Afterthoughts on SXSW 2020, er, Going To The Dogs

Amazon cracks me up sometimes.

Some humor before getting to the true purpose of this post: to recap my thoughts and experience of the SXSW 2020 virtual film festival offered through Amazon Prime Video.

That event has, to coin a cliche, gone to the dogs.

For those looking at the Amazon internal 404 (page not found) the image above is what was seen this morning — 3 days after — when trying to return to the SXSW page that was formerly available here:

Sure, it was a limited event that ran from April 27 – May 6, but this is only May 9th and they are already showing … literally … a dog named Ike. Yeah, dogs have everything to do with the SXSW 2020 virtual film festival — not.

What we should be seeing is something like the official SXSW recap page … or at least links to this page: which looks like this …

Amazon redirects to … dogs … instead of keeping up a link to this

“SXSW has always championed creators forging their own paths to success, often with just the right mix of passion, vision, and radical experimentation to make their dreams happen,” said Janet Pierson, Director of Film at SXSW. “There is no one-size-fits-all, especially in these uncertain times, and we knew this opportunity would be of interest to those filmmakers who wanted to be in front of a large audience now. We believe people will be captivated by this selection of intriguing work that would have been shown at our 2020 event.”

Prime Video’s SXSW 2020 Film Festival Collection Launches April 27

SXSW 2020 Coverage

Here are links to all our SXSW 2020 posts captured under the tag: SXSW 2020

Full-length Films

  1. My Darling Vivian ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  2. Gunpowder Heart ⭐️⭐️
  3. Selfie NR – Only watched one episode of the anthology

TV Series

  1. Tales from The Loop Season 1 (8 episodes) ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  2. Cursed Films Season 1 (5 episodes) ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Short Films

  1. Daddio ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  2. Lions In The Corner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  3. Figurant ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  4. Broken Orchestra ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  5. The Voice In Your Head ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  6. Vert ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  7. Dieorama ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
  8. Modern Whore ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  9. Quilt Fever ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  10. Single ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  11. Basic ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  12. Runon ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  13. Waffle ⭐️⭐️⭐️
  14. Still Wylde ⭐️⭐️½
  15. Blocks ⭐️⭐️½
  16. Call Center Blues ⭐️⭐️
  17. Face To Face Time ⭐️½
  18. Dirty ⭐️
  19. Broken Bird NR

Not Watched

Just because I didn’t watch something in the festival doesn’t mean anything from a review perspective, it merely didn’t appeal (as much) to me as much as the other works. I would have liked to have time to watch everything and maybe if I had visited the film festival in person this would be possible, but something tells me that most attendees don’t watch everything.

Here’s the list of 13 films alphabetically that weren’t watched:

  1. A Period Piece
  2. Affirmative Action
  3. Betye Saar: Taking Care Of Business
  4. Father Of The Bride
  5. Hiplet: Because We Can
  6. I’m Going To Make You Love Me – full length
  7. Le Choc du Futur – full length
  8. Mizuko (Water Child)
  9. Motherland: Fort Salem – TV Series
  10. No Crying at the Dinner Table
  11. Reminiscences of the Green Revolution
  12. Soft
  13. Summer Hit

SXSW 2020 Afterthoughts

First and perhaps most importantly: thank you to SXSW and Amazon for making this event possible. Can’t beat the cost: FREE and it was interesting covering and “attending” this event.

Now, some constructive feedback for the organizers.

The virtual experience — my first ever involved in a film festival — was lacking in terms of the social aspect. There could have been at least some organized watchalongs or some other type of social activities. Maybe these did exist, but I missed them. The films were mostly OK and I liked viewing the short films more than expected.

Most major film festivals have theater release films and something tells me this is one of the main reasons to attend. To see these movie theater films earlier than the masses. So, those covering can get reviews posted way in advance of those of us that didn’t attend.

There were none of those films made available as part of this virtual event. That’s a bummer.

There is an annual local film festival nearby that I may attend later this year, assuming it happens. Right now so many things up in the air.

Would I like to see/attend/cover more virtual film festivals? Yes. Any chance to view movies for me is at least of some interest. There is another one coming up at the end of May 2020. I’ll be posting about that soon.

What are your thoughts on SXSW 2020?

Will you attend more virtual film festivals? Would you rather go in person? Let’s discuss in the comments.

SXSW 2020 Short Film REVIEWS: Dieorama, Face To Face Time + Selfie changes

SXSW 2020 Day 8 of 10 day limited available event. Don’t hesitate, watch the films of interest (and maybe explore some you might not think from the description you might like) while you still can:

Dieorama ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Run time: 11 minutes
Director: Kevin Staake
SXSW film #19 watched

Abigail Goldman makes miniatures of grisly scenes as art. She works for the public defender’s office in Bellingham, Washington by day and by night she makes this tiny, gory works of art.

This film shows that Goldman is a fairly normal wife, mother and family person, who doubles as a creative artist.

Face To Face Time ⭐️½
Run time: 7 minutes
Director: Izzy Shill
SXSW film #20 watched

A woman decides to Facetime her boyfriend for some naughty sex talk. He gets all excited in more than one way.

The payoff is a bit cheap. Was he supposed to have a hard-on in his pants when it was close-up on the screen? I think it was, but then it wasn’t very clear. That alone takes away a star for cinematography. Are we supposed to imagine he has an erection?

This was pretty weak overall. Not recommended.

Selfie gets (a reboot) another selfie of itself

Here’s something strange on the SXSW front. This was spotted by DougInNC. Apparently Selfie which was the very first short film (see: SXSW 2020 Short Film REVIEWS: Selfie, Modern Whore, The Voice in Your Head, Single) of the 20 to date I watched and reviewed was changed, The film was altered from the 9 minute English short film to 1 hour and 48 minutes mostly, according to Doug, now in French with subtitles. I watched about 10 minutes of the “new” version of Selfie and, yes, it’s in French.

It’s a strange development for the film. Was it always intended to be in French with subtitles as a longer work, not a 9 minute short film in English? I don’t care if it’s in French with subtitles or English, but it’s a curious development. Could have been an honest mistake by Amazon or SXSW or some combination of both, but you’d think the festival would have had the film files worked out prior to the event.

Anybody know the story behind this change, just for curiosity sake? It’s not a big deal, naturally. Who cares if the film is a 9 minute short or the full meal treatment at 1 hr 48 min, but the language being different is a fairly significant change.

Being this is my first film festival, maybe these kinds of things happen during festivals? Sure spices up those trying to watch films if they change after watching them. Someone throw me a bone in the comments. Thank you in advance.

SXSW 2020 Short Film REVIEWS: Vert, Still Wylde, Lions In The Corner, Figurant

SXSW 2020 Day 6 of 10 day limited available event. Don’t hesitate, watch the films you’re interested in while you still can:

Vert ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Run time: 13 minutes
Director: Kate Cox
SXSW film #15 watched

A couple celebrates their anniversary by going into virtual world known as “Vert” together.

With the first season of Upload this weekend, this is a timely short film to view. I’ve been a fan of virtual worlds for quite some time, although it’s one of those things I get into and can’t stay very connected. As far as movies go, watching Ernest Cline’s story, Ready Player One is a real treat (see: 3 Movies Reviews For My Birthday: Ready Player One, JFK, Westworld)

This context is important. So, I’m sort of already on board with the technology. Movies exploring these worlds tend to be not as fun as joining the experience yourself. Guess that’s been my hangup with most virtual world movies.

In short form, this film explores the hesitation of going inside the virtual world. Put on the goggles and travel inside and be what you want to be. I like that this took me a different direction than expected. Good twist at the end, too.

Still Wylde ⭐️⭐️½
Run time: 13 minutes
Director: Ingrid Haas
SXSW film #16 watched

Gertie stops by the convenience store and picks up a variety of pregnancy tests.

“I drive a Civic by choice. I bought the most expensive Civic!” — why does this dialogue annoy me right now? Guess it’s bad for the times we’re currently in. Who gives a crap what kind of car you drive, anyway (as long as it’s functional, of course) — especially when many people can’t drive anywhere right now except for “essential” reasons?

Not holding this against the film, but am holding it against the character that forced the other character — her boyfriend — to bring this up. Dialogue like this turns me off toward characters, not make me laugh. Later in the film when a medical bill arrives, this dialogue reminded me that there was more emphasis placed on something that didn’t matter versus something else that did. Yes, the little things in films that add up.

I liked the convenience store owner. More of him and Gertie interacting, please.

Good ending, so-so acting and writing. Camerawork was good. Overall, this was … OK. Seemed a little forced and incomplete, a few staccato scenes, short of a full-fledged story. Well, I guess the tattoos, yeah, that sort of wrapped things up.

Lions In The Corner ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 10 minutes
Director: Paul Hairston
SXSW film #17 watched

A man who goes by Scarface uses MMA-style fights called Street Beefs with a referee to settle disputes and prevent opposing combatants from one, the other or both from dying on the street.

“If I do this for 30 years and save two lives, man, that’s two lives!” – Scarface.

The director Paul Hairston says in the opening intro that this took two years to put together. After watching it, I believe it. You can feel the blood, sweat and tears are on the screen. Scarface is doing good in his community, finding a sports outlet for potentially deadly gang-related activity. It doesn’t get that deep, but you get the sense this is a legal way that people problems are being solved. Scarface also makes a heck of a narrator with his gravelly voice and somber delivery.

One of my most favorites of all short films seen so far. Recommended.

Figurant ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 14 minutes
Director: Jan Vejnar
SXSW film #18 watched

Subtitled for English. An elderly man, perhaps homeless or down on his luck, enters a facility, signs up, is dressed in military gear and sent, bewildered, outside. And then the nightmare really begins.

This has almost a 1917 meets Marked for Death vibe running through it. Great sound. Good story. Very well done.

What films are sticking out for you from SXSW 2020?

Am a little more than halfway through all the films presented in the virtual film festival online at Amazon Prime Video. I didn’t think I’d care much for the short films format before watching, but have been, at times, pleasantly surprised. You can tell many of these filmmakers, their cast and crew worked hard.

I have by far the easiest part: sitting here, enjoying — or not — the creative work.

What have you enjoyed so far from the festival? If you’re reading this and it’s not past May 7, 2020, get over to Amazon video and watch some of these films before the opportunity passes. I don’t know what happens to these short films, in particular, once they’ve screened at the festival? If you know, go ahead and use the comments below to tell me about it.

Happy to hear your recommendations as well.

SXSW 2020 Short Film REVIEWS: Daddio, Dirty, Waffle

SXSW 2020 Day 5 of 10 day limited available event. Don’t hesitate, watch the films you’re interested in while you can.

Daddio ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 19 minutes
Director: Casey Wilson
SXSW film #12 watched

A father (Michael McKean) and daughter (Casey Wilson) deal with the aftermath and loss of the wife and mother. A sympathy comedy with some real heart and style. Based on the real life experience of director Casey Wilson’s life.

Has a very professional feel and quality, plus includes (obviously) experienced actors. Look up McKean’s filmography, it’s overflowing with good films he’s been in (Airheads!). I dug this one — a lot.

Dirty ⭐️
Run time: 12 minutes
Director: Matthew Puccini
SXSW film #13 watched

Two students cut class to have gay sex and experience an unfortunate outcome.

I was encouraged by the director’s opening commentary that there might be something educational in this short film and I suppose there sort of is. It just wasn’t enough of a story that left me going, yeah, that was very illuminating, creative or all that interesting. I would say it was kind of gross, but that demeans a serious situation, so i won’t go that far, but I think the topic could have been handled with more humor and fun than it was here. Kind of a downer, actually.

Waffle ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 12 minutes
Director: Carlyn Hudson
SXSW film #14 watched

Two ladies in their pajamas are talking about their adventure the night before. Social awkwardness explored through … waffle making.

“Let’s make waffles to soak up the alcohol!”

As someone who likes eating waffles, I got hungry watching this. The woman in the pajamas character arc was a nice road to travel. Enjoyed and recommended.

SXSW 2020 Short Film REVIEWS: Basic, Broken Orchestra, Runon, Broken Bird

SXSW 2020 Day 4 of 10 day limited available event. Don’t hesitate, watch these films you’re interested in while you can.

Basic ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 4 minutes
Director: Chelsea Devantez
SXSW film #8 watched

A woman obsesses over her significant other’s ex online from years ago. Selfies are all the rage it seems for SXSW films (this is like the third or forth film mentioning or focusing on selfies, I’ve seen) Bonus points for the pineapple.

It’s hard to objectively critique a film that is only 4 minutes long. It’s more like a quick bite in the dark. Again, I’ll bring up the literary equivalent of these films to flash fiction. I do like flash fiction. It was entertaining.

Guess at least 15-20 minutes is needed for a story with some real meat to it, this is more like a vignette. Perhaps, a treatment. An idea. That’s not bashing it for what it is and maybe the director can take this and use it to pitch a little longer idea fitting into an anthology series. Liked the music at the end as well as the director’s “I cut my own hair” speech in the intro. Go check it out and see what you think.

Broken Orchestra ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 12 minutes
Director: Charlie Tyrell
SXSW film #9 watched

A Philadelphia school brings attention, by assembling a volunteer orchestra to play previously broken instruments. They need help getting these instruments fixed and the purpose is to illustrate how school funding for band programs are woefully inadequate. There isn’t any actual information shared how or who fixed these instruments (The Symphony for a Broken Orchestra), only the stories of the teachers and musicians who want to play them.

Curious camerawork having TVs on rolling carts and then zooming in on people being interviewed on the TV. This is a clever way to tell a story, as the camera leads us around empty halls and upstair to pictures of these instruments laying there, waiting to be played.

The documentary would have been five stars for me if it culminated in a performance. It seems to leading us down the path. Still, very well done. Great cause, good topic, one of my show favorite shorts so far in most part due to the creativity and cause.

Runon ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 13 minutes
Director: Daniel Newell Kaufman
SXSW film #10 watched

A mother and her son are on the run from someone at the bus station. The mother is harried, and the boy is mute. She bashes his father frequently (“You’re acting just like your father”) and yet is loving and extremely protective. She gives him money, but the vending machine is broken. We can tell he’s trying to work out what’s going on. His mother has a gun in her purse, why?

This kind of reminded me of the pacing of Uncut Gems ⭐️⭐️⭐️½ by the Safdie Brothers. Perhaps an influence? That frenetic, off-balance, hyperactive camera work. The lighting the bathroom scene was way too dark and disruptive, unfortunately. I can’t watch too much flashing and flickering, it just gives me a headache.

The ending, and I won’t spoil it, didn’t work for me. I was going to give this 4 stars despite some of the camerawork and settings being hard to see, but took away a full star for the ending. The ending to any story is very important. If I like everything else but dislike an ending, that’s a major part of the story for me. This has such a good lead-up pacing and the acting is good.

Overall, though, definitely this is recommended. It’s a good little picture. This reminded me a bit of some books I’ve read, including an amazing novel called, MINE by Robert McCammon. No idea if that was any kind of influence or not for the filmmaker.

Broken Bird NR
Run time: 11 minutes
Director: Rachel Harrison Gordon
SXSW film #11 watched

Really, I tried watching this two different times and even though it played all the way through, I didn’t really “get it.” I wasn’t interested in what was happening and why enough to be entertained. You’d think something only 11 minutes long couldn’t affect me this way, but it did.

Yeah, this is a cop-out of sorts, but it’s honest.

Birdie is a young girl in a conflicted situation of some sort with her father. Meanwhile, she’s got a Bat Mitzvah coming up. Seemed like more like a day in the life of … type thing. It just didn’t appeal to me after two watches, and that’s more than enough of an effort. I can’t really rate it because the source material just wasn’t interesting to me at all. Sometimes that’s the perfect kind of film for me to watch. Not the case here.

No rating.

10 day SXSW 2020 event is 40% complete

The SXSW virtual film festival is 40% complete. To date I’ve watched 13 of the 39 films (including 11 short films), so I’m not quite halfway there. Not sure if I’ll watch all of them in the 10 days allowed, but my days off from work are coming up, so I should be able to catch up on more soon.

I’d like to do an SXSW 2020 round-up post at some point. I think I’m missing a lot not watching these movies in a theater, as that’s part of the film festival experience, yes/no? I think these festivals have some networking and socializing to them. I used to attend CES when I was following tech and as far as conferences go, that was one of my favorite.

Anyway, I have found a few gems that I’ve enjoyed so far. How about you? Any of them stick out to you as must-see? I don’t want to miss something really good, but not sure I’ll get through them all.

TV REVIEW: Tales From The Loop Season 1 – All 8 Episodes Rated and Reviewed (Spoiler-free)

Tales From The Loop – Season 1 (8 episodes)

… is a pensive science fiction anthology series that has the viewer questioning what to think of the unknown. If Ray Bradbury and Rod Serling were still alive they would appreciate the first season. The stories are a bit long-winded at times, but the basic premise for the show is compelling.

Take a fascinating series of paintings about The Loop, drawn from the wonderfully creative mind of Simon Stålenhag, this mysterious underground bunker that has other-worldly devices and machines. The facility name is the Mercer Center for Experimental Physics and known locally as “The Loop.”

How do humans live alongside this enigmatic technology? Do they fear or embrace it? Or is each mechanical marvel provide fresh exploration.

The first episode “Loop” was made available for free during SXSW 2020. The following spoiler-free review of the entire series should give you enough to decide if this is something you’ll enjoy or not. I was definitely entertained and, at times, enthralled.

Episode 1 – “Loop” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 57 minutes

A young girl becomes curious about what work her mother is doing underground at an unusual scientific research facility in Ohio. Her mother has stolen something and is urged to put it back.

A robot that lurks around in the woods. Snow that falls upward inside a building. She finds this odd black rock that can suspend itself. Gravity pull.

Cool cinematography. It has more of a UK film feeling than a small town Ohio in the United States, but this adds to the off-kilter ambience. This is my favorite episode of the series because it just hits you with a bunch of of sci-fi strangeness and yet people don’t act all freaked out about it.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Episode 2 – “Transpose” ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 52 minutes

Two boys find a round shaped device in the woods. They open it and one climbs in.

When he climbs out they have now switched bodies. Trading bodies for a short time seems like something out of Freaky Friday, but this is not comedy.

The music is excellent in this series, including this episode. Strings at the right time, piano playing a haunting melody at others. Sets an X-files like mood.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Episode 3 – “Stasis” ⭐️⭐️⭐️½ 
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 57 minutes

A young woman is fishing and finds a strange capsule. She meets a man that she falls in love with and longs for more time with him. As she takes apart the capsule, she learns that the device can freeze time for everybody else except the two of them.

All is well until they want to go back and something is wrong with the clear liquid that powers the enigmatic device.

The ability to freeze time is interesting, but the passing of time creates paradoxes and suspends disbelief. What happens to all of these frozen people and their bodily functions? If they are frozen for a long period of time, what happens when they are unfrozen? Would have been cool if this was somehow explored or explained, rather than the people being like static props.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½ 

Episode 4 – “Echo Sphere” ⭐️⭐️½ 
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 52 minutes

Russ, the old man running the underground science facility is dying. He seeks to explain to his family what it means when he’s gone, get his affairs in order, including who will look after the wondrous gadgets and machines from the Loop.

This thoughtful episode explores dying and death. It’s a bit on the slower and more depressing side and less technology-focused. The notable exception is the echo sphere itself that stops echoing when you’re near death. A neat idea that could have been exploited for a better storyline, instead it’s used as a metaphor for a crystal ball.

Just an OK episode. My least favorite of the first season.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️½ 

Episode 5 – “Control” ⭐️⭐️⭐️½ 
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 54 minutes

A man becomes disillusioned with his life when he has a son on life support. He turns to obtaining a scrapper, a robot to emulate his actions and give him more control over his life.

What he gains in massive strength and power has him examining what’s most important for a man protecting his family.

In a way, this episode all examines our mortality, how we’re somewhat powerless to time. When the man begins to lose himself to the machine, that’s when the real strength of the underlying story comes out.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½ 

Episode 6 – “Parallel” ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 56 minutes

A worker at sees a man riding a bike. He explores into the field, flips a switch on a hovering tractor and it opens a tiny vortex in the ground. He has a friend fix a fuse and then fires up the tractor.

The vortex opens and takes him into an alternate timeline where he runs into himself living with another person and the loop isn’t running any longer.

While this starts out and leads to believe it’s going to be just another time travel type of story, it’s much more. The device is only used functionally in the beginning and then because of the man not being able to understand how to use it, he becomes stuck in the alternate timeline. This creates a much more interesting dynamic for the story to unfold.

It would have been cool if he tried to learn more about the device, but his interest in bird watching and a love affair with someone he can’t have becomes his primary area of focus. The analogy to the device is less on the nose than it sounds. A fascinating character study.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Episode 7 – “Enemies” ⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ 
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 51 minutes

Three boys visit a mysterious island. One is left behind on the island, bitten by a snake and makes a discovery of an unusual inhabitant on the island. The snake bite is severe, forcing the severing of his arm. He wakes up in a hospital bed and realizes he has lost his arm.

In the Loop a new robotic replacement arm is provided for him. There is something unusual about the prosthetic that will draw the boy back to the island to face.

Through the experience he realizes something illuminating about friends and enemies. There are some time jumps that are a bit jarring and disorienting, showing the boy grown up and talking with his son, then back to him as a boy, then back grown up. It does all make sense in the end, but the first time I watched it didn’t work as well.

Upon rewatching this episode, I liked this a lot more than on the first watch, and actually upped the star rating. It’s my third favorite episode of the first series.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ 

Episode 8 – “Home” ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Air date: April 3, 2020
Run time: 49 minutes

We think this might be about the relationship between two brothers, an older brother and younger brother, but that is a parallel story. Instead, a young boy befriends a robot named Jacob.

They hang out together like brothers until Jacob fights another robot, loses a crucial component.

This is kind of an odd episode to end the first season on, as you’d think we’d get something more about the Loop, where the gadgets come from. How they are studying the machines? Instead, we get this episode trying to humanize these robots. Maybe that’s the whole point of the series — not to know — and the more we learn and know the less amazing these machines will be?

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Summary of Season 1

What I liked most about this anthology series is the stories focus on the human side of dealing with strange technology we don’t completely understand. The cinematography is fantastic and a major strength. Just taking still pictures of scenes that look very normal and yet have one or two machines in the background or odd-looking technological buildings.

So, if you’re looking for cool robot stories that isn’t really what this series does. The writing of all 8 episodes by Executive Producer Nathaniel Halpern is by and large excellent. The overall theme is maintained, just giving us enough tech and machines to keep us wondering and focusing instead on human interactions with these fantastic devices.

What was needed for me to love this series, instead of strongly liking it, was more about where the machines and tech came from. There are no episodes that really, truly explore the most obvious mystery.

Instead, we are left as viewers to accept their existence and that nobody is really digging that deep into where this stuff came from? We see scientists and employees underground presumably working on that … an Area 51 type facility, but we don’t really get to see any of these people, working to unravel the answers. Maybe that will be in season two, if one is greenlit?

Then again, maybe that’s the draw to the series and if too much of the mystery is explained it will ruin the mystique. This is an unusual anthology series and for that reason — perhaps more than any other — I recommend watching it. I can safely say there isn’t any other sci-fi/fantasy series that is like this and it is filled with rewatch potential. That’s a pretty big vote of confidence. Hopefully, we’ll see more someday, somewhere.

Overall season 1 rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½ 

SXSW 2020 Short Film REVIEWS: Quilt Fever, Call Center Blues, Blocks

SXSW 2020 Day 3 of 10 day limited available event. Don’t hesitate, watch these films you’re interested in while you can.

Quilt Fever ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 16 minutes
Director: Olivia Loomis Merrion
SXSW film #5 watched

Quilting gone wild! Every year, quilters gather to showcase their quilts. This is described as the “academy awards of quilting.” There is even a Quilt Channel. I don’t quilt and don’t even know anybody who does. It seems many of those involved with quilting, at least those shown in the short film, were seniors or older. Older seniors than myself. I’m hoping this doesn’t become some dying artistic skill, that there are plenty of younger people involved, but didn’t get that vibe in the film.

Now, just because I don’t know much about quilting, didn’t impact my enjoyment at looking at the many gorgeous quilts displayed. They looked very time consuming, especially those that were sewn largely by hand. There was one lady in particular labeled the “queen of quilting.” She should have been a more central figure, focusing on her would really have made this more compelling. If she’s the best, the one that many look up to on quilting, then how did she get her start? How long does she spend quilting?

The time factor was very glazed over at best. I remain curious how long it takes each of these quilts to be hand-made? There were random shots of sewing machines working in detailed designs. I would have rather seen human beings quilting than machines, but maybe the machines are required or the highest precision stitching? Again, that’s not really explained either.

At the end, it was a fun mostly cursory look at how popular quilting is with quilters, but not sure it converted an outsider to investigate more.

Call Center Blues ⭐️⭐️
Run time: 26 minutes
SXSW film #6 watched

This sometimes somber, often optimistic view of life in the call centers in Tijuana, Mexico. It follows primarily two women and how they have benefited from their experience in the call centers, a primary employer in the area. The sad part is thinking how many businesses based in the United States have opted for call center outside the country, putting people in other countries to work.

We hear the response to this time and again that people in these other countries will work for far less than most Americans. There is truth to that, I’m sure, but it’s interesting to see how a poorer city in a country is impacted by people excited to work. Just being able to have a job. There is a huge value in that vs. being out of work and everything that comes associated with that.

A bit longer and more dramatic than it probably should have been, but took a subject that seems largely boring and spotlights a compelling angle to it.

Blocks ⭐️⭐️½
Run time: 12 minutes
Director: Bridget Moloney
SXSW film #7 watched

Described as an “extistential comedy” a mother starts vomiting up blocks. We could call them LEGO-wannabes, but there is licensing involved there, so we won’t, but you get it. Red, blue, white, etc blocks. The premise is creative, which I liked. The execution? A little underwhelming.

As for comedy? I’m not sure there was any comedy in watch someone throw up blocks. I get there is a larger metaphor to the day to day grind, but I wasn’t feeling it that way. She build a house from the blocks and then doesn’t let anybody come inside it. “Mom’s just trying something out.” — OK, I liked some of the dialogue and the interplay with the husband.

SXSW 2020 Short Film REVIEWS: Selfie, Modern Whore, The Voice in Your Head, Single

SXSW 2020 Day 2 of 10 day limited available event.

Watched the following short movies and reviewed yesterday and rewatched some on day #2. All are non-spoiler reviews for those that haven’t seen.

Selfie ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Run time: 9 minutes

The blue ‘S’ you would think means Skype, but not here, it stands for the fictional service Selfie, an Instagram-like social media service. Those who use the service do not get what they bargained for.

The ending in particular has a real bite to it, and I dug it. On Day #2 of SXSW this was showing as “unavailable” when I tried rewatching it, so you may not be able to watch it. The other SXSW movies are showing up.

Sidenote: there are other short movies on Amazon Prime Video with the title of “Selfie” and several involve figures in the selfie picture that weren’t there.

Modern Whore ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 12 minutes

An escort shares what her life is like playing a character that is “a sexy version of myself.” What she discovers is that others are rating her, but not on what really happened, what their fictional perception of what happened. It explores the online review culture, awarding star ratings for the dates, her appearance and sexual performance.

“She can play the flute” and other juicy dialogue.

Entertaining, but could see it getting annoying if it was much longer. Short film is definitely the right length.

The Voice in Your Head ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 13 minutes

Starts out with a visceral scene of a guy being spit on by another guy insulting and degrading him. This presumably is his voice in the head, and he’s pretty funny. “Eat normal!” Dig the dark green pimp outfit, gold chain and polished shoes.

Then the twist comes. Awkward and funny. This might fit nicely in an anthology of self-discovery stories. My favorite of the four watched.

Single ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Run time: 16 minutes

She has one arm and has a date with a man with one hand. They discuss and explore their disabilities and how others try not to stare, but do. The woman character is not very likable, but the man fights to overcome it. I’d be interested in seeing more of these characters.

More films at SXSW via Amazon …

The first group of these short films were mostly enjoyable. I mean, they are quick. Like watching a scene or three. This is how I imagine Quibi is targeting people with their quick bites videos. When watching they feel like the visual equivalent of reading flash fiction.

I’m going to watch and review more over the rest of the 10 day online festival. Have you watched any of the SXSW films yet? What have been your thoughts so far? Let’s discuss in the comments below.

SXSW 2020 REVIEW: Gunpowder Heart⭐️⭐️

Gunpowder Heart ⭐️⭐️

The first full-length movie I watched for SXSW 2020 and captions are required, unless you speak Spanish.

The more detailed review that follows contains minor spoilers, but nothing major. It’s necessary to setup my full review commentary. If you prefer reading a spoiler-free review, then click on the link above and go that route, instead. If you continue on, then please expect spoilers.

… you’ve been warned, SPOILERS ahead …

The Story

It opens with the director explaining what the film is about using the term “two young queer women” which I found interesting. I mean, does it matter in the story if the women are queer? Does this have an important impact on the film, somehow? Or is this simply there to market to an LGBQT audience specifically?

The director continues, explaining that this is a very personal story from her and friends about sexual abuse and the impact on women. So, I surmised, this would be a drama involving a traumatic sexual attack.

Still, I wonder when will we get to the point when people skip sexual orientation labeling? I have zero against anybody’s sexuality, in fact I’ve been asking for more movies with main characters that are LGBTQ, but as a moviegoer I don’t want this spelled out in marketing or description of the film unless it is somehow important to the story.

Would it be here? Let’s find out.

But first, Amazon’s description of the film:

Claudia and Maria have fallen in love. They live in the city of Guatemala, a city full of stories related to abuse, unforgiving police officers, and charming secret corners. Everything changes one night when they are attacked by three men. They manage to escape but they now have to choose if they want revenge. Watch Gunpowder Heart | Prime Video

It starts with Maria showing Claudia a gun her mother gave to her and the two talking about how dangerous it is in their area. Foreshadowing that something is going to go down.

After being attacked early at the park, then getting the brush-off from the police (might be an interesting story there about how lazy and disinterested the cops are in this town), Maria gets her gun and they’re off searching for their attackers.

After spotting one of them at a carnival fixing rides, I was thinking the movie would go the Death Wish route, however, instead Maria just clumsily fires the gun into nothing and they run away. Interestingly, Maria goes to a gun range to practice shooting.

Then the movie descends into a lesbian love story, complete with a semi-graphic love scene. Claudia is more in love while Maria seems reluctant to fully reciprocate. Claudia tells her grandfather she wants to move to the United States with Maria. When he asks her if Maria loves her, she replies: “maybe, eventually.”

Those two words sum up the movie for me.

Maybe, eventually.

Maybe, eventually we’ll get to something exciting happening. Claudia and Maria are at odds as to what to do about their attackers. I know it’s not a Rambo movie, but even for a drama, a little bit of conflict is needed to justify the run time. Yes, there is a somewhat tense scene in a pool hall where the attackers come in and shoot pool, Claudia who is outside smoking calls Maria and warns her to escape. This scene had potential to be more dramatic and tense than it was. Instead, we see scattered shots of Maria cowering beneath a pool table.

They run into their perpetrators around town which kept making me think: are the police this incompetent that they can’t come and arrest these guys? Is it just a he said, she said situation?

Eventually, we run into a third wheel in the relationship, a boyfriend of sorts for Maria that makes Claudia jealous. With his arrival the movie becomes more interesting because now we’re now exploring more conflict.

That’s about as far in the recap as I can go without spoilers.

Summary (some of this is taken from my spoiler-free review at Letterboxd)

I liked the idea for the movie, but found myself wishing it was shot differently and about half the run time. This story wasn’t complex enough for a full-length movie. The ending was exciting, but lacking the necessary build-up. While there was an attempt to build the relationship between Claudia and Maria, neither character was that well-defined.

To answer my earlier question about whether them being queer mattered in the movie? It sort of did. We couldn’t get the lesbian love scene if they weren’t, I suppose. Was that central to the plot? No. So, they have sex. A lot of movies throw a steamy sex scene in, including most horror films, so I’m not really bagging on this addition. Also, I’m a guy, and like lesbian sex scenes — when they matter to the story. As presented here? Seemed unnecessary.

If 30-45 minutes could have been cut, including some unnecessary scenes, more tension around the bad guys. I mean how cardboard were these guys, anyway? We literally learn almost nothing about them or their motives. They are just guys who like to play pool and rape women in the park.

As for Claudia? Where in the United States did she dream of moving to? How was she planning to get there (on her motorcycle?). There were so many different ways this film could have explored characters and drawn my interest in more than it did.

I didn’t strongly dislike the film, but felt it presented many missed opportunities. The acting was competent, but not great. The cinematography was a bit vanilla, with some scenes feeling framed awkward and uninspiring. The sets were lit fairly well. The sound and music was pretty plain and didn’t really add to the experience. Perhaps this director will rework the script, tighten it up and try again? The story idea is interesting, but I kind of felt “meh” at the end of the day. Recommended? No.

Overall rating: ⭐️⭐️

SXSW 2020 REVIEW: Cursed Films Season 1 – All 5 Episodes Rated and Reviewed

Cursed Films is one of the 39 SXSW 2020 Film offerings that can be watched for FREE over the 10 day virtual festival from April 27-May 6, 2020 at Amazon Prime Video.

This can also be watched as part of the Shudder subscription (see: Shudder Promo Codes FREE 30 Day Subscription (LIMITED TIME ONLY!) – Watch The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs Season 2).

This is a five episode documentary with each approximately 30 minute episode covering curses around a different movie. Three of the five are horror movies, one is an action film and the final one is the Twilight Zone film. I was familiar with alleged curses surrounding two of the films, but not the other three. A review of each episode is below.

Episode 1 – The Exorcist ⭐️⭐️⭐️½
Air date: April 2, 2020
Run time: 29 minutes

A number of people related to those working in and around the film died at the time it was being made, leaving some to believe the film itself was cursed. Linda Blair talks about how the scene where she’s thrown about on the bed, there was a failure in the protective suit that caused her back to be fractured. Were these deaths just coincidental or related to the film being cursed?

A priest was brought in to bless the set during part of the filming.

Verdict: Not cursed. Not sure I believe there was any kind of curse on this film — no more than I believe what happened in the film was anything more than entertainment — but there were certainly some weird and unusual coincidences.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️½

Episode 2 – The Omen ⭐️⭐️
Air date: April 9, 2020
Run time: 27 minutes

Satan’s greatest trick was to keep himself invisible, but this movie makes the antichrist into a child. During the filming those making the film were told that the devil would do whatever he could to make sure the film wasn’t made. Two planes on the way to filming were hit by lightning. More strange things happening in 1975 when the film was made are discussed, including a bomb set off by the IRA blowing up a restaurant where several were planning to eat.

The animal handler was attacked and killed by a tiger. Tragic, yes, but the work of the devil? Another person associated with the film decapitated 66.6 miles from a town named Ommen. So, they made a film named Omen and someone was near a town called Ommen?

Verdict: Not cursed. Again, coincidences, yes, but demonic interference? No. Will admit some of these coincidences are hard to ignore, but I don’t believe this film was cursed. I mean, if you’re Satan and you want to spread belief in the occult and underworld, why would you care if a movie about the antichrist being manifested in a child bother you? Why do you want or need to be in hiding? God can be everywhere and we can worship him, but Satan doesnt want this popularity? I’m not saying anything about the religious implications here, but it doesn’t fit logic.

Of the five episodes, this was the weakest to me.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️

Episode 3 – Poltergeist ⭐️⭐️½
Air date: April 9, 2020
Run time: 27 minutes

A malfunctioning clown that really choked the boy. The deaths of child actress Heather O’Rourke and Dominique Dunne. Real human skeletons used in the pool scene. Julian Beck, the old man, died of stomach cancer.

Curses do weird things to people, no doubt there. A construction worker who buried an opposing team MLB jersey in Yankee stadium stirred up people so much that they jackhammered the concrete to remove it. I’ll give you this: baseball is littered with superstition.

Verdict: No curse. The two actors that died under odd circumstances very clearly weren’t cursed, one was murdered by a boyfriend, the other a victim of an undiagnosed medical condition. Julian Beck dying of cancer? Cancer and heart disease are still today in 2020 the leading cause of deaths worldwide. That’s not cursed, that’s a highly probable event, unfortunately.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️½

Episode 4 – The Crow ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Air date: April 16, 2020
Run time: 28 minutes

This was my second favorite episode of the series and covers the mystique surrounding legendary martial artist, Bruce Lee. The circumstances around Bruce Lee’s death at such a young age is not a curse. To think his last movie, unfinished, had him being shot by a real gun in a movie and then his son is killed in the same way while filming the movie, The Crow, is at best bizarre and may be indicative of some kind of curse.

Verdict: If there is such a thing as a curse, this is one area I might be able to believe in, especially if another descendant of Lee’s dies as their talent is rising in show business. I mean what are the odds of three people in the same family would die as their star is rising in Hollywood?

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Episode 5 – The Twilight Zone Movie ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Air date: April 16, 2020
Run time: 29 minutes

This is the most publicized tragedy of any of the films. Vic Morrow and two child actors were literally cut into pieces by a helicopter downed in a stunt gone bad. I’d seen the footage on YouTube and it’s explicit and chilling. Morrow is walking across the water carrying two children, explosions going off everywhere and suddenly a helicopter falls on them.

Director Jim Landis was never the same afterwards and everybody working on that set was forever scarred by this horrific event. Was it some kind of Twilight Zone curse?

Verdict: Not a curse, just very, very, very bad judgment by many involved. The courts didn’t find Landis criminally negligent but as a parent and grandparent, I’d have had a hard time not voting to put him behind bars. You don’t put children in that kind of situation, it’s just criminally stupid. Alas, he was judged by his peers and found not guilty. Not a curse, thought, not even close.

This is the best episode for me. It covers enough of the accident to understand what it’s about and it actually shows the footage of the accident. Warning to the squeamish, watching that real death scene will shock and disturb.

Oddly enough, the episode I liked most had the least chance of involving any kind of curse. Not even sure it fits this series, but pretty hard if you’re talking about films that have had bad things happen during their creation this has to be in the top 3.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Summary of Season 1

An entertaining series, but it doesn’t convince me any of the films were cursed. If the overall rating was on support for the title, I’d say it was a failure, but I’m rating on whether or not the first season was entertaining. It was mostly entertaining. The last two episodes were strongest followed by the first episode and then #2 and #3 were less so.

I don’t know if there are enough films to cover to continue making additional seasons with the subject of being cursed as one can argue one of them here has nothing to do with curses (The Twilight Zone movie), but there have been many, many films made, so I’m sure if they go deeper into the horror genre in particular, they can find a wealth of perhaps lesser-known films to explore.

All in all, this is recommended. The total run time of all five episodes are less than several longer films. Just don’t expect to believe that any of these films are truly cursed.

Overall Season 1 rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️