SXSW Report: The Film Festival, Part Two

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers files a third and final round of notes from SXSW.

SXSW 2012 has concluded, and there were some films that stayed with me—narratives and documentaries with magical, elusive qualities. Filmmaker Rebecca Thomas’ debut, Electrick Children, is the tale of a 15-year-old Utah girl in a fundamentalist community who claims to have been impregnated immaculately after listening to a forbidden cassette tape of rock ‘n’ roll. The mysterious song in the film is actually power-pop trio the Nerves’ version of “Hanging On The Telephone” (later covered by Blondie), but the movie is about truth and freedom, and Rory Culkin is superb as the disaffected Las Vegas thrasher who helps resolve the mystery. Another piece of magical realism is Safety Not Guaranteed, starring Parks And Recreation’s Aubrey Piaza as a junior reporter assigned to answer a personal ad from an odd man looking for someone to go back in time with. Obviously, safety is not guaranteed, but there is soft humor, gentle romance, and an appropriately dramatic ending.

Documentary Beauty Is Embarrassing focuses on visual artist Wayne White, who’s built sets for Pee-wee’s Playhouse and props for Smashing Pumpkins and Peter Gabriel videos. Odds are you’ve never heard of White, but know (and love) his insane contributions to popular culture. Sadly, the new Sunset Strip documentary provides a limp historical arc on this infamous L.A. roadway, and the legendary rock excess, glamour, influence and decadence of the mile-and-a-half Strip is captured better elsewhere.

Two of the most powerful films I saw were about teenaged girls compelled to go against their better judgments; Compliance is a disturbing “true” story about a naive fast-food cashier accused of stealing by a mysterious caller who claims to be a police detective and conducts his “investigation” over the phone, directing the cashier and her fellow employees from afar. On the flip side, and filmed on completely camera phones, King Kelly is about a nasty girl with a highly sexualized presence on YouTube who webcams everything and manipulates everybody until a bad drug deal leads to an even more dubious and dangerous scenario—and, of course, she’s the one who ends up being manipulated.

Booster is a story of sacrifice and loyalty on the part of a goodhearted guy who shoplifts for a living, doing everything for others until his no-good brother get arrested and raises the stakes of the game right when he’s met a decent girl and can see a way out. And finally, The Do-Deca Pentathlon is a saga of two estranged brothers whose childhood rivalry is revived in 30-something adulthood and can only be settled with a ridiculous series of skill competitions—all done in not-so-total secrecy during a convoluted family reunion. See it!

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