SXSW 2010: Day 2

SXSW Day 2, the first full day of the film festival (and sadly my last) began early for me with a panel discussion featuring acclaimed horror directors Neil Marshall (“The Descent”), Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”), Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield”), Ti West (“The House of the Dead”), and Robert Rodriguez (“Desperado”). The participation of Marshall and Rodriguez was a surprise (they replaced Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth who cancelled late the night before). The discussion revolved around the challenges of directing genre films, specifically horror, and the ways the genre has changed and will continue to change. The discussion was interesting. I’m not a huge horror film (the main reason I attended was just to see some well-known directors), but all the panelists told some cool stories.

The most interesting stuff to come out of the discussion was the progress being made on a “Zombieland” sequel (which will be in 3D), as well as some comments from Matt Reeves about his upcoming film “Let Me In,” a remake of the beloved Swedish horror film, “Let the Right One In.” Reeves said he has made this film with a tremendous amount of respect for the original, which he repeatedly referred to as a masterpiece. Reeves said the whole project is incredibly personal to him, and he wanted to make something that’s something more than most horror remakes. When a studio approached him to do the film, they suggested he make the kids older. Reeves said he thought this would be a disaster, and throughout filming, he resisted many other changes that would’ve changed the spirit of the original. This was a project I was not at all looking forward to. I haven’t yet seen the original (although I plan to this week), but horror remakes are usually pretty terrible, and I thought this one sounded like a quick money-grab. I have more faith in it after hearing Reeves’s passion for the project. I’m not going to say I’ll definitely see it, but it’s certainly on my radar. “Let Me In” opens this fall.

After the discussion (and some delicious tacos), I headed to my first screening of the day. The film was “Mars” and it was playing at the amazing Alamo Drafthouse Ritz. Before I get to the film, let me tell you a little about the venue. It’s small – much smaller than the nearly 1,200-seat Paramount that housed “Kick-Ass” and the two other films I saw on Saturday. The seats are huge and incredibly comfortable, but the most remarkable thing about this cinema is that they actually serve you food and drinks throughout the film. So while I enjoyed “Mars” – don’t worry, I’ll get to the film itself in a minute – I also enjoyed a burger and a beer (although I kind of wish I went with the fish tacos and margarita that the girl next to me had).

Anyway, the film was definitely interesting. It was directed by Geoff Marslett, a professor of animation at the University of Texas. Using the always interesting technique of rotoscope animation, “Mars” details the first manned mission to the red planet in the year 2015. The plot isn’t that original, and the film didn’t do very much to surprise me, but the animation was beautifully done and the tone was great. Full of irreverant humor, “Mars” was, if not challenging, certainly enjoyable.

I thought “Mars” was pretty funny, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the next film I saw, “Micmacs,” which was definitely the best, most enjoyable film I saw at South by Southwest. Directed by the man who gave us “Amelie,” this film follows a band of homeless misfits who go after evil weapons manufacturers. It’s the ultimate David vs. Goliath tale, but it’s told in such a light-hearted way that it seems impossible not to enjoy it. Everything is a gag. Jean-Pierre Jeunet leaves no stone unturned in his quest to entertain. I’ll detail it more thoroughly in my review later this week, but it definitely stood out above everything else I saw at the festival.

The final film I saw at SXSW was “Cyrus,” something I had been really anticipating since it scored rave reviews as Sundance earlier this year. The Duplass Brothers are certainly an acquired taste, but everything I read about it told me this was much different from their last feature, “Baghead,” which I was less than enthusiastic about. While the film was much different thematically, the style was much the same and my feelings about it were quite similar (although on the whole, I think I preferred “Cyrus” slightly over “Baghead”). The film follows John (John C. Reilly), a lonely man whose ex-wife (Catherine Keener) is about to be remarried. He meets the woman of his dreams (Marisa Tomei) at a party, and the two become close. But after John meets her immature, somewhat demented son Cyrus (Jonah Hill), the romance that has awoken John out of the doldrums is in jeopardy.

Without getting too detailed (again, that will come later this week with a full review), I thought the film was funny, sometimes hilarious. But the filmmaking style makes the final product seem shoddy. The Duplass Brothers specialize in making extremely low-budget films. This is their first foray into a studio picture (as evidenced by the presence of stars like Reilly, Hill, Keener, and Tomei), but the production value still makes it seem like it was made for next to nothing. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it diminished this film for me. I think the brothers are talented, but this one was another miss for me.

What wasn’t a miss, however, was the brilliant Q&A after “Cyrus.” John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill joined the Duplass Brothers on stage to answer some very interesting questions from the packed theater. To be fair, I didn’t think all of the questions asked were as asinine as they made it seem (for example, someone asked if Cartman from “South Park” was at all an inspiration for the character of Cyrus – he must be!), but the four panelists enjoyed riffing on the audience and each other. They were all in top form, especially Reilly. He really seemed to be enjoying himself, and he helped me (and I think the entire audience that night) have a lot of fun.

That was it—my first SXSW experience. I absolutely loved it; my only complaint was that I couldn’t stay the entire time. As I’ve said, I’ll be reviewing the four films (in order of preference: “Micmacs,” “Kick-Ass,” “Mars,” and “Cyrus”) throughout the week. I hope you enjoyed reading this beast of a blog post (as well as my ceaseless tweeting over the weekend). I also hope I’ll be able to make it to SXSW again someday, but next up on the festival front for me is Tribeca near the end of April.

Until then, enjoy the reviews!

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