Best of SXSW 2023

Last year I (Bill C) participated in SXSW online and this year I was back to live attendance from 3/10 until 3/18 (and the Softball tournament and BBQ on Sunday the 19th!). Overall SXSW is still recovering from the pandemic. with a smaller footprint. For the film festival this was most evident in the downtown Austin area as there were 4 fewer screens. The 2 Alamo Ritz screens were gone as the Alamo gave up those theaters during their pandemic caused bankruptcy reoragnaization (the space has now been taken over by a Joe Rogan owned comedy club). SXSW also didn’t use the Hideout space and for some reason they didn’t set up a theater in the Convention Center. But, despite this, they still had 12 screens at its peak (although some were not very convenient) and a strong lineup of films with most having film makers in attendance with Q&As. Music was definitely smaller than previous years with fewer bands/venues and a continued trend fewer well known bands.

Best Narratives

These are not in any particular order.

John Wick 4 – This was the world premier and the director and Keanu Reeves were in attendance. The movie is too long at 2:47 but for fans of the franchise it its very entertaining (but this is best seen in a crowded theater where the audience is hooting and hollering at he action). I asked a question during the Q+A but the director didn’t know how many people were killed in the movie (my guess is in the hundreds!).

Joy Ride – Very funny. Think of Bridesmaids with all Asian/American women cast/writers/director. This comes out in July and will be a big hit

Theater Camp – A very funny mockumentary about a summer theater camp in the Adirondacks. Molly Gordon (Booksmart) and Ben Platt (Pitch Perfect) were two of the writers and it was inspired by their days as theater camper’s.

Flamin’ Hot – Eva Longoria’s successful directorial debut is a biographical drama with some good comedic moments about a Frito Lays maintenance worker who helped invent the flaming hot line of products that successfully appealed to the Latina market. Frito `Lay disputes elements of the story (although the subject of the story did go on to a successful 40 year career as executive at Frito Lay).

Self Reliance – Another movie with a successful directorial debut by actor Jake Johnson, Jake and Anna Kendrick star in this dark comedy about a person trying to win a million dollars in a dark web reality show.

The Long Game – A very good drama set in the 1950s in Del Valle, Texas about a Latina high school golf team trying to break racial barriers. A very uplifting movie.


The Lady Bird Diaries – This doc is based on hours of audiotapes made by Lady Bird Johnson that were not made publicly available until after her death. The doc makers did a great job of matching the audio with historical video footage. One of Lady Bird’s daughters was at the screening and was very emotional and clearly loved the job the doc makers did.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie – A moving documentary about Michael J. Fox, his career and his battle with Parkinson’s. Fox was at a Q&A and is inspirational in his determination to live his life and help others. The director did a great job of using clips from Fox’s career that coincided with events at different stages of his life.

The Luckiest Guy in the World – This was the first 2 episodes of an upcoming 4 episode entry to the ESPN 30 by 30 series. This was directed by award winning director Steve James (Hoop Dreams) about UCLA/NBA star Bill Walton. James and Walton were there for a Q&A. Walton was enjoying all the attention at the Q&A and was answering questions even if directed to James! If you’re a Walton (or hoops history) fan you’ll enjoy this series when it comes out in June.

You Can Call Me Bill – William Shatner of Star Trek fame. This touches on his career and his musings on life. He just turned 92 and was there for a Q&A (and was a featured speaker earlier in the week). I didn’t really love this doc but included it because I am impressed with how much energy he has!! He was all over the stage during the Q&A and his earlier session and is definitely still all there!

Music Focused Documentaries

Joan Baez I Am A Noise – Centered on Baez’s final concerts as a performer this doc explores her career and personal life (which included a lot of challenges). Pretty good!

Hung Up On a Dream – The story of The Zombies! They’ve been performing together since 1961! This was good but about 10 minutes too long. Later in the week we saw them in concert and they were great!

Love to Love You, Donna Summer – Another entertaining (but too long doc)! The Disco Queen in retrospect was super successful for a pretty short time and had an interesting life.

Keanu Reeves at John Wick 4 premier

Best of 2022!

These are our best movies/TV/etc. of 2022. We each could have listed more but needed to cutoff somewhere. There were lots of additional movies/shows we wanted to see but due to this being another strange year and changing viewing habits caused by the pandemic we didn’t get to see them all. There are so many things to potentially stream!!! Please give us your feedback. We’d love to know what you liked.

Bill IBill C
Best Movies
1. Top Gun: Maverick
2. The Banshees of Inisherin
3. When Men Were Men
4. Nope
5. The Woman King
6. Dog
7. The Fabelmans
8. She Said
9. Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery
10 Parallel Mothers
11 Close
12 Licorice Pizza
13 Vengeance
14 Elvis
15 The Menu
1 Everything Everywhere All at Once
3 The Menu
4 Decision to Leave
5 The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
6 Marcel the Shell with Shoes on
7 Cha Cha Real Smooth
8 Aftersun
9 Triangle of Sadness
10 Final Cut
11 The Banshees of Inisherin
12 The Worst Person In The World
13 Top Gun: Maverick
14 The Fabelmans
15 Hunt
Best Documentaries
1. The US and the Holocaust
2. George Carlin’s American Dream
3. Is That Black Enough For You
4. Watergate: Blueprint for a Scandal
1. The U.S. and the Holocaust
2. George Carlins American Dream
3 Lucy and Desi
4. Facing Nolan
5. I Get Knocked Down
6. Sheryl
7. Master of Light
8. The Baby Daddy
9. The Other Fellow
10 2nd Chance
TV Series – Limited
1. White Lotus
2. The Bear
3. Barry
4. Winning Time, The Rise of the Lakers
5. Yellowstone
6. Fleishman is in Trouble
7. Only Murders in the Building
8. Wednesday
9. Life & Beth

TV Series – Regular
1. Better Call Saul
2. Curb Your Enthusiasm
3. Insecure
4. Atlanta
5. Pose
6. The Last O.G.
7. Euphoria
8. Grown-ish
9. Blackish
10 Saturday Night Live

Reality Shows
1. Bachelor in Paradise
2. The Bachelor/Bachelorette
3. Stanley Tucci – Searching for Italy
1. Better Call Saul
2. The Bear
3. Atlanta
4. Derry Girls
5. Letterkenny
6. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
7. The Boys
8. Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers
9. Barry
10 Curb Your Enthusiasm
11 Severance
12 Dark
13 Only Murders in the Building
14 Peaky Blinders
15 1899
16 Shoresy
17 The Expanse
1. The Sarah Silverman Podcast
2. Fly on the Wall with Dana Carvey and David Spade
3. You Better You Bet
4. The Shuli Show
1. WTF with Marc Maron
News/Talk Shows
1. Howard Stern Show
2. 60 Minutes
3. CBS Sunday Morning
4. The Michael Kay Show
5. United Shades of America
6. Get Up
7. Morning Joe
8. First Take

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). 


Rotten Tomatoes


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.

Image result for blame the movie

Band Aid

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.

Image result for band aid movie

Take Me

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.

Image result for take me film 2017


The Clapper

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.

Image result for the clapper movie

Saturday Church

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.

Image result for saturday church film


Literally, Right Before Aaron

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.

Image result for literally right before aaron movie