Literally, Right Before Aaron

Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

The first couple of scenes are terrific. Adam (funny Justin Long) hears from his long-time ex, Allison, (Cobie Smulders) that’s she’s gotten engaged and wants him to attend her wedding. They were together for 8 years, and only parted a year and a half ago. Adam is clearly still hung up on her but he agrees to come to the wedding, indicating that he’s moved on with his life, which clearly is not true. Next scene Adam takes his current girlfriend to a fancy dinner, and in a moment of clarity and zest for life tells her they should get married. She’s stunned but thrilled, then after gulping a glass of wine Adam does an about face and says they need to break up, as he realizes he can’t wake up every day of his life looking at her face. This super funny scene sets the stage for decreasingly humorous follow-on scenes, ending with him making a fool of himself at her wedding. I was bored for most of the second half, and won’t describe the routine, unsurprising plot elements that follow. Thinking of how Cobie Smulders is utilized here, I realize that an average episode of How I Married Your Mother is far better, funnier, more touching, more witty, than this film.

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Permission

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Lovely Anna (great Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) are live-in lovers, having known each other all their lives, clearly on a path to marriage. In fact, in the opening scene Dan fingers an engagement ring box, clearly planning how to ask Anna to marry him. They demonstrate (to us and to each other) all the stereotypical signs of a loving couple. The only apparent kink is their love making which seems a little, well, abrupt and mechanical. At a dinner with her brother and his best friend, (Hale and Reece, who are also a committed couple, and who are portrayed making love in one of the most explicit scenes I have seen in a mainstream movie), Will loses his resolve to pull out the ring and instead, thanks to drunken prompting Reece, they float the idea of having sex with other people to confirm that they are truly ready for a life-time of monogamy (seems like monotony with these two). Seems like Will’s male fantasy, but is he ready for Anna to also have a fling? She clearly is, and surprise surprise, she quickly is able to find a guy ready to take her to bed. And he seems pretty much ideal, both in bed, in the kitchen (he makes her breakfast in bed; actually she eats off a plate on his chest). And after sex he lays naked with his substantial genitals in full view. While we never see Will doing that, we are left to surmise that this new dude beats Will in that department. Things progress, including Will getting his own mind blown by an uninhibited wealthy widow (perfect, funny Gina Gershon). And there’s a secondary plot involving drama with the gay couple and a small role from Jason Sudeikis as a stay at home exhausted dad.  I was afraid there was going to be a boring predictable Hollywood ending, but I was happily wrong. In summary, an interesting take on an attractive couple and the danger of falling into predictability. oh, and there are some good laughs amongst the loving and arguing. Fun fact: the writer/director, Brian Crano, is married in real life to David Craig who plays Hale, and Rebecca Hall is married to Morgan Spector who plays Reece.

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One Percent More Humid

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

This is the anti-cliché movie. Simple plot: two college girls (great Juno Temple and Julia Garner) spend a hot summer together with nothing in particular to do.  Not so simple plot twists: their best friend recently died tragically and they feel guilty because of the part they played. How do they get over it? How does it affect their friendship? How do their friends and family help them get over their grief. This is what makes it interesting, and I won’t tell much of the plot because following them go through their experiences is the fun part. One striking aspect is the summer love affair Juno’s character has with her college thesis advisor (Alessandro Nivola, playing the Bradley Cooper role). He’s a straight arrow English professor trying to write his novel while his wife (again the non-cliché, as she is not the typical cold bitch) is stuck in NY City for much of the summer with her work issues (the college town is in upstate New York). The mutual attraction and sexy chemistry is as believable as any I’ve seen in recent films. Is he the therapy she needs to get over her grief? Is he going to screw her over at the end while she gets devastated? (remember, anti-cliché) The relationship between the girls, as well as with their remote parents, clueless friends, and just about everyone else is as realistic as possible, and such a refreshing thing to see. So see it you must!

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Aardvark

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

You gotta like a writer/director (Brian Shoaf in this case) who names his movie in part because it will be listed first alphabetically in Netflix.  (so no, “aardvark” has no relationship to the plot, although there are clips from the zoo of an aardvark at various points) This film transcends genres.

Is it a creepy horror? The lead character, Josh, (wonderfully played by Zachary Quinto) shows up for his first psychotherapy session with a weird haircut (think punk rock star wannabe), a blank stare, and an obsession with his “genius” TV star brother. Is he psychotic, schizo, a serial killer with a super depressing apartment to fit? He “sees” his brother everywhere, in the homeless lady in the alley (“he’s a master of disguise”), in the neighborhood cop who entices him to joy ride on some stolen bikes, in the local teenage bullies. Flashbacks reveal he may have been bullied by his brother as an 8 year old.

Is it a comedy? The young, fragile, therapist, Emily (another great portrayal, by Jenny Slate), might be seeing her first client, and she gives bad advice, becomes emotional (not because of excessive empathy but because of self pity), begins an unethical relationship with said TV star brother (Jon Hamm playing a version of himself), who at one point calls in her client, Josh, for an emergency session basically to find out more about the handsome stud brother.

Is it a love story? Josh meets a “normal” pretty girl on the street who for some reason seems attracted to him, even after being invited in to watch TV in the serial killer-like apartment. They go on walking dates, starting with meeting at the local gas station. Too bad Josh doesn’t ask for her cell number or address, meaning he needs to walk around town hoping to run into her for his next date, haha.

The movie has a cool ending, tying up loose emotional ends and (spoiler alert) no one has been tied up, slashed, raped, or married. Perfect film festival entry and I recommend it for those of you who don’t need to see the typical Hollywood blockbuster.

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Abundant Acreage Available

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

An independent movie with a budget of maybe $1-2 million, with literally only 5 actors and 2 sets (a farm house, and the tobacco farm itself), this very well acted, well written, artfully  filmed piece may earn close to what it cost but not much more because I can’t imagine who is its target audience other than art film aficionados with time on their hands. It’s not an upbeat 80 minutes, starting from the first scene of a brother and sister (terrific as always Amy Adams, who must be the first choice of every director who needs his leading lady to look like she either worked on a farm all her life or is a working class bartender type with a Boston accent, and Terry Kinney) burying their recently deceased dad’s ashes in the middle of the farm. The brother is a super Jesus lover who argues the ashes need to be placed in “consecrated grounds”, aka a cemetery, while Amy’s character is insistent that they belongs right where he plowed all his life. So their relationship looks rocky but they revert to typical brother sister routine, which apparently they have been doing for 50 years, no spouses in sight. Then all of a sudden 3 old dudes show up with their tent planted on the farm, and it is either a sinister or harmless situation, so Amy brings her rifle to the confrontation. They are 3 brothers who (I was going to say spoiler alert but I’m confident anyone reading this other than Bill C. will not be going to the theater to see the film) grew up on the farm till their parents sold it (actually the mom sold it while the dad was in jail for a short while) to Amy’s dad. What do the brothers want? They won’t say directly, we can only guess, but they are alternately goofy, foul mouthed (well, only the one who had a stroke, who used to be nice but the stroke destroyed only the nice part of his brain leaving the nasty untouched or even enhanced), naïve, deceptive, and directionless. I’d describe more but the plot is not that interesting. The focus of the film according to the writer/director, Angus MacLachlan, in his comments after the film, is the land, and the North Carolina place itself, where he is from. Martin Scorcese is executive producer, and it is definitely well done, but I am hoping to be more interested and excited about the next 7 Tribeca Film Fest selections I will see.

 

SXSW 2017 – Part 2

During the second half of SXSW I make it to fewer movies due to the music bother re a few I liked:

The Big Sick: This was my favorite movie  last week.  A romantic comedy based on the real life romance of Emily V. Gordon and  Kumail Nanjiani as they deal with family issues (including those of being a Muslim in America) and her illness.  This is very funny and moving.  Nanjiani also stars and this has a good supporting cast including Ray Romano and Holly Hunter.  Judd Apatow was one of the producers and he, Emily and Kumail had a great Q+A including a discussion of how Apatow helps push people to maximize their creativity in the writing process (as he did with Amy Schumer in Trainwreck and Lena Dunham with Girls).  This comes out in June and is a must see!

May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers: Judd Apatow directed this one although musical documentaries are not what he is known for.  I really enjoyed this documentary that gives good insight into the Avett brothers  as people, their creative process and lots of good music.  This will be on HBO at some point.  Later in the evening, at a different venue,  they performed in concert (they are great to see live).

Patti Cake$: A good narrative film about a young woman trying to make it as a rapper and escape her New Jersey circumstances despite the odds being stacked against her.

Small Crimes: A narrative about a former cop being released from prison and returning to his small home town.  The events that led to his imprisonment are slowly revealed as he tries to put his past behind him.  This was slo pretty good.

Doug Benson and Master Pancake Theater mock Leprechaun 5: In the Hood: Every year on St. Patrick’s Day Benson teams up with local comedy troupe Master Pancake Theater to mock a movie in the Leprechaun series with their running commentary.   This year was the fifth in the series and took place in da hood, last year they mocked #4 which took place in space.  The movies are terrible, the mocking is hilarious.  Unfortunately, unless someone makes another one there are only 2 left.

The Work: An excellent documentary that takes place in Folsom prison.  Every year there’s a 4 day session where inmates and people outside the prison get together and try to help each other work through their issues.  It was pretty intense.

That’s it for festival coverage until Fantastic Fest in September

SXSW 2017 – Part 1

SXSW started last Friday and runs through Saturday (technically it ends Sunday with some good BBQ, the traditional softball game (which I may sign up for) and just a couple of final bands).  This entry will just cover a bunch of the movies I’ve seen but SXSW is a lot more – music (which is just heating up), comedy (which I haven’t made it to at all), tech, health, sports, politics, parties, etc.  For more on other parts of SXSW see the link above or my wife’s blog on her experiences. 

There are about 125 full length movies covering many genres, as well as shorts and episodic (TV shows or streaming).  There are also related panels. For example, there was a panel with Michael Fassbender and Terrence Malick hosted by Richard Linklater discussing Malick’s new film, Song to Song, a panel with the showrunners for Game of Thrones, Bob Odenkirk discussing his projects, the whole cast of VEEP (interviewed by Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, etc.

Here are some of the best (and a couple that I didn’t like):

Fits and Starts: Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show) in a comedy about a struggling writer married to a much more successful one.

A Bad Idea Gone Wrong: a couple of inept thieves get stuck in the house they are robbing.  This was pretty funny and won a best ensemble cast award.

Becoming Bond: a cute, quasi documentary about George Lazenby, the actor who played James Bond once.  It was interesting and funny.          Lazenby talking about his life is interlaced with humorous re-enactments.  He is an itneresting guy (and was at the screening).

Muppet Guys TalkingSecrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched:  Frank OZ directed and participated in this movie with other of the original Muppets.  Archival footage was also used.

Mr. Roosevelt: the directorial debut and starring Noel Wells.  This is a comedy, set in Austin.  Wells character returns to Austin and spends an awkward weekend with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend and comes  to terms with her previous choices.

Bill Nye, Science Guy: an update on Bill Nye and what he’s up to.  Entertaining and relevant.  As the Q+A demonstrated, he likes to talk.

Hot Summer Nights: Sort of a coming of age movie (but he never really comes of age).  A teenager spends the summer on Cape Cod in 1991, falls in love  and gets involved in drug dealing.

Free Fire:  This opens soon.  An action/comedy movie that flies by.  If you like action/violence you’ll probably like this.  Also pretty funny.

Unrest: A great documentary by and about a sufferer of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Eye opening and very moving.

Meth Storm: Arkansas USA: Another really eye opening and moving documentary.  The film maker spends time with a law officer on an operation to try to make inroads to cut off the supply from Mexico and with a family with meth addiction problems.  This will be on HBO and is a must see (but tough to watch the drug addicted family).

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo: A really good documentary on the Apollo program from the perspective of mission control.  Inspiring.

Song to Song:  This is the new Malick movie.  It has a great cast that includes Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman and Michael Fassbender.  If you are really into Malick you might like it but I was disappointed.  Too much cutting, not enough fleshing out of the story.  If you live in Austin it might be worth watching just to see all the locations he used.  Sometimes it seemed he just drove around and had people get out of the car if he saw something he thought was interesting.

The Challenge: So far my winner for worst film of the festival.  A documentary about  folks in the middle east that train falcons to catch pigeons in the desert.  If they had interesting characters that did the training or explained why this is a compelling activity it could have been good but they never got into the backstory.  Based on the picture below doesn’t it look like it could be interesting?  This still didn’t get my worst SXSW movie ever award.  That goes to 2010’s Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine.  I wanted to walk out of that one but since I was watching it at the Alamo Drafthouse and had to pay my bill I couldn’t.

Logan

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Logan is set in post apocalyptic (for the mutants) 2029 with Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) both in ill health and in hiding.  While there’s tons of good action this is also a more thoughtful and somber super hero movie than most dealing with  issues relevant in today’s society.

Patrick and Jackman give excellent performances with the Professor having seizure/mental issues and Jackman  shows different emotions  and he still wrestles with his issues of how to handle  the destruction he causes and hurting those he cares about.   Dafne King also does a great jobs as a young mutant on the run.  This probably could have been tightened up a bit to be closer than two hours and while I liked the plot at times it was predictable.

As with Deadpool last year, this is not for kids – tons of bloody violence.  But for those who like a good action movie this is worth seeing.

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John Wick: Chapter 2

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

If you are just looking for totally escapist, ridiculous action movie with a very high body count to kill  two hours this is the movie for you!

Keanu Reeves reprises his role as John Wick, hired assassin extraordinaire!  Keanu is perfect for this role as he doesn’t really need to act, talks very little but does a great job with fighting, loading his gun and just killing an incredible number of people (since most of these people he kills are fellow assassinsI didn’t feel too bad rooting for him).  Until this comes out in DVD and someone can continually pause the movie I don’t think there will be an accurate count. Keanu is sort of the baby Liam Neeson in terms of being able to star in an action movie well into his 50s (although I think Keanu does more of his own stunts).

The set pieces are never boring (although of course they are ridiculous) and if you like this type of movie definitely check it out.

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I am Not Your Negro

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I Am Not Your Negro is a thought provoking documentary about race relations in America.  It is based on an unfinished project by author James Baldwin exploring race relations using Baldwin’s remembrances of murdered civil rights leaders (and friends) Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as a jumping off point.  The film uses archival footage of events in the 60’s + Baldwin interview/speaking engagements as well as footage of more recent events.  Samuel L. Jackson provides additional narration based on Baldwin’s writings.

Unfortunately, despite Baldwin having died 30 years ago much of what he said and wrote is still relevant today and this film is worth seeing

IMDB

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