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SXSW ’08! Capone On Midnight Movies! OTIS, THE WACKNESS, And DANCE OF THE DEAD!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Capone’s at SXSW, too?! Curse you, Capone! Wait... after some of the near-misses you’ve had this year, I won’t even say that in jest. You’ve narrowly escaped my wrath, but just for now, Capone. Just. For. Now.

Hey everyone. Capone here, with the second of my SXSW 2008 reports, this one focusing on some of the wild and wacky midnight showings that I hit. These are also the reasons I got no fucking sleep for three nights in a row despite have two 9am interviews on consecutive mornings. Ouch. Read on… OTIS Part serial killer, part revenge flick, OTIS is a better-than-average horror film, elevated by strong performances across the board from the likes of Daniel Stern, Illeana Douglas, and Kevin Pollack. You've probably read plenty of plot summaries of this film, but essentially OTIS is about a deranged man-child (newcomer Bostin Christopher) who kidnaps young women that remind him of a girl he had a crush on in high school; she may have been his older brother's (Pollack) girlfriend--it's a little unclear and probably not important. We see the final moments of one young woman's life in Otis' death room set up in his unassuming suburban home. She refuses to play out his "prom night" fantasy scenario and is dealt with severely. Next he kidnaps young Riley (the lovely Ashley Johnson), daughter of Stern and Douglas, sister of Reed (Jared Kusnitz). The family tries to find her, with or without the help of an annoying and offensive FBI investigator (Jere Burns). We spend a lot of time watching Otis attempt to chip away at Riley's strong will and play out his prom scene. She's smart enough to know that if she appears to be giving in, he'll drop his guard, and sure enough, she manages to escape after many days as his captive. At this point OTIS goes from fairly run-of-the-mill torture porn grist to something different. Riley lands in he hospital and her family manages to keep her awake just long enough to find out where Otis' house is. Without informing the authorities, the clan plots to destroy the grotesque murderer. Bad timing is a cruel mistress when Pollack shows up at Otis' house unannounced and meets the family. What the family does to him is far worse and more graphic than anything we see in the film, and that may be more than most people can handle. It's the second half of the film that didn't work for me, and not because an innocent man is brutalized by a crazed family of vigilantes. It just isn't that strong, as if the film doesn't know where it once to go once it reaches its big twist on the standard psycho-killer story. Director Tony Krantz has a terrific visual flair (it's the film's strongest asset), but the script by Erik Jendresen and Thomas Schnauz loses its way. I mentioned earlier that the performances are across-the-board great…with one major exception: Jere Burns as the FBI agent is horrible. He overplays the part to the point where it nearly tanks the entire work, and he's in the film so much that he may have pushed me to not recommending it. If you think you can handle one truly lousy acting work, you may come out of OTIS really digging it. I wasn't quite there, but there are certainly things to like about this film. THE WACKNESS Come to think of it, this film wasn't technically part of SXSW, but I don't care, the writer-director said I could write about it before it's release (whenever that is), and I'm compelled to do so. Ain't It Cool hosted a super-secret special midnight screening on Saturday night, which forced me to blow off my intended midnight choice, SHUTTLE (sorry, SHUTTLE guys), and bask in the glory of this loopy period film (if you consider the mid-'90s a "period") about the sometimes troubled, often very amusing travails of a high school drug dealer, his intense stoner therapist, and his beautiful daughter. For the simple reason that ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE never opened or screened in Chicago, I still haven't seen writer-director Jonathan Levine's last film, but I was damned if I'd miss THE WACKNESS, which nearly everyone I know who saw it at Sundance said was strong stuff. Josh Peck plays Luke, a white kid completely immersed in hip-hop culture--from the clothes to the lingo to the constant string of classic rap tunes that comes from his countless mix tapes (that's how old school he is: no CDs). If I say nothing else about this film, the music selections are fantastic. Even though I'm sure it's not true, it feels like there is music playing non-stop throughout the film. I was pretty much bobbing my head for the duration. (Levine even had a killer mix tape playing before the film started; remember when Ice Cube was a rap artist?) Peck reminds me of a young David Krumholtz, with that same cocky confidence and sly way of staring at you. What's interesting about Luke is how much confidence he lacks when it comes to meeting and talking to women. He has a desperate crush on Stephanie (JUNO's Olivia Thirlby), whose psychiatrist father (Ben Kingsley) just happens to be Luke's client and therapist (he trades weed for sessions). There's a rich humor in THE WACKNESS, especially coming from Kingsley, who is as unpredictable as I've ever seen him. Just the way he chooses to read a line seems so strange and wonderful that you just sit there in awe of his power as an actor. The good Dr. Squires is married to the desperately unhappy Kristin (Famke Janssen), who is only seen in a couple of scenes with Kingsley, but they are pure domestic anxiety personified. There is something so tragic about a beautiful woman in a shitty marriage, isn't there? Luke and Squires start to hang out and become friends, but each has ulterior motives. Luke wants to date the doctor's daughter without interference; the doctor wants to use Luke's youth as a babe magnet at seedy bars. Much has been discussed about Kingsley make-up session and dry humping of a hippie chick played by Mary-Kate Olsen, and you know what? It's exceedingly sexy The conversations the two men have are part stoner philosophy, part genuinely thought-out genius. Either way you slice it, it's messed up and hilarious, but you have to put aside all forms of political correctness and shame to thoroughly appreciate this movie. The love story between Luke and Stephanie is at times awkward, but it does broach into the realm of being sincere and sweet. Still, the film's final act loses its direction just a little with a bit of cinematic rambling when Luke gets his heart broken at the same time his home life utterly falls apart. This is a minor point and it certainly doesn't wreck the film, because the rest of THE WACKNESS is so strong. Levine has captured a lifestyle and time in recent history so vividly that you almost want to give the guy a hug after you watch the film. He captures first love (followed quickly by soul-crushing heartbreak) so beautifully that it actually make my ice-cold heart stir just a bit. Above all else, THE WACKNESS made me laugh until my brain her a little. I'll say it again, never underestimate Kingsley. He's as good an actor as anyone working today, and he takes more chances (not always with this level of success) than just about anyone. Levine throws a lot of elements into this effort, and nearly all of it sticks together effortlessly. Now somebody put out MANDY LANE so I can get to know this groovy filmmaker a bit better. DANCE OF THE DEAD There were certainly more intellectually accomplished films at SXSW this year, but DANCE OF THE DEAD had by far the best crowd enthusiasm behind it of anything I saw. The premise is simple but the execution is where the film excels. Much like the new film TEETH, a nuclear power plant is blamed for a horrible event in a small town. Only instead of vagina dentata, this small town in Georgia is plagued by the walking dead coming to eat the living on one of the most important evenings of the year: Prom Night. Director Gregg Bishop clearly knows his zombie lore and heartily borrows from other horror films. The almost acrobatic zombies popping out of their grave like they were shot out of a canon. Some of them (presumably the ones whose vocal chords haven't rotted away) can still talk, saying only one word: "Brains!" Some of them just moan or scream. But they look great, and they look great. Logic should not be applied to this film. Fox example, if you follow the Romero rule book that a zombie's primal motivation stems from the core of its brain, why do the arms and legs of the zombies in DANCE OF THE DEAD still move and attack after they are severed from the body? Who cares? It's zombies at the prom!! What really shines through with this little unsigned gem is the love of the horror genre and the amount of effort that went into making this an adrenaline-fueled, blood-soaked rush. I also completely bought the fact that since most of the heroes in the film are teens who are just as concerned with how they look and which hot girl will pair up with them after this crisis is through. Most of the humor comes this kind of from all-too-believable teen behavior. Though clearly devised as a comedy, DANCE OF THE DEAD doesn't come close to something like SHAUN OF THE DEAD, which did manage to scare me at times. I don't remember jumping in my seat once during DANCE, but that didn't crush my great like of the film. This is not a movie that's going to blow your mind or make you laugh until to weep, but its better than 95 percent of the horror that I see come out in a given year, and for that reason alone, I hope someone snatches up this little wonder and puts it out this summer. Midnight shows of this would absolutely kill; I know the one I saw it at did. Capone
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