Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the lovely Annette Kellerman's last SXSW report. She's got tons to talk to you about, including her thoughts on James Gunn's comedy horror flick SLITHER and my favorite movie of the fest, BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON. Enjoy!!!
Hello all. Annette Kellerman here with my final batch of reviews at the conclusion of SXSW 2006. It’s been a great year of film and fun. Somewhere in between 30 films I managed to squeeze in a Beastie Boys show (ecstasy) and Patton Oswalt delighting a standing room only audience (on a week night, no less) with his priceless stand up. It was a great, well-rounded week. Since many of the films I saw have already been reviewed many times on AICN (V for Vendetta, Awesome! I Fuckin’ Shot That, A Scanner Darkly), I’ll try to focus on some smaller films that haven’t gotten quite as much attention.
I went into this low budget, narrative feature with zero expectations and was pleasantly surprised to find a unique and well-crafted little movie. Director Joe Swanberg effectively blends internet T and A sequences, experimental noise interludes, and a mostly-improvised script that follows the common thread in each of the three protagonists’ stories- the often-detrimental role that technology plays in their personal lives.
While one character is dependent upon his cell phone and computer to keep in touch with his long distant girlfriend, his friend’s relationship is suffering due to his computer addiction. In yet another example of technology skewing reality, another character impresses a new love interest by bragging about an upcoming ‘tour’ with his band-which really turns out be only one iffy show in St. Louis casually mentioned in a few emails.
Although the unscripted character banter sometimes rambles at bit, the format enables an incredible amount of naturalness in each of the actors. It’s easy to connect to characters that sound like they are having an actual conversation rather than spouting out some obviously scripted rhetoric like so many independent films with unseasoned performers.
Have I mentioned that this film has lots of boobs in it? Indeed, in a few well-placed sequences, the film features internet stripping and nudie pics as well as risquÃ© shots of another girl supposedly taken with a camera phone. It’s a pretty ingenious way to throw in some T and A that’s actually appropriate to the story. You boys?
The conclusion of the film is fairly lackluster, but that seems to be the intention. This is one of those stories that just sort of plays out. There’s no big crescendo and resolution. There’s no arc. There are no acts 1,2, and 3. It’s just a slice of these mildly quirky characters’ lives.
Having said all of the above, I have to admit that my favorite parts of the film were the ‘experimental noise’ interludes. Now, I say experimental noise, because the sequences are actually deftly edited sound bites of various actors making crazy noises with their mouths. When edited together, all of the sounds marry to create a completely unique, interesting, and hysterical group of ‘songs’ that are used throughout the feature to give a jolt to the sometimes rambling dialogue. Yet another sly inclusion of extraneous material in such a way that it propels the film along. Bravo.
Another film I checked out was
SLAM PLANET: WAR OF THE WORDS
Directed by Austin locals Mike Henry and Kyle Fuller, this documentary feature follows two of the country’s most prolific Poetry Slam teams (Austin and NYC/Urbana) on their quest for the national championship. Now if you’re not into slam poetry, you may think that this documentary isn’t for you. However, I feel that this kind of documentary would appeal to a wide range of folks. Fans of rap music, political activism, stand up comedy, acting, or any kind of stage performance can appreciate a doc like SLAM PLANET.
Bolstered at the onset by interviews with Norman Lear and Russell Simmons, the film begins with the history of slam poetry and the rules governing the competitions. Soon, the story segues to its main focus- the stories and relationships of the members from the featured teams. From the addiction-troubled (and subsequently rehabilitated) Christopher Lee of team Austin to the custody battle facing team Urbana’s husband/wife duo George and Rachel McGibbins, these subjects prove to be as interesting off the stage as on it.
Within the teams, more drama brews as new alliances phase out old team members and other players are forced to face their irresponsibility.
Aside from the behind-the-slam drama of the individuals is each of their stellar on stage performances. Audiences are wowed by poet after poet utilizing subject matter ranging from racism to rabid consumerism and raising children unconventionally to Janet Jackson’s titty. In group competition we get to see teams in pairs or sometimes all together spouting their well-rehearsed collaborations. These performers work their asses off practicing their routines in preparation for the slam events and incorporate well-calculated strategies into their art. At the end of the day, however, all the teams remember the slam poetry mantra,’ the points are not the point’ and develop an even greater appreciation for the poetry and the friendships it has brought them.
Solid editing by Rita K Sanders keeps the subject matter from getting stale by incorporating brilliant score by DJ Nick Nack and balancing the talking head banter with fun graphics and onstage poetry.
With an overall job well done, I imagine that SLAM PLANET is bound for a channel or DVD store near you.
Another great film at the fest was:
Okay, so this doesn’t exactly fit the ‘smaller film without all the attention’ category, but I couldn’t resist chiming in on this bigger budget B movie. A definite midnight movie, SLITHER is brought to us by Troma vet and Dawn of the Dead writer James Gunn.
Set in a small town, the feature film is a basic tale of alien parasite invasion. In the typical chain of events, the initially infected character becomes the monster of the movie, impregnating his victims with his alien seed, rendering them human incubators ravenous for meat, until they ultimately unleash their own fresh brood of worm like aliens that infect anything with a mouth in their paths.
The effects in the film are stupendous. I love great gore and this film definitely suffers no shortage in that department. Any effect that makes me cringe while gleefully yelling, ‘Damn!!’ at the same time is a winner in my book and those moments are plenty in SLITHER. From exploding bodies to a character shucked like a clam, Gunn never seems to disappoint with the splatter.
Solid performances from Michael Rooker and Elizabeth Banks ground the film and prevent it from going into total schlock. While there is still going to be some inherent silliness in a failed love story between a girl and her alien-host husband, these actors devotion to their characters helps the film avoid total silliness. In a supporting role as a small town police officer investigating the situation, Nathan Fillion masters the intentional comic relief of the film with some unforgettable one-liners.
Complete with sub-stories that tie in perfectly near the end, SLITHER is an all around solid film. Gunn has managed once again to take a tired genre and give it a boost with tight storytelling, directing, and humor. Lots of fun.
My next to last screening for the fest is another film that doesn’t exactly fit into the ‘small film’ category, but since there hasn’t been too much coverage, I thought I ‘d give my two cents on:
I am one of the bazillion people in the US that has fallen victim to American Idol. I admit it, okay. It is one of my guilty pleasures. I am not only entertained by the poor idiots who embarrass themselves on national TV just for the sake of being on TV, but I am also in complete awe of the phenomenon of the show itself. While I know that the British version of the show was wildly popular, it never ceases to amaze me that this machine of a show has been responsible for billions of dollars in record sales, advertising, and even a feature film (albeit a failure, it still got made!). But I digress...
AMERICAN DREAMZ centers on an American Idol type show and its Simon Cowell-ish creator played by Hugh Grant. In the ‘girl next door’ contestant role of Kelly Clarkson (or Carrie Underwood or Kellie Pickler- you decide) insert Mandy Moore as Sally Kendoo. Giving an incredibly likeable performance, Moore depicts the true duplicitous nature of a contestant who knows what it really takes to win- a back story to win over the hearts of the American public voting for their favorite singer. For Sally Kendoo, that ‘back story’ is her soldier boyfriend (Chris Klein) who has returned from Iraq after being injured.
In brilliantly absurd juxtaposition to Kendoo’s storyline, we also follow contestant Omer (fantastic newcomer Sam Golzari), freshly relocated from a terrorist training camp to live with his Americanized cousins in Orange County until he receives instructions from his terrorist cell. Ironically, this subplot provides the biggest laughs of the film. I never thought I’d be laughing at a sequence involving the filming of a terrorist training video, and I was delighted by the passive poking at some of today’s most troubling political issues. In the role of the President, Dennis Quaid shrewdly melds a little Reagan, Clinton, and a whole lotta W into his version of a clueless, yet kind hearted commander in chief.
Director Paul Weitz has once again showed his mastery of comedic film with this new and different subject matter. While the story may deal with some of the pop culture’s biggest clichÃ©s, the film challenges those norms by presenting them in a fresh and often absurd light. It’s so great to see such a good, cohesive comedy. Check it out.
My very last film of the fest was:
BEHIND THE MASK: LESLIE VERNON
Having heard form Quint that this was his favorite narrative feature of the fest, I went into this film with high expectations. Thank goodness I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I think this film was a perfect ending to an incredible festival. BEHIND THE MASK is a slasher film that actually surprised me!
The film begins as a documentary set in a world where Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger are all real. This is a universe where psycho killers hone their skills and set up their back story as well as their victims. In this case, a doc crew follows killer-in-the-making Leslie Vernon and his preparations for his first attack on the typical group of partying teens.
In the initial footage we see an almost happy go lucky Vernon as he stalks his ‘virgin survivor girl’ and plants faulty weapons at the future scene of attack. During one stalking episode, we’re even present for the introduction of his nemesis and former psychologist (a la Dr. Loomis in Halloween) played by none other than Robert Englund.
As the story unfolds and we get to the actual events that Vernon has so carefully planned, the film transforms from documentary to actual slasher film where the documentary crew becomes characters in the drama themselves. Brilliant. Freaking brilliant reworking of a much loved, but extremely tired genre. It bends the clichÃ©s like SCREAM did the first time you saw it- with respect to the original, but retelling the same old story in a thankfully refreshing way.
Director Scott Glosserman does a kick ass job combining the documentary footage with the real slasher stuff. With such a complex story, it would be very easy to lose the pacing of the film to story details, but Glosserman seem to have no problem keeping the story moving forward while covering all the particulars to tie up all the loose ends by the conclusion. I just adore that I was so surprised by this film even after such a glowing review from Quint. I’d recommend checking out BEHIND THE MASK when you get the chance- if not in the theater (although I see no reason why not), you’ll definitely get the chance to see it on cable or DVD. I can’t wait to see what Glosserman does next.
Well, I guess that pretty much rounds out my reviews of SXSW 2006.
Until next time,