SXSW Day 4 Recap: ‘FREE FIRE’, ‘HOT SUMMER NIGHTS’ and ‘PATTI CAKE$’

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by James Cole Clay and Preston Barta

What day is it? What time zone are we in?

During a film festival you start to lose track of the outside world. Luckily for SXSW, the bubble hasn’t burst just yet, and even though this was our last day in Austin our spirits were high to enjoy a triple feature.

Complete with interviews from the stars of Free Fire – including Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley – and paintball fun, this day was jammed packed. The only chill-time we were able to get was inside the screenings.

PATTI CAKE$


Patti Cake$ was created in the Sundance director’s lab, which takes promising scripts and shepherds them into full-length features. First-time director Geremy Jasper made a film with texture, well-thought-out performances from a troubled mother/daughter and genuinely good music, but this cake crumbles under formulaic feel-good pressures.

Patti (Danielle MacDonald) is lower-middle class and works part-time as a bartender whose family has fallen under financial turmoil since her Nana (a winning Cathy Moriarty) has fallen ill. Patti is scraping every dollar while her mother Barb (Bridgette Everett), a former songstress, lives the night life trying to relive her glory days. But what the world doesn’t know is Patti is an incredible rapper. She struggles for people to take her craft seriously as she makes it in the rap game.

The cast is excellent, from the aforementioned leads to the supporting players — notably Siddarth Dhanajay. They find a push and pull chemistry that shows the heartbreak and hiccups of living life on the edge of poverty. MacDonald has more talent in her pinky than some of the performances we saw here at this festival as the film is anchored by her emotional arc.

Jasper shows life on the dingy streets of New Jersey quite well, as the landscape feels like the ghost of dream’s past. He knows how to develop his characters in a compelling manner, but relies too heavily on genre tropes and ends his film too neat and tidy for the real world. Ultimately. Patti Cake$ is still a quality indie film that has a bit of nuance and a solid central performance. – J.C.C.

HOT SUMMER NIGHTS

Growing up in not easy, especially in this day-and-age where everybody wants to be Peter Pan. The transition into adulthood is a confusing, heartbreaking and yet invigorating period. As kids, we juggle through so many emotions that not much makes sense.

Hot Summer Nights, directed by first-time filmmaker Elijah Bynum, takes this concept head on. It’s a coming-of-age story about a teenager (Timothée Chalamet) slinging dope in the hot summer of ’91 in Cape Cod. His mission is to join forces with the town’s biggest bad ass (Alex Roe) and win the affection of its most beautiful girl (Maika Monroe). However, a nasty storm is rolling through and our central character may have set himself up for something he can’t back away from.

The film is entertaining and the cast give committed performances – the soundtrack is good, too – but it’s an annoying collection of borrowed material from better filmmakers. It has Martin Scorsese, Nicolas Winding Refn and Wes Anderson written all over it, down to exact lines and scenes. It’s crazy the actors and filmmakers didn’t seem to notice this. There’s a difference between paying homage and straight up ripping off cinema’s greatest directors. Something tells me a lawsuit is in the making. – P.B.

FREE FIRE


I am a fan of minimalist storytelling (e.g., Mad Max: Fury Road). Some films are so busy throwing nonsense at audiences that they forget sometimes a movie doesn’t need a complex plot to dazzle viewers.

A24, the studio behind such films as Moonlight and Ex Machina, is back to prove once again just how awesome they are selecting material that’s one of a kind.

The story for Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire is simple: Two groups of criminals meet in a warehouse to negotiate a weapons purchase … and all goes south in a Reservoir Dogs-fashion. It stars Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and District 9’s Sharlto Copley as the trigger-happy thugs.

Free Fire is a lean, kick-ass shoot ’em up, loaded with perfect one-liners and money shots — with each one being more killer than the last. It’s hard to believe that a movie that takes place in one location could be so much fun, but Wheatley pulls it off with such grace. The characters are rich and have their time to shine, making it all the more intense when it comes to who lives and who dies. It’s difficult to decide whom to root for — that’s when you know it’s good. – P.B.

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 (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.