A Glance at 2017 Movies SXSW Edition

In All, Conventions, Movies, Television by DavidLeave a Comment

Things have been a bit chaotic lately here at the Kraken (the monster’s been moody). Way back in March (Lord, that feels so long ago in the 2017 landscape) I went to the SXSW festival in Austin, TX. It was a crazy fun ride. Most of what I did was watch movies, movies, and more movies, so let’s take a look at everything I got a chance to watch. The festival may have been a few months ago but this is still a great selection of mostly independent cinema, so they’re all worth seeking out if you can.

(I’ll list these in the order I watched them, which may or may not have factored into how I view some of these films. I will rate each on the five-star scale the festival required me to use, unlike my normal four-star scale.)


Song to Song

Malick may have out-Malicked himself.

I am almost to the point that maybe we need to all agree to judge Terrence Malick by different standards than, like, every other filmmaker alive. His films are just not for humans to watch. In fact, I am not sure who the hell these films are for. None of his characters act or talk like real people, and he has taken poetic filmmaking to the next level. This film is still beautiful, and has a great soundtrack, but even those are a bit weird this time, because the editing of this film is not nearly the same quality as in past films. Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography is still a standout, but even that suffers at times because Malick lost his mind while editing. Malick has kind of been stuck in this idea of relationships between broken people and the cities they happen in for his last three films, and I really hope this is finally out of his system, because he barely had anything to say in these films to begin with, and now… Still, unlike Knight of Cups I strangely found Song to Song to have more heart, if only because Austin is honestly a much less soulless city than Los Angeles. That, and I kind of grew to weirdly enjoy how little Malick cared if any other human being would enjoy this movie. Some imaginary line was crossed here so thoroughly that it wrapped back around and left me kind of satisfied. That said, I found myself liking this film less and less as the festival went on, and was annoyed that in my snap judgment I gave it 4 out of 5 stars. This film is 3.5 out of 5 stars at best. If you like Malick, you will watch this and probably like it. Otherwise, unless you find this strange mess weirdly intriguing, like I did, this is a rough film to watch.


American Gods

This is more like it. Yeah, okay, this is technically a TV pilot and not a movie, but whatever, it was still awesome. This show is going to be amazing, and should really solidify Starz’ place as the premium network to look at if you have a famous book that you want made into a hyper stylized TV series (even in some cases over HBO). Part of this is because Bryan Fuller is on hand, and he finally has a property that there is likely no chance will be canceled before he and co-showrunner Michael Green have finished telling the story that they want to tell. The pilot is confident and knows exactly what it is, that is spectacular. That can be a double edged sword, because great pilots can set up a show for failure if the rest of the show can’t deliver on the pilot’s promise. This could be especially true in this case, because American Gods brought in Fuller’s fellow Hannibal visionary David Slade to direct the pilot, and Slade brought a stylistic flourish to the pilot that future directors’ work on the show will have to live up to. Still, Fuller has done enough in his career to make such concerns much less of a thing than other shows might have in similar circumstances. The superb cast also should bring about great things. Ian Mcshane is perfect as Mr. Wednesday and Ricky Whittle as Shadow is ready to step into stardom, and they are just the top of a star-studded iceberg that could allow this show to be truly special. This show is a mindfuck of gory and twisted fun. So this pilot easily gets 5 out of 5 stars.


Stranger Fruit

This is a weird film to grade, let me just say right now, for two big reasons. The first is that it would be really, really hard to actually fuck up a documentary about the events in Ferguson. It is a such a tragic story whose impact is going to be felt for years to come, especially seeing as it was the impetus for the Black Lives Matter movement. So this film was always going to be a tearjerker no matter who made it. That doesn’t change the fact that this was a deeply impactful and effective film. Stranger Fruit taps into the anger and sadness over the events that led to Michael Brown’s murder and the apparent cover-up to protect policeman Darren Wilson. Most of the audience was crying their eyes out by the end (I say most because there are people like me that got a little misty, but apparently were too soulless to actually cry). This film does everything it needs to do to deliver a really good film, but I can’t help but feel it should have been better, which brings me to the second big reason this film is hard to grade–director Jason Pollock is as much as a hindrance to this film as he is an asset.

Pollock clearly cares deeply about what happened to Michael Brown, there is no denying that, but man, he is way to involved in this movie. Outside of the last twenty or so minutes of the movie (which is the best part), Pollock can’t get out of his own way, as he uses voiceover to constantly keep himself involved in the movie. It grows really obnoxious, because, umm, the film is not about him, and he unintentionally makes it about him way too much. The only time that his voiceover is really needed is when he reveals a new piece of footage that he says he has found for this film. Then his voice is necessary to help give context. But otherwise he just needs to shut the hell up. There is no film I have felt more at odds with in terms of how I feel about it than this one. It does so much right, but man, Pollock was probably the wrong director for it (I say probably because at the same time his clear passion for the project got it made, and done in a mostly effective way, so…). Ultimately, even with Pollock as both a weird strength and weakness, this film soars, and we could be hearing more about it down the line because this is the type of buzzy subject matter that does well in more mainstream award shows. Pollock’s missteps made me initially knock this down to 4.5 out 5 stars, but honestly, the more I reflect on it the more his missteps really do hurt the film, so I really can’t give it more than 4 out 5 stars. Which still means it is quite a good movie, but it should have been better. Others might be even more affected by these concerns than I was, but personally I am still mostly a big fan of this film.


The Ballad of Lefty Brown

Time for the reign of the sidekick!

It only feels proper that I mention that I do in fact know the director of this film, but that has no impact on how I would view his movie. Luckily the film is really good anyhow, so I have nothing to worry about. A direct homage to and deconstruction of the American western all in one. The Ballad of Lefty Brown serves as an ode to the sidekicks of Western lore, the men who ride alongside the John Wayne-esque heroes and never really get their due. A lot of them are used for comedic effect, but they put themselves into danger just like the main hero all the same. Lefty Brown takes a look at what would happen to one such sidekick if his hero was murdered right in front of him. Can this sidekick stand on his own two feet now that he is forced to be on his own? More importantly, were the legendary mythic cowboys of Western lore all they were cracked up to be to begin with? Lefty Brown explores what happens when you strip the archetype from characters and just leave them as men trying to survive in a dangerous and ever-changing world.

Bill Pullman is magnificent as Lefty Brown, and gives a performance that at the very least could get some award mentions if it gets seen by the right people. Meanwhile, Jim Caviezel gives an inspired performance as a sympathetic villain that is just trying to figure out the best path forward as the world progresses in a more modern and lawful direction. This film has a great visual flourish that makes the action pop. Director Jared Moshe has a great eye for westerns, and clearly understands what makes them tick and what was so special about the classics. This film is a labor of love that doesn’t look away from the harsh truth that a lot of these great Western stories of the past involved men taking the law into their own hands to achieve their own brand of justice. The pacing of the film is unfortunately a bit off, especially as the film is trying to set up its twist, and some of the character motivations feel a bit forced at times, particularly Tommy Flanagan’s Tom Harrah, who uses the alcoholic crutch a bit too often as justification for some of his actions. Still, Lefty Brown knows exactly the kind of film it wants to be, and doesn’t try to be more than it is, earning it 4 out of 5 stars in my book. Add in a wonderful score and theme song and this film definitely honors the Westerns that came before it quite well.


Muppet Guys Talking – Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched

I am not a huge fan of the word “slight” being used to describe films, mainly because it is generally used as a way to denigrate films for not being about the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS EVER at all times… but man is this film slight. That doesn’t make it bad, but this film is really, really short, not only in run time (about 65 minutes), but also just in overall content. The film is just a free flowing conversation that comes to an end almost without warning. So if ever a film should be called slight, this is that film. It is still a somewhat useless word, though, because the film being slight doesn’t make it a bad film. It does highlight how sad it was that this film couldn’t be longer. Led by Frank Oz, these five Muppeteers offer insights and stories about their time working on the various Muppet shows, and it is awesome. Hearing about their experiences and the actions that helped form the Muppet empire is enthralling, as is hearing about their time working with the late Jim Henson. It is a fun film that doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, but its brevity really leaves you wanting so much more. You almost wished there was someone else on screen there to help probe the five muppeteers for more stories and anecdotes. Overall, this is a fun film for both adults and children that is a very easy watch. There is nothing out of this world about it, but it is a very relaxing experiences that should be seen by all, so it gets 4 out of 5 stars.


Atomic Blonde

The first half of this film is abysmally boring. This should be impossible, because it is jam packed with action and stylistic flourish combined with a great soundtrack, but it is boring nonetheless. Nothing that happens on screen really means anything, and the film is a hollow mess despite the best efforts of Charlize Theron (for crying out loud, she uses a dude as an anchor to let her slide out of a high window with a sheet rope!). But then the second half of the movies happens, and dear God is it amazing. This is highlighted by an extended fight scene between Theron and six other men that is simply stunning. It takes a lot of the realistic fighting aspects from the iconic hallway scene in the first season of Netflix’s Daredevil and ups the ante. It is a brutal fight scene that doesn’t bother with music, and just lets everything play out naturally. Every cry of pain, every panting breath is heard. Every blow is magnified, and the full force and difficulty of these fights is felt at every turn. Theron struggles not because she is weak, but because she is fighting six other nearly as skilled fighters that have size advantages over her. This makes her ultimate triumph so much more satisfying than if she just beat them without breaking a sweat. This fight energizes the rest of the movie as everything just begins to pop.

The rest of the action doesn’t compare, sure, but it feels more energized and desperate to reflect how dire things have gotten. The overly long set up of the first half finally pays off with panache. It is really almost impossible to understand how these two halves of a film can exist in the same movie, because so much goes wrong in the first half, while so much goes right in the second. Theron is brilliant at the center of all of this, especially once the film gets out of her way, and lets her play to her strengths. James McAvoy is great as a tragic pseudo-villain that finds himself in an increasingly volatile situation. If only the film didn’t mostly waste Sofia Botella, who had the potentially to do some really great things, but is simply not allowed to do much. Reconciling what to do with these two halves of the movie is difficult, but ultimately I ended up viewing this film favorably because that fight scene is a master class in action filmmaking and deserves a place in the pantheon of great movie fights. Plus, the film is more enjoyable than not, so while it deserves to be penalized for its terrible first half, there is no need to truly condemn it. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.


The Disaster Artist

This is the best film I saw at the festival, and a truly amazing experience. The film was billed as being a work in progress, but honestly the film is basically done other than some fine tuning in some scenes here or there (Seth Rogan basically admits that based on the crowd reaction that there really isn’t much left to do in the film it looks like). The room erupted throughout this movie, which works best as an ode to The Room and its fans, and also simply as an ode to the perseverance of a filmmaker in the face of the world telling him he can’t achieve his dream. James Franco is simply brilliant as Tommy Wiseau, giving one of the finest performance of his career. Meanwhile, his brother Dave Franco brings just the right energy as Tommy’s friend and confidante Greg. This film is a love letter to everything that The Room represents, and does a fantastic job of riding the line of making sure it doesn’t make the mistake of making fun of The Room and by extension Tommy Wiseau. Sure, the film highlights some of the more ridiculous aspects to Tommy, and knows you can’t help but laugh, but it does so in a way that makes it clear that the film is on Tommy’s side, and it makes the laughing during the film represent admiration much more than mockery. This was my favorite experience of the entire festival, and if I hadn’t gotten to see anything but this I still would have been extremely satisfied. This film is amazing, and was a clear crowd favorite at SXSW. It is easily 5 out of 5 stars, and is likely to be one of the best films of this year.

The best news that has come in the many weeks since SXSW is that A24 picked up the film, and will handle its distribution. Before the film was being handled by Warner Brothers through New Line; that was a disaster waiting to happen, as this film is going to require a very special type of marketing campaign full of nuance and well thought out planning. I would use none of these words to describe the marketing abilities of anyone involved with Warner Brothers. So this film got a major, major upgrade, and could really make some awards noise now.


Hot Summer Nights

Coming-of-age stories are tricky things, and also can be extremely formulaic, which is what makes this film stand out. The film completely forsakes the general direction of a coming-of-age film to tell a dark story about two boys that get over their head that ends in tragedy. What makes this so effective is that the film starts out like a normal adolescent tale and then slowly descends down a darker and darker path as one character keeps making worse and worse decisions as he gets swallowed up by the lies he’s telling. There is a point in this film where you begin to wonder why you should be cheering for main character Daniel (Timothée Chalamet), and the answer is you really shouldn’t, because he is a broken human being who ultimately unleashes terrible consequences on those around him. What makes this work so well is that we see time and time again points where Daniel can stop and everything will ultimately be fine, but he never does, and it leads to ruin.

This film assembles a great core cast of young actors, with Maika Monroe, Maia Mitchell, and Alex Roe joining Chalamet in an effective ensemble that is supported by solid adult actor performers such as Thomas Jane and William Fichtner. This all comes together to serve as an exciting first film by director and writer Elijah Bynum, who we might be hearing quite a bit from in the future. The film still suffers from first director syndrome, and definitely drags (especially at the end), but overall Hot Summer Nights is a very good movie that really knows how to play against expectations–so it gets 4 out of 5 stars.


Free Fire

Everyone gets shot, and then film really begins.

At some level it is hard to really say this is an actual movie instead of just pure action porn, but at another level this film is so much fun it doesn’t really matter that it has nothing below the surface. Director Ben Wheatley expertly crafts an amazingly fun movie that gives everyone involved a place to shine. Just like the gun fire, the dialogue is sharp and free flowing, and has you laughing throughout. The film also treads the fine line between desensitizing you too much to the violence, and making each act hit you in a viscerally brutal way so that you can enjoy what is happening without overthinking it. It’s hard to delve to deeply into this movie because it is basically just one huge gunfight that is also clearly inspired by Reservoir Dogs, but the way Wheatley creates new, exciting, and humorous ways for the characters to get injured or killed is rather amazing. The cast is excellent, especially Armie Hammer who is positively brilliant as a hired muscle/hitman. If you are a huge fan of action movies this is well-worth seeing, but don’t expect more than, well, a giant free fire of guns and quips, because there is nothing more to this movie. That’s okay, but it does leave you feeling a bit hollow by the time the film ends, especially when the film becomes a little too caught up in piling twists on top of each other. Still, this a really good movie, and gets 4 out of 5 stars.


M.F.A.

I am huge fan of the now canceled MTV’s Sweet/ Vicious (goddammit, MTV), and, well, the fact that a movie with a similar idea came out so soon after the first season of that show is kind of amazing. This film definitely takes a much darker turn, though, because unlike in Sweet/ Vicious, the main character here doesn’t stop at simply beating rapists senseless, but instead murders them. This is a very key line that allows for a whole different set of moral questions to be explored. The film combines this journey with the idea of how art can be influenced by our experiences, both good and bad. Francesca Eastwood is superb in the leading role of Noelle, who goes to dark places after her rape, but at the same time uses that pain to flourish as an artist and a, uh, murderer. This film looks carefully at different aspects of rape culture in colleges and at all the places the institutions are enabling and not doing enough to stop it. It’s a clever script, done well by writer and actor in the film Leah McKendrick and superbly directed by Natalia Leite.

This gave the film a thoroughly female perspective that allowed it to explore some of the thornier issues of all of this so well–such as the idea that the campus group that works to prevent rape seems almost as shallowly concerned with optics as the administration it is designed to fight. The film doesn’t outright condemn this group, and makes a point that in a lot of ways the group is doing the best it can given the circumstances of the world, but at the same time the suggestion that they are somewhat content with the status quo is an fascinating point to bring up. As is the film briefly touching on the idea of whether a former rapist can atone for their actions. The film doesn’t come down one way or the other here, but even somewhat addressing this idea in a film like this is a bold decision. Ultimately, the biggest flaw in M.F.A. is how it wasted the opportunity to show the perspective of the cops in all this. Clifton Collins Jr. is the central police officer in the story, and his main focus is to apprehend Noelle and stop her serial killer ways. The film at times alludes to the idea of how the cops feel about trying to protect dudes that everyone knows are rapists but were never punished. That does justify Noelle murdering these people, obviously, but the film should have taken the time to let the cops really reflect on how they feel about their part in rape culture. This isn’t a killer flaw to the movie, but does seem like an odd absence, considering how in-depth the film goes in other places. Overall, this is a very good movie that can inspire a lot of constructive discussions on college campuses, so it gets 4 out of 5 stars.


Colossal

Hey look, it’s a film from this year’s edition of The Anticipated. I am not going to say much here, other than this is a really good and unique movie that served as an inspired first release for the newly created production company Neon. It is also a movie that I would recommend people see even if they don’t think they will like it, because it is such an effective deconstruction of romantic comedy with a dash of monster movie added in.


Most Beautiful Island

This could be the sign of a lot of good work to come.

This is the film that won the Grand Jury Prize at SXSW for Best Narrative Feature. Keep in mind that SXSW tends to try and honor films here that, as they say, “Do the most with the least,” and you can certainly see a lot of that in Most Beautiful Island. Made by first time director Ana Asensio, this film definitely didn’t have much to work with, but did quite a bit with what it had regardless. The problem is that, much like Hot Summer Nights suffered from Elijah Bynum being a first time director, Most Beautiful Island suffers here as well, but to a greater degree. The first half of the film comes off as very film student-y, and never quite works as it tries to establish the hardships of Luciana (played by Asensio). The beginning is overwritten and honestly works against the character at times. The plot drags, and you wonder where this movie is going. Still, much like Atomic Blonde, when this film does get going things pick up tremendously.

Going too deeply into the twist of this film would ruin a lot of the suspense, so let’s just say that Luciana’s attempts to make a living in the city take a very dangerous turn, and leave her in a suspenseful situation that delivers all kinds of thrills. This is the part that shows Asensio’s unique eye and leaves you excited for what else she will do in the future. She leverages the right amount of suspense, and keeps you at the edge of your seat as you wonder what will happen next with a mix of excitement and dread. It is a deeply affecting second half, and deserves all kinds of praise. Just like with Atomic Blonde, it doesn’t make up for the beginning of the film, though, so I have to mark Most Beautiful Island down for that. There is no real way to pass judgment on whether this film should have won the jury prize, because the mission of the jury at SXSW is so specific. What I will say is there were likely better films to consider, but this film definitely has the right mix of things to be a worthy winner as well. Hopefully, this win will open things up for Asensio in her next project, which, now that she has gotten some of these first time director jitters out of her system, could really be amazing. Overall, I give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.


The Big Sick

In a world without The Disaster Artist this would have been the best film I saw at SXSW. A Sundance darling, this film did a wonderful job of combining a romantic comedy with, uh, life-threatening illness. This tonal shift could have been a disaster for many movies, but not The Big Sick, which benefited from being based on the real life relationship between husband and wife Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon. It also benefited from the producing expertise of Judd Apatow, who helped bring his comedic voice to the film without saddling it with the pacing issues that plague Apatow’s own films (well, for the most part, as The Big Sick still has some pacing issues). This movie is full of notable performances, including Nanjiani playing himself and Zoe Kazan as Emily. The real scene stealers are Emily’s parents, played by Holly Hunter and Ray Romano, whose presence in the film help keep things going when the film could have been really bogged down in the sadness of the situation. Meanwhile, the movie does a great job of integrating the stand-up comedy scene as well as the cultural issues that Nanjiani dealt with as a man at odds with his traditionally Muslim family. This film is a crowd pleaser that is a different kind of romantic comedy, and serves all of its actors well. The Big Sick does suffer from the aforementioned pacing issues, and as good as it is, the movie is a bit overstuffed at times, but for the most part it’s an excellent movie that earns 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Becoming Bond

This was probably the biggest surprise for me at the festival. I expected it to be fun, but I didn’t expect it to be as engaging and poignant as it was at times. The tale of George Lazenby, and his journey to become, and then ultimately walk away from, James Bond is a fascinating take on the price of fame, the importance of individuality, and how one can both regret and not regret a key decision in life. This film is a hybrid documentary and biopic, and centered around director Josh Greenbaum talking to an elder Lazenby about the one-time-Bond’s life. Lazenby is a delight on screen and a talented storyteller who draws you in with every word. This film makes you both love and kind of hate Lazenby before inspiring a new respect for a man that decided being true to himself made more sense than being James Bond. Does that make his decision to walk away from Bond and torch his career any less, well, not wise? No, and even Lazenby admits he acted too hastily, but it does help you gain a real insight into the man’s psyche. Greenbaum does a great job of creating a film that gels with Lazenby’s personality and makes the biopic parts work quite well. This is a delightful, fun film that may not be anything all that important, but man did I enjoy watching it. It still gets a bit too cute at times, and the film could have used more time at the end for Lazenby to reflect on how his life ended up, but overall this is a really good movie that earns 4 out 5 stars (I am almost inclined to make it 4.5, but it doesn’t quite get there).


Infinity Baby

I still am not sure what I watched here.

This is a weird movie. It is also not really a movie, and at the same time is making fun of the fact that people will not think it is a movie, so I have already played into this film’s hands. The concept is nonsense and brilliant at the same time, as the film has literal babies that can never age (or really die, it seems) combined with adults that have also never grown up. Add in that it is shot in black-and-white to give it both a more unique look another meta level of pretension. The lead of the film, Ben (Kieran Culkin), is not just unlikable, but aggressively so. This actually ends up being rather impressive, however, as honestly his character arc is about eliminating any and all positive feelings you might have for him, because he is an ass. This all culminates in a speech that is one of the more absurdly delusional, narcissistic, and misogynistic speeches you’ll ever see. The heart of the film ends up being Martin Starr, whose Malcolm goes through a bumbling journey full of comedy, loss, and ultimately purpose. In the end, though, it is just so hard to invest in this movie. It is short at 80 minutes long. The story only loosely connects together. And like I said earlier, it doesn’t feel like a movie. Things just kind of happen, and then the film is over, so it just limits the overall ceiling of the movie. Still, overall it is a positive experience, and if you are really looking for something different it is worth giving a look, so I gave it 3.5 out 5 stars.


The Work

This is the film that won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Feature at SXSW, and the prize is well-deserved. This is an emotional roller coaster of a film showing a four day group therapy retreat that happens at Folsom Prison. Once a year, the public is allowed to participate in this retreat, and the film follows the experiences of three men that go in for the experience. These sessions are intense as hardened criminals and everyday citizens join together to work through the issues each experience in their lives. The film expertly shows how everyone has things to work through, and that even those that have committed the unforgivable can still work to find some level of peace and try to do some good for the world. More importantly, this film expertly cuts through issues of toxic masculinity and the inability of men to deal with their emotions. The extreme version of this are the inmates who are violent and in many cases murderers. Only now have many of them come to realize the errors of their old way of thinking. The film doesn’t try to suggest that the three everyday men are destined to a similar fate, but it does show that each man has a lot of work to do, and if they don’t, it can easily lead them to ruin.

The sessions in this film are intense, as men break down crying, start screaming, at times get violent, or in general let their emotions go wild in a safe space free of judgment. It makes you wonder if a less intense version of this program could really be effective for people on a regular basis, especially men, and offer a path toward emotional health and self-discovery. This film achieves much of the same emotional resonance of Stranger Fruit, but without feeling emotionally manipulative. The filmmakers sit back and just show what is happening in a naturalistic setting that doesn’t go out of its way to show a point of view, but instead allows you to observe the events. It is extremely impressive filmmaking. Admittedly, it does make the film feel a little listless at points, and the film does suffer a little from not making all the men highlighted feel equal. Still, these are minor quibbles, and this is a film that should be watched by all if you get a chance. The Work gets 4.5 out of 5 stars.


Barbecue

This is a film about barbecue, which sounds obvious, but it has to be said, because the director, Matthew Salleh, traveled the world asking people in multiple countries to define what barbecue is to them. This global perspective in 13 languages offers a unique look at how different cultures look at things, and redefines how many will think of barbecue (especially from the American perspective). None are considered better than the others, but instead each is just shown for what it is, and what it means cultural and personally to each person interviewed. It is hypnotic to watch as meat is cooked and prepared by each culture (almost admittedly to the film’s detriment at times). The food on display is mouth watering, and you will be left very hungry once this film is over. You will learn quite a bit from watching this movie, but constantly be enthralled at the same time. There honestly isn’t much more to say, as this is a film that really needs to be seen more than simply read about. If you are a lover of food or just different cultures, this is a movie for you. There is a key problem with the movie, however; its methodical pacing and naturalistic style works against it at times, which makes it hard to stay engaged for the entire film. The film simply lacks emotional resonance at times, which is a problem overall. Still, this a really solid film that earns somewhere between 3.5 and 4 stars–so it earns the first 3.75 stars rating, now that I am free from the paper ballot system and its oppressive number system.


Mr. Roosevelt

Come for the existential angst, and get much more.

I almost didn’t get to see this movie, but was just able to slip it in, which was great because this film is truly a treat. Noël Wells makes an inspired directorial debut in a film she also both wrote and starred in. It is a great look at the struggles you go through and the costs you pay to try and pursue dreams in Hollywood. This film does this in a brilliant way by setting the film mainly in Austin, Texas, as the city that Wells’s Emily left behind to pursue her dream with, well, very mixed results. At the same time, the film never really suggests that Emily made a mistake, but just shows that her decisions have consequences and come with some regrets that she has to deal with before she can truly move on with her life. These regrets are manifested through both her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune), and more importantly from the fact that Emily is not around for the death of her cat, the titular Mr. Roosevelt.

Emily is an extremely relatable character to anyone who has left the comforts of home to try and follow their dreams, and Wells plays her in a realistic and flawed way that makes her a real person and not just a character. Wells also uses her position as a native Austonian to comment on the changes that have happened to the city of Austin, highlighting particularly the fact that, while in the past many left Austin to head to LA, now the reverse is happening. These layers of complexity help raise this film to a different level. Mr. Roosevelt proved a wonderful showcase for Wells, and hopefully is a sign of great things to come for her. The only real issue with the movie is that it suffers a bit from first time directoritis, as Wells is still feeling out her style and pacing in the film. It drags a little at times, and at some points is a bit too twee. None of these are significant issues, but they do stop the film from being truly great. Overall, this standout movie earns 4.5 out of 5 stars.


That’s all the films I saw. If you can’t tell by my ratings, I managed to see only good movies (and, well, whatever we want to call Song to Song) while I was at SXSW, which is how it should at a festival like this, so I was quite happy with everything I was able to see.

How I Would Rank Films (once again, none of these are bad, so even the bottom film is worth watching)

  1. The Disaster Artist
  2. The Big Sick
  3. The Work
  4. Mr. Roosevelt
  5. Becoming Bond
  6. Colossal
  7. Stranger Fruit
  8. The Ballad of Lefty Brown
  9. Hot Summer Nights
  10. M.F.A
  11. Free Fire
  12. Barbecue
  13. Muppet Guys Talking – Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched
  14. Atomic Blonde 
  15. Most Beautiful Island
  16. Infinity Baby
  17. Song to Song

American Gods is not a film, so I am not going to rank it, but other than The Disaster Artist it was definitely the highlight viewing experience of the festival.

With that, my snapshot into the films of 2017 is at an end for now. Keep checking back for more coverage as the blog slowly gets its act back together.

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