Hey, MGK’ers – very occasional guest-poster Dan Solomon here. I’ve spent the past few days busying myself with the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX, and I wanted to share with you the future of film as we know it. Or something like that – anyway, here is a report on the first five movies I’ve seen.
What It Is: A debut comedy about a serious sleaze who joins a support group for people with poor body-image because he wants to do it with one of the girls, and seduces her by enabling her bulimia.
Who’s In It: The co-directors and their girlfriends, some actors you’ve never heard of in your life, and, inexplicably, Margaret Cho for about two minutes.
Is It Good? Actually, it’s amazing. The screening on Friday night was introduced by Patton Oswalt, who hasn’t got a film in the festival, or even a gig in town – he was just taken enough by the picture to help promote it. His promotion included name-dropping the fact that other famous folks, like Joss Whedon, had seen the screener and loved it. If I were famous, he could cite me, too – The Snake is hilarious, and it manages to make a comedy about a protagonist with no redeeming qualities that neither offers him redemption nor asks you to sympathize with him in any way.
How It Will Change Film As We Know It: The thing, while it’s drop-dead hysterical, looks like it may as well have been shot on a cell phone camera. The sound in certain scenes is full of background noise that makes you strain to hear the actors. Technically, the thing is a mess. And after five minutes, there’s no reason to care. If this one catches on, it could change the rules a bit in the same way that Clerks did fifteen years ago.
Alexander the Last
What It Is: The fifth movie from some dude named Joe Swanburg about how it’s really really hard to be a white person with artistic and creative ambition in your twenties in New York, and how it’s especially hard to be that sort of person and married, because you’ll be attracted to other people sometimes and you might have to stop being 100% self-absorbed for a little while as you decide not to fuck anyone else.
Who’s In It: The girl from Teeth is the female lead, some skinny dude with a punchable face is the male lead, and the dude who played Grover in Kicking and Screaming (the 90’s one, not the Will Ferrell one) has a small part.
Is It Good? It is most decidedly not good, no. The film expects you to be concerned enough with the plight of these attractive people who do nothing but make art and googly-eyes at each other all day that it doesn’t give them any sort of personality at all. And I’m not being mean and saying, oh, their personalities are bland, therefore they don’t have them – seriously, there’s nothing to them, like, as a stylistic choice. It tries to be a character-based picture, but it tells us nothing about the characters. Big-time flop.
How It Will Change Film As We Know It: It had its world premiere last night at SXSW, and it was simultaneously shown on IFC, which could potentially be a new business model, I guess. It could also inspire a bunch of similar navel-gazing, if it somehow becomes a hit.
What It Is: Holy cow, pretty much the coolest, scariest horror movie since, I dunno, the last cool, scary horror movie.
Who’s In It: Stephen McHattie, who played Hollis Mason in Watchmen, is the lead here as the Kinky Friedman-esque iconoclastic host of a small Ontario town’s radio morning show.
Is It Good? The first 2/3 of the movie are fucking incredible. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but it’s a rare horror movie that’s able to be as tense and that terrifying as Pontypool without showing you much of anything in the way of scary images. The thing falls apart a little bit toward the end, when it tries (with a plot point cribbed from Snow Crash) to explain what’s behind the “horror” incident.
How It Will Change Film As We Know It: Giving Stephen McHattie some more work would be a significant enough achievement, but I suspect Pontypool is successful enough at finding a genuinely original way to scare audiences and defy convention that it will be ripped off for years to come.
What It Is: A documentary about Rachel Scdoris, the first legally blind athlete to race in the Iditarod.
Who’s In It: Rachel Scdoris, duh. Also her dad, whom the director seemed to try turn into a bad guy even though he didn’t deserve it, as well as Joe Runyan, a former Iditarod champion.
Is It Good? Kinda? Not particularly compelling, which is mind-blowing, considering the source material. You can tell that the director didn’t have much rapport with Scdoris, as she’s pretty guarded through the whole thing, and there’s not really an actual narrative or viewpoint – we just follow her around as she races, and occasionally her dad is played as a jerk living vicariously through her. Some of the photography is amazing, though.
How It Will Change Film As We Know It: I can’t imagine it will, really. Maybe they’ll do it as a narrative film, a la Snow Buddies? That’d be cool.
Anvil!: The Story of Anvil
What It Is: Anvil were a powerhouse of Canadian heavy metal that inspired Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and more. They toured Japan and were cited as monsters of rock and roll, back in 1982. A few years later, they were working crappy day-jobs and forgotten, while their peers were busy getting famous. This is the story of what went wrong.
Who’s In It: The dudes from Anvil, of course, as well as metal luminaries like Lars Ulrich, Lemmy, Slash, and more, most of whom spend their screen time gushing over how good Anvil were.
Is It Good? Absolutely. This is one of those documentaries like Murderball or Spellbound that sells its story better than fiction ever could. Mostly it’s due to subjects who are endlessly fascinating, a couple lucky breaks in the events that heighten the drama, and a lot of compassion for the people on screen.
How It Will Change Film As We Know It: Film? Who knows. Rock and roll? Well, Anvil are playing a showcase during SXSW Music now, thanks to the newfound attention they’re receiving in response to the documentary. If it’s not too late for some dudes in their 50’s to become rock stars after all, then everything you thought you knew about when to give up your dreams is wrong.
The festival’s only a few days old, so that’s all I’ve got. If there’s anything else amazing going on, I may sneak in another post.