SXSW Recap: Day 3

Possibly because my day started off with such a bang (more on that HERE), Day 3 spiraled into an unfulfilled, middling viewing of films that I probably won’t remember when I leave here.

There were a few highlights, particularly parts of David Gordon Green’s Joe, but overall, it seems that SXSW may have been scheduled a bit top heavy…

I began my day with viewing Richard Linklater’s latest — and my pic for best picture of the year millennium ever – Boyhood, but it was all downhill from there.

Next up was Gordon Green’s rough character study Joe. In a lot of ways, the film felt like an emotional follow-up to his 2003 masterful All the Real Girls. Shot framing, camera flow, lush exteriors juxtaposed with dirty art direction, and a free-flowing intense score, Joe is a return to all that was promising in Gordon Green’s career; however, the film does not quite work. Just because you are wrapped in a pretty package with dynamite performances does not mean your plot is invariably solid. The film is based on Larry Brown’s novel of the same name; Gordon Green describes the work as “already very cinematic;” I have to disagree…

Joe (Nicolas Cage in a return to Oscar-caliber work) is a man who needs to live off his routine; he feels everything intensely, and cannot control himself to the point of ruin. When given the opportunity to affect the life of a young Gary – Mud‘s Tye Sheridan – for the better, one with whom he identifies the same affliction, Joe finds himself spiraling even more out of control. With superb supporting performances by local Austinites Heather Kafka and Jonny Mars,  Joe could have been an instant Austin classic.  Sheridan continues his ability to choose quality roles where he can stretch his already accomplished talent; he never feels like he is reaching up to Cage’s level, always matching him beat by beat.  The true story of success, however, is the inspired performance by recently deceased actor Gary Poulter. As Gary’s alcoholic, abusive, perpetually homeless father, Poulter’s intensity matches Joe’s; he is everything Joe could become if he is not careful to his routine. The problems come when the plot suffers from lack of direction, too many characters, and the absurd idea that suspense necessitates the use of a gun. It’s all too Michael Scott for me. Grade: C

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Suffering from pretentious shot design, a hyper, ear-splitting score, and insipid dialogue, The Wilderness Of James purports to be a “vision” for the future of filmmaking. My advice to first-time director Michael Jordan James is to watch more films. This is all familiar ground: a coming of age story (stop me if you’ve heard this one) of a boy named James, haunted by the death of his father (feeling different, yet?), who cannot communicate with his grieving, possibly alchy mother (Virginia Madsen, in a waste of her talent) and seeks the counsel of ultra-hip psychologist (oy, vey) played by Danny DeVito, while falling out of control by experiencing drugs and loud music. James puts all of his hope in a new friend played by Isabelle Fuhrman (you guessed it; she’s a street-wise hipster with problems of her own) and new friend and accomplished musician Harmon (Evan Ross). The Wilderness of James begins like a fever dream of images and surrealism but ultimately chooses to end in a typical narrative structure. I’m nonplussed. Grade: D+

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And then there was The Mule, an Australian romp about a man who attempts to hold his bowels for ten days so as not to drop the load of drugs hidden in his stomach. Wrought with disgusting scenes of re-swallowing fecal-coverd condoms filled with heroin, Angus Sampson’s attempt to shock us instead of present a successful narrative is a one-note symphony of disappointment. Hugo Weaving is the only thing going for this low-brow forced spectacle, even John Noble’s villainous drug dealer rings hollow. That’s really all I can say about that. Grade: D

Ranking so far:
1. Boyhood
2. The Grand Budapest Hotel
3. Predestination
4. Chef
5. Veronica Mars
6. Bad Words
7. Joe
8. The Mule
9. The Wilderness of James
10. A Night in Old Mexico
7,945,999. Neighbors
Tomorrow’s reviews: Bad Words, A Night in a Old Mexico, For No Good Reason, The Grand Budapest Hotel

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