"It’s such a funny response, the idea that a handsome, 42-year-old man would never sleep with an awkward, 24-year-old girl… Really? Can you not imagine a world in which a girl who’s sexually down for anything and oddly gregarious pulls a guy out of his shell for two days? They’re not getting married. They’re spending two days [having sex], which is something that people do."
After a killer lineup of films last year which included “Bridesmaids,” “Attack The Block,” “Kill List,” “Beginners” and “Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop” (all of which ended up on my Top 20), I decided I could no longer afford not to go to SXSW. So as promised, I trekked down to Texas for 4 days of film, beer and BBQ. I had such a great time in Austin - biblical rains notwithstanding - that I ended up skipping out on a handful of films I had planned to see just to meet up with friends and enjoy the city. (About half my active foursquare feed was in Austin last weekend, it was really pretty remarkable.) All in all, I saw 8 films and 3 episodes of a brilliant new HBO series, sat in on a few panels, interviewed the castof “Killer Joe” and finally made my pilgrimage to the legendary Alamo Drafthouse. Barring horrific incident, I will definitely be back next year. Here, in descending order are my favorites from SXSW 2012.
1. Girls (dir: Lena Dunham) The aforementioned brilliant new HBO series about twentysomethings in NYC from “Tiny Furniture” writer/director/star Dunham and producer Judd Apatow shares more in common with Apatow’s “Freaks & Geeks” than it does with “Sex And The City.” I can’t wait for more. Read My Full Review | Read My Panel Recap
2. The Raid: Redemption (dir: Gareth Evans) Balls-to-the-wall action from Indonesia plays like an old school NES game and puts most modern action films to shame. Thrilling, spare, a perfect SXSW movie and probably my favorite film so far this year. Read My Full Review
3. Shut Up And Play The Hits (dir: Will Lovelace, Dylan Southern) Concert doc chronicles the final days of LCD Soundsystem & their epic last show at Madison Square Garden. If you’re not a fan before watching this, after witnessing their organ-rattling live set, you will be. God I miss them. Read My Full Review
4. Cabin In The Woods (dir: Drew Goddard) A smart, playful stab at horror films made by and for those that love them with a last act that is every horror nerd’s wet dream. A ton of fun, if not quite as transgressive as some critics might have you believe.Read My Full Review
5. Compliance (dir: Craig Zobel) Incredibly upsetting true-crime tale of manipulation and obedience at a fast food joint in Ohio. If it wasn’t true, I’d never believe it. Read My Full Review
6. 21 Jump Street (dir: Phil Lord, Chris Miller) Consistently hilarious and far better than a reboot of a 25 year old TV show has any right to be. Channing Tatum’s hilarious, scene-stealing peformance absolves him of any past cinematic sins. Read My Full Review
7. John Dies At The End (dir: Don Coscarelli) Horror/sci-fi/comedy about a psychedelic drug that enables the users to travel across dimensions is so confident in its utter weirdness, I’m almost inclined to think its my fault I could barely follow it. Possibly a midnight movie classic. Read My Full Review
8. Killer Joe (dir: William Friedkin) Southern fried noir with Matthew McConaughey as a sadistic cop cum contract killer. Mix of soap opera melodramatics and darker undertones plays like a Texas-set “Twin Peaks” if not quite as interesting. Read My Full Review | Read My Roundtable Interview
9. V/H/S (dir: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard) Disappointing found footage anthology from 6 up-and-coming horror directors spotlights the limitations of the format with this mixed bag of spooky tales. Read My Full Review
10. Nature Calls (dir: Todd Rohal) Painfully unfunny boy scout comedy with Patton Oswalt and Johnny Knoxville as feuding brothers. Oswalt deserves better than this. Read My Full Review
Lena Dunham has been a divisive figure in the indie film community. She grew up in a loft in Manhattan with both of her artist parents and at age 24 became a breakout star at SXSW with her microbudget film “Tiny Furniture.” A semi-autobiographical tale about a college grad who returns home to figure out what to do with her life, she cast family and friends in lead roles and though it wasn’t breaking any new ground, it definitely showed promise. The reaction to the film has been fiercely divided with those in the love it or hate it camps staking out an identity on either side. (All pretty silly for a harmless film like this one.) And the bulk of this backlash has been seemingly more fixated on Dunham - her body, her upbringing, her quick ascent to fame - than her work itself. But the film impressed the right people people which included producer Judd Apatow and HBO who have helped her bring her latest creation, “Girls” to the small screen. HBO brought the first three episodes of the series (debuting April 15th) to screen for SXSW and it looks like the haters should prepare to eat crow because the show is fantastic.
The series stars Dunham as Hannah, a college grad living in New York who has been working for the last two years at an unpaid internship in the hopes that she can finish her book of essays and become a working writer. Early in the show her parents tell her that they will no longer be supporting her financially and so Hannah is thrust into finding her own way in the world. The show revolves around the relationships between 4 college friends - Hannah, her best friend Marnie (Allison Williams), hipster princess Jessa (Jemimi Kirke), virgin Shoshanna (Zosia Mamet) - and their trials and tribulations working, dating and living in NYC. This may bring to mind certain other HBO series, “Sex and the City,” “How To Make It In America,” etc. but it’s amazing how much better of a show this is. (Yes ladies, much better than SATC.) Naturalistic and effortlessly funny, “Girls” is more like a cousin of “Freaks & Geeks,” a previous Apatow production that just happens to be one of the best shows of all time. Like that show, which cast virtual unknowns whose careers exploded a few years later, “Girls” cast features all new faces, many of whom are returning castmates from “Tiny Furniture.” I hadn’t seen that film until recently and while I didn’t love it, I thought that it was surprisingly watchable and for what basically amounts to a student film, that’s practically a miracle.
"Girls" is a huge leap forward for Dunham as both a filmmaker and a performer. But she hasn’t changed directions or gotten a glossy Hollywood makeover, instead just refined her crafts and pushed them further with the help of producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Conner ("Undeclared"). The show tackles some of the same issues as her film - relationships, awkward sex, figuring out what to do with your life - but things are funnier, sharper and (with the half hour format) move much more quickly. One could try to chalk this up to bringing in some TV vets to help shape the show except that Dunham sets the tone by writing and directing the first three episodes herself. (That pop you hear is the sound of her detractors heads exploding.) If the rest of season 1 can keep up the quality of the first 3, this will easily be one of my favorite shows on TV. I’m as curious to see where it goes from here as I am to find out if the show stays under the radar inspiring only a devoted cult following (like "Flight of the Conchords" or "Eastbound & Down"). Or can it break the Apatow curse of brilliant but prematurely cancelled series and become a genuine phenomenon like it deserves. We’ll know in a few weeks.
As you get older, you get more set in your ways and it’s hard to keep up, seek out and absorb new music and much easier to just flip on Pandora (or the radio, if you’re 100), and just go with the flow. Keeping up with your favorites is easy but generally your favorites tend to disappoint just an album or two after they’re anointed with the distinction. Albums by The Strokes and Radiohead fell short this year which left room for some discoveries. The music I listened to most in 2011 was a mix of my favorite bands (Okkervil River, Handsome Furs), newer artists (Smith Westerns, Lykke Li), bands I’d already written off (Fountains of Wayne, Wilco) and a few artists that had been around for decades but had never clicked with me until now (PJ Harvey, Stephen Malkmus).
San Francisco (male) duo Girls are back with their second full-length “Father, Son, Holy Ghost” which the cover refers to as “Record 3” (I suppose including last year's “Broken Dreams Club” EP). I was late getting into the first album but this one I’ve been looking forward to since playing the shit out that record which I said sounded like “Deerhunter covering The Beach Boys fronted by Elvis Costello.” The new one isn’t quite as immediate.
For the most part it sounds like Elliott Smith playing the Enchantment Under The Sea dance (before Marty McFly showed up) on 50s-inspired cuts like “Love Life” and “Jamie Marie”. On the other extreme songs like “Die” sounds like my high school band covering Black Sabbath but for the most part it veers towards the former (mellower) side. Album opener “Honey Bunny” and the song I’ve posted here, “Magic” are probably the poppiest moments on the album.
It was about a year ago that I found myself the last one to get into Girls album, Album. So it makes sense it would take me a few months for their Broken Dreams EP to finally grow on me. The song Substance starts out slowly but builds. At 3:45 it reaches aural ecstacy with some country singalong female backing vocals. It’s a shame it only lasts a minute. Listen. Repeat.
Part 1 in my Albums I Didn’t Listen To Last Year series is Girls - Album. I’m not sure why I didn’t give this album a chance until now, but here are a few reasons off the top of my head:
1. The band’s name is Girls. (There are no girls in the band). 2. The 2 guys in the band look like this. 3. The name of the album is “Album”. 4. The lead song on Album is called Lust For Life. (It is not an Iggy Pop cover.)
Right? But it was my loss because it turns out this album is really good. Singer Chris Owens voice is a bit off-putting at first but the songs are a mostly sunny mix of 60’s rock tropes that can bring to mind Deerhunter covering The Beach Boys fronted by Elvis Costello. Basically, it’s just good. My favorite songs are: Lust For Life, Laura, Hellhole Ratrace, Summertime and Lauren Marie. Highly recommended.