Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Movie Doc's Sunday and Monday of SXSW Film 2011

After recovering from the switch to Daylight Savings Time, I had the pleasure of watching a beautifully moving documentary of the SEEDS program which helps basketball players in Senegal relocate to the US to pursue educational and basketball endeavours. ELEVATE tells the stories of four young men and their experiences through the SEEDS program, the trials and tribulations of adjusting to American culture, and the hard work each had to give to succeed in high school and college, not just athletically, but academically. I truly enjoyed this film and highly recommend it. Catch it at SXSW if possible. If not, look for it hopefully in theaters or on video.

Following the screening, I was honored by an invitation to the premiere party of ELEVATE. I had the pleasure of meeting two of the young men from the film, Assane and Dethie, as well as director Anne Buford whom I interviewed the following morning. I took a picture with Assane and Dethie and will try to post later.

After eating some delicious food and enjoying some good beer at the party, I rushed over to the Paramount theater to catch a movie I highly anticipated. PAUL which stars SHAUN OF THE DEAD's and HOT FUZZ's Simon Pegg and Nick Frost who both wrote the film as well. This movie teams the hilarious duo with American director Greg Mottola (SUPERBAD, ADVENTURELAND). I enjoyed this comedy which tells the science fiction tale of Paul, a laid back, slackerish, rude, but still likable alien from another planet. While visiting the US, two sci fi and comic geeks Graeme and Clive decide to visit the infamous sites where aliens supposedly landed. Near Area 51, the two stumble upon Paul (voiced excellently by Seth Rogan) who had just escaped the secret government facility and just wants to catch a ride to his home planet. I absolutely loved the humor which poke fun at and celebrates nerdiness and pop culture. The movie also stars Kristen Wiig in a lovely role as Ruth, an innocent, but lovable devout Christian. While the movie lacks the cool stylings of Edgar Wright who usually directs Pegg and Frost, Mottola manages to offer audiences a lovely mixture of his American sensibilities and the excellent humor of the British duo.

It seems that it was a Kristen Wiig night at the Paramount. The audience was treated to a double feature which was refreshing in that the SXSW staff allowed us to remain in our seats after PAUL instead of joining the line outside. The second film in the Kristen Wiig double feature was a "work in progress" print of BRIDESMAIDS. Wiig stars as Annie, a sweet but down on her luck, lady who has been selected by her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) to be her maid of honor at her wedding. With Annie already struggling with her own crises, things get worse when Lillian's other good friend Helen (Rose Byrne), a beautiful and wealthy woman who seems to have it all, tries to use her money and resources to take over the wedding and the role of maid of honor. A struggle between Annie and Helen ensues with mostly funny results. I say mostly funny because not all of the jokes succeed. In fact, the movie does run on a bit long, much longer than it should. Again, it is a work in progress so perhaps by the time it gets released, director Paul Feig or whoever has the final cut will trim the running time down. I did enjoy most of the humor, but was not entirely pleased with the resolution. Still, with a great cast which also features Jon Hamm, Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd, Ellie Kemper, and Wendi McLendon-Covey, both women and men should find some enjoyment in this movie.

On Monday morning after not enough sleep, I met with director Anne Bufford (ELEVATE) for a scheduled interview which went really well. Ms. Bufford was a joy to chat with. She obviously feels very passionately about her film, the SEEDS program, and the young men on whom her film is based. She is very close to these gentlemen, much like a loving aunt would be. Ms. Bufford is easy to talk to, down to earth, and was a great pleasure to interview. I will either post the interview on the blog here or on our website, but need to consult with my editors first.

Following the interview, I took some time to rest a bit, but couldn't do this too long or I would be asleep for the rest of the day. After taking this much needed pause, I lined up at the State theater for a film called SMALL BEAUTIFULLY MOVING PARTS. Written and directed by Annie J. Howell and Lisa Robinson, this film explores the inner struggles of Sarah Sparks, a technical whiz who can fix just about any kind of machine. The trouble is she doesn't know how to fix her problems in her life and has trouble relating to people. Sarah becomes pregnant and has trouble coping emotionally with this new development. She feels that if she cannot connect and relate to people how can she raise a child as a mother. Sarah confronts the main source of her issues, her estranged mother whom she hasn't spoken with in a long time. I thought the film was an interesting piece with a well conceived purpose. However, it seemed nothing was resolved in the films conclusion and while Sarah makes a breakthrough by facing her mother, she still has more issues to face. I can't say I highly recommend this movie, but if one happens to miss another film and can catch it, it is not a bad way to kill time.

Next, I had another scheduled interview with director Anlo Sepulveda, and actors Anis Mojgandi, Roberta Colindrez, and Jacqueline Leal from the film OTIS UNDER SKY. I have not seen this film, but will be watching it on Tuesday night. I did enjoy chatting with Sepulveda and his cast members and learned much about their film, their careers, and their approach to this movie which is mostly unscripted. Anlo Sepulveda is another director who feels tremendously passionate about his art and hopes that his movie gets picked up for distribution so that he may continue creating more work.

After enjoying my two free drinks at the registrants lounge (badge holders are allowed two a day here), I ran back to the Paramount to line up for WIN WIN. A colleague from another website had informed me that this film is a must see at SXSW. I have to say that the film does not disappoint. Starring Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor, and Alex Shaffer, this Thomas McCarthy directed movie will probably become this year's BLIND SIDE. Giamatti plays Mike Flaherty, a struggling attorney and high school wrestling coach who, in a desperate attempt to save his practice and protect his family from financial trouble, makes some poor unscrupulous decisions regarding one of his clients. When the client's grandson Kyle (Shaffer) enters the picture, things get even more complicated. With no one to turn to, Mike and his family take in Kyle and practically raise him as one of their own. Kyle also happens to be a gifted and talented wrestler and helps revive the struggling team. Unfortunately, as things seem to improving for everyone involved, Kyle's mother Cindy (Melanie Linskey) tries to re-enter Kyle's life after a stint in rehab. Mike and his wife Jackie (Amy Ryan) have to decide what is best for their family including Kyle even if it involves an ugly courtroom battle. I loved this movie which wonderfully combines heartwarming poignancy, intense drama, and wonderfully written and performed comedy. I feel that while this movie isn't based on a true story like THE BLIND SIDE, that because of the complexity of the characters and their dilemmas, WIN WIN surpasses THE BLIND SIDE on several levels. The cast deliver near perfect performances. Up and coming actor Alex Shaffer should be watched carefully as I hope he goes on to bigger and better things.

Immediate after this film, I rushed outside to get in line for the much talked about and highly anticipated Ain't It Cool News 15TH Anniversary Screening. World famous film blogger Harry Knowles toyed and teased the audience at first before introducing his co-host, director Guillermo Del Toro and revealing that the film would be the 80s fantasy classic DRAGONSLAYER, complete with old fantasy film trailers from the 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s. While I was hoping for a new film such as the rumored THOR (among other rumors), I still enjoyed watching this movie about wizards and a huge fire-breathing dragon.

Mark Saldana
The Movie Doc

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