The SXSW Review Report: 10 Notables After the First Week

The SXSW Review Report: 10 Notables After the First Week

The Review Report rounds up some of the biggest festivals notable premieres, along with a sampling of reviews and tweets. Today, we bring you our first collection of SXSW feedback out of Austin.

And just like that, SXSW 2013 is two-thirds finished. While returning favorites like “Before Midnight,” “Upstream Color” and “The Spectacular Now” have extended their Sundance goodwill to a different time zone, SXSW has given a number of films the opportunity to make their first big splash on the festival circuit.

As is always the case, not all the films listed below are unanimous hits. In fact, aside from a select few jury prize winners, universal acclaim has been the exception. Nevertheless, to give you an idea of what movies might be worth either a mental or literal bookmark, we’ve collected both the positive and tepid analyses for your consideration. (Since some of these titles might be unfamiliar to the larger cinephile audience, we’ve added some basic information and a synopsis for each film.)

Agree or disagree with the budding critical consensus gathered here? Then head to each of these film’s individual pages to join in the conversation.

Cheap Thrills
Category: Midnighters
Directors: E.L. Katz
Cast: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner, Amanda Fuller
Synopsis: “Recently fired and facing eviction, a new dad has his life turned upside down when he meets a wealthy couple who offer a path to financial security… but at a price.”

Reviews:

Eric KohnIndiewire:

Even when it’s fairly obvious where things are headed, the sick ride continues to speed forward, arriving at a gloriously absurd final shot that perfectly encapsulates both the ideas and visceral experience of the movie in their entirety.

Eugene Novikov, Film Blather:

There’s no big twist here, but the film’s sustained thoughtfulness is as surprising as any plot development.

Peter MartinTwitch:

Cheap Thrills is not afraid to get its hands bloody, though what makes it work is a visceral understanding of the survival instinct, and of what it is that separates men from animals.

James RocchiMSN:

In a film this contained, the concern is that the proceedings might come to feel more theatrical than cinematic, but Katz’s eye for edits and ear for whispers make it clear that’s not a problem here.

Scott WeinbergFEARnet:

It’s not often you come across an indie film that’s both joyously mean-spirited and also kind of moral at the same time, but Cheap Thrills breezes by on a twisted idea, a fantastic cast, and a bunch of ethical quandaries that are both eerily uncomfortable and slyly fascinating at the same time.”

Tweets:

Russ FischerSlashFilm:

CHEAP THRILLS: Provocative, brutal, superbly acted. Pat Healy takes it all the way. One hell of a directorial debut for EL Katz.

Drew McWeenyHitfix:

… uh, wow. “Cheap Thrills” is the goods. Angry, ugly, unapologetic. And so goddamn great it makes me mad.

Eric D. SniderEricDSnider.com:

CHEAP THRILLS: gross, entertaining dark comedy about what people will do for money. Indictment of capitalism? Pat Healy is a trouper.

Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com

CHEAP THRILLS: the great Pat Healy becomes a sort of Dorian Gray-ish face of America’s economic struggle and obsession with reality TV.

Bill GrahamThe Film Stage:

CHEAP THRILLS just ruined my life. Knocked me on my ass and took my money. See this movie.”

Drinking Buddies
Category: Narrative Spotlight
Directors: Joe Swanberg
Writers: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, Ron Livingston, Ti West
Synopsis: “Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at a craft brewery. They have one of those friendships that feels like it could be something more. But Kate is with Chris (Ron Livingston), and Luke is with Jill (Anna Kendrick). And Jill wants to know if Luke is ready to talk about marriage. The answer to that question becomes crystal clear when Luke and Kate unexpectedly find themselves alone for a weekend.”

Reviews:

Joshua BrunstingCriterionCast:

Inherently a performance piece, Swanberg’s direction actually elevates the material into cinematic form, proving him to be far more than just a micro-budget auteur.

Drew McWeenyHitfix:

Very little of what happens between the characters is spoken aloud in any concrete sense. Instead, it’s all about those things that they can’t say, those lines that they’re all aware of, and the tiny transgressions that blur that line in all of these relationships.”

Don SimpsonFilm Threat:

Keeping with Swanberg’s uber-naturalistic vibe, the humor in Drinking Buddies is subtle and realistic.

Kenji FujishimaThe House Next Door:

Drinking Buddies plays as a kind of comic tap dance at the edge of an adulterous abyss, with human feeling hitting the wall of cultural expectations.

Rob HunterFilm School Rejects

The film does take its sweet time forming and coalescing into a visible and powerful narrative, but once it does the effect is near overwhelming for anyone who’s ever faced similar circumstances.

Tweets:

Scott MacaulayFilmmaker Magazine:

Really liked Swanberg’s “Drinking Buddies” at #SXSW. Thoughtful, nuanced tale of in-between relationships, emotional fidelity/infidelity.

Russ FischerSlashFilm:

DRINKING BUDDIES: Takes a long time to develop a small idea, but also explores it well. Jake Johnson & Olivia Wilde are quite good.

Jack GirouxFilm School Rejects:

Drinking Buddies is the first movie to fully take advantage of Olivia Wilde’s charm.

Erik DavisMovies.com

“Really dug Drinking Buddies. Honest & heartfelt, this is the movie that shows you that Olivia Wilde is legit in every way.”

Jason Bailey, Flavorwire

Really dug DRINKING BUDDIES. Well written, well played, absolutely perfect ending.

Big Ass Spider!
Category: Midnighters
Directors: Mike Mendez
Cast: Greg Grunberg, Lombardo Boyar, Clare Kramer, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Patrick Bauchau
Synopsis: “When a giant alien spider escapes from a military lab and rampages across the city of Los Angeles, it is up to one clever exterminator and his security guard sidekick to kill the creature before the entire city is destroyed. “Big Ass Spider”, (aka “Mega Spider”).”

Reviews:

John DeForeThe Hollywood Reporter:

Though it’s tongue-in-cheek from the start, the pic gets some legit scares in while the superbug is still small enough to skitter through air ducts and lurk in dark corners.

Scott WeinbergFEARnet:

The best monster movies are made by filmmakers with obvious affection for the sub-genre, and it certainly seems that director Mendez and screenwriter Greg Gieras have that section covered.

Flossie ToppingScreen Daily:

Although its not heading into any new territory for the genre, Big Ass Spider is self-conscious enough to appeal to its audience.

Tweets:

Jason WhyteeFilmCritic.com:

BIG ASS SPIDER! is a blast from beginning to end. Fun cast, giddy efx work and short but sweet premise make it fun.

Peter MartinTwitch:

BIG ASS SPIDER! = Truth in advertising! Mirth and mayhem make a good midnight mix.

Matt GoldbergCollider:

“I was worried BIG ASS SPIDER! would be this year’s IRON SKY.  I was wrong. IRON SKY is way better.”

Haunter
Category: Midnighters
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Stephen McHattie, David Hewlett, David Knoller
Synopsis: “Lisa Johnson is one day shy
of her sixteenth birthday. And she will be forever. She and her family are dead
and doomed to repeat that fateful last day before they were all killed in 1985.
Only Lisa has “woken up” and realizes what is going on. She starts to feel as
if she is being haunted, but the “ghost” turns out to be Olivia, a very much
alive girl who lives in the house in the present day with her own family. With
her help, Lisa discovers that the house once belonged to a serial killer who kidnapped
teenage girls and burned their remains in a hidden furnace room. When he died,
he became a Haunter – a powerful, evil spirit able to possess the living.”

Reviews:

William Goss, Film.com:

Breslin gives a remarkably
well-measured performance as she convincingly proceeds from clockwork angst to
fearful curiosity and eventual empowerment, and Natali isn’t shy about letting
her wide-eyed fright anchor the premise.

John DeForeThe Hollywood Reporter:

Brian King’s script may not
answer every question it raises, but the connection it draws between this teen
and other girls is emotionally and narratively satisfying, reminding us that
every spirit inhabiting a haunted house started off as a mortal with problems
— usually heartbreaking ones — of her own.

Scott WeinbergFEARnet:

The pieces all come together,
but you may have to be a patient horror fan to enjoy the final payloads.

Eugene NovikovFilm Blather:

“You want rules, you got rules
— lots of them, set up in a complicated and impressively-engineered framework
by screenwriter Brian King.”

Ashley MorenoAustin Chronicle:

“The film crucially fails to
maintain that anxious atmosphere, which makes it easy to start questioning what
would otherwise be excusable enough plot issues for a horror film.

Tweets:

Eric Vespe, Ain’t It Cool News:

Wasn’t a fan of Natali’s
Haunter. It’s ambitious, I’ll give it that, but was really held back by its
budget.

John Gholson, Movies.com:

HAUNTER is sort of airless
and convoluted. Really more of a mystery, than straight horror, & seems
designed for slightly younger audiences.

Russ Fischer, SlashFilm:

“HAUNTER: A decent ghost story
to sit alongside del Toro’s better work, until it explains everything and the
tension and mystery dissolves.

Kenji Fujishima, In Review Online

“HAUNTER (2013, Natali): a
ghostly vision of suburban hell. Premise holds your interest for an hour, never
quite catches fire after.”

Evan Dickson, Bloody Disgusting:

HAUNTER – what if GROUNDHOG
DAY met THE OTHERS. Admirably ambitious in concept, but didn’t do it for me.

Short Term 12
Category: Narrative Competition
Directors: Destin Daniel Cretton
Cast: Brie Larson, John Gallagher
Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Rami Malek, Keith Stanfield, Kevin Hernandez, Melora
Walters

Synopsis: “”Short Term 12” is
told through the eyes of Grace (Brie Larson), a twenty-something supervisor at
a foster-care facility for at-risk teenagers. Passionate and tough, Grace is a
formidable caretaker of the kids in her charge – and in love with her long-term
boyfriend and co-worker, Mason (John Gallagher Jr). But Grace’s own difficult
past – and the surprising future that suddenly presents itself – throw her into
unforeseen confusion, made all the sharper with the arrival of a new intake at
the facility: a gifted but troubled teenage girl with whom Grace has a charged
connection. While the subject matter is complex, this lovingly realized film
finds truth – and humor – in unexpected places.”

Reviews:

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:

A far cry from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” caricatures, “Short Term 12” is imbued with enthralling naturalism, right down to a cast that includes real patients.

Katie Walsh, The Playlist:

In the end, “Short Term 12”
is a roller coaster of every emotion, managing to be both heartwarming and
heartrending at once. But what a great ride.

Matt Singer, Screen Crush:

Above all, [Cretton’s] made a great
showcase for his actors, and they are uniformly outstanding.

Peter Debruge, Variety:

Any time the story has a
chance to fall back on cliche, it breaks off in a different direction, allowing
audiences to be emotionally blindsided by sincere, well-earned moments.

Aly Semigran, Hollywood.com:

Cretton’s film sheds light on
taboo topics like suicide and self-harm like cutting, putting them in terms
those mercifully out of the spectrum can understand.

Tweets:

Beth Hanna, Thompson on Hollywood:

“Short Term 12” =
solid, predictable. Brie Larson is good, John Gallagher Jr plays hirsute
version of his Newsroom nice-guy character.

Matt Dentler, iTunes

Brie Larson is incredible in
the emotionally resonant and well-made SHORT TERM 12. Jury prizes await, I’m
sure.

Dustin Rowles, Pajiba:

I wanna take Brie Larsen’s
SHORT TERM 12 behind the bleachers and give it a hug and process some feelings
together.

Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com

“SHORT TERM 12 handles its
subject with grace, sensitivity and maturity. Terrific work by director and
cast especially Brie Larson.”

Stephen Saito, The Movable Fest

Short Term 12 just won SXSW.
I’m not waiting for the awards to tell me so.

For more of the first-week roundup, including the two-man desert survival film “Scenic Route,” the after-the-happy-ending romantic comedy “I Give It a Year,” and the instant nerd classic “Zero Charisma,” check out the next page.

Awful Nice
Category: Narrative Competition
Directors: Todd Sklar
Cast: Alex Rennie, James Pumphrey, Christopher Meloni,
Brett Gelman, Keeley Hazell   
Synopsis: “Jim and Dave are brothers.
They haven’t seen each other in years, but when their father unexpectedly dies,
they’re forced to travel down to Branson together to redeem their inheritance;
the family’s lake home. Upon arriving, they find that the house is in terrible
condition, and worse-yet, they’ll have to fix it themselves before they can
sell it and receive their money. What follows is a series of hilarious mishaps
and costly misadventures that ultimately help the two brothers rebuild their
strained relationship as they attempt to restore the house they grew up in.”

Reviews:

Matt GoldbergCollider:

Sklar surrounds his lead
actors with colorful characters, but these supporting players only serve to
slow down what increasingly becomes a flabby, directionless plot.

Eric Kohn, Indiewire:

Viewed in segments,
Awful Nice” has enough enjoyable recklessness to illustrate its
filmmaker’s commitment to droll misdirection right down to the amusingly
understated climax.

Mark LisantiGrantland:

It’s not at all perfect, but
it’s fitfully hilarious, and goes for it so hard it makes me a little
embarrassed about Burt Wonderstone’s just-OK-enoughness.

Tweets:

Ryland Aldrich, Twitch:

AWFUL NICE is a wild and zany
comedy that full commits to its wacky premise. Great performances by leads and
some hilarious cameos.

Matt DentleriTunes

“Todd Sklar’s very funny AWFUL
NICE is a jovial brothers road movie in the tradition of PUFFY CHAIR and
OVERBROOK BROTHERS.”

Dan Kois, Slate:

AWFUL NICE: An
(intentionally) mixed bag but contains some of the most explosively funny
physical comedy I have seen in years.

The Bounceback
Category: Narrative Spotlight
Directors: Bryan Poyser
Cast: Ashley Bell, Zach Cregger,
Sara Paxton, Michael Stahl-David, Addison Timlin
Synopsis: “Breaking up is hard to do.
Desperate and lonely, Stan (Michael Stahl-David) learns that his ex, Cathy
(Ashley Bell), will be in Austin for the weekend and hops on a flight to the
Lone Star State in hopes of “accidentally” running into her. But, another
breakup crisis greets him in Austin between his friends Jeff (Zach Cregger) and
Kara (Sara Paxton), who are hell-bent on keeping Stan and Cathy apart.
Cavorting through Austin’s honkytonks, nightclubs, and a cutthroat air-sex
competition, Stan and Cathy find bouncing back from their heartache to be
unexpectedly complicated. An outrageous and heartfelt comedy, THE BOUNCEBACK is
Bryan Poyser’s follow-up to the hit Sundance film, LOVERS OF HATE.”

Reviews:

Peter DebrugeVariety:

In what looks a lot like a
studio comedy, but air-humps as only an indie can, rebound-themed raunch-a-thon
“The Bounceback” sees director Bryan Poyser and co-scribes Steven Walters and
David DeGrow Shotwell channeling such mid-’90s relationship pics as “Clerks”
and “Swingers,” where the biggest laughs are triggered by recognition, rather
than crossing the line of acceptability.

Eric KohnIndiewire:

“Compared to the current
mainstream standards for the genre, the movie is a smart, refreshing cut above
that channels the intelligence found in Poyser’s other movies into a more
common mold.

Dorothy Burk Vasquez, PopMatters:

While The Bounceback offered
some golden moments and great laughs, Poyser has also adopted the
raunch-for-raunch’s sake attitude that is characteristic of so many
contemporary comedies.

Tweets:

Ryland AldrichTwitch:

THE BOUNCEBACK is funny,
charming & oh so Austin.

Erik Childress, eFilmCritic.com

THE BOUNCEBACK wants to be a
kind of Austin Swingers (with air sex). Has moments but not well structured
& leads not fleshed out.

Erik DavisMovies.com

The Bounceback: cute, often
amusing rom-com about falling in and out of love in Austin. I’ll hug it but not
love it.

Don Simpson, Smells Like Screen Spirit:

I was really blown away by
@BryanLePoyser’s THE BOUNCEBACK. And I thought he could never top LOVERS OF
HATE? Silly me.

Scenic Route
Category: Narrative Spotlight
Directors: Kevin and Michael Goetz
Cast: Josh Duhamel, Dan Fogler
Synopsis: “Mitchell (Josh Duhamel) and
Carter (Dan Fogler), life-long friends who have drifted apart, are on a road
trip when their old pickup breaks down, leaving them stranded on an isolated
desert road. Nobody can pick apart a man like his best friend, and as the relentless
elements of the desert grind them down, they start to attack each other’s life
decisions with unwavering brutality. As they question who they are and who they
could have been, their agitation leads to physical confrontation and ultimately
knife-wielding madness, and what begins as an inconvenience becomes a very real
life or death struggle.”

Reviews:

John DeForeThe Hollywood Reporter:

The movie becomes a survival
tale and is more successful in its grueling, slightly crazed second half.

Noah Lee, Film Threat:

When you have a buddy film
where the near entirety of the movie is hefted on their two shoulders, it’s
important for them to bear the weight.

Aly SemigranHollywood.com:

While there are some
frustratingly distracting moments (including Carter’s inane decision to turn
down help when they first break down), the dialogue-heavy feature, which spends
most of its running time on the side of a dirt road in the desert, never loses
your attention.

Tweets:

John GholsonMovies.com:

SCENIC ROUTE grew on me.
Darkly comic desert survival tale, requires some patience to sit through the
histrionics for the good parts.

Jacob HallScreen Crush:

“SCENIC ROUTE: Loved and hated
it on a scene by scene basis. Not bad, but also full of a whole lotta’ nothing.

Eric VespeAin’t It Cool News:

“Scenic Route is rough.
Basically a two man play in the desert with a horribly miscalculated ambiguous
ending.

I Give It a Year
Category: Narrative Spotlight
Directors: Dan Mazer
Cast: Rose Byrne, Anna Faris, Rafe
Spall, Simon Baker, Minnie Driver, Jason Flemyng, Stephen Merchant

Synopsis: “A brand new comedy from
Working Title and the writer of “Borat” and “Bruno” that
lifts the veil on the realities of the first year of marriage. Starting where other
romantic comedies finish, “I Give It A Year” asks what happens after
the epic romance and the fairy-tale wedding? When the confetti has been
recycled and the presents packed away.”

Reviews:

William GossFilm.com:

Although it may not
ultimately prove crafty enough to serve as the chick-flick equivalent to “The
Cabin in the Woods,” “Year” still manages to have its wedding cake and spit on
it too.

Britt Hayes, Screen Crush

“It sometimes feels slight or
conventionally paced, but it’s packed with more heart and perception than most,
and it treats its characters as fully realized people rather than
one-dimensional sentiments dressed in human clothes.

Linc Leifeste, Smells Like Screen Spirit:

Beyond laughs, which the film
successfully delivers in spurts (thank God for Stephen Merchant and
threesomes), if there’s a message here, it’s that personal happiness is
important and trumps any ‘sanctity of marriage.’

Stephen SaitoThe Movable Fest:

Yet while the movie bears all
the markers of the genre, it’s the anarchy Mazer creates inside of it that
makes it such a subversive delight.

Matt GoldbergCollider:

All four leads are terrific
(although Baker is the odd-man out since the script doesn’t give him any comic
material), and Mazer makes sure the movie is about their story rather than
simply milking side characters and set-ups until they’re exhausted
.”

Tweets:

John GholsonMovies.com:

I GIVE IT A YEAR is just the
worst. Insulting, stupid “adult” rom com. Sucked away my will to live
and love.

Eric D. SniderEricDSnider.com:

I GIVE IT A YEAR: funny,
caustic, series-of-gags anti-rom-com. Stephen Merchant in supporting role is
cringe-worthy hilarious
.”

Erik DavisMovies.com

‘I Give It A Year’ is the
rare cliched mainstream rom-com that’s actually super funny. I laughed hard.

Cory Everett, The Playlist

“‘I Give It A Year’ was painful. Trite rom-com assembled from movie cliches. Worst I’ve seen at
#SXSW. Still love Rose Byrne though.

Jason Bailey, Flavorwire

I GIVE IT A YEAR: A slightly
tweaked narrative doesn’t fix the fact that UGH WE’VE SEEN THIS MOVIE A MILLION
TIMES WHY IS IT AT #SXSW

Zero Charisma
Category: Narrative Spotlight
Directors: Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews
Cast: Sam Eidson, Garrett Graham, Brock England, Anne
Gee Byrd, Cyndi Williams
Synopsis: “Metal-loving gamer geek,
Scott Weidemeyer, lives with his ornery grandmother and works a lousy job at a
donut shop. But every Tuesday night, he is the omnipotent Game Master, guiding
his role-players through a tabletop journey of fantasy and adventure. However,
when neo-nerd hipster Miles joins his game, Scott begins to resent the
admiration Miles receives from the other players. To make matters worse, the
health of his grandmother begins to falter, and his estranged mother visits
town, reminding Scott of a childhood he’d just as soon forget. Caught in a
spiral of rage and delusion, Scott is forced to take drastic steps to reclaim
his honor, and his identity as the Game Master.”

Reviews:

Devin Faraci, Badass Digest:

“It is, almost certainly, the
best film ever made about nerds (as we understand them today).”

Alan Cerny, Ain’t It Cool News:

Sam Eidson is triumphant as
Scott.  It’s a far more nuanced
performance than it seems to be on paper – Scott is a very unlikable person,
but Eidson shows us the very wounded child inside, even if in fleeting moments.

Bill GrahamThe Film Stage:

One doesn’t have to be into
the D&D scene to enjoy the film, and a fondness nerd culture isn’t even a
must.

Tim Wu, Slate:

Zero Charisma asks bigger
questions than whether hipsters are ruining perfectly good subcultures with
their version of poverty chic. Buried here among the saving throws is something
deeper.

Chris Tilly, IGN:

Eidson imbues Scott with just
the right combination of sadness, humour, pathos and rage so that he becomes a
geek hero for the ages.

Tweets:

Michael Tully, Hammer to Nail:

ZERO CHARISMA is seriously
funny stuff. A nice surprise for hump day.

Neil MillerFilm School Rejects:

Greatly enjoyed Zero
Charisma. Sam Eidson absolutely kills it. An unnervingly honest movie about
nerd culture
.”

Matt SingerScreen Crush:

ZERO CHARISMA might be the
nerdiest movie ever made. Which puts it right in my wheelhouse. Very funny,
surprisingly moving.

Eugene Novikov, Film Blather:

My problem with ZERO
CHARISMA: the protagonist’s issues have nothing to do with being a nerd, and
everything with being an asshole.

Germain LussierSlashFilm:

Zero Charisma is wonderful. A
complex, smart and funny look at what it means to be one of the uncool.

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