Wednesday, March 14, 2012

What I thought of a shit ton of the SXSW films I saw - 21 Jump Street, The Raid, Girls, Francine Etc

Pilgrim Song

My favorite part of this quiet, beautifully shot personal gem was watching the main character take his personal journey of self discovery through the hiking trails of Kentucky. Not a setting featured in too many movies at a theater near you.

Doc Shorts Program #2

I went to this solely for the first one, called CatCam. Didn't even have to read the description to sell me. I hope this is distributed in some form, not that short films get the attention they're due, even the good ones. But this one at least has some hope - it has won the audience award and is also showing at Full Frame. Of course it also garnered the hotly contested title of Dor Dotson Best Cat Movie of SXSW. So there's that.

Daylight Savings

This is a sorta-sequel (I guess) to a little movie from 2011 SXSW that I liked, called Surrogate Valentine. Both of these take place in the universe of San Fran indie musicians. The leading man is the successful-in-music yet unlucky in love Goh Nakamura, an unlikely but totally endearing hero whose romantic foibles were a delight to watch and will hopefully continue for many more sequels. Maybe an IFC mini-series or something?

Hunky Dory

This poor movie will earn Glee comparisons left right and center, but that's not what's keeping me from recommending it. It's a period piece about teenage longing, rebellion and rock music set in 70's Wales, complete with the stuffy headmistress and Minnie Driver as the hot-headed drama teacher. Hard to hate any movie whose grand finish includes a cast of triumphant teens singing Bowie's Life On Mars, but this one has to work hard for my approval after a real, real messy first half that should hopefully be chopped a bit if it's ever tested.


Scary movie alert! I waited in a long line for this, which was billed as a "Secret Screening," even though I knew what it was and wasn't particularly dying to see it. Glad I did, though. Spooky, spooky, spooky! Ethan Hawke plays a fallen-from-grace crime non-fiction writer who needs a hit, and unbeknownst to his family, moves them into the exact house where an unsolved murder/missing child case has occurred. I was thinking a lot about my friend David while I watched, since the movie heavily features a crawl space and potential serial killer plot line. And is just in general a freaky ass movie, which he loves. I was also suffering a bit because hanging really scare me and this movie featured a bunch of (distressed) shots of a mass-hanging. Got chills just writing that. Definitely see this.

In Our Nature

My second movie of the festival that takes place in the woods. Of course that's where the Pilgrim Song comparisons end in this somewhat predictable family drama about a father and a son who end up accidentally both bringing their girlfriends for a relaxing weekend at their country house. I found the script to be annoying and a little unrealistic but the performances in most cases elevated the material to "tolerable" - especially Jena Maline who was surprisingly NOT cast as the rebellious goth chick for once in her life. Refreshing. I'd say this one wasn't bad but I don't know about going out of your way to catch it.


Definitely one of my favorites. It doesn't take a genius to recognize the potential in this film if only due to the casting of Melissa Leo in the lead as a woman recently released from jail. That's about all we ever get to know about her background, and despite a script that must have been about 7 pages printed, I was positively glued. Super tense, perfect performance, compelling character, everything I look for and expect in a festival film.

Do-Deca Pentathalon

I can't imagine anything the Duplass Brothers could direct that I wouldn't put on my top 5 list of must-see films of any festival. Even their arguably weakest-received feature Baghead has a place in my heart and on my DVD shelf. And, their last effort Jeff Who Lives At Home, though made for juuuust a tad more than their debut The Puffy Chair, will surely place on my 2012 top 10. Do-Deca Pentathalon is about two estranged brothers who reunite as adults for a birthday weekend and can't help but fall back into their competitive ways, trying secretly to reenact a 25-event competition they did as kids, to decide once and for all who is the "better brother." It was mostly shot in 2008 at which point they set it aside to make Cyrus. They say they always knew they'd go back and finish it up. And though it definitely feels more like old-school Duplass brothers (it takes place over like, two days, has a fairly small-in-scope premise and probably cost less to make than I spent on my last vehicle), it's got the heart and humor that we still see in everything they've done since. I can't promise I'll buy this DVD but this sweet little movie certainly at least lived up to my expectations.

The Raid: Redemption

Bad ass - see it as early in its theatrical run as you can. The "actioniest" action movie I've ever seen. No need to describe the plot. There isn't much of one. You'll hear people losing their shit about this movie, if you haven't already. They're all right. Even someone like me who sees an action movie only on a rainy day if she's already seen everything else playing twice, can love this movie. Holy fuck, holy fuck - it's just that breathtakingly good. I could have gone four days without sleep, taken four ativan with a glass of warm milk, and still watched this movie on the edge of my damned seat. And again, that's from someone who typically doesn't love a movie unless Michelle Williams is in it or The Shins are on the soundtrack, or both, ideally.

frankie go boom

Meh - not for me. I have very weird standards for comedy at a film festival.For a quirkily low-budget zany comedy to work for me sort of takes a miracle. I can count on one hand the festival comedies I've loved in the last couple years. (Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same, Four Lions top a short list.) This one fell super flat for me, despite some memorable and genuinely great (and actually not offensive at all) scenes involving Ron Perlman as a recently transitioned MTF. For me, Lizzy Caplan is 1 for 3 for Film Festival comedies so far this year (hint - I hated Bachelorette).

Brooklyn Castle

I tweeted something like this documentary had all the heart of Mad Hot Ballroom or Spellbound and the activism of Waiting for Superman without its controversy, and I'm sticking to that. I'm not sure it's particularly difficult to turn a story about inner city elementary school students who excel at a particular subject (in this case chess) and turn it into a heart-warming tale of temporary triumph against The Man (in this case the state government) but regardless of how not shocking it was to love this, I and many other people clearly fell head over heels. I see Sony has purchased remake rights but will anyone be releasing as-is? I hope so, because I imagine this doing well.


Lena Dunham is the 20-something New York prodigy who wrote/directed/starred in Tiny Furniture (which was actually her second feature) and many people love to hate her - it seems in part based on the life of privilege around which she chooses to center her stories. Now she has written a TV show that has been produced by Judd Apatow and will air on HBO and it is fucking great. I'm sure this will get compared to Sex and the City (even if to say it's a younger, hipper version) but the only point I see made here is that I'm sure if it weren't for SATC networks may not be convinced that a show about the lives of single Manhattanites could be so successful. I truly hope this one succeeds because I loved every second of it. They showed us three episodes and I would have happily sat there and watched the entire rest of the season. Can't wait for more, and would actually consider subscribing to HBO so as not to wait to watch.

21 Jump Street

Funny shit, and surprisingly so! I'd see this again.

The Tall Man

Interesting concept, subpar execution. I think SXSW fucked up in putting this "mildly menacing in atmosphere alone" movie in a midnight program alongside titles like the terrifying V/H/S and Sinister. Certainly not bad, but a bit silly. I'd like to see this story told, but a little differently, or better, I guess. And maybe with a different lead actor. Jessica Biel - eh.

Monsieur Lazhar

I had some high expectations for this since it was nominated for Best Foreign film. I would say this lived up to them. Nowhere near as good as A Separation (which actually won that category) but that's a pretty tall order. This takes on a pretty tough subject (an elementary school grieving after a teacher commits suicide) and frames this against the private suffering of the teacher who's assigned her class after it happens.

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