Saturday, March 21, 2009

SXSW Day Seven: Humpday, The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, The Way We Get By, and Exterminators

Once more, I'm finishing this up just before hitting the street to see my first movie of the day. Just one anecdote to mention; I only wound up seeing The Way We Get By because I cut something else too close; I wanted to see Made In China, but it started too soon after The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle. So add another one to the list of movies I missed at SXSW that I hope plays the IFFB (see also For the Love of Movies, The Last Beekeeper, Modern Love is Automatic, and, of course, Lesbian Vampire Killers).


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount (SXSW Spotlight Premieres)

I haven't seen Lynn Shelton's first feature, but My Effortless Brilliance and Humpday form an interesting pattern, and not just in how both are kicked off by an old friend visiting unannounced. Unlike many female independent filmmakers who focus on making movies about women, Shelton opts to explore male relationships.

Here, the unexpected visitor is Andrew (Joshua Leonard), a globetrotting artist. It's two in the morning when he arrives at the Seattle home of Ben (Mark Duplass) and Anna (Alycia Delmore), who are married and ready to start a family. Andrew soon meets up with a local artsy crowd, and Ben's intention to just stop by for an hour becomes a long drink-and-weed-fueled evening. One of the guests mentions and upcoming art-porn fest, and Andrew and Ben hatch the idea of shooting themselves having sex as an expression of their friendship. After they sober up... Well, offering each other the chance to back down triggers a thoroughly incongruous macho response.

There's a scene in the middle of the film that is so sitcom-like that the audience might almost expect to hear a laugh track. From the plot description, you can probably guess what it is. Answering audience questions after, the cast member and crew talked like good indie filmmakers about how they tried to avoid that impression, but in all honesty, I think the sitcom feel of that scene makes it, and maybe even the movie as a whole, work. Shelton has already set up a kind of out-there situation and then pushed it further when it might have been a whole lot more logical for the characters to back down. Inserting a moment that conventional makes it easier for the audience to buy into the story. Besides, things do become conventions because they work on some level, and that scene is darn funny.

Full review at EFC.

The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2009 at the Alamo Ritz #1 (SXSW Emerging Visions)

David Russo had a bunch of nifty ideas that he threw into The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle, and they're the kind of ideas that work as part of this sort of strange stew movie - not big enough to serve as a story's foundation, but good for depicting a film's surreal world. The trick is to arrange and connect them into a movie rather than a movie-sized blob of wacky concepts, and I don't know that Russo does it.

Take the film's zippy opening credits, following a message in a bottle with a bunch of cool photography, editing, and effects work to a kind of funny punchline. It's nifty, and referred back to later, but the link feels obligatory, not strong. It could link to the way Dory (Marshall Allman) is looking for any kind of belief system for guidance, but it's in the wrong place for that. The film has a few clever fantastical bits, but what they build up to isn't as keen as the lead-up. Individual characters' stories fork off and reconnect later, but don't affect each other in the meantime.

The bits are nifty, though. We follow Dory, who joins a custodial service after screaming his way out of a data management company. There, he joins a staff run by transvestite Desert Storm vet Bergsman (Russell Hodgkinson) which also includes junkie lovers Methyl & Ethyl (Tygh Runyan and Tania Raymonde) and would-be artist O.C. (Vince Vieluf). O.C. has a crush on research company exec Tracy (Natasha Lyonne), who upon discovering that the janitors will eat any samples left lying around, uses them as guinea pigs for a cookie that warms itself upon contact with saliva - which also proves to be highly addictive and have certain bizarre side effects.

Full review at EFC.

The Way We Get By

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2009 at the Austin Convention Center (SXSW Documentary Feature Competition)

Film festivals overflow with movies like The Way We Get By, which are little documentaries about reasonably interesting people that have just enough of a spark of something unexpected or unusual that they grow to feature length when their natural size is that of a short. This one feels especially long, because there's only so many ways the Maine Troop Greeters can say they appreciate our soldiers' sacrifice.


* * (out of four)
Seen 19 March 2009 at the Alamo Lamar #1 (SXSW Lone Star States)

Geez, all the effort I went through to see this one - I actually took the shuttle out to Lamar on Sunday, only to be told that it was sold out before I got off the bus - and it's pretty dull. The reason why is quickly apparent: As much as I like Heather Graham, she's a spectator despite being the main character here. Since we follow her, we don't get to enjoy the black comedy of her friends killing rotten guys, nor do we get to solve a mystery with her police detective boyfriend. If you're going to give us a movie about people doing bad things, you've got to really commit to the dark comedy, and ExTerminators keeps it at arms' length.

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