SXSW ~ Capsule Reviews, Vol. 3

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SXSW Review ~ The Art of Making It

Synopsis: Against the backdrop of a culture in crisis, young artists at defining moments in their careers explore whether the art world ecosystem meant to nurture them is actually failing them.
Director: Kelcey Edwards
Running Length: 94 minutes
Review: In my recent review of Really Good Rejects, I mentioned that its world of specialized musicians is one I wasn’t familiar with, and the same could be said about the world of art collectors.  In The Art of Making It, viewers get taken into this tricky scene by director Kelcey Edwards and come out the other side with a better understanding of its pitfalls.  What makes a work of art, and therefore the artist, worth more than another?  Edwards interviews several upper echelon art insiders and artists starting their careers to get their perspectives on where the business side of the medium was and is going in a post-pandemic climate.  Far more accessible than you might imagine, The Art of Making It is a finely etched portrait of the haves and want-to-get-there’s that lets the subjects take the brush most of the time.

SXSW Review ~ The Locust

Synopsis: During the rehearsal of a semi-autobiographical film script, a 40-year-old woman cannot tolerate any indifferent and ignorant reactions as the cast begins to judge her character.
Director: Faezeh Azizkhani
Running Length: 81 minutes
Review: Into every film fest, a little rain must fall, and The Locust is the first movie I saw that left me a little crushed.  I had higher than average hopes for this Iranian entry featuring a woman wanting to get her semi-autobiographical script made but forced to sell it to her friend to pay her rent.  Now, indebted to a friend wanting changes, she must sit idly by while numerous opinions on her work (and her life) get thrown around in front of her.  Director Faezeh Azizkhani’s 81-minute film has several inspired moments that show you what the movie could have been, such as having Hanieh (a captivating Hanie Tavassoli) leave a room and wind up outdoors talking to her deceased father or stepping outside the action to break the fourth wall.  These bits and pieces serve as breathers from the rapid-fire talk that’s often hard to settle into.  Even if it’s intentional, it becomes alienating and eventually suffocating to witness.  The Locust is a movie with growing ideas that I appreciated but an overall execution with which I couldn’t find a balance.

SXSW Review ~ The Cellar

Synopsis: A mother discovers there is an ancient and powerful entity controlling her home that she will have to face or risk losing her family’s souls forever.
Director: Brendan Muldowney
Running Length: 95 minutes
Review: There’s a bit of the rainy-day Saturday fun to The Cellar that makes this SXSW Midnighters entry more enjoyable than your average haunted house offering.  Writer/director Brendan Muldowney’s Irish horror film might not win points with genre fans in the original scares department or for creating especially compelling characters, but give it credit for establishing a spooky mood that allows the viewer a free ride to Frightville.  Using, of all things, mathematics as the scheme by which the supernatural element infiltrates a young family, Muldowney aims higher than his peers where the plot is concerned yet doesn’t spend quite as much time on the characters that are figuring out these equations.  Thankfully, the performances (including Elisha Cuthbert & Eoin Macken) are competent enough to smooth out any gaps. The production values are strong, resulting in a fear flick in which you can have some confidence.   

SXSW Review ~ Linoleum

Synopsis: When the host of a failing children’s science show tries to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut by building a rocket ship in his garage, a series of bizarre events occur that cause him to question his own reality.
Director: Colin West
Running Length: 101 minutes
Review: You’re going to have to be careful if you are interested in seeing this sci-fi family drama because it’s got a few tricks up its sleeve that could be spoiled by the wrong reviewer.  I could tell you what movies Linoleum reminded me of, but even that would run the risk of giving away some of writer/director Colin West’s best moments for stars Jim Gaffigan and Rhea Seehorn.  The two play a husband and wife in small-town suburbia facing divorce because of an aimless marriage.  She wants a more established career, and he’s stuck as the lead of a dying cable-access science show.  A car falling from the sky with a man that looks a lot like Gaffigan is the first strange occurrence that upsets this idyllic, if stale, climate.  When that same guy oddly turns out to be his replacement as host of his job, it sets the frustrated dad off on a quest to reclaim a dream from his youth.  It’s clear early on that West is presenting viewers with a puzzle to solve, and while experienced players may figure out how the pieces are meant to line up, it’s hard to predict the final shape Linoleum takes.  While it can wander a bit throughout its running time, stick with this one and pay attention to the details, you’ll be rewarded at the end with an emotional payoff that is the result of wonderful performances and a thoughtful screenplay.

SXSW Review ~ The Prank

Synopsis: An imperious, demanding instructor gets taught a lesson by being falsely accused of murder by two of her students.
Director: Maureen Bharoocha
Running Length: 91 minutes
Review: Yes, there are a lot of similarities between The Prank and that deservedly underseen 1999 teen thriller Teaching Mrs. Tingle.  Both feature an Oscar-winning actress playing a cruel schoolmarm that’s mean for the fun of it and gets her comeuppance in the form of a smear campaign started by her students.  What The Prank has that Tingle doesn’t is the sense of humor it so desperately needed.  While Tingle wanted to have its cake and slice it too, The Prank is first and foremost a black comedy that sprinkles its horror bits as a tasty extra on top.  Director Maureen Bharoocha (at SXSW after her excellent Golden Arm couldn’t premiere at the canceled 2020 event) has helmed a slick production with lively performances.  As the students that plot and plant the rumor that gets their teacher in hot water, Connor Kalopsis & Ramona Young are a good match for one another, and the supporting players each find small moments of joyful contribution along the way.  The Prank belongs to Rita Moreno as the leather glove-wearing most feared physics teacher on the block.  With her severe bob, the tiny Moreno gives a big performance – and what a delicious performance it is! It’s so fun that it alone makes the movie worth a watch.  After narrowly missing a second Oscar nomination for 2021’s West Side Story, Moreno is on a roll already in 2022 as the willing target at the center of The Prank.