Exciting Technology & Direct Connection: CinemaCon 2012 – Feature

CinemaCon, like its namesake Showest before it, has always been about exciting the theater owners with new technology and product meant to get them pumped for their direct connection to the customer. While the textures of this year from “Life Of Pi” to “Skyfall” provided some interesting visions, none was more discussed or contested like the footage that Peter Jackson showed of “The Hobbit”, shot at 48fps, which only a year or so after the acceptance of 3D and the near conversion to full digital, takes the string up one more notch. It is all about what you show.

Paramount Heading into summer, Paramount opened the con by honoring Dwayne Johnson with the “Action Star Of The Decade Award” with studio head Rob Moore calling him “franchise viagra”. Johnson, with his textbook charm along with director John Chu, best known for the”Step Up” films, introduced a dexterous element of scenes from the film which both showed humor and drama. Next, Tom Cruise, in a taped greeting from the set of “Oblivion” [directed by Joe Kosinski] in Baton Rouge, spoke before showing scenes from “Jack Reacher” directed by Christopher McQuarrie whose last helming outing was “Way Of The Gun”. Two scenes adapted from the graphic novel distinctified “tone” which Cruise mentioned in his opening remarks. Rob Moore then turned the stage over to Jeffrey Katzenberg who, after a great year with “Kung Fu Panda 2” and “Puss In Boots”, brought “Madagascar 3” and “The Guardians”. The third entry into the “Madagascar” franchise showed almost 15 minutes of the opening optimizing new animation techniques since the last one in the series with Chris Rock coming on stage saying that it was the best so far adding that some parts were “trippy” which reflected in a circus montage. “The Guardians” based on a children’s book is a completely different animal using “myth” and “belief” to approach its subject matter with an edge and texture. Chris Pine who leads the cast as the voice of “Jack Frost” spoke about the key in the character to finding “the center”. Interestingly, the whole time he was speaking, all of his remarks also applies everything he sees in this character to James Kirk for which he is currently shooting the sequel to “Star Trek” as. The ending of the presentation did not disappoint with Sascha Baron Cohen making his second public appearance as “The Dictator” complete with girls and soldiers in tow and walking through the crowd. After throwing some zingers on stage as is his MO, Cohen as the character angled out Katzenberg as the other “dictator” in the room before announcing (which most thought as a joke) that the film would be screening at 11pm up the Strip and that it was not a threat before he exited with great fanfare as Katzenberg kissed his ring.

Warner Brothers The texture of Warner Brothers relies in being able to follow up the powerhouse of Harry Potter. While the arrival of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to introduce an extended trailer of “Dark Shadows”, it was Christopher Nolan talking about shooting almost a 1/3 of his “Dark Knight Rises” in IMAX that offered a stemming view of a brooding dark conclusion so much so that Adam Shankman who showed an extended trailer of “Rock Of Ages” including the first bit of Tom Cruise singing threw a “you fucker” line at Nolan because of how unbelievable bad ass it was. Director Jay Roach then talked about the balance of political “broo-haha” in regards to  his new film:”The Campaign” starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. However it was moving into fall that offered the most interesting view with the first glimpse of footage from Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” in 3D which Luhrmann explained in a taped message from Australia allows you to see the actors shine without any visual effects. Lastly, Peter Jackson introduced in 3D from New Zealand, the first footage of 48 frames per second from “The Hobbit”. Like seeing “Avatar” for the first time, it takes some getting used to because it is a completely different movie experience in terms of perception with Jackson showing distribs around 10 minutes of footage. One piece in particular showing Gollum’s face very close to camera shows the distinctiveness of this frame rate as do flying shots (like those seen in the original trilogy). Another one very specific to the changing viewpoint of the immersion of the technology is when Gandalf is alone in the catacombs. The depth of the shot makes you think you are actually there though the process does retain an almost HD camera quality in terms of perspective which is rather hard to describe.

Disney Balancing out with the texture of brand specifications from Warner, the Mouse House used the cross structure promotion with Marvel, Pixar and Dreamworks to fuel the fire. Marvel presented a short clip from “The Avengers” intermixing Iron Man, Thor and Captain America with bone-crunching sound followed directly with the announcement of Thor II and Captain America II before Marvel President Kevin Feige showed a small clip leading to the production of Iron Man III which begins production in North Carolina later in the month. Progressing into Dreamworks, the aspect of “People Like Us” starring Chris Pine and Elizabeth Banks (and directed by Alex Kurtzman of “Star Trek” and “Fringe” frame) capitalizes on the studio’s penchant for more novel based forms. “Lincoln” which makes its distribution stateside through Fox, was also mentioned, without texture of a trailer likely to be seen at Fox’s Presentation two days later. Disney Pictures itself started quietly with sleeper quality textures of the stop motion film “Frankenweenie” directed by Tim Burton which does contain odes to Brad Bird’s “Family Dog” episode of “Amazing Stories” and definitely suburban angles of “Edward Scissorhands”. “The Odd Life Of Timothy Green” starring Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton seems more reminiscent of Disney fantasy/morality films of the 70s like “Pete’s Dragon” depending on the tone of the eventual picture. “The Wonderful World Of Oz”, which just completed filming just a couple weeks ago, boasts a great pedigree in director Sam Raimi re-teaming with his “Spiderman” villain James Franco as the titular character here. The story details unearthed by the director speak to an interesting betrayal in the story of sorts centering around Mila Kunis’ character which fuels the intentions of what happens in the world. The footage shown dictates a mixture of sets, which producer Joe Roth identified as Detroit, as well as some interestingly created background CG mattes which might or might not be the final textures. Conversely, Jerry Bruckheimer was brought out by current live action film prexy Sean Bailey after a short live stage bit about Kermit wanting to be the Lone Ranger and Miss Piggy wanting to be the Good Witch in Oz. Entertaining for sure. Bruckheimer spoke of them shooting in Arizona with Johnny Depp coming out and speaking as well. Depp made reference to that fact that “I just saw a frog and pig out here. Did anybody else see that?” When asked about Tonto, Depp deferred in a show of modesty saying, kindly, that he wants the theater owners to see it when it is done. With no footage to speak of for the title with the exception of a photo, details are still scarce. John Lasseter, head of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, came out next to discuss his slate. “Wreck It Ralph” is a non-Pixar film which is interesting in its own right following a bad guy in an 8-bit video game stuck in an arcade. Lasseter spent a good ten minutes setting up the premise and characters before showing the first ten minutes of the film. John C. Reilly, who spoke about trying to improvise during the recordings with sometimes co-star Sarah Silverman, gives a definite heart to the character. A specific “bad guys anonymous” scene represents this with a dexterity and tongue-in-cheek element replete with visual gag cues. Representing beyond and speaking into the Pixar mode, the announcements in terms of new structures (beyond “Monster University”) border on more esoteric which might be undeniably groundbreaking with one being “The Last Dinosaur” with only a silhouette of a brachiosaurus present and another one that can be encapsulated as “Journey Into The Mind” but probably not in the “Fantastic Voyage” way. Finally, as a perspective of a film which has been interestingly placed without any real knowledge of it, Lasseter unspooled nearly a half-hour of “Brave” which follows the exploits of a tomboyish princess in the highlands of Scotland. While interesting echoes of Robin Hood play through especially when the heroes take disguise, what does seem to ring through. which was not prevalent before as much in the other Pixar movies (because this is inherently a human world), is the reactions of the animals and others in a more realistic way which was a hallmark of say “Beauty & The Beast”. It shows how the feature animation side of Disney is being impacted by Lasseter. While not at the full potential of Disney because of responsibility to the shareholders, he is pushing the bar in subtle ways as he can.

Filmmaker Forum: Martin Scorsese & Ang Lee Whenever you get Martin Scorsese in the room, the perspective becomes one of a film class which is interesting when he is speaking to a roomful of theater owners. The impact of “The Hobbit” footage at 48fps had been ringing for about 24 hours and everybody had an opinion on it, both good and bad. This forum was more about 3D with Scorsese’s “Hugo” pushing the barrier last year in terms of serious filmmakers from a dramatic point of view. Ang Lee, mostly known for his more direct non-genre dramas (but Oscar-winning fare) recently immersed himself in 3D for his Christmas release “Life Of Pi” which many said to be “unfilmable” (and for good perspective reason). While it is interesting to see these men discuss the virtues of this medium, it almost feels like they are behind the ball because the technology is moving so fast. Before the discussion began, a sample of 120fps technology was shown. The eye cannot see, for what is being said, beyond 60fps. The footage here was more smooth gliding elements but the separation dictates the depth. This is one thing that did interact in terms of the Scorsese/Lee discussion because lighting becomes even more of an important structure which Lee said drove him mad in certain respects on “Pi”. Scorsese reflects that the I/O, which determines depth in 3D, was something he and his cinematographer Robert Richardson constantly toiled with on “Hugo”. He however said it was one shot when Sascha Baron Cohen is staring down into the camera with his dog in forced perspective that gave him chills because it showed what the technology was capable of doing. Lee, still in the midst of figuring everything out on his movie, spoke on the essence of using water since a lot of his movie takes place in the ocean. The Taiwanese government ended up building him a massive tank but the camera was the first to use a housing to shoot 3D actually underwater. Neither had seen “The Hobbit” footage so they could not comment though Scorsese seemed visibly intrigued at everyone’s reaction. He compared it to a movie he showed to his daughter, her school friends and some of their mothers at his home in New York recently. It was from back in the 30s where the aspect ratio and the color changes during the film (much like “Wizard Of Oz” in some respects). People, he said, spoke the same way about color. It is just something that will eventually, after growth spurts, become a mainstay. 3D took a little longer but eventually is having its day.

Sony While franchises seem to pile on with respect to the Sony brand, the intention seems to reflect that bigger is better quality. While “MIB 3” and “Total Recall” showed extended structures in 2D, it is interesting to perceive their eventual release.The time travel perspective of Men In Black does not quite have its plot direction set in the footage shown but the humor, as always, plays dry and loose with Josh Brolin doing a spot on impression that you would almost think that Tommy Lee Jones is doing the voice over. “Total Recall” oddly enough recreates an almost deja-vu situation because the set ups in terms of plot device to the original are eerily similar with a swig of “The Fifth Element” thrown into the mix. The world is intense and Kate Beckinsale, melding a character that mixes Sharon Stone and Michael Ironside from the original, is bad-ass especially in an extended foot chase sequence that just screamed with adrenalin yet felt wholly original. The intention of what Douglas Quaid is being accused of here is played a little more than conjecture. “That’s My Boy” looks to bring Adam Sandler back to full resolution after the misfire that was “Jack & Jill” but the man experiments with comedy (albeit more low brow) much like Will Ferrell but with more success on an ongoing basis. This is an R-rated romp that has textures of “Little Nicky” but with more curse words and breasts. Sort of like Billy Madison grown up. It looks hilarious because Sandler’s character can go nuts because Andy Sandberg takes on Adam’s usual role with aplomb. It should kill for sure. And as the announcements proved, “Grown Ups 2” is around the corner a summer from now. “The Amazing Spiderman” also seems to be trying to find its footing. The hardest thing in rebooting the franchise is selecting the right tone and space within which to set it. The humor and action shown here is seeking a balance for sure and the scale surely feels much bigger than the last franchise. Andrew Garfield’s approach is more aloof at times though Emma Stone stabilizes the structure. Denis Leary as the police captain who sees Spiderman as a threat will bring some added tension and the more comprehensive view of Lizard Man promises interesting feelings but it all contains relevance in heart depending on the end product. “Resident Evil: Retribution” shows Paul W.S. Anderson pushing the 3D ideals but the mythology is getting extremely deep. However as long as Milla Jovovich can wield a sword and guns with fire blazing behind her (with extended I/O mind you) people will flock. The final perception allowed was a first look at the Bond film “Skyfall” directed by Sam Mendes. The teaser is dark with overcast skies and dark rooms. It seems almost built like a brainwash sequence. The music is rumbling and has tendencies of foreboding much like “Road To Perdition” which gave chills. Granted it gives no perspective of overall story but the tone indicated feels much like “The Dark Knight Rises”: a dark humor that mixes with tragedy.

20th Century Fox With two summer films that hang on the precipice with different elements at stake, the ideas are humming. With “Prometheus” and a bang up viral campaign, director Ridley Scott seems to know what he is doing. The extended trailer showing the landing sequence onto the planet in its full glory has a dexterity and industrial feeling that only Scott can do. “Alien” DNA plays heavily into the trailer from the ship to the Space Jockey. The blood letting definitely paints it well. It looks phenomenal on the big screen. “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” I have been interacting with over the past couple months. It is a near idea that is perched between real life and genre which is always a hard sell. Director Timor Bekmambetov has the chops to make it happen and the new footage plays to more the historical basis and less of the acrobatics which may be a conscious decision. “Neighborhood Watch” is another interesting amalgamation with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill moving into an alien invasion hybrid comedy where they become defenders of their community, swilling beer and taking no bullshit. It is interesting but the line being walked is a tightrope. The final perception to be mentioned on Fox’s upcoming slate is “Life Of Pi”, Ang Lee’s 3D epic to be released at Christmas. Lee showed one sequence and one scene from the film to show what he is trying to do. What comes across for sure is a necessity to use 3D as a storytelling mechanism of immersion. The sequence involves the marooning of the lead character on the ocean and the sinking of the freighter he is traveling on. At first it seems almost simple but the single long takes show a deeper thought at work. Like “Titanic” in a way but more intimate, Lee’s camera follows the actor (picked from a worldwide casting search) underwater trying to save his family who is trapped in the water below deck. The 3D camera picks up the bubbles which gives a much more real feel. Pi, the lead character, ends up on a life raft which a zebra (there are a lot of animals on the ship) jumps onto. The perspective of that and then a Bengal tiger (an integral part of the story) jumping on as well while rain is pouring down, makes on realize that there is a lot of stuff going on technically here. One of the most beautiful shots comes around this point where you can see the sinking ship lingering below Pi in an overhead shot with its lights still on. He disappears below the surface and you get a sense of scale. When 3D starts to be used for this kind of thing (which Cameron embraces as well) is when you will get some killer stuff. The other scene Lee showed is very reminiscent of “Old Man & The Sea”. You can tell at a point it is in a studio stage while Pi and The Tiger fight over their food of flying fish along with tuna that sail into the boat. It has that aspect of Anthony Quinn and the primal fight. The tiger (which is probably CG but it is so seamless as not to be believed) blows Aslan from “Narnia” out of the water with its reality.

CinemaCon, showing new advances, continues to challenge theater owners and, by extension, audiences by trying to keep up with changing technology and rights conversion which, while exciting, always seems to come with a bit of apprehension but ultimately interest.

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Pushing Boundaries & Making Movies: The 2010 SxSW Film Festival – Feature

The SxSW Film Festival continues to show its predilection for originality and virulent temperment (certainly where SX Fantastic lies) but the reality borders between surrealism, sardonic repression and simple brutality. This generally avails a border of morality versus the pressures of a global world dominated by a gestation of wills that doesn’t recognize certain conventions.

Films #1 The first three films create a vision of the ironic where the simple rules of general living are misplayed but ultimately redeemed functioned by the selfless accepting at times of others.

“The Good Heart” tells the story of crotchety old bar owner (played with authoratative vindictiveness by Brian Cox) who must put his faith in something after a series of heart attacks leaves him fearing for his heart. Paul Dano, late of “There Will Be Blood” fame, plays his protege, a depressed homeless suicidal who simply does not want to confront life despite being a very old soul. A woman in the form of a foreign stewardess who is afraid of flying and thereby loses her job reeks of forced complativeness but the simmering wills of both Cox and Dano keep the tension and retribution at a steady level.

“Barry Munday” also tells a story of a man trying to play himself but in a completely comedic way. A serial lothario who basically has no game, the lead character shoots himself once in the foot too often and ends up paying for it…with his testicles which he loses as the result of an unfortunate and painful but nonetheless humorous incident on his part. Patrick Wilson, who seems to enjoy more and more at the prospect of playing complete losers, works on a different frame than “Watchmen” since here he plays the guy as a complete physical wreck so every move is an utter lesson in hilarity. His schtick seems almost subtle next to Judy Greer as a woman he apparently impregnates but doesn’t remember doing. In a light subplot, his paternity is questioned in his mind even though he doesn’t take a maternity test. It all figures out in the end but it is some of the supporting players in light parts like Jean Smart, Cybill Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell as the painfully sarcastic father of Greer who understands that his daughter is different. What was throwing me off after I saw the movie was the dirth of killer 80s songs used as music cues. My thought immediately runs to problems of distribution since these songs by the likes of Toto, Chicago and Gerry Rafferty are big ticket songs and figure prominently into the montages that quickly at times define the movie. They might sound good at a festival but without a distributor on board, the thought process of rights becomes concerting. All this said, despite any cornball factor, they enhanced the comedy with aplomb. Post screening before leaving the festival I found that director is inherently involved with “Rock Of Ages” now playing on Broadway which got clearances from many other bands so there might be a trick tactic for negotiation up his sleeve. The soundtrack would be a lot of fun.

In “Cyrus”, which was seen a day before leaving for the festival, the movie, made by the local Deplass Brothers who also made festival rounder “Baghead”, uses two effective comedians in the form of Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly who both function from different modes via Judd Apatow and Adam McKay. The instigation here of a black comedy is almost in line with “Cable Guy” in its implication of sinister behavior. The one perception that can truly define the ideal of the film is “heart”. You can feel the intention in which these actors function within the script. Jonah mentioned later in our interview that this is the most drama he has played but it is in that version you see how serious comedians can be. We see the best takes on screen but it does take a series of cause and effect to make that happen. No one is better at that at times than John C. Reilly because he can play both ends with willing vulnerabilty. The character John he plays here seems almost like he could be a over-the-hill version of Reed Rothchild, his character from “Boogie Nights”, whose game has failed him in middle age. Another exceptional performance that undoubtedly grounds the film despite some odd scenes with Jonah is the consistently impressive Marisa Tomei proving that her Oscar years ago was no fluke. It is a matter of playing the right material. She seems to thrive in these off-center roles. The movie ends abruptly presenting a sense of responsibility of the audience to commit to whether or not their attachment to the characters bears more consideration.

Parties The one thing about South By Southwest which can be both good and bad in a strange way is the way with badges the inclusion of the parties is guaranteed. Some function better than others which is a law of the odds, although the logistics of the PBS Party which was comparative of all three of the festival angles (music, interactive and film) left that soiree with a severe shortcoming in that hardly anyone could get in adding to the fact that shuttles were required to get to the party.

The key with SxSW (with the exception of the screenings at the South Lamar Drafthouse) is that everything is within walking distance or directly in the vicinity of the central Sixth Street area. There are literally dozens of hotels there but even staying out near 1-35, there is a quite effective (with the exception of Sunday night) metro system that can allow for late night screening and partying without having to resort to cab rides.

The day of the beginning structure, the Tweet House, which also had a significant presence at Sundance continued its prospect of showing how Twitter can indeed be a problem solving mechanism for the entertainment and interactive industry. Certain accounts of its effectiveness are replayed but the reality lies in if there can be a true monetization of its wares. That discussion was put to the test but some of the panels resonated as more promotional perspectives for the event’s partners than practical knowledge.

The one true highlight within the cocktails which began with the infamous Lone Star Beer was the reconnection with Ben Steinhauer, whom had been present showing his film Winnebago Man at the Edmonton Film Festival. Within that day, he had locked distribution with Kino Film International gauranteeing a theatrical engagement in NY along with with DVD outlay and foreign television rights proving another victory in the distribution battle for docs.

The Lone Star state of mind continued out on the patio where Maria Maria provided a stunningly tender short rib surrounded by a green bean chile concotion that went exceptionally smooth as bathtub filled with beer and ice compliment the girls relegated in Texas booth slinging the sponsor tequila.

The opening night film was Lionsgate’s superhero homage/send up “Kick Ass” which many related was much darker than expected. It started off purely as a more family friendly outing but apparently took on more of an edge. Because of its screening at Showest only days later, “A Good Heart” seemed more necessary despite finding out that it had already secured distribution through Magnolia Pictures. The after party at Buffalo Billiards proved energetic yet moderately subdued despite the venue’s rather roadhouse quality. The marinated sliders and pulled pork was sweet while the Miller Lite served in the circular bar remainder allowed one to keep an open watch on the particulars involved.

Unbeknownst to most coastal dwellers in LA and NY and probably beyond, the brand new state of the art facility: Spiderwood Studios, which contains many elements of what apparently Robert Rodriguez has been doing for years at his local Troublemaker Studios, has come to be. Located about 45 minutes outside Austin it boasts a rather large wrap-around green screen stage which is perfect for the virtual environments which both Zack Snyder (for “300”) and Darren Aranofsky (for “The Fountain”) ended up having to shoot in Montreal to keep budgets down. The party the studio threw on top of Speakeasy was a little too crowded for true interaction because of a poorly placed bar but its employees including a character animator from outside Los Angeles who attended Cal State but came to work in Austin, shows the pull that the area is gaining and the ability of jobs. The reality though is that what is necessary for a true filming approach (at least as far as the studios are concerned) is a place where execs can have a direct line to filming. New Mexico has that and to a lesser point parts of Louisiana. Austin does not have direct access from LA since travellers have to first go through Houston or Dallas which causes a direction problem.

Rodriguez’s operation is an exception to the rule because his entire function is self contained where everything from production to post to sound editing to score to visual effects are all done in house making him a one-stop shop. The great thing is that he is starting to expand the possibilities of his set up to other filmmakers coming under his wing which we are seeing with the upcoming “Predators” which he produced and “Machete” which he co-directed with his long time editor. The production and filming community in Austin is building but is a long way still from central despite its intentions. But what it does have is a city behind it.

The Big Stock Party at The Beauty Bar was, besides IFC, the most purely energetic and interactive party of the fest segmented into a small venue that many people did not find as it was slightly off the beaten path just beyond Red River road. Taking function up near the bar as the music permeated between rave, hip hop and 80s, Newcastle overcame the structure as party fouls were realized and rectified with a red motif that gave the place a light viscosity that made it almost warm while still being dirty. Bigstock’s claim was as the “Wal Mart of stock photography” as one partygoer described it. The reality is that if you are accessible with a quality product that is easy to use with releases built in, it is better than all the headaches using other methods would inevitably cause.

The IFC Party at Karma Lounge, like last year, was even more in tune than the comparable and gritty “Observe & Report” shindig. Being derailed from a screening takes some doing when one is focused but conspirators in the form of a triple threat of a festival director, an exceptional fun female line producer and her local married friend who claimed to have no knowledge of the industry except that “shots are good” motivated the evening. The key between a good party and a great party is the breaking down of people’s barriers so that honesty comes through and they can relax without worrying as much about “the job”. With So Co shots racing at a mile a minute, dancing on platforms brought back a similar situation from last year which shows a consistency of energy and action on the part of the organizers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, especially if it is working correctly.

Hangouts Every once in a while from a film festival, you have to take a break from the rigamoroll which requires one to step outside the official spots. Unlike last year, your narrator found himself spending infinitely more time on 6th Street and not at the convention center unlike last year. The key is that 6th Street wants your business, and being that this is a college town, finding the deals and places to chill are as easy as opening your eyes, because you always find networking and contacts waiting to be made in these places without even trying.

The Blind Pig was the first spot that caught the eye on the second day of the fest. On the front of its windows, it was promoting its Crawfish Boil. Now most people on the coast and everywhere but the South and Mid South don’t get a chance. Austin is pretty much still a bit away. However this bar flew in crawfish (about 300 pounds) since it needs to be fresh and set about boiling immediately.

Being able to chill for a bit, drinking $2 Ziegen Bocks and working on plates of crawfish begets many conversation from a former model with a thick Texas accident whose boyfriend works at the bar relating that “girls have to get dirty to eat crawfish” to a former Florida resident just transplanted to Texas who missed lobstering off of Key Largo to a just graduated college student with a short in the fest called “Kelp” about a love affair of the aquatic kind, there was no shortage of discussion and trips to the outside where both locals and out-of-towners working on the little monsters. Another things to mention is that the crawfish were free along with potatoes and sausage as they lasted. The inference was just to keep drinking.

Before the last day’s quick video interviews in front of The Alamo Ritz, The Jackalope, which having read the local literature was ranked among the best bar food, prompted a quick lunch stop. The art on the walls is the first element that catches the eye with almost cartoonish but inherently stilted vision of horses with elements of movie personas while semi nudes reminiscent of those seen in “The Shining” but with white women baring breasts in almost sepia shadowed visions, give the bar a genuinely altered mindset that is both titilating and curious. But back to lunch, even without beer needed, the Black & Bleu Burger which was cooked in a blackened style was truly filling and exceptional along with waffle fries: quick, tasty and to-the-point, no frills but what you need.

Films #2 The second batch of films run from the optimistic to the excessively brutal past the line of depravity. All have a place with the latter two being one of five films selected as part of the midnight sidebar called SX Fantastic curated by Tim League, who is both one of its founders as well as the local maven responsible for the Alamo Drafthouses. Because of “Aint It Cool News” and Harry Knowles, Tim is now world class because the guy gets it. Filmmakers like Tarantino and Rodiguez love this guy because he pushes the boundaries, shows where guys like them came from, and has fun doing it.

Point in fact, during the introduction of “Outcast” on the first night, Tim set forth that he would be doing drinking contest. Being one not to be left out, others including yours truly committed to a chugging contest which would lead up to a pyrotechnic gunpowder burst on the front of the stage which didn’t happen. But the intention was good.

The intent before “Serbian Film” two days later was more deliberate but seemingly appropriate since the actual shot they did (which was called a Polish Tequila Shot [thanks Zebra Room!]) is meant to cause physical pain since it involves snorting salt, downing the shot and then squeezing line into your open eye. It was the perfect antecedent to that film.

But before the integration of that visceral darkness of epic and disgusting proportions, the local inventiveness of “Mars” shows an utter paradox to that later film in its optimisism and comfortabily. Director Geoff Hartlett is also a teacher at University Of Texas and understands the maintenance of balance in this situation. Optimizing proprietary software similar to what Richard Linklater did with “Life” and “A Scanner Darkly”, Hartlett uses the narrative structure to incur what for him would be the most interesting background to set a love story against, the looming presence of Mars and possible life. Less “2001” and more “Mission To Mars” without the reveal, the film understands its structure but owes in some ways a more than passing ode to that Brian De Palma film. “Mission” was undistinct with the exception of a scene outside the space ship where one of the astronauts, played by Tim Robbins, must sacrifice himself. Coupled with Ennio Morricone’s music, it is still a phenomenal moment of filmmaking. It however does prove that this arena of space has much drama that can still be played out in our lifetime. Some of the best moments in Hartlett’s “Mars” come inside the space ship where close quarters make one think of the different between life and oblivion. While not as inherently dramatic, the fact that the comparison can be made is a good one and shows the possibilities of the process.

“Outcast”, the first of the SX Fantastic films screened, takes on the vision of Irish folklore and magic. Taken from intentions of the craven overlords, there is a gritty realism to the way two warring sides take on the motivation of their survival. On one side is a rising soldier vying for power but needing a mission to bring it around. Like “Katalin Varga” [seen at the 2010 Santa Barbara Film Festival], one begins to see the political and sociolgical influence seeping into the popular culture [a fact that it is not lost on the later “Serbian Film”]. The Monster within is protected by his mother who is all too aware of her responsibility to keep her blood safe though the reveal shows a double edged sword. The romantic subplot meant to envision the two-faced mutation’s lack of control over his fate is rather plainly executed as a paradox in the end. The build up works but the pay off seems a bit undone despite best efforts.

In terms of a experiential ride that bring one full broad, “Serbian Film” is a motherf**cker. It is truly one of the most disturbing films this critic has ever seen. The only other one I can think of recently is “Cargo 123”, a Russian film which played at the Los Angeles Film Festival a few years back. “Serbian Film” and its sheer presence at the festival is polarizing among many as shown in discussions right after the screening. Even revealing the depths of its darkness cannot begin to explain it. It simply has to be seen to be believed and most should not. Quentin Tarantino mentioned some weeks ago at a panel in Santa Barbara that a “ride” of a film is one where you are totally immersed and almost want to escape. “A Serbian Film” does that. It is a jaw dropping mind f*ck of sheer horror that is utterly “horrible” in every bit of a “real” sense [if that is the right word]. It is monumentally brutal. The sheer hell that the lead goes through along with everyone he knows is simply too real in all respects despite realizing it is a movie. The last film that did that was “Invincible” by Gasper Noe but he did it only in one scene which lasted for 5 minutes. This one does it for a whole movie.

“Serbian Film” is not a movie for the faint of heart. In fact, it is a movie very few people would sit through. A good comparison is the film “Antichrist” which premiered at Cannes last summer. People were utterly polarized by that film with moviegoers walking out in the first five minutes. That film seems like kid’s play compared to this. The reality is that I would see “Antichrist” again. If I had known with this film what was coming, I would probably would have never stepped into the theater. But that is what the film is meant to do: kick your ass completely allowing you for the fact that you never saw it coming. That is its strength. The allegory, as related by the writer and director, presents the fact of the Serbian horror that is intermingled by its sheer brutality. This is evidenced in the villain of who believes he is making art when he has clearly lost connection with all reality but he has the brutality of others to force him along.

The filmmakers relate that this is a lesser version (in their minds) than the reality that was the stuff of life with the inherent genocide which spread through that country only a couple years ago. Being in the United States, many cannot possibly fathom that kind of suffering or degradation whereas in other countries it simply becomes their “reality”. While one cannot condone the level of sheer torture and suffering this film presents, it does present a very distinctive viewpoint that requisitely makes you question ultimately where media is taking us in a society where things have to be taken so far beyond the line to have impact.

To bring a bit of brevity that has nothing to do with this film, the Alamo Drafthouse both on South Lamar and at the Ritz on 6th Street excel in their comforting and hearty libations during the course of their films. The chocolate and peanut butter shake is simply heavenly in its countenance while the Bleu Burger is lusciously cool and vivacious with its intensive crumbles. Even when simply maintaining a hydration quotient with an ice filled glass of water, the seasoned fries, salted to perfection with queso and/or ketchup simply satisfies. The layout of the theaters with bar room like tables in front of all seats is utterly practical and fun adding to the moviegoing experience in ways that major urban areas could learn from.

South By Southwest continues to grow and build in its draw. The balance of its pertinance revolves in its ability to draw big name talent with the tendecies of indie cred. The festival itself sits close on the boundary to what Sundance once was: a commercially viable outlay threatened by the possibility of corporate overun on its outskirts. The cohesion of the festival and its function just below the radar make its a essential festival stop on the circuit with its balance of genre films (surrepticiously selected on par by SX Fantastic and Tim League) and the indeniable energy of Sixth Street which gives it the balance of a college town, the Wild West and Hollywood Central.