Screen Junkies » SXSW 2011 Movie Reviews & TV Show Reviews Wed, 26 Nov 2014 19:27:26 +0000 en hourly 1 Conan Talks About How He Can’t Stop Thu, 31 Mar 2011 17:56:04 +0000 Fred Topel The director of his documentary also talks about the no stopping.

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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, the documentary about O’Brien’s standup comedy tour, premiered at South by Southwest. The film shows that O’Brien put his humor to work in between “The Tonight Show” and his new TBS show. It also shows that he approaches every daily situation with humor, even when he gets angry and lashes out at people.

I got to speak with O’Brien and director Rodman Flender on the red carpet before their South by Southwest premiere screening. Flender left in all the juicy moments of O’Brien ripping on visiting celebrities and joking around with Hollywood tour busses.

Q: I’m not quite clear. Can Conan stop?

Rodman Flender: Well, you’ll have to see the movie and find out.

Q: How personal does it get?

RF: Well, he gave me incredible access, inside of the writer’s room and the whole creative process. I think it gets pretty close, it gets pretty intimate.

Q: What’s one of the most intimate moments you capture?

RF: I think any artist showing the world the creative process is incredibly intimate. What painter will allow someone to see a work in progress or a pencil sketch of something.

Q: Was there anything so raw it was a little uncomfortable to be there?

RF: I think the situation itself was very tense. I think it was a tense situation for everyone involved. Hopefully I captured that.

Q: I know Conan to be very grateful now. Did you see him in an angrier place?

RF: Yeah, I think the movie is a journey but we all have angry moments. I think what I captured was a human being who gets angry, who gets happy, who has moments, is ecstatic, he’s thrilled to be performing, gets short tempered, gets frustrated. That’s what it means to be human. He’s not a robot.

Q: You saw this act 46 times. Did you get numb to the jokes?

RF: Not really because he changed it up. He really kind of tailored the show from city to city. He had writers along with him that made local references and for himself he really kept it fresh from city to city.

O’Brien was generous with his fans in Austin. He stepped out of his car in the middle of the street and greeted fans before the red carpet. You didn’t have to be camped out overnight to have a prime spot with him. For a film that shows him berating the lovable Jack McBrayer and teaching a fan not to say anti-Semitic remarks, O’Brien was in good spirits to debut the movie.

Q: I’m still not quite clear. Can you stop?

Conan O’Brien: No. Look at me. This is my day off and my wife and I are here in Austin. I can’t stop.

Q: Is the lesson here that there is an opportunity wherever you make it for yourself?

CO: It sounds like a fortune cookie but I do think this movie, a lot of it is about taking something everyone thought, “Oh, this is a wipeout.” It looked to a lot of people and it was like a car crash or something, but being able to turn it into something I hope creative and a little bit interesting would be useful to people, and to me. Mostly to me.

Q: And now you’re a movie star.

CO: Well… I’m not really the star of the movie. I think my assistant’s the star of the movie. [She is!]

Q: You come across as very grateful today. Will we see you in a darker, angrier place in the movie?

CO: Yeah, yeah, you’ll see that. I don’t think it’s that big a part of the movie but it’s certainly the most tantalizing to people. You’ll see that side of me, you’ll see me get very hard on myself, I get down on myself, I get panicky sometimes before a show. I’ve had the same people working for me for 18 years and they all just roll their [eyes]. They’re pretty good at giving it back to me but you’ll see that side.

Q: What was the most raw, intimate moment they captured?

CO: I think when I shower.

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Duncan Jones, Michelle Monaghan, And Vera Farmiga Talk ‘Source Code’ Tue, 29 Mar 2011 18:16:44 +0000 Fred Topel The film's director and stars break down the complex format.

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Source Code was the opening night premiere movie of SXSW and I got to interview three of the key players in Austin. The Friday everyone can relive the eight minutes Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) relives on a doomed train so he can find out who bombed it.

Moon writer/director Duncan Jones directed Source Code, this time from a script by Ben Ripley. The idea of connecting to the eight minute memory of deceased terrorism victims still seems like the kind of highbrow science fiction in which Jones specializes. Jones also happily gave some spoilers, easter eggs for time travel fans to watch for, but wait until you’ve seen the movie if you want them to be a surprise.

Q: Do you see the connection between Moon and Source Code as intelligent sci-fi that doesn’t condescend to the audience?

Duncan Jones: I think Inception really is the obvious, had to say that one. Inception has kind of opened the floodgates a little bit. Mine was a little tiny film. I think District 9 did an amazing job of both visually and in some ways intellectually stimulating the audience but Inception has really proven that there is an audience out there for films that really challenge the audience to work out what the hell is going on at times. I think that’s going to open up some opportunities for some kinds of sci-fi that haven’t been made since maybe the ‘70s. I think it’s a good thing.

Q: Were you a “Quantum Leap” fan?

DJ: Did you pick up on the voice I am a “Quantum Leap” fan. I did notice the similarities when I was reading the script and I don’t know if you were going to say, but the voice of Colter’s father is relevant in bringing up “Quantum Leap.”

Q: I totally missed that. I was asking because of the mirror reflection.

DJ: It is. Scott Bakula is the voice of Colter’s father. In fact, if you get the chance to watch it a second time, you’ll notice he does actually say, “Oh boy.” You can tell [your readers] that and you can even say that you realized that.

Q: Are we supposed to debate the ending or is it definitive?

DJ: It’s definitive to me. I am more than happy to see what the reaction is and see what people’s interpretations are but I feel very comfortable I know what’s going on. I think there is a real head scratcher for the audience at the end there and I think it involves where our main protagonist has ended up and what the implications of that actually are.

Q: The questions about your father, David Bowie, and legacy were covered for Moon. My only question is were you a Labyrinth fan growing up?

DJ: I’ll tell you what. It was difficult to separate myself as my dad’s son watching that film, so watching the film was not as enjoyable as being there while it was being made because I was actually on the set while they were making Labyrinth. That to me was the extraordinary experience and the thing that did stick with me and change me.

Q: Were you there for the Helping Hands?

DJ: Oh, I was there for the Helping Hands. I was also there for the goblin village. I think to me the most exciting thing was the actual all-embracing set. It’s like my favorite thing about Blade Runner, the idea that you could leave the characters, you could pan the camera off the characters and you’d feel like you were still in that world. On the Labyrinth set, I was in a world where they were shooting that way but there was still this huge goblin village over here and stuff over here. You really felt like you were in that world.

Q: Just off Moon, you could probably get a budget of at least $10 million for a reasonable second feature. Is Mute too ambitious for that type of budget?

DJ: I think so. I think Mute would’ve been more comfortable in the same kind of budget as Source Code was, but I have lived with it for such a long time and I have such strong feelings about how to do it right that at this stage, I don’t want to take any shortcuts. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right and that means I have to be patient. I have to wait and I have something else I’m working on which I know I can get made and I feel very excited about. I think by making it a graphic novel, I can probably expand on certain things which I had never intended to expand on as a first feature film

Q: When you say “can get made next,” what are the elements that make you think that?

DJ: My producer and I have been realistic about both tonally and character-wise what is needed in order to find people who are willing to invest both as performers and financially to get the film made, but still do it in such a way that I feel that it’s worth making. It’s a story that I want to tell.

Michelle Monaghan plays Christine, a woman on the train sitting across from Colter when he wakes up in the body of Sean Fentriss. She replays the train scene seven times, a little differently each time Colter tries to fix things. She was almost on her way out of Austin to catch a plane when we spoke.

Q: Was it your job to bring the reality to this outrageous sci-fi concept?

Michelle Monaghan: I think so. I think that’s sort of the heart. I think it was my job and Vera’s job because Vera’s really conflicted. She’s morally conflicted obviously and I think really the heart of the matter is really about living your life to the fullest. I think that’s what Christine is conflicted with in her own life.

Q: Is the film saying that even if none of these changes last, it’s still worth making it better for 8 minutes?

MM: Yeah, I think. Yeah, because I think that’s life. We all do things that may not last but hopefully they inspire other people and they pay it forward. I think absolutely, I totally agree. Good will lingers.

Q: I first spoke to you for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. What has this ride been like for you?

MM: Oh my gosh, it’s so amazing. That was one of the best experience I’ve ever had. It was just a great film. I still love it to this day and I’m good friends with Shane and Robert and Val still. I just had a really good run and I’m really grateful. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of great filmmakers. I’m really proud of the films I’ve been in and I just want to continue to do films that are big and small.

Q: That’s what you’ve done.

MM: Yeah, it’s important to me. Nowadays it’s really tricky to find a good story, a story that’s compelling with really rich, colorful characters that are really reflective of true life. I find that the meat of that is in independent film. So as long as we keep getting festivals like this to appreciate and honor independent films, wow, by god, I’ll still be doing them.

Vera Farmiga is on the other side of the source code. Every time Colter returns to present day, Goodwyn (Farmiga) is debriefing him for intel. Colter’s not the most cooperative soldier either, and Goodwyn can’t really explain exactly what he’s doing going back in time for eight minute increments.

Q: What was your take on the dilemma of motivating Colter when you couldn’t explain what he was involved in?

Vera Farmiga: I think keeping in mind the urgency of the situation and urgency of the task at hand, which is life saving and preventing catastrophe. The frustration, that’s where it comes from, keeping in mind the urgency of what’s going on. It’s called parenting.

Q: Does Source Code deal with faith in a way like you dealt with in Higher Ground?

VF: Well, to me there’s a lonesomeness in this, stuck in space and time and this loneliness where that might echo Higher Ground in a way that when doubt enters the faith equation, you’re in limbo. In that respect, I feel like Colter is a man who’s lost in knowing who exactly he is. He’s in limbo. He’s lost.

Q: Do you agree with the worldview that even if these eight minutes won’t matter, we should make them the best eight minutes we can?

VF: Sure, and I think that was the note the film left me on upon the first reading really was a reminder to cherish everything that is most dear to you in your life and to acknowledge it, be present and not take it for granted and treasure those things.

Q: Who is Goodwyn when she’s off work?

VF: Yeah, we’re clued into the fact that she has a marriage that expired, that didn’t work. You have to suppose that she’s married to her job and thus is probably a very lonesome person. Honestly, I don’t necessarily think that whether you think of her as someone with children, I don’t know if any of that is imperative to the dynamic between her and Colter and the mission and what the story is. We decided that she was someone who just is consumed with work and that when career comes first, oftentimes it’s a pretty lonely existence. More often than not, if you’re career minded you’re coming home to an empty house and I think that’s why connections with her are life changing.

Source Code hits theaters Friday.

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SXSW: Joseph Kahn Talks ‘Detention’ And The Failure Of ‘Torque’ Fri, 25 Mar 2011 22:52:46 +0000 Col. Longshanks He admits 'Torque' was his fault.

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Detention is totally my kind of movie, with tons of references and meta structure going layer after layer through the narrative. I know other people won’t feel the same way and Joseph Kahn knows it too. He explained to the audience at a SXSW screening that he made Detention for the generation that now consumes culture and entertainment by multitasking on their computers, phones and social groups.

Kahn stepped outside the theater as the next screening piled in so we could talk privately about Detention. He actually remembered my review of Torque back in 2004. If only I’d known I made an impact, I wouldn’t have missed out on all this quality time with Joseph. But we can make up for it now as I hope you’ll follow Detention to a wide theatrical release.

Q: Is this a multitasking movie?

Joseph Kahn: It’s definitely a multitasking movie. That’s why it’s multi-genre, multi-emotions, multi-color, multi-everything. It’s made for a new sensibility that is more modern.

Q: Some people lament that we’re losing a relaxed form of focus. Are you exploring a positive side of it?

JK: Yeah, it’s out there. We’ve been trained, especially the younger generation, to process imagery so differently than an older generation, and unfortunately people that are in their 30s and 40s are a part of a previous generation of processing.

Q: I’m 33, I’m hanging in there.

JK: You’re hanging in there, absolutely. I think babies are born with a cell phone now. The funny thing is, I think that film bloggers like you are always going to be young at heart. You have an unfair advantage over every 31-year-old guy out there or 33-year-old or whatever because you’re wired into it. So I think someone like you can appreciate a movie like this on a much more natural level than a lot of people.

Q: Could it get any more meta than we are now? What could the next level of meta possibly be?

JK: No, I think Detention is testing the very end of meta.

Q: I love movies that reference other movies. Why is that such a bad word?

JK: I think it’s because the concept of originality is changing, because imagine growing up in the ‘80s and trying to imagine doing research in the ‘80s. For instance, say you’re a fashion designer in the ‘80s and you want to go and update the bellbottoms or something like that. In order to do that, you’d have to go open up books, buy the books, find the books, go to the library, maybe they don’t have it. It takes a lot of time and a lot of research to go and do that, so essentially, a lot of times what people end up doing is they just sort of start from scratch which is good, but they might end up unconsciously repeating something that someone’s done before. As they say, everything’s been done under the sun. Now with the internet, today if a fashion designer goes and decides to update the bellbottom, they can say bellbottom and click on a million websites. You can have a million files at your fingertips and they’ll know exactly if they’re going to make an accidental reference or not. I think that now whenever you have creativity, the reason why there’s so much referencing going on is we as the consumer have a longer memory of pop culture because we’re connected to. On top of it, the filmmakers then have to be very aware of what they know.

Q: What do you anticipate for the ‘90s nostalgia movement?

JK: I think ‘90s nostalgia is inevitable because the people that grew up in the ‘90s are going to miss it, period. And there’s a lot of people that grew up in the ‘90s. The ‘80s came in when the consumer was people that grew up in the ‘80s and were making a sh*tload of money and they wanted to buy their products. They had the income to spend on things like that. Well, you know what? Those people that grew up in the ‘90s are now getting to an age where they can start spending money because they’re making an income. They’ll want to relive their childhood too. That’s what it comes down to.

Q: How did Hollywood treat you after Torque?

JK: Oh, they hated me.

Q: Why? Even if it didn’t do well, you just made a movie.

JK: Because I did the cardinal sin. I fought really hard for my ideas. Here’s the reality of Torque. We all know that a lot of people didn’t like that movie. I personally liked it, I know other people did but the parts that everybody thought were bad, you can’t blame the studio. Those were the parts that I fought for. The 70% of the movie that people think are bad is the 70% I like about the movie, the kung f fighting, the humor, the super bright colors, the chase on a train, the frickin’ 300mph chase and all that hyper reality. That’s what I wanted to make. I wanted to make that over the top winking piss take of a movie and it failed. I realized many, many years later the reason why it failed is because I think it was a wonderful piece of creativity, but what’s the market for a Japanese animation Ice Cube biker flick with a meta message? Nobody.

Q: Haven’t the Fast and Furious movies gotten there at this point?

JK: I think eight years later after Torque, I think things are going more in that direction obviously. It seems like a lot more movies are more hyper real anyways but maybe I just put it out too early. Whatever, that’s not the reason why I didn’t work. There’s two reasons. One is that I fought so hard and got in so many fights with the studio, I became difficult and quite frankly, I’m always going to be that way. That’s just the way I operate. I’m sorry, I can’t change myself. The second thing is that I purposefully, and no one will believe this, I didn’t want to fuckin’ do another movie. I had such a rotten experience. I didn’t want to spend two years of my life getting kicked around and bitched at and fuckin’ blamed for everything and then no one even fuckin’ respects what I do at the end of the day. And I make a shit load more money fuckin’ doing commercials and music videos anyway.

Q: What I love about movies is the Neal Moritz movies exist, you bust your ass for this and they’re all there.

JK: Look, I like Neal movies too and I like all sorts of movies. I just don’t want to make them. I’m a consumer and I’m glad that these movies exist and I consume everything, but the reality is the reason why I made this movie is because I literally wanted to see this movie for myself. I didn’t see it out there. It was an itch that I wanted to scratch and since no one else was going to make it, I just spent my own money and made it myself.

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SXSW: Joe Cornish Talks ‘Attack The Block’ Thu, 24 Mar 2011 18:13:23 +0000 Fred Topel The movie about teens gangs fending off alien invaders on the streets of London was the hit of the festival.

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Attack the Block was the hot ticket of SXSW. Edgar Wright’s name must have let people know that it’s something special. He produced it for first-time feature director Joe Cornish. A lot of people didn’t even get into the SXSW screenings so they’ll be waiting for it’s theatrical release, which so far is only secure in the UK for May.

Cornish’s film has teen street gangs fending off alien invaders on the streets of London’s hoods. Cornish met some press for breakfast at the Four Seasons in Austin to fill in the people who missed the film, and further excite the new fanboys who discovered it in Austin.

Territory is not just a British thing:

Joe Cornish: The issue of territorialism is a very big thing, especially with these young gangs in the UK and it’s not something I would want to encourage or be frivolous about because it’s a serious thing. One of the messages in the film is that these creatures are extremely territorial and they will kill and be greedy and selfish. They will take their territory. One of the bad things I wanted to express with the monsters is territorialism. Even though it’s never said, hopefully you understand that that’s one of the bad things and that’s kind of stupid. You know kids in the UK and I’m sure everywhere in the world, kill each other over territory in a meaningless way. That’s something I would want to highlight.

The monsters are metaphors for the real street kids:

JC: One of the ideas of the film is kids like that are demonized in the U.K. and they’re called feral and amoral so I wanted to make a monster that, if you took all the words that people call those kids in the press, I wanted to turn them into a monster, set that monster against the kids and bring the humanity out of the kids. It’s just to see the humanity in people really. I don’t think it’s a particularly new message, that there might be good in somebody who maybe has done bad.

But antiheroes are cool:

JC: It’s a trope that has slightly vanished from cinema because people are a bit frightened of antiheroes now. People are very keen to make the protagonist sympathetic in the first act, give him a wife and kids, have the kid be kidnapped. You get that in notes a lot, how is the audience going to invest in it? Some of my favorite films, Snake Plissken, Assault on Precinct 13, you’re not sure where you stand with the protagonist. For me that’s kinda cool. That’s what I wanted to try and do.

Cornish cast real kids with little acting experience:

JC: They’re all 16 and over. A lot of them are from backgrounds not entirely dissimilar to the kids in the story. A lot of them are local to the area where we shot it. In terms of working with them, it was an absolute joy. The arc of the movie is that you start with these masked kids. You don’t know how old they are. You don’t know who they are, what color they are. They’re just bandits. As the story progresses, you unpeel the layers and hopefully give them dimension and stuff. That happened a little on the set as well. You could see the talent but they were socially a bit shy. They wouldn’t make eye contact, they tried to be tough, tried not to let themselves be vulnerable but the beautiful thing was as we shot, they just became more and more relaxed. By the time we were through the rehearsal period even they were like friends.

And they reflect the multi-ethnic streets of the U.K.:

JC: I don’t actually think race has a huge amount to do with my film. I really wanted to give a young black actor the lead role. as someone who lives in a very mixed urban area, I don’t see it reflected on the screen very much. Apart from that, they were kind of interchangeable. I certainly didn’t cast with color in mind.

He’s bringing back hardcore movies for kids:

JC: We were kids at possibly the best time, not just for children’s cinema but what Lucas and Spielberg were doing wasn’t children’s cinema as we perceive it now. It wasn’t like four quadrant box ticking. Talk about penis breath in E.T., talk about Indiana Jones saying sh*t on the bridge. I wasn’t allowed to see Scanners yet I could see Raiders as a kid, so we just had this amazing period. For me, I think maybe it’s people of that generation just working that sh*t through because it had such an affect on us. Plus a feeling of the absence of that energy from contemporary cinema. Contemporary cinema’s become so polarized. It’s either for children or it’s an extremely sadistic horror. That sense where the energies were mixed up a bit and you didn’t know quite what you were going to get that was there in all of Lucas’s and Spielberg’s stuff has gone a bit.

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SXSW: Anton Yelchin Talks ‘The Beaver’ And ‘Like Crazy’ Wed, 23 Mar 2011 18:34:39 +0000 Fred Topel What's it like playing opposite Jennifer Lawrence and a woodland creature puppet?

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I got to interview Anton Yelchin for The Beaver at SXSW. He plays Porter, the teenage son of Walter Black (Mel Gibson). Porter hates his father and keeps a list of all of Walter’s flaws, so he can avoid them. He’s really not buying it when Walter wants to talk through a beaver puppet on his hand. In his own teenage life, he’s encouraging class valedictorian Nora (Jennifer Lawrence) to deal with her past and get back to her art.

Yelchin is now attached to several franchises including Star Trek and Terminator, but I was going for a different scoop. I saw Like Crazy at Sundance and it so profoundly affected me, I wanted to bring you the advanced scoop on the film that Paramount will release later this year. In Like Crazy, Yelchin plays Jacob, who struggles with a long distance relationship to Anna (Felicity Jones) in England. His on-again/off-again American girlfriend is Sam (Jennifer Lawrence again).

I hope this makes sense. It was day 7 on 3 hours sleep per night.

Q: Both The Beaver and Like Crazy seem to deal with characters addressing issues that are difficult for people to talk about. Did you see that connection?

AY: Yeah, I mean I think Like Crazy, people sort of find easier to talk about because it’s a love story. It’s hard for people, it makes people sad because it reminds them of their own personal heartbreak. I think The Beaver has sort of a much more serious issue at its core which is depression. Personally I think depression is a more serious issue than a long-distance relationship but obviously both films are about the two profoundly affecting the people involved, restructuring their lives completely. But I also think the way that Like Crazy approaches long distance relationships isn’t something that people like to talk about. People like to think that it’s clean but it’s not. It’s completely ambiguous and really difficult for each party involved. Sometimes you just don’t know because Jacob and Anna date other people while they’re still together technically. It’s gray. It’s kind of a gray area.

Q: In Like Crazy I think they’re dealing with blame and anger too.

AY: Sure, yeah, it’s that thing of pointing fingers but who can you really [blame?] With Walter Black in The Beaver, it’s not his fault that he is depressed. It’s not but it profoundly affects the people around him. It ruins their lives. In a relationship, it’s neither of their faults that it worked out that way in Like Crazy that they’re across the world from each other. They both did it together and then it just is how it is. But you’re right, a lot of it is about wanting to blame somebody for something and seeing that you can’t really and trying to understand that.

Q: With The Beaver, it’s more straightforward that talking through a beaver puppet is not healthy. Does that make it harsher dramatically?

AY: Of course, it’s more tragic I think personally because you see a man suffering so much that he has to resort to talking through a puppet he found in a trash can.

Q: Walter’s dealing with that, but Porter’s helping Nora deal with an unspoken issue so it’s more layered that just the beaver.

AY: Right, of course, and I think one thing is that Porter and Walter both have issues that they don’t face. That’s what it is, by being afraid, by both having fathers that are depressive and Walter’s father committed suicide and Walter has incredible depression as a result of that. Porter is afraid to be like his father so he suffers this kind of depression as well and falls into what his father falls into. Porter then tries to do everything he can but face his own issues. He’ll take Nora’s very dark past and try and help her face it, which is almost like a cry for help to have himself face his own issues but he uses it on her instead of taking it into consideration for himself.

Q: It did make me happy for Jennifer Lawrence. At least she got to end up with you in one movie.

AY: Yeah, Jen, man, she’s so great. She’s such a great actress. She’s so different in Like Crazy, so different in The Beaver, she’s different in everything. She’s just a great actress.

Q: But one of the most heartbreaking things in Like Crazy was that Sam was an amazing girl. She just wasn’t Anna.

AY: Yeah, that scene kills me. I think Jen is so brilliant in it, where she starts crying and he has to tell her he has to go. She just loves him and wants to know if he loves her and he does. It’s not that he doesn’t love her. It’s just a different kind of love. It’s not that same thing. It’s a friendship. It’s great because Jen and I had already done The Beaver so we were already friends. Because it was an improv film our comfort level with each other, not that we couldn’t do it if we hadn’t met before, but we were really comfortable with one another. We know one another, we’re friends. I think that translated into making the relationship between Sam and Jacob more like a friendship.

Q: Do you think maybe Porter keeping a list of all the flaws he wants to avoid might not be the way to deal with it either?

AY: Yeah, exactly. He keeps a list of the flaws just to make himself more angry about who he is. To remember to not do those things because he thinks they’re going to make him like his father. So it really is just another way of him trapping himself inside of this nonidentity, this weird thing that’s not a realistic construct. It’s a construct that he uses to trap himself. You can’t avoid having an identity. You are who you are but that fear of facing that, that fear that maybe who he is is like his father, he tries to stay away from it by listing all these things, it’s completely unhealthy and traps him in all this pain.

Q: One of them is “hates his father who hated his father who hated his father.” So what does he think he’s doing?

AY: He’s not avoiding it. He lists them and he can’t do anything. It’s a completely unconstructive, painful, unpleasant place to be and it ultimately almost destroys him.

Q: What was acting with the beaver like?

AY: Well, it’s different for me because Porter never acknowledges the beaver. He always thinks it’s ridiculous so he addresses his father, and he doesn’t even really address his father. He addresses his mom but when he deals with his father in the hallway, he just thinks it’s ridiculous. It’s insulting and hurtful to him and there’s also that relationship of his father has now chosen a puppet over him. Not only has his fathe taken himself out of the family and this is of course on a subconscious level where it’s like because all he thinks is he hates his dad, really he wants his father. A father is the missing part of his life, the part that he can’t face and it hurts him tremendously. But to add insult to injury, his father has now replaced connection with his family with a puppet.

Q: Were there ever moments on the set where it just seemed ridiculous?

AY: I think Mel loved it. I think it’s a great character. I think he does such an amazing job in the movie, for an actor I think that opportunity is pretty great, to be able to play a man who has a beaver and his hand.

Q: When you’ve had conversations about Like Crazy, have you found it’s really revealing about the people who are telling you their experiences?

AY: Yeah, that’s one thing about Like Crazy. Everyone had their own story related to the movie. Everyone had their own heartbreak. Everyone had their own love that they would cry about when they talked about it. All different age groups, both sexes, everyone had that one person or maybe a couple people that had affected their lives in that way and they told me.

Q: Even the people who are cynical about it reveals how strong they feel relationships can or can’t last.

AY: Yeah, because I think Like Crazy’s a subtle film, it doesn’t really give answers. It sort of shows a situation that there really is no answer to. That’s why I think it ends like that. You see a moment in time in a kind of voyeuristic way.

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SXSW Review: Incendiary: The Willingham Case Wed, 23 Mar 2011 16:04:35 +0000 Joseph Gibson A compelling documentary about how Todd Willingham was charged and executed for the murder of this three children.

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Cameron Todd Willingham, by most accounts, was a son of a bitch. He hit his wife, drank too much, and listened to Slayer. He also loved his three children, which is why it came as such a shock when he was brought up on charges of burning them to death along with the family home. Incendiary: The Willingham Case is a compelling documentary about how he was charged and executed, despite a total lack of evidence indicating he was actually guilty, nor that a crime had even been committed.

How can this be? The movie lays out the case that the guilty party is the outmoded and antiquated field of fire investigation, which often runs counter to scientific facts about fire. There were many points of evidence used to convict Willingham, and the movie lays out several of them, and then has a variety of fire experts (who are true scientists, not pseudoscientists like the “arson investigators” who collected the evidence that convicted Willingham ) debunk every one. It’s pretty scary to think that a man can wake up to his house on fire and his children burning, and end up getting executed for their murders, but that’s why a documentary like this needs to be seen.

And the movie doesn’t fail its subject. Joe Bailey Jr. and Steve Mims, the film’s directors, go heavy on facts and expert testimony and light on heartstring-tugging, without letting the movie get bogged down or boring. This is a movie with a lot of information to convey, and it does it in a briskly entertaining fashion – there’s a surprising amount of humor in the movie, especially at the expense of the Texas politicians complicit in faulty evidence being allowed to lead to a lethal injection.

It might not be possible for a movie to change the world, but Incendiary will probably accomplish the next best thing and make you think about the issues at stake – not just the death penalty and wrongfu conviction, but arson investigation and politics taking precedence over justice.

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SXSW Filmmaker Wrap-Up Tue, 22 Mar 2011 19:13:17 +0000 Fred Topel I made it a point to interview as many new filmmakers as I could at SXSW. You never know who’s going to become the next big thing.

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I made it a point to interview as many new filmmakers as I could at SXSW. You never know who’s going to become the next big thing. Even if they don’t, I’m celebrating film.

Aaron Rottinghaus wrote and directed Apart, and Josh Danziger co-wrote and stars in the film. He plays Noah Greene, a man who suffers from a rare disorder where he shares delusions with others afflicted with his condition. The film unfolds revealing a mystery through his delusions.

Q: How did you hear about shared delusions?

Josh Danzinger: A doctor friend of mine. He was an intern at the time. He called me up and was like, “You’re not going to believe what happened to me at 3AM. A couple people came into the ER with gashes on their arms claiming they had worms coming out of it. What they did was they took a cleaning salt and burned their skin, got a knife to try and carve out the worms.” Obviously he wanted to find out what medication they were on. All their tests came back negative and they diagnosed them with this rare but real psychological disorder. My first question was: Are you making this up? Are you trying to tell me a funny story? He sent me some case studies and some research. I called Aaron and said, “Dude, this is pretty interesting. You should take a look at it.” I was really drawn into the tragedy of it, about the two people who want to be together but they can’t because they share this disorder.

Aaron Rottinghaus: I was really interested in doing a movie where exactly that happens, where two people are in love or their relationship is something that causes harm and causes damage. We just didn’t have a hook for it so luckily we heard that story and it fit perfectly with what we wanted to do.

Q: How did you come up with a mystery that would unfold through this condition?

AR: Honestly, it was a case on knowing that a lot of the themes that I wanted to touch on and that kind of love story that can’t be is not necessarily the best way to go as far as getting financing. So we decided it would be better if we made it kind of a thriller and really amped up the delusion aspect of the film. Not necessarily made it about that but kind of smuggled the ideas that we wanted to get in there.

JD: Aaron and I always like movies where you’re just kind of thrown in as an audience and you have to see a character dig their way out.

Q: How did you get the film to look polished, not like those raw first films? Did you have some practice?

AR: A bit but it was really just a case of wanting to be exactly that, have that kind of polished, not glossy but certainly a more Hollywood sensibility and old Hollywood, classic studio film way of making film, rather than grabbing and go with the camera. So many indie movies do that and I thought we could really, not rise above, but separate ourselves if we attempted to just really take our time. J.P. Lipa our DP was really instrumental in having discussions about composition and aesthetics from Vertigo and those kind of films. Let’s really take our time and compose an image and make it something that’s nice to look at.

Cold Sweat was a SXFantastic horror movie, picked out by the programmers of the Alamo Drafthouse and Fantastic Fest. Set in a house rigged with explosives, director Adrian Garcia Bogliano crafted suspense with characters coated with nitroglycerin in rooms rigged with dynamite. He’s made 6 Argentine films before, but he’s new to us.

Q: I take it I’m not the first person to compare your film to Wages of Fear?

Adrian Garcia Bogliano: No, it was a big reference to us. Actually a bigger reference was the remake, Sorcerer. It was all over the film. To me, Sorcerer is probably the best suspense film I’ve ever seen. I love it.

Q: Why do you prefer it to the original?

AGB: It has this beautiful sequence in the hanging bridge. It’s a beautiful sequence and I love Roy Scheider. But I love Wages of Fear anyway.

Q: How did you think of suspense scenes for the human body?

AGB: That was actually the idea I came with. I wanted to make something like Sorcerer but at the same time I wanted to do this film where there should be a chase, but the chase should be in the smallest distance possible. Half of the film is a chase in 50 meters.

Q: And with a house of horrors, instead of making it bigger, you kept it smaller.

AGB: That was the point and People Under the Stairs was always a big reference.

Q: Oh, so I was right about that?

AGB: Totally and we thought a lot. The tone of the film is great, that kind of almost fairy tale. The thing of the house and the traps and these spaces behind the walls, that’s something I used in my first film. Those are beautiful ideas.

Q: We love when horror movies have nudity, but you turned it into a suspenseful scene. How can she get her clothes off when they’re soaked in nitro?

AGB: [Laughs] Yeah, I found it pretty funny and people actually never laugh in that moment. I think it’s very absurd but it’s kind of funny, a very teenager moment when the other girl says, “You have to take your clothes off because you’re full of that.” The guys says, “Yeah, it’s for the best.” To me it’s really absurd but I thought it was an interesting thing to have this nudity because you need those elements. It can be nudity, a little bit of comedy relief. I understand that.

Septien was probably the weirdest movie I saw at SXSW. Thre brothers are living on a farm. Ezra’s taking care of everyone and cleaning up the septic tank. Cornelius is hustling athletes on the tennis and basketball courts. Amos is drawing naughty art in the bar. Thing get really crazy when the plumber comes. I got director Michael Tully to explain it to me.

Q: Are you being artistic without being pretentious?

Michael Tully: It’s really important to me to not have your head up your ass. Some filmmakers are self absorbed and it’s such an obsessive, disgusting thing to do. I feel personally icky when I was shirking my girlfriend to be worrying about the movie. It’s just important to me to respect the fact that everyone’s lives are important and this movie that we’re making isn’t the most important thing in the world. We’re proud of it and want people to like it.

Q: You’re putting some crazy shit out there though.

MT: I wasn’t trying to be antagonistic, alienating. We were trying to do original things and ideas that we wanted to see and explore and experiment. For me it was almost an experimental film but the way people talk about it now is that the story is pretty basic. By the end it sort of has a narrative arc. We wanted you to watch these characters and this movie and then maybe by the end start thinking about who in the hell would come up with this? While you were watching the movie, we didn’t want to be self-conscious or pretentious about it. It’s hard because the movie is different.

Q: What were you trying to express with this?

MT: I don’t know. For us, Robert talks about it maybe as an inside joke that we had with ourselves. We don’t know if anyone outside of us will respond to it but filmmaking is a very conscious act if you’re trying to raise the bar and make something. We’re trying to make maybe just subconscious, going from stream of consciousness where we’re shooting on film and you have 16 days and you’re scheduling and all that. I think it was fun for us to feel like this movie was made from someone’s subconscious who wasn’t overthinking things too much.

Little Deaths was a horror anthology in the SXFantastic category. The three stories all dealt with sexual bondage in some ways. Simon Rumley and Sean Hogan, two of the three directors, were in Austin to answer some questions about their edgy film.

Q: What was the brainstorming session on sexual topics?

SH: It happened a bit more naturally and coincidentally than that. We decided we were going to do an anthology but the thinking was let’s just go away and see what we come up with and then we’ll decide how these films are going to work together, if they will work together, etc. We just came back to the table and the stories were pretty much as they are now. Essentially they all had that core of sexual deviancy at the heart of them and it was lik eureka! That’s the film. We just ran with it.

SR: Mine had the sexuality in it but the whole S&M stuff with the mask came in later drafts. As I went on, that actually became more of what the film was about.

Q: How did you cast some beautiful women we’ve never seen before?

SR: It was more by default that you’d never seen them before because we both had a list of actresses initially to go to. We went to them, they all were like, “No way.” Then we started having open casting. People would come to that read and some would drop out after they read it and not even bother coming to the audition. Then many people came to the audition and said that they were happy to do the role, we offered it to a few different people and they were still saying no. In the end, we probably had about five or six casting sessions but we’re very fortunate to get Kate [Braithwaite]. As you said, you haven’t seen her before. She hasn’t done a lot of acting. She’s done a bit of modeling and promos and stuff like that, but I think she’s an absolute natural and as you say, very pretty. It was nice to have an audition at the very end of the process and find someone who was so good.

SH: I had one casting session where literally every actress cancelled who was supposed to be coming in to read. It did get down to the wire, but Holly was one of the first people I saw and I immediately liked her.

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SXSW Review: Jez Jerzy Mon, 21 Mar 2011 20:07:05 +0000 Fred Topel This Polish animated movie seems like it would be perfect for people who like Hentai. Personally, animated sex and bestiality don’t do anything for me.

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This Polish animated movie seems like it would be perfect for people who like Hentai. Personally, animated sex and bestiality don’t do anything for me, but I can appreciate a movie that satisfies its target market.

George the Hedgehog is a womanizing local hero. Some scientists hire thugs to steal some of George’s spikes and blood so they can create a clone. Even though the clone looks like a sickly, banged up version of George, mistaken identity ensues.

The film is full of cartoon antics that never let up. It may be weird but it’s never uneventful. George is having an affair with Yola, and she helps him distract the thugs by flashing her boobs. The thugs chase George around a market, in cars, and through a fun park.

When the clone escapes, Yola can’t seem to tell the difference but she’s disgusted by George’s new behavior (because screwing a hedgehog is cool but he better not disrespect her.) The clone humps a light socket and gets shocked, and ultimately goes on a rampage, letting blow up dolls loose to fly around the city.

The clone ends up in prison, farting in his cell and becoming Roman’s bitch. The clone becomes a celebrity and the local hooker Lilka has a musical number. This is making you want to see the movie, isn’t it? I know it’s weird, but I’m not sure it’s good.

The one part that was clever was a group of critics on Telekultura analyzing the metaphors of George’s antics. Their theory about what the blow up dolls represent is a good kind of weird. Otherwise, just drawing outrageous cartoon antics doesn’t make it interesting. You can draw anything, and the naughty cartoon isn’t even a shocking idea anymore.

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SXSW Review: Fubar: Balls To The Wall Mon, 21 Mar 2011 19:49:13 +0000 Fred Topel I can see it being the type of movie you discover at midnight and it becomes an inside joke with your friends.

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I can see Fubar being the type of movie you discover at midnight and it becomes an inside joke with your friends. I definitely didn’t feel lost having not seen Fubar 1. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

Fubar: Balls to the Wall picks up five years later with Terry (David Lawrence) throwing a celebration for Dean (Paul J. Spence) remaining cancer free. I take it he kicked cancer at the end of Fubar 1. After Dean and Terry get evicted, they need to go take a job on the oil pipeline with Tron (Andy Sparacino). Terry falls in love with the local strip club waitress Trish (Terra Hazelton) which drives a wedge through his friendship with Dean.

The movie is really a series of comedy episodes, which I appreciate because why waste precious joke time trying to have a plot. The oil job and the new girlfriend are the thinnest of plots to set up Dean and Terry.

They start a fire at the party, go visit Dean’s kids, go through safety class, try to get workman’s comp, go to a waterpark, etc. The bits are quick cut so you only have to see the jokes. Director Michael Dowse doesn’t spend leisurely time showing us how the comedians improv’ed their way to those jokes.

Dean and Terry speak in outdated heavy metal slang, and the sincerity of it makes it funnier. Yeah, we’ve seen heavy metal headbangers before, but I think these guys are older and the movie acknowledges that it’s not cute anymore, but it’s still funny.

I could see myself watching more Fubar movies about Terry and Dean. They’re light and funny, so I know I’ll at least get some breezy joy. I might have to steel myself before I take a risk with a different indie troupe. At the very least I’ll watch Fubar 1 and see if I appreciate the deeper mythology that’s expanded in Fubar: Balls to the Wall.

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SXSW Review: Surrogate Valentine Mon, 21 Mar 2011 16:07:09 +0000 Fred Topel A typical indie drama about unresolved feelings, yet it’s entirely watchable and relatable.

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Surrogate Valentine is a typical indie drama about unresolved feelings, yet it’s entirely watchable and relatable. It feels like God Nakamura’s raw personal statement. Maybe it’s the black and white of it all, but it’s easy to go with it, certainly not too demanding at only 75 minutes, and only 70 before credits role.

Goh Nakamura (himself) is a struggling musician. His friend Amy (Joy Osmanski) wants him to let actor Danny Tyler (Chadd Stoops) shadow him for the role of a musician in her script. Through Danny, we learn the day to day struggles Goh faces, although Danny never seems to get it.

Danny is so obnoxious from the moment he starts badly imitating Goh’s speech pattern. He asks invasive questions about Goh’s sexual encounters. He answers his phone while Goh’s trying to sleep. He just never shuts up. The character of an egotistical idiot actor is nothing new, but Stoops puts the D back in D bag.

Goh is so frustrated it’s palpable. His groupie Valerie (Mary Cavett) isn’t what he wants out of the music industry. He’s got to hustle to get his CD in stores, and he’s turned down after driving all night to a meeting. He can’t even get a decent drummer in the studio so his album is ruined.

His biggest frustration is that he can’t quite tell his longtime friend Rachel (Lynn Chen) how he feels about her. That’s the really typical unresolved indie issue. Danny tries to help him by keeping Rachel’s boyfriend distracted, but Goh wouldn’t make a move.

Nakamura co-wrote the script and if this is all made up, then he’s a master dramatist. He and director Dave Boyle managed to craft an intimate film out of the simple means. The story moves and we want to spend time with the characters, even if we know it’s probably not going anywhere.

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SXSW Review: Cold Sweat Sun, 20 Mar 2011 16:50:01 +0000 Fred Topel The SXFantastic selection Cold Sweat is like The Wages of Fear crossed with Saw, with touches of The People Under the Stairs.

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The SXFantastic selection Cold Sweat (Sudor Frio) is like The Wages of Fear crossed with Saw, with touches of The People Under the Stairs. Works for me, as Stairs is actually my favorite horror movie.

Ali (Marina Glezer) and Roman (Facundo Espinosa) go looking for his lost girlfriend Jacqui (Camila Velasco). They find her in a crazy house where two old men rig people with explosive chemicals. They have to escape rooms full of traps, by moving very, very slowly so they don’t set off the nitro.

Roman finds Jacqui on a table covered in nitroglycerin. The whole process of getting her off the table takes five minutes. The gratuitous horror nudity is a whole Wages of Fear endeavor because Jacqui has to strip off her nitro soaked clothes. They have to inch up stairs with dynamite crates underneath.

Focusing on the sweat really works. Each drop feels like a story, moving from brow to cheek, and will it drop on the ground and cause an explosive reaction? There’s still room for humor, when Ali and Roman think to cut Jacqui’s nitro soaked hair and Jacqui still doesn’t want it too short.

The house of horrors is my People Under the Stairs aspect, but it turns out there actually are people under the stairs too! Mutilated victims of previous explosions didn’t quite die, so they show up scarred.

Every room of the house is an even crazier nitro situation. Each one takes 10-12 minutes to clear, so the screen time really lasts in a relatively contained environment. Some rooms get too hot for the nitro and the bombers have the house set up to plague intruders.

The explosives are tied to an event in Argentine history where militia explosives went missing. That may play well in Buenos Aires, but as far as I’m concerned they could just be some crazy dudes stockpiling nitro. I definitely want to see writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano’s other films because he constructs suspense so skillfully here.

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SXSW Review: The FP Sun, 20 Mar 2011 16:43:07 +0000 Fred Topel Exactly the kind of movie I hope to see at Fantastic Fest, or any film festival. Just a crazy creation by original artists who show up out of nowhere

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The FP is exactly the kind of movie I hope to see at Fantastic Fest, or any film festival. Just a crazy creation by original artists who show up out of nowhere, at least in my world. I hope they benefit from being part of the SXFantastic portion of SXSW.

In Frazier Park, gangs 248N and 245 S battle for territory via the dance game Beat Beat Revelation. When JTRO (Jason Trost) loses his brother BTRO (Brandon Barrera) in a BBR match, he swears off the game. But KCDC (Art Hsu) brings him out of retirement to take The FP back from the 248.

All the costumes and gang battle lairs are fantastic, but what really makes The FP a new world is the language. The Tros brothers (Jason and Brandon) have taken rap dialect and turned it into a sci-fi world. People in The FP speak aggressively profane but they’re so sincere and emotional about it. KCDC’s story about how losing the homeless affects the ducks in the pond is so passionate. ‘DC also explains the philosophy of Never Ignorant in Getting Goals Accomplished.

The plot follows the sports movie formula with sincere irreverence. Of course JTRO is traumatized by BTRO’s death, but it plays out like a Rocky movie as BTRO loses control of his legs and falls, gets counted out and gives JTRO some dying words in his arms. JTRO even screams to the heavens. KCDC introduces JTRO to BLT (Nick Principe), a mysterious master with unorthodox training methods.

The love interest is Stacy (Caitlyn Folley), a former JTRO fan who he discovers is being abused by her trailer park dad. Stacy’s heartfelt sob story is ridiculous, but part of the FP tone. It all culminates in a BBR cage match, as if it matters whether you dance in a cage or an open space.

The dance scenes look like Trost and his opponents really are stepping to the moves on screen. Most Hollywood Dance Dance Revolution scenes just look like someone’s jumping around. The music in BBR is better than the music in the real DDR.

This seems to be the Trost family project, since half the crew also shares the last name. The Trosts are one talented family. They created a new world that transports us away even with their limited means. That’s what we want film to do in general, let alone a weird home movie. The FP will be the Trosts’ calling card. Like Evil Dead introduced Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell, I expect this to be the beginning of the Trost genre.

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SXSW Review: Cave Of Forgotten Dreams Sat, 19 Mar 2011 01:56:36 +0000 Fred Topel It sure is pretty, but man, it’s soooo boring.

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Werner Herzog made a documentary about the Chauvet cave, where the earliest cave paintings ever discovered have been preserved like the cavemen drew them yesterday. Cave of Forgotten Dreams sure is pretty, but man, it’s soooo boring.

It’s a History documentary so it’s educational and informative, and has no personality and just lingers on scientific information. 3D or not, the crystallized rock looks beautiful, but as a screensaver, not a movie.

The film explains how any scientists at all are allowed in the cave. There’s a sterile chamber where you put on sterile boots and gear so that you don’t contaminate the caves. They’ve put in a metal walkway and you have to stick to that so you don’t get your modern day grease on the stones.

Herzog narrates and it’s kind of funny that he’s so seriously enunciating in accented English, but that won’t carry you through 90 minutes. He is still crazy Werner Herzog, interviewing scientists and asking about caveman dreams. One of the scientists is a former circus performer too. He also wants the explorers to be silent in the caves and listen to their own heartbeats.

The scientists create a story of the caveman. They notice a handprint with a distinct finger so they know it’s the same caveman. Analyzing the paintings reveals that some overlapping drawings were made 5000 years apart, so that’s how long these cultures were making their art.

I know, I know, it’s art. I’m supposed to broaden my mind outside the confines of mainstream narratives. Look, I’ve watched Herzog drag a ship across a country in real time. You’d just have to be a geology buff to care at all about empty caves.

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SXSW Review: Bag Of Hammers Fri, 18 Mar 2011 22:28:03 +0000 Fred Topel First time diretor Brian Crano made a movie that holds up with Hollywood fare, so if his next idea is more ambitious he could have the chops.

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Film festivals have made me really sensitive to first time features. If a first time director on a truly low budget can make a film that holds your interest, that’s a victory. If Martin Scorsese made A Bag of Hammers it would be a disappointment, but director Brian Crano made a movie that holds up with Hollywood fare, so if his next idea is more ambitious he could have the chops.

Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) steal cars by posing as complimentary valets. Warning, if your funeral offers free valet service, don’t trust them. Alan’s sister Melanie (Rebecca Hall) wants the boys to get real jobs but really, waiting tables can’t compete with stealing cars.

They rent their side apartment to Lynette who moves in with Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury), and it’s clear she’s neglecting him. Lynette tries to get work but employment agencies won’t place her with limited skills. So when she leaves Kelsey alone, Alan wants to take care of him. That’s his conflict with Ben.

So Bag of Hammers tells a story with a beginning, middle and end. Alan and Ben have a lifestyle, something shakes it up, and they resolve it. I don’t think the story of car thieves taking care of a kid is going to to the box office, but people will see it, they’ll like it, they’ll move on, but the film can play.

Sandvig, who also co-wrote the script, keeps things light with his one-liners. They may not be quotable to college stoners, but they’re entertaining. Ben’s conflicted attempts to become a purse snatcher are pretty funny.

The dramatic moments are powerful. When Ben breaks the news to Kelsey, Ritter’s performance is sincere. They never play the heartwarming child card so it’s not obnoxious. Ben, Melanie, Alan and Kelsey all have some traumatic stories to tell.

Shot on the Red camera, the picture totally holds up. On a big screen, it looks like a Blu-ray. It’s clear, it’s sharp. That goes a long way toward making it look like a real movie. Obviously they had a bit more money than the shoestring indies who make do with consumer models, but Crano uses the frame well.

When picking a movie to see, whether on a film festival schedule or at a multiplex or on demand menu, A Bag of Hammers is a good choice. I knew two of the leads before so that makes it comfortable, and it’s well done so not a bad discovery.

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SXSW Review: Becoming Santa Fri, 18 Mar 2011 22:04:03 +0000 Fred Topel I was not feeling the Christmas spirit on the SXSW Audience Award winning documentary.

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I must be getting fatigued, because I was not feeling the Christmas spirit on the SXSW Audience Award winning documentary Becoming Santa. In fact, I could be downright cynical about it.

Jack is a 44-year-old man in Los Angeles, but he’s from New Hampshire where they had white Christmases. After his mom died, he stopped celebrating and has now totally lost his Christmas spirit. But an old photo he finds of his dad dressed as Santa Claus inspires him. Maybe if he can become a Santa this year, he’ll get his Christmas spirit back.

The industry of training Santas is pretty interesting. Santa school is crazy, thanks to Susan, the instructor who takes it way too seriously. She’s right though, Santa has to be above human sympathy, because he’s magically compassionate. It comes down to rules like calling them children, because that’s more magical than “kids.”

These are tough orders to follow and Jack is rightfully skeptical of Susan. She puts her Santas through the tests of Spanish speaking children, crying babies and even plays a difficult child herself. Santa could be put in the position of explaining heaven, and he’s got to wing it if a Christmas wish is to find Osama bin Laden. Hey, it could come up.

The problem I started having is I don’t think Jack ever got it. He remains cynical when working with real children. He makes jokes at the expense of babbling incomprehensible kids. Look, we know it makes no sense, but you don’t have to joke about it with their parents. Just tell the children, “What a wonderful wish, Santa hears you.” He even makes fun of letters to Santa. Sure, some brats are entitled and demand a lot, but that’s their parents’ problem. You just humor them.

Jack finally finds some joy in it, I think. I mean, he’s better off then when he was moping around, and it’s only his first year so maybe he’ll get into it like the others. We meet some year-round pros who range from ultra-serious character actors to just sweet men who like to bring a little joy to children.

More industry tidbits include confirmation that Coke did NOT invent the red and white suit. The Operation Santa Claus system is a wonderful charity, and it’s interesting how they maintain the families’ privacy while allowing benefactors to donate.

The film concludes with a brief touch on the depression that sets in in January. I get that because I feel it when I return from festivals like SXSW. Ultimately, the film is all about love and goodness and it’s a well made documentary to cover the grueling demands of a Santa. I just didn’t think Jack actually succeeded, but maybe that’s just manipulative editing.

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SXSW Review: Kill List Fri, 18 Mar 2011 16:09:11 +0000 Fred Topel I did not enjoy Kill List, and not because it’s offensive or upsetting. It’s because it’s phony.

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I did not enjoy Kill List, and not because it’s offensive or upsetting. It’s because it’s phony. If you’re trying to traumatize me, you’re going to have to earn it.

The whole movie is predicated on a final shot that’s going to leave the audience shaken. It is a cinematic taboo, but it goes there. Well, if you know that the cinematic taboo was contrived to upset you, why would you give the filmmakers the power to do so? Take the power back, call it what it is and hold your head high as one of the few who didn’t let a movie get to them.

See, I understand film too much. You can’t just shock me. The whole movie is so generic, I’m not about to care when you pull the rug out. I actually had nothing to write about until the last shot though, so at least it gave me a reason to review the film.

The story is just about two contract killers running down the list. How shocking is that? Before we find out they’re killers (although it’s not a stretch for anyone in a movie to turn out to be a hit man these days), we just see them at a dinner party. Jay (Neil Maskell) is a total douche to his wife Shel (MyAnna Buring). He forgets to buy toilet paper, eats all the lamb and flips the plates over at the table. Jay’s partner, Gal (Michael Smiley), seems to be just the straight man.

Dead animals show up throughout, some just road kill style, but some genuine on screen carcasses. That’s another cheap trick. I know people are upset when they see dogs die, but come on. They’re only showing you dead animals to push that taboo, so don’t give them the power. Make them work harder for a reaction.

The murders are graphic, and there’s one cool shot where a victim puts his head on the table and Jay bashes it in without cutting away. That’s a neat trick, but brutal violence itself is not shocking or upsetting. I expect killers to be violent. That alone makes it an okay hit man film for a low budget first time feature. But it’s a second feature and after legitimate British TV work, so Ben Wheatley should know better. Or at least we should know better than to be affected by the pre-programmed hot buttons.

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SXSW Review: The Beaver Thu, 17 Mar 2011 14:19:27 +0000 Fred Topel A strong portrait of coping with depression. With a beaver.

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The Beaver is a strong portrait of coping with depression. It’s got a whimsical tone, which makes the dark moments all the more poignant. Jodie Foster shows as a director that you really can make a movie about anything if you do it right. I mean, a guy with a beaver puppet? Come on!

Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is moping through depression. He tries techniques as extreme as self-flagellation and he sleeps all the time. His son Porter (Anton Yelchin) keeps track of all of Walter’s bad habits so he can avoid the same patterns. Walter’s wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) finally kicks him out of the house because he won’t find a successful treatment.

Walter finds a beaver puppet in his trunk and, talking throug the beaver, thwarts his own suicide attempt. The beaver calls himself The Beaver and talks for him in an Australian accent. The Beaver presents this plan to Meredith, who has the normal human reaction, so The Beaver lies and says it’s a doctor’s idea. So she goes with it.

The depression is palpable. Gibson is really effective portraying Walter’s pain with silent looks. He also makes you believe he believes this beaver is talking, even when you can see his lips move. He’s so sincere and determined, that’s even better than playing it straight faced.

There really is a lot you can do with a beaver too. Walter showers with it and blows it dry. He has sex with Meredith wearing it and cuddles with it around her. The Beaver even gives him business success with a wood carving kit that becomes all the rage in toy stores. There’s no end to awkward situations with a beaver.

There’s a teen story between Porter and Nora (Jennifer Lawrence), the school valedictorian with a traumatic past of her own. The film deals with ou buried issues at all levels.

The film gets dark. The beaver is not cute anymore after a while and Walter’s forced it on his family. I wouldn’t say it’s a realistic portrayal of mental illness, but a metaphor for it with the beaver representing a dangerous coping mechanism in cinematic form.

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SXSW Pic Gallery: ‘Paul’, Conan, And Del Toro Wed, 16 Mar 2011 16:57:05 +0000 Fred Topel The stars walked about Austin like normal human beings.

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While reporting from South by Southwest I’ve stood on a few red carpets to get interviews, and sat in a few screenings where the stars got on stage for a Q&A. At the premiere of Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop, O’Brien got out of his car on the street and greeted fans on his way to the photo pit, including Allison Schiman in her pro-jeggings tank top. After the movie, O’Brien answered questions from the audience.

At the red carpet for Paul and Bridesmaids, Kristin Wiig did press for both films. Paul’s Simon Pegg and Nick Frost also walked. The whole gang got on stage before and after Paul to geek out with the fanboy crowd.

At the Aint It Cool News secret screening, Harry Knowles teased the film and special guest. It was Guilermo del Toro who revealed the movie would be 1981’s Dragonslayer. After the film, Knowles and del Toro spent a half hour discussing how they felt the film had more balls than today’s kids movies and fantasy movies in general.

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Rebecca Hall Is Wearing A Waffle On Her Head Wed, 16 Mar 2011 16:41:23 +0000 Wookie Johnson This trailer for SXSW favorite, A Bag Of Hammers, is dripping with offbeat. Like that towel your brother keeps under his bed.

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This trailer for SXSW favorite, A Bag Of Hammers, is dripping with offbeat. Like that towel your brother keeps under his bed. Jason Ritter and Jake Sandvig star as a pair of con men with an expertise for quirky scams – like stealing cars from funerals. They befriend the abandoned boy who lives next door before Rebecca “Wafflehead” Hall‘s interference causes tragedy to strike. Way to go, Wafflehead.

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SXSW Review: Hit So Hard: The Life And Near Death Of Patty Schemel Wed, 16 Mar 2011 16:15:35 +0000 Fred Topel The story of Hole drummer Patty Schemel is a cautionary tale of drugs and recovery, and a portrait of the ‘90s grunge scene.

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The story of Hole drummer Patty Schemel is a cautionary tale of drugs and recovery, and a portrait of the ‘90s grunge scene. It’s not particularly distinct, but it tells the story. Focusing on the drummer makes it more of an objective perspective, as opposed to a celebrity profile. We already know the Courtney Love story.

Hit So Hard: The Life and Near Death of Patty Schemel starts with 1995 footage from Schemel’s own home recordings. They look like VHS, only without the degradation of tracking problems because they were top of the line Hi-8. The new interview footage looks only slightly better, as if they only used the DV cameras from 10 years ago.

Schemel really stands out behind the drums, like a cute kid playing around. Of course those are the clips they chose for the edit, but I bet she had that energy consistently. You see the ’95 Lollapalooza tour and other major venue concerts, from the side of the stage.

Kurt Cobain shows up and the real hook for fans will be to see intimate scenes of his last days. There isn’t that much. The Cobain house looks like a grunge rock sty, and he plays with his and Love’s baby a lot. You can sense the undercurrent of anger as he makes “f*ck you” jokes with the baby and anti-social jabs at Edsel, like he blames corporations for his misery. They’re nice home movies for fans to see but nothing revealing. It’s just mundane hanging out between gigs.

The interviews with Schemel really reveal all the details of how she got into drugs (the record company had a guy who provided them) and what motivates an addict. Her mother tells the story of when she had to come out in high school.

The scandal of the “Celebrity Skin” album seems to be a sticking point for fans. The real explanation seems to be that producer Michael Beinhorn really drove Schemel out of the studio. That doesn’t seem like a major reveal to me. Producers are hard-asses. The band still broke up. I guess we can now sleep easie knowing it was a suit, not her sisters, that did it. Beinhorn even tricked Love by playing bad takes of Schemel’s tracks.

Living on the street homeless is one direction that not all tragic rock stars face. By then the film is all firsthand accounts, with but a still shot of Schemel’s old stash under the bridge. Of course she’s doing great not and the film shows you can turn it around.

I know we’re celebrating indie film and especially music here at SXSW, but I think Hit So Hard would be fine for a VH1 documentary. That’s right, Hole would be on VH1 now. It conveys the whole story and the musicians (including the survivors of Hole as well as Gina Schock, Kate Schellenbach, Nina Gordon and more) tell detailed anecdotes to complete the picture. That’s “Behind the Music,” but for a star VH1 probably couldn’t get so that’s where it pays to be director David Ebersole.

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SXSW Review: Detention Wed, 16 Mar 2011 16:06:09 +0000 Fred Topel Detention is the ultimate payoff for the meta movement.

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I love meta. “Moonlighting” was probably my first exposure to breaking the fourth wall as a kid. Then movies like The Player and Scream came out theatrically before I went back and discovered Woody Allen. Now we live in a world of Charlie Kaufman and “Community,” and I think Detention is the ultimate payoff for the meta movement.

Riley (Shanley Caswell) believes she’s being stalked by the killer of a film series within the film called Cinderhella. Clapton (Josh Hutcherson) is studying Road House to prepare for a fight with Billy (Parker Bagley). Cheerleader Ione even says she’s typecast, and can you guess who she’s named after?

Already the characters are making references, and I love that. I feel rewarded for knowing what they’re talking about, but I feel like I know more about them by what they’ve watched in their lives. Self-referential horror gets an update when they show a clip from Cinderhella and it’s all torture porn with a religious morality. A work print of Cinderhella III they download is several layers of meta.

The references are really under their breath, like Clapton noticing he’s wearing a red shirt at a dangerous time. The story is going on anyway, but there’s room for it. These are also perceptive references. The ‘90s movies were based on a formula that hasn’t been properly addressed yet. Sherlock Moriarty? Brilliant. Or they’re punctuations to scenes. Look, I like references, stop hassling me!

The film treat high school stereotypes as fun, not self-involved tragedy. The backstory for Billy’s rage is a wonderful goofy homage to The Fly, and maybe Videodrome? Ione’s superficiality is a joy, not evil insecurity.

I compare Detention to Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World. I think Scott Pilgrim was the first movie to really create an alternate reality with film. We used to see fantasy movies with puppetry and special effects as our alternate realms. Edgar Wright actually changed the laws of time with the language of film. Cuts and camera moves covered time differently yet we understood it because we’re well versed in film. It made sense but it wasn’t our world.

Joseph Khan does it too. The entire film pays off, but even if he were just including random non-sequiturs about bears and spaceships I would love that. The film ultimately goes back to 1992 to meta it up. There’s such a celebratory spirit to the whole thing, I adore this movie.

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Links Away: Mario Gets the Indie Treatment Wed, 16 Mar 2011 00:31:03 +0000 Reza F. Mario sported an ironic mustache before it was ironic.

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Mario sported an ironic mustache before it was ironic. He wore overalls before they were ironic. He was even rendered in crappy pixel form before crappy pixel form was cool. So it only makes sense that the story of Mario would be retold in hipster indie form, complete with low-key apartment parties, plaid shirts, and morose relationship problems. Created by Joe Nicolosi as a bumper to be played between films at the 2011 South By Southwest festival, this clever short pays homage to the great Super Mario Bros. and their timeless cool. (/Film)

Clicking these links will give you hecka gold coins:

The 11 Best Adult Swim Moments From 2010 (AdultSwim)

The Best and Worst of Mark Wahlberg (MovieLine)

The 2011 Douchebag Tournament (HolyTaco)

The First Five Minutes on Source Code (FilmDrunk)

ScarJo GIFs (CelebJihad)

30 Awesome Pictures from 2010 (Unreality)

The Women of Suckerpunch (MovieFone)

JayZ Blames Himself for the Delay of the New U2 Album(PopEater)

Clever Homeless Signs (Smosh)

Top 14 Drunk People Interrupting the News (Ranker)

March Madness‘ Greatest Moments In Lego (BroBible)

Photographs of an Attractive Female (Maxim)

Emma Watson Drops Out of School (Pajiba)

Tom Hanks is Ready to Fight Pirates (NextMovie)

The Agony of Defeat (CagePotato)

LL Cool J Interview (MadeMan)

Minecraft With Zombies (GameFront)

Photographs of an Attractive Female (TuVez)

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SXSW Review: Bellflower Tue, 15 Mar 2011 16:47:13 +0000 Fred Topel It’s watchable and relatable, still the “Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl” formula.

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Bellflower strikes me as the typical film festival indie movie about relationships. It’s watchable and relatable, still the “Boy meets girl, boy gets girl, boy loses girl” formula.  The post-apocalyptic obsession is not enough of a distinction, not after Clerks exploded pop culture references decades ago.

Aiden (Tyler Dawson) and Woodrow (Evan Glodell) are obsessed with Mad Max and they’re building their own flamethrower to put on their dream road warrior car, The Medusa. Woodrow meets Milly (Jessie Wiseman) at a bar and she’s so cool they go on a road trip for their first date. They have a sweet relationship, even tough Woodrow’s obviously insecure the way he keeps repeating “this is nice” and suggests that sex wasn’t good for her.

Then things get awkward and uncomfortable. Milly really hurts Woodrow and sends him into a spiral. He uses the flamethrower to burn Milly’s belongings and things escalate from there. Milly’s other ex, Mike (Vincent Gradshaw), gets violent and Woodrow rebounds with Milly’s friend Courtney (Rebekah Brandes), even though Aiden likes her.

At least they deal with emotions and real reactions, which are messy and unclear, just not necessarily dramatic. Milly leaves her jewelry box at Woodrow’s place, but she doesn’t know what her plans are later. Aiden is the greatest friend ever because Woodrow’s feelings are more important to him than his own love interest.

It goes Jerry Springer, especially with Courtney and Milly having it out with vulgar screaming and trashy brawling. Maybe the point is to show the consequences of hurting people?

It’s a solid vehicle for four new actors. It shows they can hold the screen. With Glodell writing and directing, they show they can complete a film too, which we shouldn’t forget is a major hurdle to most of the wannabes. If the same actors do another movie I’ll be interested enough to see if there’s any improvement. They really appealed to me.

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SXSW Review: Septien Tue, 15 Mar 2011 16:33:46 +0000 Fred Topel I won’t be watching Septien again, but I could recommend it if you’re interested in film festivals and wondering what sort of movies are winning slots

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I must be really getting into the festival circuit because now I’m totally open to a movie like Septien. Before I would make fun of these festival type movies where a bunch of weird characters get involved with weird plots just to be abstract, but now I’m in a place where just go with it.

On the farm, Ezra (Robert Longstreet) feeds his friend Wilbur (Jim Willingham) who sleeps in a tire while Amos (Onur Turkel) draws pictures of monsters with penises. Amos and Ezra’s brother Cornelius (Michael Tully) returns calling himself Khan. They go about their lives having picnics, working on penis pictures and finding buried video camera with a metal detector.

The introduction shot of Cornelius walking through a field with his full beard and hoodie just reminds me of a film school movie. Students would shoot long takes because they didn’t know how to just get into a scene yet. Tully, who also directed, seems to do it on purpose. This is just the beginning.

Cornelius hustles athletes because he’s a tennis grand slam and a mad dunker. He steals gasoline by squirting it on his shirt and running away to huff it. The septic tank breaks and while Ezra cleans up the poop, he falls and cuts his head. Then he uses the blood as lipstick.

The plumber, Red “Rooster” Rippington (Mark Darby Robinson), reminds Amos of their old gym teacher. Rooster’s got a young girl, Savannah (Rachel Korine) with him, but says she’s not his daughter.

Ezra freaks out over a missing puzzle piece. Cornelius chugs some malt liquor out of a paper bag and then vomits. Amos considers touching a table saw. If this sounds weird enough for you, don’t worry, I haven’t spoiled the weirdest part. It involves someone talking about being force fed hamburger by one’s mother next to half a man.

I won’t be watching Septien again, but I could recommend it if you’re interested in film festivals and wondering what sort of movies are winning slots on the circuit. This is what today’s young filmmakers have to say.

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SXSW Interview: James Wan Talks ‘Insidious’ Mon, 14 Mar 2011 16:35:25 +0000 Fred Topel Wan discusses the SXSW premiere of 'Insidious' and the films that have emerged since our last meeting.

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I’ve been following James Wan since the original Saw. When I saw that press screening I thought, “This is really something. I bet this is going to go somewhere.” Seven Saws later, Wan has done four other films. Dead Silence was his homage to Euro horror. Death Sentence is a really deep tragedy about how revenge doesn’t work, with all the tension that goes with that.

Insidious is his fourth directorial film. Also written by Saw and Silence writer Leigh Whannell, this ghost story takes a family into a realm beyond the afterlife. The Further is where human souls exist when they leave their bodies. At South by Southwest, Wan and I discussed the SXSW premiere of Insidious and the films that have emerged since our last meeting.

Q: Is The Further a concept in spirituality or metaphysics that you guys studied?

James Wan: It’s interesting because I don’t know how it is for Leigh, but because I come from an Asian background, my dad’s side are all Christians but my mom’s side are all Buddhist. Growing up in an Asian upbringing, I see a bit of both worlds. In a lot of Asian culture, superstition and spirituality plays a big part, especially in Buddhism. So it’s always something that has always been in the back of my mind and I remember pitching Leigh a particular old wives tale that I’ve heard from my grandmother about people going to sleep and your soul leaves your body when you sleep and the idea is they say never paint or draw on someone’s face when they’re sleeping, because when their soul leaves their body and they come back, they may not recognize that face and they’ll continue moving on. That sensibility I think led to what eventually would be the very tiny seed that would become Insidious.

Q: Could The Further be a place you could explore further, even without horror?

JW: From a mythological standpoint? I think it’s great and that’s the thing that Leigh and I wanted to do which is create another mythology, create our own – - we wanted to create our own scary world. Instead of calling it the Limbo or hell or heaven or whatever it is, we call it The Further. We always like doing that, taking something that you’re familiar with or you think you know and just kind of giving it a new spin to it.

Q: Do you have more mythology figured out?

JW: Yeah, we do have a fair bit figured out in terms of backstories, when he was writing it and for me when I was directing it so that I know how to direct it. It’s like acting for actors, they need to know where their characters come from to know how to perform but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the backstory needs to be on screen.

Q: But could it be if this continued as a series?

JW: Knock on wood. We’re not thinking about sequels but it definitely can. We’re literally opening up a whole different world.

Q: Where did you find the maturity to portray parents, as single men yourselves?

JW: Well, Leigh’s the one that finally got married so I think he’s now in that process of shifting over to more of a grown-up. Leigh’s no a single man I am but it’s good that he’s the writer. So for him, it was very important, he’s going through this period in his life now where he’s shifting from one phase of his life to the next phase. I really think a lot of that shows in this movie.

Q: No kids yet?

JW: No, not yet but I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of stuff that they’re talking about as you get married.

Q: Well, there are fathers and mothers who don’t portray parents that well.

JW: Right, and you know what? Very luckily I have such great actors as Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, to make that believable.

Q: I never got a chance to tell you how much I loved Death Sentence.

JW: Oh, cool.

Q: Are you feeling the love for that film after the fact.

JW: Yeah, I definitely didn’t feel it when the film came out but now I hear a lot. People that have seen it love the film. Especially when I do these press tours, it’s pretty incredible when I hear people that have actually seen the movie and really dig it so I’m actually very surprised.

Q: How did it feel to start a certain movement with the Saw series and then see another one take over like Paranormal Activity, from your producer Oren Peli?

JW: I think it’s great. I think movies, like anything, are like fashion. They go in and out of style but they’re out of style completely. They’re never done. People just get used to and get tired of a particular aesthetic. Then they breathe, they move onto something else and then we come back to it again. That’s how it works.

Q: I hope you’re a millionaire from the royalties to seven Saw movies. How are you supporting your lifestyle off the franchise?

JW: [Laughs] Well, it’s definitely allowed me to work. We all need to work to pay the bills, right?

Q: Leigh always said Dr. Gordon died after cutting his foot off. What was the conversation when they said they were doing Saw VII with Cary Elwes, and here’s how it ends?

JW: Interesting. As the director of the first Saw only, I always wanted the fate of Dr. Gordon and the fate of Adam (Leigh Whannell) to be unknown. We slam the door on Leigh’s character, you presume he’d probably die because there’s no one there to help him but you don’t see it. Dr. Gordon crawls out and you never know what happens. I really wanted to just leave it at that.

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SXSW Review: The Innkeepers Mon, 14 Mar 2011 16:25:55 +0000 Fred Topel A good campfire style horror movie. The scares are light and fun, not deep horrific terror.

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The Innkeepers is a good campfire style horror movie. The scares are light and fun, not deep horrific terror. I like this tone a lot better than writer/director/editor Ti West’s previous House of the Devil.

Claire (Sara Paxton) and Luke (Pat Healy) are desk clerks at the Yankee Padler Inn, which is about to close due to lack of business. There is a legend of the haunting spirit of Madeline O’Malley, whom Claire and Luke try to contact during their down time, which is most of the time. Former TV star Leanne Reese-Jones (Kelly McGillis) is staying with them for a convention she’s doing, a mother and son, and that’s it.

It’s flat out comedy in the beginning. There are fun, silly jump scares, quirky, mundane local conversations, and high slapstick. Claire’s attempts at taking out the garbage are Chaplin-esque, and her fangirling over Leanne is adorable. It’s all well meaning and positive. No one’s making fun of any townees or supernatural beliefs.

Of course the supernatural gets more and more pervasive. West really makes sitting in a room recording room tone fascinating. Claire tries to get EVP recordings, and just the way West plays with the depth of field, in conversations too (Luke foreground, Claire background). The occasional visions of Madeline may be scary, but West gets a lot more mileage out of the unseen. Then Claire freaks out and it’s adorable and funny again.

This is another recent film dealing with the metaphysical connections between all living things and the world beyond our own. There’s Source Code, Insidious and the documentary I Am. FYI: These films are right. We’re all connected.

I always prefer a funny horror film. The very idea that we get scared by something not real is humorous. Of course a good intense thrill ride is fine, but to me humor creates more of a total package. I also find it more reminiscent of the ‘80s classics. You got a problem with Gremlins, Poltergeist and Evil Dead II? Didn’t think so.

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SXSW Review: Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop Mon, 14 Mar 2011 16:12:22 +0000 Fred Topel It is an outstanding portrait of an artist that just lets us be in Conan’s world, the one we don’t get to see between late night episodes.

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Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is the documentary following O’Brien’s comedy tour following his ousting from “The Tonight Show.” It is an outstanding portrait of an artist that just lets us be in Conan’s world, the one we don’t get to see between late night episodes.

O’Brien is funniest when he’s just talking about life. He makes observations, decisions, even recaps what’s gone one since his last filmed interview. He can’t help satirizing events. He describes it in that irreverent way. Following a Hollywood tour bus is a brilliant bit of real life meta humor.

Watching the show sell out within an hour of O’Brien announcing it on Twitter is really a magic moment. We start seeing him spitballing bits like the “My Own Show Again” song (sung to the tune of “On the Road Again). His descriptions of his anger are as profound as his humor, although he never quite reveals the details of what he’s describing.

As the real work of writing the show starts, we see a demanding, aggressive side of O’Brien. Directing rehearsals, he is a professional who has to make sure his collaborators do their jobs right. He’s also serious about his food. He demands his assistant, Sona Movsesian, find a restaurant that will cook him fish without soaking it in butter. You can’t tell if he’s really mad at her, although Movsesian comes across as the best assistant ever by the end.

Sometimes O’Brien is a real dick. With the exhausting show underway, O’Brien is roped into schmooze fests with celebrities, which he’s not theoretically opposed to but it’s just too much to demand of someone’s time. He’s really mean to Jack McBrayer and I can’t tell if it was a bit that McBrayer was in on, or if O’Brien was just making redneck jokes at his expense.

O’Brien definitely lashes out but you come to understand he doesn’t blame his guests. There just needs to be a system to give himself rest. Meeting and greeting is more exhausting than performing.

He is good to his fans. It’s no small demand to give everyone an autograph or photo, and we see there are sometimes flaws in the system where people under him turn away fans. When it’s up to O’Brien, he signs and poses. He gets an anti-Leno gift from some fans on the road that’s vicious.

What begins as a document of the creative process turns into a portrait of the emotional sides of an artist. O’Brien is constantly funny, even at his meanest. Can’t Stop is rawer for exposing the slight edges in attitude than if it showed his break down crying.

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SXSW Review: ‘Bridesmaids’ Work Print Mon, 14 Mar 2011 15:47:09 +0000 Fred Topel Follows the same plot as all “outrageous wedding” movies.

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Bridesmaids played well at SXSW, but I wasn’t into it. It’s actually the first movie of the festival I haven’t liked, so it probably feels like a harsher letdown.

It opens funny with Annie (Kristin Wiig) having outrageous sex with Ted (Jon Hamm). Annie speaks in the stream of consciousness rambling that Wiig peppers with humor each time she adds a phrase. Once her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged, it becomes the typical wedding movie.

All the other bridesmaids are contrived one-dimensional types. Rita (Wendi McLendon-Covey) complains about her obnoxious sons and husband.  Becca (Ellie Kemper) is the lovey dovey newlywed. Megan is a butch type. Helen (Rose Byrne) is just so perfect it drives Annie crazy.

Wiig pretty much stops doing the Kristin Wiig thing in order to serve a generic, clichéd plot. She does a dance when Officer Rhodes pulls her over but stops the random phrases and tones down the physicality, so you don’t get a Kristin Wiig movie after all.

The big problem with the premise is that jealousy is not funny. Helen outshines Annie’s wedding plans and the film follows the same plot as all “outrageous wedding” movies. At the engagement toast, the dress fittings, the bachelorette party and bridal shower, Helen comes up with crazy plans that take over Annie’s sincere ones.

Helen’s manipulative usurping isn’t funny though. She has connections to a fancy dress shop. She wants to take the girls to Las Vegas. She has a fancy mansion with a fondue fountain. The only joke is that Annie is insecure that Helen’s more superficially impressive than she is.

Bridesmaids might coast if it was just generic, but it drags out so long it forces you to work it out. Directo Paul Feig said that “work print” only meant they had color timing and sound issues to polish. He should really consider taking 30 minutes out, because there’s so much plot. At a certain point you realize while Annie’s working out her relationship with Office Rhodes, hey, they still have to have a wedding to wrap this sucker up.

I like Kristin Wiig a lot. I think her physicality is phenomenal and her attitude is sweet. She doesn’t seem to make jokes at anyone’s expense. She just enjoys being silly. Bridesmaids doesn’t feel like her, and she wrote it herself!

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SXSW Review: Paul Mon, 14 Mar 2011 05:34:25 +0000 Fred Topel Paul is like all those comedies I used to like, the kind where they were just plain good.

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Paul is like all those comedies I used to like, the kind where they were just plain good. They had a little of everything and just worked. That makes it harder to write about since there’s no hook except overall solid work, but I’m up to the task.

Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost) are Brits visiting Comic-Con. On the road to Area 51, they meet an actual alien Paul (Seth Rogen). Paul needs their help but won’t tell them much at first. At an RV park, they pick up Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a devout Catholic who experiences an awakening when she witnesses the existence of Paul. Agents Zoil (Jason Bateman), O’Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio) and Haggard (Bill Hader) are on their tail.

Pegg and Frost, who wrote the script, deliver on all the sci-fi, comic book and general movie references you’d hope for. You’ll hear familiar music, lines of dialogue and even a reference to spoilers themselves, incorporated seamlessly into the narrative. Try to catch the obscure Capturing the Friedmans joke. It’s not all mainstream. Clive and Graeme also recreate some familiar action moments that I just know Frost and Pegg were saving since Hot Fuzz (the age old “grab my hand” bit.)

It’s not ALL sci-fi, so there’s plenty to amuse general audiences, although it never sells out the target audience for a mainstream laugh. They do sex jokes, drugs jokes and some good old fashioned immaturity, mooning through windshields and swearing creatively. I love the running gags. Whenever a joke happens more than once, it’s instantly funnier to me.

Paul is a great character. He’s the everyman alien so he gets indignant about alien clichés, and he has base needs like anyone. The CGI looks real and interactive with the scene and characters. It never feels like they had to construct a scene to fit the effect. Clive and Graeme are delightful, childish foreigners and Ruth has a sweet arc in between Wiig-y profanity outbursts, which are also awesome.

Like the classic comedies, there’s a bit of depth with Paul confronting Ruth’s creationist beliefs. Paul actually heals Ruth, which is sweet considering at that point in the story he hates her. Is it predictable? Yes, in that I knew where the story was going, but I’d also call that paying off. Most importantly, it’s all funny.

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SXSW Review: Super Sun, 13 Mar 2011 16:44:47 +0000 Fred Topel It’s darkly comical and it has something to say.

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Super may sound like a copy of Kick-Ass. It’s not, but so what if it were? Why wouldn’t you want to see Rainn Wilson put on a costume and fight crime? It beats having two asteroid movies or two volcano movies. In fact, there are lots of people I’d love to see put on a costume and fight crime. Keep doing it as long as it’s awesome.

Kick-Ass was more about how hard it is to be a superhero. The question is actually the same in both movies: Why don’t people stand up and be a hero? Kick-Ass’s reason is: because you could get killed. Then the heroes persevere anyway. Super’s answer is: because it’s crazy and irresponsible to be a vigilante.

And Frank Darbo (Wilson) is crazy from the beginning. He gets the idea from a Christian network superhero show, and has a hentai hallucination anointing him. He admits he’s had visions before, so this is not exactly coming from a socially responsible place. His wife Sarah (Liv Tyler) isn’t just a bitch who leaves him. She’s critical, disinterested and a drug addict. In a flashback you see her say she thinks Frank can save her. (To be clear, that’s an example of how it’s NOT a healthy relationship.)

Also, a crazy dude in a costume hitting people with a wrench would freak out street hoodlums. It doesn’t matter if Frank calls himself The Red Bolt. He’s just dangerous. At a point, he even wails on people for cutting in line, so you see he can’t tell the degrees of crimes and treats them all just as extremely. It’s hilarious and visceral, but you get the point it’s not condoned.

Comic store clerk Libby (Ellen Page) is sincere in helping Frank find his comic book motivation, and excited when she realizes he’s done it for real. She gets so excitable that she’s willing to kill people for even lesser crimes than line cutting. Page makes this character totally real between her genuine admiration and profane excitement. Libby also makes a pass at Frank, so you understand that she needs to be seen sexually.

That’s how you make an edgy movie. You take the story in directions just a little bit outside the conventional narrative. It’s got the underdo fighting big crime, but it goes to the extremely violent, sexual and tragic places (a crying love scene, Frank’s sobbing prayer, ouch!)

The tone remains even. It’s never random that these shocking outbursts happen. It’s more like this is the inevitable outcome for these characters. Late in the movie, words start appearing on screen, ‘60s “Batman” style. That seemed a bit out of character for the film but not too distracting. It’s never irresponsible with the violence. I mean, this is Punisher: War Zone violent, but that’s what happens when unstable people get big ideas.

Super is going to be hard for people to take. It’s darkly comical and it has something to say, but every time it goes someplace weird, it’s going to lose one of the four quadrants. The audience that’s already primed for James Gunn’s work may be better prepared, but it’s still a combination that leaves you unsettled, in an effective way.

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