Book Review: Spooky Texas by S.E. Schlosser


If you’re going to be in Texas this Halloween and you want to spend the holiday at a location that might be haunted …. well, as I’ve said many times on this site, I don’t believe in ghosts, werewolves, vampires, or anything else so I won’t be of much help there.  Probably the best recommendation that I can make is that you drive out to Marfa, set up a lawn chair in the desert, and wait for the Marfa Lights to appear.  The Marfa Lights have been appearing for decades, hovering over the town of Marfa.  Boring, reality-based people claim that it’s just an atmospheric phenomena.  Others claim that it’s either ghosts or maybe a UFO visitation.

Marfa itself is in the desert of west Texas.  (Giant was filmed in Marfa.)  As of late, it’s become as well-known for being an artists colony as for its paranormal reputation.  A few years ago, 60 Minutes did a breathless story on all the artists who were moving to Marfa and not once were the Marfa Lights mentioned.  Several minutes were devoted to Prada Marfa but not a single second to the Marfa Lights.  Don’t get me wrong, of course.  I would much rather the town be known for its artists than its UFOs but still, you have to wonder how a show could spend twelve minutes talking about Marfa without mentioning the lights.  Am I suggesting that there’s some sort of government cover-up going on?  No, I’m not.  That would be dumb.  I’m just suggesting that 60 Minutes, which is apparently a show that only exists so that elderly reporters have something to do after they lose their nightly news gig, might be out-of-touch.

Fortunately, the book Spooky Texas has chapters on the Marfa Lights and twenty-four other paranormal stories that take place in Texas.  Admittedly, some of the detail mentioned in the stories did seem a bit odd to me.  (For some reason, the author of this book seems to be under the impression that it snows a lot in west Texas.)  But, despite that, it’s a fun read and it’s full of inspiration for both the aspiring horror writer and the Texan who is just looking for some place creepy to hang out on Halloween.  If you can’t go to Marfa and if you can’t find any of the ghosts that are rumored to haunt the Alamo, I would suggest going to Fort Worth and searching for the Gray Lady.  Or, if you really want to live dangerously, go down to Laredo and listen for a crying woman.  Just don’t get too close!

Horror On The Lens: Mark of the Witch (dir by Tom Moore)


Today’s horror on the lens is Mark of the Witch, a little oddity that was filmed in 1969 and released in 1970.  It’s a film about what happens when the spirit of an executed witch possesses a college student.

This is an admittedly low-budget and, some would say, amateurish production but certain scenes have a nice dream-like feel and, in the role of the witch, Marie Santell doesn’t leave a bit of scenery unchewed.  I especially enjoy her speech at the start of the film.

Plus, Mark of the Witch was filmed in my hometown of Dallas, Texas!

Enjoy!

The Texas Offices Are Down!


Hi, everyone!

The Texas offices of the TSL are currently surrounded by 6 inches of snow and, due to rolling blackouts, the power situation is iffy.  Hopefully, the power situation will be a bit more stable come tomorrow.  Still, for this reason, it might be a few days before any of us down here in Texas get to watch, let alone review!, anything.  Since half of the site’s regular contributors work out of Texas, that means that posting might be a little bit light this week.  As always, we’ll make up for it once the snow has melted and the lights are staying on!

So, stay stafe, stay warm, and know that we’ll be back as soon as we can be!

The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Honor Nomadland


The Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics announced their picks for best of 2020 yesterday.  I’m sad to say that they picked the exact same winners that all the other critics groups are picking.  I mean, seriously, DFW — we’re supposed to be the individualists and the contrarians!  We’re supposed to be the ones who say, “We’re going to honor whoever we want and if you folks up north don’t like it, tough!”  Where’s that independent spirit?

In other words — where’s the love for Money Plane!?  I keep waiting for one of these critics groups to have the courage to honor one of the best films of the year.  They don’t even have to name it best picture.  How about Kelsey Grammer for best supporting actor.  “I am the Rumble!”  Who else could have delivered that line as skillfully?  But, so far, none of the regional groups have had the guts.  As a result, both the Golden Globes and SAG ignored Money Plane.  I’m starting think that the Oscars might do the same thing.  Sometimes, the best films go unhonered and that could happen here.  “We’re going to rob the money plane!”  That’s a line that will never be forgotten.

Oh well.  I am happy that Carey Mulligan won best actress.  I haven’t watched Judas and the Black Messiah yet but Daniel Kaluuya is really coming on strong here in the home stretch so I’m going to guess that he’ll soon be picking up his second Oscar nomination.  Even if Money Plane is being snubbed, it’s still interesting to watch momentum for a performance build in real time.

Here are the winners from my hometown:

Best Picture
Nomadland

Best Actor
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actress
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Best Supporting Actor
Daniel Kaluuya – Judas And The Black Messiah

Best Supporting Actress
Amanda Seyfried – Mank

Best Director
Chloe Zhao – Nomadland

Best Foreign Language Film
Minari

Best Documentary
Time

Best Animated Film
Soul

Best Screenplay
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman

Best Cinematography
Joshua James Richards – Nomadland

Best Musical Score
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross – Mank

The Russell Smith Award (Independent Film)
Minari

The Houston Film Critics Society Honors Nomadland


The Houston Skyline

Earlier today, the Houston Film Critics Society announced their picks for the best of 2020.  While the Houston critics did give best picture and best director to Nomadland, they bucked the current awards season trend a bit by also honoring Carey Mulligan over Frances McDormand and Leslie Odom Jr. over Paul Raci, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Chadwick Boseman.

Here’s what won in Houston.  Winners are in bold:

Best Picture
Da 5 Bloods
The Father
Minari
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Promising Young Woman
Soul
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Regina King – One Night in Miami
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Darius Marder – Sound of Metal
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Steven Yeun – Minari

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Ellen Burstyn – Pieces of a Woman
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Youn Yuh‑jung – Minari

Best Screenplay
Minari
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Animated Feature
The Croods: A New Age
Onward
Over the Moon
Soul
Wolfwalkers

Best Cinematography
Mank
Minari
News of the World
Nomadland
Tenet

Best Documentary Feature
Boys State
Collective
Dick Johnson is Dead
My Octopus Teacher
Time

Best Foreign Language Feature
Another Round
Bacurau
Beanpole
La Llorona
A Sun

Best Original Score
Mank
The Midnight Sky
News of the World
Soul
Tenet

Best Original Song
“Turntables” from All In: The Fight for Democracy
“Lo Si” from The Life Ahead
“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami
“Rocket to the Moon” from Over the Moon
“Wear Your Crown” from The Prom

Best Visual Effects
Tenet
The Invisible Man
The Midnight Sky

Best Stunt Coordination Team
Birds of Prey
Mulan
The Old Guard
Tenet
Wonder Woman 1984

Outstanding Cinematic Achievement
Criterion Channel as Best Movie Streaming Platform
Minari for the performance by Alan S. Kim
Small Axe for Steve McQueen’s vision for film anthology
Sound of Metal for immersive sound design
The Trial of the Chicago 7 for ensemble cast

Best Movie Poster Art
Da 5 Bloods

Here Are The 2020 Nominations of The Houston Film Critics Society!


The Houston Skyline

The Houston Film Critics Society announced their nominations for the best of 2020 on Tuesday.  They’ll announce the winners on January 18th and, hopefully, they’ll remember that Texas always goes its own way and they’ll make some unexpected picks.

(Personally, I’m interested to see how Minari does, as it was filmed in the Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas region and I do think there’s something to be said for local critics doing their bit to support local filmmaking.  I will also be interested to see who wins the award for Best Texas Independent Film.  I’m hoping it’ll be another victory for The Vast of Night.  We’ll find out on the 18th!)

Here are the nominees:

Best Picture

Da 5 Bloods
The Father
Minari
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Promising Young Woman
Soul
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Director
Lee Isaac Chung – Minari
Chloé Zhao – Nomadland
Regina King – One Night in Miami
Emerald Fennell – Promising Young Woman
Darius Marder – Sound of Metal
Aaron Sorkin – The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
Riz Ahmed – Sound of Metal
Chadwick Boseman – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Anthony Hopkins – The Father
Delroy Lindo – Da 5 Bloods
Steven Yeun – Minari

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
Viola Davis – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Sidney Flanigan – Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman
Frances McDormand – Nomadland
Carey Mulligan – Promising Young Woman

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
Chadwick Boseman – Da 5 Bloods
Sacha Baron Cohen – The Trial of the Chicago 7
Bill Murray – On the Rocks
Leslie Odom Jr. – One Night in Miami
Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
Maria Bakalova – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Ellen Burstyn – Pieces of a Woman
Olivia Colman – The Father
Amanda Seyfried – Mank
Youn Yuh‑jung – Minari

Best Screenplay
Minari
Nomadland
One Night in Miami
Promising Young Woman
Sound of Metal
The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Animated Feature
The Croods: A New Age
Onward
Over the Moon
Soul
Wolfwalkers

Best Cinematography
Mank
Minari
News of the World
Nomadland
Tenet

Best Documentary Feature
Boys State
Collective
Dick Johnson is Dead
My Octopus Teacher
Time

Best Foreign Language Feature
Another Round
Bacurau
Beanpole
La Llorona
A Sun

Best Original Score
Mank
The Midnight Sky
News of the World
Soul
Tenet

Best Original Song
“Turntables” from All In: The Fight for Democracy
“Lo Si” from The Life Ahead
“Speak Now” from One Night in Miami
“Rocket to the Moon” from Over the Moon
“Wear Your Crown” from The Prom

Best Visual Effects
Tenet
The Invisible Man
The Midnight Sky

Best Stunt Coordination Team
Birds of Prey
Mulan
The Old Guard
Tenet
Wonder Woman 1984

Texas Independent Film Award
Boys State
Miss Juneteenth
Ready or Not
The Vast of Night
Yellow Rose

Outstanding Cinematic Achievement
Criterion Channel as Best Movie Streaming Platform
Minari for the performance by Alan S. Kim
Small Axe for Steve McQueen’s vision for film anthology
Sound of Metal for immersive sound design
The Trial of the Chicago 7 for ensemble cast

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!