Ex Machina

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Ex Machina is a smart, entertaining sci-fi thriller from first-time director Alex Garland (probably best known as the writer of 28 Days Later).  Domhnall Gleason plays Caleb, an employee of a Google/Facebook-like company.  He is the winner(?) of a week with the secretive company owner, Nathan (played by Oscar Isaac) on his massive estate.

Nathan has been working on an advanced AI robot, Ava, played by Alicia Vikander.  Nathan has invited Caleb, as a participant of a ‘Turing Test,’ to determine if the AI is advanced enough to pass as human.

The week turns into a cat-and-mouse game between Ava, Caleb and Nathan with lots of suspense and interesting twists and turns.  I don’t want to give away more of the plot.

The acting is great, especially Oscar Isaac as the manipulative, creepy mogul.  The special effects for Ava are also excellent.

This film is definitely worth checking out.


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SXSW 2015 Days 1-5

Below are some of my favorites for the first half of the SXSW Film Festival.  This year there are about 150 films with about 100 being premieres (world or US).

Trainwreck – 4 out of 5

This is still listed as a work in progress, so it can still change (so I’ll need to see it again!).  This is Judd Apatow’s latest starring Amy Schumer.  Like most Apatow films, it’s rude, crude, very funny and has a heart.  Schumer plays a magazine writer with commitment issues (explained via a very funny opening sequence).  The supporting cast includes Bill Hader (as the orthopedic surgeon for athletes and one of Schumer’s love interests)  and Lebron James in a much larger role than I expected that he totally pulled off (including a very funny 1 on 1 match with Hader).  I thought the ending went a bit overboard, but if you are an Apatow fan, you will definitely like this movie.

Raiders! – 4 out of 5

Back in the 1980’s a bunch of kids spent their summers doing a shot for shot remake of Raiders Of The Lost Ark.  They remade the whole movie from the time they were 11 to around 18 with the exception of the airplane scene (that includes lots of explosions and a guy fighting Indy meeting up with an airplane propeller).  Last summer they decided (with the help of Kickstarter) to film that last scene.

This documentary tells about their making of the remake, their lives since then, and the filming of the final scene.  It’s a fascinating, funny  story.  These kids did an amazing job and this doc shows their obsession and ability to persevere on a film that had tons of special effects, people burning, hanging on to speeding trucks, etc.  Luckily they survived.  The course of their lives and friendship over the next 30 years and the filming of the final scene is also fascinating.

After the screening they showed the final version of The Raiders of the Lost Ark remake with their final scene included.  It was awesome but you don’t need to see that to enjoy this documentary.

Get Hard – 3.5 out of 5

This is the new Kevin Hart and Will Farrell movie coming out  soon. Will Farrell is framed for a crime and headed to jail and hires Kevin Hart to train him on how to survive in prison.  I found it very funny.  It is also rude, crude, politically incorrect and definitely goes over the edge at times (there are parts that are definitely offensive).  Despite that I did like it a lot and this is my favorite Will Farrell movie in quite a while.  While watching this, I wondered if Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor remade Stir Crazy today if this is how it would turn out.

The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson – 3 out of 5  

Another good documentary. Wilco Johnson is a musician who is told he has inoperable cancer and  he has at most 8 months to live.  Instead of just succumbing to his fate, he decides to live the rest of his life to the fullest and goes on one last tour.

T-Rex – 4 out of 5

A very good documentary about a U.S. boxer hoping to become the first winner of Olympic gold in women’s boxing.  This is not just about her training, but also about life in low income neighborhoods and her interactions with family, friends, and trainers.

Peace Officer – 4.5 out of 5

A documentary about a policeman who set up a SWAT team in his city and how thirty years later the SWAT team he originally set up killed his son-in-law.  This explores the militarization of the police in the U.S.  and how in some cases they’ve lost sight of their true mission.  This is a very topical film with events such as Ferguson in the current news.

Spy – 3 out of 5

The latest from Melissa McCarthy.  The title says it all.  If you like her you’ll like this.  If you don’t, you won’t.

Best of Enemies – 3.5 out of 5

Another really good documentary about the 1968 debates between Will F. Buckley and Gore Vidal on ABC during the 1968 political conventions that year.  ABC did this because they were the last-place network and they need to do something out of the ordinary for ratings.  Some say this was the start of the road to our sad state of discourse now with Fox News, MSNBC, etc.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a joyful spoof of Bond genre films and  is directed by Matthew Vaughn.  Vaughn successfully spoofed superhero movies a few years ago with Kick Ass.

The film is very entertaining with good action and lots of laughs.   Like Kick Ass or Kill Bill, there is a ton of violence  which may offend some.  The plot isn’t the most exciting, but fits right in with Bond spoofs. Samuel L. Jackson is the megalomaniac villain (who can’t stomach watching violence).  Colin Firth does a good job as the Bond-type spy and Taron Egerton is very likable as the young spy trainee.  There are no real ‘Bond’ girls, but dancer Sofia Boutella is great as the villain’s deadly hench-person

If you like Bond spoofs, Kick Ass or Kill Bill, check this movie out.


Rotten Tomatoes


Best of 2014

While we were slackers in terms of writing reviews, we were not slackers in terms of seeing lots of movies.  Here’s our picks for the best of 2014.

 Bill IBill C
Best Movies1 Boyhood 4.5
2 American Sniper 4.5
3 Whiplash 4
4 Calvary 4
5 Top Five 4
6 Beyond the Lights 4
7 The Grand Budapest Hotel 4
8 Wild 4
9 The Imitation Game 4
10 Ida 4
11 St. Vincent 4
1 Boyhood 4.5
2 Guardians of the Galaxy 4
3 The Grand Budapest Hotel 4
4 SnowPiercer 4
5 Whiplash 4
6 The Tribe 4
7 Foxcatcher 4
8 St Vincent 3.5
9 Top Five 3.5
10 Birfman 3.5
11 Goodnight Mommy 3.5
12 NightCrawler 3.5
13 Master Pancake Theater
Best Documentaries1 Life Itself 4
2 Citizen Four 4
3 Kung Fu Elliott 4
4 The Dog 3.5
5 12 O'Clovck Boys 3.5
6 No No: A Dockumentary 3.5

Bill C’s Best of 2014 Comments (Not in order)

Narrative Films

Boyhood – This was my favorite movie of the year.  Not really any plot – just a boy growing up.  For someone with kids who grew up over the past 12-14 years, it was very moving.
Guardians of the Galaxy – A totally different action movie based on a Marvel comic.  Upbeat and fun with great music.
The Grand Budapest Hotel – Another excellent, quirky movie from Wes Anderson.
Master Pancake Theater (anything) – This isn’t really a movie.  This is the group in Austin that mocks movies.  Like Mystery Science Theater 3000 only with less  no inhibitions.  All their shows are hysterical and they never disappoint.  I go to as many shows as I can.
St Vincent – Funny and moving.  This was much better than I expected.  Both Bill Murray and a reined-in Melissa McCarthy were very good.
Top Five - Very funny, but with serious themes, starring and directed by Chris Rock.
SnowPiercer – Very good sci-fi movie with the last survivors in a post-apocalyptic world living on a train dealing with serious class issues.
Goodnight Mommy – Best Austrian horror movie on my list with the worst title.  If M. Night Shamalyan could still make good movies, this is the movie he would make.
The Tribe - Best Ukrainian movie on my list about a gang of deaf students. This movie has no dialogue—just Ukrainian sign language and no subtitles—but I was able to follow the plot with no problems.  Very intense.  Brutal ending.
Birdman – This is just great  movie-making on display.  I love the way they make it seem like one take (like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope).
NightCrawler - Jake Gyllenhaal gives a masterful performance as a total sleeze-ball roaming L.A. at night trying to get good footage of bad things to sell to the highest bidder.
Foxcatcher – Great performances all around in this drama based on a real story.
Whiplash – Sort of An Officer and a Gentleman set in the world of jazz music.  J. K. Simmons is amazing.


Life Itself – A life-affirming bio of Roger Ebert.  Much of this is shot during his final days, but his whole life was interesting.  Very moving, although parts are tough to watch.
Kung Fu Elliott - A very funny documentary about a guy who wants to be the greatest action star of Canadian films.  It gets dark towards the end, with several surprises.
12 O’Clock Boys - A fascinating  documentary about lower income gangs in Baltimore and their dirt bikes.
The Dog – A documentary about the real life character Al Pacino played in Dog Day Afternoon and his life both before and after the robbery.
No No: A Documentary - Doc Ellis and his no-hitter while high on LSD (and the rest of his life).
CitizenFour – A documentary about Edward Snowden just before, during and just after he leaks classified info from the NSA. Really good.

Worst Movie

Mood Indigo – I really like some quirky stuff (see The Grand Budapest Hotel above).  Unfortunately quirky along with boring doesn’t work for me.

Fantastic Fest 2014

Fantastic Fest is the largest genre film festival in the U.S. and features horror, science fiction, action, fantasy, Asian, and cult or anything else that strikes Tim League’s fancy.  This was its tenth year since being founded by Tim League (Alamo Drafthouse ), Harry Knowles (Aint it Cool News), and others.  Since this festival is held in Austin at the newly reopened Alamo South Lamar (except for special events), I decided to give it a try.

In addition to the movies with directors, producers, and actors in attendance, there were several events and parties at the neighboring The Highball, including an event with Leonard Maltin and a taping of the  Doug Loves Movies podcast with Doug Benson.   The Alamo Drafthouse theaters serve food and drink, so there is no need to leave  the premises once you get there for your first movie…except eight days straight of Alamo Draffthouse food is not a very healthy diet.

I had a great time and will probably attend Fantastic Fest again. There were generally five slots of movies a day with 4-5 films to pick from.  I usually made between 2-4 showings a day.  Not all of these movies were totally up my alley, but here are a few that  I really enjoyed (not in any specific order):

As Seen By The Rest: A Bollywood film noir that at times reminded me of Roshomon, Pulp Fiction, and Sin City.  As with all good Bollywood movies, this breaks into song and dance several times,  planned for an intermission, and inexplicably and frequently switches between an Indian dialect and English,  even in mid-sentence.

Man From Reno: A Japanese mystery writer gets involved and helps to solve a real mystery in San Francisco.  Good plot with good twists.

Duke of Burgundy: Avoid this at all costs.  A lesbian love story that almost put me to sleep.

Kung Fu Elliott:  One of my favorites of the festival.  This is a documentary about a guy who wants to become the biggest action star in Canada.  This movie follows him as he is shooting his latest,  Blood Fight (his first film was titled They Killed My Cat).  Unfortunately he is not good at making movies nor at Kung Fu.  This started out as a ligh-hearted look at a guy whose aspirations exceed his skill set, but midway through takes unexpected turns and gets much darker.  This is both funny and disturbing.

Bros Before Hos:  A very funny, politically incorrect, raunchy film from the Netherlands about two brothers who fall in love with the same girl.

Lost Soul: An excellent documentary about the 1997 disastrous making of The Island of Dr. Moreau starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer.  The original director, Richard Stanley, was fired early on and participated in the documentary and was at the screening.  He has very strong opinions as this had a big negative impact on his career.  The movie turned into a disaster for a lot of reasons, and the documentary is fascinating.

Master Pancake mocks The Island of Dr. Moreau:  Master Pancake mocks movies, ala Mystery Science Theater.  I always enjoy Master Panacke, but after seeing Lost Soul I was interested to see their mocking of this movie. While they hadn’t prepared as well as they normally would, this movie was very easy to mock, and it was a very funny show.  Even during the mocking,  you could tell what a bad movie this was.  Richard Stanley participated.

Goodnight Mommy: The original Austrian versions title translates to I See, I See, but for the American release, it will have this terrible name.  This was Tim League’s pick for the secret screening, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s a mystery about a mother and her two sons.  She is recovering from an accident and they are having relationship problems.  It’s not clear exactly what is going on until the end.  I liked it a lot, but be warned: it gets pretty violent along the way.

In Order of Disappearance: Another one of my favorites.  When a man’s son is wrongly killed by drug dealers, he seeks revenge.  This was much funnier than I expected.  You also get to see the serious snow clearing machines that they need in a country like Norway!

The Tribe:  I’m not sure this will appeal to many people.  This is a Ukranian film set in a boarding school for the deaf.  It’s a 2+ hour film with just Ukranian sign language and no subtitles.  But it’s not hard to follow the plot.  The film is about a new student at the school trying to adjust.  He gets involved with a group of thugs.  This is very gritty and gets very violent at the end.

The Tokyo Tribes:  This film was quite a contrast to that previous 2+ hour one with no dialogue. This movie was the story of gang warfare in Tokyo told totally via hip hop (plus lots of action).  My son always makes fun of West Side Story.  I wonder what he would think of this!

To Be Takei

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

To Be Takei is an entertaining and mostly lighthearted documentary about the former Star Trek star and current Facebook phenom.    Takei’s charisma shines through.   He  always has a smile on his face and is definitely enjoying this stage of his  life with his renewed time in the spotlight.

While this documentary is mostly lighthearted it does cover some serious topics starting with his days in a Japanese American internment camp during WW2, it’s effect on his family and how his parents handled it during and after the war (and the current musical on that subject he is hoping to take to Broadway).  It also covers some of his early career roles in demeaning Asian stereotyped roles, his coming out as gay later in life and his advocacy for gay rights causes.

The film also entertainingly revies his days on Star Trek with interviews with several cast members including an unflattering appearance by William Shatner,  his days with Howard Stern and his current popularity on Facebook.

This  is one of the more entertaining documentaries of the year.


Rotten Tomatoes

Social Star Awards Day-1


Mood Indigo

Bill C’s Review – 1 out of 5

Mood Indigo is the latest directorial effort by Michel Gondry, the director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. This is a VERY quirky, special-effect-loaded with romance.  Usually I’m into quirky stuff, but this did not do it for me.

The quirkiness and special effects were interesting at the beginning, but as the movie wore on they became tiresome and distracted from the plot.  Towards the middle, I lost interest and was wishing I had chosen another movie.  The end should have carried an emotional wallop, but due to all the diversions, it came off flat for me.

My guess is there will be lots of folks that love this movie, but I was not one of them. This film is in French with subtitles.


Rotten Tomatoes


Guardians of the Galaxy

Bill C’s Review – 4.25 out of 5

Guardians of the Galaxy is joy to watch. It’s a  Marvel based super hero movie with lots of humor, great energy and music and with  good action.

A toned Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation is the excellent lead of a good cast that includes Zoe Saldana and the voice work of Vin Deisel (‘I am Groot’) and Bradley Cooper.  This is a lesser know Marvel set of unique characters and  it includes a super hero tree and fox but the filmmakers definitely made it work.

I did not see the 3D version so  I don’t know if that adds anything.  As with seemingly all Marvel comics this had an extra scene at the end but there were a lot of credits so you need to decide for yourself whether it’s worth the wait.  After Boyhood this has been my favorite movie this summer.


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A Most Wanted Man

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

A Most Wanted Man is a good spy thriller based on a John le Carre novel.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles, plays Gunther, a  German spy operative in Hamburg fighting the war on terror in the post 9/11 world.  This movie is not an action movie – it’s a more subtle spy story relying on detailed and sometimes slow digging into the details to build a case.  What makes the movie interesting is not just Gunther trying to build these two cases and determining how high up the chain he can get but seeing him try to maneuver against those that should be his partners  – other German police organizations and his counterparts in the CIA.  The movie comes together with a few surprises in the end.

Hoffman is excellent in an understated way and this has a good supporting cast with Rachel  McAdams and Willem Dafoe also playing Germans and Robin Wright as a CIA operative.

If you look for a lot of action in your spy thrillers you might find parts of this a little slow  but I enjoyed it.


Rotten Tomatoes


Life Itself

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Life Itself is a great biographical documentary about film critic Roger Ebert.  The movie spans his entire life including a significant amount of filming during Ebert’s final weeks as he finally succumbed to cancer.

The film is a moving tribute and shows Ebert, warts and all, from his days breaking into newspapers while still a teenager, his ascension as a critic while battling alcoholism, a nuanced view of his pairing with fellow critic Gene Siskel, finding his soul mate later in life, and finally his brave and very open battle with cancer.

The film is directed by Steve James, who is most famous for Hoop Dreams.  It’s a very emotional movie movie with a lot of humor as well.  Some people might find parts of this movie tough to watch due to the toll that his illness took on him and the physical problems that he faced, but this is a film well worth seeing.


Rotten Tomatoes