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JoBlo.com/SXSW #1

03.15.2005


by Scott Weinberg

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Intro / Day 1

Opening weekend at the 2005 SXSW Film Festival was just full of stuff: great stuff, godawful stuff, and all sorts of goodies in between. There were a few cool parties, a ton of friendly folks, and (of course) lots of good, greasy food. Through pure good fortune I've been able to meet and greet movie folks like Harry Dean Stanton, Seymour Cassel, Paul Provenza, Paget Brewster and Laura Breckenridge. ("Laura who??" Yeah, just you wait. You'll know that name soon enough.) But, as always, the movie's the thing...and SXSW is always good for a heaping dose of movie-time bliss.

THE WENDELL BAKER STORY

Director: Luke Wilson, Andrew Wilson
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Eva Mendes, Eddie Griffin, Seymour Cassel

The opening night film was a Wilson Brothers joint. Written by Luke, co-directed by Luke & Andrew, and starring Luke & Owen is a solid little comedy of redemption called THE WENDELL BAKER STORY. Luke stars as a wise-ass ne'er-do-well who has a sweet girlfiriend (Eva Mendes) and a "career" that consists of creating fake IDs for illegal Mexican immigrants. A trip to the slammer and outright dumpage by his squeeze is not enough to set Wendell's life in the right direction...but his new job at a "retirement hotel" just might do the trick. The flick's sort of a modern-day tall tale farce, one that benefits from great performances all around, a sweet streak of sincere romance, and an admirably quirky sense of humor. Looks like all that work with Wes Anderson might have rubbed off on the Wilson boys, and the result is a sweet, weird little comedy.

HOOLIGANS
(click here to see trailer)

Director: Lexi Alexander
Cast: Elijah Wood, Charlie Hunnam, Claire Forlani Marc Warren, Leo Gregory

Next up was a slick, rough and insightful flick entitled HOOLIGANS, which focuses on young British men who love nothing more than getting piss-drunk before watching a soccer match and then participating in huge, bloody street brawls. Elijah Wood is the wide-eyed Yank who gets in over his head, Claire Forlani is his well-intentioned yet ineffectual sister, and Charlie Hunnam is blisteringly great as one of the head hooligans. Director Lexi Alexander keeps the fight sequences kinetic and exciting, yet the movie never comes close to glorifying or romanticizing the vicious stupidity of these activities, while the human end of the drama is realized with truthfulness and canny insight. Good stuff!

UNLEASHED
(click here to see trailer)

Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Jet Li, Morgan Freeman, Bob Hoskins, Kerry Condon

The first midnight screening of the festival was UNLEASHED, a rather dry and ridiculous action movie that's annoyingly light on the action. Jet Li stars as a mob boss' enforcer who turns into a ravenous lunatic once his metal "dog collar" is removed. Bob Hoskins is oily and hateful as the manipulative crime lord, and Morgan Freeman tries to lend some grace to the affair playing a blind piano tuner. The flick is essentially ten minutes of action, 75 minutes of interminable pulp melodrama, and then another ten minutes of action. Strictly a weeknight DVD rental all the way...if even.

SOUTHERN BELLES

Director: Paul S. Myers, Brennan Shroff
Cast: Anna Faris, Laura Breckenridge, Justin Chambers, Fred Weller, Judah Friedlander

One of the festival's most pleasant surprises so far is a rock-solid little farce entitled SOUTHERN BELLES, which could possibly be described as "Romy & Michelle's Southern Belle Cousins" - except that this movie is considerably better than the Sorvino/Kudrow affair. I could mention the great goofy performance by Anna Faris or the brilliantly hilarious scene-stealing Fred Weller or even the great work delivered by a pair of freshmen directors...but "Southern Belles" will ultimately be remembered as the debut movie of Ms. Laura Breckenridge. With comedy chops a mile wide and a smile that could melt dry ice, Laura B. is absolutely a star waiting to happen. As the light-hearted goofiness of "Southern Belles" wore on and this actress worked her way into my heart, I was reminded of someone like Natalie Portman and/or Keira Knightley. This gal's gonna be a multiplex mainstay someday soon. Bet on it.

REEKER

Director: David Payne
Cast: Eric Mabius, Scott Whyte, Tina Illman, Derek Richardson, Devon Gummersall, Arielle Kebbel, Michael Ironside, David Hadinger, Marcia Strassman

Another trip to the Midnight Movie well yielded an entertaining low-budget gore-parade entitled REEKER. It's basically about five relatively clueless college kids who drive out into the desert in search of a rave. Suffice to say they discover something a whole lot nastier...not to mention goopier. Horror fans should absolutely find something to like here...even if some of the material feels a bit familiar here and there.

Those are just a handful of the movies I've seen so far, so be sure to check back for the next reports!

Source: JoBlo.com

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