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SXSW Preview: Comedy, DIY, VOD, Critics

by Anne Thompson
March 13, 2009 5:07 AM
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Alexanderposter-(2)

True confession: I am a SXSW newbie. While I've visited Austin, I have never attended this fest, which opens Friday with the Apatowish bromance I Love You, Man, which seems to be a perfect fit for the hip younger groove of SXSW.

2009 is the first year for new fest director Janet Pierson, who said she would build on what former director Matt Dentler did before, and hasn't missed a beat. Here's a run-down of panels and a link to YouTube's SXSW trailers. I'm not only looking forward to Universal's Bruno footage and Sam Raimi's horror flick Drag Me to Hell, but the Seth Rogen comedy Observe and Report: even if the trailer looks kinda lame, Rogen is the real deal. GreenCine posts a SXSW preview and podcast with South By vets Aaron Hollis and Alison Wilmore.

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Finally, SXSW is best-known for debuting such DIY/mumblecore filmmakers as Lynn Shelton (My Effortless Brilliance), the Duplass brothers (The Puffy Chair) and Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy). As these filmmakers continue to support each other creatively, and appear in each other's films, my question is: when do they break out and reach their next phase of wider acceptance? Shelton's Sundance hit Humpday would seem to be the best candidate for that (starring Mark Duplass), along with the Duplass brothers' currently filming untitled Marisa Tomei comedy, which Fox Searchlight would not have backed without some sense of its commerciality.

Unlikely to break out in a significant way--as IFC plans to launch the film direct-to-VOD as it debuts at the fest--is Alexander the Last, SXSW auteur Joe Swanberg's latest hand-held up-close-and-personal look at the lives of several characters. Interesting that IFC is not opting to release Alexander the Last in theaters.


Alexander the Last starts out strong, and Swanberg gets great performances from his actors, who all collaborated improvisationally to build characters and scenes. But Swanberg is no Mike Leigh (or even Lynn Shelton). Things get interesting when stage actress Jess Weixler (Teeth) becomes too intimately engaged with costar Barlow Jacobs while her husband is on tour; Jane Adams is terrific as her director, presumably modeled a bit on Swanberg himself. But when the actress's husband (musician Justin Rice) turns up, the whole souffle falls flat. The intimacy of this movie demands that we know exactly what everyone is thinking. If we don't, we're lost.

Here's Variety's review.

Alexander the Last is one of three mumblecore films screening at SXSW; they will also be available in 30 million homes via IFC Films' Festival Direct on-demand. The virtual fest launches in conjunction with the start of SXSW: along with Alexander the Last are Medicine for Melancholy, Paper Covers Rock plus the Australian comedy Three Blind Mice and the Bulgarian neo-noir Zift.

Neil Young Trunk Show

I look forward to seeing films in theaters with fans at South By. On top of covering the doc competition films as a jury member, I'd like to catch up with Sundance pics When You’re Strange, Sin Nombre, Moon, Adventureland, Passing Strange and Anvil! The Story of Anvil. On the premiere side, I will try to see Jonathan Demme's latest Neil Young performance doc, Neil Young Trunk Show; Daryl Wein's New York relationship movie Breaking Upwards; The Overbrook Brothers, another intimate flick, about a guy who brings his girlfriend home for the holidays; True Adolescents, starring Mark Duplass as a guy who at the behest of his aunt (Melissa Leo) takes her kid and a pal on a hiking trip; Goodbye Solo, from prolific and brainy New York director Ramin Bahrani; and St. Nick, David Lowery's adventure of runaway siblings.

Of the ones I've seen, I highly recommend Humpday; Toronto hit Hurt Locker, directed by Kathryn Bigelow, which is the best Iraq War movie made so far, and breaks out star Jeremy Renner; Anders Ostergaard’s Sundance doc Burma VJ, which just got picked up; Fox Searchlight's romantic dramedy 500 Days of Summer, starring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Ondi Timor's profile of dot.com millionaire Josh Harris, We Live in Public; and Boston film critic Gerald Peary's For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, an all-too timely documentary about the birth, rise and seeming demise of film critics, from Andy Sarris and Molly Haskell and the rise of the auteur theory to Pauline "Raising Kane" Kael and her Paulettes. Peary will also moderate a panel on the health of film critics Saturday.

[Originally appeared on Variety.com]

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More: Festivals, SXSW

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