SxSW 2013: Movies You Should See

The Film portion is becoming my favorite part of SxSW. I go on documentary overload, picking obscure topics or things that fit my mood. Sometimes, I even choose whatever is playing at The Ritz so I can grab a beer and a pizza.

This year, I jumped around quite a bit. The first night had polarized moments of horror in a doc about Idonesian “Free Men” and the Raimi/Campbell backed remake of Evil Dead. I also hit docs on Branson, old gay people, Napster and an all brother brass horn group. I took a chance on the black and white low budget Whedon and friends production of Much Ado About Nothing shot in Whedon’s house. Some notes and a few pics from the premiers to follow.

Let’s start with probably the best doc I have seen in a REALLY long time. It is called The Act of Killing and has a very clever means to meet, befriend and interview Indonesian gangsters hired to kill Communists during the mid to late 60’s. One such gangster named Anwar, gangster meaning “free men” according to he and his political group, claims to have killed over a thousand people using machetes, strangling with wires and even just beating to death. The director of the film, Joshua Oppenheimer, used the funds provided to shoot the documentary to allow the Anwar to make a movie to celebrate killing communists and ethnic Chinese as part of a heroic revolution. The killers get together, tell stories, laugh about the old days like high school buddies reuniting over a few beers. The movie-with-in-the-movie features musical numbers, actors in drag, sweeping landscapes and cheesy reenactments. The scary thing about the movie is that it is genuinely funny. There are scenes that catch you off-guard, you laugh and then feel weirdly guilty. The last ten minutes of this movie though will break you. Amazing work and I will watch every movie Joshua does from now on.

Evil Dead followed. That was strange. True Horror to fake horror? Perhaps. I had HUGE reservations about Evil Dead being remade, but once I saw that Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi were part of the production team my anxieties were assuaged. It is gory. It is scary. It is a bad two hours for limbs. It has a few twists and takes on a Cabin In The Woods feel at times, at first a negative, but kind of turns into a positive as the stereotypical horror pitfalls creates levity. Time moves by quickly, there is something going on, the movie moves forward and Jane Levy is outstanding in all the multiple personalities she gets to play while Director Fede Alvarez pays tribute by mimicking shots from the original. Not going to win any awards, but damn entertaining. Final note, Bruce Campbell is funny as hell.

We Always Lie To Strangers takes a look behind the scenes of Branson, Missouri, which is basically a stationary cruise ship. How many of the family-values oriented tourists know that many of the stage performers are gay or that an anchor family on the strip of venues are full tilt Liberals? Not many. And they don’t care. You follow shows as the shows have drama from money issues to relationships all while dealing with aging parents and grandparents that started the whole thing. Strange. Plenty of talented musicians and performers, struggling to do what they love and hide the reality of Branson’s behind the scenes from the crowd they cater to…

Before You Know It follows three elderly gay men in different parts of the country; Harlem, Central Florida and Galveston. There are stories of activism, family shame and loud and proud. The movie’s most intriguing and moving character is Dennis Creamer, a transgender man that goes by Dee, trying to find his place. His family can’t deal with his “lifestyle”, willingly unaware. He finds a haven in Portland at a retirement home that caters to gay and transgender men. You see moments where Dennis flourishes and then is crushed, moments of strength and shame. This is director PJ Raval’s second movie. The movie started with a not quite packed house for the premier but earned extra screenings via internet buzz and universal praise.

Couple of quick notes on other movies seen – Bill and Ted star Alex Winter follows the story of Napster from start to finish, even the where are they now ending credits in documentary Downloaded. Interesting, one word in one email put Napster out of commission. Alex may have been a little too close to the subjects to tell the story cleanly. Brothers Hypnotic was filmed over three years by Reuben Atlas, a lawyer and part time filmmaker followed the band around for street performances, club gigs and eventually joining Prince on stage at a festival. The movie shows the trials of maintaining an independent spirit in the music biz and how eight brothers (three groups of half brothers) were raised by their musician and civil rights activist father to be outstanding musicians and try not kill each other while on the road.

Finally, there was Joss Whedon’s take on Much Ado About Nothing. Slightly modified dialog form the original to make the movie work, the black and white feature was shot for fun in Joss’s recently completed, and absolutely amazing, home. In fact, the house gets the award for best supporting actor, sometimes adding levity to a scene’s content and other times providing the proper backdrop for a plot twist. Fillion steals the show as the head of security.

So that’s that.

More pics at the photo site

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