Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

‘No’ is the 2012 Chilean Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.  It tells the story of the the Chilean plebiscite that would determine if Augusto Pinochet would remain in power for another 8 years. Due to international pressure Pinochet allowed for the creation of political parties and 15 minutes of political ads on TV per day.

The film  uses a lot of archival footage (about 30%) and the fictionalized pieces are shot in a way that gives the whole film the feel of  a documentary.  The film centers on an advertising exec, Renee Saavedra (well played by Gael Garcia Bernal) and his desire to focus the campaign on returning the country to happiness instead of a  more serious theme that emphasized the atrocities of Pinochet.  This alienates many of the leaders of the ‘No’ camapign but once the happiness them gains traction the leaders of the ‘No’ campaign face dirty tactics and threats.  The story is well told and has both humor from the campaign and tension as the campaign unfolds.

The film has faced some controversy in Chile as many feel the film oversimplified the campaign by just focusing on the advertising campaign,  Here’s a good article from the N.Y. Times

This film is definitely worth seeing.  The film has English subtitles but even my subtitle hating wife enjoyed the movie.


Rotten Tomatoes

The Gatekeepers

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

The Gatekeepers is a very good but unfortunately depressing/pessimistic documentary that explores Israel’s war on terror through interviews with all surviving ex heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency.  The documentary does a great job of using (sometimes graphic) archive footage of some of the agencies successes and failures.

The movie goes through the history of Shin Bet focusing on the period after the 1967 war and issues that resulted with the Palestinian refugees.  The film also explores internal political conflicts within Israel that resulted in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the derailment of the peace process.

The movie leaves a pretty pessimistic view of the future in the region.   It’s fascinating to listen to these interviews with Israelis who hunt and often times order killing of others with Israelis discussing the need to not just focus on security but also to resolve some of the valid grievances of the Palestinians, the difficulty to do that in Israel today and how Palestinians are at times more interested in inflicting pain upon Israel than reaching a long term peace that will benefit everyone. This is definitely worth seeing.


Rotten Tomatoes


SXSW Films – Irwin’s Reviews

Short reviews of the films I saw at SXSW Film Festival

Drinking Buddies – 3.5 out of 5

Great premise: bunch of guys working at a small craft-beer factory hang out with their one female co-worker, played by Olivia Wilde. For the first 10 minutes, the film portrays Olivia as everyman’s perfect woman: beautiful, easy going, loves joking around including food fights, beer drinking, pool playing at the bar after work, and enticing and loving at home. With a sophisticated Mr. Big type as a boyfriend, Olivia even dresses and leaves after their weeknight fun so she can be home for the morning. What more can a guy want? Well, apparently, not even Olivia’s character is perfect, and complications ensue. I really enjoyed the whole movie, and most of all appreciated it’s avoidance of cliche’s and typical Hollywood plot line. Anna Kendrick is terrific along with Jake Johnson (the latter a beer worker and aforementioned buddy, the former as his girlfriend).

Elena – 3.5 out of 5

Bill C. reviewed this below, and I agree, it’s excellent documentary about a young Brazilian woman who goes to New York City to become an actress. She ends up committing suicide (not a spoiler), and this story tries to undestand what happened. The interesting and unique part of this documentary is that it was produced by Elena’s younger sister, aided by 50 hours of home movies and audition tapes that she was able to uncover, and by her mother’s recollections. In other words, it’s all real, from the scenes of Elena as a 12 year-old singing and dancing in her parents living room, to current day when her mom and sister visit the apartment in NYC where Elena ended up. It’s very touching and artfully done. (not to be confused with another movie called Elena)

Some Girl(s) – 3 out of 5

Young man, about to be wed, decides to conduct an apology tour of his old flames, touring the country, meeting them in his hotel rooms, and confronting why they didn’t work, asking if they “are good”, but apparently not looking for a final fling. Sounds creepy and suspicious, but the film kept my interest by the actors interactions and variety of old girlfriends, one as interesting as the other. Adam Brody is believable as the guy, nice guy on the surface buy maybe not so nice if he left all these women without a proper break-up. Best of the women are Kristen Bell, Mia Maestro, and Zoe Kazan.

The Bounceback – 3.5 out of 5

Set in Austin, 20-somethings try to re-connect with their old loves, and/or find new ones, whichever is easier. Some hysterical scenes, some touching scenes, and plenty of memorable characters, especially Sara Paxton as self-styled slut, who takes no BS from her ex-boyfriend.

The Wait – 1.5 out of 5

I waited, and waited, for something to happen, while Chloe Sevigny’s character waits for her recently deceased mother to come back to life (in the bed she passed away in), and her sister and son go about their wandering ways in the Oregon upscale wooded community. Lots a strange scenes, many of which make no sense. Don’t waste your time.

Maladies – 2 ouf of 5

Going to a film festival movie I don’t have much to go on, certainly no reviews, so I thought I couldn’t go wrong with this film starring James Franco and Catherine Keener. Well, I learn something new every day and boy I needed reminding that while they are terrific actors, a good film needs a good story to be written, and that is not the case here.

Sound City – 3 out of 5

Solid documentary about a sound board – actually about the music studio that houses the board, and the many great artists who created legenday rock music there. Directed and conceived, and funded, by Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters and Nirvana, it’s clearly a labor of love, as it is with his guest musicians, including Paul McCartney, Rick Springfield and John Fogarty.



Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

I try to have no expectations other than to see a good film, so I was continually waiting for the good part to start while watching Springbreakers. It’s centered on 4 college girls who scrap up enough cash to head down to St. Petersburg for their wild week. Some of the girls are wild already, and the supposedly religious, “innocent” one, played by Selena Gomez, looking about 14 years old, goes along with the others, disregarding being warned by others to watch out for these girls. They partake in the MTV version of Spring Break, with alcohol flowing, bikini tops being dropped, and drugs being smoked and snorted. That’s not enough, so they delve into more extensive wildness “fun”, after meeting a captivating rapper/gangsta, and about that time I realized that the good part is not going to come at all, nor will my enjoyment. The girls and their lives are depressing, to live and to watch, and overall I did not find any redeeming characters to root for or learn anything about. James Franco plays the white gangsta, and it’s a tour de force, and the only memorable portrayal I will remember in a few weeks.

The Call

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

The Call is a terrific suspenseful thriller starring Hallie Berry as a 911 operator, super-competent, cool under pressure, but wracked with guilt and anxiety when she fails to save a desparate caller, and when she ignores her own advice not to develop an emotional connection with the callers. I won’t give away any of the plot, because the less you know the more you will enjoy it. I was skeptical that this simplistic scenario would hold my interest, but it certainly did, reminiscent of other movies such as Speed, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and Phone Booth, where the protaganist, typicaly an ordinary citizen doing his job, has a limited amount of time to resolve a life threatening situation. Good, time tested formula, well done here. Hallie is excellent in a non-glamourous role

Halle Berry-The-Call-DivaWhispers

SXSW – Days 4-9

SXSW is over! It was a great week (with a few exceptions that you’ll see below).

Here is a link to the Audience Award winners.  Somehow I only managed to see one of these movies so next year I’ll need to do a better job of selecting movies! Here are the Jury and Special Award Winners. I saw just one of these also!

Here are some of the highlights of the films that I (Bill C.) did see during SXSW days 4-9.

Getting Back to Abnormal – 4 out of 5

A really good documentary about race and politics in post-Katrina New Orleans. Some very interesting characters make this a very entertaining doc.

The Retrieval – 3 out of 5

A good narrative set during the Civil War about two former slaves trying to find and bring back another former slave for the bounty. Very well acted.

Muscle Shoals – 3 out of 5

One of two entertaining documentaries about recording studios (the other was Sound City). This little town in Alabama had not one, but two, recording studios that produced some amazing music. The ‘Swamp Boys’  backed bands on a lot of the recordings and appeared at the music portion of SXSW later in the week (although I did not get to see them).

Hawking 4 out of 5

An excellent biography of Stephen Hawkings. Hawkings also serves as the narrator. It dealt with his discoveries and public life, his dealings with his disease as his health deteriorated beginning during his college days, and his personal life.

Sound City – 3.5 out of 5

The second documentary I saw dealing with a sound studio, this was directed by David Grohl (of Nirvana and the Foo Fighters). It reminisced (and jammed) with some of the people/groups that made music there, including Fleetwood Mac, Nirvana, Neil Young, John Fogerty and others.  While never recording there, Paul McCartney appeared in a very entertaining segment.  Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters backed Stevie Nicks, John Fogerty, and Rick Springfield at a great concert at Stubbs later in the week!

William and the Windmill – 3.5 out of 5

Another documentary. William built a windmill just based on pictures he saw in a book to provide electricity and water to his impoverished village. Benefactors then provided William the opportunity to get a formal education. This is his journey as he continues to aid his village.

Elena – 4 out of 5

This was a moving documentary about Elena directed by her sister about Elena’s life and suicide and the impact it had on the director. It included home movies of Elena and her sister as well as recordings by Elena

Some Girl(s) – 3 out of 5

A successful journalist travels around the country to supposedly set things right with some of his old girlfriends. Pretty entertaining and well acted. Men are scum!

A Band Called Death – 4 out of 5

This documentary is the year’s Searching for SugarMan! Three brothers from Detroit recorded some music in the mid-seventies and 35 years later they become overnight sensations. Definitely see this if you can. Death also performed at SXSW, but I didn’t get to see them.

Good Ol Freda – 3.5 out of 5

Freda was a big fan of The Beatles in Liverpool when they were regulars at the Cavern. When The Beatles starting gaining traction, they needed a secretary and so Freda was with them from the age of 17 until they broke up. This film includes great music, old footage, and an interesting vantage point for The Beatles’ story.

Maladies – 2 out of 5

James Franco and Catherine Keener in a very strange movie set in the 1950’s about people with problems. The movie had problems too.

Computer Chess – 1.5 out 5

This year’s ‘Trash Humpers’ (the worst movie I ever saw at SXSW). This was set in the 1980s at a tournament for chess playing computers. Clearly I didn’t get it.

SXSW – Days 1-3

SXSW Film started on Friday (3/8) and goes through next Saturday (3/16).  This is the 20th anniversary of the film portion of the conference/festival.  In addition to the film there is intereactive (which has been the fastest growing) and music.  Music starts tomorrow and this year’s acts include Green Day, Stevie Nicks, LL Cool J, David Grohl, John Fogerty, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Vampire Weekend and about 2000 others.  Rumors for unannounced shows include Justin Timberlake and Prince.  Here is the complete list of films for the festival and some of my (Bill C’s) film hilights of the first three days.

Mud – 4.5 out of 5

This films reminded me a little of Stand By Me.  Two young teens are convinced to help an outlaw on the run.  Matthew McConaughy is great as the outlaw.  The two kids are great too.  The film also has Sam Sheppard, Reese Witherspoon, Joe Don Baker in small roles.  This is a good coming of age movies by Jeff Nichols,  the up and coming director of 2011’s Take Shelter.  Both Nichols and McCconaughy were there for a Q+A after the film.  Definitely see this when you can!

Linsanity – 4 out of 5

An excellent documentary about Jeremy Lin.  This includes home footage and follows Lin’s growth as a basketball player from when he was a kid through leading his High School team to a state championship, his days at Harvard through the height of Linsanity. Even people who are not hoops fans will enjoy this movie as it touches on faith, perseverance, racial issues and just the feel good fairy tale ending of a guy whose career was on the brink of ending going on to tremendous success.  Lin comes off as just a good guy who succeeds through hard work and perseverance.  As with many good documentaries part of the success of this film depends on the filmmakers being in the right place at the right time.  They actually had contacted Jeremy Lin about making this documentary when he was still at Harvard and started filming well before Linsanity hit.

Drinking Buddies – 4 out of 5

I liked this movie a lot. It was written/directed by Joe Swanberg who let his actors improvise and got  great results.  It’s a romantic comedy that does not rely on the usual formulaic ending.  It stars Olivia Wilde, Jack Johnson, Anna Kendricks and Ron Livingston. The improvisation gave this a very realistic feel and the actors/actresses had great chemistry.  Olivia Wilde was excellent.  All were at the screening for a very entertaining Q+A.

The Bounceback – 3.5 out of 5

This was another very good romantic comedy that did not have the usual romantic comedy ending. This film was made in Austin and was shot on locations all over town (including several scenes in the Alamo Drafthouse).  This one is more for people in their twenties and is a little raunchier that Drinking Buddies.

Prince Avalanche – 3 out of 5

This is a movie filmed in just a couple of weeks by David Gordon Green starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch as two members of a road crew isolated and working together to reopen roads after a devastating fire.  This was shot in Bastrop after last years wild fires and captures some of the destruction that took place and the rebirth occurring in the park.  This is not a typical Rudd comedy and instead focuses on the interactions of two very different people who are constantly together and ultimately helping each other deal with their problems.  It was pretty good.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone – 2.5 out of 5

I had high expectations for this opening night comedy but was disappointed.  It had some very funny moments and the packed crowd at the Paramount (1200 people) loved it but I found it very uneven.  I thought Jim Carrey was miscast (although he was the hilight of the Q+A afterwards).  I also thought the romance with Steve Carell and Olivia Wilde was not needed and dumb (I liked Wilde so much more in Drinking Buddies).  As I said the audience loved it and if you’re a Carrell fan you should consider seeing this as it did have some very funny moments (my favorite being the reveal of their last trick)