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2014 SXSW Film Festival: Capsule Reviews

by George Hickman on March 14, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Here’s some capsule reviews from the SXSW Film Festival. Find all our coverage for SXSW 2014 here. More on the way!

For Those in Peril (minor rock fist up) meditates on crippling loss and grief and denial, as it follows the story of Aaron (George MacKay), the inexperienced seaman and lone survivor of an accident at sea. As he claims to have no memory of the events and no bodies or wreckage or found, the small seaside community views him distrustfully. MacKay is excellent, and writer/director Paul Wright equips himself well, but the film spins its wheels a little too much until its puzzling but powerful conclusion.

Honeymoon (solid rock fist up) effectively turns the very believable romance of Paul (Harry Tredaway) and Bea (Rose Leslie) into a nightmare after the young bride with no history of sleepwalking, is found naked in the woods with no knowledge of how she got there. As her behavior grows more erratic, her new husband is torn apart by his love for her and his possible paranoia about what she is going through. Director and co-writer Leigh Janiak wows with her debut outing as a feature director. While the movie is pretty contained and low budget, it totally succeeds as an excellent and intimate horror story.

Neighbors (solid rock fist up) is Animal House versus This is 40 as new parents Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne face off against the rowdy frat that has moved next door, led by Zac Efron and Dave Franco. Director Nicholas Stoller of Forgetting Sarah Marshall delivers his sharpest comedy yet as the tensions and pranks escalate. Somehow, the film has its cake and eats it too, as it manages a rivalry where you truly want both sides to win. Consistently, powerfully funny. (The version we saw was a workprint with a temp sound mix and no end credits)

Starry Eyes (solid rock fist up) recalls the best of Polanski as a struggling actress Sarah (Alex Essoe) is drawn into a sinister occult society in her pursuit of stardom. While the film totally delivers on gore and suspense, it also has a lot to say about the community of aspirational filmmakers in Los Angeles. Writing/directing team Kevin Kolsch and Dennis Widmyer ultimately impress, thanks largely to Essoe, who gives one of the most committed and stunning performances ever seen in horror, independent or otherwise.

That Guy Dick Miller (minor rock fist up) – For nearly sixty years, he’s been stealing scenes in films such as Gremlins, the Terminator, After Hours, and Demon Knight. If you don’t know his name, you most certainly know his face. He is the quintessential ‘that guy.” He is Dick Miller. Director Elijah Drenner cut his teeth in the world of supplemental documentary shorts for DVD releases, and it shows at times. But the interviews and clips are very well edited in a fast-paced, rollicking manner. Dick Miller and his wife Lainie make appealing and very fascinating subjects and the film is the worthy tribute they deserve.

Ukraine is Not a Brothel (minor rock fist up) – For years, Ukrainian women have been exported to the world’s brothels, at times against their will. The feminist organization FEMEN has garnered worldwide attention by staging topless protests in an attempt to raise awareness for their cause. The documentary deals with the inherent contradictions of what the group purportedly stands for and the tactics it employs to accomplish those. It also is remarkably adept at raising the troubling questions as they occur to the viewer. While the film feels muddled and frustrating and presents no clear answers, it perfectly reflects the frustration felt by those involved.

Veronica Mars (solid rock fist up) picks up years after the end of the cult favorite TV series, with Veronica (Kristen Bell) returning to Neptune California to advise an ex-boyfriend facing a murder charge. Show creator Rob Thomas returns as co-writer and director, and keeps things quick and clever. Having never seen the show, I still enjoyed the twisty plot which does a pretty remarkable job making sense even for the uninitiated. Like a movie that makes you want to read the book it was based on, Veronica Mars has convinced me to finally give the show a shot.

Wetlands (solid rock fist up) follows Helen Memel (Carla Juri), a sexually adventurous eighteen year-old in Germany, with unique views on hygiene and chronic hemorrhoids she inherited from her father. After a intimate shaving accident grows severe enough to require hospitalization, she attempts to seize the opportunity to reunite her estranged parents. Based on the novel by Charlotte Roche, the energetic and inventive direction of David Wnendt fashions it into a more humorous Trainspotting, from a female perspective. An engrossing (and gross) ride, with an excellent lead performance.

George Hickman

George Hickman is the first child conceived and raised by a sentient television and an anthropomorphic video store. He is a true Texan, in the sense that it is true that he lives in Texas. He spends his days making the Internet work and his nights surviving on the sustenance that only flickering lights and moving pictures can bring. There were no survivors.

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