SXSW FILM FESTIVAL 2010
By Don Simpson | March 19, 2010
I started off today with And Everything is Going Fine – Stephen Soderbergh’s documentary on Spalding Gray. Essentially, this is just a collection of various Spalding Gray monologues – most of which discuss his childhood, mental illness and suicide. I, for one, can never get too much Spalding Gray; but I did expect something else from Soderbergh so I was a bit underwhelmed. I guess I expected something more, something new. I would have much preferred to watch the entire monologues from start to finish, rather than watch the pieces that Soderbergh chose for us to see. I think this was the first time I was ever underwhelmed by Soderbergh.
Then there was Helena From the Wedding, which I had heard a lot of great things about. For the most part, buzz going around the festival has been reliable and Helena did live up to the hype. Alice (Melanie Lynskey) and Alex (Lee Turgesen) have invited some of their friends to a snowy cabin to celebrate New Year’s Eve with them. The titular Helena (Gillian Jacobs) – one of two single people at the party – is a model whom Alex has had a crush on ever since he met her at a wedding. Alice, Alex’s wife, is none too happy with the way Alex looks at Helena. But Alice and Alex are not the only couple whose relationship is shaken, not stirred, but this getaway. Everyone purports to be happy with their lives, but as we spend more and more time with the characters we realize just how unhappy they all are.
Before SXSW started, I was excited about a handful of films, but at the top of my “must see” list was Earthling. I was excited that Austin had produced a local sci-fi film and I was very curious what the end result would be. Throughout the festival I heard people say Earthling was one of the best films of the fest, while others were bored or just didn’t get it. Well, I got it – and it is currently my favorite film of the festival. Like Cargo, Earthling owes a lot to sci-fi cinema’s past. Primarily Invasion of the Body Snatchers (and the short-lived television series Invasion), The Man Who Fell to Earth and Solaris. I understand why people might be confused by Earthling as it is very slow and quiet – the pacing and atmosphere are what really remind me of The Man Who Fell to Earth (one of my favorite sci-fi films – but one that many people love to hate). I am going to save my synopsis of this one for my full-length review. For now I will just say that I am very proud that such an intelligent sci-fi film has come out of Austin (I have not seen Mars yet), and I hope it gets the distribution deal that it deserves.
Next up was another one of those time-fillers: Beyond Ipanema. Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of Brazilian music especially Tropicalia, but I was not really too excited about watching a bunch of talking heads (including Talking Head David Byrne) talk about it. I feel like Beyond Ipanema is a bit too basic and introductory for me. It is a very high level overview of the history of Brazilian music made for an unfamiliar audience. The music is great – though my one recommendation would be to list the music credits on screen as each song is playing. I was confused at some points when the on screen discussion was about a particular artist, but the music did not sound like theirs.
Well, Beyond Ipanema was filling my schedule so I could see The Loved Ones at midnight. I had already seen and reviewed an advanced screener for The Loved Ones, but during my interview with director Sean Byrne and actress Robin McLeavy I had mentioned that I would try to make it to their Thursday night screening in order to experience the film with an audience. You do not know how many people have told me that The Loved Ones was the best film of SXSW (it is one of my favorites as well) – I have honestly lost track around 25 or 30. And I think it is a great testament to the film that it was able to fill the Alamo Ritz 1 (approximately 175 seats) for its third midnight screening, especially while SXSW Music was in full blast just feet away. I suspect some of the audience were repeat viewers – considering that it was competing with Monsters, this says a lot too. (And so far it is the only midnight movie that I have stayed up to watch.) Seeing The Loved Ones was a great experience, except for the strange guy that sat next to me about an hour into the film. To say that he was a wee bit squeamish would be a gross understatement. The 40-something man jumped, squealed, curled into a fetal position, held his hands over his eyes, and then eventually scurried away after 10 or so minutes. If he didn’t leave when he did, I was about ready to call one of the Alamo servers over to kick his ass out – though he was entertaining, it was also very distracting. Anyway, I really hope The Loved Ones gets the full theatrical treatment that it deserves. I’m also anxious to start transcribing my interview with Sean and Robin – so stay tuned for that.