Monica Castillo at SXSW #4: Headliners and Flatliners

The Headliners category includes films that did not compete for any major prizes and are scheduled to open in a theater near you sometime soon. If these previews are any indication, I'd say you'll have at least three (out of these four) good films to look forward to before the summer of sequels and spin-offs.


"The Cabin in the Woods"

Fellow Whedonites rejoice! This April release penned by "Avengers" and "Serenity" scribes Joss Whedon and his "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer" collaborator Drew Goddard (who directs) is a twisted spin on the horror movie. Press invited to the screening were sworn to secrecy about plot specifics (although spoiler trolls have hit the internet, so beware!), and even Whedon and Goddard coyly reminded us that any questions dealing with details would have to be omitted from reviews. For once, I don't mind the embargo, over half the fun of  "Cabin" came from its surprises. As one of my favorites of the festival, I recommend you ignore plot synopsis, any detailed discussions, and yes, especially the trailer.


"Killer Joe"

The infamous Tracy Letts play received its frighteningly good screen adaptation by "The Exorcist" director William Friedkin and the MPAA is pissed. From the "Bully"  rating controversy, the failure of SOPA/PIPA, and the squashed appeal for lowering the rating for "Killer Joe" from NC-17, it looks like the Motion Picture Association of America is having a rough year. Hopefully the disturbing version "Killer Joe" that shocked audiences at SXSW will remain intact for its early summer release. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch, this Southern Gothic yarn follows a dysfunctional family attempting to solve their financial problems by hiring a corrupt cop to murder a relative for the insurance money. Explicit sexual violence and brutal beatings earned "Killer Joe" the rating, but it is that equivalent of censorship in the film world, hurting advertising and distribution options. There's still some time to see how it all plays out, but for now here's McConaughey staging his comeback.



The second McConaughey vehicle this year also stars Jack Black and Shirley MacLaine in a story too wacky to be true, but is based on a true story. Director Richard Linklater followed the real-life case of Bernie, an assistant funeral director who befriends, then murders, the meanest woman in an East Texan town. The movie is a fun work in character study, with Jack Black picking up a twang and singing gospel and McConaughey playing the self-righteous sheriff bent on carrying out justice. Sadly, there's not enough of MacLaine, but the colorful cast that makes up the town will have guessing whether they are talking about the real Bernie or Jack Black's Bernie. Also, the trailer makes "Bernie" seem much more campy than it is and doesn't capture the pseudo-documentary feel of the movie.


"Big Easy Express

Last year, Billy Bob Thornton's documentary/tribute to Willie Nelson closed South by Southwest. This year Emmett Malloy's "Big Easy Express" follows folk musicians Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and the Old Crow Medicine Show as they travel the Southwest the old fashion way - on a train. Concert footage blend into midnight jam sessions and occasional outings into the towns they visit. The traveling roadshow works and fans in the audience are treated to live performances. However, like other concert movies, if you have no idea who the bands are and why you should care, you might zone out. "Big Easy Express" won the "Headliner Audience Award," but I'd chalk that up to the bands' tour stop in Austin. 

Two other headliners I had the chance to catch were 21 Jump St.and Casa de Mi Padre,  but you already know how I feel about them.


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