Movies about music are a natural fit for South by Southwest and for film fans here in the Live Music Capital of the World; here are four that caught our critics’ attention.
“If I Leave Here Tomorrow: A Film About Lynyrd Skynyrd.” This documentary from Stephen Kijak chronicles the history of the Southern rock band, including its early days and the 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and several others. Read Joe Gross’ review of the doc, which is expected to air on CMT sometime this year (just try not to yell “Free Bird!” at your TV when you watch).
“Hearts Beat Loud.” Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) stars as a single father who isn’t ready for his daughter to move across the country for college; the sudden success on Spotify of a song they wrote together adds to the complications. Read Matt Shiverdecker’s review of the movie, in which he writes, “I will love Ron Swanson to my dying day, but I think this may be the best performance of Offerman’s career.” The film is scheduled to open in select cities this summer; no word yet on an Austin date.
“Blaze.” This biopic about Austin songwriter Blaze Foley stars Arkansas musician Ben Dickey as Foley and Austin musician Charlie Sexton as Townes Van Zandt, under the direction of Ethan Hawke. In his review, Joe praises the stunning performances from non-actors and calls the movie “an ode to the artist-as-emotional-outlaw, with all the good, bad and ugly that implies.” No release date has been set, but once it comes out, this one is too good to miss.
Feeling some South by Southwest regret? Wishing you could have been a part of the full film experience? Well, I can’t promise that Steven Spielberg will show up at your favorite cinema anytime soon, but I can tell you when you’ll have the chance to see these big-name movies that played during SXSW.
“A QUIET PLACE”: This horror-thriller directed by John “The Office” Krasinski, starring real-life couple Krasinski and Emily “I’m the next Mary Poppins” Blunt, opens April 6. Read Joe Gross’ review of the movie, which he says “works best as a tense fable, a ‘Twilight Zone’ blown into 90 often-gripping minutes.”
“BLOCKERS”: This sometimes raunchy, sometimes heartfelt comedy about teens trying to have sex (and the parents trying to thwart their plans) will be in theaters April 6. Read Natalie Mokry’s review of the movie,which she says “proves that it is possible for subtle and slapstick to coexist rather nicely.”
“FINAL PORTRAIT”: The story of artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) and a writer who once posed for him (Armie Hammer) is scheduled to open in Austin on April 13 (but check your listings; this isn’t a nationwide release, so things could change). Read our review from Charles Ealy,who calls it “a subtle rumination on the creation of art.”
The documentary slate is always strong at South by Southwest; here are a few that our critics felt stood out this year.
“Daughters of the Sexual Revolution: The Untold Story of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders” comes from Oscar-nominated “Murderball” director Dana Adam Shapiro. The film, Matt Shiverdecker writes, “tackles our country’s evolving morality in the 1970s through the lens of one of the most overtly sexual icons in American popular culture at that time.”
Charles Ealy says “Weed the People” makes a powerful argument for marijuana’s medicinal uses. The film looks at “cannabis and its anti-cancer properties – and at how everyday people are making all sorts of efforts to get it to help themselves or their children.”
SXSW is the ideal place to screen a music documentary. “If I Leave Here Tomorrow” chronicles the history of Lynyrd Skynyrd, including its early days and the 1977 plane crash that killed Ronnie Van Zant and several others. Joe Gross says the doc is moving and well made.
Shiverdecker calls “TransMilitary” “a provocative and timely documentary … that looks at the difficulties faced by the estimated 15,500 active duty troops in the United States military who identify as transgender.”
Looking for some gentleness in the world? “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” explores the life and legacy of Fred Rogers, creator of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Natalie Mokry writes, The documentary makes sure we never forget those beautiful days in the neighborhood.
“People’s Republic of Desire” won the Documentary Feature Grand Jury Award at SXSW 2018. Gross writes that the film about live-streaming performers in China who vie to make millions from online fans is “a completely bonkers William Gibson sci-fi story come to life.”
Austin loves Bill Murray, and Bill Murray seems to really love Austin. “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man,” which had its world premiere at SXSW, “traces the origin stories of the many legendary tales of Murray popping into other people’s lives,” Matthew Odam writes.
Hormones. Acne. Bullies. School violence. Being a teen is tough (though raising a teen is no walk in the park, either).
Looking back at all the movies our critics reviewed during South by Southwest, I was struck by how many had to do with teens trying to find their place in the world, or parents having to learn to let go.
In “Eighth Grade,” Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, we follow Kayla (Elise Fisher) as she tries to navigate the last week of that pivotal year. Natalie Mokry says the movie “is incredibly painful because the story is told well and hits so close to home.”
“Lean on Pete” tells the story of Charley (Charlie Plummer), a lonely young man looking for a safe home for himself and his horse. Charles Ealy says this movie stand out because of Plummer, “who appears poised to become one of our most versatile young stars.”
Want to know how social media could be influencing your teens? The documentary “Social Animals” examines the lives of three young Instagramers and how the platform has taken over their lives. Mokry says the film “dives into this generation’s desire for validation” and “will stand as a great documentation of the problematic role social media plays.”
We’ve established that it’s tough to be a teen; now, imagine you’re a black Muslim-American teen. That’s the premise of “Jinn,” which won SXSW’s Special Jury Recognition for Writing award in the Narrative Feature Competition. Ealy says the movie is “about how a young spirit can break through the various cultural restraints teens face.”
In “Family,” Kate (Taylor Schilling) must step away from her busy corporate life to connect with her awkward niece. Lest you think that sounds like a sickly sweet plot, Matt Shiverdecker says “the true highlight of the entire film is watching Schilling, in full face paint, on stage with the Insane Clown Posse at the Gathering of the Juggalos.”
You think you had it hard as a teen? Try being a young girl who transforms into something wild — and potentially dangerous — at puberty. That’s the premise of “Wildling,” which Ealy says is “a parable, with supernatural and horror undertones. But it’s also a metaphor for being yourself.”
“Sadie” is another story of a teen on the dark side. In this movie, a 13-year-old is willing to go to great lengths to try to reunite her parents. Shiverdecker says that director and writer Megan Griffiths “nails the dynamics of her young characters, and both of the young leads give boldly natural performances.”
OK, let’s give the parents a little time here. “Blockers” takes a comic look at adults who can’t come to terms with the idea of their little girls growing up and exploring their sexuality. Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz bring heart and sometimes raunchy humor to the film as they attempt to foil prom night plans. And as Mokry says, “One of the best things about the movie is how strong and uninhibited its female characters are, especially where the three teens are concerned. Much like their male counterparts, they are young and hormonal, and they don’t shy away from expressing it to one another. ”
Music and family come together in “Hearts Beat Loud,” which stars Nick Offerman as a single father who isn’t ready for his daughter to move across the country for college. Shiverdecker says, “I will love Ron Swanson to my dying day, but I think this may be the best performance of Offerman’s career. He brings this character to life with a raw vulnerability and hopefulness that makes you want to root for him no matter the odds.”
A life-size claw machine, a tricked-out truck and a garden full of deadly plants — for one weekend only, you can get your Instagram game on and have a little fun pretending to visit all of these during South by Southwest, even if you don’t have a badge.
CNN’s Great Big Story’s World of Wonder has taken over 311 Colorado St. to show off some of the stories it has collected from all over the world. Great Big Story, which makes short documentaries that you can watch on their website and on YouTube, phone apps and TV streaming devices, has collected stories from 49 states and 98 countries.
At the World of Wonder installation, you can watch some of those true tales and take your picture as if you were a part of the story. There are also themed cocktails for visitors 21 and older, but the experience is open to all ages.
League, founder of the Alamo Drafthouse, will be an executive producer on the film, described as “an irreverent comedy that follows the misadventures of Moondog (McConaughey), a rebellious and lovable rogue who lives life large.” Sounds about right for Austin’s spirit animal.
The Alamo Drafthouse’s Birth.Movies.Death wants to help you get in the mood for summer with a “Baywatch on the Beach” movie party May 24.
The 6 p.m. event at Volente Beach Water Park in Leander celebrates the new movie version of “Baywatch” starring Dwayne Johnson and his pecs, as well as Zac Efron, Alexandra Daddario, Priyanka Chopra and iconic red swimsuit-wearers Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff.
In addition to seeing the movie on opening night, partygoers can enjoy the water park and will get dinner, drinks and a shark-themed inner tube to take home. You can even show off your faux lifeguard skills in a slow-motion running competition.
The documentary slate at South by Southwest this year was as strong as ever. Our critics saw nearly two dozen docs; here are five of their favorites.
“Meth Storm: Arkansas USA”: Charles Ealy says this documentary about meth addiction in lower-income America “has a weird vibe. It’s undeniably groundbreaking. But it’s also undeniably troubling, from an ethical standpoint.” The filmmakers appear to have been given incredible access to law enforcement authorities, but they also feature families caught up in the drug trade, including young children who add a disturbing element to the movie. HBO will be distributing this film; no release date has been set. REVIEW: The meth doc at SXSW raises a lot of questions
“Stranger Fruit”: This documentary about the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., made national news on its world premiere at SXSW. It examines a previously unreported video that, the filmmaker says, shows Brown did not rob a convenience store but rather was involved in an exchange of pot for cigarillos. A lawyer for the store and its employees disputes the film’s allegations. REVIEW: ‘Stranger Fruit’ offers new theory about Ferguson shooting
“Muppet Guys Talking – Secrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched”: Frank Oz and four other original Muppet performers gather to talk about their time on “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show. ” It’s “not only a fascinating historical document but also a beautiful portrait of old friends who can still crack each other up after decades together,” Matt Shiverdecker writes. REVIEW: ‘Muppet Guys Talking’ is like hanging out with old friends at SXSW
“Long Strange Trip”: This documentary about the Grateful Dead is four hours long and is what critic Matthew Odam calls “a celebration of the spirit that infused the band from its outset, an effervescent exploration of the collective unconscious.” Right on, man.
“Sylvio”: A gorilla who works for a debt collection agency find fame on an afternoon TV show. No, really. “There’s no question that it’s all a bit weird, but there’s a marvelous sense of wonder in every scene,” critic Matt Shiverdecker writes.
“Prevenge”: This is the story of a pregnant woman whose fetus urges her to kill unworthy men. If that’s not wacky enough for you, Alice Lowe, who wrote and directed the film, also stars in it — and was pregnant in real life during the shoot. Critic Evan Rodriguez says the film “is blackly humorous with a dry British wit.”
Some were shot here. Some come from filmmakers who live here. And one is set in the Austin music scene (though our critic begs to differ). These are some of the movies with ties to Texas that screened at South by Southwest.
“Song to Song”: SXSW’s opening night movie, from Austin director Terrence Malick, is “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas, music scene.” But according to our critic Joe Gross, it “is a movie about Austin the way “Star Wars” is about Tunisia — it was shot there, but in terms of the flavor of the place, it might as well have been a matte painting.”
“Disgraced”: This Showtime documentary is about the 2003 murder of college basketball player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson and the accusations that followed against Baylor University and head coach Dave Bliss.
“The Honor Farm”: This is Austin director Karen Skloss’ first narrative feature, “a story that subverts every aspect of the horror genre, not in a satirical way but in a sweet and very mushroom-trippy way.”
“Walking Out”: This feature from brothers Alex and Andrew Smith (one a current Austinite, the other a former) tells “an intense story of survival against the odds, an unexpectedly emotional journey” and stars Matt Bomer and Josh Wiggins.
“La Barracuda”: This thriller from Austin-based directors Julia Halperin and Jason Cortlund is about half-sisters who meet for the first time, and how that affects the extended family; it features lots of Texas music and some tracks live at the Saxon Pub.