It feels like only yesterday that CoS Film returned from Sundance, battle-tested and weary. Hell, as we’ve been preparing for this year’s South by Southwest, we still find ourselves calling it Sundance on occasion. But SXSW isn’t Sundance or any other film festival either. This is a place where truly independent productions can still find a home, where genre movies and comedies belong right next to the more serious fare, where that next sleeper indie you’ll be talking about all year is just waiting to be found.
In 2015, SXSW continues to expand its importance in the festival year with heavy hitters like Paul Feig, Alex Gibney, Judd Apatow, and Ryan Gosling showing their latest stuff, but what’s most fun about SXSW (aside from the drinking-as-networking atmosphere, perhaps) is the element of surprise, like seeing Attack the Block come out of nowhere in 2011 to become the talk of the festival. You never know which underappreciated gem is on your list until you get there, and neither do we. But our schedules are built, our bodies are as ready as they’re ever going to be, and starting this Friday, we’ll be bringing you our nonstop daily coverage of the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival.
In the meantime, though, all that stuff we’re looking forward to seeing? Here’s a quick taste of what we have in store.
The Road Warrior
“And the Road Warrior? That was the last we ever saw of him. He lives now, only in my memories…”
Too bad, so sad, Road Warrior narrator. Fans of that film will have the chance to see it on the big screen at SXSW this year, as well as a Q&A with director George Miller. The Road Warrior is a post-apocalyptic action classic, boasting a silent-but-brutal performance by Mel Gibson as “Mad” Max Rockatansky, as well as car chases that haven’t been matched over the past 30+ years.
There is something else about the inclusion of this film in this year’s festival that has our attention. The movie isn’t celebrating a special anniversary, so why have it play? Maybe because the movie will end at midnight, which would be the perfect time for director George Miller to announce a special advanced screening of Mad Max: Fury Road. Fingers crossed. –Justin Gerber
All Things Must Pass
The Internet did not kill Tower Records. That’s one myth Colin Hanks debunks in his hotly anticipated documentary, All Things Must Pass. For a good hour and a half, the Son of Tom turns back the pages on the once-celebrated franchise, which filed for bankruptcy in 2006. Veteran purists, who once found and bought Appetite for Destruction or Nevermind or The Chronic from its very aisles, will no doubt enjoy this trip to the past.
But this is more than just some nostalgic journey. Hanks is deeply invested in capturing the company’s “explosive trajectory” and its “legacy forged by its rebellious founder, Russ Solomon,” according to a press release. And if his eye is as sharp as his World War II and space-loving father’s, who’s produced quality television for HBO for decades, then we’re in for another rock ‘n’ roll documentary worth crankin’ up. –Michael Roffman
Six years ago, Ross Katz directed HBO’s Taking Chance, about a marine (Kevin Bacon) who escorts home the body of a fallen soldier. Katz is better known as a two-time Oscar nominee for producing Lost in Translation and In the Bedroom. So, naturally, his feature-film debut as a director is written by … comedian Nick Kroll? Nick Kroll of Kroll Show? “The Douche”? Star of The League? Fabrice Fabrice? Okay then.
We don’t know too much about Adult Beginners. It follows a corporate flameout (Kroll) who moves in with his sister (Rose Byrne) and her family, which admittedly sounds a bit tired. However, it does feature a script written by the oft-hilarious Kroll and also boasts a supporting cast led by Bobby Cannavale, Joel McHale, Jane Krakowski, Bobby Moynihan, and Jason Mantzoukas. Cautiously optimistic, to say the least. –Justin Gerber
Breaking a Monster
What did you do in seventh grade? Odds are you didn’t start a metal band and tour the world. That’s what makes Unlocking the Truth so fascinating, enough that director Luke Meyer (Darkon, New World Order) has lensed a full-length documentary on the Brooklyn youngsters. Developed and expanded from a short film last year, Meyer captures the three musicians as they go from weekend gigs in Times Square to a $1.8 million record deal with Sony Music.
Interested? You should be. The band’s been turning all the right heads, from Stephen Colbert to Queens of the Stone Age, and they show absolutely no sign of slowing down. (Fun fact: They’re playing this year’s Bonnaroo.) And in an age where musicians are struggling to make ends meet and record contracts are about as rare as diversity in Hollywood, it’s refreshing to witness an unfolding story like this — and really, it’s only just begun. –Michael Roffman
The Final Girls
My teenage years were dedicated to viewing as many ‘80s slasher films as I could get my hands on, including such hits as Slumber Party Massacre and My Bloody Valentine. You can now imagine my delight when I discovered The Final Girls is playing at SXSW this year. The movie finds a high school student and her friends transported to an ‘80s horror film that starred her mom. Sold.
Genre flicks at these festivals can be very hit or miss (while we loved It Follows at Sundance, we also had to sit through Hellions), but what intrigues us about The Final Girls, aside from its plot, is that it’s co-written by Joshua John Miller. That name may not jump out at you, but he happens to be the same Joshua John Miller who played the kid vampire in Near Dark. Welcome back to genre, Homer! –Justin Gerber
The latest offering from the ever-prolific Blumhouse has two things going for it: a killer premise and the fact that it’s no longer titled Cybernatural. That premise: a high school woman’s embarrassing, drunken party video goes viral, leading to her taking her own life, which also ends up caught on video. But when a bunch of her former acquaintances get together on Skype to plan a trip exactly one year after her death, they start to receive a series of increasingly menacing messages from a woman who claims to be the deceased. Is it her? If not, who? Granted, a horror flick that uses the endless windows and tabs of modern technology isn’t completely unique; Nacho Vigalondo’s Open Windows did it late last year. But Unfriended has the kind of backing most horror flicks dream about, and it looks like it could be a good, scary time in the I Know What You Did Last Summer mold. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Last year, David Gordon Green wrenched one of the finest performances from Nicolas Cage with his hideously underrated indie film, Joe. That’s a big deal. Why? Well, the troubled veteran has consistently under-delivered as of late, thanks to a godawful financial situation involving castles and cars and credit. Now, Al Pacino is hardly in the same boat — let’s not forget his stellar job in 2010’s You Don’t Know Jack — but he hasn’t exactly shined over the past decade, either.
Hopefully Green can sprinkle some of his magic on Lt. Vincent Hanna with Manglehorn. There’s hope: Pacino plays a lovelorn locksmith whose closest friend is a cat. That’s out of his wheelhouse, right? His probable love interest is the ever-reliable Holly Hunter, and it appears that Harmony Korine needs a little unlocking, too. So, whatever happens has to at least be interesting. We’ll soon find out at the film’s sole screening. Mystery loves exclusivity. –Michael Roffman
Author-turned-screenwriter Alex Garland is no stranger to the sci-fi scene, having penned Danny Boyle’s journey-into-the-sun epic Sunshine, as well as a most worthy adaptation of the Dredd comic book. His latest stab at sci-fi, Ex Machina, was not only written by Garland, but serves as the writer’s first attempt at directing. A computer expert wins a trip to the mountainside home of his boss and is introduced to someone, or something, spectacular. Weirdness ensues.
Boasting a cast led by two future Star Wars superstars (Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac) as well as a potential breakthrough for actress Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina is near the top of our list of flicks we’re looking forward to. But please, dear Lord, don’t let Gleeson’s character turn out to be a robot. –Justin Gerber
Let’s be very honest with ourselves about something: This Is 40 was not to the standard expected of Judd Apatow as a filmmaker at this point. Less a comedy or even a dramedy than a two-plus-hour home movie, it was a strange and rare misstep for a man whose name has become synonymous with American comedy over the past decade. Trainwreck, his first film since, looks to rectify that error. Starring Amy Schumer (from a screenplay she penned), the film aims to revive the New York romantic comedy and not in the violently self-aware way that They Came Together did last year.
Early indications suggest a dirtier, more honest version of that film, one about a woman who chases what she wants instead of the ideal she’s supposed to be after, and has to struggle when that ideal shows up in the form of the endlessly charming Bill Hader. While we’re only seeing a work-in-progress version at SXSW (this has been done with Bridesmaids and Neighbors in recent years, as well), here’s hoping Apatow has found his groove again and that Schumer’s about to get the star-making vehicle she wholly deserves. –Dominick Suzanne-Mayer
Love & Mercy
To call Brian Wilson “interesting” is quite a disservice. There isn’t a story like his in all of rock ‘n’ roll history: Here you have the creator of the sunniest songs of all time — ahem, including the greatest song ever — and he’s absolutely miserable. Not only that, but a little odd around the edges, too. From childhood abuse to drug addiction to familial losses to the iconic sandbox, Wilson’s torturous past has all the trappings of a modern-day tragedy.
Which is why we’re so intrigued by Bill Pohlad’s Love & Mercy. The Tree of Life producer has assembled an eclectic cast, featuring Paul Dano and John Cusack as the respective young and older Brian, to tell the haunting story of the “fabled” Beach Boys singer-songwriter. And with Paul Giamatti as the controversial Dr. Eugene Landy, who once ghost wrote Wilson’s own autobiography, there’s plenty of room for terror. Surf’s up. –Michael Roffman