Review: SXSW Films – Part 1

By Laurie Coker

Having been caught up on the buzz of SXSW and all that entails, I found myself a bit distracted by the Interactive portion, but I did manage to get some quality and some cruddy films under my belt. I skipped out on red carpets this year, opting instead to find out about new and advancing technologies and the like. I attended a few panels, saw a few big wigs in technology speak and a couple of famous faces. This is always the time of year when I wish I could clone myself, see more and do more – with one clone of me sitting on the beach with my toes in the sand.

The first SXSW film I watched was Midnight Special, a bizarre story about a boy named Alton with unusual powers whose father, Roy, takes him on the run to protect him from those who want to exploit his special abilities. Joel Edgerton (Lucas), who costars with Michael Shannon (Roy), spoke at the conference – asking audiences to “embrace the mystery” of the tale and let the imagination run free. His character supports Roy as the trio evades authorities and a religious leader who has been thus far raising Alton. Suspension of belief is necessary with the story, because Alton’s powers are beyond exceptional. Playing out like a mix of Sci-Fi and simple chase movie, Midnight Special (a title I still don’t understand) offered an excellent start to the 2016 festival in an early screening. C+

Everybody Wants Some, the newest offering from Texas local Richard Linklater, opened the festival on Friday night to a packed Paramount house and is getting rave reviews. I can’t rave exactly, but I truly enjoyed this comedy about a college baseball team and its exploits both off and on the field.  Like Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some explores the excitement and escapades associated with being young. While I easily connected with the individuals in Dazed and Confused, I’m far older now and more removed from the characters in Everybody Wants Some, but still, I can relate, and so will anyone else. It’s a fun two hours with engaging characters and a fresh cast – including Blake Jenner, Zoey Deutch (daughter of Lea Thompson), Ryan Guzman and Wyatt Russell (son of Kirk Russell and Goldie Hawn). Positively, Everybody Wants Some is a highlight from the festival. B-

Another highlight of the festival is My Blind Brother, an upbeat film, filled with seemingly miserable people. The comedy, centered around a swim competition and sibling rivalry and an unlikely love story, stars Nick Kroll and Jenny Slate.  Ultimately it is a fun-loving story albeit a tepid rom-com. Sophie Goodhart’s My Blind Brother really is amusing and fresh. She avoids many of the romantic comedy clichés, opting instead to embrace real qualities, like laziness, selfishness and resentment, making it ironically refreshing. It is both crude and sweet and makes for an interesting diversion. B

Miss Stevens, a film that chronicles the tales of a young teacher and her relationship with students, will wrap up this first follow up to SXSW. Starring Lily Rabe as the title character, director Julie Hart’s film debut crosses the line between a teacher caring for students (her job), caring too much for them as people. As a result she must learn to separate herself from the teacher. The toll these relationships take on her is all too telling, especially since Miss Stevens walks between adult and youth. She makes grave mistakes in the balance – bedding a married teacher, drinking in front of students and other actions that might be considered “normal” for a woman her age, but not here, not as a teacher. She struggles to find her true north as an educator because of them. Rabe is particularly mesmerizing. Beautifully envisioned and wonderfully acted, Miss Stevens is a must see. B

 

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