We've touched down at this year's South by Southwest, taking in the news, panels, movies, television shows and more in Austin, TX. Here are all the highlights from this year’s event.
Jan 26, 2018
This review was originally published in March 2017, when the film opened at SXSW in Austin, Texas. It is being republished to coincide with the film’s limited theatrical release on January 26th, 2018. It will be available on streaming rental and VOD platforms on February 20th, 2017.Read Article >
It’s easy to read Like Me as a fatalistic commentary on social media. Kiya, the film’s star, is a teenage YouTuber who makes the antics of personalities like PewDiePie seem quaint. In the film’s first 15 minutes, she holds a convenience store clerk at gunpoint just for the pleasure of recording his meltdown and posting it online.
Dec 1, 2017
“So bad they’re good” movies tend to be overambitious productions that get away from their creators, with ludicrous plots and bad special effects. The Room, the 2003 anti-classic from eccentric writer-director-star Tommy Wiseau, is a strange exception. On paper, it’s a simple drama about a man betrayed by his cheating girlfriend, set in modern-day San Francisco. But its disjointed pile-up of abandoned subplots, inhumanly stilted acting, and anatomically improbable sex scenes have cemented its place as one of the worst films of all time. Conversely, The Disaster Artist — a new film about the making of The Room — is not only the rare example of a genuinely funny biopic, but a subtle meta-commentary on the state of cult filmmaking.Read Article >
Directed by and starring James Franco, The Disaster Artist is based on an excellent nonfiction book of the same name by Tom Bissell and Greg Sestero, Wiseau’s friend and Room co-star. The film smoothes and condenses parts of the story; Wiseau’s screenplay, for example, is no longer adapted from a massive unpublished novel. But the most bizarre moments are all ostensibly true, and it got Sestero and Wiseau’s blessing.
Jul 25, 2017
Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief breakdown-style reviews of festival films, VR previews, and other special-event releases. A version of this review originally ran on March 13, 2017, in conjunction with the film’s premiere at SXSW.Read Article >
Charlize Theron became an action star with her role as Furiosa in 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road, but before that, she spent decades fighting for roles in a genre that favors men. She played support in The Italian Job and Reindeer Games, and leads in Aeon Flux, Snow White and the Huntsman, and its sequel. But Theron has never been given a solitary spotlight in a revved-up thriller of her own. That changes with Atomic Blonde.
Mar 22, 2017
Last year in Los Angeles, a mysterious cult began recruiting people through emails, phone calls, and one-on-one consultations. For nine months individuals were drawn into the group’s web of intrigue, discovering that a young woman from Ohio had been taken in and brainwashed. In September, the cult finally opened its doors, and people had the chance to walk its halls and try to find the young woman inside — or die trying.Read Article >
The only thing was, none of it was real.
Mar 18, 2017
The SXSW conference has a history of being home to some of the most elaborate marketing events imaginable. Whether it’s a chance to stay over at the Bates Motel, visit the restaurant from Breaking Bad, or see Kanye and Jay Z perform (courtesy of Samsung), it’s as much a part of the show as technology talks and movies. But this year, a new style of tie-in swept the festival: the escape room.Read Article >
Disney launched a pop-up escape experience tied to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Fox took over the “Prison Break” room at The Escape Game Austin to promote the new season of, yes, Prison Break. And HBO had a multi-room installation in place to promote Game of Thrones, Veep, and Silicon Valley. After years where one-off VR experiences were the allure du jour, escape rooms seemed to be everywhere — and judging from the turnout and the marketers themselves, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon.
Mar 16, 2017
“Over the past couple years, I feel like I've become a woman in a lot of ways,” said Kesha during her SXSW 2017 panel, “because I'm reclaiming my personal space, my body, my confidence, my music, my life.”Read Article >
To say this period has been hard for Kesha, the musician behind hits like “Tik Tok” and “Die Young,” would be an understatement. The artist has been open about her struggles with an eating disorder throughout her career; in 2014, she checked into rehab for it. Later that year, she sued her producer, Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald, for sexual abuse and battery; Dr. Luke responded with a countersuit. Fans rallied to Kesha’s side using social media and the #FreeKesha Twitter hashtag to organize and protest, but in 2016, a court ruled that Kesha could not change or terminate the binding contract she signed when she was 18. The legal drama continues on elsewhere, with Billboard reporting just this week that Dr. Luke is attempting to subpoena one of the fans involved with organizing #FreeKesha protests.
Mar 16, 2017
One of the most anticipated SXSW panels of this year featured Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. They are responsible for producing the televised conclusion to George R.R. Martin’s sprawling, wildly popular fantasy series, and the audience in Austin was hungry to hear new details. With a packed crowd in the ballroom and a line that snaked through the convention center down a staircase to a lower floor, fans were salivating for even a sliver of information to hold them over until the season premiere in July. Oh — and perhaps some insight into that ill-fated ice block live stream reveal.Read Article >
Instead, the crowd got a cheery trip down memory lane, replete with Entertainment Tonight-style behind-the-scenes anecdotes and warm-hearted reflection on what a wild ride it’s been. The blame for that lies with the moderators — Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner, better known as on-screen sisters Arya and Sansa Stark.
Mar 15, 2017
Robots are inevitably going to automate millions of jobs in the US and around the world, but there’s an even more complex scenario on the horizon, said roboticist Matt Rendall. In a talk Tuesday at SXSW, Rendall painted a picture of the future of robotic job displacement that focused less on automation and more on the realistic ways in which the robotics industry will reshape global manufacturing.Read Article >
The takeaway was that America, which has outsourced much of its manufacturing and lacks serious investment in industrial robotics, may miss out on the world’s next radical shift in how goods are produced. That’s because the robot makers — as in, the robots that make the robots — could play a key role in determining how automation expands across the globe.
Mar 15, 2017
In the 1983 film WarGames, Matthew Broderick’s character David Lightman played a huge role in shaping the public image of computer hackers. But for co-writer Walter F. Parkes, it’s left a complicated legacy. “When I look at that movie, certainly there were some things we got right. Mainly, I think, that the world would not change because of things that IBM and Ma Bell or the government would do — but it would change because of things that people in their garages or bedrooms would do,” Parkes told an audience at SXSW during a panel on film and technology. “But the thing we didn't think about was the dark side of David Lightman.”Read Article >
Lightman’s character, said Parkes, “sort of reflects an attitude about hacking which was very specific to the time, the kind of tail wagging antiestablishment hero.” Lightman was one example of this archetype, and so were characters from Sneakers, the 1992 hacking film also co-written by Parkes. “I don't think we ever got a hold of — because I don't think we ever imagined the extent to which the systems of this planet would be shared and become one big cybergrid — the sort of destructiveness of the hacker side, of hacker activity,” he said. “At times, I've actually felt somewhat guilty about that. Did we overly romanticize something? But luckily it turns out that it also inspired people to get into [computers.]”
Like the term “robot” or “AI,” “chatbot” covers a wide spectrum of machine intelligence, from eerily smart digital assistants to the equivalent of multiple-choice quiz delivery systems. That’s why they’re so much fun to mess with: you don’t know if you’ll get something that can explain the finer plot points of The Matrix to you, or something that responds to every query with a random Google search. The SXSW festival app has a chatbot, and unsurprisingly, it’s pretty dumb. But occasionally, you’ll find a topic where the creators decided to specifically craft a response — and one of them is my death date.Read Article >
The bot is named Abby, and I started our conversation with the big question, asking her the meaning of life. She responded with a boilerplate block of text plugging the SXSW Platinum badge. I then asked if Barack Obama was planning a coup, which she handled with a diplomatic “I’m not quite sure” — better than Google’s answer, at least.
One of the most high-profile speakers at this year’s SXSW conference was supposed to be FBI director James Comey, who was set to be interviewed by Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst. It would have been particularly timely as well: shortly before the event, President Donald Trump’s baseless wiretapping accusations reportedly drove a rift between the White House and Comey, who allegedly asked the Justice Department to publicly refute Trump’s claim. Naturally, this meant that Comey was replaced at the last minute by FBI general counsel James Baker, for a talk that completely ignored the political issues that are otherwise unavoidable at SXSW.Read Article >
Comey almost certainly wouldn’t have faced a hardball interview at SXSW, even if he had shown up. The topic of discussion was “challenges to our national security,” and “how today’s FBI works to protect the public while safeguarding civil liberties, civil rights, and the rule of law.” Baker briefly noted Comey’s absence, saying that he “had some other people who wanted to talk to him in Washington, DC today.” Then he launched into questions covering the greatest current cyber threats (including a complex technological ecosystem and “hacktivists”), how much the FBI thinks about privacy (“I have a whole team of lawyers that think about nothing but privacy all day long”), and whether there was still a threat of criminals “going dark” behind unbreakable encryption (“The bureau supports strong encryption ... but I think we have to acknowledge that encryption has costs”).
Sony comes out to the SXSW festival here in Austin every year mainly to showcase its prototype and proof-of-concept projects, all part of its R&D-focused Future Lab program. We’ve seen some interesting touchscreen projector tech and headphones that let ambient noise in, but Sony this year moved into experimental wearables with a new device that uses movement to manipulate sound.Read Article >
The wristband, part of what the company is calling its Motion Sonic project, has sensors and microphones to capture data on the rotation, acceleration, and angle of arm and leg movements. The device then translates those sounds into one of five preset functions that turn your limbs into musical instruments, let you add and control filters on an existing tune, and perform a number of other specific sound manipulations.
Mar 13, 2017
Atomic Blonde is a violent, neon-drenched pleasure romp. Charlize Theron is in her finest action form as an ass-kicking MI6 agent who can crack a man’s skull in — or sometimes with — a fine pair of heels. But her best accessory? The film’s killer soundtrack, a mix of ‘80s synthpop that elevates it above typical action-genre fanfare.Read Article >
With every superbly choreographed move Theron takes, there is an equally perfect song added for garnish. The film leans into its 1989 setting by collecting some of the best songs of the decade, then unleashing them at the most unexpected moments. Nena’s “99 Luftballoons” is the background track for a brutal interrogation; ‘Til Tuesday’s “Voices Carry” becomes a ballad of tension as two characters struggle for their lives. Not a single song in the film feels like a whiff, whether it’s David Bowie / Queen’s “Under Pressure” or Depeche Mode’s “Behind the Wheel.”
Mar 13, 2017
Look: I’m not saying that the Vinci headphones, which puts a full touchscreen interface on wireless headphones, are a good idea. But they are definitely an idea that managed to raise over a million dollars on Indiegogo. The idea is simple: you just want your music on your headphones instead of on your phone, but really you also want Spotify and the only good way to do that is to use a touchscreen. Bam: customize Android a bit and put it on the side of some cans — well they’re more like Altoids tins because they’re rectangular — and away you go.Read Article >
What can I tell you about the Vinci headphones? I can tell you that they definitely sound like nothing special for on-ear headphones, especially ones that cost $129. I can tell you that once you get over the ridiculousness of having a screen on the side of your face, there is something slightly clever about making a fully self-contained music gadget that nevertheless works with Spotify. I can tell you that you can turn the screen off automatically when they’re on so you don’t look completely insane. I can tell you that you can slap a SIM card in there and use it to stream music without Wi-Fi.
The SXSW festival here in Austin has always contained strands of futurism. Beyond the brands and the parties and the barbecue, it’s a place where people come and prognosticate about technology and what it’ll look like years from now. But in recent years, attendees of SXSW have taken on the bolder, weirder, and longer-term mission of trying to imagine what the world will look like when we have human-level artificial intelligence and science fiction-grade human augmentation. Because when there’s no new apps to talk about, the thing only left is mining The Matrix, apparently.Read Article >
Case in point: the audience polling service Slido, which is used to crowdsource questions for panelists, is being used to ask futurists whether they think humans will one day swim as fast as sharks.
Mar 13, 2017
SXSW has been an absolute mess of open bars, breakfast tacos, and weird weather patterns. But there was also a live Vergecast — also a mess, although the very best kind of mess.Read Article >
We’re doing one more live show here in Austin, and if you’re around, we’d love to see you! Come by National Geographic’s Further Base Camp (née Vulcan Gas Company, at 418 E 6th Street) on Tuesday, March 14th at 12:30PM local time. Doors open at noon, and yes, there’s an open bar.
Mar 13, 2017
As you may have heard, The Vergecast is live this week at South by Southwest! We have one episode down and another one to go on Tuesday.Read Article >
On this special episode, Nilay and Dieter welcome Lauren Goode and Casey Newton on to talk about the news outside of SXSW in the tech world.
Mar 13, 2017
It’s hard to think of a filmmaker who’s a better fit for SXSW than Edgar Wright. Movies like Shaun of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and The World’s End are odes to genre, whimsy, and Wright’s impeccable directorial talents — but they’re also movies that love other movies. The filmmaker-friendly spirit of Austin’s annual culture-fest makes a perfect setting for the world premiere of Wright’s latest film, Baby Driver.Read Article >
Spawned from a 22-year-old idea, Baby Driver feels like the most Edgar Wright movie Edgar Wright’s ever made. It stirs his love for meticulous filmmaking, oddball characters, and genre tropes together into a uniquely madcap mix. It is, without a doubt, a complete blast — but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.
This year at SXSW, Sony opened up what it calls the “Wow Factory” in a converted warehouse on Trinity Street in Austin, where members of its Future Lab program have set up some of the coolest and weirdest hardware concepts out there. The Future Lab program is a research and development initiative that urges Sony employees to think more about human interaction and creativity, and not just bigger screens and faster processors.Read Article >
One theme Sony hit upon at last year’s show and brought back in full force this go-around is projector-based touchscreen technology. The company has essentially taken its expertise in display projection and married it with some truly unique user interface design. The result is a pair of products that can turn any flat surface into a screen that you can not only interact with using your hands, but that can also take real-world objects and turn them into a kind of augmented reality version of themselves.
Wearable technology once promised to take us away from our phones and to improve our lives in subtle but powerful ways. The reality, however, has been a bit less exciting. More often than not, devices have been hampered by clunky design and bad taste, resulting in products that are expensive, unnecessary, and ugly. Yet it’s these drawbacks that highlight just how interesting Levi’s new connected smart jacket is — and why it’s a bolder and perhaps more promising form of wearable tech.Read Article >
The jacket, which Levi’s brought to SXSW this week in Austin, is made in partnership with Google’s Project Jacquard, a division within the company’s Advanced Technology and Projects, or ATAP, group. The Jacquard division pioneered conductive fibers that are woven directly into clothing, so that motions you make on the left cuff of the jacket’s sleeve register as touch inputs, as if it were a screen. Those are then sent to your smartphone via a Bluetooth attachment that clips on as a cufflink. The conductive fibers are flexible and can be washed — though the actual electronics are handled by the cufflink, which you have to remove before you wash the jacket.
Time will tell if the remake of Stephen King’s IT will scare a new generation of horror fans. But already, its menacing star, the “clown” Pennywise, has successfully spooked one group: the movie’s cast.Read Article >
Director Andrés Muschietti brought a few clips of IT to SXSW 2017, as well as a few tidbits about what to expect. Early press images of Pennywise have already done the legwork of visually separating Bill Skarsgard’s version of the character from that of Tim Curry’s portrayal. But according to Muschietti, the two Pennywises also have different personalities.
I Know You From Somewhere, a comedic short film written and directed by Andrew Fitzgerald, is an authentic example of the internet’s worst tendencies. The trouble starts offline: a young woman named Katherene gets in a screaming match with a friend about a cheating boyfriend. A stranger captures video of the dustup, including a moment in which Katherene accuses her friend of having a “black heart.” When the video is uploaded to YouTube, viewers mistake Katherene’s words for racial slurs, turning this average woman into the target of a humongous internet mob.Read Article >
Fitzgerald was fascinated by what he calls undercurrents of hostility and condescension online. “Most of the internet looks like a digital version of a bathroom stall at a truckstop,” he says. Despite the pervasiveness of social media in modern life, he feels that media still hasn’t nailed how to portray it in on-screen fiction.
Mar 12, 2017
Chinese-backed car manufacturer NIO showcased its EP9 electric supercar last November in London, but this weekend at SXSW, the company unveiled its concept consumer autonomous vehicle, the NIO EVE.Read Article >
NIO used to be known as NextEV, and is backed by a number of Chinese venture capital firms, and has hired people from companies such as Tesla, Ford, and Lyft. Just a concept at this stage, the EVE is a look at what the company feels will be the future of autonomous vehicles. Designed for regular commuting or longer road trips, the car’s designers focused on the seating areas and interior functions for the passengers. US CEO Padmasree Warrior described the vehicle as a companion and a mobile living area that will take people from place to place. To that end, the company is betting that passengers will be interested in entertainment while they ride, so it plans to have the interior glass double as smart displays.
Mar 12, 2017
When Neil Gaiman’s American Gods comes to television next month, it’s going to look a little different than fans of the book remember — and its creators hope they’ll take away a subtle political message alongside the myths and magic.Read Article >
“Our first task of adapting is to make the show that we wanted to see as an audience member,” said Bryan Fuller, one of the showrunners. But “it’s definitely a different show than we set out to make, because the political climate in America shat its pants,” he said. “We are now telling massive immigration stories in a climate that vilifies immigrants. And so we have a strange new platform to start a different kind of conversation.” Fellow showrunner Michael Green agreed. “The book is joyful, it celebrates a lot of things that we love about America, and have since become weirdly odd about America,” he said.
Mar 11, 2017
Austin residents both permanent and temporary, do you want to hang out with The Verge? Or rather, hang out with another while The Verge performs on stage for your amusement? We will be recording The Vergecast live in front of your very eyes for two shows during SXSW! See Nilay, Dieter, and special guests discuss, critique, joke, disagree, argue, re-agree, laugh, cry, maybe cry a little more, and
possiblyprobably drink on stage on Sunday March 12th and Tuesday March 14th. Doors open at noon for both shows.Read Article >
As part of National Geographic’s Further Base Camp, the company has taken over the Vulcan Gas Company in downtown Austin (418 E 6th Street, to be exact) and invited us to do a couple shows on stage. (Our best friends at Recode are also doing live recordings next week.) No SXSW badges are needed for these. Come say hi and let us entertain you!