The fun-filled 2012 SXSW Film Festival has come to an exciting conclusion and I've returned home to sunny South Florida to take stock of my whirlwind 10 days in Austin, Texas. This was the third year I used Twitter to write post-screening capsule reviews of all the films I saw. Hopefully you followed along and were able to join me in experiencing the events in real time.
The quality of this year's lineup was truly extraordinary, as usual, resulting in one of the most memorable experiences I've had there in the seven years I've been attending. SXSW 2012 wowed me from the very first film, so it's a formidable challenge for me to narrow down my favorites to just a few. But, as I do following every film festival (56 since the start of 2006), this wrapup will conclude with my list of Top Picks.
First, some statistics. The logistics of the SXSW Film Festival allow for attendees to easily see four or more films a day. Since this was the first time I stayed beyond the five-day "Film-only" portion of the event through the additional four days of the Music Festival, when films continue to be shown, it resulted in a SXSW record for me. I attended a total of 36 screenings (it was 14 last year), an average of four per day. They included two shorts programs, Midnight Shorts and Texas High School Shorts (see my pictures of the Q&A + red carpet
). The 34 features included 26 narratives and eight documentaries.
One reason to attend festivals is to be among the first to see a movie. This was another record year at SXSW for me -- I saw a whopping 19 World Premieres -- films being seen by the public for the very first time. There were five of seven at one point. The other 15 features included six North American Premieres and four U.S. Premieres. The remaining five were favorites from other American festivals.
SXSW does recognize international cinema but its focus is on domestic titles. This year, though, almost a third of my screenings were foreign films. It started off as an American event, with my first three films coming from the U.S. After that, only six of 13 films were exclusively U.S. Seven were from other countries. My festival ended the way it started, though, with five of my last seven films from America. Overall, 21 of the 34 features were from the United States, including one U.S. co-production with Canada (Francine
). Of the 13 non-U.S. films, there were UK/Greece (Mustafa's Sweet Dreams
, a doc), UK/Spain (Intruders
), and Ireland/Scotland (Citadel
) co-productions. The UK and Canada had two each. The remaining foreign films represented Australia, France, Indonesia, Ireland, Norway, and Spain. Of those 21 films hailing from the United States, six were documentaries. Therefore, I saw 15 U.S. narrative features, including several of those "sweet little American indies" which I crave at festivals.
One thing that film festivals offer over traditional cinemas is an exciting and informative Q&A session with the cast and filmmakers after a screening. Most films at SXSW have at least four showings, and Q&As traditionally wane with successive ones. But that's beginning to change. Films with Q&As included nine first screenings, six second screenings, nine third screenings, and even two fourth screenings (Sun Don't Shine
and Fat Kid Rules the World
-- kudos to those filmmakers for staying). As usual, I'll be posting pictures of many of the Q&As in the coming weeks.
My 36 screenings were split exactly in half between downtown venues and the Alamo Lamar south of town. Eight of my screenings were at the festival's largest venue, the legendary Paramount -- a stunning, historic 1200-seat proscenium arch theatre which dates back to 1915. At one point I saw three films in a row there. Five were at the rustic Alamo Ritz, including my last two. I saw three films at the new Violet Crown and two at the Stateside. The remaining 18 screenings were all at the Alamo Lamar. In fact, I spent all day Wednesday there -- five films in a row. At one point I saw eight of nine at that venue.
One of the oddest consequences of attending multiple films back-to-back at festivals is coming across trends which may or may not have been as apparent if not for the quick succession of these themes. While death and issues surrounding grief are certainly not uncommon in films, I first noticed this trend in 2009 when my favorite films from Sundance (The Greatest
) and Tribeca (Accidents Happen
) both involved families grieving over the loss of a child and how parents and siblings come to cope with these tragedies. At one recent festival I saw six films centered on fathers dying of smoking-related illnesses. Three of these opened with a shot of a man lying in bed hooked up to tubes, coughing his lungs up. One film opened with a young girl asking her mother, "Mommy, is daddy going to die?" The very next film opened with a young boy asking his mother, "Mommy, is daddy going to die?" I kid you not. I just sat there shaking my head. I had an equally surreal experience at Sundance last year. The first six films I saw all dealt with death. The first five of these included death and guns. Two involved death, guns, and suicide. One juggled themes of death, guns, and homophobia. And one had death, guns, suicide, and homophobia (the very first film I saw). I found myself walking into screenings saying, "Please don't let this be about death..." It wasn't until my seventh screening that I finally found a film without any of these four themes. But my very last film of the festival was, like the first one, about death, guns, suicide, and homophobia.
Of the 34 features I saw at SXSW this year, 18 had death as a major plot point. But that was actually a relatively small percentage compared to many recent festivals (admittedly the numbers are skewed by my penchant for horror). Non-genre films have lightened up a bit. Days of darkness and depression have given way to festivals filled with relationship dramas. "Write what you know," the old adage says, and screenwriters did just that this year. All had touches of humor, mirroring real life which, for me, is one of the definitions of an indie. Whether comedic drama or dramatic comedy (sort of like partly cloudy and mostly sunny -- I never could tell the difference) my favorite films this year made me laugh and cry, often within the same scene. That's the power of cinema.
Almost every movie I saw was enjoyable. Some were disappointing but still worthy of recommendation. Most met my expectations. But only a few exceeded them, so I had to make some tough decisions. First, I've separated the narratives from documentaries and narrowed them down to what I consider to be the best of the best -- those I'd recommend and see again (and maybe even buy the DVD). I'll list my Top 10 Narratives and Top 3 Documentaries.
Here is my list of Top Picks from the 2012 SXSW Film Festival. Countries of origin are listed in parentheses along with capsule reviews and links to my Q&A pictures and video interviews.
TOP 10 NARRATIVES
(in alphabetical order)
Citadel (Ireland, Scotland) --
Writer/director Ciarán Foy's exciting feature film debut is set and shot in Ireland, at a menacing, rundown suburban apartment block rapidly being abandoned by its residents. This "Citadel" is a crumbling fortress of a high-rise that harbors a terrifying secret. Something has clearly gone amiss in Edenstown and the building is now unfit for habitation. Among the last remaining are Tommy Cowley (SXSW "it boy" Aneurin Barnard) and his young wife and child. "Leaving" sounds easier than it is, as Tommy is agoraphobic and hopelessly trapped inside, physically and emotionally. Yet he has no choice but to run, which he tries to do by enlisting the help of two kindred spirits: support group counselor Joanne (Amy Shiels) and a mysterious local priest (James Cosmo).
The early scenes of Citadel
are somewhat reminiscent of last year's festival favorite Attack the Block
, which made my Top 10 of 2011. There are dilapidated high-rise buildings and enigmatic creatures. Creepy, shabby elevators and a terrorized community. But that's where the comparisons end. Foy's movie departs on many levels, including a lack of the latter film's levity as well as its improvised script. Citadel
is more Hitchcockian -- a thoughtful, psychological descent into terror that leaves the viewer with more questions than answers, and that's what makes it so fascinating.
Barnard ably carries this film on his young shoulders with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. He stars in two films at this year's SXSW. The other, Hunky Dory
, is a lighthearted musical comedic drama that also made my list of Top 10 Picks. The two roles couldn't be more different. Tommy is a quivering puppy dog cowering under his master's rolled-up newspaper, ready to slink off into a corner and be struck at any moment. But he's on a mission to save himself, and the survival instinct takes over.
The Ireland/Scotland co-production is beautifully shot by cinematographer Tim Fleming, favoring the cold, lifeless look of grays and blues for stark exterior shots most associated with Eastern European settings. Think Chernobyl or wartime Czechoslovakia. Tom Sayer's masterful production design is post-apocalyptic grunge with an almost palpable feel of slime and smell of rotting flesh. With a thumping score by tomanandy and Steve Fanagan's appropriately spooky sound design, along with smartly-paced, heart-pounding editing by Tony Kearns and Jake Roberts, Citadel
remains creepily tension-filled throughout. Citadel
was the very last of the 36 films I saw at this year's festival and a fitting way to end the week. For its incessant ability to both frighten and provoke from start to finish, I gave this intriguing edge-of-your-seat thriller four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10.
Eden (US) -- Eden
is based on the horrific true story of Chong Kim, who was kidnapped in her teens and held captive as a sex slave. Kim co-wrote the source material with Richard B. Phillips. It was adapted for the screen by Phillips and director Megan Griffiths. As the fictionalized Hyun Jae (nicknamed Eden by her captors), she is forced to join dozens of other girls in a lurid clandestine operation, supplying underage prostitutes to "discriminating" clientele (they like 'em nubile) out of a storage facility that doubles as a prison.
A chilling performance is turned in by the always-reliable Beau Bridges as Bob Gault, mastermind of the enterprise (at least on this level -- we don't know how high it goes). The brilliant ensemble cast features Jeanine Monterroza, Scott Mechlowicz, Tantoo Cardinal, Eddie Martinez, Joseph Steven Yang, Naama Kates, and Laura Kai Chen. But it's the tense chemistry between Gault's sadistic right hand man Vaughan (Matt O'Leary) and Eden (Jamie Chung) which becomes the primary focus of the story. Only 24, the underrated, prolific O'Leary has completed over 20 feature films and a handful of television episodics. He's perhaps best known for Brick
and Live Free or Die Hard
, but he most impressed me in American Son
, one of my Top Picks from the 2008 Los Angeles Film Festival. Chung has a great deal of TV experience and most recently appeared on the big screen in Grown Ups
, Sucker Punch
, and The Hangover Part II
. The curiously symbiotic relationship between O'Leary and Chung's characters is at the heart of Eden
. Cinematographer Sean Porter and Production Designer Ben Blankenship effectively recreate the claustrophobic nature of the young women's environment with handheld, closeup photography using shadowy available light and a color palette of dirt and grime. Credit to editor Eric Frith and a haunting score by Jeramy Koepping, Matthew Emerson Brown, and Joshua Morrison for maintaining a breathless pace through what otherwise might have been emotionally tiring sequences.
pulls no punches in depicting the horrific treatment of the girls. There are few subtleties here. Their captors' motives aren't hidden in a mysterious subtext. The sickeningly sadistic acts of violence that stem from the perversion of what they consider to be a legitimate business venture are about as in-your-face as has ever been captured on screen. Even the requisite dark humor that would allow the audience a beat to breathe is hard to find. I'm not afraid to betray my love for genre films which, besides traditional "horror," can include fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal themes -- what I loosely define as anything spooky and creepy. Yes, they can be hard to watch, but one tells oneself "it's only a movie," and the brutality can be endured. This dynamic changes when it's based on a true story. "Real-life" horror affects us viscerally, at a deeper emotional level, as our brains constantly remind us that, no, this is not
"just a movie." It really happened. And, in the case of what's depicted in Eden
, it still does.
Griffiths made some bold choices at the risk of an exploitative interpretation of Chong Kim's experiences. But even Kim, present for the Q&A, defended any perceived voyeuristic sensationalism, saying it was done to empower women -- especially those who have actually been the victims of this kind of torture. For some, the pain may be too much to witness, even when fictionalized. But this is one of those rare films that begs for the label "important," and it deserves a wide audience. For daring to opening the public's eyes to the ongoing brutality of the sex trade, and its honesty in exposing the reality of human trafficking, I gave Eden
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10. Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A: GALLERY (18 photos)
Electrick Children (US) --
This auspicious debut feature from writer/director Rebecca Thomas is based on her own strict Mormon upbringing in Las Vegas, Nevada. Julia Garner plays Rachel, the vulnerable, fragile teenager who's never known any life outside her family's insular Utah community. Clyde (Rory Culkin) comes from another world, that of sex and drugs and rock 'n roll on the hedonistic streets of Las Vegas. What should be a celebratory 15th birthday becomes a turning point in her life in frightening, mysterious ways. The odd circumstances which bring Rachel and Clyde together would be incredulous if not for the fact that Electrick Children
is partly based on a true story. (It is my policy is to keep all my posts as spoiler-free as possible. For a more detailed synopsis see the SXSW official page
The indie credibility of this cast's young actors has been well-established in many of my festival favorites over the years. Julia Garner is relatively new to the scene, having recently established a name for herself as Sarah in Martha Marcy May Marlene
. Electrick Children
is her second feature. She has five films in various stages of production, including the soon to be released The Perks of Being a Wallflower
and Not Fade Away
is in post-production, she's filming Unicorns
, and The Last Exorcism 2
is set to begin shooting later this year. Liam Aiken made heads turn at the age of 11 as Tom Hanks' son in the 2002 award-winning Road to Perdition
, which was followed up two years later by Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events
. He reprised his Henry Fool
role of Ned Grim in Fay Grim
, one of my Top 10 Picks from the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. He is one of three actors with more than one feature at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival -- the other is Girls Against Boys
. At 13, John Patrick Amedori arrived on most viewers' radar in 2004's The Butterfly Effect
. He then starred in a series of successful Hollywood studio movies as well as indies which were among my Top Picks of the decade. He's perhaps best known for Stick It
and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
. But he holds the distinction of having three movies selected among my Top 10 for the respective years in which I saw them. The pictures and festivals at which they screened were Little Athens
(2006 Philadelphia Film Festival), Love is the Drug
(2007 San Fernando Valley Film Festival), and TiMER
(2009 Tribeca Film Festival).
Despite his youth, Rory Culkin has completed 17 features in his 22 years. He first rose to prominence in 2002's Igby Goes Down
(with his brother Kieran) and M. Night Shyamalan's Signs
. In 2004, he starred in Mean Creek
, one of my all-time favorite indies. I attended the World Premiere of Chasing 3000
(in which he reunites with Mean Creek
co-star Trevor Morgan) at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival and selected it as one of my Top Picks. The following year saw Rory reunite with Kieran in Lymelife
, which had its World Premiere at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. I first met Rory at that time and selected it as one of my festival Top Picks. It also made my Top 10 of 2008. I attended additional screenings of Lymelife
with Rory at New York's GenArt Film Festival in April 2009 and one week later at the Philadelphia Film Festival. The post-screening party was a night I'll never forget (as referenced by Rory in the interview below). Talk about a formula for success.
For its quirky originality, authentic performances, and compelling narrative, I gave Electrick Children
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10. Writer/director Rebecca Thomas was joined onstage after the screening by producers Jennifer Caldwell and Richard Neustadter, cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup, editor Jennifer Lilly, and young stars Julia Garner, Rory Culkin, and Rachel Pirard. Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A: GALLERY (31 photos on 2 pages)
. I then sat down with Rory and Julia for an in-depth discussion about the film and their blossoming careers. There may be some spoilers in this interview
Fat Kid Rules the World (US) -- Fat Kid Rules the World
is the surprisingly sweet, heartfelt directorial debut from accomplished actor Matthew Lillard. Known for his onscreen work with successful studio pictures Scream
, Without a Paddle
, and the Scooby Doo
franchise, along with indie titles like SLC Punk!
, The Groomsmen
, and the award-winning Alexander Payne film The Descendants
, Lillard steps behind the camera to put his own creative and observational skills to the test. Directing from a script by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, based on the K.L. Going novel, he crafts a painfully authentic work about one boy's descent into self-pity and the efforts of a stranger to lift him up and out of despair. Troy BIllings (the incredible Jacob Wysocki) is the "fat kid," who's the quintessential loser in the eyes of his drill sergeant-turned security guard father (Billy Campbell), loathsome little brother Dayle (Dylan Arnold), and his bullying classmates. A chance encounter with a drug-addled, homeless former student (Matt O'Leary) results in a most unlikely bond between the two boys that takes Troy in a direction nobody has ever imagined possible.
Wysocki and O'Leary carry the movie with a synergy that is breathtaking. Wysocki has an ability to patiently develop a passive-aggressive behavior that he will need to transform his character and transcend the disdain and ridicule from his father and brother. O'Leary (who also starred in Eden
, another SXSW 2012 film that made my Top 10) is frighteningly brilliant as the ne'er-do-well who has to, somehow, become Troy's role model and help him fulfill his dreams. As the take-no-prisoners dad, Campbell shows a side we've never seen before -- brutally tough but not malevolent, in a delicately loving way, so nuanced that it's barely apparent. Dylan Arnold plays the despicable younger teen in the family, the epitome of the hurtful brother (usually the older one), with an honesty that is chilling.
Rick Rosenthal, who produced the picture along with director Matthew Lillard and Nick Morton, is an iconic filmmaker in his own right who's produced, directed, and written dozen of movies, many of which he's acted in, still finding time to become an in-demand teacher at the American Film Institute. He directed two in the Halloween franchise and Executive Produced, with Gregory Smith, last year's Sundance hit On the Ice
. He was also a producer on Mean Creek
, one of my all-time favorite indies. He brought an unparalleled passion to this project that affects much of what is seen onscreen. Fat Kid Rules the World
has the professional look and slick sound of a Hollywood movie with high production values that belie its low budget. Befitting a film with rock 'n roll as a major theme (the live music and concert sequences are hot and authentic), the original score by Mike McCready is appropriately kick-ass and cutting edge. The fresh cinematography from Noah Rosenthal, longtime collaborator with producer (and father) Rick Rosenthal, and Michelle Witten's sharp editing, are about as crisp and polished as I've seen in an indie. Production Designer Tania Kupczak's attention to detail is delightful. The crew's affection for the material is palpable.
Don't let the title fool you. Fat Kid Rules the World
is not a teen sex comedy. It's not Porky's
or American Pie
. Yes, it starts out looking like a typical high school movie. It is about a teenage boy, after all. But the film becomes a tender, bittersweet story about self-confidence and family ties. This winning directorial debut from Matthew Lillard will leave you with a tear in your eye and a smile on your face. For being such an unexpected surprise, and one that dares to explore, question, and challenge traditional relationships between father and son, big and little brother, and the people we consider "friends," I gave Fat Kid Rules the World
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10. Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A: GALLERY (18 photos)
frankie go boom (US) --
Let's start with a disclaimer: I've never really been big on comedies -- although attending the World Premieres of Bridesmaids
at the 2011 SXSW Film Festival changed that a bit. So when I heard that legendary screenplay doctor (of over 40 scripts) Jordan Roberts had directed his second feature I was intrigued. When I saw an all-star cast that included Charlie Hunnam, Chris O'Dowd, Lizzy Caplan, Chris Noth, Whitney Cummings, Nora Dunn, Sam Anderson, Jordan Black, and Adam Pally, I knew I had to put it on my SXSW 2012 must-see list. Oh, and Ron Perlman. Disclaimer #2: Ron Perlman is a god in my book.
frankie go boom
opens on an old home movie depicting Bruce (Chris O'Dowd) tormenting his little brother Frank (Charlie Hunnam) with Jackass-style pranks that are destined to leave the little kid scarred for life. This behavior would continue through adulthood as would-be filmmaker Bruce turns Frank into an unwitting YouTube star. Inevitably, the tables are turned and the two find that they need each other when real life throws a curveball, and long-buried brotherly love (if there was any there to begin with) must triumph over lifelong grudges borne of humiliation and torment.
The writing is a slam-dunk coming from the mind of Jordan Roberts. But that's a given. This will be funny stuff no matter who's speaking the lines. But the performances are what make a comedy memorable, and there's not an uncommitted actor in the bunch. It's hard to single anyone out in a terrific ensemble cast but I was most impressed with Hunnam, balancing the wounded vulnerability of a tortured little brother with the grit and tenacity of a pioneer staking out new territory. O'Dowd is in top form, delivering most of the best gags like the seasoned comedic actor that he is. Lizzy Caplan (Lassie) is delightful as Frank's love interest -- she can turn from tender to tough on a dime. I avoid spoilers so I'll just say, if nothing else, it's worth the price of admission to see Ron Perlman as you've never seen him before. That's no hyperbole. From the acting to the technical execution, frankie go boom
doesn't skip a beat. Mattias Troelstrup's cinematography is steady and sure, with Editor Michael Hofacre keeping a rapid yet not over-the-top pace. Mateo Messina's score is subtle and unobtrusive.
frankie go boom
(yes, it's all lower case, despite the best efforts of sites like IMDb and Facebook to thwart that) did not disappoint. It's a sweet little indie comedy with big Hollywood production values. Even the droll hardcore critics in the audience were heard chuckling (gasp) during the screening I attended. Oh, and I consider myself neither droll nor hardcore, but I joined them unabashedly. For being a bright spot, deservedly, in a lineup heavy with dark and depressing dramas, I gave frankie go boom
four stars and a place as the only straight-up comedy on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10.
Funeral Kings (US) --
Location: Small Town U.S.A. The kind of familiar place where Main Street has one traffic light and everybody knows your name. Three middle school boys, Andy (Dylan Hartigan), Charlie (Alex Maizus), and David (Jordan Puzzo) are (at first glance) typical mischievous teens hatching schemes. Don't get me wrong -- they're good boys -- but in a Stand By Me
kind of way they've become ordinary kids placed in an extraordinary situation. That's just a hint of the story of Funeral Kings
, the auspicious debut feature from brothers Kevin and Matt McManus, who wrote, directed, and produced this sweet little American indie. True artists take risks, and Funeral Kings
is filled with bold choices on the part of the directors. First, the McManus brothers made the decision early on to cast kids of the same age as their young characters. No "18 to play 15" here. If anything, it was the other way around. They also chose non-actors for some lead roles. I won't reveal which, if any, of the kids didn't have professional experience since I challenge viewers to figure that out (without looking on IMDb). I certainly couldn't tell. The filmmakers also decided not to sanitize the language. This may be the first movie rated R simply based on the number of F-bombs dropped by kids so young. These aren't wise-ass high school seniors here. These boys are barely out of their tweens. But it's real, and just another aspect of the movie that makes Funeral Kings
so authentic. There's something oddly endearing about a trio of potty-mouthed 13-14-year-olds spouting R-rated language in an otherwise family-friendly coming-of-age film. But the shock wears off fairly quickly and suddenly we're in on the joke. (Kudos to the parents for saying yes to the filmmakers.)
Wise decisions can be serendipitous, as well. Mean Creek
is one of my all-time favorite indies. The narrative turns dark at one point and what follows is one of the best examples I've ever seen of "less is more." There's a long sequence with no dialogue. It's a classic scene in modern American independent cinema. An incident takes place in Funeral Kings
which inspires a similar response. Like in Mean Creek
, the scene works because the filmmakers had faith in their actors' abilities to say as much, if not more, with their sad eyes and plaintive facial expressions than words can express. I was even more impressed to find out, in my discussion with the McManus brothers afterward, that there originally was dialogue written for that scene. But the powerfully emotive acting made the lines unnecessary. Bravo. The boys are occasionally shot in quiet, thoughtful moments with long takes, necessary punctuation for the frenetic distractibility of their standard behavior which drives the multi-layered narrative. It was a particularly effective decision since there are few adults to be found in this film. These are kids being kids, and we just have the privilege of being a fly on the wall (or tree) and peeking in on their sometimes salacious, occasionally dangerous, but always edgy activities.
One of the most brilliant decisions on the part of the McManus brothers was to keep the narrative somewhat unfocused, like a script that reflects the ADD-driven adolescent brain. Storylines pick up and drop off, occasionally resolving themselves, sometimes not. Loose ends aren't always tied up. The plot is a bit like the kids' lives themselves -- slightly scattered, occasionally bordering on insanity, but always exciting and switching gears on a moment's notice. Yet it all makes sense, and the film never strays from its genuine depiction of teenage adventure. Funeral Kings
has an indie look and feel right from the start. Cinematographer Alex Disenhof's use of handheld camera and available light for extensive outdoor sequences showcase both the actors' improv smarts as well as the beauty of the Rhode Island woods where much of the action takes place. Disenhof's photography and Jacob Scheyder's production design help place us in a real teen environment, not based on a Hollywood screenwriter's nostalgic images or box-office driven Disneyfied notion of the world in which these kids live and play. Nate Cormier's editing isn't music video-flashy and the score by Scott Schulman is equally unpretentious. Like any good character-driven movie, the focus is on the cast.
The three young actors carry this film magnificently. Hartigan is the idea man, wise beyond his 14 years (or so he'd like to believe), with the coolness to adapt and succeed at whatever is thrown at him. Maizus is like a dear deer in headlights, out of his element, a playful kid who just wants to have fun but is drawn into a pact with the devil. Puzzo is the keen face of maturity, an old soul trapped in a little kid's body, who knows when to call it quits and put out the fire. Creativity in filmmaking must rely on a fresh approach and willingness to take chances. Kevin and Matt McManus did that time and again in the production of this film. The result can either be a disaster or a wonderfully rewarding experience. For me, it was the latter. I gave Funeral Kings
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10.
Hunky Dory (UK) --
Of all the thoroughly enjoyable movies I saw at SXSW this year, Hunky Dory
may be the most accessible and wonderfully rewarding. It's the one kids, parents, and grandparents will fall in love with. Marc Evans (Trauma, Snow Cake), directing from a script by Laurence Coriat, has made some risky choices -- and they've paid off. A high school is preparing to put on a novel production of William Shakespeare's The Tempest
. The twist is, it will be a musical using pop hits of the day. It happens to be 1976, and what a magnificent year to mine for tunes. Artists like ELO and David Bowie, along with the particular selections to be performed in the musical, are chosen by the kids themselves. We're also in Wales, giving a UK-centric flavor to the production (although those musicians and songs dominated the charts here in America at the time, as well). The drama teacher at the forefront of this challenge, Vivienne (Minnie Driver), has to deal with a band (literally) of marginally talented players, singers who have stage fright, and teens whose main concern (naturally) is whether or not the girl/guy across the room will notice them. Romance, breakups, and makeups threaten to derail the production. Vivienne's primary mission, aside from polishing their musical talents, is to instill confidence in our young leads. Davey (Aneurin Barnard) has the looks and pipes, but can he focus on the task at hand? Stella (Danielle Branch) is equally distracted. Tim (Robert Pugh) is conflicted in more ways than one. Much like Black Swan
, Shakespeare's narrative is reflected in this one.
At first glance, the premise seems to be a mashup of what we've seen before -- it's West Side Story
meets High School Musical
-- and probably a dozen other movies that attempt to tackle the same issues. But Hunky Dory
departs from them all in a number of glorious ways. First, the look of the film is a marvel. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen and Production Designer Jacqueline Abrahams devised, and achieved, the most fascinating idea. While the movie is a period piece set in the '70s, it doesn't seem as if it was made in the present day. The picture has a patina that appears aged, partly achieved by pushing the amber and yellow, resulting in a warm color palette that oozes from the screen. It gives the viewer the sense that it was actually shot in 1976 and just discovered on the back shelf of a dusty Welsh studio. It's like a gem that's been hidden away for future generations to find.
Most of all, the musical performances are almost groundbreaking by modern standards. Every instrument -- drums, horns, strings, woodwinds -- used by the band kids were actually played live during filming. The vocals were sung just as we hear them. There was no studio recording to mime, no laughable lip syncing, no inauthentic autotune. The musicians played live on camera, the singers sang live into microphones -- it may sound odd but that's a true cinematic rarity, and you don't get too many of those anymore. The effect of that one simple decision -- not to use studio overdubs -- cannot be underestimated. The breathtaking performances in this Welsh import brought me to tears. In the Q&A, lead actor (and singer) Aneurin Barnard was asked whether or not he worried about being in tune. "When was the last time you went to a school musical where everyone was in perfect pitch?" he replied. Touché.
It's clear that everyone on this production was sold on Evans' vision. It's a technical triumph. Mali Evans' rhythmic editing and a playful original score by Jody Talbot help put the finishing touches on this audience-pleaser. The acting is thoughtful and genuine. Minnie Driver's poignant performance is the epitome of heartfelt, evocative of Streep in Music of the Heart
or Dreyfuss' Mr. Holland. In addition to Hunky Dory
, the lead male (in both this movie as well as the musical production within it), also stars in SXSW Film Festival favorite Citadel
. It was one of my favorites as well and won the Audience Award for the Midnighters section. He was one of several actors to have two pictures here at SXSW. Both of Barnard's films made my Top 10, yet the two roles couldn't have been more different. One moment he's an agoraphobic newlywed battling internal and external demons in a chilling horror film. In the next he's a lovestruck, innocent high school kid who sings and dances his way through a marvelous musical dramedy. This young man is destined for stardom. Hunky Dory
does something few movies do -- it stands out in a sea of formulaic, safe filmmaking that ensures we won't experience anything we haven't before. It dares to be different. It's a true work of art. Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A: GALLERY (17 photos)
Monsieur Lazhar (Canada) -- Monsieur Lazhar
came into SXSW as a "Festival Favorite," and it certainly fits that description. The Canadian film debuted at Switzerland's Locarno Film Festival last August. It went on to great acclaim in its home country at Toronto the following month. Monsieur Lazhar
then triumphed at a half dozen other film festivals before making it to the U.S. in January at Sundance. It was Canada's entry into the Oscars and was eventually nominated for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. Philippe Falardeau wrote and directed this hauntingly beautiful, sweet character study based on the play by Evelyne de la Chenelière. Mohamed Fellag portrays Bachir Lazhar, an aging Algerian immigrant who takes the reins of a middle school school classroom in Montreal, Quebec. Clearly an outsider, he must win the hearts and minds of his young pupils who've become accustomed to the entrenched ways of the all-female teaching staff. But this is no To Sir With Love
. Ultimately, Monsieur Lazhar
is more about grief than peer pressure and prejudice. The complex, multi-layered narrative elegantly addresses the loss of loved ones and the ways in which we learn to heal and derive comfort from those we allow to enter our lives.
The film succeeds on so many levels, with high production values being immediately apparent from the opening shot. The photography is simply breathtaking. Cinematographer Ronald Plante boldly relies on numerous closeups and slow tracking shots to place the viewer squarely into the setting, making every joy and heartbreak palpable. Authentic production design by Emmanuel Fréchette features bright, well-lit interiors and a playful primary color palette that belie the dark, hidden secrets harbored in the lead characters' pasts. Martin Léon's lush score befits a film of epic proportions and Stéphane LaFleur's delicate editing polishes off a brilliant gem of a movie.
More than anything, though, Monsieur Lazhar
contains some of the most brilliant acting I've seen this year. Fellag's portrayal of the titular character is achingly nuanced and subtle. Without that the film simply doesn't work. But it's the two main children's roles that are key to the movie's power. Credit for that goes to Sophie Nélisse as Alice L'Écuyer and, especially, Émilien Néron as Simon, in one of the best performances by a child actor that I've seen in a long time. Néron's eyes and plaintive expressions left me with a sense of wonder. He is the heart and soul of Monsieur Lazhar
Dealing with grief is a subject which has dominated my festival favorites this decade. Films like The Greatest
(Sundance 2009), Accidents Happen
(Tribeca 2009), Beautiful Boy
(Toronto 2010), and We Need to Talk About Kevin
(Toronto 2011) are just a few of the many wonderful films on this topic which have moved me to tears in the past several years. Monsieur Lazhar
joins that pantheon of emotionally cathartic works of cinematic brilliance. For its ability to tug at the heartstrings without being manipulative, its delicacy, and sense of fulfillment, I gave Monsieur Lazhar
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10.
Pavilion (US) --
Few directors are able to capture the raw authenticity of youth as Gus Van Sant. With cinematographer Harris Savides on Elephant
, and in later films like Paranoid Park
, one of my Top Picks from the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, he helped establish a school of cinema verité filmmaking filled with long takes and tracking shots to advance a loose narrative from the kids' point of view. This technique, when used wisely, can be as beautiful and heartfelt as it is lovingly voyeuristic. Writer/director/producer Tim Sutton has taken his background working with teens, helping to develop their skills through photography and short films, and distilled it through the lens of cinematographer Chris Dapkins to create this improv-centric coming-of-age story that would make Van Sant proud.
The primarily non-professional cast is headed by Max Schaffner as a fun-loving 15-year-old uprooted from his quaint home in rural upstate New York to the sterile suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. His old and new playmates, ably played by Zach Cali, Cody Hamric, Addie Barlett, Aaron Buyea, and Levi Dustin, are all he needs to feel a sense of home in any location life takes him. It's that challenge, to say goodbye to old friends and make new ones, that is at the heart of this poignant film.
The sparse, sweet score by The Sea & Cake's Sam Prekop is comforting. Along with deliberate editing and naturalistic sound design by Seth Bomse, as well as Caspar Newbolt's playful art and design direction, Sutton's Pavilion
has an indie look and feel right from the opening shot. Primarily relying on exterior shots with available light and handheld HDCAM, the viewer is an observer to the boys' organically developing relationships. Based on a loose outline, the story unfolds as defined by their own actions and dialogue, creating a work that feels as genuine as any I've seen in the genre.
Teens are so often depicted as bad seeds -- rebellious, wounded, and acting out hostilities based on real or imagined tragedies, treating their peers with cruelty. In Pavilion
, we see a genuinely affectionate depiction of kids at that age between boy and man, wanting desperately to be adults, yet not ready (or willing) to put away their toys and games. That's the truest portrait of youth. For its refreshingly honest portrayal of teens overcoming adolescent obstacles, I gave Pavilion
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10. Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A: GALLERY (27 photos on 2 pages)
[REC] 3: Genesis (Spain) --
First, let's get something out of the way. Do you have to have seen the first two films in the series in order to appreciate this one? Like most good
"sequels," absolutely not. [REC] 3
stands on its own as a first class horror film that is as unpretentious as it is true to the genre. The filmmakers are not trying to break new ground here, and that's ultimately what makes the film so satisfying. All the expected elements are present, the characters are recognizable, the tropes are shouted from the rooftops, yet it feels just unfamiliar enough to be fresh. (For those who have seen the first two, [REC] 3
ties together many of the elements of those films and fills in some of the blanks.)
is director Paco Plaza's lovingly bloody followup to his successful found footage-inspired audience-pleasers of the 00s. I say "inspired" because this is no shaky cam Blair Witch
. The movie blends shots from the handheld "amateur" footage with professional cinematography so well that the gimmick ultimately fades away. At first it might seem a bit jarring, suspending disbelief (as if any of it is believable anyway) and forcing the viewer to switch brain hemispheres in mid-scene. But it works, and I found myself admitting that the device is effective within the confines of the "real movie," a film within a film so to speak.
Plaza co-wrote the story with Luiso Berdejo, and it goes something like this. There's a wedding. Clara (Leticia Dolera) and Koldo (Diego Martín) are the happy couple. Something goes horribly wrong at the reception. The videographers (family and hired hand) capture it all on their cameras. Madness ensues. Without giving anything away, that's about all you need to know. We watch as our blissfully in love and devil-may-care newlyweds fight for their survival.
is really, more than anything, an action-adventure film. The themes are timeless. All that matters is the execution (pun intended), and it's handled with elegance by most of the same team responsible for the previous two films. Cinematographer Pablo Rosso's cameras are constantly in motion, incessantly chasing (or being chased) by the enigmatic reception guests. The rapid pace, and fast cuts to and from the found footage shots, are the work of editor David Gallart (with Marti Roca on this film). Gemma Fauria's art direction advances the post-apocalyptic setting that can turn from joyful to murderous in a literal heartbeat. New to this sequel, the blood-curdling score comes from award-winning Spanish composer Mikel Salas. For its pure appreciation of the genre with a compelling narrative and effects that do not disappoint, I gave [REC] 3: Genesis
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10.
TOP 3 DOCUMENTARIES
Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (US) --
The best documentaries do one of two things; they either open your eyes to a subject you've never heard of and know nothing about or they shed new light on topics with which you're somewhat (or even very) familiar. Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters
is a superior example of the former. Being a photographer myself, I was somewhat surprised to learn of the astonishing work of Gregory Crewdson through award-winning director Ben Shapiro's riveting documentary. Acting as his own cinematographer, producer, and editor (with Tom Patterson and Nancy Kennedy) allowed Shapiro to take his own deep passion for Crewdson's work and translate it for "laymen" as well as other photographers -- whether amateur or professional, or those traveling on a path to one or the other.
What makes his breathtaking images so remarkable is that they are such large scale productions, literally, replete with crews of 50+ technicians using towering cranes, high-tech movie lighting, and cutting-edge cameras befitting a small independent film. I'd even venture to say that the cost of making just one of his photographs (a single shot is a 2-day production) exceeds the budgets of most of the movies I see at festivals. Locations are scouted, actors are cast, streets are blocked off, and props built or placed on the set as per his storyboards. Interior shots use sets built on a sound stage. Every minute detail in each elaborate photograph is carefully thought out and placed there for a reason, from the smallest daffodil sitting on a tarnished mailbox to the pink silk slip gently falling off an old woman's wrinkled shoulder. It's not that unusual for a film to bring me to tears. In this case, it was "just" a photograph. And another. And yet another.
We hear Crewdson's first-person account of how his art evolved, from the simple act of pressing a button to the staged milieu that now appears on his "canvas." The subjects are real, the settings authentic -- there is nothing "fake" in his photographs other than that the moments he captures were created by him, through his ideas, with the hands of a team of artisans serving that grand vision. The footage was shot over the course of 10 years and culminates in just the latest in a series of exhibitions; he's already preparing for the next decade-long project. The photographs themselves are stunning but the behind-the-scenes story of their creation is equally mind-boggling. For anyone who's ever picked up a camera and wondered where it could take them, Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters
certainly is motivating enough to further that journey for those who wish to take it. For its ability to move the soul and inspire a true sense of wonder, I gave Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters
four stars and selected it as one of my Top Docs of the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.
Last Call at the Oasis (US) --
While I attend festivals primarily for narrative features, works of fiction, I'm certainly not averse to seeking out quality documentaries. In fact, they've often shown up on my lists of Top Picks from the various fests I've attended. Many SXSW docs have wowed me in the past few years and were among my favorites, including Billy the Kid, Body of War, FrontRunners, The Wrecking Crew, 45365, Helvetica,
and last year's Foo Fighters
. Some are simply enjoyable and entertaining. Others are shocking and even painful to watch. But only a few deserve the label "important," and this is one of them. Last Call at the Oasis
could do for the global water crisis what An Inconvenient Truth
did for climate change (or tried to do, at least). With the same organization behind it, Participant Media, this film certainly has the right people at the helm. Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu's triumphant documentary relies heavily on dramatic archival footage and cutting-edge scientific evidence, using third party talking heads only sparingly. The experts who are interviewed, though, are tremendously well-respected and tops in their fields, from the iconic environmental attorney Erin Brockovich to published academics like Peter Gleick, Alex Prud’homme, Jay Famiglietti, and Robert Glennon.
There is such a wealth of information here that it can become overwhelming, despite the script's segmentation and filmmakers' valiant efforts to present the material in cohesive chapters. Chemicals in our drinking water? Check. Disruption of the food chain? Check. Dropping water levels in reservoirs and the threat to major cities' water supplies? Check. Global warming and its effect on the population's irrigation requirements? Check. Obtaining drinking water from sewage and salt water? Check. That's not meant as a criticism, though. The filmmakers do their best to minimize the esoterica. After all, this production is meant for a mass audience. It's not dumbed down, though, either. The vital details are laid out in succinct fashion, with real world scenarios and plain talk to back it up wherever possible, and with limited editorializing. It's a strikingly perfect balance that's only achievable because this team has been at it for so long.
Veteran documentary cinematographer Jon Else, another Oscar nominee, delivers hours of new footage that seamlessly blends with the eye-opening historical film. Composer Jeff Beal has scored dozens of docs, and his work here is poignant and dramatic, perfectly underscoring the bittersweet narrative. Organizing the massive amount of material into a meaningful string of ideas was a yeoman's task for award-winning editor Kim Roberts (she won an Emmy for the 2007 HBO doc Autism: The Musical
). She may have had the biggest challenge, along with writer/director/producer Jessica Yu, and was up to the task.
Each topic deserves a full-length feature of its own, and eventually that may be how the documentary is presented on television or home video. It's a lot to take in, even for those who may know about the issues and cases discussed. But the film is extremely compelling and entertaining nonetheless, without crossing the line into irreverence, and held my interest through 100 minutes. For its ability to inform as well as engage, while presenting topics of vital importance to the future of the planet, I gave Last Call at the Oasis
four stars and selected it as one of my Top Docs of the 2012 SXSW Film Festival. For more see the film's Social Action site
. Last Call at the Oasis
is being released theatrically on May 4 through ATO Pictures.
Beware of Mr. Baker (US) --
In general, rock docs are recommended more to those familiar with the artists and their music. Writer/director Jay Bulger's Beware of Mr. Baker
, chronicling the long, strange life of iconic drummer Ginger Baker, is a perfect example. While the curious story may have broad appeal, there are certainly those for whom such a film would not hold much interest. But for fans of Baker's music it's a must-see. Most are likely aware of his short but explosively productive stints with Cream, along with bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce and guitarist/vocalist Eric Clapton, and in Blind Faith, with Steve Winwood and Rick Grech along with Clapton.
To some extent, Baker is a true megalomaniac -- a legend in his own mind who believes The Who's Keith Moon and Led Zeppelin's John Bonham were overrated performers with little musical talent, clever posers who shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath with Ginger Baker, despite the fact that they're arguably considered to be two of the greatest rock drummers of all time. In fact, Baker doesn't even want to be referred to as a rock drummer but as a jazz drummer. That said, few doubt that Baker did change the language of rock 'n roll by introducing or, at least, expanding on the heretic notion that drums don't just have to maintain the backbeat to a song -- they can actually help contribute to and carry the melody.
This is a particularly important paradigm as, if accepted by the powers-that-be, it would have allowed the drummer to be considered one of the songwriters and receive payments as such. The industry doesn't generally recognize drummers in that fashion as credits only go to composers and lyricists, those who write the music and words, and it's thought to be impossible for drums to be part of a song's "music" (melody). For that reason, Baker was shut out of a lot of royalties he could have earned for contributing to some of the legendary, and financially successful, tunes of Cream and Blind Faith. There's a lot of new eye-opening information in Bulger's heartfelt documentary, and it certainly includes that primer on how songwriting credits are actually granted by the main rights organizations (e.g., ASCAP and BMI in America).
Absolutely critical to the project, the producers were able to secure rights to the original songs (in many cases, archival film of live performances), including Sunshine of Your Love, White Room, Strange Brew, and Can't Find My Way Home. These evocative hits are supplemented by a tasty original score by Bill Laswell. The story of how director Jay Bulger came to move in with Baker and shoot the sequences for this film, with cinematographer Eric Robbins, is fascinating in itself. Credit to Abhay Sofsky for the always-challenging task of helping to edit hundreds of hours of footage down to 92 minutes. Beware of Mr. Baker
is joyous, sad, chilling, and depressing in turns. But the concert sequences are remarkable and uplifting, and it's certainly worth it just to see Ginger Baker play those wonderful songs again. For filling in some of the blanks surrounding the enigmatic life of one our greatest drummers, making it an important piece of music history, I gave Beware of Mr. Baker
four stars and selected it as one of my Top Docs of the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.
I'd also like to give out some Honorable Mentions. Readers of this blog know of my love for genre films. These generally fall under the "horror" umbrella but can include science fiction, paranormal, and a wide range of spooky and creepy movies. Some are more mass appeal than others but many of the most shocking ones at the SXSW Film Festival take place as part of the Midnighters program. As always, the lineup was superb. If I Iumped them all together with my non-genre favorites and docs it would add up to about half the films I saw, and I generally like to keep my list of Top Picks to about 25% of the total. But I would like to single out Modus Anomali
, and The Tall Man
as exemplary genre films.
V/H/S (US) --
V/H/S is a found-footage anthology that combines the brilliant talents of some of our most revered genre filmmakers. The movie's segments were directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You're Next
), David Bruckner (The Signal
), Ti West (Trigger Man, Cabin Fever 2, The Innkeepers
), Glenn McQuaid (I Sell The Dead
), Joe Swanberg (Kissing on the Mouth, Hannah Takes the Stairs, Autoerotic
), and Radio Silence (producers of YouTube horror shorts). Most have a wealth of festival experience -- the titles in parentheses are features I've seen at past film fests, including many at SXSW. Screenwriters include Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Nicholas Tecosky, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, and Chad Villella. The cinematographers were Adam Wingard, Victoria K. Warren, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid, and Radio Silence. Editors included Ti West, Simon Barrett, David Bruckner, Radio Silence, and Glenn McQuaid. The cast members were Joe Swanberg, Calvin Reeder, Kate Lynn Shiel, Sophia Takal, Lane Hughes, Helen Rogers, Adam Wingard, and Hannah Fierman. Serving as segment producers were Ti West, Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence, Glenn McQuaid, David Bruckner, and Linda Burns. The project was produced by Gary Binkow, Roxanne Benjamin, and Bloody Disgusting co-founder Brad Miska. Tom Owen and Zak Zeman are executive producers.
Horror anthologies work best when the short films within are connected in some way, either wrapped in an overarching narrative and/or bookended by a defining incident. The former is the case with V/H/S, within which the relatively self-contained segments maintain a level of stunning visuals and breathtaking reveals throughout. Titles (with directors) include Amateur Night
(David Bruckner), Second Honeymoon
(Ti West), The Strange Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger
(Joe Swanberg), Tuesday the 17th
(Glenn McQuaid), and Matt Bettinelli-Olpin/Radio Silence's 10/31/98
. The wrapper Tape Fifty-Six
was directed by Adam Wingard. All are impressive achievements.
Following its debut at the Sundance Film Festival, V/H/S
was acquired by Magnolia Pictures for distribution through their genre arm Magnet Releasing. After multiple hours of karaoke and imbibing of beverages on the part of the filmmakers (source: a little birdie), members of the various crews who were sober enough to do so took the stage after the screening to field questions from the audience. Film critic Scott Weinberg attempted to moderate the
session and maintain some semblance of decorum. It was certainly
entertaining. Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A: GALLERY (36 photos on 2 pages)
I also loved the following three films but consider them to have been more theatrical previews than festival films since they were already scheduled for wide release. All lived up to my expectations, though. Drew Goddard's The Cabin in the Woods
exceeded them. Lionsgate releases the film on April 13. But I'd go as far as to say it surpassed any film I saw at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.
The Cabin in the Woods (US) -- The Cabin in the Woods
is the feature film debut for director Drew Goddard, but it's far from being his first work. As a legendary writer and producer, his numerous television credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Alias
, and Lost
. His previous foray into film came as screenwriter for Cloverfield
. Not a shabby track record. Combine that resume with the talents of iconic producer Joss Whedon, whose television writing and producing career includes Roseanne, Parenthood, Firefly, Angel
, and Dollhouse
. He executive produced and wrote 145 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
over seven seasons from 1997-2003. His screenplay credits include Toy Story
and Alien: Resurrection
. The Cabin in the Woods
is his first narrative feature film as a producer. That's quite a pedigree. Add in the impeccable acting talents of Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, and Anna Hutchison and you have all the ingredients for a bonafide hit.
And the film? Well...if you know anything about it you should know that you shouldn't know anything about it. Here's what we've been told: "It's not what you expect...turns the genre on its head...beyond anything you've seen..." My verdict? It is, indeed, just what they said it would be. In fact, it easily surpassed my expectations. That doesn't happen very often. In her introduction to the screening, SXSW Film Festival Janet Pierson said, "Expect to have fun." She nailed it. I did. And the audience hooted and hollered, yelled and cheered, applauded, laughed, and screamed. But I'm going to comply with Goddard and Whedon's wishes, expressed in the Q&A, and not reveal the secrets. The Cabin in the Woods
is simply spectacular. It couldn't have been a more outrageous, in-your-face, wow-filled thrill ride. Here are some pictures I shot during the intro and Q&A: GALLERY (63 photos on 4 pages)
Killer Joe (US) --
Matthew McConaughey is frighteningly brilliant as the title character in Killer Joe
, iconic Oscar-winning director William Friedkin's latest foray into crime drama. Tracy Letts penned the script from his own play. Emile Hirsch co-stars as Chris Smith, a hapless would-be victim of drug violence who, along with his brother Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and sister-in-law Sharla (Gina Gershon), hatches a scheme to turn his fortunes around. Juno Temple is positively angelic as Ansel and Sharla's daughter Dottie. The film debuted at the Venice Film Festival a year ago and was picked up for U.S. distribution after its North American Premiere in Toronto last September. It came into SXSW having earned a controversial NC-17 rating, which was being appealed at the time. During the Q&A, director Friedkin (on the phone from Vienna) asked the audience members to raise their hands if the felt the rating was justified. There were nine hands (out of 1200 people).
UPDATE: It has been given a rating of NC-17 by the MPAA for "graphic aberrant content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality." U.S. distributor LD Entertainment appealed the decision and lost. Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A: GALLERY (62 photos on 4 pages)
21 Jump Street (US) --
The wildly popular television series 21 Jump Street
ran for five seasons from 1987-1991 on Fox. It was part of their inaugural primetime season and the show that arguably put the fledgling network on the map. Over two decades later Executive Producers Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum are back to play the iconic baby-faced high school undercover officers Schmidt and Jenko. Brought on board as producers were Stephen J. Cannell, who created the original television series, and Neal Moritz, one of the most successful executives in the industry with over 100 films to his credit. 21 Jump Street
is only the second feature for directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, who previously teamed up for the Golden Globe-nominated 2009 animated movie Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
. Jonah Hill co-wrote the script with Michael Bacall (Manic, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Project X
). Hill and Tatum star along with Rob Riggle, Dave Franco, Ice Cube, and Brie Larson.
As SXSW Film Festival Producer Janet Pierson said in her introduction to the screening, 21 Jump Street
is certainly not an independent film -- it was produced by Columbia Pictures and MGM -- but its sensibility and pedigree made it fit right in as a showcase World Premiere for the indie-oriented festival. The movie got a standing ovation, not surprisingly, and the audience was fortunate to bear witness to, and participate in, what may have been the most hilariously entertaining Q&A session of any film I've ever seen here. The ease with which Hill and Tatum took the microphone and pleased the crowd for well over a half hour was superb. Along with Riggle, Franco, directors Lord and Miller, and writer Bacall, an awesome time was had by all.
Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were joined onstage after the screening by writer Michael Bacall and stars Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Rob Riggle, and Dave Franco. SXSW Film Festival Producer Janet Pierson introduced the movie with Lord and Miller. SXSW Film Festival Media Relations Director and Programmer Rebecca Feferman moderated the Q&A session. Here are some pictures I shot during the intro and Q&A: GALLERY (72 photos on 4 pages)
21 Jump Street
was released by Columbia Pictures on March 16, the Friday after this World Premiere screening. It took in $36.3 million that opening weekend on 3,121 screens to finish in first place. Its reported production budget was $42 million. As of today, March 28, it has earned over $76 million domestically and over $92 million worldwide.
NOTE: Eden went on to win the Narrative Feature Audience Award, Citadel won the Audience Award in the Midnighters section, Fat Kid Rules the World won the Audience Award in the Narrative Spotlight section, and Beware of Mr. Baker won the Grand Jury Award in the Documentary Feature Competition.