‘Weed the People’ makes powerful, poignant case for medical marijuana

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“Weed the People,” a new documentary that premiered at South by Southwest on Sunday, looks at the healing properties of cannabis and its anti-cancer properties – and at how everyday people are making all sorts of efforts to get it to help themselves or their children.

“Weed the People.”

One of key players in the documentary, directed by Abby Epstein, is the no-nonsense, blunt-spoken Mara Gordon, founder of Aunt Zelda’s, a nonprofit collective in California that helps chronically ill patients maximize the benefits of cannabis. She describes herself as a Jewish Texan from Dallas, although she lives in Northern California today.

Gordon says she went in for a routine surgery in 1999 and came out of the hospital with bacterial spinal meningitis. She used marijuana to help her reduce the number of medications she had to take, and this led her to experiment with ways to use marijuana to help others.

She came up with recipes that used cannabis-infused oils and then founded Aunt Zelda’s.

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The documentary follows her and others as they try to figure out the right doses for those with cancer, since many people have widely varying reactions to the treatment. But one thing seems rather clear: Cannabis has helped many folks not only deal with cancer but also live longer.

It’s heartbreaking to watch some of the individual cases, especially those involving small children.

When Gordon agrees to help various families, she carefully explains that she’s not a doctor. She says that whatever is going to happen will happen, and that cannabis isn’t a cure-all. But Gordon is offering families a way to cope with the cancer – and maybe extend and improve lives.

Like many documentaries, “Weed the People” has an agenda: that laboratory studies are increasingly touting the benefits of cannabis in treating cancer – and that the government should allow more people access to the drug.

Undoubtedly, not everyone will agree that medical marijuana should be available. But “Weed the People” makes a powerful argument.

“Weed the People” had its world premiere on Sunday at SXSW. It screens again at 6:30 p.m. March 12 at the Alamo South and at 4:45 p.m. March 14 at the Alamo South. Grade: B

In ‘Wildling,’ puberty can be quite dangerous

What can you say about “Wildling” without spoiling the surprise?

“Wildling.”

You certainly can discuss the first third of the movie, which involves a creepy Brad Dourif playing Daddy to a young woman he has been raising in isolation since birth.

Her name is Anna (Bel Powley), and she doesn’t know why she’s being held. In some circumstances, you might suspect that a bit of sexual abuse is going on, especially considering Daddy’s creepiness. But that doesn’t seem to be what this about.

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Still, it’s obvious than Anna is reaching puberty and that Daddy is anxious about it.

The one day, Anna’s existence is discovered by the outside world, and Anna gets a new caretaker – Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler), a sheriff who discovers Anna and tries to introduce her to school and day-to-day life.

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Good luck with that, sheriff. (Here’s where the possible spoilers start.)

Director Fritz Bohm has created a misunderstood creature for the ages – a young woman who matures into something regular guys just aren’t able to handle. Anna, you see, is a wildling, which Bohm describes as “a nearly extinct parallel branch of homo sapiens that has survived until present day.”

Bohm says he was inspired by the werewolf motif in creating “Wildling” but that he has done away with the full moon and silver bullets. Instead, Anna’s lusty, wild instincts are driven by her maturation, her natural instincts to procreate, to eat and to survive.

It’s a parable, with supernatural and horror undertones. But it’s also a metaphor for being yourself. In the case of “Wildling,” being yourself can be quite dangerous to others.

“Wildling” premiered Saturday at the Zach as part of SXSW. It screens again at 9:30 p.m. Monday at the Stateside and at 12:30 p.m. March 15 at the Paramount. Grade: B-

There’s no SXSW partying in Austin for young actor Charlie Plummer

Charlie Plummer isn’t 21 yet, but he’s already making a name for himself in such films as “All the Money in the World” and “Lean on Pete,” which premiered Friday at South by Southwest.

“Lean on Pete” director Andrew Haigh and star Charlie Plummer. Contributed by Charles Ealy

He was chatting with journalists Saturday morning, along with director Andrew Haigh, who’s probably best known for “Weekend,” “45 Years” and the HBO series “Looking.”

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Haigh and Plummer were doing interviews bright and early Saturday, while many folks were still recovering from a late Friday evening. But Haigh explained that Plummer isn’t old enough to get into bars, so they weren’t out late.

Plummer says one of his favorite parts of being in “Lean on Pete” was reuniting with Steve Buscemi, who plays an owner/trainer of a racehorse called Lean on Pete at Portland Meadows in Portland, Ore.

SXSW Film 2018 review: “Lean On Pete”

Plummer met Buscemi when Plummer was cast as a young boy in a recurring role on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

If his performance in “Lean on Pete” is any guide, Plummer is going to be a busy young actor in the coming years. Next up, he says, is “Spontaneous,” a film where high-schoolers spontaneously combust.

Noting the difference in movies, Plummer says he “doesn’t want to get it in a rut, even though” his current rut is a “pretty good rut.”

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SXSW 2018: ‘Final Portrait’ a look at the frustrations of creating art, with Armie Hammer as the muse

“Final Portrait.”

Let’s say you’re going to make a movie about the celebrated 20th century artist Alberto Giacometti, and you’re going to set the film in his Parisian studio, while he’s painting the portrait of a young man who’s not only an admirer but also his future biographer.

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That’s what Giacometti did with the well-bred, upper-class writer James Lord, who eventually wrote a memoir about the experience, “A Giacometti Portrait.”

One of the first things you’ll need to have is a first-rate set, with detailed reproductions of the artist’s famed elongated sculptures and other items. And if you’re going to sustain the movie, you’re obviously going to have to have good dialogue. And you’ll need even more. You’ll need characters coming into the studio over and over again, gradually revealing the lives of the artist and the subject.

That’s what happens in Stanley Tucci’s new film, “Final Portrait,” which made its debut Friday night at South by Southwest. Geoffrey Rush stars as Giacometti, while Armie Hammer, fresh off acclaim for “Call Me by Your Name” and honors from the Austin Film Society, plays Lord.

To Tucci’s credit, the movie flows well. The dialogue isn’t as snappy as that in a play by Edward Albee or David Mamet, but the intrusion of characters during the portrait sessions provides lots of tension, humor and sadness.

First, there’s Giacometti’s wife, Annette, played by the wonderful French actress Sylvie Testud, virtually unknown in the U.S. despite her pairing with Marion Cotillard in “La Vie en Rose.”

She’s a rather sad presence in “Final Portrait,” mainly because she plays second fiddle to Giacometti’s favorite prostitute, Caroline (Clemence Poesy).

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And then there’s Giacometti’s wry brother, Diego (Tony Shalhoub), who offers his own interpretation of events as they unfold before Lord’s rather stoic posing.

The heart of the movie, however, lies in the bond between Giacometti and Lord. Giacometti repeatedly paints over the portrait of Lord, telling him that it’s not right, that it’s a failure, that it might always be a failure. But Lord keeps coming back, for session after session, finally wondering when the posing and the painting will ever end.

For Giacometti, it’s a classic artistic problem – that the more one works on a picture, the more impossible it becomes to finish it.

So it’s up to Lord to figure out a way to end the sessions, without offense, without recriminations but with collegiality.

It’s a delicate minuet. And Tucci, who gets fine performances from Rush and Hammer, manages to pull it off. It won’t please the blockbuster crowd. It’s a subtle rumination on the creation of art.

“Final Portrait” premiered at SXSW on Friday. It screens again at 9 p.m. Saturday at the AFS Cinema. Grade: B

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SXSW 2018: ‘Lean on Pete’ shows why Charlie Plummer is destined to be a star

“Lean on Pete” tugs at the heartstrings in the best way, and most of that tugging is the direct result of the acting of Charlie Plummer, who appears poised to become one of our most versatile young stars.

In “Pete,” the 18-year-old who played John Paul Getty III in “All the Money in the World” is guided by the low-key yet distinctive British director Andrew Haigh, whose earlier credits include “45 Years,” “Weekend” and HBO’s “Looking.”

Plummer plays Charley Thompson, who’s being raised by his single father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), and the two have recently moved to Portland, Ore., because of work. Charley likes to go on runs during the summer vacation and discovers that they’re living near a quarter horse racetrack. He’s fascinated with the track and especially with a horse named Lean on Pete, who is owned and trained by the cranky Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi).

Del notices that Charley isn’t afraid to pitch in and help in order to be around Pete, so he offers him a part-time job. While at work, Charley also meets Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), a local jockey who is good friends with Del.

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All of this sounds fairly straightforward – and somewhat old-fashioned – from a narrative perspective. And the movie is indeed traditional. But the movie stands out from many others because of Plummer’s performance. It’s hard to watch him and not understand the loneliness and need for connection that’s just under Charley’s skin. And the scenes between Charley and the horse are classic in the way that they develop the bonding between a teen and an animal.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Charley’s home life takes a drastic turn for the worse, and then so does his life at the track. So Charley takes off with Pete on an epic journey to find his aunt – whom he has not seen in many years but remembers fondly.

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For the cynical among us, the narrative might smack of sentimentality, like an afternoon family TV movie. The cynical among us would be wrong when it comes to “Lean on Pete.” Yes, it’s hard not to shed tears throughout Charley’s ordeal, but Haigh does not hammer us over the head. Instead, he shows Charley’s resilience, his longing for love and his desire to finally find a safe home – for him and the horse.

The book is based on a novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin. He and Haigh worked on adapting it for the big screen.

But this movie is all about Plummer’s Charley. Go see it, and you’ll understand why. The guy has acting chops – in spades.

“Lean on Pete’ had its South by Southwest premiere on Friday. It screens again at 6:15 p.m. March 11 at the AFS Cinema and 2:15 p.m. March 14 at the Alamo South. Grade: B+

SXSW 2018: Armie Hammer is in Austin, and the ‘CMBYN’ star isn’t worried about any social media spats

Armie Hammer says he thinks actor James Woods “must have blocked me on Twitter” because he hasn’t “heard a word” from Woods since a dustup on social media.

Actor Armie Hammer at the Four Seasons on Friday. Contributed by Charles Ealy

It all started back in November, just before the release of “Call Me by Your Name,” when Woods got riled up about the movie about a romantic gay relationship between a 24-year-old graduate student and a 17-year-old son of a professor.

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In the movie, Hammer plays the grad student, while Timothee Chalamet plays the youth. (Chalamet is in his 20s.). In a tweet about the movie, Woods acted aghast over the subject matter, saying that the film was quietly chipping away “the last barriers of decency.”

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When Hammer, 31, saw the tweet, he responded to Woods by pointing out that he has dated young women, writing, “Didn’t you date a 19 year old when you were 60…….?”

Indeed, several reports have mentioned Woods’ penchant for dating women either 19 or 20.

And then actress Amber Tamblyn entered the Twitter storm, saying Woods hit on her when she was a teenager – and tried to take her to Vegas.

Hammer, who was in Austin to receive an award from the Austin Film Society and to promote Friday’s premiere of his new movie, “Final Portrait,” seems to be enjoying himself around town – and he says he’s not all bothered by being blocked by Woods. He’ll be on the red carpet for “Final Portrait” – promoting another movie in which he plays a gay character, James Lord, the biographer of artist Alberto Giacometti.

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‘The Honor Farm’: An Austin original, with loads of talent

Louis Hunter, left, and Olivia Applegate, far right, in “The Honor Farm.” Credit: SXSW

Some people see “The Honor Farm” as a psychedelic metamorphosis. Others see it as a prom nightmare. Some see it as a sweet horror movie. But Austin writer/director Karen Skloss says she sees it as a ghost story.

She’s reluctant to use the word horror, in part because she’s subverting that genre. “I feel like people who are expecting traditional horror and traditional scares are going to be disappointed,” she says. “The movie uses horror themes as a way to tell a story on coming of age, in the way that ‘Donnie Darko’ uses scary elements that make movies appealing for young adults. It’s a way in.”

So, just what is “The Honor Farm”?

The quirky movie deals with two young women, Lucy and Annie, who are attending prom with two young men, and Lucy is expected to lose her virginity to her date, the high school quarterback. But he gets awfully drunk and makes crude advances, so the two girls bail on him and take up an offer from an edgy group of kids to take a trip out into the country, to go into the woods to explore an old abandoned prison where people were once allegedly tortured. It’s said to be haunted.

As you might guess, when kids go into the woods, strange things happen. And strange things especially happen when you eat a couple of psychedelic mushrooms, as Lucy and Annie do, along with their new pals.

Olivia Applegate, a Houston native and University of Texas graduate, plays Lucy with a goofiness and innocence that’s quite charming. And Applegate says she thinks the movie works, in part, because the cast “really bonded while making this movie.”

She points out that she almost abandoned acting as a career choice. “I said, ‘you know what, theater and acting are so impractical, and I’ll do philosophy and be pre-law.’ And then suddenly there’s this open casting call and it’s so right for you. And so I go in, I meet them and get cast in the movie, and that started the whole domino effect.”

She also has a role in “Song to Song,” the Terrence Malick movie that opened South by Southwest this year. “I made the cut! It’s a miracle! What’s funny, too, is that I got cast in that immediately after ‘The Honor Farm,’ ” she says.

She says she’s grateful that an acting career has opened up and she skipped law school. “I never wanted to have a real job ever,” she jokes. “I grew up in high school with all honors classes played cello, was on the tudent council. I was prom queen. I had some boyfriends who were popular, all of that stuff. And then I moved to Austin for college and started singing in a band. … I realized that I was not realized interested in being a square as I thought.”

So her role in “The Honor Farm” sort of mirrors the trajectory of her actual life, which has taken an edgy turn. “The edgy people are the interesting ones,” she says.

Much of the tension in “The Honor Farm” deals with whether the edgy new friends of Lucy and Annie are dangerous. And Skloss keeps you guess for much of the movie.

She says she tested out the dialogue with her 17-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who’s a junior at McCallum High School. “We have a close relationship… and she’s a good storyteller, and when I showed her the script, she had opinions right off the bat. Jasmine and I would read the script out loud together, and she would say, ‘No, no one would ever say that.’ She was a good teenage reader.”

Skloss adds that she’s making the movie “for her demographic, you know, like edgy young adults. And the more we worked together, the more I realized that she deserved to be credited.” So Jasmine gets a credit as co-writer.

The movie was shot a couple of years ago in and around Austin. And when you watch it, you’ll probably wonder where some of the scenes take place.

The big swimming scene was shot at Krause Springs, near Austin. The actual honor farm building was an abandoned site around San Antonio. And the big suburban development scene at the beginning of the movie was shot in Leander.

Austin folks will also probably recognized the distinct music provided by Graham Reynolds and The Black Angels. Executive producers include Louis Black, Sandy K. Boone, Nicolas Gonda and Morgan Coy. Matthias Grunsky heads up the cinematography, while Mike Saenz and Spencer Parsons provide editing. Vicky Boone headed up casting, and was crucial in recruiting Applegate and getting her the job in “Song to Song,” too.

“The Honor Farm” doesn’t have a distributor yet, so it doesn’t have a release date. But it’s a good bet that it’ll get some special screenings around Austin in the future.

SXSW 2017: Diane Lane learns to enjoy life in ‘Paris Can Wait’

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

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

Actor Arnaud Viard, director Eleanor Coppola and actress Diane Lane attend the “Paris Can Wait” premiere during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival at Winter Garden Theatre on September 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get ready: ‘The Son’ might be the next great Texas TV series

“The Son,” a new series based on the 2013 novel by Austin’s Philipp Meyer, premieres April 8 on AMC, and if you were a fan of the epic Texas novel about the McCullough family, then you’ll be a fan of the new show, too.

Pierce Brosnan plays the family patriarch, Eli McCullough, who was kidnapped by the Comanches as a boy, only to thrive with them and go on to found a Texas empire after leaving the tribe. He’s an archetype, of course, but what a complex character, whom Brosnan fully captures in the first two episodes of the first season, which premiered at South by Southwest.

The episodes go back and forth in time, including the initial attack on a Texas homestead where the young Eli, played by Jacob Lofland, is kidnapped by the Comanches. He endures a lot of pain and suffering, but the first two episodes give you an inkling that he might be a survivor, and a thriver, rather than a victim.

The patriarch version of Eli is no less interesting. In the first couple of episodes, we see a hard businessman realizing that the age of cattle is waning and that the age of oil is on the horizon. But there’s much more going on. The episodes explore the tensions between the Anglos and the early Tejanos, who resent the arrival of the whites as much as the Indians did. There are attacks on the McCullough ranch, and you realize fairly quickly that McCullough isn’t one to respond nicely to attacks.

There’s tension in the McCullough family, however. One of Eli’s sons, Pete, played by Henry Garrett, thinks negotiations might work. He has a wife and daughter, and he seems like a more modern version of his ruthless father. But guess what? Circumstances will test his mettle.

What’s so great about the series? It captures the essence of the novel, with an inventive switching of time periods between young and old Eli, while paying respect and giving voice to all of those who resent the rise of the McCullough dynasty. And you might want to watch out for a star in the making: Garrett, who plays Pete. He’s a Method actor, and he knows what he’s doing.

Also, Lofland, who plays the young Eli, played Neckbone in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud,” and you’ll see why he’s one of the hottest young talents these days.

Meyer, a former Michener fellow at the University of Texas, has been intimately involved with the development of the series, and showrunner Kevin Murphy and he seem to have developed a creative and intellectually hospitable relationship. The first 10 episodes are done. And Brosnan says he’s up for more, if AMC is willing. That looks likely, based on the first two episodes. But Brosnan says there’s one stipulation: He doesn’t want to film the Central Texas-shot series again in 105-degree weather during the summer. Meyer and Murphy say that’s a deal.

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