Don Clinchy's blog

Review: I Love You Phillip Morris


I Love You Phillip Morris

The notorious con artist Steven Russell has been both amazingly corrupt and amazingly clever. An expert at fraud and embezzlement, he masterminded many astonishing scams and escaped from prison several times. Known for his high IQ and impersonation skills, he outwitted corporate executives, bank officials, and law enforcement alike, conning his way into high-level jobs as easily as he conned his way out of prison cells.

Given Russell's notoriety and anti-hero fame, as detailed in the book by Houston journalist Steve McVicker, a movie about his life is almost inevitable. His criminal escapades and charming rogue persona are perfect fodder for a cinematic treatment. That film is I Love You Phillip Morris, a tragicomic romp written and directed by Bad Santa writers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra. While entertaining, the movie isn't quite as smart or clever as its subject.

Opening on Friday in Austin, I Love You Phillip Morris is really two stories: one chronicling Russell's life of deception and the other exploring his relationship with the titular Morris, a lover whom Russell met in a Texas jail. (The title may be misleading, as the film has no connection to the tobacco company with the same name.) I Love You Phillip Morris is ambitious in scope, equal parts true-crime caper film, love story and commentary about homophobia.

TAMI Flashback: 'To Market, To Market' and 'Summer Fun'


To Market, To Market

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

In the late 1960s, Austin was rapidly outgrowing its sleepy small-city persona. Although the population was one-third its current size (there were 251,000 residents in 1970), Austin saw some fundamental changes that shaped the city we know today, including the birth of the high-tech industry.

As the population grew, Austin's surprisingly small media market became ever larger and more competitive. Today's Austinites may find it hard to believe that until 1965, Austin had only one commercial TV station, KTBC-TV (owned by Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson), which carried programming from CBS, ABC and NBC (and the largely forgotten DuMont network until its demise in 1956). KHFI-TV (now KXAN-TV) signed on in 1965 and carried NBC programming starting in 1966, and KVUE-TV signed on in 1971, carrying ABC programming.

All of which brings us to the first Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI) video I'm highlighting in this article, To Market, To Market, in Austin, Texas. Produced circa 1969, this short promotional film is an overview of programming on the KTBC network's TV and radio stations. The film was intended to sell advertising time; I'm not sure how effective it was in wooing advertisers in its day, but today it's yet another intriguing peek at life in mid-century Austin.

DVD Review: Restrepo


RestrepoNow in its tenth year, the war in Afghanistan has gotten far less attention than its counterpart in Iraq. This is true in the film industry as well as the news media; while the Iraq war has been chronicled in many narrative and documentary films from The Hurt Locker to No End in Sight, there have been far fewer films about Afghanistan.

Fortunately, there are outstanding documentaries like Restrepo to remind us all that while U.S. combat operations in Iraq may have officially ended, the war in Afghanistan drags on. And like all wars, it's a brutal and bloody hell.

Now available on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD, Restrepo follows a platoon of young soldiers as they fight for control of Afghanistan's Korengal Valley, considered one of the U.S. military's most dangerous posts. Directors Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington spent a year dug in with the members of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company, 173rd Airborne, recording every aspect of life in their primitive hilltop encampment, Outpost Restrepo. (The outpost is so named in honor of Pvt. Juan "Doc" Restrepo, a platoon member killed in combat.) Via combat footage, scenes of outpost life, and candid interviews with the soldiers, Restrepo presents a gripping and often heartbreaking glimpse at the reality of modern war.

The platoon's mission is hazily defined at best: Take control of the valley (what "control" means isn't quite clear) by exchanging fire with a Taliban outpost on a nearby hill and patrolling the area to root out Taliban supporters. The patrols are often nail-biting, frustrating affairs; the Taliban wear no uniforms, so it's almost impossible to tell who the enemy is.

When 2nd Platoon isn't exchanging fire or on patrol, the soldiers' world is surprisingly mundane. They spend much of their time dealing with the difficult logistics of their harshly rustic home, where they live in plywood shelters, have no running water, and must burn their waste. The order of the day usually combines backbreaking labor with endless boredom. When not hauling supplies or maintaining their crudely built outpost, the soldiers entertain themselves with the most juvenile of horseplay and antics, wrestling each other and engaging in amusingly profane, boys-will-be-boys trash talk.

DVD Review: The Sicilian Girl


The Sicilian Girl DVDWhile organized crime has been a longtime curse on society, it's been a longtime blessing for filmmakers. With their inherent bloodiness and intrigue, stories about criminal organizations are tailor-made for big-screen treatments (and, as The Sopranos attests, first-rate small-screen treatments). If the stories are true, so much the better; a typical Mafia-related tale of violence, shifting familial loyalties and vengeance is all the more gripping if it's based on true events.

The Sicilian Girl (now available on DVD) is such a movie, based on the true story of Rita Atria, a Sicilian teenager who dared to break the code of silence about her family's Mafia ties. But its predictable story, weak character development and penchant for dour melodrama make it far less gripping than it could have been.

Atria (called Rita Mancuso in the film, and played by Veronica D'Agostino) was born into a Mafia family in the Sicilian town of Partanna in 1974. As a young girl, she idolized her father, Vito (Michele in the film, played by Marcello Mazzarella), and was devastated at age 11 when a rival Mafia family murdered him. Six years later, her brother, Nicola (Carmelo in the film, played by Carmelo Galati), also was murdered, most likely because he knew the identity of his father's killer and had vowed to avenge his father's death.

Because her brother was a Mafioso also, Rita was privy to a lot of detailed information about the Mafia in her hometown. Distraught over his murder, she committed a stunning act of bravery, especially for a 17-year-old: She told all she knew to Paolo Borsellino, a magistrate with whom she bonded with as a father figure. She described the murderous Partanna Mafia wars and named her father and brother's killers, along with the heads of many powerful Mafia families.

Review: 127 Hours


127 Hours

In a very telling scene early in 127 Hours, Aron Ralston (James Franco) is biking at breakneck speed through the Utah desert when he takes a nasty tumble and slams into a spindly, scratchy bush. Unfazed and eternally cocky, he shakes off his pain and is back on his bike almost as quickly as he fell, as if to prove he's more than a match for any trouble that comes his way in the wilderness.

Of course, anyone familiar with the true story that inspired 127 Hours knows that this cockiness nearly led to Ralston's untimely demise. Another reckless, nasty fall left him stuck for five days in a deep crevasse with his arm pinned by a boulder. Unable to call for help, he had to rely on his wits and a handful of mountaineering equipment for survival. Because Ralston's story garnered so much publicity, it isn't really a spoiler to reveal that he ultimately freed himself. But the specifics of how he did so are central to 127 Hours, so I won't go into much further detail, except to warn the squeamish that some scenes are, well, not for the squeamish.

The narrowly focused 127 Hours is a definite departure for director Danny Boyle, who is known for revered ensemble pieces like Trainspotting and whose most recent success was the complex and sweeping Slumdog Millionaire. Early in 127 Hours, Ralston helps two lost hikers -- of course, they're conveniently attractive young women -- find their way, and they join him for a few hours of flirting and swimming in a hidden, crystal-clear pool. But the rest of the film is essentially a one-character story that, aside from flashbacks and dream sequences, takes place almost entirely in the claustrophobic crevasse where Ralston contemplates his fate.

Texas Archive of the Moving Image Flashback: 'Target Austin'


Target Austin: The Paramount

Looking for a reason to fall in love with the Internet all over again? If you're a fan of Texas history and culture like I am, you need look no further than the Texas Archive of the Moving Image (TAMI).

Created by an Austin nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving Texas film heritage, the site is an amazing library of home movies, industrial and educational films, documentaries, local TV programs, news stories and commercials, and all manner of Texas-related video ephemera. If you're looking for slickly produced, Hollywood-style takes on Texas, you probably won't find them on the TAMI site. But if you're looking for 1960s Austin National Bank commercials, an early 1970s Texas Education Agency film titled The New American Schoolhouse, a family's home movies of their trips around Austin and Central Texas in the 1950s, or footage of Harry Truman's 1948 visit to El Paso, TAMI is the site for you.

The beauty of the site is that so much of its content was completely ordinary in its day, but is now extraordinary. Many of the films and videos weren't meant to stand the test of time; they were purely utilitarian productions designed for short-term use, to entertain, entice or instruct their audience and then be discarded or relegated to a musty storage closet. But their creators unwittingly captured glimpses of real, everyday life that are now unexpectedly interesting, warmly nostalgic and of great historical value. And thanks to TAMI, these long-lost films and videos are seeing the light of day again. Again, TAMI is another reason to love the Internet.

Review: Welcome to the Rileys


Welcome to the Rileys

I have some friendly career advice for Kristen Stewart: Kristen, it's time to invest the fortune you made from the Twilight movies (for investment advice, consult a financial advisor -- not a film critic) and refuse all future roles in Hollywood schlockbusters, especially those marketed to tweenage girls. You're rich. You're famous. So, now you can prove your acting bona fides in grown-up films like Welcome to the Rileys.

Seriously, Kristen. I know Twilight's Edward Cullen is all sensitive and romantic and whatnot. But when you can so convincingly inhabit the role of a bitter teenage runaway turning tricks in a dank New Orleans strip club, you really don't need ol' Eddie Wussyfangs anymore. You have the acting chops to do much more, and it's time to move on.

Welcome to the Rileys is the leisurely, low-key story of the titular and terribly sad Riley family. Doug Riley (James Gandolfini) is an Indianapolis plumbing supply business owner who, along with his wife, Lois (Melissa Leo), lives a half-empty life since the couple's daughter was killed eight years earlier. The only spark in Doug's life is his ongoing affair with a waitress. When the affair ends tragically, Doug is left with little more than his crumbling marriage and soulless job. Lois has her own set of seemingly intractable problems; withdrawn and fearful since her daughter's death, she rarely ventures beyond her front door. Even walking to the mailbox is more than she can bear.

AFF 2010 Review: The Spirit Molecule


The Spirit Molecule

One of the best things about attending film festivals is that while seeing a lot of interesting films, you also learn a lot of interesting things. For example, thanks to the intriguing documentary The Spirit Molecule, I now know that dimethyltryptamine is one hell of a great drug.

Better known as DMT, dimethyltryptamine is the subject of Austin filmmaker Mitch Schultz's über-trippy examination of a drug found in nearly every living organism and considered the world's most powerful psychedelic. Combining stunningly psychedelic animation with thoughtful interviews, The Spirit Molecule is a paean to psychedelic drug use that also asks a lot of questions about the nature of human consciousness.

AFF 2010 Review: Shelter in Place


Shelter in Place

The long-suffering city of Port Arthur, Texas has a love-hate relationship with the oil industry. Without the industry's refinery jobs, Port Arthur probably would cease to exist, and its residents would be hard pressed to find other employment in a regional economy based almost entirely on petrochemicals. But Port Arthur residents also pay a high price for their reliance on oil, because the industry that sustains them also poisons many of them.

Shelter in Place is a poignant and often enraging look at Port Arthur's poorest residents, who see few benefits from the oil-based economy while suffering almost all of its consequences. The 48-minute-long documentary by British filmmaker Zed Nelson, which screened at Austin Film Festival in partnership with The Texas Observer, is the sort of angrily effective agit-prop film that every anti-regulatory, free-enterprise preaching Texas politician should see, but surely won't.

The film focuses on the hapless inhabitants of Carver Terrace, a decaying Port Arthur neighborhood surrounded by refineries. Carver Terrace often experiences "upsets," an industry term for the release of toxic chemicals such as benzene into the air to relieve pressure in refinery pipes and avoid potential disasters. Upsets can last for many hours and contribute heavily to air pollution, but despite their alarming frequency (there were 13,000 upsets in Texas in 2007 alone), they're perfectly legal in Texas as long as the refineries report them to state environmental regulators.

Review: It's Kind of a Funny Story


It's Kind of a Funny Story

It's Kind of a Funny Story is not quite aptly titled, as the title doesn't give the movie enough credit for its humor or pathos. It's a Very Funny Story, Except When It's Tragic might be more accurate.

This quirky and endearing film is part dark comedy, part teen romance and part biting social commentary, and it's one of the most entertaining films I've seen this year. Even Zack Galifianakis -- hold on to your popcorn! -- gives a fine, unexpectedly understated performance.

Based on a novel by Ned Vizzini, It's Kind of a Funny Story is the tale of smart but insecure 16-year-old Craig (Kier Gilchrist), who suffers from the usual pressures of teenage life. Aside from trying to find his place in the world, he has an unrequited crush on a good friend's girlfriend, Nia (Zoë Kravitz), and his parents are pressuring him to apply for a prestigious academic program. Stressed beyond his coping skills, Craig checks himself into Argenon Hospital, a Brooklyn psychiatric facility.

Syndicate content