My third day of the fest was my busiest for film watching, with three titles. I'm finding this year that transportation considerations are taking more time than ever. Parking downtown is a complaint on everyone's lips as the Convention Center garages fill up in the early morning, and many surface lots that would normally serve overflow have been covered in tents for different events. Since this is my first year taking SXSW Film red carpet photos, I've learned it's a big drain on time as check-in can be 90 minutes to two hours before showtime.
So, my Sunday included a red carpet for the Turk Pipkin Christmas movie When Angels Sing (my review) and ended with the ass-demon horror comedy Milo (my review). Sandwiched in between, I caught Alex Winters' Napster documentary Downloaded.
I have little more to say about Downloaded than I tweeted right after seeing the film. I found the film repetitive, plodding and 90 percent biased toward Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning. When I was a college student working in IT, I followed closely the rise and fall of Napster and read firsthand many of the articles and news pieces Winters included in his doc. A very lively community of readers on Slashdot at the time kept itself educated on all the Napster-related events including the trials, the RIAA posturing, etc.
There was no question at any point that Fanning and Parker knew they were facilitating music piracy. No tears were shed for Napster as newer, in many cases, better services rose up to take its place. It does not matter whose side you took, if you even took a side in the debate. On one hand was a company that by today's accepted standards was making it possible for people to steal from the record industry. On the other side was an industry group that was ruining lives, circumventing the legal system, extorting innocent people.
Downloaded paints a picture of the two Napster founders as revolutionary war heroes that changed society with only the best of intentions. It smoothly glosses over Parker's post-Napster shenanigans at Facebook (go watch The Social Network for an idea about what he was up to) and presents both figures as continuing the fight to bring music sharing legally to the masses.
After several years in the making, Sean Gallagher's Austin-shot film Good Night debuted at SXSW -- find out more about the journey from Gallagher in Elizabeth's interview. The good news is that since this narrative provides glimpses of the past, the filmmaker was able to capture the main characters over a time span that could mirror the fictional narrative.
Good Night revolves around a young twentysomething couple, Leigh (Adriene Mishler) and Winston (Jonny Mars) Rockwall, as they gather with their closest friends to celebrate Leigh's twenty-ninth birthday. The guests enjoy casual conversation as well as controversial and current topics as they enjoy their dinner, until Leigh drops a bomb having a profound effect on them all. The guests, including Leigh's best friend Alice (Samantha Thomson), all react differently as they process the news. Through voice-overs and flashbacks we learn how each person became connected to Leigh.
Mishler is sweetly exquisite as Leigh, and Mars embraces the complexity of a husband who is frustrated by his inability to solve their problems. Good Night is also strengthened by its talented supporting cast, which includes Chris Doubek, Alex Karpovsky, University of Texas alum Todd Berger (It's a Disaster), Parisi Fakhri and Jason Newman (The Man From Orlando).
There are a few classic holiday films we like to pull out each year in addition to the Rankin/Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, such as A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life and the more modern A Christmas Story. A common thread between these films that has helped make them annual favorites is that they don't focus on the religious or ritual aspects of the holiday, but instead on it as a time for homecomings and shared memories with family and loved ones, friends and neighbors. Soon to join those ranks is When Angels Sing, the adaptation of a Turk Pipkin story by director Tim McCanlies and writer Lou Berney.
Easily the best Christmas movie since 1983's A Christmas Story, When Angels Sing was shot in Austin and features a Who's Who of talent with Texas ties. Stars Harry Connick Jr. and Connie Britton (Friday Night Lights) are joined by Houston-born Chandler Canterbury, Fionnula Flanagan, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Lyle Lovett, Kris Kristofferson, Sara Hickman, Eloise DeJoria, Turk Pipkin and Willie Nelson.
Connick stars as Michael Walker, a college professor and father who refuses to celebrate Christmas due to a tragic accident. When faced with his son giving up on Christmas himself because of another tragedy, Michael is forced to reexamine his own guilty feelings that have made him such a Scrooge.
The Bounceback could have been just another clichéd romantic comedy about angst-filled twentysomethings looking for love. (Okay, let's be honest: they're looking for sex.) But thanks to Austin filmmaker Bryan Poyser's considerable talents -- he graced us with Dear Pillow and Lovers of Hate -- the film is a wryly observant take on relationships and popular culture and a cut above most movies in its genre.
Shot in Austin and awash in River City landmarks and youthful culture, The Bounceback centers on New York City medical student Cathy (Ashley Bell) and her ex-boyfriend Stan (Michael Stahl-David), a wannabe actor currently delivering pizzas in Los Angeles. Both are former Austinites, and when lonely Stan learns that Cathy will visit her friend Kara (Sara Paxton) in Austin for a weekend, he hastily books a flight to Austin also, hoping to cross paths with his ex while partying with his friend (and Kara's former boyfriend) Jeff (Zach Cregger).
If all this sounds like a setup for lots of cutesy romantic semi-hilarity, rest assured that it isn't. Stan's plan for a not-quite-coincidental reunion with Cathy falls apart before he even arrives in Austin; he's so busted when Kara and Jeff see each other at the airport while waiting for Cathy and Stan. Things spiral downward from there; Stan discovers that Jeff has taken up Air Sex (think air guitar, but without guitars and with sex) and seems content to spend his time with an infantile crew of beer-swilling horndog roommates. Serious student Cathy finds that Kara is no more mature than Jeff; her major goal for the weekend is to help Cathy get laid.
Renaissance man Owen Egerton is on fire.
... metaphorically speaking, of course. But the redhead's career has been making sparks in national literary, film and comedy circles recently.
Next month, the Texas State University MFA alum will lead readers through a bizarre apocolypse, filled with Jesus clones, a prophetic hermit crab and a slacker couple who are haunted by ghosts as they wait out their final days on Earth in his latest novel, Everyone Says That at the End of the World.
The Austin-based master multi-tasker also debuted his short film Follow, about one man's dangerous challenge to open a gift by his wife (starring local actor Jonny Mars), this week in the SXSW Film Midnight Shorts collection. Egerton based the film on a short story from his 2007 collection How Best to Avoid Dying.
Egerton and producer Seth Caplan are currently raising production funds for a feature-length version of Follow. I chatted with Egerton recently about writing and his current projects.
"Is this the line for that party?"
"No, this is for Milo. It's about an ass-demon."
"The demon's an asshole?"
"No, the demon literally comes out of and goes into a guy's ass!"
-- Actual conversation overheard waiting in line for the premiere of Milo
I didn't have high expectations for a film with this premise by director Jacob Vaughan (The Cassidy Kids), starring Ken Marino, perhaps the only guy in Hollywood who would take a role as the host of a parasitic ass-demon. Nevertheless, after a bit of a rough and shaky start (a little too much setup for my tastes, and a lot too much of Marino on the toilet grunting and moaning in pain), the movie Milo proved to be a funny crowd-pleaser that brings to mind mid-80s video-store schlock like Ghoulies.
Yeah, she loves her gun all right.
Well, not really the gun itself. What the protagonist of Loves Her Gun really loves is the feeling of security and power a gun gives her. She sleeps better at night knowing it's there in case she needs it. She's no gun nut -- she's just wants to stop being afraid. Can't blame her for that, right?
Austin filmmaker Geoff Marslett has delivered a stunning new film with Loves Her Gun, a stylish and captivating mix of two genres: twentysomething angst-fueled indie drama and horrifically timely message film. Plenty of movies have shown us aimless young adults indulging in Austin's slacker milieu, but none do so as tragically as Loves Her Gun. The movie deservedly won the SXSW Louis Black Spirit of Texas Award earlier this week.
The woman who loves her gun is Allie (Trieste Kelly Dunn), a young Brooklynite with no job and no desire to keep dating her annoying boyfriend. After a brutal assault, she ditches her life in New York and hitches a ride to Austin in an RV with her friend Xoe (Ashley Spillers) and Xoe's fellow members of a karate-themed rock band.
Harris Glenn Milstead, professionally known to the world as Divine, was perhaps middle America's first mainstream exposure to a drag queen. I Am Divine is a definitive documentary of Divine's life from his youth growing up in Baltimore to his death in 1988. With this movie, director Jeffrey Schwarz continues his sterling track record of in-depth, fascinating profile films such as Vito and Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story.
Interviews with John Waters, Jayne Mansfield, Tab Hunter, Mink Stole, Bruce Vilanch, Holly Woodlawn, Rikki Lake and finally, Divine himself, paint a fabulous picture of the man inside the dress shedding light on what was, to me, up until now a mysterious personality.
Before watching Schwarz's documentary, I could tell you little more about Divine other than that he was a 300-lb drag queen who once ate a dog turd on camera in John Waters' Pink Flamingos. Now, Divine is a personal hero as inspiring for his personality and drive as his untimely death at the height of his stardom was tragic.
I can think of little better praise for I Am Divine than the fact it elevates Divine to the status of a true hero, who endured pain and mistreatment but found success through talent, hard work and perseverance. Schwarz's documentary takes on a life of its own, and the viewer is drawn into the life and experiences recalled by his subjects as they share intimate details of Divine's life.
I Am Divine screens once more at SXSW on Thursday, March 14 at 11:15 am at Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter.
Seeing Bastrop State Park after the 2011 wildfires inspired director David Gordon Green to make a movie there, and he already had a title given to him in a dream: Prince Avalanche. A friend recommended he see an Icelandic film called Either Way, and the concept for this film was found. Prince Avalanche was shot, under the radar, in 16 days at the devastated park.
Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch star as mismatched road workers in Central Texas in 1988, cleaning up after fire has beseiged the area. Rudd's Alvin is uptight and in a long-distance relationship with the sister of Lance (Hirsch). Lance is slightly feckless; Alvin has brought him to this job to help him grow, but they aren't really getting along. They share a tent and are limited to the company of one another, except for the few times they are visited by a friendly older truck driver (Lance LeGault in his final film role).
Their solitude is punctuated by a score from David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky and the hauntingly beautiful broken landscape surrounding them. Lance and Alvin complete repetitive tasks as we learn more about them: painting lines on the road, installing posts on the side of the road, and such.
You never think about getting older when you're younger. But before you know it creeps up on you, and you're there already.
-- Robert Mainor, Before You Know It
Old age can be hard enough for anyone lucky enough to reach that stage of life; imagine how much more difficult it can be for gay people in a society that hasn't fully accepted them.
The lives of senior citizens in the LGBTQ community are the subject of Before You Know It, a deeply moving documentary that presents the often unhappy and seldom-discussed realities of being elderly and gay. Austin filmmaker PJ Raval's ambitious film introduces us to three elderly gay men who lead disparate lives, and their stories tell us much about a largely ignored segment of our society.
The men are all gay, but have little else in common. Dennis Creamer is a widower who did not come out until his seventies, after his wife died. He divides his time between a Florida trailer park and Rainbow Vista, an LGBTQ senior living facility in Portland. Often lonely and looking for a new partner, Creamer sometimes wears women's clothing and goes by the name Dee, which he does openly at Rainbow Vista and on gay cruises and vacations.