SXSW 2017: ‘Life’ star Jake Gyllenhaal is doing just fine on Earth, thanks

 

The following contains mild spoilers for “Life.”

This just in: Jake Gyllenhaal could not stay on the International Space Station for a year.

Gyllenhaal: “No. No. No way. Physically, there would be no use for me up there other than potential entertainment. I would be hopeless in any other way.”

David Jordan, his character in Daniel Espinosa’s new sci-fi thriller “Life,” has spent more than a year up there and is among the six person crew (including Ryan Reynolds) who make first contact with life retrieved from Mars. When said encounter goes from thrilling and kind of cute to ARGHHH NOOOOO, it is up to Jordan and his crew to fight a creature that seems rather hearty for a newborn.

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Life”

We’re sitting outside the Hotel Saint Cecilia. It’s about 10 a.m. the Sunday after South by Southwest. The night before, Gyllenhaal walked the red carpet for “Life,” which closed the film festival. He isn’t staying here all that long — dude’s in the middle of a well-regarded, 10-week Broadway engagement as the lead in Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.”

Truth be told, it’s probably a good thing he is an actor (and an extremely hard-working one at that). Gyllenhaal says astronaut was never in the cards.

“It’s just never been a legitimate interest of mine. I really never wanted to go up and out there,” he says. “Someone told me about the sorts of people they are looking for to go on the Mars mission and it turns out they’re looking for people who are essentially stamp collectors. And I am maybe the furthest from that. I was the kid always being sent outside. So I don’t know how that would work on the way to Mars.”

But fictional astronauts? Totally fine. “I read the script, and it was terrifying,”  Gyllenhaal said, “and I thought this will be really elevated because of all the incredible people involved, but it was also just, why not have some fun on a movie?”

In keeping with the stamp collector idea, Gyllenhaal’s Jordan is a quiet fellow. “Someone who has been up there that long is going to be more of an observer than a do-er or a go-getter. That is more Ryan’s character.”

As for the creature itself, with which Gyllenhaal and his pals end up doing a not insignificant amount of battle, one had to use one’s imagination. “The creature was a bit of an abstraction. It was Daniel’s intention that we interact with it in a way that wasn’t false, but we also had to use our imagination. He shoots in a really elegant way. He knows he needs pieces, and he knows he needs something from the actors; he’ll shoot for a while knowing what he needs and knowing where to find it. We had earpieces in, and he would be speaking to us while he was watching monitors, saying things like,  “Now it’s over there, it’s coming at your left side.’ But we had no real idea of what it looked like.”

And, no, the cast did not do any time in a Vomit Comet for the weightless sequences.

“Man, I would have loved that,” Gyllenhaal said. “No, it was all wires, and that is a very strange thing, as you are being handled by four people on a soundstage as you attempt to say your lines and remember scientific jargon.”

But Gyllenhaal said he welcomed any kind of tension in such a controlled environment. “It did start to feel very isolated,” he said “It was dark all day long on these stages, and since you are on wires, you are incapable of moving and in a very small space. That is something that was useful in building the characters.”

Just don’t expect him to actually head to Mars any time soon.

“Life” opens in theaters March 24.

Danny Boyle almost put nothing but Young Fathers on the “T2” soundtrack

In an interview with the American-Statesman, “T2 Trainspotting” director Danny Boyle discussed how music, so crucial to the first film, would work in the second.

Boyle knew he couldn’t quite replicate the zeitgeist of the original, which had nothing but pop music cues and no original score at all. In “T2,” there are discrete bits of original music here and there, while songs from the original are hinted at or remixed.

Boyle said he thought briefly about removing any familiar music at all and populating the soundtrack entirely with tracks by Young Fathers, a contemporary Scottish hip-hop act.

“They live and work in Edinburgh and they obviously make music for now, but they fit so perfectly,” Boyle said. “I could have used 20 of their tracks, and I thought about having nothing but Young Fathers from beginning to end.” Ultimately, Young Fathers cut a new song (“Only God Knows”) for the soundtrack and makes a few more appearances.

Check out the full interview here.

 

 

 

10 highlights from the SXSW Film Festival

From left, Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender and Ryan Gosling star in Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song.” Contributed by Van Redin / Broad Green Pictures

Joe Gross:

Oddly, the visceral dislike I experienced at “Song to Song” was a South by Southwest highlight for me.  Rarely have I gotten so angry at a film so quickly, and rarely has a film continued to build on that which is generating the rage. It is gorgeous, but, boy howdy, is it not ever about Austin or musicians. I suspect the movie was a bit rage-inducing for anyone who takes music seriously, but, hey, your mileage may vary.

For the exact opposite feeling, there is Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver.” Yes, it is a trifle, but it’s one of the better movies you will see this year about the centrality of music in people’s lives. Look for it in theaters in August.

I also thoroughly enjoyed (if that is the appropriate word) Jennifer Brea’s documentary “Unrest,” a fascinating look at a woman (Brea herself) struggling with myalgic encephalopathy, the condition formerly (and somewhat dismissively) known as chronic fatigue syndrome. I was especially taken with the other stories Brea and her team gathered, from the athletic young man whose condition has reduced him to a husk and the young woman in Denmark who was forcibly removed from her family and institutionalized against her will.

Perhaps my very favorite moment came at the very end of Leonard Maltin’s interview with Frank Oz, when a gentleman in the audience asked Oz about an article in Salon called “How the Muppets created Generation X”  and how the piece suggests that a lot of the values that Gen-Xers tend to have in common were communicated by the various Muppet venues. “Tell me in your opinion what those values are,” Oz said.

“Acceptance, tolerance, curiosity, enthusiasm for diversity,” the gentleman said.

“You could just say one word for that, and that’s Jim,” Oz said. “That’s what we learned. He never shared his philosophy verbally, he just was who he was and we followed him because all those words and more were Jim’s moral compass.”

Amen.

Charles Ealy:

It’s known as a film festival, but some of the biggest highlights of this year’s event were the TV premieres.

The most-anticipated one for Texans was AMC’s premiere of the first two episodes of “The Son,” based on the epic Texas tale by Austin’s Philipp Meyer. It stars Pierce Brosnan as patriarch Eli McCullough, who is kidnapped by Indians and grows up to found a cattle and oil empire. It starts showing on AMC on April 8 and will last for 10 episodes. Five seasons are tentatively planned, depending on ratings.

“American Gods,” which will premiere April 30 on Starz, was also a hit with SXSW crowds. It’s based on the book by Neil Gaiman — and it is WAY out there, with incredible visuals and inventive storytelling. It stars Ricky Whittle as Shadow Moon and Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday.

And then there was Justin Simien’s “Dear White People,” a timely take on race relations in America, told from multiple perspectives of various students at a fictional Ivy League university. It will be on Netflix, but a release date has not yet been announced.

Evan Rodriguez:

As the sun set on the long, arduous yet fun journey that was SXSW 2017, some films truly rose above the fray.

Elijah Bynum’s “Hot Summer Nights” should be the sexy and scintillating summer film of 2017. Through an auteur’s lens, Bynum subverts the summer romance/coming-of-age-drama formula and delivers a dark, smart, well-crafted hard-truth love story set to a killer soundtrack.

John Carrol Lynch’s “Lucky” is a refreshing existential meditation with Harry Dean Stanton, which has the potential to reach beyond fanboys and the initiated with its thoughtful musings.

While I struggled with James Franco’s work-in-progress “The Disaster Artist,” I ultimately cannot deny its odd allure and the Franco brothers’ organic on-screen dynamic, and especially James Franco’s performance as the bizarre Tommy Wiseau.

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Meth, Muppets and music: Five of our favorite documentaries from SXSW

A scene from “Meth Storm: Arkansas USA”

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

“As I Walk Through the Valley”: This film looks at the varied musical influences of the Rio Grande Valley, from conjunto to country to punk to Chicano-funk, told through interviews new and old interspersed with concert footage. “A true testament to the universal language of music,” Evan Rodriguez writes.
REVIEW: ‘As I Walk Through the Valley’ shines light on South Texas music scenes

“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

“The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin”: This film about the “Tales From The City” author is, in the words of Shiverdecker: “Heartwarming. Funny. Sad. Vital. This is essential gay history.”
REVIEW: ‘The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin’ is essential viewing

 

‘David Lynch’ documentary has arty appeal for fans of filmmaker

“David Lynch – The Art Life.” Contributed

David Lynch no longer remains a mystery. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, but John Nguyen’s documentary “David Lynch: The Art Life,” which screened at South by Southwest, does shed some light on what led the man behind “Twin Peaks,” “Eraserhead,” “The Elephant Man” and more to begin his filmmaking career.

Nguyen takes us through Lynch’s early adolescence and formative years and his dedicated journey to becoming a painter by adhering to a philosophy of “the art life.” It’s a Beat-aesthetic philosophy that consists of painting, drinking, coffee, cigarettes and occasionally opening some time up for women, Lynch says .

“The Art Life” essentially is a feature-length interview married with a slickly produced art show — dark and comic vignettes that resonated with Lynch contributing to his creative psyche. We also get to bear witness to some making-of footage as we get to watch Lynch smear, tug and screw various materials into his mixed-media canvases high in his Hollywood Hills studio, where most of the film takes place.

Fanchildren of Lynch will be enraptured; the casual observer of Lynch’s work might find the documentary tedious and self-indulgent. However, Lynch is one of America’s last true auteurs, so Nguyen’s rendering is par for the course in its well-composed oddity. In this age of celebrity, it is refreshing that “The Art Life” sheds more light on the man’s methods and philosophy behind his artistic processes than the man himself — though the ubiquitous presence of Lynch’s very young daughter throughout the documentary as they paint, sit and listen to music together leaves more questions than answers about the enigmatic man. Intimate, yet somewhat contrived, beautiful and frustrating, “The Art Life” is still psychedelic through all its slickness.

“The Light of the Moon,” “Dealt,” “Baby Driver” pick up SXSW audience awards

“The Light of the Moon”
 A feature debut about the aftermath of a rape, a documentary about a blind magician and a heist movie about a young getaway driver who must have the right soundtrack took audience awards at SXSW Saturday.
Jessica M. Thompson‘s “The Light of the Moon,” about a woman who is assaulted blocks from her house, took the award for narrative feature.
Luke Korem‘s “Dealt,” about blind card magician Richard Turner, won for feature documentary.
Edgar Wright’s “Baby Driver” took top honors in the headliners category, while former Austinite Noël Wells‘ “Mrs. Roosevelt” won in the narrative spotlight category.
Here is the full list of winners:
2017 SXSW Film Festival Audience Award Winners:

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION 
Audience Award Winner: 
The Light of the Moon
Director: Jessica M. Thompson

 

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE COMPETITION 
Audience Award Winner: 
Dealt
Director: Luke Korem

 

HEADLINERS 
Audience Award Winner:
 Baby Driver 
Director: Edgar Wright 

 

NARRATIVE SPOTLIGHT 
Audience Award Winner:
 Mr. Roosevelt 
Director: Noël Wells

 

DOCUMENTARY SPOTLIGHT 
Audience Award Winner:
 The Untold Tales of Armistead Maupin 
Director: Jennifer M. Kroot 

 

VISIONS 
Audience Award Winner: 
Becoming Bond 
Director: Josh Greenbaum

 

MIDNIGHTERS 
Audience Award Winner:
 68 Kill 
Direct
or: Trent Haaga

 

EPISODIC 
Audience Award Winner
: Dear White People 
Director: Justin Simien 

 

24 BEATS PER SECOND 
Audience Award Winner: May It Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers 
Directors: Judd Apatow and Michael Bonfiglio 

GLOBAL 
Audience Award Winner:
 Divine Divas
Director: Leandra Leal 

 

FESTIVAL FAVORITES 
Audience Award Winner
The Big Sick
Director: Michael Showalter 

 
 

SXSW Film Design Awards

 

EXCELLENCE IN TITLE DESIGN 

Audience Award Winner: Into The Current 

Directors: Chris R. Moberg and Jared Young

Virtual Cinema Grand Jury Awards

VIRTUAL REALITY: ROOM-SCALE

Winner: After Solitary 

Directors: Cassandra Herrman, Lauren Mucciolo

 

Special Jury Recognition for Innovative Use of Virtual Reality Technology in the Field of Health: Reinvent 

Directors: Ian Forester, Sook-lei Liew, PhD

 

360° VIDEO

Winner: Behind the Fence

Directors: Lindsay Branham, Jonathan Olinger 

 

Special Jury Recognition for Technical Excellence: Dreams of “O”

Directors: Félix Lajeunesse, Paul Raphaël

 

SXSW film highlights: Four documentaries, from true crime to the Grateful Dead, and the comic brilliance of Noël Wells

Noël Wells’ “Mr. Roosevelt” won the audience award for best narrative feature at South by Southwest.

From a disturbing tale about a disgraced college athletic program to a breakout performance from a brilliant writer and performer Noël Wells, SXSW offered plenty of gems this year. Below are the five highlights from the Statesman’s Matthew Odam

“Disgraced” Austinite Pat Kondelis’ documentary spends as much time detailing the cover-up of a murder as the murder itself. If you want to challenge any belief you might have in the purity of college athletics, sit with this disturbing tale of manipulative former Baylor basketball coach Dave Bliss and the equally tainted administration he served. You will leave with more sympathy for victim Patrick Denehy and his family than apparently anyone at Baylor ever felt. (Full fest review.)

“Long Strange Trip” Don’t let the four-hour run time intimidate you, director Amir Bar-Lev’s exploration of the Grateful Dead moves with the fluidity and pace of a concert, with even the occasional deviations seemingly perfectly suited for a story about the psychedelic band. At a time when much music feels corporatized and soulless and a brand of disconnected narcissism fuels many of our leaders, “Long Strange Trip” reminds you of the power of coming together to create powerful art and a vital sense of community. To paraphrase a line from Bar-Lev in our conversation with him, now would be a great time to “make America Grateful again.” (Interview with director Amir Bar-Lev.)

“Mommy Dead and Dearest” The  true-crime phenomenon has gripped American audiences in recent years. What’s different about Erin Lee Car’s documentary is that she spends less time unraveling a mystery while heightening the drama, instead choosing to simply stun audiences through her reveal of the details behind a crime clearly defined early in the film. (Full fest review.)

“Mr. Roosevelt” It seems silly to describe an artist with millions of YouTube views and a brief stint as a performer on “Saturday Night Live” on her resume as undiscovered, but after watching this film, you get the feeling former Austinite Noel Wells is just now at the precipice of taking off. She wrote, directed and starred in this movie that she wholly owns, with her cutting observational wit, eye for detail and the way she can transform from daffy goofball to sympathetic character full of vulnerable longing in an instant. (The audience award winner screens at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Alamo Ritz.)

“The Work” Like the work it portrays in the film, Gethin Aldous and Jairus McLeary’s documentary delves into a dark, personal space and returns with glimmers of hope and salvation. Groups of prisoners and civilians join twice a year to engage in a form of concentrated psychoanalytic work, breaking down personal and interpersonal barriers, shattering their masks of invincibility and finding belief in themselves and their fellow man. “The Work,” which won the jury award for best documentary at SXSW, could just as easily be described as “the network,” that thing that binds people together and connects us to something deeper and more profound. (Full festival review.)

 

‘As I Walk Through the Valley’ shines light on South Texas music scenes

Catastrophe performing at Trenton Point in Edinburg, Texas, in 1999. Contributed by Donner Maldonado

Along the longest stretch of international borderland in one state exists the Rio Grande Valley, where the convergence of Spanish guitar, German accordion and African-American and Anglo-European rhythms gave birth to innovative and eclectic music scenes. “As I Walk Through the Valley,” by directors Ronnie Garza and Charlie Vela, documents the power of a do-it-yourself-attitude converging at a delta of seemingly opposite scenes, creating a unity of creativity.

The work is a study of a collective consciousness, innovators asking, “Where is my place in this microcosm?” From South Padre Island to Brownsville on over through Rio Grande City, Tejano, conjunto, country, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, pop-punk, new wave, metal and soul-Chicano-funk musics and scenes converged and coexisted in the predominately Mexican-American area.

In the oral tradition of Gillian McCain’s and Legs McNeil’s “Please Kill Me” (1996), “As I Walk Through the Valley” is told primarily through interviews new and old interspersed with live concert footage. The documentary is a true testament to the universal language of music and the universality of how things that may seem disparate are actually deeply interwoven, unable to wax or wane without one another.

Anybody who grew up supporting or involved in a fringe music scene can appreciate “As I Walk Through the Valley,” and for the uninitiated this may be the introduction you need.

SXSW: ‘Silicon Valley’ star Kumail Nanjiani regrets not eating more at Franklin Barbecue

Actor/writer/comedian/extremely funny Pakistani man Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon held a press event at Franklin Barbecue the other day. They do not hesitate when asked how the food was.

“SO GREAT!” Gordon almost yells.  It is about 10 a.m. the next day. Nanjiani and Gordon are sitting down to chat about “The Big Sick,” their new movie that just played SXSW earlier in the week.

Brisket at Franklin Barbecue AMERICAN-STATESMAN 2014

“It was unbelievable,” Nanjiani said. “I honestly was like, you know, I ate so much, I was super full, I’m gonna regret not eating more but I was so full, I couldn’t think to eat more. And today I’m like, ‘I should have eaten more.'”

“I should have gotten a second plate,” Gordon added, “How often do you get the chance to get a second plate there? But I didn’t.”

“The pies were great,” Nanjiani said. Pause. “Now I am thinking I should have eaten more pie.”

“They almost didn’t give me the white bread,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘Excuse me, I’m Southern. My father is a beekeeper. I will need white bread, please.”

Look for a full interview with the two of them regarding  “The Big Sick” on the Austin Movie Blog in the coming days.

‘The Honor Farm’: An Austin original, with loads of talent

Louis Hunter, left, and Olivia Applegate, far right, in “The Honor Farm.” Credit: SXSW

Some people see “The Honor Farm” as a psychedelic metamorphosis. Others see it as a prom nightmare. Some see it as a sweet horror movie. But Austin writer/director Karen Skloss says she sees it as a ghost story.

She’s reluctant to use the word horror, in part because she’s subverting that genre. “I feel like people who are expecting traditional horror and traditional scares are going to be disappointed,” she says. “The movie uses horror themes as a way to tell a story on coming of age, in the way that ‘Donnie Darko’ uses scary elements that make movies appealing for young adults. It’s a way in.”

So, just what is “The Honor Farm”?

The quirky movie deals with two young women, Lucy and Annie, who are attending prom with two young men, and Lucy is expected to lose her virginity to her date, the high school quarterback. But he gets awfully drunk and makes crude advances, so the two girls bail on him and take up an offer from an edgy group of kids to take a trip out into the country, to go into the woods to explore an old abandoned prison where people were once allegedly tortured. It’s said to be haunted.

As you might guess, when kids go into the woods, strange things happen. And strange things especially happen when you eat a couple of psychedelic mushrooms, as Lucy and Annie do, along with their new pals.

Olivia Applegate, a Houston native and University of Texas graduate, plays Lucy with a goofiness and innocence that’s quite charming. And Applegate says she thinks the movie works, in part, because the cast “really bonded while making this movie.”

She points out that she almost abandoned acting as a career choice. “I said, ‘you know what, theater and acting are so impractical, and I’ll do philosophy and be pre-law.’ And then suddenly there’s this open casting call and it’s so right for you. And so I go in, I meet them and get cast in the movie, and that started the whole domino effect.”

She also has a role in “Song to Song,” the Terrence Malick movie that opened South by Southwest this year. “I made the cut! It’s a miracle! What’s funny, too, is that I got cast in that immediately after ‘The Honor Farm,’ ” she says.

She says she’s grateful that an acting career has opened up and she skipped law school. “I never wanted to have a real job ever,” she jokes. “I grew up in high school with all honors classes played cello, was on the tudent council. I was prom queen. I had some boyfriends who were popular, all of that stuff. And then I moved to Austin for college and started singing in a band. … I realized that I was not realized interested in being a square as I thought.”

So her role in “The Honor Farm” sort of mirrors the trajectory of her actual life, which has taken an edgy turn. “The edgy people are the interesting ones,” she says.

Much of the tension in “The Honor Farm” deals with whether the edgy new friends of Lucy and Annie are dangerous. And Skloss keeps you guess for much of the movie.

She says she tested out the dialogue with her 17-year-old daughter, Jasmine, who’s a junior at McCallum High School. “We have a close relationship… and she’s a good storyteller, and when I showed her the script, she had opinions right off the bat. Jasmine and I would read the script out loud together, and she would say, ‘No, no one would ever say that.’ She was a good teenage reader.”

Skloss adds that she’s making the movie “for her demographic, you know, like edgy young adults. And the more we worked together, the more I realized that she deserved to be credited.” So Jasmine gets a credit as co-writer.

The movie was shot a couple of years ago in and around Austin. And when you watch it, you’ll probably wonder where some of the scenes take place.

The big swimming scene was shot at Krause Springs, near Austin. The actual honor farm building was an abandoned site around San Antonio. And the big suburban development scene at the beginning of the movie was shot in Leander.

Austin folks will also probably recognized the distinct music provided by Graham Reynolds and The Black Angels. Executive producers include Louis Black, Sandy K. Boone, Nicolas Gonda and Morgan Coy. Matthias Grunsky heads up the cinematography, while Mike Saenz and Spencer Parsons provide editing. Vicky Boone headed up casting, and was crucial in recruiting Applegate and getting her the job in “Song to Song,” too.

“The Honor Farm” doesn’t have a distributor yet, so it doesn’t have a release date. But it’s a good bet that it’ll get some special screenings around Austin in the future.