SXSW Recap: Day 6

After six days of film, a belly full of barbeque, and hair smelling of a certain substance that permeated downtown Austin, I am left with lasting memories from the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. I am not sure I agree with all of the Grand Jury winners, but I’ve always been an odd bird. Let’s continue on discussing my last day living and breathing badge lines, ballots, and bitchin’ about Zac Efron and Seth Rogen…

Morning brought the Simon Helberg/Jocelyn Towne dramatization of their unique proposal shenanigans, We’ll Never Have Paris. In the vein of Woody Allen – so much to the fact that it may seem less homage and more down right plagiarism – Woody Quinn (Helberg), hypochondriac, neurotic, narcissistic boyfriend to stalwart and sweet Devon (Melanie Lynskey) is on the verge of proposing after ten years, but he cannot seem to get it quite right. To make matters worse, long-time friend – and woman he considers way out of his league – Kelsey (Maggie Grace) confesses feelings on the day he prepares to present a ring to Devon. It’s a “grass is always greener” fable full of extreme caricatures and wasted cameos by Helberg’s famous friends. Lynskey’s talent is wasted as the girlfriend who cannot decide whether or not to forgive Quinn’s indiscretions; Helberg gives all of the punchlines to himself  — punchlines that never feel like true dialogue. This is a script written to be funny, and not based in any sort of reality. Although this is a professed true story, it’s hard to accept these people speak like this. Every scene is plagued with: sentence, joke, sentence, odd happenings, sentence, cheesy profession, joke, pointing the joke out…I am sure there are audiences that might prefer this kind of comedy, but I prefer the smarter comedy displayed in films like Take Care and Chef. The lighting is sub-par and framing, while sometimes ambitious, is amateur at best. Lovely exteriors are overshadowed by boring composition. It’s all very graduate-school thesis. Grade: C+. Skip it and see Annie Hall.

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Continuing on the comedy track– although on the other side of the spectrum — was Michael Tully’s bold attempt at satirizing the 80’s campy, summer coming-of-age competition genre, Ping Pong Summer. Lampooning films like One Crazy Summer, Better Off Dead, Meatballs, and Caddyshack, Summer tells the story of Rad Miracle, a ping pong-obsessed teenager who heads to sunny Ocean City, Maryland with his family for summer vacation. Accidently pissing off rich kid Lyle on his first day, Rad and new best friend Teddy Fryy must defeat Lyle at ping pong and restore the balance of good. Playing the Mr. Miyagi to Rad’s Daniel-San, former ping pong and bowling champ and all out badass Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon) must convince Rad of his overall coolness. A large, eye-rolling spectacle of a one-note joke that I’m fairly sure Tully concocted whilst stoned, Summer should be applauded for what it tried to do. Unfortunately, because his two teen-aged leads were so poorly prepared for the project, I was distracted by their lack of talent. Production design, art direction, and cinematography were marvelous, but wasted on such a complete disaster. Though I loved this genre growing up, these films always took themselves seriously, never laughing at their characters, and any attempt at lampooning should be left to National lampoons. Grade: C-. Ambitious but overall lacking.

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After Hellion – read that review here – I headed over to the Violet Crown Cinema for my last film of the festival: fellow NYU alum Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. A tale of love and woe about two vampires Adam (Tom Hiddlestone) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), and their attempt to exist in a world of uninteresting and indifferent human society. Adam, an underground musician, is on the verge of ending it all in Detroit when his longtime love and wife Eve, sensing Adam’s growing discontent, travels from Tangier to make sure he does not do anything foolish. When Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) comes to visit, all hell breaks loose for the two. Well, I say “all hell breaks loose,” but that’s not entirely true. The stakes are very minimal in this dragging, extremely Jarmusch film, that focuses more on conversations examining relationship and human frailty than actual action. Nothing really happens in this allegory to codependency, drug use, and familial obligation. Waskikowska is phenomenal in her role as the immature and impulsive Ava, and the chemistry between Hiddleston and Swinton rings true for lovers so long wrapped together. Jarmusch held my attention for the entire film, but overall, I was underwhelmed and left unsatisfied. Grade B-. An examination of relationships and a character study that sets you up for so much more, but ultimately leaves you wanting.

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Final SXSW Film Rankings:

  1. Boyhood
  2. Hellion
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Chef
  5. Predestination
  6. For No Good Reason
  7. Take Care
  8. Veronica Mars
  9. Only Lovers Left Alive
  10. Bad Words
  11. We’ll Never Have ParisJoe
  12. Joe
  13. Ping Pong Summer
  14. The Wilderness of James
  15. The Mule
  16. A Night in Old Mexico

Scraping the bottom of the barrel of cinema: Neighbors

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