Diane Lane learns to enjoy life in ‘Paris Can Wait’

Eleanor Coppola and her husband Francis Ford Coppola were attending the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and they were supposed to fly to Eastern Europe afterward, where he had business. But Ms. Coppola had a bad head cold and was worried about flying. So a business associate agreed to drive her back to Paris, where the Coppolas have an apartment, and her husband would join her after finishing his business in Eastern Europe.

But what was supposed to a drive of only a few hours turned into a multi-day trip, with her French comapanion making numerous stops along the way for wine, food and cultural explorations. When Ms. Coppola told friends about her experience, they said she should make a movie.

That movie is “Paris Can Wait,” starring Diane Lane as Ms. Coppola, Alec Baldwin as Francis Ford Coppola and Arnuad Viard as the irrepressible Frenchman, Jacques.

As you might expect, the movie is gorgeous, with lush cinematography by Crystel Fournier, lavish sets and scenery that’s just about every traveler’s dream. The food doesn’t look too bad, either.

Lane’s character is actually named Anne Lockwood, and she’s in her 50s and wondering about her workaholic husband. So when a flirty business associate who eats and drinks and smokes too much, agrees to show her the secrets of the French countryside, she’s intrigued but a bit wary. What plays out over the rest of the movie is a kind of delicate dance, where Anne loosens up and begins to appreciate all the attention.

I know what you’re thinking. This is a movie for older women. Well, yes, it is. But it’s also a movie for everyone who loves France, or loves the thought of getting to know France. The movie is full of joie de vivre, and it should enchant young and old, both female and male. It’s called having a life — and enjoying it to the fullest.

Sony Pictures Classics has picked up distribution rights for the film, and they’ll probably do a good job of marketing. Even if they don’t, you should go see it. A release date hasn’t been set.

Melissa Leo rips up the screen as Madalyn Murray O’Hair in ‘Most Hated Woman’

Melissa Leo delivers a powerhouse performance as the Austin atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair in director Tommy O’Haver’s “The Most Hated Woman in America.”

As O’Hair, Leo is foul-mouthed, in your face, unapologetic and downright nasty at times as she battles most of the rest of the world in fighting for First Amendment rights. In case you’ve forgotten, O’Hair got the “most hated woman” description after she filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore school system, eventually forcing that district as well as others across the nation to stop having school prayer.

The Supreme Court decision is still be debated today, and O’Hair was at the center of the battle in 1963.

Peter Fonda and Melissa Leo in “The Most Hated Woman In America.” Beth Dubber/Netflix

O’Hair parlayed that fame into setting up an Austin nonprofit called American Atheists. She was a regular on TV talk shows and at one point toured the country debating a televangelist, played in the film by Peter Fonda.

Leo throws herself into the role, donning a fat suit for O’Hair in her later years when her girth widened substantially. And she doesn’t hold back on the anger or bluster. It’s almost shocking to see the early O’Hair, so out of place with her outspokenness and so unapologetic about her personal circumstances.

The movie opens with O’Hair telling her parents that she’s going to have yet another child out of wedlock. She has Bill Murray Jr., and a son named Garth is on the way.

Her deeply religious parents are appalled, of course, but O’Hair doesn’t flinch. And when she accompanies Bill Jr. to school one day and hears a teacher leading the students in the Lord’s Prayer, she starts yelling at the teacher and promising to put a stop to what she sees as a violation of church and state separation.

Nearly every man in O’Hair’s life, except for her youngest son Garth, betrays her. The first betrayals, of course, are from the men who don’t step up to help father their sons. But O’Hair suffers another setback when her oldest son, Bill, decides to become a Christian and disassociate himself from the family.

Then there’s David Waters, played by Josh Lucas, whom O’Hair groomed to take over the family business. Waters and O’Hair had a falling out eventually, and Waters came up with the scheme to kidnap O’Hair, her son Garth and her granddaughter Robin and demand that they turn over assets held in a supposedly secret account in New Zealand.

When the three disappear, a family associate notices their house is empty and that the dogs have been left behind, unattended. So he’s naturally alarmed. But law enforcement officials simply suspect that O’Hair has taken off for New Zealand to enjoy some time away from home. Then the passports are found, and then the family friend contacts a reporter in San Antonio, and finally, people begin to take matters seriously.

Meanwhile, the O’Hair family is still being held captive until a tragic event one night unleashes a fury that will leave all of them dead.

Leo’s final scenes in the film are heartbreaking, as she realizes what is happening. And you almost think that there will be some kind of redemption, some kind of grace, if O’Hair would ever accept such a concept. But Leo plays the scene note-perfect. And you know the tragedy will not be softened.

As Waters, Lucas has the second-strongest role. He captures the quintessential handsomeness and sleaziness that’s necessary. And Fonda is a hoot as a televangelist who challenges O’Hair to accompany him on a road show. It wasn’t O’Hair’s finest hour, ethically, but she did what she had to do, as Leo shows so well.

“The Most Hated Woman in America” premieres on Netflix on March 24. It screens again at SXSW at 11:30 a.m. March 18 at the Zach Theatre.

Sundance smash ‘Patti Cake$’ busts a rhyme at SXSW

“Patti Cake$.” Contributed by Jeong Park

23-year-old Patricia (newcomer Danielle Macdonald) lives in New Jersey with her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), and ailing grandmother (Cathy Moriarty). Her friends call her Patti. She calls herself Killa P. Local hoodlums cruelly call her Dumbo.

She drives around town in an aging Cadillac that has a personalized PATTIWGN plate and toils away tending bar at a local tavern while putting away as much money as possible to help pay down her grandmother’s medical debts. Rap music is always flowing through her headphones and car speakers, and her bedroom floor is covered in notebooks where she’s logged countless rhymes, daydreaming about being a superstar.

There’s a great moment early on in the film where Patti is sitting on the hood of her car, reaching out to the skyscrapers that are in the distance, across the water in Manhattan. They look close enough to touch, but the big city might as well be a million miles away.

Her best friend and fellow outcast, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), works in a local pharmacy. He’d like nothing more than for them to team up and make music together. After putting down money to buy some beats from a local producer and make a demo recording, a few puffs of potent pot send Patti running from the booth and cause a lost opportunity.

Demos finally are created with the help of Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a metalhead with creepy contacts in his eyes who somewhat begrudgingly helps them turn into a very bizarre trio who record a handful of songs under the name PBNJ. Having tangible tunes that could help them escape their everyday lives is the first of many hurdles to climb before success is possible.

Director Geremy Jasper, himself a former indie musician, has written a story that genuinely expresses love for hip-hop and pays homage to “8 Mile” and “Hustle and Flow” in the process. Macdonald’s performance is a revelation, but the casting of foul-mouthed cabaret star Everett in the role of Patti’s mother (who herself has seen failed dreams of musical stardom) is also key to the film’s success.

Knowing very little about the movie going into it, it made sense to me that Macdonald was discovered for her hip-hop talents and the movie was created as a vehicle for her. At the post-film Q&A, I was stunned to learn that she was from Australia and had never rapped in her life before shooting the movie. Jasper found her while the movie was being developed at the Sundance labs and he believed that she could pull the character off.

His belief in her paid off in spades. Or at least to the tune of $10.5 million, which is what Fox Searchlight paid to buy the movie after its Sundance premiere in January.

You can catch the magic of “Patti Cake$” again at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday at the Stateside. The film is expected to be released later this year.

Familial deception is at the heart of Austin-based film ‘La Barracuda’

Sinaloa (Sophie Reid) and Merle (Allison Tolman) in “La Barracuda.” Contributed by Patrick Rusk

This new thriller from Austin-based directors Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund (“Now, Forager”) is built around a concept that really intrigues me – people leading double lives.

Wayne Klein had a wife and daughter at home in Texas but toured all over the world and enjoyed a few extracurricular activities along the way. Over the years he harbored a big secret that comes to life after his death; he actually had fathered a child with a woman from England and would visit this second family when he was overseas playing shows. “La Barracuda” picks up with Sinaloa (Sophie Reid, “Game Of Thrones”), the secret British daughter, making the trek to the United States and showing up on the door of her half-sister Merle (an outstanding Allison Tolman from FX’s “Fargo”) in Austin.

Sinaloa is blunt and gets right to the point. She ambushes Merle and her fiancé Raul (Luis Bordonada) on their front porch when they come home one evening in the dark, revealing who she is without hesitation. It’s clear to see that it’s a painful revelation for Merle, who is hesitant to accept this information about her late father as the gospel truth. Raul insists that they put her up for the night because she is family. But how can they know if that’s true? Hearing Sinaloa singing some of Wayne’s songs goes a long way towards convincing Merle that the story could be legitimate, but it opens a Pandora’s box that changes her life forever.

As Sinaloa is introduced to extended family members at an engagement party, her presence becomes quite a point of conversation and interest. This goes double for Merle’s mother, Patricia (delightfully played by JoBeth Williams), who isn’t actually very pleasant to her own daughter, never mind the secret offspring of her late husband. A relative at the party pulls Sinaloa aside and offers to help her investigate inheritance issues if she’s so inclined, which further blurs the line about what her intentions really are.

In their original fundraising campaign for the movie, the filmmakers stated, “At its core, ‘La Barracuda’ is a story about the conflicting loyalties between mothers, daughters, and sisters.” Slowly but surely, Merle’s perfectly curated existence is thrown out of whack by Sinaloa’s antics. Memories are conjured and questioned. An already strained relationship with her mother is pushed to the limits.

I was utterly enraptured by the first act of this film, completely taken by the story, the actors, and the familiar setting. Halfway into the picture, I was unsure of where things were going but thought I was ready for anything. Despite an enormous amount of foreshadowing, the film’s final third moves towards an abrupt twist that made me flinch but feels undeserved.

In the end, “La Barracuda” really does deliver on the music. Sinaloa’s performances (including some tracks live at the Saxon Pub) are really beautiful and heartfelt. And there’s a lot of traditional Texas music and artists in the film like Colin Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and the Harvest Thieves while Codeine drummer Chris Brokaw delivers a moody score.

 

“La Barracuda” screens again at 8:30 p.m. March 17 at the Alamo South Lamar.

‘The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin’ is essential viewing

Armistead Maupin at the San Francisco Chronicle. Contributed by KQED

I’m not a gay writer. I’m a writer who happens to be gay. 

That quote, from an archival interview in the 1970s, is one of the first things we hear from Armistead Maupin in Jennifer Kroot’s new documentary about his life. It’s almost hard to imagine now how incredibly shocking it was for a voice like his to be celebrated at the time his career took off.

Raised in a highly conservative family in North Carolina, Maupin rose to fame as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He somewhat controversially launched a serialized story called “Tales From The City” that was published by the newspaper starting in 1976. Determined to reflect the diversity of lives in the city, his characters and the situations that they found themselves in were not always exclusively heterosexual.

Blending fact and fiction, one of the installments of the series essentially served as Maupin’s own coming-out letter to his parents back home (who subscribed to the paper from afar). Kroot turns the spotlight on this piece, which Maupin himself considers to be one of his most essential, by having it read aloud in the movie by many of his friends interviewed on camera including Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, Jonathan Groff, Sir Ian McKellan and others.

Over the years, “Tales From The City” was turned into a series of well-received novels, and the first volume was adapted into a PBS miniseries in the early 1990s (starring Linney and Dukakis) and eventually was followed up with sequels that aired on Showtime.

The film is split into chapters but doesn’t adhere to a strict chronological timeline. It jumps around to different parts of his life story, from his time as a teenage Republican to losing friends and lovers during the AIDS crisis to when he met his now-husband Christopher on a website called “Daddy Hunt.”

Such candor is par for the course with Maupin, and I appreciate his willingness to lay it all out there for the sake of history. At one point, he refers to himself as a “big romantic with a slutty side.” Not long after, he’s detailing how some of his earliest sexual encounters were actually with Rock Hudson, including once when he had a threesome with Hudson and his partner in their hotel room. But of course, that’s just one small (although unquestionably notable and, as his puts it, “dreamy”) part of his life.

This is a man who wrote about much more than the gay experience. He worked hard to place his life into the larger context of the world. His writing was groundbreaking and inspired countless people to come out of the closet.

Heartwarming. Funny. Sad. Vital. This is essential gay history. I’m thankful that this film will help preserve it and turn new generations on to his work.

“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” screens again at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday at the Alamo South Lamar.

 

‘Walking Out’ is a bold and unexpectedly emotional tale of survival

David (Josh Wiggins) and Cal (Matt Bomer) in “Walking Out.” Contributed by Standa Honzik

Twin brothers Alex and Andrew Smith were both Austin residents until somewhat recently. Alex continues to live here and teach at the University of Texas at Austin, while Andrew headed back to Montana, where they were born and where their latest film was shot.

The Smith brothers first broke out at Sundance with “The Slaughter Rule” in 2002, casting both Ryan Gosling and Amy Adams in early roles that earned them strong reviews. They’ve returned with an intense story of survival against the odds, an unexpectedly emotional journey based on a short story by David Quammen.

Cal (Matt Bomer, “Magic Mike XXL”) is a divorced father who lives in Montana. His son David (Josh Wiggins, “Hellion”) is 14 and flies in to visit for an annual hunting trip. It’s the one time of year that Cal gets to see his son and they are able to bond in big sky country, something becoming more difficult each year as David would rather play video games than trek off into the woods.

The plan for this trip is for David to kill his first moose. He’s not so sure that he’s up for the task, but relents. Family dynamics are further represented by flashback sequences where Cal is shown as a young man, out on hunting and fishing trips with his father (played by Bill Pullman). We see how this is a tradition and how happy Cal is to be able to pass this knowledge down to a son who he is not often able to connect with.

After discovering that there is an angry mama grizzly bear in their vicinity, they decide to retreat, but an accident has devastating consequences. Both father and son are forced to use their limited resources to survive.

Cinematographer Todd McMullen (“Friday Night Lights”) captures some spectacular footage in what had to have been a difficult shoot. The opening shots show the sun rising over snow-capped mountains. Stunning shots of purple and orange skies streaked with clouds above the vast mountain ranges are just plain breathtaking. The majesty of the rural location comes through in even the most difficult sequences.

Bomer and Wiggins are extraordinarily good, and the well-crafted screenplay creates a palpable tension that hangs for the last 20 minutes or so of the picture. This is independent filmmaking at its best.

“Walking Out” was recently acquired by Sundance Selects/IFC, who are expected to release it later this year.

‘Honor Farm’ delightfully subverts horror genre at SXSW

What a cool idea for a movie: Tell a story that subverts every aspect of the horror genre, not in a satirical way but in a sweet and very mushroom-trippy way.

That’s the essence of Austin director Karen Skloss’ “The Honor Farm,” which is part of the Midnighters section at South by Southwest.

This is Skloss’ first narrative feature, after a documentary feature about being an unwed mother called “Sunshine,” but you can’t tell it by what’s on screen. It’s quite good.

The story focuses on two friends, Lucy (Olivia Applegate) and Annie (Katie Folger), who are going to prom with a couple of guys. Lucy, who has been a “good girl” all her life, is expected to go to bed with her boyfriend, the football team’s quarterback. But Lucy thinks she’s just going through some hollow ritual and wonders whether it’s worth it. She gets her answer when her boyfriend gets blind drunk and makes a move that’s stupid.

Lucy has enough sense to bail on the guy, and Annie has enough sense of adventure to accept an invitation from a group of edgy, gothy-looking kids to go to a party at an “honor farm” where prisoners were tortured, the ghosts still inhabiting the abandoned structure.

Once they go into the woods, they find some other folks who are already there, and one of them is the hunky JD, played by Louis Hunter, who offers a sensitive alternative to the drunken quarterback back at the prom.

And suddenly, coming of age doesn’t seem as scary as it once did for Lucy. But there’s this big problem. All of them have eaten psychedelic mushrooms, and their imaginations are running wild in a place where craziness has happened in the past. Will it happen again? Or will JD and Lucy find a bond that brings them through the night safely?

Applegate, a Houston native and University of Texas graduate, is a joy to watch, with a slight Diane Keaton goofiness and intellectuality. And she pairs well with the JD character played by Hunter, who’s about as far from a quarterback type as you can imagine, but still hunky.

The supporting cast, including Folger and Dora Madison Burge as Laila, are also excellent. There’s a chemistry among all the characters who go into the woods, with one exception — a rather creepy dentist. Poor dentists. They never get a break on the big screen.

“The Honor Farm” screens again at 9:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Alamo South and at 12:15 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo South.

SXSW: “T2 Trainspotting” is an emotional wipeout for fans of the original

 

Confession: I was one of those guys.

I saw “Trainspotting” five times in the theater. I took myself. I took my girlfriend. I took two different roommates. A friend and I saw it for the second or third time each. His reaction: “I am not sure I could take much more movie.” Yes, this.

It was the music that did it — I couldn’t get over the music supervision. Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” as Renton runs down the street. Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” as Renton sinks into the floor, overdose overtaking him. Pulp’s “Mile End” in the hall of the crappy flat. New Order’s ’87 remix of “Temptation” vaguely centering the film as set in the late 1980s. Underworld’s “Born Slippy” making your heart race as Renton steals the money. Like many, many people of my generation, I was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit addicted.

With every frame of “T2 Trainspotting,” which was the secret screening at this year’s South by Southwest, you know that director Danny Boyle knows this. This couldn’t be a cash grab; the original meant too much to too many people. If they were going to do this, it had to mean something.

Which it does.

We catch up with our antiheroes quickly. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison, pinched for the deal that went down 20 years ago. Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), now going by his given name Simon, is running a pub and side-lining as a pimp and blackmailer. Spud (Ewen Bremner, wonderful as always) is still a mess, a junkie on and off for decades. And Renton (Ewan McGregor) is in Amsterdam, jogging on a treadmill when he hits the floor, hard. It is the sprawl of a man who has just had a coronary event, the sort that makes one take stock a bit.

So it’s time for Renton to visit a gentrified Edinburgh for the first time since he absconded with 16,000 quid that he and his cohorts were supposed to split four ways.

He stops off to visit his da (he missed his mother’s funeral, which is never a great look). We see him in his old room, still covered in trains. He drops the needle on a record for a half-second (“WHOMP-B-“) then lifts it again. We know it’s “Lust for Life,” we know it would be both cliche and too heavy to break it out now. It’s all we needed to hear.

A plot comes together — after all, the moment Begbie gets out of prison, he is going to be pretty angry. And absolutely nobody is all that thrilled with Renton. He did, after all, steal from his best friends. But now that we’re together, isn’t opening a brothel — um, a sauna — a good idea? What could go wrong?

But none of these men have matured, not one. It’s not even a question of reverting to your former self when you are around old pals — Renton’s been gone for years and he is the same guy who thinks he knows more than he actually does. No wonder Simon and Renton throw down.

No wonder Spud, poor Spud, the sort of who looks at old photos of the old crew, screams at him about the money Renton left him, which promptly went into his arm: “You ruined my life!”

No wonder they end up screaming over Tommy, dead of AIDS-related complications 20 years ago.

No wonder Renton  and Simon end up mansplaining George Best to one of Simon’s hookers before Renton beds her, because of course he does. No matter how much we love them, these men are pathetic.

Boyle knows that he cannot replicate the original’s zeitgeist-capture. It simply couldn’t happen. So he doesn’t flinch from it, opting to use some of the same techniques to tell a deeper story of — as the director put it after the screening — how badly men age (emotionally, not physically, though it should be noted that while the male leads have definitely put on a few years, Kelly McDonald, the only one of the old crew who became an actual adult, does not seem to have aged a day).

Fragments are used as memories — we see two seconds of the first movie here, a second there. The music cues, so crucial to the original, are dealt with here cannily — a moment from a song from the original here, a remix there. This one has an actual score, which the original did not — it was all needle-drop pop song cues. This fits: We are older, they are older, our relationship to that music is different.

As one character literally says, “Nostalgia, that’s why you’re here.” Yes, sure. But this isn’t a retread. Everyone is older, nobody is wiser.  Men aging badly, indeed.

RELATED: DANNY BOYLE, EWAN MCGREGOR HOST SXSW SECRET SCREENING

SXSW: ‘Stranger Fruit’ offers new theory about Ferguson shooting

“Stranger Fruit” looks at what happened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Contributed

“Hands up, don’t shoot” — the tragic protest slogan echoed around the globe after Michael Brown was shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. These four words hold even more gravitas as Jason Pollock’s feature length documentary, “Stranger Fruit,” mines a crucial piece of video evidence suggesting that Brown did not rob that convenience store for two boxes of Swisher Sweet Cigarillos.

The film’s premiere at South by Southwest coincided with a front page story in the New York Times outlining a previously unreported surveillance video from earlier on the day of Brown’s death — a video “Stranger Fruit” suggests is proof of a barter type transaction that took place, a small bag of marijuana for boxes of the cigars, after which Brown decided to leave the cigars behind the counter for safekeeping before returning later that morning to retrieve them, an act that may or may not have contributed to his death. (A lawyer for the store and its employees has told the Times that no such transaction took place).

“Stranger Fruit” is an intricately detailed documentary concerning the forensic evidence of an incredibly troubling case as well as at least a half dozen eyewitness accounts of what every witness described as an execution.

Is it activism or documentary filmmaking? Does Pollock have an agenda? What is clear is the pain felt by Brown’s father, uncle, mother and the rest of those close to the slain teen.

RELATED: New video shows Michael Brown at convenience store

The deaths of unarmed minority people at the hands of police have led to protests, the Black Lives Matter movement and calls for justice. Austin, do we remember Daniel Rocha, Larry Jackson Jr., Byron Carter Jr., David Joseph and Kevin Brown?

Institutional racism, cronyism, the killings of predominately young men at the hands of law enforcement — these are the issues at the heart of “Stranger Fruit.”

The final showing of “Stranger Fruit” at SXSW will be at 1:30 p.m. March 15 at Zach Theatre. The filmmakers and family members of Brown will be speaking at a panel at 2 p.m. March 13.

‘Infinity Baby’ mines futuristic concept for sharply observed laughs

Kieran Culkin and Noël Wells in “Infinity Baby.” Contributed by Matthias Grunsky

Austin-based filmmaker Bob Byington is no stranger to South by Southwest. The festival screened his previous two features, 2012’s “Somebody Up There Likes Me” and 2014’s “7 Chinese Brothers.” He returned to the Zach this weekend for the world premiere of his latest film, a gleefully sardonic comedy sharply observed in black-and-white across our fair city.

This time around, Byington is working from another writer’s script (“Catfight” director Onur Tukel), but it’s easy to see how the tone and humor are closely aligned with his previous efforts. Frequent collaborators Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Kevin Corrigan, Martin Starr and Stephen Root are all on hand and collectively create a deliriously large number of laugh-out-loud moments.

In the not too distant future, Ben (Kieran Culkan) is working for Infinity Baby, a company founded by his uncle (Offerman) to unload an overabundance of genetically modified babies who are unable to age.

These babies sleep a lot, rarely cry and, thanks to a regimented cycle of pills, only need to have their diapers changed once a week. Ben has a new girlfriend only slightly more frequently, choosing to utilize a convoluted plot to dump them and move on to the next woman.

These far-fetched story elements combine to craft a legitimately hysterical film that manages to be satirical but relatable in its comedy. If the tone were different, some of the gags could border on mean-spirited (as when one character blinds his boyfriend after spraying him in the face repeatedly with cleaning solution), but here they read more as absurd than actually cruel.

The laughs are punctuated by outstanding hip-hop beats courtesy of Aesop Rock, one of the more unique musical scores I’ve heard of late. To top it all off, the end credits are accompanied by the Sugarcubes’ classic track “Delicious Demon.” While I’m not sure if that is supposed to be a commentary on these unnatural (but adorable) babies, I can’t help but feel like Björk and Einar would approve.

A buzz screening of “Infinity Baby” has been added at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Alamo South Lamar. You also can catch it at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Stateside Theatre.