What people are saying about the Austin film ‘Song to Song’

“Song to Song” filming wrapped in Austin nearly six years ago and the world finally got a look at the Terrence Malick flick at its South by Southwest premiere Friday night.

The film is not short on star power with Ryan Gosling and Rooney Mara as up-and-coming musicians, Michael Fassbender as a music producer and Natalie Portman as a waitress.

The movie features scenes all over Austin, including the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Fun Fun Fun Fest and the infamous Sixth Street. So how does Malick’s tenth feature film stack up critically?

Here’s the short of it:

  • The word “toxic” comes up in at least three articles on the film to describe Fassbender’s character. Yikes.
  • This is a Malick film, so expect beautifully crafted shots featuring Austin’s urban landscape.
  • Generally everyone understands that while the movie is described as “a modern love story set against the Austin, Texas music scene,” there’s not much Austin (nor music scene) about it.
  • And while the reaction ranges from “um, okay” to “absolutely breathtaking,” the film sits at a measly 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 7 out of 10 on IMDb.

The American-Statesman’s film critic Joe Gross watched the much-hyped film during the SXSW screening on Friday night. As previously mentioned, the film doesn’t live up to its Austin music scene billing nor do the Gosling and Mara portray being a musician with much authenticity in the first place.

No wonder these two are struggling. They might as well be plumbers or lawyers or farmers for all of the songwriting they do.

Gross also touches on the “California-meets-Texas” attitude of the film, a genuine confusing identity experienced by residents of the Live Music Capital of the World.

If beloved Austinite Terrence Malick’s “Song to Song,” which opened South by Southwest on Friday, is a meditation on the shallow, flash-over-substance, Los Angeles-ization of Austin, then it is a bullseye.

RELATED: Ten takeaways from “Made in Austin: A Look into Song to Song” at SXSW

The Independent’s Christopher Hooton raves about the film, calling it “life-changing.” Clearly in awe of the film, Hooton lists some “impressive things about the film,” including:

The notion of the ‘camera as a character’ is cliché, but if it were one here it would simultaneously be a drunkard lost on the way to the canapé table, a fan with reverntially documenting a star with an iPhone, and God himself.

Hooton gives the film a perfect 5-star rating, explaining that though “Song to Song” is largely “avant-garde stuff,” it all comes together perfectly.

The Guardian rates the film four out of five stars, with reviewer Jordan Hoffman describing the film as “the story of hungry souls gorging themselves at the wrong buffet.”

Hoffman demonstrates his own first-hand knowledge of Austin as he critques the film’s take on the city.

This movie about Austin features not one stout, bearded dude in an Empire Strikes Back T-shirt – and that makes it damn lie.

One bonus: Patti Smith’s unforgettable cameo.

RELATED: Here are the musical cameos to look for as ‘Song to Song’ opens SXSW Film

The Wrap names three Hollywood stars given “the famous Malick chop.” Christian Bale, Benicio del Toro and Haley Bennett were sliced out of the already-ensemble cast during production despite being named in the initial casting announcement.

Both Bale and del Toro shot scenes with Malick back in 2011, with Bale’s character having a lot in common with Fassbender’s.

Fassbender’s character, a toxic music executive, was said to be so similar to Bale that no one was sure if he would be included at all, the insider added.

The Wrap goes on to call the film a “gorgeously-shot love letter to the liberal Texas city.”

Deadline focused its attention on the mind-boggling fact that the original cut of the film was eight hours long.

Malick says “Is this going to be a miniseries? We have enough to make a different movie.”

Deadline also references the film’s production quirks, including Fassbender improvising lines, Malick’s need for more meetings with film execs and directing away from behind the camera.

Whether that was in fact the case here or not, Song to Song has a spontaneity that is very apparent – and that’s just fine with Malick.

Mashable probably has the least kind review of the film. Their headline reads, “Terrence Malick is just embarrassing movie stars with weird sex stuff right now.”

Josh Dickey writes the film is a buffet of things we’ve come to expect of Malick, including actors Keeping Austin Weird with each other in an impressively long list of ways.

Here’s where it all devolves into a muddled pastiche of Malick clichés: gorgeous nature shots, hissy-whispering nonsensical voice-over, and his latest kick, which is two movie stars — pick a combination, any combination — in a room, or a field, or a puddle, doing incredibly weird things to each other’s bodies.

Dickey also reminds readers this is definitely not a film about the Austin music scene.

Speaking of the music industry — don’t be fooled, SXSW fans. Song to Song says about as much about the Austin music scene as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift says about the Austin music scene.

So is “Song to Song” worth movie fare? Decide for yourself when the film hits theaters nationwide March 17.


The insanely fun “Baby Driver” celebrates turning up the tunes and hitting the gas

From left, Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Eiza Gonzalez and Jon Hamm star in “Baby Driver.”

For 20 years, Edgar Wright has been thinking about a heist movie concerning a getaway driver who must (MUST) listen to the right song while he is driving.  The result is the smashingly entertaining “Baby Driver” (named after a Simon and Garfunkel tune), which made its world premiere at South by Southwest on Saturday night.

The 20 years bit is important. From the opening chase — set to a song so egregiously mid-1990s-college-radio that I will be amazed if anyone younger than 39 or older than 50 will even be able to hear it, let alone recognize it — to the filmic shout-outs to “Wild at Heart,” “Heat” and pretty much anything that Tarantino touched, “Baby Driver” is the most movie-made-by-a-guy-born-in-1974 you are likely to see in a good long time.

(The punchline is that star Ansel Elgort was born in 1994, a good six months before that opening number was released in stores.)

See photos of the stars at the “Baby Driver” premiere during SXSW.

Elgort, complete with an almost-Elvis accent (the movie’s set in Atlanta), plays the titular character, a getaway driver nicknamed Baby who wears earbuds all the time, various stolen iPods playing a never-ending stream of music, the better to both dial down the tinnitus that he got in a family-destroying car accident as a kid and provide the soundtrack for everything in his life. Everyone knew that guy or gal (or was that guy or gal), the one who didn’t say much and was content to live in his own soundtracked world.

Baby is that guy. He lives with his deaf stepfather (CJ Jones), dances around to any one of the hundreds of LPs he has in his apartment and futzes with recordings and samplers and cheap keyboards for fun.

Kudos to Wright for understanding that serious, lunatic music nerds are fond of both vinyl and digital and props to the costumers who slyly reference the fact that Elgort was long-rumored to play a young version of that other fictional, need-for-speed outlaw, Han Solo.

Baby also happens to be the best at what he does, and his wheelman abilities have meant that the crews run by crime boss Doc (Kevin Spacey, just the right amount) have been successfully hitting banks left and right. Baby is the only constant in those crews, a good luck charm Doc is reluctant to get rid of.

Things get a bit hairy when Baby falls for Deborah (Lily James), a waitress who happens to work at his mom’s old diner.

This does not sit too well with Baby’s fellow crooks: Griff (Jon Bernthal), Buddy (Jon Hamm, sporting tough guy hair that’s somewhere between Paul Muni and Macklemore) and Buddy’s partner Darling (Eiza Gonzalez). There’s also the criminal (Jamie Foxx) who maybe doesn’t entirely trust Baby.  There’s the proverbial One Last Job. There is the Doomed Romance. There is the Big Shootout.

And there are car chases, lots of them, all perfectly cut to the diegetic music playing in Baby’s ears. It’s the best car movie since whichever the least cartoony “Fast and the Furious” was. Very little looks and feels digital (which, again, is awfully ’90s of Wright).

Like all of Wright’s movies, “Baby Driver” is a confection, not to mention the first movie in decades he wrote and directed himself, so the vibe is slightly different than the Cornetto series he made with longtime creative partner Simon Pegg.

But if anything, Wright retains and expands on his ability to make very specific musical references work universally (the born-in-1970 Sisters of Mercy obsessive in “The World’s End,” the amazing Stone Roses joke in “Shaun of the Dead”). From Beck and Young MC to Carla Thomas and T-Rex (or as Baby calls them, “Trex”), “Baby Driver” is an ode to those who need a stream of tunes in their heads, everywhere, all the time, and a cinematic high-five to the movies that made Wright the absurdly talented music-n-film dork he is today.