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Preview: The M.O.

The M.O.

The M.O. gives readers a little insight into the world of this man without a plan.

Published: 2011-04-06T10:14:04-06:00


The M.O. signs off


I moved from my old post at to this here blog on over four years ago. Now, after hundreds of blogs about everything from my love-hate relationship with breakfast tacos to whining about the new parking laws to chats with filmmakers, comedians and musicians, I am leaving this small corner of the Internet and my role as content producer on

But my departure from The M.O. does not mark an exit from the Statesman. I have simply moved across the newsroom to join the Statesman’s features department on a full-time basis. I will be reporting on the local film industry and other entertainment and lifestyle topics, as well as contributing film criticism.

What does this mean for you? Not too terribly much, except that you won’t see my smiling mug on the homepage of austin360 any longer (and there was much rejoicing). My voice will not be vanquished from the site altogether. I will be contributing regularly to the Statesman Movie Blog ( and at times to the Music Source blog ( So, if you haven’t already, please bookmark those sites or add them to your RSS feeds or whatever it is you do with the Internet.

To those who have visited this blog before, I want to thank you for your time and your comments and your emails. I have had a great time trying to maintain this thing with mildly entertaining bits of entertainment and ephemera and hope that you will continue to read all of our Statesman entertainment coverage on

(If you’ve found this page by accident or from an incorrect link, sorry to waste the last two minutes of your life. You probably weren’t going to do anything meaningful with them anyhow.)

SXSW Talks: Tom McCarthy, 'Win Win'


Early in his acting career, Tom McCarthy said he grew a little weary of the roles that seemed to be coming his way. He had appeared in two consecutive movies as a 30-year-old wondering if he should get married or not. The only discernible differences between the roles were the films’ settings and his characters’ religious backgrounds. That’s when McCarthy decided to take matters into his own hands. “Rather than complain about it, I decided to just start to write. And that was the ‘Station Agent.’” McCarthy’s 2003 debut about an unlikely trio of characters finding solace in each other’s company won him the best original screenplay award from the Independent Spirit Awards and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The writer-director followed those achievements in 2007 with “The Visitor,” a story of a lonely man who stumbles into companionship, which garnered him an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director and a nomination for best screenplay from the Writer’s Guild of America. Both films showed a sensitive and subtle filmmaker exploring ideas of loss and the need for connection. With his third feature, “Win Win,” which screened Monday night at the Paramount Theatre, McCarthy again examines relationships. But his story of a man who makes an unethical, and seemingly innocuous, decision that eventually impacts his family and those around him does not tread emotional ground quite as weighty and somber as his previous films. “Ultimately, look, especially after ‘The Visitor,’ I wanted to have fun with this story,” McCarthy said Monday morning before his movie played SXSW. “I just wanted to loosen up and kick back -- a little sloppy, a little fun.” Despite his best efforts, middle-aged suburban lawyer Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti) can’t seem to stay ahead of life. When faced with the opportunity to take advantage of aging client’s dilemma, the straight-shooting Mike makes an unethical and out-of-character move that will earn him $1500 a month. Although it seems a victimless crime, Mike realizes his plan is not fool proof when his client’s grandson, Kyle (an excellent turn by Alex Shaffer), appears. Although the movie is funnier than McCarthy’s previous script, the Yale drama school grad admits that the broad comedy also resonated with him on a deeper level. “When decent people that we know - he has a family and he lives and town and he’s a good guy, but he did this thing,” McCarthy said. “That to me was speaking very, very directly to where we are as a society, especially financially.” McCarthy has a nuanced opinion of some of the players involved in the economic calamity that has engulfed the country. “I don’t think they’re all evil people; I’m not a big believer in that. My family works on Wall Street. But there were some really bad choices made by decent people. Too many things like this happen and we say, ‘Oh, those guys are bad guys. We’re in this situation cause of bad guy.’ I think we’re in this situation because collectively we’ve made some pretty bad choices.” The filmmaker said he was specifically fascinated by the collapse of former Texas energy titan Enron. “The thing Joe and I kept talking about was Enron. We kept looking at the Enron model. That’s the thing that interested me. Because it was this company, which now we are all aware of its fall from grace, but which at the time it was the pillar. The company was the flagstone. And a lot of good came out of that - a lot of decent people’s lives were made, kids went to college and philanthropically and bolstering the economy in local communities and all this great stuff. Granted a few people were getting very rich, but all this wonderful trickle-down fallout … until that moment happened and everyone was like, ‘Whoa! Hold it. What? What is this?̵[...]

SXSW Talks: Rainn Wilson and James Gunn, 'Super'



Director James Gunn’s “Super” has generated a lot of chatter at SXSW - some of it positive, some negative and some just plain confused.

The movie stars Rainn Wilson as Frank, a schlubby soul who loses his wife and then reinvents himself as an absurd superhero with no superpowers. Joining Frank on his battle to enforce justice and save his wife is comic book store employee Libby (Ellen Page), who is also desperate for a chance to inject meaning into her life.

One would expect a movie starring Wilson and Page to be cute and clever, maybe even too much so. Those fears would be unwarranted. “Super” is funny, but it’s also sad, violent, gory and a bit disturbing.

“I think for some people, it’s a little too much frankly because it comes at you from so many different angles at the same time,” Gunn said Sunday following the film’s U.S. premiere Saturday night at the Paramount.

Wilson said he recognizes the complexity of the sometimes dichotomous emotions that the film elicits, but argues that life is the same way, with comedy and tragedy often juxtaposed.

“I think sadness and comedy happen to us all everyday. Actually, I’m not comparing ‘Super’ to ‘The Office’ at all, but ‘The Office’ does that very well,” Wilson said. “There’s sadness in ‘The Office.’ People are lonely and disconnected and they’re uncomfortable, but it’s also hysterical and weird and goofy at the same time. And I think that’s why it strikes a chord.”

Gunn originally wrote the screenplay for “Super” in 2002, but had shelved it for several years before his ex-wife Jenna Fischer suggested to Gunn that he show the script to her “Office” co-star.

“A lot of people think I wrote the role for Rainn because he fits it so completely,” Gunn said.

“I like to pretend that he did,” Wilson said. “Sometimes I’ll sit at night in my PJs and drink hot cocoa with little marshmallows and think, ‘Oh, James wrote that beautiful role just for me.’”

Once Wilson signed on to the project, Gunn knew he had to make the movie.

“The Blues Brothers were on a mission from God. Frank (Wilson’s character) is on a mission from God. And me and James were on a mission from God to make this movie,” Wilson said.

(“Super” screens again Monday night at 9 at the Arbor.)

SXSW Talks: Morgan Spurlock, 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold'



We caught up with "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" director Morgan Spurlock and his co-writer Jeremy Chilnick following the screening of the documentary at the Paramount on Sunday evening.

"The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" film pulls the curtain back on the world of product placement, as the filmmaker lines up product tie-ins to pay for the entire endeavor. Pretty meta. It is both funny and a little unsettling, as discussions with advertising executives, branding gurus, corporate marketing departments and filmmakers reveal the degree to which "selling out" has become de rigeur in the entertainment business ... with the operative word being business.

The documentary is the fifth film Spurlock has been connected to that has played at SXSW, which he called the "greatest film fest on the planet."

The filmmaker may be spending even more time in Texas soon, as he is developing a TV show for HBO about Texas politics. The pilot has been written by literary giant Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, who teamed up for the "Brokeback Mountain" screenplay. Spurlock says rewrites are ongoing with hopes for production of the pilot to begin as soon as possible.

Why Texas?

"It's Texas. It's its own place," Spurlock said.

Spurlock says the plan is to shoot the yet-to-be-named (or at least title-to-be-announced-at-a-later-date) show in Texas.

Even if the state tax incentives go away?

"We'll cross that bridge when it's burning," Spurlock said.

Video: Chatting with Morgan Spurlock about his new film.

Look for more from this interview when "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" opens in Austin.

Photo of Morgan Spurlock at the Hyatt Hotel on March 13 by Jenni Jones.

SXSW Talks: Jake Gyllenhaal and Duncan Jones, 'Source Code'



The trailer for “Source Code” promises an action-packed mind-bender. While those words definitely fit the new film from Duncan Jones which kicked off SXSW, the surprise for audiences may be the amount of humor in the director’s second film.

I spoke with “Source Code” star Jake Gyllenhaal and Jones (separately) on Saturday, and both discussed the comedic elements of the film Jones said lands in the gray area between hard sci-fi and soft sci-fi.

“Duncan and I both have a sort of weird, strange, sick sense of humor that we relate to,” Gyllenhaal said. “I always love the character where they walk through the door and they hit their head and then they beat the crap out of somebody or they get the crap beaten out of them. It’s the idiosyncrasies and the strangeness of life that makes things funny … We just found those moments and we just went with it. And sometimes I just think that comedy is confidence, and we just had this confidence in those situations.”

In talking to Gyllenhaal about the character, I was reminded of Harrison Ford, a sentiment that Jones, unprovoked, later echoed in comparing Gyllenhaal to Indiana Jones.

“An everyman who’s pissed off and frustrated with the rest of the world but you share the ride and the humor of the stuff he goes through,” Jones said of the similarities between Gyllenhaal’s character and Indian Jones.

Jones said the original script, which both he and Gyllenhaal praised, spent a little too much time on exposition, which can kill a sci-fiction film.

“We thought it was important to keep the focus on where it needed to be - on the characters on the relationships and on the fun of the story,” Jone said. “I think that is what I kind of brought to it initially was the tone of the film. I talked to Jake and said my take on this is let’s lighten the tone, let’s inject some humor into this because that’s going to help do the job of getting the audience to buy into it in the first place. I think humor is a very powerful tool, especially in filmmaking because you can immediately create a connection between the audience and your protagonist.”

With all of this talk of humor, it seems only fitting that my interview with Gyllenhaal was pushed back a few minutes thanks to a surprise visit from comedy icon Paul Reubens aka Pee Wee Herman, who popped in to spend a few minutes with the actor.

(Look for more from this conversation closer to the April 1 release of "Source Code.")

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Photo from @PeeWeeHerman on

SXSW Talks: Susanne Bier, director of 'In a Better World'



Dressed in tight black jeans, black boots and blouse, "In a Better World" director Susanne Bier looked every bit as sleek and elegant as the W Hotel where we chatted Friday morning.

Bier’s moving tale of forgiveness and revenge plays Friday night at the State Theatre, less than two weeks after the movie garnered the Danish director an Oscar for best foreign language.

“It’s huge,” Bier said of her triumph at the Academy Awards. “I don’t think anybody realizes the pride a country of five million people takes in winning this prize. It’s been seen by 10 percent of all Danes. So already before going to the Oscars there was a lot of investment in the film; there was a lot of engagement in the film. Everybody was very excited about winning the Golden Globe and the Oscar was like crazy. It was like winning the World Cup. It’s actually really wonderful. It’s very gratifying.”

The film chronicles two families dealing with pain caused by death and separation and the friendship that two young boys cling to during a time of domestic difficulties. Set against the backdrop of atrocities enveloping a refugee camp in Africa, the film shows the universality of the human character regardless of language or income level.

The original title of the film in Denmark was “The Revenge.” While the name is representative of one of the film’s main themes, Bier says she is pleased they had time to change it for international release.

“I much prefer the English title because it points at the hopefulness of the film, whereas revenge points at the severeness of the film. And I prefer the hopefulness,” she said.

Although reluctant to go into much detail regarding her next project, Bier says she is determined not to let her Oscar lull her into complacency.

“Never look back and always look forward,” she said with cool conviction.

(Look for more of this conversation with Bier in coming weeks.)

Click here for our capsule preview of the film.

"In a Better World" screens at 6 p.m. Saturday at Alamo South.

Updated to correct Friday screening location to the State Theatre.

SXSW capsule preview: 'In a Better World'



This taut, suspenseful and moving film from director Susanne Bier won the Academy Award for best foreign language film. And rightly so. It artfully explores the pain of adolescence and the conflicting motivations of revenge and forgiveness.

Young Christian and his father Claus have moved from London to Denmark following the death of Christian’s mother, a loss the child struggles to process as he holes up in his cramped room, isolated from his father.

At his new school Christian befriends bullied classmate Elias, who finds comfort in his new companion. Elias is enduring his own difficulties at home as his parents work their way through a separation with his doctor father splitting time between an African refugee camp and Denmark.

The two children form an unequal but touching alliance, with Christian controlling the weaker Elias, as they both deal with the frustration of their parents not being exactly who their children hope them to be.

A youthful and dangerous bout of rebellion tests the limits of the two boys’ friendship and their relationship with their parents, as unspoken fears and resentments eventually boil over at home.

If this Academy Award winning film was produced by an American studio, it would likely play as a straight horror film, with the troubled Christian (William Jøhnk Nielsen in an incredible debut performance) depicted as the embodiment of evil, but Bier delivers a beautiful and nuanced film with characters that earn our sympathies without asking for them.

"In a Better World" screens Friday, March 11 at 6 p.m. at the State Theatre and again on Saturday, March 12 at 6 p.m. at the Alamo South.

Five must-attend panels at SXSW



Dozens and dozens of panels will be held during the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival. Here’s a look at five must-attend events.

1. Straight from the Source (Code) Duncan Jones’ debut feature, “Moon,” wowed SXSW attendees in 2009. The director comes to Austin this year with his second film, “Source Code,” in tow. Stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan join the director for a discussion about the time-space-continuum-melting thriller that opens the film festival. (11 a.m. Saturday, Austin Convention Center, Room 16AB)

2. SUPER-Talented: A Conversation with James Gunn, Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson Take a peek inside the mind of Troma Entertainment alumnus writer-director James Gunn and see how this filmmaker devised his superhero-meets-camp horror-meets-parable flick. Expect Page and Wilson to dazzle with their astonishing superpowers of charm and wit. (12:30 p.m. Saturday, Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD)

3. Catherine Hardwicke’s Directing Workshop McAllen native and University of Texas graduate Catherine Hardwicke got her start in the movie business as a production designer. But she marked herself as a filmmaker to be watched with her stirring debut, the indie coming-of-age tale “Thirteen.” The director whose reimagining of “Red Riding Hood” screens at the festival will discuss her process while sharing exclusive clips, concept drawings and storyboards. (2 p.m. Saturday, Austin Convention Center Room, 16AB)

4. A Conversation with Todd Phillips Chances are, Todd Phillips has made you laugh countless times, whether you want to admit it or not. The director has helmed some of the funniest and highest-grossing comedies of the past decade, including “Old School,” “Due Date” and “The Hangover.” Later this year, he will try to top his box-office feat of 2009 with “The Hangover II,” which should provide plenty of fodder for your annoying friend who likes to retell movie jokes in their entirety. (3:30 p.m. Saturday, Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD)

5. A Conversation with Paul Reubens

The creator of the most memorable comedy character of the 1980s embedded his laugh into the national consciousness with his television series “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” which earned the actor multiple Daytime Emmy Awards. Decades later, he has reinvigorated his career with a successful Broadway run of “The Pee-wee Herman Show,” which will air on HBO starting March 19. Separate fact from fiction, and the character from the character who created him, at what promises to be a wildly entertaining discussion. (12:30 p.m. Sunday, Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD)

SXSW capsule preview: 'Ceremony'



Sam (Michael Angarano) fancies himself quite the bon vivant: He’s a writer; he likes a good cocktail; he snaps at waitresses; he winks at people a lot.

The would-be raconteur and his friend Marshall (Reece Thompson) take off for a restorative weekend on Long Island. While taking in some much-needed pool time — Marshall has shut himself off from the world for a year — the two young men stumble upon a wedding down the beach.

But, as Marshall comes to realize, this is much less happenstance than a designed ruse by Sam. The 23-year-old still holds a candle for the bride-to-be (the always stunning Uma Thurman). Over the wedding weekend, Sam attempts to win back the heart he never owned while undermining her dashing British fiancé, Whit (Lee Pace, in the movie’s finest performance). As a debauched weekend gives way to personal insight, Sam slowly and bravely comes to realize that he is not yet the man he imagines himself to be.

Writer-director Max Winkler (son of Henry Winkler) shows promise in his feature debut that aspires to be the type of film that made everyone fall in love with Wes Anderson.

“Ceremony” screens at 5 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at the Paramount.

SXSW capsule preview: 'Win Win'



Slightly schlubby with shoulders slouched forward, a jogger sputters along a wooded trail as a couple of fleet-footed runners pass him. He stops, winded and defeated.

Such is life for Mike Flaherty (Paul Giamatti). Try as he might, the middle aged lawyer in small town New Jersey can’t seem to stay ahead of life. A tree in the front yard is threatening to topple and collapse the roof of his family’s house, the boiler at his small law office is on the fritz and his roster of small-time clients aren’t getting the bills paid on time. Adding insult to injury, the high school wrestling team he coaches in his spare time couldn’t pin an autumn leaf to the ground.

When faced with the opportunity to take advantage of aging client’s dilemma, the straight-shooting Mike makes an unethical and out-of-character move that will earn him $1500 a month. Although it seems a victimless crime (the blasé treatment of elder abuse here is slightly unsettling even for a dark comedy), Mike realizes his plan is not fool proof when his client’s grandson, Kyle (an excellent turn by Alex Shaffer), appears.

At first the bleached-blonde teen offers more solutions than problems: it turns out his fantastic wrestling skills are a windfall for Mike. But the specter of catastrophe looms (and looms for quite awhile, as much of the movie unfolds placidly - and somewhat unbelievably - with almost no real conflict), and it seems just a matter of time before Mike’s plan begins to unravel. That’s when we get the frantic and nervous Giamatti character we’ve all come to gladly endure if not quite love. Kudos go to Bobby Cannavale and Amy Ryan as Mike’s best friend and wife, respectively.

“Win Win” screens Monday at 7:15 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre.

SXSW capsule preview: 'Super'



The pairing of Ellen Page and Rainn Wilson may forebode twee overload for some. After all, how much cuteness and absurdity can one film shoulder? But seeing that James Gunn, who got his start with low-budget Troma Entertainment and had a hand in both “Slither” and “Scooby-Doo,” had written and directed the film definitely alerts potential audiences to the fact that things may not be what they seem. And they definitely aren’t in this superhero-meets-camp horror-meets-parable flick.

The moping Frank D’Arbo (Wilson) tells us that he has only had “two perfect moments which offset a life of pain, humiliation and rejection.” Those moments were marrying his gorgeous wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) and meekly alerting cops to the direction of a fleeing robber. Not much to hang your hat on. When Sarah, who has succumbed to a life of drugs, leaves him for a sleazy club owner, Frank’s first brush with perfection is shattered.

Inspired by a ridiculous Christian superhero on TV, Frank decides to revisit his fleeting heroism. Combing comics for research to help create his own superhero alter ego, Frank meets the wise cracking and spunky Libby (Page), who, after first shaming Frank for his tepid imagination, takes a shine to the lonely loner. After a somewhat disturbing visitation from a grotesque monster, Frank, who believes the finger of god had touched him, transforms into The Crimson Bolt, a hapless hero who patrols the town whacking bad guys with a massive wrench.

In an effort to become a more fully realized version of himself, Frank, filled with a hopeful naïveté and aided by his new sidekick Boltie (the indefatigable Libby) goes on a murderous killing spree as he attempts to save his wife from the clutches of evil, as personified by her new boyfriend-pimp-drug dealer (played to uneasy effect by Kevin Bacon).

The movie shifts wildly from cute to cruel and back, exploring religious themes of salvation and grace while lampooning the conventions of movies about both heroes and sad sack alike. It’s not what you think it’s going to be, until it is. But only for a moment.

"Super" screens at 10 p.m. Saturday, March 12 at the Paramount Theatre and Monday at the Arbor at 9 p.m.

My thoughts on the parking apocalypse


Last year the city installed those computerized parking stations. There were some positives and negatives in the city's attempt to save some money. Positives: You could pay with a credit card, the lanes could fit more cars and they malfunctioned less (although, I always call 311 when i arrive at a broken meter and let the city foot the bill). The downsides: It was harder to feed the meter during the middle of your allotted time (which may very well be illegal anyhow), and harder to pass along excess minutes to the next car (although you can leave an unexpired sticker on the pay box, though that is probably illegal, too). All told, it was a minor adjustment for all of us, and probably worked out for the best. Then came news of the most recent change to street parking. (If you have not read the news, check out this piece from the Statesman's Ben Wear.) I realize the city needs money. And the addition of fees for evening and weekend parking downtown will apparently raise about $3.1 million, according to Wear's piece. And, at first blush, the idea of paying to park at meters in the evening and on weekends did not ruffle my feathers too terribly much. After all, I often park at my office for free and walk downtown and I often use cabs. However, my concerns are not just about my individual parking situation. Under the new law, parking charges on city meters downtown will apply from 8 a.m. until midnight on weekdays and Saturdays. (God forbid we include Sunday and anger the churchgoers who attend those tax-exempt institutions.) What does this all mean? Well, with the current three-hour time limit, it means that if you park on the street to go to dinner and a concert, you will likely need to buy one sticker to get you through your meal, then return to the pay box and pay for a new sticker to get you through to the end of the show. Very convenient. I understand that the time limits for the meters under the new law have not been established and could vary depending on the part of downtown. So, you will have to go to walk to a pay box before knowing what the restricted length is for your chosen space. Not the most convenient thing in the world, but manageable, I reckon. But let's get to the real sticky part. Say you go downtown and have a few too many drinks. Now, and in the past, you have been able to take a cab home and leave your car at the downtown meter and return the next morning, afternoon or night to pick it up. Under the new law, if you try that, you will come back to a car with a ticket on it. And maybe a boot eventually. I really hope this doesn't lead to more people trying to drive home drunk. Cause we know how that ends (and I don't mean more money for the city.) I would imagine the city is doing this not only to raise more money, but to increase turnover at parking spaces. But many people like to park and then spend an entire night downtown. Who was in charge of this new law? The pay-lot union? I realize we could look at this through a positive eco-friendly lens and say, "Good, the city is forcing people to make better decisions and bike, walk or take public transportation downtown." Well, that's all good and well in a perfect world, but there is nothing close to 'perfect' about our public transportation system or the city's walkability. Let me now state the obvious: Parking in downtown Austin is much easier than the last city in which I lived: Washington, D.C. And it's a lot easier than other cities I've lived in and visited. The catch? Those are big, dense cities with less space for parking per capita and, most importantly, they are cities with efficient and effective public transportation. They are also more walkable. I am sure, like the smoking ban, we may one day look back on the uproar of the new park[...]

A few thoughts on the Oscars (and winners)


After much anticipation about one of the tightest best picture races in years, the Oscars got off to an interesting start. With the supporting actor categories pushed from their usual opening spot, "Inception" and "Alice in Wonderland" made the biggest splashes early, with both winning multiple technical awards. As the bigger awards started being handed out, however, the show took the shape many expected. The best picture favorites "The King's Speech" and "The Social Network" both won for screenplay - “Speech” for original and “Network” for adapted. But when “Social Network” won for editing, often a predictor of best picture, it seemed the movie about Facebook was showing some slight upset potential. Best director nod, however, went to Tom Hooper, which pretty much started the sprint to best pic for "Speech." While editing is a good indicator, directing is even better. And the fact that many expected David Fincher to win this award, pretty much assured that “Speech” would win big at the end. And so it did. So, even after two young stars took over hosting duty, and after all of the hip comedic bits aimed at young people (the SNL-style digital short to open was nice, but … auto-tune jokes, anyone?), the best picture went to a British period piece. Don’t get me wrong, I loved “Speech,” but it felt like the night was a bit ironic in that sense. Outside of directing, there was not an upset to be found. The acting awards were all well deserved and expected, and it would be hard to quibble with any of them. Kudos: David Seidler ("The King's Speech") for his speech after winning best original screenplay, as well as Colin Firth following his best actor win. Both men were gracious and humble. On accepting his award, the self-effacing Firth gave one of the night’s best lines : "I have a feeling my career just peaked." "Inside Job" filmmaker Charles Ferguson, who after winning best documentary for his film about the financial collapse, briefly noted that, “Not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.” The short that opened the ceremony was funny and gave hope for promise for the show. (False promise.) Natalie Portman gave a touching and heartfelt speech and thanked everyone important in her life, including Mike Nichols and Darren Aronofsky, whom she called a “fearless leader” and “visionary.” Opposite of kudos: Whoever told Billy Crystal that whatever work he’s had done on his face looks worthy of a television appearance. The producer who had Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock (last year’s best actor winners) adding a personal touch in the first-person mentions of the nominees. I like both Bridges and Bullock, and few would ever question their sincerity, but the forced bonhomie felt a little contrived. Franco is charming, funny and a bit of a chameleon, but his attempt to downplay the haughtiness of the august and often pretentious affair came off a little flat, making him seem disinterested and smug. Hathaway is sweet and sincere, but came across a bit corny at times. Slight surprises: “Black Swan” took home only one Oscar (Portman) and “True Grit” went 0 for 10. Complete list of Oscar winners: Art Direction: “Alice in Wonderland” Cinematography: “Inception” Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, “The Fighter” Animated Short Film: “The Lost Thing” Animated Feature Film: “Toy Story 3” Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, “The Social Network” Original Screenplay: David Seidler, “The King’s Speech” Foreign Language: “In a Better[...]

Interview: Texas keeps working for Joel and Ethan Coen


Maybe a little bit of that Texas magic has rubbed off on filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen. The last time the brothers took a movie they shot in Texas to the Academy Awards (2007's "No Country for Old Men"), they walked home with arms full of Oscars. The Coens return to the star-studded festivities tonight with "True Grit," nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including nods for best picture, director, actor and supporting actress. The film trails only the 12 nominations for "The King's Speech." Parts of the movie, starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, were shot in Granger, Austin and Blanco last spring. The brothers, who also serve as producers on their films, say they chose Texas for the terrain and congenial atmosphere for production talent as well as its tax incentives — which are under attack in the current legislative session. Known for movies such as "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou," the Coens were first drawn to Austin to film their debut feature, "Blood Simple," after Joel Coen's one-semester graduate school stint at the University of Texas, where he studied film. The 1984 noir thriller caused a sensation in the indie film world when it was released, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Like "No Country for Old Men," "True Grit" is that rare Coen Brothers movie based on source material that is not their own. But rather than a true remake of the 1969 movie starring John Wayne, their film is more loyal in tone and narrative to the 1968 novel of the same name by Arkansas native Charles Portis. The Coens say they were turned on to the author's works years ago by actor John Goodman but didn't consider movie possibilities until Joel Coen decided to share "True Grit" with his son. "The movie actually came from Joel rereading the book a lot to his son," Ethan Coen recently said by phone. "And it got him thinking about it as a movie." While "True Grit" is undeniably a Western in the strictest sense — the ruthless meting out of justice, the rustic setting and horses are all genre staples — the brothers did not necessarily see it as such, and simply fell in love with Portis' language and the adventure of the story. Horse-blinkered by the desire to make the film, they didn't stop to consider that the Western genre is a notoriously risky endeavor — the list of recent box office hits is a short one. "In a strange way, I don't think we were thinking about it even as a Western, exactly," Ethan Coen said. "We weren't even aware or thinking, 'Oh, this is a popular genre or an unpopular genre; it's commercially easy or it's commercially not.' That, actually, we were made aware of when we got a little farther down the road and started actually trying to get the movie financed. That was more something that we sort of discovered through the attitude of the studio. \u2026 Short answer is we really maybe idiotically weren't thinking about it." Joel Coen wryly rejoined, "Nobody can say being idiots hasn't worked for us." Indeed it has. "True Grit" is poised to become the highest-grossing Western of all time — it trails only 1990's "Dances With Wolves" in domestic box office receipts at $165 million. Not bad for a couple of New Yorkers. Though the period in which the story takes place is new ground for the filmmakers, the Portis novel shares several of the Coen brothers' hallmarks: surprising and intense bouts of violence, a facility with language and rhythmic dialogue and a bone-dry humor. The result is a family-friendly film with an edge, and arguably the Coens' most accessible work. Set in Arkansas before the turn of the 20th century, "True Grit" tells the story of Matt[...]

Charlie Sheen gets real with Alex Jones


If you're wondering why "Two and a Half Men" has been canceled, you need not look much further than this amazing piece of audio from The Alex Jones Show. But that doesn't mean the TV star isn't "winning." Just ask him.

The syndicated radio host based in Austin had the beleaguered actor on his air to discuss, well, just about everything that was on Sheen's mind.

Sheen ends up strafing Hollywood (specifically "Two and a Half Men" co-creator Chuck Lorre), the mainstream media and its consumers, Alcoholics Anonymous and even Thomas Jefferson. He says he will not idly sit by and be attacked and judged. "There's a new sheriff in town and he has an army of assassins."

The star of "Platoon," who makes several references to "Apocalypse Now," in which his father Martin Sheen starred, said that "you either love or you hate and you must do so violently." He says his new motto, taken from "Apocalypse Now," is "You have the right to kill me, but you don't have the right to judge me."

Jones says he and Sheen have been friends for six and a half years, which is probably why the actor went on his air to unleash his fury. And while Jones does ask some questions, in the words of Sheen, "Why give an interview when you can leave a warning?" That warning seems to be that he will not be bullied by the media or act soft any longer.

Sheen says he is determined to protect his 'family,' which includes the porn star and model with whom he is vacationing right now and with whom he has a "marriage of the heart.": "It might be lonely up here, but I sure love the view."

Why don't you take a listen for yourself?

My Oscar predictions: Who will win, who should win


"The Social Network" seemed to be racking up the most "friends" and "likes" when the awards season began late last year. But a funny thing happened on the way to its Oscar coronation. Slowly, whether as a backlash to Facebook (or technology in general) or its founder Mark Zuckerberg, the more subtle and mature "King's Speech" gained steam, taking home dozens of awards in recent weeks. Some might credit the shift in front-runner status to Harvey Weinstein, the executive behind "The King's Speech," who just so happened to help another British-themed movie, "Shakespeare in Love," to a surprise victory in 1999 over the critically acclaimed "Saving Private Ryan." But such are the ways of Hollywood. Entering Sunday's ceremony, the two films are neck-and-neck in one of the tightest races ever. "The King's Speech" leads all nominees with 12. The Coen brothers' take on the Clinton Portis novel "True Grit" follows with 10, though it seems unlikely the Central Texas-filmed Western will ride off with any awards outside of art direction or costume design. "The Social Network" and Christopher Nolan's mind-bending thriller "Inception" earned eight nominations. Pixar's "Toy Story 3," the highest-grossing film of 2010 with more than $1 billion worldwide, received four nominations. And while its chances to take home best picture are slim, its win in the animated category appears as certain as someone mixing politics into their acceptance speech. Below I look at the six biggest categories and tell you who I think will win, as well as who should win. Let the debates begin. Best picture "Black Swan," "The Fighter," "Inception," "The Kids Are All Right," "The King's Speech," "127 Hours," "The Social Network," "Toy Story 3," "True Grit," "Winter's Bone" One features a bunch of brilliant and arrogant young people fighting over intellectual property and untold millions of dollars. The other is a personal period piece about a man coming to grips with his fears and his father issues in World War II-era England. "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" could not be more different, although they both center on power and psychological motivations. The Academy loves classic dramas, but voters also want to seem relevant and hip. It will be interesting to see whether the Academy splits down generational lines with the two frontrunners. Director Danny Boyle's breathtaking "127 Hours" was the most enjoyable time I had at the movies in 2010 (despite the horrific sounds of bone snapping), but it would be hard to see the Oscar going to a film that mostly takes place in a crevasse. "Inception" may have been too difficult for some voters to follow, and "Black Swan," despite its originality, boldness and great performances, may have pirouetted too far into surrealism. Will win: "The King's Speech" Should win: "127 Hours" Best actor Javier Bardem, "Biutiful" Jeff Bridges, "True Grit" Jesse Eisenberg, "The Social Network" Colin Firth, "The King's Speech" James Franco, "127 Hours" If you had to bet the kids' college fund on one race, this would be it. The debonair Colin Firth lost to a deserving Jeff Bridges last year in this category, but the 50 year-old Firth should have an easy time taking home the Oscar this time around — although Bridges was inarguably the best part of "True Grit." Firth's heartfelt performance as the stuttering prince who would be king blended humility, fear, warmth and a touch of anger that showed Firth is one of our best actors. Oscar host James Franco, with the help of the brilliant Danny Boyle, carried every second of "127 Hours." If he weren't so good-looking, young and somewhat overexposed, he would have a bette[...]

What they did for love: Jason Schwartzman, Michael Cera and Edgar Wright


I know I am a day late on this, but I just saw this post on Cinematical about movie date disasters that was tied to Valentine's Day. While I don't have a great/sad story of my own (although I did take one first date to see "Little Children" -- probably not the smartest move, though it didn't exactly backfire). But the post reminded me of a story Jason Schwartzman shared with me when he was in town last summer to promote "Scott Pilgrim Saves vs. the World." I was talking to the "Rushmore" star, along with Michael Cera and writer-director Edgar Wright. Since the movie is about one what young man must go through to win the hand of a lady, I asked the guys for stories about the lengths to which they had gone to woo a woman. The goofy and charming Schwartzman's tale involved a trip to the movies. I will let him tell the story: "I was a drummer in a band, and in the movie “That Thing You Do,” Liv Tyler wants to be with Johnathon Schaech, but Tom -- the drummer -- really wants her and finally she sees it. So, I took this girl to see the movie because I was a drummer but this particular girl was into the lead singer of my band. It was like my story playing out. I took her to see it just so she would get a hint, and right at the scene when she decides she wants to be with the drummer, my date gets up and goes to the bathroom. Ans I was like, 'Don't go, don't go, don't go ...' Also, around the same time, the same thing happened. I took a girl to see 'Swingers,' to kind of be like (tentatively), "See, maybe the shy, sweet baby is the guy you should be with ... " While his teenage attempts failed, Schwartzman seems to have landed on his feet just fine. While Wright did not have as detailed a heartbreak, he did say that he took a date to see a movie he liked quite well, "Misery." He said it did not end well. Cera did not have a movie-related story, but he did share another tale about trying to impress a girl. It was hard to tell if the notoriously dry Cera was being serious or not, I really hope he was. From Cera: "I have a good story about a girl. I took her to a zoo in El Paso for her birthday. And I called all my friends and asked if anyone knew anyone in El Paso. And I got a phone number and set this thing up where we walked into the zoo -- and, first of all, the zoo was a surprise because we were driving across the country and we stopped there and took her to the zoo. And we walked in and this mother -- like this 45 year-old woman who had rubber bands in her mouth -- and her daughter, who was like 23, walked up and the mom grabbed my girlfriend and went, (in super creepy, breathless old lady voice), 'Oh my god! How are you? I haven't seen you since you were a little girl [and hugged her]. It's so good to see you. [And my girlfriend got nervous.] How are you? I wish I didn't have to go. I have a meeting, I've got to go. I haven't seen you since you were a little girl. Do you remember Alex? You two used to play when you were kids. You've got to tell your mom hi. I haven't talked to her in years. Let me give you my card, you've got to get in touch with me. Here you go. It was so good to see you." And she walked off, and [my girlfriend] was so confused. And I went, 'Look at the card.' And the business card she handed her said, 'Happy Birthday. Stay out of El Paso.'"[...]

Thoughts on Willie Nelson and the new ACL Live


Photos: Willie Nelson and the Austin Symphony at ACL Live at the Moody Theater Video: Behind the scenes at ACL Live Willie Nelson's voice and the notes he coaxes from his guitar Trigger are the soundtrack of Texas. Over the years, as we've reveled and rebelled, wept and whooped it up and soaked in the beauty and ache of the world, Willie has been there with us. He is every Texans shepherd and godfather. He is a demigod that carries the weight of our projections. And he does so with style, grace and his trademark grin. It's understandable then that when he took the stage at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater dressed in a dark suit and backed by a massive orchestra, I got a little misty. And the tears would well several times throughout the night. I'm a sentimentalist and a softie, I know, but the night -- one austere set of ballads (some Willie's and some the work of others) and one call-to-the-road set stuffed with the rollicking classics and touching swooners we've all come to know and love -- conjured well-earned nostalgia ... nostalgia for the Austin and Hill Country of my youth, nostalgia for my parents' bell bottoms of the 70s, nostalgia for raucous campfire nights fueled by whiskey and summer dips in swimming holes at twilight. I wish every friend and family member could have been there to experience it with me, but in a way they were. As one of my friends said, at times it seems Willie is made of magic, and that magic has the amazing ability to conjure spirits. I will leave the review of the concert to Ed Crowell (read it here), but I will say that Willie was in epic form. When he reaches a place where his voice can no longer go, he takes us to new places that feel fully realized, honest and fluid. He still stays just behind the beat and the jazzy beauty of his picking serves as a great counterbalance to some incredibly fierce strumming. Simply put, nobody else had any right opening the new home of the revered TV show that first set sail with Willie at the prow 35 years ago. As for the venue, I can hardly muster a complaint. The downtown social scene has been revitalized of late, with serious new restaurants (Haddington's, Bar Congress) resetting the bar of our expectations. What those places have done for the culinary microcosm of downtown, ACL Live will do for live music. While the audience will be limited to 800 for tapings, the capacity of the actual venue is 2750. And I can not think of a more intimate venue of its size. I watched the show from up close on the floor (where soft-cushioned seats with drink holders offered a wonderful and comfortable view) but I also climbed to the last row in the balcony to get a fuller perspective. I would venture that with the lights up, sitting on the floor I could probably read the lips of a friend in the upstairs seat furthest from the stage. The balcony is rather steep -- and getting to it requires a bit of a climb -- but that steep gradient puts even the back row almost right on top of the stage. The lobby area of the balcony level lacks personality and light, and feels like a finished out basement, but I would imagine (or at least hope) some art work and more lounge seating will help complete the space. The main floor offers a great open-air space for mingling with drinks before the show and during intermission. And there are bars everywhere. While I am sure the bars inside the concert hall will come in handy at rock shows, the noise and commotion they caused during the more subtle opening set provided a slight humming of unwelcome voices. Most importantly, the sound was absolutely impecca[...]

Celebrate the dark side of love at House of Torment


Sure Valentine’s Day is a great once-a-year opportunity for the romance-adverse to flex their creative muscles. But there’s a flip side to all of that decadent chocolate and sweet, sweet infatuation. We speak, of course, of the people who won’t stop calling after the last date where you simply hugged them goodbye while still in the car. The exes who just so happen to be jogging on the Lady Bird Lake Trail at the same time as you. We speak of the Stalkers.

To celebrate the dark side of love - or maybe to simply flout the saccharine spirit of Valentine’s Day -- Austin’s masters of horror, the House of Torment, is holding an event it calls Dark Stalkers.

“The pitch-black walk-through attraction takes daring souls through a terrifying journey to find their way out of more than 20,000 square feet of total darkness with only a single glow stick,” a release says. “Daunting monsters equipped with night vision technology lurk in every dark corner to take guests through a mind-blowing, psychological and emotional spiral as these characters of the shadows chase their unwelcomed visitors in endless circles and even steal their glow stick.”

The House of Torment says, “Dark Stalkers has no preset paths or time limits and for some the nightmare can last over an hour.” Just as the haunting spirits of a failed relationship can seemingly follow you for years.

House of Torment’s Dark Stalkers
Where: 523 Highland Mall Blvd
When: February 11th & 12th 2011 7 p.m. - Midnight; Valentines Day February 14th 7 p.m. - 1030pm
Tickets: $14 in advance and $20 at the door

How does Slash really feel about the Black Eyed Peas?



Money talks and bullsh** walks. It also passes as entertainment at the halftime of the Super Bowl.

We don't need to spend any more time talking about how bad the Black Eyed Peas were at the big game Sunday. They were historically horrific. And bringing out Slash for "Sweet Child of Mine," just added insult to injury.

Why would one of the greatest guitarists and rock stars of the past 30 years stoop to play with that act that look like it stepped out of a dance club in "Demolition Man"? Well, money obviously.

But, maybe, just maybe Slash actually digs the Peas. Well, according to him, not so much. Except for one song, apparently.

Just last week, the frizzy haired rock god appeared in the "On My iPod" segment of Entertainment Weekly, in which an artist explains what is on his MP3 player and why.

The third entry was, surprisingly, the Black Eyed Peas' "The E.N.D."

About the tune, Slash said, "I normally hate that kind of sh**, but it's the most infectious, uptempo party record that I've heard in some time." He also forgot to add, "Oh, and those dudes are about to help me get mad paid." To be fair, it is unclear if the "sh**" to which he was referring was the BEP's typical songs or god-awful dance music from a scary future.

So, either Slash was preparing his fans for the horror of seeing him on stage at halftime, or he was caught in an mistimed bit of honesty.

One thing is for sure, the Peas were definitely "infectious" Sunday night. Infectious like the plague.

Rock on, Slash.


Photo of Slash and Fergie from the Associated Press.

Will there be a 'Big Lebowski 2'?



Tara Reid recently appeared at an event at the John Lovitz Comedy Club and dropped a bomb that had movie fans buzzing.

When asked about her upcoming projects, she told that she had a movie coming out called "The Fields" and "The Irishman." After that ho-hum news, she said, "we'll be doing 'American Pie 4' this year and 'The Big Lebowski 2' this year." (She also said something about getting the whole gang back together 10 years later, but since neither movie was released in 2000 or 2001, it's hard to know what she was talking about exactly.)

In the words of Mark Ruffalo in "The Kids Are All Right," "Shut the front door."

Could it be? One of the greatest comedies of all time is getting a sequel?

I spoke with Joel and Ethan Coen today (look for that story closer to Oscar time) and mentioned Reid's comments.

Ethan responded with a chuckle, saying, "I'm glad she's working on it."

When I asked if they actually had something in the works, Ethan said, "Well, we don't but we'll watch it when it comes out." To which Joel quickly added, "Especially if Tara's in it."

So, apparently Tara Reid is not the most reliable person in the world. Who knew? Well, we'll always have ''American Pie 4."

Apparently, Tara Reid's people have tried to clarify the misstep, as well. A spokesperson for Reid told Entertainment Weekly, "She heard Jeff Bridges say that he wanted to make 'Big Lebowski 2' and have all the original cast members in it, so she may have misspoke, thinking that included her based on what Jeff said.”

I guess that clears that up.

(If you want to relive the greatness that is "The Big Lebowski," you can watch some clips on

Rolling blackouts hit Texas but avoid site of Super Bowl


We all know Texas is a football state. But things have been taken to a whole new level with news today that rolling blackouts will affect people across the state, but not the site of the Super Bowl.

It seems even God can't stop Jerry Jones from hosting the biggest game of the year at his new multi-million dollar spaceship known as Cowboys Stadium.

[From the Associated Press]

One of the state's largest utility providers said rolling statewide electrical outages that started Wednesday in response to high demand from a rare ice storm will not affect Cowboys Stadium in suburban Arlington. But Oncor spokeswoman Jeamy Molina said other Super Bowl facilities, such as team hotels, were not exempt.

Oncor, which serves 7 million customers in Texas, said the planned outages would happen in 15-minute intervals. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said some hotels have experienced "brief but expected" blackouts without any problems. A hotel spokesman said both team hotels are equipped with backup generators that would make any outage brief.

The freezing temperatures in the Metroplex have left some to question whether Dallas was a wise choice and wonder whether it will hamper Dallas' future bids for the Super Bowl. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is having none of that talk.

"This is football country. It runs deep. It runs through men and women," Jones said. "It's a big deal. That's the way it is here — period. All that should help us if we have ambitions of hosting future Super Bowls."

While Dallas is usually cold in early February, it's not as cold as it is in Indianapolis or New Jersey, where the big game will be held in 2012 and 2014, respectively.

Obviously Super Bowls go to teams with fancy new stadiums, but this is getting a little out of hand. Maybe it's high time to adopt a three-city rotation for Super Bowls: San Diego, Phoenix and Miami.

How many prostitutes does it take to host a Super Bowl?


As if football fans, corporate executives and athletes needed any more bad press about being gluttonous cretins with a mind for only three things (sex, money and sports), the Internet has been abuzz the past few days with the news that thousands of prostitutes will be descending on the Metroplex for this weekend's Super Bowl. But the numbers haven't just been speculation from far reaches of the Internet or James Dobson's Twitter account. In November, "Dallas Police Sergeant Louis Felini told the The Dallas Morning News that between 50,000 and 100,000 prostitutes could descend on the metroplex for the Super Bowl," the Dallas Observer writes. That would be close to one prostitute per ticket holder. And even if a few ticket holders doubled-up on ladies of the night, the numbers are still astounding. Adding to the plethora of prostitutes, there also came news that Super Bowl weekend features an alarming amount (and, really, any amount is alarming) of child sex trafficking. Speaking to USA Today, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said, "The Super Bowl is the greatest show on Earth, but it also has an ugly underbelly. It's commonly known as the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States." In response to the expected crush of sex slaves and hookers, Abbott has teamed with the FBI and is "bringing in at least a dozen extra agents from Austin and other cities to monitor and combat cases of trafficking in underage prostitutes during Super Bowl XLV in Arlington," USA Today reports. For their part, the Dallas Observer believes all of the hyperventilating about prostitution and sex trafficking is an urban myth propagated by the media. The Observer's story analyzes actual arrest numbers from recent Super Bowls and World Cups and interviews NFL personnel and a former madam and comes to the conclusion that maybe, just maybe, everyone is getting a little too worked up about a plague that is much smaller in scale than some would have us believe. [From the Dallas Observer] The routine is the same in every Super Bowl city. The media beats the drum of impending invasion, warning that anywhere from 15,000 to 100,000 hookers will soon arrive. Politicians lather on their special sauce of manufactured outrage. Cops and prosecutors vow stings and beefed up manpower. By implication, the NFL's wealthiest and most connected fans—captains of industry and senators from Utah—will be plotting a week of sexual rampage not seen since the Vikings sailed on Scotland. And they must be stopped. "This is urban legend that is pure pulp fiction," the NFL's McCarthy says. "I would refer you to your local law enforcement officials." So that's what we did. Meet police Sergeant Tommy Thompson of Phoenix, which hosted the 2008 Super Bowl. "We may have had certain precincts that were going gangbusters looking for prostitutes, but they were picking up your everyday street prostitutes," Thompson says of his vice cops. "They didn't notice any sort of glitch in the number of prostitution arrests leading up to the Super Bowl." Conspicuously noted: He doesn't recall a single arrest of an underage girl. For the complete story, visit [...]

Review: 'The Mechanic' (Grade: D+)


Following a run of modest success with over-the-top action franchises "Crank" and "The Transporter," British tough guy Jason Statham enters the realm of remakes as hired killer Arthur Bishop in "The Mechanic." Lacking the familiarity of some other rehashes that will hit theaters this year (see: "Footloose"), "The Mechanic" was originally a 1972 Charles Bronson vehicle sandwiched in between the screen legend's more memorable turns in "The Dirty Dozen" and "Death Wish." The 50-something Bronson's craggy face, '70s mop-top and wispy mustache are replaced here by the clean-shaven and chiseled Statham, who resembles The Thing from the Fantastic Four, had the superhero mutant cleaned himself up for some high-fashion modeling work. The resolute determination of the characters is the same, however, as is the update's lack of dialogue early in the film that finds the steely-eyed assassin conducting a flawless and entertaining hit on a Colombian drug lord. After his South American exploits, the lone hit man returns to his secret hideaway in New Orleans that is accessible only by boat. There, secreted away from the world in his high-tech lair, he can indulge in his appreciation for Schubert and fine automobiles. But Arthur Bishop does not even seem to enjoy the trappings that his blood money has afforded him. That lack of passion is reflected in the way he stoically executes the work he does for a shadowy organization, one that is never fully fleshed out by the writers. When he is called upon to eliminate his mentor, Harry McKenna (a solid and intriguing Donald Sutherland), we come to realize the complete lack of human connection felt by Bishop, whose stoicism is constantly reinforced by intense tight shots on Statham's stony visage. But Bishop's unquestioning dutifulness collides with a scintilla of humanity as he stares plaintively (and repeatedly) at the water as a boozy blues chord encases him like a fog of regret. His only human connection comes from a prostitute (Mini Anden) - whose feline sexuality purrs across the screen just long enough to capture a spicy shot for the trailer - but that relationship and what it indicates about Bishop are never explored. At Harry's grave, Bishop encounters Steve McKenna (Ben Foster), his mentor's ne'er-do-well son who is thirsty for revenge. True to his code, Bishop responds that "revenge is an emotion that can get you killed." Nevertheless, Bishop, possibly out of guilt or a longing for connection, takes the erratic younger McKenna under his wing. A truncated training sequence that involves a few conversations and some manly gun play is apparently meant to be enough to convince audiences that Steve has acquired the requisite training to be a "mechanic" - a trained assassin who leaves no loose ends. This would follow the same logic that would have you believe that by spending a week bunking with Pele I could be transformed into a world-class goal scorer. Believability aside, Foster - who gave a stirring performance in 2009's "The Messenger" - brings vitality and a level of acting ability that, in starts and fits, injects a pulse into the movie. The protégé's first hit - which he carries out with all of the composure of a feral rat - brings the movie its first and arguably best bit of violent action. The cryptic organization is none too pleased with Bishop's new teacher-student relationship, and in their anger, it becomes clear that the once-lone killer had been [...]

2011 movie preview


Photos: Scenes from 2011 movies The eyes of moviegoers will be on Texas talent as several filmmakers and one megawatt star with Austin ties see their movies hit theaters in 2011. In her first directorial effort since "Twilight," University of Texas graduate Catherine Hardwicke updates a classic fairy tale with "Red Riding Hood" (March 11). Fellow Longhorn Matthew McConaughey goes back into the courtroom as an unscrupulous defense attorney who enters a world of peril in "The Lincoln Lawyer" (March 18). Austinite Kyle Killen received wide acclaim in Hollywood in 2008 for his script for "The Beaver" and, after several setbacks tied to the behavior of lead Mel Gibson, will finally see his Jodie Foster-directed film hit theaters on March 23. After years of speculation and anticipation, enigmatic and elusive writer-director Terrence Malick will unveil his locally shot "The Tree of Life" (May 27), which stars Brad Pitt and Sean Penn. Another UT alumnus, Robert Rodriguez, gets back to family fare after last year's "Machete" when he rolls out "Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World" (Aug 19). Hollywood cannot, however, rely solely on Austin for its talent, so expect an abundance of sequels — "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" (May 20), "The Hangover 2" (May 27) — and comic-book movies — "Thor" (May 6), "Green Lantern" (June 17) — at multiplexes this year. Below, we take a look at 25 of the biggest films coming to theaters in the first half of 2011. (All release dates are subject to change.) FRIDAY "Biutiful" (Friday) Oscar nominee Javier Bardem won the best actor award at last year's Cannes Film Festival for his role in this tragic tale. Director Alejandro González Iñárritu is responsible for the darkly disturbing and visceral films "21 Grams" and "Amores Perros," so expect more of the same here. FEBRUARY "Another Year" (Feb. 4) The sometimes difficult truth of growing old is examined by British director Mike Leigh, who relies on heartfelt performances by Jim Broadbent, Ruth Sheen and Lesley Manville. "Sanctum" (Feb. 4) In this movie based on a true story, executive producer James Cameron combines the two things that made him famous — movies about water and 3D technology — to inspire claustrophobia in "the last unexplored territory in the world." But this time there are Australian accents. "The Illusionist" ("L'illusionniste") (Feb. 11) This Oscar-nominated animation from the director of "The Triplets of Belleville" has already been winning over critics with both its visuals and storytelling. "Just Go With It" (Feb. 11) Adam Sandler plays a mischievous man-child who goes to great lengths to win the heart of a woman. Sounds like one of any number of Sandler films, right? Maybe, but none of those movies had Brooklyn Decker in a bikini. Bam! "Barney's Version" (Feb. 18) Paul Giamatti dials back some of his trademark neuroses in a touching performance that won him a Golden Globe. "Unknown" (Feb. 18) Following a horrific car accident, one man (Liam Neeson) battles lost memories and disbelieving authorities to uncover the truth about his identity. The mystery surrounding whether co-star January Jones actually can act might also be revealed. "Hall Pass" (Feb. 25) Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis play two married dogs whose wives let them off the leash for a week of consequence-free skirt chasing. Maybe this intriguing co[...]