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SXSW 2015 Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, & Results

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SXSW 2015: Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, & Results
SXSW 2015: Manson Family Vacation, The Goob, & Results

Writer-director J. Davis's Manson Family Vacation is a disarmingly unpredictable tale of reconciliation between two brothers. When Conrad (Linas Phillips) shows up to visit his estranged brother, Nick (Jay Duplass), the two are revealed to be such polar opposites that it's no surprise to learn that Conrad was adopted: Big, blond, shaggy, unemployed Conrad is laidback but radiates an air of outlaw unpredictability, while dark, slight Nick, a successful lawyer, is buttoned down from his shirt to his emotions. The shock is in learning that Conrad's adoptive father and brother were relentlessly critical of him, denying him the love they shared with each other.

Nick's disapproval is fueled on this visit by Conrad's newfound obsession with Charles Manson, whom he talks about with a giggly excitement that suggests admiration. His obsession gives even the film's most innocuous scenes a frisson of danger, leaving open the question of just how devoted Conrad is to the murderous Manson. Old news footage, which covers enough of the basics to clue in viewers who know nothing about Manson, focuses on his vision of family, with clips of the man talking about his childhood and what he wants for his son providing more fodder for the nature-versus-nurture debate that percolates under Nick and Conrad's lifelong feud.

SXSW 2015: 7 Chinese Brothers, Kings of Nowhere, & Limbo

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SXSW 2015: 7 Chinese Brothers, Kings of Nowhere, & Limbo
SXSW 2015: 7 Chinese Brothers, Kings of Nowhere, & Limbo

You've seen this character a million times before: white male, late 20s, prone to wise-ass comments, incapable of keeping even the least stimulating job—but of course with a soft spot. It's exasperating that Bob Byington is content with lobbing another one of these sad-sack character studies at a festival in which that very subject has far exceeded its sell-by date, and not only that, but to do it with Jason Schwartzman, who plays these kinds of witty mopes in his sleep. 7 Chinese Brothers—an arbitrary title whose meaning Byington lazily deferred to the audience after the screening—suggests a revivification of early 2000s indie cuteness, an impression made all the more troubling by the contemporary roster behind the project: The film features appearances by such notable of-the-moment talents as Alex Karpovsky, TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe, and even Alex Ross Perry.

SXSW 2015 Twinsters and Moonwalkers

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SXSW 2015: Twinsters and Moonwalkers

Small Package Films

SXSW 2015: Twinsters and Moonwalkers

Like a mirror reflecting the effervescence and empathy of its young subjects, Samantha Futerman and Anaïs Bordier (they're 25 as the story unfolds), Twinsters is a charming, energizing, and sometimes moving meditation on what it means to be a family. Both born in Korea and adopted by families in the West (Samantha by Americans in L.A. and Anaïs by a French couple in Paris), the two learn of each other's existence after a friend of Anaïs's alerts her to a YouTube video starring an actress who looks eerily like her. The two start texting each other, forging an instant connection that grows exponentially as they move on to Skype, then in-person visits. Getting genetically tested to find out if they're identical twins and comparing notes on everything from the very different ways they experienced getting adopted into a foreign culture to whether or not they like cooked carrots, these two openhearted young women form an insoluble bond.

SXSW 2015: Spy

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SXSW 2015: Spy

20th Century Fox

SXSW 2015: Spy

The inclusivity of this Melissa McCarthy showcase leaves plenty of room for the rest of the cast to stretch their comedic legs. And judging by the results, Hollywood has been doing to Miranda Hart, Jason Statham, and Jude Law pretty much what the CIA is doing to McCarthy's Agent Susan Cooper when Spy begins: typecasting them and seriously underutilizing their talents. Law is gleefully narcissistic as the slick, self-loving Bradley Fine, a cool guy prone to Bond-like moves like leaping onto the screen from the branches of a tree. Statham subverts his own image, turning up his usual scowling intensity just enough to tip over into comic petulance as a macho agent with a dangerously short fuse who tells increasingly impossible tales about the hardships he's endured on the job, like claiming that one of his arms was ripped off and he sewed it back on with the other. And as Susan's loyal friend and fellow agent, Linda, Hart radiates a slightly goofy sincerity and unstinting enthusiasm that makes her character laughable yet enormously likeable.

SXSW 2015 The Boy, 6 Years, & A Poem Is a Naked Person

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SXSW 2015: The Boy, 6 Years, & A Poem Is a Naked Person

Chiller Films

SXSW 2015: The Boy, 6 Years, & A Poem Is a Naked Person

Craig William Macneill's sophomore feature, The Boy, got quite the rise out of a packed house on Sunday night in Austin, and it's easy to see why: The film, a sensationalistic study of a cute-as-a-button only child, Ted (Jared Breeze), growing into a taste for murder at the desert motel he helps maintain with the most clueless dad in film history (David Morse), dredges up traces of beloved horror flicks like The Shining, Carrie, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre en route to its Grand Guignol finale. Even if his talents tip the scales toward overstatement, Macneill has a command for composition and rhythm that belies his skinny résumé, and one can't help but be unnerved by Breeze's relentlessly deer-in-the-headlights performance as the sociopathic Ted. It's the kind of movie reflexively touted for its “bold vision,” a byproduct of a taboo subject tackled without restraint and an aesthetic that privileges the constant splashing of water on the audience's collective mug via razor-blade cuts and booming sound transitions. In its unremitting sense that anything bad could happen at any moment, The Boy manages to ladle even afternoon pool lounging with sinister portent.

SXSW 2015 Frame by Frame

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SXSW 2015: Frame by Frame
SXSW 2015: Frame by Frame

It's so easy to take images for granted in our media-saturated, selfie-happy culture, but that's a luxury the subjects of Frame by Frame can't indulge in. Alexandria Bombach and Mo Scarpelli's documentary explores what it means to the people of Afghanistan to have been forbidden by the Taliban to take or own photographs by following four documentary photographers who live and work in Kabul. Though there's been, as one of the photographers says, a “photography revolution” in Afghanistan since the Taliban were driven from power, it's still a new and fragile art form with very few professional practitioners. As a result, these photogs—Massoud Hossaini, Farzana Wahidy, Najibullah Musafer, and Wakil Kohsar—know each other well (in fact, Moussad and Farzana are married). They're united by their sense of mission—convinced that, as Najibullah puts it, a nation without images of itself “does not have an identity at all,” and that it's their responsibility to help create an accurate visual record of their beloved, beleaguered country.

SXSW 2015: The Nightmare, God Bless the Child, & Sailing a Sinking Sea

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SXSW 2015: <em>The Nightmare</em>, <em>God Bless the Child</em>, & <em>Sailing a Sinking Sea</em>
SXSW 2015: <em>The Nightmare</em>, <em>God Bless the Child</em>, & <em>Sailing a Sinking Sea</em>

Those who found Room 237 a bit too reliant on the ramblings of its narrator subjects will only find more ammunition with director Rodney Ascher's latest documentary, The Nightmare, which trades verbose movie nerds for lifelong victims of sleep paralysis. On the surface, this still-unsolved phenomenon—in which sleepers find themselves unable to move or make noise as shadow phantoms approach them—is a fascinating topic, and apparently a more common issue than many might assume, but his subjects are, frankly, not eccentric or engaging enough to warrant the carte blanche granted to them.

SXSW 2015: Manglehorn and Fresno

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SXSW 2015: Manglehorn and Fresno
SXSW 2015: Manglehorn and Fresno

In David Gordon Green's Manglehorn, Al Pacino turns in his third performance of the last year as a man in the grips of a post-midlife crisis. This time he's Angelo Manglehorn, a locksmith whose obsession with a lost love is preventing him from fully inhabiting his own life. Dreamily kind for the most part, but given to fits of furniture-hurling rage and truth-telling so blunt it borders on sadism, Manglehorn drifts through his own life, observing the often quirky people around him as if from a great, sad distance. In one emblematic scene, he happens upon a multiple-car pileup and strides down the line of automobiles as the slow-motion, blurred sound, and the bright red watermelon guts strewn over the cars (one of the vehicles was carrying a load of melons) give the whole thing a surrealistic vibe. His house looks depressed too: dimly lit and all dark, metallic colors, even the wood paneling tinted a faint, sickly green. His only hope of connection with another living being, aside from his beloved cat, appears to be Dawn (Holly Hunter), a demure bank teller with whom he plays out a painfully awkward, lurching courtship.

SXSW 2014: Wye Oak, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, & More

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SXSW 2014: Wye Oak, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, & More
SXSW 2014: Wye Oak, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, & More

Some Wye Oak fans' feathers are ruffled over news about Jenn Wasner's decision to swap her guitar for bass and keyboard on the band's upcoming album, Shriek. When the stage crew started hauling the band's equipment on stage at the Brooklyn Vegan showcase at Red 7 yesterday afternoon, I confess I was relieved to see an electric guitar placed next to Wasner's bass, a note of assurance that a song or two from their critically lauded Civilian would be performed alongside newer material. The majority of the duo's set did focus on songs from Shriek, which mainly scan as stretched-out '80s pop-rock complete with cascading synthesizers and processed drum sounds on songs such as “Before.” While Wasner plucked basslines, Andy Stack did double duty with a drum stick in one hand and the other manning an Arturia synth keyboard, making the work look easy with a contented grin on his face. “Remember this thing?” Wasner asked toward the end of the set, picking up her guitar to play two older songs, including “Civilian,” complete with her signature distortion crunch on the solos. Though the dodgy sound mix at the outdoor stage made it difficult to discern lyrics to the new songs, musically they come off as interesting left turns from the band's established sound.