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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

SXSW Film Roundup - Day Five

By David Massey

We started the fest with a rainy 40 degrees and, with the Music crowd gathering, we've heated the city to a steamy 80 - welcome to Texas in March! Today was another big day with the culture-clash of the Zellner Brother's 'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter', a surprisingly uplifting documentary ('Evolution of a Criminal'), the latest antics from Jemaine Clement ('What We Do in the Shadows'), and another genre-bending thriller from the makers of 'You're Next' ('The Guest').

'Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter' (directed by David Zellner)

At age 29, Kumiko is an isolated depressive working in an office position that’s usually reserved for younger Japanese girls that are filling their time before finding a husband and moving on. With no ambitions to follow suit, after finding a water-damaged VHS copy of the Cohen Brother's 1996 film, 'Fargo', she becomes obsessed with finding the money-filled suitcase buried by Steve Buscemi’s character and stitches together her own treasure map of the North Dakota tundra. Likening herself to a conquistador, she sets off on a journey to the 'New World' on a hunt for buried treasure via less-than legal means. The film is slowly paced but the humor never misses the mark and its unique tone and style is absolutely beautiful. The story hinges on Rinko Kikuchi’s (‘Pacific Rim’ / ‘The Brothers Bloom’) performance which keeps even the lulls in the narrative interesting.

'Evolution of a Criminal' (directed by Darius Clark Monroe)

This documentary retraces the events of a 1998 bank robbery by a 16-year-old boy who went on to be convicted as an adult and spent 5 years in a Texas penitentiary. Unlike the slew of base, exploitative ‘infotainment’ shows in which this subject often resides, this is an exceptionally emotional journey exploring the childhood and near-Robin-Hood-like intentions that initiated the theft. What really sets this film apart is that it was directed by the subject himself, now graduate of NYC film school, Darius Clark Monroe. The film is not a process toward presenting an excuse for his actions but a personal atonement with the last quarter so effective in its build that much of the audience was in tears and I was on the edge of my seat.

'What We Do in the Shadows' (directed by Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement)

Jemaine Clement ('Flight of the Concords' / 'Men in Black 3') and Taika Waititi (director of 'Eagle Vs. Shark' & New Zealand's blockbuster 'Boy') have taken a fairly common format (mockumentary / faux reality show) and applied it to a group of vampire flat mates living in modern-day Wellington. When the oldest of them, 8,000-year-old Petyr (who dons the classic Nosferatu look) turns a 20-something hipster into a vampire, the group is introduced to new technologies and has to learn to further cope with modern society. The youngest of them, 183-year-old Deacon (played by Jonathan Brugh) becomes jealous of the young usurper and the conflict that ensues is played 100% for laughs. The gags are hilarious with Clement's Vladislav (a Coppola-style vampire) and Taika Waititi’s Viago (leaning more towards Anne Rice's dandy-vampire) giving lines and physical performances that had the audience in stitches. The filmmakers aren’t breaking any new ground here and the shtick drags a bit as a full-length feature but there's just enough of a plot to keep this interesting beyond the giggles.

‘The Guest’ (directed by Adam Wingard)

‘You’re Next’ had a lot of critics in certain circles and I can fully see that it’s essentially ‘Home Alone’ crossed with ‘The Strangers’ but… I’m kind of okay with that; the music was great, the bad-ass vixen was cool and it just perfectly turned the slasher genre on its head without out-and-out making a parody. ‘The Guest’ is the new thriller from writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard and there is a common thread in the retro style and ethic as with their prior film but ‘The Guest’ sits in a genre unto its own. David (played by Dan Stevens of ‘Downton Abbey’) is a mysterious ex-military traveler who knocks on the door of a family home claiming to be the friend of their son who fell in combat. We immediately see that there is something not quite right about this character but the family is largely oblivious. Slowly, David finds the key to each family member’s trust before he unveils his true intentions. Here’s the thing; I don’t know if I spaced for a moment or if there was some subtle clue that I missed but, next thing you know, David has moved into the family home and then there are a series of absolutely over-the-top gun fights with a military police group. The aspects of this film that are similar to ‘You’re Next’ really work (costume design, score, music, characters) and it’s a great little ride but, call me old fashioned, I need a motive and I’m not sure one was ever revealed.   

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