Movies Online

What's Streaming: Too Hot To Handle

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In case you didn't notice, it's hot outside. Unbearably hot. They say that the winter is the perfect time to snuggle up on your couch and watch a good movie?  Well, I vote for the opposite: sure, being outside is fun, but some days it's too much to handle the Texas heat for even a few minutes. 

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I found my online streaming picks this month centering around things or scenarios that generate heat: kitchens, confrontations, physical attraction. This somehow then led me to a slew of documentaries that Netflix has on the exploration of human sexuality, and the psychology behind physicality and comfort around people. And while I won't bore you with my latest term paper on the subject (because I now feel I could write one), I will share the films that stemmed from last month's movie-watching adventures.  Not all of the choices are directly connected to this subject, but I feel that all of them have an underlying theme: the discovery of one's self.

Let me know if you have recommendations for this month. After all, the selection of options to choose from seems to be growing each month. Enjoy! 

What's Streaming: Home of the Brave

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July has always been a favorite month for me. June kicks the summer off, but in July you realize you have an entire month of swimming, cookouts, milkshakes and (if you're me) watching summer flicks. It is also the birthday month of our lovely country, which leads me into our theme for this month.

I considered going the route of the "American Hero." I love a good action-hero flick as much as the next person, but I then considered what we really celebrate on the Fourth of July: everyday heroes. We celebrate the working American, those men and women who might not have had the best education but are fighting to earn their living. We think of those who stand for good, not because a job requires them to, but because they believe in what is right. Those who went from rags to riches, who saved every penny they earned, who fought for our country or even the kids in their school district. These are the types of heroes you don't always see in a movie.

This month has thus led me to choose a few films and television shows that I think are worth watching to root for the underdog, the unsung hero that no one believes in.

FILM:

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington -- Does this choice need an explanation? When I heard about Senator Wendy Davis's 11-hour filibuster against the dramatic limiting of abortion rights for Texas women, I immediately thought of the hope I felt watching Jimmy Stewart's performance as Jefferson Smith, and how badly I wanted him to triumph for the good of the people. Smith plays an average guy trying to keep his head above water while surrounded by political sharks, and he shows us how a fight does not always have to be physical. Although this does not have a direct connection to Texas, I feel it does ring true with what has been going on in our great state recently. (Available on Amazon Instant and iTunes)

What's Streaming: Hometown Heroes

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[Welcome to What's Streaming, a new column about movies available online, with a focus on Austin and Texas.]

For someone to not have the chance to see a film these days is rare. I'm not saying that every person on Earth should see every film ever made (although that sounds like a good challenge!), but it has become easier than ever to watch or rent films than in years past.

Especially here in high-tech Austin, many people (myself included) use forms of online streaming to watch their favorite films and television shows. If you're like me, you might not even have cable just because you think Netflix is enough. But with so many options and ways to watch movies these days, you might find yourself asking a not-so-uncommon question: What is worth watching?

After talking with friends and almost always getting myself into a conversation of "Seen any good movies lately?", I decided it might be worthwhile to share some picks each month of films (old and new) that are available to watch online. Since this column is the kickoff to this series, I figured I would start with our hometown heroes. The below films/filmmakers have ties to Texas and, in some specific cases, to Austin.

Fantastic Fest 2012 Guide: The Most Fun Homework You'll Ever Do

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The Good, the Bad and the Weird

Fantastic Fest is just around the corner. So that means your time to catch up and do your homework on films screening at the fest is growing shorter every day. Some favorite directors from Fantastic Fest past are returning and others are making their first appearance. I know some of my most anticipated are hard to familiarize yourself with beforehand (New Kids Turbo), but you can find most of these films at your favorite local video store (Vulcan! I Luv Video!) or streaming online. Hurry now because you're losing days at this rate.

Fantastic Fest selection: The American Scream (dir. Michael Paul Stephenson)

Stephenson's previous film Best Worst Movie premiered at SXSW 2009, and documented the cult phenomenon Troll 2. The filmmaker's latest documentary stays in the same genre yet takes a look at three passionate haunted house enthusiasts as they prepare their home to scare the living hell out of those who walk through it. The American Scream producer Zack Carlson appears in Best Worst Movie as well.

Prep work: Best Worst Movie is available on DVD. Look for it in the documentary section (just see if you can spot the terrific Tyler Stout artwork). It's also available for rental on Amazon Instant Video ... and embedded below, via Hulu.

'Searching for Sonny' Tour Hits Austin Next Week

Andrew Disney 

The Texas-produced feature film Searching For Sonny is on tour around Texas this month as part of the Texas Independent Film Network's Fall 2012 program. It returns to Austin after having its world premiere at Austin Film Festival 2011. After winning 13 major awards on the festival circuit -- including the Best of Fest at the Hill Country Film Festival -- writer/director Andrew Disney (pictured above) will be at the screening when the roadshow lands in Austin next week.

You can buy tickets now to see the Fort Worth-shot movie at the Violet Crown Cinema on Tuesday, August 21 at 7:30 pm. I saw it at AFF and my review describes it as "kinky and subversive, dark and outrageous." Here's my synopsis from that review:

"Jason Dohring stars as Elliot Knight, an unsuccessful 28-year-old pizza delivery driver. Jason receives a surprise invitation to his 10-year class reunion from his estranged best friend, Sonny (Masi Oka). As soon as he arrives at the reunion, he meets up with twin brother Calvin (Nick Kocher) and classmate Gary (Brian McElhaney). Together, the three of them set out to find Sonny, following clues left on their postcard invitations, and uncover a larger scheme involving their former high-school principal."

Watch 'You Hurt My Feelings' Online Now

You Hurt My Feelings at ReRun Theater

Two of the cutest little girls I've ever seen on film are Lily and Violet Collins, the daughters of filmmaker (and former Austinite) Steve Collins, who included them in his 2011 feature You Hurt My Feelings. They are unscripted and adorable onscreen. Now you can watch them too, because Oscilloscope Films has just made You Hurt My Feelings available to rent or buy as streaming video on iTunes and Amazon. Read Elizabeth's review from the movie's Austin Film Festival screening last year.

The above photo is from a recent weeklong run of the movie at reRun Theater in Brooklyn (I've been there! It's a very cool place to watch movies). That's Steve Collins next to his daughters, and actors John Merriman and Courtney Davis on the right. Merriman told me this photo is the girls introducing the film and telling the audience to stay around for the Q&A afterward.

My description makes it sound like You Hurt My Feelings is about two little girls, but in fact the focus is on their nanny, John, played by Austin actor Merriman. The film has very little scripted dialogue -- the kids know Merriman well and their scenes with him are generally spontaneous -- and is about the relationship John has with Courtney, played by Davis. (My guess is that the characters are named after the actors to make it easier for the girls.) Courtney leaves John for Macon (Macon Blair), and John's emotional upset is written all over his face, even as he plays with the children.

Watch 'Winnebago Man' Here, Now, Free

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Winnebago Man

In the days before YouTube or viral Internet videos, people were passing around third-rate copies on videotape of the outtakes of a Winnebago commercial featuring one Jack Rebney, whose gift for colorful profanity under pressure was immense. Hearing his outbursts can be oddly uplifting if you're having a bad day yourself. Local filmmaker Ben Steinbauer, intrigued by the lasting popularity of the "Winnebago Man" video, set out to find Rebney and get the whole story behind the videotape in the documentary Winnebago Man.

Winnebago Man premiered at SXSW in 2009 and has enjoyed a fair amount of popularity since then. Don Clinchy calls it "funny and sometimes poignant" in his review. The movie won several prizes on the film-fest circuit, as well as the Austin Film Critics Association award for Best Austin Film in 2010. One of Rebney's catch phrases from the video, "Will you do me a kindness?" turns up frequently in the oddest places ... apparently one of the characters in the recently released movie Crazy. Stupid. Love says it.

If you haven't yet seen Winnebago Man, now's your chance. SnagFilms is making the documentary available to watch online for free for the next two weeks -- until August 19 -- as part of their SummerFest lineup. You can watch the film from the SnagFilms website, on Hulu, on the SnagFilms iPad app ... and I've embedded it below so you don't even have to leave this page. I especially recommend this movie after a difficult day at the office, where you can hear Rebney say all the things you wish you could, and better.

Could Netflix Price Change Help Local Video Stores (Please)?

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Vulcan Video by David Grant on Flickr

The big movie news late last week was from Netflix: the company is restructuring its subscriptions to separate DVD rental plans from online streaming. Right now, I pay $9.99/month for one DVD out at a time plus unlimited streaming; under the new plans, I'd pay $7.99/month for unlimited streaming and another $7.99/month to rent one DVD at a time (and that doesn't include an extra fee for Blu-ray rentals).

The decision was easy for my husband and me: we can't remember how long the Netflix DVD has been sitting on top of the TV stand, nor even which movie is actually on that DVD. Therefore, we're going to refuse the DVD-only subscription and subscribe only to online streaming, which we use like crazy. And if we want something that's not on Netflix Watch Instantly, where will we get it? From our neighborhood video store, quite possibly.

I'm wondering how many other people are deciding the same thing, and if this could potentially help Austin video stores. Some people might figure if they're saving $6 a month, they could buy the occasional DVD and still come out ahead. Some might add Hulu Plus, which now has the Criterion Collection movies available for streaming, or rent streaming movies/TV from Amazon. And some might try the increasingly popular Redbox. But I like to think -- okay, I hope -- this change could give our remaining local video rental stores a little boost.

VOD Review: How to Fold a Flag

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How to Fold a Flag

The Iraq war documentary How to Fold a Flag opens with an intriguing quote from German writer and military veteran Ernst Jünger: "We were asked to believe that the war was over. We laughed. For we were the war."

This quote is wholly appropriate for the SXSW 2010 film, which has just become available on cable VOD and online, including Amazon Instant Video. Like much of Jünger's writing, How to Fold a Flag delves into the isolation soldiers feel while fighting wars and after returning to their "normal" lives. (Defining what is "normal" is a recurring theme in the film.) The quote also is appropriate in that Jünger was a conservative German nationalist; How to Fold a Flag presents the American equivalent in all its flag-wrapped glory.

Directors Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker follow up on five soldiers featured in their acclaimed 2004 documentary Gunner Palace. How to Fold a Flag updates us on the civilian lives of four soldiers, while also interviewing the parents of a fifth soldier killed in Iraq. Like its predecessor, the film is an unblinking and often caustic look at the Iraq war's toll.

Movies This Week: Austin on Netflix Streaming

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chalk_2007.jpg

We interrupt this regular column to bring you something a little different, particularly since no new films are opening in Austin on this last day of the year. Instead, here are some options for streaming movies on Netflix so while you're hungover tomorrow, you can be a couch potato and still catch some great Austin-connected films.

I had no idea how many films connected to the Austin film scene were available online for streaming. Sure, many things appear on video on demand, when you have to pay additional money, but did you know that Netflix alone has many Austin films available for streaming, as well as even more of the selections from our film festivals? It's not just classics like Paris, Texas and Tender Mercies but a wide range of newer and obscure films, or the television critical darling Friday Night Lights that has the first four seasons available on streaming. Several newer locally filmed and produced indies are available, and even more obscure films from local fests.

Here are some selections of note that you can watch right now if you have Netflix: first with Austin and Texas connections, then selected films from various Austin film festivals. 

August Evening -- This Texas Filmmaker Production Fund award winner following an undocumented farm worker and his widowed daughter-in-law was nominated for a Best Actor Spirit Award for Pedro Castaneda and won the John Cassevetes Spirit Award in 2008.

Chalk -- This AFF hit is the bastard love child of The Office and The Real World, as lived by young, new teachers. Written and directed by locals who tried their hand as teachers (Chris Mass and Mike Akel), they also shot most of it in Austin. It's funny, heartbreaking, and a great example of the independent spirit, and if you have any connection to the Austin film viewing scene, several faces will stand out as extras. (Jette's Cinematical review from AFF 2006)

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