Tag Archives: Austin Texas

Slacker (1991)

slacker

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: A movie about nothing.

A look at a day-in-the-life of society’s left behinds that filter the streets, bars and coffee shops of Austin, Texas. The viewer hears a wide variety of weird topics, theories and extreme political points-of-view from the detached 20-something crowd as the camera winds its way from one conversation to the next and never stopping on any one person for longer than a few minutes.

This was considered at the time of its release to be a major breakthrough for the independent film movement and one that remains an inspiration for many indie filmmakers today. It succeeds because it proves you don’t need a big budget, state-of-the-art effects or even a compelling story to work. It washes all those things away and gets down to the very essence of why we watch movies, which is because we are all secretly voyeurs intrigued with seeing how the ‘other half’ lives without having to get our own feet wet in the process. The characters, as offbeat as they and their conversations may be, have a definite element truth to them and this film manages to convey reality far better than 95 percent of the other movies out there.

Some of my favorite conversations, which seem mostly ad-libbed, involved the one with the guy who was obsessed with the JFK assassination and his ‘shocking’ new revelations involving Jack Ruby’s dog. There are also the two young men inside a bar who talk about the ‘subliminal messages’ of the Smurf cartoons and the film’s director Richard Linklater who opens the film with a discussion on how every choice that we don’t make continues off and has a reality of its own. I also liked the anarchist (Louis Mackey) who talks about the man who assassinated President McKinley simply because all you ever hear about are the Kennedy and Lincoln assassinations and never anything about anything about the other two.

I also liked Teresa Taylor, who was the former drummer for the Butthole Surfers, playing a woman trying to sell a vial containing singer Madonna’s Pap smear and the guy who locks himself inside a room with what seems like hundreds of TV’s that run all day and night. However, I was a bit disappointed that during this scene we get shown a video of a man who supposedly shots the camera with his rifle and although he does indeed aim his gun at the lens he never fires it, which I found to be a letdown.

Some may consider these characters, in our very job oriented culture, to be ‘losers’ simply because they ‘aren’t working’ and being ‘productive members of society’, but director Linklater takes a different perspective by stating in an interview that he feels slackers are instead a ‘step ahead’ and ‘rejecting the social hierarchy before it rejects them’.

To some extent I agree as I was pretty much the same way at that age, but I also couldn’t help but think what these same characters were doing now 20 years later. It’s easy to be detached when you’re younger, but when a person reaches middle-age and the financial responsibilities become stronger, it’s not, so I kept wondering if these same people may have now ‘sold-out’ or even ‘grown up’. I also wondered how they may have evolved in other ways for instance the guy who was so into the conspiracies of the JFK assassination may now have crossed over to ones involving 9/11 and the young man that was really into TV’s may now be a Blu-ray player nut instead. If anything this is a movie crying out for a sequel and one that could easily be just as fascinating as the first one especially if it involved the same people.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 22, 1991

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Linklater

Studio: Orion Classics

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray (Criterion Collection), Amazon Instant Video

 

 

Outlaw Blues (1977)

outlaw blues

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Singer on the run.

When country music giant Garland Dupree (James T. Callahan) visits a Texas prison in order to hold a Johnny Cash-like concert for the inmates he meets up with Bobby Ogden (Peter Fonda) a prisoner who while spending time in jail has written a song called ‘Outlaw Blues’. Garland likes the song so much that he decides to steal it and make it his own only to be confronted by Bobby who once out on parole will stop at nothing to get it back and expose Garland for the fraud he is. With the help of Tina (Susan Saint James) who acts as his manager he does just that, but finds himself again on the run from the cops after accidently shooting Garland during a confrontation inside a recording studio.

This film is notable for not only being filmed in Austin, Texas, but also being the first film to ever use Austin as a setting. The movie can be fun for people from the area especially those living in the city during the mid-‘70s. There are a lot of car chases that occur in the center of town making it entertaining to see all the old buildings some of which still stand today. The scene that takes place at what was then called Texas Memorial stadium during halftime of a Longhorn’s football game where Tina and Bobby take part as members of the marching band is pretty cool as is Tina’s serene houseboat that she lives in and has docked on the Colorado River.

Unfortunately the story itself evolves little and relies heavily on a lot of car chases and clichéd one-dimensional characters. Bobby’s hit song is too low key and melodic making it hard to imagine why so many people would get so crazy about it as a more up tempo country/rock sound would have worked better and given the soundtrack more of a kick.

The film also suffers from a few goofs and lapses of logic. The biggest one is when a lone cameraman films Bobby accidently shooting Garland and it gets replayed on the evening news. Yet when it gets shown it has several edits and footage of the incident from different viewpoints and angles, which if truly shot by just one camera wouldn’t have been possible. The idea of having Garland chasing Bobby down through the streets of Austin in broad daylight while shooting at him is utterly insane even for a deluded, egotistical character that he is as it would just get him thrown into jail. Since the Garland character is portrayed as having a lot of money then he should do what most rich people do when they want someone dead, which is hire someone else to do it while creatively covering up the paper trail.

Fonda too laid back in the lead and comes off as transparent and boring. Saint James, Callahan and John Crawford as an obsessed police chief lend some amusing support, but their presence as well as a nifty boat chase at the end cannot save a film that is otherwise generic and silly.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 15, 1977

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Richard T. Heffron

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive)

Targets (1968)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: He kills his family.

In 1967 producer Roger Corman gave fledgling director Peter Bogdanovich the green light to make any movie he wanted as long as he followed two stipulations.  The first one was that he had to use footage from Corman’s earlier film The Terror and the second one required that he use the acting services of Boris Karloff as Karloff still owed Corman two day’s work per his contract.  This movie is the result of that agreement, which kind of works and kind of doesn’t and seems more like two movies rolled into one.

The first story deals with a young, clean-cut man starting to have homicidal urges. The second scenario involves an aging actor played by Karloff, who decides he wants to retire despite the appeals of his agent and film studio. He plans to attend a showing of one of his films (The Terror) at a local drive-in where the sniper is waiting to shoot him.

I enjoyed the scenes involving the sniper and felt it helped elevate this film from the typical exploitation fare.  The character is based very closely on Charles Whitman, an All-American ex-marine, who on August 1, 1966, climbed to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin and shot 32 people, killing 14. It was one of the very first mass-shootings in American history and it caused worldwide headlines.

Tim O’Kelly, the actor who plays the gunman, looks almost exactly like Whitman. What I liked about these scenes is the way it follows the character around and shows his interactions with his family. Like in real life there were no indicators, or violent past.  It is creepy watching him say grace at the dinner table, or having wholesome conversations with his wife when you know what’s going to happen.  The film goes into almost meticulous detail with the build-up and I found it gripping despite the fact that there is little action, or music.

The shootings are uniquely done.  Like in the actual incident, he shoots his mother and wife first and then puts a towel over their blood stains while carrying their dead bodies back to their bedrooms so it would look more ‘tidy’ when the police came.  This is all done with a docu-drama approach, which heightens the impact and realism.

The scenes involving the sniper shooting at people while they drive in their cars along a busy roadway are excellent as well.  It was done on an actual freeway and the viewer watches the action from the killer’s perspective through the telescope of his rifle, which is chilling. The cars veering off the road and people getting shot are vivid.  The only fault here is that Bogdanovich had the killer climb up on top of an ordinary tank at an oil refinery to do the shootings.  The clock tower in the actual incident was a very distinct structure and it would have been stronger visually had they found another one that was similar to it.

The parts involving Karloff are weak and tend to be cluttered with a lot of uninteresting dialogue.  Bogdanovich casts himself as the screenwriter for Karloff’s next proposed project.  I always thought it was a bit weird for a director, especially one that at the time was young and unknown, to cast himself in his own movie.  I know Woody Allen and Spike Lee, as well as others have done this, but it always came off as a bit narcissistic to me. However, I saw Bogdanovich in person a few months ago and he hasn’t seemed to have aged a day.

The climactic sequence in the drive-in is poorly handled. The dark lighting makes it hard to follow the action.  The final confrontation between Karloff and the killer is dull and unimaginative.  The only good points here is that it gives you a chance to see both Randy Quaid an Mike Farrell in their film debuts playing two of the sniper’s victims.

The film ends with a bird’s-eye view of the drive-in’s empty parking lot taken the next day with the sniper’s car being the only one left.  It was shot during the early morning hours so the sunlight gives it a surreal quality.  It also has a moody feel because the only sound is of blowing wind as the credits scrawl over, which I liked. However, the police would certainly have impounded his car and gone through it for clues and not have let it just sit there.

Under the conditions that he was given I think Bogdanovich did a commendable job. It is hard to know what category to put this film into.  At times it seems like a horror movie and then at other points it’s a drama. Some may even argue that it is a sentimental tale dealing with an aging actor moving into the final years of his life. Personally I wished it had gone all out as a horror film because the ingredients were there except that the tension was inconsistent. Fans of Bogdanovich may want to check this out because it is radically different from any of his later works.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: August 15, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 30Minutes

Rated R

Director: Peter Bogdanovich

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video