All right. I'm back in the sleep-destruction seat and have been properly immersing myself in the SXSW movie stewpot. I've seen films that are great and I've seen other ones, too. Here are the recent highlights:
OF ALL THE THINGS - This was an initially "small"-feeling documentary on defused '70s songwriting wizard Dennis Lambert and his sudden and unexpected tour of the Philippines. While his career had languished stateside following the unheralded release of his only solo album, Lambert's AM radio cheese romance anthem "Of All The Things" had quietly become the national jam for South Seas lovemakers. The documentary starts off with a Filipino promoter finally convincing a skeptical Lambert to play a handful of shows in the adoring country, and the forgotten songwriter's experience overseas is nothing short of life-altering, both for him and those he loves. I know this sounds like I'm trying to get a job at Hallmark, but it's no joke...this is an emotionally stirring doc made by Lambert's son, which makes its poignant summation all the more powerful. And I don't use the word "poignant" EVER, so know that I mean this. And if the human heart isn't your thing, there's plenty of entertainment value in watching a 60-year-old man say the F-word while trying to get his drum machine started in front of an arena full of middle-aged fans. You don't have to be a fan of 8-track yacht rock to love the film, either; like KING OF KONG, this is a story that plays waaay outside of its niche audience and relates to the viewer at a much greater level. Recommended to the max.
Plays again Thursday, March 13, 7:30 PM at Alamo South Lamar
HEAVY LOAD - This is a documentary on "The UK's only punk band"; a group called Heavy Load which happens to boast three developmentally disabled members. The boys have been together for a decade at the start of the film, and have apparently maintained the same level of talent for the entire duration. But what makes Heavy Load important is that their only commitment is to have as much fun as possible at their shows. If the audience doesn't enjoy their ear-splitting buzzsaw jams, to hell with them. Though the members are middle-aged and disabled, this deeply punk ethic places them miles ahead of any mohawked youths I've encountered in...forever. The film is also the story of the band's co-founder, a special services social worker named Paul who acts as the lead coordinator and backbone of the group, booking their shows, writing their songs and generally keeping the peace when things get difficult. The entire picture really works as a whole and the audience was completely won over, especially when it turned out that Paul was personally on hand for the screening. He came up and assured us that Heavy Load would be flying out to the US to play shows in support of the film if at all possible, so please do go check it out at 11 AM on Saturday at the Convention Center and help bring the hardest rockin' band in Europe to Austin. If we don't, then we've clearly proven our whole "Best Music City in the World" title to be utter bullshit. Without a gig from Heavy Load under our belt, we are NOTHING.
ONE MINUTE TO NINE - This is the best film I've seen this year so far. Again, a documentary, but this tackles the difficult subject of domestic abuse (and consequent murder) in a shockingly respectful and genuine light. Loosely constructed, casual yet still extremely potent, there is no affected drama in the story of a family in the days that follow a terrible event and precede years of imprisonment. There's much that I'd hate to give away, but I recommend the film above all else and really want to congratulate young ex-Austinite filmmaker Tommy Davis for kicking me in the gut with his strong and unpretentious work here. Really, really impressive all around.
Plays again at 9:30 on March 12 and 4:30 on March 15.
DANCE OF THE DEAD - The crowd went wild for this unusually tender teen zombie comedy. I don't know about you, but I've been fairly zombie-saturated over the last few years. If we saw one third as many movies about magic serpents or evil genies as we did about zombies, that'd be a whole lot of serpents and genies. That being said, DANCE OF THE DEAD is a loving homage to the better undead films of the last couple decades (most obviously RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and NIGHT OF THE CREEPS) and features a refreshingly miniscule amount of easy-teen-appeal panderings like farts, boobs and marijuanas. The leads are actually likeable (rare where teen actors are concerned) and my personal tip-of-the-hat is to the effects team who primarily opted for actual latex-and-goop over CGI crummery...especially in the shit-startin' graveyard scene where hyperactive cadavers are bursting out of their not-so-eternal resting places and hitting the ground at a full run.
Plays again at 11:00 on Friday at the Alamo Ritz.
...That's it for now. I'm about to go watch something about something and we'll all be back with further reports shortly. I'm personally hoping that the documentary on flamboyant grump/film critic Rex Reed is the movie of the year.