20 films and television episodes at SXSW, ranked and rated
This year was my first time attending South by Southwest (SXSW) and I was able to see 20 films and TV episodes. Everything I saw was more good than bad — though the quality varied.
I saw every headlining film at the festival except for The Highwaymen, which I chose to miss because it premieres on Netflix at the end of March. In hindsight, I may have made the right decision because the film currently has a negative rating of 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Also, waiting two hours in line still did not land me a seat for the world premiere of Jordan Peele’s sophomore film Us.
Missing Us was not an ideal way to start off my SXSW experience, but the March 22 release date for the film lessened my grief. As the week went by, I spent hours watching a diverse set of films from virtual cinema and romantic comedies to documentaries, coming of age stories and horror flicks.
My top five films are very different from each other: Booksmart, Villains, The Art of Self-Defense, Come As You Are and Good Boys.
Booksmart - 4.75 out of 5
Booksmart is a coming-of-age high school film. It is also the directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde. With Booksmart, Wilde shows that she has the skills of a great director. There are many creative decisions in this movie that make scenes both shocking and mesmerizing. As a film lover, my eyes were constantly entertained and interested in what was being shown on screen.
Booksmart is not the average coming of age story. With references to Uber and Cardi B, it truly represents this generation. Some may call it the Superbad of the 2010s due to its style of comedy, but unlike the popular 2007 comedy, Booksmart does not focus on sex at all. Instead, it is about the friendship between the two female protagonists played by Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein (who is sister to Jonah Hill who starred in Superbad).
The movie begins on the day before high school graduation and follows the perspective of Amy (Dever) and Molly (Feldstein), the salutatorian and valedictorian of their class. After spending the past four years dedicated to academics, they earned acceptances at Columbia and Yale respectively. However, their world gets turned upside-down when they realize their peers who went to parties during high school also got accepted to elite colleges. The pair of friends have one night left to party as high school students, and thus Booksmart takes off. This film should be on your must-watch list. Booksmart releases nationwide on May 24.
Villains - 4.5 out of 5
Villains is a thriller starring Bill Skarsgȧrd and Maika Monroe. Both have experience in horror; Skarsgard as Pennywise in It and Monroe as the lead actress from It Follows. The two actors have intense chemistry on screen, playing a pair of lovers up to no good. The plot ignites once Mickey (Skarsgȧrd) and Jules (Monroe) break into a house, which leads to shocking discoveries. Villains also does a fair job mixing tension with humor. Many nail-biting moments end with a deep breath and then a laugh. Overall, Villains is filled with tension from beginning to end. Despite its name, Villains has complex protagonists and antagonists. As of now, there is no official release date for the film.
The Art of Self Defense - 4.5 out of 5
For a dark comedy about defense, The Art of Self Defense packs a heavy punch and some great kicks. The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as Casey, a man who gets mugged. Rather than buy a gun, Casey decides to learn karate in order to defend himself. Even when serious things happen on screen, there is a sense of humor attached to most moments. The Art of Self Defense is not just jokes and punchlines though. The film shows heart through Casey, who starts the film as someone who is considered weak and then learns how to be strong. The Art of Self Defense is not just about physical strength but spiritual strength as well. The rest of the cast, including Imogen Poots and Alessandro Nivola, all give memorable performances, but the best part of this movie is its script. Details matter in The Art of Self Defense, and they reappear in laugh out loud moments. It premieres nationwide June 21.
Come As You Are - 4.25 out of 5
Come As You Are is a road trip comedy about three men with disabilities who are headed to a special type of brothel in order to lose their virginities. At this brothel, there are women who are experienced in having sex with people with disabilities. Come As You Are gives humanity to an overlooked group. The film is a remake of 2011 Belgian film Hasta La Vista, which was inspired by a true story. The three male protagonists in Come As You Are are distinct, complex and flawed. The actors who play these three men do not actually have disabilities but based their performances on feedback from — and their own personal relationships with — people who have disabilities. This script is well-crafted, resulting in a well-paced film that kept me engaged. Come As You Are reminds viewers that people with disabilities have the capacity to love and have sexual desires as well. Currently, there is no official release date for the film.
Good Boys - 4.25 out of 5
Good Boys is a R-rated coming of age comedy that stars Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith Williams as sixth graders, free to say swear words as much as they like. The film deals with drugs, alcohol and romantic relationships. Good Boys basically covers all the usual sixth grade stuff, including first kisses. Seth Rogen is one of the producers of the film, so of course the humor is nonstop, but the jokes never become overwhelming. Also, no single character hogs the best lines or becomes annoying. All the kids are sincere and have memorable moments. Yes, Good Boys is filled with adult content, but ultimately it is a story about childhood friendship and how it evolves in the sixth grade. Good Boys is filled with heart and premieres nationwide this summer on August 16.
Long Shot - 4.25 out of 5
Long Shot is more than just a romantic comedy — it also has elements of a political drama, blending both genres fairly well. The conflict and romance between journalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) and Secretary of State Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) is mesmerizing. This movie will have you laughing and might make you evaluate your own personal relationships. Long Shot opens in the United States on May 3.
Little Monsters - 4.25 out of 5
More funny than terrifying, Little Monsters is still a charming horror film. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was shown at SXSW as a festival favorite. It stars Lupita Nyong’o as a kindergarten teacher and focuses on a field trip interrupted by a zombie outbreak. This movie will make you laugh, warm your heart and leave you ready to shake off the negative “zombies” in your life. Nyong’o pulls off a great performance and the rest of the cast, including the children, are remarkable as well. This movie is filled with bloody love. After its Sundance premiere, film company Neon and streaming service Hulu acquired distribution rights for the film.
Pet Sematary - 4.25 out of 5
Pet Sematary is a dark, frightful and unnerving horror film. It is based off the Stephen King novel Pet Sematary, which was first adapted into a film in 1989. This modern version has terrifying moments, but there is also deep dialogue between characters about life, death and grief. Ellie Creed, the daughter played by Jeté Laurence, is a terrific standout, but the family cat steals all the scenes it’s featured in (With Captain Marvel and Pet Sematary, 2019 may be the year of the cat). Pet Sematary has one of the best endings to a horror film in the modern horror Renaissance. Stephen King's stories continue to remain timeless. The film opens in theatres on April 5.
Yes God Yes - 4.25 out of 5
Yes God Yes is a coming of age film about self-discovery. It stars Natalia Dyer, a young Catholic who starts to masturbate even though it’s a sin. Dyer has a great performance; she makes the actions of her character so genuine and relatable.The film is set in the early 2000s. A slower Internet is used for humor, and the perspectives of characters are representative of the time as well. The film doesn’t say anything new but instead delves into a classic lesson through an uncommon avenue: the female perspective.
What We Do In The Shadows (Pilot) - 4.25 out of 5
What We Do in the Shadows is a comedy TV series that follows three vampires in Staten Island who have been roommates for hundreds of years. It is produced by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement who both wrote, directed, and starred in the 2014 film of the same name. The TV series will not focus on characters from the film, but the series will continue to use a mockumentary style. The pilot episode was laugh-to-death hilarious. The cast has hypnotic chemistry. Despite the supernatural traits of the main characters, they are all relatable and feel human. The writing is very solid, and scenes are filled with the right amount of jokes. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the season. The pilot debuts on the FX network on March 27.
Stuber - 4 out of 5
Stuber is an action comedy film starring Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani. At SXSW, a non-finalized version of the film was shown. The film has creative hilarious moments, supplemented by action that is impactful, entertaining and riveting. Stuber is well-paced, and the relationship between Nanjiani's character Stu and Bautista's Vic is thoughtful. I'm looking forward to seeing these two work together in the future. The film is scheduled to be released on July 12.
Romantic Comedy - 4 out of 5
If you're a fan of romantic comedies, you will enjoy the nostalgia in the documentary Romantic Comedy. The film provides a great analysis of the history of romantic comedies. While the documentary is limited by the key perspective of the director, the film does highlight a few other speakers as well. This film will be most enjoyed by romantic comedy fans who want the genre to continue to improve and diversify. For everyone else, Romantic Comedy is still a good film that can provide lessons about gender, sexuality, and love.
Cobra Kai Season 2 (first 2 episodes) - 4 out of 5
Season two of YouTube’s Cobra Kai starts off with ferocity. One of the best things about Cobra Kai is how it masterfully blends action, comedy, and drama. There’s something in this show for everyone. The series take place 34 years after the events of the film The Karate Kid and is centered on the revival of the Cobra Kai karate dojo. The first season holds a rare 100% on the review website Rotten Tomatoes. The second season immediately begins where the first season ends. In the first two episodes, the action, drama, and comedy continue to entertain and perform on the same level as season one. On April 24, all ten episodes of the second season will be available on YouTube.
The Atomic Tree - 4 out of 5
The Atomic Tree is a 10 minute virtual-reality cinema experience. The film tells the story of a 400 year-old Japanese White Pine bonsai that survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima.The sounds and visuals are immersive, but the best part of this film is its story and its themes. Also, the transitions are mesmerizing, and the narrator isn’t too distracting from the overall experience. The Atomic Tree has the ability to make someone interested and approving of virtual cinema as a way to tell certain stories.
The Curse of La Llorona - 3.5 out of 5
The Curse of La Llorona is a good horror film inspired by the folktale of La Llorona. According to the tale, La Llorona is a woman who drowned her children and became a ghost that steals other children to replace the ones she lost when she alive. Fans of another horror film The Conjuring will enjoy this addition to the horror genre. The jump scares are used effectively. The performances are decent. I was laughing and peeking at the screen throughout the film. The design of La Llorona is also terrifying. One phrase describes the success of this movie, “Ta Da!” The film is simple though and follows the typical structure of haunted house/haunted family films. There also isn’t much depth to the film. It isn’t trying to say anything but just wants to scare the audience. The Curse of La Llorona is successful in this goal, but its story could have been more well-crafted. It opens in theatres on April 19.
The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley - 3.5 out of 5
This documentary has a slow start and felt boring in the beginning. However, it eventually picks up as it delves into the actions of the “inventor” Elizabeth Holmes, who was supported by so many powerful people. This movie provides a perspective against the idea of faking it until making it. This film is a warning to charismatic leaders and their potential followers. It has been available on HBO since March 18.
Apollo 11 - 3.5 out of 5
Apollo 11 is a documentary about the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, the first time men landed on the moon. The beginning and ending of Apollo 11 is moving, but the middle can seem boring. This is one disadvantage of the film’s perspective. There is no single narrating voice or any interviews from people who were involved in the actual Apollo 11. Instead, the entire film is historical footage from the mission and speeches. Although, an advantage to this perspective is that it allows the film to take the viewer back in time and put them in the shoes of the people who witnessed the moon landing live on television 50 years ago. Apollo 11 is visually stunning, has genuine humor and a galactic-sized heart. The film is a time capsule which in this case is a strength and weakness. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and has been in theatres since March 1.
Teen Spirit - 3 out of 5
Teen Spirit is a musical drama film. It stars Elle Fanning as Violet Valenski, a teenager who has dreams of stardom and enters a singing competition that changes her life. Fanning sings the songs herself and has a great performance. The soundtrack is mixed effectively into the film’s story. One issue I had with the film is that Violet’s relationship with her manager matters more than the story itself. The scenes without both Violet and her manager are just generic. Teen Spirit premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and will be released in theatres on April 5.
The Beach Bum - 2.5 out of 5
The Beach Bum is a comedy film directed by Harmony Korine. If you were a fan Korine’s 2013 film Spring Breakers, then you might also enjoy this film. The Beach Bum follows Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a man who cannot access his fortune until he finishes writing a book of poems. McConaughey gives an entertaining performance, despite his character lacking self-awareness. Isla Fisher who plays his wife and Stefania LaVie Owen who plays his daughter are decent as well. The Beach Bum has many entertaining moments and is a fun odyssey. Still Moondog doesn’t have much depth, and there is not many consequences to his actions. The Beach Bum lacks a meaningful message, but the cast helps make the movie watchable. The film opens in theatres on March 29.
Porno - 2.5 out of 5
Porno is a comedy horror film about movie theater employees who are terrorized by a sex demon after they watch a pornographic film. The film isn’t horrible, but it is flawed. The characters are interesting but not too empathetic. There are frightening, hilarious and sexually intense moments as one should expect from a movie called Porno. It's a good movie to watch with friends, but not a good movie to watch with a lover — nor is it a movie that has anything really new or meaningful to say.
More from The Rice Thresher
More than 180 films screened at this year’s Austin Film Festival, which ran from Oct. 24 to 31. Now in its 26th year, the festival is known for its focus on screenwriting and for its solid slate of Oscar-bait films. I waited in hour-long lines and chatted with retired couples, an Airbnb “entrepreneur” and a woman who had once been Woody Harrelson’s temporary bodyguard in order to watch a half-dozen feature films in three days. Here are the indie films that rose above the rest.
Caffeinated creativity: David Buehrer talks McNair Hall’s incoming coffee shop and his own entrepreneurial history
Nestled away in the southwest side of the McNair Hall courtyard is a room full of construction, espresso and hope. This is where I met David Buehrer this past Saturday. When I arrived, Buehrer was bustling around the room, talking with his employees and prepping for Audrey’s, the coffee shop that will open in the Jones Graduate School of Business this coming spring.
Popfancy, a gourmet popsicle shop, celebrated the grand opening of its first permanent location in Bellaire on Saturday.