MISS STEVENS Running time: 86 mins Narrative Feature Competition, USA Director: Julia Hart Cast: Lily Rabe, Timothee Chalamet, Lili Reinhart, Anthony Quintal, Rob Huebel, and Oscar Nunez High School teacher, Miss Stevens, is set to chaperone three students to a drama competition to help get funds for their school’s art programs. Over achiever Margot, Optimistic Sam and Troubled Billy load up in Miss Stevens car for their cross-country adventure. Recently at a cross roads in her own life, she must balance her own life while helping these three students face their own demons. The story is engrossing with a wonderful cast of young people, great soundtrack, and fun camera work/angels. There were several editing choices that leave the viewer a bit lost and struggling for context or meaning. Enjoyable story about 4 lost people on a weekend into the big city. I give this one 4 out of 5 stars. Entertaining and engrossing with a well oiled cast. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL A father is on the run with his son from a powerful man with a lot of money and long reach. As they are being pursued across the country, the “gifts” of his child become more and more dangerous and it becomes evident that his child’s life is on a supernatural timer and he’s now racing to save his life. With the help of an AWOL state trooper and the boy’s birth mom, they race against time and destiny. Wonderful special effects and the viewer is thrown directly into the action from the start. The story is unfolded as the boy’s power increases. Great cast and terrific build up to a not so great pay-off. This is definitely not “Mud”. The story falls flat in the final stretch. Even through the special effects remain amazing and awe-inspiring from start to finish, the pay off just isn’t there. This movie feels a lot like “K-Pax,” “Tomorrowland,” “Phenomenon” and “Powder”—among other movies. I give this one 3 out of 5 stars. Great cast, wonderful special effects, and engrossing tale but just no real payoff. Disappointing. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running time: 111 minutes Headliners, USA Director/Screenwriter: Jeff Nichols Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Jaeden Lieberher, and Sam Shepard
DEMOLITION When a tragic car wreck takes the life of a young and upcoming businessman, his entire life spirals out of control as he tries to find his way in life again. Davis struggles to make sense of life and to find reasons to go on. His father in law and boss, tries desperately to reach out to him but Davis shuts everyone out. An amazing and well told story about a man who had everything buy never realized it until everything was gone. Wonderful cast ensemble brings this tale to life. The young boy in an identity crisis was absolutely perfect and helps put perspective on Davis’ struggle to find his way in life. LOVED this movie! Well written, great cast, and very engrossing and moving. Loved it. It reminded me a lot like “Slingblade” or “American Beauty”. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running time: 100 minutes Headliners, US Premiere Director: Jean-Marc Vallee Screenwriter: Bryan Sipe Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Naomi Watts, Chris Cooper, and Judah Lewis
HUSH A deaf woman, living alone in a secluded cabin, falls victim to a psychotic killer in a very traumatic and intense game of cat and mouse. Trapped in the house, unable to hear, and all methods of outside contact cut off, she desperately fights for her life. The movie starts out really loud so when the sound is cut off to switch perspectives to our deaf-heroine, it is very noticeable. The movie continues to switch back and forth between the hearing perspective of the woman and that of the killer. While some of the situations are typical of other horror movies, the cutting back and forth with and without sound increases the tension and helps creates a freshness to it. Some really inventive situations help keep the viewer on the edge of their seats all the way through to the end. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. Intense, high action, and a very awesome payoff. You feel like you were in the fight as well when it is all over. Well done! That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 87 minutes Midnighters, USA Director: Mike Flanagan Screenwriter: Mike Flanagan and Kate Siegal Cast: Kate Siegel, John Gallagher Jr, Michael Trucco and Samantha Sloyan
SEARCH PARTY Four self-absorbed college friends living in the big city discuss the recent disappearance of a college acquaintance. The news affects them differently. While most of them claim to not know her or remember her, they post socially about their dear college friend that has gone missing and how much it hurts them not knowing what happened to her so that they can get attention from their other friends. When ____ becomes obsessed with the girl that no one remembers but who has just vanished without a trace, her friends begin to fall away. She is concerned that no one seems alarmed that this young woman has gone missing and no one seems to be doing anything to find her. Seeing herself in the missing girl’s plight, she starts to see that she has disappeared in her life and no one seems to miss her and she’s still right there. Interesting story and characters but not sure where it will go past season one. It shouldn’t take more than a season to find the missing girl and if it does, it will be so drawn out, it would lose interest. The self-absorbed friends are completely annoying and not something that would keep a viewer coming back. I would probably give it a couple of more episodes before deciding if I would see it through the end of the story. I would give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. My interest is peaked somewhat, but could be easily as lost as the characters of the story. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 27 minutes Episodic, USA, TBS Series Director/Screenwriters: Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers Cast: Alia Shawkat, John Reynolds, John Early, and Meredith Hagner
THE TRUST Two crime scene investigators, who walk a grey-line, stumble over a large stash of money held by a crime lord. They decide that the amount of money involved is too tempting to steal from a criminal gang that would presumably never report the crime. They plan what seems to be a very simple heist, but soon realize that they may have bitten off more than they can chew and it is far too late to turn back. They soon begin to turn on each other as the tension of the foiled heist and the impending danger takes its toll. Will they get the pay-off or can they find a way to walk away? This movie is absolutely wonderful. It has a phenomenal cast, terrific writing, and engrossing story. It is intense and well done. Wood and Cage are absolutely entrancing in their troubled partnership. Cage brings his well-known insanity to his character and Wood holds his own against him. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. I absolutely loved this one. Amazing and just, “Wow!” It is a bit like “Training Day”. The story is well balanced with action, tension, and humor. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. 93 minutes Narrative Spotlight, USA Directors: Ben & Alex Brewer Screenwriters: Ben Brewer and Adam Hirsch Cast: Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood, Sky Ferreira, and Jerry Lewis
HARDCORE HENRY Based on a video game, this is a first-person action film where you are the main character, Henry, who wakes up unable to move, speak, or remember anything. As he is put back together and his memory is filled in, you learn along the way as he does. Henry is on a mission and a special agent who has talents and training that make him an unstoppable force. Henry desperately tries to figure out who is trying to kill him, why, and who he can trust. The movie is full of some truly amazing stunts. 90% of the film is shot from a go-pro camera mounted on the head of a stunt man. It is innovative and basically a 90 minute video game without controls. Some very humorous things and truly jaw dropping/audience gasping stunts. I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. About 45 minutes into this film, I started to get motion sickness. Although enjoyable and original, it definitely takes skill to watch all the way through. But with the incredible stunts, you can’t look away…or at least, don’t want to. This one is OK. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time : 95 minutes Headliners, US Premiere, Russian Federation Director/Screenwriter: Ilya Naishuller Cast: Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Haley Bennett, Andrey Dementyev, Dasha Charusha, and Sveta Ustinova
KARAOKE CRAZIES Karaoke Addiction is a small establishment on the outer edge of a small town. The owner struggles to keep the business afloat and decides to hire a “helper” in exchange for room and board. He gets more than he hoped for when he attracts 3 broken people as employees. One is a quiet and mysterious young woman, a loud and forceful young woman, and a mentally challenged mute. Talk about cultural differences! Who knew that karaoke was a sexual business in Korea? What an eye-opener. Great cast of very broken characters who come together and become a family, just as dysfunctional as a real blood family. There are some really confusing edits. I believe that it was supposed to be a flashback but the way it was cut, could have been happening at the same time. I give this one 4 out of 5 stars. It’s an engrossing story from the start to the finish. Except for the confusing editing in that one spot, a very enjoyable story with some shocks and fun along the way. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 106 minutes Visions, US Premiere, Republic of Korea Director: Kim Sang Chan Screenwriters: Park Ji-Hong Cast: Lee Moon-Sik, Bae So-Eun, Kim Na-Mi, Bang Jun-Ho
PEEWEE’S BIG HOLIDAY Peewee Herman is a very reliable and dependable member of his small town. Possibly too much so. A chance meeting with the movie star, Joe Manganiello, has Peewee wanting to take a holiday and leave the comforts of his routine. Along the way to attend Joe’s birthday party in New York City, Peewee meets some interesting characters and has one grand adventure. This is an absolutely enjoyable movie. Fun, funny, entertaining and charming all the way through. I loved this movie. This is, for me, the best Peewee Herman movie I’ve seen. Wonderful cast and fun story. What a great adventure! I would do it again. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. Loved it! It is so much fun. Very entertaining. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 89 minutes Headliners, US Premiere, USA, Netflix Director: John Lee Screenwriters: Paul Reubens and Paul Rust Cast: Paul Reubens, Joe Manganiello, Jessica Pohly, Alia Shawkat, Stephanie Beatriz
PET When a lonely man chances upon an old high school crush during his morning commuter ride, he tries to strike up a conversation with her but is shut down very quickly. He becomes obsessed with her and begins to stalk her. He shows up outside her apartment and her place of work. When she still spurns his attentions, he decides to kidnap her. When she comes to and finds herself locked in a cage, she realizes that he is mentally unstable. He tells her that he is doing this to save her and as the story unfolds, it becomes very evident that she is not what she seems and that maybe he isn’t as crazy as he seems. Holy cow! THIS is what a psychological thriller looks like. This story keeps you engrossed all the way through. Full of shocks and twists throughout the film. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. Absolutely enjoyed this story. The cast is perfect. Loved this movie! Wonderful mind games and twists throughout. Pefect! That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 90 minutes Midnighters, USA, World Premiere Director: Carles Torrens Screenwriter: Jeremy Slater Cast: Dominic Monaghan, Ksenia Solo, Jennette McCurdy, Nathan Parsons, John Ross Bowie, Da’Vone McDonald, Janet Song
A STRAY A Muslim Samoan refugee in Minneapolis is lost in America trying to find his way in this new country. He decides to try and take control of his life and turn things around. Just as things start to look up for him, he hits a dog and becomes responsible for her life. The Muslim religion and community frowns upon dogs and his responsibility for her life soon puts him back down on his luck. Can he still do the right thing? A great story about a troubled young man who sees how he too is a stray that no one seems to want, but together he and the dog give each other purpose. The story is actually well told and gives a wonderful look into another culture that has become so taboo to speak of in today’s society. I give this one 4.5 out of 5 stars. Great cast and interesting story. Wonderful dog star in her debut role, Leila, definitely stole some scenes. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 82 minutes Narrative Feature Competition, USA, World Premiere Director/Screenwriter: Musa Syeed Cast: Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, Christina Baldwin, Ayla, Fathia Absie, Jamaal “Happy Khalif” Farah, Abdullahi Haji-Mohamed, Ifrah Mansour, Rhianna Yazzie, and George McCauley
SHOVEL BUDDIES Sammy has died from cancer and a list of things he wishes his friends to do has brought them together. The list is to make sure that the things he wishes his parents to not see or know about are destroyed or removed. While erasing things from his phone, they find an unsent video chat that amends his last wishes for his funeral. The chat is erased and they are unable to convince Sammy’s parents that he wanted to be buried instead of cremated and refuse to change the funeral plans. They decide to steal Sammy’s body and give him the funeral he wanted. Sammy’s plan has the three friends off on one last insane adventure as they try to stay one step ahead of Sammy’s father, who happens to be the town’s sheriff. This is a very “Stand By Me” type movie. Maybe not as enjoyable, but definitely an engrossing adventure, albeit insane, group of friends. Along the way, you learn of their recent friendship tension and the mis-adventures of their past. There are some absolutely ludicrous incidents. It is very interesting that every time the group meets in Sammy’s bedroom, the image is reversed through the full sized mirror on the closet door. I’m not sure if it was done this way for space or if it was because it was meant as a metaphor of something, but I found it very intriguing. I give this one 3.5 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed the story but truly found some of the situations too over the top to buy into. The movie has a very enjoyable cast. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 85 minutes Narrative Spotlight, USA, World Premiere Director: Simon Atkinson and Adam Townley Screenwriter: Jason Hellerman Cast: Bella Thorne, Kian Lawley, Alex Neustaedter, Anton Starkman, Phillip Lakes, James C Burns, and Jenny Cooper
JULES AND DELORES Based on a true story about a grand heist in Brazil in 1983. An insurance adjuster with access to the Brazilian Soccer President’s offices decides to steal the Jules Trophy with a friend. A well-known “secret” is that the President keeps a fake trophy in the display case and the real one is kept secure in a hidden safe. Once he and his friend steal the trophy and look for a buyer it is soon revealed that the President hadn’t swapped out the trophy with a fake and that they now have the real trophy and pride of Brazil. To their horror, they now are the focus of a National man-hunt and hold a trophy that they are not able to unload. Wow, what a surprise! This movie is fun, funny, wonderfully written, great action scenes, enjoyable story and a very entertaining twist of fate that had the audience applauding and cheering. It’s done a lot like “Pulp Fiction” or “Smokin’ Aces”. The crime begins a path of intertwining story lines and leads the viewer along a very entertaining journey to a very pleasing payoff. Can’t recommend this one enough! I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. Loved it thoroughly. Great cast with a strong and entertaining script. Just absolutely wonderful! That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 90 minutes Visions, Brazil, World Premiere Director: Caito Ortiz Screenwriters: Lusa Silverstre and Caito Ortiz Cast: Paulo Tiefenthaler, Tais Araujo, Danilo Grangheia, Milhem Cortaz, Fabio Marcoff, Pedro Wagner, Hamilton Vaz Pereiva, Thelmo Fernandes, Otto Jr.
JOHNNY FRANK GARRETT”S LAST WORD Based on the true story and documentary entitled “Last Words”, this is a tale about a man who, despite evidence to the contrary, was convicted and executed in Amarillo, TX. Johnny Frank Garrett is a vagrant who worked odd jobs at the local church and is arrested for the brutal rape and murder for an 80 year old nun. The trial is riddled with questionable testimony, “lost” evidence, and fumbled investigation due to election year for the DA and the public’s clamoring for a quick conviction of such a heinous crime. On his execution bed, Johnny Frank Garrett uttered a bloodline curse on everyone tied to the case. Per accounts from eyewitnesses, the curse still continues to claim victims. Amarillo courts still refuse to reopen the case to allow for a re-examination of the evidence, despite public interest and compelling information unearthed by the documentary. The movie has a lot of haunting imagery and some extreme, but awkward, close-ups. It definitely leaves the viewer with more questions and wanting to learn more about the real case. Why do the courts refuse to listen to this case, even with the repressed evidence brought forward? What does this case have that needs to be buried for so many years still? I give this one 3 out of 5 stars. The story is interesting and definitely pulls you in but I wasn’t a fan of the way it was shot and edited together. The acting is mediocre, but OK. That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 95 minutes Midnighters, USA, World Premiere Director: Simon Rumley Screenwriters: Ben Ketai, Marc Haimes, and Tony Giglio Cast: Mike Doyle, Erin Cummings, Devin Bonne, and Sean Patrick Flanery
TRANSPECOS Three border patrol officers are working an outpost in El Paso on a lonely stretch of highway in the middle of no-where. Two are seasoned and one is a rookie. They make their own fun by stopping drivers and harmlessly harassing them. When a car pulls up, the rookie is up to bat. As he waves the car through, one of the seasoned officers notice something is off and tries to stop the car. The driver makes a break for it and injures the officer leading to a deadly shoot out, uncovered hidden drugs, and a corrupted official. The following events send all three men down a dark path of death, curses, and violence. Absolutely one of the best films at the festival. Wonderfully cast and well written. Engrossing story full of twists and shocking moments. Loved, loved, loved this movie. Very enjoyable from start to finish. Definitely didn’t see the outcome coming. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. Terrific crime drama from start to finish. Have I mentioned how much I really loved this one yet? That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 86 minutes Narrative Feature Competition, USA, World Premiere Director: Greg Kwedar Screenwriters: Greg Kwedar and Clint Bentley Cast: Johnny Simmons, Gabriel Luna and Clifton Collins Jr
I AM A HERO Manga artist, Hiedo, is going through life in his own world. When his job interview to get a better job falls through, his girlfriend kicks him out. In the meantime, a strange sickness starts to spread throughout the city. Soon it is very clear that this is more than a flu epidemic. Hiedo must fight or die as the infected become zombies and the infection becomes more widespread. In between fighting zombies, Hiedo finds himself having to fight people who are willing to do anything to survive at anyone’s cost. As everyone comes to rely on him as a protector, he must come out of his imaginary world of Manga and deal with the need of a real hero to survive. A group of people have built a barricade on top of a local strip mall. They send out scouts for supplies and if they notice anyone that has skills that they can use to help their group, they bring them back to interview with their leader. One of their outings they find Hiedo and his travel companion. When it becomes evident that they guy in charge is drunk with power and sadistic, it is very clear that the zombies are not the only danger. Awesome crazy zombie movie. Fun and funny with some truly spectacular special effects. An unlikely hero who becomes a protector and hero through necessity. Dangers of zombies is equal to that of the dangers of people who are scared and trying to remain in control. This is a mix of “28 Days Later” and “The Crazies”. Fast moving zombies that even talk and can figure out puzzles are definitely a creepier factor than most zombie movies. It’s also very fun that our hero, Hiedo, is dressed like Ash from “Pokemon”. The zombies are inventive and create exciting challenges. Edge of your seat fun all the way through. This movie had the audience engaged from the start and has a lot of nuggets for fans of the genre. I give this one 5 out of 5 stars. Enjoyable story with some truly jaw-dropping special effects. Definitely recommend this one for fans of horror, zombies, and manga. Loved it! That’s my review and I’m sticking to it. Running Time: 127 minutes Midnighters, Japan, US Premiere Director: Shinsuke Sato Screenwriter: Akiko Nogi Cast: Yo Oizumi, Kasumi Arimura, Masami Nagasawa
MEETING GRUMPY CAT AT SXSW Grumpy Cat came to SXSW as part of the interactive entertainment to introduce a new line of Friskies cat food. There were fun props tied to the new CatCoctions line that you could wear or hold up in photo ops with Grumpy, herself. She sat on top of a custom made pedestal of oversized Friskies cans. Free to the public and appearing only for 4 hours on Saturday and 4 hours on Sunday, the line was long for a chance to meet the social media celebrity cat. The line consisted of old and young, SXSW goers and general public. After getting your free photo with Grumpy, which was printed out or you had the option to post it to social media right there, you were given buttons, stickers, masks, and coupons for a sample of the new Friskies line. I missed her the years before, and made sure I met her this time. She is more gorgeous in person with the most piercing blue eyes. I am a happy camper after having met Grumpy Cat.