Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt films highlight star-studded SXSW Sunday

By Sean O’Connell The madness that is South By Southwest has begin, and the minute we stepped foot in Austin, we were busy. Here are a few quick updates on what’s happening on the ground at SXSW, and what’s still to come:

SXSW 2011, for us, began with the world premiere of “Detention,” a high-energy teen comedy from director Joseph Kahn that switches gears from being a John Hughes-era ensemble spoof to a slasher-teen horror thriller before trying on a time-travel adventure. It’s “Heathers” meets “Scream” meets “Back to the Future” meets “Some Kind of Wonderful” … except not quite as good as the films it references at a fast and furious pace.

The film stars Josh Hutcherson as the school’s coolest kid, Shanley Caswell as the Neve Campbell-Molly Ringwald heroine, and Dane Cook as the kids’ bizarre principal.

From there, we shifted into “Hesher,” a dark drama starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rainn Wilson and Natalie Portman in the story of a broken family struggling to cope with the lose of a parent.

Spencer Susser washes out the color palette of his film, and the happiness washes out as well. The drab earth tones of the film fit the overall funk that hangs over Wilson – as a widower – and Levitt (with his headbanging locks) slashes through the morose as the title character.

“Hesher” isn’t as dangerous, as punk or as unpredictable as it appeared it might be, though Levitt elevates it to a metal level in choice scenes. The movie begins by preaching anarchy, but settles for conformity in the end.

Across town, Universal had a big night, premiering the sci-fi comedy “Paul” with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in tow, then screening a work-in-progress print of the Kristen Wiig comedy “Bridesmaids.” Both killed, according to reports, with the latter earning tremendous praises from word-of-mouth critics on Monday morning.

We’re off and running, about to interview Amy Ryan and Paul Giamatti for Tom McCarthy’s excellent “Win Win,” and then (hopefully) a sit down with Dane Cook for “Detention.”

More from Austin as the day progresses!

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