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.