Weird and wacky movies we saw at SXSW

“Prevenge.” Contributed

South by Southwest screens hundreds of films. Some of them fit right in with our Keep Austin Weird aesthetic.

“Lemon”: Critic Joe Gross calls this film “an unnerving and deeply weird portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerk.” Cringe-worthy moments include an odd Passover Seder and an awkward casting call.

REVIEW: Is ‘Lemon’ the fest’s most (intentionally) cringe-worthy movie?

“Long Strange Trip”: This documentary about the Grateful Dead is four hours long and is what critic Matthew Odam calls “a celebration of the spirit that infused the band from its outset, an effervescent exploration of the collective unconscious.” Right on, man.

INTERVIEW: ‘Long Strange Trip’ director Amir Bar-Lev wants to ‘make America Grateful again’

“Sylvio”: A gorilla who works for a debt collection agency find fame on an afternoon TV show. No, really. “There’s no question that it’s all a bit weird, but there’s a marvelous sense of wonder in every scene,” critic Matt Shiverdecker writes.

REVIEW: ‘Sylvio’ graduates from Vine to the big screen

“Prevenge”: This is the story of a pregnant woman whose fetus urges her to kill unworthy men. If that’s not wacky enough for you, Alice Lowe, who wrote and directed the film, also stars in it — and was pregnant in real life during the shoot. Critic Evan Rodriguez says the film “is blackly humorous with a dry British wit.”

REVIEW: When fetuses attack: ‘Prevenge’ is fresh entry in horror canon

SXSW: Is “Lemon” the fest’s most (intentionally) cringe-worthy movie?

“Lemon”

 

Some facts: “Lemon” stars Brett Gelman, was written by Gelman and his wife, Janicza Bravo, and was directed by the latter.

It poses one of the year’s most important cinematic questions — is Isaac Lachmann, the person Gelman plays here, actually a worse human being than Martin, his character on the British TV show “Fleabag”? It is a neck-and-neck race to the bottom in the Annoying Middle-Aged White Guy Stakes.

Self-consciously mannered with an almost Pinter-like vibe (moreso perhaps than the post-Pinter bard of Long Island, Hal Hartley), “Lemon” is the story of Lachmann. Everything about this guy screams jerk — tall but not self-possessed, he sports a comb-over, is an unsuccessful actor and works, sort of, as a bitter theater director. He also wears shorts. A lot.

Lachmann is directing a production of the “The Seagull,” hates the lead actress and clearly has some sort of increasingly odd crush on the lead (Michael Cera with bonkers hair, and God bless him for getting weirder with age). Lachmann’s girlfriend, Ramona (Judy Greer), is blind, goes on lots of work trips and clearly wants out of this relationship.

Things never really get less awkward — indeed the film just seems to get stranger by the minute.  As Ramona slips away from him (emotionally), Lachmann books some small TV ads, where the director examines him like a steer. (The film’s best joke might very well be the cameraman’s reaction when Lachmann gives his age and weight.)

RELATED: SXSW adds fifth screening of buzz flick “Lemon”

The cringe-hits just keep on coming. When he goes to a Passover Seder hosted by his parents (Rhea Perlman and Fred Melamed), his brother (Martin Starr) breaks out some racially awkward chatter about their sister (Shiri Appleby) and her African-American child. The scene where everyone sings “A Million Matzoh Balls” is just as stomach-turningly odd as it sounds.

Even when fortune smiles on him and a lovely Jamaican woman (Nia Long) take a liking to him, he remains the sort of fellow who meets her family and says “I saw a documentary about African-American hair. A lot of hair comes from horses.” The final sequence is … explosive.

There is no hugging and no learning here, no big catharsis or revelation.  Bravo and Gelman deliver an unnerving and deeply weird portrait of the artist as a middle-aged jerk. We have seen such things before, but maybe never quite like this.

‘Kim Dotcom’ documentary shows dark side of fight against internet piracy

Kim Dotcom re-enacts the police raid and his arrest. Contributed by Nigel Marple

Why would the New Zealand government, at the urging of the United States government, conduct a raid on the home of an accused internet pirate with a force normally reserved for someone like, say, Osama bin Laden? Annie Goldson’s documentary “Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web” compellingly suggests that the Motion Picture Association of America and its lobby have so much political pull that they can influence other countries’ governments to conduct illegal raids on citizens if said citizens might be disrupting their commercial enterprises.

Dotcom (born Kim Schmitz) is an infamous German hacker who made his name breaching security on the internet before anyone outside of his ilk even knew what that meant. Dotcom’s file sharing site Megaupload.com could be used to pirate (or share, depending on your point of view) original entertainment content.

In Dotcom’s case, there is no definitive evidence that Hollywood saw an overall increase in revenue once Megaupload.com was taken down; in fact, some reports suggest Megaupload.com actually contributed to Hollywood’s bottom line despite some of its users choosing to engage in copyright infringement.

Reporter Greg Sandoval sums up the situation best: “You get in between America and its money and we’re going to have big problems.”

The documentary is essentially a courtroom drama as Dotcom battles the forces of multinational interests influencing the American and New Zealand governments. The third act delves into the troubling fact that Dotcom, his family and associates were under intense personal — and illegal — surveillance leading up to the raid, something for which the New Zealand government later apologized. “Kim Dotcom” is a frightening portrait of blatant disregard for law by law enforcement and the extraordinary reach of the surveillance network of some of the most powerful countries in the world.

“Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web” screens again at 11:30 a.m. March 16 at Alamo South.

SXSW 2017: Diane Lane learns to enjoy life in ‘Paris Can Wait’

Eleanor Coppola and her husband, Francis Ford Coppola, were attending the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and they were supposed to fly to Eastern Europe afterward, where he had business. But Eleanor Coppola had a bad head cold and was worried about flying. So a business associate agreed to drive her back to Paris, where the Coppolas have an apartment, and her husband would join her after finishing his business.

But what was supposed to a drive of only a few hours turned into a multi-day trip, with her French companion making numerous stops along the way for wine, food and cultural explorations. When Eleanor Coppola told friends about her experience, they said she should make a movie.

Actor Arnaud Viard, director Eleanor Coppola and actress Diane Lane attend the “Paris Can Wait” premiere during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival at Winter Garden Theatre on September 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images)

That movie is “Paris Can Wait,” starring Diane Lane as Eleanor Coppola, Alec Baldwin as Francis Ford Coppola and Arnuad Viard as the irrepressible Frenchman, Jacques.

As you might expect, the movie is gorgeous, with lush cinematography by Crystel Fournier, lavish sets and scenery that’s just about every traveler’s dream. The food doesn’t look too bad, either.

Lane’s character is actually named Anne Lockwood, and she’s in her 50s and wondering about her workaholic husband. So when a flirty business associate who eats and drinks and smokes too much agrees to show her the secrets of the French countryside, she’s intrigued but a bit wary. What plays out over the rest of the movie is a kind of delicate dance, where Anne loosens up and begins to appreciate all the attention.

I know what you’re thinking. This is a movie for older women. Well, yes, it is. But it’s also a movie for everyone who loves France, or loves the thought of getting to know France. The movie is full of joie de vivre, and it should enchant young and old, both female and male. It’s called having a life — and enjoying it to the fullest.

Sony Pictures Classics has picked up distribution rights for the film, and they’ll probably do a good job of marketing. Even if they don’t, you should go see it. A release date hasn’t been set.

Diane Lane learns to enjoy life in ‘Paris Can Wait’

Eleanor Coppola and her husband Francis Ford Coppola were attending the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, and they were supposed to fly to Eastern Europe afterward, where he had business. But Ms. Coppola had a bad head cold and was worried about flying. So a business associate agreed to drive her back to Paris, where the Coppolas have an apartment, and her husband would join her after finishing his business in Eastern Europe.

But what was supposed to a drive of only a few hours turned into a multi-day trip, with her French comapanion making numerous stops along the way for wine, food and cultural explorations. When Ms. Coppola told friends about her experience, they said she should make a movie.

That movie is “Paris Can Wait,” starring Diane Lane as Ms. Coppola, Alec Baldwin as Francis Ford Coppola and Arnuad Viard as the irrepressible Frenchman, Jacques.

As you might expect, the movie is gorgeous, with lush cinematography by Crystel Fournier, lavish sets and scenery that’s just about every traveler’s dream. The food doesn’t look too bad, either.

Lane’s character is actually named Anne Lockwood, and she’s in her 50s and wondering about her workaholic husband. So when a flirty business associate who eats and drinks and smokes too much, agrees to show her the secrets of the French countryside, she’s intrigued but a bit wary. What plays out over the rest of the movie is a kind of delicate dance, where Anne loosens up and begins to appreciate all the attention.

I know what you’re thinking. This is a movie for older women. Well, yes, it is. But it’s also a movie for everyone who loves France, or loves the thought of getting to know France. The movie is full of joie de vivre, and it should enchant young and old, both female and male. It’s called having a life — and enjoying it to the fullest.

Sony Pictures Classics has picked up distribution rights for the film, and they’ll probably do a good job of marketing. Even if they don’t, you should go see it. A release date hasn’t been set.

Melissa Leo rips up the screen as Madalyn Murray O’Hair in ‘Most Hated Woman’

Melissa Leo delivers a powerhouse performance as the Austin atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair in director Tommy O’Haver’s “The Most Hated Woman in America.”

As O’Hair, Leo is foul-mouthed, in your face, unapologetic and downright nasty at times as she battles most of the rest of the world in fighting for First Amendment rights. In case you’ve forgotten, O’Hair got the “most hated woman” description after she filed a lawsuit against the Baltimore school system, eventually forcing that district as well as others across the nation to stop having school prayer.

The Supreme Court decision is still be debated today, and O’Hair was at the center of the battle in 1963.

Peter Fonda and Melissa Leo in “The Most Hated Woman In America.” Beth Dubber/Netflix

O’Hair parlayed that fame into setting up an Austin nonprofit called American Atheists. She was a regular on TV talk shows and at one point toured the country debating a televangelist, played in the film by Peter Fonda.

Leo throws herself into the role, donning a fat suit for O’Hair in her later years when her girth widened substantially. And she doesn’t hold back on the anger or bluster. It’s almost shocking to see the early O’Hair, so out of place with her outspokenness and so unapologetic about her personal circumstances.

The movie opens with O’Hair telling her parents that she’s going to have yet another child out of wedlock. She has Bill Murray Jr., and a son named Garth is on the way.

Her deeply religious parents are appalled, of course, but O’Hair doesn’t flinch. And when she accompanies Bill Jr. to school one day and hears a teacher leading the students in the Lord’s Prayer, she starts yelling at the teacher and promising to put a stop to what she sees as a violation of church and state separation.

Nearly every man in O’Hair’s life, except for her youngest son Garth, betrays her. The first betrayals, of course, are from the men who don’t step up to help father their sons. But O’Hair suffers another setback when her oldest son, Bill, decides to become a Christian and disassociate himself from the family.

Then there’s David Waters, played by Josh Lucas, whom O’Hair groomed to take over the family business. Waters and O’Hair had a falling out eventually, and Waters came up with the scheme to kidnap O’Hair, her son Garth and her granddaughter Robin and demand that they turn over assets held in a supposedly secret account in New Zealand.

When the three disappear, a family associate notices their house is empty and that the dogs have been left behind, unattended. So he’s naturally alarmed. But law enforcement officials simply suspect that O’Hair has taken off for New Zealand to enjoy some time away from home. Then the passports are found, and then the family friend contacts a reporter in San Antonio, and finally, people begin to take matters seriously.

Meanwhile, the O’Hair family is still being held captive until a tragic event one night unleashes a fury that will leave all of them dead.

Leo’s final scenes in the film are heartbreaking, as she realizes what is happening. And you almost think that there will be some kind of redemption, some kind of grace, if O’Hair would ever accept such a concept. But Leo plays the scene note-perfect. And you know the tragedy will not be softened.

As Waters, Lucas has the second-strongest role. He captures the quintessential handsomeness and sleaziness that’s necessary. And Fonda is a hoot as a televangelist who challenges O’Hair to accompany him on a road show. It wasn’t O’Hair’s finest hour, ethically, but she did what she had to do, as Leo shows so well.

“The Most Hated Woman in America” premieres on Netflix on March 24. It screens again at SXSW at 11:30 a.m. March 18 at the Zach Theatre.

Texas ties run strong in these SXSW films

Pierce Brosnan stars in “The Son.” Contributed

Some were shot here. Some come from filmmakers who live here. And one is set in the Austin music scene (though our critic begs to differ). These are some of the movies with ties to Texas that screened at South by Southwest.

“The Son”: Based on the 2013 novel by Austin’s Philipp Meyer, shot in Central Texas, set in Texas — this TV series, coming to AMC on April 8, could only get more “Texas” if you threw in a cameo from Willie Nelson riding on Bevo while eating some Blue Bell. Pierce Brosnan plays the family patriarch; critic Charles Ealy says “he’s an archetype, of course, but what a complex character, whom Brosnan fully captures in the first two episodes of the new season.”

REVIEW: Get ready: ‘The Son’ might be the next great Texas TV series

“Song to Song”: SXSW’s opening night movie, from Austin director Terrence Malick, is “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene.” But according to our critic Joe Gross, it “is a movie about Austin the way “Star Wars” is about Tunisia — it was shot there, but in terms of the flavor of the place, it might as well have been a matte painting.”

REVIEW: The gorgeous ‘Song to Song’ has little to do with music or Austin

“Disgraced”: This Showtime documentary is about the 2003 murder of college basketball player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson and the accusations that followed against Baylor University and head coach Dave Bliss.

REVIEW: ‘Disgraced’ will leave you disgusted with Dave Bliss and Baylor University

“The Honor Farm”: This is Austin director Karen Skloss’ first narrative feature, “a story that subverts every aspect of the horror genre, not in a satirical way but in a sweet and very mushroom-trippy way.”

REVIEW: ‘Honor Farm’ delightfully subverts horror genre at SXSW

“Infinity Baby”: Austin-based filmmaker Bob Byington has created what critic Matt Shiverdecker calls “a gleefully sardonic comedy sharply observed in black-and-white across our fair city.” It stars Kieran Culkan, Nick Offerman, Megan Mullally, Martin Starr and Noël Wells.

REVIEW: ‘Infinity Baby’ mines futuristic concept for sharply observed laughs

“Walking Out”: This feature from brothers Alex and Andrew Smith (one a current Austinite, the other a former) tells “an intense story of survival against the odds, an unexpectedly emotional journey” and stars Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins.

REVIEW: ‘Walking Out’ is a bold and unexpectedly emotional tale of survival

“La Barracuda”: This thriller from Austin-based directors Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund is about half-sisters who meet for the first time, and how that affects the extended family; it features lots of Texas music and some tracks live at the Saxon Pub.

REVIEW: Familial deception is at the heart of Austin-based film ‘La Barracuda’

 

RELATED

SXSW: Nine takeaways from ‘Muppet’ master Frank Oz’s chat with Leonard Maltin

From left, Dave Goelz, Fran Brill, Frank Oz, Jerry Nelson and Bill Barretta in “Muppet Guys Talking.” Contributed by 2017 Vibrant Mud LLC

Frank Oz is at SXSW with this new documentary “Muppet Guys Talking.”

It is just what it says in the title: A movie about the original crew who formed around Jim Henson and gave us the “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street.”

Oz sat down with critic Leonard Maltin for a chat.

Guest stars thrived on “The Muppet Show.” The guest stars on “The Muppet Show” (1976-1981) were a who’s who of ’70s entertainment.”We would often hear stories about people who were hard (to work with),” Oz said. “You have to consider the source, because that would mean they want to work hard and some people don’t want to work hard. We found that once they were in an environment in which they knew they were supported, they relaxed and  believed in the characters and had a ball.”

Young people will giggle at the existence of Edgar Bergen. Which is fair. “Understand something, this is the most bizarre thing,” Oz said to the audience, “Edgar Bergen was absolutely, extraordinarily popular. And he was a ventriloquist. On radio.” (Cue massive laugh from crowd).

It is clear Oz still, for the best reasons, absolutely reveres Jim Henson. When asked who his inspirations were, Oz said, “I wasn’t really inspired by one person until I met Jim. I moved to New York when I was 19 years old because Jim asked me to.”

Bert and Ernie match Oz and Henson’s personalities, in that order. Originally, it was the opposite. “But that didn’t work, so we switched characters, which really mirrored our relationship,” Oz said. “At that time, I was neurotic, rigid, and Jim was always playful. And the design by the Workshop mirrored that. Bert was vertical, straight, rigid. Ernie is horizontal and playful.”

^This is a stone classic. “Brad, do you like swans?”^

“Little Shop of Horrors” tested reeeeeeely badly. Oz said the audience absolutely hated that the leads were killed at the end of the movie. “You want a 55 percent or greater on the score card under ‘Would you recommend this movie to a friend?’ We got 13 percent.” Time for reshoots and a happier ending.

What does he want to be remembered for? “It’s gonna sound corny, but I just want to be a good father.”

On pushing puppetry forward as an entertainment technology: “That was all Jim,” Oz said. “We were with Jim, and he took us on those journeys. Jim always wanted to break new ground.”

On how Henson would feel about streaming technology: “He would have been ahead of you all,” Oz said to a round of applause. “He believed in R&D.”

The moment everyone started to maybe tear up a bit: A gentleman in the audience asked Oz about an article in Salon called “How the Muppets created Generation X”  and how the piece suggests that a lot of the values that Gen-Xers tend to have in common were communicated by the various Muppet venues. “Tell me in your opinion what those values are,” Oz said.

“Acceptance, tolerance, curiosity, enthusiasm for diversity,” the gentleman said.

“You could just say one word for that, and that’s Jim,” Oz said. “That’s what we learned. He never shared his philosophy verbally, he just was who he was and we followed him because all those words and more were Jim’s moral compass.”

 

 

 

 

 

‘Hot Summer Nights’ tells drug-fueled coming-of-age tale

“Hot Summer Nights.” Contributed

“Hot Summer Nights” is a sneaky slice of dark Americana, a gorgeously shot, hard truth coming-of-age tale rendered through a lens of innocence and grandeur, a sexy 20th century fairy tale.

Elijah Bynum’s directorial debut catches you off guard. What begins as seemingly a nostalgic ode to early ’90s summers full of cocaine, marijuana and drinking on Cape Cod careens into more dramatic waters.

Hunter Strawberry (Alex Roe) is a James Dean-like pot dealing townie hunk who befriends the visiting Daniel (Timothee Chalamet). Their friendship blossoms into an extremely lucrative marijuana distribution operation covering the New England area as Daniel takes Hunter’s dime bag hustle to new levels, getting in bed with mobsters of some sort. The boys, becoming men, look for love and try to hold onto innocence while procreating with the profane and inevitably shed any vestiges of boyhood on their journeys.

The looming metaphor of Hurricane Bob, a major character in the third act, is smart, truly encapsulating the emotional tone of the film. Bynum’s use of a disassociated child narrator walking us through the lore of the town and the fable unfolding before us has echoes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Bret Easton Ellis. And, the soundtrack is absolutely amazing. It’s a must-see film from this year’s South by Southwest.

“Hot Summer Nights” screens again at 6 p.m. March 17 at Zach Theatre.

Because you demanded it! Here are the SXSW Film buzz screenings

“68 Kill”

Well, maybe not literally demanded it, but South by Southwest audiences do generate buzz for certain films, and here is the complete (so far) list of added screenings.

A note for wristband holders (and anyone really): There are often plenty of seats at the Zach Theatre.

Bad Lucky Goat
5 p.m. March 16, Alamo South Lamar
Small Town Crime
10:30 p.m. March 16, Alamo South
Bill Nye: Science Guy
1:30 p.m. March 17, Alamo South
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
4 p.m. March 17, Alamo South
Two Pigeons
5:30 p.m. March 18, Alamo South
68 Kill
7 p.m. March 18, Alamo South
Grand Jury Award: Narrative Feature
MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND
9:15 p.m. March 15, Zach Theatre
11:30 a.m. March 18, Alamo Ritz

Grand Jury Award: Documentary Feature
THE WORK
6:45 p.m. March 15, Zach
11 a.m. March 18, Stateside Theatre