‘American Gods’ on Starz promises a wild ride

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The first episode of the highly anticipated series “American Gods” premiered at South by Southwest on Saturday, and it’s shockingly good.

Airing nationally on Starz April 30, the series stars Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday and Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon. It’s based on Neil Gaiman’s 2001 best-selling novel of the same name.

As for the shocking parts, you can take your pick. But most people will probably talk about a sex scene featuring Bilquis (Yetide Badaki). If you have kids in the house, you might want to send them to bed early before tuning in.

The SXSW crowd, however, was pumped for the premiere, and lots of people didn’t even make it inside for the screening.

For those who are unfamiliar with Gaiman’s novel, you need to know that it explores the history and influences of immigrants to America, but in a very bloody way. The cast is multi-ethnic and racially diverse, much like the cast of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

The series will explore the varied influences on American cultures, as well as how modern America has let go of some of its old gods to celebrate the new ones. Those two factions of gods are warring in the series.

Shadow Moon and Mr. Wednesday get the most airtime in the jam-packed first episode. Shadow is getting out of prison a few days early because his wife has been killed in a car accident, and all he wants to do is get home for the funeral.

On a flight home, Shadow meets the mysterious Mr. Wednesday, who offers him a job that sounds suspicious. As they make their way to Shadow’s hometown, all of sorts of characters are introduced.

After the screening, the cast and crew appeared on stage to talk about how the role of women in the series is going to be expanded beyond their roles in the novel.

Emily Browning, for instance, plays Laura, Shadow’s dead wife, who apparently comes back from the dead and acts as “a slightly awful guardian angel for her husband,” as Browning put it.

And if the first episode is any indication, Bilquis will play a major role as a love goddess who can be quite scary.

Betty Gilpin stars as Audrey, the best friend of Laura, and she delivers a scene-stealing performance at Laura’s funeral.

Also outstanding are Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney and Bruce Langley as a dangerous character called Technical Boy.

But this series will clearly belong to the buff and charismatic Whittle as Shadow and the always-entertaining and foul-mouthed McShane as Wednesday.

Saturday’s screening is the only one slotted for the festival, but if Starz will give permission, this episode would draw a huge crowd at any repeat screenings, building buzz for what will be a breakout hit on TV this spring.

SXSW Film’s opener: Austin music scene movie starring Ryan Gosling

: (L to R) Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, and Ryan Gosling in Terrence Malick's "Song to Song" (Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures)
From left, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling in Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song” (Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures)

Terrence Malick’s “Song To Song” will open the 2017 South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival, it was announced today.

Malick partially filmed the drama in and around Austin over the course of a few years.

The movie is described as a “modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene” and stars Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Natalie Portman.

Mara, Gosling and Fassbender could be spotted at Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2012.

Other movies and shows announced for SXSW Film include:

Spettacolo,” Jeff Malmberg and Chris Shellen’s lyrical portrait of a tiny hill town in Tuscany”; Signature Move” starring Fawzia Mirza, a coming-of-age Muslim melodrama from first-time filmmaker Jennifer Reeder; and “Residente,” Latin American director René Pérez Joglar’s chronicle of his global exploration of his genetic roots.

Also look for the world premiere of Neil Gaiman’s TV show “American Gods,” based on his massively successful novel of the same name.

Viacom NEXT’s “The Melody of Dust” is the first announced project in SXSW Film’s new VR/AR strand.

The almost-complete film festival lineup will be announced Jan. 31. Midnighter features and Short Films will be announced Feb. 7.

RELATED: Keep up with all the latest news in SXSW movies, music and more

The film festival lineup thus far:

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Ian McShane stars as Mr. Wednesday and Ricky Whittle stars as Shadow Moon in the upcoming STARZ series “American Gods.” (Starz Entertainment)

“American Gods” (World premiere)

Director: David Slade; Screenwriters: Bryan Fuller, Michael Green

Adapted from Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novel, “American Gods” follows Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) and Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) in a magical world where a battle is brewing between the Old Gods and the New Gods.

The Melody of Dust” (World premiere)

Director: Viacom NEXT

A musical journey for the HTC Vive. Explore a mysterious world where every object contains a unique melody. Featuring original musical compositions by Hot Sugar, this experience brings you inside the tortured mind of a musician.

“Residente” (World premiere)

Director: René Pérez Joglar

After taking a DNA test, Latin America’s most decorated artist, Rene Perez (aka Residente), embarks on a global adventure to trace the footsteps of his ancestors and record his latest album.

Fawzia Mirza and Sari Sanchez in "Signature Move" (Chris Rejano)
Fawzia Mirza and Sari Sanchez in “Signature Move” (Chris Rejano)

“Signature Move” (World premiere)

Director: Jennifer Reeder; Screenwriters: Fawzia Mirza, Lisa Donato

A secret new romance with Alma forces Zaynab to confront her complicated relationship with her recently widowed mother. In this coming-of-age Muslim melodrama, Zaynab copes by taking up Lucha-style wrestling. Starring Fawzia Mirza, Shabana Azmi, Sari Sanchez, Audrey Francis, Charin Alvarez, Mark Hood, Molly Brennan

“Small Town Crime”  (World premiere)

Directors/Screenwriters: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms

Ex-cop, Mike Kendall, finds the body of a young woman and, in an act of self-redemption, becomes hellbent on finding the killer. While his uncouth, quirky detective style helps break the case, his dogged determination puts his family in danger. Starring John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Clifton Collins Jr.

“Song To Song” (World premiere)

Director: Terrence Malick

In this modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene, two entangled couples — struggling songwriters Faye and BV, and music mogul Cook and the waitress whom he ensnares — chase success through a rock ‘n’ roll landscape of seduction and betrayal. Starring Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Natalie Portman

“Spettacolo” (World premiere)

Directors: Jeff Malmberg, Chris Shellen; Screenwriter: Chris Shellen

For the past 50 years, the villagers of a tiny hill town in Tuscany have turned their lives into a play that the entire town writes and performs. “Spettacolo” is a portrait of this tradition through the eyes of the last man trying to keep it alive.