Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Lone Star Cinema: Terms of Endearment


Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger in Terms of Endearment

Terms of Endearment really scored at the 1983 Academy Awards, winning Best Picture plus statues for actress Shirley MacLaine, supporting actor Jack Nicholson and director James L. Brooks (in his feature-film debut). Along with the award for direction, Brooks also won for his screenplay, based on the novel by Texas author Larry McMurtry. 

Widow Aurora (MacLaine) is all frills and composure, whereas her only child Emma (Debra Winger) is goofy and nonchalant. Before Emma's marriage soon after high school, Aurora warns her daughter, "You are not special enough to overcome a bad marriage." Which probably isn't the best way to tell your daughter to look more closely at her choices, but there you go. Terms of Endearment covers a span of about 15 or so years in the lives of mother and daughter.

Aurora stays in Houston, where she has gentleman callers (including Danny DeVito with a not-great attempt at an accent) and flirts/argues with the past-his-prime astronaut (Nicholson) next door. The fact that she is aging bothers her no end. Meanwhile, Emma and young hubby Flap (Jeff Daniels) move from Texas to Iowa to Nebraska, wherever Flap can get a quality teaching position at a decent college. Wouldn't you know it, Emma starts doubting Flap's fidelity. Even with two boys and a baby, she heads into her own affair with a small-town bank worker (John Lithgow).

Review: Despicable Me 2


Still from Despicable Me 2

In the 2010 animated comedy Despicable Me, villain Gru (Steve Carell) adopts three girls and learns how to be a father. They become a family, including his cute yellow minions and the elder Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).

But this wasn't enough. Despicable Me 2 has neighborhood moms trying to match Gru up with their friends, a frazzled Gru running a birthday party on his own, and motherless daughter Agnes preparing a monotonal speech for a Mother's Day program at her school. It seems Gru needs a woman and these girls need a mom, because God forbid a man should raise his children alone.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this animated sequel, but along with the abovementioned gendered thinking, the film throws a smidge of racial/ethnic stereotype (plus a tiny dash of misogyny!) into the mix. Gru suspects that the Latino man who owns a shop in the mall is a former baddie, El Macho (which, honestly, is a great villain's name). This imposing figure, Eduardo (Benjamin Bratt), speaks with a thick accent, owns a restaurant called Salsa y Salsa and wears a tattoo of the Mexican flag on his chest. Eduardo asks Gru and his spunky Anti-Villain League partner, Lucy (Kristen Wiig), in the midst of their investigation into a missing serum, to bake treats for his Cinco de Mayo party. After their cover is blown, Gru and the girls attend the party, with little Agnes even wearing a too-big-for-her sombrero and poncho.

Review: The Heat


Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock in The Heat

I probably started falling in love with The Heat as soon as the Seventies-tastic opening credits started rolling. The movie takes a tired genre, the buddy-cop comedy, and flips it on its head by having the buddies be ladies. The script by Katie Dippold provides many belly laughs. The cast is diverse (plus JOEY MCINTIRE is in it!) and Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock have a great chemistry together.

Director Paul Feig's latest film -- after his 2011 hit Bridesmaids -- has stoic FBI agent Ashburn (Bullock) going to Boston to root out a drug kingpin. Ashburn is extremely bright, but so starved for affection that she has to sneak cuddles from a neighbor's cat. In Boston, she strikes up a partnership with cop Mullins (McCarthy), a tough, brassy broad comfortable in her own skin. Of course they butt heads at the start (the film sticks to formula here), but grow closer as they work to solve the case.

The Heat is wonderfully refreshing, especially at this time when female-driven movies are scarce. The main relationship of the movie is obviously between the two women; there's some awkward flirting between Ashburn and her FBI co-worker Levy (Marlon Wayans) while Mullins loves 'em and leaves 'em, but these are barely even side stories. 

That's Genius: Zellner Brothers Pick 'The Plague Dogs'


The Plague DogsBorn from a conversation between Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen and local actor/filmmaker Jonny Mars, a new AFS recurring series starts in July: "That's Genius." In the words of Nilsen, the film series will serve as "a way for film professionals to share works that they [think represent] 'genius' in the world of some film discipline."

Austin filmmakers David and Nathan Zellner -- who directed the features Kid-Thing and Goliath -- have selected the inaugural movie in this series: the 1982 animated movie The Plague Dogs [tickets], which screens on Thursday, July 25 at the Marchesa. The Zellners will host the event, and filmmaker Martin Rosen will attend for a post-screening Q&A.

The Plague Dogs, which Rosen adapted from the novel by Richard Adams, follows two dogs who escape from a lab that has been performing tests on them. As a result of the experiments the lab has been running on animals, the nearby town fears that the dogs may be plague-carriers. The voice cast includes John Hurt, Nigel Hawthorne, James Bolam ... and in minor roles, Judy Geeson and Patrick Stewart. Rosen also directed a 1978 adaptation of Adams' most famous novel, Watership Down.

David Zellner says, "The Plague Dogs is a vastly underrated animated feature that doesn't seem to get the attention it deserves. It's beautiful, haunting and sad, and in spite of it staring two anthropomorphic dogs, has more emotional resonance than most live action films could ever hope to."

'Lola Montès' Joins the AFS Traveling Circus Series in July


Martine Carol in Lola Montès

German filmmaker Max Ophüls directed such acclaimed titles as The Earrings of Madame de... and La Ronde, but his last film, Lola Montès, stands out from the rest.  For one, it's the only Technicolor movie he made, with vibrant colors popping on the screen. Secondly, the flashback technique he chose to use in this film irked his production company so that they altered the cut shown to audiences in 1956. In recent years, a cut much closer to Ophüls' original vision has been restored and released to the public. Finally, Lola Montes has all the best qualities of an Ophüls film -- in CinemaScope.

This fictionalization of the life of historic figure Montes, an Irish dancer/courtesan who enchanted such men as Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I, has a ringmaster (Peter Ustinov, speaking French!) as a sort of narrator, with Ms. Montes (Martine Carol) walking a tightrope and performing death-defying acts under a big top as her tale is told. Ustinov's ringmaster assures the audience onscreen and off that they are being told the "truth" of her life.

Ophüls layers the story both narratively (flashbacks on top of current sequences) and visually, creating a sumptuous spectacle. He plays with our sense of space as characters run up and down floors in an opera house, or turn around on a carousel-type-gizmo on a circus floor. At times the director narrows our focus by blurring out the sides of the screen.

Your chance to see the fantastic Lola Montès in 35mm on the big screen comes in July, when Austin Film Society screens the film as part of its Traveling Circus series.  Except for the Gutman shorts, the movies in this series are showing at AFS at the Marchesa.  Ticket prices range from $8-12, depending on whether or not you are a member of AFS, or would like to donate a little extra toward the AFS at the Marchesa campaign.

Review: Monsters University


The brothers of Oozma Kappa in Monsters University

Pixar's wonderful film Monsters, Inc. introduced us to scare team Sulley (John Goodman) and Mike (Billy Crystal) who discover and unravel an insidious corporate plot after they meet cute human toddler Boo. There, Mike mainly serves as a comic sidekick for Sulley, while coming up with such musical hits as "Put That Thing Back Where it Came From (Or So Help Me)." In Monsters University, which opens this week, we learn how Mike and Sulley first met, but this time Mike gets more of the spotlight.

One-eyed green monster Mike Wazowski has never fit in and desires to stand out. Upon a field trip to Monsters, Inc. as a kid, he decides his goal in life is to be a scarer, and one of the guys on the scare floor recommends attending Monsters University. Fast forward 10 or so years and we see Mike in his first days on campus.  He is studious and book-smart, but is told by the dean of the scare school (Helen Mirren) that he just isn't cut out to scare.

Mike and Sulley, far from being friends yet (more like angry acquaintances), come to be kicked out of the scare program and are both determined to get back in. The two join fraternity Oozma Kappa, a small group of geeky misfits, so they can compete in the Scare Games. There's no big bad here! Just self-doubt and slight antagonism from other characters.

Movies This Week: June 14-20, 2013


 Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in In the Mood for Love

This weekend finishes up the East/West selections of the Paramount summer classic film series, with two fantastic movies for Sunday at Stateside: Wong Kar Wai's heartbreakingly beautiful In the Mood for Love (pictured above) paired with the impeccably sweet romance of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. Come say hi if you spot me at the Monsoon Wedding screening.  

Four Daniel Day-Lewis films show Monday and Tuesday, split between the Paramount and Stateside venues. The Paramount Theatre is actually hosting a blood drive to coincide with the Monday night screening of There Will Be Blood. Check it out!

As part of their "summer free-for-all," Austin Film Society will screen A Hero Never Dies on Friday and Sunday evenings (free, but you should RSVP). Tuesday night continues the AFS Marilyn Monroe series with tense drama Niagara [tickets]. Monroe and Joseph Cotten star as mismatched honeymooners.

"As if!" Girlie Night at the Alamo Ritz Tuesday night features the '90s classic Clueless.  You can quote along with Tai (the late Brittany Murphy) as she calls Cher (Alicia Silverstone) "a virgin who can't drive."  Plus, cutie Paul Rudd!

Review: Midnight's Children


Shahana Goswami and Ronit Roy in Midnight's Children

Midnight's Children is based on a novel by Salman Rushdie, who also narrated, wrote the screenplay and executive produced this film by Deepa Mehta. Canadian director Mehta is known for her emotional elements trilogy (Earth, Fire and Water) depicting the lives of women in her native India. This new film aspires to be epic in scope, and lacks the intimacy and depth of her earlier works.

The movie's title refers to the children who were born at the stroke of midnight on the date of partition in 1947, when Pakistan and India split. Because of their auspicious birthdate, these kids have powers which cannot be understood by others. The story is told by Saleem (played in the last hour by Satya Bhabha, New Girl) -- from the first meeting of his grandparents in 1917 Kashmir through India's 30th anniversary in 1977. 

Lone Star Cinema: Lone Star


Chris Cooper in Lone Star

The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. serves as a continual inspiration to director John Sayles, it seems. Someone asked him about this recurring theme after the Go for Sisters screening at SXSW earlier this year, and it shows up in that film as well as earlier works Hombres Armados (Men with Guns) from 1997 (all right, that movie is only based in Mexico, but still), and the 1996 movie Lone Star.

Lone Star takes place in fictional Frontera (that's Spanish for "border"), Texas. Since it's the late '90s, this is before any border walls were up, and you didn't need a passport to travel between the countries. Which is not to say that there aren't border politics in this film. 

Sayles, as in his later Sunshine State, attempts here to give voice to those whom we don't typically see in film as he portrays issues endemic to our state. For instance, an argument amongst parents in a classroom over how Texas history appears in textbooks still seems sadly relevant in 2013. 

Movies This Week: June 7-13, 2013


Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

As part of their Marilyn Monroe celebration this summer, Austin Film Society will show Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (pictured above) 7 pm Tuesday at Alamo Drafthouse Village. Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell on a boat! In addition, tonight and Sunday AFS hosts Cecil B. DeMille's Cleopatra at the Marchesa (free, but you should RSVP). And In Bed with Ulysses, a documentary about James Joyce and his work Ulysses, plays 7 pm Wednesday at the Marchesa.

The Paramount continues the summer classic film series with a focus on musicals this weekend (Singin' in the Rain and The Sound of Music on Saturday and Sunday). Then it's film noir at both Paramount and Stateside on Tuesday and Wednesday, with Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, Sunset Boulevard and The Maltese Falcon all on the schedule.

For something completely different, the Alamo Kids Club at the Slaughter Lane location is screening The Muppets Take Manhattan this month. Kermit and the group put on a show and the idea for Muppet Babies is born. Kids Club movies are free, but tickets are first come-first serve (and you can't get them online). The various dates and times are on the Alamo website.

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