Those opposing Donald Trump this election season (if that’s not you, what the hell are you doing here?) can breathe a little more freely today: Bernie Sanders today officially endorsed Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential candidate.
Sanders gave a televised speech this afternoon on CNN, where he said, “”I have come here to make it as clear as possible why I am endorsing Hillary Clinton and why she must become our next president. Secretary Clinton has won the Democratic nomination and I congratulate her for that.”
He continued, “She must become our next President.”
The union of these two rivals might keep many of us from moving to Canada after all.
Sound of my Voice: As a pair of documentary filmmakers infiltrate a cult run by a tattooed Brit Marling, things don’t go exactly as they expected, promising creepy results—and very creepy music. Offbeat and compelling, this is easily the best trailer for a movie opening this week.
Bernie: The unlikely pairing of Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine, in addition to the promise of dark humor about the funeral home employee who befriends and then possibly murders a salty, loaded widow, makes Bernie’s trailer one of the most promising of all the films opening this weekend.
The Broken Tower: While James Franco’s endless experimentation with various art forms, and seemingly limitless desire to test our patience, does get trying, his take on the life and times of underrated poet Hart Crane, who leapt to his death in the Gulf of Mexico from a steamboat in 1932, seems like a better bet than, say, Your Highness.
96 Minutes: Carjacking thriller 96 Minutes caught our eye thanks to high-speed car chases, wayward teenagers and plenty of film festival love.
The Giant Mechanical Man: As far as romantic comedies go, one about a sad zookeeper and a street performer who dresses like a robot doesn’t seem at all bad. Topher Grace’s creepy long hair might not have needed so much time in the trailer—why give away your scares up front?—but if the desire to see something wholesome strikes, this one doesn’t look half bad.
The Raven: A madman acts out the gruesome murders from the stories of Edgar Allen Poe while the writer himself (John Cusack) helps olden-days police to catch the killer. The Poe angle seems unnecessary for what otherwise seems a study, scary thriller. With little spooky competition in theaters this weekend, this is the slasher to beat.
Citizen Gangster: Bank heists are hard to pull off in the best situations, and unfortunately Felicity alum Scott Speedman isn’t exactly in those. With Citizen Gangster, his Edwin Boyd seems to spend a lot of time leaping over bank counters but otherwise lacks punch. Actually balancing a checkbook seems more likely than going to catch this one.
The Five-Year Engagement: Despite being written by Jason Segal, who did quite a nice job with The Muppets, and some of the team that was behind Bridesmaids, this Splenda-sweet date movie isn’t getting any favors from its trailer, which seems to show off the worst and most grating parts of the engagements, from listening to people dream about a dress to awkward events with families. We get enough of this in real life.
Safe: Jason Statham in a movie where he… is some sort of wronged ex-law enforcement type who uses his crazy skills to stay alive despite bullets coming at him from every angle. How many times has dude made the same movie?
The finest Richard Linklater films—Before Sunrise and Sunset, Dazed and Confused, Waking Life—have all been unique, philosophical, and relatively uplifting in their outlook on the world, with few casualties beyond a broken heart or paddled ass. He didn’t seem to be a director who did dark—whether it was due to his own personal tastes or lack of range was a topic of film geek chat room debate. That’s why his newest film Bernie seems, on the surface, like such a departure from the happy-go-lucky Bad News Bears studio fare many nostalgic indie film fans feared Linklater may have settled into.
Based on a Texas Monthly article about the bizarre murder of Marjorie Nugent in the small town of Carthage, Texas in the late ‘90s, Bernie is a spatter of true crime Americana fully loaded with quirky circumstances and characters—a pitch perfect tale for Linklater’s subdued directorial and storytelling talents. He was hooked as soon as he read Skip Hollandsworth’s piece in the state’s official magazine, prompting him to head back to his boyhood stomping grounds of East Texas to actually watch the trial in person—a fine refuge back in 1999, shortly after The Newton Boys flopped. And now, more then a decade later, the trip has paid off, with a top tier cast of Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McConaughey leading the way.
The end result is one of the most well-rounded and fascinating films of the Austin-based director’s career, proving he can go dark in his own refreshingly humorous way. Linklater and I chatted about Bernie in the middle of the madness of South by Southwest just minutes before he headed down to the Paramount Theater to premiere the dark comedy to a packed house of a thousand eager moviegoers.
Do you get nervous before these types of premieres anymore? No. Not about the film doing well. It’s more about petty things—like public speaking. I’m not a huge fan of that.
While truth is often stranger then fiction when it comes to true crime stories. How much of Bernie is embellished? Most of this stuff really happened, as it’s adapted almost directly from the Texas Monthly article and then what I witnessed at the actual trial. People have said they don’t believe certain things, like the jurors in the courtroom drinking big gulps while they watched the proceedings in court. I was there; I saw it with my own eyes. It’s at the judge’s discretion, evidently. It’s pretty real, this whole thing. Having grown up in East Texas, in Huntsville, I felt I had a story to tell about this world.
Was there always a humorous undertone? It was always humorous. I don’t even see this film as a dark comedy—I see it as a comedy with one really dark act that informs the rest of the story around it. I actually went and visited Bernie in prison and he’s not a dark guy. He’s not a psychopath. He wouldn’t do this again. To me, the bigger issue that we all have to ask ourselves is could the nicest person in the world be capable of the most heinous act? Most people I ask that question to are in the film industry, so all of them respond that they could kill someone, of course.
Film people are not exactly the nicest people in the world. That’s for sure. But beyond that, I think most people go through their lives and never question it, they don’t consider it to be part of their own set of behaviors. But if you really think about it, could you be driven crazy enough to kill someone?
Is this the first murder in any of your films? It is, technically. I have had some jokey things that were arguably not real, but this was my first killing. I asked Jack [Black] actuallybefore we shot if he had every murdered anyone in a movie before. He hadn’t, so it was both of our first, real cinematic murders. I didn’t take that sort of thing lightly—I wanted to show the real-life ramifications of it. The after effects of something like that are still being felt in the town.
Especially now, with the film coming out. What was Bernie like when you visited him in prison? He was a really nice guy, actually. It confirmed the angle of the film and what I thought about him from what I’d read.
There’s no manipulation? He didn’t come across as a sociopath? Not with Bernie. If he’s manipulative, it’s not for a place of his own gain. In a way, we all manipulate each other 24 hours a day, but it really comes down to what ends. The sociopath manipulates to strictly for their own gain with no feeling for who they are manipulating. Bernie just wants to be liked, which is his fatal flaw. He just couldn’t tell anyone to piss off—which ends up pushing him to his breaking point.
Why couldn’t he just leave Marjorie Nugent and go on with his life? That’s the most fascinating part about it to me and it wasn’t until Jack [Black] and I talked to Bernie in person that I figured it out, about six months before we shot the film. Bernie couldn’t just leave Ms. Nugent, because he felt that he was her only friend and she couldn’t live without him. He was stuck with her, for better or worse. It’s strange—it’s like an abused wife who shoots her husband in the head while he is sleeping. People ask her after the fact, “Why couldn’t you just leave?” And her response is, “I loved him too much.”
The film conference may be the least influential of the three portions of South by Southwest, due primarily to the fact it has so much competition amongst other film festivals out there. Interactive has launched a few hundred million-dollar ideas that we all now have access to on our smart phones, and the music conference showcases some the best brand new artists in the world on a yearly basis. Yet film, despite consistently having a fantastic, unique lineup every year, could be considered the underachieving middle child. When an independent filmmaker looks to premiere the next Napoleon Dynamite, they look to Sundance or Tribeca first; when an Oscar-winning director has made his or her passion project, it’s across the pond to the austere Berlin or Cannes Festivals. SXSW Film falls into the upper middle of most top tier Indie submission lists.
This may be due to the fact that SXSW is more diversified as an event then the other fests that focus almost solely on the art of filmmaking—they don’t have to share attention with another medium. However, sleeper films are truly beginning to break at South by—last year the virtually unheard of sports documentary Undefeated was picked up by The Weinstein Company, and went on to win the Academy Award for best Documentary Feature.
So I went in search of sleepers at this year’s film conference. I definitely didn’t see all the films I intended on seeing, those that were getting post-screening buzz heard in various badge lines or while fiddling with my scheduling app, waiting for a film to begin. However, the five films I have listed below are the best of the ones I saw at the conference, all worth the price of admission.
The Imposter Unlike any documentary you will ever see, The Imposter tells the true story of a thirteen year-old boy who was abducted in San Antonio in the mid ’90s. Three and a half years pass with no trace of the child before a person claiming to be him is picked up by authorities half a world away in Spain. The family is notified and the boy is returned home to America—despite the fact that it is in fact someone else pretending to be this boy, an imposter, as the film’s title suggests. Director Bart Layton sews together interviews with the Imposter himself and the boy’s family with beautifully photographed narrative feature-length reenactments, making you feel as if you are watching something between a narrative and a documentary—in short, something wholly unique. The film is such a perfectly intense and fascinating experience that I honestly can’t stop recommending it to everyone I see. The Imposter will be out in July through Indomina.
Somebody Up There Likes Me The third feature from off-beat Austin director Bob Boyington is undoubtedly his best yet, which feels like a tightly written, fast-paced Wes Anderson comedy with the darkly humorous stylings of something from Eastbound and Down’s Jody Hill. Comedically, nothing is sacred in this film. The sharp, straight-faced banter between leads Keith Poulson and Nick Offerman (best known as Ron Swanson in NBC’s Parks and Recreation) is hilarious yet quietly philosophical. Despite some forgivable Indie film mistakes (focus, dammit and mind the camera’s reflection), Boyington is poised to become a new, aggressively brilliant voice. At the time of this writing, Somebody Up There Likes Me does not have distribution.
Fat Kid Rules the World Remember the tall, lanky, funny guy who was one of the killers in Scream? Or the narrator of that off-beat cult classic SLC Punk? Well, it turns out he can direct, too. Matthew Lillard fell off many people’s radars when he became Shaggy in the Scooby Doo franchise—something he admits to me made him feel like a sellout. Yet, as all true artists out there, he had a passion project and the young adult book Fat Kid Rules the World, for which he had done the book on tape for nine years prior, was it. A finely acted, funny teenaged tearjerker with Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready doing the original score was the result—a spectacular achievement for a first-time director working with a budget of less then a million dollars. At the time of this writing, Fat Kid Rules the World did not have a distributor.
Bernie Richard Linklater is synonymous with the Austin film scene and Bernie is a welcome reminder of just how talented he truly is. He’s been on the latter end of hit-and-miss recently, with features like Me and Orson Welles and Fast Food Nation being considered box office and critical failures and A Scanner Darkly suffering mightily from a hellish production. However, all will be forgotten with Bernie, the funny East Texas true crime Americana tale starring Jack Black, Shirley MacLaine and Matthew McCounaughey, based on the article by Skip Hollandsworth in Texas Monthly. As career history has shown, Linklater may be at his best when he returns to his roots. Bernie will be released through Millennium Entertainment in late April, early May.
The Do-Deca-Pentathalon What everyone will soon realize is that the Duplass Brothers are proving themselves to be some of our generation’s best filmmakers. They consistently tell engaging and funny yet intimately personal stories, despite their seemingly amateurish shaky-cam, blurry style of HD cinematography. It only reinforces the notion that great storytelling, direction and acting will trump low-production value every time. The Do-Deca-Pentathalon, a story of two overly competitive brothers trying to rekindle their relationship, harks back to their earlier, truly-Indie films like The Puffy Chair, Hump Day, and Baghead—before they had A-List casts and major studio backing for projects like Cyrus and the upcoming Jeff Who Lives At Home. Acquired at SxSW this year, The Do-Deca-Pentathalon will be released by Fox Searchlight and Red Flag in June.