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.

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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Sarah Snook and others in PREDESTINATION

Movies featuring time travel as a central plot device immediately and unavoidably put a target on their back for the numerous plot holes and inconsistencies sure to arise from such a twisty narrative structure. Even the best will sometimes have moments or scenes that just don’t work given too much thought, but if audiences are willing to go along for the ride those inevitable bumps in the road can be smoothed over through execution and other strengths. Predestination is one such film, and a few caveats aside, it’s one of the most dramatically thrilling and emotionally satisfying time-travel movies of the past several years. Two figures fight in the basement of a busy travel hub. One is trying to blow up hundreds of people, and the other is trying to stop it. Injuries from the ensuing blast leave a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) burned and near death, but he pulls through and is soon assigned a new mission from the past. The confusingly-named “Fizzle” bomber will be destroying a few blocks of NYC in 1975, and the time traveling government agency has been unable to stop him in time again and again. The agent is sent back to recruit fresh blood, a man named John (Sarah Snook), and together they set out to stop the bomber before he kills again. Again.

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the special need

If only we had doc options for all the common Hollywood comedy situations. The Special Need fills this hole for the virginity-loss premise, which has been tackled by teen movies for decades and, taking it to the extreme, with sexless 40-year-olds, as well. Here we meet a 29-year-old virgin named Enea and follow him on an intercontinental mission to have him deflowered. His reason for being a late bloomer stems from his autism and, as we see when he’s hitting on women in the street, his overcompensating courage matched with underwhelming game. He also doesn’t have a sense of what league he’s in, nor does he have a basis for what to look for other than fashion magazine-quality beauties. Fortunately, Enea has a friend in filmmaker Carlo Zoratti, who decided to document the adventure of the disabled man’s quest for sex. Starting out in Italy, where they can’t find a prostitute willing, let alone a prospective partner who doesn’t charge for it, Carlo, Enea and their other friend, Alex, drive north through Europe in the attempt to find a way to get the job done legally, safely and respectfully. Zoratti doesn’t film the plan and journey in the way you’d expect. There’s no introductory narration telling us of the objective, no breaking of the fourth wall to acknowledge that a film is even being made. Instead he let’s the story unfold seemingly naturally, albeit with clear indication that this is more docudrama than documentary, and scenes, if not the entire picture, are for […]

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Karen-Gillan-in-Oculus-2013-Movie-Image

On Doctor Who, Karen Gillan played Amy Pond, known as “the girl who waited.” That label stemmed from her first episode of the British sci-fi series, in which the title character showed up in her backyard with his TARDIS — a time machine in the form of an old, blue British police box — and invited a 7-year-old Pond to be his traveling companion. But then he didn’t return to pick her up for over a decade. The actress has had better luck with her own promise of travel and adventure, starting out as a model before landing roles on UK television straight out of drama school, including that prime gig on the internationally popular Doctor Who program. From there, she didn’t have long to wait before a movie career whisked her away to Hollywood. And as it turns out, her initial means of coming to America also involved a man with something resembling an old, blue British police box. “I was in my childhood bedroom in Scotland,” she explains about her first Skype meeting with Mike Flanagan, who directed her in her first gig in the U.S., the creepy, cleverly edited new horror movie Oculus. “And he took a swig of coffee out of a TARDIS mug, which made me realize I had a good chance of getting it.”

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VERONICA MARS

Veronica Mars is apparently a very satisfying return of some clearly beloved characters from a TV series that went off the air seven years ago. Fans will love it. In fact, fans do love it, as I witnessed at the packed premiere in the 1100-seat Paramount Theater at SXSW. There’s nothing wrong with a movie catering to fans of a property, and there’s no reason to assume something serving as a continuation of a pre-existing entertainment product should work for those attempting to jump in blind. This certainly isn’t the first feature spun-off from a TV show that expects you to have at least some familiarity, nor is it unlike many sequels throughout the history of film, nor is it unlike a ton of made-for-TV movies offering a reunion of characters (and of cast members that play them) and, more importantly, of reunion of fans with those characters they’ve missed. Veronica Mars, however, is not for me and the majority of people who’ve never seen one episode of the show. Why did I go into something like this without catching up? I was curious to see if it would be worthwhile for others in my shoes. And now I can say that it is not. Maybe that’s all I need to say, but I’d like to offer more, because I believe that fans deserve better than what they get here, regardless of all the direct service they receive in the form of recall references that only exist to make someone feel […]

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Ron Perlman in 13 SINS

Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) is having a bad day. His hope for a promotion at work has instead resulted in being fired, and that doesn’t bode well for a man with a pregnant wife and a learning-impaired brother at home. A single phone call changes all of that by offering a chance at financial freedom. The catch? Complete a series of thirteen challenges without fail and without telling anyone else what’s happening. What could possibly go wrong? It starts with a deceptively innocuous challenge. The game show-friendly voice on the phone tells him to kill the fly currently buzzing around his head for $1000. Concerns over exactly how the man on the phone knows there’s a fly are brushed aside, and soon Elliot’s a grand richer. Then swallow the fly. Then make a little girl cry. Then do something involving a homeless man and an ostrich. It’s not too long before he’s moved beyond moral grey areas and started committing felonies, and the deeper he goes down the rabbit hole the harder it becomes to climb back out again. 13 Sins is a mix of dark comedy and vicious thrills, but while there are moments that surprise and sing far too much of it feels overly familiar. It’s a lesser sin to be sure, but it would surprise no one if there was a special place in hell for makers of unnecessary remakes.

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internets own boy

Barely a year passed between the death of Aaron Swartz and the premiere of a documentary honoring him. Normally something like this quickly turned-around film, The Internet’s Own Boy, would be all respectful tribute and emotional testimony. Much of it is, and on the latter point there is understandably a lot of tears from the interviewees, most of them family and friends who are speaking very soon after Swartz’s suicide in January 2013. But while director Brian Knappenberger primarily offers up a loving, elegiac biography aimed at those who already or will see the subject as a hero, there’s a lot more to this doc than who Swartz was, why he was great and how much of a tragedy it is that he’s no longer around. All of that basic stuff can be sufficiently gleaned from a Wikipedia page, and that’s surely an appropriate place to do so given that Swartz created a similar site of his own as a preteen computer prodigy and continued working on projects devoted to free information over the next 14 years of his short existence. To note some of his achievements, we have Swartz to thank in part for RSS, Reddit and Creative Commons as well as for the defeat of SOPA, the infamous Congressional bill to fight piracy that would have drastically altered the web for the worse. He also became the target of federal prosecutors looking to set an example of deterrence following his arrest for stealing academic articles from JSTOR. And […]

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Dick Miller in THAT GUY DICK MILLER

The movies are filled with familiar faces with seemingly forgettable names. They’ll never see themselves on a marquee or win an Oscar, but people like Bob Gunton, Paul Gleason, and Brion James always make their brief moments onscreen count. Their presence often raises the level of a film, if even for a few minutes, but while most viewers would agree with the sentiment the actors go unsung in the general consciousness. Dick Miller is another one of those guys. He’s been in over 200 films, and while a couple of them saw him in a major or even leading role the vast majority found him simply as the clerk, the man behind the counter, the cop, the [insert generic occupation here] guy. If you’ve seen a Joe Dante movie then you’ve seen Miller in action, and the odds are almost as good if you’ve ever seen a Roger Corman film. Miller is pictured in Webster’s dictionary beside the word “ubiquitous.” That last one’s not actually true, but the guy gets around. That Guy Dick Miller is a new doc that shines a light directly on Miller and his career, and it offers an affectionate and loving look at the man through his own words as well as those of the people who love him. His wife, brothers, and numerous actors and filmmakers share thoughts on what makes him stand apart even in the tiniest of roles.

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Meat Loaf and a member of the KISS Army in STAGE FRIGHT

Seems like just two months ago we were knee deep in Sundance coverage, but already we’ve moved on to the next big thing in film festival coverage. SXSW is the annual film/music/interactive extravaganza that draws film, music, and interactive(?) fans from all around the country to descend into Austin, TX for one hell of a good time. We here at FSR come for the movies (and the food and the friends), and this year our team is four strong and ready to rock. And by rock we mean sit in theater seats of varying levels of comfort, enjoy the culinary wonderland that is Austin’s food scene, and hang out with other like-minded characters. This year’s fest features a lot of titles we’re excited to devour with our eyes, but of the dozens of films we’ll be seeing this coming week we’ve narrowed down our top fourteen below. Neil Miller had to be talked out of putting The Raid 2 on here multiple times, Christopher Campbell moved outside his comfort zone to show interest in some narrative films, and Jack Giroux failed to realize that “anticipated” should really refer to movies he hasn’t seen yet. Keep reading to see which fourteen films we’re anticipating most at SXSW 2014.

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Fort Tilden 2

Is it possible to make an independent film about young women in Brooklyn without comparison to Girls? It doesn’t appear so, and I’m not going to pretend I’m not guilty of doing so myself with the angle of this post. But I can’t respond to the unfortunate laziness to which we use Lena Dunham’s show as a reference point without as much. Now it’s not always just Girls; the acclaimed Frances Ha — itself initially likened to Girls — has joined the show as an easy measure and descriptor for any subsequent work focused on 20-something females in a certain part of New York City. It happened during Sundance with Obvious Child, and now ahead of its SXSW premiere, it’s already happening to Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers‘s Fort Tilden. Both films deserve better simply for the fact that they’re their own entities. Not that it’s uncommon to use old movies as reference to sell new ones, especially for festival crowds. In fact, Bliss and Rogers are specifically citing Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion as being similar predecessors to Fort Tilden. Having only seen some clips and their Kickstarter campaign teaser, it reminds me of Quick Change in the way it’s about people just trying to get across Brooklyn and Queens to a destination that shouldn’t be too hard to reach. And as a huge fan of that movie and really any kind of New York City Odyssey film (After Hours is another good one), […]

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sxsw midnighters among the living

SXSW 2014 has just revealed the remainder of their feature film lineup in what is arguably the most anticipated section of the festival, the Midnighters. The ten feature films include a whopping eight world premieres along with one U.S. premiere and a Sundance 2014 alum. The only repeats here are Adam Wingard‘s The Guest and Mike Flanagan‘s Oculus, both of which are follow-ups to the filmmakers’ highly regarded previous films, You’re Next and Absentia, respectively. It’s in the world premieres though where things get even better. Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury are back with their third feature, Among the Living, and as anyone who’s seen Inside or the first half of Livid knows this is fantastic news. Daniel Stamm (A Necessary Death, The Last Exorcism) returns with 13 Sins, Nicholas McCarthy (The Pact) is back with the chiller, Home, Eduardo Sanchez (The Blair Witch Project) delivers the outdoor nightmare, Exists. And then there’s the horror musical, Stage Fright, about “a snobby musical theater camp terrorized by a bloodthirsty masked killer who despises musical theatre.” Yes please? Keep reading for the complete list of SXSW 2014 Midnighters as well as their just-announced list of Shorts playing the fest.

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SXSW

It’s long been unfair to classify the SXSW Film Festival as, well, just a film festival, simply because the Austin, Texas-based March event has always been a place for more than films, with bustling Interactive and Music programs that serve as their own draw, along with a steadily expanding roster of smaller draws (from SXSW Eco to SXSports to Digital Domain to their always amusing stable of live comedic talent) all adding into the full-bodied experience that is SXSW (or, really, just full, you try walking down Sixth Street smack in the middle of the event without getting accidentally intimate with just piles of strangers). For SXSW 2014, the Film team has quite noticeably folded in a new section to their slate, one that shows the perhaps steadily closing gap between television and film, or at least proves that plenty of small screen fare looks just as good on the big screen. The new section has been tagged “Episodic,” continuing a strong tradition of just damn clever section-naming and a clear interest in pushing forward what is viewed as acceptable (and accepted) film festival offerings.

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2013_04_10 Predestination_0492.tif

It seems like Sundance has just ended, but already we’re just five short weeks away from the next big film festival. And honestly, we couldn’t be happier. SXSW 2014 runs from March 7-15, and while the temperatures will be noticeably different from the chills of Park City we’re hoping the quality of films stays just as high. The full lineup, minus the Shorts and my beloved Midnighters, has just been announced, and as with just about any fest the titles are a mix of the expected, the highly anticipated, and the completely unknown. It’s that last category that ends up being the most exciting each year and the reason many of us attend film fests in the first place. Joining Jon Favreau’s already announced Chef and the Veronica Mars movie will be high profile premieres like Neighbors with Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination (pictured above), David Gordon Green’s Joe, and Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows. Some of our Sundance favorites will also see some new eyeballs including Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, Obvious Child, and, wait for it, The Raid 2. Keep reading for the full listing, and check back on February 5th for the Midnighters and Shorts announcement.

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review i am divine

Editor’s Note: This review original ran as part of our SXSW coverage. The film is now out in select theaters. Assimilation seems to be the order of the day. One of the arguments leveled against the “It Gets Better” campaign is that while it pushes for self-acceptance among queer kids, the “better” part actually seems to mean “normal.” That is, all the images it puts forth of a happy gay life after the misery of high school bullying are images of an assimilated life. If that’s true, it means the bullies haven’t been left behind at all — they’ve been internalized. But if we want to support the kids who can’t look forward to becoming “normal” somewhere down the line, we’d better start checking our archives. History is full of the stories of bullied outsiders who learned to love themselves and went on to become strong icons. While maybe not the most kid-friendly, Divine was one of the biggest, most outrageous, proudly outsider and dangerously different gay cultural icons we have. And just as the forces of assimilation seem to be taking control of our memory, too, documentary filmmaker Jeffry Schwartz comes to the rescue with the release of his definitive Divine biographical documentary, I Am Divine, richly evoking the world of vibrant outsiders that Divine came to define.

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review cheap thrills

Editor’s note: Our review of Cheap Thrills originally ran during this year’s SXSW Film Festival, but we’re re-running it here as the film plays Fantastic Fest. Hey, did you guys know the economy sucks? It’s pretty evident from the price of gas to the unemployment rate to the housing market that we’re still not out of the woods yet. So it’s the perfect climate for a movie critiquing how money rules all and offers peace and stability to those who desperately crave it. Cheap Thrills is both thriller and dark comedy at the same time. The lead character is Craig (Pat Healy), a regular guy doing his best to provide for his wife and small child, but his best isn’t good enough, and with an eviction looming he loses his job at a mechanic shop. Hurting from being kicked while he’s down, he heads to the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. He runs into Vince (Ethan Embry), an old friend he hasn’t seen in awhile, and the two are drawn into a conversation with Colin (David Koechner) and his wife Violet (Sara Paxton) who are celebrating and throwing money around the shithole dive bar. But it’s when Craig and Vince head back to the couple’s house that the stakes go way up and the money really starts flowing… as long as Craig and Vince are willing to play along.

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Good Ol Freda

Editor’s Note: Our review of Good Ol’ Freda originally ran during this year’s SXSW film festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited release today. Is there any pop culture subject that’s been more exhaustively covered through documentaries than The Beatles? Both John Lennon and George Harrison have received excellent posthumous documentary treatments, and the band as a whole enjoyed one of the most comprehensive official docu-treatments in rock history with the 8-part Beatles Anthology. It seems like we’ve got the most popular band in modern history just about covered, right? Not so fast. Of the many (repeated) stories told about The Beatles time and again, there have also been stories about those who surrounded the band, who took essential roles alongside the margins in making The Fab Four exactly how we perceive them to be today. George Martin is now one of the best-known producers in the history of rock n’ roll. Manager Brian Epstein is viewed as a martyr of a former England that criminalized homosexuality. The Hamburg-based romance between pre-fame Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe and photographer Astrid Kircherr has been immortalized in rock history (specifically through Kircherr’s iconic black-and-white photographs of the band in their earliest years). And now another previously sidelined story has been brought to the fore. Ryan White’s second documentary feature, Good Ol’ Freda, chronicles the life and work of an important but rarely discussed member of the close-knit world of The Beatles: Freda Kelly, Epstein’s secretary and the head of […]

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Drinking Buddies

Editor’s Note: This review was originally part of our SXSW coverage, but Drinking Buddies is in theaters this weekend so stop messing around and go see it. Joe Swanberg is one of a group of filmmakers who made their mark with movies that relied on improvisation more than script, 20 something ennui more than narrative and friends more than professional actors. This model works for some viewers, but it’s not designed to ever really appeal to the wider audiences. His latest film, Drinking Buddies, keeps the improv method, but it still manages to tell a cohesive and truly affecting story. A big reason for that is a cast of extremely talented actors with wicked good comedic timing in the lead roles. The four performers, along with a more assured Swanberg directing and editing, have crafted a story about heartbreak, temptation and friendship.

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sxsw_yourenext

Editor’s note: Rob’s review of You’re Next originally ran during this year’s SXSW Film Festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in theatrical release. It’s become pretty fashionable these days for people to retroactively bash movies that enjoyed honest and deserved praise upon release. Wes Craven’s Scream has received such a backlash in recent years, as both a lesser movie and a less influential one, and it’s fairly inexplicable. Sure it has some issues, but the movie remains a fun, scary and smart take on the slasher genre that has rarely (if ever) been duplicated. But it also came out seventeen years ago. You’re Next aims to enjoy the same prestige by giving the genre a real kick in the ass with thrills, chills and a fresh take on it all, but while it misses the mark in some important areas it comes far closer than most. And bottom line? It’s a fun and bloody good time at the movies.

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review some girls

Editor’s Note: Our review of Some Girl(s) originally ran during this year’s SXSW, but we’re running it again as the film opens in limited theatrical release starting June 28, 2013. Any fan of playwright/screenwrtier/filmmaker Neil LaBute‘s honest depictions of cringe-inducing narcissism will be pleased by Some Girl(s). LaBute’s last few films — The Wickerman, Death at a Funeral, and Lakeview Terrace – have shown him going outside his comfort zone with varying results. Some Girl(s), which LaBute scripted (but didn’t direct) from his play of the same name, marks the theatrical return of the LaBute we love. His greatest works often resemble a car crash in motion with the driver smiling through every ding, bone crush, and bump while the victims are left with serious pain. The driver here is simply credited as “Man” and played by Adam Brody. The victims are a few of Man’s ex-girlfriends, all of whom feature distinct personalities and past issues with him. There is the older woman (Emily Watson) he had an affair with, a young girl (Zoe Kazan) he took advantage of, the High School girlfriend (Jennifer Morrison), the tattooed Chicago girl (Mia Maestro) who made him feel cool and the final girl is played by Kristen Bell. He’s doing all this to right any wrongs before marrying his newest girl.

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review much ado

Editor’s note: Our review of Joss Whedon’s latest originally ran during this year’s SXSW film festival, but we’re re-running it as the film opens in limited theatrical release. William Shakespeare has had more film adaptations of his work than any other writer by a wide margin, and that trend shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. The reasons for this are varied and exhaustive, but few would argue it’s not a great thing to see. While most filmmakers maintain the Bard’s language and historical settings, some move the action and wordplay into the present with varying degrees of success. The latest director to do so, and one of the few to do so brilliantly, is Joss Whedon. Yes, that Joss Whedon. His Much Ado About Nothing is updated to modern Los Angeles with limousines, semiautomatic pistols and men in suits, but he keeps Shakespeare’s language intact. The tale takes place almost entirely at the compound of a government official named Leonato (Clark Gregg) who’s visited by fellow dignitary Don Pedro (Reed Diamond) and his two immediate officers, Benedick (Alexis Desinof) and Claudio (Fran Kranz). The latter falls in love with Leonato’s daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), while the former has a friction-filled and antagonistic past with the man’s niece Beatrice (Amy Acker). It’s not all foreplay and country matters, though, as Don Pedro’s manipulative brother, Don John (Sean Maher), is intent on disrupting political relations by destroying relationships.

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