Sunday, March 15, 2009

SXSW Day Two: Sorry, Thanks, Bomber, Objectified, Moon, and Black

Yesterday didn't quite go as planned; I didn't make it to the Paramount in time for Sweethearts of the Rodeo and by the time Moon's Q&A was finished, I would have needed to move at light speed to make it to The Last Beekeeper. The day just got better as it went on, though, and I'm pretty sure I'll be recommending Moon to everybody until Sony Pictures Classics gives it a release.

Today's plan is in flux from the beginning: Ex-Terminators if I make the bus to the Lamar theater, St. Nick otherwise; Letters to the President, then probably The Overbrook Brothers (or maybe something else), Humpday (or Sin Nombre), Women in Trouble, and the work-in-progress print of Drag Me to Hell. But a whole bunch of that could change, I'm not really committed to much more than Drag Me to Hell, and that could easily fill up before I get there.

Sorry, Thanks

* * * (out of four)
Seen 14 March 2009 at The Almao Drafthouse Ritz #1 (SXSW Emerging Visions)

The "mumblecore" generation is, perhaps, starting to get interesting. Digital video is both good and cheap enough that these movies no longer default to looking like a muddy mess. More importantly, the characters are starting to feel much more like interesting individuals, rather than generic artsy twentysomethings.

Take Max (Wiley Wiggins) and Kira (Kenya Miles). We meet them as they wake up after a one night stand. Max is kind of close to the stereotype, an artist frustrated by his job in a senator's San Francisco office. Kim is more outgoing and social, but she's just broken up with her boyfriend of seven years. They think it's a one-time thing, but it turns out that they move in the same circles - and it also turns out that Max has a girlfriend, Sara (Ia Hernandez).

Max gets most of the good lines, but it's Kira that turns out to be the interesting one. There's a surface-friendly sequence of her moving things out of her ex's apartment (we don't know what precipitated the break-up), and it's made clear that her new job as a copy editor is a step down from what she has been doing. We're watching someone scale back and otherwise rearrange her life, very deliberately, but without the usual rancor or grim determination that usually goes with such an activity. Miles navigates this nicely; she shows Kira's generally glass-half-full philosophy in a straightforward, unexaggerated manner. The cracks are also visible, whether they appear unbidden or in an oddly friendly act of romantic sabotage.

Continued at EFC.


* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 March 2009 at The Almao Drafthouse Ritz #1 (SXSW Narrative Feature Competition)

Bomber, when you get right down to it, is the sort of movie where one can see very clearly that if the characters just did what any normal, sane person would do, things would go pretty smoothly. That they don't is okay for the first half or so, because the results are fast-paced and funny, but when the movie comes straight out and tells you what it's about, well, that's not so great, even if it is, ironically, perhaps more realistic.

Ross (Shane Taylor) gets up early, telling girlfriend Leslie (Sara Kessel) that he will be back later to help her with an event she's planning. He's promised he would see his parents Alistar (Benjamin Whitrow) and Valerie (Eileen Nicholas) off on a long-planned trip to Germany. His octogenarian father wrecks his car before even getting out of the garage (despite his meticulous preparation), though, and after the next cut we see Ross driving them through the Netherlands in his work van. Stuffy Alistar complains about Leslie's constant calls on the cell phone (and everything else), but the situation doesn't exactly improve when those calls come to an end.

The story hangs on a decision that doesn't necessarily make a lot of sense - would (a) Ross actually decide to drive them right then, or would they (b) wait a couple weeks until the car is repaired, or (c) take a train? Once they've decided on (a), would they perhaps be a little more accommodating of Ross, rather than insisting on taking B roads or stopping at several things Valerie wants to see? Naturally, if they did, there might not be a movie to be had, but that's okay - even as adults, we can find ourselves subject to our parents' whims, and parents will often have a hard time accepting that their kids know what they're doing. And the action of it is pretty amusing - Whitrow and Taylor are a well-drawn pair of opposites, the stiff-upper-lip member of the Greatest Generation and the touchy-feely modern man, and Ms. Nicholas is just well-meaning enough to annoy both of them in turn.

Continued at EFC.


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 14 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount Theater (SXSW Spotlight Premieres)

Gary Hustwit is carving out a specific documentary niche for himself, talking about design and how it affects our lives. Objectified casts a much broader net than his first feature, Helvetica, and he mentioned during the Q&A that he's working on a third documentary on the subject.

Objectified is a fascinating one to watch; not to take anything away from Hustwit's various interview subjects, who all impart some new and intriguing bit of information, but through the beginning of the movie especially he'll hold his camera on common objects, finding a slightly different angle than the one we usually associate with them and inviting us to study them, making up our minds about what makes them good objects or bad objects, and why, before the various experts break it down. Which they do in clear, easily-understood ways, which is maybe to be expected from people dedicated to making things easy to use. A lot of people can't do this, though, which is why Objectified is an excellent example of an informative, intriguing documentary.

Full review at EFC.


* * * * (out of four)
Seen 14 March 2009 at the Austin Paramount Theater (SXSW Spotlight Premieres)

This is the movie at SXSW that was made just (or mostly) for me. I'm kind of amused that the host introduced it by saying it was a great science fiction movie because it relies more on great acting than special effects, since this movie is full of effects work, although not the kind that announces itself to you. It does have a pretty fantastic performance by Sam Rockwell at its center, and the story is one my hard-sf-loving self adores, even if they didn't have the budget to simulate lunar gravity very well.

I'm loath to say too much about the plot because most of the movie is dependent on a twist that happens fairly early on, but it's a pretty great acting showcase for Rockwell, who seldom shares the screen with other actors, but gets to do something a lot more exciting than just slowly go insane.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 14 March 2009 at the Alamo Drafthouse Lamar #6 (SXSW Presents Fantastic Fest at Midnight)

I wasn't quite so worn out during Black as I was for Ong Bak 2, although I will admit to being a little fuzzy at times. Not fuzzy enough to forget that Black is a whole ton of fun, a French action movie that starts as blaxploitation and then gets crazier from there, dumping a Parisian bank robber back in his native Senegal, and having him run afoul of mercenaries, rivals, arms dealers, undercover cops, wrestlers, witches, and then some really nutty stuff. It's not quite the tight, no moment wasted brand of action we've lately associated with France via Luc Besson's factory, but it is very well-done, especially once the Dakar heist goes down and the action basically doesn't stop until the movie ends. I look forward to seeing it again at Fantasia, just in case there's something I missed.

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