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SXSW Film 2005

AUSTIN, TX. - More than a few people in attendance at the South by Southwest film festival March 11-19 mentioned how refreshing it was in comparison to Sundance. Granted, it was in the 80s and gorgeous (no snow here!) but I think they were referring to the fact that the SXSW fest was largely free of why-are-they-here celebs and packed to overflowing with great films from around the world. What follows are some capsule reviews of what I managed to see (in no particular order) during my time spent in the capital of Texas. Also, I've included the winners of this year's fest at the end.

The Wendell Baker Story: A loose-limbed, Seventies vintage vibe character study, this Wilson brothers (Owen, Andrew and Luke) effort has a certain ramshackle charm that fits like a glove. Support from Harry Dean Stanton and Seymour Cassel help fill in the margins of this potential sleeper.

The Aristocrats: Directors Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette stuff this raunchy, hysterical documentary with dozens of comics – from Robin Williams to Eddie Izzard – telling filthy variations on a legendary showbiz joke that also serves as an illuminating dissection of the art of being funny. Provenza said that the plans were to release the film unrated this summer, with a packed DVD to follow in the fall.

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room: Alex Gibney directed this high-def look at the ugly Enron scandal, based upon the book of the same name. Featuring interviews with some of the key players (understandably, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling don’t appear) and a wry, irreverent use of pop songs, this epic tragedy is engrossing throughout.

Layer Cake: Matthew Vaughn obviously picked up a lot of tricks from Guy Ritchie while producing his films; Layer Cake is a deliciously nasty and engaging slice of Brit noir that digs in from the first frames. Daniel Craig is phenomenal as the unnamed drug dealer looking to get out but finding himself sucked back in. Fans of Get Carter or The Long Good Friday will rejoice in this thriller.

Jesus Is Magic: This Liam Lynch-directed concert film/extended music video is an intriguing concept but ultimately, Sarah Silverman’s stand-up makes it really hard to sit through even this abbreviated 70-minute offering. Silverman doesn’t push buttons as much as hammer them, but when you’ve heard one distasteful Holocaust joke, you’ve heard ‘em all. This currently lacks distribution and will probably head straight to video.

Tell Them Who You Are: A poignant, evocative look at one of the great cinematographers, Haskell Wexler, this documentary, directed by Wexler’s son, Mark, explores the relationship shared by the Wexlers as well as a look back at some of Haskell’s professional high points.

Press On: Gillian Grisman (Grateful Dawg) turns her camera on Robert Randolph, a young recording artist whose live-wire brand of music is born out of a deep and unwavering spirituality - the performance sequences in this doc are enough to turn any theater into a makeshift church. Can I get an amen?

The Fearless Freaks: I could launch into a string of hyperbolic superlatives and that probably still wouldn’t sum up the tremendous pride and joy I felt at the conclusion of Bradley Beesley’s amazing documentary about the journey of the Flaming Lips (I'm a native Okie, remember). Unflinching in its examination of the darker times and unabashed in reveling in the good times, The Fearless Freaks is a bold, brilliant work of art that does more for Oklahoma City than any chamber of commerce ever could.

A Hole in My Heart: Writer/director Lukas Moodysson isn’t known for laying back and letting audiences enjoy his films; the transgressive director fairly dares the viewer to look away during this knee-weakening excursion into the depths of human depravity. An unsettling and vaguely cathartic work, it’s one that posits some interesting questions about reality and the effects of too much TV. Definitely not for the squeamish.

The Edukators: A funky (and at times, unwieldy) treatise on revolution and the fallout thereafter, this German comedy/drama directed by Hans Weingartner follows three twentysomethings who break into homes of the rich, pull "Jackass" stunts and then leave ominous notes. When a burglary goes awry, the story shifts into unexpected territory and achieves something approaching profundity.

The Comedians of Comedy: Director Michael Blieden somehow assembles a coherent documentary from the tour comprised of comics Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford; these “rock star” comics act up onstage and off, with often side-splitting results. The film also features a soundtrack by Michael Penn.

The Last Mogul: In the vein of The Kid Stays in the Picture comes this look at the golden age of Hollywood and one of its titans, Lew Wasserman. Directed by Barry Avrich and featuring interviews with family friends and business associates, The Last Mogul is a fond remembrance of the kind of Tinseltown player they just don't make anymore.

All We Are Saying: Rosanna Arquette's fanumentary about musicians, their art and the state of the music business is by turns funny, poignant and unexpectedly illuminating. By sitting down with everyone from Thom Yorke to Elton John to Chrissie Hynde, Arquette reveals heretofore hidden facets of some of music's greatest talents. A tremendously entertaining film that is also currently without distribution.

Winners: NARRATIVE COMPETITION FEATURE

JURY AWARD FOR BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE: HOOLIGANS, directed by Lexi Alexander

SPECIAL JURY AWARD: CAVITE, directed by Ian Gamazon & Neill Dela Llana

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

JURY AWARD FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: COWBOY DEL AMOR, directed by Michele Ohayon

SPECIAL JURY AWARD: THE BOYS OF BARAKA, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grad

ANIMATED SHORT

JURY AWARD FOR BEST ANIMATED SHORT: ORPHEUS & THE UNDERWORLD, directed by Nathan Jurevicius

SPECIAL JURY AWARD: ELEGY, directed by Nadine Takvorian.

REEL SHORTS

JURY AWARD FOR BEST REEL SHORTS: THE RAFTMAN'S RAZOR, directed by Keith Bearden

SPECIAL JURY AWARD: ALL WHITE PEOPLE ARE FRENCH, directed by Katja Straub

TEXAS SHORTS

JURY AWARD FOR BEST TEXAS SHORTS: TERMINATION, directed by Paul Alvarado-Dykstra

SPECIAL JURY AWARD: ONCE AND FUTURE ASSHOLE, directed by Spencer Parsons

MUSIC VIDEO

JURY AWARD FOR BEST MUSIC VIDEO: BADLY DRAWN BOY "THE YEAR OF THE RAT", directed by Monkmus

SPECIAL JURY AWARD: SLIPKNOT "VERMILLION", directed by Tony Petrossian

AUDIENCE AWARDS

LONE STAR STATES:

Winner: THE EDUCATION OF SHELBY KNOX, directed by Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt

Runner Up: TROOP 1500, directed by Ellen Spiro

EMERGING VISIONS:

Winner: THE PUFFY CHAIR, directed by Jay Duplass

Runner Up: FOUR EYED MONSTERS, directed by Arin Crumley and Susan Buice

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:

Winner: COWBOY DEL AMOR, directed by Michele Ohayon

Runner Up: THE BOYS OF BARAKA, directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady

NARRATIVE FEATURE:

Winner: HOOLIGANS, directed by Lexi Alexander

Runner Up: WATERBORNE, directed by Ben Rekhi

- by Preston Jones

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