This is my third year down in Austin for the South by Southwest film festival, and I think that I’ve finally figured out the science to covering the event all on my lonesome. Instead of past years, where I’ve done a mix of both full-length and shorter movie reviews, this time around, I’m going to be doing daily blogs with even shorter, capsule-style reviews of the films that I saw the previous day. I’m hoping this will make me more productive than usual, but as my schedule is constantly in flux, please bear with me. And if you can’t wait for my daily posts, be sure to follow me on Twitter @JasonZingale for more.
“Casa de mi Padre”
Will Ferrell’s Spanish-language comedy “Casa de mi Padre” is exactly what you’d expect from the “Saturday Night Live” alum; although it’s good for a few laughs, the one-joke concept results in more misses than hits. Ferrell plays Armando Alvarez, the eldest son of a Mexican rancher in danger of losing his land. When Armando’s brother Raul (Diego Luna) returns home with his new fiancée (Genesis Rodriguez) pledging to save the ranch, he inadvertently thrusts the family into a war with a local drug lord (Gael Garcia Bernal). Essentially a telenovela done in the style of a grindhouse film, “Casa de mi Padre” is amusing at times, but it never amounts to more than a few chuckles. This is one very odd movie – even more than the typical Will Ferrell comedy – complete with musical numbers (“You No Se” is not only funny, but catchy as well), painted set backgrounds and talking animal puppets. Ferrell handles the challenge of acting entirely in Spanish remarkably well, but it’s a gimmick that loses its charm pretty fast. Fans of the actor will enjoy his latest in a series of bizarre career moves, but for everyone else, the film’s quirkiness only goes so far.
“Sleepwalk with Me”
Most stand-up comics probably only dream about making a movie as funny and honest as Mike Birbiglia’s “Sleepwalk with Me,” let alone one that marks their directorial debut. Based on his one-man show (which was in turn inspired by actual events from his life), Birbiglia stars as a fictional version of himself, an aspiring comedian who hasn’t had a whole lot of luck in life apart from his amazing girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose). When their eight-year relationship hits a standstill after Mike expresses his objection to marriage, he hits the road to improve his act, all the while growing farther apart from Abby and dealing with a dangerous sleep behavior disorder. Reminiscent of Woody Allen’s films in a lot of ways, “Sleepwalk with Me” is a witty and consistently funny human comedy about the fear of commitment. Much like his character’s stand-up in the film, the story is entertaining because it’s so personal, and he makes it even more so by narrating the movie with brief snippets of POV segments littered throughout. It’ll be interesting to see how the general public receives “Sleepwalk with Me” when it’s finally released in theaters, because the movie is so good that if you weren’t a fan of Mike Birbiglia beforehand, you will be afterwards.
There wasn’t a lot of horror on tap at SXSW this year, which is probably why Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s “Intruders” feels like such a big letdown. More than anything else, it’s just not very scary, with Clive Owen starring as the father of a young girl who believes she’s being stalked by a faceless bogeyman named Hollowface. Though he writes it off as a nightmare at first, he soon becomes a believer after witnessing the menacing figure try to abduct his daughter. Meanwhile, in Spain, a young boy is having the same terrifying visions, prompting his mother to seek help from the local priest. While the first act does a pretty good job of setting up the two stories and building tension, however, it never really goes anywhere. Instead, the audience is forced to sit through a number of supposedly frightening situations without so much as a scare, and it quickly becomes repetitive to the point that you lose interest. But where “Intruders” really drops the ball is in the final ten minutes, dragged down by a flimsy twist ending that is not only predictable, but requires Fresanadillo’s to cheat a little to get there. I admire the attempt at creating something original, but when a horror film can’t even play by the rules, there’s no point in watching.