In early March, when the Olympics were still months away, a different kind of athletic prowess made its debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival. “The Do-Deca Pentathlon,” a film by Jay and Mark Duplass, follows two brothers who attempt to create a definitive, 25-discipline event. As the second half of 2012 gets under way, that multifaceted show of competitive spirit is the Criticwire Pick of the Week.
Given the film’s creative pedigree, “Pentathlon” was a big draw at SXSW, with enough responses for us to create one of our very first Review Capsules. The consensus seemed to be that, although slight, the film was an entertaining depiction of good-natured, brotherly interplay. Eric Kohn’s Indiewire review stresses that even though the film was completed nearly four years ago, it still stands as a worthy addition to the canon of the moviemaking duo. “As a whole, "Do Deca" stands out in the Duplass oeuvre for the way it captures the intrusion of childhood nostalgia on adult life,” Kohn writes. “The movie illustrates two certainties: Nobody stops growing up and the Duplass brothers still have the skills to prove it.” Through its initial festival play, the film didn’t quite reach unanimous feedback. Katie Walsh’s review at The Playlist was a notable vote on the other side, plainly stating, “The problem with the film is thus: an audience member might continually find themselves asking WHY? What is the point? The film is utterly predictable, but it still denies some of the deeper messages and pleasures that might be found in this slip of story.”
One other notable release from this weekend’s upcoming slate is “Savages.” With Oliver Stone behind the camera, this is another film from an established auteur that’s become a referendum on recent work. (Check out this week's Critical Consensus column for a lengthy discussion between two noteworthy critics about Stone, Steven Soderbergh, and the auteur theory.)
Adapted from Don Winslow’s novel, “Savages” is an ensemble look at a drug underworld, and features noteworthy turns from Salma Hayek, Blake Lively, and Taylor Kitsch. ComingSoon’s Edward Douglas salutes Stone’s handling of the source material, which he argues could have quickly become unhinged in lesser hands. But the high-profile cast brings mixed results, Douglas further explains. Ultimately, he writes that “Stone takes all of these disparate elements and creates a film that's teeming with sexual energy...with California making a fine tableau, established with sweeping panoramic shots.”
Although not as enamored with the rest of the film, Benjamin Wright also salutes the aesthetic appeal of “Savages” in his Playlist review. “A saving grace is certainly the film’s look, courtesy of Tony Scott and J.J. Abrams regular cinematographer Daniel Mindel ...who allows the austere beauty of the gold coast to shine through the film’s lens, as well as showcasing and lending a sense of atmosphere to the surroundings during moments of both intimacy and outrageous fury.” Regardless of how you prefer your drug-war commentary, whether gritty or heavy-handed, “Savages” seems like one to soak in visually. Here's Indiewire's Eric Kohn with one last take.
Also out this week in theaters is “Collaborator,” the hostage drama scripted and directed by Martin Donovan, “The Pact,” the feature-length debut for director Nicholas McCarthy, “The Magic of Belle Isle,” the latest pairing of Rob Reiner and Morgan Freeman, and “Crazy Eyes,” another SXSW 2012 premiere.