SXSW Narrative Film Reviews

Upon diagnosis of a life-threatening oral cancer, Riley (Aly Michalka) departs the dysfunction of her family, both new and old, with intentions of ending her life amongst the picturesque backdrop of Sequoia National Park.  En route she befriends an introspective, Mandolin playing musician Ogden (Dustin Milligan), who’s devout Christian background, as well as immediate attraction to a her, relays a  most admirable persuasion for Riley to think twice.  ‘Sequoia‘ is a small, philosophical look at the nature of family, relationships and life in general, never swaying from its wide angle perfect setting.  With fluid, verite style camera movements, balancing between first hand and observer, viewers are never too far away from the action and emotion of its attractive leads. Sporting a diverse supporting cast (including former Daily Show correspondent Demetri Martin alongside and Lou Diamond Phillips and many others) ‘Sequoia‘ is a universal story about losing control and the those affected along its periphery.

SXSW_Dance_With_Reality‘The Dance of Reality’
The hallucinatory cinema of Alejandro Jodorowsky is truly the stuff of celluloid legend. His midnight feature favorites ‘El Topo‘ and ‘The Holy Mountain‘ are counter culture classics, combining themes of religion, philosophy, economic criticism against art house, auteurist backdrops.  Without a film in nearly three decades, Jodorowsky returns with an autobiographical tale of early life in Chile, produced and acted by several members of his own family creating an encompassing meta depiction of familial bonds and social turmoil. Crossing genre’s from musical to activist cinema, ‘The Dance of Reality’ admittedly is for the truest of cinephiles.  As most previous Jodorwsky films, its disregard for most elements of traditional narrative, especially in its scene to scene approach, features nothing in terms of desire for linear cohesion.  The film centers around Jodorwosky’s father, a devout communist ready to assassinate and overthrow a corrupt and materialistic government.  Following this journey from seaside village to capital city, and all the colorful, eccentricities encounters along the way builds a story of childhood, revolution and the nature of maturity.  ‘The Dance of Reality’ is not accessible cinema yet a natural addition to counter culture filmmaking at its best.

SXSW_Jimi_All_Is_By_My_Side‘Jimi: All is By My Side’
The story of Jimi Hendrix has been one long sought after within filmmaking circles independent and studio.  A combination of the right leading man along with the logistical realities of music licensing have made this a particularly elusive project for many an admirable filmmaker.  Now, ‘12 Years a Slave‘ scribe John Ridley has successfully written and directed this small film capturing a year in the life of Hendrix as he traverses the streets of mod heavy London en route to his career defining Monterrey Pop Festival gig.  Outkast’s Andre ‘3000’ Benjamin inhabits the role of Jimi Hendrix with a laid back approach, supported by a strong cast representing those instrumental in his rise as a musician and icon, lead by a dynamic performance from up and coming star Imogen Poots.  With Ridley’s multi-dimensional look at the volatile persona behind the legend, combined with a silky smooth editing schematic and in your face sound design, more than make up for the lack of licensing available.

Having played to strong receptions over its Sundance Film Festival premiere, Lenny Abrahamson‘s bizarre ‘Frank’ is a road trip following an experimental musical troupe determined to make it big with the perfect combination of style and substance.  Opening on the shores of England, ultimately finding its way to the busy streets of Austin, the unpronounceable group led by the elusive yet talented Frank, complete with paper mache head,experiences a series of growing pains representative of a band in logistical crisis.  As the band brings on Jon, a shy keyboardist with a musical output still to be desired, out of necessity ideological rifts immediately form, especially from aggressive sidekick Clara (Maggie Gylenhaal).  ‘Frank‘ is a hilarious yet uneven (and non sensical) film who’s SXSW focused payoff seems more of a cop out than natural execution.  Regardless, as Frank, Michael Fassbender gives his impressive acting resume a unique new addition, especially when the mask comes off exposing a much more vulnerable character than lead to believe prior.  ‘Frank‘ is accessible, humorous and fun, as long as one sets their critical thought aside and goes for the ride.

David Gordon Green continues to stray farther from his mid-career foray of big budget comedy with his most dark and brutal film to date.  Teateringly dangerously close to Southern culture exploitation, ‘Joe‘ ultimately is a multi facetted look at complex characters and the origins of behavior in an unforgiving culture.  Driven by a strong performance from Nicholas Cage, in a pseudo return to independent film roots, albeit not quite the go-for-broke ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans‘, his Joe Ransom is a complicated character to say the least.  Once a criminal who still harbors a violent and trouble to seek persona, Joe now finds himself determined as a hard working, out for himself type character.  When accosted for work by the shy, laborious young Gary (‘Mud‘ child star Tye Sheriden), Joe gets much more than he bargained for as Gary’s abusive father and a hot tempered local continually follow him with less than kind intentions.  Its a dog eat dog world (in this film, literally) where Joe, Gary and the rest of us are just trying to survive within it.

Adolescent scam artist Marty hates his mortgage company temp job but loves horror, comics, death metal and, especially, the blade fingered cult character Freddy Krueger. Volatile by nature, as the paranoia increases over an incredibly short window his desire for isolation brings him from a coworkers basement and to the streets of Detroit where a final fraud scheme may eventually meet its match.  A slacker of the tallest order, Marty consistently lacks any form of sympathy towards his outbursts on the world in which he chooses to inhabit.  The execution of ‘Buzzard‘ is as if Mike Judge created his own classic ‘Office Space’ while in the throws of a multi day Crystal Meth bender, where paranoia leads to unabashed anger oozing from every pore. ‘Buzzard‘ is nihilism of the millennial generation, a combination of old world tricks and new world angst.

There may have not been a more appropriately titled film at SXSW this year than ‘Creep‘, an as small in scope horror film as one is going to get.  Essentially a two person run around featuring writer, director and star Patrick Brice as a struggling videographer in a suburban Los Angeles setting responding to a Craigslist style ad from Mark Duplass‘ remote cabin.  Requiring a video letter to an unborn son, Duplas’ Josef  claims inevitable death from a particularly lethal brain cancer, drawing inspiration from a little known Michael Keaton vehicle ‘My Life‘.  As things progress from kind of creepy to full blown uncomfortable, an increasingly odd game of pseudo-friendship ensues, complete with winding hikes with heart shaped rock payoffs to pseudo rape stories featuring hairy werewolf masks (Josef analogizes the wolf frequently).  Shot entirely as POV with a consumer, Go Pro style camera, produced by the same house who brought ‘Paranormal Activity‘ and ‘Insidious‘ to multiplexes everywhere, ‘Creep‘ plays as a younger sibling to those films while staking its own place within the found footage genre.  With a handful of continuity errors aside, ‘Creep‘ is undeniably atmospheric with a shocking and brutal payoff.

– Steve Rickinson



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