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SXSW 2013: Cheap Thrills and Short Term 12

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SXSW 2013: Cheap Thrills and Short Term 12

According to the SXSW audience awards announced earlier today, E.L. Katz’s Cheap Thrills was the popular pick of this year’s midnight-movie crop, and it lives up to its title in its nihilistic view of humanity—or at least males—as fundamentally beholden to such urges as money and pride. Through this violent, black-comic tale of the increasingly over-the-top challenges a rich couple, Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton), offers to two desperate men (Pat Healy’s Craig, a recently laid-off aspiring writer, and Ethan Embry’s Vince, a childhood friend of Craig’s who hasn’t exactly been swimming in dough himself), Katz and screenwriters David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga appear to believe they’re exposing the dark depths of humanity when pushed to desperate extremes. But after a first act that effectively elicits viewer sympathy for these two soon-to-be-victims of the rich couple’s perverse games, the filmmakers gradually strip away those sympathies. By the time—spoiler alert!—we’re treated to the oh-so-edifying spectacle of our loser protagonists eating a cooked dog (and the challenges get even more grotesque after that), it’s hard to tell where the critique of such cruelty ends and the celebration of it begins. Or rather, more accurately, the whole film is a critique, but one in which we’re put in the above-it-all position of the two Satan figures, looking down at these pitiful specimens and laughing at them.

Is it a mere coincidence that Healy plays a character in Cheap Thrills whose surname is “Daniels,” which is the same name Healy’s nameless character gave himself while impersonating a police officer over the phone in last year’s glorified torture chamber Compliance? Katz’s film, in fact, bears many similarities to Craig Zobel’s—namely in its superior attitude masquerading as cutting commentary on humanity and its episodic structure of increasingly outrageous offenses. Katz, to his credit, is at least more honest about his rotten ambitions than the duplicitous Zobel, not even hiding the fact that he finds something perversely funny about the situations he and his screenwriters imagine for these characters. There’s nothing wrong with a film that tries to boldly scramble our responses the way the filmmakers do; nevertheless, there’s something deeply problematic about a film that seems to lavish so much creative glee in so thoroughly and gruesomely degrading its protagonists, and to no particularly revelatory ends.

Like it or not, though, Cheap Thrills does evince a consistent vision, however sophomoric. Turning to a film like Destin Daniel Cretton’s Short Term 12 after that, however, can’t help but feel like a welcome oasis from such hatefulness. The setup sounds inviting of clichéd “triumph of the human spirit” bathos, set as it is in a foster-care facility populated by troubled children of varying stripes, and centering partly around Grace (Brie Larson), the facility manager who has an uncanny way with these kids, in part because of personal traumas of her own that rear their ugly head again when tough 14-year-old Jayden (Katilyn Dever) enters the picture. And yet, scene by scene, Cretton shows a remarkable ability to sidestep clichés in order to grasp at underlying emotional truths. He also has a talent for economically packing revealing character details into lines of dialogue in ways that somehow don’t come off as mere exposition; for the most part, they feel true to the characters and organic to the given situations. (In Cretton’s hands, one character’s use of the word “underprivileged” in regards to these foster kids and one kid’s offended reaction to that characterization speaks volumes about both characters’ backgrounds and personalities.) And though his screenplay basically follows a standard three-act structure when you break it down, he has a knack for finding unpredictable ways to get to his plot points. His most memorable conceit, in that regard, has Jayden obliquely reveal her abusive past to Grace through a fictional fairy tale she’s cooked up, one that somehow comes off as more emotionally suggestive than heavy-handedly allegorical.

Perhaps the most promising thing about Cretton, though, at least going by this one feature film under his belt, is his generosity of vision and the refreshingly wide emotional range that vision admits. One can grasp this immediately in its opening scene, in which Cretton lulls us with Mason’s (John Gallagher Jr.) amusingly crude anecdote about a situation in which he ends up shitting his pants, only to suddenly pull the rug out of this false sense of security when one of the foster kids suddenly runs out of the facility, sending the four employees scrambling to catch and contain him. Throughout the film, Cretton isn’t afraid of such bold juxtapositions of comedy and tragedy, and the film’s emotional-rollercoaster quality is such that the highs (those precious moments, for instance, where Grace successfully forges a personal connection with a foster child) feel especially ecstatic, and the lows (including one dramatic day in which a whole host of plot and emotional threads converge, with near-debilitating results) pack a more potent tragic punch.

Cretton’s considerable screenwriting acumen picks up the slack from his mostly functional image-making; he basically sticks with a familiar semi-documentary handheld style to tell this story. Nevertheless, he hits upon a truly inspired visual choice with which to end the film. At first, its final scene seems like a simple full-circle replay of the opening scene, complete with the same kid from the opening scene suddenly running out of the foster-care facility. But this time, to contrast with the prosaic way he handles the employees’ chasing after the kid, Cretton captures this particular chase in slow motion, the camera continuing to pull back from the facility even as the employees successfully detain the kid, taking in more of the facility itself and the unassuming settings surrounding it. In one slow-motion backward dolly shot, Cretton manages to evoke a sense of cycles continuing and of life going on. In the otherwise quotidian world of Short Term 12, this visual epiphany carries a near-transcendent power.

The film portion of South by Southwest runs from March 8—March 16.

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Watch: The Long-Awaited Deadwood Movie Gets Teaser Trailer and Premiere Date

Welcome to fucking Deadwood!

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Deadwood
Photo: HBO

At long last, we’re finally going to see more of Deadwood. Very soon after the HBO series’s cancellation in 2006, creator David Milch announced that he agreed to produce a pair of two-hour films to tie up the loose ends left after the third season. It’s been a long road since, and after many false starts over the years, production on one standalone film started in fall 2018. And today we have a glorious teaser for the film, which releases on HBO on May 31. Below is the official description of the film:

The Deadwood film follows the indelible characters of the series, who are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.

And below is the teaser trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAcftIUE6MQ

Deadwood: The Movie airs on HBO on May 31.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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