|by Erik Childress & Peter Sobczynski
Though we may have believed March got here earlier with the mild winter we have all been experiencing, it is time once again for one of the coolest film festivals out there - Austin's South by Southwest. Over 100 narrative and documentary features (plus countless shorts) are on the horizon for the eight-day fest. Just because Bruce Springsteen is in town this year doesn't mean the films stop running on Tuesday. With so many films to see, it can be helpful to whittle down your schedule to the essentials. That goes for any critic or film geek alike when planning their festival. But who knows how many films you may overlook if it wasn't for guys like us to nudge you in the right direction. There are countless films we still need to see and yours truly will be seeing at least 25 in the five days I will be in town. But here are 19 titles with our thoughts that you may or may not have on your list. But maybe should have when you are done reading.
21 JUMP STREET
The campy 80s-era TV show featuring a bunch of baby-faced cops (including up-and-comer Johnny Depp) going undercover in high schools to ferret out drug dealers and the like gets the high-octane action-comedy treatment as Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play a couple of mismatched rookie cops who are assigned to pose as teenaged students in order to bust up a drug ring. This is a frustrating movie to analyze because when it is funny--the occasional zingers poking fun at the inherently ridiculous nature of the plot, the amusing byplay between the two stars (between this and "Haywire," Tatum is beginning to suggest that he, like Depp before him, may be more effective in roles that play against his heartthrob image) and the funniest cameo appearance since Bill Murray lurched into "Zombieland"--it is really funny. Unfortunately, there are too many long and aimless stretches for its own good and the sudden escalation of violence in the final reels jibes uneasily with the surrounding silliness. Not as bad as it might have been but nowhere near as good as it might have been based on the quality of the good stuff. (March 12, 7:30 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)
Some people had the JFK assassination and we all had 9/11, but somewhere in-between was a day I certainly remember quite vividly. Working that night at Video Plus Emporium on the day that Backdraft had hit VHS, we all had to discuss Magic Johnson's retirement from the NBA; a result of him having tested HIV-Positive. It was a shock that turned into a wake-up call for a lot of America for now a statistic had become a name we all knew and he was a heterosexual to boot. What may seem like old news to us is now given a very enlightening and personal touch through ESPN's terrific 30-For-30 film series and director Nelson George.
Before the inevitable, we are taken through the man's career (somewhat awkwardly narrated by Magic himself) and the eventual fame that came with being a major player (in all meanings of the term) on the Los Angeles nightlife and celebrity scene. It's a necessary setup that also helps introduce us to the longstanding relationship between Magic and Cookie, the woman who would eventually become his wife. When the discovery is actually made, diagnosing his "flu-like symptoms", the realization and struggle to come to terms through those closest to Magic at the time is emotionally grinding and fuels both the further prejudice towards the disease and the eventual triumph that is worthy of its own narrative-driven feature.
George does a terrific job in driving the real-life narrative though, interweaving the peaks and valleys of Magic's transition from sports hero to national advocate; a true peak of knowing when to adapt one's game to the changing floor. While there is no inclusion of South Park's satiric take that an injection of cash is the cure to AIDS, Magic is candid enough to admit that if he wasn't in the position he was, he might very well be dead; his narration becoming more sobering throughout. There are very little stones left unturned here from the Bush Sr. administration turning a blind eye to his efforts down to Karl Malone refusing to play on the same court. George's film is also humble to a fault, never admitting in words that this moment in history is worth looking back on as one that changed the world of AIDS forever, though audiences may come to their own realization after seeing it; one of the best in the ESPN series. (March 10, 2:00 PM) (Erik Childress)
BAD BRAINS: BAND IN DC
Now, a documentary where I couldn't tell you where I was during any of the subject's public performances. My musical influences growing up did not contain anything of the punk or reggae variety so Mandy Stein & Benjamen Logan's documentary did not rank high on my interest meter when making out my schedule. Festivals are always about discoveries though and while my musical interests have not exactly changed, taking the journey that Stein & Logan have constructed is a most interesting one indeed.
Bad Brains are a hardcore punk band from the late '70s who liked to play loud and particularly fast. If headbanging and tracking rhythms with your body is your thing, Bad Brains is the band for you. The film does a great job of chronicling their early days and eventual influences on more modern music legends. From the very beginning, we are clued into to the usual disagreements (to put it lightly) between the band members and unlike many music docs, here is one with footage to back up the talking heads' assertions of where it all went bad. There is an impressive amount of archival material here, in line with Cameron Crowe's amazing Pearl Jam Twenty, and if a barely casual observer of the music scene can take interest, true hardcores will find a lot to love here. The film side of SXSW has offered some impressive music documentaries over the years like last year's Thunder Soul and personal favorite, Before the Music Dies. Bad Brains may be the one that people discover this year. (March 12, 9:30 PM; March 14, 4:45 PM; March 16, 9:15 PM; March 17, 9:30 PM) (Erik Childress)
The art-house world has been abuzz as of late by the recent reappearance of "Possession," Andrzej Zulawski's intense psychodrama about a marriage gone horribly and gruesomely wrong, in a newly restored version. For those of you who haven't gotten a chance to see it yet or missed it during its surprise TCM appearance a few weeks ago, this grim Danish drama from Christoffer Boe could easily serve as a placeholder. As the film opens, Bruno and Maxine seem like a perfectly happy married couple but it quickly becomes evident that Bruno is almost insanely devoted to possessing his wife, even going so far as to lapping up some of her blood during sex so some of her can be inside him. When he discovers that Maxine is having an affair, he becomes increasingly unhinged as his rage and jealousy builds up inside him to such a degree that. . .well, no sense giving it all away. Although things get a little muddled towards the end and the film as a whole deserves a place alongside "Hardcore" and "In the Land of Blood and Honey" as one of the worst first date movies imaginable, the performances are strong and sure and Boe keeps it from devolving into a hopelessly grim mess. (March 11, 9:00 PM; March 12, 9:00 PM; March 14, 10:00 PM; March 17, 11:59 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)
BEAUTY IS EMBARRASSING
If you knew nothing about Neil Berkeley's documentary going in, you might start thinking "who is this guy with a banjo on stage and what did I just get myself into?" Wait about 20 seconds though and you will discover that the instrument is just a mere prop to introduce the greater world of Wayne White. Cartoonist, artist, sculpter and now, if this film opens a few eyes, pop culture icon. White is not just another kooky artiste drawing quirky phrases in big letters against backdrops. He was actually responsible for imagery in music videos by Peter Gabriel and the Smashing Pumpkins and numerous kid shows over the years. But if he will go down in history for anything it will be as part of Pee-Wee's Playhouse.
Berkeley wisely cannot resist turning over a portion of his film to the world of Pee-Wee that White was an integral part of. Creating much of the set, designing some of the characters and even voicing a few, White becomes an entry point into what is practically its own behind-the-scenes featurette on a Playhouse DVD. Candid details of the crew's behavior and the off-shoot of the Herman legacy only add to the fun, revealing portrait of a workaholic that is most certainly his own character to boot. The film cannot help but be described as colorful just based on the visualizations of White's work alone, but his persona matches his creations as he tries to prove that art does not have to be uber-serious and can just be fun. If you did not know that already, Berkeley and White make a pretty convincing case for it here. (March 10, 7:00 PM; March 12, 5:00 PM; March 13, 9:45 PM; March 14, 4:45 PM) (Erik Childress)
CASA DE MI PADRE
It was announced as a film that Will Ferrell was blackmailed into making for producer Gary Sanchez; an all-Spanish language feature in the most unlikely casting of a Mexican peacekeeper since Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil. It now arrives in all its glory as one of the more surreal comic concoctions spawned from the minds of Ferrell, Adam McKay and frequent television collaborators Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele. If you loved Pleasure Town and the interspecies conversing from Anchorman, then chances are you will be on board for their Robert Rodriguez-like take on telenovelas.
Ferrell plays Armando Ernesto, an earnest-o rancher and hopeless romantic considered the dumb son by his father (the late Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) When his brother (Diego Luna) comes home, Armando gets in over his head with both the connection his sibling has to local drug dealer (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his new sister-in-law (Genesis Rodriguez). Part parody and part straight-up absurdist lark, Casa de mi Padre is never intent on pointing out the laughs to you and is certainly more consistent than 21 Jump Street. It almost dares you to find the gags from scene-to-scene, subliminally working in crowd fillers and narrative inconsistencies. But when you notice them in-between the (mostly) played-for-straight dialogue, the film has the ability to make you scream laugh at some of the absurdities through the kind of restrained, unforced tone that the recent Tim & Eric feature could learn something from. In a comedy-starved year that is pretty much Wanderlust on the positive side and everything else on the other, the underappreciated David Wain now has some company. (March 13, 5:00 PM) (Erik Childress)
COFFIN JOE: THIS NIGHT I WILL POSSESS YOUR CORPSE
Although produced in 1967, there is an excellent chance that this grisly horror classic from cult icon Jose Morjica Marins--the creator of the incredibly evil character Coffin Joe--could well still be the strangest and creepiest of all the entries in this years festival. In this follow-up (beautifully shot in black-and-white) to the equally lurid "At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul," Coffin Joe, having been absolved of all of his considerable past sins, is once again in pursuit of the perfect woman to bear his son but is never too busy not to sadistically torture or kill anyone he comes across whenever he gets the urge. For those of you unfamiliar with the Coffin Jones films, the mix of wild melodrama, brutal violence and hallucinogenic imagery may be a little too much and the fact that the story picks up immediately after the events of "At Midnight I'll Take Your Soul" will no doubt leave newcomers confused to boot but the eye-popping and jaw-dropping extended sequence in which Coffin Joe descends into Hell itself (depicted in full and terrifying color) is more than worth the wait--it is one of those set-pieces that you will simply never forget, no matter how hard some of you may try. This presentation will feature a live musical accompaniment by guitarist Gary Lucas. (March 17, 12:00 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)
(Reprinted from Sundance 2012 coverage) Craig Zobel's film would actually make for a great double feature with God Bless America. It begins at a small town fast food restaurant where manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) is already facing the wrath of her franchise superiors for letting a whole stock of food spoil. Then she gets a phone call from a police officer telling her of a complaint received that one of her employees has stolen from a customer. The teenage Becky (Dreama Walker) denies any knowledge of the incident but is put into a back room while Sandra takes orders from the officer - over the phone - on how to get to the bottom of this. After a string of increasingly odd requests, it becomes very clear that the voice on the other end belongs to an elaborate prankster (Pat Healy) with less on his mind than law and order.
If Zobel's film has any flaw it might be in waiting too long to let the audience in on the joke. Then again, maybe that is part of the point. As intelligent as they allow themselves to believe, a movie audience should be well out in front of the curve and ready to shout back at Sandra like it was a horror film to stop her from doing the next stupid thing. Compliance in its own right is a horror film and a disturbing, if humor-laced, one at that. The helplessness of being entrapped by a disembodied voice dictating cruel humiliation must certainly feel like a horror scenario to Becky and the countless other people this was done to in real life. The reality of it all only further justifies Compliance's theories about the stupidity and ignorance of a great many people, particularly when it comes as a defense to losing one's job. Sandra's motivation of not making two big mistakes in one day allows us to roll with her early acquiescence of the situation. As further people are drawn into it we bear witness to those who want to do the right thing and those simply fearful of disobeying those in position of authority for fear of repercussions to their own being. Becky and her male co-worker are equally representative of the youth who are prone to rebellion, but either too helpless to make a difference or too scared to ruin their own future. Compliance can be read as countless paradigms about government, war, economics, law or whatever modicum of society that subconsciously tries to silence your opposition. Craig Zobel (also responsible for the terrific Great World of Sound and the fantastic Homestar Runner web series) fashions tough, challenging material in the guise of a dark comic thriller and those too willing to dismiss it or drum up unnecessary controversy are part of the problem and not the solution. (March 12, 11:00 AM; March 13, 7:00 PM; March 15, 10:00 PM; March 17, 6:30 PM) (Erik Childress)
GOD BLESS AMERICA
It started with an alcoholic clown 20 years ago and Bobcat Goldthwait's directorial career has now become something truly special. Tackling absolute taboos with dark, pointed comedy from the casualness of beastiality to being able to call your dead son a douchebag, Goldthwait nevertheless does it with real heart. His Windy City Heat, an is-it-or-is-it-not elaborate practical joke on an actor friend, is one of the funniest films you have probably never seen and World's Greatest Dad with Robin Williams was a wonderful tipping point for the kind of phoniness in our society that he is clearly tired of.
God Bless America stars Joel Murray as an everyman named Frank who has had it with a culture that simply is not nice to one another anymore. Reality shows, political commentators, you name it. When he discovers he is dying from a tumor and ready to off himself though, he turns the gun away from himself and haphazardly embarks on a mission to clean up society. He reluctantly picks up the teenage Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr) who is going through her own overt emo phase where everything sucks. And now she has a partner willing to do what she only thinks about. Frank is a little more selective about who he murders though - the people who "deserve" it - not just those who annoy us with their artistic choices or who we disagree with.
Some of the best scenes in God Bless America rely on this distinction that Frank tries to preach to his young apprentice. While it is hard to ever condone murder as a problem solver, Frank's logic helps to differentiate between the random psychos and someone trying to make a point. OK, sure, John Doe in Seven had a point to make too, but Goldthwait is dealing in satire, not horror. Although the horror he sees is a world that has simply lost the basic human instincts to be decent. Fame seekers will do anything for their now reality-TV extended 15 minutes and it is the train wrecks we would rather watch for 25 minutes while the feel-good stories are an afterthought kicker on the evening news. Goldthwait puts the audience within the dual mindsets of Frank and Roxy, getting us thinking of all the people we would love to see erased (one way or another) from this world but smartly pulling back so as not to deify Frank's actions. On his very first attempt, Frank gets the hero shot we may believe he deserves but Goldthwait rather brilliantly makes it go wrong and forces it to become more immediate and brutal, if no less hilarious. God Bless America stakes its claim in the first ten minutes with a bit of violence that will either have you laughing or running from the theater. If you remain in your seat, I promise that you are in for something special and we may be ready to crown Goldthwait as the modern Frank Capra for the America that we have created. (March 9 at 9:00 PM, March 10 at 7:30 PM, March 16 at 6:30 PM, March 17 at 11:45 PM) (Erik Childress)
Based on a cursory description of the plot--a Thirties-era gangster, with his mob and a couple of hostages in tow, holes up at his family home as the police surround the place--one might expect a standard genre drama. In the hands of surrealist Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, there is nothing standard about what happens as criminal mastermind Ulysses (Jason Patric) roams the house looking for his estranged wife (Isabella Rossellini) and encounter ghosts of his past around every corner. For those who have yet to experience one of Maddin's cheerfully demented pastiches of dark humor, bizarre imagery, formal daring and the literally indescribable, this film may not be the best introduction to his unique cinematic style. For everyoine else, the film is not quite up there with such masterpieces as "Twilight of the Ice Nymphs," "The Heart of the World" or "The Saddest Music in the World" but even second-tier Maddin makes for a richer and more rewarding cinematic experience than the finest works of most filmmakers that you or I could mention. (March 11, 2:00 PM; March 14, 6:45 PM; March 17, 7:00 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)
Based on how repulsed I was at certain aspects of William Friedkin's latest film, there is probably no sensible reason why I should be recommending it in any fashion. Immediately after I saw the film in Toronto last September, I texted my radio cohort and Chicago theater afficionado, Nick Digilio, to confirm that a certain disgusting act in the climax actually appeared in Tracy Letts' original play. It was confirmed, along with how much he hated the play. At the time I was somewhere between put-off and giddily intrigued at why I was still laughing at the ending, which is equally unpleasant and ends on such an abruptly semi-ambiguous note. Maybe now I want to see if people find the film as funny as I did.
Emile Hirsch and Thomas Haden Church conspire on a plan to rub out the estranged matriarch of their trailer trash family, completed by stepmom Gina Gershon and flighty younger sister Juno Temple. When they catch wind of local cop/contract killer, Joe (Matthew McConaughey), they don't have his asking price but he will gladly take the innocence of baby sister. So with the makings of a hick Indecent Proposal in the making, Letts' story wades through double-crosses, broken promises and plot twists that help define just how stupid these characters are. But since they are played for laughs, the twists approach satiric magnitude and Friedkin's attitude towards his antagonists leave no room for PC tolerance.
Everyone in the film, particularly Church, are playing the material for laughs, but it never undercuts the moments where Friedkin wants to turn up the suspense. McConaughey is integral to the film's more riveting scenes where the unabated charm we have seen for so long comes to fruition here with one of his best performances. Audiences though already squeamish about prostituting virginal siblings though, may have a hard time making it through the final confrontation which should accomplish two things - turn one off to KFC forever in a scene that would even make Joe Eszterhas wince and keep Clarence Carter's "Strokin'" in your head for at least two days. That alone is good enough for a recommendation, right? (Don't hit me.) (March 10, 9:30 PM) (Erik Childress)
THE LOVED ONES
This is one of the retrospective screenings that SXSW is playing this year and if you get shut out of the opening night horror film (The Cabin in the Woods), you have an excellent alternative. Set the way back machine for 2010 when the film played at the festival and read what I wrote about the film over at Cinematical that year.
Hardcore horror fans are always trying to sell me on the extreme versions of the tortured captive subgenre, normally coming from somewhere across the pond. Films like Inside and Frontier(s) may have the requisite gore effect, but were still pretty sloppy productions that were only really notable for just how extreme they were in their bloodletting. Well, those who think I have a pre-set reaction to these types of films can think again, because Sean Byrne's The Loved Ones is a genuinely crafty surprise. Brent (Xavier Samuel), with his brooding good looks and devoted girlfriend, should be a relatively happy 17-year-old. But he has been having trouble since his father died in an accident. He is a self-cutter and is even thinking of ending it all on the eve of prom. That is when the real horror begins as he's kidnapped by the father of the shy girl (a striking Robin McLeavy) he politely turned down for the dance. Only Lola isn't exactly that shy and Brent isn't going to be dancing anytime soon. The elements are not entirely unfamiliar. A little Misery with a splash of Saw wrapped in Carrie, but what Byrne does that so many horror filmmakers fail to do is surprise you. Just as you feel you have caught up with where events are headed, a new wrinkle appears. When you're wondering what one seemingly unconnected subplot has to do with the primary ones, Byrne answers your question. The Loved Ones certainly has its bloody moments, but it knows just how much to show to make you squirm and then leaves the rest to the soundtrack and the build-up to the next macabre moment. Horror fans are going to love this, but those who recognize a filmmaking skill to go along with the gore may appreciate it even more. (March 9, 9:00 PM) (Erik Childress)
THE RAID: REDEMPTION
(Reprinted from Sundance 2012 coverage) On the festival circuit, you have to be weary of the so-called Midnight circuit crowds. Sundance, South by Southwest and Toronto all have one programming all brands of genre titles geared towards the fanboy in all of us with a salivating gland for the odd, ridiculous and potentially kick-ass. Hype tends to be overly enthusiastic, even by fanboy standards. (I offer Attack the Block and this year's Sundance entry, V/H/S, as evidence.) Maybe you like or even love those films. I did not. And I was at the premiere screenings of each, so take my criticisms at face value and not as a reaction to the hype. Going into The Raid though, the hype was already sprayed all over the walls back at Toronto where I missed it. Let me tell you though that, for a change, the hype is all kinds of deserved.
All you need to know about the plot is that it involves a SWAT team in Jakarta tasked with taking out an elite drug lord who lives in the top floor of a slum building. The catch is that he just happens to rent out the rooms to some of the craziest, most ruthless criminals out there. And when they are found out, the freaks come out at daytime and the battle is on floor-by-floor. Further details add motivation for the film's hero played by Iko Uwais, but tend to slow things down in-between the action. Action that moves so fast, mind you, that any line of dialogue seems like a snail's pace. Every martial arts picture has such filler, but you won't remember much of it anyway because the fighting and carnage on display here is at a level we have not seen since District B13. You thought some of the kills in The Expendables were of ridiculous quality? Wait until you see the manner of dispatching throughout The Raid. This is one of those great movies to experience with an audience starved for the kind of action meant to elicit applause like the end of an opera number. The action is certainly stop-and-start throughout, but once it starts there is no way you want it to stop. (March 11, 9:30 PM) (Erik Childress)
SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED
(Reprinted from Sundance 2012 coverage) Speaking of Funny People, Aubrey Plaza certainly can be one. Though outside of Apatow's film and her regular stint on TV's Park and Recreation she hasn't had much chance to break out of the sort of monotone matter-of-fact pessimist she has specialized in. That changes here as Darius who begins the film as a cynical, matter-of-fact pessimist but gets a chance to open up as an magazine intern investigating a want-ad for a guy seeking a partner in time travel. His name is Kenneth Calloway (Mark Duplass) and he claims to have put together a machine that can do it in an attempt to prevent the death of the college sweetheart he was in love with. Darius' reporter boss, Jeff (Jake Johnson), sees the story as a goof and is really using the road trip as an excuse to look up his own high school girlfriend. As the only one who can get close to Kenneth, Darius comes to learn that his goofy experiment may be rooted more in sadness than any mental illness.
Colin Trevorrow, in his debut feature, evokes the oddball romantic nature of Brad Anderson's Happy Accidents, another film about a woman who meets a man who claims to be a time traveler. Safety Not Guaranteed succeeds on its own merits though by adapting our expectations towards more basic ideas of human nature rather than the fantastical sci-fi notions of the mind. It won't stop audiences wondering whether or not the film, nicely written by Derek Connolly, will follow its premise through to the end, but the characters and their desires become interesting enough on our end that it hardly seems to matter. Plaza, Duplass and Johnson are all terrific here blending very funny situations with a belief in the grander notions of second opportunities. Johnson is a particular standout, able to switch between crudeness and disappointed uncertainty on a dime without ever feeling forced. His character is a mirror into the success of the film as a whole. (March 10, 7:00 PM; March 13, 7:30 PM) (Erik Childress)
At the Sundance Film Festival this year, audiences and critics gave a lot of praise to The Surrogate, a film based on a true story starring John Hawkes as a nearing 40 year-old virgin due to his affliction with polio. Enter Helen Hunt's "sex surrogate", who differentiates herself from prostitutes, to ease her client through the process of having a meaningful sexual experience. In what couldn't have been better timing for documentarian Catherine Scott, her latest film, Scarlet Road, tackles the current truth about the same subject matter through the eyes of an actual "sex worker." Rachel Wotton works out of Australia and has become a specialist in working with a disabled client base.
Scott's film follows Rachel to meet with several of them and their caretakers, explaining what she does and how she is working to expand the service through Touching Base (www.touchingbase.org) that is a haven for potential clients and others in her profession seeking legitimacy. It makes for two halves of an interesting discussion on the subject. The best aspects of the film involve Rachel and the clients; a true human interest story that should reach beyond any moral objections one has towards however people want to label her. Nothing is graphic in representation and while sex is a foregone conclusion, it is the basic human connection and tenderness that Rachel helps provide that makes any denial of it immoral in its own right. This is where I would have liked to see the film provide more insight into. Rachel's advocacy in larger venues is seen going largely unheralded, and while she lights up the center of the film, another 10-20 minutes of interviewing subjects to voice such opposition would have made for a fuller film and may have even increased audience support in an age where such stick-in-the-muds for human rights have become more dangerous than mere buzzkills. Scarlet Road makes for an interesting introduction to the Wotton's of the world though, especially (like The Surrogate) for those who might seem a little turned off by the whole idea of it. Those people should remember it is not about them though and all about those who need to get turned on once in a while too. (Be sure to read our interview with director Catherine Scott and star Rachel Wotton. (March 12, 1:15 PM; March 13, 4:30 PM; March 16, 11:00 AM) (Erik Childress)
SLEEPWALK WITH ME
(Reprinted from Sundance 2012 coverage) I knew very little about Mike Birbiglia walking into this film. Truth be told, it took some rearranging of my schedule as a favor for the publicist to even catch it. And I'm glad I did. For years I have remarked that the art of stand-up comedy has been dying. With a few notable exceptions like Louis C.K., Chris Rock and a shameless plug for Chicago local, the George Carlin-esque Vince Carone, there are very few standouts. Birbiglia has taken the stage show rooted in his relationship phobias and turned it into a narrative feature. Think a roadshow version of High Fidelity where Birbiglia (as Matt) talks directly to the audience and introduces us to the eight-year relationship he has had with Abby (Lauren Ambrose), the college crush he more or less stalked until getting her to go out with him. She is finally getting the marriage bug and it's time to put up or shut up. Matt manages to delay the complication by hitting the road to do stand-up shows and finds himself working out his insecurities on the stage.
Birbiglia has a very matter-of-fact charm about him and gives the simplest of observations wonderfully sardonic weight. The relationship quirks have an air of familiarity to them but the manner in which they are worked into his literal and metaphorical chronic sleepwalking problem provides further sympathy for the commitment-phobe coming closer and closer to pulling the trigger on the next phase of his life. Sleepwalk With Me further succeeds as a portrait of life on the road for a struggling stand-up. While Funny People and the documentary Comedian showed various aspects of perfecting the craft, Birbiglia accentuates the long hours, bad food, roommates and travel that comes with starting out in the entertainment field. At only 76 minutes, Sleepwalk With Me has a few draggy moments in the middle act, but it doesn't take long to get back on board with Birbiglia and what he will have to say next. (March 13, 9:30 PM; March 14, 4:00 PM; March 15, 4:30 PM, March 16, 10:00 PM) (Erik Childress)
WE ARE LEGION: THE STORY OF THE HACKTIVISTS
Anyone whose job revolves around criticism may want to tread lightly when discussing the internet hacking community known as Anonymous. As a group that has advocated the necessity for truth in our society, they may not be too keen on someone having an opinion that contradicts their loose manifesto. At least some of them. Thankfully, and without no initial fear of reprisal, I have come not to bury the Hacktivists but to praise them. Particularly the work of Brian Knappenberger who has turned their story into a fascinating documentary that is scary no matter whom you side with.
The film takes us from the early beginnings of some of the members of Anonymous; some living up to their name with masks of the face and voice, while others proudly are interviewed on camera. The roots began as simple online fun with message boards such as 4chan where people could share amusing oddities and jack with each other. Along the way though they took their organization and skills to whole new levels, shutting down websites connected to controversies that they felt flew in the face of everything this country was about. From Scientology to racist radio hosts, their practical jokes had now turned to full-blown activism while those in opposition branded them terrorists and sought to put them in jail for the better part of their young lives.
We Are Legion capably draws us into the debate, not by sympathizing with those willfully (if somewhat ignorantly) breaking the law but presenting both sides of the tale that our nightly news reports often skew in one direction. Sure it is funny - and we may even believe righteous - in what Anonymous could do with the click of a button. But being on the flipside, even as a casual observer, we would not want to be one of their victims simply by presenting an opposing viewpoint. As long as we are not jerky, racist, censoring d-bags we are probably safe, but Knappenberger is sure to question those in the group that occasionally go rogue and beyond the ideologies that should be universal in a fair and functioning society. In that respect, We Are Legion would actually make a great double feature with Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America where a pair of murderers debate those acceptable of taking a bullet for the cause of a country drowned in a lack of civility. Knappenberger's film is fast moving and informative; probably guaranteeing a subsection of our culture will never take a look at it with their one track minds. Although they should because they may just learn a little something more about a group just waiting out there to teach you a little lesson about freedom of speech. (March 11, 6:30 PM; March 13, 2:00 PM; March 14, 5:00 PM; March 16, 4:15 PM) (Erik Childress)
WIKILEAKS: SECRETS AND LIES
Originally produced for British television, this documentary offers a concise but detailed recounting of the entire story involving the now-infamous website and the numerous international secrets that it has exposed to the world through its revelations. What separates this from other accounts of the story is this take on the material is anchored by an extended interview with controversial Wikileaks founder Julian Assange himself. Because of his participation in the project, one might expect the film to be a bit of a whitewash but that is not the case here. This is a legitimately fair and balanced take on the subject that is nowhere near as cut-and-dried as it has been portrayed by other media outlets and no matter whether you think that Wikileaks is doing a great service or is a dangerous menace, you will ost like come away from it thinking that Assange is a bit of a douchebag. (March 9, 9:45 PM; March 13, 7:15 PM, March 14, 5:00 PM; March 17, 4:30 PM) (Peter Sobczynski)
After the controversy, not to mention middling reviews, of Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer erupted at Sundance, it is just a few weeks later that another film festival presents the antithesis. Ya'Ke Smith's film, Wolf, picks up where Lee's film went off the rails for good in taking a hot-button social issue and putting the humanity back where it needs to be - with the victims and their family. Though not without some rocky dramatic moments, Smith's film goes for the same kind of honesty that David Schwimmer achieved in last year's too underseen tale of child molestation, Trust, and mostly achieves it.
High schooler Carl (Jordan Cooper) appears not to be taking a recent break-up too well. When afflicting pain upon himself goes too far, his parents (Shelton Jolivette & Mikala Gibson) discover evidence that suggest he was taken advantage of by their local Bishop (Eugene Lee). As their outrage takes many forms, the biggest confrontation they face is not directly with the Bishop nor the Church standing behind him but with a son whose feelings may have been compromised deeper by what has transpired.
In that respect, the film very much resembles the arc of Trust as the molester himself became an afterthought to the damaged relationship between parent and child. Smith though has the added weight of confronting many African-American feelings that homosexuality is an equal taboo - just as last year's terrific Pariah did. At times we wish that Smith would dig a little further into the various branches of this subject matter, but it works to the film's consistent tone that it is not merely trying to be a lightning rod for one extreme point of view or the next. The big discovery scene is a bit undermined by Irma P. Hall (as the boy's grandmother) and her almost comical ignorance to what has happened but is redeemed later as she confronts one of the Church elders head on. There is no mystery to Wolf. We know exactly what happened, as does the Church who privately condemns the Bishop while offering all manner of legal help to them. Even Grandma's initial defense, while outrageous to a point, could be applied to any organization or family thinking of the rippled consequences that would follow. These are Wolf's greatest strengths, laying out the thought process of all the victims and unlike Red Hook Summer, humanizes the Bishop without trying to make him a sympathetic figure nor providing the ghastly, embarrassing imagery that Lee utilized to hammer home the moment of evil (even if Smith's film bears the unfortunate added stigma of a racial element.) All the performances have real honesty to them and though the film may be imperfect, Ya'ke Smith's firm, unflinching direction makes him someone to keep an eye on. (March 11, 7:30 PM; March 13, 4:30 PM; March 16, 4:30 PM) (Erik Childress)
You can learn more about the rest of the schedule and where the films are playing in Austin at the SXSW website
link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=3367
originally posted: 03/08/12 12:52:46
last updated: 03/08/12 13:22:11