much of his time watching over his mentally retarded younger brother, 17-year-old Arnie (DiCaprio, in an Oscar-nominated performance), while his sisters, Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) slave away in the kitchen. Ruling the roost is the siblings' widowed, depressed and morbidly obese mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates), whose girth and mental state have prevented her from leaving the family's rural house for years.

TAMI Flashback: Thunder Over Our Town Austin

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Our Town Austin

This article is the eleventh in a Slackerwood series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library.

It is a pleasant city, clean and quiet, with wide rambling walks and elaborate public gardens and elegant old homes faintly ruined in the shadow of arching poplars. Occasionally through the trees, and always from a point of higher ground, one can see the college tower and the Capitol building. On brilliant mornings the white sandstone of the tower and the Capitol's granite dome are joined for an instant, all pink and cream, catching the first light. -- Billy Lee Brammer, The Gay Place

In The Gay Place, Brammer painted an astonishingly accurate -- if somewhat idealized -- portrait of the idyllic burg that was 1950s Austin, a city of "sweet curving streets and graceful sweeping lawns and the unequivocally happy sound of children always at play."

Many Austinites of the era no doubt shared Brammer's reverence for the River City, just as many of us do today. And few were more smitten than the producers of Our Town Austin, a relentlessly optimistic promotional film touting everything from Barton Springs to Austex Chili. While Our Town Austin's portrait of Austin is far less poetic than Brammer's masterpiece, the film presents the city in a similar light and is no less reverential.

Review: Melancholia

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Melancholia

The most aptly titled film I've seen this year is undoubtedly Melancholia.

Lars von Trier's latest movie is dark, dreary and relentlessly dour, as we would expect from a story about family discord and the end of the world. There is, however, a striking beauty to Melancholia, a film full of memorably surreal imagery.

Melancholia follows the strained relationship of two sisters, newlywed Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and scandalously wealthy Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who has the unenviable task of coordinating a highly overproduced wedding reception for Justine and her husband, Michael (Alexander Skarsgård). The film's first half focuses on what is mostly a party from hell: As if the fancy festivities aren't enough of a logistical challenge, Justine is your basic depression-addled bridezilla, wandering in and out of the party as she wanders in and out of various moods. (At one point, she disappears on a golf cart to commune with nature; at another, she locks herself in a bathroom for a prolonged soak in the tub.)

Review: Jack and Jill

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Jack and Jill

(The following is an open letter to Al Pacino.)

Dear Al,

At this stage in your long and celebrated career, I'm sure you have your pick of great roles. After all, you are one of the finest actors in the history of American cinema. You are widely revered Hollywood royalty, and the world of film is your oyster.

So, in light of your place in the pantheon of cinematic deities, I must ask you why you found it necessary, desirable, or somehow advantageous to star in a "film" (please note the use of quotes to indicate sarcasm) that undoubtedly will hasten the downfall of Western culture.

I am referring, of course, to Adam Sandler's latest assault on all that is good and decent about movies, Jack and Jill.

Before I go on, let's review Sandler's generally miserable track record: one aberrantly high-quality film that was a critical darling and thus a commercial flop (Punch-Drunk Love), a few lowbrow but not quite insultingly stupid comedies (The Wedding Singer comes to mind), and countless exercises in complete unmitigated idiocy (there are so many, but a fine example is I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry; also, refer to my scathing and cathartic review of Grown Ups).

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