SXSW 2018: Five Films to Look Out For

by Hunter Lanier on March 8, 2018 in Living Texas, Austin, Film,
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The 2018 SXSW Film Festival hosts nine days of screenings from March 9-17.

You don’t need a SXSW badge to see the films—wristbands and individual tickets are on sale, subject to venue capacity.

PARADOX (World Premiere) Director/Screenwriter: Daryl Hannah

A loud Poem. A whimsical western tale of music and love. Cast: Neil Young, Lukas Nelson, Micah Nelson, Corey McCormick, Anthony LoGerfo, Tato Melgar, Willie Nelson, Charris Ford, Dulcie Clarkson Ford.

Little is known of the directorial debut of actress Daryl Hannah other than it’s a western, has an unique cast of guitar pickers and is sure to be on the far side of unusual. “A loud poem” could describe most of the music of Neil Young, who’s slated as the star of the film, which is a bizarre choice in and of itself, but as a huge Young fan, consider my curiosity piqued. Musicians have had a sketchy past in headlining a film. Some have pulled it off, like Kris Kristofferson with “Alice Doesn’t Liver Here Anymore” and “Pat Garret & Bill they Kid,” while others have had less than successful outings, such as Bob Dylan’s “Masked and Anonymous.” At the very least, “Paradox” will be an oddity, and there are worse things to be. According to Rolling Stone, the film is set in the “future past.” Groovy? Pretentious? Only time will tell. Or has it already?

PARADOX, the directorial debut of actress Daryl Hannah, has its world premiere at SXSW 2018. Courtesy photo

Barry (World Premiere)

Director: Bill Hader, Screenwriters: Alec Berg and Bill Hader

Barry features Bill Hader as a low-rent hitman from the Midwest. Lonely and dissatisfied he begrudgingly travels to Los Angeles to kill someone. Cast: Bill Hader, Henry Winkler, Stephen Root, Sarah Goldberg, Glenn Fleshler, Anthony Carrigan.

Yes, dear reader, you are correct. This isn’t technically a movie; it’s a television pilot. Nonetheless, I’ve exercised my authority as, uh, Duke of something or other, to include it in this list. It’s the premise that’s got me intrigued more than anything, as I’m unsure of Bill Hader’s sensibilities as a director. In some ways, it sounds like the overwrought premise to a bad ‘90s action/comedy, but in other ways, it sounds conducive to the kind of empathy-tinged, black comedy I enjoy. Along with Hader, the show is co-created by Alec Berg, who has worked on both “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” To top it all off, “Barry” is a product of HBO, which is, as far as I’m concerned, still the king of cable television. The show will arrive on your television screens on March 25th.

The two-part documentary, Elvis Presley: The Searcher, focuses on Elvis Presley as a musical artist. Courtesy photo

Elvis Presley: The Searcher Film 1 and 2 (World Premiere)

Director: Thom Zimny

The documentary explores how Elvis accumulated his influences, deconstructs why his sound and his style were so revolutionary and examines the creative and personal struggles that preceded his death.

Every morning, I drink from a mug with Elvis’ face on it that says, “taking care of business.” This message is as essential to my waking up as the coffee itself. Such is the mystical, highly caffeinated power of Elvis. Therefore, it’s no wonder that HBO is releasing a new, two-part documentary on his musical career, which debuts on April 14th. If the first trailer is anything to go by, the film seems to take a comprehensive view of his eclectic career, and with an impressive list of commentators to boot, including the late Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis’ former wife, Priscilla Presley. Unlike other music icons, I’ve always had trouble separating Elvis, the man, from Elvis, the showman. Any help is welcome, HBO.

First Reformed

Director/Screenwriter: Paul Schrader

The pastor of a small New England church (Ethan Hawke) spirals out of control after a soul-shaking encounter with an unstable environmental activist and his pregnant wife (Amanda Seyfried). Cast: Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, Cedric Kyles, Michael Gaston, Philip Ettinger, Victoria Hill

For any film fan, the name of Paul Schrader is bound to raise a strong opinion of some kind. He’s most known to me for writing “Taxi Driver,” a modern spin on Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment.” That was only the first of many fruitful collaborations with Martin Scorsese. Before writing for Scorsese, Schrader was a director himself and continues to do so. He hasn’t had a success in a while, but word on the street is that his newest film, “First Reformed,” is a return to form. The concept of a pastor wrestling with his faith sounds like the kind of existential character study that Schrader can really have fun with—and I use the word, “fun,” in its most flexible form. I look forward to leaving the theater as impressed as I am depressed.

Friday’s Child (World Premiere)

Director/Screenwriter: A.J. Edwards

Fresh out of foster care at age 18, a young drifter turns to petty crime to survive, and discovers an impossible love in an unlikely friend. Cast: Tye Sheridan, Imogen Poots, Jeffrey Wright, Caleb Landry Jones.

To be completely honest, I don’t know much about this film. But, it sounds interesting, has a great cast and is directed by the editor of the last couple of Terrence Malick films. Also, I’m a fan of a genre that I call the “loser genre.” These are films about the down-and-out, the lost, the broken or the people who otherwise have difficulty making progress in life, let alone living in a straight line. Examples include, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “American Heart,” “About Schmidt,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “The Apartment,” just to name a few. From what little information there is available, it sounds like “Friday’s Child” might be a worthy edition to this scruffy genre.

Hunter Lanier is a Houston-based film reviewer who appears on the Critics Circle podcast from the Houston Film Critics Society

Movie stills courtesy SXSW