SXSW Recap: Day 2

Nothing like waking up before the sun, standing in long lines, and getting soaked by the rain to remind you of your love for cinema. Ethan Hawke refused to walk the red carpet due to rain and temperature plunges, but I braved the wet and cold to bring you coverage from DAY 2 of SXSW2014.
So, without further ado…

My day began with A CONVERSATION WITH TILDA SWINTON, who has two films programmed at this year’s festival: Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive –  a vampire love story (check back for my review on Thursday) – and The Grand Budapest Hotel – Wes Anderson’s latest colorful romp (review on Tuesday). The ageless waif spoke about her roaming childhood in a military family, lots of laughter between herself and three brothers, and growing up in a home where people did not “make art; they bought art.” She knew she wanted to be involved in film at an early age but never really took performing seriously, thinking she might write films or write about them.

Eloquent and engaging, Swinton was open and gracious, offering a glimpse into her long career. The conversation was at its most poignant when the interview turned to Derek Jarman – an early collaborator of Swinton’s, a director who influenced her career greatly and helped shape the artist we see today. Jarman, an experimental writer and director best known for films like Carvaggio and Edward II, died twenty years ago last month of AIDS; an activist who struggled against Thatcher-led government discrimination against homosexuals, Swinton thought it important to note how history repeats itself and the establishment that Jarman fought so fervently is alive again in modern Russia. A long history of working with intense, brilliant directors, she spoke at length on her current work with Jim Jarmusch, which she described like “chewing the cud,” laboring over a long period of time dissecting the work before the filming can begin. I enjoyed getting to know this effervescent, archetypal angel who dropped this understatement of the century: “I’m aware that I am an odd one…”

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MARShmallows finally got their wish, as Rob Thomas’s long-awaited, fan-financed VERONICA MARS movie debuted Saturday afternoon. The core cast, as well as a few fan favorites, appeared on the red carpet. It must be said that though it was raining cats and dogs, and the temperature felt frigid through my Converse, all of the actors – including Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, and Chris Lowell — stopped to snap pictures, sign posters, and thank those who waited in the deluge for a glimpse of their favorite Tiger Beat pin-up. I can say, with absolute certainty, people who loved the show will love this film. It is a love letter to loyal viewers wrought with cameos, inside jokes, and a regular mystery-of-the-week set up. Although the overall plot is thin, I doubt it matters much to anyone who has been dreaming of this moment for seven years. True Mars viewers will revel in payoffs long anticipated. I do not recommend seeing this film without at least a walking-around knowledge of the world of Neptune; this movie is not for you, casual cinefile. Seedier and a tad more raunchy than the show, the name of the game here is “fun.” I am encouraged, however, with the idea that fans can finance what they want to see on the screen. Maybe we can step away from price-club cinema produced in a focus group. I asked Thomas what he thought of this new era of Kickstarter financing and rebirth of true independent film: “If [Veronica Mars] does well [at the box office], we’ll see more movies in the five to ten million dollar range. We’re the guinea pigs, which is exciting.”  Fan Grade: B+ (Logan has his shirt off. And broods. A lot.)

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After viewing something completely new, it was time to return to the Costco comedy with NEIGHBORS. Empty, juvenile, and humorless, Neighbors is a far cry from director Nicholas Stoller’s smart The Five-Year Engagement, Get Him to the Greek, and the sublimely witty Forgetting Sarah Marshall. If Chef, Veronica Mars, and Predestination – more on that film below – offer fresh ideas in the world of cinema, Neighbors stands out as everything wrong with it. You might laugh while viewing this bland, been-there/done-that “comedy,” but you will be left unchanged and with the nagging feeling that you’ve wasted nearly two hours of your life. Audiences deserve better than lame dick jokes and a Zac Efron/Seth Rogen ab-off. There are no surprises here, nothing innovative or moving, everyone is wasting their time, so I am fairly sure it will earn $100 million opening weekend. Grade: F. (The film equivalent of hangover breath.)

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Luckily, my night did not end with Neighbors. After waiting once again in the rain – though Ethan Hawke canceled his red carpet appearance – my hope in the future of cinema was once again renewed with The Spierig Brothers’ sci-fi mind-bender PREDESTINATION. Equal parts Primer, Abre Los Ojos, and Gattaca, and based on the Robert Heinlein short story “All You Zombies,” Predestination centers on Ethan Hawke’s time-travelling Temporal Agent obsessed with ridding the world of the Fizzle Bomber. Staying true to the short story and time periods Heinlein laid out, the film is a look at duality, fate, and the decisions we make that determine who we are. To explain the plot further would be to rob to viewer of the complete experience, but honestly, if I laid out scene-by-scene what happens, you’d probably need a flow chart. I suggest you just take the ride and enjoy.

Like Chef, Predestination feels like something very fresh and exciting. Great care taken for the make-up, production design, and shot composition, this is what a smart film looks like; a film that does not dumb itself down to fit into a mold of what studios this we want to see. It is an experience like no other in film today; not everyone will be comfortable with the subject matter, but I suspect that if you give this film a chance, you will be discussing it long after the credits roll. Special mention should be paid to the cast led by the unbelievably talented Hawke; I could not see anyone else in this role. Noah Taylor commands attention in every scene he appears, and relative newcomer Sarah Snook’s portrayal of Jane cannot be fully discussed without giving anything away, but I will say that her powerful performance might be the talk of the year. Smart, stylish, and innovative, Predestination is already my favorite film from the festival. Final Grade: A. (This is science fiction done right.)

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