Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.
Luckily this year’s South by Southwest had a somewhat slow start as over 300,000 people began to trickle in from all around the world for the Interactive, Music and Film portions of the film festival. It’s a time where film lovers can explore and become acquainted with their surroundings and pitstops.
But as the excitement starts to boil and the stars come out, we prepared for a double feature of Texas filmmaker Terrence Malick’s ode to Austin and music festivals in the long-awaited SONG TO SONG, followed by a retro screening of the 1979 classic ALIEN, with exclusive footage of his upcoming ALIEN: COVENANT.
The key, to pace yourself.
SONG TO SONG
by James Cole Clay
With a cast including Rooney Mara, Michael Fassbender, Ryan Gosling and Natalie Portman bolstering talent in front of the camera and three-time Oscar-winner Emmanuelle “Chivo” Lubezki working the camera into startling images that imprint a visual poem into your mind, SONG TO SONG had a huge buzz coming into SXSW.
The film garnered rapturous praise after the credits rolled but before the audience had time to realize it’s the kind of film that if you’re not willing to take the risks along with its cast and crew, it’s easy to get left behind at the back of the tour bus without a ticket to the next destination. However, it’s worth mentioning that there are some elements that click beautifully with the overall message of the film’s general thesis.
Once titled “WEIGHTLESS,” SONG TO SONG focuses on how lovers float through our lives like songs. Sometimes we have flashes of their memory — sometimes good, sometimes sad —and we will often play them on repeat in our heads. Film enthusiasts will find elements of Malick’s latest work to adore, but ultimately most will feel isolated, as if listening to a 32-minute jazz solo. If nothing else comes for Gosling’s piano skills, Fassbender’s unhinged turn as a music executive, and Mara’s beautiful blank stares, this film is certainly a sigh to behold.
by Preston Barta
Every year SXSW likes to put on retro screenings and fly in talent, whether to celebrate a special anniversary or spike interest for an upcoming sequel or reboot.
This year, director Ridley Scott, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Fassbender debuted a sneak peek of their upcoming ALIEN: COVENANT (opening May 19) before a throwback screening of the 1979 original film ALIEN.
The event opened with four different clips of COVENANT, totaling to roughly 15 minutes of advanced footage.
The first clip was typical ALIEN fluff: The crew of the titular ship land on the foreign planet with Earth-like features. However, what is great about this sequence – if you can look past some of the poorly-rendered special effects and McBride saying “sugar tits” – is how stunning the photography is. This film looks to easily share one of the best aspects of PROMETHEUS, also seen through the lenses of COVENANT’s cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, as the camera whips around the mountains and structures of the foreign planet. It’s clear the location scouts did their part in finding some of the most obscure and picturesque landscapes on our planet, fooling audiences into believing that what they’re seeing is otherworldly.
The second clip left the theatre air crackling with an electric fever, featuring signature gross-out alien births and glimpses of crew members running for their lives. But again, there’s nothing new here. I’d like to believe we’ve come a long way since the 1979 view of the future, but with radio signals cutting out and pixelated video calls, apparently we haven’t.
The third clip descends into SPOILER territory. If you want to avoid any more information beyond what the already spoilery trailers give us, you should probably stop here. This clip centers on Fassbender’s character – whose name is now Walter (another A.I. who seems a little more sinister than PROMETHEUS’ David) – delivering some insight into these alien creatures to Billy Crudup’s character. After Walter expands on the complex mythology of the eponymous creatures, we begin to ponder the possibility that these Wayland-Yutani Corp-created robots are using humans to create this new race of aliens. In short, Walter suggests that humans are not the superior race, but only exist to die and re-emerge as these acidy-spit monsters. It should also be mentioned that Walter shows Christopher Oram (Crudup) an alien egg, which then unleashes a Facehugger… you probably know the rest.
The fourth and final clip (watch it below) works to further solidify the theory of the Engineers being behind the creation of Walter. It’s a simple sequence, presented as an advertisement, of a pair of clothed-faced non-human beings assembling the all-new Walter model. It’s nothing too fancy, or anything that will likely be in the movie (except for maybe on a computer screen in the background).
In all, the footage was admittedly gorgeous to look at it, but lackluster in its content. It appears that the ALIEN franchise will be cranking out more of the same. The only thing that manages to keep the hook in you is being left to speculate how all these head scratching moments will make sense in the end, unless they pull a “tune into next week’s episode” gimmick like they did with PROMETHEUS.
SONG TO SONG – Official Trailer
“Meet Walter” – ALIEN: COVENANT clip
ALIEN: COVENANT – Official Trailer
Editing and photos come from Chance Maggard.