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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.

Paterson

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

As a public service right here I will provide a short quiz you can take in order to determine whether you should see this film, as follows:

  1. Are you curious what Adam Driver’s character from Girls would be like after a lobotomy?
  2. How about watching Adam Driver appear in almost every scene in a movie while not moving any facial muscles?
  3. Are you tired of movies that are driven by plots, and have dramatic and compelling scenes?
  4. Do you have heart problems and need a movie to not cause your heart to go above resting state?
  5. Would you like to see what it’s like for a bus driver to go on his route every day?
  6. Did you ever wonder what would happen if a city bus stopped working in the middle of the route?
  7. Do you like to see sets of twins make appearances at unexpected times throughout a movie?
  8. Do you like poetry, and would you like to see an ordinary person compose poetry on the fly, writing about ordinary objects such as matchsticks?
  9. Do you live in, or work in, or were you born in, Paterson New Jersey?
  10. Are you walking outside in the cold and need a warm, quiet place to sit for a couple of hours?

If you answered yes to any of those questions then by all means go see Paterson!

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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

Fences

Bill I’s Review – 3 out of 5

A platform for tremendous acting by Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, it’s a great way for those of us who haven’t seen the play on Broadway to experience this well written production. Yes, a movie version of a play, with most scenes set in the backyard, or kitchen, of an old brownstone in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s. Lot of talking from the lead character played by Denzel, a blowhard, a has been baseball star (from the Negro leagues before blacks were allowed in Major League Baseball), a hard working, hard drinking family man who beats down his teenage son verbally while ostensibly instilling discipline and forcing him down a reasonable career in his eyes and not following his own path of refuse collector/driver. The second half allows Viola to come to the front and take charge of the household when her husband stumbles. Solid film, just not too exciting or compelling enough for me to rave about.

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Rogue One

Bill I’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

First, let’s see if this film follows the legacy of its predecessors. Does it focus on a young warrior who has father issues? Check. Does the main bad guy wear a billowing cape? Check. Is the fate of the galaxy in jeopardy? Check. Are the foot soldiers of the bad guys in full armor uniforms where they all look alike, faces covered, and just get mowed down while having terrible aim and slow reactions? Check, check, check. Is there a funny robot? Check.

So far, so good, although not many surprises. Now more questions that arose for me while I watched. Why do so many vehicles and equipment in this super advanced society have steam shooting out of them? (my best guess: the better to appear dramatic and give the good guys cover). Where is the wind that causes the bad guys cape to billow when he’s standing literally in outer space? (guess: maybe it’s the air rushing out of the spaceship?). Why do most of the characters have English accents? (guess: the best actors are English, right? Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Judi Dench, Sacha Baron Cohen…) When do these characters ever eat or sleep? (guess: they’re taking some kind of futuristic super amphetamine) How do they travel from one galaxy to another so quickly? (guess: worm holes, what else?) Finally, not to give too much away, but pay attention to the data warehouse of the future, where you actually have to remove the data with a mechanical arm from its slot in the shelves.

I hope I didn’t give any spoilers. Pretty fun film, good for all ages.

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Arrival

Bill I’s Review – 4 out of 5

I agree with one reviewer’s characterization of Arrival as achieving what Interstellar tried (and failed) at, as a “thinking person’s movie”. I suggest that you not read any reviews in advance of seeing this film, so that you go in like me, having no idea of the plot or character elements beyond the most basic:  alien spaceships have arrived on (or over!) Earth and Amy Adams’ linguistic expert character, teamed with Jeremy Renner’s scientist, try to help the US government figure out what they want. The slow unraveling of this mystery is masterfully done, with soundtrack, cinematography, and hints at what is happening doled out to the viewer. It’s tense, it’s fun, it’s scary in a non-typical alien disaster movie way.  It gets a little slow at times for me. Amy Adams is great, as usual. And it resonates with today’s global political climate. I walked out proud to have figured out the plot, with a little help from my wife, and admiring how it was woven together. Unlike when I left Interstellar, furiously disputing the outlandish logic and plot elements. Arrival is terrific, highly recommended for all ages, say 12 and above!

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Hacksaw Ridge

Bill C’s Review – 3.5 out of 5

Hacksaw Ridge is based on the true story of Desmond Doss. During WWII, serving in the Pacific, he became the first conscientious objector to be awarded the Medal of Honor while serving as a medic.

I almost felt I was getting two movies for the price of one.  The first hour is Doss growing up, family turmoil, falling in love, enlisting and standing up for his desire to serve in a capacity that does not  require him to kill.  The second half is the story of his participation in the battle for Okinawa, his incredible bravery while sticking to his principles.  The war scenes are extremely well made but also incredibly violent (so if you don’t like disturbing war images skip this film).

This is Mel Gibson’s first directorial effort in 10 years (time flies),  It’s a well made film and it does it good job in telling the story of Desmond Doss (stay for the closing credits to see pictures/interviews with Doss and others).  My biggest knock was there are parts (in both halfs) that felt formulaic and all the expected caricatures of characters in an army barracks were provided.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Deepwater Horizon

Bill I’s Rating – 3.5 out of 5

Disaster flicks have both come a long way, and stayed the same, from back in the day, such as 1972’s Poseidon Adventure. Similarities: A huge structure, which encounters a problem that quickly escalates into total destruction, while our characters take heroic, mostly, actions to rescue others, and try to escape with their lives. Come a long way in that the super HD reality of the structure is incredible, with the feeling that you are inside the oil rig (yes, that’s the name of it, Deepwater Horizon, true story), with things popping, dials rising into the red, water blowing gaskets (or whatever they blow), and fire and explosions go off while people get blown away, injured, jump into the fiery water, helicopters rescue, etc. I knew the story going in (oil rig blew up after it’s corporate owner, BP, cut corners in safety measures), but the suspense is high and overall great action throughout.

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Birth of a Nation

Bill I’s Rating – 4 out of 5

I resisted seeing this film due to the recently made public story of the director and actor, Nate Parker, being accused of rape years ago. It’s the Woody Allen, Roman Polanski issue, where I refuse to patronize these “artists” who have abused women/girls, whether or not they have been convicted. But, spurred on by a tweet from actor Hal Holbrook, along with Gabrielle Union’s online encouragement, I decided to see the film, and I’m glad I did. It’s very well done, incredible portrayal of slavery life on southern plantations in 1809.  Beyond what are now cliche characters (vicious plantation manager, maternal slave owner, incredibly cruel plantation owners, house slave, cotton pickers, etc.) it showed how religion was used to give hope of a rewarding after-life to those toiling this life’s hell, as well as to strike fear of a demanding God to obey their masters. Nat Turner does his duty, including being carted around to nearby plantations as the preacher who will keep the slaves obedient and in line, while their labor is extracted in the way one would ride one’s horse as long as possible while spending as little money and food as possible, no personal love or care necessary. Until a line is crossed, which in this case is rape and beating of his wife. Articles have been written protesting this subservient role of the black women, who in this film are powerless and serve as a reason, an affront to the men’s egos, who passively nod their heads while they see their men go off to act on violent, and certainly suicidal, rebellion. It becomes a revenge film at the end, portraying some graphic violence, and not in the Tarantino “fun violence” sense. The final scenes of “strange fruit” hanging from the trees are haunting, as is the crowd’s animal like lashing out as Nat is brought to the hangman. It made me think, has it really been only 200 hundred years since Americans acted this way? Slavery continued until 150 years ago. Lynchings and the KKK continued to occur until when, only 60 years ago? Civil rights violence with Bull Connor and the March in Selma was in the 60s. Haven’t we progress so far since then? Are we really such a progressive society? That’s a different film. In fact, such a film was made; I reviewed Fruitvale Station only 3 years ago.

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review

 

SXSW 2016 – Part 2

Below are the hilights from the final few days of SXSW

Movies

The American Epic Sessions – This will be on PBS at some point and is the 4th episode in the series.  20 musical acts were brought into record using original recording equipment from the 1920s that allowed 3 minute recordings.  Interesting with excellent music

Morris from America – Morris has to move to Germany and live with his father.  It is interesting to see how he adjusts to both his new environs and full time life with dad.

And Punching the Cloud – A good comedy (I assume) based on real life experience of struggling comedian Henry Phillips.  He has to decide whether to sell out and go for the big bucks or stay true to himself.

Bang! The Bert Berns Story – A good documentary about 1960s song writer/music producer Bert Berns.  His hits include Hang on Sloopy and he had mob ties which adds to the interest.

My Blind Brother – A good full length romantic comedy based on a short that first debuted at SXSW in 2003.  Two brothers (Nick Kroll and Adam Scott) both fall in love with the same girl (Jenny Slate who was great in Obvious Child).

Music

I saw about 20 bands and here are my top few (not in order)

  • Jake Bugg
  • Avett Brothers
  • Lucius
  • Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
  • Leon Russell
  • Iggy Pop