Editor's note: Our tireless movie critic Alex Williams will be taking a break from Tuesday's festivities, but will be back reviewing the best of film at SXSW on Wednesday.
“The Do-Deca Penthalon”
Directed by Jay and Mark Duplass
The Duplass brothers are among the pioneers of the mumblecore movement, and their first two films were micro-budget pieces with rich characters and plenty of awkward humor. As their fame increased, Jay and Mark Duplass have been able to work with bigger budgets, bigger stars, and their voices have developed as a result, their films taking on a sharper wit and more refined emotional sheen. The brothers shot “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” back in 2008, and while it’s had an uncommonly long post-production period, it’s clearly a transitional film for the brothers, a mix of their distinctive sense of humor and increasing emotional maturity.
Mark Kelly and Steve Zissis star as Jeremy and Mark, fiercely competitive brothers with years of bitterness between them after their inaugural Do-Deca Pentathlon ended with a tie. With Mark in town for his birthday, Steve seeks to heal the rift with his brother by challenging him to a rematch, much to the chagrin of Stephanie (Jennifer Lafleur), Mark’s protective wife.
“The Do-Deca Pentathlon” is often funny, and the Duplass brothers have always been great at incorporating their camera into their humor, using zoom-ins as punchlines and reaction shots to great effect. They even get to display a little action film panache in a comical laser tag sequence, and as Mark gets increasingly invested in his victory, “The Do-Deca Pentathlon” gets funnier and funnier.
Ultimately, the film is a solid effort from the Duplass brothers. It doesn’t have the curdling awkwardness of “Cyrus” and fails to reach the poetic beauty of “Jeff Who Lives at Home,” but it’s a consistently entertaining and funny story of two brothers rediscovering the competitive spirit that made them get along in the first place. While the Duplass brothers have certainly stepped up their game since making “The Do-Deca Pentathlon,” it’s still a pleasant reminder of the potential we all saw in them in the first place.
“The Do-Deca Pentathlon” screens again Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. (Alamo Slaughter Lane) and Friday at 9:45 p.m. (Stateside Theater).
“The Raid: Redemption”
Directed by Gareth Evans
A huge crowd at the 1200-capacity Paramount Theatre was lucky enough to see the Indonesian action flick “The Raid: Redemption” Sunday night, and that screening was a highlight not just of SXSW, but of my entire moviegoing career. The hype surrounding “The Raid” has been growing since it premiered at the Toronto Film Fest last fall, and early reviews promised an action masterpiece on the level of “Die Hard.” Thankfully, “The Raid” lives up to the hype.
The film’s setup is sparse, letting us get to know a few cops out of a large group heading into an apartment complex packed with lowlifes and run by a sadistic gangster. Once their presence is discovered, the criminals come out in spades and are relentlessly, systematically beaten by bona fide action star Iko Uwais.
I can’t think of a film that delivers on its premise better than “The Raid.” From top to bottom, the film is stuffed with brutal, visceral action sequences, each and every one of them memorable in one way or another. Director Gareth Evans shows an astounding amount of creativity in the staging and variety of the fights here, and he shoots each of them with plenty of long, wide shots that truly highlight his stars destroying everyone in their path. There’s not a wasted punch, and each fight puts our heroes in genuine peril, making it an absolute delight to watch them pummel their way out of danger.
As the crowd at last night’s screening can attest, there’s plenty of cheer-worthy moments in “The Raid.” There’s one fight scene towards the end of the film where spontaneous bursts of applause occurred no less than three times. “The Raid” is an essential film, and an essential theatrical experience. Seeing this one on the big screen, with a massive crowd, is an experience you won’t regret.
“The Raid: Redemption” opens April 13.
Last night’s screening of the horror anthology “V/H/S” was preceded by a sneak peek at footage from Drafthouse Films’ “The ABC’s of Death,” which gives us a different death for each letter of the alphabet, each presented by a different director, looks promising. The sizzle reel screened last night was gory, funny, and exceedingly vulgar, just about everything you’d expect from the sick mind of Tim League and the stable of directors he’s rounded up to bring this thing to us. The film promises to be entertaining, and will likely make an appearance at Fantastic Fest later this year.
Then we were thrown right into “V/H/S,” a found footage anthology that makes the brilliant decision of showing us a group of vandals, hired to steal a videotape from a house, working their way through a massive collection of tapes, each of them a found-footage style film from a different director. The wraparound segments, directed by “You’re Next” director Adam Wingard, are pretty exhausting, and are overwhelmed by Wingard’s commitment to replicate the terrible look of VHS footage on the big screen. Thankfully, the different shorts that Wingard strings together are much better.
The different segments are directed by “The Signal’s” David Bruckner, “The Innkeepers’” Ti West, “Silver Bullets’” Joe Swanberg, “I Sell the Dead’s” Glenn McQuaid, and a filmmaking collective called Radio Silence. While the five shorts “V/H/S” brings us are varied in quality, each of them manages to squeeze out at least one terrifying moment. Ti West continues to be a master of the slow burn, and his chronicle of a married couple’s trip to the Grand Canyon is unsettling in all the right ways.
Director Joe Swanberg gets best in show for his segment, a series of Skype conversations between a girl convinced her apartment is haunted and her long-distance boyfriend. Swanberg uses Skype’s natural lags in audio and video to terrifying effect, and the short builds to a nail-bitingly terrifying conclusion. Glenn McQuaid gets special mention for his creative slasher segment, and Radio Silence closes the film out with a fantastic haunted house fever dream that leaves things on a high note.
“V/H/S” is an anthology film of the highest order, with each segment satisfying in one way or another, and it’s a great film to watch with a crowd. Each scare was met with increasingly frightened reactions, and by the time arms are reaching out of the walls in Radio Silence’s final segment, things had reached a fever pitch of intensity that was truly a blast to experience.
“V/H/S” screens again on Mar. 13 at 11:30 p.m. (Alamo South Lamar) and on Mar. 16 at 11:59 p.m. (Alamo Ritz).