If you could go back in time, where would you go and who would you go with? That's the main question that comes to mind after viewing Safety Not Guaranteed, which had its regional premiere at SXSW this week. This film was a Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award winner for writer Derek Connolly and Grand Jury Prize nominee for director Colin Trevorrow at this year's Sundance Film Festival. Safety Not Guaranteed is the feature-length narrative debut for both Connolly and Trevorrow. The movie's script is based on an actual classified ad that became an internet meme in 2005 after being featured in Jay Leno's "Headlines" segment on The Tonight Show.
Magazine writer Jeff Schwensen (Jake M. Johnson) pitches a far-fetched story to his trend-setting editor Bridget Bay (Mary Lynn Rajskub) to investigate the author behind a cryptic want ad looking for a time travel companion -- "Must bring your own weapons. SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED." Jeff recruits young interns Arnau (Karan Soni) and Darius Britt (Aubrey Plaza) to assist him in his assignment, but it turns out that he has an ulterior motive: The location is his hometown, where he hopes to reunite with a high-school fling.
Arnau and Darius stake out the post office and succeed in tracking down Kenneth (Mark Duplass), a paranoid supermarket employee who claims to have built a time machine with which he's already traveled back in time once. Jeff evokes suspicion from Kenneth, who chases him off his property, so it is Darius who must gain enough trust to become Kenneth's time-travel companion. This turn of events allows Jeff the time that he needs to seek out and reunite with his lost love, as well as live vicariously through Arnau's potential first sexual encounter.
I've already covered selected shorts from SXSW's program -- see Part One and Part Two of my preview -- but there are still two opportunities to see the Texas Shorts program, with films that are set in Texas, made in Texas, or made by Texas and Austin filmmakers.
Catch the Texas Shorts program today -- Tuesday, March 13 -- at 3:30 pm at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, or on Friday, March 16, at 5 pm at Alamo Slaughter. (Aside: If you watch anything at Slaughter, say "Hi" to Miss Hallie Hughes-Hawkins, @halliehh on Twitter, who has been very lonely for familiar faces since moving to the new location from South Lamar.)
In addition to the Texas shorts I previously reviewed, Tumbleweed! and Knife, the selections also include Hellion, made in Austin by director Kat Candler. This brilliant short shows what happens when Dad gets home to find his three demonic sons have terrorized the babysitter. As the father, Jonny Mars has a smoldering intensity that reminded me of Gary Sinise. The twist ending left me chuckling.
Also, Russell Oliver Bush directed an entirely Austin cast and crew in conjunction with the MFA Film Production program at The University of Texas to create Magpie. Phillip (Daniel Hershberger) visits his daughter Maggie (Ashley Spillers), who has just become engaged to Aaron (Paul Boukadakis). Estranged since he walked out on Maggie and her mother, Phillip finds himself exploring her house, trying to reconnect while she is away at work. What he finds unlocks the door to his guilt and leads to a surprising confrontation in this moody, even creepy drama.
Yesterday was an experiment in transportation. I'm usually loath to be without my car, but downtown traffic is tough, parking is expensive and sometimes you need to quickly get from point A to point B. So, after watching Paul Williams: Still Alive yesterday at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar, I determined to leave my car parked there and take the shuttle downtown for the Paramount show, The Raid: Redemption.
As I waited in line for the shuttle, however, I saw one of the Catch a Chevy cars and along with my friend Jeremy Kirk (@jeremykkirk), Film School Rejects writer and Golden Briefcase host, we hopped in.
The Catch a Chevy program is like a free taxi to anywhere SXSW-related. As long as you have a badge, they will take you to satellite venues, party locations, the convention center, even the airport. The driver told us you can visit http://www.chevy.com/sxsw using your smartphone to get a map of locations near you. This is a useful and innovative way for Chevy to advertise and give thousands of test drives in just a week or two. The cars are only available until 9:30 pm, however.
Truth is often stranger than fiction. And sometimes true stories are filled with outrageous lies. The Imposter is a convoluted documentary so outrageous it will leave you asking questions that no one involved in the story seems able to conceive. But don't try to learn more about The Imposter before viewing -- see the film cold, you'll appreciate both its flaws and its strengths better.
The premise is simple enough. The family of a missing Texas boy has waited years for news of his fate. It comes from the most unexpected place: Spain, where he's been found alive. But what happens next is more astounding; despite the fact his accent has changed and he looks different, the family -- and others -- accept him and bring him home. What then unfolds is a mind-boggling cocktail of hubris, ego and delusion worthy of a Coen brothers script in a blend of confessional-type dialogue and re-enactments.
Another full day, starting with Compliance, inspired by a series of particularly vicious pranks in past years. It's not a bad film, but it's hard to believe people are really that complacent, even knowing it's based on actual events. Of course, it might be that I was less receptive due to things like all the cell phones being checked during the screening, someone with a light in their badge (?!) during the movie, and after having discovered that Capital Metro eliminated all but two stops on Brazos for the #3 bus, which I hadn't taken since Brazos construction (finally) finished, so I ended up walking much farther than expected.
I was not late for Gayby, which is good, because like every screening I've been in, it was sold out. Gayby is funny, snarky, and can't avoid comparison to the recently released Friends with Kids. It's what I wish the latter was like. If the comedy of gay/straight sex for the sake of producing a child isn't funny enough, it has one of the best, funniest sex scenes ever, not to mention having more cameos than you can count. It was also great to see so many people with local connections up on the stage, including Clay Liford (Wuss, Earthling), not to mention how the number of filmmakers in the audience. Liford is pictured above with director/writer Jonathan Lisecki, who mentioned they just finished filming in August.
Everyone's familiar with the ongoing discussion about how the film and video game industries fit together. In this era of Doom live-action features and Harry Potter videogames, it's inevitable that the two industries would be talked about side by side. But the topic often turns heated, as film and game producers try to protect the integrity of their medium. "Can I make a movie of your game?" "Can I make a game out of your movie?" Stalemate.
From an education perspective, film and games are both great tools for teaching key academic concepts and improving student personal and social development. Both media have slowly crept into schools as a way to engage kids and excite them about learning. As the Austin Film Society's Community Education Manager, this type of programming is part of my world every day. Our Film Club afterschool program works with Austin Independent School District students daily on everything from claymation to documentaries, all with the goal of creating citizens of the 21st century. Being in Austin, with such a robust video game community, means I'm inevitably asked about video game curriculum. "Do you teach that?" "Could you and would you teach games?"
As part of the Austin Film Society's mission to explore game design curriculum, I recently attended the AMD Game On! Workshop, which was offered as an opening component of SXSWedu. The event consisted of three in-depth demonstrations of game technologies being used in K-12 classrooms. It was not only a fascinating workshop, but invigorating! I wanted to run home and write lesson plans. (Read: signs you know you're in education.)
Horror movie fans have been duped for years now. They've longed for an original idea in horror. For a while it was the "found footage" subgenre. The premise is that the events taking place in front of you are really happening and therein is the terror of the film. It worked a few times, and now it all seems unoriginal -- the best ones one-up a previous good found-footage film by having more gore and/or elements of the supernatural. It's a band-aid on the need that horror film fans have when it comes that genre.
Sinister, which had a "secret screening" at SXSW this weekend, is an anti-found-footage film. Its terror lies in the feeling that it gives you while watching because the events unfolding are genuinely terrifying, not because it wants a part of your brain to realize that these things are really happening. It's a saving grace for horror film fans, and it's the film they've been waiting years for.
Ellison (Ethan Hawke) is a true crime novelist. In his mind, he's a has-been true crime novelist who yearns for the glory days of having a New York Times bestseller once again. To regain that past glory, he's moved his family to the town where a grisly murder once took place. His family doesn't know that he's moved them into the very house that these murders took place, and his kids, along with the local police force, would much rather Ellison go back where he came from.
"How 'bout them Cowboys?"
-- Dallas Cowboys fan Stan "Tiger" Shults
Yeah, how 'bout them? Meh -- I'm not a sports fan, much less a fan of America's Team. Dallas Cowboys football culture -- with its mindless hero worship, distorted sense of importance and blatant displays of greed -- is one of a thousand reasons why I left Dallas 20 years ago and never will go back.
That said, I still found Austin actor and filmmaker Jonny Mars's new documentary America's Parking Lot to be a terrific examination of one of America's most passionate subcultures, the raucous tailgaters at Cowboys home games.
America's Parking Lot focuses on Stan "Tiger" Shults and Cy Ditmore, two longtime members of the Gate 6 Tailgaters, so named because they parked near Gate 6 of Texas Stadium, the Cowboys' former home dome. It is impossible to overstate Shults and Ditmore's enthusiasm for their team or the importance of its role in their lives. How devoted are they? Ditmore has invested more than $10,000 in his grilling trailer, which he dutifully tows to every Cowboys home game -- he hasn't missed one since 1988 -- and uses to cook upwards of a thousand dollars' worth of meat for hundreds of his fellow Gate 6 revelers.
Those of us who are geeks of the female variety have often lamented about the scarcity of admirable leading female characters, and that's certainly true in comics. What makes Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines stand out is that it explores the history of superheroines, particularly the iconic titular character.
Wonder Women! begins explaining not just the genesis of the character but the evolution of superheroines over nearly a quarter of a century. The interviews include experts from scholars, writers, actresses and even fans, from Gloria Steinem to Jane Espenson and Lynda Carter (pictured at top). It may be surprising to learn that the original character was written by a man who believed there would be a social shift towards matriarchy -- perhaps despite the titillating appearance of a chesty woman in a bustier.
Day three of SXSW actually began with the end of day two. Thanks to earlier screenings delaying the start of the super-secret screening of the Scott Derrickson/ C. Robert Cargill movie Sinister, Sunday was under way before the audience was admitted. The screening took place at Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar.
Sinister, conceived and written by Austin film critic Cargill, was universally well received, spawning a number of reviews that all contain the phrase, "I must disclose that I'm friends with Cargill ..." The no-nonsense ghost story was described by many as the scariest movie they've ever seen. Cargill was joined after the film by director and writing partner Scott Derrickson, producer Jason Blum, star Ethan Hawke and producer Brian Kavanaugh-Jones for a Q&A.