SXSW – Hypnotic and Air Special Screenings and Affleck Shines

It’s always a treat when SXSW announces its secret or surprise screenings. This year both included Ben Affleck. The first, Hypnotic, is an edge-of-your-seat thriller from director Robert Rodriquez and the other, Air, is a fact-based drama about Nike and the Michael Jordan line of “Air Jordan” sneakers. While Affleck wasn’t in attendance for Hypnotic, he and the star-studded cast were in attendance for Air. Directors and actors were in attendance, and Rodriquez’ Q&A turned into a prize giveaway and anniversary celebration.’

The story of Hypnotic centers around a detective who returns to work after his daughter is kidnapped from a park. What unfolds is an intriguing tale where the kidnapping appears connected to a series of violent bank robberies. Rodriquez, who co-wrote the script with Max Borenstein, has created a suspenseful story filled with twists and turns and a surprising ending. Almost as surprising is the fact that “a work in progress” feels complete. I am actually interested in seeing the final cut. The film screened early in the festival, and Rodriquez, an Austin native, wowed the audience with prizes, including tours of his Austin studios, trips, posters, and much more, in a Q&A session that played out more like a party. The Cast and crew of Hypnotic deserve five stars.

Several days later, on the festival’s last day, Air came to the Paramount as the secret closing film. Only SXSW organizers had known for months they would screen it. I took my grandson, a true sneaker-head, to see it. He stood with me for a long time, checking out the NIKE shoes people wore to show off. He can even name most of them and quote their costs. Air’s cast is solid – including Matt Damon, Justin Bateman, Chris Messina, and the excellent Viola Davis, among others. The crowd was jazzed, and the cast was on site to enjoy the screening with us. And what a great screening experience it was. 

The film entertained from opening to closing credits, and the story felt real. Affleck, during the Q&A, talked about staying true to the tale and told us that he dared not cast anyone to play the iconic Michael Jordan (we see a body, but never the face of the actor). Instead, he opted to focus on Deloris Jordan (Davis), who was the most instrumental in finalizing a deal for Michael with NIKE – forsaking Converse (Michael’s preferred brand) and Adidas. Sonny Vaccaro (Damon) took a long shot and risked basically everything to clinch a deal when NIKE was in no position to peddle basketball shoes at the time.

The story is tightly written and exceptionally well-acted. Affleck knows his stuff and lets his cast do what they do best. Unlike the more action-packed Hypnotic, Air relies on characters and the richness of the story to drive it, and Affleck chose well. I found the story extremely interesting and revealing – Deloris Jordan is the reason athletes get royalties on products they endorse, and Viola Davis embodies Deloris’ tenacity in her performance. The Q&A that followed the screening was lively and informative. Affleck loves this project and beamed with pride like a new daddy. The rapport he has with his cast is palpable. It was also great to see him and Damon working together again. I am placing five stars up top for Air. I will see it again.

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