Don Clinchy's blog

Lone Star Cinema: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

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The Best Little Whorehouse in TexasThe level of camp in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is obvious from the start. Jim Nabors narrates its opening sequence as the amiable Deputy Fred, and he explains the history of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel as we watch an overview of prostitution through the ages. Everything is fabulously, raucously choreographed -- and the choreography and camp never end in this endearingly goofy movie.

The 1982 film is mostly faithful to the hit musical of the same name, which is somewhat less faithful to the real story of the Chicken Ranch and investigative reporter Marvin Zindler's crusade to close it.

Set in the mid '70s, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas is the saga of an iconic brothel in the fictional southeast Texas town of Gilbert. (The real brothel's home was La Grange.) Madam Mona Stangley (Dolly Parton) and her employees go about their business with plenty of support from the townspeople, and Miss Mona is a generous and respected member of the community. Even the law is on the brothel's side; this is not surprising, given Mona's longtime affair with Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd (Burt Reynolds).

All is well until Houston TV reporter Melvin P. Thorpe (Dom DeLuise) decides to do an exposé on the Chicken Ranch as a ratings ploy. Sheriff Dodd tries to intervene by paying Thorpe a friendly visit, but to no avail; as Dodd watches, the self-aggrandizing Thorpe announces on his show that "Texas has a whorehouse in it."

In desperation, the sheriff convinces Mona to shut down the Chicken Ranch until the unwanted attention fades away, hoping to foil Thorpe's plans to catch the working girls at work. Mona agrees, but then keeps the place open for one more night for some of her best customers -- the Texas A&M Aggie football team, seeking their traditional reward for defeating the University of Texas Longhorns. (The Longhorns earn the same reward when they win.)

Thorpe ambushes the Chicken Ranch and catches the Aggies in flagrante delicto, infuriating Sheriff Dodd and creating a scandal that ultimately involves the governor of Texas (Charles Durning).

Does the Chicken Ranch survive? If you know your Texas history, you know the answer; if not, you'll have to watch The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to learn the fate of Miss Mona and her girls.

Review: Parkland

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Parkland

Some stories are just too big to tell in 90 minutes; one of them is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

This is the fundamental problem with Parkland, a well-intentioned attempt to take an intimate look at the Kennedy assassination from an unusual perspective. Parkland sets out to capture the chaos and emotional turmoil of November 22, 1963 and the three days thereafter, focusing on ordinary people -- Parkland Hospital staffers, FBI agents, and so on -- in extraordinary circumstances. But the film misses its target because the target is far too large.

Parkland wastes no time bringing us into the story. The movie opens only an hour or so before Kennedy is shot, and within minutes we're in a chaotic and bloody Parkland emergency room, where young surgical resident Jim Carrico (Zac Efron) frantically tries to save Kennedy. Assisting him is nurse Doris Nelson (Marcia Gay Harden). Carrico's efforts to revive the gravely injured president are futile, of course, but he works on Kennedy until the other attending physicians tell him to stop.

Secret Service Agent Forrest Sorrels (Billy Bob Thornton), who was in the motorcade, tries to stay on top of many rapidly developing events. Sorrels meets with Abraham Zapruder (Paul Giamatti) and convinces the reluctant bystander to turn over his iconic home movie of the assassination to the authorities.

Review: Short Term 12

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Short Term 12

No one who sees Short Term 12 will be surprised that writer/director Destin Cretton spent two years working in a group home for at-risk teens.

A riveting story about such a home, the film feels so authentic and emotionally on target that it's obviously the work of someone with first-hand experience. Short Term 12 is, in a word, real.

And painfully so. Based on Cretton's 2008 short film of the same title, Short Term 12 pulls no punches as it tells the story of Grace (Brie Larson), the twentysomething lead supervisor in a foster-care facility for kids whose worst enemies are their own families. All her charges are in a world of hurt, from Marcus (Keith Stanfield), a quiet but sometimes violent 17-year-old who's about to age out of the system, to Sammy (Alex Calloway), a perpetual flight risk who's more child than teen and who slumps into a deep depression when his therapist has all his dolls taken away.

Grace is dating one of her co-workers, Mason (John Gallagher Jr.). The two have a solid long-term relationship; they also have no trouble separating their personal and professional lives, leaving their relationship at home while helping the kids.

TAMI Flashback: Central Texas Fun in the Sun

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A Boat Is Not a Car

This article inaugurates 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.

After a nearly two-year hiatus, it's great to be back on the Slackerwood TAMI beat. Since our first TAMI series ended in December 2011, TAMI has added a zillion or so new videos to its ever-expanding collection. The site also has undergone a slick redesign with lots of helpful features, including a monthly article highlighting new releases.

I'm kicking off this new series with a trio of 1970s vintage videos about outdoor fun in the Texas Hill Country, a popular destination for Austinites as the 100-degree heat of summer gives way to the crisp and refreshing 90-degree chill of fall.

Produced circa 1972 for the Highland Lakes Tourist Association and the Austin Chamber of Commerce, Ballooning over LBJ Country is a tour of the Highland Lakes, starting 85 miles northwest of Austin at Lake Buchanan and ending at Lake Austin. As a balloon drifts over the lakes and shows us stunning Hill Country landscapes, an earthbound family travels the same route in an RV, visiting Hill Country towns and landmarks.

Lone Star Cinema: A Perfect World

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A Perfect World

A Perfect World is a somewhat forgotten Clint Eastwood film, which is a shame. It may not be quite in league with Eastwood's best work (that's a very tall order), but this unconventional crime film is both a gripping chase movie and a nuanced tale of a relationship between a misunderstood criminal and a young boy.

Eastwood directed and starred in this 1993 drama set in 1963 Texas, in which he plays Texas Ranger Red Garrett, a seasoned lawman in pursuit of prison escapees Butch Haynes (Kevin Costner) and Terry Pugh (Keith Szarabajka). Shortly after their escape, Butch and Terry break into a house and kidnap 9-year-old Phillip Perry (T.J. Lowther), son of a devout Jehovah's Witness mother.

Review: Jobs

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Jobs

If Jobs were an Apple product, it might be called the iFlop.

Maybe that bit of snark is a bit too harsh, for the Steve Jobs biopic seems well intentioned. It plays like a sincere attempt at a mildly artsy, warts-and-all portrait of Jobs. But like Apple's worst missteps (remember the Newton?), Jobs is a clunky and buggy film that may frustrate its audience, especially viewers familiar with Jobs' life and career.

Jobs opens when Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher) is a teenage college dropout auditing classes at Reed College, dabbling in drugs and seeking spiritual enlightenment. The movie spends a lot of time on his early career, when he co-founds Apple in 1976 in his parents' garage with his friend and fellow nerd Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad).

Jobs desperately needs funding for the company and finds a sugar daddy in semi-retired Intel manager Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney), who becomes a longtime Apple board member and figures prominently throughout the film. Jobs then fast-forwards through the growth of Apple, the birth of the Macintosh and Jobs' increasingly rocky relationship with the Apple board of directors, culminating in his ouster from the company in 1985.

Review: The Spectacular Now

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The Spectacular Now

Most movies about teenagers are so unreal, you'd swear the people who make them never were teenagers.

Not so for the charming and bitingly realistic The Spectacular Now, a film that perfectly captures a universal teenage quandary: whether to live in the moment or plan for the future.

As the film opens, the moment -- that is, the now -- is pretty spectacular for the film's protagonist, popular party boy Sutter Keely (Miles Teller). The high-school senior doesn't study much or bother dwelling on life's unpleasantries. He's too busy hanging out at parties, getting it on with his sexy and equally popular girlfriend, Cassidy (Brie Larson), working at his easy job in a clothing store and nurturing his budding alcoholism.

All is well until Cassidy has enough of Sutter's noncommittal attitude and dumps him. But a potential rebound comes quickly: After a late-night bender to numb the pain, he awakens on someone's front lawn and meets nerdy nice girl Aimee Finicky (Shailene Woodley), who helps him find his car while he helps her deliver newspapers. This meet-cute moment is The Spectacular Now's least plausible plot point, but all is forgiven as the film heads for places far darker and more believable.

Lone Star Cinema: Along Came Kinky...Texas Jewboy for Governor

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Along Came Kinky

Why the hell not?
-- Campaign slogan for Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman

Should Kinky Friedman be governor of Texas? There are plenty of reasons why the hell not. There also are plenty of reasons to watch Along Came Kinky ... Texas Jewboy for Governor, a lively 2009 documentary about Friedman's quixotic campaign for the office.

A mystery novelist, satirist and proudly offensive musician by trade (his band, the Texas Jewboys, was famous for songs like "Asshole from El Paso"), Friedman entered the 2006 Texas gubernatorial race with no political experience but plenty of name recognition as a Texas icon. He found himself in an unprecedented four-way race that offered voters and pundits plenty of political Lone Star lunacy.

The campaign was surprisingly fierce and competitive, at least to determine who would be runner-up to incumbent governor Rick Perry. Perry relied on his incumbency and redder-than-red conservative record to remain comfortably ahead in the polls and fly above most of the political fray throughout the race. Meanwhile, Friedman locked horns with mostly unknown Democrat Chris Bell and brash longtime Texas politician Carole Keeton Strayhorn (like Friedman, an independent candidate) in a battle for the voters' attention, if not a realistic bid for victory.

Review: Blackfish

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Blackfish

Like many polemical documentaries, the horrifying Blackfish is a challenge to review. Its subject -- the mistreatment of killer whales who perform at SeaWorld and other water parks -- is emotionally charged, and any critic with a glimmer of sympathy for animals will find it hard to separate the film's message from its cinematic qualities.

Blackfish focuses on Tilikum, an outsized 12,000 lb. killer whale who has been performing at water parks since his capture in 1983. Eager to perform but sometimes dangerously unpredictable, Tilikum has killed three people -- trainer Keltie Byrne at Sealand of the Pacific in 1991, SeaWorld Orlando visitor Daniel Dukes in 1999, and star SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

Tilikum's deadly history is uncommon, but Blackfish argues that his life story is not. Via heartbreaking archival footage and interviews, the film explains that capturing wild killer whales was commonplace for decades and especially cruel: the whale hunters captured only young whales as the distraught adults looked on helplessly. (In the wild, killer whale offspring stay with their mothers for life.)

Movies This Week: July 26 - August 1, 2013

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Four Lions

This week is one of intriguing new releases. As a perpetual Pedro Almodóvar groupie, I can't help saying I'm so excited about I'm So Excited. I'm even more excited about Fruitvale Station; I've never met a gritty, thought-provoking urban drama about poverty and racism I didn't like. The To Do List also has my attention, if only because the hilariously deadpan Aubrey Plaza tops my current list of fantasy friends with benefits.

No less intriguing are the special screenings. At the Marchesa Hall & Theatre, the Austin Film Society presents three movies from Austin's own Drafthouse Films. The terrorism comedy (yes, you read that right) Four Lions (pictured above) screens on Friday, the dark Australian classic Wake in Fright screens on Sunday, and The Act of Killing -- a startlingly imaginative statement against genocide -- screens on Wednesday.

Hitchcock fans, this is your week: the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series offers four nights (Monday through Thursday) of Hitchcockian double features. Among the eight classics are The Man Who Knew Too Much, Rear Window, Dial M for Murder and, of course, Psycho, so every night promises to be a ... wait for it ... good evening. Refer to the Paramount calendar for details.

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