SXSW Recap: Days 4 and 5

Reviews of The Aggression Scale, Beauty is Embarrassing, Compliance, Los Chidos and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


As we get into the second half of the SXSW 2012 film festival, we’re actually able to see more movies than earlier in the week. Now’s the crunch time to try to find the next great film and catch the ones that have been buzzing this whole time. 


The Aggression Scale

This midnight movie is good grindhouse fun. When a mobster’s goons come looking for money their dad stole, teenagers Lauren (Fabianne Therese) and Owen (Ryan Hartwig) fight off the bad guys. It’s no You’re Next but it’s a fun B movie. Owen is a little MacGyver and the booby traps are great. He’s more Rambo than Kevin McAllister. The grown-ups aren’t very good actors, except for Ray Wise in basically a cameo as the mobster, but the kids are great, especially Hartwig who has no dialogue. He is bad ass. The dialogue other characters speak is weak but it’s in the spirit of just getting to the point. You laugh with it. Director Steven C. Miller is able to tell a lot of the story visually anyway. You see a footprint on the driver’s seat and that leads to Owen on the roof of the truck, you get it. The film is shot with shaky handheld cameras but that actually makes sense for a run and gun low budget movie, and they actually kept it way more comprehensible than Hollywood shaky cam movies. See, actual filmmakers try to hold it steady. It’s fake when you shake it on purpose.


Beauty is Embarassing

Wayne White was an artist on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, music videos for Peter Gabriel and Smashing Pumpkins, and now shows in galleries and performs with his works. This documentary puts White front and center. There’s great nostalgia, seeing the puppets and animation materials in White’s storage, and behind the scenes video of low-tech ‘80s television. I just like the way White thinks. He expresses irreverence really cleverly, so his soundbites are funny, footage of his shows is funny and reproductions of his paintings are funny. He comes dangerously close to ranting a few times, against showbiz in particular, but I think director Neil Berkeley either steered him back on track or wisely cut around it. I came for the Pee Wee nostalgia and now I learned about a little more art I want to see.



When I heard how controversial this movie was at Sundance I was very excited to see it. Of course, now that I finally caught it, I thought, “That’s what people got so angry about?” I mean, it’s kinda disturbing but get a grip. Like it or don’t, but it’s not worth getting upset over. A fast food manager (Ann Dowd) gets a phone call from a man (Pat Healy) who says he’s a cop and needs her help searching an employee (Dreama Walker) for money she’s suspected of stealing. The “cop” crosses the line pretty early asking for a strip search, and you may think, “Honestly, why wouldn’t they just insist the cop shows up with a badge?” Well, that’s the point. How far can you push someone to subtly violate someone’s civil rights and dignity before they question you? I believe that people really are this suggestible. You see it every day, people going along with things they should know better or just give a minute’s thought to. That doesn’t make Compliance a great movie, but I get it, I think it escalates the situation slowly enough that you can believe it got out of hand before anyone noticed. I just think I get it, that’s fine, I appreciate the message, I wouldn’t lavish praise on it any more than I would condemn it violently. That’s the biggest letdown, that it’s just okay.


Los Chidos

This is the movie I started to hear about early in the week as the disgusting atrocity that makes people walk out. So naturally it was a priority ticket for me. It definitely out Serbian Films A Serbian Film, so I can understand the reaction. The thing is, I got it. I know what Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was saying. The Gonzales family lazes around eating like gluttons, cheating customers to their tire shop, abusing their spouses and committing incest. When an American gets stranded in their world, he decides to just go with it and indulge like they do. Then it gets nasty. I think Rodriguez-Lopez is calling out a selfish culture, where families are so full of ego they treat each other terribly. Then what happens if they get their way, and corrupt outsiders into doing things their way? Los Chidos is extreme but its heart is true. I’m not really offended or grossed out by all the taboos Rodriguez-Lopez throws in here. I’m more grossed out by the girl walking barefoot in the public bathroom. Her feet get all black, ew. You probably won’t see this outside another festival and it’s not some great new vision, but for a weird festival film I was interested in it. I wouldn’t dismiss it.


We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists

This documentary focuses on the group Anonymous who used their computer skills to combat the social injustices they saw. The film begins by explaining the phenomenon of memes and trolling, even suggesting there is an important irreverence to posting ridiculous negative comments. Then it explains the method of denial of service attacks. If you can take down a company’s website, prohibit them from sending a negative message, that’s a peaceful protest. Anonymous had good targets. A neo Nazi radio jock totally deserved it and they’re hilarious too. Their attack on Scientology took it to the next level. Whatever your views on the religion, Anonymous took a stand against the church’s legal bullying on their nonbelievers. It’s very relevant that the physical incarnations of these protests united Israelis and Palestines in Tel Aviv, and made love connections when isolated hackers got together in person. That’s important to humanity, not just a single cause. As part of their support of WikiLeaks, they found that Paypal and Mastercard can be used to donate to KKK and Nazi websites. Now that’s not okay regardless of WikiLeaks! So if Julian Assange brought attention to that practice, I’m more concerned with attacking corporate sponsorship of hate crime. The documentary is a little less focused, more of a collection of anecdotes than a narrative, but they’re great anecdotes. Also a little more reliant on talking heads than illustrations. The film touches on some of the corrupt tangents of hacktivism but it seems they always came around to a worthwhile target. And the message is that the cost of making a difference is still jail, but that’s how history is made.