SXSW 2015, The Good: ‘Manglehorn,’ ‘Hello, My Name is Doris,’ ‘Spy,’ ‘Love & Mercy’ and More

SXSW 2015 Film Reviewsxsw-2015-logo

The Overnight
Director/Screenwriter: Patrick Brice
Two families meet at the park and set up a playdate that has unexpected outcomes for all. Cast: Adam Scott, Jason Schwartzman, Taylor Schilling, Judith Godrèche. (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
It’s hilarious. The boundaries of bromance, marriage, friendship and even penis comedy are pushed to a very funny limit with this film. It’s great to see Schilling doing great work outside of “Orange is the New Black.”
FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

Manglehorn
Director: David Gordon Green, Screenwriter: Paul Logan
Reclusive small town locksmith, A.J. Manglehorn, who has never recovered from his losing his true love embarks on a new tenuous relationship with a local woman he meets at the bank. Cast: Al Pacino, Holly Hunter, Harmony Korine, Chris Messina. (U.S. Premiere)
(film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
You probably don’t remember how good it is to watch Pacino walk, talk, and move on screen. Thankfully, Green did and created this film with Pacino in mind. The slight, yet meaningful romance between Hunter and Pacino is wonderful to watch, plus he talks to animals (they don’t talk back).
FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

Hello, My Name is Doris
Director: Michael Showalter, Screenwriters: Laura Terruso, Michael Showalter
An isolated 60-year-old woman is motivated by a self-help seminar to romantically pursue a younger coworker, causing her to stumble into the spotlight of the local hipster social scene. Cast: Sally Field, Max Greenfield, Beth Behrs, Wendi Mclendon-Covey, Stephen Root, Elizabeth Reaser, Jack Antonoff, Natasha Lyonne, Tyne Daly. (World Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
This movie almost makes me upset because it proves we should be getting to see Field front and center in a movie more often than this. She is an absolute joy to look at on the big screen, and very quickly in this film you don’t see Field anymore, just the awkward Doris. Greenfield works great as the object of her affection. After the hilarious They Came Together, it’s really impressive that Showalter was able to shift to such a sweet (yet still funny) film.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

The Final Girls
Director: Todd Strauss-Schulson, Screenwriters: M. A. Fortin, Joshua John Miller
Max and her friends are mysteriously transported into a famous 1980s horror movie that starred Max’s mother, a celebrated scream queen. Reunited, they team up to fight the film’s maniacal killer and find their way back home. Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Malin Akerman, Adam DeVine, Thomas Middleditch, Alia Shawkat, Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev. (World Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
Of all the films at SXSW, this one had the most difficult task of sticking the landing. It does. Sure, there are moments that are fully fleshed out, scenes that attempt to emotionally switch too quickly, and a terrible odd choice to make it PG-13 instead of R, but the surprises are absolutely wonderful. There are moments that play on a movie within a movie that take films like Scream to a great evolutionary level up.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

Love & Mercy
Director: Bill Pohlad, Screenwriters: Oren Moverman, Michael Alan Lerner
Love & Mercy presents an unconventional portrait of Brian Wilson, iconic leader of the Beach Boys. Cast: John Cusack, Paul Dano, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti. (U.S. Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
I love the spirit of this film. It is absolutely joyous to watch Paul Dano and John Cusack showcase the genius of Brian Wilson. It made me realize I need to buy Pet Sounds of vinyl. Most importantly, it made me realize how long it has been since I’ve been able to love Cusack on the big screen. I want to give everyone a hug.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

Moonwalkers
Director: Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, Screenwriter: Dean Craig
From Michel Gondry’s acclaimed producer comes a hilarious, high-concept action comedy, directed by the ad world’s boy genius Antoine Bardou-Jacquet (holder of the Guinness World Record for “Most Awarded Commercial). Cast: Ron Perlman, Rupert Grint, Robert Sheehan. (World Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
Well, that synopsis didn’t give us much, did it? Perlman is a bad-ass CIA agent who is losing his grip after Vietnam. Grint is constantly down on his luck, and is looking for an easy break. Sheehan is on drugs. It’s a wonderful pairing in a film about trying to fake the moon landing, just in case it doesn’t work out for the United States. Oh, it’s also bloody violent. My hunch is this will be a very enjoyable rewatch.
FINAL SCORE: 8/10

 

She’s The Best Thing In It
Director: Ron Nyswaner
Broadway legend Mary Louise Wilson teaches her first acting class, smashing her students’ red carpet illusions. An examination of acting and the sacrifices required, featuring Frances McDormand, Melissa Leo, Tyne Daly, Valerie Harper and others. (World Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
You probably don’t know the name Mary Louise Wilson. I didn’t. This examination of acting should be necessary viewing for anyone who has every considered what it would take to be a character actor. Plus, it’s lovely the film focuses exclusively on women in this world.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

BRAND: A Second Coming
Director: Ondi Timoner
BRAND: A Second Coming follows comedian/author Russell Brand’s evolution from addict & Hollywood star to unexpected political disruptor & newfound hero to the underserved. Brand is criticized for egomaniacal self-interest as he calls for revolution. (World Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
I was only on the cusp of understanding what Brand had been up to lately. I’d seen a clip of two, given him a few moments on youtube, and that was it. It’s fascinating. I understand the critique that he’s an egomaniac. I understand his belief that he can make the world a better place. It’s completely worth watching, no matter what your feelings on Brand. The only issue I had was that so much footage seemed to be in standard definition, when you know there is high-definition footage they could have used.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

Spy
Director/Screenwriter: Paul Feig
Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is an unassuming, deskbound CIA analyst, and the unsung hero behind the Agency’s most dangerous missions. But when her partner (Jude Law) falls off the grid and another top agent (Jason Statham) is compromised, she volunteers to go deep undercover to infiltrate the world of a deadly arms dealer, and prevent a global disaster. Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney, Peter Serafinowicz, Morena Baccarin and Jude Law (Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
McCarthy is funny. I’m learning Byrne might be funnier. Plus, Statham shows that he’s up for a joke as well. You’ll definitely laugh, but when it’s over you don’t know how much you’d enjoy yourself a second time around. The film is incredibly predictable in plot and it potential laughs. McCarthy changes from bookish to a bad ass whenever the film needs her to, instead of ever figuring out exactly who she is as a character. Plus, they repeat a lot of humor and some of the non-sensical (rats infesting an office) don’t serve a purpose besides a potential chuckle.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

Manson Family Vacation
Director/Screenwriter: J. Davis
The story of two brothers: one who’s devoted to his family, the other who’s obsessed with the Manson Family. Cast: Jay Duplass, Linas Phillips, Leonora Pitts, Tobin Bell, Adam Chernick, Davie-Blue. (World Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
You think you have an understanding of this film, and almost have a hint of wondering when it is going to wrap up. Then, quite nicely, the third act ups the level of emotion and attachment you have with the movie. I’ve seen Duplass act before, and here he seems to be nailing an impression of his brother Mark Duplass. Phillips is like the hippy off-spring of Nick Offerman, and the two of them together are a wonderful odd pairing of brotherhood.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

Ned Rifle
Director/Screenwriter: Hal Hartley
Ned Rifle is the third and final chapter of Hal Hartley’s tragicomic epic begun with Henry Fool (1998) and continued with Fay Grim (2007). In this swiftly paced and expansive conclusion, Henry and Fay’s son, Ned, sets out to find and kill his father. Cast: Liam Aiken, Martin Donovan, Aubrey Plaza, Parker Posey, Thomas Jay Ryan, James Urbaniak, Robert John Burke, Bill Sage, Karen Sillas (U.S. Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
What an odd movie. It has it’s own rhythm. Sometimes it feels like Hartley just doesn’t care if the acting is good or not (I’m mainly thinking of Aiken and Posey here), but because there is so much good, and so many wonderful performances with dialogue that just continues to pop, I’m giving Hartley the benefit of the doubt. I didn’t see the first two films in this trilogy. I’m going to correct that.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

Unexpected
Director: Kris Swanberg, Screenwriters: Kris Swanberg, Megan Mercier
An inner-city high school teacher discovers she is pregnant at the same time as one of her most promising students and the two develop an unlikely friendship while struggling to navigate their unexpected pregnancies. Cast: Cobie Smulders, Anders Holm, Gail Bean, Elizabeth McGovern. (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
I missed this one at Sundance, heard good things, and now I completely agree. Smulders’ career is definitely one worth noticing since her TV days. The recent Results is good as well. This is an honest portrayal, that is never preachy, about socioeconomic backgrounds when it comes to pregnancy. Ugh, that didn’t sound fun at all. Well, this film is, so make sure to put it on your radar.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

The Little Death
Director/Screenwriter: Josh Lawson
An outrageous romantic comedy about sex; secrets; fate; fetish; told through the lives and desires of five ordinary couples. Cast: Bojana Novakovic, Josh Lawson, Damon Herriman, Kate Mulvany, Patrick Brammall, Kate Box, Alan Dukes, Lisa McCune, Erin James, TJ Power. (U.S. Premiere) (film synopsis from sxsw.com)

OVERALL
It’s consistently funny and raunchy (I hate that word), until it’s consistently tragic, yet somehow it all feels like it could have been edited slightly better. It bounces around between five couples and you learn the key pretty quickly … just be honest. These characters can’t because they are embarrassed about their fetishes. That’s frustrating at times, but again, thankfully it’s funny as well.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10

 

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