Alex Smith

Austin Film Festival: Winter in the Blood review

Andrew and Alex Smith’s adaptation of James Welch’s “Winter in the Blood” accurately represents the narrative chaos of the novel upon which it’s based, but that does not make for a solid film. Its protagonist, Virgil (Chaske Spencer, best known as the werewolf leader in the “Twilight” series), is a Native American in his thirties who drifts through life in a drunken stupor, trying to avoid his painful memories. These memories dominate the Smiths’ film, and the writers/directors do a good job of reflecting the muddled existence through which their protagonist moves. Virgil finds himself on a surreal quest to retrieve his dead father’s rifle, and often cannot distinguish between his current surroundings and his memories.

The blurred line between Virgil’s past and present is brilliantly rendered on screen; Spencer’s face nonchalantly acknowledges shifts in time and space as he is passed in the street by shades of his younger self. A man claims to have saved Virgil in a bar fight and recruits him for a secret mission involving a run to the Canadian border and he hardly bats an eye. 

The Smiths deftly situate their audience within the mind of a man ravaged by guilt, memory and alcoholism. This strength also proves to be the film’s biggest problem. The narrative pulls away into this stream of past and present so often that it doesn’t give its audience time to register the emotional heft of a line or moment. “Winter in the Blood” is at its most potent when it is also at its most placid. Moments like the deafening silence following a violent sexual encounter, the trembling fingers of an old man removing a braid, or the smiling, effortless tenderness of Virgil’s short-term companion Marlene (a brilliant Lily Gladstone) carry the most emotional heft because they stick defiantly in the present. Other scenes with this potential end up drowned out by the noise of these transitions.

Despite the confusion, Spencer serves as a powerful anchor throughout. His stoicism is expertly managed to show just the right amount of give. A slight quiver in Virgil’s carefully maintained mask says more than a lengthy flashback ever could. This skillful subtlety is matched by co-star Gladstone, who, in only a few short scenes, creates a character as damaged and haunting as Spencer’s. Saginaw Grant’s work as Yellow Calf, a hermit with ties to Virgil’s past, is a master class in minimalist intensity. With a few simple gestures, he hints at a lifetime of the same haze of memory and darkness that Virgil finds himself mired in.

The Smith brothers and co-writer Ken White have worked very hard to channel the degree to which remembrance rules the narrative structure of their source material, but this dedication to emulating the novel proves taxing on the film. Spencer’s performance centers “Winter in the Blood” in a way that reveals serious acting ability, but the film’s reliance on portraying the surrealist power of memory holds it back from the full impact it could have had. 

Former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro became a mainstay in the Longhorns secondary. Sports Editor Christian Corona projects the hard-hitting safety to be selected by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 16 overall pick. The NFL Draft begins Thursday night.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

1. Kansas City - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

Before signing Alex Smith, the Chiefs were in desperate need of a quarterback. Now that they’ve got one, they’re going to need someone to protect his blind side. He helped Ryan Tannehill become last year’s No. 8 pick and helped Johnny Manziel become the first freshman Heisman winner. Joeckel is a no-brainer here at No. 1.

2. Jacksonville - Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

The Jaguars need help at a lot of spots and linebacker is certainly one of them. Workout warrior Dion Jordan can make an immediate impact.

3. Oakland - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

The Raiders lost both of their starting defensive tackles from last year, Tommy Kelly to the Patriots and Desmond Bryant to the Browns. Floyd would be a great candidate to fill one of those spots.

4. Philadelphia - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

After two disappointing seasons in Philadelphia, Nnamadi Asomgha left the Eagles for the defending NFC champion 49ers. Milliner is clearly the top cornerback prospect in this year's draft and would be a good fit here.

5. Detroit - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

The Lions, who badly need an offensive tackle to protect Matthew Stafford, who has thrown for more than 10,000 yards over the last two years, can either take Fisher or Joeckel here, depending on who Kansas City picks at No. 1 (assuming Jacksonville, Oakland and Philadelphia don't select an offensive tackle).

6. Cleveland - Ezekiel Ansah, DT, BYU

Ansah's draft has risen more than anyone's over the last year as the Ghana native who came to BYU to be on the track team hadn't made a single start before last season. But after making 62 tackles, 13 for loss, and breaking up nine passes in 2012, Ansah is a legitimate Top 10 pick.

7. Arizona - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

He's only the third-best offensive tackle draft prospect but look for Johnson to be the first Big 12 player off the board. Like many teams making early selections, the Cardinals need help in the trenches.

8. Buffalo - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

Bills head coach Doug Marrone coached Syracuse's Ryan Nassib last year but the Bills would be silly not to pick Smith if they indeed decide to use this pick on a quarterback. Not too many other QBs out there that threw for 656 yards and eight TDs in a game last year.

9. NY Jets - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

The Jets could go a lot of different ways with this pick but if they decide to use it on an offensive guard, they can't go wrong with Cooper or Alabama's Chance Warmack.

10. Tennessee - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

Speaking of Warmack, the Titans could use an offensive guard that can start right away and shore up their O-line. This makes a whopping seven linemen taken with the first 10 picks of this mock draft.

11. San Diego - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Lotulelei has, by far, one of the best first names in the draft and has one of the best games, too. The 6-foot-2, 311-pounder made 42 tackles, 10 for loss, including five sacks last year while preaking up four pass, recovering four fumbles and forcing three others -- massive numbers for a defensive tackle that will fit in great in San Diego’s 3-4 scheme.

12. Miami - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Milliner is far and away the best cornerback available in this draft but Rhodes is still mid first-round material. The Dolphins had the second-worst pass defense in the AFC and could use someone like Rhodes in their secondary.

13. NY Jets - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU

38 tackles and 4.5 sacks don't exactly scream first-round material but at 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, Mingo was clocked at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, where he vertical jumped 37 inches and broad jumped more than 10 feet. The Jets would be hoping that he can continue to develop after his college days the way the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul did after his South Florida days.

14. Carolina - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

Richardson made 75 tackles, 10.5 for loss, including four sacks last season for the Tigers, outstanding numbers for a defensive tackle. The Panthers would hope he could continue that kind of production at the next level.

15. New Orleans - D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

The fact that someone like Fluker would be the fourth offensive tackle selected goes to show just how deep this OT class is this year. Drew Brees would be able to rest easy knowing he had Fluker protecting him.

16. St. Louis - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

With the Rams losing both of their starting safeties from last year after Craig Dahl signed with the 49ers and Quintin Mikell was released last month, the hard-hitting and versatile Vaccaro is a perfect fit for the Rams, who have two first-round picks this year. 

17. Pittsburgh - Alec Ogletree, MLB, Georgia

He came to Georgia as a defensive back three years and will leave as a superb linebacker. Ogletree, who led the Bulldogs with 111 tackles last year, could be the next great linebacker for the Steelers, who lost James Harrison over the offseason.

18. Dallas - Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

The Cowboys were in the bottom third in the league in rush defense last year and Williams, who made 42 tackles, 13.5 for loss, could help change that. 

19. NY Giants - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Jones led the country with 24.5 tackles for loss last season while making 13 sacks and forcing seven fumbles. Those gaudy numbers are indicative of the fact that he's an outstanding linebacker that would fit in well with the Giants.

20. Chicago - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

The Bears have not had a tight end catch 20 passes in a season since Greg Olsen, who caught 194 passes for 1,981 yards and 20 touchdowns in four years with Chicago, left for Carolina two years ago. If Eifert is available here, the Bears have to take him.

21. Cincinnati - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

The Bengals would be foolish not to pick Austin here if he's still available. Even if he's not, there's still plenty of solid wideout prospects as Austin is just one of four projected here to be selected in the first round.

22. St. Louis - Keenan Allen, WR, Cal

The Rams need a wide receiver about as badly as they need a safety but with Vaccaro being the only safety worthy of a first-round pick, they need to take him at No. 16 if he's there. Allen is one of about six receivers that would be worthy of a first-round selection.

23. Minnesota - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

Werner had 18 tackles for loss and an ACC-best 13 sacks. He would join a group of pass rushers that includes four-time All-Pro member Jared Allen and former Longhorn Brian Robison if the Vikings used one of their first-round picks on him.

24. Indianapolis - Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

The younger brother of NFL veteran Marcus Trufant, Desmond could help a decent Colts secondary become good and, eventually, great. 

25. Minnesota - Manti Te’o, MLB, Notre Dame

Imaginary girlfriend shenanigans aside, Te'o is simply one of the best linebackers in this draft. His performance in the national title game against Alabama is concerning but he could help an already solid Vikings defense.

26. Green Bay - Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State

Franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers likes to run around and Watson knows what it's like to block for a dual-threat quarterback from his days blocking for Seminoles signal-caller and fellow NFL Draft prospect E.J. Manuel. He'd be a good fit here.

27. Houston - DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson - Andre Johnson asked the Texans to draft a wide receiver and, with Austin and Allen off the board, Hopkins would be a good way to fulfill Johnson’s request. Clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Clemson’s Pro Day, Hopkins scored in all but one of the Tigers’ games last season, ending his Clemson career with a 13-catch, 191-yard, two-touchdown performance in a Chick-fil-a Bowl win over LSU.

28. Denver - Datone Jones, DE, UCLA

After a contract snafu kept the Broncos from re-signing Elvis Dumervil, Denver, who led the NFL with 52 sacks last year, could use someone like Jones at its disposal. Already with a quarterback that can take them to the Super Bowl, the Broncos now need to make sure they still have the personnel to effectively rush the passer. 

29. New England - Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State

The Patriots had one of the worst pass defenses in the league last year and would do well to shore up their secondary. Taylor, who's used to winning because of his days playing for Chris Peterson at Boise State, would be someone Bill Belichick could work well with. 

30. Atlanta - D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston

Dunta Robinson is now in Kansas City and the guy he started opposite of last season, Asante Samuel is a solid cornerback but he's 32. The Falcons could use someone like Hayden to learn from Samuel and eventually become a focal point of their secondary.

31. San Francisco - Matt Elam, S, Florida

Elam should he could do it all at Florida, making 11 tackles four loss while picking off four passes and breaking up four others. Could he be the piece that pushes the 49ers, who fell to the Ravens in last season's Super Bowl, be the missing piece to their championship puzzle?

32. Baltimore - Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

The Ravens could end the first round by picking a safety like San Francisco but, with Anquan Boldin now playing for the 49ers, they could use someone like Patterson to have at Joe Flacco's disposal.

See Daily Texan Managing Editor Trey Scott's mock draft here.

Alex Smith doesn't deserve to be sat by the San Francisco 49ers

NFL football is a cutthroat line of work, as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is currently discovering.

Smith had done everything right. He led the 49ers to a 6-2 start and the top seed in the NFC West, dropping only two games to a Vikings team on a hot-streak and the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Last year he threw fewer interceptions than any other starting quarterback, one fewer than Aaron Rodgers and 18 fewer than league leader Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also leads the league in completion percentage in 2012 at 70 percent.

But when Smith suffered a concussion in the 49ers’ Week 10 bout against the St. Louis Rams, coach Jim Harbaugh filled his place with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Taking over in the first half, Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 24-24 tie. While the result was a disappointing way to end a rivalry game, Kaepernick brought a new mobility to the team’s offense.

The following week, the 49ers routed a Chicago Bears team that boasted a 7-2 record and held the top seat in the NFC North, slicing and dicing one of the league’s best defenses. While Kaepernick put forth an impressive performance in his fist NFL start, much of the 49ers success was attributable to their own defensive juggernaut, which recorded six sacks, two picks, and a safety on the day.

When Week 12 rolled around and Smith was cleared to play, Harbaugh opted to keep Kaepernick at the helm. Smith watched from the sideline as Kaepernick led the team to another victory, this time over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.

The result left the 49ers sitting pretty at 8-2-1 and on top of their division, but chances are Alex Smith did not celebrate the victory on Bourbon Street.