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SXSW Review/IFFBoston Preview

posted on behalf of Gil Cordova by Michael Colford at the O'Hare Airport in Chicago!

While some may associate the South by Southwest Festival (SXSW) in Austin only with music, SXSW is actually a ten-day festival in mid-March that also includes an interactive media conference in addition to one of the top film festivals and film conferences in the country. As some of you know, Amanda and I lived in Austin before moving to Boston and we’ve been able to attend SXSW on and off for the last ten years. So this year, we were fortunate enough to travel south for a steady diet of good films interspersed with margaritas, barbecue, and warm weather.

With all that in mind, here’s a quick rundown of the films that we saw:

RUNNING WITH ARNOLD – Half-baked political doc about the action star turned California governor. Despite some great footage, the film only brushed the surface as to why California voters thought Arnold was their best option to govern the state. Due to scheduling, the film didn’t include his recent re-election which would have provided another interesting chapter of the Arnold saga. (2 ½ cats)

THE UNFORESEEN – In this documentary produced by Robert Redford and Terence Malick, Austin filmmaker Laura Dunn profiles the life of real estate developer Gary Bradley and his battles with local Austin environmentalists. The film, which includes some of the most gorgeous cinematography that you are likely to see, presents a thorough analysis of the types of sacrifices that come with economic progress. (4 ½ cats) Will be screened at IFFB.

STEAL A PENCIL FOR ME (www.stealapencil.com)–Director Michele Ohayon (Cowboy del Amor) profiles the life of Jack Polak, a young accountant who was sent to a concentration camp in 1943 with both his wife and girlfriend. Adapted from the novel by the same name, the film is both a tragedy and a love story and also noteworthy for condensing a large amount of history and personal narrative in an informative and engaging manner. (4 ½ cats)

SCRAMBLED BEER (MALTA CON HUEVO) – Odd-couple comedy from Chile about a slob who is trying to get along with his neat freak roommate. Formulaic at first, the film has some nice twists that prove original and entertaining. (3 ½ cats)

EAGLE VS. SHARK – Certain to appeal to fans of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and MURIEL'S WEDDING. A funny little comedy from New Zealand about two relationship-challenged twentysomethings. (4 cats) Will be screened at IFFB.

KNOCKED UP – the latest comedy by one of my favorite writers/directors, Judd Apatow, who directed THE FORTY YEAR-OLD VIRGIN and the cult TV shows "Freaks and Greeks" and "Undeclared." In this film, Seth Rogan plays Ben, an aimless slacker who is forced to make some mature decisions when he “knocks up” Katherine Heigl after a drunken one-night stand. As with Virgin, Apatow brings some heart and depth to a one-note premise and it is certain to be one of the better studio films that will be released this summer. (4 ½ cats)

638 WAYS TO KILL CASTRO – British filmmaker Dollan Cannell looks into the countless attempts by the CIA and Cuban exiles to kill Fidel Castro. Without doubt, the film includes some unbelievable footage, yet I couldn’t help but think that the parts were better than the whole. Still worth checking out for those thought-provoking parts. (3 ½ cats)

RUN GRANNY RUN – Documentary about 90-year-old Doris “Granny D” Haddock who was the Democratic nominee for the New Hampshire US Senate seat. Underestimated by both her opponents and allies, Granny D struck a chord with voters as she campaigned against politicians who caved in to special interests. One of the better political docs that I’ve seen and another example of the difference that one person can make. (4 cats)

MONKEY WARFARE – In this Canadian feature starring Chlotrudis faves Don McKellar and Tracy Wright, the two actors play former revolutionaries who are keeping a low profile from the authorities. As a result they are forced to work low-income office jobs and sell garage sales purchases on the Internet. When the two encounter a young woman intent on taking on the establishment, an interesting conflict develops. While McKellar is great as usual, the film is a true showcase for Wright. (4 cats) Will be screened at IFFBoston AND CO-SPONSORED BY CHLOTRUDIS.

As is the case with festivals, we could not see everything that we wanted to see. Fortunately, the Independent Film Festival of Boston (IFFB) will be screening many of the most buzzed-about films that were shown at SXSW. IFFB starts next Wednesday, April 25 and continues through Monday, April 30th. Some of the films include:

FAY GRIM - the IFFB opening night film and a follow-up to Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool

AUDIENCE OF ONE – Special Jury Award Doc Winner at SXSW about a minister who believes that God told him to make the next blockbuster biblical film

BLACK SHEEP – Peter Jackson-produced horror/comedy about genetically-mutated killer sheep

HANNAH TAKES THE STAIRS – the new film from “mumblecore” filmmaker Joe Swanberg (LOL) and starring fellow “mumblecore” filmmakers Andrew Bujalski (MUTUAL APPRECIATION), Mark Duplass (THE PUFFY CHAIR) and Todd Rohal (THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE)

THE KING OF KONG – Documentary about competitors looking to break the world record score on video game classic Donkey Kong

A LAWYER WALKS INTO A BAR – Documentary about the legal world and five law school graduates studying for the bar exam

Many festival films now have their own websites and MySpace pages where you can view trailers which is the best way to get an idea as to whether you might want to see the film. If you haven’t already checked out the IFFBoston lineup (www.iffboston.org), I encourage you to check it out so you’ll be all set for next week.

Cormac McCarthy's The Road coming to the big screen

Variety reports that Cormac McCarthy's chilling, post-apocalyptic tale, The Road will be adapted for the big screen by screenwriter Joe Penhall (who penned the movie version of Ian McEwan's Enduring Love to mixed results. Australian director Joe Hillcoat, who recently helmed multiple Chlotrudis-nominee THE PROPOSITION, will direct. That's going to be one chilling movie... I just hope they don't go the full-out zombie route. The terror of McCarthy's book comes largely from the isolation surrounding the main characters, and the potential danger of discovery. It might be difficult to successfully translate to the big screen. I can see it working in Hillcoat's hands as long as he mixes in a little restraint. It's really a character piece and a road movie; I'd hate to see it turned into a horror flick. We'll see.