• The five buzzwords needed to fit in at SXSW Interactive

    Down the street from the University of Texas dorm room where Dell got its start, founder Michael Dell moderates SXSWInteractive's "Beginnings: A Panel About Entrepreneurism" on Friday, March 7, 2014., in Austin, Texas. (Jack Plunkett/AP Images for Dell, Inc.)
    Down the street from the University of Texas dorm room where Dell got its start, founder Michael Dell moderates SXSWInteractive's "Beginnings: A Panel About Entrepreneurism" on Friday, March 7, 2014., in Austin, Texas. (Jack Plunkett/AP Images for Dell, Inc.)

    If you think you can just fit in at SXSW Interactive, you are wrong. Unless you normally only wear plain clothing with things like “Wordpress” or “Google” written across them, clear framed glasses and leather boots, you will stand out like a hipster in a Microsoft store. 

    Really the only thing you can do to prepare yourself for the SXSW Interactive experience is practice your buzzwords. This way you can at least communicate with everyone else around you in the Austin Convention Center. 

    This is a list of the five words you need to know before leaving your apartment to go mingle with the #TechNerds downtown.

    1. Disrupt, verb: interrupt by causing a disturbance or problem
    SXSWi definition: new technology that unexpectedly displaces an already established technology
    Sentence: “Man, online video is one disruptive technology that really changed the whole television game, bro, man.”

    If you don’t know this one, go home. Really, go home. It is apparently the most important word in the TechBro language. If we’re lucky, one of the dudes with spiky hair trying to find a cute little TechBabe to settle down with will invent the next form of disruptive technology soon. Personally, I hope it has something to do with pants that can produce identification cards when you lose yours downtown during SXSW.
    SXSWi panel: Disruption of TV and the Future of “Online” Video

    2. Wearable, adjective: able to be worn
    SXSWi definition: some piece of technology that can be worn as clothing
    Sentence: “This wearable is great for making calls but totally makes my wrist look fat.”

    The Google Glassholes are only the beginning. From what I’ve heard walking around the Convention Center, there are big things coming the world of technological things you can wear on your actual body. Even Mindy Kaling is in on it — she talked about owning a calorie counter that can be worn on your bra. 
    SXSWi panel: Wearable Devices: The Future of Healthcare?

    3. Platform, noun: a raised surface on which things or people can stand
    SXSWi definition: some public service through which you can spread your personal brand
    Sentence: “I used to love Facebook, but now Twitter is definitely my favorite platform.”

    If you haven’t heard of platforms by now, you’re doing it wrong. How are you even ON the Internet at all? You probably don’t even have a ***Brand*** (see below).
    SXSWi panel: Platforms vs. Publishers: A Big New Theory

    4. Brand, noun: a product made by a certain company under a certain name
    SXSWi definition: a person or company’s personality, essentially, presented in a marketable way
    Sentence: “I don’t know, I just don’t think eating seven Cronuts in a row fits my Brand.”

    If I’ve learned anything in three days of SXSW panels, it’s that you are nothing without your Brand. I’m in the process of figuring mine out, so you could say my Brand is “just trying to figure out my Brand.”
    SXSWi panel: Life’s a Breach, Don’t Burn Your Brand

    5. Startup, verb: the process of setting something in motion
    SXSWi definition: a small, decently innovative company made up of mostly 20-somethings who don’t need real jobs
    Sentence: “I was in a pretty good startup at last year’s SXSW, but we kind of ended a few weeks after the festival.”

    In a few years, SXSW might start requiring all attendees to be a part of some kind of startup. That might actually be a requirement now and I’m just missing out. There hasn’t been a single day I haven’t heard someone mention their startup. The strange thing is, none of them seem to exist anymore. Hmm.
    SXSWi panel: Startup Grind What Makes Austin a Startup Hub

  • "Veronica Mars" makes the case for cult TV show at SXSW

    This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Kristen Bell in a scene from "Veronica Mars." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Robert Voets)
    This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Kristen Bell in a scene from "Veronica Mars." (AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Robert Voets)

    When “Veronica Mars” premiered ten years ago, I didn’t know much about it. I continued to not know much about it until I randomly caught a re-run on MTV — the show did guest star Paris Hilton, after all — and I was immediately hooked. From there, the show’s mix of social commentary, hard-boiled sleuthing and high school antics kept me coming back for every episode.

    So when series creator Rob Thomas launched a Kickstarter campaign that wildly exceeded expectations, it was hard not to be excited at the prospect of seeing my favorite teen detective on a much bigger screen than I was used to, and when it was announced that the film would have its world premiere at SXSW, I knew it would be a huge priority. Thankfully, “Veronica Mars” is an outstanding adaptation of the series — sharply written, enthusiastically performed and entirely accessible to those unfamiliar with the source material.

    Nine years after the de-facto series finale, “Veronica Mars” comes up with a hell of an excuse to drag our heroine (Kristen Bell) back to the equally rich and corrupt Neptune, California: her ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), has been accused of murdering his girlfriend.

    It’s a deceptively simple set-up, but writer/director Rob Thomas crafts a potboiler of a tale around it. Thomas’ script compiles a list of suspects that includes just about every recurring character in the history of the show, giving Veronica a chance to interact with a parade of returning actors. Thankfully, this only borders on feeling like fan service for much of the film, and Thomas skillfully folds the many cameos organically into the story. Even better, the film feels like watching an excellent, super-sized episode of the TV show, with all of the twisty plotting and witty dialogue that’s always been in the show’s DNA.

    Kristen Bell leads a sizable returning cast with the same reliably caustic charisma she brought to the small screen. Veronica is still the best role Bell’s ever played, and her enthusiasm at being back in the sleuth’s skin is infectious. Because the film doesn’t ask the supporting cast to do anything much differently from what they did on the show, there’s a not entirely unwelcome degree of familiarity to most of the performances. Jason Dohring can still brood and smolder with the best of them, though the film seems reluctant to engage with his character’s tendency to date girls that end up dead. Ryan Hansen’s Dick Casablancas is still brashly hilarious, and Enrico Colatoni’s perfect mixture of paternal hero and total badass as Veronica’s private detective father remains beyond reproach.

    Though Veronica’s father is underserved by Thomas’ busy script, along with a few other key members of the ensemble, “Veronica Mars” is a winning return to form. Rob Thomas has maintained the spirit of the show perfectly, and the film sets up for a sequel in fairly irresistible fashion. While fans of the show will certainly find more to love here, “Veronica Mars” is so well-written and entertaining that newcomers may find themselves enticed to catch up.

  • "Only Lovers Left Alive" is gorgeous, gaudy, and unapologetically weird

    “Only Lovers Left Alive” is undeniably bizarre and instantly captivating. Jim Jarmusch’s new film opens with repeated cuts between protagonists Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston and a record player. The camera mimics the record, spinning laconically and throwing the audience into the disorienting world where music-loving vampires dwell. The movie takes its sweet time, refusing to develop even the barest hint of a plot until almost an hour has passed, but it’s no matter. Swinton, Hiddleston, and their cast members are pitch perfect, which makes “Lovers” a visually sensational treat to watch.

    “Lovers” follows Adam (Tom Hiddleston), an immortal vampire rocker with a lethal case of ennui. He’s spent centuries making, appreciating, and even inspiring music, but beyond collecting obscure guitars, he’s done with the whole thing. He sends his young admirer (a perfectly vacant Anton Yelchin) to fetch a wooden bullet so that he can commit suicide. His equally immortal wife, Eve (the ever-entrancing Tilda Swinton), senses Adam’s intent and joins him in Detroit. Their wide web of contacts also includes a still-living Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), a morally ambiguous doctor (Jeffrey Wright), and a mercurial, immature sister of Eve’s (Mia Wasikowska). Rather than providing a direct, typical plot structure, Jarmusch’s screenplay allows these characters to simply exist. They dance, they love, they pose, and it’s somehow always a blast.

    The film’s leads never stop being fascinating to watch, delivering performances that are equal parts style and substance. Swinton’s transformative talents are on full display here. She allows no room for doubt that she really is thousands of years old. Watching her stalk the streets of Tangier in a costume borrowed from “Out of Africa” is stunning. She consumes the screen and demands attention with every gesture or whisper. Hiddleston takes a part that could be completely one-note (there does seem to be a surplus of stoic, depressed vampires) and makes Adam’s melancholy brooding authentic rather than motivelessly angsty.

    “Only Lovers Left Alive” defies classification. It is a love story, but it stars a couple whose love for each other is so unwavering that there is absolutely no tension in the romance department. It is a vampire movie, but only barely. The characters’ supernatural status seems incidental rather than integral. Jarmusch spends a good third of “Lovers” world-building and putting his stamp on the Nosferatu mythos, but only so he can essentially dispense with the tropes associated with vampire movies as soon as possible. No mortals are bitten or killed on screen, no crosses are brandished, no garlic is worn. “Only Lovers Left Alive” is a visually gorgeous mix of camp, experimentation, and pure artistry that, by its finale, proves irresistible.


     
  • “Chef” is a delicious start to SXSW Film

    The funny, heartwarming, food-obsessed “Chef” is a perfect choice to open SXSW. Jon Favreau, who has spent a better part of the last decade focused on bigger films like “Iron Man” and “Cowboys and Aliens”, writes, directs, and stars in the small indie comedy about the love of food and creation.

    Favreau plays Carl Casper, a renowned Chef with a turbulent personal life who has grown dissatisfied with his position as head chef in a posh L.A. restaurant. Casper is divorced, his son is estranged, and the only solace he can find in life is through his love of preparing food. However, after five years of falling back on the same delicious but safe menu and dealing with constant interference from his overbearing boss (Dustin Hoffman), a volatile encounter with a smug food critic (Oliver Platt) leads Casper to quit his job and open up a food truck in his home town of Miami.

    The film balances Casper’s rediscovery of his culinary passion with his attempt to reconnect with his son (newcomer Emjay Anthony). When the Miami venture becomes a cross country trip to promote the new business, Casper tries to impart his love of cooking to his son. The father-son dynamic is the emotional heart of the movie, and largely works because of the strong chemistry between Favreau and the young actor.

    Favreau has compiled an impressive cast for his passion project. Sofia Vergara plays Casper’s ex-wife, who still sparks a romantic interest. John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale provide additional comic relief as Casper’s outspoken assistant chefs, and Scarlet Johansson has a small role as the hostess at Casper’s restaurant. Favreau himself proves that his talents go beyond directing blockbusters or having small parts in movies like “I Love You Man.” Favreau doesn’t shy away from showing Casper’s shortcomings as a friend, husband, and father, and the chef’s talents in the kitchen are never presented as a substitute for his personal faults. Casper is brash, has a short temper, and often antisocial. Cooking is his escape, and the movie effectively portrays a man who has followed his dream to such an extreme that he has lost sight of any worthwhile things in his life.

    The real star of the film is the food. “Chef” is full of gorgeous culinary shots, including a sequence at Austin’s own Franklin’s BBQ. With “Chef”, Favreau captures the messy, often hectic and unsure process of creating a beautiful meal that clearly mirrors the uncertainty of life and relationships. “Chef” is slated for a release in May of this year. Just don’t see it on an empty stomach.

  • Day 1 of SXSW film: "Premature," "Take Care" and "Honeymoon"

    The cast and crew of "Premature" answers audience questions after the film's world premiere on the first day of South By Southwest.
    The cast and crew of "Premature" answers audience questions after the film's world premiere on the first day of South By Southwest.

    As part of last night’s kick-off to the 2014 SXSW Film Festival, a full house at the Alamo Ritz cackled through the world premiere of “Premature,” a hilarious yet scatterbrained mash-up of John Hughes and Harold Ramis. The film stars John Karna as Rob, a high school senior living the sort of meaningful, eventful day that only happens in movies: he’s got an important college admissions interview, a long-standing tradition to uphold with his best friend Gaby (Katie Findlay) and unexpected advances from queen bee Angela (Carlson Young). In keeping with the film’s title, his encounter with Angela is a bit shorter than expected, but as soon as Rob reaches orgasm, he finds himself back at the beginning of the day, doomed to live it out all over again.

    By basing its “Groundhog Day”-esque time loop in the inadequacies of its protagonist, “Premature” puts an innovative twist on the concept. While the film gets points for creativity, its structure is a bit lopsided, taking far too long for Rob to wise up to what’s going on and not having nearly enough fun with the implications of its own premise.

    Even when it can’t fully figure out what it wants to do narratively, it’s undeniably hilarious, slinging jokes at the audience with admirable persistence. Every plot issue or false note is glazed over with a great joke, and every performer in the film is absolutely game, tearing into the material they’re handed. Stars John Karna and Katie Findlay give charming turns and build strong chemistry with each other, while side players like Carlson Young, Craig Roberts and Adam Riegler make every moment they’re onscreen for count. Arguably the film’s biggest name, Alan Tudyk, seems a bit hammy in his first appearance as the college interviewer devastated by his wife’s death, but by the end of the film, he’s achieved an affable, quiet desperation.

    In the post-film Q&A, director and co-writer Dan Beers cited John Hughes’ films as a huge influence on “Premature,” and the late, great teen film guru’s DNA is felt throughout the shamelessly raunchy coming-of-age flick. But “Premature” brings enough creativity and wit to the table to make its own favorable impression.

    The other two films I saw yesterday have a surprising amount in common, despite their massive genre differences. Both “Take Care,” a romantic comedy, and “Honeymoon,” a horror film, take place mostly in a single locale with two romantically intertwined characters. But their execution and quality couldn’t be more different.

    “Take Care” stars Leslie Bibb as Frannie, a woman who’s laid low after a car accident shatters her leg and arm. As she slowly realizes her friends and family are mostly uninterested in helping her, she resorts to calling on Devin (“The Newsroom”’s Thomas Sadowski), the ex-boyfriend who dumped her after she helped him through a bout of cancer. After some serious guilt tripping, Frannie convinces Devin to take care of her, and all of the romantic complications you might expect do, indeed, ensue.

    Frannie is confined to her apartment for most of the film, and “Take Care” makes effective use of its main setting, never feeling repetitive or confined. This is mostly thanks to Leslie Bibb, who gives an enormously charming, funny performance. Bibb’s got an admirable commitment to physical comedy that’s required for a role like this one, and she makes every small indignation equally funny and sympathetic. Sadowski is a serviceable, occasionally charismatic romantic lead, but Betty Gilpin steals every scene the two share, playing Devin’s new girlfriend as a bug-eyed ball of crazy that might be off-putting if she wasn’t so consistently entertaining.

    While it’s obvious where “Take Care” is going from the minute Frannie brings Devin back into her life, writer/director Liz Tuccillo ably stretches the romantic comedy tropes to fit the narrative’s unusual circumstances, finding some fresh authenticity in them as she goes. “Take Care” becomes a bit perfunctory in its final minutes, almost as if it remembered it’s a romantic comedy, but as a whole, it’s a warm, funny film well worth checking out.

    But every first day is practically required to have a dud in there somewhere, and “Honeymoon” happily fits the bill. Rose Leslie and Harry Treadaway star as newlyweds Bea and Paul, who abscond to a cabin in the woods for their titular vacation and are somehow surprised when spooky happenings abound.

    The film’s first half hour or so is deceptively promising, laying the groundwork for Paul and Bea’s relationship and showcasing the natural, enthralling chemistry between the film’s leads. Leslie in particular does solid work throughout, striking an important balance between lovably warm and repulsively icy. Unfortunately, the film completely loses grasp on her character once the genre wheels start turning, robbing a previously engaging character study of one of its key figures.

    To spoil the nature of “Honeymoon”’s supernatural occurrences would be to make the film sound much more interesting than it is. Once one of the characters undergoes a radical shift, the meandering screenplay becomes a shapeless genre exercise that never becomes particularly frightening or suspenseful. While there are decent ideas in there somewhere, their execution is roundly repetitive and uninspired. A lot of discussion of fertility pays off exactly how you might expect from a film like this: with a glorious but unoriginal grossout moment that’s been done better elsewhere.

    “Honeymoon” is a deeply pointless film, content to languish in repetitive scenes of characters asking each other what’s going on and performing acts of staggering stupidity, and commits the biggest sin a horror film can: it simply isn’t scary.

     

    “Take Care” screens on Saturday, March 8, at 4:30 at the Alamo Village and on Tuesday, March 11, at 9:30 at the Violet Crown.

    “Premature” screens on Saturday, March 8, at 9:30 at the Alamo Village, on Tuesday, March 11, at 4:45 at the Alamo Ritz, and on Saturday, March 15, at 4:00 at the Alamo Ritz.

    And for you masochists out there, “Honeymoon” screens again at midnight on Tuesday, March 11, at the Stateside Theater and at midnight on Thursday, March 13, at the Alamo Ritz.

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