My first official day of SXSW kicked off full throttle with a documentary about (alleged) domestic terrorists armed with Molotov cocktails, a movie about “Mad Max”-obsessed slackers with homemade flamethrowers and ridiculously souped up cars, and a midnight post-apocalypse thriller that continually abandons layers of sanity and morality and ends up far more FUBAR than anything in Austin directly associated with that acronym. Oh, and I attended a party for that middle film in which they held a cricket eating contest and a crazy old Austinite showed up wearing half a set of handcuffs on his wrist (the other half was apparently hacked off). Basically, this is the kind of first day I anticipate and welcome. I’ll ignore the doc here (that goes elsewhere) and present some thoughts on the latter two films, Evan Glodell’s “Bellflower” and Xavier Gens’ “The Divide.”
Let me preface by stating that I’ve never seen any of the “Mad Max” movies, which provide some of the inspiration for both the characters in “Bellflower” and its filmmakers. But I also have never seen a “Rambo” movie and was able to appreciate and enjoy “Son of Rambow.” So I don’t think it’s an issue. But surely I missed a few referential jokes. I’d like to think this is a kind of sequel to “Rambow,” actually, in which the boys have moved on from making VHS movies and are now into making things like that flamethrower and a Volvo with a whiskey dispenser labeled a “James Bond car for drunks.” Topping both are their flame-spewing muscle car, which they’ve named the Medusa (and which made a very crowd-pleasing appearance in Austin this week). Then, a girl comes into the picture and ruins all that masculine fun.
For the first half of the movie, while Woodrow (Glodell, acting as well as writing, directing, editing and producing) is courting Milly (Jessie Wiseman), I got a very “All the Real Girls” vibe. Glodell even reminds me a lot of Paul Schneider in that film. But the filmmaker I’d compare his writing and directing style to more than David Gordon Green is Shane Carruth. Even if Woodrow and Aidan (Tyler Dawson) weren’t continually building things (nothing to do with time travel), the manner of speech and overlapping dialogue is so reminiscent of “Primer.” And since Carruth still hasn’t given us a follow-up, I gladly welcome Glodell as a substitute if not a compatriot.
I was very surprised at how romantic and dreamy the movie is for a while, having heard only about its wild side at Sundance. The crazy, violent, off-the-rails stuff finally kicks in rather suddenly when things go sour between Woodrow and Milly and the movie began to lose me narratively, even if I have to admit all of what I saw on screen was incredibly, awesomely, addictively stimulating. Like last year’s “Enter the Void,” the stunning, unconventional, provocative visual style overpowers anything I could possibly criticize about its plot or character development. What ensues is the dream of love turned into the nightmare of loss and pain, and the movie seems to be stating that — as Aidan explicitly says, to a degree, in fact — relationships are evil and eventually lead to a literal hell for all in their vicinity.
“Bellflower” is, on the surface, just a bromance film in which Glodell is taking the male bond back for men everywhere, emphasizing the bro over the (ro)mance and fueling it with more testosterone than we’ve been seeing. It’s like what action movies of the 80s were for the male in the wake of feminism, only now we’re in the wake of comedies about homosocial relationships bordering on latent homosexual subtext. Woodrow and Aidan are made for each other more than for any women, yet that doesn’t mean they have to be sensitive or give off the impression they’re a gay couple for culture-bending gags that are respectful neither to real hetero or homosexual men. It’s a movie I love and don’t love at all, as in it’s still spinning around in my head and may never stop. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
RIYL: “Primer;” “All the Real Girls;” “Mad Max”
“The Divide” on the other hand is entirely disrespectful to all men, women and maybe all living creatures, as well as canned beans, stuffed rabbits, basements and anything non-living that makes an appearance in the film. Basically it’s the same movie as another SXSW midnighter, “Phase 7” (which I saw in Miami), only not good. I can’t even give it credit for the fact that it kept surprising me in how far off the deep end it went. A group of people wind up confined to the bottom of a Manhattan building after a nuclear attack and illogical and ill-minded things unfold. You expect they’ll go insane and turn on each other, but not quite as much as they do. Milo Ventimiglia and Michael Eklund are two sick dudes that take poor Rosanna Arquette as their sexual prisoner and in general figuratively swing their dicks around as the new princes of their post-apocalyptic sub-terraria. And not even Michael Biehn can do anything about it.
Yet I have to say I loved attending the late night screening of “The Divide” at SXSW, at an Alamo Drafthouse, surrounded by fellow movie bloggers, dozing off at times and finding the film completely unrecognizable — by which I mean wilder, weirder, worser — in terms of its plot, with each awakening. This is the kind of thing you do at this festival. You either see a totally insane movie and then go party with the wild, off-kilter people who made it, or you see a totally insane movie and then sit around with other writers trashing, debating, defending and analyzing a movie nobody in their right minds would ever discuss so much if seen in any other setting.
RIYL: “Splice;” David Cronenberg’s “The Fly;” “Twilight Zone” episode “The Shelter”