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South Texas Living

Four overlooked new movies you can enjoy at home

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At the movies
September 16, 2015 | 3,065 views | Post a comment

A few weeks ago, I highlighted some exceptional films that are new on rental and streaming services. Here are a few more I’d like to point out before returning to the theater next week. Whether they got theatrical releases only in New York and L.A., or got a straight-to-DVD release, some of this year’s best films are being overlooked.

“The Water Diviner” follows an Australian farmer who travels to Turkey in order to retrieve his three sons’ bodies. Russell Crowe’s directorial debut addresses one of World War I’s bloodiest moments, the Battle of Gallipoli.

What “The Water Diviner” lacks in budget is made up for in Crowe’s heartfelt and earnest investment in the story itself. Both as director and actor, he feels the story he’s telling beautifully. The production shortcomings don’t matter when Crowe and (somewhat surprisingly) Olga Kurylenko can so often zero in on the meaning of each scene. Its melodrama is made up for by the contemplative, emotional details Crowe so smartly focuses on.

“The Water Diviner” is an elegant, powerful, and romantic film. It’s not so concerned about the right or wrong of the war itself. It makes clear that both sides suffered in a needless conflict. This is one man’s personal journey of faith, one that takes him between two faiths and two peoples at direct odds to each other. Even if the third act’s a bit too action-oriented for what comes before, there are moments that will break your heart completely along the way. What more can you ask from a movie?

“Clouds of Sils Maria” is one of the best films of the year. Some might dismiss a movie about a woman coming to terms with becoming older, yet we constantly celebrate films about men doing just this. We praise older actors like Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood for the introspection they bring to these roles.

Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is an actress going through a divorce and preparing to act in a revival of the play that was once her big break. She spends weeks readying herself for the role in the Swiss Alps with only her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for company. The play inside the film reflects the potential directions their own relationship could take, and their own relationship informs Maria’s performance.

The film is a powerhouse of realistic acting that will redefine Stewart’s talents in many eyes. She goes toe-to-toe with Binoche in my favorite pairing of actors this year. “Clouds of Sils Maria” carries itself much like a play. It asks for your patience, but rewards you for giving it. Depths of character are revealed slowly, and in an industry ruled by formulaic character development, what happens here feels uniquely real.

It’s an incredible film about learning how to be “all ages at once,” and about the process actors go through in order to capture roles. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is an incredible gift.

“Police Story: Lock-down” is quite possibly Jackie Chan’s best dramatic performance. Yes, there are martial arts here, but Chan’s finesse is toned down in favor of a more brutal flavor of fight scene. In the “Lockdown” iteration of his “Police Story” series (don’t worry, each entry stands alone), he is trapped in a bar with his daughter while kidnappers hold the patrons hostage.

It comes off as “Die Hard” with Jackie Chan at first, but the film takes a different turn as Chan tries to figure out his captor’s motives. We flash back to prior cases as he tries to solve who they are, and we flash forward to various potential outcomes in confrontations. In a game of cat-and-mouse, the film’s intensity lies in how Chan navigates these moment-to-moment choices as a Hong Kong police officer, always looking to minimize risk and casualties while solving the situation through negotiation. It has a decidedly Eastern sense of drama, which is a bit different to what we’re used to, but it plays extraordinarily well and Chan shows off impressive acting chops that often get overlooked in favor of his stunt work.

“Blackhat” is a tough film to love, which is why it bombed at the theaters. The right viewer will find it very rewarding. Directed by Michael Mann, it’s shot in the same video-style of his “Miami Vice” and “Collateral.” He’s the king of meaningful montages, and “Blackhat” progresses from a showy, modern techno-caper to a slick, pulsing 80s crime romance.

Chris Hemsworth plays jailed hacker Nick Hathaway, yet there’s nothing here that requires him to stretch much beyond his role as Thor in “The Avengers.” He’s tasked with assisting the FBI and Chinese officials in tracking down a rogue hacker who sabotages a Chinese nuclear plant and Wall Street.

The crime procedural and action elements are good, and the more colorful and crowded an area is, the better Mann’s video-style fits the chaotic action. As landscapes or close-up, no one films cities as lonely, neon wildernesses better than Mann does.

If you stick with the film, you start feeling its heartbeat more and more. Its deliberate pace becomes a rhythm. Mann has this rare ability to make that rhythm your own as you watch, earning tension through build-ups that are at first too slow but later exert exponential pressure. It’s a strange action movie, but one that feels important nonetheless.

Gabe Valdez grew up in Chicago, went to college in Massachusetts, is a former news reporter in Floresville, Texas, and worked in politics in Oregon. He writes and directs films when he can find the time. Reviews, views, photos and more can be found at Email him at

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