I screened nine movies during the 2021 SXSW Film Festival. For five, I wrote full-length reviews, which you can read right here. Here are capsule reviews of four others.
Introducing, Selma Blair - This raw, revealing documentary follows the Cruel Intentions actress as she battles Multiple Sclerosis. What makes the movie so potent is that there's nothing Blair doesn't allow the cameras to capture. We see the breakdowns, the treatments, the depression, etc. She is also willing to let us observe the effects of MS – including profound speaking difficulty and uncontrollable trembling movements – with total clarity. I always liked Selma Blair as an actress, but this movie proves that she's a pretty amazing person off-screen, as well. Yes, the film can be difficult to watch; it's nevertheless a remarkable portrait of a star waging the fight of her life.
The Fallout - An excellent performance from former Disney star Jenna Ortega is overshadowed by a clunky script that takes a simplistic approach to the subject of school shootings. To be fair, the precipitating event is terrifyingly portrayed. We see nothing, but hear everything as Ortega's character, Vada, hides in a bathroom stall. After that strong start, The Fallout falters in attempting to depict how this teenage girl deals with the aftermath. So many scenes are too obvious or presented in a shallow way. Smoking pot to self-medicate! Skipping school! Going into the woods to scream! Shailene Woodley co-stars as the therapist Vada sees twice before having a magical breakthrough. (I call that “movie therapy.”) I'm clearly in the minority on this movie, which won the Grand Jury Award, so your mileage may vary.
Clerk - Kevin Smith has done such a thorough job documenting and celebrating his own career in the last decade that I really didn't think the world needed a movie about him. Turns out that director/friend Malcolm Ingram is able to get a different kind of candidness from Smith than he offers up on his own. The director/actor/podcaster openly discusses the ups and downs of his career with frankness and insight. (Although, disappointingly, the debacle of Cop Out is glossed over.) More importantly, Clerk makes a convincing case for Smith's pop culture icon status. Few in the entertainment industry have dabbled in or pioneered its modern branches as he has. I thought I knew all there was to know about Kevin Smith. This documentary proved me wrong.
The Spine of Night - When I was growing up, there was a wave of animated movies aimed at adults: Heavy Metal, Ralph Bakshi's American Pop and Wizards, sections of Pink Floyd: The Wall, etc. The Spine of Night reminded me of them, and that's a compliment. Directors Philip Gelatt and Morgan Galen King tell a tale about a group of heroes from different eras all fighting an evil figure who has gotten his hands on an ancient form of magic, with plans to use it nefariously. Patton Oswalt, Lucy Lawless, and Richard E. Grant are among the voice actors. The Spine of Night is mind-bogglingly violent and pleasingly edgy. I'm not sure I ever got all the way into the story, but the cool vision on display throughout is never less than thrilling to behold. This is a fun flick for viewers who enjoy mature animated fare.