Day 3 of SXSW - due to losing an hour of sleep and a very early screening (for me) of TOWER - a film about the tragedy that occurred on August 1st, 1966 on the University of Texas campus when Charles Whitman went on a mass shooting spree from the top of the UT Tower. My father had Whitman as an Assistant Scoutmaster as a boy and was taught to shoot by Whitman and my grandfather. There was no way Dad and I were going to miss this one - and sleep be damned.
We grabbed some Taco Shack Migas Tacos on the way to the STATE theater, where we waited to be let in, surrounded by the heroes and the survivors of that fateful day nearly 50 years ago now. I even snapped this... "STALKIE" with me and Officer Martinez, who emptied his pistol into Whitman and then added a shotgun blast for good measure. Martinez was just a young patrol cop at the time, but his heroism went on to make him the first Hispanic TEXAS RANGER... which the more you learn about the famous Texas Rangers the more you get what a huge fricken deal that was. Anyways - Father Geek kept bumping into people he's known forever, like Artly Snuff of the URANIUM SAVAGES and the great Kerry Awn. Old school Austin had shown up including Neal Spelce the original broadcaster who risked his life to go down to the scene to cover the horror that was being unleashed live on the radio, which unknown to him was being picked up nationwide - and even the unknown sniper was listening to his broadcast atop the town on a transistor radio. Crazy.
The film is some parts WAKING LIFE / A SCANNER DARKLY style animation, historical news footage of the day, recreation - and all told through the words of the survivors. The first hour of the film which is taking from the first person shot - to the final confrontation atop the TOWER is just flat out brilliant work. When an incident 50 years feels as emotionally raw as this did... the filmmakers just knocked it out of the park. Until a post event wrap up which was completely unnecessary. They decide to beat you over the head with all the most infamous mass shootings of recent years and making hamfisted connections that your mind was making all through the previous 60 minutes, so - it was COMPLETELY unnecessary to me, but it wasn't awful... it was all handled rather well, it's just - once we lose the narrative, you kinda want it to just end.
The first victim was an 8 month Pregnant woman who was shot through the abdomen, then her boyfriend was shot dead next to her. She was laid out in the middle of the campus in the August Texas heat bleeding out. Her story... Just amazing. Horrifying. POWERFUL. In fact the best and most amazing thing about the film was the fact that it focused almost exclusively upon the people the media never gives two shits about. The lives affected and the heroes that charged into certain doom to save untold innocents that might've otherwise fallen that fateful day.
This is a film that need and deserves to be seen by everyone. Especially the young. Walter Cronkite's quote at the end is just the most prescient soothsaying understanding of what that horror was going to unleash upon our country. We must look to the past, understand it, learn from it and endeavour to never ever repeat it again. Education in this country is broken, standardized tests have given way to generations that do not understand or respect the history we must never allow to be repeated. See TOWER! So great!
Next was a film called TRUST - starring Nicolas Cage and Elijah Woods as officers in Las Vegas doing a private investigation of some suspected criminal activity that they intend to profit from. Jerry Lewis has a brief part as Cage's father - which was all too brief, but just seeing Jerry makes me happy!
Now TRUST is really a film about Cage & Wood - and Cage is full bugnuts whackadoodly insane! His line delivery, his body performance command and everything about him is off the rails in a way that can only be described as FULL CAGE AWESOME! Meanwhile, opposite him is Elijah Wood - who should simply when an Academy Award for being able to just look annoyed and flabbergasted... without losing his bowel control and shitting and pissing himself laughing in response to everything Cage does. The audience couldn't remain quiet - we were howling laughing in the Paramount theater.
This is very much a Heist film, that adheres to many of the rules of FILM NOIR. The bulk of the film takes place at night during the heist work... TRUST is an ironic title, because there really isn't much TRUST at all in the film. The other thing I loved about Elijah's performance as a cop is that he's just fucking miserable doing the job. He seems to just loathe the cops, enjoys fucking Vegas Call Girls and smoking pot instead. It's a very different role for him - and everything is pulled off exceptionally well here.
After that, I took a break to enjoy a party upon the balcony of the fabled Stephen F Austin, where I got to hang out with Yoko, some friends, some new friends and some filmmakers. That and the Tito's Vodka & Grapefruit Juice drinks made for happy fun times!
After that - it was time to hit the STATE one last time for THE WAITING... Now this was playing opposite HARDCORE HENRY, which I had fully intended to see tonight, but that has distribution and THE WAITING did not. Not only that, but THE WAITING stars JAMES "THE DREAM" CAAN - and he was ACTUALLY IN ATTENDENCE! Ever since I saw ROLLERBALL at a promo screening my Dad's comic shop promoted in the 70's... I worship JONATHAN! Fucking SONNY! I don't think I've ever felt pain like I did when Kathy Bates hobbled this man's ankle in MISERY that first time. James Caan is a mythically awesome badass of the umpteenth degree and the opportunity to see him in something new tonight was a joy. Shaking James Caan's hand shortly after this photo is one of the most awesome things ever.
THE WAITING is a combination of "Found Footage" and better shot work that tells the tale of a pair of good for nothing asshole kids that have decided to perform a prank on a neighbor across the street. An old man that they've created personal negative mythology over, having never truly attempted to understand the man they've channeled all of this energy into. When he goes out for groceries, they break into his... unlocked house, put in cameras and rig the place for a simulated haunting that they intend to cut into a film.
Shit goes down. Perspectives get flipped and James "The Dream" Caan plays his part mainly mute. Instead internalizing his feelings and doing a performance unlike any others of his I've seen of his. He's a truly broken man. Filled with loss. And these kids really have no idea of what Caan's grumpy old man is capable of. I enjoyed the film, and it was quite different, but again a companion piece for DON'T BREATHE which I saw Day 1. At the very least they should teach you a healthy respect for your elders.
You think you know that old man in that dilapidated building, but you don't. I was taught to not pre-judge the people I see in the houses around me, because... well, it could be fucking BUFFALO BILL for crissakes! Here they take a different tact to the tell, not so much making it an exploitation horror film, but rather... something a bit more dramatic.
I have to admit, I didn't care much for the kids. I just wanted Caan to kill them all!
So - another solid day of SXSW - tomorrow I get to see the feature documentary on making STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS - as well as Netflix's PREACHER debut episode... So can't wait!
Keep it cool,