Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theaters this Friday, an event film that my 10-year-old self wanted but could never have imagined would actually happen. So what did I think of the movie? What did I like? What did I have problems with? After the jump you can read my spoiler-free reaction to the film. So if you’ve seen the trailers, feel free to proceed without any worry of plot points, twists, or reveals being spoiled.

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Everything We Saw at the 2016 SXSW Film Festival

sxsw 2016 reviews

Few film festivals offer the breadth and variety of SXSW and this year was no exception. During my eight days there, I saw gentle comedies, brutal horror movies, fascinating dramas produced on shoestring budgets, inventive documentaries and even an R-rated animated film about talking food. It was one helluva week.

Here is everything that I watched, including the (often very good!) movies that didn’t get full reviews.

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pet review

You know the drill, horror fans. A Creepy Stalker Type becomes obsessed with an Innocent Young Woman. He follows her, learns everything about her, and abducts her. And then the real horror begins. And you can predict the beats as they come, right on cue, one right after another.

Pet knows you know these beats. It knows that you think it’s a certain kind of movie and it lulls you into complacency. Yeah, you’ve seen this before. But you haven’t, because Pet zigs when you expect it to zag and takes a sharp left turn into a deep well of pitch black crazy when you least expect it. Pet is another grotesque “captive woman” movie, but it’s so much smarter and cleverer than your average horror flick. It blindsides you. It earns its nasty moments.

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tower review

On August 1, 1966, a gunman climbed the tower at the University of Texas in Austin and opened fire with a high-powered rifle. After 96 minutes, the sniper was dead, but so were 16 of his victims. Dozens more were wounded. A nation looked on in shock. And it was just the harbinger of more violence to come in the ensuing decades.

Tower is director Keith Maitland‘s beat-for-beat retelling of what went down during those 96 minutes and an examination of the aftermath, exploring how the events of that day changed those who were there and set the stage for an America where school shootings are so common that no one bats an eye when they occur. It’s a sobering, even stirring, film. And it’s partially animated.

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 in a valley of violence review

The first thing you notice about In a Valley of Violence is that it doesn’t feel like a typical Ti West film. His trademark slow-burn menace is nowhere to be found and his low-key comedy, which he used to punctuate tension in films like The House of the Devil and The Innkeepers, has undergone a transformation. This is the first West film that isn’t the cinematic equivalent of being placed in a pot of water and not realizing that the water is boiling until it’s too late – it’s broader, more straightforward, and, on paper, a fairly typical revenge western.

Until’s it’s not. In a Valley of Violence is one weird movie, an experience that grabs your attention with its eccentricities before losing you with its lack of focus. It’s not a deadeye pistol shot from a gunslinger, but a wild shot from a scattergun. Yeah, it still hits its target, but you wish the aim was a little more true.

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don't think twice review

Good comedy is the result of long-simmering pain. A comedian struggles on stage, bombing in front of impatient audiences, for years before learning how to be funny. A hilarious actor waits tables while desperately hoping to get cast in that first defining role. And even after so much suffering and so much hard work, the vast majority of talented people still slip through the cracks, watching as others, sometimes friends, stumble into big breaks.

This is the world of Mike Birbiglia‘s Don’t Think Twice, a thoughtful comedy tinged with both melancholy and hope. Set within the New York City improv comedy scene, Birbiglia’s sophomore effort as a director captures the joy of creation and the agony of creative stagnation – anyone who has ever struggled to make something will laugh and cry and find a great deal of the film hitting very close to home.

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sausage party sxsw

It’s hard to believe that Sausage Party actually escaped late-night, pot-fueled conversations between writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, but the film screened at the SXSW Film Festival last night in a “work-in-progress” version. It exists. Somehow. People in positions of authority actually gave these lunatics the time of day (and a budget) and now the world is a much stranger place. A place where an R-rated animated comedy about talking food learning the shocking truth of their existence is a thing that actually exists.

And even in its unfinished form, Sausage Party is funny. Really funny. And completely deranged.

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hardcore henry review

Hardcore Henry is less of a movie and more of a 95-minute assault on good taste, a bloody theme park ride in filmic clothing, and/or the gruesome collision of the video gaming and cinematic languages. It’s a singular experience that’s truly unlike any other movie, and for some viewers, it will still be, understandably, one film of its kind too many. But Hardcore Henry isn’t lazy and it isn’t half-assed and it is in no way derivative – for better and worse, it is an ambitious undertaking that accomplishes exactly what it set out to accomplish and there’s something admirable about it.

It’s impressively made, but entirely juvenile. Admittedly exciting, but casually cruel. Formally astonishing, but kind of skin-crawling on more than a few issues. Yeah, Hardcore Henry is going to elicit strong reactions and if you’ll allow me to break out the dreaded first person, I have no idea what to make of it.

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midnight special review

If Steven Spielberg was born and raised in Texas, he could have made Midnight Special. But he wasn’t and he didn’t, so the task fell to Jeff Nichols.

While this is undeniably the work of the same filmmaker who made Shotgun Stories, Take Shelter, and Mud, his particular skill set is being utilized in service of a very different kind of story. Midnight Special is a science fiction road movie that proudly wears its influences on its sleeve while boldly treading into new territory. This is Close Encounters of the Third Kind with a southern drawl, Starman with a lived-in sensibility, and, most of all, it is one of the most stunning original and humane genre films to arrive in a long time.

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