Elizabeth Stoddard's blog

Lone Star Cinema: Hope Floats


Sandra Bullock and Mae Whitman in Hope Floats

I originally saw Hope Floats in the theatre the weekend after I had my wisdom teeth removed. I loved the film, and even bought myself the soundtrack on cassette tape. As the pain medication I was taking wore off, I wondered if the movie was quite as lovable a film to watch when completely lucid. So, over ten years later, I re-watched the movie (to write up for this site).

Sandra Bullock stars as housewife Birdee, whose heart is broken on national television when her best pal confesses the long-term affair she's been having with Birdee's hubby. So Birdee and her forlorn child Bernice (Mae Whitman) pack up their Ford Taurus station wagon and head to her Texas hometown, where Birdee's mom Ramona (Gena Rowlands) still lives. The three females learn about each other, and Ramona practically forces her newly-separated daughter into a new relationship.

Josh Frank and the Future of the Blue Starlite Drive-In


Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In

Last week we heard rumors that the Blue Starlite Mini Urban Drive-In Theatre might be relocating in the next couple months, so I asked the mind behind the Blue Starlite, Josh Frank, for confirmation. Following is our email Q&A about plans for the future of the Blue Starlite, as well as the ideal next spot for this urban drive-in.

Slackerwood: Is it true that the lot where you are currently located has been sold (with a requirement that you vacate in two months)? If so, what are your thoughts on leaving that spot?

Josh Frank: Ok, so, yes it's true. ESDI at 1001 E. 6th with our Blue Starlite and the food trailer court is closing at the end of May. We are bummed as it was a perfect spot for this "version" of our drive-in. People liked it and it was a great set up for the Urban Drive-in, both visually and operationally.

We always knew it would eventually happen, but the owner is a really cool guy who loves film and believes in the Austin spirit and the fact that supporting small businesses will eventually lead to making a lot of money on condos and that neither are mutually exclusive. So we were very lucky to find this situation. We always knew that it was an in-between place for us as we looked for the perfect place to find permanence.

Review: Undefeated


Coach Bill Courtney and player O.C. Brown in Undefeated

"If you will allow it, football will save your life," a troubled student athlete is told in Undefeated. This could be the motto of this documentary depicting the impact of the sport on the lives of four Tennessee residents. A deeply moving look at the 2009 season of Manassas High's football team -- which screened at SXSW 2011 -- the film won the Best Documentary Oscar in February and is back on Austin screens this week.

Situated in blighted North Memphis, Manassas High has served as a sort of punching bag for other teams; it's the kind of team that gets bused in for richer schools to beat. Bill Courtney, an area businessman and volunteer head coach, is in his sixth year of leading the guys. He is determined for the team to make the playoffs, since Manassas has never done so. "This is our season," he states optimistically. "I don't care what happens."

Courtney spends hours of his free time forming the team, coaching the kids and mentoring them. He develops strong relationships with the boys on his team. I initially worried the doc would portray Courtney as a type of "white savior" (see The Blind Side), but the strong bond he builds with the kids on the team goes beyond that. Co-director T. J. Martin told The Root, "it's completely circumstantial [that Courtney's] business happens to be in North Memphis, and Manassas High School happens to be right down the street from [his] business. [He] happens to be white, and they happen to be an all-African-American team. So if it wasn't a big deal to our characters, then [there] was no need for us to make a big deal out of it. It was not a big deal to the community or the kids."

SXSW Review: Gayby


Jenn Harris and Matthew Wilkas in Gayby

I had planned to see Mike Birbiglia's Sleepwalk with Me last Thursday afternoon, but it was playing the tiny theatre at Alamo Ritz and of course filled up with badges before we folks with passes or ticketbuyers could get in. I saw that Jonathan Lisecki's comedy Gayby was playing the State around the same time, and since my friend had caught an earlier screening of the film and loved it, I figured there was a good chance I would enjoy the movie. And did I!

The core relationship in Gayby is between thirtysomething single best friends Jenn and Matt. Jenn (Jenn Harris) loves her job teaching hot yoga and is supporting her married sis through her adoption process. After a conversation with her sister Kelly (Anna Margaret Hollyman), Jenn asks Matt (Matthew Wilkas) if he wants to have a baby with her. Matt, still feeling raw after a breakup months ago, has had a recent run of unsuccessful dates; we view one in the first scene, featuring Christian Coulson (aka Tom Marvolo Riddle from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets). Matt is the kind of guy who rearranges his work schedule so he won't be at his own comic-book store when his ex comes in.

Dallas Int'l Film Festival 2012: Austin and Texas Films


Gayby film posterThe full lineup for the Dallas International Film Festival, which runs April 12-22 this year, was announced late last week. The films to be screened in Big D include more than a few movies with local and state connections. Here are the ones we found -- let us know if we're missing anything.

  • America's Parking Lot (Don's review)
    Austin actor/filmmaker Jonny Mars shot this documentary about die-hard Dallas Cowboy tailgaters and the impact of the changing economics of pro football games. (Debbie's interview)
  • Bindlestiffs
    In this 2012 Slamdance Audience Award winner, three high schoolers decide to head to the inner city to live out the plot of The Catcher in the Rye ... except none of them has read the book. Young director Andrew Edison grew up in Houston and currently hails from Austin.
  • Cinema Six
    Filmed last year in Lockhart, this film is a narrative about three friends who work at a small-town movie theater. This film features an Austin-heavy cast and crew. Jenn and Jette visited the set in 2011 when the film was called A Splice of Life.
  • Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope (Jette's review)
    This look at San Diego Comic-Con was directed by Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) and screened at Fantastic Fest 2011. The documentary features and was produced by Austin's own Harry Knowles (Mike's interview).
  • Gayby
    Jonathan Lisecki's  film is a downright hilarious take on the "let's have a baby" film genre. Straight thirtysomething gal Jenn asks her gay BFF Matt to help her make a baby. When I saw this one at SXSW, I laughed often and loudly. Although the film was shot in Brooklyn, DP Clay Liford is from Austin, as is the artist who created the comic-book art. (Jenn's interview)
  • Girl Model (Jenn's review)
    A behind-the-scenes look at the world of modeling scout Ashley and the girl she discovers in Siberia, this documentary was directed by former Texan David Redmon and Ashley Sabin. In Jenn's review, she says, "What's truly disturbing is Ashley seems to be the only one involved on the business side with any recognition of the hypocrisy she's spouting. The only clear thing is that that once the girls sign a contract, they are all but completely powerless." (Jenn's interview)

Review: Jeff, Who Lives at Home


Steve Zissis, Judy Greer and Jason Segel in Jeff, Who Lives at Home

I missed Jeff, Who Lives at Home when it screened at last year's Austin Film Festival, so was happy to check out a preview screening during my short break between SXSW activities.  After some projection issues -- which made the audience at the Arbor giggle and obscured the starting quote before anyone had a chance to read it -- got resolved, the latest movie from Jay and Mark Duplass began. The viewer first views our protagonist Jeff through a talking head as he dissects why Signs is such a great movie (and reminded me that Abigail Breslin was in it). This on-the-toilet rumination is not as insignificant as it might seem.

Jeff, played by Jason Segel, is an unemployed stoner who lives in his mother's basement. One assumes his days tend to bleed into each other, but this day kicks into gear when he answers a cryptic wrong-number call. Jeff believes this is a sign and strives to interpret the message.  

Meanwhile his mom Sharon (Susan Sarandon), who frets that her sons are "assholes," wants one thing for her birthday: for Jeff to fix a louvre on a cabinet door. She talks to her friend Carol (Rae Dawn Chong) at work about Sharon's new secret admirer, and Carol responds, "I'm super jelly." Regardless of this ridiculous phrase, which I've never heard anyone use before, points go to Jeff, Who Lives at Home for an honest portrayal of women over 40! Sarandon's Sharon is disappointed in her current life, yet still slightly optimistic and hopeful. She's a joy to watch as her eyes light up at the possibility of new romance.

Austin Shorts to Air in Ireland on St. Patrick's Day


Still from The Feast of St. Patrick: Family, Friends and FoodRTÉ, Ireland's national TV broadcaster, will be showing a series of pieces this St. Patrick's Day celebrating Irish diaspora and heritage, called "How to Be Irish." Included in this special will be two shorts by Austinite Jake T. Powell and his production partner Micha L. Crook. The two partners make up Monthly Adventures Productions, based out of Austin and Syracuse, New York -- both are Syracuse University grads.

Their first documentary short from 2008, The Feast of St. Patrick: Family, Friends and Food, focuses on the celebration of family history on St. Patrick's Day. The short first showed at London's Wyllie O Hagan Film Festival that year.

"I'm pretty pumped about this showing because it's the second time one of our shorts has screened internationally," Powell said. "I think that the reason it has appeal to the folks in Ireland is that we take a look at Irish-ness which isn't about silly stereotypes but is still a very American perspective. I like green beer as much as the next guy, but growing up around so many people of Irish descent I know it's a lot more than that, and that's what we want to illustrate."

RTÉ asked them to do a follow-up piece along the same lines to show in tandem with the 2008 short, so the duo filmed Fáilte: Irish Hospitality in Central New York earlier this year. "Fáilte" is Gaelic for "welcome." This second documentary short includes thoughts about the theme of hospitality from some Central New Yorkers with Irish ties.

Monthly Adventures starts principal photography on their first fictional short in the fall of 2012.

The 2012 Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards


Richard Linklater and Angie Dickinson

Hundreds of people braved the chilly wet weather on Thursday night to attend the Austin Film Society's annual Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards ceremony. This year was the first time the event was held downtown at ACL Live at Moody Theatre, but it seemed a perfect venue for the celebration. It was a bit of a crush outside the floor level as my friend and I wove our way to the stairs up to the balcony. We spotted Austin filmmaker Turk Pipkin, who started up a chat with a photographer about his equipment, and I ran into Matthew Odam, formerly of Austinist and currently with Austin360.

We sat in an angled section of the balcony, and struck up a conversation with a pleasant woman who works as a lawyer but works on adoption videos for Austin Pets Alive as a hobby. Then Matthew McConaughey walked on stage to kick off the festivities. The actor, sporting a new haircut, spent a few minutes asking folks on the floor to take their seats. He then ruminated on what makes Austin a special place. He mentioned his run-in with the law in town years ago, and announced that he is moving back to Austin, saying it is an "identity town" versus the industry town that is Los Angeles. The actor introduced John Paul Dejoria, co-chair of the ceremony, and then it was auction time.

Review: Crazy Horse


Crazy Horse

When I was asked to check out Crazy Horse, I wasn't really sure what to expect -- except for the obvious nudity that would appear in a movie about a French burlesque. I hadn't seen any of director Frederick Wiseman's previous work, so his documentary style was very surprising and slightly jarring. Where were the talking heads to give me background on the subject? Or the narration to provide a hint of explanation? Not in this movie! Wiseman's trademark style is to thrust the viewer in the midst of a situation with no exposition or interviews. In this film, we spend a couple of hours at "the best nude dancing show in the world," Le Crazy Horse in Paris.

Throughout Crazy Horse various acts from the venue's new spectacle, "Désir," are interspersed with footage from behind-the-scenes. The show, choreographed by Philippe Decouffle, uses lights and dance to create an experience that is at times hypnotic and entrancing. Mirrors are used for a number -- accompanied by a cover of Britney Spears' "Toxic" (I think it's this one) -- while upside-down legs flow in and out of sight. Another act features two women painted by kaleidoscopic lights as they perform crazy acrobatics. One woman performs with ropes -- a far more erotic act than you'll see in Cirque de Soleil. I found myself simultaneously amazed at the talents on display and dismayed at the lack of vocal talent (not really a problem until the ladies sing songs like "Baby Buns" and "Désir").

We also glimpse behind-the-scenes meetings between staffmembers and Decouffle as he asks the club to close for a short time before the show opens (the owners say no). Thus, we have the theme of art vs. commerce. Decouffle has a certain artistic vision for the show, but is limited by the budget, time and staff available. Or so I assume -- this was the theme I pieced together from discussions Decouffle has with others during the film.

Texas at SXSW 2012: All the (Non-Austin) Features


Still from WOLF

Debbie rounded up all the Austin films at SXSW Film Festival this year, but there are just a few more films in this year's SXSW fest with Texas connections... as far as we can tell, anyway. In addition to the features mentioned below, you can also catch Lone Star films in the Texas Shorts program (screening times) and the Texas High School Shorts program.

The folks who brought us Intimidad, which premiered at SXSW 2008, made documentary Girl Model (screening times), which follows an American model scout and the Siberian teen she has discovered. Nadya, a 13 year old, seems prime for the Japanese market and heads to Tokyo. Meanwhile, Ashley, the model scout, keeps searching Siberia for more young female faces. Girl Model comes from Carnivalesque Films directors Ashley Sabin and David Redmon. Redmon hails from north Texas.

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