SXSW 2011: Girl Walks Into a Bar

Sebastian Gutierrez’s new comedy, “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” may not be the third installment in the director’s much-talked about “Women” trilogy, but it very well could be considering the talent involved. Instead, it’s an entirely separate movie with a twist of its own – the first major motion picture produced exclusively for the web. It’s an interesting experiment that could revolutionize the way that independent cinema is distributed in the future, especially for those not fortunate enough to live in a major city. But while the movie makes good on its promise of delivering big stars and high-level production values, “Girl Walks Into a Bar” is Gutierrez’s weakest film to date – a movie that most people will probably only watch because it’s free.

The film begins, fittingly enough, with a girl walking into a bar. The woman in question is undercover private detective Francine (Carla Gugino), who’s there to meet with a nervous dentist named Nick (Zachary Quinto) under the pretense that she’s an assassin hired to kill his cheating wife, completely unaware that Francine is recording the entire conversation. But when she loses the evidence after a modish pickpocket (Aaron Tveit) makes off with her purse, Francine sets off a chain of events that connects a seemingly unrelated group of people, including an exotic dancer (Emmanuelle Chriqui), a retired criminal (Robert Forster), and a sex-starved student (Rosario Dawson) working part-time at a nudist ping pong club.

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It’s essentially just a series of vignettes that take place in different bars and clubs throughout Los Angeles, with Gutierrez relying on the relationships between his characters to form the connective tissue of the story. He’s used a similar structure before in films like “Women in Trouble” and “Elektra Luxx,” but with “Girl Walks Into a Bar,” the breaks in between each section feel less like a transition than an opportunity for advertisers to plug their product. Granted, the movie wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for these advertisers, but if the viewing experience is marred as a result of forced commercial breaks, then what’s the point of changing the system?

Gutierrez’s obsession with exploring the psyches of his characters via theatrical fantasy sequences also messes with the flow of the film. They look great in comparison to the static two shots that populate most of the movie (especially one featuring Chriqui as a stripper with a unique insight into the minds of men), but they’re a distraction at best. “Girl Walks Into a Bar” is much better off when it just lets its characters talk, because as Gutierrez’s sharp-witted script proves once again, he’s a far superior writer than a director. It’s no wonder he’s able to assemble such talented ensemble casts, because his dialogue is outstanding, and it makes the performances feel really natural. Unfortunately, it takes more than just great dialogue to make a good movie, and though “Girl Walks Into a Bar” isn’t bad for a film being offered for free, filmmakers will need to adopt a much better attitude than that if online distribution is going to succeed.

  

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SXSW Film 2010: Keeping Austin Reel Weird

One of the first things I heard after arriving in town for South by Southwest was “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s sort of the city’s unofficial motto, but it’s one that resonated with me over the course of my week-long trip. Though it’s hard to say whether Austin really is as weird during the rest of the year as it is during SXSW, the city exudes a certain energy that makes it the perfect place to hold such a unique event. It also helps to have some of the most passionate movie lovers in the country populating the streets, because while SXSW attracts cinephiles from all over the globe, it’s the locals (from the volunteers to the everyday attendees) who actually make you want to come back.

For anyone that followed my SXSW Blog throughout the course of the film festival, you already know that my experience was a rather positive one. In fact, of the 17 films screened during my time in Austin, there were only two that I didn’t particularly like. You’d think that would make selecting my personal favorites even more difficult, but my Top Three easily blows the rest of the competition out of the water. Here are some highlights from my reviews of those films:

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1. “Micmacs

[Jean-Pierre] Jeunet’s latest film, “Micmacs,” may just be his best yet – a whimsical crime caper that boasts his trademark visual style, a classic Max Steiner score, and an ensemble cast filled with familiar faces. Though it likely won’t have the crossover appeal of “Amelie,” “Micmacs” is one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences of the year… It’s all done so effortlessly, and with [Dany] Boon and his co-stars so charming throughout, that you’d have to be in a pretty sour mood not to walk out of “Micmacs” with a giant grin on your face.

2. “Kick-Ass

Director Matthew Vaughn clearly understands the world that [Mark] Millar and [John] Romita Jr. have created, and that familiarity resonates throughout, from the high-energy action scenes to the colorful performances from its cast… The end result is an entertaining blend of action and comedy that, despite falling short of its ridiculously high expectations, delivers everything that was awesome about the comic and more.

3. “Four Lions

A pitch-black satire in the same vein as “Dr. Strangelove,” [Christopher] Morris has created a film so relevant to our current political climate that many will feel guilty just for watching it, let alone laughing at all the gut-wrenching humor along the way… “Four Lions” is one of the funniest, most provocative comedies of the last decade – and one that has more to say than any of the numerous self-important war movies that Hollywood has been cranking out for years.

Of course, one of the things that makes SXSW such a great place to watch movies is the venues. The theater experience in Austin is hands down one of the best in the country – from the historic Paramount Theater to the Alamo Drafthouse. While the Paramount is typically a more star-studded affair, complete with a red carpet and the opportunity to see a movie with its director and stars sitting just a few feet away from you, the Drafthouse (both the Ritz located on 6th Street and the South Lamar, which is a short drive from downtown) is a little more intimate. Star-crazed attendees will find little in the way of celebrity sightings, but the chance of seeing a hidden gem like Best Documentary winner, “Marwencol,” more than makes up for it. Plus, midnight showings of genre films like “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” are usually more enjoyable when you’re watching it with a bunch of fellow cinephiles.

Read the rest of this entry »

  

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SXSW 2010: Elektra Luxx

It’s only been a year since the premiere of the micro-budget comedy, “Women in Trouble,” but that hasn’t stopped director Sebastian Gutierrez from rushing out the second installment in his proposed trilogy just in time for its anniversary. There wasn’t a whole lot of outcry for a sequel, but considering just how fast and cheap these movies are to make, there probably wasn’t any time to wait around to find out. Unfortunately, while “Women in Trouble” featured a series of fun interconnected stories anchored by a clever script and strong performances from its mostly female cast, “Elektra Luxx” only offers a sliver of what made the first movie one of 2009’s underrated gems.

Picking up weeks after the events of “Women in Trouble,” the film opens with adult film star Elektra Luxx (Carla Gugino) still coping with the news that she’s pregnant. Now teaching a class on on making love like a porn star at the local community center, Elektra’s life is complicated once again when Cora (Marley Shelton) arrives in town with a proposition: help ease her guilty conscience by sleeping with her fiancé (Justin Kirk), and in return, she’ll give Elektra the lost lyrics of her late boyfriend, Nick Chapel (Josh Brolin). On the other side of town, porn blogger Bert Rodriguez (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) mourns Elektra’s exit from the adult film industry, only to be horrified to discover his sister (Amy Rossof) is interested in breaking in to the business, while Bambi Emmanuelle Chriqui) and Holly (Adrianne Palicki) head to Mexico for vacation.

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To say that either plotline is integral to Elektra’s story would be pushing it, however, because while they do eventually come together in the end, “Elektra Luxx” isn’t as much of an ensemble effort as the first film. You needn’t look any further than the title of the movie to know that it’s predominantly about Elektra, and although Carla Gugino is great as the blonde bombshell (even getting a chance to show off her diversity playing Elektra’s lispy twin sister in a flashback sequence), it just doesn’t have the same charm as “Women in Trouble.” Only a handful of actors return for the second go-around (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whose role has been expanded beyond a short cameo), while many of the new characters, like Timothy Olyphant’s private investigator and Emma Bell’s cheating wife, aren’t on screen long enough to make an impression.

Thankfully, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Adrianne Palicki are also back for more, because they’re easily my favorite characters of the series. Palicki, in particular, steals the show as the lovesick amateur porn star, earning big laughs just about every time she opens her mouth. It’s at times like these where Gutierrez’s script shines, and although there aren’t as many here as in the previous movie, the writing remains his biggest strength. As a director, it’s a completely different story. Though Gutierrez definitely deserves points for experimenting with everything from black-and-white flashbacks to fantasy sequences and musical numbers, none of them are necessary and only take you out of the moment. Granted, “Elektra Luxx” isn’t a bad movie, but it’s still a disappointment after seeing how much could be accomplished with so little in “Women in Trouble.”

  

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