You can read part one here. Enjoy the rest!
This is the most depressing film I saw at the festival, and that includes the documentary about the real-life genocide. It’s kind of a Lars Von Trier take on one of those 80s high school romance movies. You know, the ones where a girl moves to a new town and is torn between the shy nice boy and the super-rich jerk. I admire Honeytrap’s tenacity and grim outlook, and director Rebecca Johnson has a vision I’m curious to see more of. Its problem is in its tone. When the film finally reaches its downer ending, it’s been so much of a downer already that it seems almost comically unnecessary. The film could do with more misery and less shock.
On paper, this seems like a terrible film, yet another “Heroic White Person Saves Inner-City Student And Becomes A Better Person In The Process” story. Unexpected succeeds by rising above condescending cliches and honestly engaging with the issues of race, class, and gender at the core of its story. And like Naz & Maalik, it’s capable of doing that engagement without becoming totally consumed by it and without resorting to the use of stereotypes to make the moral clearer. Cobie Smulders gives one of my favorite performances of the festival here as a stressed but dedicated high school teacher, bringing surprising naturalism to the role. I think a longer cut would allow Unexpected more room to explore itself, but at the same time I respect its ability to tell such a streamlined story. This was one of the biggest surprises of SXSW for me.
The filmmaking on display in The Invitation is unfairly good. Director Karyn Kusama has given us a locked-room thriller for the ages. She orchestrates the movement of each character around the house with exacting and graceful skill. Protagonist Will (Logan Marshall-Green) will break away from the large group of dinner guests to explore another room, pulling one or two other characters along with him each time. But before long they’re all back in the parlor, unable to escape the gravitational pull of the party. The blocking in this film is balletic to a jaw-dropping degree; the balance of characters within the geography of the house (and within the frame) tells the whole story without a word. And this is all before everything goes to hell in the finale, where people become haphazardly scattered all over the place. Kusama establishes subconscious law and order, and then she creates tension by destroying it. I don’t know when The Invitation will be released, but whenever it comes out, seeing it is not optional.
This documentary about a teenage boxer with Olympic ambitions spends its first two-thirds hewing surprisingly close to dramatic convention. It’s a real-life story made up of nothing but tropes from inspirational sports movies. There’s even a forbidden romance! I don’t know if the filmmakers lucked out in finding a story like this, or if the drama of the film is more a credit to the editors, but it works like gangbusters. But then it closes with a heartbreaking exploration of how useless an Olympic gold medal can turn out to be, and everything that came beforehand is granted a new melancholy context. Also, boxing just plays so well on film, I think because it’s both quick and easy to follow.
Here’s a fun experiment to conduct when you see this film: Note what people in the audience laugh at, and what they don’t laugh at. The ending of this film will inspire think-pieces galore, but I can’t say why without spoiling it. Suffice to say that I found it a very intelligent and mature handling of human sexuality in a comic context, though it can’t resist getting silly at times. The way that The Overnight plays with its audience is inspired. It builds expectations and then crushes them and then builds them up again, keeping the audience on their toes while maintaining a relaxed tone on-screen. Public reaction to this one is going to be very interesting.
I really liked director Andrew Bujalski’s previous feature, Computer Chess, so I was really excited to see his follow-up. I was surprised to find that it has almost nothing in common with Computer Chess, and in many ways is actually its polar opposite. Where that film was avant-garde and niche, Results reaches for the mainstream. It’s got a couple oddball moments, and one particularly inspired gag that plays with diegetic music, but overall it’s a disappointingly normal film. It’s a story with Sisyphean themes but very few existential ambitions.
GTFO: Get The F% Out
GTFO never quite shakes the elephant in the room that is GamerGate; it seems to have been well into post-production by the time all that started, so it has to relegate any mention of it to a rushed segment that plays during the credits. As for the rest, it’s not going to tell you anything you don’t know if this is the kind of movie you’re inclined to seek out. It has this weird paradoxical nature in that respect. Who is this movie for? I suppose that, more than anything else, it’s valuable as a cultural document. It’s an effective chronicle of the misogyny and sexism in the video game industry right now, so it’ll probably have more impact decades from now.
A Woman Like Me
I was never 100% clear on what this film was. It’s simultaneously a documentary about the life of a director with cancer, a behind-the-scenes look at that director’s fictional film about a woman (like her) with cancer, and that same fictional film. As such, its intentions are never super clear, but it has some interesting things to say about truth and reality in the documentary realm. Its ambiguity makes it hard to find an intellectual entry point, though.
Watching this film is akin to watching your two best friends talk enthusiastically about something you’re totally clueless about. The talking heads are all charming and informative, but since I don’t have a sense of musical history (or much knowledge of music in general), much of this film went in one ear and out the other. It also runs into trouble cinematically because there’s only so many angles from which to shoot a small drum machine. And it keeps showing the exact same graphics over and over and over, like they could only afford three animations. It’s painfully repetitive.
If, like me, you enjoyed the anxious energy and cinematic verve of Birdman but found its story banal, you’ll probably enjoy Krisha. It takes a superficially ordinary Thanksgiving dinner and turns it into a waking nightmare. Its editing is frantic, making it seem as though everything in the evening is happening at once, but the camera is mostly slow and precise. Oh, and it has about three different aspect ratios, which nerds like you and me go crazy for. This was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature as well as the Audience Award for the same, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a film designed for a festival crowd, one as enthusiastic about cinema as its audience.
Tab Hunter Confidential
I like how it sets up what seems like a central premise (“Hollywood’s biggest star was secretly gay!”) and then doesn’t focus on it at all. It wants to convince you that his closeted sexuality wasn’t the only interesting thing about him, though it doesn’t shy away from discussing it. It’s better-handled than it probably could have been, but it never sells itself as a story worth telling.
Krisha, Hoody Boy Productions