SXSW 2012

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Editor’s Note: This review originally ran during the 2012 SXSW Film Festival (when the film was titled Jeff), but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Documentary director Chris James Thompson would like us to remember that even serial killers have neighbors, or ride the bus, or go the pharmacy. Of course, they also kill and maim and even eat their victims or get caught, but they still have some of the same needs as everyone else. In Thompson’s Jeffrey Dahmer documentary, The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, the filmmaker attempts to take us inside the mind of both Dahmer and a handful of those who surrounded him during his crimes and their aftermath. Unfortunately, the film lacks any sort of suitable or satisfying entry point for the uninitiated, and might still prove to be a bit obtuse even for those who know what they’re getting into.

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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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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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As someone who lives and breathes for the genre, I think it’s fair to say that action movies have gone soft. Well, that is, American, big studio action films have gone soft. The fight sequences are mostly shot in tight close-up with a volley of cuts that dilute all semblance of impact. Thankfully, foreign filmmakers are still bloodying their knuckles and breaking their backs to bring us action films that leave us as bruised and fighting for air as the sundry characters lying demolished on the floor by the time credits roll. One such actionteur is Welsh director Gareth Evans. That’s right, one of the burgeoning authorities on martial arts action films is from Wales. In 2009, Evans brought us Merantau, the heroic tale of a young man on a journey of self-discovery…who kicks plenty o’ ass along the way. Filmed in Indonesia, with a local cast, the film utilizes the fighting style Silat, indigenous to the island nation. But if we thought we’d seen the full extent of Evans’ talent with Merantau, we were so very, very wrong. This week, Evans will unleash his latest film The Raid upon unsuspecting audiences nationwide. I when I say it will be unleashed, I mean that the intensity and relentless pacing of its violent fight sequences will have you reevaluating the value of human life. The Raid, after garnering huge buzz during Toronto and Sundance, has now been picked up by Sony for both theatrical distribution and remake rights. It’s also been […]

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Bernie is director Richard Linklater‘s most accessible film in years. It falls somewhere in the middle between his commercial features and his more experimental works as a splendid mix of both sensibilities. Bernie is hilarious, clever, sweet, thought-provoking, and a fine example of the most interesting type of comedy. Set in Carthage, East Texas, the true-life story follows Bernhardt “Bernie” Tiede (Jack Black), a happy-go-lucky member of the community. He’s about as well-liked as they come and the type of guy who would never hurt a fly. Bernie, a local mortician, is also a mystery. The only people he has any known relationships with are the old widows he comforts. Are his intentions sexual? The film doesn’t say. When the most disliked member of his community, Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), loses her husband, Bernie tries to prove she isn’t the horrid person everyone makes her out to be.

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Austin Cinematic Limits

I know you are all wondering which local film was my favorite at SXSW 2012, and though I know that you know that by asking that question you are placing me in a very awkward position because I do not like to play favorites I will oblige your request nonetheless. Kid-Thing. There, I said it. Are you satisfied now? I suspect I will find a severed horse’s head in my bed courtesy of Jonny Mars (America’s Parking Lot) and/or Bob Byington (Somebody Up There Likes Me) as early as tomorrow morning. Thanks a lot! Well, can I backtrack and say that they were all great?

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Would you have ever expected that a completely eccentric, beautifully talented artist, and sometime puppeteer was behind the some of the puppets and set design on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse? Actually you might, because those were some of the strangest puppets ever to hit television. But there’s an equally strange personality behind them. Wayne White, a Tennessee-born surreal pop art artist and puppeteer, is the subject of the incredibly impressive Beauty is Embarrassing documentary that was one of the most entertaining films I saw during SXSW this year. The film, which documents White’s beginnings as an artist (paying a lot of attention to the time he spent working on Pee-Wee up to the present day) opens with White and his one-man art retrospective show, which is presented more like a stand-up act than an art show: White plays the banjo, tells jokes, shows slides along with his artwork, and sings. It’s highly entertaining, and shows you that while he might look like a curmudgeonly man yelling at you to get off his lawn, he’s actually a lovable guy underneath.

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We open with a gasp. Amy Seimetz’s feature directorial debut, Sun Don’t Shine, kicks off with its lead actress (Kate Lyn Sheil) fighting for breath under the blazing Florida sun, thanks to a knock-down-drag-out fight with her boyfriend (Kentucker Audley) in an empty slice of wetland far from any prying eyes. The two struggle in the mud and sand, until the scuffle is finally over and they resume driving far away from something very bad, very bad indeed. An understated take on the classic Bonnie and Clyde trope with a mumblecore vibe, Seimetz’s film centers on two runaway losers who need to get somewhere far from home – and fast.

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Set in the Sequoia National Forest during a last-ditch attempt at romance-saving by way of camping trip, Adele Romanski‘s Leave Me Like You Found Me imagines that relationship rehab amongst the trees can be both cathartic and catastrophic. Erin (Megan Boone) and Cal (David Nordstrom) have been apart for a year, and while we don’t ever learn just who made the first move and who conceived of the trip, we do know who left in the first place. Cal walked out on Erin, and it’s easy to see why he might have felt compelled to do so – she’s woefully insecure about herself and their relationship, yet she’s also convinced that she’s the better catch of the two. The camping trip is both a bonding exercise and a try-out period to see if the two have overcome their problems and differences and are now able to participate in a healthy and loving romance. But while a year has passed since their initial break-up, it’s clear that their issues have not disappeared and that they’re extremely prone to allowing little tiffs and digs to turn into blowout arguments.

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The skin-crawling world of Small Apartments is presented without irony or judgment – so it’s not surprising that, in such an off-kilter environment, Matt Lucas’ Franklin Franklin (yes, that’s really his name) sounds relatively sane. Even when he’s off-handedly confessing to the murder of his landlord, Lucas’ delivery is so deadpan that no one takes him seriously – after all, why would Franklin kill anyone? Oh, possibly because (like everybody else in his crumbling apartment building) he’s totally deranged?

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Billed as “a deadpan fable about time sneaking up on and swerving right around us” by the SXSW programmers, Bob Byington‘s Somebody Up There Likes Me is boring twaddle masquerading as something more exiciting and more important, thanks to a barely hidden high concept conceit that frequently make the production just look sloppy and inattentive. The film and its often blank-faced lead, Keith Poulson, are without any of the charm and cheekiness of Byington’s previous films, namely the lovely and funny Harmony and Me. Poulson’s Max Youngman is a typical shiftless twentysomething – a waiter, he doesn’t appear to have many life or professional goals and, personally speaking, he’s not doing so hot either. His ex-wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) doesn’t want to get back together, which she proves handily by having sex with another dude within minutes of Max leaving her house. Max’s only friend is his waiter co-worker Sal (Nick Offerman) who, even later in the film after over thirty years of friendship and a number of job changes, Max still calls “the waiter.” A slightly spur-of-the-moment date with co-worker Lyla (Jess Weixler) appears to signal a positive change in Max’s life, and thus the film, but while Somebody Up There Likes Me tracks decades in Max’s life and innumerable changes, there’s little actual evolution to be found.

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In which a review begs to open with a deep-seeming quote about memory – its price, its collapse, its malleability, its importance, something about Mark Twain – and fails utterly. Director and co-writer Nir Paniry attempts something similar with his Extracted. The film follows Sasha Roiz as Tom, an inventor who has crafted a machine that is able to plug into a person’s memory and allow them to experience it as if it was currently happening, all while processing those memories into video capture. Unsurprisingly enough, Tom’s invention doesn’t quite work as planned, and he’s plunged into the depths of another person’s memory – except the memories he’s found are bad ones, and he’s trapped inside of them. Though Tom creates his machine with the hope of helping people work through their past issues, when his apparent manager comes to him with an interested buyer who plans on using it for something very different, Tom buckles. Turns out, a local corrections bigwig sees potential in the project that doesn’t quite fit Tom’s altruistic aims – he wants to plug perps into it to discover if their memories prove them guilty (or innocent, though he seems fairly convinced that everyone is guilty). Swayed by the promise of a big pay-out should the corrections department adopt his invention as part of their standard interrogation procedures, Tom sets up a trial demonstration, during which he gets plugged into the memories of accused murderer Anthony (Dominic Bogart).

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Jay Chandrasekhar’s twist on the bank heist film, The Babymakers, takes a somewhat clever and fun premise and buries it under muffled performances, piles of unfunny jokes, and a complete disregard for clarity of theme. The film is packed with all of the markers that we’ve come to expect from current Hangover and Apatow-inspired comedy – it’s raunchy and dirty and even occasionally offensive – but there’s no bite or originality behind any of it, it just feels tired and wrung out. Chandrasekhar’s shtick has worn thin since his best and ballsiest comedy, Super Troopers, and lensing a flick from writers Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow (best known for stuff like Black Knight and Say It Isn’t So) hasn’t done him any favors. The film centers on happily married pair Tommy (Paul Schneider) and Audrey (Olivia Munn) who decides it’s high time to conceive a baby. After months of trying, it becomes evident that there’s something amiss with either one or both of them, and when they discover it’s Tommy and his “confused sperm,” he lets slip that there’s no way that could be so. After all, he paid for Audrey’s engagement ring with money from donating his sperm for twenty weeks in a row. Oh – oops! She didn’t know that. Determined to win back his wife, Tommy and his pack of moronic pals (including Kevin Heffernan and Nat Faxon) cook up a plan to rob the sperm bank that’s holding Tommy’s last batch hostage, with help from a […]

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If there were ever a director who resembled Lucy from “Peanuts” (in both spirit and looks), it’s Robert Rodriguez. His explanation for all the talk and no action? “You work on a number of projects, and then everything eventually bottlenecks.” What’s bottlenecking currently is his sequel to Machete and about 10 other projects he’s announced over the years, but none of them comes close to the anticipation that grew, waned, resurfaced, died out, and then blossomed again for Sin City 2. The first was a perfect neo-noir that made brilliant use of Frank Miller‘s raw language and story. Now, according to Lucy himself (via Empire), he’ll finally be shooting it this summer while editing Machete 2. Apparently he’ll be beating the heat by staying indoors with his green screens. Miller has stated before that Jessica Alba‘s character Nancy has a continued story, and since it’s partially based off the graphic novel entry “A Dame To Kill For,” Mickey Rourke‘s Marv should also be in the mix. However, no casting has been announced, so if this thing really does go this time, it’s going to be just how Rodriguez seems to like it: on the fly. The only question is whether we, as fans, should keep our eye on the football this time.

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As a romantic subgenre, the alcoholic love story doesn’t typically hit upon anything fantastically new or groundbreaking – drink, fight, cry, love, repeat until something terrible happens – but director and co-writer Adam Sherman and his charming cast have done something wonderful with their Crazy Eyes. Sherman and stars Lukas Haas and Madeline Zima have injected life and humor into their story of two shiftless Hollywood alcoholics and their maybe-love story. In terms of fitting into its genre, Crazy Eyes feels a bit like a more light-hearted Leaving Las Vegas or a more energetic Somewhere – comparisons that are meant as compliments.

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published: 12.23.2014
B+
published: 12.22.2014
C-
published: 12.19.2014
A-


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