Don Clinchy's blog

aGLIFF 2014 Dispatch: Opening Night with 'Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine'

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Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine

Oh, what a difference a year can make, especially for aGLIFF.

The Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival has reclaimed its original name -- retiring its short-lived Polari moniker -- and moved back to its most successful venue, the newly reopened (and debatably improved) Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. And while not all change is good, these changes certainly are; if the crowd at aGLIFF's opening night on Wednesday is any indication, the festival has regained much of its footing after a couple of sparsely attended years.

aGLIFF couldn't have chosen a better opening night film than Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, a powerful and poignant documentary about the titular Wyoming college student who was tortured and murdered in 1998. Shepard's killers admitted killing him because he was gay, and his murder became one of America's most notorious hate crimes.

Review: Frank

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Frank

Few films explore the creative process as insightfully -- and bizarrely -- as Frank.

A strange, genre-defying mix of dark and slapstick comedy, Frank follows Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), a struggling British musician whose life is forever changed when he joins an avant-garde pop band with an unpronounceable name, the Soronprfbs.

As the band spends months recording a new album in a remote cabin in Ireland, Jon discovers his bandmates are enormously talented and predictably oddball. Singer and theremin player Clara (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a snarling terror. Drummer Nana (Carla Azar) says almost nothing (we sense this may be a good thing), and bass player Baraque (François Civil) is a snooty Frenchman who apparently speaks only in insults. But the oddest of the lot is Frank (Michael Fassbender), a charismatic but emotionally disturbed lead singer who, afraid to face the world directly, wears a giant papier-mâché head at all times.

Review: The Trip to Italy

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The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy is easily the most sumptuous movie of this year, taking us to fine restaurants with stunning Italian surroundings as we listen to a soundtrack of classical music.

But like a tasty meal with somewhat stingy portions, The Trip to Italy isn't fully satisfying. Or at least not as satisfying as its predecessor, the hilarious 2010 film The Trip.

The sequel reunites Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and writer/director Michael Winterbottom for another culinary-centered road trip, this one to the Italian locales of Liguria, Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi and Capri. (Like The Trip, The Trip to Italy is a theatrical cut of a three-hour, six-part BBC TV series.) Coogan and Brydon once again play slightly fictionalized versions of themselves as they tour Italy in search of great food, lodging and sightseeing. To give their adventure some literary gravitas, they travel to sites visited by the English romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, who spent time together in Italy starting in 1818.

TAMI Flashback: Happy Birthday, John Henry Faulk

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John Henry Faulk

John Henry Faulk may not be the most famous of famous Austinites -- but he should be. A revered folklorist, storyteller, writer, actor, teacher and civil rights activist, Faulk's ties to Austin run wide and deep.

Born in 1913 in South Austin (his boyhood home is now the elegant Green Pastures restaurant), he spent most of his life in the River City. As a University of Texas student, he was a protégé of the Holy Trinity of Texas letters -- J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedichek. He earned a Master's degree in folklore and taught English at the university until the outbreak of World War II, when he joined the Merchant Marines and then came home to serve as an Army medic at Camp Swift in Bastrop.

After the war, Faulk's storytelling talent landed him a career as a popular radio talk show host and entertainer. He hosted The John Henry Faulk Show at WCBS in New York for six years, appeared on TV many times and served as vice president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). But Faulk's radio and TV career ended abruptly in 1957, a victim of anti-communist hysteria and blacklisting. (Faulk was famously liberal, but no communist.)

Lone Star Cinema: Giant

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Giant

A poster for Giant billed the iconic Texas film as The GIANT of Them All.

The poster hardly exaggerated. Running more than three hours, starring three of Hollywood's biggest stars of the era, spanning more than two decades and set against the vastness of a cattle ranch, Giant seemed as big as Texas itself when it was released in 1956.

To the film's legions of fans and many critics, Giant is still a giant. No other film captures the mythical Texas -- if not the real one -- quite like George Stevens' epic story. Countless films have been made here, but with its swaggering view of life in the Lone Star State, Giant may be the most Texan (again, in the completely mythical sense) of all.

Based on a 1952 novel by prolific novelist and playwright Edna Ferber, Giant is the story of the Benedict family, owners of a 595,000-acre West Texas cattle ranch. The film opens in the early 1920s, when Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Rock Hudson) travels to Maryland to buy a prized stud horse. He meets the horse owner's daughter, socialite Leslie Lynnton (Elizabeth Taylor), and the two marry after a whirlwind romance.

Review: Calvary

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Calvary

The Catholic Church's seemingly endless scandals have been fodder for many great films, from the searing documentary Deliver Us from Evil to the star-studded critical darling Doubt to last year's sleeper indie hit Philomena.

The latest movie to address the church's sex scandals, the Irish drama Calvary, is one of the darkest. Equal parts whodunit (actually, who will do it), character study and meditation on faith, Calvary is a thoughtful film with a cold, grim heart.

Calvary's protagonist, Father James (Brendan Gleeson), is a marked man from the film's opening scene. During a confession, a bitter parishioner vows to kill Father James as retribution for being raped by another priest decades earlier.  The parishioner doesn't accuse Father James of any wrongdoing; in fact, he singles him out for his innocence. "There's no point in killing a bad priest," says the anonymous voice in the confessional booth, "but killing a good one -- that would be a shock."

Review: Boyhood

Boyhood

It took 12 years to make Boyhood. After seeing it, it took me about 12 seconds to declare it one of the best films ever made.

That's right, gentle Slackerwood readers -- one of the best films ever made.

Read on only if you're fond of superlatives, for this review is laden with them. And Boyhood deserves every one -- it is nothing less than a monumental cinematic achievement, a movie that may redefine what is possible in the world of filmmaking. It is stunning and amazing and mesmerizing, and I could go on and on about it -- and will.

Boyhood's story isn't complicated. It follows a boy, Mason (Ellar Coltrane), and his family as he grows from age six to 18. Along the way, Mason experiences the wonders of youth as well as the heartbreaks, while his family tries to remain functional despite its dysfunction. Mason's life story isn't remarkable, but it's wonderfully told and deeply meaningful thanks to writer/director Richard Linklater's terrific script.

TAMI Flashback: The Miss Wool of America Pageant

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Miss Wool of America

This article is the tenth in Slackerwood's second series about the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video library. For an overview of the TAMI site, refer to this article in the first series.

In this month's TAMI Flashback, we travel to San Angelo in the Sixties. The videos may make you happy you didn't live there then.

That is, unless you raised sheep at the time, in which case San Angelo was the place to be. The small West Texas city was known as the Wool Capital of the World -- and as if this weren't exciting enough, it also hosted the Miss Wool of America Pageant!

Held annually from 1952 to 1972 and sponsored by wool industry trade groups, the Miss Wool of America Pageant was a celebration of all things wool. It also celebrated all things sexist, as 20 Miss Wools from around the country paraded around a stage in the latest wool fashions, smiling vacantly and answering dumb questions. They competed for a tiara -- doesn't every girl want one? -- a new car, a scholarship, a new wardrobe (all wool!) and the honor of being the wool industry's not-quite-a-celebrity spokesmodel for a year.

Review: Hellion

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Hellion

Jacob Wilson is a troubled kid. Like many teenagers, he's a rebel without a pause, constantly battling the adults in his life while figuring out who he is. But adolescent battles are far worse for Jacob than for most 13 year olds; his life can be as noisy, chaotic and dangerous as the motocross races he enters for a shot at stardom and a little respect from his family and friends.

Jacob (Josh Wiggins) is at the center of Hellion, Austin filmmaker Kat Candler's gritty new feature based on her 2012 short of the same title. We can't really blame Jacob for being the titular troublemaker. His mother is dead; his alcoholic father, Hollis (Aaron Paul), tries to take care of his sons, but needs to try harder. With his father physically or emotionally absent much of the time, Jacob must look after his little brother, Wes (Deke Garner). He also hangs out with a group of budding delinquents who entertain themselves with criminal mischief around their scruffy working-class neighborhood.

Lone Star Cinema: Nadine

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Nadine

There were high hopes for the Austin-made comedy Nadine when it was released in 1987.

The filmmaker, Robert Benton, had an impressive track record as a screenwriter (Bonnie and Clyde, What's Up, Doc and Superman) and writer/director (The Late Show, Kramer vs. Kramer and Places in the Heart). Nadine also had two white-hot stars (Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger) and a strong supporting cast (Rip Torn, Glenne Headly, Jerry Stiller and a host of other great character actors).

But sadly, Nadine was a flop -- and for the most part, deservedly so.

Nadine is the story of the titular Nadine Hightower (Basinger), a struggling hairstylist in 1954 Austin. Strapped for cash, she poses for some nude "art studies" but now has second thoughts about the photos. When she visits photographer Raymond Escobar (Stiller) to retrieve them, she witnesses his murder. She also mistakenly steals secret plans for a new road -- valuable plans to anyone wanting to buy land along the roadway.

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