CHICAGO - Three years after its last in-person gathering, the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival made a glorious return to in-person festivities this year. The hybrid music/film/tech festival and convention featured plenty of buzzy events, from concerts from Dolly Parton, Shawn Mendes and T-Pain to a keynote from Lizzo, an early screening of the third season of "Atlanta" and a ton of film premieres.
FOX film critics Allison Shoemaker and Caroline Siede were on the ground in Austin, TX, trying to wrap their heads around all the weird, wonderful stuff the festival had to offer. Here’s volume one of their round-up of the most memorable things they experienced at this year’s fest. Next time: Multiverses! Eight-foot tall NFT bunnies! And Dolly, Dolly, Dolly!
Watching Nicolas Cage watch Nicolas Cage play Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage’s presence dominated the early days of this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) film festival — the first to be held in-person since 2019. Bobble-headed versions of Cage’s various characters wandered the streets for photo ops. Promoters handed out temporary tattoos of the actor. And one enthusiastic fan started a viral campaign just to get Cage’s attention. (The Austin Convention Center was plastered with signs that read "Nicolas Cage! I’m your biggest fan. Please call me" with a phone number at the bottom — a stunt that worked.)
That all culminated in the Mar. 12 world premiere of "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent," the new meta action-comedy from writer/director Tom Gormican in which Cage plays a fictionalized version of himself — one that’s ostensibly a little bit heightened, although given Cage’s famously over-the-top personality, who can really say. (Remarkably, Gormican wrote the movie having never met Cage, with no idea whether the actor would actually want to sign on.)
The anticipation for the singular experience of watching a self-aware Nicolas Cage comedy alongside Cage himself gave the audience a palpable energy that was unlike anything I’ve really experienced at a film screening before — an enthusiasm that didn’t dim even after a lengthy wait outdoors in the unusually frosty Austin weather. When Cage entered the theater in a stylish red plaid suit to take his seat, the crowd burst into a round of thunderous applause. Someone a row ahead of me leapt to their feet to reveal they were wearing a jacket with a giant image of Cage’s face on it.
The crowd around me started chanting "Cage! Cage! Cage!" while I silently observed that Cage was taller than I expected him to be — a joke the movie itself would make not long after.
Indeed, in one way or another, all of the elements of that amped-up pre-show experience would be directly reflected back in "The Unbearable Weight," a movie that’s so in on the joke it sometimes feels like cinephile Twitter brought to life.
"The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" opens in theaters nationwide on April 22.
The "Atlanta" S3 premiere / "The Trip: an Atlanta Café"
Credit: Oliver Upton/FX
"Hi, I’m Daniel Kaluuya and this is the premiere of ‘Black Panther 2.’" That’s how Donald Glover jokingly introduced himself at the premiere of "Atlanta," which screened the first two episodes of its third season as the final big event of the SXSW Film Festival. After a four-year hiatus, the half-hour comedy series still feels as singular as ever (the first episode is a stand-alone fable that features almost none of the show’s main characters). And during an extended panel after the screening, the cast and crew spoke about how the show has evolved to match their maturing, less nihilistic sensibilities — not to mention their growing levels of professional success. (Paper Boi is very much no longer a struggling artist in season three.)
In between snapping photos of the SXSW crowd with his disposable camera, Glover teased that while he’s proud of the third season, which debuts on FX on Mar. 24 and is largely set in Europe, he’s especially excited for the fourth and final season. The team shot that season in conjuncture with the third, and it will bring the series to a close in the fall. Glover described it as a full-circle return to the show’s first season roots in Atlanta. And audiences are clearly ready. "Atlanta" took home the 2022 SXSW Audience Award in the "Headliners" category. [Caroline Siede]
It couldn’t hold a candle to the show itself, but FX’s "The Trip: an Atlanta Café" activation was also, well, a trip. After grabbing a delicious free espresso from the coffee bar downstairs, guests went up a narrow stairway and emerged into a hazy, incense-scented room for DJ sets, art inspired by the series, more coffee and a guy dressed like a dalmatian sitting on the bar and just vibing. It was surreal, smart and too brief — a lot like the show itself. [Allison Shoemaker]
The first two episodes of season three of "Atlanta" debuted on FX on Mar. 24. New episodes debut weekly.
Waiting in lines — so many lines
BLOCKCHAIN CREATIVE LABS AT SXSW: Behind the scenes at Blockchain Creative Labs’ Dollyverse event at SXSW. © 2022 FOX Media LLC. Cr: Frank Micelotta/PictureGroup for BCL
No matter what level of badge you had at SXSW, no one was immune to the experience of waiting in long, long lines to get into events. Even snagging a coveted priority access "SXXpress Pass" still meant at least an hour-long wait on a random Austin side street. Still, those strange hours spent trying to cram in meals on the sidewalk also gave attendees a wonderful sense of camaraderie too. And you never knew who you were going to meet.
I got to chat with an L.A. comedy writer, an enthusiastic recent University of Texas grad, an old friend from college who had a movie premiering at the fest and a funny producing/directing duo who offered some much-needed guidance on SXSW logistics. Plus I learned the most important lesson of all — a few extra bags of P. Terry’s french fries goes a long way towards making line friends. [Caroline Siede]
And the people-watching was top-notch. Stay weird, Austin! [Allison Shoemaker]
A Lizzo-inspired hairstyling
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Amazon Studios
I spent a lot of the first weekend of SXSW wandering, and while I didn’t see everything — I’m not sure anyone could, at least without foregoing sleep — I’d bet good money that the happiest place at the fest was Prime Video’s "Superheroes & Superstars" event, one of the many flashy corporate activations that dominate much of SXSW. Such events are, by and large, a mixed bag, but this one was an exception.
"Superheroes & Superstars" was created to promote two Prime Video series: the third season of "The Boys" and the new reality series "Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls," in which the global superstar is "on the hunt for dynamic, full-figured women to join the elite ranks of the Big Grrrls and join her world tour." It did a good job on both counts — who doesn’t want to ride a carousel at VoughtLand or eat ice cream in Brave Maeve’s Inclusive Kingdom? — but while the not-so-superheroes of "The Boys" may have been the flashier half of the event, Lizzo provided the real showstopper.
Photo: Allison Shoemaker/FOX.
Of all the many (many) lines I waited in during SXSW, few things were as worth the wait as the "Hair Toss, Check My Nails" station. A pop-up salon isn’t a terribly unique idea, but how many salons offer hairstyles inspired by the cast of an upcoming reality show? How many have lit mirrors hanging on walls alongside the words "It’s Bad Bitch O’Clock"? Every person who walked out of that salon was beaming — and their hair looked great. (Caroline has all but demanded that I add that my choice was French braids, that I was devastated when I had to take them out and that they did, indeed, look great.)
But what really made "Hair Toss, Check My Nails" special was the immediacy of it. The stylists and manicurists working the event were the same women who made up the show’s glam team. The Big Grrrls themselves made frequent appearances in the salon (when they weren’t dancing on stage), and each time they seemed equally delighted to see people getting styles that matched their own. You can manufacture a lot, but you can’t create joy out of nothing. Turns out this little activation did for its visitors what Lizzo’s music does for many: made them feel like the gorgeous creatures they are. [Allison Shoemaker]
The "Welcome to Flatch" panel at Blockchain Creative Labs
BLOCKCHAIN CREATIVE LABS AT SXSW: The BCL Panel: Fox Entertainment: Welcome to Flatch. Pictured L-R: Peter White, TV Editor, Deadline, Paul Feig, Executive Producer/Director, Jenny Bicks, Executive Producer/Writer, Holmes, Series Star, Sam Straley, a
One thing you quickly learn at SXSW is that there are two key things you need for a successful panel: A great moderator and a funny group of people. And the "Welcome to Flatch" panel at Blockchain Creative Labs thankfully had both. Deadline TV Editor Peter White sat down with creator/writer Jenny Bicks, executive producer/director Paul Feig and stars Holmes and Sam Straley for a funny, enlightening chat about the new FOX mockumentary series about small-town America.
As a former Chicago improviser, Holmes kept things lively throughout, while the affection between the cast and crew was palpable. Dressed in his signature suit and tie, Feig thanked President of Entertainment, FOX Entertainment Michael Thorn (who was also on the panel) for embracing a new release schedule for the series. While new episodes air Thursdays on FOX, the first seven are currently streaming on Hulu.
All in all, it was one of the livelier, breezier panels we saw at SXSW — and, hey, the free empanadas weren’t bad either. [Caroline Siede]
For more details from the panel, FOX TV critic Allison Shoemaker shared a play-by-play breakdown over on Twitter.
"Welcome to Flatch" airs Thursdays on FOX. The first seven episodes are also currently available to stream on Hulu. (This television station is owned by the FOX Corporation.)
BLOCKCHAIN CREATIVE LABS AT SXSW: The BCL Panel: Fox Entertainment: Welcome to Flatch. Pictured L-R: Jenny Bicks, Executive Producer/Writer, Holmes, Series Star, Sam Straley, and Michael Thorn, President of Entertainment, FOX Entertainment. © 2022 FO
Texans celebrating Texans
While the SXSW crowd gave an enthusiastic welcome to all of the creators and artists who visited the fest, there was a special energy in the room when a native Texan took the stage. One of the loudest rounds of applause I heard during the entire festival was for Richard Linklater, the Houston-born/Austin-residing director who debuted his new Houston-set movie "Apollo 10½: A Space Age Childhood."
And Linklater was far from the only Austinite in attendance. Austin-born Glen Powell voices a small role in the movie as NASA flight-controller and joined Linklater onstage at the Paramount Theatre for a Q&A, where he charmingly revealed that he used to perform in musicals on that very stage growing up. In fact, his family was in the crowd that night — sitting in the exact same seats they used to sit in back them.
Meanwhile, at the premiere of "The Lost City," long-time Austin resident Sandra Bullock won over the crowd by calling back to her 2000 comedy "Miss Congeniality," which is not only set in Texas but premiered at SXSW. (You can read Caroline Siede’s full review of "The Lost City" here.)
And maybe most charming of all was Connie Britton, who’s got deep connections to Austin thanks to "Friday Night Lights," and brought the perfect "I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening" energy as she hosted a Q&A (and concert!) with Dolly Parton and James Patterson for the release of their new book "Run, Rose, Run." While the night was ostensibly centered around Parton and Patterson, the crowd gave Britton a welcome that was every bit as warm. Texas forever, indeed. [Caroline Siede]
More on the concert-portion of this unforgettable night in our next dispatch.
About the writer: Allison Shoemaker is a Chicago-based pop-culture critic and journalist. She is the author of "How TV Can Make You Smarter," and a member of the Television Critics Association and the Chicago Film Critics Association. She is also a producer and co-host for the Podlander Presents network of podcasts. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @allisonshoe. Allison is a Tomatometer-approved Top Critic on Rotten Tomatoes.
About the writer: Caroline Siede is a film and TV critic in Chicago, where the cold never bothers her anyway. A member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, she lovingly dissects the romantic comedy genre one film at a time in her ongoing column When Romance Met Comedy at The A.V. Club. She also co-hosts the movie podcast, Role Calling, and shares her pop culture opinions on Twitter (@carolinesiede).
More from Texas, streaming (for free!) on Tubi
Friday Night Lights (2006-2011): Peter Berg’s 2004 movie provided the inspiration for this beloved TV drama. But, trust us, you don’t need to be familiar with the film or a fan of football to fall in love with "Friday Night Lights." Kyle Chandler stars as Eric Taylor, new head coach of the fictional Dillon Panthers high school football team. Connie Britton is his fiery guidance counselor wife, Tami Taylor. And Taylor Kitsch, Zach Gilford, 2022 Oscar nominee Jesse Plemons and (in later seasons) a young Michael B. Jordan are among the teen football stars he coaches in this funny, moving and legitimately exhilarating sports drama about big dreams in small town Texas. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. Rated TV-14. Five seasons, 76 episodes. Also featuring Minka Kelly, Brad Leland.
The Whole Wide World (1996): Vincent D’Onofrio romances Renee Zellweger in this based-on-a-true-story tale about a school teacher and a pulp fiction writer who fall in love in 1930s Texas. Rated PG. 111 minutes. Dir: Dan Ireland. Also featuring Ann Wedgeworth.
The Texas Chain Shaw Massacre (1974): Tobe Hooper’s hugely influential horror classic introduced the world to Leatherface and set a new standard for goriness in cinema. The kind of movie you don’t want to watch alone (or on a full stomach). Plus: Cannibals! Rated R. 83 minutes. Dir: Tobe Hooper. Featuring: Marilyn Burns, Teri McMinn, Gunnar Hansen, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain.
About Tubi: Tubi has more than 35,000 movies and television series from over 250 content partners, including every major studio, in addition to the largest offering of free live local and national news channels in streaming. The platform gives fans of entertainment, news and sports an easy way to discover new content that is available completely free.
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