SXSW FILM 2014
By Don Simpson | March 6, 2014
While we salivate over all of the films that we want to see at SXSW this year, it seems like as good of a time as any to spotlight six films that premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival that are coming to SXSW, including four films that received near-perfect 9 out of 10 ratings from us. Let’s just say that the following six films get the “must see” stamp of approval from your friends at Smells Like Screen Spirit.
Adam Wingard’s The Guest starts off subdued as David (Dan Stevens) masterfully ingratiates himself into the Peterson household. As the story evolves into an ’80s-esque action flick, it playfully toys with parodic concepts. The fight scenes are as impressively humorous as they are choreographed, culminating in a visually orgasmic coup de grâce set in a haunted house. Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett have truly outdone themselves with The Guest, with chilling black comedy and astounding visual panache it is the most fantastically entertaining action flick of recent memory.
Shot in the hazy sunshine of the Gulf Coast, Kat Candler’s Hellion captures the difficulties of a single, working class parent, carefully examining the effects that local economics can have on families. The gritty, handheld cinematography (Brett Pawlak) hearkens back to the glory days of 1970s American independent cinema while also reflecting the working class livelihoods of this East Texas community. The visuals are accented by a much more modern heavy metal soundtrack that vocalizes Jacob’s (Josh Wiggins) pent up anger and hormonal rage. (Check out our 9 out of 10 review of Hellion.)
Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter
Masterfully lensed by Sean Porter (It Felt Like Love, Eden), Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter functions quite purposefully as two distinct halves, both of which are closely tied to Japanese cinematic history. While Kumiko is in Japan, Porter captures the suffocating claustrophobia and urban grittiness of modern Tokyo; once Kumiko arrives in Minnesota, Porter transforms the snow-covered expanses into a surreal staging ground for the epic journey. The artfulness of Porter’s cinematography, the eerily pitch-perfect score by The Octopus Project and Rinko Kikuchi’s astoundingly stoic performance as Kumiko all contribute to the remarkable maturity of this Zellner Brothers endeavor. By far their most accomplished and coherent film (a statement intended by no means to discredit their previous work), Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter seems as if it was made by a Japanese master rather than two brothers from Austin, Texas with a penchant for absurdity. (Check out our 9 out of 10 review of Kumiko, The Treasure Hunter.)
No No: A Dockumentary
This isn’t a story about a man who threw a no-hitter on LSD. It’s not a story about baseball. It’s a story about life in America, a story of a man who refused to sit obediently inside the boxes into which outside forces tried to shove him. In the process of willfully exerting his right to pursue his own path, he became more than just a ballplayer. Hopefully No No: A Dockumentary, in its eloquent revelation of the grand, funky and powerful soul of Dock Ellis, flaws and all, will help elevate him to the deserved status of American folk hero. (Check out our 9 out of 10 review of No No: A Dockumentary.)
Obvious Child is a well-paced comedy packed with a steady stream of hilarious jokes, yet the film also carries a strong and unwavering opinion on its subject matter. While the subject of this film may chase some potential audiences away, Obvious Child does such an admirable job of presenting its case that it could actually change some minds if audiences would just give it a fighting chance… The strongest tension with Obvious Child is its relentless rebellion against American cinema’s representation of this subject matter. Few filmmakers are bold and brazen enough to discuss this subject with such openness. Everything is laid out on the table in such a way that Donna’s one and only choice seems like an obvious one. Our society, thanks in no small part to Hollywood’s representation of this subject, seems to think Donna is in the minority, but this is actually an all too common scenario. (Check out our 9 out of 10 review of Obvious Child.)
Ping Pong Summer
As Ping Pong Summer borrows faithfully from the oh-so-cheesy, coming-of-age films of the 1980s, writer-director Michael Tully reveals an unabashed fondness for the genre’s formulaic conventions and standard touchstones. By presenting these conventions and tropes so blatantly, it is as if Tully is asking the audience to reexamine these narrative devices culled from 1980s cinema via our own modern perspective. In retrospect, the plot may seem just as ridiculous as the graphics of vintage arcade games, cassette-deck boom boxes, parachute pants and Pixy Stix; or, the narrative structure may conjure up the very same charmingly nostalgic memories as the 1980s production design. For better or worse, Ping Pong Summer is precisely what my generation believes a coming-of-age story should be. (Check out our 7 out of 10 review of Ping Pong Summer.)