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’

 

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Three movies at SXSW that treat music very differently

From left, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling star in Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song.” Contributed by Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

Movies. Music. They’re at the core of the South by Southwest Conference and festivals, and music plays a big part in several movies that screened this year. Or, in one case, music is supposed to play a big part…

“Song to Song”: The SXSW opening night movie is out of tune with the Live Music Capital of the World. The Terrence Malick film was billed as “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene,” but as critic Joe Gross puts it, “It is a movie about the real world of popular music the way ‘Star Wars’ is a samurai flick or a Western — a thematic and visual influence, perhaps, but that’s about it.” But hey, Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender, Rooney Mara and the rest of the cast look great.

Michael Fassbender on the red carpet for the world premiere of ‘Song to Song” at the Paramount Theatre.

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

“T2 Trainspotting”: Music was integral to 1996’s “Trainspotting”; the sequel, which was this year’s SXSW secret screening, features “a moment from a song from the original here, a remix there. This one has an actual score, which the original did not — it was all needle-drop pop song cues. This fits: We are older, they are older, our relationship to that music is different.”

REVIEW: ‘T2 Trainspotting is an emotional wipeout for fans of the original

“Baby Driver”: Edgar Wright’s latest film stars Ansel Elgort as a getaway driver obsessed with music. “From Beck and Young MC to Carla Thomas and T-Rex … ‘Baby Driver’ is an ode to those who need a stream of tunes in their heads, everywhere, all the time.”

REVIEW: The insanely fun ‘Baby Driver’ celebrates turning up the tunes and hitting the gas

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Ten takeaways from “Made in Austin: A Look into Song to Song” at SXSW

http://players.brightcove.net/1418563061/S15Aq3t8_default/index.html?videoId=5355819236001

 

Holy cats, there he is: Director Terrence Malick, one of the most private filmmakers of his generation, hanging out on stage with Richard Linklater and Michael Fassbender, the latter a star of Malick’s “Song to Song,” chatting Saturday morning at South by Southwest.

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

PHOTOS: ‘Song to Song’ red carpet at the Paramount Theater

The original cut was about eight hours long. “There was no part of the shooting day that was idle,” Fassbender said. “If we were on the way to a location, we were shooting on the way to the location.”

On finding the character as one goes and the improvisational nature of the shoot. “I like not having lines to learn.” Fassbender said. “It’s a very liberating thing when you’re not carrying dialogue. It’s very hard not to load an intention if I am getting lines as I go.”

From left, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling star in Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song.” Contributed by Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

Sometimes, Malick is shooting something that is not the actor. “I’ll be acting my socks off and Terry will be filming a beetle,” Fassbender said.

On setting his films now rather than in the past.  Malick said he was a bit timid at setting his films in the present. “(One struggles to find) images you can use that haven’t been a part of advertising,” Malick said. “But then you find there are as many today as there were in the past.”

The original title was “Weightless.” “We had a title card from Virginia Woolf at the beginning,” Malick said. (“How can I proceed now, I said, without a self, weightless and visionless, through a world weightless…”). This ended up still being a bit of a theme.

On having, as Linklater put it, “punk rock elders” in the film. “I was trying not to be overwhelmed by these rock gods,” Fassbender said, “but I do remember that both Patti Smith and Flea, you would put the camera on them and words would just flow out. And then all of the Chili Peppers beat me up.”

Fassbender wishes there was more Val Kilmer kept in. “I was hanging on by my fingernails,” Fassbender said. “He is a force. To be in (this kind of movie), you have to be prepared to fall on your face over and over again all day. That is what I found so impressive about Val.”

On Fassbender maybe directing. “I would like to direct,” Fassbender said. “What would I like to direct? Something contained.” Which this film was not.

“I have no idea when,” he continued. “Starting as an actor, I found I was so focused for so many years on getting an opportunity to work, then focused on getting a lead role. (Now that he has done both of those things) I’ve started to enjoy more and more the collaborative process, the idea that you get the bunch of strangers together and get it to gel.”

On Austin changing. “Your film is already a period film,” Linklater joked. This is actually true, as Malick noted — Alamo Drafthouse South looks totally different now.

Linklater and Malick versus the movie: “Everything you see is the tip of the iceberg (for these characters),” Linklater said. “(To see these movies), I think it just adds a depth, a poetic memory feeling.”

In seeing the bits of pieces of their lives, Malick said, “It’s like the dialogue in the movie, ‘Can you live in this world moment to moment, song to song, kiss to kiss.’ It’s a hard thing to convey.”

 

 

 

 

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

http://players.brightcove.net/1418563061/S15Aq3t8_default/index.html?videoId=5355819236001

 

If beloved Austinite Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” which opened South by Southwest on Friday, is a meditation on the shallow, flash-over-substance, Los Angeles-ization of Austin, then it is a bullseye.

If it is a troll of contemporary Austin, if the idea is to mock a city overrun with poseurs-come-lately who dream of being artists without, you know, ever working at their craft, then “Song to Song” is one of the meanest movies ever lensed.

If it is a movie about gorgeous people wandering around hilariously empty Austin landscapes, photographed perfectly, touching each other, looking meaningfully at each other, then, sure.  And, hey: Nothing wrong with that.

And yet.

PHOTOS: “Song to Song” red carpet at SXSW

“Song to Song,” starring Ryan Gosling, Michael Fassbender and Rooney Mara, is, according to the blurb on the SXSW website, “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene.”

This is essentially correct. “Song to Song” is a love story. It is in Austin, (though the city is never named). There are shots of bands playing and guitars being strummed. OK so far.

Here is the rest of the description: “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.”

This is where problems start.

It is a movie about the real world of popular music the way “Star Wars” is a samurai flick or a Western — a thematic and visual influence, perhaps, but that’s about it.

And 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.

Gosling is BV, one of these alleged songwriters. Songwriting is an activity we see him engage in, somewhat vaguely, once.

WHERE THE PARTY IS: Check out this interactive SXSW party guide

The rest of the time, we see him wander around town, wander around Fun Fun Fun, hang out backstage with the Chili Peppers, looking a lot more like an actor than a musician.

He becomes involved with Faye (Mara), who works on her music even less than BV.  Faye’s father has a strong Texas accent, implying that Mara is a native, which scans about as well as Audrey Hepburn playing a rodeo clown.

We see Faye playing guitar on stage at Fun Fun Fun, but we have no other context for what she does or whom she does it with — she, too, looks like an actor holding a guitar.

No wonder these two are struggling. They might as well be plumbers or lawyers or farmers for all of the songwriting they do.

Cook (Fassbender, who plays toxic masculinity better than anyone right now) is the sleazy record producer, which is definitely a type we have never seen before. He doesn’t ever seem to do any producing, outside of supervising (vaguely yelling at?) a string section in one scene and sort of admonishing BV in another. (There is no reason you, gentle reader, should remember “Laurel Canyon,” the 2002 bomb starring Frances McDormand as a record producer, but trust me, she was light-years more credible as someone who worked in pop music than Cook.)

Cook has a gorgeous house in Austin, one he says he’s lived in for “about two weeks,” which seems right on the money if, again, this is about terrible people who come to Austin seeking an authenticity they cannot name.

But Cook shouldn’t get too comfortable because he doesn’t really seem to know about the financial side of the music business either.

“I know you do the live music thing,” Cook says to BV, which is a series of words no record producer in history has ever actually said in that order to a songwriter/performer. “We should make a record together,” Cook says. “Don’t you want to make some money?”

Cook, I don’t know if you have been paying attention to the music business for the past 15 or so years, but making a record is an awfully hard way to make some money of late.

Anyway, Faye is sleeping with Cook, because of course she is. (This bit seems particularly disingenuous given the fiercely independent, OG punk rock icon Patti Smith’s lovely cameo.)

BV and Faye break up after BV finds out she has been sleeping with Cook. BV takes up with the older Amanda (Cate Blanchett). BV’s mother does not approve.

BV is also the sort who runs into an ex and asks, “What didn’t I know?” The ex responds, “How to feel.” I don’t know, lady; feeling seems to be the only thing these people do all day.

Cook, a flagrant womanizer, takes up with and marries Rhonda (Natalie Portman), a woman who says she has to waitress because she couldn’t find work as a teacher (!). In fact, another character in the film says she can’t find work as a teacher either — so she is a prostitute. There seems to be a bumper crop of teachers in Malick’s Austin.

Then again, given that every Austin location outside of the music festivals is so devoid of people that it looks like a neutron bomb hit it, maybe there aren’t enough children to sustain a mess of teachers. Our heroes spend most of the time wandering around a comically underpopulated Austin, voice-overs letting us know their thoughts, bits of dialogue advancing what little plot there is.

Standing on the balcony of (an otherwise completely empty) Mohawk, BV accuses Cook is stealing the copyrights to BV’s songs.  To which a viewer must ask, “What songs?” There is zero evidence on screen that these folks write anything, ever.

Indeed, it is to Malick’s credit that “Song to Song,” stunning-looking and meditative as it is, made me think about the very limitations of film as a medium. “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” some wisenheimer once said, and I’ve always thought this was nonsense, not the least of which because I would love to see a dance about architecture.

But watching “Song to Song” made me wonder about Walter Pater’s maxim: “All art aspires to the condition of music.” Which is to say all other art falls far, far behind; all other art is only ever playing catch-up to what makes music, music. So one wonders about the extent to which any medium can capture music’s power, its resonance, the obsessive centrality it can take in one’s life. No form seems up to it: Novels about music are mostly awful; we know TV struggles (witness “Vinyl” and even “Empire,” which once did a decent job but is more about crime than studio time).

No wonder music documentaries are so popular, are so their own category. At least in music docs, there is an acknowledgment that they will only get so far at capturing the real-life felt experience of the concert, the studio, the rehearsal room, the men and women at a piano or with guitars or a computer, trying the find the proverbial bottled-lightning. There’s none of that in “Song to Song.”

But if you love looking at Fassbender and Gosling, Mara and Portman, empty clubs and houses and the Long Center and slow-motion moshing without what anyone is moshing to, then go for it.

Just don’t expect music.

 

New details about Terrence Malick’s Austin music scene movie

Remember when Texas filmmaking legend Terrence Malick was seen filming in and around such events as South by Southwest and Fun Fun Fun Fest a few years back?

Well, that was for a movie we now know, thanks to a piece on IndieWire, is called “Song to Song,” which will be out March 17 (which seems to make it a mortal lock for a SXSW screening).

Here is the premise, according to IndieWire:

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

The sharp-eyed might recall seeing Mara, Gosling and Fassbender in and around Fun Fun Fun in 2012. And that Val Kilmer guy.

Rooney Mara (left), Val Kilmer (center) and Black Lips guitarist Cole Alexander on the Blue Stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest on Nov,. 2, 2012. (photo: Pooneh Ghana)
Rooney Mara (left), Val Kilmer (center) and Black Lips guitarist Cole Alexander on the Blue Stage at Fun Fun Fun Fest on Nov. 2, 2012. (Contributed by Pooneh Ghana)

 

 Look for Patti Smith, Lykke Li, the above Black Lips, Iggy Pop, Florence and the Machine and more in the film.