With over 120 films to choose from in just nine days at the 2011 South by Southwest Film Festival, even the most experienced planner will be unable to take in all of them. That is just simple math. Sometimes you just have to take a page from Neil ... Page: "You have to discriminate. You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing." So you can look over the SXSW catalog descriptions and make up your mind, or you can take the word of some trusted critics who have a heads-up and start from there.
If extreme violence laced with comedy is your bag, then you can take the word of Eric Snider who enjoyed 'Hobo With A Shotgun,' or Scott Weinberg who fancied 'Super,' James Gunn's take on the modern superhero. If horror is more your thing you may follow Joe Utichi, who enjoyed James Wan's ghost story, 'Insidious,' or Erik Davis' affinity for a cult with a sci-fi angle in 'Sound Of My Voice.' Maybe reality is more your speed, and in that case you can follow Christopher Campbell's lead into 'Page One: A Year Inside The New York Times,' 'How To Die In Oregon' or Morgan Spurlock's 'The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.'
Or, you can take a cue from yours truly (as you hopefully did last year) and add ten more recommendations to your schedule to already go along with 'Source Code' and 'Paul.'
If glorious non-stop action is what you crave in-between the atypical mumblecore festival fare, then Takashi Miike's '13 Assassins' will be that deep drink of water after days in the desert. Now, part of that sandy trek includes the first hour of this film as the battle lines are drawn and the heroes are gathered one-by-one. Once that is established, though, the 40-some-minute showdown in the second half rewards the audience in a stretch of film that won't be topped unless there is a special screening of 'The Good, The Bad, The Weird' somewhere. You can read more from William Goss, who reviewed it at last year's Fantastic Fest.
Sunday, March 13 – 6:30 PM – Paramount Theatre
'The Catechism Cataclysm'
Anyone familiar with HBO's 'Eastbound & Down' will recognize Steve Little as Kenny Powers' devoted hanger-on, Stevie. Any devoted fan of that show will want to see Mr. Little branch out into film as basically a second cousin to Stevie in Todd Rohal's odd concoction of male bonding and, well, it's best for you to discover it on your own.
Little plays Father William, a priest who has trouble handing down life lessons to his parishioners, both in telling them or understanding them. The Church suggests taking a sabbatical to experience life and find the meaning in new stories. So William decides to extend an invitation to his adolescent idol - Robbie, his sister's high school boyfriend, whom he remembers as having a penchant for songwriting and storytelling. Robbie (Robert Longstreet) has left all that behind and hardly even recalls William, though the prospect of free beer and reliving his glory days through perhaps his last remaining fan is more than he has going for himself these days. Thus begins a river-rafting journey that...is best for you to discover on your own.
The title alone suggests that you're to embark on a weird trip, and anyone overselling the oddness of it all may just be preparing you for the whacked-out third act, but also doing a disservice to its strengths. Eastbound fans are certainly the first target for Little's brand of borderline creepy characterization. Either you are with it or you are not. Those on board, however, will be faced with Stevie #2 gushing over another deity of his own making, but also coming to truth about how these two middle-aged guys ended up going down river with one another. 'The Catechism Cataclysm', surprisingly, has more in common with 'Stand By Me' than 'Deliverance' with about twice the laughs and a climax that makes squealing like a pig everyday behavior by comparison.
Saturday, March 12 – 9:30 PM – State Theatre
Friday, March 18 – 7:30 PM – Rollins Theatre
Saturday, March 19 – 10:00 PM – Alamo Lamar
'Fubar: Balls To The Wall'
If you were to start with SCTV's MacKenzie brothers and mashed them together with the founders of metal group, Anvil, you would have the heroes of Fubar, the 2002 cult mockumentary that now has a follow-up. Terry (David Lawrence) and Dean (Paul J. Spence) are headbangin' party dudes and lifelong friends who, in the previous film, were followed around by a Canadian filmmaker to capture their booze-and-scrum lifestyle. Years later, they are back without the film crew (for the most part) and they're actually showing signs of growth. If you don't count Dean's testicular cancer.
Actually, that is gone now, and in the aftermath of a blazing celebration the guys decide to take up the suggestion of their buddy, Tron (Andrew Sparacino), to get jobs as oil workers in his plant. This is merely an excuse to get beer-and-stripper money, but Terry unexpectedly falls in love with a local waitress (Terra Hazelton) and this Yoko/Jeanine Pettibone may just be the wedge that drives these two apart for good.
Plotting-wise, Fubar Deux may seem like just an excuse to repeat the same jokes and behavior to ad nauseum. Except, along with the innumerable funny riffs in the improv between the actors, Lawrence, Spence & director Michael Dowse care a great deal about these guys and are not content to just portray them as vulgar dumbasses. Growth is an optimum theme for this film, or as best can be interpreted by two guys still trying to live the rockstar lifestyle. Life does catch up to Terry and Dean in dark ways that only further endears their almost complete lack of social and personal behavior.
Monday, March 14 – 9:30 PM – Alamo Lamar
Tuesday, March 15 – 5:30 PM – Alamo Ritz (double feature with the original Fubar)
'F*ck My Life'
Nicolas Lopez certainly does not mince words when it comes to his title, and viewers won't help but make comparisons to other time-jumping relationship dramas from the fest circuit like '(500) Days of Summer' and 'Blue Valentine.' But similarities aside, Lopez's film is still rather enjoyable while possessing many of the earmarks of its various predecessors.
Javier (Ariel Levy) is suffering from his whirlwind romance with the beautiful Sofia (Lucy Cominetti). An awkward reawakening from a drunken night in the sack actually turned into something sweet between them. But that has since soured and Javier is left to shout outside her home while she moves on with a local pop music sensation. Thankfully, he has the residual longtime galpal to vent to and be given "what-for" in spite of his whiny, borderline obsessive behavior.
We are not holding our breath to see how this is all going to play out, but Lopez and Levy give us plenty to maintain our interest. The first half of the movie follows the same chords as 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' in juxtaposing our rooting for Javier with exposing his flaws as a driving force to the break-up in question. Perfect he most certainly is not, and Lopez wisely never treats him as some all-knowing sympathy magnet. He is a bit of a slagging goof, emphasized by his mom's insistence on helping him with the ladies. There is also a really funny bit involving a date with a blunt supermodel and a running relationship with a bartender that takes a casually dark turn. The script is a bit too cavalier with the coincidences down the stretch, but Levy's winning humility and Lopez's approach to the material will likely have hooked you well by then.
Sunday, March 13 – 6:15 PM – Alamo Lamar
Wednesday, March 16 – 4:00 PM – Alamo Lamar
Thursday, March 17 – 8:00 PM – Alamo Lamar
'George The Hedgehog'
For a species most commonly associated with video games and porno actors, can you think of a better character to follow in their footsteps then a horny, animated pseudo celebrity? In one of the more bizarrely conceived animated features you may ever see, that is exactly what you get. George is a walking, talking hedgehog who loves to drink and loves the women. Human women. And if you think bestiality is the only thing on display here, just you wait.
A nutty scientist has been working on a formula for cloning. His computer tells him his best match for success involves hedgehog DNA. With the help of his skinhead henchmen, he must track down George, get some of his material and dispose of him. This will help complete the master plan of creating a YouTube celebrity out a swearing, vomiting hedgehog and use him to launch a campaign of political and monetary success. Hopefully you are still not trying to ask questions.
'George the Hedgehog' is just about the most knowingly offensive film (animated or otherwise) that you will see at this year's SXSW. It may not have the same satiric know-how or big laugh quotient of 'South Park,' 'Family Guy,' or 'Archer,' but as it tries to offend it still has to bones to be throwing jabs at the instant fame of morons from the 'Jersey Shore' or wherever real housewives and the Kardashians set up their dumb twat shops. Hey, we're just following George's lead here, which contains everything inappropriate from racial stereotypes to the paranoid dreams of pederasts. It is most certainly not for everyone, but if you are adventurous and can appreciate the theorized metaphor of its inception, there are some entertaining fight sequences to boot and an overall uniqueness to this oddity to appreciate.
Monday, March 14 – 11:59 PM – Alamo Lamar
Tuesday, March 15 – 11:45 PM – Alamo Ritz
Saturday, March 19 – 11:59 PM – Alamo Lamar
It premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. An 'Inception' and a 'Black Swan' later, and it is time for Spencer Susser's contribution to the resumes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Natalie Portman to finally be released this April in theaters. Yours truly was quite fond of the tale of another headbangin' slacker and how he effects a widowed family. Like Fubar, it's incredibly vulgar and yet genuinely sweet. You can read my full review here.
Sunday, March 13 – 9:30 PM – Alamo Lamar
Tuesday, March 15 – 9:30 PM – Arbor Theatre
Wednesday, March 16 – 6:30 PM – Alamo Lamar
It was three years ago when I caught up with a popular Sundance documentary called 'American Teen' at the South by Southwest Film Festival. At the time it grabbed me as a rather introspective reality show focusing on the struggles and heartbreak of actual John Hughes archetypes as they prepared to leap from their final year at high school. Further viewings did not compliment the first as their problems downgraded from universal to insufferable - and I say that as a fellow Caucasian who grew up in the suburbs and didn't exactly have the best middle-school experience. Now, along comes Barbara Eder's 'Inside America,' a narrative with a documentary feel that displaces the American Teens of the Midwest further south to the Mexican-American border and strikes a delicate equilibrium between the usual teenage issues and the cultural imbalance that makes complexion an issue.
The film begins with almost an anonymous feel towards the characters as we follow cliques and groups more than individuals. They do begin to break off on their own, though, from the boyfriend more desperate to hold onto a job than his girl, to the cheerleader dealing with the pressure of maintaining her status as a way out, to the sole white boy on campus who is almost doing for cookies what Jerry Renault did for chocolates. Looking at these kids without names also hearkens back to a certain John Hughes film, but unlike it or 'American Teen,' their problems correlate to an uncertain future rather than mere growing pains. Eder does not treat them as types, however, and their stories never fall into the usual cliched outcomes.
Monday, March 14 – 11:00 AM – Vimeo Theater
Wednesday, March 16 – 3:00 PM – Alamo Lamar
Saturday, March 19 – 5:00 PM – Alamo Lamar
As the more popular documentaries of recent years have focused on specific social issues from health care to the financial crisis, inevitably we would get around to someone tackling the world's obsession with tabloid journalism. 'Smash His Camera' and 'Teenage Paparazzo' have made the stalking photographers their targets, but Errol Morris chose to take a more narrow approach. By focusing on one infamous case, he finds a way to satisfy his interest in quirky case studies while still casting an aspersion on anyone outside of the parties involved who may have followed it.
It involves the story of Joyce McKinney, a beauty pageant queen and her love affair with Mormon Kirk Anderson. According to her, they were deeply in love until ripped apart by the brainwashing church cult he was a part of. When he went away on his standard mission, she followed him -- and when he denied their love to, perhaps, protect his celibate standing in the church, she kidnapped him for a weekend of sex and, when arrested, became known as part of "The Case of the Manacled Mormon." Was McKinney delusional or was Kirk covering his enjoyment in the hopes of gaining a higher power.
Sex, religion and those crazy enough to be chained to such obsessions make for great tabloid fodder. And though the film chains itself to this one unseemly incident of people whose fame was created by news instead of talent, it is indicative of the faux-reality obsessed world we gossip about.
Morris has fun interjecting footage from "The Secret World of Mormonism" cartoon which does for Kirk's side what the Daily Mirror did for Joyce's. In essence the filmmaker himself becomes no better than those that would attack the sanity of one side's belief over another's. It's a fascinating position for one of the most acclaimed documentarians of our time to take, proving that when it comes to tabloid journalism there really are no winners, no respect, and no truth.
Monday, March 14 – 4:30 PM – Paramount Theatre
Wednesday, March 16 – 9:00 PM – Arbor Theatre
One of the most remembered first-season episodes from TV's 'Friends' had the six-some await their Thanksgiving feast by taking part in a little afternoon three-on-three touch football game. Since no one seems to admit they were ever a 'Friends' fan (despite it being a really good show), writer/director Kyle P. Smith may not favor the comparison, but he should know that it is meant as an absolute compliment. An entire film (all 62 minutes of) around a touch football game in more-or-less real-time, 'Turkey Bowl' is as much fun and probably twice as hilarious as those schoolyard days at recess. And it is a great credit to Smith and his cast that in barely an hour he manages to create a kinship as if you have known some of these characters forever.
Aside from some momentary bookends establishing the personalities and sending them off, the bulk of Turkey Bowl is dedicated to the actual game. Through huddles, play-calling and actual performance we really get to know each one of the players; quite a feat considering the depth of the ensemble. Even more impressive in that we are learning about them through the interactive behavior of the game. It is likely to trigger several sense memories to your childhood while bringing them into the present as our adult relationships have evolved through social interaction; perhaps none bigger than what team you are on or root for. Smith's film is far from the usual crybaby arrested development. No pauses for deep epiphanies, and though we can draw a line from each character to a certain subsection of society, none of them feel like archetypes. We are on the field with them and are having at least as much fun.
Laughs are big and consistent throughout. Scripted or improv, Turkey Bowl blurs the old adage by Gene Siskel who used to ask if seeing a narrative would be as much fun as watching a documentary on the actors having a meal together. Whether its food or a game, spending an hour with all of these actors is all you need to commit. Especially with Kerry Bishe, whose one-eighty from the cult family in Kevin Smith's 'Red State' is going to have the SXSW boys getting their own crush right quick. Love at first sight applies to the film though, too, and having seen it twice, I feel confident in saying that audiences will come out admitting that they want to spend more than just an hour with these new friends.
Saturday, March 12 – 11:15 AM – Alamo Ritz
Tuesday, March 15 – 12:00 PM – State Theatre
Friday, March 18 – 7:00 PM – Alamo Ritz
One of the best films at Sundance this year was Tom McCarthy's latest. The director of 'The Station Agent' and 'The Visitor' is now 3-for-3 and if you are in Austin, you will have one chance to catch it before it is released nationally later this month. Mr. Erik Davis seems like he agrees.
Monday, March 14 – 7:15 PM – Paramount Theatre
'Source Code,' 'Paul,' and those ten films will be a good start to guaranteeing a great SXSW experience this year. After that, you are on your own. So choose wisely.