The 10 Nerdiest Things At SXSW 2014

Warner Bros.
Godzilla 2014

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.

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!

9. Predestination

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

Dark Kingdom
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

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 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.

5. Harmontown

Future You Pictures
Dan Harmon, girlfriend Erin McGathy and cohost Jeff Davis on the road in Harmontown

Dan Harmon is sort of the new Kevin Smith. Not only does his TV show Community give us entire episodes in 8 bit videogame or stop motion animation, but Harmon hosts a weekly podcast too. The Harmontown podcasts got famous when Harmon played an angry voicemail from Chevy Chase. During Community‘s fourth season, when Harmon was ousted before returning for the fifth, he took Harmontown on the road.

Harmontown, the movie, isn’t just a video of Harmon’s show or a behind the scenes puff piece on someone we all love. We really get to know our Dan Harmon, if it’s possible to know him even more. We meet his girlfriend whom he takes on the road, and watch him play Dungeons & Dragons with dungeon master Spencer Crittenden. Harmontown definitely rolls a 20 for maximum impact.

4. Twitter Oreos

Who knew Oreo was at the forefront of both technology and snack foods? They came up with the best idea for corporate synergy ever. They printed Oreo cookies based on Twitter trends. You could even tweet your very own Oreo cookie.

Unfortunately, I never got to taste the Twitter Oreos. Their Trending Vending Lounge was by the convention center, which is actually a bit of a hike from the movie theaters where I was camped out. Still, the 3D Oreo printer is scheduled to travel the world, so it may be coming to a city near you.

By all accounts, Twitter Oreos tasted just like regular Oreos, which isn’t a bad thing. Oreos are delicious.

3. Premature


Remember in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray met a hot babe and asked her all sorts of personal questions, then the next time the day repeated he pretended he knew her and got laid? Premature is a whole movie about that part, and it’s about hormonal teenagers so it’s a raunchy teen sex comedy.

Rob (John Karna) is living the same day over and over again, and it’s reset every time he prematurely ejaculates. The day culminates with school babe Angela (Carlson Young) inviting Rob to study and seducing him, so he has to keep trying until he gets it right. Of course, it’s still a teen rom-com so you know that he’s going to realize his cute best friend (Katie Findlay) was right in front of him the whole time, but it’s funny to watch Rob fail over and over again. It’s even funnier to watch him jerk off every time he needs a do-over.

Also look out for a hilarious cameo by Wash himself, Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk as a college interviewer who has crying fits every time Rob relives the interview. He is not a leaf blowing on the wind this time.

2. The Infinite Man


The Infinite Man is one of the best time travel movies I’ve seen in decades. It’s second only to Detention, which also played a prior SXSW, because The Infinite Man does not have a time-traveling bear in it. It does have a serious time loop that gets more and more complicated every time the characters go back and try to fix things.

Dean (Josh McConville) botches his anniversary weekend with Lana (Hannah Marshall), so he uses a time machine he invented to bring Lana back from the future and fix things. Pretty soon, past and future Deans and Lana are switching places and Lana’s ex makes things even more complicated. If you’ve ever thought about using time travel to go back and save old relationships, The Infinite Man shows us how that’s maybe not such a good idea. Just have a rebound relationship instead. Don’t be time looping, people.

1. Godzilla’s New Monster Foe Revealed

For one of its special event screenings, SXSW showed the original 1954 Japanese Gojira, which is still a really good movie. I had never seen it before, but the monster destruction is well-edited so it still works better than CGI, and the plot about scientists messing nature is serious. You know that already, though, so the big news was that after Gojira, director Gareth Edwards showed a scene from this summer’s Godzilla.

The scene featured Godzilla’s first full frontal appearance in the film, as he faces off against a new original monster. Edwards said this monster is called MUTO but wouldn’t say what MUTO stands for. It must be Mutant something, right? I thought it could be a newfangled Mothra, because it had wings, but it’s no moth. It has four long legs and it’s all silver, even though some early spy pics showed it with red legs.

Edwards gave a Q&A after the clip received a well-deserved standing ovation. He said his sound designer won’t tell him how he made the Godzilla roar until after the film is complete, and revealed that there is a 1954 sequence in his film, even though it is not a sequel to Gojira. Godzilla is now the number one summer movie to see for me; its epic destruction has a clear sense of geography, and the CGI doesn’t overtly look like CGI. I’m just going to assume that Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures bred an actual Godzilla to star in their film.

Previously by Fred Topel

The 10 Nerdiest Things At SXSW 2013

The Top 10 Geekout Moments of Sundance 2013

The 10 Geekiest Moments of the TCAs