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)

 

56 Up

Bill C’s Review – 4 out of 5

Time marches on!  56 Up is the latest installment in the documentary series that has visited the same people every seven years to see how their lives have evolved. The series started with when they were seven years old. This airs as a TV special in the UK, but is released here as a movie. The series started out to look at class differences in England, but has evolved to show how people evolve, with the many twists and turns that life takes.  The first installment had 14 participants; of those, 13 are still participating. Some have been successful and others not so successful. Many have had ups and downs, with divorces, physical and mental health issues, etc.

Michael Apted directs and he does a fine job of including clips from previous films and different ages. It is not important to have seen previous movies. This is the type of movie that makes you reflect on your own life (especially for those like me, roughly the age of the participants—if the initial show had been in N.Y. it could have been little Billy and Billy being followed and giving our views on movies all these years!). The folks in the movie have definitely started to age and they are now at a time in their lives where they look back on their successes and failures,  the choices they could have made, and how their view of the world has changed over the years. Many reflected on how their kids are doing and the job they did raising them.

It takes a few minutes to adjust to the British accents, and the movie could have been a little shorter than 2.5 hours, but I’d definitely recommend seeing 56 Up if you get the chance.

IMDB

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Side Effects

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5 

Side Effects is a crime thriller with a lot of plot twists, a good director, and a very good cast.  I  expected to like it a lot. Despite all of that, the plot just seemed unrealistic to me, and despite the fun of trying to follow the twists and turns, I was disappointed. If there’s a lawyer is reading this entry who saw this movie, I’d love your view on whether some of the plot is realistic or if there are legal checks and balances that make this unrealistic.

The cast included Rooney Mara (from the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), Jude Law, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Channing Tatum. Tatum’s role is very small, so don’t go see this film just because you are a big fan. Rooney Mara was excellent. Most reviews seem to like Jude Law’s performance, but I thought he was a little over the top.

I seem to be in the minority on this review, so while I didn’t really like this movie, you shouldn’t let my cynicism about the plot stop you from seeing it.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Identity Thief

Bill C’s Review – 2 out of 5

I had originally intended to skip this movie based on the poor reviews it received from critics.  But based on the audience reception on Rotten Tomatoes and since there’s not a lot that’s really good out there right now I decided to give it a shot.  Unfortunately I agree with the critics.  Melissa McCarthy is excellent and provides the laughs but they are too few and far between and this movie violates Bill I’s prime rule of movie previews – don’t show all the best laughs if the movie is a comedy.

This movie seemed to me like a weak clone of the John Candy/Steve  Martin classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles with  two strangers driving each other crazy on a disastrous road trip together before coming together at the end.  Unless you really like Melissa McCarthy I would rent that  instead.  Another option if you’re a fan of the director Seth Gordon is to rent one of my favorite and very funny documentary, The King of Kong, the story of good vs. evil in the quest to be the record holder in ‘Donkey Kong’.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Amour

Bill C’s review – 4 out of 5

Amour is one of the best movies that most people will want to avoid seeing. It’s a very well-acted and honest portrayal of a couple in their eighties dealing with the declining health of the wife due to a series of strokes. The husband lovingly takes care of her despite the hardships to keep his vow not to let her die in a hospital or nursing home. This movie doesn’t pull any punches in telling the story of slow decline of the wife.

This movie has deservedly received several Academy Award nominations. Emmanuelle Riva plays the wife and is nominated for Best Actress. This is a challenging role physically as she goes from healthy through various stages of post-stroke to near-death. Amour is also nominated for Best Picture and Michael Haneke is nominated for Best Director.  Haneke directed Cache a few years  ago—a movie that Bill I. recommended, but that I never got around to seeing. Jean-Louis Trintignant does a great job as the husband, and one of my all-time favorite French actresses, Isabelle Huppert, plays the daughter.

So this is another film that I like a lot, but but it is sad and depressing and not for everyone AND it’s French so it has subtitles.

IMDB

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Les Miserables

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

This is another one of those movies where my opinion is totally irrelevant on whether or not you should see this.  If you’ve a) seen this on Broadway and liked it, b) if you’ve never seen a musical you didn’t like, c) enjoy lots of closeups of Hugh Jackman or Anne Hathaway (even though she’s most likely crying), or d) like movies that have a lot of crying or that easily make you cry (even though I didn’t), then you should go see this. Otherwise you might want to skip this one. The other reason why my opinion should probably be ignored is that I am not a good judge of singing talent (remember. . . I’m the guy who likes to listen to Craig Finn of the Hold Steady).

The performances were all very good. The actors needed to do two things: sing and cry profusely (and do both at the same time!). They all came through with flying colors. I even was surprised by Russell Crowe’s and Sacha Baron Cohen’s singing (who along with Helena Bonham Carter brought needed comic relief). The two main kids in the movie were excellent. Special kudos go to Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman. Jackman also seemed to transform physically as the movie went on. I barely recognized him in the first scene where he was an emaciated prisoner (with incredible strength).

For me, there were a few things that detracted from the movie:

– I’m ready for the slings and arrows from all Les Mis fans—I didn’t like the music that much. I have never seen the Broadway musical. But for most Broadway hit musicals that I only saw in the movies or years after they were a hit, I have always recognized and liked some of the music. For a show that opened over thirty years ago, Les Mis should fit in that category. But I didn’t recognize/remember any of it, and I’m not humming any songs today.

– Too many closeups! I’ve never seen so many closeups in a movie, especially of people crying non-stop or from the 1800s with poor dental hygiene! The closeups were made especially annoying by me being in the third row of the theater. If you plan on seeing this movie, sit towards the back!

– My guess is the plot of the book fills in a lot of holes. SPOILER ALERT ON *** The love-at- first-sight of Cosette and Marius while the world is falling apart and Marius’ happy return to the bourgeois life surprised me (to say the least). But the movie was long enough as it was. SPOILER ALERT OFF  ***

This gets a marginally positive review due to the performances, but again, if you are a fan of the show, you should go (actually you probably have already).

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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Best of 2012

Due to the wide variety of movie we saw we decided to have our best in various categories as well as our overall best.  Please add your comments with your views as that is half the fun.

 Bill I's PicksBill C's Picks
Best Overall1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Moonrise Kingdom
3. Argo
4. Arbitrage
5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
6. Lincoln
7. Looper
8. Django Unchained
9. Skyfall
10. Silver Linings Playbook
1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. A Separation
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. Argo
5. The Raid: Redemption
6. Looper
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
8. Safety Not Guaranteed
9. Django Unchained
10. Lincoln
11 .Marley
Best Film Based on Historical Events1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Argo
3. Lincoln
4. Django Unchained (Tarantino’s version of life during slavery)
5. The Impossible
1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Argo
3. Django Unchained
4. Lincoln
Best Bond/Action/Super Hero Film1. Skyfall
2. Ek Tha Tiger
3. Bourne Legacy
4. Haywire
5. Safe House
6. John Carter
7. The Dark Knight Rises
1. The Raid: Redemption
2. The Avengers
3. Haywire
4. The Dark Knight Rises
5. The Amazing Spider Man
6. The Safe House
7. The Bourne Legacy
Best Unique Film1. Looper
2. The Master
3. Sister
4. The Kid with a Bike
5. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
6. Snow White and the Huntsman
7. The Grey
1. Looper
2. The Master
3. The Kid With a Bike
4. The Queen of Versailles
5. Robot and Frank
6. Seven Psychopaths
Best Crime Film1. Arbitrage
2. End of Watch
3. Premium Rush
4. Lawless
1. Killer Joe
2. The Headhunters
3. End of Watch
4. Thin Ice
Best Romantic Film1. Moonrise Kingdom
2. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
3. Trishna
4. Silver Linings Playbook
5. Your Sister’s Sister
6. Best Marigold Hotel
1. Silver Linings Playbook
2. The Perks of Being a Walflower
3. The Sessions
4. Moonrise Kingdom
5. Your Sister's Sister
Best Comedies1. This is 40
2. The Dictator
3. 21 Jump Street
4. Ted
5. The Three Stooges
1. Safety Not Guaranteed
2. 21 Jump Street
3. Sleepwalk With Me
4. Klown
5. The Pirates Band of Misfits
Best Music Related Movies1. Marley
2. Searching for Sugar Man
3. Shut Up and Play the Hits
4. Under African Skies
5. Girl Walk/All Day

Zero Dark Thirty

Bill I’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

Best review of the topic I’ve read is this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bruce-hoffman/zero-dark-thirty-terrorism_b_2421874.html

It’s a fantastic film, fact based combined with the best film-making from Kathryn Bigelow. The acting is superb, doesn’t ever seem like acting, just seems real. I loved Argo, but comparing the scenes from each film where the protagonists try to work their cars through angry mobs in Pakistan or Iraq, and you will see that Zero Dark Thirty takes it to another level, of realism, of feeling the threat, or what it must have been like. The subject of torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”) is controversial but to me appears very well portrayed: the US did it, it wasn’t pretty, wasn’t effective in most cases, and damaged our reputation. It wasn’t the key to unlocking where Bin Laden was, and if you pay attention this film shows that. It yielded pieces of information, but it took sleuthing, bribery, technology and persistence to finally track him down. The capture exercise by the Navy Seals is a mini-movie in itself, one of the best, and I assume realistic, I’ve ever seen. The CIA is portrayed as comprised of some heroic, dedicated, career professionals who make it through (or don’t, in some tragic circumstances) the hell that is terror central. The CIA is also shown as home to some career bureaucrats, who are more concerned about their careers, showing some “wins” even if it means taking down low value targets, while not taking undue risks, more than succeeding at getting Bin Laden. But, Spoiler Alert…we got him!!!

Bill C’s Review – 4.5 out of 5

I agree with Bill that this is an exceptional film. It draws us right in with actual, heartbreaking recordings of people in the WTC and responding to the tragedy. The film then does an amazing job of netting out a 10-year search into a well-told 2.5 hour movie.

I think part of the reason I liked this movie so much was that these events are so fresh in my mind. The events of—and since—9/11 had such a real and emotional impact on all of us. I think the strong emotions of the Iranian hostage crisis contributed to my strong feelings about Argo also.

As Bill points out, the search and successful mission was totally dependent on the sacrifice and dedication of many Americans. The film does a great job of showing how success came more from ferreting out the lies from captives and painstaking attention to detail and mundane detective work.  While this sounds boring, as presented in the movie, it is not.

Jessica Chastain and her supporting cast are excellent. She deserves her best actress Oscar nomination. I am surprised that Kathryn Bigelow was not nominated as Best Director. She won the Oscar a few years ago for The Hurt Locker (which I highly recommend).

Unless you will be turned off by the torture and violence, you should definitely see this film.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

 

 

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Bill C’s Review – 2.5 out of 5

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is Peter Jackson’s follow-up to the mega-successful Lord of the Rings Trilogy with J. R. R. Tolkien’s first book. To cash in on the success of the trilogy movies (3 books = 3 movies), Jackson is splitting this single book into three movies, with the first installment being well over 2.5 hours long. The movie is well made and the action sequences are good, but the movie could have been much shorter.

Bilbo Baggins takes off with a large assortment of dwarves and Gandalf the wizard on the dwarves’ quest to retake  their former home. With so many dwarves, I didn’t really come to care about their characters, and I felt that if they couldn’t win one of the battles, Gandalf (or someone/thing he summoned) would bail them out when necessary.

There was one sequence with Andy Serkis as Gollum, and for me, this scene was the highlight of the movie. Serkis was great and the scene was also excellent.

An Unexpected Journey did a good job of setting things up for the next two movies, but I was expecting more…in less time.

IMDB

Rotten Tomatoes

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