Wednesday, March 18, 2009

SXSW Day Five: Splinterheads, Four Boxes, The Promised Land, and Make Out With Violence

Hey, I'm on vacation. If I think it makes sense for me to post days out of order, I'll go right on and post them out of order!

Basically, Sunday wiped me out but good, leaving me with no time to post its stuff on Monday morning, but I had two reviews in my little notebook. I'll eventually get around to Tuesday, but for now, I'll just skip over it.

Today was an object lesson in both why it pays to get to the theater early, even if you have a badge, but also in how a good program can soften the blow. I was just after the cutoff for The Last Beekeeper, so I moved myself into the line for The Promised Land, since the other option at the Lamar, Eggshells, had this for a description in the program:
Eggshells, an American Freak Illumination Time & Space Fantasy of the exploding Austin inevitable. A crypto embryonic hyper-electric presence duels with itself as Vince Sobrosek goes to the bathroom yelling "listen to yellow dog, goddamn yellow dog!" while the uninvited dinner guests make love to the ghosts of Don Levy and Nic Roeg in a threesome with Carlos Casteneda in a bedroom that paints itself on its way to a wedding and your girlfriend and her lover dance out of the hemoglobin balloon forest as the writer-man takes an axe to the windshield and runs home naked to make love to the girl he loves for her breasts and they all grab seats under the transmogrifying hair dryers as Vince proclaims, "Ye shall know the truth and the truth will make you free." BYO

As much as Tobe Hooper has built (and squandered) a name in horror history... No. Just no.

I did like The Promised Land quite a bit, though, and Make Out with Violence even more so. Then I got shut out of The Horseman, and opted against The Haunting in Connecticut because, even though it's directed by the man who did the brilliant animated short "Ward 13", I looked at the line and felt like I'd be taking the place of people who really wanted to see it early. Plus, the idea of getting a decent night's sleep was starting to appeal.

(And then I wound up staying up because I have to give my roommate the new hotel key after he gets back from his midnight and party and whatever. Joke's on me!)


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount Theater (SXSW Emerging Visions)

Apparently "splinterheads" are a subset of what I've always thought of as "carnies", but that's apparently like calling a sailor, Marine, or airman a "soldier" - outsiders may think it's close enough, but in actuality it's not. Carnies work the rides, splinterheads the midway, and neither does much mixing with the townies.

Justin (Thomas Middleditch) is just about the towniest townie who ever towned. He lives with his mom Susan (Lea Thompson) and works mowing lawns with his best friend Wayne (Jason Rogel). Local cop Bruce (Christopher McDonald) is making Justin's life tough after Susan dumped him because of something Justin said, and he's got a perfect excuse when Justin drives away from a gas station after paying the girl running a game rather than the cashier. Just seens the girl, Galaxy (Rachael Taylor), working the dunk tank at the carnival which just came to town, which figures, doesn't it? So despite her attractiveness, he is somewhat less than pleased when their paths cross again the next morning.

Splinterheads could very easily have poured on the syrup with talk of destiny, fate, and stuff like that. Thankfully, it knows better than to act as if a comedy that goes for the rare triple meet-cute has any real mystery about how it's going to end. It's also not breaking any particular ground in having Galaxy not just be beautiful and outgoing, but have hobbies that are quirky but also show off just how cool she is, while Justin is a perpetually tongue-tied goofball. You can see the thuggish splinterhead boyfriend coming a mile away.

Full review at EFC.

Four Boxes

* ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount Theater (SXSW Emerging Visions)

If you hang on through the end of Four Boxes, everything will make sense. Yes, even the "nobody on earth actually talks like that" dialogue. That doesn't mean that you should hang on to the end, unfortunately, because not only doesn't explaining everything make it good, but there's a whole new bunch of dumb at the end.

Trevor (Justin Kirk) and Rob (Sam Rosen) have a small business where they purchase and resell the property of people who die without heirs. Their latest find is a bizarre mess, with boxes of junk, crime scene tape from where the deceased's wife hanged herself six months earlier. They find a sticky note near the computer for, which Rob says started out as a camgirl site, but the original girl moved out while leaving the cameras live. The new resident is creepy and sinister, and Trevor soon becomes obsessed with the site. As if that wasn't enough, Rob's fiancee Amber (Terryn Westbrook) soon joins them, and the fact that she used to be Trevor's girlfriend makes things uncomfortable.

Watching TV is not the most exciting thing to have your characters doing in a movie. Especially when the program in question is grainy webcam video, and the picture, when blown up to movie-screen size, becomes vague compression-artifcated blobs. Maybe seeing the movie on video rather than the big screen will help with that, but that still leaves the characters not doing much of anything for a good deal of the running time.

Full review at EFC.

The Promised Land

* * * (out of four)
Seen 17 March 2009 at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (SXSW 24 Beats per Second)

The Promised Land may not be a great documentary if you already know something about the swamp pop of Southern Louisiana - it's a broad overview, although if there's any better way to introduce the living legends of a type of music than having them get together and form a supergroup, I can't think of one. The picture is sometimes hard to see, low-resolution and not well-lit.

The music is pretty darn great, though, a Cajun mix of old-school rock & roll, country, and dixie blues, a throwback to fifty years ago before all those influences went their separate ways. The Li'l Band of Gold performs throughout, and there's bits of a couple dozen songs packed into the film's 77 minutes, most of it as yet unreleased. That part is no disappointment at all.

Make-Out with Violence

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 17 March 2009 at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar #1 (SXSW Emerging Visions)

Make-Out with Violence isn't quite so good as Let the Right One In, but that's the film it brings to my mind. Both take horror-movie tropes and twist them into service of a strange story of young love, and have a young boy at the center. Make-Out goes with zombies instead of vampires, and rather than a Swedish winter focuses on the summer after high school graduation in the American suburbs. The critical similarity is that both movies take a genre that is extremely played-out, tie it to a story where I believe in every one of the characters, and still leave me wondering what is going to happen next because it seems fresh and new.

That's fantastic, and the nifty soundtrack doesn't hurt a bit, either.

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