SXSW Day 2 Recap: A “work-in-progress” – ‘MIDNIGHT SPECIAL’, ‘KEANU’ & other weekend titles


FullSizeRender (6)
It’s the second day of SXSW and the fest is beginning to run out of steam. I know that may come as a shock, but nothing has produced the same sense of excitement and thrill as the opening night film, EVERYBODY WANTS SOME.

The headlining films and films with recognizable cast members have come up short, so we’re on the hunt for some hidden gems. Luckily, we found one.

Julian Dennison is Ricky Baker, Sam Neill is Uncle Hec. Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

Julian Dennison is Ricky Baker, Sam Neill is Uncle Hec. Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

New Zealand film has made a mark on America in a big way thanks to Taika Waititi (WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS). His film HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE, which premiered at Sundance in January, also screened for a SXSW audience yesterday.

The film revolves around a lonely and misunderstood boy named Ricky (Julian Dennison) who has spent much of his life stumbling through foster care after being abandoned by his parents. It’s not until he lands with the grumpy Hector (Sam Neill) and his loving wife Bella (Rima Te Waita) that he just might find a home.

The light-hearted brand of comedy from Waititi is as charming as it is fresh, with scenes of genuine emotion complimenting a soul-searching adventure. Unfortunately, Waititi wasn’t able to attend the screening (as he’s prepping for THOR: RAGNAROK) but left the audience a pleasant introductory video message marked with his distinct sense of humor.

North American audiences will and should track down HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE when it hits theaters March 31. So look out for that– it’ll warm your heart.

Another appetizing Sundance leftover came from SXSW and Austin Chronicle co-founder Louis Black. He directed an insightful documentary on the life and work of Richard Linklater, appropriately titled RICHARD LINKLATER: DREAM IS DESTINY– a shout-out to Linklater’s WAKING LIFE.

The influence Linklater has made on independent cinema is inescapable, especially if you live in Texas. His films, most notably SLACKER and DAZED AND CONFUSED, have inspired many filmmakers, such as Kevin Smith (who makes an appearance in the film).

Director Richard Linklater at a Q&A session following the premiere of the documentary about about him. Photo courtesy of Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP.

Director Richard Linklater at a Q&A session following the premiere of the documentary about about him. Photo courtesy of Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP.

Linklater is one of those rare talents who jumped into filmmaking without much schooling in the field, yet he has made some of the most studied films in the past two decades. Whether he’s directing a 12-year epic, hangout film, love story, rotoscope feature– he always pushes the envelope and never settles for what’s safe. Black uses archival footage, interviews with close friends and colleagues, and talks with Linklater himself at his estate to effortlessly capture Linklater’s strengths as an artist,

There’s a line from MONEYBALL where Brad Pitt’s character says, “Now, how can you not be romantic about baseball.” I believe the same could be said about Linklater’s films.

Unfortunately, this is as far as our praise goes for Saturday’s slate of films…

Jeff Nichols’ highly anticipated junior film, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, was a major disappointment. Nichols’ reach far exceeded his grasp with his story of a powerful young boy (Jaeden Lieberher) pursued by the government for his unique abilities (read our full review here).

The “work-in-progress” screening of Key and Peele’s kitty retrieval story, KEANU, was frustratingly mediocre. The trailer for the film was hilarious and the idea of two of the industry’s best and smartest comics taking on kitty fascination was the perfect blend of ingredients for success and fun-filled laughs. KEANU could have been the next PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, but instead of a coherent and thorough film, it’s a wasted opportunity that is nothing more than a mere collection of skits that are void of any laughter.

Hopefully HARDCORE HENRY and DON’T THINK TWICE puts SXSW back on track.

This was collectively written by Preston Barta, James Cole Clay and Chance Maggard.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.