SXSW briefs: Bill Cosby plays to any age, ‘Arlo and Julie’ charms, and Future Islands are a band to watch

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SXSW briefs: Bill Cosby plays to any age, ‘Arlo and Julie’ charms, and Future Islands are a band to watch

The Cos, still No. 1

Bill Cosby? At Lustre Pearl — that tiny, Rainey Street house-converted-into-a-bar?

Wait — the Bill Cosby?

The whole set-up had an air of danger, as if something crazy could happen. And — as those teases you see in your Facebook feed often say — what happened next will surprise you.

It turns out the crowd of between 400 and 500 people — many of them too young to have seen “The Cosby Show” in its initial run, much less have familiarity with his albums and classic routines, and who were packed like sardines under a tent in the bar’s backyard — totally dug The Cos.

Wearing a loose, black sweatshirt (no “Cosby Show” sweater here) emblazoned with the Funny or Die logo and the multi-colored phrase “HELLO FRIEND,” the legendary comic rarely faltered on Monday night.

A bit about texting at the beginning was an iffy gambit to relate to the crowd, but it led into some classic routines, mostly centered on the difference between men and women, husbands and wives.

“You haven’t lived as long as I have. You don’t know!” Cosby said as he spun simple acts such as thermostat changes into major conflicts.

He mostly sat in a chair on the small stage, but occasionally got up for a short walk to one side or the other, which inevitably caused a rash of camera phones to pop over heads (otherwise, for those standing, it was difficult to see Cosby unless you watched on one of two video screens).

His delivery might be a little slower these days, but darned if the comic didn’t charm the pants off the young crowd. It helps that the truths contained in Cosby’s men vs. women routines are universal and, it would seem, timeless.

As Cosby explained that wives don’t want husbands to go to bed early because then the men will get up early and prowl around the house, young people — very young people — would poke at each other and whisper, “That’s you!”

Cosby’s bits included a longish shaggy dog story about a trip to Africa and a snipe hunt for Tarzan; a bit about Adam naming the animals and his and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden; and an aged childhood friend’s birthday party.

Whatever the story, his classic mugging and that thing that only he can do where he rolls his eyes upward, leans his head back and opens his mouth into a wide, tongue-wagging grin were expertly incorporated. It’s hard to tell whether Cosby got more laughs when he was talking or twisting his expressive eyes and still-elastic face.

It had the feeling of a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it was totally worth the three-hour wait in line.

— Dale Roe

Film: ‘Arlo and Julie’

It was a full house for the world premiere of “Arlo and Julie,” from director Steve Mims, who was previously at SXSW as the co-director of “Incendiary: The Willingham Case.” He has returned this year with an Austin-based comedy that has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival.

Arlo (Alex Dobrenko) works at a software company, but his passion is in writing about history. When the movie begins, he’s celebrating a $25 check that has arrived in the mail from the publisher of a piece he’s done about Ulysses S. Grant and the Civil War. His girlfriend Julie (Ashley Spillers) works as a waitress, and they live a quiet and rather unassuming life near campus.

The film is broken up into title cards indicating how many days into the story we are. On day 2, Julie gets an envelope in the mail with a puzzle piece in it. This keeps developing, day after day, until the couple have befriended their mailman, who also happens to be a Civil War enthusiast. As they wait, not so patiently, for the mail to be delivered each day, they begin to lose focus of anything else happening around them. By day 12, they have several hundred puzzle pieces spread out on a dining room table, knowing that they’ll never be satisfied until the puzzle is solved and they can determine why this is happening.

In the meantime, Alex learns that a painting hanging in their modest living room, given to Julie by her aunt, is actually worth up to $1.2 million. By slowly connecting the dots, they both begin to realize that the puzzle pieces might have a connection to the valuable work of art. It takes quite a few more days to figure it all out, but along the way they have a road trip that tests their relationship and makes them question all of their sleuthing up to that point. Dobrenko and Spillers are delightful in their leading roles. Their comic timing is flawless, and they have a tremendous chemistry, pushing the story forward even as it starts to get a little wacky.

On a technical level, the film’s widescreen cinematography handsomely captures the city of Austin on a limited budget, and Mims uses music from old 78s (all in the public domain to boot) to underscore the film’s screwball comedy inspirations. Eighteen members of the crew were University of Texas students, as Mims has taught in the Radio-Television-Film department for more than 15 years. They built sound stages on campus and also shot on location around town.

“Arlo and Julie” is wonderfully charming and a fine example of our creative community at work. It screens again at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Marchesa and at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Alamo Village.

— Matt Shiverdecker

Band to watch: Future Islands

At first glance, Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring seems unassuming, a compact figure with piercing blue eyes and a receding hairline who could easily be the guy who sits two cubes down from you at the office. He started the Baltimore synth pop band’s set Tuesday — playing to a capacity crowd in the 6:15 p.m. headline spot at the Spotify House — by remarking that it was the band’s first trip to SXSW. He talked about the weather.

Then the band kicked in and Herring transformed. Taking the grounded stance of a fighter, he moved to the music bouncing from foot to foot, rolling his hips and cocking his head.

He’s a magnetic, captivating presence. His face contorts and he beats his chest when he sings as if he’s physically trying to rip his heart out and throw it on the stage. His voice shifts from a soft falsetto to a plaintive wail to the kind of guttural deep-throated growl that a death metal frontman might use.

Future Islands’ music is a study in contrasts. With no guitars, the sound is driven by vigorous bass and drums while dreamy sustained keys float above. Meanwhile Herring sings with a palpable passion that takes over his body. He sings like he’s trying to channel spirits or exorcise demons. It’s explosive, powerful stuff and the crowd at the Spotify House went nuts for it.

It’s surely too early to start naming 2014 breakout acts, but before the sun went down on day one of the fest, Future Islands were storming the stage like a band about to blow up.

— Deborah Sengupta Stith

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