If you want to get your money's worth out of your travel, South by Southwest is the place to go. It's more than just a film festival, although its films are way more awesome than you usually get from indie movies about "important" issues. SXSW movies are usually about depraved violence, and weird alternate realities. There's an equal amount of tech on display at the Interactive portion of SXSW and not in a boring, instruction-manual kind of way; it's stuff you can actually use, and want to use. There's also a music festival going on, which means SXSW was invented by teleporters who can be in three places at once. For those of you who can't teleport or clone yourselves, I'm here to help.
Warner Bros. Godzilla 2014
Luckily, I have super powers, which is how I make it to Austin and back with my molecules intact. Here are the 10 coolest movies, toys and events that happened at SXSW last week. Look for the movies when they hit theaters or VOD, and some of the products when they go on sale. The rest, I'm afraid, you had to be there for, and luckily I was!
10. Space Station 76
Space Station 76 L-R: Marisa Coughlan, Patrick Wilson, Liv Tyler and Matt Bomer in Space Station 76
If Neil deGrasse Tyson had problems with Gravity, he's not going to like this movie about a futuristic space station as imagined in the '70s. An all-star cast including Liv Tyler, Matt Bomer and Patrick Wilson headlines this comedy about the dysfunctional crew of a space station, more Logan's Run and Barbarella than Star Wars.
The space station is very cool with its bright and lively design and zero gravity capabilities, which are only utilized by Bomer's daughter playing around with her father. The costumes are very Austin Powers, and it turns out everyone on the station is having an affair with each other. Too bad you don't see anything, or it would really be like space porn. If you grew up with Silent Running and Buck Rogers, you'll want to see Space Station 76. Plus it's got Night Owl and Arwen on a space station, with special guest Slider Jerry O'Connell!
Ben King Ethan Hawke in Predestination
Predestination is not the prequel to Final Destination. This movie is hardcore Robert A. Heinlein, an author we've barely gotten to see on film except for Starship Troopers and the underrated The Puppet Masters. His short story was only six pages long, but the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Undead) were able to make a whole movie out of it. It's been a good SXSW for time travel movies - there are several more on this list.
Ethan Hawke plays a timecop. They don't call him a timecop, but we know he's a timecop. Predestination sends the timecop back in time to various periods trying to stop a mad bomber, and uncovers a real mindfuck of a time loop. It's a pretty slow start with about 40 minutes of exposition, but you need it to get all the payoffs in the remaining hour. At least it doesn't pull that Timecop same matter/same space bullshit where Ron Silver touches his past self and melts. 10 years apart is not the same matter, as it turns out - his molecules have totally changed by then.
8. Real-Life Mario Kart
I actually never had a Super NES. I was a Sega Genesis kid, but Nintendo 64 came out when I was in college, and Mario Kart 64 was a big party game. I've got to admit, I never thought about playing it for real with real cars. I must have been busy trying to unlock Jaws in Goldeneye. However, the law of supply and demand shows that people really did want to drive real Mario Karts, and it only took a couple decades to make it happen.
At SXSW, Nintendo and Penzoil displayed their full-scale, three-dimensional, fully operational Mario Karts that Austinites and visitors could drive. Now, these weren't just artistically rendered go-karts. You could actually use the power-ups from the classic Mario Kart games. They called it Mario Kart Reimagined.
Yahoo News explained how this worked. The karts had RFID readers and the track had RFID tags, so if you drove over a speed boost, it would actually make the kart go faster. If you drove over a turtle shell, you slowed down. Understandably, there were no projectile attacks, because some pussies didn't want anyone to get hurt. They did have split screens, though: GoPro cameras on each kart that displayed on a four-way jumbo screen.
Mario Kart 8 comes out in May, but Mario Kart Reimagined was for a good cause too. According to an Austin 360 interview, Penzoil designed a new motor oil from natural gas. Thank you, Al Gore, for making oil companies environmentally responsible so we can have Mario Kart!
7. The Frank Frazetta Museum
Robert Rodriguez Frank Frazetta art from Robert Rodriguez's personal collection
Remember when Robert Rodriguez was going to make a live-action Fire and Ice movie? You know he's still planning to make a live-action Fire and Ice movie, right? But he hasn't made a live-action Fire and Ice movie yet, so he wants to make sure people still remember what Fire and Ice is. Fire and Ice was a Ralph Bakshi animated movie based on the drawings of Frank Frazetta, who created the artwork for Conan the Barbarian, Tarzan and John Carter of Mars books and comic books.
Since Austin is Rodriguez's hometown, he opened a museum in a storefront on Congress Ave., the street with two of SXSW's main theaters, the Paramount and Stateside. For $20, people could walk in and view his own curated art collection which included original Frazetta paintings, many evoking the Fire and Ice series of buff barbarians and sexy cavewomen. There was also some shameless plugging,like a Frazetta-inspired rendering of Danny Trejo. Well, at least it's better than Machete Kills.
6. The Akyumen Hawk Smart Phone
Akyumen The Hawk smartphone which Akyumen demonstrated at SXSW
This one totally came out of the blue and fell right in my lap. I was meeting a friend at the Treehouse lounge for a music event, which would have nothing to do with film or tech, when a guy started showing off a device that looked like a video projector attached to an iPhone. It turned out it was not an iPhone at all, but a prototype smart phone by his company Akyumen, called the Hawk. Projectors will come standard on the Hawk, and the quality was better than any washed-out video projector I've ever seen.
I got Akyumen CEO Aasim Saied's card and got to speak with him a tad. They are testing out the Hawk in select markets now and plan to release at the end of the year. The Hawk does everything a normal smart phone does, but Saied says they are beating iPhone's standard specifications. You can find the Hawk on their website www.akumen.com. Looks like they have a tablet, ebook and app as well.
I would have been happy with a projector on my iPhone to make that big presentation from instead of a bulky laptop, or to have movie night with friends. He chose Despicable Me 2 to show off the projector, which, as a CGI animated film, has all the bright color and detail you could want to show off video, though the Treehouse's live music drowned out Pharrell's Oscar-nominated "Happy." This little bit of hardware could take smart phones to the next level, let alone the rest of Akyumen's tech...but most importantly, I want one.