SXSW Movie Review: Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie, a documentary directed by Jay Delaney, is, true to the title, not about Bigfoot (a.k.a. Sasquatch, a.k.a. Yeti), the mythical apelike giant that first chronicled in the 1920s in the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, and, more recently, the American Midwest. Bigfoot has appeared in stories, novels, horror films, and on television in an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. More than eighty years after the first sightings and despite the efforts of researchers, Bigfoot’s existence remains uncorroborated, a mystery to some, a myth to others, and the life work for others. Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie follows Wayne Burton and Dallas Gilbert, middle-aged friends, Portsmouth, Ohio residents, and amateur researchers who claim to have seen and photographed Bigfoot.

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The Assassination of a High School President [9/10]

Just three years old, high school-noir got its start with Rian Johnson’s Brick (released in 2006 after being picked up at the Sundance Film Festival a year earlier). Set in a Northern California high school and centered on the investigation of missing student by her former boyfriend, a detective of sorts, and featuring hyper-stylized dialogue and impressive visual design and cinematography, Brick was a noir fan’s dream (other film fans were probably not as impressed). The Assassination of a High School President takes a similar premise (minus the hyper-stylized dialogue), borrows classic noir elements (e.g., the detective, the femme fatale, moral ambiguity, corruption, double- and triple crosses), and combines them with teen genre elements to create a wholly satisfying, enthralling high school-noir every bit the equal of Brick.

Funke (Reece Thompson), a sophomore at a Catholic high school in New Jersey, St. Donovan’s, sees the perfect opportunity to make a name for himself and get a coveted summer scholarship at Northwestern after SAT exams are stolen from the principal’s safe during a basketball game. Despite a crush on the student paper’s editor-in-chief, Clara (Melonie Diaz), Funke really longs for Francesca Piazza (Mischa Barton), the most beautiful girl in high school. She’s also wealthy (or rather her family is). Funke’s investigation eventually the evidence points to the student body president, Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor), a not bright jock dating Francesca. A front-page article later and Funke is at the top of the world. Francesca shows interest in him, he’s invited to one of her parties, and gets the summer scholarship to Northwestern. Francesca’s step-brother, Marlon (Luke Grimes), replaces Moore as president.

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SXSW Movie Review: Dreams with Sharp Teeth

Dreams with Sharp Teeth

Dreams with Sharp Teeth, a twenty-six-years-in-the-making bio-doc on the life, times, rants, and raves of science fiction writer/raconteur Harlan Ellison directed by Erik Nelson, is a perfect primer for anyone unfamiliar with Ellison’s contributions to the written word, television, and film. Be forewarned, though, Nelson gives Ellison free reign to express his dissatisfaction about anything and everything, from television as opiate (an old argument, that) to creator rights in a tangled, media-saturated world. As fascinating as Dreams with Sharp Teeth is, it’s also frustrating for the questions Nelson doesn’t ask (probably to avoid a patented Ellison rant or rave about whatever subject crosses his path).

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SXSW Movie Review: Dear Zachary

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father

Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father, a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking documentary edited and directed by Kurt Kuenne explores, in often excruciating detail, the death of his best friend, Andrew Bagby, a twenty-eight year old doctor completing his residency in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. On the morning of November 5, 2001, Bagby’s bullet-riddled body was found in a public park. Suspicion almost immediately turned to Bagby’s ex-girlfriend, Dr. Shirley Turner, a Canadian woman who studied with Bagby at Memorial University of Newfoundland. She moved to the United States to be closer to Bagby. As Turner’s arrest seemed imminent, she fled back to St. John’s, a small city in Newfoundland, Canada.

Kuenne initially set out to document his friend’s life through interviews with friends, family members, medical students from Memorial University, and Bagby’s fellow residents at the hospital in Latrobe. As the Bagby case focused on Turner, Kuenne began to follow it with greater interest. Turner’s extradition back to the United States, however, proved more difficult than expected. Delay followed delay. Turner was released on bail (twice). When Turner announced that she was pregnant with Andrew’s child, his parents, Kate and David, decided to leave their lives in California behind and move to Newfoundland.

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SXSW Movie Review: The Upsetter

The Upsetter

Written and directed by Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough, The Upsetter promises, with more than a bit of hyperbole, to document Jamaican music pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry’s life and times (definitively at that). Perry, a songwriter, singer, and producer, helped to define reggae in the late 1960s and early 1970s, working with Bob Marley and the Wailers, and later dub, the predecessor to electronic music. In one, five-year period during the 1970s, Perry produced an average of 20 songs a week for artists in Jamaica and Britain. The later 70s’ saw Perry collaborating with The Clash. One of their early hits, “Police and Thieves,” was actually a cover of one of Perry’s songs (first sung by Junior Marvin).

Perry’s story, like musical artists before and since, devolved into depression, drug abuse, and commercial failure. His attempt to create a commune/recording studio, the Black Ark, on his property in Kingston, Jamaica ended when the studio burned down. A decade-long decline ended with Perry moving to Europe where he settled first in England and, later outside of Zurich, Switzerland. He married for the second time and fathered several children (he left his children by his first wife in Jamaica). During his most productive period, ganja (marijuana) fueled his creativity, but during his decade-long decline, ganja had the opposite effect, fueling his descent into mental illness, paranoia, and possibly, schizophrenia. It was Perry’s decision to stop smoking ganja after 45 years (by his own count) that he returned to sanity, coherence, and productivity, including collaborating with The Beastie Boys on a track for their 1998 album, “Hello Nasty.”

The Upsetter sounds fascinating, right? Alas, no. Or rather, only early on during The Upsetter’s seemingly endless running time. Higbee and Lough are far less interested in discussing Perry’s contributions to popular music via, for example, interviews with musicians, critics, or academics, all of whom could have provided some insight into Perry’s musical contributions, than to airing Perry’s incoherent monologues during his post-productivity period. The monologues become tedious all too quickly, but then go on and on (and on). Even worse, giving over so much of The Upsetter’s running time to Perry’s incoherent rants does him or the directors any favors. The monologues make Perry appear and sound mentally ill. Exposing audiences to Perry’s lengthy monologues make the directors look both like they’re exploiting Perry for their own (unclear) ends and stretching The Upsetter’s running time to the “magic” 90-minute mark for feature-length documentaries.

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SXSW Movie Review: Stop-Loss

Stop-Loss

Directed and co-written by Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, The Last Good Breath), Stop Loss dramatizes the U.S. military’s “stop-loss” policy that allows the military to postpone the honorable discharge of U.S. soldiers and send them back to Iraq and Afghanistan for another tour of duty (usually a year to eighteen months). Alas, Stop Loss proves the adage that “good politics don’t make good art.” Stop Loss suffers from a serious case of implausibility and contrivance that fatally undermines whatever insight Peirce hopes to shed on the stop-loss policy and its unfairness toward the soldiers who serve in the U.S. military in foreign countries.

Sergeant Brandon King (Ryan Phillippe), leads his men, including his best friend, Sergeant Steve Shriver (Channing Tatum), Tommy Burgess (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac ‘Eyeball’ Butler (Rob Brown), Al ‘Preacher’ Colson (Terry Quay), and Rico Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk), down an alley to hunt down suspected terrorists or insurgents in Iraq. Pinned down in an ambush, King loses several men, but saves Shriver and Rodriguez from almost certain death. With his tour of duty almost done, King returns to his small hometown in Texas. There, he receives the Bronze Star for his bravery in saving his men and a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat. After celebrating with Shriver, Burgess, Shriver’s fiancé, Michelle (Abbie Cornish), his parents, Ida (Linda Emond) and Roy (Ciarán Hinds), King returns to the army base for debriefing.

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SXSW Movie Review: The King of Texas

The King of Texas

A documentary directed by Rene Pinnell and Claire Huie about Pinnell’s uncle, Texas filmmaker Eagle Pennell (Last Night at the Alamo, The Whole Shootin’ Match), The King of Texas, is both an affectionate tribute to Pennell and his brand of regional-based, DIY filmmaking and a cautionary tale about substance and alcohol abuse and the premature end of a once promising filmmaking career. Over less than three decades, Pennell made four feature films, one short, and contributed to a documentary (Good Life). Pennel was forced to work with meager resources and no distribution outside of local film festivals.

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SXSW Movie Review: Choke

Choke

After watching Choke, an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s (Survivor, Fight Club) novel directed by Clark Gregg, the words vulgar, crude, profane, blasphemous, obscene, and, best of all, hilarious, all come to mind. A sharp critique aimed at our self-centered, self-absorbed culture, with a few digs at group therapy, psychiatry, and dysfunctional parenting, Choke is the kind of film that can be only made outside the Hollywood system, then gets picked up by a Hollywood-based distributor after it becomes a hit with festival audiences and critics, as Choke did at the Sundance Film Festival two months ago. Choke was picked up by Fox Searchlight, with a released planned for late August, a lucky month for them (Napoleon Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine were both released in August).

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) has a problem, actually many, many problems. Victor numbs himself with meaningless sex with a random assortment of women, young, middle-aged, beautiful, and not-beautiful, then shows up for his weekly group therapy for sex addicts. When he’s not pursuing women with his fellow sex addict and best friend, Denny (Brad William Henke), he’s working as a “historical interpreter” (i.e., tour guide) at a Colonial-era amusement park. Frequent run-ins with his boss, Lord High Charlie (Clark Gregg), who takes the Colonial experience far too seriously, don’t help much. Worse, Victor’s mother, Ida (Anjelica Huston), a former grifter who made Victor’s life extremely difficult, has been hospitalized with Dementia and the prognosis is far from good.

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