The last days of the South by Southwest Film Festival overlapped with the music festival. The streets were filled with musicians, some selling CDs and some just looking for donations or a big break, the heat turning last night’s beer sour in the air. A nice cool theater is a good respite from the party, so here is our last hurrah at SXSW Film 2012.
Jamie Chung won a special Jury Recognition for her performance as a girl kidnapped for human trafficking, based on a true story. The movie is a respectable drama on the subject. It pulls no punches portraying a really awful place with awful, violent people. Braces make Chung look younger, and you believe she’s young and scared, and then you believe she’s tough and smart enough to hold her own in there by making alliances. I would not call it the best narrative feature of the week like the audiences here did (it also won the audience award for Narrative Feature). Although it does have an important subject matter going for it and it doesn’t pander to the Oscar-bait. The procedures of this crime ring are fascinating, and infuriating because they are so much smarter than law enforcement. It still feels like a festival issue movie but it’s a good one.
This is a good little low budget sci-fi movie. Scientist Thomas Jacobs (Sasha Roiz) invents a technology to enter people’s memories, which the prison system wants to use to find evidence for confessions or prosecution. Something goes wrong and he’s stuck in the mind of a suspected killer (Dominic Bogart, best name of SXSW). It’s not subtle but there are some good ethical issues and technical rules to explore. It’s very on the nose and spelled out for you, but the ideas are interesting. Jacobs finds a way to communicate with his reluctant host and there’s a good little mystery to solve. There’s lots of technobabble but it’s good technobabble. The simple elements of the mind create a good visual depiction of memory gaps and boundaries. It’s very muted and understated but they find ways to change the scenery every now and then. Roiz is very handsome for a scientist, but so was Leonardo DiCaprio, and Roiz makes a good leading man.
This should have won the audience award for Narrative Feature. It’s a real crowd pleaser. It’s a teen sex comedy but the teens are 14, which is when their hormones are really at their peak. Hollywood really dropped the ball focusing on 16+ teens. They are altar boys at a funeral church but that’s only the beginning of the movie. They get into misadventures which are exciting because it’s the highlight of their suburban lives. They live the fantasy high life of porno heists and high school parties. The R-rated language means real kids will have to sneak into this, but it’ll be good for them. The young actors are just right and their antics are clever. There are consequences, I’m not saying it’s free, but the film keeps it fun. So there aren’t many funerals but that gives it a good title.
Girls Against Boys
This midnighter wants to be more than your standard rape-revenge tale but writer/director Austin Chick is not as smart as he thinks. Shay (Danielle Panabaker) meets the dangerous loose cannon Lu (Nicole LaLiberte) at a bar and they go home with the wrong guys. Lu helps Shay get revenge on the rapist and his accessories but proves to be just as dangerous a threat to Shay herself. I know club guys, adulterers and insensitive cops exist, but the characters in this movie are really on the nose and one dimensional. The revenge moments are satisfying but that doesn’t make the movie good. Chick’s self-righteous sense that he’s saying something undermines the basic power of the genre. We get the base desires for sex and vengeance. You’re not illuminating anything and you’re not even doing it right. Also every indie movie has a throbbing pulsing tone instead of a musical score. It gives away the amateur nature skills of the filmmakers.
This is the festival film that’s just a mess and doesn’t belong. I think it’s about a group of screenwriters whose movie starts to happen in real life, but I couldn’t follow the plot of either story. Maybe it was lost in translation, but there were mobsters, orgies, drugs and a deaf mute love triangle. All that should be crazy fun but it’s a stew of shaking cameras, intercutting scenes and unfamiliar actors who look too similar. Don’t worry, it’ll never get released.
Rec3 has a great spirit of fun like the ‘80s splatterfests with practical gore and awesome kills. They ditch the found footage gimmick so it’s basically just a polished outbreak movie, but you get a mini-Rec movie in the prologue. It’s an outbreak at a wedding. Who wouldn’t want to see that? The survivors use the old armor and Catholic weapons from the church and the badass bride in her wedding dress takes out the infected with a chainsaw! All the drama of the wedding is hilarious in this context. There are a lot of loud boom scares that are a little cheap and unnecessary. It looks like they’re going to tease some “found footage” elements within the film but they never quite go there. Maybe that’s part of the meta aspect, that they just won’t indulge our expectations for a Rec movie. The characters are great and even the music is intense B movie thrills and a romantic love theme.
Sleepwalk with Me
Another film I missed at Sundance, this just a little bit more clever than the usual relationship movie. Mike (writer/director Mike Birbiglia) goes through his commitment issues and struggles to make it as a standup comic while dealing with an odd sleep disorder. He not only sleepwalks but he acts out his dreams while unconscious. The dreams have just enough absurdity to feel surreal without major alterations to reality, and it gives a unique angle to his typical guy phobias. Birbiglia’s take on relationships is irreverent, which makes it better than the usual guy complaining about his pretty fiancé movie.
Photo Credit: Melendrez Entertainment
Well, it wouldn’t be a film festival without a film about Catholic bishops molesting teen boys. This drama has all the growing pains of a first time feature. Director Ya’Ke Smith did three shorts prior. Carl is a troubled 16-year-old. When he tries to kill himself his parents find a suggestive picture of him and the bishop on his phone. The film explores the complex ramifications for the community and has some powerful drama. The characters surprise you. A seemingly misguided grandmother who wants to protect the church comes through. These are good, loving parents but their protective nature can turn violent. If this movie helps some people who’ve been through a traumatic experience, then great. The first half hour is really rough and slow, full of moping and screaming. And another throbbing pulse as a substitute for musical score. Guys, that’s not a score! It’s not dramatic either. You’re better off sticking with silent atmosphere.