SXSW review: ‘Isle of Dogs’ a treat but hounded by some real problems

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As a movie constructed of tiny moving parts, it’s fitting that “Isle of Dogs” resonates most warmly in its quiet, little moments. There’s the scene where a recently orphaned 12-year-old boy, laid up in traction in a hospital, meets his new guard dog, who licks his hand in silence. Or a later scene when the same boy gives a biscuit to a different dog, a wary stray who’s never tasted one before. The hound is overcome. So is the viewer.

The latest from film auteur (and University of Texas alum) Wes Anderson, “Isle of Dogs” closed out the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival in its North American premiere to a packed house wearing complimentary “PRO-DOG” headbands. Set in the near future in the fictional Japanese metropolis of Megasaki City, the stop-motion-animated film tells a seemingly simple story at its heart: A boy sets out to find his lost dog, with the help of a pack of mangy mutts.

(From L-R): Edward Norton as “Rex,” Jeff Goldblum as “Duke,” Bill Murray as “Boss,” Bob Balaban as “King” and Bryan Cranston as “Chief” in “Isle of Dogs.” Contributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures

The boy, Atari Kobayashi (voiced by Koyu Rankin, whom one hopes has a best friend with the last name Bass), is the ward of the authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura, also with a writing credit), who has exiled all dogs in the city to live on the dumps of Trash Island. The reason why is all explained in an ancient legend prologue. Best not to dwell on the motives too long, but suffice it to say that the Kobayashis are decidedly cat people.

Atari’s beloved guard dog, Spots (a stout-hearted Liev Schreiber), was the first pooch to get the boot. Six months after the mayor’s decree, more dogs have found themselves subsisting on scarce garbage for food on the island, and Atari arrives in a tiny prop plane for a hero’s quest. Guiding him are Rex (Edward Norton, such a delightful drip of a dog), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban) and Chief (Bryan Cranston), that grizzled stray with a chip on his shoulder and nose for a fight.

RELATED: Bill Murray just recited a poem while wearing overalls and a bucket hat on Sixth Street, because SXSW

As you might guess for a movie about man’s best friend, “Isle of Dogs” stands up for loyalty in all its forms: between owners and pets, or between members of a pack, or of young idealists toward their cause. When the movie puts Atari and Chief together, it charms. Cranston imbues the jaded stray with a heart-rending pain through all those bared teeth, as he learns what the most simple kinds of affection feel like. The lack of subtitling of Atari’s Japanese dialogue is also a tidy device to put an English-language viewer in the dog’s, er, paws.

Speaking of Anderson, all the director’s trademarks are here, even in miniature form: the twee musical throwback (an instantly infectious “I Won’t Hurt You” by the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band), the impeccably curated tableaus, the eclectic cast of favorite players. If you’re going to go animated, why not stock up like winter is coming and beloved character actors are canned goods? Tilda Swinton’s turn as a prescient pug dubbed the Oracle is a gas, and she’s used with remarkable restraint. “Lady Bird” director Greta Gerwig gives a foreign exchange student/budding journalist/dog rights activist pleasing notes of Lisa Simpson and Leslie Knope. Heck, even Yoko Ono did some voice work in this thing.

RELATED: Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Wes Anderson walk into a theater. Everyone loses their minds.

Much like Anderson’s previous stop-motion film, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” the intricacies of the animation are exquisite. The canine characters glow with fur-bound life. The crying effects look so good that you can tell the production team got incredibly stoked and slotted them into the movie wherever they could. You will believe a man’s best friend can cry.

Back to the language barrier. To watch the movie, you’ve got to try to wrap your arms around the cultural politics of “Isle of Dogs,” which features dogs voiced by white actors in a Japanese world and human Japanese characters mostly voiced by Asian actors. Anderson goes to pretty laborious lengths to avoid subtitled dialogue, including translator characters (one is voiced by Frances McDormand). Questions arise: Why did Gerwig’s character need to be a foreign exchange student instead of a Japanese schoolkid, for example? Expressive line readings from Rankin and Nomura constantly made me wonder what the film is like to watch if you understand both English and Japanese. I also wondered if Anderson thought about such a person at any point from concept to post-production.

“Isle of Dogs” also doesn’t really spend much time thinking about female characters, whether human or canine. Female dogs are mostly absent: There’s Swinton’s bit-part; a show dog voiced by Scarlett Johansson who only exists to service an underdeveloped romance and also get in a really lazy “bitch” joke; and another pooch that’s literally just there to have puppies. Even Gerwig’s plucky agitator has her agency undercut by a crush on Atari that’s a little cute but mostly elicits a “yeah, sure, I guess?”  If ever there was a movie you could tell had an all-male writing team, this is the one.

Actor Jeff Goldblum arrived outside the Paramount Theatre for the Isle of Dogs red carpet premiere on Saturday, March 17. The film screening was part of the SXSW Film Festival. (Photo by Katherine Fan for

PHOTOS: ‘Isle of Dogs’ premiere with Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Wes Anderson at SXSW 2018

The tone trends wicked in parts, including a trash furnace cliffhanger that’s left dangling too long for anyone who actually likes dogs. It would also be naive to not view “Isle of Dogs” through a Trump-era lens, what with its executive edicts and themes of exile, press suppression and disinformation, all in the name of power. Anderson also slips in a line about staged political protests that feels scorchingly pointed in 2018 (I heard titters in the theater) but also undercut the fantasy.

Anderson attempts a lot. When its story about dogs and kids goes small, “Isle of Dogs” does quite a few good tricks.

Grade: B

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban

“Isle of Dogs” hits theaters March 23.

Bill Murray is officially in Austin for SXSW. Thought you’d want to know.

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Actor Bill Murray — comedy legend, voice actor in Wes Anderson’s new film “Isle of Dogs,” ever-looming myth in the firmament of daily American life whose presence just over your shoulder should always be assumed — is in Austin on Saturday.

Murray made an appearance at the University of Texas on Saturday to speak at the Belo Center on campus, as part of a ceremony marking the donation of seven poster boards signed by famous comedians, including Murray, to the university.

Actor Bill Murray waits to speak in the Belo Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus, Saturday, March 17, 2018. Murray made an appearance with Cappy McGarr for a donation ceremony of seven poster boards signed by famous comedians including Bill Murray to the university. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

This means you should keep your eyes peeled this weekend. The “Groundhog Day” actor is known to appear in Austin when you least expect it: like at a Lupe Fiasco show last year at the Belmont, or at Franklin Barbecue. You never know who you might run into.

RELATED: SXSW: ‘The Last O.G.’ star Tiffany Haddish loves Lucy (and Jackée)

The North American premiere of “Isle of Dogs” is scheduled to close SXSW Film Festival at 8 p.m. at the Paramount Theater. A red carpet event will precede the screening. The documentary “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man” also screened at the festival earlier this week.

Murray will also appear at the Long Center on Sunday for the show “New Worlds,” a “spirited fusion of spoken word, literary readings, and music.”

But you came here for more pictures of Murray. So here you go.

Actor Bill Murray speaks in the Belo Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus, Saturday, March 17, 2018. Murray made an appearance with Cappy McGarr for a donation ceremony of seven poster boards signed by famous comedians including Bill Murray to the university. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
After a donation ceremony, Actor Bill Murray exits the Belo Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus, Saturday, March 17, 2018. UT alumnus Cappy McGarr donated seven poster boards signed by famous comedians including Bill Murray to the university. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
Actor Bill Murray with Department of Communication Studies Dean Jay Bernhardt and UT alumnus Cappy McGarr in the Belo Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus, Saturday, March 17, 2018. McGarr is an executive producer and creator of The Kennedy Center?s Mark Twain Prize which is the nation?s highest honor for humor. Cappy donated seven poster boards signed by famous comedians including Bill Murray to the university. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
Actor Bill Murray and UT alumnus Cappy McGarr tie on ribbons after a ribbon cutting during a donation ceremony of seven poster boards signed by famous comedians including Bill Murray to the university from McGarr in the Belo Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus, Saturday, March 17, 2018. McGarr is an executive producer and creator of The Kennedy Center?s Mark Twain Prize which is the nation?s highest honor for humor. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
Actor Bill Murray speaks in the Belo Center on the University of Texas at Austin campus, Saturday, March 17, 2018. Murray made an appearance with Cappy McGarr for a donation ceremony of seven poster boards signed by famous comedians including Bill Murray to the university. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

SXSW: ‘Agave: The Spirit of a Nation’ explores the history and uncertain future of production of mezcal

“You can make out the silhouettes of our past in the morning light,” the title card reads at the beginning of Nicholas Kovacic and Matthew Riggieri’s documentary “Agave: The Spirit of a Nation,” which made its world premiere at South by Southwest last weekend and screens again Saturday afternoon.

Combine the vague quote that touches on cultural history and naturalism and blend it with the dark images of workers starting pre-dawn days in agave harvesting, and you get a nice encapsulation of the tone and message of this 75-minute documentary.

As an spirit lover knows, over the past several years, mezcal production has skyrocketed. It lags behind tequila in popularity, but the explosion of that spirit led to a watering down, as corporations used to diffusers squeeze the last drop of juice from the plant and the distilling process introduced non-traditional ingredients like sugarcane to stretch the production and increase profit.

Mezcal, made from more than 200 varietals of agave as opposed to the single-source blue agave that fuels tequila, has traditions that extend centuries. The harvesting of agave, the artisanal production methods of harvesting, roasting and fermenting the product has long connected thousands of Mexican families to their land and to history.

As demand has increased in recent years, many of these families fight to preserve their traditional approach, hoping to protect their families’ legacies. The film traces the stories of mescal producers Carlos Camarena, Graciela Angeles Carreño of Mezcal Minero Real and Aquilino García Lopez of Mezcal Vago in Jalísco and Oaxaca, as the trio reveal their personal histories with the spirit and elucidate its importance in establishing and growing their families and businesses.

The movie, which at times uses a somewhat corny voice-over you’d expect at a museum instillation, touches briefly on mezcal and tequila’s history, glossing over periods of colonialism and the corporate tequila boom of the last few decades, but it mostly tells the general story of mezcal by focusing on the three main characters’ person stories.

We learn of Camarena returning to lead the family business at the behest of his father, of Angeles Carreño playing the role of business leader and caretaker for her family’s legacy, and of García Lopez, whose sections of the movie give the most visceral sense of the artisanal nature of the back-breaking work involved in producing mezcal the traditional way.

Questions arise about the role of global climate change on agave cultivation and the conflict of trying to keep children at home working with mezcal when greater opportunity awaits beyond their hometowns, but the true crisis that agave faces or how these families will be able to stem or fit into a more global and industrialized world never feels completely fleshed out.

While that bigger overhead view of the situation in Mexico is lacking, the passion and heart of those featured rings true. So, when García Lopez says, “People have been selling mezcal like it is only an alcohol, but in its essence, it is truly so much more,” you understand that, as she says, mezcal is part of her genetic makeup.

“Agave: The Spirit of a Nation” screens again at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at Alamo Ritz. 

‘Brewmaster’ documents the passion and culture of beer nerds

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There may be more wineries than breweries in America, but the discrepancy has shrunk considerably over the last decade. The number has skyrocketed, almost quintupling over the last 20 years to almost 8,000. Driving the movement is a passionate group of beer nerds, almost all of whom seem to have beards Tirola’s documentary, “Brewmaster,” which made its world premiere Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse during South by Southwest, explores America’s thriving beer scene and the history of brewing in America by telling the stories of about a professional and amateur beer makers. The common element of all of these (mostly) men is a curiosity and passion that fuels the tinkering and artistry that is helping quench America’s thirst.

The film highlights a few of the leaders in craft beer, from Boston Beer Company (Samuel  Adams) co-founder Jim Koch to Alagash founder Rob Tod and Brooklyn Brewery brewmaster Garret Oliver, telling their genesis stories in the business, but just as compelling are the stories of the common folks obsessed with brewing.

Drew Kostic practices law by day and spends all of his free time obsessing over perfecting his home brews and devising a plan to create and find his own brewery. Tirola goes along for the ride, as Kostic hits local pubs with friends and takes his brews to tasting events held in gymnasiums, hoping to turn people onto his recipes.

Brian Reed is another enthusiast, a (bearded) man whose love of suds has led him to multiple attempts at passing the Master Cicerone exam, a feat accomplished by only about 15 people.

Tirola bounces between these two men’s stories but wisely does not follow their pursuits with blow-by-blow detail, instead cutting between some light historical documentation and many stories about people’s personal memories and histories with beer.

The history never gets granular and the science of brewing is only touched upon briefly, making the cheery love letter of a documentary accessible to even beer neophytes.

”Brewmaster” screens again at 6 p.m. March 16 at the AFS Cinema.

WATCH: We could talk for hours about ‘This Is Us’

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Before the screening of the season two finale of “This Is Us” at South by Southwest on Monday at the Paramount Theatre, three of the NBC hit’s TV family walked the red carpet. It’s no spoiler to reveal: They love the show as much as fans.

Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack Pearson on NBC’s “This Is Us,” on the red carpet at the Paramount Theatre during SXSW March 12. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Milo Ventimiglia, who plays beloved TV dad Jack Pearson, was up first. He talked about portraying such a special father and whether fans would need a lot of tissues as they watched the already teased “flash forward” of Jack as an older man (no spoilers! The finale airs Tuesday night on NBC).

Next, Mandy Moore revealed a little of what she’d like to see happen in season three and shared her thoughts on the arc that her character, Rebecca Pearson, went through with son Kevin (played as an adult by Justin Hartley). Check it out:

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And finally, Hartley got a little more serious, as he recounted some of the thinking behind the “rock bottom” path his character took and how important it was to handle with sensitivity. Much like the show, he mixed in a lighter note with a special message to Austin fans. Watch:

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Looking for something to do? Check the SXSW Side Party Guide
More red carpet: ‘The Last O.G.’ star Tiffany Haddish loves Lucy (and Jackée)
Steven freakin’ Spielberg introduces ‘Ready Player One’ premiere

Stars of NBC’s ‘This Is Us’ hit red carpet for SXSW screening of season finale

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The finale, which screened Monday afternoon during the South by Southwest Film Festival, offered plenty of tears and plenty of laughs, too, to a packed audience at the Paramount Theatre. It airs Tuesday night on NBC.

Mandy Moore, who plays Rebecca Pearson on NBC’s “This Is Us,” on the red carpet at the Paramount Theatre during SXSW on March 12. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Before the screening, the audience heeded a call from actor Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack Pearson on the NBC drama, to put their phones down. When one of America’s favorite TV dads speaks, the audience listens.

RELATED: Keep up with all SXSW happenings at 

Ventimiglia joined costars Mandy Moore, who plays his TV wife, Rebecca Pearson, and Justin Hartley, who plays his adult son, Kevin Pearson, on the red carpet prior to the screening.

Milo Ventimiglia, who plays Jack Pearson on NBC’s “This Is Us,” on the red carpet at the Paramount Theatre during SXSW March 12. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

“The show is emotional, but it’s ‘hopefully emotional,’” Ventimiglia told Austin360. “I think that’s something that kind of makes up for how many tears you cry, you know, because it’s one of those feel-good cries.”

The show has struck a chord with viewers in part because it touches on a variety of important themes including adoption, foster care, obesity and addiction.

Justin Hartley, who plays Kevin Pearson on NBC’s “This Is Us,” on the red carpet at the Paramount Theatre March 12. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

“For me if we can get one person to make a phone call that maybe they would not have made, if it helps them, then we’ve done our job,” said Hartley, whose character battled alcohol and prescription drug addiction this season. “I was proud of the way that we told that story.”

Ventimiglia, Moore and Hartley will also speak as part of the ‘This Is Us’ SXSW cast panel on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. at the Austin Convention Center, Ballroom D.

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: Bill Hader talks ‘Barry,’ LeBron James, ‘SNL’ and more with The Ringer’s Bill Simmons

Wry, nimble, absurd, likable, self-effacing and brilliant, Bill Hader proved himself to be all of the things one imagines of the “Saturday Night Live” veteran when he appeared at Vox Media’s Deep End for a taping of The Ringer’s Bill Simmons podcast.

Bill Hader (left) and Bill Simmons at Vox Media’s The Deep End at South by Southwest. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Simmons, whose Ringer masthead of Chris Ryan, Juliet Litman and Sean Fennessy sat front row, knowingly commented that Hader looked a little rough. The slightly disheveled and five-o-clocked-shadowed Hader admitted that he’s not a big drinker but that he ended up putting back about 20 Electric Jellyfish IPAs the night before and got really drunk, as he sat around after the world premiere of his HBO show “Barry” and watched reviews from the trades start to flow in. He followed that night with a morning of breakfast tacos, so it sounds like the man who gave life to Stefon is fitting into the town nicely. The night before was apparently Simmons’ first trip to an Alamo Drafthouse, and the longtime veteran of ESPN announced that is was “one of the greatest things anywhere.”

Hader was ostensibly there to talk about his new show, which follows a Midwestern hitman who heads out to Los Angeles to murder an actor and ends up falling in with a class of struggling actors taught by a guru played by Henry Winkler. Hader describes his titular as a hybrid of De Niro’s Travis Bickle (“Taxi Driver”) and Clint Eastwood’s Bill Munny (“Unforgiven”) ends up meeting the characters in “Waiting for Guffman.” It’s a “tonal tightrope,” and Hader says that most places would have dismissed the idea out of hand but that HBO was totally on board, a story of another creative praising the vision and freedom of the network.

While we didn’t get an Eastwood impression from Hader, he did riff on some J.B. Smoove, imitating the former SNL writer’s brash but casual confidence in pitching absurd ideas in the show’s writers’ room. Sadly, the world never got to experience the drive-by in a snowstorm. Hader also had the crowd in stitches with his unproduced sketch about a super genial Jame Gumb (“Silence of the Lambs”) hosting a late-night talk show with the girl in the well as his sidekick and another talk show where “To Catch a Predator’s” Chris Hansen walks in on unsuspecting guests on a set resembling the creepy NBC show and offers the shocked guests milk to go with the cookies they took from a plate in the fake kitchen.

The hour-long conversation jumped from Hader’s time as a production assistant on a Playboy TV show to his big SNL break. Below are a few more highlights of the podcast that will likely be posted soon

  • Megan Mullaley was responsible for Hader’s big break. She saw him perform at an improv show and loved him. He heard from her soon after. “I had dinner with Lorne Michaels and told him about you,” and then I was on SNL, Hader said. “She just happened to be there on a night i was funny. And, thank god.”
  • Maya Rudolph was apparently a stone-cold killer on SNL, able to jump in and out of sketches at the drop of a hat. She also had a wicked sense of play. One show, as they were counting down to air, Rudolph stuck her finger in a visibly anxious Hader’s butt. “It was sweet,” Hader sad, the playful move allowing Hader to get out of his head before performing.
  • Hader, who has written extensively for “South Park” said that doing satire on Donald Trump is hard. Referencing an old comedy axiom of stacking too many jokes on top of each other and losing their effect, Hader said satirizing Trump is “like putting a hat on a hat, like putting a joke on a joke.”
  • Hader starred in “Trainwreck” with LeBron James and said the future Hall of Famer was super easy to work with and totally game for any comedic bits Hader offered. During the scenes where the notes Oklahoma City Thunder fan played one-on-one with the Cavs star, Chris Rock was apparently off camera feeding comedic lines to James.
  • Paramount Pictures once let Hader and writing partner John Mulaney know that if they wanted to make a Stefon movie, the opportunity was there, but Hader said the duo had no interest. “The sketch made no sense, so a movie wouldn’t work.” Some things were just meant to be legendary Weekend Update bits.
  • Hader’s favorite SNL character he didn’t play? Phil Hartman’s Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, in a bit that Hader said really cracked open his mind about the possibilities of sketch.
  • Hader’s first SNL pitch: that Steve Carrell playing Bobby Flay on an episode of “Iron Chef” where the celeb chef gets electrocuted. The idea was pulled from Hader’s real life, as he served as a PA on that show.
  • He doesn’t think of pieces as comedy or drama. He thinks in terms of story. In discussing the blending of the two forms and tones, he referenced that two of his favorite writers are Tobias Wolff and George Saunders.
  • Hader doesn’t talk junk about anyone publicaly ever. Except Justin Bieber, whom Hader said brought a massive entourage and a disrespectful attitude to the taping. “He had more than people than Obama.”

”Barry” premieres on HBO on March 25.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band documentary builds a bridge to Cuba with a tuba

“A Tuba to Cuba”/SXSW

Allan Jaffe’s move in 1961 from Philadelphia to New Orleans, where he established the jazz music sanctuary Preservation Hall, is presented in “A Tuba to Cuba” as a sort of parallel for his son Ben’s visit to Cuba half a century later. The documentary, which screened Saturday at the Alamo Drafthouse Lamar during the SXSW Film Festival, is good at building those kinds of bridges: across time, across the sea, across cultures.

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, founded by Allan and helmed by Ben after his father’s passing three decades ago, is one of the nation’s most celebrated traditional music ensembles. Their music has a lot in common with that of their Cuban counterparts, and as “A Tuba to Cuba” unfolds, they discover firsthand just how close those ties are, and why.

In the meantime, new music arises from their collaborations with Cuban masters such as Ernan Lopez Nussa, Conga de San Agustin and Tumba Francesa. Though the Jaffes’ story is at the center, the film makes a point of introducing everyone in the Preservation Hall group, intentionally interspersing those passages with min-profiles of various Cuban musicians so as to underscore the degree to which it’s all intertwined.

As the film progresses those ties draw even tighter. By the time the band has visited Havana, Santiago — which they suggest is actually closest in spirit to New Orleans — and Cienfuegos, it’s clear their lives have changed. Wonderful footage from a live performance at the historic Teatro Terry, with members of Tumba Francesa joining them onstage, underscores the bridge that has been built.

In the process, Jaffe and his bandmates internalize the connection of Crescent City and Cuban styles to the roots African music. Slave ships from Africa, the film notes, stopped in Havana en route to New Orleans. It’s a sobering reminder, but, as Jaffe says in regard to the music, “There is something beautiful that emerged from it.”

“A Tuba to Cuba” screens again at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Paramount Theatre. Preservation Hall Jazz Band members will attend that screening and will perform a second-line musical march outside the theater afterward, before heading to the Mohawk later that evening for a 9:50 p.m. official SXSW Music showcase. The film gets its final SXSW screening at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Alamo Ritz.

10 highlights from the SXSW Film Festival

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

Joe Gross:

Oddly, the visceral dislike I experienced at “Song to Song” was a South by Southwest highlight for me.  Rarely have I gotten so angry at a film so quickly, and rarely has a film continued to build on that which is generating the rage. It is gorgeous, but, boy howdy, is it not ever about Austin or musicians. I suspect the movie was a bit rage-inducing for anyone who takes music seriously, but, hey, your mileage may vary.

For the exact opposite feeling, there is Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver.” Yes, it is a trifle, but it’s one of the better movies you will see this year about the centrality of music in people’s lives. Look for it in theaters in August.

I also thoroughly enjoyed (if that is the appropriate word) Jennifer Brea’s documentary “Unrest,” a fascinating look at a woman (Brea herself) struggling with myalgic encephalopathy, the condition formerly (and somewhat dismissively) known as chronic fatigue syndrome. I was especially taken with the other stories Brea and her team gathered, from the athletic young man whose condition has reduced him to a husk and the young woman in Denmark who was forcibly removed from her family and institutionalized against her will.

Perhaps my very favorite moment came at the very end of Leonard Maltin’s interview with Frank Oz, when 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.”


Charles Ealy:

It’s known as a film festival, but some of the biggest highlights of this year’s event were the TV premieres.

The most-anticipated one for Texans was AMC’s premiere of the first two episodes of “The Son,” based on the epic Texas tale by Austin’s Philipp Meyer. It stars Pierce Brosnan as patriarch Eli McCullough, who is kidnapped by Indians and grows up to found a cattle and oil empire. It starts showing on AMC on April 8 and will last for 10 episodes. Five seasons are tentatively planned, depending on ratings.

“American Gods,” which will premiere April 30 on Starz, was also a hit with SXSW crowds. It’s based on the book by Neil Gaiman — and it is WAY out there, with incredible visuals and inventive storytelling. It stars Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon and Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday.

And then there was Justin Simien’s “Dear White People,” a timely take on race relations in America, told from multiple perspectives of various students at a fictional Ivy League university. It will be on Netflix, but a release date has not yet been announced.

Evan Rodriguez:

As the sun set on the long, arduous yet fun journey that was SXSW 2017, some films truly rose above the fray.

Elijah Bynum’s “Hot Summer Nights” should be the sexy and scintillating summer film of 2017. Through an auteur’s lens, Bynum subverts the summer romance/coming-of-age-drama formula and delivers a dark, smart, well-crafted hard-truth love story set to a killer soundtrack.

John Carrol Lynch’s “Lucky” is a refreshing existential meditation with Harry Dean Stanton, which has the potential to reach beyond fanboys and the initiated with its thoughtful musings.

While I struggled with James Franco’s work-in-progress “The Disaster Artist,” I ultimately cannot deny its odd allure and the Franco brothers’ organic on-screen dynamic, and especially James Franco’s performance as the bizarre Tommy Wiseau.