SXSW 2018: ‘Lean on Pete’ shows why Charlie Plummer is destined to be a star

“Lean on Pete” tugs at the heartstrings in the best way, and most of that tugging is the direct result of the acting of Charlie Plummer, who appears poised to become one of our most versatile young stars.

In “Pete,” the 18-year-old who played John Paul Getty III in “All the Money in the World” is guided by the low-key yet distinctive British director Andrew Haigh, whose earlier credits include “45 Years,” “Weekend” and HBO’s “Looking.”

Plummer plays Charley Thompson, who’s being raised by his single father, Ray (Travis Fimmel), and the two have recently moved to Portland, Ore., because of work. Charley likes to go on runs during the summer vacation and discovers that they’re living near a quarter horse racetrack. He’s fascinated with the track and especially with a horse named Lean on Pete, who is owned and trained by the cranky Del Montgomery (Steve Buscemi).

Del notices that Charley isn’t afraid to pitch in and help in order to be around Pete, so he offers him a part-time job. While at work, Charley also meets Bonnie (Chloe Sevigny), a local jockey who is good friends with Del.

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All of this sounds fairly straightforward – and somewhat old-fashioned – from a narrative perspective. And the movie is indeed traditional. But the movie stands out from many others because of Plummer’s performance. It’s hard to watch him and not understand the loneliness and need for connection that’s just under Charley’s skin. And the scenes between Charley and the horse are classic in the way that they develop the bonding between a teen and an animal.

Without giving away too many spoilers, Charley’s home life takes a drastic turn for the worse, and then so does his life at the track. So Charley takes off with Pete on an epic journey to find his aunt – whom he has not seen in many years but remembers fondly.

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For the cynical among us, the narrative might smack of sentimentality, like an afternoon family TV movie. The cynical among us would be wrong when it comes to “Lean on Pete.” Yes, it’s hard not to shed tears throughout Charley’s ordeal, but Haigh does not hammer us over the head. Instead, he shows Charley’s resilience, his longing for love and his desire to finally find a safe home – for him and the horse.

The book is based on a novel of the same name by Willy Vlautin. He and Haigh worked on adapting it for the big screen.

But this movie is all about Plummer’s Charley. Go see it, and you’ll understand why. The guy has acting chops – in spades.

“Lean on Pete’ had its South by Southwest premiere on Friday. It screens again at 6:15 p.m. March 11 at the AFS Cinema and 2:15 p.m. March 14 at the Alamo South. Grade: B+

SXSW 2018: Armie Hammer is in Austin, and the ‘CMBYN’ star isn’t worried about any social media spats

Armie Hammer says he thinks actor James Woods “must have blocked me on Twitter” because he hasn’t “heard a word” from Woods since a dustup on social media.

Actor Armie Hammer at the Four Seasons on Friday. Contributed by Charles Ealy

It all started back in November, just before the release of “Call Me by Your Name,” when Woods got riled up about the movie about a romantic gay relationship between a 24-year-old graduate student and a 17-year-old son of a professor.

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In the movie, Hammer plays the grad student, while Timothee Chalamet plays the youth. (Chalamet is in his 20s.). In a tweet about the movie, Woods acted aghast over the subject matter, saying that the film was quietly chipping away “the last barriers of decency.”

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When Hammer, 31, saw the tweet, he responded to Woods by pointing out that he has dated young women, writing, “Didn’t you date a 19 year old when you were 60…….?”

Indeed, several reports have mentioned Woods’ penchant for dating women either 19 or 20.

And then actress Amber Tamblyn entered the Twitter storm, saying Woods hit on her when she was a teenager – and tried to take her to Vegas.

Hammer, who was in Austin to receive an award from the Austin Film Society and to promote Friday’s premiere of his new movie, “Final Portrait,” seems to be enjoying himself around town – and he says he’s not all bothered by being blocked by Woods. He’ll be on the red carpet for “Final Portrait” – promoting another movie in which he plays a gay character, James Lord, the biographer of artist Alberto Giacometti.

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SXSW 2018: A few things we learned at the ‘Ready Player One’ VR experience

A light tunnel leads to the OASIS at the “Ready Player One” experience during the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In anticipation of the March 29 release of Steven Spielberg’s new action adventure, “Ready Player One,” attendees at this year’s South by Southwest Conference and Festivals can check out the immersive Ready Player One Experience with Vive VR. The two-story installation is at Brazos Hall on East Fourth Street from March 9-11; there was a preview party March 8.

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Let’s discuss it. All quotes are from a news release about the event.

“The RFID wristband (guests receive at the entrance) will keep score as guests test their knowledge of `80s trivia.”

Anyone over 40 will crush the trivia. The down side is then you get to see millennials totally stumped by questions about, like, Richard Pryor being in “Superman III,” and then you feel incredibly, monstrously old and begin eyeing the bar with a very certain desperation as you start counting the number of SXSWs you have covered.

“Visitors can browse at Avatar Outfitters, offering the Hot Topic Ready Player One Pop-Up Shop.  Guests will have a chance to score officially licensed gear, including exclusive T-shirts, caps, jewelry, backpacks, collectible pins and other cool accessories, as well as fan-favorite Funko Pop! vinyl figures.”

This is a merch shop. I took photos of the stuff and sent them to my 9-year-old, who recently finished the book and loved it and is very excited indeed for the movie. One of these days, FunkoPops are going to all move to the next phase of their evolution and kill us all, I just know it.

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“Guests can try out the “Ready Player One” Avatar Creator by VIVE to choose their new digital identity, and then send the avatar to their personal email.”

I did this, and because I am kind of terrible at many, many video game things (ex: I am pretty sure I called my avatar “Joe”), my avatar managed to look EXACTLY like me with small tweaks. IRL, I do not have a large disk in the middle of my head, nor am I made of wood and wouldn’t tuck jeans into boots — in fact, why is that even an option?

I mean, really. ( JOE GROSS/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

“Drop into 2045’s hottest nightclub, The Distracted Globe, where infinity mirrors create the impression of being gravity-free for a cool photo op, and guests can enjoy ‘Ready Player One’-themed specialty cocktails.”

There was never more than one person in there at a time when I was there, but I bet it looked pretty cool filled up.

The Distracted Globe, a nightclub in “Ready Player One,” attempts to create the feeling of being gravity free with infinity mirrors at the “Ready Player One” experience during the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It seemed like the DJ was cutting together every single hit from 1982 or so to 1989. At one point Eric B and Rakin’s “I Know You Got Soul” cut right at “pump up the volume” into the stripped down bit from “Jack and Diane,” of all things, instead of Bomb the Bass’s “Beat Dis,” as God intended, and it was kind of an existential crisis for everyone, again, over 40. Everyone else’s face held a a very “Whatever, man” expression, which is probably the correct response.

The second floor featured an installation that looked like the stacks of mobile homes envisioned in the book (and movie).

On the roof. ( JOE GROSS/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Each “trailer” featured one or two VR rigs that had various VR versions of classic arcade games and “RP1”-inspired “experiences.”

Raymond Wong plays a VR game at the “Ready Player One” experience during the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, March 8, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I was also very bad at this. I picked the DJ one and just kind of stood there for a bit, switching between various points-of-view. Make sure the headset fits TIGHTLY on your head — I didn’t, and the bleed-through from outside noise was substantial, which pretty well takes you out of the moment.

Want more? “On March 10, the SXSW Film Festival will hold its 25th Edition party, celebrating the anniversary of the film festival, at the Experience. On Sunday, March 11, the venue will hold a livestream, Ready Player One LIVE at SXSW, powered by Twitch and IMDb, hosted by Aisha Tyler and correspondent Alex Correa. The stream will be live on http://www.twitch.tv/twitch and http://www.imdb.com/readyplayerone and will feature some of the stars and filmmakers from “Ready Player One,” including cast members Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Lena Waithe, Win Morisaki, Philip Zhao and Ben Mendelsohn; screenwriter Zak Penn; and author/screenwriter/co-producer Ernest Cline.”

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