Today (Saturday) I went all in on Linklater (along with topped off horror extravaganza). Between the long lines terrorizing downtown and the insistent Segway tourists, it was time to topple down the rabbit hole. Two notable things about having a Linklater type day: 1. Old white people are really into the Austin-based director and 2. Seriously, older white people are his core followers. The streets were crawling with folks today; it looks like the fest is hitting its stride.
Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny
Austin has a tendency to pat itself on the back at any given moment. It’s incredibly self-indulgent, a bit obscene, and sometimes totally off base. The latest doc detailing the life and films and films of Richard Linklater is filled to the brim with these moments, and yet, it’s the self-indulgence that makes the film work. The director’s history is laid out on the table for the audience by his friend and comrade Austin Chronicle co-founder Louis Black. What makes the documentary is the seamless transition from film clip to behind the scenes footage of Linklater’s work, basking in the glory of commercial failure as a means to finding his creative stride. The best celebrity endorsement comes from Jack Black as he reminds the audience of Linklater’s capabilities as a director, and what he simply refuses to take part in because he doesn’t have to.
Everybodys Wants Some
It’s been touted as the “spiritual sequel” to Dazed and Confused, but honestly it doesn’t need the callback for the hype. Centering on a Texas baseball team as they get ready for the first day of classes and get accustomed to their new teammates, Everybody Wants Some was exactly what you think it is. Smart, witty, funny, at times slow, and mostly delving into the lives of college jocks in the early 80’s. What it lacks in depth it makes up for in a blanketed sentiment that Linklater is so well-versed in. There was a definite lack in a dynamic female characters, which tends to be problematic considering women are in fact, people too. However, that’s not what the film was about. The search for companionship, love, and even sex came second to the brotherhood aspect that stepped forth as the major influence in the film. Glen Powell’s (Scream Queens) character Finn carries the film. Just as with the Ryan Murphy television, show he literally steals every scene he’s in just by consistently being the best one in it. What’s disappointing is the film holds our hand through each scene like we need a reminder that they’re jocks, but they’ve got other qualities too (sort of). At one point the lead character Jake even points out the obvious identity crises the team suffers as they do their best to navigate through the trials of college life. It was missing that instant magic Linklater’s film tend to have with their invisible narrative, but still managed to be good, an adjective that perfectly encapsulates the whole thing. It was just, good. Not memorable, not exciting, no. Just…good.
Midnight Shorts (Part one)
The shortest of the shorts, this film explored that absolute horror of the unknown. Or rather, the only slightly known. A man falls down and hits his head, waking up in a small bright room strapped to a table. One of his eyes is propped open in a very Clockwork Orange fashion, and as he screams for help a neon sign flashes brightly “QUIET PLEASE”. The sign trick is comical, and honestly could have lasted the whole short with the well timed situation. As he begins to quiet down, a panel opens up in the ceiling, and slowly a human butt is lowered about his nose. The tension mounts, is this horror? Gore? Gross out humor? What, what?! After a tense 30 seconds, the unknown butt simply toots on his nose, and goes back into the ceiling. He’s free to leave. Fucking fantastic.
Probably the best short of all, “Seth” is the story of a young man and his quest to accomplish all 11 of his goals. His only friends seem to be his inanimate stuffed animals and of course a creepy looking Gremlin type figurine “Christopher”. His goals are all rather inane, though hilarious, and as he moves on through his day he does his best to keep his eye on the prize. After 11 is finally accomplished, he throws himself a party with bottles of champagne littering his bedroom among his quiet friends. After a fight with a clown piñata his party goes a little off track when suddenly Christopher appears. Seth explains that Christopher is angry he wasn’t invited to the accomplishment party, and quickly breaks down admitting he had one more accomplishment he didn’t get to: making his father proud. The resulting next few minutes is probably one of the funniest sequences filmed in years. Seth blends into walls by wearing white clothing, terrifies his father into an angry tizzy, makes a mockery of creamed corn, and more oh so graphically fantastic gross out humorous activities. Between Seth’s reactions to failing his father, the actors’ reluctant chemistry, and the silent stuffed friends, it’s all perfectly wonderful.
“The Smiling Man”
Terrifying in its inception, “The Smiling Man” is a lesson in allowing your imagination to stray passed reality, and…trusting strangers? Maybe? A little girl sits upstairs as she watches old cartoons. After an uncertain moment of a questionable shadow, she leaves the comfort of her bedroom into the unknown dark hallway to investigate further. She’s curious, though unafraid, a she creeps forward sure-stepped. She’s quickly rewarded with a bright red balloon weighed down with dirt and dolls parts. Then with another, this time blue, sitting on the stairwell. One last balloon takes her into the kitchen, where long, crooked-pointed fingers grabs along a cabinet and beckons her forward. It’s jarring how quickly we get the full on creature. His crackled white skin and pointed teeth would be bad enough were it not for his Gollum-like stance and constant smirk. The little girl remains cautious, but unafraid. Sensing her worry, the creature smiles largely, pointing to a pool of blood on the floor next to him. With a flick of his gnarled finger, he rubs the blood onto his eyes and mouth in the fashion of the scariest clown ever. He cackles, and the girl finally finds her fear as she sees where the blood came from.
My day started with some half-baked virtual reality exhibits (which sounded like a better idea than it was) and ended with an unfinished film by one of the best duos in comedy today. With the festival now in full swing, here’s a look at how my day two stacked up. -Christian Long
My Blind Brother
Back in 2003, writer/director Sophie Goodhart wowed SXSW with her short film about the sibling rivalry between two brothers, one of whom is blind — as you may have guessed by the title. Thirteen years later, she returned with a feature-length version of her directorial debut, which she enthusiastically referred to as “a dream.”
“The short was just about the two brothers, and I’d thought I put it to bed. It wasn’t ever meant to be something I could use to sell a feature, but it just lingered, it stayed with me. Then, I was writing something about Jenny’s character [Jenny Slate, who plays Rose] in the movie, and it was like, these two stories can go together. There was a long intermission between the two ideas, but it kind of organically grew. [The feature] is different tonally.”
The tone that the films ends up with is a striking one. It’s almost black comedy, but has a bit too much heart. Yet not nearly enough heart to be considered even remotely sentimental. What it ends up being is a story about two brothers, the arrogantly jockular Robbie (Adam Scott), and his black sheep brother, Bill (Nick Kroll), who end up vying for the same woman. Also, Robbie’s the blind one, and after years of adulation, has become something of a bully, a role that Scott seems custom-made for.
Set in Cleveland, Ohio, the cast lived in close proximity during filming, helping to build on the three actors’ already established rapport. Nick Kroll described the close-knit experience for him and his co-stars.
“It was actually pretty cool. We lived in this neighborhood called Tremont, the Brooklyn of Cleveland, and we lived in this building that was a former naval hospital, and the Cavs were in the playoffs when they were there, we got to go to a game, it was really cool. We’d drive to and from set everyday, Jenny and I would call Adam Alan or Aaron or Almond, like we could never remember his name, which was fun. (Side note: this joke did not stop running throughout the night, and it was funny every time.)
The not-quite definable genre, coupled with the never-quite comfortable tone –is a testament to Goodhart’s originality as a storyteller. Scott’s character is a self-centered bully, Kroll’s is a sad-sack basket case, yet we’re shown glimpses of a genuine affection between the two despite a palpable resentment. Balanced out with a wonderful performance from Jenny Slate as Rose, blaming herself for the sudden death of her last boyfriend, and third point to these characters’ love triangle, she delivers a nuanced and endearing comedic performance.
“I loved the closed quarters, I think it was good” explained Slate about the cast’s living situation. “I was already very close with Nick but then Zoe [Kazan] and I got super super close during the shoot. We lived together, and I do think it helped.”
It seems likely that it was the cast’s living situation that helped add a certain authenticity to a story that could’ve easily sold itself out for cheap laughs. Not that there aren’t several laugh-out-loud moments (quite a few of them, actually), but for a trio of lead actors known almost exclusively for comedy, they each bring a unique dimension to their respective characters.
“It’s fun to stretch it out,” said Kroll, “especially to do it with Jenny and Adam who are largely known for their comedic abilities, but have each done a lot of dramatic work and are both very fine actors. It was really fun to be able to do stuff with people who you all know one way, but all have such a variety of skillsets as performers.”
What results is a romantic comedy that foregoes any cheap laughs in favor of interesting characters thrown into an extraordinary plotline. Or, as Zoe Kazan explained “[Sophie Goodhart] made this really great film about people.”
Brace yourselves, America. The 80s screwball comedy is back. Not in the sense of a rebooted studio property, but rather with the kind of over-the-top antics that could only come from Key & Peele, who debuted their as-yet-unfinished feature film debut as part of an after-midnight screening.
The plot breaks down like this, a guy gets dumped, then gets depressed until a kitten mysteriously shows up on his doorstep. Director Peter Atencio, a longtime collaborator with the duo, explained how they approached filmmaking vs. their now-cancelled sketch comedy show.
“We took everything a little bit more seriously. We made sure that the story was really strong. You know, part of it is making people laugh, so we wanted it to be funny, but we wanted it to be an engaging story that had characters that had a growth or a journey. And they took the acting really seriously. They really put themselves in these characters that were vulnerable on screen, and also incredibly funny.”
Now, at this point, I could excerpt out some further synopsis or editorialized recap, but it would be pointless to do so. And as much as I’d like to expound on the comedic intricacies of Key explaining the value of George Michael to a bunch of hardened gang-bangers (a scene I could’ve watched go on for hours) Instead, here’s a list of all the things that Key & Peele talked about on the red carpet tonight.
Favorite Keanu Reeves movie:
I Love You To Death. A deep cut, Key admits. The Matrix is number two.
What audiences will love most about their new movie:
Key: “People are gonna like the premise of this movie. It’s a real simple, fun, crazy, there’s a lot of frivolity to the premise, and I think people are just gonna be like this is NUTS!
On the annual Game of Thrones exhibit held every year:
Key: “We didn’t [go] yet. And I have got to get up on that Iron throne! That’s happening tomorrow. This. Is. So. Happening. Tomorrow!”
On working with their co-star, a kitten:
Key: “I’m tellin’ ya, if you’re in the scene…”
Peele: “Well, you don’t have to work with animals up front-
Key: “No, no, no. You may as well just go behind. Because they’re gonna take the cake. It’s true. That’s why we gotta give it up to the cat. We know the cat is going to be the thrust of everything that happens. You take what you can.
Me: “So, the cat’s the heart?”
Key: “That’s right Christian. The cat is the heart. That’s gonna be the new motto. We’re gonna put that on the posters.”
Peele: “The cats are better trained than we are.”
Me: “So that’s a real cat in every scene? You didn’t rely on CGI at any point?”
Key: “Nope. Real cat. Real, practical cat in the movie.
Peele: “A CG me in there, to cover up for some awful acting.”
Key: “He’s only in 30% of the movie.”
Peele: “It’s true Andy Serkis played me 70% of the time.”
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