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Monica Castillo at SxSW #3: crowd pleasers

Rest in peace until the next year, South by Southwest. The red carpets have been rolled away and the theater marquees have been wiped. All that's left are the memories and a bunch of films that might some day appear at a theater near you.

 

"Brooklyn Castle"

The directorial debut of Katie Dellamaggiore follows the champion chess team of PS 318 in Brooklyn, NY. With a no-fuss, straightforward style she introduces this bunch of amazing kids from tough economic backgrounds who fill their living rooms with trophies taller than they are. But then the kick comes in, the economy collapses, and public schools across the nation lose funding, especially for after school programs. "Brooklyn Castle" is a response to the sport scholarship trope and "Waiting for Superman." The kids' lives change, they break records, shed tears, and prod the audience to action. The audience here gave it their Best Documentary award.

 

"Fat Kid Rules the World"

A bittersweet dark comedy about an overweight depressed high school student and the unlikely rocker friend he makes after a failed suicide attempt. The directorial debut of Matthew Lillard (Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo," or the bad guy who makes George Clooney sad in "The Descendants") won the audience narrative feature award. Rightly so, as the captivating story brings to life this kid's isolated world and his eventual exploration of the underground rock scene. Levity brightens the dark script, with exaggerated day dream sequences (think Jonah Hill's imaginary segues from "Super Bad") and awkward scenarios. Without being too emotionally draining, it shows the two boys struggling with their demons and we're rooting for them despite their faults. No distributor has picked it up yet, but hopefully this will go beyond an actor's pet project and get into theaters. Like many of the other films at SXSW, "Fat Kid Rules the World" is not the easiest to watch, but it's damn fascinating. 

 

"Do-Deca Pentathalon"

 A pair of brothers revive a childhood contest in which they must take on 25 different challenges to determine "the best." The Duplass Brothers ("Cyrus" and "Jeff Who Lives At Home") have made a movie for anyone who has a rival sibling with a competitive streak. On the negative side, the camera becomes a tad distracting as "The Office"-like zooms threaten to teeter a regular conversation into "Bourne" territory. And the characters, though a lot of fun, can shrink into one-dimensionality.  But as a comedy in the midst of a rather serious film festival, it probably made a better impression on me than it might have otherwise. Give it high grades for its creative concept, but the execution leaves something to be desired.  

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