SXSW Day 2 Log (I’m Fine, Twyla Moves, US vs Reality Winner, Here Before, Tom Petty, Recovery)

Hey everyone! After a rough start to the South by Southwest Film Festival Day 2 proved to be much better. In fact, I liked all 6 films I watched today to one degree or another. Hooray!

So let’s get started with the recaps!

I’m Fine (Thanks for Asking)

I have to say COVID is proving to be a better setting for storytelling than I might have guessed. In this first entry writer, director and star Kelley Kali gives us a day in the life of a grieving widow trying to get housing for herself and her daughter during the pandemic. She travels around down in roller skates and does various gig work and gets more desperate as the day goes on.

It’s a sobering film but Kali is such a likable presence on screen it keeps us invested. It kind of reminded me of the first act of Moonlight in a lot of ways. Some will find the slice of life concept to be a dull but I enjoyed it.

7 out of 10

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Twyla Moves

Twyla Moves is a documentary done by PBS for their American Masters series (it actually airs this weekend on TV). I really enjoy American Masters and this goes right along with what they do. It kind of reminded me of Ailey about Alvin Ailey from Sundance 2020 (which was also for AM).

This one is about choreographer Twyla Tharp who I had never heard of but is absolutely incredible. They listed off her resume and she had major projects every year since the 70s including films like Hair and Amadeus. I kind of wish it had gotten into more of her backstory and personal journey but it stays mostly in the professional realm but still fun to watch.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

United States vs Reality Winner

From the minute I heard federal secrets dropper Reality Winner’s name I wanted to learn more about her and that’s what this documentary does. It’s fairly basic in its presentation but the story is so strange and compelling it doesn’t need much manipulation to work. If you want to learn more about Reality than give this one a watch.

5.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Here Before

If you are looking for an artsy thriller at the festival Here Before may be the movie for you. It stars Andrea Riseborough as a woman who becomes convinced her new neighbor is actually her dead daughter reincarnated. This is a beautifully made film with an excellent performance by Riseborough (who is almost always good even in Birdman which I do not like). The pacing is very slow in this one and there were times my attention drifted away but still enough good to recommend.

6.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Tom Petty, Somewhere You Feel Free

Obviously this Tom Petty film will be a must watch for fans of him and his music. However, I also think it will be interesting to anyone who has a love of music and is curious to go BTS of the making of an album. In this case it is his ‘Wildflowers’ album and of course everything is touched by the knowledge of his sudden passing in 2017.

If you are looking for Tom’s backstory or how he became a musician that’s not what this is. It’s a showcase of the making of an album and all the people and hours of work that went into it. As a lover of music I enjoyed learning about the process and hearing lots of great Tom Petty songs!

7 out of 10

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Recovery

My friend Jonathan actually told me this movie was premiering at the festival. It stars Mallory Everton (who also cowrote and directed) and Whitney Call. They are both stars of the comedy skit youtube show Studio C and they bring that zany energy to this hilarious comedy.

Recovery is definitely a hair edgier than what you get on Studio C but it should be fine for adults. It’s about 2 sisters who have to go get their Grandma from a nursing home infected with COVID. A comedy like this comes down to the writing (which is very funny) and the chemistry which these 2 have in spades. I loved i! You may think it’s too soon to laugh at COVID but give it a chance. I bet you will find yourself cracking up just like I did.

It’s definitely the best of the festival so far. I loved it!

8.5 out of 10

Smile Worthy

[REVIEW] Escher and Tiger Documentaries

Hey friends! I just wanted to tell you quickly about 2 documentaries that are worth your time.

M.C. ESCHER:JOURNEY TO INFINITY

The first is available for rental and in some called M.C. Escher: Journey to Infinity. This tells us about the artist (or mathematician as he says) M.C. Escher but it does it through his own letters and diaries read by actor Stephen Fry.

Written and directed by Robin Lutz isn’t very concerned with Escher’s life.  It’s concerned with his work and if it counts as art or not. Most of us would look at his woodprints and drawings and say of course they count as art but the artist himself didn’t see it that way.

There are a few interviews from fans like Graham Nash explaining why they feel the work is art which makes for a fascinating contrast with the words from Escher himself. They also use Escher’s work to create new art and animation throughout the piece, which was very effective because I have a feeling they didn’t have many archival photographs to work with.

It is $12 to rent the documentary but you are supporting small local theaters that are struggling so much. Here is a link through Park City Film.

7 out of 10

Smile Worthy

Tiger

Next up we have a new sports documentary from HBO Max diving into the world of golfer Tiger Woods called Tiger. This documentary is particularly chilling given Tiger’s recent car accident and injuries. He’s already had a dramatic fall from grace and a return. One can’t help but wonder if he can do it again?

Before continuing on with this review I should clarify I have almost no interest in golf. I recognize the skill that goes into the game. It is just not something that interests me to either play or watch. Nevertheless, I found Tiger to be a very well done and gripping documentary.

The most chilling part of Tiger is the audio they use repeatedly of Tiger’s father Earl talking about his son as a great gift to mankind, a Messianic like character that society better treat right.

“He will transcend this game and bring to the world a humanitarianism which has never been known before.
“The world will be a better place to live in, by virtue of his existence and his presence.”

This is my treasure; please accept it and use it wisely.”

Tiger tries to brush this aside as the words of a proud father but it can’t help but feel like such lofty expectations were doomed to fail. Who but God himself can live up to such promises?

As we all know Tiger did live up to the expectations when it came to golf but his personal choices caught up to him causing a moral implosion and scandal. All of this is dealt with in the documentary and I found it fascinating.

It’s too bad, unlike The Last Dance, which had Michael Jordan himself in the docuseries they couldn’t get Tiger in Tiger or anybody in his family.  That would have added some authenticity but overall I still enjoyed watching the documentary. I appreciate it tried to look for broader themes rather than a more sensationalized TMZ like approach.

Tiger is available on HBO Max and I recommend giving it a watch.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Flora & Ulysses’ or Super Squirrels and Little Girls Are Adorable

One of the best things to come out of Disney Plus is the return of the mid-budget family film from Walt Disney Studios. With the exception of their Disneynature brand, the studio for many years only made giant blockbusters with over $100 million budgets. This was a real shame because I love the small live action Disney films from my childhood. Films like Newsies, White Fang, Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken and The Journey of Natty Gann are practically as important to me as the Disney animated films. I’m so happy that a new generation of children will get films like these by way of Disney Plus!

Last year the best from Disney Plus in this department was Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made. It is a sweet, well written film about an awkward child, dealing with trauma by setting up his own detective agency. It made my top films of 2020, and I absolutely loved it.

While not as good as Timmy Failure, this year’s first contender is the new film Flora & Ulysses. It is a very sweet film about a little girl named Flora who helps rescue (literally giving CPR)a squirrel named Ulysses that just might have superpowers!

Flora’s parents played by Alyson Hannigan and Ben Schwartz are going through a separation and obviously that is hard on everyone. Hannigan is fantastic as her mother who is also a romance novelist with writers block. They get a lot of laughs out of her book titles and covers and the fact she won the Jack and Rose from Titanic prize for writing.

Image result for flora and ulysses movie
I also thought Schwartz was warm and authentic as Flora’s aspiring comic book artist Dad. He is obviously very sad about what is happening to his marriage but not so much that he lets his daughter suffer.

The real star is young Matilda Lawler as Flora. She is so cute and I am extremely impressed this was her first film role. I predict we will be seeing a lot of her. Especially acting with a cgi creature is not easy and she did a fantastic job.

Parents of divorced kids might be a little annoyed by the ending of Flora & Ulysses and it is perhaps a touch too long but other than that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It will be a wonderful movie to watch for family movie night and all enjoy together. It’s so enchanting it will make you wish for your own super-powered squirrel!

8 out of 10

Smile Worthy

If you get to see Flora &  Ulysses let me know what you think. Do you miss mid-budget live action films from Disney?

[REVIEW] TULSA or A Modern-Day Pollyanna

I’ve said it many times on this site but faith-based films are perhaps the toughest genre of films to pull off. What is a pure and powerful testimony to one may come off as cloying and preachy to another. So often the ministry gets in the way of telling a good story. It is this difficulty that makes me happy whenever there are well done Christian films on the market. The new movie Tulsa is such an example. While it isn’t perfect, it is a sweet story about the good a little girl and God’s grace can do.

The title Tulsa actually comes from our lead character a little girl named Tulsa (if they explained why I must have missed it). A child of foster care she is reunited with her father Tommy who is a struggling addict who is hiding from his broken pass. Much like Pollyanna in the Disney classic cheers up all around her, so does Tulsa but she is also a little girl of faith who knows her Bible inside and out.

For some people this will be too cloying, but I think it struck a nice balance of a redemptive message with real-world problems. Nothing felt too unbelievable or pentacostal in its presentation. It also helps that little Tulsa is played by newcomer Livi Birch and she shines in the role. If she wants to be an actress she definitely has the raw natural talent to do it. Scott Pryor does a good job as Tommy but his role is more basic. The movie lives and dies on the back of Branch’s charisma and warmth.

There are definitely moments you can feel the budget in Tulsa particularly in the supporting performances. Also a plot-point involving an angry employee at Tommy’s auto-shop feels unnecessary and distracting (pretty much anytime Birch is off screen the movie suffers but luckily those are few and far between.

There are some weightier themes of addiction, suicide and death explored so not for young children. But adults and teens of faith will enjoy Tulsa and in particular love Livi Birch’s wonderful performance. It will be available on all the streaming services 2/1/2021

Overall Score 7/10

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