Photo Credit: Courtesy of 108 Media | Daily Texan Staff

Our movie reviewer, Alex Pelham, is tackling SXSW's film offerings as aggressively as humanly possible. He'll glue his eyes to screens for hour after hour so that you can be a little more selective when you head to theaters. Below are his reviews for "Heaven Knows What," "He Never Died" and "The Invitation." Do you agree with what he has to say? Send him your thoughts via Twitter at @talkingofpelham.

Heaven Knows What

“Heaven Knows What” does the job that numerous DARE programs failed to do. It shows just how drugs can destroy lives and reduce people to soulless streetwalkers who only submit to bags of heroin. The film has a gritty feel to it, and the sprawling, dirty New York setting helps illustrate the sheer hopelessness of these young people. The actors do a fantastic job displaying the desperation of these characters.

The film does have weak points. It’s a character study which mostly focuses on an addict named Harley, which means that the majority of the film follows her daily routine and her interactions with her fellow junkies. A lack of motivation or goal (besides getting drugs and hooking up with a sadistic boyfriend) makes the film a bit of a chore to sit through. The overall effect is uncomfortable and horrifying, which is what the director was probably gunning for.

Rating: 7/10 Throwing Stars

Watch the trailer for "Heaven Knows What" here:

He Never Died

Never before has a film featured a vicious cannibal who seems so pleasant. Jack is shown to be a gruff, quiet man who eats in his regular spot at a local diner and indulges in bingo. Occasionally, however, he tends to give into his habit of consuming flesh and brooding about the fact that he is an immortal being. The film serves as an excellent noir with great characters and fun, over-the-top action.

While “He Never Died” is bloody and quite brutal, director Jason Krawczyk makes sure to make certain areas funny and light-hearted to keep it from becoming a brutally depressing drag. The best parts focus on the relationship between the stoic Jack and Andrea, his bubbly, teenage daughter. The two play off each other wonderfully. The film also features great action and has enough broken bones and bloody noses that leave midnight moviegoers satisfied.

Rating: 8/10 Bingo Cards

Watch a clip from "He Never Died" now:

The Invitation

“The Invitation” starts off really slowly and focuses on social anxiety and the uneasiness of being in an enclosed space with strange people. This is illustrated when a man attends a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her odd, new significant other at the house where his young son died. The majority of the film deals with the man’s paranoia and the horrific possibility of what could happen. To him, every weird activity planned for the guests deepens his suspicion and makes him wonder if he can figure out the hosts’ endgame before time runs out.

It’s not until about the last 15 minutes that the film shift gears and turns insane. This dramatic climax is the resolution for nearly an hour of buildup and worth it for the most part. It’s quite jarring to see the film switch pace so suddenly, but the tension and the clever ending make the journey worth it.

Rating 6/10 Red Lanterns

"The Invitation" centers around one man's experience at a dinner party. Image courtesy of Gamechanger Films.


In this film image released by Paramount Pictures, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, left, are shown in a scene from the 3-D version of James Cameron’s romantic epic “Titanic.” (Photo courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox)

There’s no denying that “Titanic” was a genuine cultural phenomenon when it hit theaters, spending a staggering 15 weeks at the top of the box office, and setting records left and right. Even so, it’s a film that our generation didn’t really get a chance to see in theaters. My first memory of the film was watching it in a hotel room with my parents and really only paying attention to the part where the ship goes down. For that reason alone, re-releasing “Titanic” is a solid idea to show the landmark cinematic event to a new generation of youngsters, even if the film’s 3D reconversion is a mostly perfunctory excuse to get it into theaters again.

“Titanic” is an epic of the highest caliber, and James Cameron directs it with a real elegance, treating the story’s inherent tragedy respectfully while also making it massively entertaining in its own way. The story of Jack and Rose has been parodied and referenced so much that one might think it’s become diluted at this point. Thankfully, it’s still sweeping and genuinely romantic, mostly thanks to the pitch-perfect casting of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

Both of these actors had solid careers up to this point, but nothing like this, and going back to “Titanic,” they both look so young and eager to please. There’s an honesty and heart to their performances that’s surprising. DiCaprio in particular has aged into a very different kind of performer, full of hard edges and aggressive characters, but here, he’s full of infectious joy for everything life throws at him, and the chemistry he has with Winslet is a huge reason why the film works.

A lot of us (myself included) grew up watching the film in a two tape VHS box set, and that makes it even easier to detect when the film shifts from charming romance to epic tragedy, right around the time Jack sketches Rose in one of many famous scenes. Cameron handles both halves of the film wonderfully, and his staging of the Titanic’s demise is disaster filmmaking at its absolute best. Tales of the grueling, six month shoot have become notorious, but this is Cameron showing mastery of his craft. Even as this unimaginably massive ship goes into the ocean, Cameron excels at finding the small, human moments, and he gives each member of his enormous supporting cast a chance to stand out.

But that’s enough about “Titanic.” Let’s talk about the 3D. Obviously, the huge draw for this re-release was the 3D conversion, and while that will certainly translate into healthy box office numbers, it’s completely inessential. Sure, the 3D is impressive enough, but watching “Titanic” in a third dimension doesn’t add anything to the film. In fact, with such a lengthy film, 3D can almost be a detriment, as the human eye can only take so much 3D before it starts to wear out, a boundary that “Titanic” comes dangerously close to crossing. It would have been enough to put “Titanic” back into theaters on the 100th anniversary of the ship’s sinking, and people still would have come out in droves to see DiCaprio and Winslet on the big screen once again.

The chance to see these huge, culture-defining films on the big screen is undeniably appealing. Films like “Titanic” and “Star Wars” are cornerstones of pop culture for a reason, and 1997 sure was a long time ago. Scenes like Jack and Rose’s moment on the ship’s bow or the ship’s final, hellish descent into the water lose some of their impact when viewed on a television, and that irritatingly catchy Celine Dion song is even more effective at drilling its way into your psyche on the big screen. But even more than that, the theatrical experience is unquestionably the best way to watch a film, and that alone makes these re-releases a valiant effort.

As useless as 3D is, I almost hope this trend of re-releasing classic films continues, with or without a post-conversion. I would jump at the chance to see something like “Goodfellas” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” in theaters, and if I have to shell out a few extra dollars for some glasses that don’t really enhance the film that much, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.

Printed on Friday, April 6, 2012 as: Titanic deserves cinema re-watching despite 3D excess