Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW Day Four: Blood Trail, MINE, Best Worst Movie, The Two Bobs, and Observe and Report

So, I'm watching Best Worst Movie, remembering how the good folks at the Brattle have programmed Troll 2 once or twice but I have never been able to get to it, and Caitlin Crowley shows up on screen. She's one of the dozens of people in the Boston movie scene I have a thoroughly one-way fondness for, and anyone who is willing to profess their love of an apparently terrible movie in something that, like, hundreds of people may see is even cooler in my book.

Soon after that, the movie includes a montage of places where Troll 2 has played during its recent series of screenings. The Alamo Drafthouse shows up, of course, and the crowd in the Paramount goes nuts. The Brattle is a couple after that, and I raise my hands to applaud, realizing just after the last possible second that one guy applauding sounds just a bit more pathetic than zero guys applauding. Fortunately, I don't make much sound when clapping; not sure why.

Anyway, put that on a list of movies from SXSW I'd like to see playing IFFB - just so I can watch it again and see indifference to the Alamo and applause for the Brattle.

(Why yes, the "and I'm so glad to be showing this in Austin!" is getting on this tourist's nerves. Lack of sleep, I guess.)

Blood Trail

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2009 at the Alamo Ritz #2 (SXSW Special Screenings)

Robert King does not give the impression of a great war photographer when we first see him in Blood Trail. In 1990s Sarajevo, he's walking around a war zone like a naive kid; in 2007 Tennessee, we watch him stumble trying to set up a hunting blind. If the film ended there, one's mind would easily extrapolate the story of a man who had his sanity wrecked from witnessing horrors he wasn't ready to handle.

That's not this film's story, though King is changed by what he sees, as he must be. Instead, we watch him mature as both a journalist and as a man as he moves to Moscow, covers the wars in Chechnya, Kosovo, Rwanda, and Iraq. Colleagues who treated him with derision when he started become close friends; a lifetime of binging between assignments settles down; and the means by which war photographers access the battlefield changes radically.

According to director Richard Parry, this film started out as a comedic short about a callow young American in way over his head, accumulating more depth as Parry (a fellow war journalist) crossed paths with King anew. Those roots occasionally show through, especially during the opening act in Bosnia. It's black comedy; there is, after all, a bit more of an edge to "ha ha ha, that fool's going to get himself killed!" when it's a real war zone with real bullets - but we soon see that a large part of success is surviving one's initial inexperience (true in all fields, if not always so literally so).

Full review at EFC.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2009 at the Austin Convention Center (SXSW Documentary Feature Competition)

There are a lot of fiction films that don't set their main plot up as artfully as MINE does. After all, the title speaks pretty directly to what the movie is about, and yet director Geralyn Pezanoski is able to lull us into looking in a different direction, telling one interesting story that we forget is merely prelude to the main tale.

The opening tells us about how the evacuation of New Orleans, Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina frequently involved people leaving their four-legged family members behind for one reason or another. Fortunately, there are dedicated animal-rescue activists like Karen O'Toole and Jane Garrison, who mobilize almost immediately to rescue stranded pets (O'Toole comments that it's amazing that just by having "animal rescue" painted on the side of their vans, the army would let them into the flooded city when people trying to return to their homes were turned away). It's a gigantic logistical undertaking, not always happy - they come across people who treated their animals terribly, and one rescuer grimly notes that "cats don't bark". In order to make it work, the rescuers must often ship the animals they rescue to other shelters to make room for more incoming.

The trouble with that is, just as people weren't always able to take their pets with them as they escaped, they may not have known how to find them after returning home, or the various humane societies might have put them out for fostering/adoption relatively soon. Victor's bulldog Max is sent to Florida, where a woman adopts him and calls him Joey; Jesse's beloved JJ is sent to California; retired nurse Gloria's black lab Murphy becomes "Shadow" in California; 85-year-old Creole Malvin's poodle Bandit is sent to a shelter in Pittsburgh whose operator won't return any animals; Linda's German Shepherd Precious becomes Katia in Texas and she tries to sue for her return.

Full review at EFC.

Best Worst Movie

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount (SXSW Spotlight Premieres)

A pretty darn entertaining feature on Troll 2 fandom and its cast. It's hard not to love George Hardy, the Alabama dentist who played the lead in Troll 2 twenty years ago and retains a sense of humor about it to this day; he's among the most outgoing and genuinely nice guys you'll ever see. The movie itself is frequently hilarious without being mean-spiritd about what is, apparently, a really bad movie.

(No, I haven't seen it yet. I'm hoping the Brattle pairs it with this sometime in the next few months)

The 2 Bobs

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount (SXSW Spotlight Premieres)

Writer/Director Tim McCaniles described The 2 Bobs as his attempt to do a Kevin Smith movie, which is funny since Smith most recently released his attempt at a Judd Apatow movie. McCaniles makes a pretty entertaining one, though, a zany low-budget story packed full of nerd humor.

I think it will have legs even if you aren't a nerd, though - there are many different genuses of nerds, after all, with this movie's main source of gags being games and gamers, a group of which I am not a member. It's not quite so good/universal as Fanboys, but I liked how agreeably madcap it is.

Observe and Report

* * (out of four)
Seen 16 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount (SXSW Spotlight Premieres)

This one, not so much. It does have some huge, huge laughs, don't get me wrong, and is a nice demonstration that Seth Rogen has more than fat stoner roles in him, but those moments of explosive hilarity come in the middle of long patches of uncomfortable, and not necessarily the sort of uncomfortable that makes one more likely to laugh.

To be fair, though, it's probably the one nice character that messes the balance up. Collette Wolfe's Nell is really too likeable to be attracted to Rogen's goonish character; seeing the movie headed that way makes me cringe much more than a bunch of jerks being jerks to each other.

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