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).
Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5
I love a good teenager movie, especially when the characters break out of the stereotype clichés. Blame was written, produced, directed, and acted in by Quinn Shephard, a 22 year old New Jersey native, who conceived it while in high school, and subsequently filmed it in that same high school (Metuchen, by the way). This film is so well filmed, edited, scored and produced with certainly no indication of what I assume is a low budget. Quinn plays Abigail, an emotionally scarred senior who is a target of the cool, nasty clique, led by mean girl Melissa (excellent Nadia Alexander). The girls are quickly enamored by hunky substitute drama teacher (“call me Jeremy”, played perfectly by Chris Messina) and the complications ensue. No spoilers here, but I can say that Abigail finds a way to push through the incessant bullying and get her groove back, so to say, sparked by Jeremy’s “mentoring”. As usual in these movies, there’s no parents in sight, at least admirable parents, but the kids manage to grow up a little nevertheless. Not a fun ending, but appropriate and very well done.
Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5
Another reviewer called this a “low-key charmer”, which is my opinion as well. Anna (the captivating Zoe Lister-Jones, who also wrote and directed) and Ben (Adam Pally) are married, in a rut sex-wise and a depressing routine of arguing over every little thing. They discover that only by putting their beefs in songs (is this how rap started, DJ Kook Herc and Afrika Bombatta?) can they find joy and energize their marriage. They need a drummer, and weird neighbor (perfect Fred Armison) fits the bill. The songs that result are good, and thank god this is not a traditional musical. Very funny in parts, raw and emotional in the middle, with a (mild spoiler alert) nice, happy ending, this is the perfect movie to bring your life partner/arguer. By the way, seeing Susie Essman as Ben’s insightful, slightly over bearing Jewish mother, was fun and great to see that she is much more wide ranging than being typecast as Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm foul mouthed nemesis.
Bill I’s Rating – 3 out of 5
I’ve seen funnier films about kidnapping, the one I can think of is Ruthless People where Bette Midler played an unforgettable, and unpleasant, kidnap victim who ends up being much more painful for the hapless kidnapper than for her thrilled husband. Take Me is an offshoot on that premise, focused on Ray (played well by director Pat Healy), a down at the heals entrepreneur who runs a 1 man kidnap for hire business, where people can experience the thrill of being kidnapped to help them achieve either self actualization or to kick an overeating problem (don’t ask). Ray has more than he can handle with Anna (terrific Taylor Schilling, but no Bette Midler). The fun becomes desperation, routine assignment becomes borderline criminal, and the audience has to guess what’s real. Cool ending, but I wasn’t laughing too much during most of the film.
Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5
What a fun film, at times bizarre, which turns sad and touching, then sweet and nice at the end. The titular clapper, Eddie Krumble, is played terrifically by Ed Helms, who gets paid to sit in Hollywood audiences for infomercials and be filmed clapping wildly, laughing, and asking scripted questions. There’s a bunch of clappers who get $50 per show, and while you wonder what’s his long term plan he seems to be satisfied just eking out a living and ignoring his mom’s incessant calls from NY pleading with him to make something of his life. But then Eddie develops a sweet relationship with the local gas station cashier, Judy, (captivating Amanda Seyfried) who sits behind bullet proof glass communicating with Eddie through her speaker, while Eddie is thrilled just to talk with her. Eddie’s world explodes when the national late night talk show host finds out about this paid clapper, and makes an ongoing bit to “Find the Clapper”. Now Eddie’s cover is blown, he’s famous, and he can’t be pretending to be a regular audience member at infomercials. So no more income, no money to take Judy out, no interest in being a national laughing stock and appearing on the talk show, and then losing Judy, what can he do? Good thing his best friend, and fellow clapper, Chris (Tracy Morgan killing the role!) is there to keep him company and help figure out a plan, as unwitting as both of them are. I won’t tell the rest of the plot, but the fun is in the characters, including Brenda Vaccaro as Eddie’s no holds barred mom. Cool film, and I guarantee you haven’t seen anything like it! Kudos to writer/director Dito Montiel.
Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5
This film’s plot has nothing we haven’t seen. The drag queens and transgender women of color competing in glamorous runway and dance contests, facing horrible discrimination (Paris is Burning), the bullying of teenagers questioning their gender (Boys Don’t Cry, others I can’t recall), the treatment of gay and transgender people in the inner city. But this film, based on a real life center for homeless and poor trans and gay people of color in NYC, (held at a church on Saturdays), filled with inexperienced actors including several with zero acting experience (the writer/director was intent on being as true to life as possible by casting transgender women in key roles), is as emotionally genuine as possible. The lead character, Ulysses, played amazingly well by Luka Kain, is 14 years old, clearly not fitting in with his basketball teammates, trying on his single mother’s stockings in secret, is just trying to get by while figuring out just who he is. But after his dad dies and his Aunt Rose (a terrifying Regina Taylor) moves in to help watch Ulysses and his younger brother while his mom (beautiful Margot Bingham) works two jobs, he faces a daily threat from his aunt’s brutal method of religious strictness. Ulysses finds support and mentoring from a disparate group of older trans women (and one cute young man) down by the Christopher Street Piers and the welcoming haven of the Saturday Church. Ulysses is able to come into his own, while navigating some horrific experiences. A heartwarming Hollywood ending for this low budget independent film.
Bill I’s Review – 2.5 out of 5
The first couple of scenes are terrific. Adam (funny Justin Long) hears from his long-time ex, Allison, (Cobie Smulders) that’s she’s gotten engaged and wants him to attend her wedding. They were together for 8 years, and only parted a year and a half ago. Adam is clearly still hung up on her but he agrees to come to the wedding, indicating that he’s moved on with his life, which clearly is not true. Next scene Adam takes his current girlfriend to a fancy dinner, and in a moment of clarity and zest for life tells her they should get married. She’s stunned but thrilled, then after gulping a glass of wine Adam does an about face and says they need to break up, as he realizes he can’t wake up every day of his life looking at her face. This super funny scene sets the stage for decreasingly humorous follow-on scenes, ending with him making a fool of himself at her wedding. I was bored for most of the second half, and won’t describe the routine, unsurprising plot elements that follow. Thinking of how Cobie Smulders is utilized here, I realize that an average episode of How I Married Your Mother is far better, funnier, more touching, more witty, than this film.
Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5
Lovely Anna (great Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) are live-in lovers, having known each other all their lives, clearly on a path to marriage. In fact, in the opening scene Dan fingers an engagement ring box, clearly planning how to ask Anna to marry him. They demonstrate (to us and to each other) all the stereotypical signs of a loving couple. The only apparent kink is their love making which seems a little, well, abrupt and mechanical. At a dinner with her brother and his best friend, (Hale and Reece, who are also a committed couple, and who are portrayed making love in one of the most explicit scenes I have seen in a mainstream movie), Will loses his resolve to pull out the ring and instead, thanks to drunken prompting Reece, they float the idea of having sex with other people to confirm that they are truly ready for a life-time of monogamy (seems like monotony with these two). Seems like Will’s male fantasy, but is he ready for Anna to also have a fling? She clearly is, and surprise surprise, she quickly is able to find a guy ready to take her to bed. And he seems pretty much ideal, both in bed, in the kitchen (he makes her breakfast in bed; actually she eats off a plate on his chest). And after sex he lays naked with his substantial genitals in full view. While we never see Will doing that, we are left to surmise that this new dude beats Will in that department. Things progress, including Will getting his own mind blown by an uninhibited wealthy widow (perfect, funny Gina Gershon). And there’s a secondary plot involving drama with the gay couple and a small role from Jason Sudeikis as a stay at home exhausted dad. I was afraid there was going to be a boring predictable Hollywood ending, but I was happily wrong. In summary, an interesting take on an attractive couple and the danger of falling into predictability. oh, and there are some good laughs amongst the loving and arguing. Fun fact: the writer/director, Brian Crano, is married in real life to David Craig who plays Hale, and Rebecca Hall is married to Morgan Spector who plays Reece.
Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5
This is the anti-cliché movie. Simple plot: two college girls (great Juno Temple and Julia Garner) spend a hot summer together with nothing in particular to do. Not so simple plot twists: their best friend recently died tragically and they feel guilty because of the part they played. How do they get over it? How does it affect their friendship? How do their friends and family help them get over their grief. This is what makes it interesting, and I won’t tell much of the plot because following them go through their experiences is the fun part. One striking aspect is the summer love affair Juno’s character has with her college thesis advisor (Alessandro Nivola, playing the Bradley Cooper role). He’s a straight arrow English professor trying to write his novel while his wife (again the non-cliché, as she is not the typical cold bitch) is stuck in NY City for much of the summer with her work issues (the college town is in upstate New York). The mutual attraction and sexy chemistry is as believable as any I’ve seen in recent films. Is he the therapy she needs to get over her grief? Is he going to screw her over at the end while she gets devastated? (remember, anti-cliché) The relationship between the girls, as well as with their remote parents, clueless friends, and just about everyone else is as realistic as possible, and such a refreshing thing to see. So see it you must!
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