SXSW

Join us for live updates from the South by Southwest 2014 film festival, where the not-so-ordinary team of Neil Miller (@rejects), Rob Hunter (@fakerobhunter), Christopher Campbell (@thefilmcynic) and Jack Giroux (@jackgi) will be bringing you extraordinary coverage of one of America’s finest film festivals, direct from Austin, Texas. Bookmark this page and set your alarms, because it all kicks off March 7. You can also follow us on Tumblr and Google+ for reactions, photos from the streets of Austin and other shenanigans.

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The best film I saw this year at SXSW was not a documentary, but it was made in the style of one. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows is a hilarious mockumentary about a foursome of vampires living together as flatmates in Wellington, New Zealand. I mention it not only because I think most doc fans appreciate a good mockumentary but to note the irony since the best documentary I saw this year at SXSW was made in the style of a narrative. Actually, I’m trying to not make that claim these days. I should instead say that it was not made in the conventional documentary style. In general it felt like a weak year for the doc program. I didn’t love any of the jury award winners (some at least make my honorable mentions spotlight below), was disappointed in not only the quality of many premieres (especially the absolutely worthless Wicker Kittens) but also the lack of many bigger buzz titles from Sundance in the festival favorites section (it baffles me that Simon Chinn was in town but without The Green Prince). I didn’t hear a lot of talk of docs I missed, though I left still curious about Yakona, The Immortalists, Print the Legend and definitely PULP, which is pretty much the only music doc I heard any positive chatter for. Due to a few reasons, including the fact that I was covering other stuff for Film School Rejects and because there wasn’t a good vibe anyway, I didn’t see a whole ton of […]

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SXSW 2014

When it came to driving the discussion about SXSW 2014, if you weren’t Lady Gaga, Edward Snowden or Grumpy Cat, you probably didn’t hit the trending list on Twitter. But let’s be honest with ourselves: we weren’t there to drive discussions online by taking selfies with a sad cat. We were there to watch movies and share them with all of you, our beloved readers who may not have been able to meet us in downtown Austin. Don’t worry though, you saved what amounts to hundreds of dollars in parking fees and we did all the work for you. In total, the programming team at South by Southwest selected over 130 films from over 2,000 submissions this year. It was a lot to take in, but we feel confident that we’ve narrowed our own list down to the 8 best films that played this year. To do so, each of the FSR writers who attended the festival each picked two films to highlight. That list, the definitive guide to SXSW films you should keep up with as they move on to potential releases, can be found herein. While you read it, we’ll still be trying to sleep off the late nights. Yes, we realize SXSW ended a week ago. Stop judging us.

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A WOLF AT THE DOOR

Sylvia (Fabiula Nascimento) arrives at school to pick up her daughter but it is told by the teacher that not only has the girl already been taken by their neighbor Sheila, but that Sylvia herself called earlier granting permission. This leaves Sylvia a bit perplexed and panicked as not only did she not call the school, but she also has no neighbor named Sheila. The police arrive, and with a missing child at risk they immediately begin a hard press on everyone involved. The detective grills the teacher, Sylvia, her husband Bernardo (Milhem Cortaz), and others, and it’s Bernardo who puts forth a name as a possible suspect. Rosa (Leandra Leal) is a young woman he’s been having an affair with, and he has reason to believe she may be involved. A Wolf at the Door is a harrowing slow-burn of a thriller that tackles the dramatic suspense in an unconventional way. Instead of proceeding like a traditional procedural, the film quickly settles on one witness and lets the story unfold through her recounting of events. It becomes less a story of what happened to the little girl and more a tale of why it had to happen at all.

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faults_sxsw

Faults is one of the more frustrating experiences of SXSW. It’s by no means a bad film or even a mediocre one. Writer-director Riley Stearns shows promise, but his feature debut never comes together the way it should. The worst that can be said for Faults is that it’s hard not to feel indifferent towards it, despite its having two fine lead performances. One being Leland Orser as Ansel Roth, a washed up expert on mind control. He used to have a television show, a wife and a hit book.  Now he goes around promoting his disastrous self-published follow-up novel and tries to con restaurants into giving him free meals. Ansel has hit his lowest, but he’s offered a chance of redemption that he only sees money signs on. A couple (Chris Ellis and Beth Grant) pleads with Roth to “deprogram” their daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who hasn’t been herself since joining a cult. She claims she’s never been happier, but her parents want the old her back.

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Louis Sarno went to Africa in pursuit of his dream. 25 years ago, he followed a musical tradition into the jungles of the Central African Republic, where he found the Bayaka people. He never left. Accepted into this isolated society, he discovered a new community and a sense of peace. Or, at least, that was his dream. In hindsight, it can also seem a bit like mythology. The tension between Sarno’s mission and his reality is the crux of Song from the Forest. German filmmaker Michael Obert traveled to the CAR to capture the hybrid lifestyle of this errant Westerner and the family he has made for himself. Sarno has a Bayaka wife and son. When he decides to take 13-year-old Samedi on a trip to America, to meet his uncles and grandparents, Obert follows. The film is a blend of these two locales, a loosely assembled patchwork of insightful moments on two distant continents. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Starry_Eyes_1

The Hollywood Nightmare is an idea we often see in films for a reason. Los Angeles is a city where broken dreams of stardom can be found on almost every street corner. One of the downsides for those people that crave financial success in Hollywood is they’re almost always surrounded by it. Beverly Hills is both their dream and their nightmare. Starry Eyes shows one actress that will go as far as she has to one day have that mansion in the Hills. Sarah (Alex Essoe) is that actress. At the start of the film she works as a “Taters Girl” in a cheesy restaurant that’s basically an even worse version of Hooters. Being a Taters Girl isn’t her endgame, though. She daydreams of stardom. After an embarrassing audition, Astraeus Pictures sees something in her. The off-the-wall casting agents call her back to see more of her dark side, which she may or may not know exists.

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Born to Fly

Human beings cannot fly. This is, relatively speaking, a commonly held truth. Yet Brooklyn-based choreographer Elizabeth Streb is not so sure. Her whole career can be seen as a pursuit of flight, though not in the way birds do it. Her work, first as a dancer and now as the head of her own dance company, is all about finding new forms of movement. She goes so far as to call it “action” much more frequently than “dance.” Her performers fling themselves about the stage, dodging I-beams and jumping from enormous wheels. It’s quite the sight. Presumably the sheer visual triumph of these performances was at least a major part of what inspired Catherine Gund to make Born to Fly. The film is pretty straightforward, following the mold set by many an artistic profile in recent years. Attention is divided between Streb’s biography and her current work in an effort to build as full a portrait as possible. The choreographer is very open about her early days as an aspiring artist, traveling cross-country to take classes and find herself. She began with wide open ambition and voluminous, lengthy hair. Now she has narrowed her focus and become much more interested in blunt physicality. Her style has followed suit, now characterized by black clothes and a short, erect punk haircut. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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Rose Leslie in HONEYMOON

Paul (Harry Treadaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) are young lovers, newly married, and heading to her family’s cabin for a secluded honeymoon. She gives him the grand tour, they get to canoodling, and then the pair bed down for their first night as husband and wife. It’s not long though before Paul starts noticing things are a bit off with Bea on this trip. She forgets how to make breakfast and coffee, he discovers some weird marks on her legs, and he catches her reciting facts about herself as if to memorize them. The more he struggles to discover what’s going on the deeper she falls into this behavioral madness. It seems one of them may be reaching the end of their vows a lot sooner than expected. Honeymoon is somewhat of an economically-crafted thriller with its two leads, constrained setting, and bare minimum supporting cast, and all of that helps increase tension in moments of real intensity. Inexplicably though, the film suffers a major blow early on thanks to a premature plot encapsulation around the seven minute mark. Seven minutes in, and anyone with even a basic knowledge of genre movies knows exactly what’s behind the behavior and where all of this is heading.

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MF Doom Documentary

Despite the fact that recording studios and record labels have long served to showcase a variety of musical talents, recent music documentaries on such subjects have framed their histories in largely genre-specific terms. Though Rick Springfield was one the studio’s biggest names, Dave Grohl’s Sound City was steadfast in its thesis that L.A.’s Sound City was the home of uncompromising, authentic rock. Danny O’Connor’s Upside Down similarly saw Creation Records’ promotion of both punk and New Wave as fitting a consistent definition of British rebellion. Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton, Jeff Broadway’s history of Los Angeles-based Stones Throw Records, refuses to make a false, simplified equivalence between label and genre. The documentary instead makes the case that a good label produces interesting work and develops talented, envelope-pushing artists by encouraging creative change and throwing caution to the wind. Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton decisively rejects genre borders by arguing that Stones Throw accomplished the same. The end result isn’t always convincing, but it’s an engaging and ambitious documentary that laudably seeks original ways of stylizing movies about music. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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We

This summer marks a very special anniversary. It’s fair to say we all remembered what took place on August 4, 2000. On that most likely quiet and peaceful summer day, one film dominated the cultural conversation, a true game changer unlike any other film of its kind. For years people had been asking, “What is this Coyote Ugly? Is it more than just some bar at the New York, New York hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada?” Kangaroo Jack director David McNally finally answered that question with his unconventional story of a small town girl trying to make it in the big city with Coyote Ugly. That picture co-starred Melanie Lynskey as Gloria, the young girl’s best friend. Needless to say, it’s not Lynskey’s best film — that honor goes to The Informant, which is her personal favorite as well — but it was the last film I watched of Lynskey’s before speaking with her at SXSW, so why not discuss it? Lynskey wasn’t at the festival to promote the upcoming 14th anniversary of Coyote Ugly, though. Instead she was down for We’ll Never Have Paris, Simon Helberg and Jocelyn Towne‘s romantic comedy starring Lynskey as a woman whose relationship is thrown off track by her boyfriend’s selfish neurosis. Since I hadn’t seen the film when I spoke with Lynskey, we mostly discussed other topics, including Coyote Ugly and never wanting to take a paycheck for something she doesn’t believe in. Check out our conversation below.

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Que Caramba es la Vida

Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi is the epicenter of mariachi music. Bands flock to the historic square, especially on weekends, to sell their songs. It’s been this way for a century, though its heyday has passed. The golden age of mariachi was actually intimately connected to the golden age of Mexican cinema, and the popularity of the “charro” genre in the 1940s and 1950s. Given that this particular style of music has always been related to the cinema, it’s perhaps an especially suitable documentary subject. German filmmaker Doris Dorrie went to Plaza Garibaldi to make Que Caramba es la Vida, which makes its world premiere at SXSW this week. Yet Dorrie did not make a broad portrait of music in Mexico City. This is a film about the women of mariachi, an underrepresented but bold presence on the Plaza Garibaldi. Que Caramba es la Vida begins as a profile of María del Carmen, a ranchera singer who is not the least bit shy in her claim to be the best voice on the square. She lives with her mother and daughter but spends a great deal of time away at gigs. Dorrie is interested in this tension, the fact that most female mariachis lead two lives. Unlike the men, who labor exclusively as musicians, the women are expected to come home and fulfill the obligations of the wife and mother. READ MORE AT NONFICS

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the heart machine gallagher

More than 15 years have passed since You’ve Got Mail, and online dating in the movies can still seem a little weird. Thanks to video chat programs like Skype, they’ve at least become more visual, but there’s still the issue of disconnect between characters that is obviously realistic but also heightened by the extra screen of the movie frame. When we see a couple talking through their computers, one of them is always going to seem extremely distant and also extremely confined by that computer window. It’s hard to feel something between two people in love through that barrier, even if we know what the experience is like, how that feeling can exist. It’s one of the very few things holding down The Heart Machine, an otherwise superb romantic drama that does seem conscious of having to grapple with such an obstacle. But the film’s pair, Cody and Virginia (John Gallagher Jr. and Kate Lyn Sheil), aren’t given a lot of comfort time to show us any true feelings. In the opening scene they’re Skyping, well into a relationship it seems, and on her end is the sound of a lot of emergency vehicle sirens. After they hang up, Cody goes to a sound effects website to remind himself of what a German ambulance actually sounds like, because as it turns out Virginia has led him to believe she’s in Berlin for six months. And that German ambulance clip is not what he heard on the call earlier. Suddenly he’s […]

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Veronica Mars

We spent an entire week talking about movies at SXSW 2014. Between Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Letterboxd and our published reviews on the very site which you are currently reading, myself and the team of Film School Rejects covered a solid swath of the 130+ feature films that played this past week in Austin, TX. Some of them are still playing (and still to be reviewed, so stay tuned). But those are just the ones that we made it to. Which ones did you, the fans and attendees of SXSW, talk about most? Wonder no further, as the folks from Way to Blue have invested some time and energy into researching the buzz around the 10 most discussed films of this year’s festival. “We’ve broken down not only how many mentions the movies have secured as a result of their screenings at SXSW,” they explain. “But also what proportion of the conversation has resulted in social chatter expressing a desire or excitement to see the films themselves. We call this Intent To View.”

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imogen poots in need for speed

Imogen Poots‘s face is everywhere this year. She was recently seen in That Awkward Moment, has Need for Speed opening this weekend, Filth hits the states this summer, and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see her in Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups before 2015. Another movie Poots co-stars in this year is writer-director John Ridley‘s Jimi: All Is by My Side. She plays the incredibly suave Linda Keith, a supporter and close friend of Jimi Hendrix (André Benjamin) in the film. Speaking with Poots at SXSW this week, I learned she clearly admires Ridley’s strict focus on their relationship as well. She spoke fondly of Jimi: All Is by My Side and, of course, a terrific French bakery in Los Angeles. Our conversation touched on plenty of other relevant subjects, too. If you’re curious about how beautiful Charlestown, West Virginia, really is, for example, read what she has to say about it below.

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Oliver Platt in X-Men First Class

It’s a scientific fact that if you add Oliver Platt to anything it gets 34% better. There are numerous examples of Platt elevating films even with his smallest of appearances. However, this week he took off his actor’s hat and served as a narrative feature juror member for SXSW. He also has a role as a food critic in Jon Favreau‘s Chef, which premiered at the festival, but Platt was in attendance to be a part of the festival, not to promote a film. And yet, he made the time to speak with us. Platt was my final interview of the festival, and it couldn’t have been a better note to end on. Interviews can be tough during SXSW. Sometimes you’re lucky to have more than 10 minutes with whomever you’re interviewing. In many cases, it’s never done in a helpful setting, either. Too often you’re in a small room or restaurant packed with people speaking at an excessively high volume. Or, in one instance, you’re on a stage under a spotlight in some darkly lit bar being watched by 15 strangers. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Platt. At the last minute, an interview slot opened up and we met him in his hotel lobby the following day for a lengthy conversation. It was an all around ideal situation, and we used it to explore the overriding theme of the festival.

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home movie still

Home, where all thought’s escaping. Home, where unexplained scenes are playing. Home, where all I love about movies lies waiting silently for me outside the theater. Taking the phrase “all style, no substance” to the extreme, Nicholas McCarthy‘s new horror feature, Home, is almost not even categorically a movie. It’s a lot of shots without direction and a plot without a story. Yet it’s hardly a work of experimental film. There’s nothing at all interesting in the visuals we are given to look at — too many inserts of extreme close-ups on people’s faces, mostly nostrils, and the usual mirror-based jump scares. Its worst offense is probably casting Oscar-nominated actress Catalina Sandino Moreno in what seems to be a lead role and then giving her very little to do, but its crimes are aplenty. If I wanted to nitpick, I’m guessing I had at least one issue a minute with it.

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Jason Bateman in Bad Words

Bad Words is a really dark comedy. Its lead, Guy (Jason Bateman), is crude and selfish, and he won’t stop until he proves his point. Sometimes he goes about his plan in mean-spirited ways, but for Bateman it’s pivotal that an audience embraces the character. That’s not as difficult as it sounds. He makes the National Spelling Bee contest actual fun, so you’re already on his side from the start. Not only is Guy likable despite his edges, but he’s also empathetic. Andrew Dodge‘s script gives him the right kind of motive that never interrupts the film’s initial comedic tone. There’s just enough of Guy’s past and his twisted and sweet friendship with a kid, never too much of it to make him an unbelievable softie. There’s plenty of tonal tightropes in this movie, but Bateman, who was also in the director’s seat for the movie, was well-aware of them from the start. I spoke to Bateman at SXSW this week, and this is what he had to say about his anti-hero character, directing for the first time and more:

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what we do in the shadows trio

It’s remarkable that vampire mythology can still be mined for great comedy. Just when you think the Seltzer and Friedberg team closed the book on lampooning the creatures of the night and the overabundant amount of movies about them (with a terrible chapter), another duo prove there’s still actually hilarious potential in this subgenre. Jemaine Clement makes his directorial debut alongside occasional collaborator Taiki Waititi (Eagle vs. Shark; Flight of the Conchords) with the mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows, in which they didn’t necessarily find a ton of fresh jokes and gags in the material but still managed to execute each bit to perfection. Even Twilight provides fodder for new laughs here, not so much as parody of the franchise but of an amusing idea around it. The humor there stems from something bigger than vampires to make fun of general trendiness, treating the Edward Cullen character as a kind of hipster asshole in the context of the history of iconic vampires. He’s represented by a newly turned bigmouth (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) who obnoxiously clings to a foursome of flat mates, one of whom resembles Nosferatu (Ben Fransham), another with a Coppola-style Dracula/Vlad the Impaler thing going on (Clement), a dandyish Anne Rice type (Waititi) and, rounding out the group, a less definable vampire (Jonathan Brugh) who used to be the “young blood” of the group. He has history as an undead Nazi and now takes pleasure in ordering around his human servant (Jackie van Beek) and pranking people with […]

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Only Lovers Left Alive

When a well-known actor takes a job for the cash, the final result generally comes off as little more than a paycheck for all involved. Actress Tilda Swinton is lucky, in that regard. Her work-for-hire performances have served the likes of David Fincher, Tony Gilroy, the Coen Brothers, and the perfectly fine adaptation of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Those pictures aren’t Swinton “selling out,” but taking on respectable gigs with people whose work she admires. What revs the actress up the most are the kind of projects that represent who she is. “That’s just the way I roll,” says Swinton on her long history of staying in the trenches with the projects and filmmakers that she deeply connects with. She’s someone that stands by her director. If you recall, when Bong Joon-Ho’s director’s cut of Snowpiercer was in danger of being chopped up for its US release, Swinton quickly came to the his aid, saying, “Maybe an effect of the film is that when one has spent two hours in the claustrophobia of this train we can leave the cinema and feel the relief that we can make life wider, so maybe it’s a sort of aversion therapy to sit in the train for two hours. That’s two hours, not one hour and forty minutes.” Clearly, Swinton is an actress you want by your side during all the trials and tribulations of filmmaking. She also went to bat for director Jim Jarmusch for this long-in-development Only Lovers Left Alive. She’s been attached to the project […]

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Sasha Grey in OPEN WINDOWS

2007′s Timecrimes is a sharp time travel film that makes you believe the unbelievable in a movie with an impossible concept. Unfortunately, Nacho Vigilando fails to capture that same magic with his latest film, Open Windows. It’s a mixed bag that shows promise at the start before fizzling out in the last 30 minutes. Its technique is ambitious, but the final result is not. Nick Chambers (Elijah Wood) is visiting Austin to meet his favorite actress, Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). She’s in town for Fantastic Fest to promote a comically terrible-looking cheap sci-fi sequel. Based on the clip, Jill is the kind of bad actress who still has her fans, including Nick, who runs a fansite for her. He was flown down to Austin to have dinner with Jill for an interview, but it’s unexpectedly cancelled by a mysterious figure (Neil Maskell). Since that figure’s voice is an English accent, you know something’s wrong from the start.

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published: 04.18.2014
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published: 04.17.2014
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published: 04.17.2014
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published: 04.17.2014
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