SXSW Film 2014 Day 1: The Grumpy Cat of Scientists: Culinary Delights, Anti-Religious Smirks and Snoozefests

A column article, Shot For Shot by: Dylan Garsee

SXSW is a yearly exercise in metonymy where everyone is a brand, every brand is an experience, and every experience is exhaustion. Just as a full moon brings out vampires and high school Wiccans, SXSW brings together a global audience for all things tech, film, and music. Anything can happen in Austin, and we natives will embrace everyone with open arms to enjoy our amazing downtown and culture. Unless you're from California. Then fuck you, go back to Pasadena or Cupertino and don't you dare move here.

The film portion of the festival lasts grueling  9 days probably because of something Eve did in the Garden of Eden. And opening night can't be missed. Previous opening films included modern horror classics Cabin in the Woods and Evil Dead, the first three episodes of HBO's Girls, and quite possibly the funniest movie in the past 5 years, 21 Jump Street. This year, SXSW figured the only way to top the previous years of genre defying opening films would be to premier Jon Favreau's small indie dramedy Chef.
Up until the opening credits of of the film, I honestly thought they would come out and say "Guys, Chef isn't a real movie, this is actually a cover up to show the new Captain America film" and everyone's head would explode. Instead, I was treated to an incredibly light, bizarrely paced, amateurishly written romp about a chef that uses the power of fatherhood and twitter to better himself and open a food truck. And I really enjoyed it. When the film gets going (and it takes its time), it turns into a bubbly meditation on following your dreams. After becoming a neutered version of the chef and father he used to be, Carl rebuilds his life and career with a busted up food truck. Weaknesses in the script and the strange usage of actors (Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Jr., and Bobby Canavale are basically cardboard cutouts of themselves) are overshadowed by the film's beautiful cinematography and and charming, exposed heart. 
Chef Jon Favreau
Because I have a weird love of the Paramount theater, the main SXSW Film venue, I stayed for a screening of the reboot of the classic education series Cosmos. Trading turtlenecks for mustaches, this version of the series is narrated by Neil Degrasse Tyson, the Grumpy Cat of scientists. Tonally, it's all over the place, a sort of tv budgeted Tree of Life with occasional not-funny quips sprinkled in with executive producer Seth McFarlane's anti-religious smirk. I understand that the church was very detrimental to scientific research, but do we really need the image of the crucified Christ with fire in his eyes? I am an atheist, so I'm not offended by the imagery, I'm just concerned why it was needed. This is the pilot, so hopefully the show will find it's footing. But for now, it just seems like the TV show version of your high friend telling you about an old episode of Cosmos he just watched.
Finally, 13 Sins closed out my night. I loved the simple plot of the film, a down on his luck dweeb has to complete thirteen increasingly evil tasks in order to receive money from a mysterious organization that knows his every move. I can sum up all of the issues of the film in one sentence: I fell asleep during the ENTIRE third act. Apparently the JFK assassination comes into play at some point, even though this film takes place in New Orleans in present day. A waste of a good premise and a great Ron Perlman. Just watch Cheap Thrills instead. [For non-sleep biased thoughts on 13 Sins, check out Nick Hanover's write-uped.]

Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter @garseed.


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