SXSW Film days three through five: Halfway through the Festival
As SXSW Interactive wraps up, SXSW Music looms on the horizon. Through it all, SXSW Film patiently saunters along, in two hour increments. Days 3 through 5
There's something comforting about the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar. Maybe it's because it's the theater I visit the most often in town. Maybe it's because I'm used to practically living here for a week every September when Fantastic Fest arrives. In any case, there is nothing I love more than spending an entire day here, able to kick back and not worry about rushing between venues.
But SXSW is an unpredictable beast. Before I've even seen a single movie for the day, I've consulted with people in line, double checked my schedule and come to the conclusion that I'll actually be braving downtown today after all.
Day three started off with one of my most anticipated films of SXSW: Guy Maddin's Keyhole. Knowing the experimental films of Maddin were not to all tastes (if you require things like narrative and character consistency, you better stay away from his stirring, strange filmography), I settled in wondering how the audience would react to a filmmaker who deliberately avoids making sense when at all possible.
Unfortunately, the film is a atypical disappointment from Maddin, feeling more like a parody of his work than an actual new film. Not to get all technical and hoity toity here, but Keyhole's digital cinematography does Maddin's tactile, handmade style no justice.
Once Keyhole was over, I found myself in a tough spot: do I try to catch another film at the South Lamar or do I jump on a shuttle and head downtown? Sometimes, SXSW requires that you sacrifice a film now to ensure you can get into another one later.
I noted that the documentary Paul Williams Still Alive starts in fifteen minutes and -- lo and behold! -- there are still empty seats. Knowing that Williams himself is in attendance made this option a no-brainer, and the film itself is not a disappointment. A touching, funny look at a singer/songwriter/professional personality that much of the world has forgotten about (hence the title), it moved the audience to tears just as often as it made them laugh. When Williams took the stage for the Q&A, he received a standing ovation…after all, this is the man who wrote "The Rainbow Connection."
And then it was time to try out the SXSW shuttles, which I had heard praised and condemned in equal measure. The result?
Eh, they're a shuttle service. How fast and efficient they are depend entirely on the whims of Austin's traffic the nerve of the person behind the wheel. I have since heard of shuttle skimming the sides of buildings and nearly tearing down trees, but I found my first shuttle ride entirely pleasant.
And then it was on to the main event of the day: the Paramount screening of The Raid. In North America, the full title is The Raid: Redemption, which is an odd and unnecessary choice, mainly because the film doesn't contain any redemption. Whatever. The Raid could've been titled "Fluffy Boom Boom" and it wouldn't change the fact that it's one of the most exciting action movies I've seen in years.
This is a movie that could, legacy permitting, sit on the same hallowed ground as films like Die Hard and Hard Boiled. It's a fast, brutal experience, filled wall-to-wall with some of the most intense examples of men causing harm to one another that you'll ever see. The film earns its thrills by never making things easy on our hero. He may be a total badass who wastes dozens of baddies by the time the credits roll, but every fight is a fight to the death. Every action scene is a battle for survival. Watching him struggle through situations where a more standard action star wouldn't have even broken a sweat is a thrilling experience.
And like that, it was thirty minutes to midnight and I had to literally sprint through the streets to get to the Ritz in time for the late screening of Iron Sky. My aching body is not rewarded, as the theater is filled to capacity. Still, I manage to get into Modus Anomali, an Indonesian horror film I know little about. It turns out to be the worst film of the fest and a staggeringly incompetent mess. Then again, it also had to follow The Raid, and that's just plain unfair.
There are days where you wake up bright and early and launch yourself into a six-movie schedule and there are days where you sleep in late in a desperate attempt to not die from exhaustion. Day four was that day and I spent the rest of the day feeling guilty for sleeping on the job.
Due to my overwhelming surge of laziness, I didn't find myself in a movie theater until the evening, when I settled in for Fat Kid Rules the World, the directorial debut of actor Matthew Lillard. The premise sounds like typical indie quirk (overweight kid meets charming drug addict who teaches him about punk rock), but the result is a sweet, big-hearted movie with an incredible supporting performance from Billy Campbell as the titular fat kid's father.
The effect the film had on the audience was obvious; during the Q&A, every question was just a compliment for the film. Afterward Matthew Lillard gave a few audience members free shoes.
With no time to squeeze in another movie before the midnight shows, it was time to get in line for Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End. The movie split the audience into two camps: those who dug it as a deliberately oddball, stream-of-consciousness genre riff, and those who found its dense mythology absolutely impenetrable. I enjoyed the first half of the film just fine, but the film goes off the rails with a terrifying speed in the second half when the ambitions of the plot go beyond the reach of the budget.
Then, during the Q&A, an audience member asked for the director's autograph. If you've ever been curious what the mutual irritation of over 200 people feels like, you should have been in the theater that night.
Things are starting to get hazy at this point, so bear with me.
I remember that the first movie I saw on the fifth day of SXSW Film was the documentary Wonder Women, which explores, in great detail, the disturbing lack of great female heroes in popular culture (and the fact that it was only 65 minutes long made my weary mind love it all the more).
After stumbling around downtown looking for food, I instead stumbled into Extracted, a micro-budgeted science fiction movie that was pretty good despite being produced for a dime and having major plotting issues.
I got in line to see Sleepwalk With Me three hours prior to the film, and I'm glad I did. It was one of my favorite films of the festival — a hilarious and touching look at how a comedian can transform the pain of his life into useful, enjoyable comedy. I met writer/director/star Mike Birbiglia after the screening and blathered to him about how much I enjoyed the film, and he graciously thanked me despite my obvious appearance as a nutcase.
I remember downing a Red Bull before seeing the midnight screening of Intruders, a Clive Owen horror flick that entertained me well enough but vanished from my brain as soon as the credits rolled.
My mind foggy, I'm entirely sure how I got home. I remember thinking, "How is it only Tuesday?"
It's the halfway mark. It's all smooth sailing from here.