SxSW Film: Features and Docs

SxSW FilmThis post starts my coverage from SxSW 2015. I do the Film Festival every year now and I have turned into a bit of an obsessive about documentaries. I will have a separate post for the 24 Beats Per Second music docs I saw, but wanted to get things started with what you should be on the look out for in the coming months either in the theaters or on the intarwebs.

Click past the break, won’t you? Let’s get started with #SxSWfilm coverage for 2015…

Let’s get some features out of the way. The two I saw were both outstanding.

EX MACHINA: Are you a fan of 28 Days Later? Well, this isn’t a zombie flick, but that film’s writer makes his directorial debut. Alex Garland spins a tail that intertwines so many of today’s Sci-Fi future phobias with themes of privacy, corporate power, artificial intelligence and hot robots. Oscar Isaac (you may know from Inside Llewyn Davis) plays Nathan, a facebook/google type bajillionaire. Domhnall Gleeson (you may know from Frank) plays a coding AI nerd invited to Nathan’s mountain lair test a new AI. Things get downright uncomfortable from the off and you are sent into a world of what if you could until you wish you hadn’t. I am being vague because I don’t want to ruin the movie. In fact, if anything I mentioned is intriguing, ignore all trailers and reviews. Just go see it, this is a movie that could be ruined by the wrong review or trailer. If nothing else, you will be greeted by some of the most amazing cinematography and subtle use of visual effects I have ever seen.

LOVE AND MERCY: I never realized how John Cusack’s movie persona and frenetic yet calm demeanor mirrors that of a mental patient. This movie is the biopic focusing on two distinct times in Brian Wilson’s life, the years around the making of Pet Sounds where Paul Dano is the lead actor that is progressively imprisoned by mental illness and John Cusack’s version of Brian during his liberation from the jail of abusive care-giver-opportunist Dr Eugune Landy played by Paul Giamatti. …and oh how we love to hate Giamatti when he gets roles like this. Elizabeth Banks portrays Melinda Ledbetter, the love interest and eventual wife that was able to help free Brian Wilson from the oppressive legal custodian, encouraged by Brian’s brief moments of lucidity and kind soul. It is touching, Dano in particular is brilliant and the use of sound in this movie beautifully and horrifyingly conveys the paralyzing effects of Wilson’s affliction.

Now to the Docs…

PEACE OFFICER: This is a profile of Dub Lawrence, a former Sheriff in the Salt Lake City area, that brought the SWAT team to the valley and who several years later watched his son-in-law die during a police standoff at the hands of the elite police force he helped create. It is a movie that looks at the militarization of our local law enforcement and the lack of accountability when things get out of hand. Mr. Lawrence helps the families of victims to other similar situations to get some form of justice after incidents that should have been ended peacefully go very wrong. Dub is an amazing man and this is a very important movie. See it as soon as you can.

DEEP WEB: Bill S. Preston Esq. is a documentary film-maker. Alex Winter returns after the successful doc-debut about Napster to highlight the underworld of the internet in Deep Web. Focusing on the storyline of the Silk Road and the apprehension of its “creator”, Austin native Ross Albricht, Alex gets his Bill & Ted co-star Keanu Reeves to narrate a doc that succinctly explains the internet underneath the internet, Silk Road, Dread Pirate Roberts and Ross’s defense in face of an increasingly ill-prepared judicial branch that just can’t understand the technology well enough to apply an interpretation of law to it. If you combine this movie, Peace Officer and Citizen Four as a movie marathon, you will likely start wearing a tin-foil hat. I have mine on right now. The Fourth Amendment is dead, people. How about we get some of those second amendment advocates to move a couple down the list if they fear their freedom are being taken away? …and I’m not saying Ross was innocent, I’m just saying it is scary how and for what he was found guilty.

Quick takes:
TAB HUNTER CONFIDENTIAL: My mother-in-law never believed Tab was gay. Warner Records was started for Tab. Anthony Perkins and Tab were a couple. So many interesting revelations along the way in this charming doc by I AM DEVINE director Jeffrey Schwarz.

THE LOOK OF SILENCE: The companion piece to the best documentary I have ever seen, ACT OF KILLING, is equally sad and disturbing, but lacks the punch in the gut. Still, Oppenheimer has made two distinctly different powerful and compelling movies about human nature.

THE SANDWICH NAZI: Blow jobs, being a male escort, loads and making sandwiches are the topics presented by subject matter expert Salam Kahil. Director Lewis Bennett provides a hilarious and touching look at the Lebanese immigrant living in Canada that has a big heart and big penis.

THE SALT OF THE EARTH: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado and Wim Wenders tell the story Sebastião Salgado, Juliano’s father, with an amazing selection of photographs from Sebastião’s career. Wonderful story arc. If you are a photographer, you must see this, but the film touches on human rights, environment, equality and much more…

THE VISIT: The movie asks an interesting question. What if aliens come here? Seemed to be made to get the scientists interviewed to see how ill-prepared humanity would be for such a thing.

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