SXSW #3 – Spalding Gray doc, BROTHERHOOD, RED WHITE and BLUE, ELEKTRA LUXX

Posted in Uncategorized by johnwildman on April 6, 2010

SXSW #3

I get a really late start due to it taking me forever to write and transcribe everything from yesterday and last night and the fact that AMER damn near sucked the very life out of me. So I get to the convention center and hop in a car with Farah that’s on the way to take writer/director pal to Lamar so she can introduce a film playing there. It’s taking forever because of traffic and she’s doing a controlled freak out worried that she’ll be late. I’m also pretty sure that “Lamar” is derived from a Latin word meaning “maybe located in a different state, entirely.”

Sitting in the backseat with me is Liza Ledford from the Chesapeake Film Festival here at SXSW doing the film hunt for that cool little film fest. I circle some films to consider on the handy fest grid and we do some talk shop in between watching Farah play Crazy Taxi with our lives.

We do get there in time because Farah’s good like that and now we have one of those improv moments because I had intended on seeing WINTER’S BONE but it is full, so instead we duck into…

AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE

Directed by Steven Soderbergh, AND EVERYTHING IS GOING FINE is a thorough, probing and entertaining look at monologist Spalding Gray by…Spalding Gray. Comprised of a wealth of material from his shows, televised interviews and home movies, it is another example of how (in more than a few cases) completely and deeply we can capture someone’s life these days thanks to video cameras being trained on us.

Now, before I go any further I do want to disclose that I had never seen any of Gray’s stage performances or the films. I was well aware of him and had seen portions or clips from the shows but that was it. So this is a case of getting a view from the relatively uninitiated.

And I really liked it.

The film takes the approach of Gray discussing his life through the myriad of clips chronologically from boyhood memories through discovering and focusing his talent to the birth of his children. It’s a very effective approach as it gives the audience member that intuitive gauge as to where all of this is going. And when you have maybe the ultimate in a “talking head” movie – that is priceless.

The movie is nothing but alternately whimsical, hilarious, difficult, and bone-on-bone harsh revelations, but for me the thing that really stuck was Gray speaking about the fact that he enjoyed the reflection on his life more than living it in the first place. That crystallizes what this film illustrates wonderfully. I have to think if you were/are a fan then it’s a home run for you and if he’s a new discovery, then it’s a definitive introduction.

After a quick trip back to the house so Farah can change into nighttime party wear and I can sneak some writing in, we’re back in business dividing and conquering with me getting in line early for ELEKTRA LUXX at the Paramount and Farah headed to some amazing house party thing for the Marfa Film Fest to pollinate on behalf of a film she exec produced.

But let’s take a moment for a couple quick screener reviews…

BROTHERHOOD

Will Canon’s BROTHERHOOD is a high octane dark comedy that teases you throughout the film that it just may forget about that comedy thing altogether. From the first tense moments of a fraternity pledge hazing prank involving making the pledges hold up a convenience store that goes very, very wrong to the end of the film, Canon and writer Doug Simon add disaster scenario on top of disaster scenario before the prior ones have any opportunity to get solved or fixed.

The main players are Jon Foster as the fraternity leader trying to keep a lid on everything and do damage control for the frat at any cost and Trevor Morgan as the pledge who holds the key for ending the madness. And it’s their combined intensity that provides the balance for the action that easily could collapse on itself in a farcical overreach. Yet doesn’t.

The two young men are involved in a continual negotiation stance even as they try to make sense of the events and rationalize their judgment calls that quite literally could mean life or death of the fraternity OR one of he pledges. It’s an exhilarating jenga game of a movie and ultimately, the fun of it lies in the fact that both the onscreen life and the creative entities behind it share an audacity that can’t help but pull you in.

RED, WHITE & BLUE

Written and directed by Simon Rumley, RED WHITE & BLUE is a harsh upon harsh drama that has a unpleasant flirtation with a torture porn sensibility. A young woman makes a habit of sleeping with as many men as she can find, then immediately rejecting them. Meanwhile, a rough country-type (played by Noah Taylor) takes it upon himself to be her friend and guardian. It’s a difficult concept for her, but the two begin to make inroads toward a real, yet tentative friendship.

Of course, that fleeting glimmer of happiness or even contentment doesn’t wash in a film like this and one of her slash-and-burn sexual romps comes back at her with a vengeance. And in a film like this, vengeance begets more vengeance.

The dilemma I have with weighing in on this film is the feeling that while it is well done in my opinion – and Noah Taylor is great in this thing – I don’t know who exactly I recommend the film to. Because it is not a pleasant ride. At any point. In any way, shape or form. It’s like a Todd Solondz movie in that respect. Kind of like a “Life sucks and then it sucks even worse and tragically because none of us are worthy of redemption or forgiveness in any earthly way” genre. The film is true to what it is and accomplishes what you would have to think it wants to achieve and while I can appreciate it and laud it on that level, you really (and I mean, really) have to be in the mood for it or expressly seeking it out. And I know those people are out there. So, if you are one of those people, then you’ll be into RED WHITE & BLUE.

And now back to the line I’m standing in for ELEKTRA LUXX…

Here’s a film festival reality moment: A guy plops down on the sidewalk and spreads out a Subway-type wrapper like a mini-wax paper picnic blanket in the shadow of three little done-up Austin party girls. He doesn’t care. There are priorities. And like rock-paper-scissors, meatball sub wins over tight tube dress.

Behind me, an off-duty volunteer gives a fine oratory on how she is totally above approaching any of the stars when they are eating and stuff because, “I mean, like what am I going to say, right?” She would much rather focus on her screenplay. True story.

The publicist comes by and lets me know there is a possibility I’ll get to interview a couple of the stars, Carla Gugino, Malin Ackerman, Emmanuelle Chriqui, etc. tomorrow, That would be an unexpected bonus. Meanwhile, a green bull with a money clip for a nose ring makes an appearance outside the theater before making a bee-line for the bar across the street.

After a bit, I’m joined by journalist/producer Don Lewis (I’m not too sure how comfortably that hyphenate wears with him yet, but I think it’s fun) and pretty soon we’re in the door. Red bowtie people guard the reserved sections and the place fills up quick. As we wait for the movie to start, Don informs me that he’s playing Words With Friends with Belladonna’s husband. Interesting….

ELEKTRA LUXX

Written and directed by Sebastian Gutierrez, ELEKTRA LUXX is the second in a planned trilogy of films, following WOMEN IN TROUBLE. Which I did not see. So, I was flying a little blind on this one. However, I knew enough to know that the film focuses on the title character, played by the always good and under-appreciated Carla Gugino. ‘Elektra’ is a retired porn star that’s got a baby on the way and a new career as a community school teacher in progress.

The film is candy coated fun personified with Gugino joined by a cup-runneth-over cast including Timothy Olyphant, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Malin Akerman, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Kathleen Quinlan, Justin Kirk, Marley Shelton, Emma Bell and Vincent Kartheiser among others.

There are multiple storylines revolving around the ‘Elektra’ character and narrated by Gordon-Levitt’s ‘Burt Rodriguez’ porn reviewer and blogger character. And I also want to single out Adrianne Palicki’s role of a dim porn star who shouldn’t have anywhere close to the figure she has based on the comedy scenery that she feats on. Really fun.

Now, here’s the deal: I was loving this film and having all kinds of fun with it when the screen suddenly went black.

Yeah. Film festival disaster. So I can’t finish the review since I didn’t see the last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie. Which sucks because I want to give me the popcorn seal of approval. But I can’t really.

However, let’s talk about what happened…

So there are big time technical difficulties and after a few moments of the audio version of the movie, someone finally stops the thing. And the crowd is doing that milling about and hyperactive chatter, “What’s going on?” “Oh, this is terrible!” blah, blah, blah, thing.

But it takes forever for someone to take the stage and calm the natives. And that person bails as soon as they got up there and the audience is left to their devices again.

Until finally, FINALLY, Sebastian Gutierrez takes the stage and says the truth is he simply didn’t have the funds to finish the film and he just didn’t know how to break it to the stars that were here tonight. Funny. Big laugh. And his winning reaction to this snafu transforms what has to suck to high heaven for him into a moment where he had to have gained a roomful of fans. He started giving tips as to what was to come at the end of the film. He starts taking questions from the crowd – joking, teasing, off-hand comments – now, he’s killing and I’m thinking he’ll have a tour of stand-up engagement across the country booked by the time they fire up the projector again.

Festival head Janet Pierson arrives and we’re told they’re working on it and they bring Carla and Malin and the other pretty cast members up on stage. Apparently no male cast members could make the party – but who need them, right?

Some twenty minutes later the bad news comes. No end of the film for us. We’re told that they’ll twitter all of us to let us know when we’ll get to see it which doesn’t really add up to me, but sometimes stuff like this happens. At AFI FEST during the Closing Night Gala a couple years ago, we had an alarm that went off at the ArcLight and it took forever to turn it off. Frankly, that was a huge lesson in “Contingency Plans 101”. And now, Janet and her crew got their stinger. But, as witnessed by adjustments they made both going into their first year and then from last year to this one – they are quick, quick learners and ultimately it will be a hiccup.

In the meantime, I’ll be buying some tickets for Sebastian Gutierrez – Live!

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