Wow. Looks like the festival is now halfway finished. Actually, it's officially over as of tonight, while the music festival is just kicking off. I'm not seeing a ton of movies like I did at Sundance, because I've been trying to do press for a few films. I've got reviews coming tonight, but the big news right now is that the festival has just announced its awards.
I wish I could offer more perspective here, but at a festival like this, it's such a crap shoot, and this time, I think I completely had a different festival than these juries.
Last night was the "Observe & Report" premiere and party here at South By Southwest, and as much fun as all of it was, I'm reminded this morning why I don't attend many festival parties. My throat is thrashed. And I'm weary in a way I haven't been so far this week.
I'll have more on "O&R" later today (it's sort of amazing), as well as reviews for a few other films. I'm on my way to a press event right now, so I'll have to hold the posting until right after, but rest assured... lots more SXSW coverage ahead as this exceptional week continues...
Lorna Raver and Alison Lohman have a cage match in an important moment from Sam Raimi's new spook-a-blast, "Drag Me To Hell."
Credit: Universal Pictures
Sam Raimi took the stage tonight with a pratfall flat on his face, followed by some fumbling around with his speech that managed to somehow end up with his necktie threaded through his glasses and over his face, leading to a wistful, "Who turned out the lights?" from the beloved film geek icon. His playful demeanor helped set just the right tone for the work-in-progress screening of his brand-new self-described "spook-a-blast," a nasty little bit of cyanide fun called "Drag Me To Hell." It is a new Sam Raimi horror film, something many of his fans probably thought they'd never see.
And it is an indecent amount of fun.
Alison Lohman's had a hard time getting traction in her career. Although she'd worked quite a bit beforehand, it was "Matchstick Men" where I first noticed her, and although she was in her mid-twenties when she made it, she looked like a fifteen year old. She's never really had a great role since then, a movie-star role, the sort of role that helps define an actor for the public. She may have finally found it as Christine, the put-upon hero of this film. She's a loan officer at a small bank, bucking for a promotion, competing with a co-worker. She's a former farm girl, a once-fat girl who managed to drop the weight, move to the city, start a career, and find a perfect boyfriend named Clay.
Sacha Baron Cohen, left, tries to get pulled off the catwalk during the Agatha Ruiz de La Prada Spring/Summer 2009 fashion collection presented in Milan, Italy, Friday, Sept. 26 2008.
Credit: AP Photo/Luca Bruno
In the first of the two special events that Universal hosted at South By Southwest tonight, we were shown 20 minutes of "Bruno," which will be released on July 10th. Sacha Baron Cohen, putting on an exaggeratedly posh version of his own English accent, appeared onscreen seated in front of an Avid, and he explained that what we were seeing was still rough, and that not all of the footage we saw would end up in the final cut of the film.
Short non-spoiler version first: amazing. It appears that he has dramatically upped the stakes from "Borat," and I truly expect that this will be THE social conversation of July. If you do not see "Bruno," you will be on the outside of that conversation, and it's one that will encompass thoughts on race, religion, and (of course) sexuality. It is a conversation that is already in progress in much of America, one that was spurred on in California last year with the passing of Proposition 8, one that continues to affect the daily lives of millions of people. Seems like a lot of weight to hang on a wacky comedy, but after the footage we saw tonight, I'm confident that Cohen's more than up to the task.
Okay... now let's talk specifically about what they showed us. Cohen explained a bit of the story. Evidently, Bruno's TV show in Austria is the "biggest German-speaking show on television in every single German-speaking country. Except Germany." So it's a shock to Bruno when he's fired from his job. Distraught, he decides to move to Los Angeles to reinvent himself as "the biggest Austrian celebrity since Hitler." After talking to Bono, he decides to go to the Middle East to solve the peace problem there. On the way home, he swings by Africa to adopt a black baby, Madonna-style, and when he gets back to LA, he starts trying to figure out a way to properly demonstrate how much he loves his brand new son.
That leads to the idea to do a photo shoot. And as part of the photo shoot, Bruno needs extras. Specifically, he needs babies. And he's got a vision, so he needs to explain the particulars of what he wants to the parents of the babies that he's looking at for the shoot. That set-up led into the first clip, which was simply a montage of Bruno interviewing parents.
Okay... before I leave the house today, a quick update.
Yesterday started with a Jon Favreau/Jaime Pressley interview, and I'll have that piece up later this week. I saw "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "American Prince," then "Black" at midnight. The "Black" review just went live, but I'll have those other reviews for you, too. Before that, though, you'll be reading my reactions here later tonight to both the 20 minutes of "Bruno" that we'll be seeing and Sam Raimi's "Drag Me To Hell." Those are going live as soon as I get in this evening, so make sure to check back here tomorrow morning for my report on two of the hottest tickets of the whole festival.
Gotta run downtown now for my first movie of the day, the very indie and very local "The Overbrook Brothers," so expect to hear more from me later.
MC Jean Gab'1 and Carole Karemera surrounded by some fairly serious dudes in a pivotal scene from 'Black'
Credit: Chic Films
I guess I'm going to have to finally write my review of "Black Dynamite" from Sundance after this. Seeing "Black," the French film that played as one of the midnight movies on Saturday at SXSW in Austin, I think I'm finally able to articulate why that earlier Sundance sensation didn't quite sit right with me. No matter, though... for anyone who genuinely enjoys black American cinema of the '70s in all its forms, high and low, is in for a huge treat as soon as an American distributor steps up to acquire what could easily be a breakout hit, a movie that manages to mix African mysticism, blaxploitation, and the heist thriller into something that felt truly original. I loved it... and I'm willing to bet others will, too.
MC Jean Gab'1 (any fan of Jean Gabin's work has gotta love that rap name) is probably most familiar to American genre fans as one of the bad guys from "District B13," but based on his work here, I'd love to see the guy break out as an international movie star. He's got a great face, and he's able to convincingly handle all the action while always bringing a sly, subtle humor to everything. He's not just a presence... this guy's the real deal, a very good actor in the body of an action hero. Carole Karemera is just as visually striking, just as powerfully built, and she makes a fitting female lead opposite Gab'1. She plays Pamela, a woman whose fate it completely tied to the fate of Black, Gab'1's character. The chemistry between these two is a big reason the film works. They don't really meet until about a third of the way into the movie, but once they do, it's immediate, almost electric, and the film (which is already very good at that point) gets a jumpstart that carries it even higher.
The first time I saw "The Perfect Sleep," it was just Gary Oldman and I sitting together to watch it. I knew his reaction to the film was terse and perhaps even abrupt, but I had no idea he and Bono and Bas Rutten all felt this strongly about it:
Now, come on... to be fair... "The Perfect Sleep" is a lovely update of the style of film noir, as filtered through a jet black sense of humor and a martial arts junkie's wet dreams. And Jeremy Alter? The director of the film? Not just a good guy but also one the sharpest and most together guys I know in the business. Maybe he did something terrible to Gary Oldman. Whateve the truth, he's not helping the film by posting this...
... or is he?
We'll know by Monday.
Here's wishing the director and the star/writer luck with the film, because I'd love hear Gary Oldman's head explode from 10-15 miles away.
Tony Jaa can kill you with every square inch of his body. And THAT is why he is awesome.
Okay, then. That is how you kick off a festival.
Like I said in my earlier update, my Thursday was all about getting to Austin. I was dizzy from being exhausted by the time I went to sleep last night, so when I got up today, I wasn't really sure what the hell was going on. 42 hours awake and then nine hours of sleep don't really add up to "fully rested". Even so, once I got out of bed, it was pretty much time to head to the convention center to get everything started. I'm staying with my friend Aaron and his lovely wife Kaela, and we drove into downtown, dealing with truly wretched traffic thanks to the combination of SXSW, spring break, and the rain. She dropped us at the Radisson and took off, and we went in to find Ain't It Cool's Quint, who was doing an interview there.
I've never bumrushed an interview before, but we sort of stumbled right into the middle of Quint's conversation with filmmaker Nash Edgerton. The name didn't ring a bell for me, but when I saw him, I started getting this feeling that I recognized him, but it still wasn't quite connecting for me. Aaron and I sat down, trying to be quiet and stay out of Quint's way. As soon as I heard Nash mention "Spider," though, the lightbulb went off over my head. I saw "Spider." I love "Spider." Why? Well, check it out for yourself...
It's strange that in over a decade at Ain't It Cool, I never made it to Austin for SXSW, the music and film culture that's become one of the spring's biggest cultural happenings each year now.
That changes starting today. Yesterday, I flew to Austin, where my good friend Aaron picked me up at the airport. We rushed to a press screening of "Duplicity" that Harry had mentioned to me (it's pretty good), and then spent the rest of the day getting ready for the onslaught ahead. I also had a treatment to polish, more transcription to do for articles I'll be publishing all weekend here at the site, and we managed to sneak out for barbecue at the Salt Lick with a whole fistful of friends including Capone and Quint from Ain't It Cool, Paul Rudd, and writer/director John Hamburg, who are both in town for tonight's opening night screening of "I Love You, Man."
I can already tell that it's going to be a busy festival, but I'm going to try to cover this one with more urgency than I did at Sundance. Having Dan and Greg both there with me this year, we were able to all handle some of the coverage. This time, it's all me, and I'll be doing my best to stay current as we go. That may mean some sort reactions to films now and full reviews later. It may mean some interview pieces. But I'll do my best to make sure there's always something new up for you as the festival progresses.
I'm not sure if we'll have time for the Morning Read every day, but we may try to fit in one or two during the fest. For now, I'll just recommend that you go read Roger Ebert's wonderful contemplation about the difference between "sexual" and "erotic" in film imagery. As always, his commenters are half the fun.
If you're here at SXSW and you want to get in touch, try me at email@example.com or on my cell phone. 323-788-4068. If you've got a film here you want me to see, let me know, and if I write something about your film and you feel like talking about it, call me for that, too.
It should be a fun and crazy week ahead. Stay tuned.
Why did someone paint this town red, and what terrible things are happening there?
Credit: Universal Home Video
We all get the Hell we deserve.
Is there any doubt about whether or not this is a horror film?
Because it totally is. That opening shot... a man and a horse seeming to materialize out of this haze, and that ghostly score... clearly, something bad is coming.
And that something is Clint Eastwood.
And the town of Lago is not ready.
It's easy to forget now, since this film is 36 years old at this point, but this was a young man's film. Eastwood had only made one other movie as director when he made this one, and Ernest Tidyman had only worked on a couple of movies. Of course, Eastwood's first film was "Play Misty For Me," which was pretty damn good, and Tidyman's first three scripts were for "Shaft" (based on his own novel), "Shaft's Big Score," and "The French Connection," which won him the freakin' Oscar. So, uh... yeah. Not bad. And that creative chemistry between this young director/actor and this screenwriter, significantly older, who came from a journalism background, led to one of my favorite films out of Eastwood's entire career. It looks like a Western, it's structured like a revenge picture, but it's a straight-up ghost story, and a great one.