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Read more: Ottawa Animation Festival 2011
Every state capitol in the Union has a legitimate theater, a big one where the road companies of major Broadway shows can come and entertain the elite. Such a place is the Paramount, a fine old palace dating back a century or so, located about 10 blocks south of the State capitol building in Austin, Texas.
The place is huge, and decorated with faux art nouveau paintings and looking exactly like it should: A movie palace par excellence. This is why all SxSW’s gala premieres take place here.
Cabin in the Woods
Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s Cabin in the Woods opened the festival and well it should. This is a really good theological action comedy, and possibly Whedon’s best work to date.
What do I mean by “theological?” You’ll have to see the movie to find out. The title refers to the stereotypical dwelling, where a standard bunch of college students (Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Chris Hemsworth, Jesse Williams and Fran Kranz) are forced to battle the forces of evil (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford)….or do they?
This is one of the most self-referential horror films since Scream One, playing up on each and every movie cliché in the history of genre to hilarious effect. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of scares here too, but this is an action comedy, and Whedon, who gave us the likes of Buffy and Firefly, is a master of those.
The film careens from jokes to scares with wild abandon, and we’re not sure where this thing is going, but the ride is too fun to care much, and when we finally get to the climax, which is totally mind-blowing, we’re almost totally exhausted as the protagonists are supposed to be. Think of Westworld meets Scooby Doo.
Blue Like Jazz
Director Steve Taylor’s latest opus is a theological coming-of-age movie and as such is too cute by half.
What do I mean by “theological?” it means that God is discussed ad nauseum. It’s all about region and what it means, and while it pretends to come from a free thinking atheist perspective, it’s as pious as an afterschool special on the Pope Channel.
According to the blurb, Don (Marshall Allman), a 19-year-old sophomore at a Texas junior college, tries to escape his Bible belt upbringing for life in the Pacific Northwest at the “most godless campus in America.”
Well, it ain’t. It’s a right-wing parody of the “most godless campus in America” and isn’t that good a depiction. The characters are all cardboard cutouts, and the edges aren’t all that well cut out either. It tries to have some Animal House moments, but while it comes close once in a while, it cannot shake that piety that Don and the film are so dead set on rebelling against. The ending is broadcast well before the middle of the film, and despite what we fervently hope, it gets there, ug.
Sixth Street between Congress and I-35 is what might be called an essential tourist trap. There is nothing but bars, souvenir shops and pizzerias. It’s Austin’s version of Bourbon Street, and is one of those places where, if you don’t like country music or alcohol, it’s best to stay away from. In this milieu sits the Alamo Drafthouse -- a duplex movie theater which is the greatest such venue in all of Texas and perhaps the entire south.
The place is a drive-in without the cars. It has decent seats and waitresses serving food, full meals, and has something resembling tables, so you can’t spill your dinner on your lap, but that’s not the half of it.
The theater has the best trailers in the country. There are old ones from flicks they’re not going to show, ancient cartoons -- some of which were commercials from the days when great grandma was a little girl -- and music videos from the time before the term was invented.
I was so engrossed that I hoped they wouldn’t turn them off for the film until the end of the short or whatever snippet they were playing… But of course they did. They always do.
The Code of the West
Rebecca Richman Cohen’s latest documentary is on the fall of legal medical marijuana in Montana. There was a referendum on the subject in 2010, and it passed with an overwhelming margin, but some people didn’t like that, so there was an immediate repeal campaign in the legislature, “for the children” of course.
…and because this was 2011, when the Right fringe of the Republican Party was in charge of everything, it was to some extent. We follow the bill as it goes through both houses and gets vetoed by the governor before being reborn in almost as lethal form. The film is well done, but the point of view; it’s very pro medical marijuana kind of gets in the way. This won’t get anywhere.
Nir Paniry’s sci-fi psychological exploration of how memory works is mostly about a maguffin: A machine that puts our hero Tom’s (Sasha Roiz) consciousness into the brain of a convicted murderer (Dominic Bogart). Tom is a phantom in this other guy’s head with no one to talk to but the voice of the machine (Sara Tomko), which was supposed to have been turned off after it malfunctioned four years before.
We know Tom’s going to get back into his own body eventually, but that would be too easy. Unfortunately, the twists and turns are somewhat predictable and mostly tedious. The psychological stuff is interesting, and when Tom and his host actually manage to communicate with each other, it’s somewhat satisfying, but this ends up as nothing more than direct-to-video territory, which is kind of sad.
The Vimeo Theater
Vimeo is a video-sharing website that paid good money to put its name on the makeshift theater on the ground floor of the Convention Center. As the second largest venue of the festival, its supposed to be home for some of the more popular films. It didn’t really seem that way, since all I saw on the menu were documentaries. Still, the ones that I saw were good….
The Central Park Effect
I know something about birds in New York City. We have the toughest pigeons in the world here. They like to beat up on seagulls, which are why you rarely see the latter, although in the winter they try to take the streets. But that’s not what this film is actually about. It seems that in Central Park, every other species of bird, most of whom are migratory, either visit of live there, the only large place rural enough to be a decent habitat.
Jeffrey Kimball’s documentary tells the story of the park's fauna for a year and quarter, both the birds and bird watchers are profiled, the latter far more than the former, and they make an interesting subculture. The cinematography is excellent, and we get to see dozens of species that few knew were there. In fact we only spy a couple of pigeons. This is either going to show up on NYC public television or nowhere.
Beauty is Embarrassing
Neil Berkeley’s profile of artist Wayne White is one of those films that are either fascinating or boring as hell depending on whether or not you like the subject.
White and his wife Mimi Pond have lived interesting lives. She was a famous underground cartoonist back in the day, and he was one of the top designers on the old Pee-wee's Playhouse TV show and won three Emmys® for it. He then did a few notable projects before going into fine art. Some of what he did was interesting, and the part about Pee-wee certainly grabbed one’s attention, but for the most part, it wasn’t overwhelming. His current work is cute, but not great, and my thumb was itching to change the channel, which is something I couldn’t do in the theater.
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