Ain't It Cool News (www.aintitcool.com)
Movie News

SXSW ’07! Psychedelic Wraps Up His Coverage With 15 New Reviews!!

Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Sounds like Psychedelic had a great trip to Austin, aside from a bit of lung rot he caught from making out with Harry while they were both shrooming. That’ll learn ya’. Now that the emergency blood transfusions are working, he’s finally able to put together this report:

Hey Harry and Magic Carpet Riders, The Acid was good. Her button said, “Free Hugs”. I asked for one. It was very strong. Then she hopped up and wrapped her legs around me. As we dry humped, everyone else in the street did the same. Even cops dismounted their horses and found partners. Hips bucked in rhythm throughout Austin as streams of love wrapped around the night. She was drop dead cute. Our muscles merged. We gravitated toward the Alamo Drafthouse to continue our cinematic binge at the 2007 SWSX Film Festival. Doubletime Pre-teens and teens get a bad rap. They have for decades and decades, perhaps as long as humans have walked Earth. Stephanie Johnes’ documentary is refreshingly positive and constructive. It shows teens as individuals pushing themselves to the limits of their abilities. Jump rope! It’s become a competitive sport with different divisions. Double Dutch, regular jumping, and freestyle “fusion” are the basic categories. Two teams are followed to a big competition at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Lots of heart, enthusiasm, hard work, and fun are displayed in practicing elaborate routines. This is not Sunday afternoon jumping in the park. Bushels of athleticism and artistic choices are sweated in preparation for the final competition. This is not cutesy, but an honest look at some remarkable people. Johnes has made an uplifting, but not saccharine, terrific movie. 638 Ways To Kill Castro The CIA and many other groups have tried to kill Fidel Castro over decades. This British documentary, from director Dollan Cannell, details many plots and interviews (mostly old) would be assassins. It’s odd witnessing guys in their 70s casually saying, “Oh yeah, I tried to kill Castro two or three times.” Welcome humor is injected throughout. It’s pretty easy considering some plots’ outrageousness. Examples: poisoning his cigars; throwing plastic explosive baseballs at his car. But it’s not all fun. It proposes that the United States harbors terrorists—but it is okay if Castro is the target, even if civilians die in bombings. The overall impression left is terrorism, no matter what the cause, leaves unintended victims creating a ripple effect from their loss. What does violence leave us? Be warned, it’s extremely critical of the United States, if that bothers you. Blackbird This is pornography for depression junkies. If you love being depressed and love watching people do depressing things, this is the movie for you. A 32 year old junkie (Paul Sparks) meets a 17 year old stripper (Gillian Jacobs) who just arrived in 1995 New York City. Anything bad that can come of this combination happens. He almost overdoses. He cleans up; meets her; they’re briefly happy. She tries cocaine. He blows out his back. She gets pregnant. Blah-blah-blah. It’s been done a zillion times. Adam Rapp’s direction is fine. So are the lead performances. But Rapp’s script wallows in depression for depression’s sake without any point. There’s nothing inherently interesting in plot, setting, or characters to make it fresh. It’s predictable from the first ten minutes. Everything is so miserable that a double suicide ending would be happy. Scott Walker: 30 Century Man Imagine music that sounds like the feeling of a David Lynch movie. Rich orchestral landscapes that are both alienating and soothing with a passionate emotional beautiful voice floating above everything. This is the musical world of Scott Walker. Walker emerged in the early 60s as part of the original British Invasion spear-headed by The Beatles. He was a member of The Walker Brothers (not actually brothers like The Ramones). His gorgeous crooning voice and good looks gained instant popularity. Fame, fortune, etc. took their toll and Scott went solo. A remarkable body of work followed from an increasingly enigmatic artist. Orchestrations became richer and imaginative while lyrics migrated toward minimal, elliptical, and philosophical. Think of Sinatra singing introspective Leonard Cohen backed by complicated-skewed Gil Evans arrangements. The best compliment I can pay to Stephen Kijak’s direction of this documentary is that it never gets in the way of the unique music. Scott Walker is a true aural visionary whose work deserves discovery by a larger audience. Monkey Warfare A rigorously anti-establishment couple (Don McKellar and Tracy Wright) sift through garbage to save antiques, then sell them on the internet at high prices in order to make a living. A young sexy pot dealer (Nadia Litz) enters their lives and shifts their relationship’s stagnant balance. Long dormant passions are revived. The dealer “borrows”—maybe “lightly steals” is better— books containing late 60s rhetoric and manifestos of such groups as The Chicago Seven and Black Panthers. Consequences follow that shake up everyone. Writer-director Reginald Harkema’s humorous, sharp, and witty script is enlightened by at times Godardian direction. Off-kilter jump cuts and text inserts pepper various scenes. The whole is an interesting fun old school 60s vibe dipped into modern times. It’s an unsentimental cousin to Sidney Lumet’s Running On Empty. The Signal A hypnotic, bizarre signal comes from TVs and radios everywhere. People fall under its spell and go insane. They chop, slice, bash, and crush everyone in sight by following the fluttering logic of their minds. Three blood-soaked stories using this foundation are done by three directors (David Bruckner, Dan Bush, Jacob Gentry). The first is genuinely unsettling with erratic violence that can strike at any moment. The second is a black humorous take with crazy people trying to reason their way out. The third is the weakest with redundant ideas that don’t build tension successfully. Overall, it chills splendidly with a good helping of empty stomach dread that the best apocalyptic horror stories have. The experiment works surprisingly well and leaves curiosity as to what the directors will do next. It’s one of the better recent horror movies. Crazy Sexy Cancer Here it is: A happy upbeat positive film about Cancer! Director Kris Carr, a sexy young vibrant actress in New York City, was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer about two and half years ago. Shortly after, she picked up a camera and chronicled her every moment with The Big C. Ultimately, it’s a story of conquering fear even when a metaphorical sword dangles at every moment. Carr is very much alive and did a Q&A at the screening. This is a most unusual instance where any criticism of the film seems like personal criticism of the director. Carr is so entwined in the documentary that the two are almost inseparable. Her zealous obsessive search for health food and health programs gets repetitive and a little grating. Of course, in the end, she’s able to tell herself she did everything she could. The documentary is very self-obsessed, but of course, it’s therapy for Carr so she can cope with cancer’s reality. In the end, it’s a remarkable work that I imagine would bring hope to anyone battling the illness. August The First Family problems are universal. Everyone is embarrassed by familial fights, secrets, divorces, and betrayals. This movie brilliantly illustrates such universality. An African-American family celebrates the youngest child’s college graduation. The ten years absent Nigerian father returns supposedly at the behest of the graduating son. Old wounds fester to the surface. Director Lanre Olabisi’s ensemble drama of naturalistic acting works exceedingly well because of acutely observed details. For instance, the twenty-something daughter is married to an older man probably because she desires an absent father figure. This is not mentioned aloud but left for alert viewers. A lot of humor organically arises from these situations. The family dynamics are precisely right. Age, race, creed, and nationality play on an even field within the chafing inner politics of families. Cherry Valley This supposed “documentary” follows three student filmmakers as they spend the night in various haunted houses in Cherry Valley, New York. I think they called it a documentary to excuse the really bad acting and lousy production values. This was expanded from a classroom short and it absolutely feels like it. Mostly it consists of shaky cameras in dark spaces while someone hollers offscreen. There’s no narrative drive or strong characters to move things along. Even supposing the hauntings were real, the interviews are so monotonous and Patrick Steward’s direction is so discombobulated that I imagine the Hollywood agents of the ghosts would want half the box-office gross to compensate for the embarrassment of being in this. Certainly the undead have higher standards than this. Trigger Man Imagine Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, Gerry, or Last Days done badly and with obnoxiously self-aware shaking cameras. Get a goddamn tripod! Four guys hunt in the woods and get picked off by some crazy sniper. That’s it. There are many two or three minutes long shots where they do NOTHING but walk in the woods. It's a self-conscious “artistic” film school disease telling of what would traditionally be a lean mean thriller. Someone call James Dickey so he can get a royalty check off this. Directed by Ti West; he’s currently shooting Cabin Fever 2. Oh joy. The King of Kong A good documentary can be made about anything if interesting compelling people are at the center. Donkey Kong, one of the seminal arcade games, is the battleground for two men who seek the world record high score. For Steve Wiebe it’s a desperate way to cling to self-worth during bad times; he’d recently lost his job. He’s driven by a need to prove himself as number one in something for once in his life. Billy Mitchell was a video game champion long ago in the early 80s. He smugly lives off the adulation of old victories. Along with the audience, I couldn’t help but laugh at this ridiculousness. Yet I was sucked in and cheered for Wiebe to have his day. Director Seth Gordon superbly crafts this underdog tale populated with colorful characters. Who would make their life’s work tracking international video game high scores? Watch and find out. Cat Dancers Many miraculous accomplishments and vivid lives are just under the radar. Ron and Joy Holiday were world class ballet/contemporary dancers in their twenties. They danced all over the world in the most esteemed venues. In their early thirties they devoted themselves to raising tigers, panthers, and other wild cats. Everything coalesced in an animal/magic show performed everywhere. Later, a third member (Chuck Lizza) joined them onstage, at home, and eventually in the bedroom. It was a functional threesome built on trust, love, animals, and a philosophy of freedom without possession. Director Harry Fishman’s documentary builds toward the tragic end (albeit it is truly unique) yet so much is celebratory about these people that the overall tone should reflect this. That stated, this is captivating storytelling of people blazing their defiantly individual paths. Great World Of Sound Hustling salesmen are the best and worst of America. Two men (Pat Healy and Kene Holiday) join a small record label to go out and “sign” as many artists as possible. They’re a singular odd couple whose human alchemy forms a compelling balance. They will record songs if an upfront financial investment is made first. It’s a focused seduction and persuasion to part money from wallets. Yet the salesmen, who are deluded into thinking they’re producers, are being duped by their employers as well. Craig Zobel’s direction is an excellent example of actor-driven Robert Altman ideals. Human moments are woven into the story. The movie bristles with life as a result. Healy is very good. But Holiday gives a star-turning performance that works as the film’s blustering engine. He deserves an Independent Spirit Award nomination at the very least. Blindsight Erik Weihenmayer was the first blind person to climb Mt. Everest. Sabriye Tenberken ran a school for blind children in Tibet where blind people are regarded as street dogs. The plan was hatched for six blind teenagers to climb a peak near Everest guided by world-class mountain climbers. Director Lucy Walker’s documentary details the struggle up the mountain. It’s a dexterous duel engine of macho world-class climbers who desire going to the top versus a pragmatic teacher whose first concern is the children’s welfare. Watching kids suffer altitude sickness as pro climbers insist on pushing forward is something to behold. Unguarded heated arguments flare. It’s a fascinating illustration of American machismo against more level-headed foreign sensibilities. I thought the kids might die. Strong personalities absorbed me into movie. Exiled Hitmen whose friendship goes back to adolescence are hired to kill each other. They call a truce and go on one last mission before the inevitable. I relished the veteran hit men expertly knocking off anyone who got in their way. They’re an unstoppable well-oiled machine. But the real story is Johnnie To. He brings his game to a new level. His direction is superb and at times brilliant with a couple stellar action sequences. It’s joy to watch such skilled craftsmanship. Of his four movies I’ve seen (Fulltime Killer, Election, Election 2) this is far away the best and would be a career highlight for any director. It’s also is the strongest movie I’ve seen from Hong Kong in a while. I hope it marks a revitalization of their industry which has mightily fallen since its early 90s hey-day. For me, this might be the most enjoyable “escapist” movie of the festival. The overall quality of the movies was superb. Of 26 feature lengths I reviewed, 4 were duds, 4 were some degree of okay, and 18—count them—18 were very good or excellent. If multiplexes played movies this good we’d be in the middle of a cinematic renaissance. Here’s my top ten in somewhat particular order. The Gits Great World of Sound Blindsight Cat Dancers August the First The King of Kong Exiled Doubletime Big Rig Black Sheep Slime bubbled up from cracks in the street. Earthquake tremors rattled Austin as steel beams thrust though sidewalks and asphalt. The shiny skeletal structures grew into mammoth buildings of the future designed by aliens who contacted Earth in the 28th century. Intricate transportation networks shimmered on light beams that connected DNA webs of citizens who grooved to orgasms which sighed and gasped with the cadences of the city. SWSX sizzled in the universe. Gyroscope skyscrapers pivoted with pods of primary colors. Her thighs gripped tight around my waist. We kissed and bid adieu to 31st century Austin where space aliens and humans lived in peace. -Psychedelic
Readers Talkback
comments powered by Disqus
    + Expand All
  • March 22, 2007, 7:32 a.m. CST

    18 out of 26 were very good or excellent?

    by triplefive

    nice work, pete hammond.

  • March 22, 2007, 10:36 a.m. CST

    That Killing Castro movie...

    by Childe Roland

    ...sounds entertaining. I'm mildly curious about The Signal, as well, but I can't help feeling the end-of-the-world horror premise has been milked pretty much dry already.

  • March 22, 2007, 11:47 a.m. CST

    Monkey Warfare was horrible

    by Garbageman33

    I thought it only got into Toronto because it was a Canadian production. And I use the term "production" loosely. The damn thing wasn't even in focus most of the time. Ugh. Just horrible. Blindsight was wonderful, though. My favorite film (documentary or otherwise) of last year.

  • March 22, 2007, 12:06 p.m. CST

    my Top 5

    by Billy Ho

    Smiley Face - Greg Araki directs Anna Faris in possibly the best "stoner movie" ever. King of Kong -you know by now The Ten - The State, along with a few of their friends, use the Ten Commandments as a springboard to do their thing. Scrambled Beer (Malta con Huevos) - Gotta love those fucked up South Americans. Malt liquor and eggs, time travel, wtf is going on...who cares, it's hilarious and original. Frownland - Very tough for me to sit through. Watching someone live their extremely awkward life. I wanted to walk out from ealry on in the film. It took me until about 15 minutes after it ended to realize how much I really liked it. Part of it's intent is to make you uncomfortable, and it succeeds. It also manages to be humorous.

  • March 22, 2007, 2:12 p.m. CST

    The Gits

    by purplemonkeydw

    Would be awesome if it were a British remake of The Stupids. Tom Arnold rules. Yeah, I feel like I can say that here...amongst family. Right guys, huh?

  • March 22, 2007, 5:37 p.m. CST

    Re: Trigger Man review

    by underscore_only

    "Imagine Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, Gerry, or Last Days done badly" I don't have to, I can just watch the movies.

  • March 22, 2007, 11:36 p.m. CST

    yeah black sheeps really good.

    by mark-blackmagic

    out here in nz next week

  • March 27, 2007, 1:12 a.m. CST

    Garbageman's Garbage

    by hlucas69

    I don't usually respond to criticism of my movie, but occasionally when it comes from a fool it needs to be addressed. Especially when that fool is following a twisted path up their own ass with their logic. Garbageman, how did the movie get into SXSW then? Are they taking pity on Canadian productions? I can name a couple dozen that were at Toronto that didn't play SXSW. My movie is so out of focus that my DOP, Jonny Cliff (the bastard child of Sam Peckinpah and DOP of Small Town Gay Bar), is shooting the next Brian DePalma movie. Say what you will about Brian DePalma (and I can't say much), but the man probably wouldn't hire someone who had just shot their last movie out of focus. Garbageman - I hope that's not a reference to the Cramps, because you don't reflect well on their fans. Thank Christ that this is Harry's site. Oh yeah! What did he say about Monkey Warfare? Kicked my ass HARD!