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In Review: SXSW Film 2015

March 26, 2015

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Now that I’ve had a few days to put the chaos of SXSW behind me, I’m ready to divulge what I thought of the ten films that I saw during the festival.  For fun, I’ve sorted them from best to worst.  Read on.

Ex Machina

As I was walking out of the Paramount a guy in front of me looked over at his friend and excitedly labeled Ex Machina as an “instant classic.”  I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it is a great film.  The directorial debut from Alex Garland (writer of 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd and more) is a heady sci-fi thriller that had me engaged and on the edge of my seat right from the start.  Oscar Issac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Viklander are absolutely great it, and I suspect that all of their character’s actions will be the subject of drunken debates for years to come.  I can’t wait to see Ex Machina again.

Furious 7

I’m prefacing my comments about Furious 7 by noting that I truly adore the entire Fast And Furious series.  All of the films are self-aware adrenaline rushes that aim to delight the senses, and I can’t think of a better example of escapism than what Vin Diesel and the gang have done over the years.  With all of that being said, it’s only half accurate to say that I went into Furious 7 hoping for more of the same.  Yes, I wanted the crazy car stunts, heavy handed monologues from Vin and more, but the death of Paul Walker meant that the film needed a sizable dose of sensitivity to go along with the speed, and I wanted it done right.  I wanted to see Walker honored and not just awkwardly dealt with because it had to be done.  Thankfully, all turned out well, and nothing about the film feels forced or tacked on.  It’s big and crazy (just like it should be), but then when it needs to get small and intimate, it does.  Good on director James Wan for taking what could have been a huge mess and turning it into a triumph.

Trainwreck

If you’ve ever seen a Judd Apatow film, then you’ve seen Trainwreck.  It’s funny, raunchy, 20 minutues too long and loaded with quotable bits.  Amy Schumer is charming and hilarious in the film, and I’ll be surprised if she doesn’t become a new go-to for female roles in comedies.  Also, LeBron James is pretty damn solid in it.  Who knew he had such good comedic timing?

Love And Mercy

Brian Wilson’s story is interesting, complicated, sad and totally not something that should be crammed into a single film.  Somehow though, Love And Mercy works.  Director Bill Pohlad wisely just shows only the necessary portions of the two most important stretches of Brian Wilson’s life, and Paul Dano and John Cusack both do a wonderful job of portraying the famed artist during those times.  I highly recommend you see it regardless of whether or not you’re a fan of Wilson.

The Final Girls

The Final Girls is a horror comedy that follows a group of friends who get sucked into their favorite slasher film and then must figure out a way to survive.  It’s super meta and very much a spiritual successor to Cabin In The Woods.  Now, just so I’m clear, I’m not saying that The Final Girls is as good as Drew Goddard’s 2012 hit.  A sizable amount of jokes miss completely and often the “world” that the characters exist in makes no sense at all, but overall it’s a fun time that will play well for those who enjoy clever horror movies.

Hello, My Name Is Doris

Hello, My Name Is Doris is about an older woman (Sally Field) who is doing her best to woo a much younger man and make up for the all the years she lost while taking care of her sick mother.  I found it to be charming, funny and heartfelt, but also too goofy for its own good.  Fortunately, Field is so great as the troubled, but tenacious Doris that you’ll probably be too caught up in rooting for her to even notice when the film tries to throw itself off the rails.

Honeytrap

Honeytrap deals with a series of unfortunate decisions made by Layla (competently played by Jessica Sula), who desperately wants to be accepted and loved.  It’s depressing.  See it only if you’re in the mood to be reminded that some people have practically no shot at a better life.

Just Jim

Directed by and starring Craig Roberts (Neighbors), Just Jim is a coming of age film that features a twisted sense of humor and interesting characters.  Check it out so that you can see Emile Hirsch in full-on bizarro mode as Jim’s mentor.

Quitters

There’s not much to like about Quitters.  The main kid (Ben Konigsberg) is quite possibly the most unlikeable character I’ve come across in a long while, and I spent much of the movie hoping he would get hit by a meteor.

Brand: A Second Coming

Brand: A Second Coming is nothing but an eternally long wad of nonsense.  I know Russell Brand said he didn’t want to show up to the SXSW premiere because he felt watching it would be “uncomfortable” for him, but I think it’s because he knew it wasn’t any good.

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5 Films You Should See At SXSW

March 4, 2014

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SXSW Film kicks off this Friday!  Below you’ll find THE five films that I’ll be doing my best to squeeze my way into when I’m not trying to squeeze my way into a music venue somewhere.  Oh SXSW, I love you.

THE RAID 2

There’s a lot of big movies playing the festival – The Grand Budapest Hotel, Neighbors, Chef, Veronica Mars – but the one with the most recognizable name that I can’t wait to see is actually The Raid 2.  The early reviews have been stellar, and I super eager to watch it with a crowd that will wildly cheer every time something rad happens on the screen.  The Raid 2 will screen at the Paramount on Sunday, March 9 at 9:15pm.

HELLION

Rolling with some positive Sundance buzz, Hellion features Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad, just in case you forgot), Juliette Lewis, and newcomer Josh Wiggins.  It sounds as though the film could be an interesting “coming of age” type tale, and I’m admittedly a sucker for such things.  Hellion is set to screen three times at the festival.   Click here to see when/where.

God Help The Girl

Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch has put together an indie pop musical?  Yeah, as a big music nerd, that pretty much means God Help The Girl is one of those films that I have to see.  Early word has been solid.  God Help The Girl will screen at the Paramount on Saturday, March 15 at 5pm.

JOE

Joe seems oddly similar to last year’s stellar Mud (which also starred Tye Sheridan), but that isn’t fazing me one bit.  This is mostly because I’m just so damn ready to once again see a Nicolas Cage performance that isn’t instantly laughable.  Also, David Gordon Green owes me a solid for tricking me into watching the meandering Prince AvalancheJoe is set to screen twice at the festival.  Click here to see when/where.

OPEN WINDOWS

If you’re a Fantastic Fest regular (or just love Timecrimes), then you’re probably very familiar with Nacho Vigalondo.  The director has a mind that churns out some interesting stuff, and the Elijah Wood/Sasha Grey-lead Open Windows looks like it will be another one of his entertaining ridesOpen Windows is set to screen four times at the festival.  Click here to see when/where.

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