All posts by billc

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

SXSW 2017 – Part 2

During the second half of SXSW I make it to fewer movies due to the music bother re a few I liked:

The Big Sick: This was my favorite movie  last week.  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).  This comes out in June and is a must see!

May it Last: A Portrait of the Avett Brothers: Judd Apatow directed this one although musical documentaries are not what he is known for.  I really enjoyed this documentary that gives good insight into the Avett brothers  as people, their creative process and lots of good music.  This will be on HBO at some point.  Later in the evening, at a different venue,  they performed in concert (they are great to see live).

Patti Cake$: A good narrative film about a young woman trying to make it as a rapper and escape her New Jersey circumstances despite the odds being stacked against her.

Small Crimes: A narrative about a former cop being released from prison and returning to his small home town.  The events that led to his imprisonment are slowly revealed as he tries to put his past behind him.  This was slo pretty good.

Doug Benson and Master Pancake Theater mock Leprechaun 5: In the Hood: Every year on St. Patrick’s Day Benson teams up with local comedy troupe Master Pancake Theater to mock a movie in the Leprechaun series with their running commentary.   This year was the fifth in the series and took place in da hood, last year they mocked #4 which took place in space.  The movies are terrible, the mocking is hilarious.  Unfortunately, unless someone makes another one there are only 2 left.

The Work: An excellent documentary that takes place in Folsom prison.  Every year there’s a 4 day session where inmates and people outside the prison get together and try to help each other work through their issues.  It was pretty intense.

That’s it for festival coverage until Fantastic Fest in September

SXSW 2017 – Part 1

SXSW started last Friday and runs through Saturday (technically it ends Sunday with some good BBQ, the traditional softball game (which I may sign up for) and just a couple of final bands).  This entry will just cover a bunch of the movies I’ve seen but SXSW is a lot more – music (which is just heating up), comedy (which I haven’t made it to at all), tech, health, sports, politics, parties, etc.  For more on other parts of SXSW see the link above or my wife’s blog on her experiences. 

There are about 125 full length movies covering many genres, as well as shorts and episodic (TV shows or streaming).  There are also related panels. For example, there was a panel with Michael Fassbender and Terrence Malick hosted by Richard Linklater discussing Malick’s new film, Song to Song, a panel with the showrunners for Game of Thrones, Bob Odenkirk discussing his projects, the whole cast of VEEP (interviewed by Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, etc.

Here are some of the best (and a couple that I didn’t like):

Fits and Starts: Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show) in a comedy about a struggling writer married to a much more successful one.

A Bad Idea Gone Wrong: a couple of inept thieves get stuck in the house they are robbing.  This was pretty funny and won a best ensemble cast award.

Becoming Bond: a cute, quasi documentary about George Lazenby, the actor who played James Bond once.  It was interesting and funny.          Lazenby talking about his life is interlaced with humorous re-enactments.  He is an itneresting guy (and was at the screening).

Muppet Guys TalkingSecrets Behind the Show the Whole World Watched:  Frank OZ directed and participated in this movie with other of the original Muppets.  Archival footage was also used.

Mr. Roosevelt: the directorial debut and starring Noel Wells.  This is a comedy, set in Austin.  Wells character returns to Austin and spends an awkward weekend with her ex-boyfriend and his new girlfriend and comes  to terms with her previous choices.

Bill Nye, Science Guy: an update on Bill Nye and what he’s up to.  Entertaining and relevant.  As the Q+A demonstrated, he likes to talk.

Hot Summer Nights: Sort of a coming of age movie (but he never really comes of age).  A teenager spends the summer on Cape Cod in 1991, falls in love  and gets involved in drug dealing.

Free Fire:  This opens soon.  An action/comedy movie that flies by.  If you like action/violence you’ll probably like this.  Also pretty funny.

Unrest: A great documentary by and about a sufferer of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  Eye opening and very moving.

Meth Storm: Arkansas USA: Another really eye opening and moving documentary.  The film maker spends time with a law officer on an operation to try to make inroads to cut off the supply from Mexico and with a family with meth addiction problems.  This will be on HBO and is a must see (but tough to watch the drug addicted family).

Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo: A really good documentary on the Apollo program from the perspective of mission control.  Inspiring.

Song to Song:  This is the new Malick movie.  It has a great cast that includes Rooney Mara, Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman and Michael Fassbender.  If you are really into Malick you might like it but I was disappointed.  Too much cutting, not enough fleshing out of the story.  If you live in Austin it might be worth watching just to see all the locations he used.  Sometimes it seemed he just drove around and had people get out of the car if he saw something he thought was interesting.

The Challenge: So far my winner for worst film of the festival.  A documentary about  folks in the middle east that train falcons to catch pigeons in the desert.  If they had interesting characters that did the training or explained why this is a compelling activity it could have been good but they never got into the backstory.  Based on the picture below doesn’t it look like it could be interesting?  This still didn’t get my worst SXSW movie ever award.  That goes to 2010’s Trash Humpers by Harmony Korine.  I wanted to walk out of that one but since I was watching it at the Alamo Drafthouse and had to pay my bill I couldn’t.

Logan

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Logan is set in post apocalyptic (for the mutants) 2029 with Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) both in ill health and in hiding.  While there’s tons of good action this is also a more thoughtful and somber super hero movie than most dealing with  issues relevant in today’s society.

Patrick and Jackman give excellent performances with the Professor having seizure/mental issues and Jackman  shows different emotions  and he still wrestles with his issues of how to handle  the destruction he causes and hurting those he cares about.   Dafne King also does a great jobs as a young mutant on the run.  This probably could have been tightened up a bit to be closer than two hours and while I liked the plot at times it was predictable.

As with Deadpool last year, this is not for kids – tons of bloody violence.  But for those who like a good action movie this is worth seeing.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

John Wick: Chapter 2

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

If you are just looking for totally escapist, ridiculous action movie with a very high body count to kill  two hours this is the movie for you!

Keanu Reeves reprises his role as John Wick, hired assassin extraordinaire!  Keanu is perfect for this role as he doesn’t really need to act, talks very little but does a great job with fighting, loading his gun and just killing an incredible number of people (since most of these people he kills are fellow assassinsI didn’t feel too bad rooting for him).  Until this comes out in DVD and someone can continually pause the movie I don’t think there will be an accurate count. Keanu is sort of the baby Liam Neeson in terms of being able to star in an action movie well into his 50s (although I think Keanu does more of his own stunts).

The set pieces are never boring (although of course they are ridiculous) and if you like this type of movie definitely check it out.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

I am Not Your Negro

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

I Am Not Your Negro is a thought provoking documentary about race relations in America.  It is based on an unfinished project by author James Baldwin exploring race relations using Baldwin’s remembrances of murdered civil rights leaders (and friends) Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X as a jumping off point.  The film uses archival footage of events in the 60’s + Baldwin interview/speaking engagements as well as footage of more recent events.  Samuel L. Jackson provides additional narration based on Baldwin’s writings.

Unfortunately, despite Baldwin having died 30 years ago much of what he said and wrote is still relevant today and this film is worth seeing

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

The Founder

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Michael Keaton gives an excellent performance in this biopic about McDonald’s ‘founder’ Ray Kroc.

The film covers the period when Kroc, as a a struggling milk shake machine salesman discovers the McDonalds brothers burger stand through it’s rise as a conglomerate.  The move is not only showcases the growth of the company but the birth of an industry.

The decisions that led to the success of the business and overcame early struggles are fascinating but even more interesting is how Kroc deals with people, especially the McDonald brothers.   In addition to Keaton’s performance there are also fine performances by Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern and others.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes