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.
Completed way back in 2008 before the Duplass brothers put it on the back burner in order to focus their attention on “Cyrus,” “The Do-Deca-Penthathlon” harkens back to the days before the directing duo was working with A-list talent like John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill. It’s a far more unpolished mumblecore dramedy reminiscent of “The Puffy Chair” that stars unknowns Steve Zissis and Mark Kelly as a pair of ultra-competitive brothers who participate in a homemade Olympics in order to prove once and for all which one is the better sibling. Like many of the Duplass brothers’ films, “Do-Deca” is an incredibly lo-fi production shot with handheld cameras and mostly improvised by the actors. But that’s the problem; it’s almost too much like their other movies. While the setup is ripe with comedic potential and the film doesn’t shy away from getting a bit dark at times, it still doesn’t compare to their studio films. In fact, for as much as fans of Mark and Jay Duplass will enjoy the movie, the one thing that kept running through my head while watching it was just how much better it would have been with more talented actors.
Continuing in the spirit of this year’s festival, “Small Apartments” is yet another case of a great ensemble cast wasted in a movie that is both tonally and narratively unfocused. Based on a novella written by Chris Millis (who also adapted the screenplay), Matt Lucas of “Little Britain” fame plays an eccentric shut-in named Franklin Franklin who has just killed his seedy landlord (Peter Stormare), although whether it was on purpose or by accident is unknown. As he tries to clean up the mess by making it look like a suicide, police detective Burt Walnut (Billy Crystal) is called in to investigate the death, crossing paths with a number of Franklin’s equally eccentric neighbors along the way. Unfortunately, while the story is populated by an entire apartment complex of wacky characters, none of them are given enough depth to validate their existence. It’s great to see Crystal back on the big screen again, and Johnny Knoxville actually delivers one of the film’s better performances, but there’s nothing about the story (or how it’s been executed by director Jonas Åkerlund) that explains why so much talent would be attracted to the project. “Small Apartments” is just weird for the sake of being weird, and it never really translates to many laughs.