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SXSW Recap : Feature Films

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Tim Basham at SXSW, 2005


A few more reviews from the 2005 SXSW Film Festival

Josh Jarman

Marcus Graham, Kestie Morassi, Damien Richardson, Daniela Farinacci, Kim Gyngell

The first half hour of “Josh Jarman” is decent enough—familiar and comfortable like an old friend. There’s Josh the struggling playwright, his bumbling roommate, a wild, new girlfriend whose father is a big time theatrical producer and whose mother attempts to seduce Josh. But, in one manner or another, we’ve seen it all before.

Then, suddenly, the girl next door has an interesting, very personal experience with a cello while playing Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 in G Minor. The roommate is robbing convenience stores—badly. Josh’s dark and serious play is turning into an extravagant musical production.

Add some sharp and witty dialogue with terrific comedic timing by a well performing cast and you’ve got a film that is actually more than comfortable. In fact, for his first feature film, writer/director Pip Mushin has made a very impressive debut.

Although the picture was produced and filmed in Australia, there is an American feel to “Josh” with noticeable influences from successful comedies like “When Harry Met Sally” and “Tootsie”.

Australian actor Marcus Graham plays Josh with an aw-shucks Clark Kent/Buster Keaton charm as he attempts to get his play to the big stage. His dream appears to come true, but at the expense of his own integrity when a producer and director make drastic changes to his script.

Damien Richardson is hilarious as Josh’s friend and roommate, especially as a hapless criminal with a phony knife. The “VH1-We Are The Eighties” soundtrack was less impressive, and the movie’s biggest weakness.

Australia’s film industry is sometimes criticized for failing to put out consistent, quality productions. But if films like “Josh Jarman” are a sign of the industry’s future, there is much to look forward to down under.

Palindromes

Ellen Barkin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Richard Masur

A palindrome (in case, like me, you didn’t know) is a word or phrase that is spelled the same, forward or backward. Such as “Dammit I’m mad” or “Don’t nod”—an emotion and an action perhaps felt while watching “Palindromes”, Todd Solondz’ latest quirk-piece about 13-year-old Aviva, whose only dream is to have a baby.

“No one ever changes,” someone tells her. “They think they do, but they don’t.”

But Aviva does when she finds herself being played by an entire actress’ workshop. Little girls, big girls, white girls, black girls—they’re all Aviva. One character, lots of actresses. Get the picture? Good. It took me awhile.

Aviva’s dream appears to be fulfilled when she becomes pregnant. But Aviva’s mother (Ellen Barkin) see things a little differently and takes her daughter to an abortion clinic—complete with protestors hollering outside the door. To escape the pain Aviva runs away and finds herself on a modern day Wonderland journey where no one is quite as they appear. (Notice that the name Aviva is a palindrome.)

Although the film is full of political and moral land mines on the subjects of abortion and religion, Solondz goes out of his way to not take sides and that takes us in some awkward directions. Do we care to follow along? Do we care what happens to Aviva? Does Solondz care if we care? Did I actually watch this whole movie? I did, did I? (Sorry…I couldn’t resist.)

Cavite SXSW 2005 Special Jury Award for Best Narrative Feature

Ian Gamazon

“Cavite” would never have been seen, let alone win an award, if it weren’t for film festivals such as SXSW.

Co-directors and co-writers Neill Dela Llana and Ian Gamazon had a budget so low that when no actress would play the lead role, they had to rewrite the part for a male so that Gamazon could play it himself.

When Adam (Gamazon) flies from America to his homeland of The Philippines for his father’s funeral, the last thing he expects is a phone call from a terrorist threatening to kill his family if he doesn’t do exactly as told. Filmed on location, we are taken along with Adam on an intense and terrifying journey through third world slums, back alley murders and terrorist kidnappers.

Using only available light and a digital video camera, Llana and Gamazon have created a thought-provoking, edge-of-your-seat thriller that sets a high standard for other filmmakers to focus more on the quality of their creative talents and less on the quantity in their bank accounts.

Shooting Livien

Jason Behr, Dominic Monaghan, Joshua Leonard, Ally Sheedy, Sarah Wynter, Polly Draper, Jay O. Sanders

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then “Shooting Livien” is truly a sincere film. However, sincere does not necessarily mean good.

Jason Behr stars as John Livien, a talented singer/songwriter whose biggest influence was John Lennon. But, Livien carries the influence to the point of madness as he “channels” Lennon both on and off stage. Even his band mates Owen (Dominic Monaghan) and Robby (Joshua Leonard) are having problems with Livien’s multiple personality. When their manager (Ally Sheedy) brings them to the edge of stardom, Livien begins to self destruct.

Behr is convincing as the tortured musician. What’s less convincing, or engaging, is the story itself. Livien just isn’t that interesting a figure. And his Beatlesque music is so-so. That leaves us with few characters to save a promising, but in the end, disappointing film.

Monaghan is excellent as Livien’s band mate and friend with some of the better scenes coming between the two.

Whether for artistic or legal reasons, the conscious effort to omit Lennon’s name and likeness was noticeable and distracting. In spite of good intentions, “Shooting Livien” falls short.

The Thing About My Folks

Paul Reiser, Peter Falk, Elizabeth Perkins, Olympia Dukakis

It’s good to see Paul Reiser on the screen. His multiple Emmy-nominated performances in TV’s “Mad About You” in the 90’s were an inspiration for married men everywhere. Reiser’s newest film “The Thing About My Folks”, which he wrote and starred in, is an absolute delight.

Sam Kleinman (Reiser) is looking for a house in the country because he believes it’s what his wife (Elizabeth Perkins) has always wanted. (We later learn that’s not exactly true.) Along for the ride is Sam’s father Ben (Peter Falk) whose wife (Olympia Dukakis) has just walked out on him. While looking at houses they have car problems that can’t be fixed immediately and are forced to spend a night in rural America. And that’s when the father-son relationship is explored, with some very funny outcomes.

Sam begins to see his father in a new light. When Sam complains that his dad never took him fishing, Ben takes him fishing—right that minute. The day continues with a ball game, dinner, line dancing and even a bar fight.

Falk, who’s pushing 80, is as sharp as ever in “Folks”. And Reiser has written a warm, sentimental and humorous script perfect for the chemistry between he and Falk. We can only hope the chemistry extends beyond one film.

Four Eyed Monsters

Arin Crumley, Susan Buice

Everyday we’re surrounded by images of couples in love, or what filmmakers Arin Crumley and Susan Buice call “Four Eyed Monsters”, the title of their semi-documentary film. Based on the real story of how they met and became one of those four eyed creatures themselves, Crumley and Buice recreate their atypical courtship on film which begins with Crumley “stalking” Buice with his video camera and emailing her the results. Instead of calling the cops, she suggests a date “with a unique scenario” that develops into several meetings with no talking, just notes and drawings.

The story is entertaining with understated comedy interspersed with “real” people expounding on their own relationships. And by shooting the story in a variety of styles, including animation and dream sequences, the film moves along nicely—although Crumley’s obsession and concern over a possible, sexually transmitted disease drags out a little too long.

I greatly enjoyed the last few minutes as it transformed into a true documentary on the making of the film when one of them wrote, “I’m going to say something” and the other wrote “I’m going to film it” culminating in Crumley receiving a call about their acceptance into a film festival.

In the end we learn what we already know, but that’s okay. The four-eyed monster is always among us. Resistance is futile.

Max And Grace

David Krumholtz, Natasha Lyonne, Tim Blake Nelson, Lorraine Bracco, David Paymer, Rosanna Arquette, David Paymer, Karen Black, Guillermo Diaz

Max (David Krumholtz) is a likable guy—pathetic and suicidal, but likable. So when he meets and falls in love with Grace, a fellow patient at the mental institution his parents have committed him to, we’re anxious to see what it is that makes Grace so special. We wait, and we wait. And by the end of the film, we’re still waiting. And that’s the problem with “Max And Grace”.

When a character like Grace spends the majority of the movie trying to kill herself, we need to see some kind of redeeming quality to sympathize, or even empathize with. Regrettably, Grace has none, or anything close to it. All she wants to do is die, no matter how much Max loves her.

In spite of excellent performances from Rosanna Arquette and Guillermo Diaz as mental inmates and Tim Blake Nelson playing no less than four characters, the story is weak. Love is blind, and crazy. But in this case, it’s just plain hopeless.

– TIM BASHAM

Previous SXSW Reports
Moviehole at SXSW : Documenataries
Moviehole at SXSW : Hooligans
Moviehole at SXSW : Layer Cake
Moviehole at SXSW : Gore, Wilsons, Grappell
Moviehole at SXSW : Who is Grace Lee?
Moviehole at SXSW : Deadroom delivers
Moviehole at SXSW : Warm-Up Lap
Moviehole at SXSW : Pre-Festival Report

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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