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rochefort [Film Festival 03.24.10] movie news



[Editor's note: Huge thanks to rochefort for representing Quiet Earth at SXSW 2010. Get some sleep man and sorry about the computer.]

Austin, Texas. South by Southwest 2010 is over and I have a screwed-up sleep cycle, crashed computer and empty wallet to prove it - but I don't regret a single minute. Met a lot of nice people, ate good food and saw a lot of movies. This year I ended up with kind of an even split between premieres and flicks that have already been written about here at Quiet Earth and so I'll just give my quick two cents on the previously-covered ones. I also figured I'd offer up a few observations and what-not for anyone thinking of coming to the next one. I've lived in Austin the better part of the last twelve years and have tried to pay attention to the patterns that emerge in our fair city during big events like ACL, SXSW and Fantastic Fest, so maybe somebody will glean a benefit or two from a local's perspective.

Read on for more tips, thoughts and mini-reviews.


Sneak Preview

"Predators"

I was part of the press screening for the "Predators" sneak, and they showed us two teasers - the second featuring a couple of extra shots - and a quick clip from the film. By now the setup is pretty obvious: a small group of people have been brought together (to what Adrien Brody's character calls a "game preserve") as apparent prey for the title creatures. Some of the characters have military backgrounds, some are criminals, etc., and the overall premise bears more than a little resemblance to a right-down-the-middle combo of the original "Predator" and "Lost".

I wasn't too surprised to find that pretty much everything we'd seen was made available in some online form or another within less than a day, so there's not much in the way of insider information I can give based on the footage, although I'll readily admit that I like what we've all seen so far. What I can say is based more on local hearsay and the feeling in the air; a lot is riding on this one for Rodriguez and company, and they're pushing this one in a strategic manner that underscores a level of uncertainty about the film's chances that, honestly, seems unfounded. Rodriguez sitting this one out as a director is a smart move; his sophomoric leanings are too close to the 80's cheese that occasionally characterizes the original film, and aren't a good fit for a state-of-the-art update. I haven't seen "Armored", director Nimrod Antal's latest film, but I'm a big fan of "Kontroll", and Antal's sensibilities will likely elevate the subject matter just enough, while not sacrificing the necessary ass-kicking. The general impression "on the ground" is that "Predators" will fully deliver, and be a deserving hit.


TIP #1: - The first thing to know is that, geographically, Austin is smaller than L.A., and bigger than Manhattan. Sounds obvious, I know, but what this really means is that you need a car to get around in this town, but you don't have to drive it absolutely everywhere. Figure out the best zones to park (usually on the outskirts of downtown), spend the seven to ten bucks for all-day parking, and then walk or use the shuttles to get from one place to another. Your first day will be a little trial-and-error, but I think you'll find that as of day two you have no trouble getting to and from your favorite bars, restaurants, theaters and such (most of which are right in the middle of downtown) with ease.

Mini-Review #1:

"Enter the Void"
Rating: 9/10

A singular experience, and one that you must see on the big screen if at all possible. Gaspar Noe's piece about a young Westerner in Japan who gets killed during a drug raid, and then spends the rest of the film making good on his promise to never leave the side of his mentally-imbalanced sister, is a polarizing one, and for all the right reasons. Not nearly as dark or disturbing as his previous film "Irreversible", "Enter the Void" mixes CGI, model-work, state of the art dolly-and-crane cinematography, brilliant location choices, and stunning set design into an almost 3-hour running time, each technique blending into the next so seamlessly that it feels like you're watching through the eyes of a spectre that can in fact go anywhere, and in less than a dozen unbroken takes.

This is definitely art-house fare, and if you're only interested in a story that's told in the traditional style, with the usual arcs and a clear-cut three-act structure, then this one may prove to be an endurance test. And if you have a problem with lots and lots of nudity, hyper-stylized sex (including scenes that guarantee the film could never receive an R-rating in the states without cutting a substantial chunk of its running time), and graphic depictions of things most filmmakers would never depict with the level of frankness (or sly humor) on display here, then you should also probably hold off on this one. But when the day comes and your frustration peaks at the level of bland predictability that dominates many modern films, then check this one out and have your faith restored in the power of cinema. So good that its opening credits sequence garnered applause.

TIP #2 - With regards to SXSW Film, specifically, read the schedule as soon as you get it, make a list with at least two backups for everything, and accept that the lines for most movies tend to be longest during the first four days of the fest, which means that even things you've never heard of will probably require your arrival at the venue at least an hour early. And ask around and pay attention to the size of each venue. The Paramount is the majestic downtown centerpiece where a lot of the higher-profile premieres happen, and has twice the seating capacity of most of the other venues, which means you shouldn't lose hope when you see the long lines. But at smaller theaters, especially the Ritz downtown, once the line gets longer than a block you should probably shift to the next favorite on your list.

Mini-Review #2

"Harry Brown"
Rating: 6/10

This one's kind of an odd choice, as it doesn't really scream "Festival Must-See". Michael Caine is the titular character, a retired ex-soldier who takes the law into his own hands and fights back against the young dealers and thugs that litter the dangerous streets of South London in director Daniel Barber's classier take on "Death Wish". While definitely a lot less self-conscious than "Gran Torino" (and much more entertaining), there's a good chance that you've seen this story before in any number of "take the neighborhood back"-style movies, many of which seemed to crop up once a week back in the seventies. But Caine fully delivers, particularly in the transitional scene where he confronts a group of grungy dealers in a pot warehouse. Without him there would be no reason for this movie to exist, and it's maybe best to go into it expecting an unofficial (and alternate reality) sequel to "Get Carter".

TIP #3 - I've been to enough fests and events in cities throughout the U.S. to know that not all places are the same when it comes to civility and general hospitality. One thing you'll likely hear a lot of people say about their Austin experience is that "the people are really nice". And that's true, for the most part. But year after year, a lot of the locals become more and more overwhelmed by the sheer number of out-of-towners that take over their favorite spots and clog the traffic for days on end. So take every opportunity to be nice right back.

If you want to know the easiest and most constructive method to engender goodwill in any Austin film festival, here it is: once the lights go down, turn off your cell phone! Don't talk, text, twitter, or otherwise ruin the experience for anyone else. In every case where a bright phone light would go off in the theater (often resulting in a quick reprimand and embarrassed exit), the offender would turn out to be someone who has never experienced the welcomely draconian policy towards noise and distractions practiced by the Alamo Drafthouse, one that has extended to all the companion venues at each Austin film fest. Don't ruin the proceedings with your neurotic techno-obsession. If you're really that in-demand and important, you don't need to waste your time watching movies anyway.

Mini-Review #3

"Le Donk and Scor-Zay-Zee"
Rating: 7/10

Paddy Considine is Le Donk, and Le Donk is a loser, a roadie who doesn't travel much, a bad boyfriend, and soon to be father, even though his girl has moved on. His only friend, a rapper who calls himself Scor-Zay-Zee, is the one with the real talent and prospects, and Le Donk is hoping that an upcoming Arctic Monkeys concert will offer an opportunity for Scor-Zay-Zee's big break, especially since filmmaker Shane Meadows has asked to follow Donk around for a few days, gathering footage for a slice-of-life documentary about the Monkeys concert from a roadie's perspective. This meta-mockumentary starts off as another entry in the "comedy of discomfort" genre made so recently palatable by the likes of the British "Office", but Meadows, whose previous work includes such excellent films as "Dead Man's Shoes" (which features co-writer Considine in a much, much darker role than here) and "This Is England", knows how to gracefully thwart expectations. By the end of "Le Donk" it's snuck up on you just how sweet-natured and redemptive the whole thing is. A surprising feel-good film.

TIP #4 - Don't name-drop or try to impress Austinites with your money or connections. Most of us simply don't care. This is a city where even the richest people tend to dress like they've just gotten back from Burning Man. The only exception is when it comes to tipping your wait staff, but honestly, people who don't tip suck no matter what city they're in, "Reservoir Dogs" be damned.

Mini-Review #4

"The Loved Ones"
Rating: 8/10

One of my top five movies of this year's fest, "The Loved Ones" is one of two examples (the other being "A Serbian Film") that prove it may be a little premature to write off every movie that gets labeled (often by conservative critics) as "torture porn". Tightly scripted, acted, shot (on the Red, no less, and it looks amazing), and paced, director Sean Byrne's story follows very screwed-up weird girl Lola (Robin McLeavy) who, along with her just-as-screwed-up dad concocts a disturbing solution to being spurned by Brent (Xavier Samuel) after she asks him to the school dance. Byrne achieves an excellent tonal balance between horror and black comedy through to the end, and ups the ante even further by cross-cutting with a second story (concerning Brent's best friend and his date, a troubled goth girl) that converges in a manner both unexpected and subtly satisfying. If this one doesn't get picked up stateside, then American distributors have officially and completely fallen out of touch with what makes a good horror film.

Tip #5 - Give yourself as much time in advance for restaurants as you do the events themselves. If you go to any place within five miles of downtown, expect to wait at least a half hour for the bulk of the festival dates. Add twenty minutes to any eatery that features barbecue, Mexican, or Tex-Mex, and another half hour if it's one of the top-recommended in town (which I won't mention by name here cuz they don't need the shill anyway).

TIP #6 - Don't be afraid to meet people. You're going to spend a lot of time in line, and that's an excellent place to make new friends. And believe me, you will see some of them over and over. Be sure to have a handy way of taking down contact info, because next year you're probably going to be sleeping on at least one of their couches.

Hope you enjoyed this catch-all recap. See you next year!

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