3/4/14

SXSW 2014 - Early Recommendations

SXSW Film 2014 is just a few days away. I've been lucky enough to get an early peek at some of the films and am here with highlights from that set. I'll be following up tomorrow with the films I'm most looking forward to personally seeing. Even though I likely won't get a crack at many of them. 


So without further adieu here's what I've seen and recommend catching during the festival. Do read beyond the name though - each has something to recommend it, but that thing may not be your thing. 

BuzzardSlacker paranoid coming of age saga or an indictment of capitalism in the 21st century? When dude makes a sandwich of frozen pizza, chips and ranch dressing while taking a break from converting a power glove to a Freddy Krueger bladed weapon I probably could go either way and be happy. The film opens quietly but strong as Marty closes his checking account to exploit a loophole at the bank he temps for. Marty's a heavy-metal digging guy of modest life accomplishments but a self perceived master of the anti-corporate short con as he perpetuates a series of moderately illegal frauds to stay afloat. Frankly, he's not that great at it and when he bites off a tad more than he should including a stack of tax refund checks at work it's easy to see it's not going to end super well. Partially because Marty isn't as smart as he thinks he is, but mainly because he's so living in the now that he's completely blind to thinking even a single step ahead with respect to how things will go wrong. Ah ... Actually, seen as a metal/slacker take on the importance of risk management the director might be able to re-brand BUZZARD as a corporate training film on the consequences of poorly planning.

Marty has an easygoing doofus charm that's pretty appealing. As are some of  the cast of characters he hangs with. They're certainly not career focused as evidenced by the amount of time one guy's basement remodel as the "party place" comes up (even as you suspect the guest list is always just the one fellow). Then Marty goes a bit too far with one of this schemes and his world start to unravel. Though probably not as quickly as Marty's paranoia would have him believe. Things spiral from there in ways that are both engaging and likely purposefully unsatisfying. 

A clear and clean minimalist vision is at work with BUZZARD. I may not be completely sold but the film definitely held my interest, particularly in the first half. It's worth taking for a ride to see how you react. 



Bad Words - An adult with what appears to be a photographic memory exploits a loophole in the rules to make a run at the national spelling bee. Combine that sarcastic foul mouthed cynic with a bunch of kids and pissed off parents and you've got comedy gold. Jason Bateman makes the high concept work to a pretty consistent degree. Even though maybe it falters (or doesn't push hard enough at times) it's still a very entertaining time to be had. Couple this with the energy of the filmmakers in attendance and I'd definitely check this own out with a SXSW crowd (if I hadn't already seen it 



Born to FlyIf Evel Knievel had been into dance, a bit LESS risk averse and had a borderline cult like following then this documentary would be about him. Instead it's about Elizabeth Streb the founder of "pop action" dance. Which is a mash-up of stunt work, acrobatics, dance, and general disregard for the laws of physics and good sense. Oh, sometimes with giant mechanical apparatuses thrown in for good measure. The dance is truly something to behold onscreen as company members throw themselves at walls, dodge rotating I-beams and generally make dance look more suicidal (or at least masochistic) than I'm used to seeing. 

The picture alternates between Streb's history, performances and interviews with her dancers. It's hard not to note the bordering on deity worship that has the young men and women literally risking life and limb to aspire to Streb's punishing esthetic ideals while barely making ends meet. But then again they seem to be having a hell of a lot of fun with their extreme take on motion arts. 


Either way - check this one out by any means necessary. Oh - and if someone has a ticket to a live performance by these folks count me in. Seriously - please....



Wolf at the Door - A based on a true story tale that's harrowing, brutal and for at least the first 2/3rds unbelievably engaging. It's a parents nightmare when a young daughter goes missing. Picked up from school by an unknown woman under false pretenses the parents are distraught and the police are at an impasse. It's clearly not money the kidnappers are after - but what's involved is a mystery. At the police station the authorities work back on what happen as the key players tell the story as they know it in flashback. The period where all is being revealed is the sort of can't turn away genre beauty that makes me want to go to the movies. At a certain point the themes emerge and while I was still engaged I felt as though I was discovering less about what had happened than why it had. I'm purposefully avoiding saying more as the less you know the better. It's not a pretty tale but it's going to work powerfully for many. There is a clear comparison to another famous film - but if you're going don't let anyone tell you less you jump too far ahead on what transpired. 



Que Caramba es la Vida - is a peek inside the life of female Mariachi singers in Mexico. About halfway through I was surprised to realize that the documentary was directed by German director Doris Dorrie who made Cherry Blossoms: Hanami one of the most unusual and beautiful films I've seen this decade. It's an interesting slice of life film - for me the look into mariachi culture itself was more interesting and touching than the specific challenges faced by women who are less traditional members of that club. In one hand I could've gone for something a bit deeper into the lives of those profiled - but as I was powerfully moved by the final moments of the film it dawned on me that perhaps Dorrie was telling a much more subtle and impactful story about life in Mexico than just a profile of these women. Either way, if Mexico or Mariachi or women interest you it's worth a looksie. Just keep an open mind as what feels like a less than engaging standard documentary at first seems to morph into something richer. I just can't quite say how but it definitely does. 

Midnight Shorts (including Chocolate Heart) - I always recommend folks check out shorts at any major festival they're attending. At SXSW I've had tons of luck following my own advice. Given a chance I always try to catch the Midnight Shorts program if you can - at least if you enjoy your shorts strange, twisted and sometimes a bit sexy. This year one of the included films is Chocolate Heart (from director Harrison Atkins) which manages to combine all three. With one of the most unique sexual couplings you're likely to see onscreen this decade .... while still mostly being safe for work. I don't quite understand the significance of the chocolate heart, or the boy whose parents turn into cats. But I assure you you'll never quite look at shaking hands the same way again. 

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