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DVDTalk attends South by Southwest Part Two

DVDTalk attends South by Southwest Part Two

exclusive coverage by Neil Lumbard

Day Three Write-Up:

When it came time to see films on my third day of the festival I ran into a bit of bad luck early on in the day. I had fully intended on seeing the premiere of the Conan O’Brien documentary film aptly titled Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop and yet I wasn’t able to make it into the audience for that one. I did hear that the film itself was excellent and a bit more heartfelt and serious in parts than audience members were expecting. The film chronicles Conan’s fallout with NBC late-night. Later in the day I spoke to someone who did attend and learned that Conan was actually in attendance after the film was over and that he gave a surprisingly less-comedic discussion of the events that happened and his response to it all after the film was over. The overall buzz I was hearing in Austin was that the film was a success and worth checking out. If I can somehow manage to get a screener copy to review, I will go that route to try and cover the film some more but I can’t necessarily make any guarantees in the direction. However, I am positive this was one of the more special screenings held at SXSW 2011 and was naturally disappointed to miss it as a fan of Conan O’Brien.

I did make it to the Alamo Drafthouse Lamar to see Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which was not a premiere or Q&A-included screening but was the premiere in Austin, TX if I am not mistaken. This new documentary by the famed film-maker was essentially about ancient caves that were recently discovered to have some of the oldest cave drawings still preserved in history. If you can believe it (and if you are a Herzog fan as I am, I know you will) this was a hard film to get into. I arrived to the screening earlier (as per usual) and was one of the last three people to be allowed into the theater. Literally, only two other folks got into the screening room after I did to see this film, before the theater manager had to start turning people away. Luckily the film had one or two additional screenings at later dates but this was the one and only screening time I could make, so it was especially important to me that I made it in.

In the evening, I attended several films and kicked things off with the SXSW spotlight screening of Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins, which has a plot that pretty much sounds like what you would naturally expect given the title. The film centers on 13 assassins that are bent on killing a lord that they deem evil and corrupt. The cult-favorite Japanese film-maker has made several favorites of true cinema geeks over the years (such as Audition, Dead or Alive, and Ichi the Killer) and the early word I heard was that this was one of his best efforts yet. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down by the film even as I recognized its ambition. What was more disappointing though is that I was not able to deliver on one of the things I had mentioned earlier in my SXSW coverage (in terms of having a few ‘surprises’ in store for readers of DVDTalk.com). I had arranged for a 30 minute long 1:1 interview with Takashi Miike for DVDTalk and I was of course thrilled by the opportunity as both a fan and as someone acutely aware of how many readers would have loved to see an interview with him featured on the site. I’m sure the reason why this interview didn’t pan out will come as no real surprise to any reader. With the current situation in Japan following the devastating tsunami it came as no real shock that Miike was unable to come to America for a screening of his latest film (let alone to still participate in interviews).  A festival organizer came around the long lines for the film and told everyone that he was unfortunately unable to attend the screening and that they were sorry to disappoint those who were expecting to see him following the film. I was already well aware of this through the communication with the fine PR representing 13 Assassins. Before the film was screened a note was read that had been sent by Takashi Miike so that it could be read to the SXSW audience. The general tone of the note was quite sad, but also presented an aura of hope in encouraging us to think about Japan and our appreciation of the country while watching the film. In a way, it was surprisingly heartfelt from a director known for the extreme nature of many (but certainly not all) of his feature films.  I must admit that I started to get teary-eyed when I heard the note and I feel the same way now as I write about my response to hearing it. The festival organizers have luckily set up a website to receive donations, and those will be sent to Red Cross to aid in Japan’s recovery.

All that you need to do is visit the website www.sxswcares.org to make a donation today to bring aid to Japan!

After the 13 Assassins screening was over the fun wasn’t even close to ending for the day.  There would soon be what I would essentially dub as a ‘double feature’ of sorts with the North American premiere of Greg Mottola’s Paul and a special “Work in Progress” screening of Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids .

The Good (Getting to Hear Greg Mottola, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, and Kristen Wiig speak about Paul), The Bad (Sitting far back in the balcony), and The Ugly (my camera's zoom feature apparently sucks -- ugh, I can't believe how low-res my zoomed in camera shot was. I'm now planning to buy a better camera for next year if I continue coverage of SXSW in 2012). It's as though an alien took the picture from outer-space! Cue the music: Duhn, duhn, duhn!!!


Mottola certainly did an ace job directing Paul, but the biggest stars of the show are definitely Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who served as both the writers and stars of the film. Mottola’s contributions may seem a bit overshadowed. That certainly seemed to be the case with the Q&A session following the film premiere, in which Simon Pegg ended up with the most time to speak to the audience out of all of them on stage. I doubt anyone really minded that much though. Pegg is a comedic genius and he was able to bring the audience to laughter rather casually – with what appeared to be very little uneasiness. Kristen Wiig on the other hand seemed entirely nervous when speaking on stage in front of a large audience. Simon Pegg jokingly commented that she hadn’t seen Shaun of the Dead or Spaced, and to gasps from areas of the audience (myself included) so that probably didn’t help ease her nerves, but she was still able to hold herself well in front of the crowd. The evening was in many ways a celebration of her comedic chops and acting skills. This was made clear by director Paul Feig when he came out to speak to the audience about the special screening of Bridesmaids. I’m honestly not entirely sure if we were the first audience to see the film or not, but we were certainly an early audience, and Feig walked out on stage appearing a bit nervous and unsure of himself. He quickly turned this to some joking about how he apparently had a bit too much to drink before the screening due to nerves. Feig assured our audience that even though they had to promote the Bridesmaids screening as a Work in Progress version it was actually the final cut of the film and that the only things unfinished were a few moments of color timing and (if I remember correctly) two sound effects that were needed  for a cop car in the film. Basically, the screening represented a done deal. The great thing about it was how surprisingly great the film was and the fact that is easily surpassed audiences expectations. Experiencing this film capped off a great day at the SXSW film festival in the best possible way imaginable.

The Rest of the Festival -- OR -- The Breakdown of My Coverage:

There are only a few more specifics aspects of my attendance at the SXSW film festival that I feel are worth making a special note of right now. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the entire week long festivities and screenings but for the time I did spend at SXSW it was one of the most memorable and special experiences I have ever had the opportunity to be involved in. Getting to do this coverage truly felt like a gift, and I hope that many of you have enjoyed getting to read my thoughts on the experiences I have had with this festival.

Early in the morning (following Bridesmaids) I was able to attend a private run-through screening of Tom McCarthy’s WIN WIN.  The film stars Paul Giamatti as a struggling attorney who also works as a high school wrestling coach. When he meets a young athlete who could be a game-changer things start to change for the better for the team – but what is happening to the boy’s family and to his own life?  This was unquestionably my favorite film of the SXSW festival that I was able to attend. Tom McCarthy has long been one of my favorite film-makers and this did nothing to change the high opinion I hold him in. So, you might be wondering why I didn’t attend the normal premiere. I had to see the film early in order to do a 1:1 interview with Tom McCarthy about the film.  This ends is disappoint though – at least for now – as things didn’t work out for this interview either (just as things didn’t work out with Takashi Miike). After getting some breakfast and doing some SXSW souvenir shopping at American Apparel (where I purchased both a ball-cap and hoodie) I arrived early in the afternoon for the interview and ended up being told that I had just barely missed him. The PR individuals I spoke to informed me that there must have been some kind of mix-up with the schedule as they didn’t see me on the list. Instead, they had me pegged as a part of a round-table interview with the cast and Tom McCarthy earlier in the day. This was disheartening as that was what I had initially set-up with my contact regarding WIN WIN, but as I hadn’t seen the film yet and preferred a 1:1 with McCarthy over a slice of the pie in a multi-site discussion I had to pick one over the other. Naturally, I wouldn’t be able to interview the writer/director of the film without having seen it first. I l slowly left the hotel where the interview would have taken place feeling disheartened. I had even brought a copy of McCarthy’s The Visitor on Blu-ray to get an autograph after our scheduled interview (and to think I was having some regrets at the time for not bringing my copy of his debut film The Station Agent for a autograph as well).  Before I had left the building though, those I spoke to regarding the PR assured me a 1:1 phone-interview would be set-up in place of the in-person interview session. When I arrived back at my hotel I checked my e-mails and found one telling me that Tom McCarthy had someplace important to go to and had to leave early, thus my interview would need to be scheduled for a different date/time. After responding to this message and inquiring into the phone interview option I haven’t actually heard back yet which is disappointing. However, I’m holding out hope that an interview with one of my favorite film-maker’s may still happen. It would truly be wonderful to be able to bring an interview with McCarthy to DVDTalk. Fingers crossed, but at this moment in time I can’t make a guarantee.

I had planned on seeing Mike Mills Beginners in the evening and I was going to participate in a roundtable multi-site discussion with the writer/director the following day but I ended up essentially passing out, sleeping, and not waking up in time for the film. I tried to make it there in time and just didn’t manage it. Beginners was unquestionably one of my most anticipated films playing during the festival and I feel dissatisfied by my inability to bring a review of the film at this point in time, but it wasn’t something I could really change at that point.  I ended up having to contact the PR contact I had been talking to about the roundtable to explain to him how I wasn’t able to participate in that interview.

Before closing out my time at SXSW, I was also able to attend one incredibly awesome event that is absolutely worth discussion: the 15th Anniversary Screening in celebration of Harry Knowles Ain’t It Cool News website of pop-culture (film, comics, television, etc). There was so much buzz throughout the festival over what the film playing would be when the time came for the celebratory screening. I was astonished by how it seemed that many people in attendance were at least mentioning it even if they didn’t have plans to personally go. This fever of speculation talk seemed to even heighten when Knowles made a statement on the AICN website letting people know the film would be “vintage” and not a big summer film tent-pole premiere event or anything like that. This didn’t stop the chattering much at all. In fact, there was one other screening at the festival playing as a ‘secret screening’ prior to the AICN event and the most frequently heard tidbit was that it was going to turn out to be Marvel’s Thor along with an extended sneak-peak at Captain America. That didn’t turn out to be the case at all and instead the other special screening was an indie-flick that was getting mostly-positive buzz. I heard it was good, but wasn’t able to attend, and heard that it wasn’t able to quite satisfy people’s high expectations for a big premiere. This made some question whether or not Knowles wasn’t being entirely honest about the vintage film statement and I heard so many people ponder if Thor would be showing with AICN instead. So what about my own personal speculation? Back when Star Trek was a few months from opening AICN was hosting a ‘special screening’ of The Wrath of Khan.  Yet when movie-goers showed up for the show they were instead treated to a surprise premiere to J.J. Abrams Star Trek. I can’t recall if that event only had a video with Abrams or if he was actually in attendance. I remember that some of the makers of the film were there and that it sent signals to the knowledgeable members of the audience that perhaps not all was as it appeared to be. This memory sent my brain down a different path than what Harry Knowles meant by “Vintage” film for the 15th Anniversary screening. I quickly imagined the screening being for Abrams Super 8 which in a sense seemed like it could work within his description as that type of film-making is now considered as “vintage” in this day and age. However, I was totally off-base, and that wasn’t the film at all. It also wasn’t my back-up guess (E.T. featuring guest speaker J.J. Abrams). I guess on some level I just assumed some kind of Spielberg/Abrams thing would happen. I even picked up an express pass (these go quickly in the morning and essentially allow you to pass in line) so that I could guarantee myself into the theater. The actual film presented was the 1981 Disney/Paramount co-production Dragonslayer.  This was noticeably ironic due to the fact a new film had just premiered at the festival with the same name. The film print shown was a personal copy which belonged to none other than one of my all time favorite film-makers: Guillermo Del Toro, who attended the screening and spoke afterwards with an entertaining and engaging conversation-style discussion with Harry Knowles.  This made the entire event worth the wait and anticipation in my eyes. The walk-outs after Dragonslayer began were clearly made by people who simply wanted to see something new and who were not interested in the discussion that was going to be had.



The Dragonslayer film itself is obviously one in which I don’t feel any need to write a review (the film isn’t anything new after all) but it is worth mentioning that while I found the beginning a tad slow and some of the characters under-developed I ended up really enjoying the film, especially in the second-half where it let it’s campy nature show itself more naturally, and I can see why it would be an influence on Del Toro and indeed Peter Jackson as well (by all appearances the film looks like it could have been an inspiration on The Lord of the Rings Trilogy– and according to Del Toro it actually was).


Guillermo Del Toro (right) and Harry Knowles (left) at the 15th Anniversary AICN Screening

Guillermo Del Toro has long been one of my favorite film-makers so being able to actually see him in person as he spoke to our audience about his apparent fan-boy love for Dragonslayer and, for that matter, films in general was a true joy and one of the highlights of the entire festival.  Del Toro talked a lot about how he appreciated the score and special effects. He noted a moment when the dragon in the film has a moment of rage in his eyes – and how the audience is meant to sympathize with the dragon in this scene. He described it as a moment in the film where the film-maker would have had to fight to include it in the final cut, and said that if he wanted to put a scene like that in a film of his own so that audiences were meant to view multiple sides to the ‘bad guy’ that it would be a battle to include it, because studios usually want clear good vs. evil and not lines that are blurred between showing good and bad in people or ‘monsters’, such as the dragon, at the same time. Del Toro also said something about sympathizing with the monsters in films most of the time. He talked about how the Dragonslayer film had a big impact on him and how he didn’t think he would be making movies if it were not for films like it, because it opened his eyes to the possibilities of what could be done in cinema in a way that appealed to him personally. He liked that it had nudity, violence, and drew sympathy to the dragon because it wasn’t something he was used to seeing in PG rated films. He described kids today as being unable to see films like this and said people are too neutered in wanting to make movies that won’t offend anyone – and referenced Rango as an example of a PG rated film that kids see today. He said he didn’t feel kids today who only see PG rated movies like Rango would grow up to be film-makers, certainly not film-makers like him, if it is all they are exposed to at an earlier age in life. Harry Knowles then asked him if he would let kids see his own films. Del Toro laughed and basically gave a flat out ‘no’ response. He said that some of his films, like The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth, were not intended for kids to see, but that he could probably have seen Pan’s Labyrinth when he was 11 or 12. But that it would scar most kids at that age for life. Harry Knowles pointed out a female family member who had seen Pan’s Labyrinth at age 12. Del Toro then turned to her in the audience and apologized to her for scarring her for life and many laughs were had in the audience. Unfortunately though, it seemed as if a lot of the people attending did not get Del Toro’s humor or as if many people were simply overwhelmed by seeing him in person because for much of his jokes and charming demeanor it was probably only a small group of people truly getting his humor and laughing out loud. I was amongst that group, I’m proud to say that, but it was slightly odd that more people did not seem as enchanted by his entertaining conversational tone. There was more said by Del Toro, by the way, but I’m not going to mention everything – definitely not – I encourage strongly that if you have been reading my coverage for the festival and found any of it exciting that you seek out more information about the festival at SXSW.com and look into attending next year to get a close and personal piece of the fun! It’s one of the most thrilling events I have ever been able to participate in. Hands down – It was absolutely an experience I won’t forget, and I encourage others to attend. Even if you can’t get a badge to the events they still sell stand-buy tickets if extra seating is left for showings and those tickets are only $10 a show. If you’re an Austin resident you especially owe it to yourself to give some of these events at least a shot. It’s completely worth experiencing first-hand!

Before I forget to mention this – getting FREE FOOD was a blessing during SXSW. There were a number of restaurants offering food for free to SXSW badge holders throughout the downtown area from the likes of hotdogs to barbecue. I even snagged a free breakfast one day. This was actually hugely important to me because between trying to catch various screenings and navigate the venues it sometimes made it difficult to get into some of the restaurants I wanted to go to during my stay in Austin and this helped me somewhat in keeping me on track more frequently than I would have been otherwise. I’m not going to do specific shout-outs to these vendors but will say that It’ perfect marketing in that if I ever find myself living in Austin, TX I will make an effort to actually go to these places and buy meals from them regularly now. I am also sure this is true for other festival attendees. Smart move!



The Area of Many Amazing Poster Art Designs at the Austin Convetion Center = Astounding View!

OK folks, on that last itty-biddy note, that concludes my main coverage of events and screenings attended but it also doesn’t mean the end of the coverage altogether. I still have plenty of reviews to write for one. As soon as those start appearing on DVDTalk you can look forward to reading about my reactions to films and I will link to the reviews on here shortly as well.

I am also in contact still for interviews with Tom McCarthy regarding WIN WIN, and even recently with Aaron Burns regarding blacktino – one of the total surprise wonders of the festival for me. We shall see what happens in that regard. I’m still hopeful I can bring some interviews to you wonderful people but only time will tell what happens. Stay tuned.

UPDATE:

I just heard from the WIN WIN PR team that I will be conducting a phone interview with Tom McCarthy on 3/24. This obviously falls outside of SXSW but look forward to the interview soon!


DVDTalk Presents:

The Lowdown on the Best/Worst of the Festival*

*As seen by Neil D. Lumbard

SXSW Favorites:

Review (coming soon)


WIN WIN

Written and Directed by:
Tom McCarthy

Starring:
Paul Giamatti
Amy Ryan
Bobby Cannavale
Jeffrey Tambor
Burt Young
Melanie Lynskey
Alex Schaffer
Margo Martindale
David Thompson

<>Plot Synopsis:

From the film-maker the brought us The Station Agent and The Visitor
comes a new tale about the power of human connection. The story is primarily
seen through the eyes of a struggling lawyer (Giamatti) who also works as a coach
for a high school sports team.


Review (coming soon)


blacktino


Written and Directed By:
Aaron Burns

Starring:
Austin Marshall
Devyn Ray
Tiger Sheu
Danny Trejo
Jeff Fahey

Plot Synopsis:

The 10% based on real life, 90% made up semi-autobiographical film
about film-maker Aaron Burns, focuses on a 'blacktino' nerd who only finds
acceptance through his friends as made while in Theater class. The journey
this character takes is one of finding himself and finding out the importance of
individuality..


Review (coming soon)

Paul

Written By:
Simon Pegg
Nick Frost

Directed By:

Greg Mottola

Starring:

Simon Pegg
Nick Frost
Seth Rogen (as Paul)
Kristen Wiig
Jason Bateman
Bill Hader

Plot Synopsis:

Two geeks (played by professional geeks Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are on a road trip
when they meet an alien named Paul, who will change their lives forever... and ever.



Review (coming soon)

Bridesmaids

Written By:
Kristen Wiig
Annie Mumolo

Directed By:
Paul Feig

Starring:

Kristen Wiig
Maya Rudolph
Rose Byrne
Wendi McLendon-Covey
Ellie Kemper
Melissa McCarthy
Chris O'Dowd
Jon Hamm

Plot Synopsis:

When Annie (Wiig) finds out that her longtime best friend Lillian (Rudolph) is getting married
it leads to a lot of hilarity and craziness like you wouldn't expect to ever see in a 'chick-flick'.


SXSW Least Favorites:


Review (coming soon)

Super

Written and Directed By:
James Gunn

Starring:
Rainn Wilson
Ellen Page
Liv Tyler
Kevin Bacon
Nathan Fillion

Plot Synopsis:

A twisted and cynical dark comedy about a man who decides he can fight crime
by himself through the sheer power of becoming his very own 'super-hero'.

Review (coming soon)

Green

Written and Directed By:
Sophia Takal

Starring:
Kate Lyn Shell
Sophia Takal
Lawrence Michael Levine

Plot Synopsis:

Green doesn't stand for money -- or the environment -- or even the color.
None of these things. It stands for the jealousy found in the psyches of two
women who could have been friends for a long time had they not liked the
same guy.


SXSW Notables:


Review (coming soon)

Source Code

Written By:
Ben Ripley

Directed By:
Duncan Jones

Starring:
Jake Gyllenhaal
Michelle Monaghan
Vera Farmiga
Jeffrey Wright

Plot Synopsis:

The story focuses on a solider (Gyllenhaal) who only has eight minutes (in a given attempt)
 to save passengers on a train through a bizzare form of 'time-travel' known as Source Code.

Review (coming soon)

The Innkeepers

Written and Directed By:
Ti West

Starring:
Sara Paxton
Pat Healy
Kelly McGillis

Plot Synopsis:

Two deadend-job employees working at the Yankee Pedlar Inn are convinced
that the place is actuallly haunted and they set out to prove that as being the truth!






Beginners

Written and Directed By:
Mike Mills

Starring:
Ewan McGregor
Christopher Plummer
Melanie Laurent
Goran Visnjic

Plot Synopsis:

Oliver (McGregor) is shocked to discover that his 75 year old father
has a young lover who happens to be a man.  Out of the closet at 75? Yeesh.



Review (coming soon)

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

A Film By:
Werner Herzog

Presented in 3D

Plot Synopsis:

Herzog, using 3D technology to film this documentary, has brought images
of one of the world's oldest caves and their artistic drawings to light for
audiences of a modern world.


Attack the Block

Written and Directed By:
Joe Cornish

Starring:
Jodie Whittaker
John Boyega
Alex Esmail
Franz Drameg
Leeon Jones
Simon Howard
Luke Treadaway
Jumayn Hunter
Nick Frost

Plot Synopsis:

The world premiere was held during the festival for this film. The nature of the film is
supposedly quite humorous and playful. It focuses on a group of teens in a gang that
ends up facing down an invasion from aliens. You know, the kind from outer space.


Insidious

Written By:
Leigh Whannell

Directed By:
James Wan

Starring:
Patrick Wilson
Rose Byrne
Lin Shaye
Ty Simpkins
Barbara Hershey
Leigh Whannell
Angus Sampson
Andrew Astor
Joseph Bishara

Plot Synopsis:

This supernatural horror film from the makers of Saw and Paranormal Activity
focuses on a family who must save their comatose son.


My Sucky Teen Romance

Written and Directed By:
Emily Hagins

Starring:
Elaine Hurt
Patrick Delgado
Santiago Dietche
Lauren Lee
Tony Vespe
Lauren Vunderink
Devin Bonnee
Tina Rodriguez
Sam Eidson

Plot Synopsis:

In a world filled with insansity regarding vampire stories at this given point in time, the already cult-established writer-director Emily Hagins (who is only 18 years old) brings her own vision to the screen with a real-vampire story.  And there's a convention, amoung other stuff! Sounds cool!


Incendies

Written and Directed By:
Denis Villenueve

Starring:
Lubna Azabal
Melissa Desormeaux-Poulin
Maxim Gaudette
Remy Girard

Plot Synopsis:

Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this new work from the maker of Polytechnique is about siblings who are trying to discover the truth behind their mysterious mother.


The Beaver

Written By:
Kyle Killen

Directed By:
Jodie Foster

Starring:
Mel Gibson
Jodie Foster
Anton Yelchin
Jennifer Lawrence
Cherry Jones

Plot Synopsis:

This collaboration between two 2-time Academy Award winning actors (Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson), which is also directed by Foster, is a sad story about a man who must cope with himself using a handpuppet beaver. The film premiered at SXSW with much controversy surrounding Gibson but was well received and Jodie Foster was in attendance for the Q&A (in which she also defended Gibson as one of Hollywood's best actors to work with).


Hobo with a Shotgun

Written By:
John Davies

Directed By:
Jason Eisner

Starring:
Rutger Hauer
Gregory Smith
Molly Dunsworth
Brian Downey
Nick Bateman

Plot Synopsis:

A Hobo (Rutger Hauer) brings his own sense of law and order by using one of those delightful shotguns used to kill people dead. BAM!

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