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Review

Harry reviews SXSW 2017 Days 1-3: SONG TO SONG, SMALL TOWN CRIME, ATOMIC BLONDE, MR ROOSEVELT + more

Hey folks, Harry here…  I keep hearing people putting down SXSW, as though there is some competition between it and FANTASTIC FEST – but in my mind…  there is no competition.   Tim League & I could never have built that fest without the years of foundation that SXSW gave us.   Just as the SXSW we’re seeing now, could not have been done without the years of work of the AUSTIN FILM SOCIETY, The Austin Chronicle and the years of stewardship by the various programmers – all building upon one another’s work – year in and year out.

 

I’ve programmed at all 3 of the big festivals here – and I never understood the measuring contest.   It isn’t about that.   It’s about celebrating art.   SXSW has become more than the music festival it started life as…  more than the Music & Film festival it was.   Now – it’s a complete celebration of the imagination and execution of the human mind.   It explores Movies, Music, Comedy, Technology, Science & Politics.   I feel the only thing that could make it even better – would be to include Live Stage performances by acting and theater & dance groups from around the world – as well as a celebration of the athletics that we people push ourselves physically forward by honing mind and body.   

 

The dynamic nature of SXSW is something I’m proud to continue to be a part of.  I’ve attended every year, no matter the physical calamities that life has thrown at me – and I am one of it’s cheerleaders and participants.   This year, it looks like I’ll meet Buzz Aldrin – and that’s the stuff of legend for me.   There are “stars” and there are MOON MEN.  I’m a skywatcher like all us children of science fiction.   I dream about a future that is most likely beyond many of us, but only because there are powers in this world that wish to continue to profit from obstruction, instead of boldly forging what could be a utopian vision for this world.   A world that Buzz has seen rise from that body in the night sky that I never tire of looking at.

 

Let me take you through the first weekend of the festival this Monday morning.   Let’s go.

 

 

Terrence Malick’s SONG TO SONG was the film to kick everything off.  The film isn’t a cookie cutter, easy to digest diversion.   But for me, someone that has taught myself to look past the shrug of…  I DON’T LIKE IT, to let it sit for a few days.   Really think about what the purpose of cinema is – and there is no universal answer to that question.  

 

You are not suppose to like every character you see in a movie.   In some movies, you’re not suppose to like any of the characters.   The film is attempting to make you THINK.   To contemplate your own decisions in your own life.   To look at the captured reality by a master filmmaker and perhaps reach a personal realization, that isn’t being handed to you through…  the various screenwriting methods that you can buy at your nearest book store.

 

Sure – that’s how to tell a lot of stories.  But there are filmmakers that tackle cinema to show the bankruptcy of a life of  excess, not because they get a disease, not because they kill people…   I’m talking about the sorts of people in this world that have reached a level of ludicrous wealth.   The types that can just buy whatever experience they want.  That have given up a degree of their own soul, to constantly use their wealth to experience fleeting things.  

 

SONG TO SONG is this kind of film.   Malick asks you to let go of linear thinking.   Michael Fassbender’s Cook – is a man who has whims – sometimes people are his whims, people with talent that he exploits, people with bodies he exploits, people whose emotions and lives become play things.   He does things because he can – and because it makes him feel…  superior, alive, bad, great…   it keeps him from facing the moral bankruptcy that he has.   He uses these experiences to watch what these lavish experiences are for people.

 

I get that, because as someone that programs films for audiences and shares films with people rather constantly in my life…   Watching how an experience touches someone is a great thing to feed from.   It’s like watching your kids open presents on their birthday or the holiday you enjoy.   Only, with Cook – it’s giving his playthings a touch of the otherwise untouchable things in life.  Like playing with great artists on a stage at a music festival, or the Zero G plane gigs, or private jet experiences to far off locales, to take in the excess of drinking, drugs and prostitution.  

 

He’s a manipulator that has lost the ability to just… enjoy the blessed life he has.   Ryan Gosling is the character that he’s essentially hired to be his best friend, but over time has transformed him into someone that he uses, abuses and throws him scraps of his… sometimes these are human beings, like Rooney Mara – who Fassbender coaxes with promises of a career as a singer – kind of his opening line…  we see this when he adds Natalie Portman’s Rhonda into his personal experience bin.  

 

I wouldn’t say this is a film to watch to like.  There’s things that look beautiful, and if there’s something that undercuts the film – while also being it’s greatest achievement is the cinematography.   Terrence Malick has, for quite some time, seemed to be exploring God.   And asking the Audience – to be God.   You see it in the way the camera sees everything, the vastness of vistas, the stunning lighting – but all of this is a veneer of life.  Not the substance.   He shows you the intoxication of extravagant wealth without judging it.    Some mistake see this as pretentious poppycock, but ask yourself….

 

How many of you would turn Michael Fassbender down when your dreams are put upon a table.   Maybe not even a dream you had.   Portman was a waitress – and he says, “I’d like to hear you sing!”   It’s a completely different approach to what people expect.   We don’t see whole relationships here, we see evolutions of relationships and experiences – and at the end as you see him working hard on an Oil Rig, that is just him trying to work himself so hard that he can’t think about the piece of shit that he’s become.  

 

When I came out of the film, I thought…  Man, I never want to see that again.   Now, I think I want to see it a few more times in life.   See… how my life changes my perspective upon it.   Right now, I come away so happy about the decisions I’ve made in life.   I love my wife, I loved supporting her education and dream to become the woman she most wanted to become.   She’s helped make me a better person on an infinite level.   Fassbender is like Charles Foster Kane.  A man, who could be satisfied with nothing in life, constantly searching for a feeling he doesn’t quite remember until his dying day.   We don’t see that day here.   We still see an arrogant predator of life.  

 

The women in this film… Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett & Rooney Mara are manipulated, psychologically abused, dismissed and shrugged off.   None are better for having met these two.   Casting men like Ryan Gosling and Michael Fassbender… well…  that’s just because Satan comes in a Hot Body from Hell.

 

Gosling, Fassbender & Mara were in attendance.

 

After this was the ALIEN: COVENANT footage and ALIEN screening which I already wrote up as breaking news from SXSW.   One thing that I didn’t really talk about at all in that piece was…  I decided to sit right up front for the footage – and at some point during ALIEN (1979), a single black eyelash from some fucker in the theater landed in my eye, worked its way under my contact – and was itchy as all fuck during the movie – and I took my contacts out and put my glasses on when I got home, but when I woke up for DAY 2 –

 

I wake…  THE LIGHT – IT IS KILLING ME!!!   My eye looked like something from a fucking Zombie movie and I couldn’t even really see it well cause the eye didn’t want to open cause any and all light felt like a fucking ICEPICK in my brain.    So…  I bought an eyepatch and medicated eye lube to help soothe the pain that was traveling up my optic nerve and into the center of my mind.   IT SUCKED BALLS.  

 

Also, I’ve never had an eye injury quite like this before – it really really messed with my head.   And made film watching, my favorite thing, agony.   BUT – I had Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER to see this day and suffering or no…  nothing was keeping me from it.

 

 

SMALL TOWN CRIME was first.  All I knew was Clifton Collins Jr, after SONG TO SONG on Day One – came up giving me very manly hard hugs and we chatted a bit, I asked what had him in town and he mentioned this film.   I had planned to see it, as I tend not to move from theater to theater like I used to.   Dad’s gotten to the age where rushing around isn’t particularly his bag, and commitment to a venue rather than films specifically – and trusting the programmers to deliver a consistent level of quality.   Well, it’s how you FIND films. 

 

I try not to read festival write ups or credits.   I go in, knowing what I know or nothing at all about these films and HOLY SHIT…   sometimes… like with SMALL TOWN CRIME – you get home runs.

 

The Nelms Brothers (Eshom & Ian) were completely anonymous to me.   Clifton introduced me to one on day one, but to be frank, I didn’t know a thing about the guy, that he had a brother, that they’d made movies before – and that this was their fourth feature.   And…

 

Fourth time’s the charm – and after the fest, I have to see their three previous films, SQUIRREL TRAP (2004), LOST ON PURPOSE (2013) and WAFFLE STREET (2015).  I HAVE to see them because… SMALL TOWN CRIME is just… spectacular.  

 

The film stars John Hawkes as Octavia Spencer’s brother.  He’s an ex-cop trying to kill himself through drinking.   He just wants to make the pain of a mistake that ended his career, his partner’s life – and an innocent he could not have known about.   It was ruled self defense, but he was inebriated at the time – and that just led to more Alcohol.   Which solves nothing, ever.  

 

The film belongs to John Hawkes.   But – by no means is he in this alone.   He joins Octavia and Clifton, Anthony Anderson & Robert Forster, Michael Vartan and many more.   Octavia was a Executive Producer and made calls – and damn… she should produce half the films in Hollywood from here on.   

 

Hawkes found a left for dead quasi-roadkill of a woman on the side of the road after a nightly bender, and rushes her to a hospital.  She eventually dies.   He ends up with the girl’s celphone in his car and can’t turn off those investigative instincts.   Anthony plays his Brother-in-Law and drinking buddy.   Robert Forster plays the dead girl’s grandfather who’ll eventually pay him well for his… “Private Detective” work – which he has exactly 25 freshly made cards for….  And Clifton Collins Jr is the Pimp that calls the Celphone that sets things in motion.  

 

YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW ANOTHER THING – except – the cars in this film are smoking.   All playing to the character that straddles them into action – and this isn’t CG – this is all very in camera and purposeful story telling.   Some audience members thought it was Coen Brothers-y, but they should probably watch more crime films.   This is rooted in the realms of Eastwood and Chandler.   Hawkes is genetically perfect to play a hybrid of Eastwood & Bogart and I’m not even fucking kidding.

 

Robert Forster has a bit of Bronson going on here.   Clifton Collins Jr…  he’s next level bug-fucking insanely fun in this film – and when you see the car he drives…  you’ll applaud.   1200 in the Paramount did.  

 

I’m not even gonna mention the culprits – just – let this movie unfold for you.   It’s the best of low budget crime flicks – and is unrelenting in stepping up the stakes. 

 

The first half of the film was me trying get past my eye trauma, the second half – which was darker was kinder to me and I was so hooked that I told the DP after – it was like that scene in ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN where Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) tells the G Gordon Liddy story about the lighter burning his hand and when someone asked what the trick was, he stated, “Not caring!” – EXACTLY – I no longer cared that my eye was hurting, watering constantly.

 

I skipped the next film – cuz I just needed to rest the eye.   It was driving me crazy.   And I just wanted to save the light input until BABY DRIVER.

 

 

 

BABY DRIVER…  I have so many regrets about just not going home.   THE FILM SEEMED ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE, but I chose to sit close to the screen, cuz generally, that is how I like to see things I’m dying to see, but…  My eye…  that close, the intensity of the light coming off of that film – it was like a dagger in my mind.   Just shutting the eye didn’t seem like enough.    And sitting that close made One-Eye-ing it stress my brain – and then I tried to just watch as much as I could – and I did see a lot of the movie, but the theater was going fucking nuts for this thing, and all I could think was…  NOT BEETHOVEN, NOT LUDWIG, NO….   I felt like Alex in a Prison Experiment from CLOCKWORK ORANGE – which I first saw in this very theater as my first film experience.  

 

As a result I must recuse my ability to give any real analysis of the movie.   What I saw, I loved – but I really had no business sitting that close.  Had I sat at the back, I think I would’ve seen everything without searing pain in my skull caused by too many photons scorching my mind.  

 

August feels like an eternity to wait.  Everyone at AICN just flipped for it – and me with my f’n zombie eye was dying.   I couldn’t even write at my computer unless I had it dimmed all the way in a completely blacked out room – and thus – I have this huge multiday write up to catch up through today!  Speaking of…

 

DAY 3:

 

MR ROOSEVELT was the first film I saw this Sunday – and when I initially woke up, I feared that I was just going to have a repeat of the agony of the prior day, but after the first ampoule (word I learned from THE DEEP!!!) of eye lube, I seemed to be able to let my eye open a bit more – and when I added another whilst getting ready to head out, I was definitely feeling better.  The Bathroom light didn’t sear my mind.   Yoko thought that it looked worse, but I think that was just the result of being able to open more of my eye than the prior day.   Definitely the light sensitivity felt like less of a problem, so once more into the breach…

 

I knew not a single iota what MR. ROOSEVELT was when I commited to seeing it today.   I thought – could be a documentary about the NEW DEAL…    TEDDY’S ROUGH RIDERS… no clue.   Turns out…  it’s about the awkward lingering stink of relationships one has moved past, but when you align yourself in a co-habitation environment – that y’all have together – and then there’s the pet(s) and if they die or get really sick, an ex could contact you and you might drop everything to rush to take care of y’all’s furry baby. 

 

I loved MR. ROOSEVELT – turns out it was an Austin film, written, directed and starring Noël Wells – a native to San Antonio and a graduate of the University of Texas who became an SNL cast member 2013-2014, before becoming Rachel on MASTER OF NONE.  

 

To be honest, I’ve not seen MASTER OF NONE – and that season of SNL, I doubt I saw an episode.  

 

She strikes me as a perfect combination of Ally Sheedy and MARY ANN from Gilligan’s Island.   She is instantly lovable in this film – and over the course of the story, which we see from her perspective… well, you can’t help but love her.   The character she’s playing is very much based upon her own life, where she left Austin for Los Angeles, wasn’t having the success she wanted – and I don’t know how true the story was, but she came back to Austin in the movie due to Mr Roosevelt, the cat that was living with her Ex, whom she abandoned to make a life in Los Angeles.   He was a musician – and there wasn’t really a real break up, she did that over the phone – after having moved halfway across the country.    When we meet her, she’s an editor working for a real asshole played by Doug Benson to perfection.    And, he might not be an asshole, but he is to her.

 

When she returns, she discovers her Ex is being transformed into a Stepford Husband by a new woman that seems to come from another planet that Wells would never move to.   The new woman is who picked the pieces of her Ex off the floor – something she never witnessed so she just assumes the worst about this woman – as an adversary.  

 

BTW – all of this is hysterical.   This isn’t gut-wrenching drama, it’s a comedienne coming into a domestic clusterfuck – where she now sees this woman who is acting like the cat was her fucking cat, her man is her fucking man and her home is now this fucking lady’s home.    And she has sucked all the joy and creativity out of the musician she loved and is turning him into a fucking zombie real estate jockey.  

 

Whilst on this trip, her fame proceeds her via the comedy she did here in Austin, the YouTube videos – and she makes some new friends and experiences what she loves about Austin – feelings get confused, realities clarified and there’s a degree of closure that works great for her, but the shattered remnants of the humans she leaves behind… giggle… we’ll see.

 

The film was interrupted 4 times by a bulb going out, the sound loop collapsing and the need to eventually give up on the primary 35mm projector, and try to move the print over to a new projector.

 

And nobody was leaving.   The film was an absolute delight – and while Malick couldn’t capture my city the way I see it, Wells did.   She captured the essence of Austin – the creative souls that make living her such a fucking blessing, the environment that rules, the food that rules and how people help people that need it here.   It was also completely great for my eyes.   It was bright and my eye took it – and so discovering this talent, that was new to me, that captured my city better than an acknowledged master filmmaker…  but by telling a simple story with a massive degree of funny and awesome…  it was great.

 

Things that made the film resonate with me more – was just… the Austin talent she used.   At one point, my Dad’s ex-Roomate and former candidate for… YOU NAME IT, Crazy Carl Hickerson Bull appeared on screen.   In the party sequences, crew members from my show appear as actors – and…  god damn it I miss these awesome fellas.    I mean that.  I fucking loved my crew.  

 

Wells – is a complete talent – I actually recommended her for the lead in a film by a Director I know, as she's perfect for the role.

 

Essentially – this was the cinematic hug and laugh I needed.   And that honestly meant the world to me, cuz…  it meant I’d get to see all of ATOMIC BLONDE without agony – and that’s great too!

 

Now after MR ROOSEVELT – there was like an inexplicable 3+ hour break of no movies at the Paramount.   Not due to the projection equipment breakdowns of this film.  But there was just nothing scheduled – and whoever blocks out screenings at SXSW could care less about coordinating start and stop times to be convenient to the attendees in any way, shape or form.   It is my single greatest complaint about SXSW.  

 

So, I went over to the Stephen F Austin Hotel lobby and bar to just hang out with a new friend and run into… whomever I run into.   Allowing yourself to just be accessible and talkative with attendees – you get recommendations, drunker and 3 hours can feel like a handful of seconds with Movie lovers like these.

 

 

 

 

ATOMIC BLONDE – is so much better than director David Leitch’s JOHN WICK – it gets passed like all the wouldbes trailing Usain Bolt in the 100.   Fine work, but this is just in an entirely different class of fucking awesome.  

 

Charlize Theron after this and MAD MAX FURY ROAD – is just the whole package.   The acting, empathy and emotion that she fuzzes to the celluloid we saw … well… Let’s get into this.   This is a Cold War tale, taking place around the week that the Berlin Wall finally fell, thus reunifying West & East Germany and the city and peoples of Berlin.   Although, that’s like saying TITANIC was about an iceberg hitting a ship.    No, that was simply the setting for the story Jim wanted to tell.   Here – THE COLD CITY published by Oni Press – which was then adapted into this film by Kurt Johnstad – into one of the finest action spy films you’ve seen. 

 

We’re so far out on this film, that going into the twist and turns – are completely unnecessary.  What you do need to know is – that Red-Band Trailer?   That doesn’t even begin to touch what this movie does.   Leitch is ungodly impressive.   Sure, we’ve got Soviet Guards that are treated roughly by Clarlize’s Lorraine Broughton and James McAvoy’s Percival – which is a hilariously ironic name for the Grail Knight that this man is the exact opposite of.   McAvoy was drunk for the Q&A, but had Charlize not told us, I’m not real sure I could tell, he seemed absolutely coherent as hell after the movie. 

 

Both of them are British M.I.6 secret agents working on securing a list of all Soviet Spies and Double agents that Eddie Marsan’s SPYGLASS character is offering up for his families safe delivery to the powers of the West.  

 

Also in this film are John Goodman as a CIA man, Toby Jones working for Her Majesty’s Best, and then there’s Sofia Boutella – who…  you should discover as is in the film.   She’s magic.   Loved her in KINGSMAN, but here – she’s not a mute unstoppable killing machine, but something entirely different.      Loved her in this film.

 

Shit, I loved everyone in every part of this film.

 

Especially everyone in the stunt team.  Holy fuck man.   This is just -  great.   The look of the film feels 89 via Michael Mann, but with seeming long shots that just defy belief while visually looking utterly convincing.   There was a seasoned 35 year film critic sitting behind me who was reacting pretty much just like my spastic cinema loving ass.  

 

After the film, I tweeted my instant reaction, “ATOMIC BLONDE just unleashed a mushroom cloud of Awesomeness over Austin & SXSW” – and I can’t wait to own this movie.   The music & aesthetic look of the film is just pure action candy.   The music is all from the era, whereas BABY DRIVER was introducing me to fantastic new tracks – all of which I could hear – even if I couldn’t physically watch due to this fucking EYE – but here – I could watch with no pain – everything and I was even sitting 2nd row from the Paramount’s grand screen – which seems to be goosing actors that stand in front of it.   No kidding, btw.  

 

ATOMIC BLONDE is a delight you’ll visit a few times at theaters.  It’s sexy, erotic, a great cold war spy yarn, funny through character and situational insanity.   But, having been to Berlin a few times – let’s face it, this was 1989, I was in my first semester of College when Berlin reunified – like everyone that was alive and raised in the Cold War up until that point, we were held enraptured by the events in Berlin – and this film and story just made me all the happy!  

 

Somebody that I noticed wasn’t on the IMDB page, but has a small, but essential role in the film, was Til Schweiger, who runs a Watch shop that services spies timely needs.   Understated, but fantastic.  

 

The fights.  When Charlize is trying to get Eddie Marsan out of East Berlin – there is an action masterpiece that you see a fraction of at the beginning of the Red Band trailer.  What you see – though massively impressive and badass looking.   That’s a mere appetizer.   What you actually get is seven months of bruises that look painful, sound painful, but if you’re an action junkie – that ass-kicking is one you pay for like Scorpio in DIRTY HARRY – but not because you want to frame someone, but because – nobody whups ass like Charlize.  

 

This is also a very R rated R – and it’s nice to have these films.  Mark July 28th on your calendar with a yellow Mushroom cloud cuz ATOMIC BLONDE is a for real GREAT FUCKING TIME!

 

Tomorrow I'll be at Alamo Drafthouse South all Monday!  Pick up the pace on the number of movies I intend to see.  Hope it works out.

 

Keep it cool - and if you're in Austin, get to seeing movies and report in!

 

Harry

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