The moving ‘If I Leave Here Tomorrow’ chronicles Lynyrd Skynyrd

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“Musicians are a rare breed — once it gets in their blood, they have to go after it” — Judy Van Zant, widow of Ronnie Van Zant

Are you in the market for an incredibly well-made, super professional, smartly-edited, fully licensed and extremely unlikely to be controversial documentary about an interesting musician or group?

Then, brother, Stephen Kijak is your man.

Starting with his outstanding “Scott Walker: 30 Century Man” (2006), Kijak has made excellent docs on the Backstreet Boys, Jaco Pastorius, the Rolling Stones and X Japan. He works his slick magic again with the moving “If I Leave Here Tomorrow,” bankrolled by CMT and likely airing on the network later this year.

Rising out of a Jacksonville, Fla., garage band called One Percent, Lynyrd Skynyrd took their name from both the name “Leonard Skinner” from “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” and a high school coach who happened to have the same name.

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The band honed its chops the old-fashioned way, rehearsing and writing morning, noon and night at “Hell House,” a cabin in the middle of nowhere where the band could work out music. It was also close enough to water than Ronnie could go fishing while writing lyrics in his head, Biggie Smalls-style. These were the salad days — as one member puts it, “Hell House was the reward.”

Al Kooper, who helmed the first two albums, was floored by the band’s airtight prowess on even the guitar solos. Those records cut like butter, while the rest of their output was sometimes marred by writing-in-the-studio and, um, lifestyle choices.

Kijak talks to folks who are around and gets tremendous archival footage (and stunning bell bottoms) of those who are not. There’s guitarist Gary Rossington and Ronnie’s brother Johnny Van Zant, who lets us see the Jacksonville neighborhood where the band was born.

There’s the fascinating Artimus Pyle, the “left wing liberal hippie” who replaced original drummer Bob Burns (who all but had a nervous breakdown due to, well, the hazards of being in Skynyrd).

PHOTOS: “If I Leave Here Tomorrow” red carpet

“I think they felt (the band was) supposed to smoke every cigarette and drink everything provided and eat whatever they wanted and throw the rest against the wall,’ Pyle says. “That was our road manager’s duty – to carry a briefcase with probably $250,000 in cash to bail people out of jail and placate hotel owners.”

There’s Ed King, the California kid who hailed from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, co-wrote “Sweet Home Alabama,” and filled out the three guitar lineup until he bounced in ’75 after Van Zant’s temper got to be a bit much.

Kijak also cuts between band history and an inevitable look at the October 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant, King’s replacement Steve Gaines and Steve’s sister Cassie (as well as assistant road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McCreary and co-pilot William Gray), effectively ending the band for a decade. Surviving members recount the horror of crashing in the middle of nowhere in the farmland of Gillsburg, Mississippi (“like hearing 10,000 baseball bats on the side of the fuselage” as they started to hit the trees).

“The one thing I want the world to know about my band is how bravely my band met their death,” Pyle says in the documentary. “Everyone knew it was gonna end badly. There was no panic, no chaos; everybody was in prayer, in deep thought.”

“If I Leave Here Tomorrow” plays again at 1:45 p.m. March 17 at Alamo Ritz 1. Grade: A-

SXSW review: ‘The Bill Murray Stories’ taps into the joy of post-modern America’s spirit animal

I interviewed Bill Murray at South by Southwest in 2010. Though I almost didn’t. The interview was with Murray, Sissy Spacek and Robert Duval for their movie “Get Low.” It was one of only two times I was truly intimidated on the job. Spacek and Duval arrived on time but Murray was held up by a horrible Northeastern storm. I was almost done with about a half-hour interview, breathing more easily that I had made it through.

A scene from “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man.”

I was just about out questions when the door swung open. It was Murray, wearing a floral pattern shirt, carrying a Bloody Mary with a celery stalk the size of a Louisville Slugger and smelling like aftershave and relaxation. Murray sat down and regaled us with stories of a nerve-jangling departure from the East Coast, blending seriousness with humor. Even though he was intended to be there, I was still surprised. The others seemed unsurprised but charmed nevertheless.

This is what Murray does, he appears and charismatically sweeps up everyone around him. Just by being himself. Even the unflappable and poised Spacek had a gleam in her eye as she watched Murray captivate the room. Later that night I saw Murray turn from Eighth Street down Red River, pulling his hoodie’s hood over his head as he drifted into the morass. No telling how many people he surprised that night, leaving with them stories they would never forget. It was this same trip to Austin that Murray, after drinking in the bar earlier in the day and befriending an off-duty bartender, showed up at East Austin’s Shangri-La and served shots to riotously joyous patrons. That story has become legend in some Austin and SXSW circles. It is one of dozens that exist, all with a similar theme: Bill Murray casually interjects himself into the lives of ordinary non-movie stars and touches their lives with his magical blend of absurdity, revelry and joy.

Filmmaker Tommy Avallone’s documentary, “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man,” which made its world debut Saturday night at South by Southwest, traces the origin stories of the many legendary tales of Murray popping into other people’s lives, sometimes for five minutes and sometimes for five hours, rearranging the molecules in the room and disappearing just as mysteriously as he appeared.

There is the couple in Charleston that ended up having Murray sit in on their engagement portrait session; the house party band in Austin that had Murray sit in on tambourine after springing for a beer run; the college basketball fan and who ended up having Murray sing “Happy Birthday” to his grandmother; the house party in St. Andrew’s, Scotland, where Murray did the washing up. You get the idea.

Avallone begins his documentary as a quest to track down the star of “Groundhog Day,” “Caddyshack,” and more using the enigmatic actor’s famed 800 number voicemail, but the film ends up being (fortunately) less a journey toward Murray himself and more an examination of the various ways Murray has surprised and thrilled people. And Avallone, using some journalists who have written definitive Murray pieces, also explores the why of Murray’s mission: Does he do it for himself or the people he’s surprising or both? At the root seems to be an expression of Murray’s love of being in the present moment, of keeping himself excited and alive and vital, while also bringing an incredible joy to those whose lives he touches, as he eliminates the wall between celebrity and those who love them. It is what makes Murray our zen spirit animal in a post-modern world. Murray keeps being here (and there and there and there) now, shaking people and himself up, savoring the present moment and finding delirious peace in the raucous and mundane.

I imagine the rest of the world will soon get to tear up with joy as they watch Murray’s method; the documentary seems perfectly suited for a Netflix release.

“The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man” screens again Monday at the Vimeo Theater at 4 p.m. and Thursday at Stateside at 6:30 p.m. 

 

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.

MORE PHOTOS: ‘Ready Player One’ VR experience at SXSW

“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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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.

Sundance smash ‘Patti Cake$’ busts a rhyme at SXSW

“Patti Cake$.” Contributed by Jeong Park

23-year-old Patricia (newcomer Danielle Macdonald) lives in New Jersey with her mother, Barb (Bridget Everett), and ailing grandmother (Cathy Moriarty). Her friends call her Patti. She calls herself Killa P. Local hoodlums cruelly call her Dumbo.

She drives around town in an aging Cadillac that has a personalized PATTIWGN plate and toils away tending bar at a local tavern while putting away as much money as possible to help pay down her grandmother’s medical debts. Rap music is always flowing through her headphones and car speakers, and her bedroom floor is covered in notebooks where she’s logged countless rhymes, daydreaming about being a superstar.

There’s a great moment early on in the film where Patti is sitting on the hood of her car, reaching out to the skyscrapers that are in the distance, across the water in Manhattan. They look close enough to touch, but the big city might as well be a million miles away.

Her best friend and fellow outcast, Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), works in a local pharmacy. He’d like nothing more than for them to team up and make music together. After putting down money to buy some beats from a local producer and make a demo recording, a few puffs of potent pot send Patti running from the booth and cause a lost opportunity.

Demos finally are created with the help of Basterd (Mamoudou Athie), a metalhead with creepy contacts in his eyes who somewhat begrudgingly helps them turn into a very bizarre trio who record a handful of songs under the name PBNJ. Having tangible tunes that could help them escape their everyday lives is the first of many hurdles to climb before success is possible.

Director Geremy Jasper, himself a former indie musician, has written a story that genuinely expresses love for hip-hop and pays homage to “8 Mile” and “Hustle and Flow” in the process. Macdonald’s performance is a revelation, but the casting of foul-mouthed cabaret star Everett in the role of Patti’s mother (who herself has seen failed dreams of musical stardom) is also key to the film’s success.

Knowing very little about the movie going into it, it made sense to me that Macdonald was discovered for her hip-hop talents and the movie was created as a vehicle for her. At the post-film Q&A, I was stunned to learn that she was from Australia and had never rapped in her life before shooting the movie. Jasper found her while the movie was being developed at the Sundance labs and he believed that she could pull the character off.

His belief in her paid off in spades. Or at least to the tune of $10.5 million, which is what Fox Searchlight paid to buy the movie after its Sundance premiere in January.

You can catch the magic of “Patti Cake$” again at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday at the Stateside. The film is expected to be released later this year.

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

Sinaloa (Sophie Reid) and Merle (Allison Tolman) in “La Barracuda.” Contributed by Patrick Rusk

This new thriller from Austin-based directors Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund (“Now, Forager”) is built around a concept that really intrigues me – people leading double lives.

Wayne Klein had a wife and daughter at home in Texas but toured all over the world and enjoyed a few extracurricular activities along the way. Over the years he harbored a big secret that comes to life after his death; he actually had fathered a child with a woman from England and would visit this second family when he was overseas playing shows. “La Barracuda” picks up with Sinaloa (Sophie Reid, “Game Of Thrones”), the secret British daughter, making the trek to the United States and showing up on the door of her half-sister Merle (an outstanding Allison Tolman from FX’s “Fargo”) in Austin.

Sinaloa is blunt and gets right to the point. She ambushes Merle and her fiancé Raul (Luis Bordonada) on their front porch when they come home one evening in the dark, revealing who she is without hesitation. It’s clear to see that it’s a painful revelation for Merle, who is hesitant to accept this information about her late father as the gospel truth. Raul insists that they put her up for the night because she is family. But how can they know if that’s true? Hearing Sinaloa singing some of Wayne’s songs goes a long way towards convincing Merle that the story could be legitimate, but it opens a Pandora’s box that changes her life forever.

As Sinaloa is introduced to extended family members at an engagement party, her presence becomes quite a point of conversation and interest. This goes double for Merle’s mother, Patricia (delightfully played by JoBeth Williams), who isn’t actually very pleasant to her own daughter, never mind the secret offspring of her late husband. A relative at the party pulls Sinaloa aside and offers to help her investigate inheritance issues if she’s so inclined, which further blurs the line about what her intentions really are.

In their original fundraising campaign for the movie, the filmmakers stated, “At its core, ‘La Barracuda’ is a story about the conflicting loyalties between mothers, daughters, and sisters.” Slowly but surely, Merle’s perfectly curated existence is thrown out of whack by Sinaloa’s antics. Memories are conjured and questioned. An already strained relationship with her mother is pushed to the limits.

I was utterly enraptured by the first act of this film, completely taken by the story, the actors, and the familiar setting. Halfway into the picture, I was unsure of where things were going but thought I was ready for anything. Despite an enormous amount of foreshadowing, the film’s final third moves towards an abrupt twist that made me flinch but feels undeserved.

In the end, “La Barracuda” really does deliver on the music. Sinaloa’s performances (including some tracks live at the Saxon Pub) are really beautiful and heartfelt. And there’s a lot of traditional Texas music and artists in the film like Colin Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and the Harvest Thieves while Codeine drummer Chris Brokaw delivers a moody score.

 

“La Barracuda” screens again at 8:30 p.m. March 17 at the Alamo South Lamar.

‘The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin’ is essential viewing

Armistead Maupin at the San Francisco Chronicle. Contributed by KQED

I’m not a gay writer. I’m a writer who happens to be gay. 

That quote, from an archival interview in the 1970s, is one of the first things we hear from Armistead Maupin in Jennifer Kroot’s new documentary about his life. It’s almost hard to imagine now how incredibly shocking it was for a voice like his to be celebrated at the time his career took off.

Raised in a highly conservative family in North Carolina, Maupin rose to fame as a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. He somewhat controversially launched a serialized story called “Tales From The City” that was published by the newspaper starting in 1976. Determined to reflect the diversity of lives in the city, his characters and the situations that they found themselves in were not always exclusively heterosexual.

Blending fact and fiction, one of the installments of the series essentially served as Maupin’s own coming-out letter to his parents back home (who subscribed to the paper from afar). Kroot turns the spotlight on this piece, which Maupin himself considers to be one of his most essential, by having it read aloud in the movie by many of his friends interviewed on camera including Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney, Jonathan Groff, Sir Ian McKellan and others.

Over the years, “Tales From The City” was turned into a series of well-received novels, and the first volume was adapted into a PBS miniseries in the early 1990s (starring Linney and Dukakis) and eventually was followed up with sequels that aired on Showtime.

The film is split into chapters but doesn’t adhere to a strict chronological timeline. It jumps around to different parts of his life story, from his time as a teenage Republican to losing friends and lovers during the AIDS crisis to when he met his now-husband Christopher on a website called “Daddy Hunt.”

Such candor is par for the course with Maupin, and I appreciate his willingness to lay it all out there for the sake of history. At one point, he refers to himself as a “big romantic with a slutty side.” Not long after, he’s detailing how some of his earliest sexual encounters were actually with Rock Hudson, including once when he had a threesome with Hudson and his partner in their hotel room. But of course, that’s just one small (although unquestionably notable and, as his puts it, “dreamy”) part of his life.

This is a man who wrote about much more than the gay experience. He worked hard to place his life into the larger context of the world. His writing was groundbreaking and inspired countless people to come out of the closet.

Heartwarming. Funny. Sad. Vital. This is essential gay history. I’m thankful that this film will help preserve it and turn new generations on to his work.

“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin” screens again at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday at the Alamo South Lamar.

 

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

David (Josh Wiggins) and Cal (Matt Bomer) in “Walking Out.” Contributed by Standa Honzik

Twin brothers Alex and Andrew Smith were both Austin residents until somewhat recently. Alex continues to live here and teach at the University of Texas at Austin, while Andrew headed back to Montana, where they were born and where their latest film was shot.

The Smith brothers first broke out at Sundance with “The Slaughter Rule” in 2002, casting both Ryan Gosling and Amy Adams in early roles that earned them strong reviews. They’ve returned with an intense story of survival against the odds, an unexpectedly emotional journey based on a short story by David Quammen.

Cal (Matt Bomer, “Magic Mike XXL”) is a divorced father who lives in Montana. His son David (Josh Wiggins, “Hellion”) is 14 and flies in to visit for an annual hunting trip. It’s the one time of year that Cal gets to see his son and they are able to bond in big sky country, something becoming more difficult each year as David would rather play video games than trek off into the woods.

The plan for this trip is for David to kill his first moose. He’s not so sure that he’s up for the task, but relents. Family dynamics are further represented by flashback sequences where Cal is shown as a young man, out on hunting and fishing trips with his father (played by Bill Pullman). We see how this is a tradition and how happy Cal is to be able to pass this knowledge down to a son who he is not often able to connect with.

After discovering that there is an angry mama grizzly bear in their vicinity, they decide to retreat, but an accident has devastating consequences. Both father and son are forced to use their limited resources to survive.

Cinematographer Todd McMullen (“Friday Night Lights”) captures some spectacular footage in what had to have been a difficult shoot. The opening shots show the sun rising over snow-capped mountains. Stunning shots of purple and orange skies streaked with clouds above the vast mountain ranges are just plain breathtaking. The majesty of the rural location comes through in even the most difficult sequences.

Bomer and Wiggins are extraordinarily good, and the well-crafted screenplay creates a palpable tension that hangs for the last 20 minutes or so of the picture. This is independent filmmaking at its best.

“Walking Out” was recently acquired by Sundance Selects/IFC, who are expected to release it later this year.

SXSW Film: “Sylvio” graduates from Vine to the big screen

“Sylvio.” Contributed by Eric LaPlante

The character of Sylvio, an “ordinary gorilla,” originally launched on Vine. By the time the 6-second video service shut down last year, the account had over half a million followers and gained almost 115 million loops.

Co-directors Albert Birney and Kentucker Audley expanded Sylvio’s world into a feature-length film thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $50,000. It sounds cliché to say you’ve never seen anything like it, but I assure you that in this case, it’s true.

The movie exists in a highly stylized and surreal world where it’s totally normal for a gorilla to work in a debt collection office. A lack of success collecting those debts for the company over the phone finds Sylvio getting assigned to “house visits” to try and get money back for his employer. He ends up at the home of Al Reynolds (Audley), a jovial man who inexplicably hosts “the only 5 day-a-week afternoon show in Baltimore.”

Yes, there’s a full television studio in Al’s basement and a small crew works on his daily variety show. When Sylvio shows up, he is mistaken for a guest on the show: Terrence The Mystery Juggler. As far as live television goes, it’s a disaster, but the home audience loves him. They bombard the phone lines asking when he’s going to be on the show again. Sylvio eventually becomes an essential part of the show, thanks in large part to his hit segment, “What’s The Ape Gonna Break Next?”

“Sylvio” is highlighted by a lovely score from Thomas Hughes and Gretchen Lohse, better known as the dreamy Philadelphia-based duo Carol Cleveland Sings. Nick Krill, who was in The Spinto Band with Hughes and currently plays in a band called Teen Men with Birney, also contributes music to the film.  Several past and present bandmates pop up in audience shots on “The Afternoon Show” as well.

It’s a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of Birney and Audley that this quirky low-budget comedy is able to break through and resonate. Sylvio barely has dialogue in the film but he’s incredibly expressive. There’s no question that it’s all a bit weird, but there’s a marvelous sense of wonder in every scene that finds you rooting for this ordinary agorilla to see his dreams come true.

You can catch “Sylvio” again at 7 p.m. on Monday and 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, both screenings at the Alamo South Lamar.

Melanie Lynskey talks bad auditions and how a sitcom helped her stay indie during SXSW chat

Melanie Lynskey interviewed by director Megan Griffiths during SXSW. Photo by Matt Shiverdecker.

I was a senior in high school when Peter Jackson’s “Heavenly Creatures” rolled into my local art house theater in 1994. My friends and I were thrilled by the story of one of the most infamous murder cases in New Zealand’s history. We saw it over and over again and I knew that we’d be seeing a lot more of the lead actresses in the film – Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey.

Earlier today, Seattle-based director Megan Griffiths (who recently directed Lynskey in a film called “Sadie”) sat down with Lynskey at SXSW for a revealing chat sponsored by SAG-AFTRA. She discussed everything from her first acting role (in a play at age 6) to the way she’s been able to manage an eclectic career in independent cinema while getting paid from a big television gig.

Here are a few great moments from their conversation.

Life was weird after “Heavenly Creatures”: “I stayed in New Zealand. I had two more years of high school, so it was very strange. I literally was living my dream and had the most incredible experience. I’d been telling everyone that I wanted to be an actor and they said, “you have to choose a different job. That’s not a real job.” And then I went off and did it. It was sort of a weird thing of coming back and everyone was like ‘that was fun, good for you’ and now get on with life as though it didn’t happen.”

She’s pretty confident about picking the right roles: “I learned that I operate very much from instinct. It has to come from somewhere that’s very truthful inside of me…”

She’s had some horrifying auditions: “One time, they were making a movie about Janis Joplin. It was years ago and I read the script and I just was like…’Janis Joplin is a step too far.’ I just knew instinctively that it was not for me. I was reading the signs…I can’t do it. But I got talked into it. And later I heard that Rachel Griffiths, an amazing actress had gotten a movie because someone had seen the videotape of her audition for Janis Joplin and she was so great and she had gotten a movie from it. And I was like ‘those tapes are out there.’ It scared me so badly. That the casting director was just like showing the tapes to people.”

Acting on a network sitcom allowed her to keep the rest of her career choices pretty indie: “‘Two and a Half Men’ was like a whole other thing. I did it because it was pilot season and there was a guest-starring role in a sitcom and I was like ‘what’s a sitcom like? That’s interesting. I want to try that.’ And then I became a regular for a couple of years and then after that I got to come and go from the show, which I am so grateful for. I don’t know how people make a living doing independent films. I had this job. I wasn’t getting rich from it…but…I could pay my bills. And I was able to build an interesting independent film career because I had this secret job…that a lot of people didn’t even know I was on…I’m so grateful to the creators of that show.”

The best director she’s ever worked with: “My favorite director I think is probably Steven Soderbergh [Lynskey appeared in his 2009 film “The Informant!”]. He was so great. He wanted it to be so loose and so free. There was a real sense of fun and adventure and just trying stuff that I got addicted to very quickly on that set.”

Melanie Lynskey’s most recent projects include a short film by indie rocker St. Vincent in the female horror anthology “XX” (available now on VOD) and Macon Blair’s Sundance award-winning thriller “I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore” (streaming now on Netflix).