SXSW 2014

Jon Favreau and Aaron Franklin in Chef

Editor’s note: Our review of Chef originally ran during this year’s SXSW film festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in theaters. During his introduction of his new movie Chef on opening night of the SXSW Film Festival, Jon Favreau talked at length about how nice it was to be able to make a movie that is personal, to be inspired to make something that didn’t have to appeal to every demographic, as is the requirement placed upon so many blockbusters. He talked about being so inspired in a way that he hadn’t seen since Swingers. This got some applause, for sure, from an audience anxious to see him bring that kind of film. Because when he said that it was nice to make a movie that would appeal to a smaller, more passionate audience, it was almost as if he had made it for that particular audience. It is a movie about good food and music with a cameo from Austin’s favorite city (Austin), after all. The only problem is that with the sweetness with which Favreau has imbued his latest movie comes a bit of bitterness toward online critics, an aged view of social media and the Internet and a movie that comes away from the wreck of its conflict too clean for its own good. All things that, if they weren’t so drunk on BBQ, wouldn’t get by such an audience.

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Zac Efron and Seth Rogen in NEIGHBORS

Editor’s note: Our review of Neighbors originally ran during this year’s SXSW film festival, but we’re re-running it now as the film opens in theaters. You might expect an R-rated comedy starring Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, directed by the guy who made Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Five-Year Engagement, to be loose and sloppy, like Rogen’s torso. But Neighbors turns out to be tight and lean and eminently watchable, like Efron’s torso. It’s boisterously funny, yet also focused and perceptive. Who knew a Rogen movie could be all of those things at once? Rogen and the suddenly indispensable Rose Byrne play Mac and Kelly, new parents working through the mixed emotions of loving their adorable baby girl while missing their old, fun lives. After a few lukewarm gags along the usual lines (they want to go to a late-night party but fall asleep instead!), we get to the crux of the matter as a fraternity moves in to the house next door. Under the guidance of dude-bros Teddy (Efron) and Pete (Dave Franco), the frat behaves exactly the way Mac and Kelly were afraid they would, with raucous nightly parties. (For some reason they’re the only neighbors bothered by the noise.) The new situation intensifies Mac and Kelly’s insecurity about becoming grown-ups. They want to be cool, and even more than that, they want to be cool in the eyes of hot college kids (Mac unhesitatingly calls Teddy “the sexiest man I’ve ever seen”). With a joint as a peace […]

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Nicolas Cage in JOE

Editor’s note: Our review of Joe originally ran during last year’s TIFF, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens theatrically. Our long national nightmare is finally over – director David Gordon Green has returned to making the types of films that put the indie filmmaker on the map in the early aughts with his Joe. Combined with this year’s earlier effort, the drily amusing Prince Avalanche, Green has successfully managed to put the memory of his broad comedy busts like The Sitter and Your Highness behind him, and fans of vintage Green should be quite satisfied with his latest Southern gothic. Starring Nicolas Cage as the eponymous Joe, an ex-con who makes his living by poisoning whole forests so that they can be deemed sick and subsequently be cleared for the replanting of heartier, more sellable trees. Joe employs a large crew of locals, all of whom seem to like him very much, and he’s a fair, reasonable boss. Off the clock, however, Joe struggles with restraining a powerful, almost insatiable anger, and he tries to keep it at bay through alcohol and simply staying home. The arrival of a young drifter who comes begging for a job up-ends Joe’s tenuous personal peace, and their sweetly parental relationship threatens to change things for both of them. Sounds sentimental? It’s not. Not even a little bit.

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Hammer Girl in THE RAID 2

Editor’s note: Our review of The Raid 2 originally ran during this year’s Sundance film festival, but we’re re-posting it now as the film opens in limited theatrical release. Let’s just dispense with the hyperbole right now. Yes, The Raid 2 will in fact cure any and all ailments, make you irresistible to the opposite sex, give you the winning lottery numbers, do your math homework for you, wash the dishes, and happily go down on you without expecting the same in return. Or not. But even without all of that it should be more than enough that Gareth Evans‘ follow up to his 2011 action hit is without a doubt one of the most brilliantly executed, excitingly choreographed, bone-crunchingly fantastic action films your eyes have ever had the distinct pleasure of seeing and hearing.

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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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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 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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Song-from-the-Forest-1

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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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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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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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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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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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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