I’ll be the first to admit it: I talk a great deal about Fantastic Fest. But that’s only because it is a transcendent event for cinephiles, bordering on a religious experience. However, as epic and life-affirming as Fantastic Fest may be, it’s not the only film festival in the world. Gadzooks, it’s not even the only film festival in Austin.
This week, we kick off the film section of the three-headed behemoth known as SSSW. Where Fantastic Fest’s lunacy is primarily contained to one location, the frenzy of SXSW sprawls across our fair city like John Ford’s beloved Old West frontier stretched to cinematic infinity.
With the vast lineup of films spread across the various theater venues, it can often be overwhelming to know which films demand of your limited time parking money. Not only that, but the crowded, tangled mass of film choices can sometimes cloud your memory of the bigger, tent-pole movies playing the fest. While not as well known as Sundance or Tribeca, SXSW has earned a reputation that has attracted some impressively high-profile films.
For this installment of Reel to Real, I’ve tried to distill the dizzying haze of the fest and provide a reminder of the SXSW films you can't miss.
The Cabin in the Woods
How do I pine for The Cabin in the Woods? Let me count the changing release dates. Pushed around more than a certain unnamed young movie geek on the playgrounds of yesteryear, this horror opus seeks to approach an old genre convention from an entirely new angle. The film stars Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy), Amy Acker (Dollhouse) and Chris Hemsworth (The Avengers).
While not as well known as Sundance or Tribeca, SXSW has earned a reputation that has attracted some impressively high-profile films.
Oh, and speaking of Dollhouse and The Avengers, The Cabin in the Woods was co-written by geek luminary Joss Whedon. His co-writer, and the director of the film, is Drew Goddard who also wrote the found footage monster movie Cloverfield. With this kind of talent on board, and the fact that we’ve been promised, and denied, the film for years now, The Cabin in the Woods is a categorical must-see.
The Raid: Redemption
From everything we’ve heard out of Toronto and Sundance, The Raid: Redemption kicks the traditional action movie in the face, shoves it down onto a bed of broken glass and then shoots it five times in the face while it lays gasping for breath. Not to oversell it, of course. Suffice to say, Gareth Evans' Indonesian crime/martial arts flick is putting domestic genre bruisers to shame. If you haven’t seen the trailer, do the primal section of your brain a favor and do so immediately. I think you’ll be compelled, within the first ten seconds, to rocket The Raid: Redemption to the top of your list.
Admittedly, this will probably be the entry on this list about which you have heard the least. However, the buzz emanating from Sundance alone is more than enough enticement to see this horror anthology. Apparently, a few people lost their lunch during a Sundance screening. But honestly I’m more interested in the fact that V/H/S seems poised to resurrect the anthology horror film, as well as adding a new twist on the found footage genre.
Also, the collective talent on this project brought us such modern horror classics as You’re Next, House of the Devil, I Sell the Dead and The Signal. If those films aren’t in your repertoire, correct this at once.
John Dies at the End
Ignoring the fact that the title appears to be a huge spoiler, I’m still pumped to see John Dies at the End. Why? Well for starters the film stars Paul Giamatti (of Sideways and damn near everything else) and Clancy Brown (of The Shawshank Redemption). But more importantly, John Dies at the End is written and directed by living horror legend Don Coscarelli.
In 1979, Coscarelli opened our nightmare portals and unleashed the surreal mind trip that was Phantasm. More recently he reimagined the story of Elvis Presley’s last days… as a mummy-killing, geriatric badass in Bubba Ho-Tep. My excitement for this film is enough to make me forget the fact that Coscarelli also directed 1982’s The Beastmaster, which is saying something.
Easily the biggest mainstream movie playing SXSW, Sony’s 21 Jump Street is a film that, by all rights, should not exist.
21 Jump Street
Easily the biggest mainstream movie playing SXSW, Sony’s 21 Jump Street is a film that, by all rights, should not exist. I mean, a big screen adaptation of a teen heartthrob TV series that saw its last episode leave the airwaves in 1991? Whose idea was this?
But something about the idea of Channing Tatum playing a former jock-turned-cop forced to go undercover as a nerd while his partner Jonah Hill, a former nerd, becomes popular under his assumed identity has me super excited to give this thing a shot. Plus, the reports from the early screenings have been overwhelmingly positive.
Casa de mi Padre
When Will Ferrell fell into this cycle of playing one narcissistic manchild after another in films like Anchorman, Step Brothers, Talladega Nights, Blades of Glory and Semi-Pro, his career seemed to be going stale. But along the way he would take on the interesting project here or there, like the completely absurd web series The Landlord, in which he is routinely berated by a foul-mouthed toddler. Turns out we had only scratched the surface of the lengths to which Ferrell was willing to go to be an experimental comedian. Whether it turns out to be good or bad, I can’t help but be intrigued by his appearing in an American-made, Spanish-language comedy; hopefully it’s bueno or, failing that, at least muy interesante.
If you happened to catch the horror film Quarantine in theaters, or if you were even one of the lucky few who caught its barely theatrically released sequel, you’re probably already aware that it was a remake of a Spanish film called [REC]. Let me implore you to seek out both [REC] and its own outstanding sequel, [REC 2], before attending the SXSW Midnight screening of [REC 3].
I know this isn’t quite as mainstream as the other titles, ok fine it’s downright esoteric, but if nothing else I guarantee that the first two films in this phenomenal horror franchise from our genre compatriots in Spain will blow you away.