Culture

SXSW Film: The Wrap-Up

Insidious-movie-stills-1

Within this post will be our coverage of the last two days of the 2011 South By Southwest film festival. Huge thanks are owed to all of you who’ve joined us during the past week.

DM – Dominick Mayer
CO – Chris Osterndorf

Charlie Casanova

Charlie Casanova is only as shallow and one-dimensional as it is stupid. This “film” revolves around a classist sociopath who kills a girl in a hit and run and then begins using playing cards to dictate his choices from there on out, although the plot couldn’t matter less. Frankly, it’s nothing but a bunch of bullshit that thinks it’s edgy, but that’s really just obnoxious. It wants to be a sort of British American Psycho; English Psycho, if you will.

However, even with all of his pompous pontificating, Charlie Barnum, aka Charlie Casanova, isn’t even close to Patrick Bateman. American Psycho works because it’s a satire of ‘80s Wall Street culture; Bateman is horrible, but the joke is ultimately on him. Good old Charlie, on the other hand, is another privileged little prick whose decided his station in life has afforded him power to do whatever he wants, but the film takes him way more seriously than it should.

Is it okay to push the boundaries of likeability with your lead character? Take someone like Alex DeLarge, of A Clockwork Orange. But ultimately, if a lead character is going to be purposely despicable, they should be so with a purpose. And the titular character of Charlie Casanova is not only despicable, he’s unoriginal, and ultimately quite boring. The movie thinks he’s a complete original, but he’s nothing but a pale imitation of better characters who came before him. What’s the point here, that social divisions can cause warped perspectives? Thank you Charlie Casanova, for that staggeringly unoriginal revelation. The acting and the directing in the film aren’t actually terrible, but the production values are horrid, and there’s absolutely no reason to watch a film where the production values are horrid unless it has a great story, and great characters. So essentially, there’s absolutely no reason to watch Charlie Casanova. CO

Terri

Terri falls into a trap that many character driven indie dramas fall into, which is that it’s too meandering to leave a real lasting impression. It drifts back and forth between being sweet, sad and touching, but ultimately, the sum of its parts don’t add up. Newcomer Jacob Wysocki, in the title role as a heavyset teenager who starts to give up on life, is very good, and John C. Reilly, as the vice principle of his school, is excellent. This is the kind of role Reilly really excels at, grounded in reality, yet hilarious at the same time. The relationship between his character and Wysocki’s is quite touching. Terri’s message is clear; life is hard, particularly the growing up part, but there are people who make it worth living. Unfortunately, the film’s pacing problems and lack of cohesion make it hard to access its real beauty. CO

Natural Selection

Out of all the films that played in the narrative competition at SXSW, Natural Selection is so clearly miles ahead, it’s hard to even fathom that anything else had a chance of winning. Sweeping all the awards, including the jury and audience prizes, Natural Selection is undoubtedly walking away from SXSW as the movie on top. Rachael Harris stars as conservative Christian housewife Linda, who goes in search of her stepson Raymond, played by Matt O’Leary, when her husband falls into a coma. The catch is that Raymond is only her stepson via her husband’s donations to a sperm bank, and Raymond isn’t who he appears to be either.

The film falls into that “quirky” category, an annoying label usually bestowed on independent films whose protagonists are a little outside of the norm. But like any really good “quirky” comedy, Natural Selection is funny without stereotyping its characters. On paper, Linda should be nothing but your typical, boring, church lady, however the film makes her so much more. And Harris? Yeah, that lady you always used to see commenting on VH1, she’s actually a phenomenal actress. Another winner at SXSW for her performance, she plays Linda with humor and grace and all around infinite skill. Yet another dark comedy in a festival full of them, Harris’s heartbreaking performance puts Natural Selection a cut above the rest. Leary too is brilliant as the simultaneously disgusting and charismatic RaymondWhen he and Harris are on screen together, it’s nothing short of magic. This film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and in the end it paints a somewhat bittersweet picture that’s sort of hard to enjoy. But Natural Selection is still excellent, and deserves every word of praise bestowed upon it at this festival. CO

The FP

If you saw last year’s MacGruber, a movie that went off like gangbusters at SXSW and was mostly never heard from again after tanking in wide release, then you’ll love The FP way more, and that’s because this is the movie that does right all the things that MacGruber only started to get at. There is nothing in The FP, a wildly fun throwback to 80s action movies, that is not completely overdone, and yet there’s not a moment in the film that feels like it’s “too much.” Jtro (Jason Trost, co-writer and co-director as well) is an up-and-coming competitor on the Beat Beat Revelation circuit, a dance game which determines which of two clans runs a town called Frazier Park. When his brother is “187’d” during one dance-off by L Dubba E (Lee Valmassy), Jtro leaves town for a quieter life as a lumberjack, only to be pulled back in by KCDC (Art Hsu) for one last run.

Where most nostalgia movies are clearly made from an outside perspective, through the rose-colored lenses of history, the Trost brothers aren’t afraid to turn The FP into a terrible movie in order to suit their purpose. Because of that, it will play like something you’ve seen many times before, but that’s precisely the point. It drags at times, there’s an over-reliance on montages and some of the dialogue is forcibly quirky, but with the exception of the latter that’s the exact style they’re aping. Hsu steals the show; his bizarro turn in Crank: High Voltage was a mere warm-up for the inspired lunacy he brings to the proceedings. At 83 minutes The FP is short enough not to overstay its welcome, and is the exact type of nostalgia trip that feels exactly like the movies it seeks to parody. DM

Insidious

You’ve got to give James Wan and Leigh Whanell credit for moving farther away from the Saw franchise. Their new film Insidious is old school horror; there are no traps and no torture scenes, just a good old-fashioned ghost story. Well sort of, the plot of the film revolves specifically around a couple (Rose Byrne, in her second appearance at SXSW this year, and Patrick Wilson,) who discover that their house isn’t haunted, but they are. Where the story goes from there isn’t really important, in fact it’s really pretty easy to see the end coming. The key thing to know going in is that this is classic scary movie territory (or at the very least, pre-torture-porn territory.) It’s driven by jump scares, eerie atmosphere, and demonic creatures. The film looks like it was shot on digital, which doesn’t really matter in the darker scenes, but does look a little shoddy in other lighting. However, for those of us who like horror movies, but aren’t crazy about where they’ve gone in the past few years, Insidious isn’t half bad. CO