It’s that time of year again. The beer, bbq, nachos and —don’t forget— movies, are soon to flow at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival, taking place from March 11th through the 19th. Somewhere in between that period of doing permanent bodily harm, we watch and ideally cogently review the movies screened at the fest in Austin.
This year, the festival has more of the same, but in a good way: there’s an emphasis on independent cinema, which includes homegrown talent, indie documentaries, crowd-pleasing mainstream fare, well-curated spotlight content from previous festivals and horror and genre fare that speaks directly to a devoted core constituency. Props are due SXSW for being frontrunners of the television narrative space. It’s becoming somewhat of a regular occurrence to see a TV programming sidebar at film festivals, but what is beginning to feel customary now is something SXSW recognized with the first season of “Girls” more than five years ago.
SXSW certainly hasn’t forgotten that aspect, nor the mumblecore micro-indies the fest helped give voice to and popularize. So here’s twelve highlights from next week’s SXSW Film Festival.
SXSW loves its homegrown talent, so what better film to kick off the festival other than hometown hero Richard Linklater’s latest, “Everybody Wants Some.” Originally titled “That’s What I’m Talking About,” Linklater’s new film is his long mooted “spiritual sequel” to the much beloved “Dazed And Confused.” But don’t mistake that for direct correlation. If ‘Dazed’ covers high school in the 1970s, then “Everybody Wants Some” conjurs college in the 1980s. The film centers on a group of baseball players in college, yet these are guys are into punk and the entire stew of music that hit in the late 1970s—minus disco, of course— as well as partying and shenanigans. Linklater’s movies of late may have been serious efforts about life, love and growing up, but “Everybody Wants Some” is certainly more light, playful and funny—it’s essentially another coming of age comedy, just in a later era. The movie stars Will Brittain, Zoey Deutch, Ryan Anthony Guzman, Tyler Hoechlin, Blake Jenner, Glen Powell and Wyatt Russell.
This one is really a no brainer. Director Jeff Nichols may not be a hometown Austin boy from birth, but he’s certainly put down serious roots in the “Keep It Weird” oasis of Texas (much like David Gordon Green and seemingly all the notable filmmakers who graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts Film program). Shot mostly in Austin, “Midnight Special” is essentially his leap to the big leagues; it’s his first studio movie that’s been made for $20 million-ish (probably four times the size of his biggest picture). The John Carpenter-ish sci-fi movie tells the story of a father and son on the run from evangelicals and law enforcement that have become aware of the son’s special powers. The movie stars Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher, Sam Shepard and what’s more, we already know it’s good. We reviewed “Midnight Special” out of Berlin last month and as our review explains, it’s certainly worth your time.
Absurdist skit maestros Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele make their first movie; do we even need to go on? The weird action comedy “Keanu” follows two cousins (Key and Peele) who hatch a plot to retrieve a stolen kitten by posing as drug dealers for a street gang. Directed by Peter Atencio and written by Peele and Alex Rubens, “Keanu” co-stars Method Man, Gabrielle Union, Will Forte, Luis Guzmán, Nia Long, and Jason Mitchell from “Straight Outta Compton.” Announced as a last-minute, surprise Work-In-Progress screening, this bizarre story about a mysterious catnapping which prompts two friends to dive into the belly of LA’s criminal underworld looks hilarious. We’re there.
“Untitled Fede Alvarez”
Best known for the grim “Evil Dead” reboot, Uruguayan film director and screenwriter Fede Alvarez took Hollywood by storm after his short film “Ataque de Pánico!” became a YouTube sensation. He quickly made multi-million dollar deals to make a sci-fi film with Ghost House Pictures and a live action version of the video game “Dante’s Inferno” for Universal Pictures, and he’s directed episodes of “From Dusk till Dawn: The Series.” But he’s made another horror flick for Ghost House in the interim. Currently untitled but initially known as “A Man in the Dark,” the movie centers on a group of teens who break into a blind man’s home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. The movie stars Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto and Stephen Lang and makes its world premiere at SXSW.
Indie filmmaker Ti West is a deeply idiosyncratic storyteller who obviously loves the horror genre. But West is incredibly specific. His breakthrough film, “The House of the Devil” was a very unique, slow-burn homage to a particular type of ‘80s horror that centered on “satanic panic” with elements of slasher and haunted house. “The Innkeepers,” was another very focused haunted house/ghost riff on the kind of ‘80s comedic-tinged horrors we no longer see. Essentially, West knows his obscure sub-genres extremely well and can probably identify sub-classifications that only the most devout horror enthusiast understands well. He’s even tried indie found footage (“The Sacrament”), but perhaps what we’re most enthusiastic for is what sounds like his most ambitious project: a dusty, old-school Western. Starring Ethan Hawke, Taissa Farmiga, James Ransone, Karen Gillan, John Travolta, “In A Valley of Violence” is easily West’s biggest film to date. It centers on a drifter who arrives in a small town, seeking revenge on the thugs who murdered his friend, and as it seems like West’s ready to make his next big artistic leap. We can’t wait.
Filmmakers of all stripes are flocking to television and that applies to indie helmers too. “Outcast” has mostly caught our eye because of Adam Wingard, the director behind terrific indie throwback horror thrillers like “You’re Next” and “The Guest,” but there’s great talent involved all around. The series is from creator/screenwriter Robert Kirkman, best known for creating “The Walking Dead,” “Ultimate X-Men” and “Marvel Zombies.” Based on Kirkman’s Skybound/Image comic title, “Outcast” follows a young man who has been plagued by demonic possession all his life and the series stars Patrick Fugit, Philip Glenister, Wrenn Schmidt, Reg E. Cathey, David Denman. Showrun by Chris Black (producer/writer on shows like “The Huntress,” “Sliders,” “Star Trek: Enterprise”), Cinemax has picked up “Outcast” and Wingard has directed the pilot that premieres at SX.
First person games have been all the rage for years in the video game entertainment industry, often first-person shooter games. But a film that takes that same first-person point of view conceit and never drops it? Well, it seems like a huge experimental gamble — where the audience is the protagonist and everything is from their POV — but that’s exactly what “Hardcore Henry” aims to do. Starring Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Andrey Dementyev, Dasha Charusha, Sveta Ustinova and directed by Ilya Naishuller “Hardcore Henry” centers on a man resurrected from death with no memory of his wife. His mission is find her, solve the mystery of his existence, and discover the truth behind his real identity — from your POV. At the very least it promises to be a cinematic experience like you’ve never witnessed before.
“Pee Wee’s Big Holiday”
For years Pee Wee Herman and producer Judd Apatow were claiming a new Pee Wee Herman movie was on the way. It took a few years of development, but “Pee Wee’s Big Holiday,” coming out on Netflix later this month, is here. The movie, which comes some twenty-odd years after “Big Top Pee Wee,” centers on Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) and how a fateful meeting with a mysterious stranger inspires Pee Wee to take his first-ever holiday in this epic story of friendship and destiny. Co-starring Joe Manganiello, Jessica Pohly, Alia Shawkat, Stephanie Beatriz, the movie was produced by Apatow, and co-written by Reuben and Paul Rust (writer/star/co-creator of Apatow’s “Love” on Netflix). We’ve always adored Tim Burton’s “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” so if this new film can recapture even half the magic, it will be in good place. And hell, it already even has, of all people, Steven Soderbergh’s endorsement — he thinks it’s going to “break the Internet.” We were already sold, but sure, now we’ll invest.
Yes, there is no more “Eastbound And Down,” that’s done. But before you weep about it, remember Danny McBride, Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, the creative anchors of ‘Eastbound,’ and HBO have partnered again for what promises to be more of the nasty same (Green and Hill are directing the series). Sure, “Vice Principals” is its own beast and does not center on baseball or the loutish Kenny Powers, but McBride and co. have a brand to uphold, so you can expect some of the same misanthropic humor that, as always, tests the boundaries of taste and mean-spiritedness. Co-Starring McBride, Walton Goggins, Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Georgia King, Busy Philipps, Shea Whigham, Sheaun McKinney, “Vice Principals” is a dark comedy series that tells the story of a high school and the two people who almost run it, the vice principals, who are engaged in an epic power struggle for the top spot.
For years, Seth Rogen and writing partner Evan Goldberg (“Superbad,” “Pineapple Express”) have been threatening the idea of making an R-Rated animated movie — when was the last time we saw one of those, in the Ralph Bakshi era or “Heavy Metal”? Most of us assumed, “yeah, a long and time consuming project that will take 2-3 years, just to make it an R-Rating? Not gonna happen.” But lo and behold after all these years, the mooted “Sausage Party” is done (probably doesn’t hurt that Annapurna Pictures footed the bill). It’s a filthy, potty-mouthed comedy and animated journey about food products as they wait to join the great beyond outside the supermarket. Directed by Conrad Vernon and Greg Tiernan, the movie features voice appearances by a lot of the usual suspects — Rogen, Jonah Hill, James Franco, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Danny McBride — and some new faces like Kristen Wiig, Michael Cera, Edward Norton and Salma Hayek. The film is showing as work-in-progress screening, but if past WIP debuts at SXSW have shown, the final product is mostly done and it’s just small fine tuning after that.
“Don’t Think Twice”
If you didn’t see comedian Mike Birbiglia’s debut indie feature, the sweet, funny and sad, “Sleepwalk With Me,” well, shit, you’re missing out. A post-breakup movie effortlessly mixing heartfelt insights and laugh out loud jokes, Birbiglia immediately announced himself as a storyteller worth paying attention to. And now he’s back with his sophomore debut, “Don’t Think Twice” which features Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Mike Birbiglia, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher and Chris Gethard. The movie centers on an an improv group who lose the lease on their home theater at the same time that one of their cast members gets chosen for the biggest sketch comedy show on TV. It’s different from his last, more personal feature, but it already sounds like a must-see for us.
It’s a Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg kind of SXSW again. The duo have the aforementioned “Sausage Party” in the mix, but they also have their series, “Preacher” for AMC. Based on the Vertigo comic, “Preacher” is a supernatural, twisted, and darkly comedic drama that follows a West Texas preacher named Jesse Custer, who — along with his ex-girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vagabond named Cassidy — is thrust into a crazy world, much bigger than he is. Rogen and Goldberg directed the pilot episode that stars Dominic Cooper, Ruth Negga, Joseph Gilgun, Ian Colletti, W. Earl Brown and Lucy Griffith. SXSW has scored the world premiere.
Honorable Mention and more films to keep an eye on
Horror fans will want to catch “Under The Shadows,” the Iranian horror that became a critically acclaimed hit out of Sundance. John Michael McDonagh’s “War On Everyone” has a great cast — Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson — and is worth a watch (you can read our Berlin review here); documentarian Joe Berlinger always crafts insightful portrayals and he’s got “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru”; The “Arbalest” from writer/director Adam Pinney sounds fascinating; “Transpecos” stars the interesting cast of Johnny Simmons, Gabriel Luna, Clifton Collins, Jr. so that’s one to keep an eye on; Matthew A. Cherry‘s “9 Rides” about an Uber driver who gets life changing news on the busiest night of the year sounds compelling; “The Trust” with Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood as corrupt cops could be a pleasurable b-movie treat; Mark Cousins has a new film called “I Am Belfast,” screening; horrors “Carnage Park,” “Hush” and “Jack Goes Home” sound like a bloody good time; Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers have the series dark comedy “Search Party” and Bliss of course won the big SXSW “Fort Tilden” narrative award a few years back. And that’s just scratching the surface of course, SXSW contains multitudes of riches. Sound off in case there’s something else you’re dying to see and we’ll keep an eye on it while drowning in queso.