SXSW

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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frank-movie

Sundance 2014 had a loaded schedule of top notch films, Lenny Abrahamson’s pleasantly weird dark comedy Frank, among them. Frank is the story of Jon, played by Harry Potter alumn Domhnall Gleeson, a young songwriter brought into the fold of a quirky noise rock band called Soronprfbs, led by singer Frank (Michael Fassbender), who perpetually wears a giant papier-mâché head. Quirky and whimsical as he is, the talented Frank is saddled with some pretty heavy issues. Jon moves to Ireland to record an album with the band, posting rehearsal videos on social media, with the aim of getting Frank and his musical cohorts a spot at Austin’s South by Southwest. Check out the trailer below.

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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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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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The Source Family

Editor’s note: The Source Family is now in limited release, so go ahead and get hip to Kate’s SXSW review of the film, originally published on March 14, 2012. While some people might chuckle at being informed that they are a part of a group of “specially chosen people,” there will always be a few that perk up with such words, whose eyes go wide, and who are eager to get on board with like-minded people. You know, like cult members. Co-directors Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos chronicle just such a cult and just such a people in The Source Family, a documentary about the group of people known as the Source Family who, thanks to their leader Jim Baker, “transformed sex, drugs, and rock n roll” into a genuine movement (at least in their eyes). The film documents Baker and the Source’s rise to (relative) power and prominence in seventies-era Los Angeles. Baker got his roots in the city through his profession as a restaurateur and, after opening a number of eateries; he finally came up with The Source Restaurant – one of the first health food restaurants in the country. Baker’s restaurant served as ground zero for health nuts, wayward children, and movie stars and, combined with Baker’s well-known charisma, it was the perfect breeding ground for a cult with a readymade leader.

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MegaStill40912

It happens all too frequently. You go to a movie building, pay your eleventeen-hundred dollars for tickets and concessions, and you sit through a movie bearing a title comprised of a single cryptic noun. Scourge, or Continuum, or Memorandum. These inherently enticing titles were the reason you ponied up the admission price in the first place, but you leave feeling disappointed that the movie doesn’t live up to the nebulous expectations such an indeterminate title engendered. Frankly, we’ve been both flimmed and flammed by these deceptive marketing smokescreens for too long. What we need are more movies that adhere to stricter standards of transparency. Movies are consumable products after all, so misleading people with obfuscating titles constitutes an affront to truth in advertising. We need more movies like Robocop, Snakes on a Plane and Surf Ninjas. These are pretense-free film titles that allow you to make a more informed choice in your b-movie viewing. Really, we need more movies like Robocop, Snakes on Plane and Surf Ninjas just for the sake of general planetary betterment, but more specifically because they are upfront and honest with what they are selling. At this year’s SXSW, a listing can be found among the Midnighter slate for Big Ass Spider. The movie is about… that thing that it says its about. No matter how you may feel about the quality of this film, you can never fault the filmmakers for not delivering on their promises. In an effort to encourage all future filmmakers to be more forthcoming, […]

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SCMS

On Sunday morning, I woke up feeling a combination of physical and mental exhaustion along with the exhilaration of having moved through an impossibly packed schedule. I had attended countless panels, talked movies with friends I hadn’t seen in years and whom I encountered at a variety of different points in my life, attempted (sometimes successfully, often not) to make professional contacts, and enjoyed free food and booze at sponsored parties, a never-unappreciated gift for anyone traveling on a budget – all on very little sleep. And no, I’m not part of FSR’s team covering South by Southwest this year. This was my experience of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference in Chicago. The conference is run, as its name suggests, by the Society for Cinema and Media Studies, an organization (founded in 1959) that “promotes the scholarly study of film, television, and video” (though the emerging disciplines of game studies and various tracks of digital media should probably be included in this description). SCMS publishes the premiere US-based journal in the academic discipline of film studies,”Cinema Journal.” The conference is the largest academic film and media studies conference in the country, spanning over five days, with 2-5 blocks of 105-minute panels per day, each block containing around 25 panels, workshops, meetings and (sometimes) screenings, all of which involve formal or semi-formal presentations by 3-5 persons. (You do the math.) Flipping through the nearly-200 page conference program can feel like mastering the art of futility. Ibuprofen may be […]

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Joseph Gordon-Levitt made bold choices with his feature debut, Don Jon, previously titled as the misleading Don Jon’s Addiction. Sure, he made a crowd-pleaser out of a potentially dark concept – something we don’t see often from the indie film world – but, as a filmmaker, Levitt took some chances. Not only did go about doing so by shooting on 35mm, but also with a few broad, committed stylistic flourishes. We see the world through Jon’s eyes — who is a self-centered, narcissistic Jersey boy — so at first the film is shot like the most expensive, high-production value porno you’ve ever seen. Once the character’s journey comes to an end, gone is all the cheesy club music and camera whips. It’s a heightened aesthetic that lets an audience know exactly what Don Jon is from the beginning. We spoke with Levitt here about Don Jon‘s style, along with why he wanted to make a movie with a capital “m.”

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Sake Bomb

Premiering next month in the New Visions section at the SXSW Film Festival, Junya Sakino‘s Sake-Bomb takes the old road trip formula and adds in some extra-special ingredients – like unrequited love, mismatched family members, and cultural clashes. And you thought simply traveling to Disneyland with your family in a minivan was tough, amirite? The film centers on young Sebastian, “a bitter, self-hating wannabe Internet star from Los Angeles” (which is, incidentally, my favorite character description of the year so far), who has just been dropped by his lady love. He’s soon joined by his quiet Japanese cousin, Naoto, who needs Sebastian’s help to find his own ex-girlfriend in Northern California. Cue road trip, misunderstanding, and probably more than one breakdown (and not just of the vehicular variety). Sake-Bomb will have its world premiere at SXSW on Friday, March 8, with three additional screenings to follow later in the festival. Until then, enjoy our exclusive poster from the film, featuring both Sebastian and Naoto looking none too pleased with each other. Ah, family.

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TheIncredibleBurtWonderstone2

I’m currently just four days away from attending my very first Sundance Film Festival, and I’m understandably excited (and nervous about the cold). But just because my upcoming affections will be directed towards this frigid newcomer doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten the one that broke my festival cherry. That honor belongs to Austin’s SXSW in March of 2009. SXSW remains one of the preeminent film festivals for movie lovers, and FSR is still covering it better than anyone else. 2013 will be no different thanks to what looks like another fantastic line-up of films and events. The first few titles have just been announced, and they include a mix of the hotly anticipated and the interesting unknowns. The opening night film is The Incredible Burt Wonderstone starring Steve Carell and Jim Carrey, and we’ll also be seeing the scary as f*ck-looking remake of Evil Dead, a new Joe Swanberg film potentially made bearable thanks to its immensely appealing cast, Harmony Korine‘s unabashedly sexy and strange Spring Breakers, and more. Keep reading to see what other films are being teased at this year’s SXSW, and check back with us when the full slate is announced January 31st through February 6th.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

As many of you probably know, I have been juggling an all-consuming day job with various writing gigs, essentially leaving no time for anything else (life, sleep); and, as the saying goes, all work and no play makes Don a dull boy. We have enough Jack Torrance’s in this world, and before I start running around abandoned hotels with an ax, I figured it was in my best interest to start hacking away at my current workload.

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Nature Calls

Editor’s note: Yet another SXSW feature is hitting limited release, so please relieve yourselves with this Nature Calls review, originally published on March 11, 2012. Filmmaker Todd Rohal‘s third feature film, Nature Calls, returns to a world similar to that of his The Catechism Cataclysm – a world marked by complete madness by way of a poorly planned excursions to the outdoors. Rohal is again concerned with pushing the envelope, particularly when it comes to poking fun at organized religion, but a sweet edge of sentimentality and emotions sets Nature Calls apart from his previous outing. Unfortunately, Rohal’s film cannot quite join its disparate parts – wacky antics, inspired upbraiding of modern consumer life, physical danger, and fractured familial relationships – into one cohesive piece, and while the film’s laughs are frequent, they are fleeting and don’t have any weight behind them. Also, goddamn can this thing be offensive.

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Starlet Review

Editor’s note: Starlet arrives in theaters this Friday, but we already saw it way back in March at SXSW. Why don’t you re-read our review from then, originally published on March 12, 2012? There’s nothing quite like found money to bring out people’s true colors – and, in the case of Sean Baker‘s Starlet, the character that emerges from lead character Jane is surprising to everyone around her, especially herself. Baker’s film centers on Jane (Dree Hemingway), a Florida transplant who now wiles away her days in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley doing, well, what is it that Jane does? The gorgeous Hemingway spends most of her time driving around with her dog (Starlet, even though he happens to be a boy), getting high with her terrible roommates (an appropriately screeching and unhinged Stella Maeve and her dirtbag boyfriend James Ransone), and wearing clothing so short that it nearly becomes its own plot point. While it’s eventually revealed just what Jane does with her time and for her money, Starlet focuses on an undefined Jane in the film’s first half, a time period in which nothing much happen beyond the introduction of the film’s only major plot point, though that introduction takes less than five minutes. And though we do eventually get to know Jane more as the film plods on, it does not prove to be an ultimately rewarding experience. 

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Editor’s note: With SXSW Audience Award winner Brooklyn Castle hitting limited release, here is a re-run of our festival review, originally published on March 15, 2012. Why do we like to watch documentaries? Most of us enjoy seeing an uplifting story, but so many of the documentaries I’ve seen at film festivals are about depressing subject matters. Yet, they usually share a common feeling of hope at the end – that things can change, tides can turn, and people can make a difference. Every good documentary sheds light on a subject that people may have zero familiarity with, but when they walk out of that theater, they’ll be aware and hopefully…hopeful. Brooklyn Castle is one of those movies. While it partially devolves into a harsh look at the current state of public education in New York City and around the country near the end, it’s a heartwarming look at the exact reason why we need to fund after-school programs and give more attention to the arts. Which yes, includes playing games. Chess, to be exact. Inspired by a 2007 New York Times article about a teenager who was skipping class to master chess, director Katie Dellamaggiore found out about I.S. 318 in New York City, and learned that they had been winning championships across the country ever since the chess group was formed in 2006. But, thanks to the current economy, they were facing budget cuts and setbacks. Armed with a camera, she followed their chess team and put together this […]

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The Tall Man - Jessica Biel

Editor’s note: The Tall Man creeps into theaters tomorrow, so hold your children close and enjoy this re-post of our SXSW review, originally posted on March 21, 2012. SXSW Midnighter pick The Tall Man falls into the category of the most aggravating kind of disposable movies. It’s not bad, there’s a certain level of competency, and a few of its ideas, if translated right, would make for an interesting film. Unfortunately, those ideas aren’t handled right, and the final result is a tedious, bland, and unsubtle thriller. Set in the small rundown town of Cold Rock, there lives the legend of “The Tall Man,” someone who’s been snatching kids away from their families. While there’s been no sighting or hard evidence of his existence, he’s still been talked up into a nightmarish figure. The government and anyone else of real importance hasn’t done anything about it since it’s a poor town. The lead of the film, Jessica Biel‘s Julia Denning, is a local free clinic nurse and a widow and, like everyone else, she fears even the very idea of The Tall Man. As expected, the legend comes and takes her child away.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

I received ton of emails after my “What Works for Austin Filmmakers?” post last week, which provided me with motivation to continue on with part two this week. One thing is obvious, this is a very touchy and emotional subject. Several filmmakers contacted me with their personal insights, all of which will appear one way or another in this or subsequent posts. Some emails were critical of certain members of the local film community, but I will not mention anyone’s names. My goal is to do whatever I can to help foster a more supportive and successful film community, so I am not here to get in the middle of any personal grievances. I do think there is a certain level of validity in many of the claims, but I will keep the criticisms as general as possible. So, I ended my last post with my thoughts on micro-budget genre films and promised to discuss comedies next. Comedies have long been a part of micro-budget filmmaking (especially student films), but most of the time these comedies lack a strong script and passable production quality. Austin is extremely lucky in that it has a very talented go-to pool of comedic actors (I’m looking at you, Chris Doubek, John Merriman, Kerri Lendo, Ashley Spillers, Heather Kafka, Kelli Bland, Paul Gordon and everyone else whom I am forgetting at this particular juncture), but its the films with impressive writing and production values that have historically achieved a higher level of success. This is how […]

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The Imposter Movie 2012

Editor’s note: With The Imposter hitting limited theaters this week, here is a re-run of our SXSW review, originally published on March 13, 2012. Sometime around the halfway mark of Bart Layton‘s The Imposter, I became aware of the fact that I was watching the movie with my eyes wide as saucers. Even with a strong grasp of the film’s subject matter, it’s hard not to be totally blown away by what plays out on-screen, to become gape-mouthed in the face of so much (hyperbole aside) insanity. Much like Sundance favorite Compliance, the film focuses on the extreme limits of human fallibility and a true story that is so exceedingly unbelievable that it feels like it cannot possibly be true – but it is. In 1994, a thirteen-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared while on his way home from playing with his friends in San Antonio, Texas. Three years later, a French con artist named Frédéric Bourdin placed a prank phone call to the police in a small Spanish town, claiming to be a man who had found an American child who had been abducted. When the police arrived, it was Frédéric Bourdin who huddled in the phone booth, clad in oversized clothing and a baseball cap pulled low. Bourdin was taken to an orphanage, where he went about constructing a lie so fantastic and revolting that only the most cunning of con artists and the most deviant of human beings would even consider it for a moment.

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Editor’s note: With Girls premiering on HBO this weekend, we thought one of Kate’s favorites from SXSW was in need of a re-run. This review was originally posted on March 13, as part of our SXSW Film Festival coverage. Multi-hyphenate Lena Dunham has previously hit SXSW with two unique efforts – in 2009, with the debut of her ambitious, lo-fi Creative Nonfiction, and follow-up in 2010 with the controversial Tiny Furniture, which earned the Narrative Feature award in that year’s section. Dunham’s work has proven polarizing – some people admire her self-effacing and very personal brand of filmmaking, while others balk at her navel-gazing style. Returning to SXSW this year, Dunham again brought along a personal project about self-effacing, navel-gazing, shaky-legged twenty-something girls in the big city, but this time Dunham is serving as star/writer/director/producer on a television series, HBO’s Girls, produced with Judd Apatow. And while her previous works might not have the sort of widespread appeal that a television series would require, Dunham’s Girls is wickedly hilarious, quite accessible, and it proves that Dunham’s in-character pronouncement that she could be the voice of her generation is not far off – at all.

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Editor’s Note: This review first ran as part of our SXSW coverage on March 11, but The Hunter is hitting limited theaters this week. The Hunter is a film of surprising scope and intimacy. On the outside, it’s a basic “dangerous hunting” tale, but on the inside, it’s a story of a man, said hunter (Willem Dafoe), connecting with people on an emotional level for what might be the first time in his life. That reeks of hokiness, but with with an assured directorial hand, most of the drama is calm and collected. A lot of that stems from Dafoe, giving the sort of high caliber performance we’ve grown to expect from him. Martin David is a hunter of the illegal sort, and he’s given quite the challenge: get a sample from a Tasmanian tiger. Not an easy task. When we’re introduced to Martin, he’s shown in isolation, completely out of place in a snazzy hotel room. After his hunting services are acquired by a biotech company, Martin heads down to an unfriendly Australian town to seek out the tiger. He stays at a broken family’s home, where he ends up having to look after and connect with two children whose father may or may not be dead. You see the cold Martin get humanized by the children, as expected – and it’s affective, due to Dafoe.

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What is Movie News After Dark? Like The Wire creator David Simon, it doesn’t think you should worship it. Except that it doesn’t think you’re a dummy for liking it. That actually makes you quite smart. We begin this evening with a look at Jemaine Clement and Nicole Sherzinger in Men in Black III. The formerly flying conchord and the pussycat doll will be the film’s duo of baddies, both looking very much as the higher powers intended for them: one is creepy, the other is hot.

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