The Rookie (2002, dir. by John Lee Hancock)


I miss baseball!

I know that the regular MLB season being delayed (or even — gasp! — cancelled) is hardly the worst thing that we have to deal with right now but I still really miss watching baseball!  I miss the swing of the bat, the sounds of the stadium, and I even miss getting upset over the Rangers having a disappointing season.  I’ve been dealing with my grief by watching old games and a lot of baseball movies.  It’s not the same as getting to watch a real game but I guess it’s as good as things are going to get right now.

When the quarantine stated, one of the first baseball movies that I watched was The Rookie.  Starring Dennis Quaid (who gives a really good performance), The Rookie is based on the true story of Jim Morris, a former minor league pitcher who retired from playing the game after injuring his arm and took a job coaching baseball for Reagan County High School in Big Lake, Texas.  In 1999, Morris promised his players that if they managed to win the district championship, he would try out for a major league baseball team.  When his team went on to win the championship, Morris honored his side of the bargain by trying out for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  Even though no one expected Morris to make it onto the team, he was given a chance because it was felt that it would be good publicity.  The 35 year-old Morris shocked everyone by throwing a 98 mph fastball.  The team started Morris out in the minors and then, when the roster expanded in September, called him up to the majors.  At an age when many other players were calling it quits, Morris made his major league debut at the Ballpark in Arlington and struck out Royce Clayton.

Though I’m sure it probably takes a lot of liberties with Morris’s story, I really like The Rookie.  It’s a really sweet movie that was filmed on location in Texas.  It’s one of my favorite baseball movies because it captures everything that I love about the game.  It’s about more than just who wins or who struck who out.  It’s about teamwork and healthy competition and fairplay.  (Or, at least, that’s what baseball should be about.  That’s one reason why the Astros cheating scandal hurts so much.  For me, it’s not just that the first Texas team to win the World Series did so dishonestly.  It’s that what they did goes against the spirit of baseball.)  I liked that the movie is as much about Jim coaching his high school team as it was about him eventually getting to play a few games in the majors.  The whole reason that Jim even tried out for the Devil Rays was to keep a promise to his high school team and, in a perfect world, that’s what baseball would be all about.

The Rookie is not just a baseball movie.  It’s also a movie about never giving up on your dreams.  Jim Morris may be happy coaching high school baseball but he’s never stopped thinking about how he once dreamed of playing in the major leagues.  Even he’s surprised when he discovers that he’s still a good pitcher.  (My favorite scene is him throwing a baseball at one of those radars that tells how fast you’re driving.  He only thinks he’s throwing a 78 mph fastball and it’s only after he drives off that the full sign lights up and reveals that he was throwing 98 mph.)  When Jim makes his major league debut, it’s real stand up and cheer moment.

Here’s hoping that we’ll all be back at the ballpark soon!

Film Review: Slacker (dir by Richard Linklater)


“Wow,” I thought as I recently rewatched Richard Linklater’s first film, Slacker, “Austin hasn’t changed at all!”

That, of course, isn’t true.  Slacker was filmed in 1990 and first released in 1991.  It’s 20 years old and the entire world — including Texas in general and Austin in specific — has changed quite a bit since then.  Slacker is a film about the people of Austin, following one person and then another as they walk down the streets of Austin and, in classic Linklater fashion, have conversations about everything from sex to pop culture to conspiracy theories.  It’s a film that was made before social media and no one carries a phone with them.  The majority of the people the we meet in Slacker would, today, probably be too busy posting 100-tweet threads to actually get outside and walk around the city.  (And, in the age of social distancing, the idea of walking up to a stranger on the street and having a conversation is not only unthinkable to a lot of people but illegal in some places up north.)  Slacker was also made long before SXSW turned Austin in a national hipster hotspot.  There are definitely hipsters in Slacker but they’re all of the Texas variety, as opposed to the Silicon Valley-on-vacation variety.

That said, Slacker does contain an essential truth about Austin that has never changed.  Austin has always been a town that has welcome the eccentrics, nonconformists, and self-styled intellectuals.  As both the capitol of the greatest state in the union and a college town, Austin has a unique style all of its own.  It’s a place where all of the contradictions of Texas — the fierce independence mixed with a strong belief in tradition — meet.  Some people refer to it as being “The People’s Republic of Austin” and the town is considerably more liberal than the rest of the state.  In general, though, Texas liberalism has never been quite as annoying or authoritarian-minded as the rest of America’s liberalism.  There’s a strong Libertarian streak that runs through even the most liberal parts of Texas and it seems somewhat appropriate that Ron Paul makes a cameo appearance of sorts in Slacker:

Slacker is one of those films that’s beloved by film students because it’s very easy to watch it and to think, “Wow, anyone could do that!”  Of course, the truth of the mater is that there is a very definite structure to Slacker.  Despite the way it may occasionally seem, the film is not just a bunch of random footage of people wandering by each other while discussing the Moon landing, the Kennedy assassination, and Madonna’s pap smear.  Instead, each conversation builds on the other until, eventually, Slacker presents a portrait of a community and a generation that has created a culture based on television, movies, and obscure historical references.  Slacker is a film that has been very carefully constructed to appear to be random but there’s a definite structure to it.  The film may look like it was made by someone who just turned on a camera and wandered around for day but Linklater definitely knew what he was doing and I’ve seen enough bad attempts to duplicate Slacker that I can definitely appreciate what Linkler accomplished.

The film, which had a largely nonprofessional cast, is full of interesting and, if you live in Texas, familiar characters.  The bitter hitchhiker, for instance, will be familiar to anyone who has ever had a conversation with an older inhabitant of a college town.  The conspiracy theorist who is writing his own book about the Kennedy assassination can be found in just about every independent bookstore in Texas.  I know people who actually took a class taught by the old man who (foolishly, in my opinion) idolized Leon Czolgosz.  As I said, the film is 20 years old but it captures the essence of Austin so perfectly that it remains timeless.

Slacker was Richard Linklater’s first film.  Appropriately, he’s also the first person to appear in the film and the first one to speak.  (He had a dream while on a bus.)  Linklater has gone on to become one of Texas’s greatest filmmakers.  At a time when cinematic and political conformity is too often celebrated, Linklater remains a unique and authentic voice.

And it all started with a film about Austin, a film called Slacker.

Music Video of the Day: In Front Of The Alamo by Hal Ketchum (2007, dir by Glenn Sweitzer)


Today is Alamo Day.  It was 184 years ago, today, that 600 men gave their lives in the name of Texas.

That’s one of the many things that I think sets us native Texans apart from the rest of the United States.  Texans believe in freedom.  We always have and we always will.  Some of us may be conservative and some of us may be liberal but what we have in common is a desire to do it our own way.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as moved as I was during the days immediately after Hurricane Harvey.  A lot of people outside of the state seemed to think that Harvey was a disaster of such immense proportions that it would lead to the end of both the state’s reputation for independence and our way of life.   So, what did we do?  We did what Texans always do.  We came together and we helped each other.  We did what we could and, when someone came along who could do the job better, we supported them.  We appreciated everyone who came down to lend a helping hand and we checked on our neighbors to make sure that they were okay.  See, that’s the thing about Texas.  We don’t surrender.  We fight and we help those who need it and, for that reason, we’re the greatest state in the union.

(In fact, if we had never joined the United States, the Republic Texas would probably be a world superpower right now.  Oh well.  In the end, it all worked out.)

Anyway. this music video is about the Alamo so it seems appropriate for today!

Enjoy!

4 Shots From 4 Wes Anderson Films: Rushmore, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Let us all wish a happy 50th birthday to one of the greatest directors working today, Wes Anderson!  Though Wes Anderson may currently live in Paris, he was born and raised in my homestate of Texas.  While Anderson’s films often seem to take place in their own special universe, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore are still two of the best films ever made about Texas.

(Other directors who were either born and/or raised in Texas or call this state home include Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Terence Malick, Catherine Hardwicke, Mike Judge, Rob Bowman, David Gordon Green, and David Lowery.  Not too bad!)

In honor of Wes Anderson’s birthday, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Wes Anderson Films

Rushmore (1998, dir by Wes Anderson)

Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009, dir by Wes Anderson)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012, dir by Wes Anderson)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, dir by Wes Anderson)

 

4 Shots From 4 Texas Films: Dazed and Confused, Primer, Tree of Life, A Ghost Story


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today is Texas Independence Day!

In honor of my home state, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Texas Films

Dazed and Confused (1993, dir by Richard Linklater)

Primer (2004, dir by Shane Carruth)

Tree of Life (2011, dir by Terrence Malick)

A Ghost Story (2017, dir by David Lowery)

Here Are The 2018 Houston Film Critics Society Nominations!


Finally, the only state that matters is starting to make it’s voice heard in this year’s Oscar race!

On Sunday, the Houston Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2018.  Houston really, really liked both The Favourite and If Beale Street Could Talk.  The winners will be announced on January 3rd.

Here are the nominees!

Best Picture
A Star is Born
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Eighth Grade
If Beale Street Could Talk
The Favourite
First Reformed
Green Book
Hereditary
Roma
Vice

Best Director
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Yorgos Lanthimos, The Favourite
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Actor
Christian Bale, Vice
Bradley Cooper, A Star is Born
Ethan Hawke, First Reformed
Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen, Green Book

Best Actress
Glenn Close, The Wife
Toni Collette, Hereditary
Olivia Colman, The Favourite
Lady Gaga, A Star is Born
Melissa McCarthy, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali, Green Book
Timothee Chalamet, Beautiful Boy
Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansman
Richard E. Grant, Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther

Best Supporting Actress
Amy Adams, Vice
Claire Foy, First Man
Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk
Emma Stone, The Favourite
Rachel Weisz, The Favourite

Best Screenplay
Bo Burnham, Eighth Grade
Deborah Davis & Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Cinematography
Rachel Morrison, Black Panther
Linus Sandgren, First Man
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
James Laxton, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alfonso Cuaron, Roma

Best Animated Film
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Original Score
Ludwig Göransson, Black Panther
Justin Hurwitz, First Man
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Thom Yorke, Suspiria

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“Ashes,” Deadpool 2
“Hearts Beat Loud,” Hearts Beat Loud
“Revelation,” Boy Erased
“Shallow,” A Star is Born

Best Foreign Language Film
Burning
Border
Cold War
Roma
Shoplifters

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Minding the Gap
RBG
Three Identical Strangers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Texas Independent Film Award
1985
An American in Texas
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek
Support the Girls
Tejano

Visual Effects
Black Panther
First Man
Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Best Poster
BlacKkKlansman (two)
Mandy
Suspiria (two)

Best Worst Film of the Year
The 15:17 to Paris
The Happytime Murders
Life Itself
Peppermint
Venom

A Blast From The Past: The Marfa Lights


Marfa Lights

Did you know that we are regularly visited by UFOs down here in Texas?

Well, maybe.  To be honest, I tend to be a skeptic about most of these things, just because I can’t imagine any aliens wanting to visit this planet.  However, it is true that — for centuries — mysterious lights have been spotted hovering over the desert that surrounds Marfa, Texas.

Some people down here prefer not to talk about the Marfa Lights, because they kind of play into the whole “Everyone in Texas is crazy” stereotype that certain folks have.  If nothing else, we’re a state that loves to do business and sometimes aliens aren’t good for business.

The Gribbles in Marfa

But, honestly, most of us love the idea of aliens regularly visiting Marfa!  If nothing else, those aliens have earned themselves a right to one of those “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got down here as fast as I could” bumper stickers!

Of course, it’s totally possible that the Marfa Lights are not UFO-related.  There’s plenty of explanations that have been offered up but none of them are as much fun as aliens.  So, let’s go with aliens.

The video below tells you all about The Marfa Lights and it’s pretty interesting.  It has an interview with a Marfa old timer who claims her ancestors spotted the lights back in the 19th century.  I’m not sure when the video is shot but judging from the cars and the fashion, I’m going to guess it’s from either the late 70s or the 80s.  That said, Marfa pretty much still looks the same.

Except, of course, Marfa is now a leading artist’s colony and the home of a famous (and fake) Prada store.  In fact, a few years ago, 60 Minutes did a whole story on Marfa and didn’t even mention the Marfa Lights.  I guess the reporters were shocked to discover art in Texas.  People up north are always so shocked to discover that there’s a world below Manhattan.

Prada Marfa

Anyway, enjoy The Marfa Lights!