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 (FreshFiction.tv) 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.
by James Cole Clay
SXSW film isn’t a race, although sometimes it feels like you’re sprinting to beat the rest of the festival goers to lines, seats, food, bathrooms — you name it.
The first weekend is where most headlines are made and the biggest films premiere. This year is a bit different, however. Titles like the sci-fi film Life and Sundance darling The Big Sick are keeping the festivities rolling throughout the closing days of the festival. After nine or so days on 4-5 hours a sleep, you’re bound to start seeing double or perhaps go comatose from greasy food.
Typically there is one day that’s pretty light within the first half of the film festival, and this year it was Day 2. There wasn’t much on the schedule aside from a sleepy Texas crime caper starring John Hawkes and Octavia Spencer, Small Town Crime. The film attempts to boast another low-key comedic performance from Hawkes, who plays a former cop and full-time alcoholic caught in the middle of, you guessed it, a dead Jane Doe with a mysterious past.
Hawkes is fine in the role, and, at times, the script by Eshom and Ian Nels (Waffle Street) hits the right twang for quirky characters in the South, but compared to recent works from writers Richard Linklater (Everybody Wants Some!!) and Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water), this effort fits square pegs in round holes. Small Town Crimes truly is a valiant effort from the writers, but the result is about as flat as the landscapes of West Texas.
Aside from a few other offerings, such as Austin favorite Joe Swanberg’s Netflix original film Win It All (which is apparently not that bad) and Brett Haley’s The Hero (also supposed to be promising), the Saturday lineup was slim pickings. Sometimes it’s best to call an audible.
If you look around, though, there are tons of premiere comedy events at SXSW. With showings from improv troupes like The Upright Citizens Brigade and the alt-comedy podcast Comedy Bang! Bang!, it’s impossible to be disappointed — if you know what you’re looking for, that is. (Note: Just search for SXSW comedy.)
Turning back to the movies, the most exciting film from our standpoint was Edgar Wright’s fifth feature, Baby Driver, starring Ansel Elgort, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx and Kevin Spacey. In short, this movie is incredible and you should go see it when it pulls into theaters on Aug. 11th. (Read our review here.)
Baby Driver is a toe-tapping, beautifully choreographed heist film car chase film that feels like the second cousin to the Oscar favorite La La Land. Filled with quotable lines and many moments to reflect on, this film doesn’t disappoint. It is sure to be not only one of the more special highlights of SXSW, but also the year.
Sometimes the lighter SXSW days are a nice opportunity to soak in the atmosphere of the festival. The 16-hour days become a blur, and often feel like you’re stuck in the world of SXSW opening night film Song to Song. Thousands of faces pass by, most having different experiences throughout the day, and the point is you never know where the festival will take you. Two days in, Austin already feels like home.
Edited by Chance Maggard. Feature photo by Preston Barta.