Don't Think Twice

Mike Birbiglia started out as a stand-up comedian before transitioning into filmmaking with 2011’s loosely autobiographical Sleepwalk With Me, based on one of his stand-up acts. It was solid and sweet and lots of fun, but it’s his second film, Don’t Think Twice, that should really mark him as an indie director to watch.

The dramedy, which premiered at SXSW this spring and is now headed for a summer release, follows the members of a scrappy New York improv troupe played by Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Chris Gethard, Kate Micucci, and Tami Sagher. The close-knit circle finds itself in disarray when one of their number gets catches a huge break. It’s laugh-out-loud hilarious and painfully honest and above all, deeply empathetic, and it’ll ring all too true to anyone who’s ever found themselves feeling stuck in life. Watch the Don’t Think Twice trailer after the jump. Read More »

best films of sxsw 2016

The 2016 SXSW Film Festival is over, so you know what that means: it’s time to sift through the wreckage and hand out imaginary awards created by a jury composed entirely of a single writer. Welcome /Film’s SXSW Awards, where the categories only exist as an excuse to talk about the best movies that I saw at this year’s fest.

This was a strong year for a typically strong festival – as usual, everyone involved outdid themselves. For a complete look at everything I saw, you can head over here. But now it’s time to take the stage and start handing out fake trophies to a bunch of movies that deserve actual accolades.

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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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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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Everybody Wants Some Red Band Trailer

With some advanced screenings and a premiere out of SXSW behind us, the buzz on Richard Linklater‘s new comedy Everybody Wants Some!! (yes, the title has two exclamation points) has been extremely positive. Our own Jacob Hall just caught the film down in Austin, Texas and he called it “a joyous film, a comedy tinged with an invisible melancholy.”

In anticipation of the film’s release on April 1st, a new red band trailer has arrived to show off the wild party that drives this spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused. Of course, beware of the salty language and college party nudity that lies within this trailer, making it NSFW or any libraries that you crazy college students might be using to procrastinate. Read More »