CHICAGO - Three years after its last in-person gathering, the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival made a glorious return to in-person festivities this year. The hybrid music/film/tech festival and convention featured plenty of buzzy events, from concerts from Dolly Parton, Shawn Mendes and T-Pain to a keynote from Lizzo, an early screening of the third season of "Atlanta" and a ton of film premieres.
FOX film critics Allison Shoemaker and Caroline Siede were on the ground in Austin, TX keeping a particularly close eye on the film-centric part of the fest. Here’s part one of their round-up of the buzziest movies to premiere at SXSW — some of which are hitting theaters later this month and others of which you can expect later this year.
Left: Channing Tatum and Sandra Bullock in "The Lost City;" a still from "The Thief Collector." Center: Michelle Yeoh, "Everything Everywhere All At Once." Right: David Dobrik in "Under the Influence;" Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Chase Sui Wond
- RELATED: The coolest, weirdest, best things at this year’s SXSW festival: Vol. 1
- RELATED: The coolest, weirdest, best things at this year’s SXSW festival: Vol. 2
(L-R) Stephanie Hsu, Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan. Photo Credit: Allyson Riggs/A24
At the film’s SXSW premiere, directing duo the Daniels explained that part of the reason for the six-year gestation period between "Swiss Army Man" and "Everything Everywhere" is that they decided to take every rejected music video idea they’d ever had and cram them all into one movie. And that "everything but the kitchen sink" ethos is both the best and worst thing about "Everything Everywhere All At Once," which takes a proudly maximalist approach as it combines creatively staged, enthusiastically shot action with over-the-top production and costume design.
There’s no doubt that the pure ambition on display is stunning, and the Daniels couldn’t have found a better cast to anchor a film that’s sometimes a sci-fi martial arts epic, sometimes a "Sliding Doors"-style drama, sometimes an over-the-top Paul Verhoeven-style satire and sometimes just a ridiculous fratty comedy. ("Everything Everywhere" is the rare movie to try to balance themes of suicidal ideation with butt-plug-centric physical comedy.)
The multiverse-wide battle that takes center stage in "Everything Everywhere" is ultimately one between hope and cynicism, conflict and compassion, love and hate. If nothing matters on an extensional level, maybe that means we’re free to prioritize the things that matter to us on a human one. "Everything Everywhere All At Once" is a film that wrestles with the pressure of living your best life and finds hope in the idea of living your worst one, even if you have to jump through multiverses to realize it. In that way, the Daniels have crafted a film as weird and messy as life itself.
Opens in limited theaters March 25; wider release scheduled for April 1. Rated R. 140 minutes. Dir: Daniels. Featuring: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jenny Slate, Harry Shum Jr.
Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum in "The Lost City" (Photo: Paramount Pictures)
Sandra Bullock made a telling quip at the SXSW premiere of her new comedy, "The Lost City." She thanked the Paramount reps in the audience for supporting the film before adding, "You didn’t trust us completely, but you trusted us." The joke helped snapped into focus a feeling of compromise that hangs over the film, which was originally meant to be called "The Lost City of D" before the title was softened to the more generic "The Lost City" — perhaps the first sign of trouble in paradise.
Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine a version of this story that’s a raunchier, more subversive R-rated comedy instead of a generically palatable PG-13 rated one. As is, it feels more like it should’ve been called "The Lost City of ADR," given the copious amounts of additional dialogue replacement that fill up just about every moment of silence with an inelegant joke or clunky transition. (That’s often a sign of a movie that was rejiggered in post to satisfy anxious studio execs or unhappy focus groups.)
Still, given those parameters, it’s a wonder that the film emerges as the relatively enjoyable romp it is — compromises and all. "The Lost City" is a good-not-great adventure romance in the vein of "Romancing The Stone," and in an era of Hollywood in which those kinds of movies are few and far between, perhaps we’re just lucky to have this one at all.
Bodies Bodies Bodies
Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Chase Sui Wonders and Rachel Sennott in "Bodies Bodies Bodies." Credit: Gwen Capistran.
"Socially-conscious" has become the new buzz word in horror filmmaking lately, but Dutch director Halina Reijn’s delicious dark comedy slasher "Bodies Bodies Bodies" is a slightly new take on the formula: It’s socially relevant without exactly being social commentary. More observational than satirical (although there’s plenty of the latter too), "Bodies Bodies Bodies" aims to capture how young people live and act today, as a group of privileged friends gather at a remote mansion to wait out a hurricane with a drunken bacchanal. All seems well until a round of the titular murder mystery party game (also known as Mafia or Werewolf) starts to have deadly consequences.
The fun of this gnarly whodunit comes from how the Gen Z characters bounce off one another over petty squabbles and self-absorbed concerns, both before and after the bodies start piling up. The characters weaponize social justice terminology as easily as they snort up lines of coke, and the film’s jokes about podcasts and group chats feel pointed but never mean-spirited; we’re laughing with these characters as much as we’re laughing at them. Indeed, the fiendishly clever script by Sarah DeLappe manages to touch on themes of gender, class, age, addiction, sexuality and trauma without ever feeling performative or even overt about its themes. And the talented young cast add just enough dimension to humanize the various archetypes they’re playing. ("Shiva Baby" star Rachel Sennott is a particular standout.)
While "Bodies Bodies Bodies" has some things to say about modern culture, it’s mostly just here to have a good time. And its plentiful surprises are particularly fun to experience alongside an engaged audience ready to laugh and scream at each twist and turn. If "Bodies Bodies Bodies" doesn’t reinvent the slasher genre, it gives it a refreshingly contemporary sense of bite — one that will appeal to horror and dark comedy fans alike. [Caroline Siede]
Distributed by A24; no set release date. Not yet rated. 95 minutes. Dir: Halina Reijn. Featuring: Amandla Stenberg, Maria Bakalova, Myha'la Herrold, Rachel Sennott, Chase Sui Wonders, Pete Davidson, Lee Pace.
The Thief Collector
A still from "The Thief Collector"
On the day after Thanksgiving in 1985, two people walked into the University of Arizona Museum of Art. A few minutes later, they walked out with "Woman-Ochre," a painting by abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning. It never popped up for sale anywhere and the thieves were never found; it was essentially lost. That is, until a widowed retired schoolteacher named Rita Alter died, and the antique store owner who purchased the Alter estate for a whopping $2,000 saw a painting hanging behind the bedroom door.
So begins "The Thief Collector," an entertaining and surprisingly suspenseful story of art, compulsion, chance and audacity. "Woman-Ochre" might be something of an acquired taste. The movie about its theft, however, is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Not all of the creative decisions in this slick, thoughtful documentary work as well as you’d hope; a series of glossy re-enactments featuring actors Glenn Howerton and Sarah Minnich add a satirical sheen to a story that needs no embellishment. Part heist movie, part unsolved mystery and part ode to kindness, director Allison Otto’s exploration of the theft of Willem de Kooning's painting is first and foremost a great yarn —and while it goes to darker places than you might expect, its warmth and lightness are no less surprising (and even more welcome). [Allison Shoemaker]
Under The Influence
David Dobrik in "Under the Influence."
The potential concern about a famous YouTuber making a documentary about another famous YouTuber is that the project could become too insular or self-congratulatory. Instead, long-time vlogger and debut feature director Casey Neistat turns out to be an ideal match for his subject matter: YouTube sensation David Dobrik, the wildly popular 20-something vlogger who experienced a brush with "cancellation" in 2021. Neistat actually started making his documentary a few years before Dobrik became a source of scandal due to two parallel controversies — one involving a sexual assault accusation against one of his friends/collaborators and another involving a stunt gone violently wrong. By combining footage and interviews from before, after and during Dobrik’s public fall from grace, Neistat is able to paint a chilling portrait of the state of modern internet fame.
While Neistat explores the two specific controversies in detail, he’s even more interested in the broader power dynamics of YouTube fame, where creators can amass millions of fans with little of the oversight and structure that usually goes along with traditional media. Are the 20-somethings who rise to prominence with "Jackass"-style internet pranks equipped to grapple with the complicated, coercive power dynamics of celebrity? And when they’re not, who should hold them accountable in an online industry that few take seriously?
While Neistat occasionally struggles to shake a YouTube-honed sense of melodrama as he builds up to some of the more dramatic events in the Dobrik saga, in the end, what stands out most about "Under The Influence" is how even-handed it is. Neistat lays out the facts as he sees them, letting his intimate interviews with Dobrik speak for themselves. Neistat aims to start a conversation about modern fame that he clearly hopes the audience will finish. And if the crowd at SXSW was any indication, there will be no shortage of discussion on the way home. [Caroline Siede]
No distributor or release date. Not yet rated. 100 minutes. Documentary. Dir: Casey Neistat.
About the writer: Allison Shoemaker is a Chicago-based pop-culture critic and journalist. She is the author of "How TV Can Make You Smarter," and a member of the Television Critics Association and the Chicago Film Critics Association. She is also a producer and co-host for the Podlander Presents network of podcasts. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allisonshoe. Allison is a Tomatometer-approved Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes.
About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she lovingly dissects the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her ongoing column When Romance Met Comedy at The A.V. Club. She also co-hosts the movie podcast, Role Calling, and shares her pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
About the writer: Clint Worthington is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, and a Senior Writer at Consequence. You can find his other work at Vulture, Nerdist, RogerEbert.com, and elsewhere.
More splashy films, streaming (for free!) on Tubi
But I'm a Cheerleader (2000): For a romantic comedy that’s just a little bit off the beaten path, try this delightful cult classic starring a 19-year-old Natasha Lyonne. Lyonne plays Megan Bloomfield, an all-American cheerleader who’s sent away to a gay conversion camp when her parents and friends start to suspect that she’s secretly a lesbian. Ironically, it’s not until Megan is at the oppressive "True Directions" conversion program that she begins to realize she does actually like women — specifically Clea Duvall’s rebellious bad girl Graham Eaton. And while that sounds like the plot of a heavy drama, director Jamie Babbit takes a whimsical, satirical approach in a colorful rom-com that rejects repression and reclaims queer romantic joy. Rated R. 85 minutes. Dir: Jamie Babbit. Also featuring Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul Charles, Melanie Lynskey.
Domingo (2020): From Mexican director Raúl López Echeverría, this feel-good comedy follows Domingo (Eduardo Covarrubias), a 55-year-old man living in a poor suburb near Guadalajara. When his wife abruptly leaves him, Domingo decides to do everything in his power to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a professional soccer commentator. Soon enough, his impassioned weekly commentaries on local amateur matches are changing lives throughout his neighborhood. "Domingo" is a Tubi Original. Rated TV-MA. 95 minutes. Dir: Raúl López Echeverría. Language: Spanish. Also featuring: Martha Claudia Moreno, Jesus Hernandez.
Jennifer’s Body (2009): Wrongly maligned in its time, Karyn Kusama’s inspired horror-comedy has undergone a bit of a cultural re-evaluation in recent years — or, put more plainly, everyone seems to finally be catching onto the fact that "Jennifer’s Body" rules. Megan Fox plays Jennifer, a cheerleader who finds herself in a classic high-school pickle: She’s possessed by a demon and fueled by a drive to feast upon her classmates’ flesh. Amanda Seyfried is her best friend Needy (yes, Needy) who senses that something’s not quite right. It’s a riot. Rated R. 102 minutes. Dir: Karyn Kusama. Also featuring Adam Brody, Johnny Simmons, Chris Pratt, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris.
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