SXSW 2013

March 3, 2013

This is home base for my adventures in Austin this year. Comments and links to reviews will appear in the schedule as the week proceeds.

Pre-Festival

The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer) C+ Provocative conversation piece is interesting insofar as it offers a glimpse into how mass-murdering psychopaths view their own crimes, but it goes on forever, and I’m not sure these people need to have been given that much screentime. Also skeptical re: whether some of the more outre stuff here (the dancing women emerging from the fish, etc.) might not have come from the filmmakers rather than the subjects.

Upstream Color (Shane Carruth) A- Carruth has said that he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into the “puzzle movie” box based on Primer, but while this follow-up doesn’t  demand that you put together the pieces of the plot (as much), his aggressively elliptical style ensures that watching the film remains an exercise in viewer assembly. The hard sci-fi core may be gone, but Upstream Color is every bit as mysterious, unsettling, and deceptively vast as Carruth’s cult debut. It’s also genuinely, somewhat inexplicably moving, and that’s something new and wonderful.

 

Friday, March 8

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (Don Scardino) C+

Evil Dead (Fede Alvarez) B-

Cheap Thrills (E.L. Katz) B

 

Saturday, March 9

A Teacher (Hannah Fidell) B+

Licks (Jonathan Singer-Vine) C [Feels credible, unlike nearly every other cinematic attempt to capture this particular milieu (urban black youth). But the storytelling is a drag, heavy on contrivance (the MLK photo!) and light on any real drama. A first feature for everyone involved, and emphatically so. I will say, though, that I gasped when I realized (belatedly) that the film is set in Oakland, a stone’s throw from where I live. Amazing how insulated our little pockets of privilege can be.]

Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green) B

Some Girl(s) (Daisy Von Scherler Mayer) C

Haunter (Vincenzo Natali) B

 

Sunday, March 10

Mud (Jeff Nichols) A

The Wait (M. Blash) Walk Out [Immediately after the death of her mother, a woman gets a phone call from someone claiming to be a psychic, hinting that her mother may shortly come back to life. The woman becomes obsessed with this possibility, refusing to let the corpse be removed. Movie expects us to take this seriously as an expression of grief while other characters stare mournfully into the distance. Pass.]

The Short Game (Josh Greenbaum) B- [Snappy, glossy documentary about the golf world championship for players aged 7 and 8. Eight characters is way, way too many — I would have cut it down to the terrifying Kournikova kid, the autistic boy, and two of the three girls — and the result is mostly just cute. I’m a sucker for this sort of high-concept doc, though, and there are a few things to chew on here: the way the vast majority of these kids come from great privilege; the importance of sane parenting; what it must be like to be the best in the world at something when you’re that young. I’d love to see the tennis version of this.]

Plus One (Dennis Iliadis) D+

Monday, March 11

Getting Back to Abnormal (Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian, Paul Stekler) Walk Out [There’s a fascinating movie to be made about Stacy Head and her stint on the New Orleans City Council, and her reelection campaign, and the way those things reflect the city’s politics and race relations and the intersection between the two. What’s not so fascinating is watching talking heads and man-on-the-street interviews about how awesome New Orleans is, listening to plaque dedication speeches, etc. You know? More storytelling, less trying to be some sort of general portrait, please. We have Treme for that.]

The Retrieval (Chris Eska) C+

Computer Chess (Andrew Bujalski) C+ [I’m fascinated by what I think is the conceit here, viz., transplanting the same discussions we’re currently having about the role of technology in society and human relations to a computer chess convention in 1982. And I loved the realistic-seeming, just-barely-stylized portrayal of the cutting edge of computer nerddom thirty years ago, particularly as embodied by James Curry, a first-time actor and real-life software developer who gives a performance so pitch-perfect that parts of the film could have fooled me into believing I was watching a documentary. The film is very clever and often quite funny, but it lost me when it started making goofy, surreal moves like suggesting that one of the computers had decided to refuse to play against other computers and instead demand human opponents. (A more prosaic explanation is eventually suggested, but not really seriously endorsed, and it wouldn’t make any sense anyway.) See also Papageorge’s last scene, and the closing zinger. These gags seem unearned and arbitrary; at once maddeningly abstract and too on-the-nose – like an attempt to bully an otherwise unassuming film into becoming a confounding object d’art. My first attempt at Bujalski, and I was left equal parts amused and annoyed.]

Hawking (Stephen Finnegan) D

The Spectacular Now (James Ponsoldt) B

The Lords of Salem (Rob Zombie) C+

 

Tuesday, March 12

It’s Such a Beautiful Day (Don Hertzfeldt) B

Mr. Angel (Dan Hunt) C+

Kilimanjaro (Walter Strafford) B+

Grow Up Tony Phillips (Emily Hagins) C+

 

Wednesday, March 13

William and the Windmill (Ben Nabors) B

Short Term 12 (Destin Daniel Cretton) B-

The Other Shore (Timothy Wheeler) B

Zero Charisma (Katie Graham, Andrew Matthews) C-

Drinking Buddies (Joe Swanberg) B

You’re Next (Adam Wingard) B-

 

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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