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Sunday, March 9, 2014

SXSW Film Roundup - Day Two

By David Massey

Day Two of SXSW was definitely more of a mixed affair and, I won’t lie, standing in the rain for hours definitely tempered my enthusiasm but I definitely found a nice balance in the four features I scrambled to see. I took in my first documentary of the season, a resuscitated TV show, the latest work of an icon, and yet another paradoxical time travel film (at least 1 or 2 more of those to come throughout the week).




‘The Immortalists’ (directed by David Alvarado & Jason Sussberg)
To date, anti-aging technology has been fruitless but so was flight technology until it wasn't. This is the defense, given by biologists and doctors pursuing a scientific end to aging and death, to those that label them as quacks and charlatans. Undeniably, there is delusion in their optimism but the subjects of this documentary are as much aware as anyone that most of the quick-fix solutions out there are total rubbish; these are extremely intelligent men set apart by their sincere (and often desperate) search for the ability to keep their loved ones young and healthy and alive forever. 


If you haven’t guessed, the science of anti-aging isn't really the subject of this documentary but, rather, the outlandish characters at the forefront of its research. All the logical arguments are covered and the filmmakers never out and out exploit their subjects but their thesis devolves into a character study of these eccentric researchers; one of which is openly described as 'completely mental' by one bystander. I do wish that the film had ended with a fountain of youth (who wouldn’t) or, at least, had shown a bit more respect for those willing to participate but these individuals are so entertaining that it’s almost forgivable.

 


‘Veronica Mars’ (directed by Rob Thomas)
This was a series that I missed completely so I had no expectations beyond filling a gap between screenings and seeing if it worked as a stand-alone film. Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding 'no' but the film is the result of a Kickstarter funding campaign so it was made for the fans and (largely) by the fans which I can absolutely get behind. That said, for me, this was a bit of a live-action Scooby-Doo episode and its only real value was in providing one compulsory component oddly absent from SXSW this year – the obligatory James Franco cameo can now be checked off the list.




‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ (directed by Jim Jarmusch)
This film premiered long ago so I'll try not to rehash all that's been said already; just know that, if you aren’t already a Jarmusch fan, it isn’t likely that his reinvention as a genre filmmaker will convert you. Fortunately, I am a fan and this musing on what keeps life fresh and worth enduring through the allegory of the immortal just further endeared him to me. Two ancient vampires (Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston) unite in an effort to re-spark the will to live, clinging to the arts and sciences for their inspiration. Once again, this is a Jarmusch film so don’t expect anything of the traditional plotting; this is a film about love and, surprisingly, it’s one of the most intentionally funny vampire films I’ve seen. The cast (including John Hurt, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, and Jeffrey Wright) are all excellent and, with a Q&A from Tilda Swinton afterwards, this will definitely be a highpoint for me this year.

 


‘Predestination’ (directed by Michael Spierig & Peter Spierig)
There are fans of ‘Daybreakers’ out there and I really got a kick out of ‘Undead’ but this is another large shift in tone for the Australia twin directors. First and foremost, there are some very good performances with actress Sarah Snook (a complete unknown to me) stealing every scene. She’s followed not far behind by Noah Taylor and, returning muse, Ethan Hawke. We were warned yesterday that 1/3 of the features submitted this year were somehow related to time travel and I’m definitely getting that drift. Unfortunately, where yesterday’s ‘The Infinite Man’ seemed to turn the genre on its head, ‘Predestination’ tries so hard to blow your mind but has painted so clearly by-the-numbers that you’re 4 steps ahead of the film at all times. To its credit, this is a hard one to summarize and I don’t want to give anything away beyond that Hawke plays a temporal agent traveling through time to prevent great disasters but finds the effort to be a paradox.




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