Best of SXSW 2018

SXSW ended a couple of weeks ago so some of the movies are already available (I’m slow – sorry).  Others may take more than a year (if ever to see the light of day).  Here are the movies I enjoyed the most.  I thought the lineup, especially the documentaries (as can be seen by the number of docs in my favorite movies) was very strong this year .

The World Before Your Feet

This is an entertaining documentary about a guy who is walking every street in New York City.  He’s been on his quest for a few years, has walked almost 7000 miles already and may just continue walking even when he’s done.  He has an interesting backstory and interactions with the people he meets along the way.

Trans-Military

A timely documentary that follows several transgender service men/women as they help to protect our country.

Ruben Blades is Not My Name

A doucmentary about the acclaimed salsa singer,  actor, Harvard graduate, lawyer, one time candidate for Panamanian president and more.

Chi-Town

In the vein of Hoop Dreams a really good documentary about an inner city Chicago basketball star.  The filmmakers followed him for several years through high school (including all the challenges of living in a poor section of Chicago), college and his quest (still ongoing) to make it in the NBA.

Blindspotting

One of my favorite movies at the festival.  A drama/comedy about two friends (one black/one white) trying to navigate their way through the final days of probation for one in a gentrifying Oakland neighborhood.    The two friends in the movie were at the Q+A and are friends in real life.  They had been working on this film for eight years!

Ready Player One

If you’re into gaming, virtual reality, sci-fi, action movies,   a movie with tons of references to 80s movies/games and/or Stevn Spielberg movies you will enjoy this movie.  I liked it a lot but that may have also been influence by a very enthusiastic 1100+person crowd  with Steven Spielberg and members of the cast participation in the Q&A.

The Director and the Jedi

This is a documentary about the making of the latest Star Wars movie.  A good look at the artistic process of making the movie as well as some of the controversy with Mark Hamill disagreeing with the direction his character took in the movie.  There was a very interesting Q&A that included Mark Hamill and the director, Rian Johnson.  Hamill is a character.

The Last O.G.

The first two episodes of this TBS show.   Tracy Morgan, in his first series work since his accident, plays a character trying to resume his life after 15 years in prison in a gentrified Brooklyn. I found it pretty funny (as was the Q&A with Morgan and Tiffany Haddish).  Jordan Peele is one of the creators.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

A moving documentary about the life and career of PBS  children show icon Fred Rogers.  I don’t know how anyone can be so nice.

Science Fair

I love documentaries about competitions.  Spellbound, about the national spelling bee is one of the best.   Science Fair is in the same vein – several high school students from around the world are followed as they try to qualify, prepare and then compete in a major competition.   The first 90 seconds or so of this youtube clip starts the movie showing the winner of an earlier competition.

The Dawn Wall

A gorgeous to look at documentary of the first successful scaling of the Dawn Wall of El Capitan.  The climb got a lot of TV coverage when the climb was made in 2015.  This was a ‘free ascent’ meaning this type of climbing is done just using their hands and feet (with picks and rope just used to prevent falling to their death).  The climb took 19 days and they would sleep in tents hanging off the side of the wall at night!  As amazing as the climb was the back story was just as fascinating.  Definitely try to see this movie!

Hearts Beat Loud

A sweet little film about the bonding of a father and daughter before she heads off to college.  It stars Nick Offerman

Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes

Muhammed Ali appeared on the Dick Cavett show numerous times.  This is an insightful documentary about Ali through some of his good and bad times as well as the relationship between Caveat and Ali.

First Match

A gritty movie about an inner city girl who becomes the only girl on her high school wrestling team only to be led astray by her ex-con father.

Isle of Dogs

While this was the closing night film I must confess I  saw it after.  I am a big fan of Wes Anderson and I really enjoyed this film.  It was made using stop motion animation (like Fantastic Mr. Fox).  The  movie is set in Japan 20 years in the future and  tells the story of a boy searching for his dog.  An incredible cast provides the voices (in both Japanese and English).  It’s not his funniest movie but I liked the story and it’s a joy to look at.  If you can see it at an Alamo Drafthouse do so and get there early to see the pre-show which provides lots of insight into Anderson’s style and elements of the movie.

Best Movies/TV of 2017

Here’s our picks for the best of 2017.

 Bill IBill C
Best Movies1 Get Out
2 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
3 Darkest Hour
4 Lady Bird
5 Dunkirk
6 Molly's Game
7 John Wick, Chapter 2
8 The Big Sick
9 Atomic Blonde
10 Wind River
11 All the Money in the World
12 Logan
13 Wonder Woman
14 Logan Lucky
15 Girls Trip
16 The Disaster Artist
1 The Big Sick
2 Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
3 Lady Bird
4 I, Tonya
5 Wind River
6 The Florida Project
7 The Shape of Water
8 The Disaster Artist
9 Dunkirk
10 Molly's Game
11 Get Out
12 Darkest Hour
13 Wonder Woman
14 The Founder
15 Meerkat Maantuig
16 Baby Driver
Best TV1 Better Call Saul
2 The Americans
3 Curb Your Enthusiasm
4 Homeland
5 Master of None
6 Better Things
7 Insecure
8 The Deuce
9 SMILF
10 Westworld
11 Blackish
12 Modern Family
13 Lopez
1 Better Call Saul
2 The Americans
3 Curb Your Enthusiasm
4 The Deuce
5 GLOW
6 Westworld
7 Sneaky Pete
8 The Crown
9 Love
10 Saturday Night Live
11 Crashing
Worst Movies1 Brad's Status
2 Call Me By Your Name
1 Song to Song
2 The Challenge
Best Documentaries1 I Am Not Your Negro
2 The Vietnam War
1 Gilbert
2 May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers
3 Mission Control: The Unsung Heros of Apollo
4 Meth Storm: Arkansas USA
5 Shot In the Dark
6 What Haunts Us

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Fantastic Fest 2017

This is the fourth year I’ve attended Fantastic Fest.  It’s the largest ‘genre’ film fest in the U.S. and is held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar Location in Austin.  This has become my favorite fest.  It has some great movies from all over the world including many you are not likely to see anywhere else.  It all takes place at a single location and has some great related activities going on at The Highball which is adjacent to the theaters.  Here is a link to the schedule (which includes the Highball activities).  Here are some of my favorite (or most interesting ) movies from this year:

Salyut-7: Based on the true story of the cosmonaut rescue of a damaged Russian space station, this is the Russian Apollo 13.  This a little (ok – a lot) over the top but well made and entertaining.  I think Putin gave the order that this had to top Apollo 13, so while Apollo 13 had concerned family members with children this had a concerned pregnant wife about to go into labor, etc.  I expected the controller on the ground to say ‘Failure is not an option’ but he never did.  Despite my reservations I liked it.

Dan Dream: An entertaining Danish comedy by the team that made Klown.  This is based on a true story of the attempt by a Danish team to make the first electric car in the 1980s.  If you’re a fan of Klown don’t expect the raunchiness of those movies.

Letterkenny: This is now my favorite Canadian TV show.  It’s about a group of hicks in the small town of Letterkenny.  3 episodes were aired from both the 1st and 2nd season.  A third season is coming. This could offend some and is not for everyone but is very funny!

Bad Genius: An excellent movie from Thailand about high school students cheating on standardized tests.  Part comedy, part morality play, drama with tons of tension as well.  One of my favorites.

78/52:  A documentary that focuses on the iconic shower scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho.  This goes into Hitchcock’s career and how his career led to that film and that scene, the making of the scene,  how groundbreaking it was and how it has impacted films since.  Very interesting.

Blade of the Immortal: For those into Japanese Samurai films this is for you.  A Samurai warrior that cannot die is on a mission to protect a young girl seeking revenge for the murder off her family.  Good action although a little thick with the morality lessons.

Gilbert: An excellent documentary about comedian Gilbert Gottfried.      In his personal life he’s a lot different than his persona so you’re likely to be surprised.  This also explores his controversial comedy style including controversies after 9/11 and when he was fired from his roles as the AFLAC duck due to his tasteless humor after the Tsunami a few years ago.  He was there for a Q&A and he did a taping of Leonard Maltin’s podcast while at the fest. Some will be offended by his humor.

Anna and the Apocalypse: Those who have been waiting for a Zombie musical have had their prayers answered!  This move from Scotland was very entertaining.

Professor Marsden and the Wonder Women: This drama is based on the true story of the creator of Wonder Women and the two women in his life that inspired him.  This is a well made movie and a very interesting story.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower:  A well made anime from Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who had previously worked at anime powerhouse Studio Ghibli.

 

The Big Sick

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

This was my favorite movie at SXSW in March and is my favorite movie of the year so far.  This opens in N.Y. and L.A. this weekend and more widely in the coming weeks,  Below is an excerpt from what  I wrote back in March.  Definitely go see this!

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). 

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

Blame

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

I love a good teenager movie, especially when the characters break out of the stereotype clichés. Blame was written, produced, directed, and acted in by Quinn Shephard, a 22 year old New Jersey native, who conceived it while in high school, and subsequently filmed it in that same high school (Metuchen, by the way). This film is so well filmed, edited, scored and produced with certainly no indication of what I assume is a low budget. Quinn plays Abigail, an emotionally scarred senior who is a target of the cool, nasty clique, led by mean girl Melissa (excellent Nadia Alexander). The girls are quickly enamored by hunky substitute drama teacher (“call me Jeremy”, played perfectly by Chris Messina) and the complications ensue. No spoilers here, but I can say that Abigail finds a way to push through the incessant bullying and get her groove back, so to say, sparked by Jeremy’s “mentoring”. As usual in these movies, there’s no parents in sight, at least admirable parents, but the kids manage to grow up a little nevertheless. Not a fun ending, but appropriate and very well done.

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Band Aid

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

Another reviewer called this a “low-key charmer”, which is my opinion as well. Anna (the captivating Zoe Lister-Jones, who also wrote and directed) and Ben (Adam Pally) are married, in a rut sex-wise and a depressing routine of arguing over every little thing. They discover that only by putting their beefs in songs (is this how rap started, DJ Kook Herc and Afrika Bombatta?) can they find joy and energize their marriage. They need a drummer, and weird neighbor (perfect Fred Armison) fits the bill. The songs that result are good, and thank god this is not a traditional musical. Very funny in parts, raw and emotional in the middle, with a (mild spoiler alert) nice, happy ending, this is the perfect movie to bring your life partner/arguer. By the way, seeing Susie Essman as Ben’s insightful, slightly over bearing Jewish mother, was fun and great to see that she is much more wide ranging than being typecast as Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm foul mouthed nemesis.

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Take Me

Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5

I’ve seen funnier films about kidnapping, the one I can think of is Ruthless People where Bette Midler played an unforgettable, and unpleasant, kidnap victim who ends up being much more painful for the hapless kidnapper than for her thrilled husband. Take Me is an offshoot on that premise, focused on Ray (played well by director Pat Healy), a down at the heals entrepreneur who runs a 1 man kidnap for hire business, where people can experience the thrill of being kidnapped to help them achieve either self actualization or to kick an overeating problem (don’t ask). Ray has more than he can handle with Anna (terrific Taylor Schilling, but no Bette Midler). The fun becomes desperation, routine assignment becomes borderline criminal, and the audience has to guess what’s real. Cool ending, but I wasn’t laughing too much during most of the film.

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The Clapper

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

What a fun film, at times bizarre, which turns sad and touching, then sweet and nice at the end. The titular clapper, Eddie Krumble, is played terrifically by Ed Helms, who gets paid to sit in Hollywood audiences for infomercials and be filmed clapping wildly, laughing, and asking scripted questions. There’s a bunch of clappers who get $50 per show, and while you wonder what’s his long term plan he seems to be satisfied just eking out a living and ignoring his mom’s incessant calls from NY pleading with him to make something of his life. But then Eddie develops a sweet relationship  with the local gas station cashier, Judy, (captivating Amanda Seyfried) who sits behind bullet proof glass communicating with Eddie through her speaker, while Eddie is thrilled just to talk with her. Eddie’s world explodes when the national late night talk show host finds out about this paid clapper, and makes an ongoing bit to “Find the Clapper”. Now Eddie’s cover is blown, he’s famous, and he can’t be pretending to be a regular audience member at infomercials. So no more income, no money to take Judy out, no interest in being a national laughing stock and appearing on the talk show, and then losing Judy, what can he do? Good thing his best friend, and fellow clapper, Chris (Tracy Morgan killing the role!) is there to keep him company and help figure out a plan, as unwitting as both of them are. I won’t tell the rest of the plot, but the fun is in the characters, including Brenda Vaccaro as Eddie’s no holds barred mom. Cool film, and I guarantee you haven’t seen anything like it! Kudos to writer/director Dito Montiel.

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Saturday Church

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

This film’s plot has nothing we haven’t seen. The drag queens and transgender women of color competing in glamorous runway and dance contests, facing horrible discrimination (Paris is Burning), the bullying of teenagers questioning their gender (Boys Don’t Cry, others I can’t recall), the treatment of gay and transgender people in the inner city. But this film, based on a real life center for homeless and poor trans and gay people of color in NYC, (held at a church on Saturdays), filled with inexperienced actors including several with zero acting experience (the writer/director was intent on being as true to life as possible by casting transgender women in key roles), is as emotionally genuine as possible. The lead character, Ulysses, played amazingly well by Luka Kain, is 14 years old, clearly not fitting in with his basketball teammates, trying on his single mother’s stockings in secret, is just trying to get by while figuring out just who he is. But after his dad dies and his Aunt Rose (a terrifying Regina Taylor) moves in to help watch Ulysses and his younger brother while his mom (beautiful Margot Bingham) works two jobs, he faces a daily threat from his aunt’s brutal method of religious strictness. Ulysses finds support and mentoring from a disparate group of older trans women (and one cute young man) down by the Christopher Street Piers and the welcoming haven of the Saturday Church. Ulysses is able to come into his own, while navigating some horrific experiences. A heartwarming Hollywood ending for this low budget independent film.

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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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