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TAMI Flashback: A Man Who Left Town, and One Who Didn't


The Man Who Left Town

This article is the fourth 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.

Austin's population has grown dramatically, increasing almost nonstop for the last century. But while the River City is famous for turning newcomers into lifelong Austinites, not everyone stays here. (This may be hard to believe as we watch development gobble up acre after acre of land.)

This first video in this month's TAMI Flashback is the story of one such Austinite, a young man who moved away for lack of work. The Man Who Left Town, a 1961 episode of KTBC-TV's Project 7 public affairs series, is a classic exercise in chamber of commerce boosterism, lamenting Austin's lack of industry and discussing ways to foster economic growth.

Directed by legendary Austin cameraman and director Gordon Wilkison, The Man Who Left Town introduces us to Wendell Baggett, a native Austinite and freshly minted University of Texas graduate. (I'm guessing at the spelling of Baggett's name; the credits don't list the characters or say whether they're real people.) As the story opens, Baggett and his young family are moving out of the Brackenridge Apartments. They want to stay in Austin, but are leaving because Wendell can't find a job as a chemical engineer, as Austin isn't a hotbed of chemical production or research. (It still isn't, especially after Huntsman Petrochemical shuttered its sprawling Austin facility in 2005.)

Review: The Book Thief


The Book Thief

War is hell, but not in The Book Thief.

This is not to say war is a picnic in the film; the specter of war's ultimate toll is ever present and personified by the narrator, Death. But The Book Thief's absurdly sanitized depiction of World War II barely hints at the horrific realities, and a story that should be gritty and deep is mostly mild and superficial.

The titular book thief in the film (based on a bestselling young adult novel of the same title) is young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse). Her mother, a communist in pre-war Nazi Germany who fears for her family's safety, takes Liesel and her younger brother to live with foster parents Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson) Hubermann. Liesel's brother dies aboard the train en route to meet the Hubermanns; after his trackside burial, the illiterate Liesel steals the gravedigger's manual to remind her of her brother. This is the first of many books she'll take throughout the film as she becomes more literate.

Review: Philomena



Some aspects of Philomena can be the stuff of films that critics loathe: It's a crowd pleaser, the central characters are borderline cinematic clichés, they form an unlikely friendship (I wish there were more films about unlikely animosities), and the story's morality isn't complicated.

But thanks to a smart, funny script, a likeable vibe, direction by the esteemed Stephen Frears and superb performances by Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, Philomena avoids all these potential pitfalls. It's a great movie that may be a hit with audiences for all the right reasons.

Based on the book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the film is based on the true story of the titular Philomena (Dench), an Irish woman who spends nearly 50 years wondering what became of her long-lost son. As a teenager in 1952, she becomes pregnant and, like many "fallen" girls and women in Catholic-dominated Ireland, is sent away to a convent. After she gives birth, the proudly cruel nuns force her to sign away her parental rights to the baby, Anthony, who lives with her at the convent until he's adopted at age three. Knowing nothing about Anthony's adoptive parents, Philomena loses touch with him.

Lone Star Cinema: JFK



Oliver Stone isn't known for subtlety. From the sledgehammered anti-greed message of Wall Street to the relentless nihilistic violence of Natural Born Killers, the director seldom is guilty of understatement.

Stone's most ambitious film, JFK, is no less over-the-top than his other works. Released in 1991, JFK is an orgy of Stone's signature style, a movie saturated (really, oversaturated) with visual and sound effects, artsy segues, and themes repeated too often. It's also one of the most important films made in Texas, a hugely successful and controversial movie by one of the most popular directors of its era.

As its title implies, JFK is about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but it's less about the tragic event than the countless conspiracy theories surrounding it. The film is based on the real-life story of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner), whose suspicions about Kennedy's murder led him to conduct a years-long investigation.

TAMI Flashback: November 22, 1963


Kennedy Assassination Newspaper

This article is the third 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.

President John F. Kennedy's assassination has been exhaustively documented on film; not surprisingly, the TAMI collection includes dozens of assassination-related videos.

Because TAMI is home to so many amazing bits of Texas ephemera, it's also not surprising that one of those bits is a film of Cactus Pryor interviewing J. Frank Dobie about the assassination. Filmed the day before Thanksgiving in 1963, Cactus Pryor Interviews J. Frank Dobie is a rare, fascinating and thoroughly Texan take on the week's tragic events. The two Texas icons -- Pryor was an Austin TV pioneer, Dobie a folklorist, teacher, writer and patron saint of all things Austin -- discuss the assassination and, more importantly, the hateful climate in which it happened.

The interview lasts barely 19 minutes. Dobie rambles at times (at 75, he was in the last year of his life), but he fills many of those minutes with his famed insight and folksy wisdom. He discusses Lee Harvey Oswald's life in some detail; obviously, he had done his homework. He also laments the widespread hatred of Kennedy, along with a more general disrespect of the presidency. Recalling America in his father's time, Dobie tells us that "certainly nowhere in that country was there any hating of the president. The president was respected even though opposed, and it's possible to oppose a president or anybody else without hating him. Hate is modern towards presidents." (Dobie may have had an overly rosy view of presidential history.)

Polari 2013 Dispatch: 'Bwakaw' and 'Vagina Wolf '



The bond between people and their dogs has inspired many movies. Among the best of them is the Filipino import Bwakaw, a gentle and well-crafted film that was a great way to start Polari's final day. Only a handful of people attended the screening, but what else would we expect at 11 am on a stunning fall Sunday? For a film festival, the only thing worse than bad weather is perfect weather.

The Filipino entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2012 Academy Awards, Bwakaw is an insightful and touching story about growing old. The titular Bwakaw is a slightly scraggly pooch who belongs to Rene (Eddie Garcia), a grumpy gay septuagenarian who came out late in life and thinks Bwakaw is the only company he needs in his small Filipino town. The ailing Rene has decided it's too late in life for love or companionship and spends his days waiting for death; he's bequeathed his possessions to his handful of friends, bought a coffin and packed up most of his household.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: 'Uganda' and 'The Most Fun'


Most Fun with Pants On

Saturday was far too beautiful a day to spend in a movie theater. But watching the Polari screening of God Loves Uganda at the Stateside Theater on Saturday afternoon was worth sacrificing a couple of hours of stunning Austin weather.

God Loves Uganda is a terrific, must-see documentary that both enlightens and infuriates. It's relentlessly unpleasant viewing, but this gripping movie casts a much-needed spotlight on one of society's great outrages: American evangelical Christians' quest to spread homophobia in Uganda.

As the growing acceptance of gay marriage demonstrates, evangelicals have long been losing the culture wars in the United States. But decades before gay marriage was legal in any state, fundamentalist Christians already were seeking greener proselytizing pastures in the developing world. Uganda became a prime target for evangelism after Idi Amin's brutal regime ended in 1979, giving American missionaries an opportunity to build churches and schools and recruit new followers.

Polari 2013 Dispatch: Reaching for the Moon


Reaching for the Moon

Downtown Austin is a crowded, parking-challenged place these days, so I gave myself plenty of time to get to the Stateside Theater for a Thursday night screening of Reaching for the Moon at Polari.

But there was no need to arrive so early; it was a slow night downtown, with a sane amount of traffic and plenty of parking near the Stateside. It also was a slow night at the film festival, with no lines and a modest crowd in the theater.

The Reaching for the Moon audience saw a lush, beautiful film based on the true story of the longtime romance between American poet Elizabeth Bishop (Miranda Otto) and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares (Glória Pires). But for all its lavish production values, Reaching for the Moon is a rather lifeless take on what should be an interesting story of a taboo relationship.

TAMI Flashback: Texas in the Civil Rights Era


Civil Rights in Texas

This article is the second 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.

"You're not a Texan unless you're for segregation." –-- Indignant White Citizens Council leader Bobby Joiner

Although Texas cities weren't as newsworthy as Little Rock, Selma or Birmingham, the state was very much a battleground during the civil rights era. This TAMI Flashback article highlights three intriguing videos about the fight for racial equality in Texas. One is a slickly produced film about desegregation in Dallas. The others aren't slick at all; they're collections of raw news footage shot in Austin -- and they're far more powerful statements about race relations in Texas.

Dallas at the Crossroads is a film with noble intentions. In 1961, a federal court ordered Dallas to desegregate its schools. To discourage the violent opposition that happened in other cities, the Dallas Citizens Council produced Dallas at the Crossroads to defuse racial tension and encourage Dallas citizens to accept desegregation peacefully.

Review: Machete Kills


Machete Kills

If I had to pick one bright new talent this year, it would be Carlos Estevez.

As the boozing, gun-worshipping, horndogging President Rathcock in Machete Kills, Estevez delivers a powerhouse performance destined to carry him -- a first-time actor whose face is oddly familiar -- to the heights of stardom.

Oh, wait -- IMDb says Carlos Estevez is, in fact, Charlie Sheen. No wonder I'd seen him before. But whatever his name, his performance is ... well, no. I led you astray, gentle Machete fans. To be honest, his performance isn't all that great. It's not awful, and at times it's entertaining and funny. But it's nothing special.

In other words, Estevez/Sheen's performance is like everything else in Machete Kills -- more meh than memorable.

In Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to Machete, President Rathcock recruits the titular ex-Federale (Danny Trejo) to slip into Mexico to take down crazed revolutionary arms dealer Mendez (Demian Bichir). With help from a fellow agent posing as Miss San Antonio (Amber Heard), Machete crosses the border and finds his quarry quickly -- but only after a rather violent encounter in a Mexican cathouse with wicked madam Desdemona (Sofía Vergara) and a bevy of heavily armed hookers.

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