Friday, March 20, 2009

SXSW Day Six: Still Bill, Youssou N'dour: I Bring What I Love, The Eyes of Me, and The Slammin' Salmon

Not much time to write or anything particular to say, so Wednesday's movies:

Still Bill

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount (SXSW Special Screenings)

The recording studio that occupies a fair-sized chunk of Bill Withers's Los Angeles home in Still Bill is a tremendous tease. It's new-looking, with plenty of digital tools, which certainly suggests that the man behind "Lean on Me" and "Just the Two of Us" has written and recorded new music relatively recently, even though his last album came out in 1985.

Still Bill doesn't get into the specifics of the conflicts between Withers and Columbia Records back then; that information is out there for those who want to look. Instead, it gives us a look at Withers' life and personality to perhaps explain why he was able to just walk away from show business when many other men would fight the labels or do whatever was necessary to stay in the public eye. It's not so much that he's a man at peace with himself - indeed, he's wise enough to say, in a roundabout sort of way, that his calm demeanor owes as much to shyness as it does to contentment. He is fairly content; one of the aphorisms he offers to the camera and to his children is "on the way to wonderful, you'll pass through all right. Stop and take a look around, because you may be staying," and he does seem to be all right with all right.

Indeed, he seems to have come to that realization before he made it in show business. We learn about his childhood in Slab Fork, West Virginia, a played-out coal town, followed by stints in the Navy and working for various aerospace companies. not only is Bill a fine storyteller, but we go on trips with him, back to Slab Fork to visit a childhood friend and to reunions with Navy buddies and high-school classmates. A scene where Bill walks through a white graveyard to visit the overgrown patch where his father and other relations are buried says more about the segregation of his youth than words could; it's close to being randomly placed stones in the middle of the woods.

Full review at EFC.

Youssou Ndour: I Bring What I Love

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount (SXSW 24 Beats per Second)

Youssou Ndour is the biggest pop star in Africa; he is also a devout Sufi Muslim. Which, apparently, is fine as long as those two qualities don't intermingle as they did on his album Egypt, a disc full of devotional songs that was tremendously well-received internationally but led to criticism in his native Senegal. I Bring What I Love follows him as he tours Europe to packed audiences but fights censorship and derision at home.

It's a nice enough movie, although I found myself wanting a little more from the end: Senegal has no time for Egypt at all, and then, after Ndour wins the Grammy, everything is hunky-dory? There's something to be said about how it took outside validation for Senegal to accept the album, but this movie skips right past that potentially interesting idea.

The Eyes of Me

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 18 March 2009 at the Alamo Lamar #1 (SXSW Lone Star States)

A good-intentioned documentary that will probably find its natural home on local public television sooner rather than later. This story about Austin's high school for the blind does do some neat things with animation to demonstrate how the visually impaired kids perceive the world (all four were sighted at one point).

The Slammin' Salmon

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 18 March 2009 at the Alamo Lamar #1 (SXSW Speical Screenings)

Hmm... Maybe I'm going to have to revisit Broken Lizard in the future. Most of the previews for their movies have done nothing for me, so I've skipped their releases, and to be perfectly honest, I wasn't terribly interested in this one.

The Slammin' Salmon takes a while for me to get into - aside from Michael Clarke Duncan, who is a blast from his first minute on the screen - but it's a little engine that could of comedy, plugging away constantly to make you laugh, and after a bit, the film's pace and sense of humor clicked with me, to the point where I was laughing pretty darn hard by the end.

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