SXSW 2014 – Days 7-9

My movie-watching really slowed down this year as the music at SXSW took center stage during the last three days.  Janelle Monae, The Hold Steady, Gary Clark Jr., The Dum Dum Girls, Willie Nelson, Keith Urban (who knew!), and Jake Bugg were some of the highlights.

Hopefully my son reads this installment as he complains that 90% of my reviews get a 3.5 or 4.

She’s Lost Control – 2.5 out of 5

This movie was about a sexual surrogate who becomes emotionally involved with one of her clients.  It’s interesting the insight you get when you wait to review movies.  I remember thinking this was OK when I watched it, but now ten days later, I barely remember it.

A Night in Old Mexico – 2 out of 5

An excellent performance by Robert Duvall is wasted on a movie with a plot that just doesn’t hold up when you think about it.  The movie started out with great promise and style and looked like it would be a great thriller.  Unfortunately, the film falls apart when the 30-year-old Mexican stripper falls in love with the clearly racist Duvall character because he’s the first gringo to treat her respectfully (huh?) and his initially totally wimpy , non-cowboy, long- lost grandson turns into a Rambo wannabe.

Open Windows – 2.5 out of 5

This movie stars Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey in a thriller/mystery set in Austin. This also looked like it would be real interesting, but the plot just falls apart as the movie goes on.  I always have trouble with plots that depend on one person being able to predict with certainty how others would react in tough circumstances (I loved the Mission Impossible TV show as a kid, but often wondered what would happen if the adversary did the more predictable thing). This movie gets an extra half-star because I enjoy movies with Austin locales and it had an extended guest appearance by Owen Eggerton of Master Pancake Theater shot in the theater where we were watching the movie.

The Infinite Man – 3 out of 5

This was an interesting and convoluted Sci-Fi comedy romance time travel movie.  It had lots of twists and reminded me a little of Groundhog Day.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Bill C’s Review  – 4 out of 5

The Grand Budapest Hotel is the latest quirky, highly-stylized comedy from Wes Anderson.  He is one of the few filmmakers that can be identified by watching just a few frames from his films.  His films are visually stunning through his use of colors, the way he tracks people and action, and his stylistic use of special effects.

For those not familiar with Anderson, he is the director of The Royal Tenenbaums, Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, and Moonrise Kingdom—all really good movies, with The Royal Tenenbaums being my favorite.

The Grand Budapest Hotel  is more of a dark comedy starring Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustav, the head concierge in a central European hotel during the dark days before a fictionalized version of WWII  as seen through the eyes of the new lobby boy, Zero.  The plot deals with the murder of one of the frequent hotel guests, the search for the murderer (after M. Gustav is accused) and a priceless painting, and the friendship between M. Gustav and Zero. While this is not continuously laugh-out-loud funny, it is funny throughout even though it’s also a bit sad/melancholy at the end.

As usual with Wes Anderson films, there is a large ensemble cast, including many Anderson regulars such as Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Edward Norton, and Owen Wilson.

Wes Anderson fans should definitely see this movie, and if you’ve never seen one of his films, you should give him a try.


Rotten Tomatoes

The Grand Budapest Hotel

SXSW – Days 4-6

Below are some of the highlights from Days 4-6 at SXSW

The Dog – 4 out of 5

More than 40 years after the real-life bank robbery that inspired Dog Day Afternoon comes a documentary about the bank robber that was played by Al Pacino in the movie.  It’s a fascinating portrait that uses archival and recent interviews with the subject, his mother, the transsexual  that motivated John Wojtowicz, and many others.  He’s a great character for a documentary and this also turns into an interesting look at the gay rights movement in the late ’60s and ’70s.

Wicker Kittens – 3.5 out of 5

Wicker Kittens is a cute little documentary about a jigsaw puzzle competition.  The director followed three teams and the organizer of the competition as they prepared and competed.  The teams take the competition seriously but the movie is a pretty lighthearted look at the competition and there are lots of fun moments.  For those who are into jigsaw puzzles, there are also good tips on how to improve your game.  While I liked this, I’d recommend The King of Kong (Donkey Kong competitors) and Spellbound (spelling bee) for those looking for an offbeat movie about competition.

Fort Tilden – 3.5 out of 5

Fort Tilden won the Grand Jury Prize for feature narrative.  This is a drama/comedy about two female friends deciding to spend a day at the beach. They run into problems going to, at and returning from  the beach, and their friendship is tested.  All these problems lead to revelations about their struggles to become responsible adults.

The Great invisible – 4 out of 5

This film won the Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Feature.  This explores the problems that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the sad state of the impact to people’s lives several years after the accident.  This is definitely worth seeing.

The Raid 2 – 4 out of 5 

If you like kick-ass action, this is the movie for you!  The hero of the original Raid goes undercover for non-stop, bone-crushing , death-defying Indonesian action.

SXSW 2014 – Days 1-3

Here are some quick reviews of movies I’ve seen so far at SXSW.   SXSW started on Friday, March 7 and goes through Saturday March 15.

Chef – 3.5 out of 5

Chef is a small indie effort written, directed and starring Jon Favreau.  It’s not up there with Swingers but is a  light hearted comedy about a high profile, stressed out chef who loses his job and goes back to discover the basics that made him happy by opening a food truck and reconnecting with his son and family.  The movie picks up and is more entertaining and touching  in the 2nd half when he, his son and friend go on a road trip in the food truck.  This had a great cast (Favreau,  Jon Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson, Dustin Hoffman,  Sofia Vergara, Oliver Platt (who has obviously stayed around for more of the festival as I’ve seen him around town), Robert Downey Jr. and more) and an entertaining Q+A).

The Legend of Shorty – 2.5 out of 5

I think I just had too high expectations about this timely documentary about 2 journalists searching for the  Mexican drug king who was arrested in late February.  While they appear to get  close to being granted an audience with Shorty they best they do is get to his heavily guarded estate and meet with is mother.  It is interesting to see how his career evolved and the reach of his (former) empire.

No No: A Dockumentary – 4 out of 5

This is a must see documentary for baseball fans.  Doc Ellis pitched for the Pirates (and later the Yankees) back in the seventies.  Doc is famous for throwing a no hitter while supposedly high on LSD.  It is probably true as he let 8 players reach base that day without giving up a hit.  This is very entertaining with many ex players telling stories about Ellis but also very touching due to his battles with drugs and alcohol and his redemption later in life as a drug counselor.

Prredestination – 3.5 out of 5

This is a very slick time travel adventure with great plot twists as they try to prevent a mass murder from taking place. It’s fun trying to follow the plot twists and figure out what is going on.  It’s one of those movies I enjoyed a lot while watching but when thinking about afterwards concluded they probably didn’t need to do quite as much time travel or make it quite as convoluted to prevent the crime. But then  what fun would that have been??

Boyhood – 4.5 out of 5

This is a great movie that everyone should see when it comes out in July.  It’s a narrative that took over 12 years to make.  Richard Linklater shot for 3 days every year with the same actors telling the journey of a boy and his family as he grows from 1st grade to his first few days of college.  While Linklater had the basic arc he wanted to follow it’s interesting to watch as he weaves in the cultural events of the time into the story.  And it’s just fascinating to watch as he and his family go through change (including physical changes during those 12 years.  While nothing incredibly exciting is going on plot wise it’s just fascinating to watch.    This also had an excellent cast led by Ethan Hawke (also great in Predestination), Patricia Arquette, Ellar Coltrane (as the boy) and Lorelei Linklater as his sister).

This  movie packs an emotional wallop.

Supermensch – 3.5 out of 5

Mike Myers directorial debut is a documentary about Shep Gordon, the legendary agent for Alice Cooper and many others.  This is a very funny/touching story of his life and some of the careers he touched, Myers, Gordon and Tom Arnold held a good Q+A afterward.

The Raid 2 – ???

I was (am) really looking forward to the sequel to the incredible martial arts film I saw at SXSW a year or two ago.  Unfortunately, after waiting on line and in the theater for quite a while the movie started and was missing the subtitles.  They couldn’t fix it so the director and two of the actors came out did a Q+A and a demo of their fighting skills.  Hopefully I’ll make one of the rescheduled showings (although one is at midnight tonight).


Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

This movie is many things: a romance (Omar and Nadia are teenagers, almost sweetly naive, making eyes and passing secret love notes), a thriller (Omar and his two Palestinian buddies are budding terrorists/freedom fighters – take your pick as one reviewer said – striking back at their Israel occupiers/overseers in the West Bank in an amateurish but lethal way) and ultimately a political statement that portrays the helplessness and brutality felt by these young men. It is fast moving, realistic, well made film that includes some great chase scenes, chaste love scenes and in your face confrontations between friends and between captor/prisoner. Religion and historical disputes are not discussed, only the reality of the sad situation. Well done.

About Last Night

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

Two buddies (funny, manic Kevin Hart and the more subdued Michael Ealy, fresh from his robot role in Almost Human on TV) meet two chick buddies (Regina Hall, right up to par in funny and manic-ness with Kevin, and Joy Bryant, the similarly subdued counterpart) and pair off, with predictable ups and downs and a (non-spoiler alert) nice happy ending. It’s not the plot that makes it an enjoyable film, rather the characters, and surprisingly the realness of the relationship between the couples. OK, not much realness between the crazy couple, but they are good for laughs amid the wild romps in bed.

Joy Bryant was a revelation to me; with her stunning beauty she steals the scenes she’s in, although I felt the tension between the two was somewhat artificial given how well they paired off. While it didn’t seem phony, I just wanted to slap Ealy’s character. A good date movie and I would certainly call it a chick flick. Good one to see paired with Non-Stop to get the testosterone going after this estrogen fest.


Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 4

Non-Stop it is, like Phone Booth, Speed or Snakes on a Plane, bad things will and do happen while our hero/anti-hero played superbly by Liam Neeson (in his Taken and The Grey persona of a hard, semi-beaten guy with a special set of skills) has to take over and save the plane-full of passengers. I enjoyed it throughout, although I admit that a recent TV episode of Person of Influence pretty much covered the same ground in half the time with twice the humor. Overall a thrill ride for a Saturday night, can’t beat that.

The Lego Movie

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

The Lego Movie is a very funny  and entertaining movie.  At a time without great competition in theaters, this will appeal to Lego lovers of all ages.

The movie is visually stunning.  The jokes come so fast and there is so much happening on the screen that I know I missed a ton of stuff.

The cast is pretty impressive too: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Jonah Hill and many others.

I never would have chosen to see this film, but my wife has fond memories of our kids playing Legos and really wanted to see it. As the theme song says: Everything is Awesome (check out this youtube clip)


Rotten Tomatoes


12 O’Clock Boys

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

12 O’Clock Boys is an excellent documentary that follows Pug, an inner city kid from Baltimore, for three years.  Pug is 13 at the beginning of the film and his two goals in life are to be a 12 O’Clock Boy as soon as they let him and to be a veterinarian when he grows up.  12 O’Clock Boys ride dirt bikes and motorcycles through the streets of Baltimore in large groups while doing tricks on their bikes and evading the police.  The police, in theory, have a no-chase policy,  since chasing kids on their bikes could lead to more accidents, but even with that policy, there’s plenty of risk to those riding the bikes and to bystanders.

The movie includes plenty of great footage of the bikers doing their thing.  It’s amazing they don’t have even more accidents. You get great insight into the mindset of the bikers (ranging in age from teens to late 20s) and a view of what it’s like living in an urban environment without much hope for the future.

But most of all, this is a story about family.  In addition to Pug’s interactions with other kids and the 12 O’Clock Boys, there’s plenty of footage of Pug with his family.  His mother has not had the easiest of times and it’s interesting to see her try to keep Pug in line and to observe his relationship with his brother and sister.

Pug is a sharp kid. This movie gives good insight on what life is like for inner city youth, and by the end you have a good idea of which direction Pug’s life is going.


Rotten Tomatoes


Best of 2013

We once again decided to list our best in various categories as well as our overall best.  Please add your comments with your views as that is half the fun.

Bill I's PicksBill C's Picks
Best Overall1. 12 Years a Slave
2. American Hustle
3. Dallas Buyer's Club
4. Captain Phillips
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. The Spectacular Now
7. Mud
8. This is the End
9. The Way Way Back
10. Fruitvale Station
1. American Hustle
2. Mud
3. 12 Years A Slave
4. Fruitvale Station
5. Dallas Buyers Club
6. This is the End
7. Amour
8. The Way Way Back
9. The World's End
10. Saving Mr. Banka
11. A Band Called Death
12. Gravity
Best Film Based on Historical Events1. 12 Years a Slave
2. American Hustle
3. Dallas Buyer's Club
4. Captain Philips
5. The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Fruitvale Station
1. 12 Years a Slave
2. Dallas Buyers Club
3. Captain Phillips
4. The Act of Killing
5. The Attack
6. War Witch
Best Unique Film1. This is the End
2. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
3. Blue is the Warmest Color
4. In a World
5. Concussion
1. This is the End
2. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
3. In a World
4. Elena
Best Crime Film1. American Hustle
2. The Wolf of Wall Street 
3. Ain't Them Bodies Saints
4. The Attack
1. American Hustle
2. The Wolf of Wall Street
3. The Angels Share
4. Graceland
Best Romantic Film1. The Spectacular Now
2. Drinking Buddies
3. Blue is the Warmest Color
1. Amour
2. The Spectacular Now
3. Drinking Buddies
4. Don Jon
5. The Bounceback
Best Comedies1. This is the End
2. The World's End
3. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
4. In a World
1. This is the End
2. The World's End
3. Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa
4. In a World
5. The Heat
Best Documentaries1. Blackfish
2. We Steal Secrects; Story of Wikileaks
3. Elena
4. Sound City
1. A Band Called Death
2. The Act of Killing
3. The Armstrong Lie
4. The Gatekeepers
5. Hawking
6. Elena
7. Linsanity
8. Getting Back to Abnormal
Best Foreign Language Film1. Wadjda (Saudi Arabia)
2. The Great Beauty (Italy)
3. The Attack (Israel)
1. Wadjda (Saudi Arabia)
2. Graceland (Philippines)
3. The Attack (Israel)
4 War Witch (Canada)
Bill I's PicksBill C's Picks
Best Music Related Movies1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Twenty Feet from Stardom
3. Sound City
1. A Band Called Death
2. Inside Llewyn Davis
3. Muscle Shoals
4. Good Ol' Freda
5. Sound City
Best Actor (Not in Order)- Chiwejel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave
- Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
- Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, Mud)
- Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
- Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
- Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
- Christian Bale (American Hustle)
- Ryan Gosling (The Place Beyond the Pines)
- Chiwejel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave
- Bruce Dern (Nebraska)
- Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips)
- Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis)
- Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street)
- Christian Bale (American Hustle)
Best Actress (not in Order) - Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
- Rooney Mara (Aint Them Bodies Saints)
- Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
- Amy Adama (American Hustle)
- Adèle Exarchopoulos (Blue is the Warmest Color)
- Olivia Wilde (Drinking Buddies)
- Emanuelle Riva (Amour)
- Sandra Bullock (Gravity)
- Lake Bell (In a World)
- Judi Dench (Philomena)
- Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks)
- Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine)
- Amy Adams (American Hustle)
Best Supporting Actor (Not in Order)- Tye Sheridan (Mud)
- Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
- Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Will Forte (Nebraska)
- Barkadh Abdi (Captain Phillips)
- Keith Carradine (Aint Them Bodies Saints)
- Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
- Tye Sheridan (Mud)
- Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave)
- Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club)
- Sam Rockwell (The Way Way Back)
- Jackson Nicoll (Bad Grandpa)
- Will Forte (Nebraska)
- Barkadh Abdi (Captain Phillips
- Jonah Hill (The Wolf of Wall street)
- Bradley Cooper (American Hustle)
Best Supporting Actress (Not in Order)- Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
- Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
- June Squibb (Nebraska)
- Shailene Woodley (Spectacular Now)
- Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
- Reese Witherspoon (Mud)
- Eva Mendes (The Place Beyond the Pines)
- Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis)
- Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine)
- Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years a Slave)
- June Squibb (Nebraska)
- Shailene Woodley
- Julianne Moore (Don Jon)
- Jennifer Lawrence (American Hustle)
Worst Movie1. The Wait
2. Maladies
3. Thor, The Dark World
1. Computer Chess
2. The Lone Ranger
3. Maladies
4. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
5. The Internship
Worst Actor/Actress1. Christina Applegate (Anchorman 2)1. Jody Foster - Elysium
2. Steve Carrell - The Incredible Burt Wonderstone