‘Silence of the Lambs’ director Jonathan Demme had special relationship with Austin

 

Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme has died.

The New York-native, ardent fan of Texas film and director of “The Silence of the Lambs” died from complications due to esophageal cancer and heart disease. He was 73.

BREAKING: Jonathan Demme dies at 73

A director with a voracious appetite for vibrant characters, crafty storytelling and a feel for exploitation (he was one of Roger Corman’s many cinematic offspring), Demme’s career was one of modern American cinema’s most eclectic.

He seemed to fear no genre. He could do star-studded social realism (the legal/AIDS drama “Philadelphia,” for which Tom Hanks won an Oscar), concert movies (Talking Heads’ “Stop Making Sense” remains the best concert film ever made, “Last Waltz” or no), delivered music-heavy screwball comedy (“Something Wild”) and could elevate lurid pulp into Oscar-winning art (hello, Clarice).

His most recent critical smash was the 2008 movie “Rachel Getting Married” starring Anne Hathaway. Directed in a naturalistic style, it reminded audiences that Demme was capable of showing new sides of himself after more than 40 years as a director.

Jonathan Demme, left, and Paul Thomas Anderson discuss filmmaking at the 2013 Austin Film Festival.

There wasn’t much Demme couldn’t do, or at least try. He was a vibrant documentarian — besides the still-stunning “Stop Making Sense,” Demme made three films focusing on Neil Young: — “Neil Young: Heart of Gold” (2006), “Neil Young Trunk Show” (2009) and “Neil Young Journeys” (2011). Other subjects included Jimmy Carter (“Man from Plains”), Haitian radio under oppressive regimes (“The Agronomist”) and his cousin Bobby (“Cousin Bobby”), a minister in Harlem. He also directed episodic television and a clutch of music videos.

Demme had a special relationship with Austin. In 1980, after Austin Chronicle/South by Southwest co-founder Louis Black showed Demme Austin’s vibrant arts scene, Demme put together a program of six short films from Austin and screened the set at the Collective for Living Cinema in New York, a cinematic postcard from Austin to the Big Apple. The set was finally released on DVD in 2015 as “Jonathan Demme presents Made in Texas.” He was a frequent guest at SXSW and the Austin Film Festival.

Actor Peter O’Toole’s archive lands at the Ransom Center

 

A studio photo of Elizabeth Taylor, Peter O’Toole, and Richard Burton (standing) on set of the 1964 film “Becket.” Photo courtesy of Harry Ransom Center.

 

The Harry Ransom Center has picked up the archive of no-kidding-legendary British actor Peter O’Toole (1932–2013).

O’Toole starred in such Academy Award-nominated classics as “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), “Becket” (1964), “The Lion in Winter” (1968) and “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” (1969). He finally picked up an honorary Oscar for a lifetime’s worth of awesome-ness in 2002.

O’Toole was also a distinguished stage actor who performed in the theater from the 1950s through 1999.

The archive contains theater and film scripts along with O’Toole’s writings, including drafts, notes and working material for his multi-volume memoir “Loitering with Intent.”

“It is with a respect for the past and an eye to the future that I recognize the importance of making my father’s archive accessible and preserving it for future generations,” said Kate O’Toole. “Thanks to the nature of film, my father’s work has already been immortalized. The Ransom Center now provides a world-class home for the private thoughts, conversations, notes and stories that illuminate such a long and distinguished career.”

The archive was acquired for $400,000, with private sources of support covering the cost, according to Jen Tisdale, director of public affairs for the Ransom Center.

O’Toole’s correspondence offers insight into his relationships  with a murderer’s row of 20th century screen talent including (deep breath) Marlon Brando, Michael Caine, John Gielgud, Peter Hall, Katharine Hepburn, Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Irons, Spike Milligan, Paul Newman, Trevor Nunn, Laurence Olivier, Harold Pinter and Kevin Spacey, among many others.

The archive also includes plenty of photos, diaries and notebooks, theater and film programs and memorabilia, audio recordings of O’Toole rehearsing lines and reciting poetry, awards, and a selection of iconic props and costume pieces, including his sword from the National Theatre’s inaugural production of “Hamlet” directed by Olivier.

O’Toole’s career started as a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art from 1952 to 1954. He received accolades for his time with the Bristol Old Vic, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre before his turn in the title role of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” made him a household name.

The O’Toole collection joins other archives of stage and screen performers including Stella Adler, Robert De Niro, Edith Evans, Anne Jackson, George Bernard Shaw and Eli Wallach. The Ransom Center also holds a collection of  materials from real-life Lawrence of Arabia T. E. Lawrence.

The archive will be accessible once processed and cataloged.

 

The 2nd annual Indie Meme Film Festival starts tonight!

“An Insignificant Man”

The 2nd annual Indie Meme Film Festival, highlighting contemporary South Asian cinema, starts tonight at the Regal Arbor.

Look for four days of narratives, documentaries and short films from in and around the subcontinent. All films have English subtitles.

Programming kicks off Friday night with “An Insignificant Man,” a 2016 documentary on the stunning rise of activist Arvind Kejriwal.

Also be sure to check out “The Cinema Travellers,” a doc following a group of movie exhibitors who bring the magic of movies to remote Indian villages once every year. It’s about wonder and technology, digital vs. 35 mm, art vs. commerce. That one screens 1:45 p.m. Saturday.

Here is the full slate.

While all-access passes are sold out, tickets to individual screenings can be purchased here.

 

The trailer for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ gives you the Luke Skywalker you’re looking for

 

 

The trailer for “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” arrived on Friday, kind of like the new Kendrick Lamar album but with more spaceships and less U2.

 

 

The images are pretty vague. Rey training with Luke Skywalker, a few new kinds of ships streaming across a landscape, the smashed helmet of Kylo Ren, an attack on a Rebel base, Finn healing, Kylo pointing his red saber and some very, very old, pre-holocron books, probably about the Jedi.

Rey becoming a Jedi. Or not. From STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI

The shot of the bits of dirt and rock rising into the air where Rey’s hand is resting is potent, but also reminded me of the dirt rising off of Superman’s coffin at the end of “Batman v Superman,” which is a memory nobody needs.

And Luke has possibly had it with the Jedi.

What did you think?

The definitive, ‘Tokyo Drift’-loving ‘Fast and Furious’ movie rankings

Are you ready? Spoilers below for old movies (and yes, the new one is in there.)

“The Fast and the Furious” (2001) — Yeah, it’s the first one, but it’s a also wonderfully street-level crime movie about street racers, hot cars and Vin Diesel becoming a legitimate movie star. No hackers, no weird government stuff, just cops ‘n’ robbers.

“The Fast and the Furious” is still the best

“Fast Five” (2011) – aka The One in Brazil Where an Enormous Bank Vault is Dragged Around Rio, the peak of the second half of the franchise.

“The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (2006) — Yeah, I said it. Lucas Black is no Paul Walker (the acting is pretty rough in general) but man alive, are the racing scenes great. Also introduced Han Lue (Sung Kang) aka Han Seoul-Oh (yes, really), whose death in this movie ended up being a sort of fixed point in the series’ continuity, placing the events of this movie after those of no. 6, making this series as baffling as the original “Planet of the Apes.” Nobody likes this one, I dig it.

“Fast & Furious” (2009) and “Fast & Furious 6” (2016) are essentially tied for me. The former is the one that brings the team of Torretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Connor back together and knocks off Letty Ortiz. No. 6 is the one that stone cold brings Letty back from the dead, soap-opera style.  Also, there is a tank.

“Furious 7” Look, this one is fine. It’s fine. It’s fun, there’s a nice (if slightly weird) send off for Paul Walker, who died as the film was being made, and there is a completely excellent building to building car jump.

“2 Fast 2 Furious” I can’t lie, this ranking is a game of inches. I even enjoyed this one. No Vin Diesel was a mistake, but the fact that there was even a third one speaks to the fact that, as dumb as it is, people actually saw it. Also, you are sleeping on “Tokyo Drift.”

And yes, the new one comes in dead last. Here is the full review.

Here’s why the trailer for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ is FANTASTIC

“He stood alone..” (From Thor #362, words and art by Walter Simonson

Oh, man.

Oh, maaaaaaan.

Behold the magnificence that is the totally excellent trailer for “Thor: Ragnarok.”

 

 

I know, right? Here are my favorite bits, which are spoilers for what you just watched. Didn’t watch it? Go watch it. Do it again.

I have been waiting for Marvel to use Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” in a scene or movie or SOMETHING involving Thor for years. It is as totally awesome as I hoped it would be.

Cate Blanchett as Hela, the Asgardian goddess of  death, CRUSHING Thor’s hammer Mjolnir, which is an object we, the people, have been told is pretty well indestructible and so totally awesome only Thor can pick the thing up. Yet, here we are.

“He’s a friend from work!” OK, so, it looks like Ragnarok will take bits from a few different storylines from various comics: some Thor stuff from various points in the comics run is being paired with a completely different, non-Thor  storyline from 2006 called “Planet Hulk.”

Written by Greg Pak, “Planet Hulk” involves a bunch of ostensible heroes who shoot Hulk into space because he’s just too dangerous (nice friends, huh?) Hulk ends up on a planet full of monsters not unlike himself, and gladiator combat ensues. Thor isn’t in the original “Plant Hulk” (nor is Jeff Goldblum, for that matter) and, quite frankly, the “Planet Hulk” arc would make a pretty excellent movie in and of itself, but this could be a clever way to get some of that imagery into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

That said, expect howls of outrage from fanboys furious with the fact that a) the “Planet Hulk” ideas are in there at all and b) that this trailer mixes comedy with Ragnarok, which is, you know, according to Norse mythology, supposed to be the end of the world. From the retro music to the jokes to the font, there is a very “Guardians of the Galaxy” vibe to this thing. 

However, and this is a big however, said fanboy/girl jaws hit the floor around the 1:04 mark.

Did you happen to notice the gent with the two M-16s? That is a guy named Skurge and he is played by Karl Urban.

Now, Skurge was a punchline for years in “Thor” comics — an inept and silly bad guy who was inept in spite of the fact that his name was Skurge the Executioner, which sounds like something that should be written on the side of a van.

But in the hands of the legitimately brilliant Walter Simonson — whose 1980s run on “Thor” is one of the all-time great runs on a superhero comic — this doofus was given one of the greatest hero moments in comics.

Seriously, if you want to see a 30- or 40-something “Thor” fan burst into tears INSTANTLY, walk up to him or her and say “He stood alone at Gjallerbru.” (Lord, I am getting verklempt typing this out.)

This essay by the great Chris Sims breaks it down. There are spoilers in there for a 30-year-old comic (and possibly for Skurge’s role in “Thor: Ragnarok”) but his analysis, per usual, is spot on.

Or you could just read “Thor” #362.

As for me and my house, we are going to watch the trailer again. And also “Thor” #362. And maybe cry.

Watch a young Matthew McConaughey in the world’s smallest jean shorts (you’re welcome)

We were thinking that Austin icon Matthew McConaughey has had a weird few months.

He was pretty good in “Gold,” but nobody saw it.

Then in February, he said it was time for the country to “embrace, shake hands and be constructive” with President Donald Trump, which — based on the president’s current approval rating of 34 percent — many Americans are not doing. (You’ll notice we haven’t called him “Austin spirit animal” lately. That office might be up for grabs.)

Austin actor Matthew McConaughey in more recent times.

He’s in Ohio right now shooting the period crime film “White Boy Rick” (with Lorain County and Cleveland playing the role of  Detroit), and we’ll see him Aug. 4 in the movie version of “The Dark Tower,” playing evil sorcerer Walter Padik.

But today, we thought we’d take you back to the” alright alright alright” days of 1992, when our man played murder victim  and Pasadena, Texas resident Larry Dickens on an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”  The glory starts at around the four-minute mark. Enjoy.

 

Netflix’s ‘The Discovery’ boasts a strong premise but weak execution

 

In “The Discovery,” released on Netflix March 31, there’s a lot of talk about people “trying to get there,” where “there” is the newly-discovered afterlife and the “trying to” part means suicide. “Trying to get there” also describes the experience of waiting for the ending of “The Discovery,” which starts off with an intriguing premise but tepidly moves toward a convoluted ending.

Rooney Mara in “The Discovery.” (Netflix)

In this sci-fi drama/pseudo-romance from Charlie McDowell (“The One I Love”), neurologist Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford, doing some of his best work within the first five minutes of the film) has discovered that there is indeed an afterlife, some other plane of existence. However, just where that afterlife is remains a mystery, one that Harbor dedicates his life to solving.

After learning of the afterlife, millions of people “try to get there” through various suicidal means. In the two years since The Discovery, the suicide rate rises by the millions. This fact doesn’t sit well with Harbor’s son Will (Jason Segel, moping more than when Lindsay Weir’s mom accidentally broke up with Nick Andopolis), also a neurologist.

VIDEO: Muppets, ‘Freaks’ and more with Jason Segel at the Austin Film Festival

Will resents Thomas for the loss of life his research has caused. He’s on his way to visit Thomas when he meets Isla (Rooney Mara), a woman who wants nothing more than to be left alone as she tries to drown herself. Will saves her and eventually takes her in at Thomas’ isolated Gothic mansion that also houses a cult-like group of people who have been affected by suicide and help Thomas with his experiments. When Thomas finds a way to record the afterlife, Will and Isla go sleuthing to prove that the research is a fraud, and end up discovering something bigger than Thomas ever imagined.

LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 29: (L – R) Actor Jason Segel, director Charlie McDowell and actress Rooney Mara attend the premiere of Netflix’s “The Discovery” at the Vista Theatre on March 29, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

Along the way, we meet Thomas’ other son Toby (Jesse Plemons), who seems to be having the most fun out of the entire cast, turning a minor part into a scene-stealer every chance he gets. We’re treated to a convoluted romance between Will and Isla. Tiny bits of the post-Discovery world are built by some terse dialogue exchanges (“I once gave a kid a cancer diagnosis, and she reacted like I’d given her a winning lottery ticket”; “I’d rather stick my [penis] in a wood chipper than go to another funeral”) and tight camerawork (a lingering shot of Will sitting in front of a hospital board with a suicide death ticker and a sign that says “Suicide is not the answer, stay in this life”; a sad overhead shot of an empty hospital parking lot). Speaking of the post-Discovery world, it’s foggy and dimly lit, muted shades of gray enhancing the film’s dreadful mood.

However, not much attention is given to the impact of The Discovery on other people, and even less attention is paid to the question of morality in life as it relates to belief in death. Not much examination is given to the question of whether life intrinsically means something even when faced with a possible afterlife. And while the promise of life after death has been the crux of many world religions, “The Discovery” skirts that issue with a handy bit of dialogue from Thomas: “Show me someone who relies on faith and I’ll show you someone who’s given up control over whatever it is they believe.” There could have been an interesting commentary here about the way many religions (some sects of Christianity chief among them) view this world as nothing more than a holding place until we are reunited with a Creator or punished alongside its adversary once we kick the bucket. Here, there’s no mention of religion or god because “The Discovery” isn’t about those questions. Once you see the ending, it’s actually about regrets and how we live (and die) with them.

More: Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling star in gorgeous ‘Song to Song,’ which has little to do with music or Austin

Minor spoilers follow for the ending of “The Discovery”:

All of the lofty questions above are cast aside in favor of the bigger mystery of what exactly Thomas is recording when he records the afterlife. When a person is put under and hooked up to the glorified MRI machine that Thomas uses, the afterlife they experience is indeed another plane of existence. It’s an alternate reality to their own life, one in which they can turn the tide on the biggest regret in their life on earth before moving on into their life in death. No heaven, no hell, no purgatory, at least not in the traditionally understood sense. Just a way to make amends and move on.

Later, when one last final twist is revealed, it feels cheap and unearned after the intentionally muddy and plodding plot. By the time the film ends, it arrives at what feels like a slower, more self-important afterlife of “Black Mirror,” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and McDowell’s better, similarly high-concept “The One I Love.” By that point, you just want “The Discovery” to “get there” and be over.

‘The Discovery’

Grade: C+

Starring: Robert Redford, Jason Segel, Rooney Mara, Jesse Plemons, Mary Steenburgen, Riley Keough 

Rating: Not rated; probably would be rated “R” for language, violence, thematic material

Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Theaters: Streaming right now on Netflix