Every year, SXSW Film unveils a slew of great geeky films and tv premieres, but this year seems especially jam packed with comics, manga and otherwise nerdy adaptations, from Preacher to Pee-Wee’s return to the big screen to Dungeons & Dragons sculpture documentaries. Here are our ten picks of what’s most hypeworthy this year.
What It Is: A long gestating adaptation of the hit Vertigo comic series written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Steve Dillon, Preacher details one man’s literal war against god, which he wages with the help of an ex-girlfriend, a vampire and the combined abilities of heaven and hell.
What We Think: The series has had a number of creative teams attempt to bring it into both film and tv, so showrunners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg deserve credit for at least making it this far, but there’s no denying that they have some massive expectations to overcome. The fact that the show is on AMC already has many geeks disappointed simply because the infamously explicit and vulgar comic has undoubtedly been somewhat cleaned up. But as the duo proved with their hit This is the End, they can handle Biblical mayhem, and the limitations of being on basic cable might at least force the creators to not lean on puerile shock and instead focus on the characters. SXSW has also been a proving ground for a number of geek-leaning tv hits, like Silicon Valley and Mr Robot, so the early buzz might just make or break this heavily hyped show.
Plays the Paramount Theatre on March 14th at 2:45 pm
What It Is: Quite possibly the first romantic comedy about the world of slash fiction, Slash centers on Neil, a kid whose hobby is penning erotic tales about a video game hero. After he is humiliated with a forced reading of his material in class, he catches the attention of Julia, a fellow erotic writer, and the two of them end up on a path that leads to a live reading at a comic con.
What We Think: The premise is a little goofy but Clay Liford has written and directed a few prior SXSW cult faves, like Wuss, and for Slash he has assembled an all star cast that includes Michael Ian Black and Missi Pyle. The teaser images for the film include a lot of lovingly detailed cosplay too, so clearly a lot of attention has gone towards getting con culture right. But at the same time, how many of you have fond memories of Fanboys?
Plays at the Topfer Theater on March 13th at 4:15 pm and March 19th at 11:00 am, Marchesa on March 14th at 5:15 pm, and the South Lamar Drafthouse on March 15th at 7:45 pm
I Am a Hero
What It Is: A live action adaptation of the manga series of the same name, I Am a Hero is a zombie film that skews more Shaun of the Dead than Walking Dead, following the post-apocalyptic adventures of a 35 year old manga artist’s assistant who is forced to flee his home and loved ones after a zombie outbreak.
What We Think: Zombie films might be way past their saturation point now, but I Am a Hero’s unique setting increases its odds of being more remarkable than the competition. It doesn’t hurt that director Shinsuke Sato is best known for a well received adaptation of cult manga hit Gantz, which was a similarly gory and odd sci-fi horror series.
Plays at Stateside Theater on March 13th at 11:45 pm and March 16th at 11:30 pm, South Lamar Drafthouse on March 15th at 11:45 pm
What It Is: Not content to let AMC hog all of the Robert Kirkman adaptations, Cinemax is now getting in on the action with Outcast, which is to The Exorcist what The Walking Dead was to Dawn of the Dead. The story centers on a man who has struggled with demonic possessions throughout his life and has now enlisted the aid of a troubled reverend to get some answers and hopefully cleanse himself.
What We Think: The bulk of Robert Kirkman’s latter day work at his Image imprint Skybound has been lazy and uninspired and Outcast is no exception. But Outcast the show has some great things going for it, namely the involvement of director Adam Wingard, a V/H/S vet who hit the big time with the smart and well-constructed surprise success You’re Next. Wingard is the rare horror director who really knows how to get great performances out of his actors as well as bringing the scares and gore, and it doesn’t hurt that his lead in Outcast is the underrated Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous fame.
Plays at Vimeo Theater on March 14th at 1:15 pm
What It Is: Don Coscarelli’s classic horror film about a 13 year old boy battling a murderous mortician nicknamed The Tall Man gets the 4K remaster treatment from none other than J.J. Abrams.
What We Think: Phantasm is one of the best and most enduring cult horror franchises for a reason. With its claustrophobic set design and minimalist but brutally effective effects, Phantasm has aged better than a lot of its peers, so it’s no surprise that Abrams would want to give it a loving remaster. And Abrams’ fandom is passionate enough that he reportedly named Phasma in The Force Awakens after the film, because of her armor’s similarity to the infamous killer metal ball in Phantasm. Make room for this classic restoration between viewings of newer cult works.
Plays at Stateside Theater on March 14th at 11:45 pm and South Lamar Drafthouse on March 16th at 11:45 pm
What It Is: A documentary on Stefan Pokorny, a Dungeons & Dragons obsessed artist who has launched a multimillion dollar Kickstarter to create the most ambitious Dungeons & Dragons miniature sculpture project the world has ever seen.
What We Think: The trailer makes it clear how charming and endearing Pokorny is, as well as how talented and ambitious. Though it appears to have a more distinct style, The Dwarvenaut should appeal to viewers who were drawn into the obsessive world of The King of Kong as well as non-D&D obsessed moviegoers who simply enjoy stories about people pursuing their dreams to their fullest.
Plays at the Drafthouse Ritz on March 12th at 3:45 pm and the South Lamar Drafthouse on March 14th at noon and March 17th at 7:15 pm
What It Is: A sci-fi action movie about a cyborg battling evil forces to save his wife and loved ones, Hardcore Henry’s plot might not be anything new but its innovative use of first person viewing throughout has given it considerable buzz.
What We Think: Sure, there are video game movie adaptations, but Hardcore Henry is perhaps the closest a movie has come to looking and feeling like a video game. But is that really something anyone is asking for? Gaspar Noe used the same first person trick with his masterpiece Enter the Void, but in that case it was in the service of a heady metaphysical plot rather than a storyline that might as well be Bionic Commando: The Movie. There is a small chance Hardcore Henry will be as giddily stupid and lovable as Crank, but we’re more inclined to believe this will be a gimmicky stunt piece that will get its director more Hollywood gigs than anything worth remembering.
Plays at the Paramount Theater on March 13th at 9:30 pm
What It Is: Firestarter for the 21st century, basically. Jeff Nichols’ new blockbuster has a father (Michael Shannon) trying to protect his son from government agencies who want him because of his dangerous abilities, while also trying to learn more about those abilities.
What We Think: Nichols’ breakthrough film Mud was significantly overhyped, but it’s not too surprising that he’d end up courted by Hollywood as the next J.J. Abrams. Midnight Special has a dazzling cast to its credit, and every Michael Shannon performance is worth watching regardless of the quality of the movie that surrounds it. But Midnight Special feels like it’s going to be all bloat and not much substance, just a lot of pretty effects and an uninspired story supported by undervalued performances.
Plays at the Paramount Theater on March 12th at 6:00 pm
Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday
What It Is: The return of Pee Wee! What more do you need to hear?
What We Think: Some fans were concerned by the lack of Tim Burton involvement in this installment but honestly, that’s for the best, especially since Wonder Showzen genius John Lee is in the director’s chair instead. That might seem like an odd fit given the darkness of most of Lee’s material, but Wonder Showzen in particular matched the anarchic anything goes mentality that made Pee-Wee’s Playhouse so exciting. This might be one of the rare long-delayed sequels that is worth checking out.
Plays at the Paramount on March 17th at 6:00 pm and South Lamar Drafthouse at 11:00 pm
What It Is: The classic Cartoon Network series is getting a reboot and the world premiere of it is at SXSW as part of a free to the public, outdoor screening series.
What We Think: The Powerpuff Girls remain as vital and necessary as ever and we’re unabashedly excited for this (hopefully not gritty) reboot. The punky aesthetic that has been added to the show looks fantastic, and Tacocat’s new theme song is amazing, so we can’t wait to see the new series and discover how the team has been updated.