Reviews

SXSW Film Day 2: 'The Bounceback' and Divine Docs

The Bounceback

From a raunchy romantic comedy to a film about an iconic drag queen to a touching documentary about runaway kids in Afghanistan, SXSW Day 2 offered a wealth of delights.

SXSW Film Day 2

City: Austin, Texas
Date: 2013-03-08

The Bounceback

Director: Bryan Poyser
Cast: Ashley Bell, Zach Cregger, Sara Paxton, Michael Stahl-David

These Birds Walk

Director: Omar Mullick, Bassam Tariq

I am Divine

Director: Jeffrey Schwarz
Cast: John Waters, Ricki Lake, Tab Hunter, Michael Musto

SXSW Film kicked off its first full day of programming on Saturday with dozens of premieres and showings across seven main downtown venues. It was a misty morning with the evening bringing talk of an impending thunderstorm, but nothing could have discouraged me from a day that included a raunchy rom-com, a heartfelt documentary and an intimate look into the life of one of the most iconic drag queens of all time. The day's films featured plenty of winning moments interspersed with a few disappointments.

Narrative Spotlight: The Bounceback

The Bounceback will never be better than it was in Austin, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. The movie opened to an enthusiastic crowd on Saturday at the Paramount Theatre. Director Brian Poyser, a SXSW vet, was there to introduce the much-anticipated rom-com starring Ashley Bell, Zach Cregger, Sara Paxton and Michael Stahl-David. The film will screen again on Fri. 3/15 at 9:15 PM at the Stateside Theatre and Sat. 3/16 at 4 PM at the Rollins Theater.

Set in Austin, The Bounceback was perfect for SXSW Film in many ways. It celebrates some iconic Austin locations while following the story of Jeff (Cregger), who returns to Austin in a desperate attempt to run into his ex-girlfriend Cathy (Bell), who he finds out is visiting town for the weekend. Of course, he's pseudo-stalking her on Facebook when he makes the big decision to try and run into her not-so-accidentally on Austin's streets.

The two traipse across Austin with Stan (Stahl-David) and Kara (Paxton), friends of Jeff and Cathy who have also recently broken up. Much of the film is about the exes navigating relationships and coming to terms with their new, separate lives. It's an interesting premise, but it's a bit predictable. While The Bounceback offered some golden moments and great laughs, Poyser has also adopted the raunch-for-raunch's sake attitude that is characteristic of so many contemporary comedies.

While introducing the film, Poyser reminded the audience that "yes, air sex is a real thing." It's even a real thing that started in Austin -- but its weight in the movie is somehow too heavy, winning the audience's laughter with mediocre mime instead of cutting, intelligent dialogue. However, the stars of the film do shine. Sara Paxton and Addison Timlin are particularly strong. They make the film an entirely more enjoyable experience and add some unexpected depth to characters that seem a bit flat otherwise. The end won't shock you, but it might leave you smiling.

Visions: These Birds Walk

The Edhi Foundation provides a wealth of services to the needy residents of Pakistan. Abdul Sattar Edhi, who founded the social services organization in 1951, is a compelling philanthropist who is revered worldwide, and by all rights These Birds Walk exists because of his diligent work.

But this isn't a documentary about a philanthropist. It's a doc about young runaways fighting to survive in one of the world's most dangerous countries. The film was directed by Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick. It will screen again at the Violet Crown on Tuesday 3/12 at 9 PM and Thursday 3/14 at 3:45 PM.

These Birds Walk wins audiences over from the moment that it starts. We develop strong affections for Omar, Shehr and the other young runaways who are featured in the film and whose lives seem so very different from our own. Despite these differences, the film will speak to a wide audience. It Is strong both visually and emotionally with particularly intimate close-ups on the young boys.

Even though the doc takes place in Pakistan, filmmaker Bassam Tariq felt it important that his opening day audience know that the reason the kids in the doc have run away from home is "the same reason why any kid runs away in America." Mullick and Tariq have done an excellent job of drawing out the vulnerability and desire to love and be loved that is central to childhood. These Birds Walk resonates long after it is over.

Documentary Spotlight: I Am Divine

I looked forward to I Am Divine all day long. After all, surely it would draw one of the most diverse and lively crowds at all of SXSW Film. Director Jeffrey Schwarz didn't disappoint with this funny and touching documentary about the life and career of Harris Glenn Milstead, better known to the world as Divine, the muse of iconic director John Waters and one of the first divas of gross-out cinema. The doc will screen again on Weds. 3/13 at 9:30 PM at the Stateside Theatre and on Thurs. 3/14 at 11:15 AM at the Alamo Slaughter satellite venue.

Schwarz's documentary relied on interviews with Divine's friends, family and co-stars in order to illuminate how the larger-than-life drag queen lived. Archival footage and recorded interviews with Divine are also used throughout the doc to chronicle the development of the star. I Am Divine fills a serious gap in drag-related documentaries and has the distinction of being the first new film about Divine since his death in 1988.

I Am Divine is about more than just the singular drag queen. It's also a documentary that helps contemporary audiences understand how an entire cinematic aesthetic was conceived and developed. Be ready to laugh and cry while listening to John Waters, Mink Stole and a host of characters from the drag underground reflect on the life of Divine.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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