<p>This is as good as things get, and they don't ever get this good again in the brilliant and angry 'Cheap Thrills'</p>

This is as good as things get, and they don't ever get this good again in the brilliant and angry 'Cheap Thrills'

Credit: Drafthouse Films/Snoot Entertainment

Review: 'Cheap Thrills' is a black-comedy masterpiece about the way we live today

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A
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n/a
A pitch-perfect cast makes this one hurt

AUSTIN - The biggest acquisition story out of this year's SXSW festival so far came when Drafthouse Films picked up "Cheap Thrills," and now that I've seen the film, I can vouch that it is money well-spent.

Drafthouse Films has demonstrated eclectic taste in what they will or won't pick up so far, and any company that will release "Miami Connection" and "Bullhead" and give both the same amount of attention and support is a company that intrigues me. This summer, they're releasing "The Act Of Killing," a documentary that made my top ten list last year after I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival, and while I think that's an incredibly important release, and a film that I want people to see, a documentary about an Indonesian genocide is not the easiest sell of all time. I recognize that they're taking a big chance with that film, and I respect that they're willing to do it. Any distributor who wants to stay in business has to play the commercial game as well, and "Cheap Thrills" is the sort of pick-up that I can get behind critically, but that has a real shot at being a commercial title for them as well, and that is exciting.

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<p>LOOK&nbsp;AT&nbsp;HIM.</p>

LOOK AT HIM.

Credit: Universal Pictures

First red-band 'Kick-Ass 2' trailer comes out swinging and cursing and leaving a mark

Jim Carrey joins the cast in what looks like the year's wildest superhero ride

Just before Thanksgiving of last year, I spent four days at Pinewood Studios outside of London to see them wrapping up production on "Kick-Ass 2." At the end of the visit, I got to see about 20 minutes of the film, a sizzle reel that director Jeff Wadlow put together to show the cast and crew what they'd been working on so very hard, and I walked away from that deeply impressed.

Today, the red-band trailer has gone live, and Mark Millar has been counting down the hours until that premiere on Twitter, giddy because he knows what Wadlow's made, and he's justifiably excited by it. If you didn't like the first "Kick-Ass," you may not be the audience for this new one, but if you did like the first film, they've made a sequel here that seems to be poised to genuinely up the stakes from the first film while building logically onto the characters and events we saw in that movie.

You get a glimpse here of how Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) have been spending their time in the years since the death of Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and Frank DeMarco (Mark Strong), and you also get a glimpse of the way they've changed the world around them. They've inspired other people to start dressing in costumes and standing up to criminals, and they begin to assemble these people into a group, figuring there must be safety in numbers. One of the most outrageous new additions to the cast this time is Jim Carrey playing Colonel Stars'n'Stripes. Look closely at him when you see him in the trailer. It's a pretty heavy set of prosthetics that Carrey designed to wear in the film, and he looks like he leapt off the pages of the comic, like John Romita Jr. drew him for the film.

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<p>Um, Sheri, you have something on your face</p>

Um, Sheri, you have something on your face

Credit: Anchor Bay Entertainment

Exclusive: Rob Zombie's 'Lords Of Salem' gets two new one-sheets

A conversation at SXSW ends with an online premiere

AUSTIN - A few minutes ago, I concluded the "Conversation With Rob Zombie" panel that I moderated by physically premiering the new one-sheets for the film in the room, and now we've got them here for you online as well.

Zombie is in town to show and discuss his new film "The Lords Of Salem," and the conversation we had about the film today was a good one.  I think it's interesting that they asked me to moderate the panel, as I've been very frank in print about my reaction to each of his films. Some of them I like, some of them I don't, and I was concerned at first that it was going to create some tension between us as a result. Nothing of the sort, as it happens, because Zombie genuinely doesn't seem to care about critical reaction. He seems to be the sort of filmmaker who had realized at this point that he's got to be happy with the work, and once he is, anything else that happens is almost irrelevant.

We talked about the development of the film, and he's continued to work on it even after I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival in the fall. There was one more round of editing to tweak the opening of the film and some individual moments within it, and the version that played here is the same one that will open in April. We also discussed his other work, including the new album he has coming out in April, the book version of "Lords" that arrives in stores today, and even his plans for what could have been a feature version of "Werewolf Women Of The SS" if only "Grindhouse" had made some money.

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<p>They only made one.</p>

They only made one.

Credit: Automat Pictures/Andrew Curtis

Review: New documentary does right by a cult movie icon in 'I Am Divine'

HitFix
B+
Readers
n/a
The real story behind John Waters's greatest movie star

AUSTIN - No horror movie has ever given me the same amount of anxiety before seeing it that "Pink Flamingos" did.

The first time I read about the film, I remember recoiling completely at every single part of the description. It was in Danny Peary's book "Cult Movies," and when I picked that book up in 1981, I read through it in about three days, and it started me on a search to see all the films in the book as quickly as possible. The only film that I hesitated about in any way was "Pink Flamingos." It didn't help that I read the J. Hoberman/Jonathan Rosenbaum "Midnight Movies" not long after that, and their chapter on John Waters only made me more sure I was afraid of everything that film stood for.  I was still in my early teens, and while I was drawn almost innately to the wilder fringes of film, my own personal life experience was so alien to what it sounded like Waters captured in his films that I just cringed at the idea of seeing them.

Now, at the age of 42, I laugh at the idea of ever having been afraid of Divine or John Waters or the films they made together. I may not love every one of their collaborations, but I love that they collaborated. I love that they found each other, and that along with the rest of the lunatics who were part of Dreamland Studios, like David Lochary or Mink Stole or Edith Massey, they made movies that didn't capture a subculture so much as they launched one. John Waters has been so thoroughly embraced by the mainstream at this point that it's hard to remember a time he was considered a purely underground artist, but the new documentary "I Am Divine" does a great job of showing how Glenn Milstead went from being a nice Baltimore kid to being a drag icon who shocked the world.

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<p>This is the look on Jane Levy's face when she heard the possible plans for 'Evil Dead 2' and 'Evil Dead 3'</p>

This is the look on Jane Levy's face when she heard the possible plans for 'Evil Dead 2' and 'Evil Dead 3'

Credit: Sony Pictures

Sorting out rumors about a new 'Evil Dead 2' and a possible 'Army Of Darkness 2'

What should fans expect if the new Fede Alvarez film is a hit?

AUSTIN  - Normally, when we're at festivals the news from the outside world gets turned down to background noise, and we focus on the films we're seeing here. In the case of this year's SXSW film festival, it's hard to tune out rumblings about what might happen with the future of the "Evil Dead" franchise, particularly since there are so many different reports of what's supposedly going to happen. In order to help sort out the rumors, I am going to discuss some spoilers for the new film, so be warned.

The simple truth is that there are no official firm plans in place yet for either project, but there are conversations going on that could end up in a number of different permutations of films depending on how things come together. Sorting out fact from fantasy isn't easy especially considering some of the sources of the confusion, but it's sort of maddening to see fandom get worked up when it sounds like the things that they're discussing aren't worth getting upset about… or at least not yet.

When Fede Alvarez did the Q&A after the "Evil Dead" premiere on Friday night, he revealed that there is already work being done on a script for "Evil Dead 2," and that it's not going to be using the 1987 "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn" as inspiration. Makes sense. Despite some confusion during production, I think it's clearly inaccurate to call this new movie a remake in any way.

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<p>Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon Levitt co-star in the sly and smart 'Don jon'</p>

Scarlett Johansson and Joseph Gordon Levitt co-star in the sly and smart 'Don jon'

Credit: Relativity Media

Review: Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a dynamic directorial debut with 'Don Jon'

HitFix
A
Readers
n/a
A smart and often hilarious study of how modern expectations get distorted

AUSTIN - It seems fitting that Joseph Gordon Levitt's first feature film would play at the SXW film festival. There's something about this fest that feel different than any other I attend. I think of Sundance as a festival that likes to anoint the "next big thing." Cannes seems to me to believe that the people they invite are already anointed. Toronto is a glut of movies, pretty much everything that's ready at the time, and everything you can imagine is represented there. But South By Southwest feels to me like a party, like as long as you have a camera and you made something, they're interested in having you here so you can see how it plays. Everyone's invited, and that same attitude seems to be built into the DNA of Levitt's entire HitRECord initiative, which is more than just a website. It's a community of people who are constantly playing with the tools that have transformed filmmaking for the 21st century.

When actors direct, there's obviously a version of that which is more vanity project than anything, and while I've seen painless versions of that, it's always a little frustrating to me to sit through. The good news is that you'd have to be openly hostile and simply not watching to think that what Levitt's done here is anything less than a genuine work by a real filmmaker. He's got a strong sense of voice, and he is exceptionally good at communicating visual information clearly. This is a film where every cut is an additional brush stroke, where he's trying to paint a very specific portrait of the way things work between men and women. Just as I think Joe Swanberg's "Drinking Buddies" offered up some real wisdom about a particular dynamic, Levitt has a very specific idea about the relationship between the porn that men watch and the romantic comedies that women watch. It's not a connection I've ever directly made, but once you see the way Levitt makes the connection, it's a hard point to argue.

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<p>Paul Walker pushes himself in some interesting ways in the new film 'Hours,' which premiered last night at the SXSW&nbsp;film festival.</p>

Paul Walker pushes himself in some interesting ways in the new film 'Hours,' which premiered last night at the SXSW film festival.

Credit: The Safran Company

Review: Paul Walker struggles to save his daughter in tense and tiny 'Hours'

HitFix
B-
Readers
A
A genre writer takes control of his career with this indie thriller

AUSTIN - Eric Heisserer has had a tough career to judge as a screenwriter. His produced credits so far are "Final Destination 5," "A Nightmare On Elm Street," and "The Thing," and I would genuinely have a hard time finding much good to say about any of the three. I would have an equally hard time blaming much about the films on him, because I am keenly aware of just how insignificant a part of the machinery you are as a writer when you're working on franchise films and high-stakes remakes for the studios. The key decisions on all three of those movies were made by people way above Heisserer's pay grade.

Heisserer published a short story called "Hours" on a site called Popcorn Fiction, and if you're a regular reader of this blog, then you may recognize that site's name. I published two stories on the site as well, and I assume the same thing I liked about it is what drew Heisserer to it. The site is owned by Derek Haas, a working screenwriter, and while Popcorn Fiction is happy to publish a writer's story, they don't demand any ownership of the material, nor do they retain any rights over it if you choose to do something with it in another media. It's a great place to showcase personal work that you might otherwise never get in front of an audience, and for Heisserer, it was a chance to publish something very different than the work he's known for already. Not long after he put it up, he took it back down because the story was optioned and was set to be developed into a feature.

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<p>Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson shine in Joe Swanberg's new film 'Drinking Buddies'</p>

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson shine in Joe Swanberg's new film 'Drinking Buddies'

Credit: Burn Later Productions

Review: Olivia Wilde and 'New Girl' star Jake Johnson shine in 'Drinking Buddies'

HitFix
A-
Readers
A+
Joe Swanberg hits a career high with his latest film

AUSTIN - The easy temptation would be to say that Joe Swanberg has made some sort of major jump from the films that he has made in the past to his new film, "Drinking Buddies," which made its debut tonight at the Paramount Theater, part of this year's SXSW film festival. I don't think that's true, though. It's an evolution, definitely, but I don't think it's a radical shift so much as it's another small step forward, resulting in what may well be his most accessible and enjoyable film to date.

Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson star as Kate and Luke, friends who both work at a micro-brewery.  He's one of the brewers, and she's involved in actually getting the beer picked up by distributors around the country. They are good friends at work and after work as well, and the whole opening 20 minutes of the film, Swanberg does a tremendous job of capturing the rhythm of a long, boozy night out at the bar with a bunch of friends, and it's only once the night wraps up that we see both of them go home to their respective partners. Luke's in a longtime relationship with Jill, Anna Kendrick's character, and Kate's been dating Chris (Ron Livingston) for almost a year. Even so, there are strong obvious signs of attraction between Kate and Luke, and for a while, it looks like the film is going to be about some boozy transgression that ruins everything.

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<p>Jane Levy is definitely not having a good day.</p>

Jane Levy is definitely not having a good day.

Credit: Sony Pictures

Review: 'Evil Dead' reboot is uber-bloody, but is that enough?

HitFix
B-
Readers
A-
Sam Raimi, Bruce campbell, and Robert Tapert return to their original triumph

AUSTIN - Okay, now it feels like an Austin film festival.

It seems fitting that as Sam Raimi does a victory lap around Hollywood this weekend to celebrate the mammoth opening for "Oz The Great and Powerful," his original partners-in-crime Bob Tapert and Bruce Campbell are in Austin, where they premiered the new "Evil Dead" for the first time tonight.

Fede Alvarez made a short film a few years ago called "Panic Attack," and that ended up landing him an overall deal with Ghost House Pictures, the company that Tapert and Raimi started to produce genre movies. The film he first tried to develop with them fell apart, so they asked him if there was anything else he might be interested in doing, and he pitched them his take on the classic that launched all of them in the first place.  It was a bold move, especially considering how often Raimi and Campbell continued to talk about the possibility of making an "Evil Dead 4" that would return Ash, their iconic main character, to the big screen.

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<p>Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim&nbsp;Carrey star in the new comedy 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,' the opening night film at this year's SXSW&nbsp;film festival</p>

Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey star in the new comedy 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,' the opening night film at this year's SXSW film festival

Credit: Warner Bros

Review: Steve Carell's 'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' is more trick than magic

HitFix
C
Readers
F
Some big laughs are lost in a narrative muddle

AUSTIN - I am fascinated by the world of stage magic. Always have been. It was hard not to become interested when I was growing up in the '70s because it was the age of the big prime time magic specials. During that era, there were two guys who always seemed to be in the lead, the ones who were turning out the most theatrical and the most entertaining specials, Doug Henning and David Copperfield. The idea that there was a rivalry between them over who was the best magician was part of what kept my friends and I so engaged from special to special, from year to year.

In recent years, I've been far less interested in the magic you see on TV, and part of that is because of the almost anti-theatricality that guys like David Blaine and Kriss Angel depend on for their performance personas. It feels to me like magic has evolved into something I don't particularly enjoy, or at least it does until I go to a place like the Magic Castle in LA and see somebody doing close-up magic that once again blows my mind and rekindles my sense of wonder. Intellectually, I understand how most tricks work, and I know misdirection is being used to help steer the illusions, but when someone pulls it off, there will always be that delicious feeling that something truly remarkable has just happened right in front of my eyes.

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