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8/10
A Peculiar, yet Beautiful Story of New York
1 April 2018
The World Before Your Feet was well-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is the strange story of 37-year-old Matt Green who dropped out of normal life to begin a project of walking approximately 8000 miles of every street, park, beach and cemetery in New York City. He has chosen to be intentionally homeless - staying with different friends - so as to pursue some sort of massive performance art project of exploring and photographing every block of the massive city. The documentary is beautifully filmed and really is, in part, a tribute to the beauty and complexity of the organism that is that most remarkable and complicated city. The film is entertaining and beautiful.

The central conundrum of Mark Green's journey is never really answered. I get the feeling that Green is either running away or running towards something, or perhaps a little bit of both. I'm not sure he really understands his own "Forrest Gump"-like journey. I hope the walker eventually finds the direction he wants to travel with his life. Perhaps the film maker should have asked some questions about Green's mental condition since his behavior seems to be somewhat irrational. Recommended for those open to the highly unconventional.
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9/10
A Provocative film on the role of Women in the Sandanista movement
1 April 2018
Las Sandanistas was warmly received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is a provocative film on an unexpected subject. It tells the untold stories of the women revolutionaries within the Nicaraguan Sandanista movement in the 1970s. They fought both the corrupt Somoza regime and the patriarchy from within their own movement. The theme is not new; it is not at all unusual for anti-racist and revolutionary movements to also be dominated by men and to function highly patriarchally. The women's stories are powerful - told mostly through interviews - and insightful. Sadly, it appears that Nicaragua - even under the Sandanistas - remains highly oppressive to women today, especially in the area of abortion rights. The film is fascinating and well-edited with a combination of modern and archival footage. Highly recommended for those interested in truly understanding the complexity of social change.
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9/10
A Beautiful Documentary about the bizarre phenomenon of Chinese Live Streaming
28 March 2018
People's Republic of Desire was well-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize in the Documentary Feature Competition. The film follows the lives of a young male comedian and a young female singer who have become stars in China's world of live streaming where people are making immense amounts of money by marketing their often-meagre talents in ways that get thousands of fans to send them gifts and pay money to vote for them in competitions. It is a bizarre pay-to-play form of online American Idol competition. It is kind of like a type of mostly not sexual prostitution where people are selling dreams and fantasies to those who are willing to pay. Wealthy patrons often pay thousands of dollars to support them while poor people pay small amounts to watch as they yearn to connect to their favorite star's fame and celebrity. They hope for some glimmer of their reflected glory. The film also follows one of the migrant workers as he obsessively watches his favorite performer. The film is beautifully made and edited with excellent animated displays of the performers screenshots and interactions. This film implies that life in China is becoming more and more virtual as lots of lonely people turn online in search of human connection in a world that is increasingly-driven almost solely by a dehumanizing search for monetary gain. Both the performers and viewers seem desperately lonely and isolated. Virtual reality seems to be triumphing over, well, actual reality. The obsession with celebrity seems reflective of a deeply unhealthy society, but then, again, as an American how can I really criticize? Our idiotic country elected an incompetent narcissistic reality TV star as our President.
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The Dawn Wall (2017)
10/10
Fantastic Documentary about the testing of the Boundaries of Human Endurance
18 March 2018
Dawn Wall was enthusiastically-received in its North American Premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival where it received Audience Award in the Documentary Spotlight Competition. Dawn Wall is transfixing as we watch as two climbers, Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgensen, attempt the near impossible. They attempt to free style climb the vertical 3000-foot granite rock face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. They test the boundaries of their skills and endurance and even the bounds of what is humanly possible. This isn't really just a sports film. When you learn the hurdles that Tommy Caldwell had to overcome you realize that it is an absolutely remarkable human story. The audience is literally hanging on the side of the mountain with Tommy and Kevin as they scale the mountain. The filmmakers actually scaled the mountain with them in order to film them. The film is beautiful edited and the drama is intense. Although the ending is somewhat predictable, the magic is all in the journey they are taking. Highly recommended.
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TransMilitary (2018)
9/10
A Powerful and Timely Story about the Complex Challenges facing Transgendered Soldiers
17 March 2018
TransMilitary was very well-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It splices together the stories of 4 of the approximately 15,000 transgendered soldiers serving in the U.S. military. It tells their very human and complicated stories of their struggle to end the ban on transgendered individuals serving in the U.S. military. The film is beautifully told and skillfully edited. While clearly advocating for their inclusion, it doesn't shy away from addressing the complexity of their situations. Many of us were taught to see sexuality in simple binary terms. Films like this educate by allow us to break down the simple male/female dichotomy and explore the complicated and deeply misunderstood gray area in-between. The tragedy of the tale is that the progress that was being made under the Obama administration has been reversed by the close-minded bigotry of the current administration. Not surprisingly, it won the SXSW Audience Award in the Documentary Feature Competition. This film is highly recommended to all who are willing to watch it with an open-mind.
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Social Animals (II) (2018)
8/10
Social Animals was well-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is best described as a digital coming of age story that shows the positives and the
16 March 2018
Social Animals was well-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is best described as a digital coming of age story that shows the positives and the pitfalls of the social media era. It showcases three teenagers and their experiences with Instagram. It also shows that while there is much that can be achieved positively (particularly in the experience of Humza Deas who uses Instagram as a platform to develop and showcase his amazing photography), butt there are also horrific downsides. The platform magnifies all of the worst pathologies of millennial culture including sexting, horrific cyberbullying, stalking, slut-shaming and so much else. All of the ugliest aspects of the playground are played out writ large on the social media stage. The director has done a thoughtful job of presenting the medium fairly. The film is entertaining, well-edited, and provocative. Frankly, I agree with the director (in his comments at the screening), if I had teenagers I wouldn't let my kids use this type of social media platform.
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8/10
A Beautiful Film about the musical connections between New Orleans and Cuba
15 March 2018
A Tuba for Cuba was extremely warmly-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is well-made and charming music documentary about New Orleans's Preservation Hall Jazz Band's tour of Cuba. It is beautifully-edited with sweetness and joy. The most intriguing part of the film is the connection that film makers and the musicians are trying to draw between the New Orleans Jazz traditions and the Afro-Cuban traditions. Without directly addressing the political issues, they are trying to breakdown the walls that have separated American and Cuba for 2 generations. I'm not particularly a fan of music documentaries which I often find a bit slow and directionless. I think this one had some of the same flaws although it is better than most of the ones I've seen. It may not be everyone's cup of tea. But if you love music documentaries and particularly if you love jazz, I would recommend it.
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8/10
An Intimate Documentary about the Experiences of Refugees
15 March 2018
They Live Here, Now was warmly received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. This is a small intimate film about Austin's Casa Marianella refugee house. The humanitarian work done here is inspiring in its simplicity and its bravery. The film's power is in its intimacy. The director uses straight-forward interviews to tell the stories of refugees from numerous countries in Africa and Latin America who are struggling to overcome horrendous conditions at home and make themselves new lives in the United States. The power of this film is that in a time of anti-immigrant hatemongering is that it puts human faces on refugees. There has been some controversy over the director's decision to use an actress to portray a character in the documentary. I think the director wanted to present a composite character who could fill in some of the stories that privacy and safety wouldn't allow him to tell with the material he had. Unfortunately, this is not clearly explained in the film. I believe the attempt was a well-intended. He called the film a hybrid of a documentary and scripted film during the Q & A session, but it is highly problematic none-the-less. This action undermines the strength of the film which is its authenticity and honesty. It makes the audience question whether the portrait itself is a fair one or an attempt to manipulate the audience. While I agree with his goals, this is not a wise decision. Still, for those who are open-minded and want to learn about the real-life experiences of refugees, the film is recommended.
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Getting Over (2018)
10/10
A Remarkable Film about a Man Learning about the Addicted Father He Never Knew
15 March 2018
Getting Over was warmly received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. Jason Charnick has made a unique and deeply personal film telling the story of the father he barely knew. His father, Ray, was a lifelong heroin addict and thief who spent most of Jason's life in prison. In the weeks before his father died at age 47 of AIDS, Jason's uncle Arnie filmed 17 hours of interviews of Ray. After years of procrastinating, Jason finally watched the tapes and learned the story of the father he never knew. He has taken these tapes and turned them into a beautifully made personal story of his lost father's life. In the process, he seemed to liberate himself of many of his own demons and learns about aspects of his own life and childhood memories that were not how he had understood them. Charnick offers us a journey inside the deeply flawed life of addict. His message is an important one today as he tries to humanize an addict's journey. He wants us all to see the human side of those who are lost in the bleak self-destructive world of addiction. Through his own family's story he also shines a light on the subject of intergenerational trauma. The film is powerful and beautifully edited as it takes us on a journey down the dark road of addiction and self-destruction. Highly recommended for those willing to travel to a very dark place.
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6/10
Disappointing Film about a Heroic Champion for her People
14 March 2018
On Her Shoulders was received with some trepidation at Austin SXSW Film Festival. The fight for recognition of the genocide committed against the Yazidi people in Iraq by ISIS is an important one that deserves recognition. Unfortunately, this film is so muddled that it does a poor job in the effort. The film focuses on the personal struggle and harrowing tale of 23-year-old Nadia Murad to win recognition of the horrors that her people have undergone in the last few years. The film transforms the struggle to one person's personal journey rather than focusing on the tragedy of an entire people. In so doing, it confuses as much as it informs. The questions at the showing were telling. Audience members asked about the history of the Yazidis which is not explained. The film provides little political context on the Yazidis, Iraq or ISIS leaving viewers with little understanding of the underlying issues. The film focused on the footage of Nadia's travels in Canada, Germany and Greece which contained a lot of poorly edited and irrelevant material. Even the title is problematic since it tries to present a people's struggle as dependent on a single young woman who the producer acknowledged was thrust into this role by accident when asked about it. The struggle doesn't depend on Nadia and the film's focus on her rather than on those who care about the Yazidis around the world does a disservice to their cause. The film concludes with Nadia's appointment as UN Goodwill Ambassador for Human Trafficking. The position is almost irrelevant and does little for the Yazidi cause. This film is a well-intentioned misfire. The Yazidis deserve a better profile of their cause and more direction on how others can help them move forward.
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10/10
Remarkable Documentary on Great Mr. Rogers who spoke to Generations of Children with kindness, love and humanity
14 March 2018
Won't you Be My Neighbor? was enthusiastically received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The film is a beautiful heartwarming tribute to Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood - a show which changed children's television forever. The film highlights Rogers' humanity and decency and shows how he could bring his message of decency to children. Rogers was a Christian pastor who brought his values to his work on TV without ever trying to preach his religion. Perhaps the most powerful clip was during the first week of his show in February, 1968 (at the peak of the Vietnam War) when his show starts out encouraging that walls be torn down. His message remains amazingly timely today. It also underscores the importance of PBS - which the films shows Rogers defending successfully at a Congressional hearing. The interviews with his widow and his co-workers capture the essence of the human being. The film is well-written and edited and will remind millions of the impact of a remarkable man. Highly recommended.
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Nossa Chape (2018)
10/10
Compelling Film on Grief and Resilience
14 March 2018
Nossa Chape ("Our team") was warmly received at this world premiere at Austin SXSW Film Festival. It is a beautiful and powerful film about how a community rebuilds after a horrific tragedy. It tells the story of what happened in Chapeco, Brazil after their beloved Chapecoense football team - soccer for us American gringos - is nearly wiped out in a plane crash that kills 71 players including most of the players, coaches and administrators. The team is at the center of the community and its tragedy is communal. The film provides an inside look at the process of how a team and a community both grieve an unfathomable tragedy and simultaneously try to move forward. Change must be balanced with honoring those who have been lost. This is not just a sports documentary; it is very deeply human story that everyone who has grieved can relate to. It is eloquent and inspiring. The story is beautifully and intimately told. Highly recommended.
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10/10
An Amazing Lost Treasure Reveals the Story of the "Greatest"
13 March 2018
Ali & Cavett was enthusiastically welcomed in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The film was introduced by film critic Leonard Maltin who interviewed Dick Cavett afterwards. The documentary was made with recovered footage of more than a dozen appearances that Muhammad Ali made on Dick Cavett's talk show. Ali was electrifying. When he was at his height his speech was mesmerizing and he was really a force of nature. The film beautifully captures Ali as a sports figure, but more importantly as a cultural figure who broke barriers to challenge barriers of race and religion. He challenged the U.S. government's attempt to draft him and although he won, he paid a very heavy price. It shows him with his friend Dick Cavett and brings the politics and social conflict around Ali into clear focus. These tapes are a lost treasure. The director skillfully edits the tapes with other footage to provide a mini-biography of "The Greatest." The film would fit together well with the Oscar-winning documentary "When We Were Kings" about the Ali- 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman. I hope that the film gets distribution, because it can help bring this larger than life figure a new generation that came of age when he was well past his prime. Highly Recommended.
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Science Fair (I) (2018)
8/10
An Uplifting Film about Optimism of Youth and the Power of Science to Change the World
13 March 2018
Science Fair was warmly-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It details the experience of six different high school students (or teams of students) competing in the 2017 Intel International Science and Engineering (ISEP) Fair in Los Angeles. The documentary is well-filmed, edited and highly entertaining. The directors did an excellent job of finding charismatic and charming young people who were doing great research projects. These are great students who are super achievers. (Unfortunately, they are far from the typical students being produced by the American educational system today.) Science Fair is fun and charming documentary that a ray of sunlight in dark times.
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9/10
An Unexpected and Nuanced Film about Women and Sexuality
13 March 2018
Daughters of the Sexual Revolution was very well-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. Honestly, I expected a film about the somewhat silly institution of cheerleading and it's connection to football. This film, from the acclaimed director of Murderball, was not at all what the audience was expecting. It had much more depth as it explored the early years (1970s/1980s) of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders at the cultural collision point of the sexual revolution and the feminist movement. The film explores how these women were using their sex appeal, but also behaving in a dignified and respectful manner under the watchful eye of their beloved director, Suzanne Mitchell. The film focused on interviews with former DCC members and Mitchell (who passed away in 2016 not long after the interviews with her for the film). She was a disciplinarian with strict rules while at the same time protective and nurturing environment for these young women in a dangerous environment. The interviews reveal a much more complex picture than one would initially expect. While many may have looked at them as women whose sexuality was being exploited, Mitchell really made sure that they were using their beauty and skills for their own benefit. She helped shape these young women into strong confident independent women. The film is both highly enjoyable and very informative. Highly recommended for those who are looking for a different take on a national institution.
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8/10
Well-made Advocacy Documentary on Medical Marijuana
13 March 2018
Weed the People was well-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is a solid, if somewhat predicable, documentary on the absurdity of medical marijuana prohibition. While it is certainly possible for folks of goodwill to have differing opinions on wisdom of legalizing recreational marijuana, the argument for maintaining medical marijuana as prohibited Schedule 1 drug with zero medical benefits is increasingly ridiculous. The film focuses on telling the stories about half-a-dozen kids with cancer and their parents and the struggles to use marijuana to assist their children. My only concern was that at times they seemed to be delaying traditional treatments in favor of relying on marijuana as an alternative cure. The marijuana advocates often seemed to be experimenting with these kids lives and come dangerously close to practicing medicine without proper training and licensing. While there are certainly medicinal benefits to marijuana particularly in pain amelioration, I'm concerned to see it advocated as cure for cancer and other conditions since that has clearly not been shown by medical research (which the government has unfortunately severely restricted). There was something deeply problematic about the filmmakers use of anecdotal evidence to argue a scientific case. The film was well-made and well-edited. The storytelling was compelling. One questioner in the audience pointed out - correctly I think - that title, while funny, suggested a film that was more about recreational weed than a lot more serious issues involved in treating those with terminal illnesses. They might want to consider a new title or adding a subtitle.
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10/10
A Powerful Examination of the Corruption of the American Dream
11 March 2018
Photographer/Director Laurie Greenfield's Generation Wealth was extremely well-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival (coming off of its appearances at Sundance and the Berlin Film Festival). It is a remarkable cinematic journey as she revisits those she has photographed for previous projects which have often focused on excessive wealth. Greenfield eloquently captures the decaying of the American Dream as a form of corrupt capitalism has eaten away at American idealism and replaced it with a form extreme narcistic materialism. In many ways this film explains - while barely mentioning him - how this country could elect corrupt narcissist as its President. It describes a country where beauty, sex, fame, and status have all become commodities on sale to the highest bidder Greenfield takes it a step further by intriguingly adding herself and her own family as part of the story and suggesting that her careerism is also part of the problem. The photography is beautiful and provides a powerful narrative of the collapse of the American Dream. Highly recommended to all who care about the future of America. Greenfield should be commended for a work that is both personal and political.
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7/10
Eloquent Examination of Lack of Women Directors
10 March 2018
Half the Picture was well-received in its regional premiere (after screening at Sundance) at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. Anyone who has followed film will have noticed the phenomenon of how few films are directed by women. Whereas 20% of Congress is now women, there have only been a mere 5 women nominated for an Oscar for Best Director. The question is "Why?" The film is mostly a talking head film in which female directors, sometimes eloquently, sometimes humorously, tell their stories about trying to make it in the ultimate "old boy's club." It is a personal and inspiring film, but seems to lack a clear explanation and direction of why sexism has held on so long to the Director's Chair in supposedly liberal Hollywood. It touches on some interesting questions without clearly exploring them. It touches on the idea of how this affects the nature of the final films but doesn't really explain it in detail. It touches on an explanation rooted less in outright sexism and more in an institutional sexism that prevents women directors from accessing financing but doesn't really dig into the issue. It touches on the history of women in cinema without fully exploring the roots of sexism in Hollywood and in the studio system as a whole Rather than just speaking to female directors, the film could have benefited by speaking to more film historians, academics, and legal who study the financing of the industry. That sort of approach could have given it more grounded scholarly focus. Oddly, the film suffers in that in trying to give women directors a voice that it never interviews a single man who might have offered supportive insight or a broader context for the deeper institutional issues. Half the Picture is inspiring, charming, and entertaining and yet it lacks depth and its scattershot approach itself only tells half the story that it could have.
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8/10
An Important Look at a Dangerous Movement
10 March 2018
Alt-Right: Age of Rage was well-received at its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It provides a detailed examination of the ideology of Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, David Duke and several of the other so-called "alt-right" leaders. What it really reveals is that this movement is just a rebranding of the same old KKK white supremacists who are wearing suits instead of hoods. Director Adam Lough spent time with these cretins and let them do much of the talking so that showed much of their true colors. (It actually reminds me of the film Jesus Camp where the directors let a nasty ugly group of individuals reveal themselves before the cameras.) Still at 112 minutes the film was really too long and showed too much coverage of these individuals in a way that became slow and repetitive at times. By focusing on the coverage of their most recent events such as Charlottesville, they failed to really provide historical context for these movements and connect them back to the long history of white supremacy. They could have benefited from including historical interviews with academics who have studied the history of the far rigtht. They also could have done more to linked the alt-right much more directly to the coded language of Trump's 2016 campaign and to the writings of Steve Bannon and Breitbart. This movement gained credibility through its rebranding which allowed it to promote the Trump movement. The heart of the film was the powerful voices of Richard Cohen of the SPLC and activist Daryl Lamont Jenkins who each in their own way are fighting back against the alt-right. Daryl is a truly heroic figure. Still there were often ideas that were raised and not followed through on. At one point, Cohen appears to critique Antifa tactics for opposing the alt-right, but instead of exploring this insight, the director just moves on. While the film is revealing as a starting point for exploring the alt-right it lacks direction and scholarly exploration of this important subject matter which should concern all of us. Good start, but it could have been a lot better.
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Meth Storm (2017)
10/10
A Powerful Film about the Power of Addiction and the Futility of the Drug War
10 March 2018
METH STORM was very well-received in its world premiere at Austin'S SXSW Film Festival. This is a powerful film about what addiction to this awful drug can do a family and a community - in this case, Faulkner County, Arkansas. The film makers spent a long time in the community and got to know some of the individuals well which allowed them to get remarkable and up close footage including film of people shooting up on meth. (This takes up well-beyond the romanticized and action-packed version of Meth seen on Breaking Bad.) While much of the blame for their bad choices can be placed on the individuals, it can also be blamed on the failures of government to provide these families jobs, educational opportunity, health care, and any sort of accessible drug treatment. The society has failed these families whose only real opportunity is the black market drug trade. The only governmental response is in law enforcement, but that seems to be utter and complete failure as well. The close-up view of the crisis is overwhelming. The mother tries to get her kids to quit drugs while failing to confront her own long-term addiction. The squalid conditions in which they live are heart-breaking. The ruined lives and the young kids that seem to have little more to look forward to are simply devastating to observe. The DEA agent attempts to arrest small-time dealers in hopes of breaking the drug ring and catching the Mexican source without seeming to realize that they are chasing shadows. They don't seem to realize that they can never win by prosecuting the demand side of the equation. This powerful film certainly raises more questions that it answers (much like the Michael Douglas film Traffic a generation ago). It has been picked up by HBO Films which should provide it with a well-deserved wider audience.
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9/10
A Great Dark Comedy that Echos the Style of the Coen Brothers
28 October 2017
I had the pleasure of seeing the local premiere of Three Billboard outside of Ebbing, Missouri tonight at the Paramount Theater as part of Austin Film Festival. The film's style and humor is reminiscent of some of the better early Coen Brothers films (Blood Simple, Fargo, and Raising Arizona). The writer/director has basically stolen their style. Basically, a story that on paper is very dark and serious played with characters that are essentially humorous for dark comedic effect. The presence of Francis McDormand more-or- less completes the linkage. (She may well earn another Oscar nomination.) The film is deeply disturbing built around a mother's quest for justice after her daughter's violent death, themes of death and dying, police incompetence and brutality, and hints of racism and spousal abuse. At the same time, it can be hysterically funny and absurd. You want to laugh during one scene and cry during the next. The dis-functionality of just about every character is somehow both disturbing and hilarious. I think like the Coen Brothers, writer/director Martin McDonagh want you to take the issues raised seriously, but perhaps not to take ourselves too seriously. Overall, the acting and directing by a stellar cast is first-rate. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates this sort of dark comedy.
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Lady Bird (2017)
8/10
A Meditation on Place and Family
26 October 2017
Lady Bird was very well-received at its local premiere at the Paramount Theater for the Austin Film Festival. I found it to be a sweet, charming coming-of-age film. It is a serious film, but with flashes of humor. Greta Gerwing wrote and directed the film which seemed to be partly autobiographical in that she grew up in Sacramento, CA at about the same time as her character. The film is a meditation on what it means to be from some place and what that idea of home means in shaping who you become. She has a love-hate relationship with her city, her family and her place in both. It is also very much a story of young girl struggling with her own and her mother's expectations for herself. The script is really charming with the best scenes being those of Lady Bird and her mother. Lady Bird is struggling with sexuality, family, friendship, religion and even her own name all at the same time. Like all of us, she is trying to find her place in the world. Saoirse Ronan is excellent as Lady Bird as is Laurie Metcalf in the role of her haggard struggling mother trying to hold her family together through difficult times. Recommended to those who like drama, particularly coming-of-age films.
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Infinity Baby (2017)
2/10
A Failed Attempt at Satire
18 March 2017
Infinite Baby premiered at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. This local product was a failed attempt to satire something although it wasn't really clear what it was trying to do. The audience seemed confused and befuddled and asked the director – who seemed like he might be drunk – fairly gentle questions, because they didn't seem to know how to break it to him. There was some attempt to make fun of parenting and dating relationships. Some individual scenes were mildly funny and might have worked as SNL sketches. But the screenplay was a mess and the skilled actors couldn't really save it. There is no point in this film being widely released. Back to the drawing board.
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The Big Sick (2017)
9/10
A Beautiful Sweet Film about Complexities of Diversity and Relationships in Modern America
17 March 2017
The Big Sick was very warmly-received at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. The Big Sick is a superbly original romantic comedy/drama based on a true story of Kumail Nanjiani and his now-wife Emily Gardner; they co-wrote the script together. Kumail stars as himself. It starts from the premise of the inherent difficulties of interracial, inter-religious relationship between a Pakistani- American comedian and white woman in Chicago who face both the normal difficulties of relationships combined with the pressures of Kumail's overbearing, but loving family who demand that he participate in an arranged marriage to a Pakistani girl. Kumail is caught between competing worlds. The situation spins out-of-control when Emily becomes extremely ill and Kumail has to deal with her parents.

The amazing part of this movie is that it deals with deeply serious complex issues, but does so with humor and grace. The screenplay is remarkable and nuanced, but is infused with a comedian's sense of humor that captures the real human comedy that exists in all personal relationships. You will die laughing when Emily's bewildered father turns to Kumail in a hospital cafeteria and asks him, "What do you think of 9/11?" and Kumail responds as a comedian should to such an outrageously stupid question. Ray Romano and Holly Hunter are excellent in the roles of Emily's parents.

While based on a true story, I'm sure parts have been fictionalized to bring the drama and the humor of the events to the screen, but it appears that the basic Romeo & Juliet premise is based on the screen writers' real relationship. The film's ability to balance the deadly serious and the comedic reminds me of the wonderful film 50/50 (2011) which also dealt with a deadly illness with a similar light touch. This beautiful film which deals so well with the complexities of overcoming cultural differences serves as a good anecdote to our charged political climate and especially with the demonization of Islam that has become all too dangerous in this country. I hope it is the breakout comedy hit of the summer when it goes into wide release in July.
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Easy Living (2017)
7/10
A Peculiar Story about a Woman Trying to Turn Her Life Around
16 March 2017
Easy Living seemed to be warmly-received in its world premiere at Austin's SXSW Film Festival. It is entertaining quirky film about Sherry Graham, a door-to-door makeup saleswoman, who is struggling to fix her rather messy life. The writer/director Adam Keleman has crafted a strong lead character. The lead actress, Caroline Dhavernas, delivers a really strong performance. Sherry is trying to turn a corner and escape her dead end job and really her dead end life. While much of the film is entertaining and provocative, the bizarre ending doesn't really do the rest of the movie justice. It is as if the Keleman wrote himself into a corner and couldn't figure out how to get out of it so he just came up with a completely unanticipated and illogical way to resolve the story. It is unfortunate, because it undermines the intelligence nuanced writing and acting that had occurred up to that point.
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