My Year of Film Festivals: Looking Back at Sundance, SXSW, TIFF, and Fantastic Fest

by     Posted 2 years, 26 days ago

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I went to more film festivals this year than I ever had before.  I went to Sundance in January, SXSW in March, and TIFF and Fantastic Fest this month.  It’s exhausting, but it’s fun.  I see it as a nice break from the grind of delivering news stories.  It’s not that news is bad, or that it doesn’t have value, but it’s nice seeing the final product of the smaller films we’ve reported on since we probably only heard of them from a casting story as opposed to an onslaught of trailers and posters.  Obviously, there are film festivals where there are marquee titles making their last big push before opening in wide release (Sundance is the only festival where the biggest films—those filled with recognizable actors—might not even have distributors let alone a release date).  But it’s always a nice variety, and each festival has its own flavor.

After the jump hit the jump for my impressions of each festival.

SXSW 2012: V/H/S Review

by     Posted 2 years, 221 days ago

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Back when V/H/S (which, for brevity and sanity’s sake, we’re going to call VHS from here on out) premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the word on the street was that directors Ti West, Joe Swanberg, Radio Silence, David Bruckner, Adam Wingard, and Glenn McQuaid had crafted one helluva found-footage horror anthology:  reports had audience members vomiting in their seats, people fainting out of sheer terror, massive rounds of applause when the credits rolled, and so on.  And so, it was with great anticipation that I decided to check out one of the film’s midnight screenings during this year’s SXSW Film Festival.  Did the film live up to the hype?  Find out after the jump.

SXSW 2012: THE FP Review

by     Posted 2 years, 221 days ago

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Is Walter Hill’s The Warriors too “serious” for you?  Feel that there simply aren’t enough rhythm-based video games represented on film?  Do you like ridiculous mohawks, blinged-out grills, bizarre slang terminology,  and Rocky movies, especially if all those things are happening at the same time?  Do futuristic sci-fi films blow your skirt up?  Well, buddy, have I got the movie for you.  Jason and Brandon Trost’s The FP—which debuted at last year’s SXSW Film Festival—is finally arriving in arthouse theaters this week, and with its arrival comes to the chance to see one of the strangest, funniest, most balls-out gonzo indie films of the past decade.  Wanna know more?  Read on for my review, after the jump…

SXSW 2012: PAUL WILLIAMS: STILL ALIVE Review

by     Posted 2 years, 221 days ago

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Part of the magic of Paul Williams: Still Alive is that you don’t need to have ever heard of Paul Williams to enjoy the film.  Director Stephen Kessler does an excellent job of sharing his adoration for Williams, and then keeping us hooked as we watch the complex relationship between a fan and his idol.  Through humor, patience, and perhaps a tad too much self-absorption, Kessler shows us what happens when an idol becomes human in the eyes of his fan, and why that can turn adoration into admiration.

SXSW 2012: MODUS ANOMALI Review

by     Posted 2 years, 223 days ago

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Introducing an unreliable protagonist at the start of a movie is a tricky proposition.  On the one hand, it’s an instant mystery.  Why doesn’t the main character have the full facts and what is the secret regarding his identity?  He’s in the dark and so we’re in the dark, and together we’re trying to find out the truth.  But that kinship with the protagonist is broken when we remember that while the main character may be trying to get to the truth, he can’t be trusted.  Modus Anomali has to function on these dynamics, and they prove to be the film’s undoing.  The premise allows for writer-director Joko Anwar to craft an intense thriller, but we have an escape route by knowing that the protagonist can’t be trusted.  When Anwar finally makes his big reveal, we’re glad we were never too invested.

SXSW 2012: CASA DE MI PADRE Review

by     Posted 2 years, 224 days ago

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Casa De Mi Padre is at its best when it’s at its silliest.  Before the movie even begins, it’s built on a novelty since Will Ferrell spends the entire film speaking Spanish.  Ferrell’s comic talent means he doesn’t simply coast on “Yo soy habla Español!”  He knows how to play the melodrama, the faux-dramatic pauses, and other comic skills we’ve come to expect from a pro like Ferrell.  Director Matt Piedmont and writer Andrew Steele want to milk the cheesy 70s mexsploitation/peliculanovela for every ounce of comedy, but the biggest laughs come not from the concept but from the goofy little moments scattered throughout the movie.

SXSW 2012: LOVELY MOLLY Review

by     Posted 2 years, 224 days ago

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In films featuring demonic possession, the literal demon and the madness it brings can be used to represent some kind of emotional torment.  Writer-director Eduardo Sanchez warps the possession-horror drama in Lovely Molly by leading with the emotional torment, and leaving the audience to wonder if there’s a literal demon at work of if the protagonist has finally succumbed to her childhood trauma.  Just as madness consumes the main character’s tortured soul, Sanchez and actress Gretchen Lodge consume us with a terror that is far more effective than tired satanic symbols and flashy supernatural phenomenon.

SXSW 2012: JOHN DIES AT THE END Review

by     Posted 2 years, 224 days ago

Earlier this year, Don Coscarelli’s John Dies at The End had its unofficial premiere at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, and word following that screening suggested that Coscarelli had crafted another runaway cult hit much like the director’s previous cult hit,  Bubba Ho-Tep.  Based on a novel of the same name by former internet presence David Wong, John Dies at The End was supposedly fast, funny, hallucinogenic, and creepy in all the ways that Coscarelli has proved himself adept at being over the years.  Based on this hype, I was very much looking forward to the flick’s (now official) world premiere at the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.  Did it live up to the hype?  Find out below, my gentle Collider readers…

SXSW 2012: THE SHEIK AND I Review

by     Posted 2 years, 224 days ago

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Director Caveh Zahedi‘s documentary The Sheik and I will provoke strong reactions but not about its intended subjects of religion and culture.  Imagining himself as a righteous firebrand, Zahedi aims to rile up his audience through his irreverent attitude towards Islamic society.  Instead, our anger is not at his irreverence, but at his ego, selfishness, hypocrisy, and lack of talent.  Zahedi mercilessly grinds us on through his bloated, poorly-framed tribute to his “subversion” of Islamic society, and then tries to hedge by saying that making everything awful was his intent.  But no one should dare stifle his art and freedom of expression, especially those who funded his art and live in a country where freedom of expression is not a constitutional right.  The Sheik and I would be a fascinating character study of a talentless hack if the talentless hack hadn’t made such an utter chore of a movie.

SXSW 2012: IRON SKY Review

by     Posted 2 years, 225 days ago

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There are no half-measures when it comes to moon Nazis.  The very phrase “moon Nazi” invites laughter.  There’s no room for serious consideration, and even biting satire can be a stretch.  It’s a goofy premise ripe for B-movie fun, and Iron Sky has no problem playing the fool and being silly right up until it begins to believe that people came to a movie about moon Nazis for CGI space battles and anything resembling dramatic contemplation.  Director Timo Vuorensola forgets that when you make a movie involving moon Nazis, you must always stay true to the moon Nazis and the ridiculousness they embody.

SXSW 2012: THE DO-DECA-PENTATHLON Review

by     Posted 2 years, 225 days ago

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Jay and Mark Duplass don’t really go dark or deep with their movies.  Most of their films look at a family dynamic by introducing a strange but not outlandish hook, and then let the performances and heartwarming story carry the day.  Their latest film, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon, is no different.  While the movie rarely challenges the audience and slightly stumbles on a forced conflict using a stock character, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon is cute and funny and another nice addition to the Duplass’ filmography.

SXSW 2012: THE SOURCE Review

by     Posted 2 years, 225 days ago

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Religious cults get a bad rap, which may have something to do with the most famous ones being known for murder and suicide.  All religious cults arguably deserve our contempt, but Jodi Wille and Maria Demopoulos‘ documentary The Source takes an even-handed and level-headed approach to exploring the religious cult dynamic.  The rise and fall of Jim Baker‘s Source Family seems almost cliché, but the film’s interview subjects lend the documentary weight by giving not only an insider’s view of what was happening, but what they were thinking at the time.  By always keeping the film centered on Baker and how he influenced his followers, the directors construct a fascinating sociological study on how adherents flock to a charismatic figure, how the figure changes as he garners more power, and what pushes those adherents to question their devotion (if they ever do).

SXSW 2012: THE AGGRESSION SCALE Review

by     Posted 2 years, 226 days ago

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If the folks behind Funny or Die did an R-rated spoof of Home Alone, their parody would most likely bear a passing resemblance to Steven C. Miller‘s The Aggression Scale.  The home-invasion thriller isn’t owned by Chris Columbus’ 1990 family comedy, but when you make a blond pre-teen kid the defender of the home, the comparison is inevitable.  While a darker Home Alone with R-rated violence may seem like a promising prospect, The Aggression Scale seems stuck at “insane badass kid dishes out bloody vengeance.”  Although Miller opens his movie with a bravura opening sequence and manages to hold on to some semblance of tension, the thrills die down by giving Superboy all the power.

SXSW 2012: SMALL APARTMENTS Review

by     Posted 2 years, 226 days ago

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Small Apartments deserves credit for getting inside your head through force of strangeness alone, and it has enough going on to merit at least some kind of interpretation.  You can argue with yourself to no end about whether or not director Jonas Åkerlund has made a subversive slam against trying to find human connection when our own baggage shuts us off from the world, or if he’s delivered a pat, mawkish ending that doesn’t fit with previous moments of derision towards sentiment.  Rather than leave your head spinning, Small Apartments just leaves your head aching.

SXSW 2012: HUNKY DORY Review

by     Posted 2 years, 226 days ago

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Hunky Dory will inevitably draw comparisons to Glee, but only because they both feature paper-thin teenage characters singing about their feelings.  Not every teenage character in movies and television needs to go through something profound, but we still need to get wrapped up in their mess of emotions, or at least be transported back to when we shared their feelings.  Director Marc Evans and screenwriter Laurence Coriat spread their story too thin by trying to give arcs to too many of the teenage characters.  In addition, the movie also has to spend time with their inspirational teacher, Ms. May (Minnie Driver), and see what’s happening in her life.  The film owes more to American Graffiti than Glee, but it’s only at the end when Hunky Dory stands apart and does something powerful and original.

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