The first day of SXSW (post welcome party) is here: March 12th.
I will outline some of the difficulties Yours Truly is experiencing.
First of all, I RSVP-ed for online streamers, as one is supposed to do, and it was my (incorrect) understanding that the responses that came to my e-mail address had “confirmed” that I was to be able to stream ALL of the films that I asked for. I had a bunch of these “confirmation” things in my mailbox and moved on; it looked like they all were green-lit.
Au contraire, my frere.
I DID get some I requested, including the films or documentaries or TV shows entitled “Spin Me Round,” “Linoleum,” “Mickey Mouse: The Story of a Mouse,” “Gabby Gifford Does Not Give In,” “Facing Nolan,” “The Cow,” and “The Cellar.” [I apparently had also been given “Bad Axe” but somehow managed to cancel it, which I did not mean to do.]
What DIDN’T I get? Well, obviously, those that are NOT streaming, but I also did not, apparently, get “Fire of Love,” “Clean,” “To Leslie,” “The Prank,” “Swimming with Sharks,” “2nd Chance,” “Belle River,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” and “Watcher.” (Capsule write-ups on all these later).
I also got invited and then Uninvited to the “DMZ” rooftop soiree with Benjamin Bratt and Rosario Dawson, occurring tomorrow at noon.
It is a shame that I cannot get to “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” which is also taking place Sunday at noon for a roundtable with the cast, because I am old enough to remember the premiere of the original film with David Bowie. On the other hand, I’d have to brave trying to get in and out of the Convention Center with a car from Manchaca (the suburbs) and, somehow, that sounds like a not-that-great idea.
So, today, I cranked up the Apple+ TV, expecting to be able to watch “Fire of Love,” (which is about a couple who LOVED volcanoes and got killed while exploring one) and nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. What has happened to “Fire of Love?”
It was only then that I discovered that I did NOT have “confirmation” e-mails to ALL of the films I had RSVP-ed to late in the game. It’s odd, because they all appeared to go through and the color-coding they mentioned (pink if good, black if not) did not occur, but I had no way of watching “Fire of Love” online today, one of the few things that was supposedly going to be streaming today.
So, I opened an e-mail from a publicist who asked if I would watch “Welcome to Browntown.” The mastermind behind this film is George A. Tramountanes, who wrote and starred as Frank in the movie. I thought it was a SXSW film, as my in box is absolutely crammed with e-mail requesting my presence at various SXSW premiers and the like. I had not, until today, realized that I was not “in” to all of the requested streamers, which I was counting on watching at home, since I’m still healing up from surgery and standing in line for hours did not sound fun. I also failed to make the deadline (March 4) for Red Carpet requests (I blame my oncologist, who kept me in the Quad Cities too long).
But nevermind about the myriad screw-ups that have occurred. Let me recount for you what, exactly, “Welcome to Browntown” was about…sort of. And I should also mention that it is not about the Alaskan Bush People, as the Internet kept telling me.
WELCOME TO BROWN TOWN
The last line of the film is, “What kind of demented individual would want to sit through a family comedy about butt love?”
Here I thought this was a SXSW offering (it’s not) and I also thought it was about BROWNSVILLE (Texas) and the migrant crisis.
So, put me on the list of “demented individuals” because I thought I was going to see a serious film about the 2018 crisis at the Mexican border town of BROWNSVILLE that separated children from their families and the work of organizations, since then, in trying to reunite these families, since the Trump administration did a bang-up job of keeping records.” That’s sarcasm, right there, and, as one line in this film goes, “If sarcasm burns calories, I’m all set.”
It’s probably a good thing that I was reading Mel Brooks’ autobiography “All About Me” in the car on the way here from Illinois, because he has entire chapters about not letting censors stop things like the farting scene in “Blazing Saddles” or anything else that seems wildly inappropriate that we all laughed at, then and now. Most of Mel Brooks’ work was pushing the envelope and defying the censors, who constantly told him to take stuff out. (He’d agree wholeheartedly and then tear up the list he pretended to be making. Mel had a lawyer who got him final cut rights, and he thanks him in the book.)
So, in the spirit of Mel Brooks, let me try to review (or at least recount) what “Welcome to Browntown” was about, starting with this trailer.
No, it was NOT about the Alaskan Bush People, but I laughed when I googled to get an image and that came up, instead of this comedy that is about a married couple (21 years) with a father (Frank) who is a writer—or wants to be. He’s prepping for a competition (Pitchfest) to try to gain publication of his work (“16th time is a charm!”)
But, in the meantime, not unlike Yours Truly, he has a blog that he writes anonymously out of the sheer love of writing and because there is something within born writers that won’t let us quit. His blog is not particularly well-followed at the outset of the film (I can relate) and he has just learned that the woman who is going to be picking the final winner of Pitchfest is a woman named Molly Young, with whom Frank has some past history that doesn’t sound all good.
Frank has not made it big (while Molly Young has) and Frank, instead, works at a university and has a lovely blonde wife (Kendra McDermott as Laura Tsigas), a teen-aged son (Manoli P. Tramountanos as Teddy), a 7-year-old son (Gabriel Conrad as Buzzy), a teen-aged daughter (Eleanor Tramountanos as Annie), and all of the things that suburban life entails.
Frequently the main character (Frank ) says that a writer told him, years ago, that, as a writer, you could have a great career or a great family, but not both. The log line for the film puts the main theme this way: “Frank Tsigas is a middle-aged family man who can only see his life’s shortcomings. To distract him, his soft-spoken wife Laura (Kendra McDermott) offers a unique anniversary gift: she bets her ass that he can’t lose 50 pounds in three months—-literally.” The REAL “Frank” is a Seattle-based filmmaker who has actually sacrificed his real-life job to enter the world of indie filmmaking, specializing in outrageous comedies and horror films, says the mini-biography, which I would urge you to read. George has a lot riding on this effort, and, for a first film, it is remarkably sophisticated—well, except for the main theme. (Ahem).
Now, to set up how and why I ended up watching this, FIRST I thought it was part of SXSW and all of my “requested” online things for today seem to have either not been granted at all, or are scheduled later in this week of activity (March 11-20). It’s been a real shit-show of a year, since Pearl Harbor Day—not because the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor that day (although they did) but because I was diagnosed with cancer that day and have been undergoing treatments and surgery ever since, so the fact that I sound like I’m taking the easy way out on reviewing in Austin (streaming something, today, from my winter home in the suburbs of Manchaca, which we just reached, to find out that our fence fell down, all our plants died, and our garage door openers nor TV sets no longer worked) should take that into consideration.
Secondly, there definitely IS a film about the border crisis, which I thought (erroneously) was set in Brownsville. I thought this was it. I only found out that the true title is “Split at the Root” (no mention of Brown anything in the title) after I began watching.
Third, I had no other options today without driving into downtown Austin from Manchaca (half an hour, at least) on a day when the downtown area will have been cordoned off for the festival, except to watch Iowa try to take down Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament at noon, which happened in an incredible fashion on a three-point shot by Bohannon that will be replayed for the entire rest of the tournament. [GO HAWKS!]
But back to WELCOME TO BROWNTOWN, not to be confused with the Alaskan Bush people film, nor the SXSW offering about the border crisis, which is entitled “Split at the Root” (and never mentions Brownsville in its title at all). I think, by the way, that this film might be available on YouTube, but one never knows, so let me share some of the bon mots with you.
The screener for this film comes to a mature adult reviewer (married 54 years), with an open mind. I’ve been reviewing nonstop since 1970 and am the author of a book entitled “Laughing Through Life.” (Check it out at ConnieCWilson.com).
I truly did appreciate the wit and humor that George A. Tramountanos put into this film, including some choice lines I’ll share with you in a moment. His Pitchfest satire is spot-on and hilarious. The winner turns out to be Delilah Moonraven, who has written “S Is for Suicide.” In prepping for his presentation, Frank says, “16th time is the charm!”(Ha!) The gentleman who wants to combine unicorns and war for tween-aged girls and the cynical line, “Maybe they can have a blind 3-legged dog, too!” amused me mightily.
George has also inserted some words of wisdom to live by such as: “Success is being able to enjoy what you have.” Or,”Life doesn’t turn out the way we planned…We just need to celebrate each moment in life as it happens.” There’s certainly a refreshing quality embodied in these words of wisdom, but the contrast between those homilies and the main theme is jarring. I think that’s a fair remark; don’t take it as a criticism, necessarily.
Back to the plot. It is about this long-time married couple (Frank and Laura) having anal sex. She will, if he will—lose 50 lbs, that is (in 3 months’ time). He does manage to lose that unattractive flab and she sheds her previous pet nickname (“Titmouse”) and is taken under the wing of her sister, who is 40 and single and trying to give her some practical tips on what will happen now that Frank has lost 50 lbs. (“You may want to prepare to have your booty plundered.”) While lines like, “I’m looking forward to playing Lewis & Clark with her asshole” are perhaps not as great as those coined by the writing team of Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen and Neil Simon (all, at one time, working with Brooks on various projects), there are some clever lines. “Your bedroom instincts are a little PG….blowies on demand,” might (or might not) be one of the clever ones, but George has plenty of comedy lines.
I loved his small son’s (Gabriel Conrad as Buzzy) line, “Don’t tase me, bro’” as I once did an entire piece for Associated Content on the origin of that phrase (how, why and when). Little Gabriel is good in the film and his acting reel follows the trailer, so watch it. Everyone turns in an acceptable performance.
Celebrating their 21st anniversary as a married couple, Frank gets to use the line, “Our 21st may have been platinum, but our next one is looking all brown.” Crude expressions like “the vein train to anal town” and “dance the chocolate cha cha” were not so much witty as offensive. (Sorry, not every line is a keeper.) The entire premise apparently did not make it into the SXSW pantheon of films (despite my confusion) but the movie did have Brooks-ian chutzpah as well as 12 wins and 9 nominations at a variety of other film festivals. Plus, we have now answered the musical question, “What kind of demented individual would want to sit through a family comedy about butt love?”
I’m not saying I knew what I was getting into when I asked for this screener link, but I laughed, I cried, I googled “Browntown.” I tried to buy a copy of “The Misogyny of Hemingway” and I would remind you that this film will amuse a certain audience to the max.
I’m completely confident that Mel Brooks would have laughed out loud at different points. Remember, as Frank says in one of his “anonymous” posts, “carpe freakin’ diem.”
Among the 4-letter words in play in the script Frank lists “diet,” “life” and “shit;” we can also add “joke.”
Don’t judge Frank on this one low-brow outing. He gave it his all and there are some truly funny lines and concepts in there, the performances by the leads are good, and we can’t accuse the filmmakers of not swinging for the fences with this one. I hope that George A. Tramountanos is given a bigger budget and additional movies to prove his comic mettle, because Adam McKay, Will Farrell, and Judd Apatow can use the creative company.