SXSW Part 1

Greetings from Austin, Texas, a slice of Hipster Nation in the center of Bush Country. I'm attending the South By Southwest (SXSW) 2010 film festival. I get to see an onslaught of independent films before their distribution, and all for the low, low price of 375 dollars! My goal is to see a minimum of twenty films to somewhat offset this steep, steep, steep admission price. Here's what I've seen so far:

1) Skeletons
An English film, but I don't hold that against it. A black comedy about a private corporation who expose the metaphorical skeletons in their clients' closets. It's marginally sci-fi, but deals mostly with intrapersoanl and interpersonal relations. While this film has some fine moments and some good chuckles, it's all over the place. At some points, it's trying to be Ghostbusters, at others it's Little Miss Sunshine, at others its Persona. There are three independent subplots throughout the film, and while they all originate from a single starting point, there's no real cohesiveness between them at the end. It's like someone tied a braid, then got bored and walked away. The effects were nice and the pacing was fine, but the largest achievements here were camerawork and sound. All in all, it was okay, but would have benefited from another once-over during the screenwriting process.
Final score: 3/5
In a word: Disjointed

2) The Thorn in the Heart
This documentary by Michel Gondry chronicles the life of his aunt, a schoolteacher from small-town France. The film is a personal project for Gondry, so don't expect it to be a wild spectacle such as Eternal Sunshine or The Science of Sleep. It's uplifting, but also sad, and utilizes the stereotypical filmmaking credo: "It's a story that needs to be told." There are some moments purely Gondry, though. Animations and scene constructions occur occasionally through the nonfiction narrative. Bloopers and behind the scenes footage are integrated into the film for entertainment value. The shattering of the fourth wall reminds us that his aunt's life is a celebration, and is being heralded by the film, not mourned. The only downside is, as is the case with all films of this nature, no matter how well-constructed the film, the subjective feelings concerning the subject can never be fully amplified and shared with a mass audience. No matter how we feel about Gondry's aunt, we will never feel the way he feels.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: Heartstrings

3) Cannibal Girls
This lost classic from Ivan Reitman has resurfaced thanks to the efforts of his son, Jason Reitman. Jason claimed he was attending SXSW not as a director, but as a film fan this year. In his words, "it's the perfect way to relax after going 0/3 at the Oscars." Cannibal Girls is just as the title suggests. A young couple traveling in the country stop in a small town and are at the mercy of three sisters who like to eat flesh. Also, the entire town abides by this quirk, with many meat-related incidents injected throughout the seemingly ordinary town. Andrea Martin and Eugene Levy of SCTV star. Eugene Levy spends the entire movie looking like Gene Shalit, which to me is hilarious. Unfortunately, the film has all the pratfalls of typical B-movie schlock. It's gory, and has rampant black humor, but also plot holes, storytelling faults, bad acting and contrived narrative gimmicks. It has a certain entertainment value, but in the end, it's really stupid.
Final Score: 2/5
In a word: Jewfro

4) Richard Garriott: Man on a Mission
You may know Richard Garriott as the man who created the Ultima video game franchise. But this film shows him as the eccentric video game mogul who spent 30 million dollars on a space voyage. As a suburban white boy and a fan of all things outer-spatial, any film combining space adventure and video games is okay by me. Garriott spends the entirety of the film dealing with the psychological and physical demands of becoming an astronaut, working with the Russian space program, and spending two weeks aboard the ISS. Garriott is a real character, the kind you don't mind following around. He apes for the camera, but always has something wise, relevant or important to say. Most important, he shows that space travel and other such technological adventures are slowly becoming a reality. If you can afford it.
Final Score: 5/5
In a word: Rat-tail

5) FutureStates
FutureStates is a collection of six short films, each created by different filmmakers with the intention to show a possible future. Not science fiction per se, but as it possibly would happen. Three of these films concern conservation, one details illegal aliens, one biogenetics, and one the housing crisis. Needless to say, the six films are depressing. During the Q&A I asked one of the directors whether they were personally pessimistic about the future or if dystopian futures just make for good drama (the question got some laughs, which surprised me because I thought it was a completely serious question). Long story short, it's just more fun to see the future in shambles. That way, when the totally middle-ground future arrives, our preservation efforts paint ourselves as saviors rather than imbeciles fucking everything up. All in all, the films were enjoyable. Mister Green was the worst of the bunch, but still really good. Tent City was the best.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: Guilt

6) Elektra Luxx
This was a sequel to a film that debuted last year, which surprised the fuck outta me, because I never heard about it. The film stars Carla Gugino as Elektra Luxx, a retired porn star forced into the public sector after discovering she's pregnant and some other vague events covered in the first movie. Going in with no knowledge of the original wasn't completely jarring, but I felt there were certain elements left unexplained. I can't complain about that; it's my own damn fault. According to the director, the film was created to give female actors strong, smart, powerful characters, and that's exactly what it delivers. The women are objectified, but in all the right ways. The film is hilarious and weirdly personal. My only grumble is the pacing seems more akin to a television show than a movie. We follow a couple of supporting characters completely independent of the main story, for no other reason than jokes. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but an odd choice for a film.
Final Score: 4/5
In a word: *Porn soundtrack wah-wahs*

7) Jimmy Tupper Vs The Goatman of Bowie
After a night of heavy drinking and pot smoking, Jimmy Tupper is driven into the woods and abandoned by his friends as a prank. When Jimmy goes missing, his friends go out searching for him. Deep in the woods of Bowie, Maryland, they find Jimmy: scathed, shaken and disturbed. Jimmy claimed he was attacked by a creature in the night; the infamous goatman. Now a laughingstock of his social group, Jimmy heads out into the woods again ready to find the Goatman, prove it wasn't a drunken hallucination, and clear his name. Eleven years after The Blair Witch Project, JT Vs TGM utilizes the same "found footage" format. Unlike its predecessors, JT Vs TGM has a certain level of randomness and pacing that suggests this may actually be non-fiction. The first third of the movie is a completely asinine log of drunken partying, Jackass-type stunts and mugging for the camera; the kind of shit you'd expect to find on an amateur's tapes. But that's part of the charm. It creates the reality, and once we begin the second and third acts, it all seems worth it. This film is intense, and entertaining. We know there's no Goatman, but seeing Jimmy Tupper's pride degrading into slow, drunken insanity makes for damn fine cinema.
Final Score: 5/5
In a word: Paced

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