James Cole Clay has been working as a film critic for the better part of a decade covering new releases, blu ray reviews and the occasional drive-in cult classic. His writing is dedicated to discovering social politics through diverse voices, primarily focusing on Women In Film and LGBTQ cinema.
James Cole Clay // Film Critic
Covering a film festival requires you to be in three places at once, especially for the monstrosity that is South by Southwest (SXSW). The film, music and technology based festival is in its 28th year and has been a hub of discovery ever since. The problem isn’t finding a slate of films to see, it’s properly scheduling out the day.
Once you see the list, it’s like being at the world’s largest pizza buffet, except the menu isn’t pepperoni or pineapple, it’s celebrities like Jake Gyllenhaal or the freaking leader of the free world, President Obama.
Now, the Austin festival is known for its indie street cred, but truth be told it’s a powerhouse for some massive blockbusters that kick off the summer season. It’s nice to be a well-rounded festival that has some of the best crowds, speakers and discoveries.
We are heading down later this week to pound the pavement and bring you daily coverage of the films we are exciting to hit and the must-see upcoming hits of the summer.
There aren’t many completely original filmmakers out there these days, especially those filled with as much creative energy as writer-director Jeff Nichols (MUD, TAKE SHELTER). His sci-fi adventure MIDNIGHT SPECIAL has the child-like wonder of Speilberg mixed with the existential mind of Stanley Kubrick, but Nichols is no slouch himself. Plus, the cast is remarkable, which includes the-one-and-only Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL premieres March 13 and opens March 18 (Limited).
SAUSAGE PARTY (work-in-progress)
Before you gasp at the title, just know this isn’t quite what you may think, but it’s pretty darn close.
This animated film, written by Seth Rogen and his writing-producing partner Evan Goldberg (SUPERBAD) is a spoof of Pixar films and follows a group of supermarket items who fell off a shopping cart as they try to get back to their respective aisles before the Fourth of July sale.
A great cast of the usual suspects from Rogen’s crew (Jonah Hill, James Franco, Michael Cera, Bill Hader– the list goes on), makes this film worthy of popping a few energy pills to stay up for.
SAUSAGE PARTY screens March 14 and opens August 12.
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE
Arthouse horror has come through in a big way the few years, but filmmaker Ti West (THE SACRAMENT) has been making films for nearly a decade. His particular brand of horror has social commentary with a bit of a slow-burn (no that’s not code for boring), that showcases his skill as a director.
West teams with genius “micro-budget” producer Jason Blum to create this revenge western starring Ethan Hawke and insists that “It’s not a horror movie.” This is the perfect jumping off point stock full of beautiful landscapes, eclectic performances, and c’mon, all you need is a little Handsome Hawke.
IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE screens March 12.
Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a hot streak since his twitchy role in PRISONERS. Now, he joins director Jean Marc Valle’ for DEMOLITION, which tells the story of a well-to-do investor whose wife dies in a car crash. He feels completely detached from the situation and has to figure out what else life has to offer, and looks for catharsis by destroying his ultra-modern home.
The film isn’t all Gyllenhaal bashing up appliances, it’s about taking your life apart and finding a way to put it back together. Cue metaphors.
DEMOLITION screens March 12 and opens April 8.
CARNAGE PARK is one of the smaller films at SXSW, which provides prolific filmmaker Mickey Keating (DARLING) a platform experiment.
This is a period piece taking place in 1978, when two wannabe criminals named Scorpion Joe (James Landry Hébert) and Lenny (Michael Villar) are involved in a high speed chase following a botched robbery.
CARNAGE PARK is screening in the midnight section and features cult acting stars Pat Healy and Larry Fessenden, so who knows what to expect!
CARNAGE PARK screens March 12.
SXSW is also known for featuring exclusive sneak peeks at upcoming television series. VICE PRINCIPALS features several of the creative juices that kept EASTBOUND & DOWN’S wheels turning for several years, including Danny McBride (who is also showrunner), Jody Hill and the peculiar yet always interesting David Gordon Green.
Premiering on HBO later this year, VICE PRINCIPALS is an epic power struggle between two guys (McBride and Walton Goggins) who almost, kinda, sorta, run a high school. This particular brand of dark comedy is something to look out for.
VICE PRINCIPALS screens March 11.
Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele have been crushing it as a comedic team with KEY & PEALE. They’ve amassed millions and millions of views on Youtube and are ready to take their comedy to the next level with the story of two dudes looking for a cat named after the coolest guy ever to wear a duster and sunglasses, Keanu Reeves. This is going to be the perfect coming out party for the comedic team to create sketches, introduce hilarious characters and put themselves through hell while we all laugh hysterically– and we can’t wait!
KEANU screens March 13 and opens April 29.
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN looks completely messed up. It’s a documentary taken from the true crime story of two high school students who stabbed a classmate to death in a ritualistic sacrifice to the Internet myth “Slenderman.”
America has been completely infatuated with true crime stories, and the eerie and just plain strange nature of this story leaves room for psychological exploration. BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN is going to be released by HBO docs, so you know it’s got the goods to deliver.
BEWARE THE SLENDERMAN screens March 11.
No telling what the secret screening could be at SXSW this year, but it’s taking place at the glorious 1,200+ seat auditorium, so it’s going to be a highly anticipated film.
Last year, they premiered FURIOUS7 to wild acclaim. Our best guess this year is NEIGHBORS 2, but it could be anything from GHOSTBUSTERS to Jon Favreau’s live-action adaptation of THE JUNGLE BOOK. Only time will tell.
The Secret Screening screens March 13.
Be sure to check back throughout the week through next for all our daily recaps, reviews and coverage.