Best & Worst Films at SXSW 2019

  • Publish Date: March 16, 2019
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Which films impressed at this year's South by Southwest?

Below, we summarize the reactions of critics to all of the major films and television shows debuting at this year's SXSW, divided into categories from best-received to worst. Note that films which previously debuted at another festival (such as Teen Spirit and Little Monsters) are excluded, as are films that have already opened in theaters or streamed to the public in the past week (such as The Highwaymen and Shrill).

Major award winners

Jury Awards: Best Narrative Feature + Best First Feature
Alice
Drama | Australia | Directed by Josephine Mackerras

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The jury's pick for top narrative film of SXSW 2019 is the debut from writer-director Josephine Mackerras. The French-language drama centers on a wife and mother (Emilie Piponnier) who discovers that her husband has left the family completely broke after spending all their money on escorts. To support them and try to save their house, she signs up with the very same escort agency and becomes a high-end prostitute. THR's John DeFore calls the result "a complicated moral tale," and IndieWire's Eric Kohn says that the film belongs to Piponnier, who "dominates every frame, with a mesmerizing screen presence that pushes the drama well beyond its formulaic premise and visible microbudget constraints." And Glide's James Roberts enthuses that Alice "isn’t just one of the best films of the festival, it’s an early front runner for one of the best films of the year."

Audience Award: Best Narrative Feature
Saint Frances
Comedy/Drama | USA | Directed by Alex Thompson

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A somewhat surprising Audience Award winner given that critics haven't spent much time covering it, Saint Frances centers on a young woman (Kelly O'Sullivan, also the film's screenwriter) who has an abortion and then immediately lands a job as a nanny to a six-year-old in a wealthy Chicago suburb. Alex Thompson's debut feature is "slender but appealing," according to The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney, even if it has some "formulaic" notes.

Jury Award: Best Documentary Feature
Audience Award: Best Documentary Feature
For Sama
Documentary | Syrian Arab Republic | Directed by Edward Watts and Waad Al-Khateab

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The festival's best documentary, according to both the SXSW jury and festival audiences, is this unique work that examines life in war-torn Syria through the eyes of young activist Waad al-Kateab, who filmed moments of her eventful life over a five-year period in violent, rebel-held Aleppo. Film Threat's Chuck Foster admires how For Sama "goes beyond the conventions of documentary filmmaking to become the best found- footage film ever made," resulting in a "heart-wrenchingly honest film." The Hollywood Reporter's Jordan Mintzer, similarly, sees a "deeply powerful" film that "offers up a rare firsthand account of war from a strictly female perspective." The documentary is expected to air as part of the PBS series Frontline later in 2019 after it plays in theaters this summer.

Other highlights of the festival

The Art of Self-Defense
Comedy | USA | Directed by Riley Stearns

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A dark comedy from the writer-director of 2015's Faults, Self-Defense stars Jesse Eisenberg as a shy, mild accountant who turns to karate—with unexpected enthusiasm—after being attacked on the street. Alessandro Nivola and Imogen Poots also star. That plot description doesn't quite capture how "unpredictable," "wacky," "macabre," and "zany" the film is, according to IndieWire's Eric Kohn, who appreciates that it delivers Eisenberg's "wildest performance ever." At The Playlist, Ryan Oliver thinks the story's trajectory takes it a bit too much into Fight Club territory, but also feels that the terrific performances help compensate for any "uncomfortable testosterone and occasional grating of quirk." In his very positive Variety review, Peter Debruge also notes Fight Club similarities, but still finds Stearns' film to be unpredictable and "strikingly original" thanks to a deft balancing of "off-kilter humor with an unexpectedly thriller-esque undercurrent." But RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico, while admitting that the humor will connect with some viewers, finds that the film and its "broad caricatures" quickly "wore out its welcome" for him, though even he admits that "the final act of this one is so over the top that it won me back to a degree." The film opens in theaters on June 21st.

Booksmart
Comedy | USA | Directed by Olivia Wilde

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The best-reviewed film at SXSW this year, Olivia Wilde's directorial debut (working in part from a decade-old Black List-ed script) is a coming-of-age comedy following a pair of students (Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein) during an eventful, party-filled night on the eve of their high school graduation. Jessica Williams, Will Forte, Lisa Kudrow, and Jason Sudeikis also star in this May 24 release, which is earning plenty of comparisons to both Broad City and Superbad (a film featuring Feldstein's brother, Jonah Hill). And that's not a (super)bad thing: Critics, at the very least, are hugely appreciative of a female-led take on the raunchy teen comedy formula. Especially one that is "hilarious [and] blazingly paced" according to THR's John DeFore, and one that boasts a "savage wit that never slows down" in the similar words of IndieWire's Eric Kohn. Both critics also appreciate that, despite the "rapid-fire" fun, the core of the film is a focus on the two girls' friendship. So does Yolanda Machado, who, in The Wrap, gushes, "Booksmart is, by far, one of the most perfect coming-of-age comedies I have ever seen."

A bit less enthusiastic is The Playlist's Rodrigo Perez, who finds the film "inspired" and extremely well directed ("to the point that you’ll believe filmmaking may be [Wilde's] true calling in life") but also "slightly too perfect and slick for its own good." Still, he feels that Booksmart is "a bold and energetic movie that’s going to absolutely murder audiences with its intense vitality." Also praising Wilde's direction (like all of the aforementioned reviewers) is RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico, who writes, "Not only is this film paced perfectly, she has both an eye and an ear that most debut filmmakers don’t possess."

Boyz in the Wood
Action/Comedy/Horror | UK | Directed by Ninian Doff

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Music video director Ninian Doff makes his feature film debut with this fast-paced action-comedy about four teens on a team-building wilderness camping adventure in the Scottish Highlands who wind up being pursued by a rifle-toting madman (Eddie Izzard). Doff also wrote the script, and the latter is a problem for one critic—The Hollywood Reporter's John DeFore, who calls the script "often kind of dim," adding that the film's "comic violence is nothing new and [its] banter underwhelms." But he's the exception; other reviewers love the film as a whole and Doff's writing and direction in particular. Film Threat's Bobby LePire calls Boyz a "90-minute masterpiece" and "an exciting, nonstop laugh riot" that "heralds the emergence of a bold, exciting new director in the film world." And The Playlist's Joe Blessing labels it a "perfect example" of the Midnight Movie subgenre, and is pleasantly surprised to discover that "Doff has clear talent as a writer" in addition to his directorial flair. Taking a more moderated view, RogerEbert.com critic Brian Tallerico also sees the film as suited for late night viewing, and, while he admires its creativity, he does find it a bit tiring at points: "A movie this energetic can be a mixed bag, in that one admires the gusto for filmmaking on display but also kind of just wish it would catch its breath every now and then." The film had enough good buzz among festivalgoers that an additional screening was added to the SXSW schedule.

David Makes Man
TV/Drama | USA | Directed by Michael Francis Williams

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Debuting its first episode at SXSW prior to a late summer debut on OWN, David Makes Man is the first TV series from Moonlight writer Tarell Alvin McCraney. Also produced by Oprah Winfrey and Michael B. Jordan, the Florida-set drama is a coming-of-age tale (loosely based on McCraney's own life) focusing on a 14-year-old prodigy who turns to education as an escape from poverty and a traumatic home life. Akili McDowell and Phylicia Rashad star. Critics seemed to like the pilot at the festival, though THR's Dan Fienberg wonders how it will work as an ongoing series. But Variety TV critic Daniel D'Addario says that it's a "promising" sign that "this show is, from its first moments, quite so lived-in and credible." And IndieWire's Ben Travers concludes, "It’s hard to gauge a new show after a single episode, but when the pilot is as captivating as that of 'David Makes Man,' then there’s at least good reason to get excited."

The Day Shall Come
Comedy | UK/USA | Directed by Chris Morris

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The first film from English comedian (and frequent Armando Iannucci collaborator) Chris Morris since 2010's excellent Four Lions is another terrorism-related satire written by Morris and Jesse Armstrong (Succession, Peep Show). Filmed in secret, Day focuses on an impoverished and delusional but idealistic preacher (widely praised newcomer Marchánt Davis) in Miami whose financial savior (Anna Kendrick) turns out to be an FBI agent who tricks him into becoming a weapons dealer as part of a sting operation. It sounds like fans of the director's previous film (or, say, Veep, which Morris has also directed) will be satisfied. While IndieWire's Eric Kohn (in an otherwise positive review) cautions of "a fleeting, half-baked quality," The Guardian's Benjamin Lee sees "a short, sharp film" with "many hilariously unhinged elements" balanced by "a finale that drives home a devastating truth." Screen Daily's Wendy Ide also notes an "unexpectedly profound and sad" ending for an "abrasive satire" that "makes its point concisely and efficiently."

Long Shot
Comedy | Canada | Directed by Jonathan Levine

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Originally titled Flarsky, and described by several reviewers as Notting Hill crossed with Dave, this upcoming political rom-com from 50/50 director Jonathan Levine finds Seth Rogen as an investigative reporter hired as a speechwriter for his one-time babysitter, now the Secretary of State (Charlize Theron), as she considers a presidential campaign. The comedian-heavy supporting cast includes Bob Odenkirk (playing a Trump-like president), June Diane Raphael, Paul Scheer, Randall Park, Claudia O'Doherty, and Kurt Braunohler, plus Andy Serkis, O'Shea Jackson Jr., and Alexander Skarsgård. With a talented cast poking fun at plenty of real-world political figures, the results should be funny—and they are, indeed, "outrageously funny," according to The Guardian's Kristy Puchko.

In fact, The Film Stage's John Fink thinks, "There are certain moments in Long Shot where I thought I might have been watching a new comedy classic," though he is let down a bit by a "clunky" third act. THR's John DeFore agrees that it is "very funny" despite quite a bit of "implausibility" in its plotting, which can be "tough to take" at times. And while RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico notes a lack of insight into modern day politics (gender- or otherwise), he feels that it doesn't really hurt the film because it still works well as a rom-com: "It’s been a long time since there’s been a rom-com with two stars as straight-up likable and easy to root for as Seth Rogen and Charlize Theron are here." But Variety's Peter Debruge deems the result "more creepy than romantic" and its values "scandalously backward," though even he admits it is funnier "than any comedy in months."

Ramy
TV/Comedy | Egypt/USA | Directed by Harry Bradbeer, Chris Storer

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The Ramy in the title of this upcoming Hulu comedy series (all 10 episodes stream on April 19) is stand-up comedian Ramy Youssef (you may have seen him on Colbert or Mr. Robot), here playing something like himself: a young Egyptian-American man trying to figure out how to fit in as a Muslim and a millennial in New Jersey. The series comes from some of the team behind The Carmichael Show (including Jerrod Carmichael, who serves as a producer), and, like that gone-too-soon show, seems to be popular with critics, who have seen the first six episodes. THR's Dan Fienberg observes that the show "min[es] a vein of universality from something that's extremely specific." Similarly, IndieWire's Ben Travers admires the show's honesty and adds, "'Ramy' resonates because it treats its characters’ lives with the utmost compassion. Their struggles are universal, as are the jokes, and whether you’re a viewer excited to see a practicing Muslim leading a TV show or just a white guy looking for a good comedy to stream, 'Ramy' delivers the goods."

Us
Horror | USA | Directed by Jordan Peele

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For his second directorial effort following his critically acclaimed surprise hit Get Out, Jordan Peele returns to (and more fully embraces) the horror genre. The results are less thought-provoking but creepier, scarier, and even funnier that Get Out, say critics. Us (in theaters nationwide on March 22nd) follows a family (led by a widely praised Lupita Nyong'o) whose summer vacation goes awry when they find themselves stalked by shadowy figures who turn out to be their own doppelgängers. Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and Tim Heidecker also star.

Nearly every reviewer praises Peele's "craftsmanship"—the film's technical achievements are not in doubt, and horror fans, especially, should be pleased. But there is some disagreement about its overall impact. In Consequence of Sound, Dan Caffrey laments that "it’s hard to not feel frustrated by a script that never seems to figure out what it’s trying to say." The Playlist's Ryan Olivier praises individual sequences but also notes that "Peele has a lot to say" in an "ambitious" film but his ideas get "a little murky," concluding that there are "just a few too many ingredients" to make Us rise above being anything more than a "crowd-pleasing horror film." Variety's Peter Debruge similarly calls the film "terrifying" but notes some weaknesses in its final act—a sentiment shared by A.V. Club's Randall Colburn, who feels that the film's conclusion renders Us "a frustrating watch, a visual and technical marvel that just doesn’t seem to know what it is." But IndieWire's Eric Kohn has few complaints, and notes that "anticipating the outcome doesn’t make it any less effective."

What We Do in the Shadows
TV/Comedy | Canada/USA | Directed by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement

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If that title sounds familiar, it's because it belongs to a cult hit 2014 movie from (and starring) Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement that serves as the inspiration for this upcoming FX comedy series. Like the film, the show utilizes a mockumentary format to follow the everyday lives of a group of four vampires who share a home—in this case, in New York's Staten Island rather than the film's New Zealand. There's an all-new cast, so you won't see Clement and Waititi in the series, but both have hands-on involvement as producers, writers, and directors. Critics have seen the first four episodes and are happy to report that the show is mostly a success, albeit a "minor-key" one, according to Variety TV critic Daniel D'Addario, who feels that the "show’s laughs are closer to chuckles than guffaws" and that "its ambitions feel more minor" than other shows in this era of prestige TV. But even he welcomes Shadows' new take on the mockumentary format, a sentiment echoed by THR's Tim Goodman, who admires that "the real achievement might be in how surprisingly fresh the [mockumentary] conceit feels episode after episode, which is no easy feat." In Consequence of Sound, Michael Roffman thinks that the series actually improves on the movie: "It’s a lot like what Peter Berg did with Friday Night Lights: Great movie, even better show." But ComicBook.com's Patrick Cavanaugh disagrees, calling the series "a pale imitation of what made the movie magical."

Decent, but not among the festival's best

Everybody's Everything
Documentary | USA/UK | Directed by Ramez Silyan and Sebastian Jones

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The late genre-blending emo-rapper Lil Peep—who died of a drug overdose at 21 shortly after releasing his debut album—is the subject of a documentary that examines his life and legacy. Critics have good (but not great) things to say about a film that counts Peep's mother and director Terrence Malick among its producers and Peep's grandfather as a narrator. Austin Chronicle's Marc Savlov describes the result as "a cautionary, melancholic tale of the incessant demand de rigueur of 24/7/365 internet celebrity." Vulture's Emily Yoshida seems moved by the filmmakers' "unusual but evocative choice to conduct the majority of their interviews with their sources in their bedrooms," though CoS reviewer Dan Caffrey finds the talking-head interviews among the film's "most conventional" moments. Both IndieWire's David Ehrlich and The Playlist's Ryan Oliver see echoes of Malick's style in Everything, with the former concluding, "Much like its subject, the film is beautiful, compelling, hard to watch, and spread too thin to stay with us for long."

Extra Ordinary
Comedy | Ireland | Directed by Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern

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A starring vehicle for Irish comedian Maeve Higgins, Extra Ordinary centers on Rose, a driving instructor gifted with minor supernatural abilities which she tries to avoid using despite repeated requests for assistance from locals. But after a washed-up rock star (Will Forte) goes against the wishes of his wife (Claudia O'Doherty) and makes a deal with the devil and puts a spell on a local girl, Rose reluctantly agrees to save the day—in a film that skews almost entirely to the comedy end of horror-comedy. The result is "a kind of tea-cosy 'Ghostbusters' that’s consistently funny in a pleasingly off-kilter way," says Dennis Harvey in Variety. In Film Threat, Bobby LePire thinks that anyone expecting scares will be disappointed, but everyone else will be thrilled: "Thanks to its nonstop jokes, strong, likable characters, and marvelous cast the movie is hysterical."

Go Back to China
Drama/Comedy | China/USA | Directed by Emily Ting

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Filmmaker Emily Ting's semi-autobiographical second feature follows a spoiled young Chinese woman (Anna Akana) living in the United States, where she attended fashion school. When she blows through her trust fund, her father forces her to return to China to work at her family's toy company. In the process, she reconnects with her family and herself. Hollywood Reporter critic Caryn James calls the film "easy to watch" but cautions that it "offers more clunky, earnest moments than fun" thanks to a "didactic screenplay [that] sinks the film." But IndieWire's Kate Erbland is more supportive, calling it "an unexpectedly sweet coming-of-age comedy" that mostly overcomes some "forced" third-act plot twists. FilmThreat's Alan Ng appreciates the "complicated family dynamic" on display, and Slashfilm's Joi Childs calls China "an enjoyable watch" with "a simple, but effective, script."

Olympic Dreams
Comedy/Drama/Sports | USA | Directed by Jeremy Teicher

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Filmed with minimal crew (but with permission—a first in cinema history) on location in the Athlete Village at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Jeremy Teicher's rom-com focuses on the relationship between a cross-country skier (Alexi Pappas, an Olympian in real life) and a dentist who is volunteering at the Games (Nick Kroll). While it didn't pick up many reviews at SXSW, a few critics who wrote about the film enjoyed it. THR's Beandrea July admits that while Dreams "has the familiar rom-com plot elements we’re used to seeing," it's also "far from predictable" thanks to a "visually exciting" style and a "raw depiction of emotional intimacy" as well as its one-of-a-kind glimpse into an athlete's day-to-day life during the Olympics. Slashfilm's Jacob Hall agrees that this unique vantage point "makes this movie a must-see, even as it hits a few too many familiar beats." But The Playlist's Griffin Schiller thinks that "the story as a whole, doesn’t quite click," calling the result a "missed opportunity," though he does feel that Kroll "at least makes a successful dramatic turn here and truly shows his capability outside the realm of broad comedy."

The Peanut Butter Falcon
Drama | USA | Directed by Mike Schwartz and Tyler Nilson

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A young man with Down syndrome (played by newcomer Zack Gottsagen, who has Down syndrome in real life) runs away from his nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a professional wrestler, enlisting an outlaw (a universally praised Shia LaBeouf—and, yes, he was shooting this very film when he got arrested) to aid him along the way. John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, Yelawolf, and Dakota Johnson fill out the cast of this Southern drama from first-time directors Schwartz and Nilson, and the film won an Audience Award in the so-called "Narrative Spotlight" category (for "high profile" premieres not in competition—not to be confused with "Headliners," which are even higher profile films).

Critics also like it, but not as much as audiences. Consequence of Sound's Randall Colburn finds some of the story beats cribbed from previous road trip films—and from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an inspiration the film itself acknowledges—but nevertheless admires the chemistry between LaBeouf and Gottsagen and the film's refreshingly "giddy sense of possibility and innocence." THR's Sheri Linden has a similar view, finding the film "constricted by obviousness" but saved in part by LaBeouf's "layered performance." In The Playlist, an admiring Ryan Oliver notes that the film could have turned out "twee" in lesser hands; instead, "It feels so naturalistic and character-driven, which makes the laughs feel louder and more impactful than the kind of manufactured quirkiness that can sometimes undermine good work such as this."

Running With Beto
Documentary | USA | Directed by David Modigliani

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Former Texas House Representative Beto O'Rourke's recent senatorial campaign against Ted Cruz—and not his nascent presidential campaign—is the subject of a documentary from David Modigliani, who was embedded with the O'Rourke campaign for a full year. The film, which will bypass theaters and air on HBO on May 28, is receiving a solid reception from reviewers (and won an Audience Award in the "Documentary Spotlight" category), though some critics note that it falls short of essential. One of those is The Film Stage's John Fink, who laments that it doesn't show more of O'Rourke's origin story, and calls the film "an authentic portrait even if it is one that could be garnered from other sources including his appearances on Ellen DeGeneres and Steven Colbert’s shows." In IndieWire, Eric Kohn describes the doc as "straightforward" and "proficient," concluding that the film "consolidates the feel-good trajectory of O’Rourke’s run into an engaging package that showcases his galvanizing impact up close."

Sword of Trust
Comedy | USA | Directed by Lynn Shelton

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The latest from Lynn Shelton, a noted TV director (GLOW, Master of None, Love) in addition to a filmmaker (Humpday), reunites her with her frequent small screen star, Marc Maron, in this easygoing and semi-improvised tale of an unlikely group of four people (also including Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, and Jon Bass) who set out to sell an inherited Civil War sword to someone from a group of white supremacist truthers who believe that the South actually won the war. Critics seem to find the film pleasant (and often funny) but perhaps inessential. THR's John DeFore calls Sword a "modest" but "enjoyably shaggy" outing, and The Playlist's Kimber Myers echoes the "shaggy" descriptor while also noting some "laugh-out-loud funny moments" that elevate the otherwise "casual" film. Similar comments come from IndieWire's Eric Kohn, who calls the film "lightweight" and "disposable" but also notes, "Yet even as the narrative fizzles, the movie remains an appealing assemblage of timely themes." But Vulture's Emily Yoshida docks the film a few extra points for its aimlessness: "Racism, antisemitism, addiction, codependency, and the disorienting effects of a post-truth world are all tossed into Shelton’s low-speed blender, but the film ends before any of it starts to feel like it’s emulsifying."

Villains
Comedy/Thriller | USA | Directed by Dan Berk and Robert Olsen

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A home invasion thriller as comedy? That is indeed the nature of the third film from Body writer/directors Dan Berk and Robert Olsen, and critics think it mostly works. Villains follow a couple (Bill Skarsgård, Maika Monroe) on the run after a robbery who find themselves in need of a car and break into a house to get one. Unfortunately, the home they pick happens to have a young girl chained up in the basement—and a pair of homeowners (Jeffrey Donovan, Kyra Sedgwick) who don't want anyone to know about her. (As we said, a comedy.) Film Threat's Bobby LePire thinks that the first "20 minutes of this comedic thriller are far too frantic for its own good," but adds that Villains eventually recovers and manages "to stick the landing perfectly." He is also impressed by the cast and the production design, and that is true for Variety's Dennis Harvey as well, though the latter is a bit less positive overall, calling the story "intriguing enough to hold attention, if not quite clever enough to be a knockout." RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico finds the film ambitious but is frustrated that "it doesn’t pay off in a satisfying or engaging way" and can't quite bring himself to recommend seeing it. But Austin Chronicle's Matthew Monagle deems the film an "off-the-radar standout" that is "funny, energetic, and acted to perfection."

Vision Portraits
Documentary | USA/Canada/Germany | Directed by Rodney Evans

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Filmmaker Rodney Evans explores his ongoing struggle with declining vision—and what it means for his future as an artist—by profiling three working artists who have lost their sight, including a dancer, a writer, and a photographer. In Film Threat, Bobby LePire thinks the film's "power stems from its style"—in particular, photography that is "often obscured, fuzzy, out of focus, or so close it is uncomfortable," which "provides the viewer with a more profound empathy for the visually impaired." THR's Beandrea July finds the film to be an "endlessly thought-provoking" exploration of the creative process, though she isn't quite as enamored of the experimental visual tics, noting that "sometimes they fumble."

Well Groomed
Documentary | USA | Directed by Rebecca Stern

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It may sound like the setup for a Christopher Guest mockumentary, but Rebecca Stern's documentary spends a year inside the very real (and very colorful) world of competitive creative dog grooming. It sounds amusing, but critics find it a bit too superficial. THR's Caryn James admits, "There is nothing radical or especially distinctive about the style of this mildly entertaining documentary," and notes "holes in the narrative." Film Threat's Alan Ng finds it all "pretty straightforward" and thinks it will be unable "to win over those uninterested in the subject." Both critics think that the film emphasizes the positive and fails to probe its subjects deeply, though The Playlist's Jonathan Christian considers that an asset: "Remarkably, the element that heightens the film’s enjoyability is its pure-hearted nature. Even at its darkest moments, 'Well Groomed' never lingers too long on sorrow to knock the movie off-course." But Austin Chronicle's Dan Gentile has the answer you are looking for: "Let’s be real: You’re mainly here to look at some cute animals, and Well Groomed delivers some of the biggest awwwwws you’ll have in a theater all year."

The disappointments

Adopt a Highway
Drama | USA | Directed by Logan Marshall-Green

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Featuring a score by Jason Isbell, this Blumhouse-produced drama from actor turned first-time writer-director Logan Marshall-Green (Upgrade) stars Ethan Hawke as an ex-con who struggles to adapt to life as a free man after serving a lengthy prison sentence—and to care for an infant he finds abandoned in a trash bin. Critics think that the resulting character study is only partly successful—with Hawke being the part that works. The Hollywood Reporter's Beandrea July feels that "Hawke’s performance quite literally carries" an otherwise "choppy and tonally dissonant" movie marred by a few "cringeworthy" moments.

Variety's Dennis Harvey calls the film "slight" and faults Marshall-Green's screenplay a bit more than his direction, noting (among other faults) that the characters other than Hawke's Russell are "inconsequential and thinly conceived." The Wrap's Candice Frederick similarly notes a lack of polish and calls the result "as flat as it is earnest." But there are a few more positive views. The Austin Chronicle's Matthew Monagle admits the film is "modest" but feels that "watching Hawke work is its own reward." RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico compares the film to the TV series Rectify, finding that it "rewards viewer patience." And the comparison that comes to mind for Consequence of Sound critic Michael Roffman is Richard Linklater; he admires a film that is "patient, meditative, and sanguine."

The Beach Bum
Comedy | USA | Directed by Harmony Korine

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Harmony Korine films typically don't appeal to everyone—and that includes critics, who have awarded only one of his directorial efforts (Spring Breakers) with anything resembling positive reviews. So it should come as no surprise that his latest film is again proving divisive, even if it ups the star power with a lead performance by Matthew McConaughey. He plays an eccentric/unlikeable stoner/alcoholic poet named Moondog who goes on a series of low-key hedonistic adventures in the Florida Keys. Jonah Hill, Isla Fisher, Martin Lawrence, Jimmy Buffett, Snoop Dogg, and Zac Efron fill out the eclectic cast. The film, like its main character, has its highs (so to speak) and lows.

On the plus side, according to critics like RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico, are Korine's "visual gifts." Another highlight for many reviewers is McConaughey's performance. While it may seem to be a role he could play in his sleep, but many reviewers single him out, including The Playlist's Ryan Oliver, who calls it a "transformative performance" thanks to a subtle but convincing physicality he brings to the role. In fact, IndieWire's Nordine thinks that the star is so entertaining here that "it takes nearly the entirety of 'The Beach Bum' to fully absorb how little else there is to the film once the initial high of basking in Moondog’s perma-stoned glory wears off." But Consequence of Sound critic Dan Caffrey gets to that point a lot sooner, finding the character too "toxic," and his antics not "all that funny or captivating," to make the film anything other than "exhausting."

The Curse of La Llorona
Horror/Thriller | USA | Directed by Michael Chaves

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One of the final films to debut at SXSW this week (ahead of its April 19 theatrical release), director Michael Chaves' debut is the sixth film in the James Wan-produced "Conjuring Universe" supernatural horror franchise, though it's a stand-alone entry and not a direct sequel to the Conjuring or Annabelle films. (Chaves will also direct The Conjuring 3, due next year.) Linda Cardellini and Raymond Cruz (Breaking Bad's Tuco Salamanca) star in a 1970s-set story based on the Latin American folktale of the "Weeping Woman." But, like the ghost in the legend, there's not much substance here. THR's John DeFore calls it a "ho-hum horror flick" that offers "just slight variations on what we've seen in a dozen better genre films." In The Playlist, Ryan Oliver compares the film to "a well-produced haunted corn maze at a backwoods farm in your hometown," and calls it "technically impressive and faulty in equal measure." In We Got This Covered, Matt Donato similarly labels the screenplay "basic and sloppy," though Variety's Joe Leydon thinks the "efficiently formulaic" film does enough to satisfy fans of the genre, even if it avoids surprises and lacks subtlety. At Slashfilm, Meredith Borders faults the writing and the direction, calling them both "just so half-baked and lazy." And Austin Chronicle's Jenny Nulf simply dismisses the film as "pathetic" and calls it "a cheap attempt to recreate the spark that has made The Conjuring franchise so lucrative."

Good Boys
Comedy | USA | Directed by Gene Stupnitsky

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The Office writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg return to the big screen for the third time (following Year One and Bad Teacher) with an R-rated comedy following the daylong odyssey of a trio of sixth graders who accidentally break a drone belonging to a parent and skip school to find a replacement—while prepping for their first "kissing party." Produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, Stupnitsky's feature directorial debut opens in theaters on August 16, and it received a muted response from critics at the festival, though the version screened may not be the final cut. Many reviewers question the combination of young protagonists and raunchy humor (filled with F-bombs and sex toys), though their biggest complaints seem to be a lack of originality and way too much repetition in the jokes. Several critics compare it (unfavorably) to Superbad, such as Variety's Dennis Harvey, who warns that it "lacks that film's wit and heart" and deems it "crude and obvious" and lacking inspiration. The Guardian's Kristy Puchko also calls it a "shallow retread" of Superbad, though she still finds the new film to be a "good time." THR's John DeFore finds Stupnitsky's direction "problematic," and several reviewers, like RogerEbert.com's Brian Tallerico, question the pacing, though the latter thinks the film is "pretty damn funny" anyway. At IndieWire, Eric Kohn similarly finds the pace "spotty" but is a bit more positive overall, admiring how the film "manages to be adorable and twisted at the same time." But The Film Stage's John Fink is not a fan, complaining of an "uninspired" and "cringe-inducing" film.

Porno
Horror/Comedy | USA | Directed by Keola Racela

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Making waves for its extremely graphic violence, Keola Racela's debut centers on a group of teens who work at a perfectly normal movie theater in the early 1990s. Well, "normal" might not be the right word—it turns out that it used to be an X-rated movie theater, and is now possessed by a "sex demon" who unleashes evils upon them (including an exploding penis) after they play a haunted film they find in the basement. While Film Threat's Chris Salce deems the result "slightly cheesy" but "fun," "disturbing," and "hilarious," IndieWire's Jude Dry labels Porno a "thrilling entry" to the horror-comedy genre blending "laughably outrageous carnage with a legitimately scary plot." Variety's Dennis Harvey compares Porno to "a retro teen mall-flick fantasy in the spirit of 'The Lost Boys' or 'Gremlins,'" though he warns that, after a promising start, the film "gets more uneven as it goes on" and suffers a bit by exhibiting a "somewhat harmless tenor" rather than truly pushing the limits.

 

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