Don Clinchy's blog

Review: Jersey Boys

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Jersey Boys

Directing Jersey Boys is an interesting career choice for Clint Eastwood. Did he make the right choice?

Fans of the stage musical Jersey Boys may think so; at its heart, the film is true to the smashingly successful stage version. It's also a safe bet that fans of the Four Seasons (Google them, millennials) will like the movie, which features many of the group's hits.

But fans of the exalted filmmaker's best work may be disappointed. Of course Jersey Boys isn't meant to be another Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby or Gran Torino -- but even by the lightweight standards of crowd-pleasing musicals, Jersey Boys feels a bit empty.

A biography of the Four Seasons, Jersey Boys opens in mid-Fifties New Jersey, where teenage lead singer Frankie Valli (John Lloyd Young) and lead guitarist Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza), perform in New Jersey clubs with an early incarnation of the group, the Four Lovers. Among their fans is neighborhood gangster Gyp DeCarlo (Christopher Walken), who isn't a great role model for young Valli and but helps him escape a close call.

TAMI Flashback: The Roy Faires Collection

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Roy Faires

This article is the ninth 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.

Today's Austinites may not be familiar with Roy Faires. But in the Seventies and Eighties, he was a fixture of local TV news and a household name in the River City.

The University of Texas graduate worked at Austin's PBS affiliate, KLRU-TV, from 1971 to 1976 as a news anchor, reporter and producer, and hosted the Who Knows the Answer? weekly quiz show for high-school students.

Faires then joined Austin's ABC affiliate, KVUE-TV, where he wore many hats and won many awards. In his 13 years at the station (1976-1989), he was a news reporter, anchor, director, editor and producer, as well as an entertainment reporter and film critic for the Good Morning Austin morning show. He also worked on the weekly Crime Stoppers segments, which helped solve local crimes, and Wednesday's Child segments, which helped find adoptive parents for children in foster care.

Review: Cold in July

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Cold in July

Joe R. Lansdale is such a prolific and successful author, it's surprising we don't see more of his work on the big screen.

A native Texan, Lansdale has published more than 30 mysteries and crime novels set mostly in the Lone Star State, as well as novellas, comic books, graphic novels and many short stories. But only a few of his works have been adapted for film or TV; the 2002 cult film Bubba Ho-Tep is based on a Lansdale novella, and a handful of his short stories have inspired short films. He's also written a few screenplays.

But if the gripping new thriller Cold in July is the success it deserves to be, we may see a lot more movies based on Lansdale's books and stories. Adapted from Lansdale's novel of the same title, Cold in July is a solid bit of Texas noir, a taught and satisfying crime film that delivers in most ways.

Set in East Texas in 1989, Cold in July opens as small-town frame shop owner Richard Dane (Michael C. Hall) finds an intruder in his home and shoots the man, Freddy Russell (Wyatt Russell), to death. When the police assure Dane that his actions were in self defense and no charges will be filed, he and his wife, Ann (Vinessa Shaw) assume that's the end of the matter.

Review: Blended

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Blended

The following is an open letter to the Hooters restaurant chain.

Dear Hooters:

So, what's with your numerous product placements in the new Adam Sandler film, Blended?

When you agreed to have the film's opening scene set in one of your restaurants -- and even allowed a monkey to be dressed as a Hooters waitress -- had you not gotten the memo that Blended isn't like Sandler's recent movies? Maybe you were expecting Blended to be the latest installment in Sandler's series of exceedingly raunchy and breathtakingly idiotic comedies. I expected it also, assuming that Blended would carry on the maturity-deficient tradition of Grown Ups, Jack and Jill, That's My Boy and the criminally unnecessary Grown Ups 2. Had this been the case, Hooters and Blended would have been a perfect marketing match, because Hooters and its fellow breastaurant chains are criminally unnecessary also. (Just kidding! Hooters may be the number one reason why America is the world's greatest country. You don't see breastaurants in Denmark!)

But apparently Sandler has pulled a fast one on us. Instead of an exceedingly raunchy and breathtakingly idiotic gross-out comedy, his new film is a tepidly raunchy and boringly dumb family comedy. If I hadn't seen Blended for free, I'd ask for my money back. And so should you, Hooters, for you and your waitresses do not belong in this movie. (The film's other major corporate sponsor, the uncontroversial Dick's Sporting Goods, is a much better fit.)

TAMI Flashback: The Mary Kay Way

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The Mary Kay Way

This article is the eighth 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.

"They say Mary Kay does not play favorites. That's not true. They do. We're all favorites!"
-– Fictional Mary Kay Cosmetics beauty consultant Susan Anderson

It's tempting to mock the subject of this month's TAMI Flashback videos, Mary Kay Cosmetics. After all, Mary Kay epitomizes the beauty-industrial complex, which is built on the absurd and often cruel practice of telling women they aren't attractive unless they conform to conventional standards of beauty.

But this article is not about the way our culture treats women; it's about TAMI videos. So I'll refrain from mocking the Dallas-based cosmetics giant (it will be a challenge) and focus on three of its corporate films from the late Seventies and early Eighties.

Lone Star Cinema: An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story

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An Unreal Dream

If you spent nearly 25 years in prison for a crime you didn't commit, would you be bitter?

Michael Morton isn't. Which is surprising, given that he was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife, spent almost 25 years behind bars and would remain there today if not for the tenacious attorneys who won his release.

Morton's frightening ordeal is the subject of An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, a moving 2013 documentary  released on DVD April 1. More than just a recounting of Morton's astonishing and infuriating story, the film is a meditation on faith and redemption.

The film's title is based on a quote from United States Justice Learned Hand: "Our procedure has been always haunted by the ghost of the innocent man convicted. It is an unreal dream." But "an unreal dream" is too tepid a description of Morton's suffering; his story is in every way a nightmare.

TAMI Flashback: Everything Isn't Normal in These Workplace Videos

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Everything Looks So Normal!

This article is the seventh 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.

"Mary doesn't look like a pusher, and surely doesn't think of herself as one."
-- Narration from the workplace drug use training film Everything Looks So Normal!

Ah, but Mary most certainly is a pusher. She and her co-worker Sue, both hooked on tranquilizers, are among the drug-addled employees of an unnamed corporation in Everything Looks So Normal!, a video long overdue for a TAMI Flashback skewering. Drug abuse in the workplace (or anywhere else) is a serious matter, but cheesily dramatic corporate training films like Everything Looks So Normal! make it hard to take all the toking, snorting and pill popping very seriously.

Made in Houston in 1983, the video centers on two managers at a company that manufactures and sells, well, something. When the bosses notice declines in productivity, one suspects drug abuse. The other dismisses his suspicion; after all, everything looks so normal! The employees don't look like drug users!

SXSW Review: Cesar Chavez

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Cesar Chavez

Sí, se puede.

A wildly enthusiastic crowd chanted this Spanish slogan, meaning "Yes, it can be done" or "Yes, you can," after the SXSW screening of Cesar Chavez at the Paramount Theatre. In a testament to the film's inspirational power, the post-screening Q&A wasn't a Q&A at all -- it was a rally led by longtime labor activist Dolores Huerta, several cast members and Chavez's youngest son, Paul.

It's not surprising that Cesar Chavez inspired the impromptu celebration of Chavez's legacy. The film is heartfelt and deeply moving, a great tribute to Chavez and the movement he led.

Diego Luna's biopic of the exalted labor leader is tightly focused, following Chavez (Michael Peña) and his family from their move to Delano, California in 1962, the year Chavez co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later called the United Farm Workers), until the end of the union's successful grape boycott in the early 1970s. Cesar Chavez centers on Chavez and his wife, Helen (America Ferrera), as they struggle to raise eight children while fighting for farm workers' rights. But the movie is as much about the movement as it is about the man.

SXSW Review: Above All Else

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Above All Else

East Texas isn't exactly a hotbed of political activism -- at least not the kind of activism that makes the world a better place.

The heavily wooded, mostly rural region of Texas is one of the reddest parts of a mostly red state, a place firmly rooted in Southern cultural tradition, deeply conservative religious fervor, economic libertarianism and anachronistic good ol' boy politics. It's the last place you'd expect a bunch of hippies to pick a fight with a giant corporation.

But a bunch of hippies did. Their battle is the subject of Above All Else, filmmaker John Fiege's engaging and enraging documentary about a group of activists and landowners determined to stop construction of the reviled Keystone XL oil pipeline on their land.

The pipeline is slated to carry tar sands oil -- a particularly dirty, viscous, gritty kind of petroleum -- from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. Pipeline proponents claim it will increase North American energy independence and create jobs; opponents claim it's potentially dangerous and will kill more jobs than it creates. They also oppose the continued burning of fossil fuels, which exacerbates global warming.

Review: The Grand Budapest Hotel

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

I wish I could say that on the heels of his masterful Moonrise Kingdom, Wes Anderson has outdone himself with The Grand Budapest Hotel. But he hasn't. The Grand Budapest Hotel is not a bad movie. It's just not a great Wes Anderson movie.

Set in a fictional European country just before World War II, The Grand Budapest Hotel is the story of Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), a prim and elegant concierge at an equally prim and elegant luxury hotel, and his faithful friend Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), a lobby boy who tells the story many years later in flashback. (F. Murray Abraham plays the elderly Zero.)

When Gustave isn't busy catering to the hotel clientele and barking orders at his staff, he finds the time to seduce as many female hotel guests as possible, including the dowager Madame D. (Tilda Swinton). Their liaison spans years; when Madame D. dies, she leaves Gustave a priceless Renaissance painting.

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