SXSW: What to See and What to Skip
South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin’s increasingly popular tech conference/music and film festival, wrapped up this past weekend, As everyone in the city recovers from a collective hangover (and celebrates the relief of no more obligation to dress unusually well upon leaving the house), I’ve collected a list of movies from this year’s festival that I think you should catch and some you can skip. This year I deviated from my typical festival M.O., which usually involves seeing the most obscure selections possible. Instead, I tried to get a good balance between the weird ones and the commercial ones, with mixed results.
Key ingredients of most horror movies depend on the protagonist’s ability to hear and speak—creaking floorboards, screams, things that go bump in the night. This movie explores what happens when you take those things away from your heroine. Maddie, a deaf-mute writer most comfortable in isolation, must push past her mental, physical, and emotional limits in order to survive the night as a strange man terrorizes her in her secluded country home. Featuring a stunning breakout performance from Kate Siegel and a chilling turn as the villain for John Gallagher, Jr. (of The Newsroom and Short Term 12), this movie will leave you with an adrenaline buzz you won’t soon forget.
If you felt like you didn’t fit in during high school, this movie is for you. A young nun (played by Addison Timlin) returns to her family home in North Carolina after three years to attempt to salvage her relationship with her family and to see her brother, who was badly wounded in and just returned from the war in Iraq. But there’s more to this nun than you might expect—a recovering high school goth (we’re talking serious Manic Panic, Marilyn Manson type goth here), she must return to her roots in order to reconnect her family ties and to realign herself in the eyes of God. You might recognize the nun’s mother as Ally Sheedy, the “basket case” from The Breakfast Club.
The Other Half
Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and Tom Cullen (Downton Abbey) translate their real life chemistry as a couple to new characters in this grief-driven love story. Nickie (Cullen), a sullen loner, still grieves the disappearance of his younger brother from years ago but brightens significantly upon meeting Emily, a free spirit (Maslany). Things change when he realizes that Emily suffers from her own troubles as well, and they try to make their relationship work through all obstacles. You will feel every up and down as they do.
Okay, if someone had told me I’d be watching a (much less enjoying) cop movie starring Elijah Wood and Nicolas Cage, I probably would have laughed in that person’s face. Wood plays Daniel, a jaded cop who alleviates his existential boredom with whatever substance he can find. Cage plays Jim, Daniel’s laughably ineffectual supervisor who ropes him into a special assignment in order to try to change his reputation around the department. In the mood to watch a manic Cage get himself and Wood into trouble (or just to watch a hilarious and hapless downward spiral)? You’re in luck.
And Punching the Clown
Henry Phillips, eternally down-and-out comedian, thinks his life has taken a turn for the better when a hotshot television producer (J.K. Simmons) wants to create a show about his life, but it will take more than one piece of good luck to turn Henry’s life around. This movie sounds like it was written by an older person who laments a loss of control and understanding in the entertainment world as new technology and trends become more popular and profitable. Although the performances are good (including a guest appearance from Tig Notaro), this movie is essentially a eulogy for a sad clown that is too long and not funny or sad enough at the right times.
Dream is Destiny
Instead of watching this movie about Richard Linklater’s filmmaking legacy (School of Rock, Bad News Bears, Boyhood, etc.), you can just look up his filmography on IMDB. Trust me when I say you won’t miss much. The film was made by Louis Black, one of the performers in Slacker (Linklater’s first film that brought him fame) and founder of the Austin Chronicle, who is clearly a friend and didn’t seek the opinions of anyone who didn’t love Linklater for this film.
The question of 2016 should be: “where aren’t the Duplass Brothers?” After signing a huge deal with HBO, it seems the brothers (creators of Togetherness, The One I Love, Animals, etc.—also Jay Duplass plays Adam on Transparent) have hit a moment of indie stardom that is unprecedented and unparalleled. They produced this movie, directed by Linas Phillips, focuses on Todd, a man who struggles to maintain a relationship with his developmentally delayed brother Sean (called Shonzi) as his brother’s sexually aggressive comments and behaviors threaten to unravel his relationship with his girlfriend, Lindsay. While the movie does an excellent job of exploring what it is like to live with someone who is idiosyncratic and impossible to change, I’m not a fan of cringe comedy, which I think broke this one for me.
Artist and Repertoire
The sheer amount of footage explore in this documentary about British music label boy genius James Lavelle is impressive, but a lack of knowledge of the British music scene in the 1990s and 2000s make it difficult to stay invested. Although this film is clearly a lovingly made portrait, it’s just too long and inaccessible for those without prior experience with the subject matter.
Feature photo VIA Pexels.