SXSW 2011 – Day 1 & 2

A look at the films of SXSW, including 'Source Code', 'Insidious' and 'Super'.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

SXSW 2011 - Day 1 & 2

I’ll be bringing you daily updates of my South by Southwest Festival experiences. The first update covers the first two days of the first weekend I spent here.


Friday, 3/11



I missed this horse whisperer documentary at Sundance so I caught it in the SXSW screener library. I see why it made both festivals. Buck Brannaman is a commanding presence without indimidating. His outside the box thinking applies to human life, not just horses. Robert Redford’s in the movie touching on his Horse Whisperer film. Some of the wild colts are terrifying. It’s awesome and I hope people like Buck can spread his compassionate problem solving methods to others.


Source Code 

The opening movie premiere was the upcoming time thriller and Duncan Jones’ second film. You can tell it’s the same guy that did Moon. The film is disorienting yet tightly constructed so it all fits together. The science is sound as time theories go. A train is epic enough to give scope and manageable to contain eight minute increments. The film has fun with the repeating loop and gives the audience credit for knowing how sci-fi movies work. They reveal the reality in doses for dramatic effect.


Sound of My Voice redux 

I was down on this at Sundance because it didn’t hold up to Brit Marling’s other film, Another Earth. Still, the filmmakers invited me to their SXSW premiere and I want to hang out with Brit. I’ll let my first impression stand because it would be worse to backpedal now. I can still celebrate a film just to have the conversation with people, and I’ll keep touting The Brit Marling Show.


Karaoke with Sound of My Voice 

The PR firm for Sound of My Voice rented a karaoke room in the Japanese bar Silhouette. It’s nice to control the song queue so you’re not waiting hours, but the room filled up fast. The system did not have a new update so I couldn’t sing Justin Bieber to Brit. But, the film’s editor, Tamara Meem asked me to sing Total Eclipse of the Heart with her. That happens to be a favorite of mine, but I sing the Dan Band version from Old School with the F bomb in the chorus.



I got to see this in L.A. before the festival but it premiered Friday night at midnight. The Saw team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan have created another fascinating mythology. When Renee (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson)’s son falls into a coma, they become plagued by evil apparitions. They come from a realm called The Further, which the parents must confront to save their son. The Further is intellectually fascinating and visually striking. I’d see more movies developing The Further, with this family or others.


Little Deaths 

The first SXFantastic screening brings a lot of Fantastic Fest to a few late night blocks at the fest. If Little Deaths is any indication, this is definitely adults only. I probably shouldn’t have watched a screener DVD on the plane. Three stories end up being horror but really they all deal with bondage and S&M. Of course regular people practice this in private, but for drama it’s got to be horrific: kidnapping homeless girls, extracting monster penis juice and a man behaving as a dog to the point of peeing on the floor. It’s a bold film to go there and for the Fantastic Fest audience who wants to be pushed. 



Saturday, 3/12/11


The Innkeepers 

Ti West’s latest horror movie is really a comedy. It’s got creepy atmosphere and scares, but they intentionally play it for fun. The desk clerks (Sara Paxton and Pat Healy) of a small town hotel kill their time investigating EVP readings of the various rooms. The hotel is haunted by the legend of a guest who died there, and it’s about to be closed down due to lack of business. Paxton is just adorable and she could do the full on comedy version of “girl in a scary house.” West is skillful with the camera, using the background/foreground dynamic rather than horizontal screen space.



You may be skeptical that this sounds a lot like Kick Ass. Rainn Wilson plays an average guy who dresses up as a superhero to fight crime. Super is actually much darker than Kick-Ass. Kick-Ass was violent, but Super is violent towards the wrong people. The point is that it’s not a noble idea to become a superhero. It’s actually horribly misguided and the consequences are deadly. The film is entertaining and fun, but it makes you think. We can get our jollies watching these unstable characters do what we may think about, but we get the point that it’s not to be imitated.


Fandango party 

The party to celebrate Alamo Drafthouse’s association with Fandango’s ticketing and content services was great fun. At the Drafthouse’s Highball club, Karaoke Apocalypse provided live accompaniment to singers. Their set list was perfect and it actually made song selection flow better. With only a page’s worth of songs (still well over 100), there was no flipping through books. Whatever song you liked in their set list was the one to sing. For me it was Anything Anything by Dramarama. I came in third place, but now Fandango knows I supported their party, they liked my song and they’ll be watching my work. So who really won here?