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SXSW Music 2016: The 17 bands we saw in Austin

Posted in Music, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 22 Mar 2016

After another hectic five days racing across Austin, SXSW Music 2016 was another roaring success. In amongst all the Tex-Mex, free bars and a whole bunch of film, we also saw some amazing live music, and other bands not so great. Here is a run-down of the 17 acts we caught while in town. Show the rest of this post…

Anderson .Paak
This SXSW rundown is in alphabetical order but it’s fitting that Anderson .Paak would come first. Everywhere you turned this year there was a Paak show coming up, but we caught him at the Pandora Discovery den. Already with a healthy back catalogue to choose from, Paak was apparently changing up his set from show to show but we were treated to his Dr. Dre collaboration, Animals, plus much of his aclaimed second LP, Malibu. Strutting about on stage in a stylish bomber jacket, Paak mixes R’n’B with hip-hop stylings, sometimes rapping, sometimes singing, sometimes playing the drums. While the music is sophisticated and engaging, the main thing Paak exudes is energy and exhuberance. He’s a real performer on stage, something music is really missing at the moment, so if he can continue to back it up with great music, the sky’s the limit.

Baio (above)
One of the most in demand artists at this year’s SXSW, Baio was one of our high hopes for the festival too. Though debut album, The Names, couldn’t ever quite escape the shadow of Todd Terje’s masterful, It’s Album Time, the Vampire Weekend bassist solidified his solo act with a well-timed remix collection to follow it up late last year. Unfortunately Baio was one of our biggest let downs of the festival. Playing groovy electro with lots of looping synth and a live rhythm guitar, hits like Sister Of Pearl still went down well but it was all a bit noodly and forced when reproduced live. With Baio embracing a strange on-stage persona, dancing around bum-first from side-to-side, front-to-back, he never really pulls it off. The deeper, more tropical tracks worked better, but we’re only saying that because it required Baio to stay behind his decks to push the effects board.

Stealing the show that night against the always impressive Mohawk line-up, Bayonne is a Caribou/Gold Panda-esque one-man-show, producing his eclectic, loop-heavy tracks life on stage in remarkable fashion. With only two tracks formally released, one of which just a couple of weeks ago, word of mouth was obviously doing Bayonne a lot of favours because his show was packed to the brim. Often setting a track up with synths, loops and effects, Bayonne layers up each segments like he’s conducting an orchestra before letting loose with vocals or live drumming on stage. For a one-man electronic show to create such momentum was impressive, especially with so much of the sound reproduced live. A hugely impressive debut at SXSW.

Day Wave

Day Wave (above)
Playing jangly indie rock, Day Wave tore up the Cheer-Up Charlie’s stage like it was their 5th SXSW. Reminiscent of Beach Fossils or early Wild Nothing, their upbeat sound is almost dream-like at times, with frontman Jackson Phillips tearing rushing most of their debut EPs, Headcase and Hard To Read. There are moments when you’d wish Day Wave had a little more edge, as even on his more downbeat lyrics, Phillips is still sickly-sweet, but it all still works. The best moment of their set? when he looked out on stage to see the heaving audience, Phillips tried to hold his emotions back but a huge grin broke still through. They obviously enjoyed themselves up there, and rightly so.

Diet Cig
Another name on everyone’s lips in the run-up to SXSW, Diet Cig are everything so great about the festival wrapped up into one little band. A spunky, DIY ‘slop pop’ duo, Alex Luciano on guitar/vocals and Noah Bowman on drums create an excitable sound, high on energy, exuberance and charisma. As Alex tore about the Sidewinder stage, Noah was doing his best to get through an entire pack of drumsticks, mixing it up with other percussion to bring extra depth to their tracks. The pair do face the familiar problem of trying to create a fuller sound with only two people on stage, but thanks to all their fervour, you don’t end up missing the extra bodies. I don’t know if Diet Cig is the sort of band that will ever ‘make it’, but then I don’t know if they need to, they’re doing just fine as they are.

Admittedly suffering from poor sound on stage, D.R.A.M.’s slot before hype act, Vince Staples, was an unfortunately limp, stuttering set. Bar his big hit, Cha Cha, the crowd were never really in the groove, with his loops lacking verve and the silly, over-embellished lyrics falling flat. By the end the music felt very generic, and with D.R.A.M. making the audience to shout out to their mums five times every break between tracks, he needs to find a new routine.

Back for their second successive SXSW, this time off the back of debut album release, Leave Me Alone, the all-girl four-piece still know how to put on a show. Playing reverb-heavy lo-fi rock, there weren’t booked into as many shows this year but were probably the better for it, now even tighter on-stage and a lot of fun to watch. The Spanish band let loose at Flamingo Cantina, running through most of Leave Me Alone, plus a couple of older tracks, their no frills approaching giving off a fun, house party vibe. At the end of the set, Hinds went off stage with big grins on their faces so it’s obviously still very fun for them, and it’s still very fun for us too.

Kacy Hill

Kacy Hill (above)
Revealing at the end of her set how nervous she’d been about performing, you wouldn’t have know if from diminutive powerhouse, Kacy Hill. On supremely hot afternoon at Spotify House, Hill’s atmospheric, downbeat electro has a vast sound, pitching her bellowing vocals against James Blake-style beats. Hill’s tracks move through waves, slowly building pace to a series of mesmerising crescendos, with a lul to get your breath in between. With an honesty to her performance and the very polished tracks, it was hard to come away from the show not wishing Kacy Hill the success she so obviously deserves.

La Luz
From Seattle, not a sleepy Cali town like you might expect, La Luz’s powder-coated surf rock is effortlessly seductive. Led by Shana Cleveland’s dulcet vocals alongside sharp, spikey guitar, their music is laid back yet jumpy and excitable all at the same time. Rushing through what felt like a very quick set, the band held back on fuss in between tracks so they could squeeze an extra couple of tracks in but the Hotel Vegas crowd were still left wanting more, basking in the sunlight from the skies above and up on stage.

It hasn’t quite happened for Polica like you thought it might following excellent debut, Give You The Ghost. Drawing comparisons to dreamy Beach House, though they lack some of the same hooks, Polica’s synth pop comes completely alive at their shows. Led ably by frontwoman, Channy Leaneagh, she was so lost in their music during the set, the band quickly drew in the ever-willing crowd. Warming up for Baio and Miike Snow, Polica certainly held their own, with songs from new album United Crusher, coming across just as tight as albums one and two. However, you can’t help but wish there was a little more variation.

A band’s success at SXSW can rest a lot on the time and place they find themselves playing; Juan Carlos Lobo Garcia didn’t get the luck of the draw. In front of a largely empty room and given the first slot of the night, his Ritualz act is aggressive, reverb heavy electro, but in the situation it sounded very flat. While I’m sure a raving room would have helped the mood, the tracks lacked any real oomph, the dark nature of his ‘witch house’ sound drowning out any euphoric highs. Maybe in another situation it would have been completely, or then again, maybe not.

Shannon And The Clams
Quirky four-piece, Shannon And The Clams really come alive on stage. Playing punky, vintage-inspired surf and keeping to a kitsch, 60s dress code, they were part of an afternoon line-up that included Thee Oh Sees and didn’t let the side down. Finding moments to rev it up, and others to slow it down, Shannon And The Clams exist for the live arena, much catchier in person than on record.

Sunflower Bean
Playing a whopping 11 showcases at this year’s SXSW, we caught Sunflower Bean somewhere in the middle, at the ever-popular Fader Fort. Playing live, Sunflower Bean are a lot heavier than you might have expected, and pushing heavy reverb through the mics and guitars, the three-piece really thrash it out on stage. Album standout Easier Said unsurprisingly stole the show – a lighter, upbeat indie track – but the rest of their catalogue came alive like never before too, with the darker and more boombastic, Tame Impala, rousing an equally chaotic reaction. Something of a SXSW rarity, the sound was excellent for the whole of their set too.

Sylvan Esso
Another of the electro acts crashing the normally guitar-heavy Mohawk stage, North Carolina duo Sylvan Esso certainly held their own. Debuting a series of new tracks before getting into first album hits, Coffee, H.S.K.T and Hey Mami, Sylan Esso set off an all-out frenzy. Finding the perfect balance between downbeat electro and fun party beats, their music so smooth and melodic you can’t help but groove along. The new material is more of the same, but it feels like they’re stepping it up a notch, as by the end, the crowd really couldn’t get enough. Watch this space for album number two.

Starting their SXSW before the music festival officially kicked into gear, Tacocat crash landed on the Hotel Vegas indoor stage at 100mph. Best known for service industry anthem, I Hate The Weekend, the quirky four-piece play pop-punk garage rock with an enviable sense of humour. With two of the band members boasting highlighter yellow hair and guitarist Eric Randall often touting pigtails, they look an odd bunch on stage but they work their socks off to make sure you have a good time. With new album, Lost Time, due April 1st, it’s shaping up to be a good year for the Seattle band.

Vince Staples

Vince Staples (above)
Making headlines after tearing into Spotify at their own sponsored event, Vince Staples took to the Barracuda stage under the watchful eye of his manager, waiting in the wings. This was a set much less mired in controversy, but you could still see why the young Long Beach rapper’s playful on-stage persona has won him so many fans. Staples’ hard-hitting vocals clash with sophisticated baselines in just the right way, exuding so much confidence you can’t help but jump along. This uncompromising West Coast rapper is undoubtedly one of hot artists coming out of the festival this year.

White Lung
One of our finds of the festival, White Lung are a no-holds-barred indie-pop-punk four-piece from Vancouver. Playing riff-heavy guitar music, their sound was so well layered, even live, that when vocalist Mish Hall storms in, everything still feels in sync. While they could own the stage a little more, tracks from their upcoming third album are sounding better than ever, as garage rock continues to make a comeback, the more rough and ready, the better.

Additional reporting by Natasha Peach and Dave Krummel.

SXSW Film Review: Papagajka

Posted in Film, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 17 Mar 2016

In a bizarre apartment building somewhere in Sarajevo, Damir (Omerovic) provides unesseccary security for a block seemingly populated by only a handful of people, himself included. Passing the time with pointless patrols and games of noughts and crosses against… himself, when a mysterious women (Cappellaro) walks into the building, he’s caught in disbelief. Show the rest of this post…

Too shy to make contact, instead the woman accosts Damir, proclaiming she was robbed and needs a place to stay for the night after losing the address of her friends in town. Reluctantly Damir accepts, but when one night turns to two, to three, to a week, and soon he slowly finds all aspects of his life under her control.

A graduate of Bela Tarr’s Sarajevo film school, Emma Rozanski’s debut feature is a bizarre and compelling tale of hospitality through inaction. A low-key, ethereal drama, the narrative is fairly light meaning Rozanski tells much of the story beneath the surface. There are clues as to where to draw meaning, but the director leaves it up to your to make a choice, filling in the blanks for your own take on the almost supernatural progression.

Papagajka contains little suspense, and yet the unerring atmosphere will leave you feeling uncomfortable for some time after you leave the theatre. So-called ‘slow cinema’, there are undoubtedly moments when you want to shake the film into life. Like a hazy dream, this is a movie where the audience has to do a lot of the leg work, and that won’t be for all. However, Papagajka is much more than just a curiosity, and both leads put in bizarr e and affecting turns. If you can turn off to the outside world for 82 minutes, Papagajka will reward your investment, though spoiler warning, the reward’s a little weird.


SXSW Film Review: The Trust

Posted in Film, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 16 Mar 2016

Nicolas Cage and Elijah Wood play bad cop, not-quite-as-bad-but-still-bad cop in Alex Brewer and Ben Brewer’s crime thriller, The Trust. Show the rest of this post…

Disillusioned by life on the force, Lieutenant Jim Stone (Cage) sees his big pay in robbing the very drug dealers that keep him so busy. Using his vacation days to tail a local dealer, he discovers where the gang’s stash house is located, and after acquiring the blueprints from a local planning office to get the location of the vault, brings in colleague David Waters (Wood) to rob the lot.

Needless to say, the bungling cops try their damnedest to mess things up. When they discover the apartment above the safe is occupied they have to take two hostages, then in a struggle one of them dies, and the process of drilling into the safe is arduous to say the least. They realise too, that if they do make it in, the gang will be on their back who are a whole lot more proficient in their actions.

The Trust is filled with black humour and the off-kilter dynamic between Cage and Wood carries the film a fair way, even if the former is largely dialling it in. Throw the excellent Sky Ferreira’s into the mix too, and the film does start to pick up the pace.

But the initial promise and personality fall flat towards the end. In a series of telegraphed plot twists, the finale will did more to frustrate than to fulfill, and it feels like a get out because the writing team couldn’t think of anything better.

The Trust is a passable and entertaining crime thriller, with a fair few laughs, but it all feels disposable, and the frustrating ending comes d angerously close to undermining any positives. Sky Ferreira comes out of the film with credit, but for Cage and Wood, they might be running out of chances to kick start their career.


SXSW Film Review: Beware The Slenderman

Posted in Film, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 15 Mar 2016

Irene Taylor Brodsky’s Beware The Slenderman is a harrowing true crime documentary that explores the tragic stabbing of a 12-year-old school girl by her two friends, fueled the fantasy and delusion of an internet meme gone wrong.

On Saturday 31st May, 2014 in Waukesha, Wisconsin, Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser led friend Payton Leutner into the forest to kill her, stabbing her 19 times. Payton miraculously survived, somehow crawling to a nearby road before being rushed to hospital, but the aftermath of this tragic event will live on for some time. Show the rest of this post…

Discovering the fictional supernatural character ‘Slenderman’ online, an anthology legend that has spawned countless fan-created short stories, illustrations, short films, even online video games, the girls quickly became wrapped up in his spell.

The tall, faceless character wears a suit and is said to prey on children, stalking, abducting and traumatising his victims unless they execute his demands. For Anissa and Morgan’s young minds, this fiction felt all too real. Believing their and their family’s lives were in genuine danger, to appease the Slenderman, the girls convinced themselves they must kill their friend Payton, and the events of that day played out.

To give the audience an impression of the weight under which the girls were acting, Brodsky dives deep into Slenderman legend, exploring its small beginnings to now being one of the most wide-ranging internet ’creepypastas’ – a term used to describe similar fan-created supernatural or horror anthologies. Chilling the audiences with a variety of pictures, clips and video of children playing the terrifying online games, however, it’s when Beware the Slenderman speaks to the families of Morgan and Anissa that it comes into its own.

Agreeing to talk on camera for the first time, to some extent the parents of Morgan and Anissa are still in disbelief at such a horrific turn of events. Alongside video of the two girls’ initial police interviews, the parents talk about the difficulties of policing access to the internet, and with such a modern medium, even 12-year-olds are smarter than adults at the technology, even if they don’t understand the content they have access too. To that effect, the father of Anissa, spoke elequently at SXSW during a panel on the movie.

The final turn explores Anissa and Morgan’s current status in the legal system. Despite committing the crime at 12-years of age, last year Waukesha County Court declared the girls would be tried as adults rather than in juvenile court, claiming as they are now 16, they are mature enough for the adult system. Such a strange predicament for anyone unfamiliar with the American Justice System, in certain states, the burden is placed on juvenile defendants to argue they be tried in juvenile court, not laying the responsibility with the prosecution to prove proceedings be upgraded.

As the film argues we live in an age too quick to punish, yet wholly reluctant to protect and educate our children about the modern digital world, while an important message, unfortunately Brodsky loses sight of the Slenderman case for a more wide-ranging conclusion.

Rather than layering analysis on-top of Anissa and Morgan’s cases, Brodsky speaks with experts over Skype as the film comes off track from what was a thoroughly compelling narrative up to that point. Perhaps Brodsky chose this route because with each case still in court, there is no organic finishing point. You could certainly argue Beware the Slenderman would be a more complete film told after judges had ruled, but this is also such a important cautionary tale that it needs to told. Hopefully, Brodsky will follow the film up as the case plays out, completing the job at a later date.

Beware the Slenderman is a fascinating exploration of the power of the internet and true crime tradgedy, though against peers The Jinx and Making A Murderer, Brodsky is always one step behind. But her fi lm certainly still stands on its own two feet, a completely chilling and totally fascinating tale of tragedy at the hands of a power, most did not even know the internet could wield.


SXSW Film Review: Orange Sunshine

Posted in Film, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 15 Mar 2016

The remarkable story of one of the most influential illegal drug organisations you’ve never heard of, Orange Sunshine is William A. Kirkley’s ground-breaking documentary about hippie group, the Brotherhood of Eternal Love. Show the rest of this post…

When founder John Griggs introduced LSD to his friends, he didn’t fully understand the power of what had just begun. Stirring a philosophy of spiritual enlightenment, the group took to producing the drug – dubbed Orange Sunshine – to spread their “psychedelic revolution” across the globe, and not before long, a bunch of West Coast hippies had unwittingly gotten very serious with drug production. Diversifying into hashish importation from as far away as Afghanistan, the group never wanted to prosper financially but they soon grew so large, federal attention was inevitable.

Orange Sunshine follows the Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s low-key beginnings before becoming one of the most influential groups in the hippie movement, nay the world. Through a mixture of talking heads and stylised reenactments, Kirkley was able to gain access to never-before-seen photos, videos and other materials from the founding members themselves. In fact for most of those speaking on camera, this was the first time they have shared their story to the fullest extent.

Though many members of the Brotherhood spent years on the run, living abroad and/or under fake names, nearly all of them found themselves under arrest at some point. Now all long released, it’s a pleasure to see them reminisce about what was obviously such an important and remarkable time in their lives. Unsurprisingly, none are even the slightest bit remorseful.

While the film is very snappy, the reinactments aren’t always a success, and as the film tries to create thriller narrative in-amongst the detail-oriented plot, the Orange Sunshine stutters as it changes pace. The reinactments take up at least a third of the movie, but the composition always fees a little off despite being shot like grainy 8mm home movies.

To gain the trust of the Brotherhood members and convince them to tell their remarkable story was a great achievement by Kirkley, but you feel there is a better movie in there than Orange Sunshine. T his isn’t a bad movie, far from it, but the story of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love is just such a remarkable tale, Orange Sunshine doesn’t quite do it justice.


SXSW Film Review: Transpecos

Posted in Film, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 14 Mar 2016

Greg Kwedar’s Transpecos cuts all the fat for a snappy border patrol thriller, where its biggest strength and weakness is its very channeled point of view. Set on a small border outpost, the principal cast are your recognisable movie types. Enthusiastic agent Flores (Luna) is teaching new boy Davis (Simmons) the tricks of the trade, while old guard Hobbs (Collins Jr.) watches on to make sure they don’t mess anything up. Show the rest of this post…

So when an inconspicuous car pulls up, the driver is quickly flagged on to proceed until Hobbs saw something that might be awry. When the driver attempts to make a getaway, Hobbs’ arm is stuck in the window and he ends up shooting him as he reaches for a gun. Low and behold, they discover concealed drugs in the boot. Flores attempts to call it in, but when Davis pulls a gun on his colleagues and reveals he’s been paid off by the mafia, if the drugs don’t make it to their intended destination, he and his famiy will be in trouble.

Unlike other recent drug border thrillers – see Denis Villeneuve’s excellent SicarioTranspecos focuses solely on those three border cops and their station. We don’t track back or forward in the network, and we don’t stray too far from border lines.

Taking place over a single day and night, much of the film is set on the same stretch of road, with just Simmons, Luna and Collins Jr. sharing the screen. The narrow viewpoint gives the film an almost claustrophobic feeling, as with no help coming, every step feels like a battle of wits. For Davis, the corruption was inescapable, he either begrudgingly agrees to help or his family would be killed. While Hobbs is adamant this is an unforgiveable betrayal, Flores sees the lines blurred, and considers helping his comrade out of his mess, or the blood too will be on his hands.

The three leads are excellent, turning a peaceful opening into chaos at the blink of an eye. It’s these brisk changes of pace and tone that are the film’s greatest strength, quickly putting the close-knit team at odds with each other. Journeyman Collins Jr. brings very welcome clout, though Johnny Simmons and Gabriel Luna turn in fine performances too, the latter especially standing out.

And while this is a film that intentionally does not debate drug policy, come the third act it could have done with finding another place to go, thematically or even just georgraphically. At times the film takes generic turns, so for the finale Transpecos really needed to step things up, but it stumbles at the last hurdle. The finish doesn’t have the sense of escalation to do the build up justice, w hich is a great shame, as much of co-writer/director Greg Kwedar’s work is excellent. It’s not often you say this, but next time, the filmmaker should be a little more indulgent.


SXSW Film Review: Don’t Think TwiceFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 14 Mar 2016

In the follow-up to 2012’s acclaimed Sleekwalk With Me, writer/director/star Mike Birbiglia again focuses on what he knowns best, comedians. Show the rest of this post…

Birbiglia’s sharp Don’t Think Twice follows a tight-knit New York improv troupe, forever on the cusp of something big but it never quite comes off. That is until for one of them, it finally does.

After scoring a role on ‘Weekend Live’ (essentially SNL), one of the group is suddenly propelled into stardom. No longer able to make their week shows, while he tries to take the whole gang along for the ride, it eventually causes them to doubt if they’re make it after all, and the troupe is at risk of closing up shop, for good.

The success of Don’t Think Twice would always be defined the characters’ on-screen charisma, and the relationships in the troupe are effortless and naturalistic.

You wouldn’t have guessed a couple of the gang hadn’t done improv before but they absolutely nail it. Mike Birbiglia, Keegan-Michael Key, Gillian Jacobs, Kate Micucci, Tami Sagher and Chris Gethard are all fantastic, especially as tensions creep to the surface when six turns into five.

Though a few of the lines are improvised, even the bulk of the improv sequences were scripted by Birbiglia who writes with a real flow. The film still feels like things are off the cuff, constructed in a way that is true to the improv process. And behind the camera it’s a more mature effort too, as in-amongst the mayhem of the troupe, Birbiglia still allows each character arc room to breathe.

Don’t Think Twice c ould have been an indulgent and egotistical mess but instead it’s a thoughtful and honest look at success, reminding us all that sometimes, it’s OK to give up on your dreams.


SXSW Film Review: Midnight SpecialFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 13 Mar 2016

Midnight Special opens with a bang. Two men speeding down quiet country roads in the dead of night, with a young kid in the back reading comic books by torchlight and wearing strange goggles on his head. It’s the sort of confident introduction makes a cult classic, and Jeff Nichol’s latest has the potential to become just that. Show the rest of this post…

Roy (Shannon) has just broken his eight-year-old son, Alton (Lieberher), out of a religious cult in rural Texas, now on the on the road with his childhood friend Lucas (Edgerton), a state trooper gone rogue. They have to get Alton to an unknown location on a specific date for an other-worldly event but that’s all we’re told, and with a number of strange happenings along the way, it’s sure not going to be easy.

On their tail is cult leader, Calvin Meyer (Shepard), or moreover his two goons played by the brilliant Bill Camp and Scott Haze, willing to stop at nothing to get him back. While back at the ranch, expert Paul Sevier interviews the cult about Alton and discovers the boy might have supernatural powers, so the FBI too join the chase.

Sci-fi is a hard nut to crack, but in his first studio picture, lauded indie filmmaker Jeff Nichols has made one of the most refreshingly original thrillers in recently memory. Nichols is clearly influenced by classics like E.T., but Midnight Special creates such iconic imagery, he makes it his own. Starting off with just three people on the run and only teasing the wider story, Nichols invests the audience in the characters before the wild goose chase really kicks off. The three plot strands share the limelight as more is slowly revealed about Alton’s powers, escalating to a series of thrilling climaxes, shoot outs and car chases.

As on Mud, Take Shelter and Shotgun Stories, Nichols’ genius is setting is all against wholly relatable characters. From Shannon’s brooding father, to Driver’s quirky FBI specialist, to Camp’s devilish cult hitman, and of course young actor Jaeden Lieberher as Alton, the ensemble cast translate Nichol’s vision with passion and verve, sucking you in with such ease.

Genre filmmaking is usually hard but Jeff Nichols makes it look easy. This is an  encapsulating, original and thrilling film, inspired by classics but with a personality that is wholly its own. It seems Jeff Nichols can put no foot wrong, and long may it continue.


SXSW Film Review: Miss StevensFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 13 Mar 2016

Inspired by co-written/director Julia Hart’s time as a teacher, Miss Stevens is a fantastically funny, touching and heartfelt coming-of-age comedy about a school trip to the state drama competition. Show the rest of this post…

Played by the brilliant Lily Rabe, Miss Stevens never quite has it all together. Frustrated with aspects of her life, she’s not the perfect, preppy teacher you expect as a kid, her car’s filthy, and she still hasn’t found the right guy, but she loves her job and throws everything into it.

When the state drama competition comes around, she offers to chaperone three kids upstate to compete. Margot (Reinhart) is the perfect student, top of the class and getting ready for college, Sam (Quintal) is eccentric, billowing out his lines in the car, in the hallway, whenever he gets a spare minute, but Billy (Chalamet) comes with a warning from the principal. Though brilliant on stage, life at home is hard, and Billy acts out when things get frustrating, forcing Miss Stevens to stretch the boundaries of her work if she wants to bring him around.

Miss Stevens is a powerful and thoroughly entertaining film that depicts the messiness of teaching, and that most of the formative interaction teachers have with students happens outside of the classroom. The film stays on the right side of the line between a teacher and a student, but it certainly feels like an authentic portrayal of an elder who has to blur the lines of their responsibility to do the job.

Great credit must go to co-writers Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz for creating such fully fleshed-out characters. From the word go, you whole-heartedly believe in their emotions, their actions, their beliefs and each character has such a great arc throughout the movie. From Miss Stevens who must break down her facade in order to rebuild the core within, to Margot who learns how to deal with everything not always going to plan. These are living, breathing people you care about until the end.

In his professional acting debut, YouTube personality Anthony Quintal is brilliant, as are Timothée Chalamet and Lili Reinhart, though it’s Lily Rabe’s remarkable turn that steals the show. So powerful and yet so fragile, Rabe’s tender performance embodies everything that is so good about the movie.

Miss Stevens is a feel-good, coming-of-age comedy that is refreshingly honest and whose characters exist in the real world. This is  the sort of movie film festivals were made for, consistently funny and written and directed with real class. And for first-time filmmaker Julia Hart, it’s a remarkable achievement.


SXSW Film Review: Little Sister

Posted in Film, Reviews, SXSW
By Sam Bathe on 13 Mar 2016

Zach Clark’s off-kilter comedy, Little Sister, sees young nun Colleen (Timlin) return home to help her injured brother. Though after avoiding her mother for some time, stepping back into their dysfunctional life was always going to be a rocky ride. Show the rest of this post…

Set in October 2008, with Obama and McCain battling it out for Presidency, a theme of change runs throughout the movie. When baby-faced Colleen opens the door to her old room, she steps into a past life, goth posters on the wall, black make-up on her dresser. The nun-in-training is a closed book, slowly opening, but her mission here is to open up her brother.

Disfigured after a bomb went off in-action, Jacob (Poulson) won’t leave his room and their parents are at a loss. There’s no option left but for Colleen to roll back the years and weird out like they always used to, that means dressing in black, revisiting their old haunts, and for the first time in a while, letting loose.

Clark’s film is impressively bizarre; not outrageous in its humour but consistently dark and funny, and a black-as-coal heart at the core. His long shots create a brooding tone and his smart script is matched by the cast, all turning in understated performances that together provide real punch. And yet the film can’t escape the feeling that it’s missing something.

While the brilliant Halloween scene steals the film, Little Sister is a solid indie but not too much more. It’s not a film that will stick with you for days and just doesn’t quite engage enough. The compassionate family relationships are certainly interesting but I never really cared how they wo uld end up. Hopefully Clarke can take the experience on board and step it up again on his next one, because there’s certainly a lot of talent at this young filmmaker’s hands.


FAN THE FIRE is a digital magazine about lifestyle and creative culture. Launching back in 2005 as a digital publication about Sony’s PSP handheld games console, we’ve grown and evolved now covering the arts and lifestyle, architecture, design and travel.

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