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  • SXSW FILM 2011

    A Bag of Hammers | Review

    Saturday, May 7th, 2011

    Director: Brian Crano

    Writers: Brian Crano, Jake Sandvig

    Starring: Jason Ritter, Jake Sandvig, Chandler Canterbury, Rebecca Hall, Carrie Preston

    Ben (Jason Ritter) and Alan (Jake Sandvig) are a pair of slacker-cum-grifters whose signature con is posing as valets in order to steal cars from cemeteries during funeral services. They have been best friends forever, spending almost every moment of their lives within spitting distance (figuratively speaking, of course) of each other.

    Ben and Alan own a house and a rental house — and this is where Lynette (Carrie Preston) and her son Kelsey (Chandler Canterbury) blow into the picture. Lynette and Kelsey have evacuated Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, and they move into Ben and Alan’s rental house. Lynette does not have a job — she is determined to get an office job, but is not qualified (the job interviews we witness are excruciatingly painful). She is never home (presumably earning cash by way of prostitution), so Kelsey is left to fend for himself on a steady diet of nothing except for Monster energy drinks and Hungry Man microwave meals.

    Beaver, The | Review

    Friday, May 6th, 2011

    Director: Jodie Foster

    Writer: Kyle Killen

    Starring: Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence

    “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Sure this Henry David Thoreau quote probably gets thrown around too much but if so, only because it rings so true. And it was those words that kept going through my head while viewing Jodie Foster’s The Beaver, a movie that masterfully shines a spotlight on the horrific results of years of quiet desperation.

    Walter Black (Mel Gibson) is “hopelessly depressed.” That crushing depression has led him to run his family toy business into the ground and his 20-year marriage to his wife Meredith (Jodie Foster) is careening along just behind. His older son Porter (Anton Yelchin) is filled with angst towards his father and his young son Henry (Riley Thomas Stewart) is becoming isolated and bullied at school due to his father’s diminished presence. Despite trying a variety of medications, therapies, self-help books, and everything else that American medicine and the pop-therapy industry has contrived, Walter is deeper in the grips of his depression than ever and sleep seems to be the only source of relief from his daily life. Realizing that change is not imminent, and knowing that a husband and father sleep-walking through life is killing an already wounded family, Meredith finally gives Walter the heave-ho.

    Walter forlorlny drives away with a few of his possessions packed in the trunk of his car. It’s when he finds a beaver hand-puppet in a liquor store dumpster that his life begins to take a radical turn. After rescuing the puppet he heads off to a hotel room to drink himself into a state of oblivion. It’s following a botched suicide attempt that Walter discovers that the Beaver talks and in the process discovers an unorthodox means of turning his life around.

    Hobo with a Shotgun | Review

    Friday, May 6th, 2011

    Director: Jason Eisener

    Writers: Jason Eisener, John Davies, Rob Cotterill

    Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman

    I really did not want to pile onto the “I hate Hobo with a Shotgun” bandwagon, especially since Dave Campbell (Smells Like Screen Spirit’s Editor-in-Chief) and I seem to be the only ones riding on it. (In case you missed it, here is Dave’s review of Hobo with a Shotgun.) I typically do not read reviews of films before I write my own, but in this instance I read everything that has been published (to date) on and Rotten Tomatoes; and, I have to admit, I really do not understand why so many people are raving about it. And that, my friends, is the reason I want to explain why I hopped on this god-forsaken bandwagon in the first place…

    Hopping off a train — because that is where all hobos seem to come from — the nameless Hobo (Rutger Hauer) finds himself in the ironically named Hope Town (the adopted moniker of “Scum Town” seems more appropriate). Within minutes, the Hobo witnesses the über-violent antics of the cartoonish mob boss, The Drake (Brian Downey), who yanks off people’s heads, leaving their decapitated body dangling inside a manhole of a public street, all at the frightful bemusement of a public audience…or maybe they are merely waiting for some scantily clad women to bathe in the blood? (They do not have to wait very long for that to happen.)

    Upside Down: The Creation Records Story | Review

    Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

    Director: Danny O’Connor

    In my humble opinion, Creation Records is one of the most important record labels in the history of British rock music (alongside the likes of Rough Trade and Factory). Founded in 1983 by Alan McGee, Dick Green and Joe Foster, Creation’s premiere release was the “’73 in ’83” single by The Legend! for which Creation acquired a £1,000 bank loan to fund. Creation went on to release albums by countless seminal bands of the British indie scene, including: Oasis, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Pastels, Television Personalities, Primal Scream, The Loft, Super Furry Animals, Teenage Fanclub, Saint Etienne, The Boo Radleys, 3 Colours Red, Ride, Swervedriver, Slowdive, BMX Bandits, The House of Love, The Weather Prophets, Felt, The Telescopes, The Jazz Butcher, Momus, Sugar, and Teenage Filmstars.

    Creation’s roster forever redefined music and — according to Danny O’Connor’s Upside Down: The Creation Records Story — McGee deserves a great deal of the credit. McGee fostered a 24-hour party [with the] people at Creation headquarters, which in turn developed a camaraderie and unique kinship amongst his bands. Then, when McGee dove headfirst into the acid house scene, he subsequently turned-on bands such as Primal Scream, Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, drastically influencing the sound their music forever more.

    POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold | Review

    Thursday, April 21st, 2011

    Director: Morgan Spurlock

    Writers: Morgan Spurlock, Jeremy Chilnick

    Featuring: JJ Abrams, Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg, Brett Ratner

    Sponsors: Amy’s Kitchen, The country of Aruba, Ban, Carmex, Carrera Sunglasses, Hyatt, JetBlue, Mane ‘n Tail, Merrell, Mini, Trident,, Old Navy, Petland Discounts, POM Wonderful, Seventh Generation Inc., Sheetz, Ted Baker, Thayers

    Morgan Spurlock exploded onto the documentary filmmaking scene in 2004 with the Oscar-nominated Super Size Me. In it, Spurlock ate nothing but three “square” meals of McDonald’s each day for 30 days to prove how bad their food really was and reveal the effect it was having on our health and culture. With POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock dives head first into the world of product placement (aka embedded marketing/advertising) in Film and TV. What better way to do this than going on a personal journey of pitching various companies to fund an entire production from product placement deals and documenting the process along the way.

    Spurlock completely sells out or buys in (depending on the perspective) with hilarious and sometimes confusing outcomes (Ban Deodorant) inside closed door pitch meetings and presentations with potential sponsors. Due to the cross-marketing agreements that Spurlock is able to acquire, each brand will also have Spurlock and The Greatest Movie Ever Sold to use in their own specific brand advertising campaigns with Spurlock ultimately retaining creative control of the film’s final cut. Per Spurlock’s SXSW 2011 Q&A: The brilliantly creative way he was able to do this was by putting off screenings for the sponsors by encouraging them to attend Sundance 2011 to view the film. This enabled them to view the film in an exciting friendly way with an actual audience rather than sitting in controlled board rooms taking notes with their lawyers.

    Hobo with a Shotgun | Review

    Thursday, April 14th, 2011

    irector: Jason Eisener

    Writers: Jason Eisener, John Davies, Rob Cotterill

    Starring: Rutger Hauer, Gregory Smith, Molly Dunsworth, Brian Downey, Nick Bateman

    Riding into town on an open freight car train (as all Hobos do), we meet our shotgun-less Hobo (Rutger Hauer) as he approaches a new town and a new beginning. Our nameless Hobo jumps from the freight car to explore his new city, hoping for better opportunity. But what he soon realizes is that he landed in a psychopath controlled urban nightmare. This city isn’t bound by justice or the law, but rather a criminal kingpin named Drake (Brian Downey) who terrorizes the good and weak with his viciously evil sons, Ivan (Nick Bateman) and Slick (Gregory Smith).

    At first the Hobo just wants to stay off of the radar. He dreams of starting his clean new life as he gazes at a used lawn mower in a pawn shop window. This daydream quickly ends as he comes face-to-face with the chaos of the city. Hobo decides that he in’t going to take this shit anymore and grabs a shotgun from the pawn shop wall. We now have our title character complete as a “Hobo with a Shotgun” who now takes it upon himself to be a one-man wrecking crew of street justice — a buckshot vigilante if you will. Let the blood, violence and lead poisoning commence…

    Yelling to the Sky | Review

    Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

    Director: Victoria Mahoney

    Writer: Victoria Mahoney

    Starring: Zoë Kravitz, Antonique Smith, Jason Clarke, Yolanda Ross

    Yelling to the Sky is the story of Sweetness (Zoë Kravitz), the adolescent daughter of a Caucasian father, Gordon (Jason Clarke), and Black mother, Lorene (Yolanda Ross). We first meet Sweetness as she is surrounded by a gang of neighborhood bullies led by the intimidatingly rotund Latonya (Gabourey Sidibe); Sweetness’ older sister, Ola (Antonique Smith), comes to her rescue and the siblings scurry home. (Presumably the encounter is related to Sweetness’ mixed-race parentage.)

    Things at home are certainly no less dire. Sweetness and Ola’s father is a violent alcoholic who disappears for extended periods of time; their mother is a total zombie, incapacitated by depression and God knows what other afflictions. We sense an inner rage boiling within Sweetness, and it is not long before she starts peddling drugs in the stairwell of her high school and in front of C-Town. Sweetness’ newfound bad-ass nature promptly earns her some street cred and a small crew of minions. In a drastic turn of events, Sweetness even musters up enough power of persuasion to bully Latonya. Sweetness’ principal (Tim Blake Nelson) tries to save her before things turn from bad to worse, but to no avail.

    Tonight You’re Mine | Review

    Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

    Director: David Mackenzie

    Writer: Thomas Leveritt

    Starring: Luke Treadaway, Natalia Tena, Mathew Baynton, Alastair Mackenzie, Ruta Gedmintas

    You Instead begins as Adam (Luke Treadaway) and Tyko (Mathew Baynton) — known collectively as the electro pop duo The Make — play a live radio acoustic set from the cramped backseat of a car that may as well been borrowed from Mr. Bean. Adam croons “I don’t want that, I want you instead” (from The Make’s titular track) as the tiny car cruises slowly down a dusty road somewhere within Scotland’s inconic T in the Park music festival. Their forward progress is halted by the Dirty Pinks. Morello (Natalia Tena) — lead singer of the Dirty Pinks — nicks Adam’s guitar; Adam steals a family heirloom from Morello; suddenly, their lives are quite literally interconnected.

    Morello and Adam’s personalities and lifestyles are as polar opposite as their music. Adam, whose The Make is a famous boy-band from the States, dates a soulless female model — Lake (Ruta Gedmintas) — because, well, that is just what self-centered and arrogant Stateside rock stars are expected to do. Morello, on the other hand, is grounded by the fact that the Dirty Pinks are a hard-working, up-and-coming indie band. Morello’s Dirty Pinks are female punks with a shit ton of attitude and a buzzing amount of indie cred; but some of that said cred is diminished once we learn that Morello is dating a horribly bland banker named Mark (Alastair Mackenzie).

    In A Better World (Hævnen) | Review

    Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

    Director: Susanne Bier

    Writer: Anders Thomas Jensen

    Starring: Mikael Persbrandt, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Markus Rygaard, Trine Dyrholm, Ulrich Thomsen, Odiege Matthew

    Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier’s (Brothers, After the Wedding) seemingly apolitical diatribe on the cycle of violence and retribution in our post 9/11 society (a narrative trope that seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent nowadays) took home the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year Oscar at the 83rd Academy Awards, and after viewing In a Better World at SXSW 2011, I can see why…

    Christian’s (William Jøhnk Nielsen) mother recently died after losing a battle with cancer. After the funeral, Christian relocates with his father, Claus (Ulrich Thomsen), from England to Denmark. Christian detests quitters and he believes that his father quit caring about his mother thus causing her death. Christian’s deeply suppressed grief begins to reach its boiling point when he notices a bully picking on Elias (Markus Rygaard), a meek and scrawny boy at school. (The bully, whose abuse is tinged with anti-Swedish bigotry, says Elias’ sharp facial features makes him resemble a rat.) Christian does not like bullies and despite his young age he has already established a philosophy about how to deal with them: hit them hard enough the first time and they will never bully you again. It does not help matters that Claus is clueless — primarily because he spends a majority of the film absent from the screen and from Christian’s life.

    Christian’s coldly rational and self-justifying propensity for violence plays in opposition to the pacifist philosophy of Elias’ father, Anton (Mikael Persbrandt). Anton, a humanitarian doctor in an unnamed African country, is confronted daily with ethical dilemmas concerning a brutish local warlord — Big Man (Odiege Matthew) — who enjoys slicing and dicing the young women of the village. Facing the unconscionably primitive violence of Africa with a near-comical stoicism, Anton even steps up to provide medical treatment for Big Man, much to the dismay of his clinic’s staff and local villagers.

    Tabloid | Review

    Sunday, April 3rd, 2011

    Director: Errol Morris

    Former Miss Wyoming and S&M call girl with an IQ of 168 and a penchant for cinnamon massage oil, kidnaps and rapes a rotund Mormon; years later, she clones her dog…creating five new Boogers! Boy, it sure does not get much better that that. That is the stuff that tabloids — and Errol Morris’ Tabloid — are made of!

    By way of Joyce McKinney (it turns out that you just need to point a camera at her and she will run and run and run with her story), the snarky and sardonic documentarian Errol Morris unearths a subject that allows his off-kilter sense of humor to run rampant. As is typically the case with Morris, Tabloid reveals that his technique is not malicious (unless you’re a Mormon, then you will certainly take offense); Morris allows his subjects to dig their own graves, as he frequently catches the various interviewees flagrantly embellishing their stories and contradicting each other.

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