Saturday, March 31, 2012

Remembering Selena

Seventeen years ago today, Texas-born Mexican-American singer-songwriter Selena Quintanilla -- a budding superstar poised to make a major breakthrough with first English-language album -- was taken from us all too soon at age 23. Here is a link to a 1996 Los Angeles Times story I wrote after visiting the San Antonio set of Selena -- the biopic that Gregory Nava intended as a tribute to the fallen star. Even though, as Nava admitted to me at the time,"this is a movie I wish I wasn't making." And here is Selena herself, live and in concert -- at the Houston Astrodome.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Current cans Keith

If only Keith Olbermann had invited me back on his show after he got the Current TV gig, maybe this wouldn't have happened.

Meow Movies

Would Casablanca have been an ever better movie with the addition of Keyboard Cat? Did Taxi Driver really need a feline reponse to Travis Bickle? Well, maybe. (Thanks, and maybe some serious petting, to Movie Gal.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Review: Gayby

Although it traffics freely in stereotypes and sitcom-style one-liners, Gayby is never less than likable as it tackles the complications that arise when a straight thirtysomething woman attempts to get pregnant "the old-fashioned way" with her gay male best buddy. Balancing broad comedy and warm-and-fuzzy sentiment, this lightweight indie, which filmmaker Jonathan Lisecki adapted from his well-received short of the same title, could garner limited theatrical play before wider rollout on various home-screen platforms. You can read my full Variety review here.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Booster

Elliptical to the point of abstraction, Booster is an austere and stripped-to-essentials indie that suggests a Boston crime drama such as The Town or Monument Ave. as reimagined by Robert Bresson. The abbreviated running time and overall paucity of commercial elements likely will keep this caper relegated to the fest circuit, though writer-director Matt Ruskin and lead player Nico Stone might use it as a calling card for mainstream gigs. You can read the rest of my Variety review here.

Review: Decoding Deepak

Near the end of Decoding Deepak, Gotham Chopra's fascinating documentary about his father, spiritual icon Deepak Chopra, the elder Chopra wraps up an on-location interview by offering an off-the-cuff appraisal of his on-camera performance: “I said what I needed to say, and I did it well. I’m happy.” It’s altogether appropriate that the younger Chopra uses this clip more or less as his movie's epilogue, as it conveys both the self-deprecating humor and self-confident sang-froid of his charismatic subject. By turns amusing and illuminating, and often both simultaneously, Decoding Deepak is a cinematic portrait worthy of theatrical and home-screen exhibition. You can read my Variety review of it here.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: October Baby

Sibling filmmakers Jon and Andrew Erwin occasionally strain credibility and test patience with October Baby, their debut feature opening Friday at theaters and drive-ins everywhere. But they're blessed with a lead player whose affecting performance goes a long way toward papering over any narrative shortcomings. Newcomer Rachel Hendrix grabs attention and sustains sympathy as a lovely yet troubled 19-year-old student determined to unlock the secrets of her past after learning the circumstances of her birth.

While obviously aimed at devotees of faith-based cinema, October Baby isn't preachy: The underlying anti-abortion message is notably understated, and religious plot elements are implicit rather than explicit until the final reel. You can read my full Variety review of the film here.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

SXSW Review: Brooklyn Castle

Winner of a SXSW audience award in the Documentary Spotlight category, Brooklyn Castle is an irresistibly uplifting doc about students at an inner-city junior high school who rank among the very best competitive chess players in the United States. You can read my Variety review here.

Friday, March 16, 2012

SXSW Review: Citadel

I was at Woodstock 1999 on the final night of that notorious music festival, the night when things went very, very bad. And I didn't get much sleep while I was sometimes lying, sometimes sitting in my tent, all the while listening to the noise outside and steeling myself for the moment when the sound would get closer and louder. Was I scared? A bit. Well, OK, more than a bit. But I couldn't acknowledge that to myself. You see, I'd brought along my son, who was 12 years old at the time, and somehow able to sleep through all the disturbing din. And the whole time he was sleeping a few inches away from me in our tent, I was thinking: If push comes to shove here, am I going to be badass enough to take care of my kid?

Fortunately, none of the craziness made its way over to our part of the camping ground. Still, every so often, whether I want to or not, I think about about that night. This week at SXSW, I thought about it a lot after I watched an intensely suspenseful move titled Citadel. Please don't misunderstand: That isn't the only reason why I was impressed by the film, as you can see by reading my Variety review. But still... Well, let's just say that if you're a parent, and you've ever been in a situation at all similar to the one I was in at Woodstock '99, this movie just might scare the hell out of you.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SXSW Review: Eden

Scrupulously avoiding salaciousness and overstatement, Eden translates a true-life tale of human trafficking into an effectively low-key, arrestingly suspenseful drama. Still, it may prove challenging to convince potential ticketbuyers that this handsomely lensed indie is something more substantial than a Lifetime woman-in-jeopardy telepic with R-rated language. Fest exposure could help -- the pic earned an audience award for narrative feature, along with prizes for helmer Megan Griffiths and lead player Jamie Chung at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival -- but critical buzz may have to be high-decibel to guarantee at least limited theatrical play. You can read the rest of my Variety review here.

I cover the Waterfront -- and John Waters

Even while I'm off on assignment literally dozens of miles away from H-Town, my stories continue to appear at CultureMap Houston. Like this interview with John Waters, tied to his Wednesday appearance at DiverseWorks ArtSpace. And this interview with Eva Marie Saint, tied to her Wednesday appearance at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for a Turner Classic Movies-sponsored screening of On the Waterfront.

Hey, you think those two luminaries will actually hang out together while they're in H-Town? (No, that's not John Waters next to Eva Marie Saint up there.)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SXSW Review: Frankie Go Boom

For those of you who've always wanted to see Ron Perlman in drag and a bare-assed, jock-strapped Chris Noth on a treadmill -- and you know who you are, so don't be coy about it -- I have just the movie for you: Frankie Go Boom. You can read my Variety review here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

SXSW Review: Nature Calls

Imagine a remake of Meatballs or The Bad News Bears with the raunch quotient dialed up a few spins and you're ready for Nature Calls, a brazenly foul-mouthed but ultimately soft-hearted comedy of bad manners that could forage for respectable theatrical biz before enjoying heavy rotation as VOD, vid-rental and pay-cable staple. You can read the rest of my Variety review here.

Friday, March 09, 2012

At last! SXSW 2012!

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall keep a Variety film critic from his appointed rounds. But let me tell you: The kind of rain I encountered today while driving from H-Town to Austin -- a trip that took me nearly twice as long as it usually does -- can sure as hell slow you down a lot. Fortunately, I've made it to dry land, gotten myself settled, checked out the WiFi in my Extended Stay digs -- and now I'm already to start being festive here at SXSW 2012. A good thing, too, because it looks like some folks may be keeping an eye on me. (Thanks for the shout-out, IndieWire -- I think.)

But, really, I can't complain: After all, there are other festivals I could be covering right now.