Interesting stuff, don’t you think? The future is now!
But what I really came to see at SXSW are the movies, and I got down to business with four (my usual pace, here), two of which were documentaries and two of which were narrative (fiction) films. I loved one of them (a doc), sort of like another (a narrative), and disliked the other two, finding very little to admire in them. Too bad for me. Check out my post about Saturday, my post about Sunday, my post about Monday and my post about Tuesday to see how I spent my first four days here.
Stone Barn Castle (Adrien Brody/Kevin Ford, 2015)
I’m not sure what motivated me to go see this, since the premise should have clued me into the incredibly self-involved and self-indulgent nature of the project. Still, I often like Adrien Brody (The Pianist) as an actor, and thought he might have something interesting to say about architectural history and restoration in a film billed as a profile of the process he went through to renovate a well-known old home, which he purchased in 2007. Sadly, while the film certainly does present aspects of that process, it is mainly about the rise and fall of Adrien Brody’s moods. Occasionally, we get snippets of drama and conflict – between Brody and his then-partner, actress Elsa Pataky (Fast & Furious 6), or between Brody and his contractors – but the focus (when the camera is in focus) is squarely on Brody. Still, there is enough life in those scenes to make one long for what could have been. Instead, just when things start to heat up, we cut away to one of the interminable musical montages of Brody and Pataky (or Brody and his contractors, or just the contractors) working on the house. Kevin Ford (Brody’s co-director, and maker of the upcoming Legs) might have been better served if he had had free reign over the material. Who knows? What I do know is that when the part of the story that most intrigued me – the relationship between Brody and Pataky – is given its ending (Brody and Pataky separated in 2009) via a title card and then never addressed again, I, myself, was out as much out of the picture as was Pataky.
The Salt of the Earth (Juliano Ribeiro Salgado/Wim Wenders, 2014)
Winner of “Un Certain Regard” Special Prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, and a 2015 Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature, The Salt of the Earth is an ethereally beautiful tribute to renowned Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado. Co-directed by Wim Wenders (Buena Vista Social Club) and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (Nauru, an Island Adrift) – son of Sebastião – the film takes us on a journey through time, place and the deep truths of our existence as we learn about Salgado’s work, its evolution, and its impact. Originally trained as an economist, Salgado has always highlighted important social issues – poverty, violence and genocide – in his stark black-and-white images, and we revisit all of the milestones of his career. Some of the photographs are incredibly graphic – especially those taken in the middle of the Rwandan atrocities in the 1990s – and though it can be difficult to look at them, seeing the work reminds us of the power and necessity of visual art to illuminate that which cannot be put into words. The Salt of the Earth – at times dreamy, at times shocking – is a film that everyone must see.
The Invitation (Karyn Kusama, 2015)
Since her first feature, Girlfight, Karyn Kusama has hardly been the most prolific of directors – a problem not unique to her, as women have a harder time landing directing gigs in Hollywood than do men – but she has not been entirely absent, either, helming the Charlize Theron vehicle Æon Flux and Megan Fox indie horror comedy Jennifer’s Body. Perhaps it was that last film that drew her to this new project, since The Invitation has elements of horror in it, though “creeper” might be a better designation for its odd take on the genre (its imdb page lists it as a “thriller”). A film that is 90% set-up and 10% payoff, The Invitation is the kind of movie that asks you to suspend your disbelief in a major way (you’ll be asking yourself why none of the main characters leave once things turn strange), yet is not without its atmospheric rewards. With a mostly appealing cast – especially Logan Marshall-Green (Prometheus) in the lead – the film delivers on dread, yet drags out the proceedings in a way that makes its 90-minute length feel less than brisk. Still, Kusama knows her away around a camera, and the ending is just surprising enough to make some of the earlier predictability seem worth it.
A Wonderful Cloud (Eugene Kotlyarenko, 2015)
I hated this movie. A lo-fi, lo-res film made with very little sense of story, with annoying characters who neither grow, change nor rise above the level of 12-year-old tweens in their behavior, A Wonderful Cloud has the added benefit of shoving our faces in genitalia and ejaculate (which I guess would be an appropriate obsession for bratty kids). Director and star Kotlyarenko (0s & 1s) has an interesting face, and casts indie darling Kate Lyn Sheil (The Heart Machine) as his partner in gross-out crime, but neither are able to rise above the limitations of the mumblecore genre. If you like that kind of stuff, great. If not, stay away.