The Films (and One TV Series) to See at SXSW 2017

In just a few days, the 2017 version of the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival will commence in Austin, TX. While many people come and fill the streets and bars of the live music capital of the world to see and hear their favorite bands performing at venues across the city, there is also a pretty great film component that happens. Running from March 10 through March 18, SXSW features world premieres of exciting new movies, as well as a chance for other festival favorites to be shown to more audiences. In preparation for those eager to check out the scene, here are nine promising films and one eagerly anticipated TV series debut that are worth seeking out.

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Blu Tuesday: Arrival and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Arrival”

Denis Villeneuve has quietly assembled an impressive body of work over the past few years, and although “Sicario” remains his finest movie to date, “Arrival” isn’t far behind. A deeply cerebral and emotional sci-fi film about the way we communicate with each other, “Arrival” takes a simple, well-worn premise and creates a captivating moviegoing experience led by a terrific Amy Adams. Focusing more on the science of language (and how it can be used to bring people together) rather than the aliens themselves, Villeneuve has produced an incredibly timely movie with real-world significance. Though its slow-boil pacing may test your patience, “Arrival” is a really good film that becomes a great one in the final minutes, leading to some pretty heavy, soul-searching questions that will stick with you long after it’s over.

Extras include Extras include a behind-the-scenes look at making the movie, as well as four additional featurettes on sound design, the score, editing and the film’s scientific concepts. FINAL VERDICT: BUY

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Blu Tuesday: Vice Principals and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Vice Principals: The Complete First Season”

The newest show from Danny McBride and Jody Hill, the team behind the HBO cult comedy series “Eastbound & Down,” probably won’t win over too many new fans, but it’s a decidedly more mature piece of storytelling that only gets better over the course of its first season. While McBride plays another boorish man-child in the same vein as Kenny Powers, the character isn’t nearly as annoying or unsympathetic; in fact, he really starts to grow on you. Walton Goggins’ nasty rival turned collaborator doesn’t fare quite as well, but the two actors strike up a good partnership that results in many of the show’s best moments. Though “Vice Principals” suffers from the same unevenness that plagued McBride and Hill’s last project, it does just enough to keep you invested.

Extras include Extras include cast and crew audio commentaries on all nine episodes, deleted scenes and a blooper reel. FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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Blu Tuesday: Blair Witch, Girls and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Blair Witch”

WHAT: After uncovering new evidence that suggests his missing sister Heather may still be alive, James (James Allen McCune) and his friends venture into the Black Hills Forest – the site of her mysterious disappearance – and come face to face with the legendary Blair Witch.

WHY: When it was revealed that Adam Wingard’s latest movie, originally titled “The Woods,” was actually a direct sequel to the 1999 hit indie film, “The Blair Witch Project,” horror fans were excited to see if Wingard and frequent collaborator Simon Barrett (“The Guest,” “You’re Next”) could revive the would-be franchise. Unfortunately, it turns out that the best thing about “Blair Witch” was the secrecy of its production. The movie itself is pretty unspectacular, filled with many of the same beats as the original, albeit with a much larger budget. Though there are a handful of good moments scattered throughout (including a gruesome death scene involving the iconic stick figures), and it addresses a couple longstanding problems with the found footage genre, “Blair Witch” is unable to recapture the magic of its predecessor. Wingard and Barrett are clearly big fans of the first movie, but despite their attempts at expanding the mythology, the final product is almost as disappointing as the ill-conceived 2000 meta-sequel “Book of Shadows.”

EXTRAS: In addition to an audio commentary by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett, there’s a six-part making-of featurette and a tour of the set.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

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A roundtable chat with the cast and crew of Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle”

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A couple of strange things happened last summer. You might remember them. First, the people of the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union. Then, the Republican Party’s base chose to nominate a reality TV star and alleged billionaire for the presidency of the United States. When this writer found himself in a San Diego Hilton ballroom for Comic-Con roundtables with an executive producer and five cast members of “The Man in the High Castle,” Brexit was a certainty and the dystopian Republican convention had just wrapped. Even so, the election of vulgar reality TV star turned racist demagogue Donald J. Trump to the world’s most powerful political position seemed scary, but kind of unlikely. Yup.

In any case, these two events made for some interesting conversation, considering that “The Man in the High Castle” is the deliberately paced, lavishly produced Amazon TV series drawn from Phillip K. Dick’s dark, reality-bending 1963 science fiction masterpiece. Set in an alternate reality 1962 America some years after the totalitarian Axis powers of Germany and Japan have won World War II and subdivided the nation into a Nazi-dominated East Coast, a Japan-controlled West Coast, and a no-man’s land in the middle, the show portrays the lives of a number of characters caught up in a series of tragic and terrifying events. They are largely spurred by the existence of strange films that seem to show a world where the Allied powers of the U.S. and the UK had actually won World War II. By the end of the first season, it had become clear that other parallel realities would factor into the story’s next phase.

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