Monthly Archives: March, 2016

"RWANDA & JULIET" A Must See Film at the Phoenix Film Festival by Pamela Powell

March 31st, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"RWANDA & JULIET" A Must See Film at the Phoenix Film Festival by Pamela Powell”



“O Romeo, Romeo,  wherefore art thou Romeo?”  Apparently he relocated to Rwanda.  In the new documentary directed by Ben Proudfoot, the cameras follow eccentric Dartmouth retired professor Andrew Garrod from Vermont to the impoverished and recovering area of Rwanda to bring high school children the gift of Shakespeare.  Why would anyone want to do this?  Garrod saw the parallels between the conflict and resolution of the play Romeo and Juliet and the formerly warring tribes of the Hutus and the Tutsis.  As you recall,  1 million Rwandan citizens were murdered in 100 days.  Genocide performed by the Hutus against the Tutsis left few survivors, typically children, who are now youScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.59.07 AMng adults.  Garrod, as a part of an American theatre group, is hoping that performing Romeo and Juliet can help bring reconciliation to the struggling country.  What it ultimately brings is something very unexpected.


We begin our journey  with Garrod from his book cluttered home in Vermont as he prepares for this expensive and overwhelming endeavor to create live theater in Rwanda.  He seems a bit scattered as he comically attempts to refold a map of the world and find his misplaced passport.  Arriving with his colleague, the casting calls and auditions begin with an underwhelming response.  You can sense the tension and mistrust from the young actors listening to this rather demanding white man.  We seeScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 10.59.34 AM both Garrod and the cast relax with time as they attempt to understand one another.  Seeing Garrod dance by the sea and the kids’  joy that that brings is priceless.  As the weeks pass, however, there are obstacles to overcome.   Finances, expectations, and emotional obstacles all become a part of the possible failure of this man’s endeavor.


“Rwanda & Juliet” captures the reality of life, painting an accurate picture of all involved.   Garrod is a perfectionist and his demands upon his students seem unrealistic. It’s at times uncomfortable to listen to him speak to these kids in the manner that he does.  He seems to not fully understand the cultural issues and what these young aduScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.03.58 AMlts have endured.  And his own life and experiences seem  much too different for him to succeed.  You are on this journey with Garrod and on the edge of your seat as you don’t know whether or not he will succeed.  I doubt him as I see him dig deeply into his own pension fund when a financial backer drops out.  This stress is palpable.  This film doesn’t have to have a Hollywood ending—it’s real.

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Reading about the atrocities of the genocide that occurred in 1994 is one thing, but to hear the first hand account from those who have survived it is quite another.  The candid individual interviews with cast members allows us to get a glimpse into what happened to each of them.  After hearing their strong, passionate voices describe their memoScreen Shot 2016-03-31 at 11.02.29 AMries or take us to the site where families’ bodies were dumped will bring you to tears.  But their resolve and determination that allowed them to survive continues on as they look to the future with a smile.  Tete who plays Juliet is simply inspirational.  Clovis who plays the peacekeeper Benvolio shares the mixed emotions about the beauty and horrors of a nearby lake.  With each of these actors having their own personal reasons for wanting to be in the play, we discover that perhaps a Shakespearean play can do more than reconcile differences, it can also be therapeutic.

“Rwanda & Juliet” beautifully captures and documents the ups and downs of putting on a play, but it also educates the viewer about the forgotten people of Rwanda.  We feel that we are on a personal journey as we experience heartfelt sadness, doubt, anger, and overwhelming joy and hope of Garrod’s adventure.  It’s a realistic and inspirational film allowing us to understand the common bonds that can form through the expression of art—in this case the production of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’  The gift of theater and art knows no cultural boundaries, creating positive life changes.



To see “Rwanda & Juliet” at the Phoenix Film Festival, go to

An Interview with Jeff Nichols by Pamela Powell

March 31st, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Jeff Nichols by Pamela Powell”

“Midnight Special,” Jeff Nichols’ fourth feature film after the notable success of “Mud” (2012), hits theaters this weekend.  Starring Michael Shannon and Jaeden Lieberher, the film showcases Nichols’ fine-tuned writing and directing skills.  The story revolves around a father (Shannon) and his young son (Lieberher) on the run from authorities and a religious cult.  The destination appears to be every bit as important as the reason they are running.  This high intensity and unusually thrilling film keeps you guessing and attempting to put together the pieces of the puzzle.  The picture isn’t truly clear until the very end—and what an end it is!


I had the opportunity to sit down with Nichols to discuss the story’s genesis as well as the process of making “Midnight Special.”    With a gravely voice, Nichols admitted to being exhausted after  a full week of talking with press.  However, his expression and words relayed that he was equally as thrilled that people wanted to discuss this film.  Car chases, car choices, religion, and parenthood all find their way into this newest adventure for Nichols.

The story itself is heavily visual with little conversation.  But every spoken word is of the utmost importance. Nichols expressed that he is evolving as a minimalist storyteller and “Midnight Special” is “…designed to be the ultimate part of the evolution.”  He described it as a “reduction in narrative exposition” and enjoys the outcome of this style.  However, he also admitted that he took it to an extreme in this film.  In an attempt to explain how this writing style works, Nichols said, “I try to treat dialogue just like behavior.  You don’t always say what you mean…and you certainly don’t always speak your subtext.  I just try and be real honest about the situations I put my characters in.”

Endings are also generally something important to writers, but Nichols finds endings to be tricky.  He related that most screenwriters have an idea of how the plot will resolve itself, but he doesn’t think of endings that way.  “I think about them as developments out of character; character feelings, character emotions.  I think that’s why sometimes my endings are off-putting for people because I don’t really care about wrapping up the plot.”  He continued to explain that this Spielberg inspired film is about “reaching this kind of emotional climax for the characters” and that he wants to have that same kind of wonder and awe that unfolds before you.


Wonder and awe are also an influence in the plot of this film in a very personal way for Nichols.  Unfortunately, he experienced a very traumatic event which gave way to the creation of the second level of this chase movie; it’s the heart and soul of the film.  During this time period, his 8 month old son had a very high fever which lead to what is called a febrile seizure.  Thankfully, now at the age of 5, his son is healthy and doing fine.  But at the time, Nichols shared, “It was a really terrifying experience for my wife and I.”  As many of us know, being a parent is very overwhelming during that first year and Nichols expressed that he and his wife “…were kind of under water.  You’re exhausted.  Your social life has disappeared.  Your whole life changes.  My wife and I refer to that first year as The Darkness.”

As he witnessed the terrifying event of a seizure of his helpless infant, Nichols realized that “this boy could be taken away from me at any time” which would cripple him as a human, he said with gravity in his voice.  He also came to the realization that he really has little to no control over whether this being lives, dies, grows into a great person or a bad person.  “I can only effect these things in the margin,” he said.  He began to question why he was a parent and what his role is in his son’s life.  Nichols came to the conclusion that, “As a parent, I must be here in order to try and understand who my son is, what he needs, and as he grows, redefine that…and help him realize his potential.”  In addition, Nichols’ intuitive nature and ability to question the deeper meaning of life allowed him to see that he cannot project himself onto his son.  This experience and all of these momentous realizations “became the trajectory for Mike Shannon’s character.”  To say it is complex, is an understatement.

Fatherhood is just one of the many multi-layered storylines of “Midnight Special.” In addition,  religion on various levels enters into the plot as we see the faith that Alton’s  (Lieberher) parents have in him as well as The Ranch from which Alton has escaped.  Nichols conveys his personal thoughts about religion as he feels “it can become dangerous when you build a belief system for yourself and you start to impose it on other people.  That’s when religion can become evil.”  He emphasizes that The Ranch has very selfish reasons for believing in this boy which compounds the complexity of the situation.  With each character representing different viewpoints about religion, every viewer will find him/herself relating to the questions at hand.

Alton is the focal point of the film and working with young children can be intimidating for filmmakers, but not in this case.  Nichols was “immediately struck by [Jaeden’s] intelligence.   He continued in a fatherly and proud tone that Jaeden was so honest and pragmatic in his approach that he was able to be keenly and innately aware of what was needed in each scene.  Nichols compared this ability and style to Shannon.  With no rehearsals and very little conversation about the backstory of his character, Shannon also had that innate understanding of what Nichols needed.  He says, “I think that’s why we suit each other.  We see eye to eye on things.”

Seeing eye to eye doesn’t always happe002924_pfn in a marriage and Nichols admits that he wrote a chase film so that he could be rid of his wife’s car to which she held sentimental value.  Nichols, who is bored by car chases and wanted a different approach to this type of film made a deal with his wife.  He hated her Isuzu Rodeo which is the first car she ever bought.  “I told her that if I write a movie that destroys that car, will you let me destroy it?  And she said yes!”  As luck would have it, however, with the damage of a hail storm to the Isuzu, the dings couldn’t be replicated on the other 9 vehicles used in the movie so as we wives all know, we always win.  The Isuzu is still in the family’s possession although it  parked at his in-laws’ house now.

“Midnight Special” is truly just that—it’s special.  And knowing some of the backstory about this film brings it to another level of appreciation.  Nichols has created one of his most extraordinary and thrilling films to date.  As I was leaving the interview, I promised that I would ask him about the Isuzu after the release of his next film, “Loving.”  His response was a chuckle conveying he wasn’t going to hold his breath on that one.



"Everybody Wants Some" an interview with the stars by Pamela Powell

March 31st, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Everybody Wants Some" an interview with the stars by Pamela Powell”


“Everybody Wants Some” is Linklater’s latest release, reportedly a continuation of the 1980’s throwback “Dazed and Confused.”  Jake, a freshman baseball player, arrives at college, attempting to navigate much more than the college campus just days before classes begin.  With confidence exuding, he seems less intimidated by his upperclassmen teammates than the cute girl with whom he is immediately smitten.  The film, although not much of an actual story, chronicles Jake’s adventures in college—a throw-back, but new rendition of Animal House, athletic style.


Jumping back into 1980, the stars of the film who are all in their 20’s, sat down to talk with me about the filming experience and what they hope viewers will take away from “Everybody Wants Some.”   Blake Jenner (Jake), the star of the film, Tyler Hoechlin (McReynolds. the cocky upperclassman), and Will Brittain (Billy Autry, the socially awkward southerner),  each had their own insight about and hopes for the film.

Unlike these young men, I thoroughly remember 1980.  OK, maybe “foggily” is a more fitting word.  How could these young men have any idea as to what the early 80’s were like?  Jenner said, “Growing up, my dad gave me a taste of the 80’s music like Devo and David Bowie.  It colored my palate for my favorite kind of music.”  He added, “Rick (Linklater) was there for every single question [about the era].”  Both Hoechlin and Brittain emphasized that “Rick” with his phenomenal memory, gave them all the information necessary to recreate living in that era.  Regarding those lovely yet not forgotten apparel choices, Hoechlin said he scoured the wardrobe choices asking himself, “What’s the most ridiculous thing I could find to wear?”  Mesh shirts, short jean cut-offs were immediately grabbed, but when he wanted to use the thong from wardrobe, Linklater reeled Hoechlin back in saying it was not of that time period.  The look of disappointment could still be seen on Hoechlin’s face.

Linklater is an award winning filmmaker, a genius in many critic’s minds, which could have been intimidating to these young actors.  This certainly was not the case.  The group whole-heartedly conveyed that Linklater’s down-to-earth demeanor immediately relaxed them, allowing complete collaboration during the rehearsal and filming process.  Brittain fondly reminisced about the entire audition process which allowed for each actor to evolve into their specific roles as they each auditioned for many parts.  Through their own process of elimination and collaboration with Linklater, they found the right role for themselves.  For Jenner, the process was so seamless that he chuckled aloud as he came to this realization and said,  “I never thought about it like that [because] Rick was so collaborative.”

It’s also obvious that these gentlemen thoroughly enjoyed the process of making “Everybody Wants Some.”  In fact, Brittain said as he sat back comfortably in his leather chair, “We were just hanging out and every now and then someone would turn a camera on and we would keep hanging out!”   As they all laughed about this, Brittain added, “The movie came second to us having a good time.”  Hoechlin, on a more serious note, added that theEverybody-Wants-Somere was one line from the film that really hit home for him and he hoped others would embrace it too— “Never bring who they want.  Always bring who you are.  And that’s when it gets fun.”  It looks like these young men followed that advice and had a blast making “Everybody Wants Some.”

Coincidentally, Hoechlin in real life did attend college on a baseball scholarship.  When I asked him about the reality of the situations in the film that seem a bit skewed and far-fetched,  he admitted that the parties represented in the film were much more fun than he recalls.  However, the competitive nature among “the guys” is very real.  Hoechlin said, “It’s a really interesting dynamic in sport teams, especially in college, when you’re competing for a job.  I need you to do well because I want our team to win, but I also need you to not take my job.”  “Everybody Wants Some” conveys this deeper aspect of the competitiveness of playing a college sport.ews2

There was an element of charm and sweetness as these men expressed their hopes for this film.  All of them wanted viewers to know that you can get to know one another and relate to each other sans cell phone.  Back in the day, people talked and told stories and even embellished a bit.   But in today’s world,  there is no elaboration of story-telling because of Instagram proof.  Talking, listening, and relating, according to Brittain, is non-existent thanks to technology.  Sadly, this generation longs for what we took for granted “back in the day”…each other.

Make no mistake.  This is a guy’s movie and is geared toward the 20-somethings. It’s a story with little narrative arc, but does portray a small time period in one boy’s life.  Be warned, however, the film is from a male’s perspective which views most women as dumb objects to conquer. On the positive side, it is a nostalgic look for both men and women over the age of 50 to walk down memory lane as you hear “My Sharona” and cringe at the styles that we wore.  To me, these were the highlights of the film.  Getting to know a few of these actors and their hopes for this film and the message it could convDSC01926ey, endears me a bit more to the film.


"RESCUE DOGS" helps raise rescue funds by Pamela Powell

March 31st, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"RESCUE DOGS" helps raise rescue funds by Pamela Powell”


“Rescue Dogs” is one of those sweet family movies that you can feel good about going to see.  Not just because it’ll entertain the kids with talking dogs, quirky characters, and a good guy versus bad guy story line, but because seeing this film will help raise money for rescue organizations across the country.  Busted Buggy Entertainment (BBE) has partnered with 20 animal rescue organizations in New York, Chicago, Austin, Seattle and many more, to receive  20% of box office receipts.  To see a complete list of participating theaters, go to

This generously creative format is the brainchild of the company’s founder and star of the film, Courtney Dacourtneyniels.  In a recent inbaronterview with Daniels, she proudly stated that she is  the owner of several rescue animals.   Daniels laughed, “Dog hair is a condiment.”  (Now there’s a dinner guest I can have at my house!)   One of her own rescue dogs is the other star of the film, Baron who plays Charger. Daniels shared with me that her mother  volunteered at a shelter in Arizona for years, fostering dogs. When she found Baron, she convinced Daniels that  she needed this dog.  I’m guessing it didn’t take too much convincing based on the happiness in Daniels’ voice.  The two have been inseparable ever since.   Daniels wanted to create awareness about these adorable and loving rescue animals.   She passionately explained, “…you don’t have to be a pure bred.  Animals come into your life and change it and make it better.”


Making someone’s life better is exactly the message of “Rescue Dogs.”  In the film, Tracy (Paul Haapaniemi) creates culinary delights thanks to his muse, Chargepauldogr (Baron), at his beachfront restaurant.  When the Evil Businessman (Casey Campbell) comes along, full of nothing but greed, wanting the property for a golf course, Tracy must find a way to keep his restaurant.  But it seems that it’s a losing battle.  How can the little guy fight big business and money?  After he meets and falls in love with the beautiful dancer, Bridgette (Daniels), under false pretenses, Tracy finds himself in an overwhelming mess that can only be cleaned up by the wiser dogs in their lives.  In other words, the humans need to be rescued!

The film is narrated by a couple of sea animals who sound like an old married couple.  We are introduced to Harper (Jordan Rawlins), the oddball brother  who can hear and understand what the animals are saying, but is oblivious to the amazing nature of this ability.  He seems to have spent a bit too much time in the sun as he thinks there’s a buried treasure marked with an “X” somewhere nearby.  Evil Boss  whose face we intentionally never see and his cat Nightmare (he hates his name) go to great lengharperths to shut down Tracy’s business.  The Banker (Andrew Ryan Harvey) is hired to help the evil plan commence and these larger than life characters create funny yet clear-cut lines of good and evil.  There is a lot of action accompanied by a talking Hamster (voiced by Fred Tatsciore) and two talking dogs (Charger-Peter Oldring, Callie-Tamara Garfield) creating fun and sometimes silly situations that will capture kids’ attention.  With an underlying love story between Tracy and Bridgette, the movie has gone to the dogs—in a good way.

Daniels shared with me that all the animals featured in “Rescue Dogs” are truly just that—rescued animals.  As actors memorized their lines, the two dogs were taught their “lines” or actions.  Daniels chuckled that at the last minute, two weeks before filming, they decided to use Baron as “Charger.”  Daniels not only coordinated her own schedule but two weeks worth of trainer appointments and home training with Baron.  Baron seemed unfazed by the schedule and easily performed the tasks no matter how many takes it took the humans to get their lines right.  And a bit of ad libbing is always fun when you’re working with animals, Daniels conveyed.  With a drone shot, Baron was filmed running down the beach.  He was so interested in the drone that he began to chase it and ran for much longer than anticipated, but the happiness they captured was priceless.

It’s not often that you find a family film that  has an entertaining and positive message and the potential to  help the community at the same time.  “Rescue Dogs” is just that film.  With fun characters and a charming story, the talking animals add the element of genuine entertainment that make this film a joy to see.callie1  As Tracy says in the movie,  “Be a part of something bigger, something beautiful” and as I say, “Go see “Rescue Dogs.”

If you’re in the Chicago area, you’re in luck!  “Rescue Dogs” will be screening at the Marcus Addison Cinema, 1555 W. Lake St., in Addison, Illinois April 1-7.  This will benefit the Chicago Animal Welfare League.  If you don’t live near a theater that is showing this film, you can still see “Rescue Dogs” and help raise funds for your own rescue organization through TUGG, a theatrical screening company.  For more information about this, go to



My rescue dog, Bongo, rescued and loved us for 16 years!


March 30th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “SINCE: THE BOMBING OF PAN AM FLIGHT 103”

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A film by Phil Furey and Spencer Averick

There are defining moments in history, a crossroads, if you will. The bombing of Pan Am flight 103 is 1988 FILE PHOTO OF THE LOCKERBIE BOMBING CRASH of those crossroads that our world took the wrong turn in how to handle a terrorist attack.  This negligence spurred by greed may have changed the course of future events in terrorism and our dependency on oil.  How could one attack make a difference?  Watch the documentary “Since” which captures the lives cut short and those families who never experienced justice for their murdered children and you’ll clearly see  the lines of guilt connect.  The information that is unearthed is simply disturbing and sickening, but so very necessary to know.


For 10 years, documentary filmmaker Phil Furey and his team  have interviewed and researched the facts behind the bombing of the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  270 innocent lives were taken.  The documentary team follows three families of victims of this murderous attack whose children attended Syracuse University, traveling home from studying abroad. The film clearly and concisely shows us all the details of the attack, the sentencing and release of those found responsible, and how a trillion dollar oil deal with BP was the genesis for the attacker’s release.  The film depicts not just the US, but also the UK and Scotland and what we, as countries, are willing to turn a blind eye to in exchange for continuing our dependency on oil.

We hear first-hand accounts from parents as they learned of their children’s death via the television.  We see the painsince_bombing_pan_am_flight_103_documentary_film_24 they endured and continue enure as the injustices continue.  Using actual footage from news accounts and interviews with officials and reporters, we also see the obvious choices these governments made with Libya in exchange for crude oil.  We also learn about how these parents banded together to try to make

US FAMILY WITH PICTURE OF THEIR KILLED DAUGHTER IN SOESTERBERG. changes to prevent attacks like this in the future and to change our response system.  While some of these goals were met, it is obvious that many others were not.  The film captures this and tells a story of an impossible healing process not only of the families directly affected, but of the citizens of Lockerbie, Scotland.  They, too, lost community members, but they also helped the families from abroad with simple, but meaningful gestures such as returning their children’s clothing.

How does a parent or family heal?  Everyone has differensince_bombing_pan_am_flight_103_documentary_film_10t coping mechanisms from creating sculptures depicting the reactions of the parents to fighting government.  “Since” allows the viewers to see the process and the determination of the parents to make a difference in the future.  Unfortunately, the reactions from officials at Pan Am and even current governments across the world, including President Obama, over the next 28 years was having salt poured into a wound.

The beauty in this film comes in the filming and Furey’s ability to truly capture emotion which is gorgeously augmented by the musical score.  His dedication to telling this powerful and relevant story, although an extremely emotional one, is important for all of us to understand.  The film brings to the forefront questions that should have been asked almost 30 years ago, but still need to be asked now.

“Since” is a masterfully created film which tells a compassionate story with an emotional punch.  The social relevancy of the  political information unveiled allows us to be better informed.  And with knowledge comes power.  Everyone, including those young adults from Syracuse Universisince_bombing_pan_am_flight_103_documentary_film_05ty, who was lost on Pan Am Flight 103 should not have died in vain.  “Since” gives us the assurance that perhaps that will not be the case.

For more information about this film go to

To see this film at the Phoenix Film Festival, go to

The Reel Focus: Batman v Superman, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and Honey Buddies!

March 25th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Reel Focus: Batman v Superman, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and Honey Buddies!”

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Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, and Honey Buddies at the Arclight Cinemas are all a part of The Reel Focus this week!


For more information about tickets to “Honey Buddies” at the Arclight Cinemas, go to

"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" Misses the Mark by Pamela Powell

March 25th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2" Misses the Mark by Pamela Powell”


Sequels generally aren’t as good as the original; that’s a given.  And “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” lives up to that expectation with flying colors.  With over-the-top performances, mugging for the camera, and chaotic and numerous story-lines, this newest version makes your head spin and eyes roll.  Nia Vardalos has written and stars in this sequel as the now married mother of a teen whose family continues to be a major influence (and issue) in her life. With the discovery that Mom and Dad really aren’t married, another wedding must take place, but there are obstacles in the way including an inadequate marriage proposal.  As usual, Toula must fix everything.


The entire ensemble returns with a few additions to the cast:   John Stamos and Rita Wilson are two recognizable faces giving nothing more than a quick cameo performance. Windex is the first returning character we see, eliciting a huge burst of laughter from the audience.  The familiar narrative humor from Toula (Vardalos) finds its way into the sequel as well which is welcoming.   In the last 14+ years, Ian (John Corbett) has assimilated into the Greek family and   their teen daughter rebels against a hovering mother.  With her relationship drifting apart, her daughter’s college application process,  and an out-of-control extended family,  Toula tries to fix everything…everything except her relationship with Ian.  And most importantly, we learn about a family secret that sends this already frenetic family into a tizzy.

The first “Greek Wedding” is a film

greek22The original “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is a movie that I have seen numerous times.  It has an element of charm, reality, and interesting characters.  Where “Greek Wedding 2” falls apart is that there are too many story lines going on, giving it no focal point.  With plastic grins and cardboard performances from everyone, except Andrea Martin’s “Aunt Vuola,” this film falls flat.  Corbet seems to be somewhere else as he recites his lines and Vardalos appears to think she’s on a stage where the patron in the last row of the balcony must somehow see her facial expressions.  Even the staging and movement of the characters seems stilted and unnatural.  There is an attempt, however, for this film to redeem itself with the expectations of women, marriage, and becoming a mother.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t come into vision until toward the end of the story which is too little, too late.

I’ve already stated the convoluted and disorganized story-line, but the direction by Kirk Jones is so transparent and uninspired that you can almost hear him whisper, “Now, look at one another and smile…keep smiling.  Yes, I know it seems like you’re smiling and looking at each other a long time, but keep doing it…”  In the first “Greek Wedding,” you had a glimpse inside what a large Greek family might be.  In “Greek Wedding 2” there is no way any family could act this way.  Every single character is unbelievably overblown that you feel more like you are watching a cartoon than a live-action comedy.  The excessively dramatic expressions make an I Love Lucy episode look like a subtle melodrama.

If you’re a big fan of the first film, my recommendation is to wait for the DVD and not take your time and spend your money on the theater version.

1 Star



"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" Is my movie kryptonite by Pamela Powell

March 23rd, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" Is my movie kryptonite by Pamela Powell”
Superman and Batman have both been a part of the D.C. (Detective Comics, Inc.) since the late 1930’s.  Generally allies, these characters both fight evil-doers with either their superhuman powers or their amazing intellect and skills.  The newest live action film to hit the silver screen is “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” which suprisingly pits one hero against the other due to a lack of communication and Batman believing everything the media conveys.  Yes, the sarcasm begins.  Much time, effort, and energy of both men and the viewer is wasted upon not getting along and lacking having a common goal.  And when I say “much time,” I mean 158 minutes, folks.  That’s 2 hours and 33 minutes of non-stop explosions, close-up fight scenes that becomes dizzying, and constant auditory bombardment that may leave you hearing impaired as you exit the theater.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer, stars Henry Cavill as Superman and Ben Affleck as Batman.  The film gives viewers who do not know these heroes’ backstories all the information they need to understand their sad upbringing.  We witness the slow-motion murder of Bruce Wayne’s (Batman) parents, and get a glimpse into Clark Kent’s (Superman) life on the farm.  So if you’re not an avid fan of D.C. (don’t confuse them with Marvel as true fans will get angry with you), you’ll still be able to follow why they have a few issues and make the decisions that they do. That bringbats us to Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) who is generally the nemesis of Superman, but now he takes on both superheroes with a psychotic and frenetic energy, pitting one hero against the other.
To say that the premise is entirely ridiculous is being kind.  It is all action, all the time.  However, just when I want to hear a little dialogue and perhaps a little personality from these two main characters, they do begin to converse.  Be careful what you wish for.  The dialogue that occurs is just as ridiculous as the premise, but at least they are consistent.  There is a saving grace in Perry White’s character played by Laurence Fishburne which brings a bit of levity to the film, reminiscent of the old time 1950’s television series.  There are other comedic scenes, but these are unintentional.  Batman’s Gladiator workout with truck tires and chains really buff him up.  Amy Jeremy Irons is aptly cast as Alfred, but Amy Adam’s talent is superlokwasted in her portrayal of the lack-luster Lois Lane.  There are also a few cameos by characters that I am clueless about, but other audience members seem to recognize them with fondness.  
Casting Cavill and Affleck as Superman and Batman, respectively, is really under-utlizing the talent of these two men.  Were they cast for their looks, perhaps?  If so, they do look great.  They are both able to stand and stare menacingly for prolonged periods of time. Well done. That brings us to the introduction of Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince played by Gal Gadot who is simply stunning physically.  There really isn’t much more than that to judge at this point as her character isn’t really much more than an ally at the end as she attempts to kill the beast who is wreaking havoc on Gotham.
lexEisenberg’s portrayal of Luthor is yet another saving grace in the film.  His intensity and energy suit this brilliant and scheming lunatic who has a grudge against Superman.  Fishburne embraces his role as Perry White, the editor of The Daily Planet and enjoys uttering his “headlines of the day” and his references of the origins of Superman that only fans will catch.  He has fun and it’s obvious which makes it fun for the audience.  If only more of the film could have been like this, it would have at least been mildly esuperdeentertaining.
This film is dark and foreboding with ominous music from start to finish.  The CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) is amazing, but again, it’s non-stop.  This pairs perfectly with the continual explosions and fights, completely desensitizing you to anything that happens in this film. The result?  Boredom.
“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” has an all-star cast that will underwhelm even fans of these D.C. heroes.  It’s prolonged and ridiculous premise, even for a comic book, over-use of CGI and explosions, and lack of any interesting characters, creates total boredom in this very long movie.
For parents wanting to take their kids, please be warned of the PG-13 Rating as there is violence, some gruesome scenes, and some bad language.
1 Star

"Dating Daisy" A fresh look at dating and love by Pamela Powell

March 22nd, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Dating Daisy" A fresh look at dating and love by Pamela Powell”




Starring: Brennan Kelleher and Sascha Alexander

Written and Directed by: Neel Upadhye

It may have been a few years ago, ok decades, since I last was involved in the dating scene, but DATING DAISY reminds me that this concept hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years with the exception of the social media aspect.  The feelings are the same.  Relationship challenges are the same.  And family expectations are (unfortunately) the same. “Dating Daisy” is familiar yet fresh in portraying a young couple’s struggle with who they are and if they want to be together—it’s the story of life.


Michael (Brennan Kelleher), out of the kindness of his heart, has offered to give his ex-girlfriend Daisy (Sascha Alexander) a ride to her family’s home for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. From the moment the two open their mouths to speak to one another, you know that they are totally opposite people—one a little more grounded and the other a bit more in the clouds.  It’s also obvious as to wdateeeehy these two broke up—or is it?  There’s still an attraction there, but is attraction enough?  As the two spend the holiday apart, they deal with family relationships and expectations from Michael’s meddling mother to Daisy’s doting father.  Let’s not leave out Daisy’s sweet and wise grandfather and Michael’s overbearing father. In “Dating Daisy,”  every type of family issue is brought into focus, sometimes with humor and at other times, with heart.


The relationshdatemomip between Michael and Daisy is genuine and natural, allowing the viewer to get to know and have empathy for each of them.  The most enjoyable aspect of all the relationships, from this mother’s point of view, is the parents with each of them.  Daisy’s admiration and connection with her father is endearing.  As the two have a heart-to-heart with a hug and mom capturing the moment on her iPhone, it’s a moment that could have truly happened in anyone’s home.  We also see the flip side with Michael and his mother who love one another, but we moms sometimes tend to be a bit of a helicopter, attempting to control more than we actually can.  There’s balance on both ends with the ability to see how outside forces and relationships can be detrimental or counter-productive in life.

“Dating Daisy” is a fresh take on dating and life in your twenties.  Finding reality, balance, and humor in the world of dating is what brings “Dating Daisy” to an entertainingly insightful level.  Kelleher and Alexander’s performances are outstanding with perceptive direction and writing from Neel Upadhye.  You’ll feel yourself pulled into their lives as you relive your own.  And with a dateaesong that will touch your heart, “Dating Daisy” is bound to be a favorite romantic comedy this year. There might even be a lesson there for us parents!

Dating Daisy

“Dating Daisy” will be screening at the upcoming Phoenix Film Festival.  For more information, go to


Check out  for more information about the film.

The Reel Focus Episode 3

March 19th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Reel Focus Episode 3”

Screen Shot 2016-03-19 at 9.15.02 AM

Wondering about mainstream blockbusters as well as independent gems and what to see?  The Reel Focus will quickly inform you about all of these plus film festival movies to check out.  This week’s episode  highlights EYE IN THE SKY, HELLO MY NAME IS DORIS, and CITY OF GOLD.  In addition, we cover the SXSW Film Festival to left you know what movies worth seeing if you’re in Austin, Texas.

The Reel Focus

Thanks for watching!


Dining with a Famous Food Critic by Pamela Powell

March 18th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Dining with a Famous Food Critic by Pamela Powell”




“City of Gold” opens in Chicago at the Century Landmark Theater this weekend (see review here ).  This delicious documentary highlights not only the culinary hidden gems in the diverse ethnic neighborhoods in Los Angeles, but also the man behind the curtain.  Yes, Jonathan Gold is a wizard of sorts—with his pen and palate he can create a beautiful portrayal of a restaurant allowing you to almost taste the words as you read them.

I had the unexpected delight of being a part of Gold’s reception at a “Pop UDSC01933p Dinner” in a South Side neighborhood near the University of Chicago.  Dining with a famous food critic and sitting next to him as a film critic was an event that was as savory as the appetizer, dinner and dessert plated before us.

DSC01939The Currency Exchange Cafe located at 305 E. Garfield Blvd. where this event took place, was a warm and welcoming venue created  to “provide the neighborhood with new, healthier food options…and a hang-out for the community.”  It has an artistic feel to it as  the space used all repurposed materials.  Shelves, chairs, and anything I saw was probably from a demolition site, but was now home at the Currency Exchange Cafe.

This eclectic collection of material is representative of the culinary delights experienced here for Gold’s dinner.  With soup and salad choices, entrees of succulent shrimp and grits, buttermilk chicken, and steak sandwiches, the unusual combination of seasonings elicited oooohhh’s and ahhhh’s from everyone at the table.  As a cellist played serenely in the background, Chef Ron Turner came out to a round of applause for allowing us all to enjoy such tasty treats.

The true enjoyment, however, besides the creative dessert, was the table time cDSC01934onversation with Gold.  Chatting about pie pastry recipes and pie judging DSC01931contests and the forbidden use of tapioca in a recipe made you feel like you were just hanging out with a few friends.  Gold’s humble and almost shy demeanor caught me off guard as I expected this world-renowned critic to command attention.  He didn’t.  He was soft-spoken but lit up brilliantly when he talked with his daughter who was also at the event.  As she headed out with friends as she attends the U of C, the conversation changed to kids, college, and internships—typical conversation among adults our age.

Gold is completely ordinary on the outside, but the secret is out— movie goers and foodies alike will now know about his positive personality, extraordinary palate, and midas touch that effects everyoDSC01936ne who has the honor to meet or know about him.

For more information about seeing the film, go to

For more information about the restaurant, go


"Creative Control" An interview with Benjamin Dickinson by Pamela Powell

March 18th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Creative Control" An interview with Benjamin Dickinson by Pamela Powell”



“Creative Control” opens in the Chicago area on Friday, March 18 at the Music Box Theatre.  The film poses questions about technology and society in the not-so-distant future as David (Benjamin Dickinson), a high powered, highly paid ad executive takes on the marketing of a new Augmented Reality (AR) device.  The lines of reality are blurred as David creates an augmented dream woman, ultimately negatively impacted every aspect of his life.  The enticing AR device allows David to escape, but reality is still there waiting for him.  As his work and relationship suffers, David comes to a crossroads in life with each decision leading him down a different path.

The film is a crisp and clear portrayal of greed, capitalism, superficiality, and technology and the effect all of these things have on one another.   Beautifully presented in black and white, the story shows David’s internal as well as his external struggle with his job and his relationship with Juliette (Nora Zehetner).  With an emotionally powerful musical score, intelligent writing that is thought-provoking and darkly yet realistically humorous, “Creative Control” creates the need for discussion as to where our world is heading.


FullSizeRender copyDickinson is traveling to promote “Creative Control” in which he not only starred, but also co-wrote and directed.   I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss the making of “Creative Control”  and as I sat down next to him, he thoughtfully put away his iPhone, turning it face down as to not interrupt our conversation—quite the opposite of what his character, David, would have done.  Dickinson, hopeful that I might come up with a question not previously asked of him, sat back to talk religion, politics, his upbringing, and how all of this influenced his current film.  Given his candor during the interview, I am hopeful that perhaps I came up with at least one question not asked already.

Wheaton, Illinois, Dickinson’s home town, is known for being a strictly religious environment and he readily admitted that although he sees life and politics  through a spiritual lens because of his upbringing, he felt like an outsider there, particularly in high school, and he wanted to escape as soon as possible.  He chuckled that, “I always think of [Wheaton] as at one point holding the Guiness World Record for having the most churches per capita in any city in the U.S.”  Although NYC is now home, moving there was an “overwhelming experience” with “a huge adjustment period.”  “Creative Control” comes out of his midwestern upbringing, values, and attempt to be successful in New York City and his ever-present “robust suspicion of free market capitalism.”

This film definitely puts capitalism in the forefront of our society as “greed, addiction, and the pervasiveness of technology come together,” Dickinson said.  His voice became more impassioned as he continued,  “We need to start discussing what kind of a world we want to live in.”   The film shows the “negative stuff because it’s important to talk about it and be concerned.”  He feels that his voice is “the counter-voice to some of the technological utopianism.”  Ironically, he has hope that the technology that we have today, namely the internet, could actually help begin a grass roots type of movement to be more connected and not allow technology take us over.  Dickinson’s ability to be realistic about our future was reiterated as he stated, “Augmented Reality (AR) is just a few years away. It’s not possible to stop it; let’s ride it.  Let’s ride the wave or we’re going to get crushed by it.”

The film isn’t all harsh and foreboding images, though.  There is a high level of humor, although a rather dark type.  Shockingly, Dickinson states that real life experiences are portrayed with absolutely no exaggerations in the film.  He chuckled as he said, “When Micah and I were writing the screenplay, we would [say] what if we just write down how it actually is.  It’ll seem almost like a farce.” The two competed with one another while they were writing to come up with the best lines.  “Midtown is like an emotional Afghanistan” is a line he “stole” from his friend Paulina.  “It’s just being a thief.  Eavesdropping on people and then stealing.  That’s what writing is,”  he laughs.

To counterbalance the dysfunctional feeling of the situations unfolding before our eyes, the use of black and white film capitalized on its perception of luxury and elegance.  Dickinson supported this opulent feeling with the use of Baroque music in the background.  “There’s something timeless about it,” he says.  It’s all about appearances and in the case of “Creative Control,” “…it’s all about the image versus the feeling.”  This stylistic film used shots through windows and other barriers to portray the constant barriers in communication and interaction that occur.  Technology is just one of the barriers we knowingly use to ignore what’s right in front of us.  Combining all of these elements allows the viewer to have empathy with David and his experiences, although much of what happens, David brings on himself—just like in real life.

As I left the interview suite, I felt I had an even greater understanding of “Creative Control.”  Perhaps I had only seen the superficiality of the film and although beautiful and thought-provoking, having this additional insight allows me to more clearly see the big picture.  Be sure to check this film out with Dickinson attending the screenings this weekend at the Music Box Theatre.  The conversation has started—be a part of it.


“Creative Control” opens at the Music Box Theatre tonight, Friday, March 18.  For more information go to

EYE IN THE SKY Puts YOU in the Pilot's Seat by Pamela Powell

March 18th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “EYE IN THE SKY Puts YOU in the Pilot's Seat by Pamela Powell”


“Eye in the Sky” delivers an ethical military punch in the new thriller starring Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, and the late Alan Rickman.  British Colonel Powell (Mirren), after 6 years of surveillance, has found high-listed terrorists set to congregate in one location.  Her opportunity has arrived to capture these dangerous insurgents, but the “capture mission” quickly escalates to a “kill mission.”  Using drone warfare and global military and political resources, the collateral damage must be carefully weighed when a young girl enters the target zone.


“In war, truth is the first casualty” scrolls across the screen in the opening scene, setting the tone for upcoming events.  We are hurtled from Nairobi to England to Nevada and Hawaii as we meet the characters who will decide the fate of the terrorists within a home as well as that of an innocent little girl.  Using high tech gadgets such as drones disguised as hummingbirds and beetles, remotely controlled to surveil the enemy, everyone can see with the utmost clarity what is happening.  But what they cannot see is the future.  The film captureyehelenes the human reluctance to determine the life and death of any person, but in particular the vitality of innocent bystanders.

“Eye in the Sky” is as close to combat as I hope to ever come.  You are brought directly into a terrorist zone from the safety of your theater seat, much like the safety of the drone pilot’s chair.  The film leaves a pit in your stomach as you witness each group argue the pros and cons of a strike with marked intensity throughout the film.  With sweaty palms, an increase in your heart rate, and difficulty breathing deeply, your inner voice tries to work through the right answer.  The moral implications the drone pilot who pulls the trigger must sort through are absolutely harrowing.

Drama builds with the acting of this superlative group of actors.  Casting Mirren as the no-nonsense British leader is refreshing.  This “older” woman creates an intelligent and decisive character who demands and has obviously earned respect from those below her ranking.  She’s strong, but still human and we see eyeaaronher struggle as she rationalizes her decis

ions and commands those to support her.  Aaron shines as the morally conflicted pilot and Rickman’s subtle but striking acting just adds to the intensity of this film.

The script is tight, with no wasted time.


It’s a well-rounded story allowing you, the viewer to consider the situation from all angles and all sides, including the legal, moral, political, and military aspects.  Just when you think you know what you might do, another voice is heard from and sways you to think differently.  “Eye in the Sky” not only gives you empathy for those that are making these daily and very consequential decisions on our behalf, but it makes you thankful you’re not in their shoes.

“Eye in the Sky” is a thrilling current-day combat film that intelligently portrays the ethical and moral dilemmas of drone and terrorist warfare.  It’s an “eye” opening film that raises more questions than it answers and will leave you breathless from the anxiety and internal guilt from your own justification of the events you witness.


3 1/2 Stars (Caution: This is a violent film with gruesome images)


"City of Gold" Shines a Light on LA Food Critic

March 18th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"City of Gold" Shines a Light on LA Food Critic”




Grasshoppers anyone?

“City of Gold” is a deliciously informative documentary about the legendary LA restaurant critic Jonathan Gold.  The film delves into who Gold is, where he came from, and his unlikely yet entertaining path that lead to his career as  an inspirational writer of all things edible.  And I mean all.


Written and directed by Laura Gabbert, the film takes us inside the home and mind of Gold as we discover the roots of this seemingly ordinary man.   We learn that outside appearances can be deceiving as Gold’s rich knowledge base and palate  are truly extraordinary.  Gold talks candidly about his upbringing in a diverse neighborhood in LA and he passionately shares historical events that changed the palate of the neighborhoods and himself.  Gold’s personality shines brightly in this film as he sets an example as to what a critic (in any arena) should be like.  He’s charismatic and charming which is obvious as soon as we see him enter one of the many restaurants showcased in this film.  Gold expresses true love of not just food, but of the people who create the food.  From food trucks to ethnic little hole in the walls, Gold discovers the best of the best and with “City of Gold,” the viewer gets to experience a taste of what he does.


As a film critic writing about a food critic’s film, the task is a bit daunting.  But it’s also quite inspirational.  Gold’s persona is truly down-to-earth and caring.  It’s apparent by his interactions and interviews with those that know him, that he is a positive person who focuses on just that.  He “makes” not “breaks” restaurants.  His writing style is such that you can almost taste the words he writes as he incorporates his former love of music into his reviews.  For example, he compares an aria to a well cooked potato—this is silky and smooth on my palate as I envision this.

How does a former musician of punk rock find his way into  LA  and create food criticism about food trucks?  He has an unbelievably refined palate that isn’t concerned about the white linen table clothes and the over ambitious waiters who fold yla-ca-mn-city-of-gold-l-a--20160306our napkin properly when you leave to use the restroom.  He’s about the food.  Period.  He is described as being “disruptive” to the previously accepted style of food criticism.  In  the film world it would be like a film critic focusing on indies.  Hmmmm…Imagine that!  Where he initially was considered a rebel in food criticism, he is now the “gold” standard.

“City of Gold” is an exploration of LA neighborhoods and the delicious ethnic delights that await and Gold is our tour guide.  It’s an inspirational story that finds food as a way to connect people no matter their background.  Why should we care about an LA restaurant critic?  Because he sets an example of who we should be as people.  His love for his community and the people who comprise it awakens a sense of compassion and the value in diversity.  Perhaps you’ll be a little more adventuresome in your food and restaurant choices after seeing this film, but most importantly, perhaps you’ll see those around you in a more accepting and loving way.


CITY OF GOLD is playing at the Century Landmark Theatre with a Q&A following tonight’s 7:15 screening.  For more information, go to


10/10 Reels




"Hello, My Name Is Doris" Creates Life and Love in Aging

March 18th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Hello, My Name Is Doris" Creates Life and Love in Aging”


Sally Field stars in the new romantic comedy “Hello, My Name Is Doris” based on the short film, “Doris & The Intern.”  Aging isn’t easy (as those of us “slightly” over 40 realize) and writer Laura Terruso brings this to into clear view.  Doris (Field) is a 60-something  throwback at a chic clothing office who does more than daydream “Walter Mitty style” about the hot new employee, John (Max Greenfield). Her (mis)adventures late in life due to a series of miscommunications, create a fun and sentimental film that will leave you laughing and hoping that you can be Doris when you’re 60-something.


Doris has lived a sheltered life, given up her own hopes and dreams to care for her mother, but now, thanks to John, her every sense is awakened, but this awakening has a price.  With caring friends and overbearing siblings, Doris fights to emerge from her cocoon to delve into a second adolescence.  And as we all remember from this stage in our lives, there are plenty of awkward and uncomfortable situations.  Doris has plenty of these which just endears us more to her.Hello-my-name-is-doris-news-2015

Doris is a vibrant character not just with her unique and uncategorized clothing style, but in the way in which we see her evolve.  She begins to take chances, learn new things, and even with the help of a friend’s teen, create a fake Facebook persona to stalk, or should I say learn, about John.  She exemplifies what aging is like and gives us her uniquely charming perspective.

Field shines as this lovable and realistic character.  She pulls off these beautifully strange clothing combinations, double glasses wearing (if you’re over 40 I don’t have to explain that), and calling a youngster to find out what “baller” or other examples of today’s vernacular mean.  There’s a little bit of “Gidget” and “Sister Bertrille” in Field’s “Doris.”

dorisglasses Greenfield’s “John” is a charming and thoughtful character which allows Doris to learn and grow.  Stephen Root’s “Todd,” the brother reminds us that no matter our age, our sibling issues continue forward.  It’s a well-rounded cast that compliment the complexity of Doris and her issues.

Terruso and Showalter’s screenplay brings to life the issues and difficulties in aging gracefully in a most humorous way.  While the issues are very real, the light-hearted situations embrace Doris and life, allowing us all to escape into her world.  Love, relationships, dependency, and the will to continuously move forward and truly live life to its fullest are a part of all of us….no matter our age.  With insightful writing, this is a film any one at any age can relate to, but we women who are “slightly” over 40 will find this hilariously heart-warming.

“Hello, My Name Is Doris” is a film that proves we are never too old to feel young, but disproves that with age comes wisdom—all in a very genuine and humorous way.  Field shows us that she can still charm us as much as she did in “Gidget.”

Rating:  8/10 Reels



"Welcome to Happiness" is a whimsical journey in life by Pamela Powell

March 17th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Welcome to Happiness" is a whimsical journey in life by Pamela Powell”
“Welcome to Happiness,” written and directed by Oliver Thompson, tackles the never-ending question of how to find  true happiness, but in an “Alice in Wonderland” sort of way.  Woody (Kyle Gallner) is a children’s author who is also a “gatekeeper” to a proverbial rabbit hole that happens to be located in his clothes closet.  After a dot matrix printer whirs (your first sign that this is rather unusual), a knock at the door is soon heard.  A stranger enters, answers some  bizarre questions, and is then escorted to “the door.”  As these emotionally confused and desparate  strangers repeatedly disappear in Woody’s closet, seemingly ending their unexpected pilgrimage, the ordinary young author by day, gatekeeper by night, finds that his extraordinary journey of life has just begun.Kyle-Gallner-1
“Welcome to Happiness” immediately has a sense of whimsey with the vibrant colors and the vivacious characters we meet.  Within that fantastical feeling there is also a sense of mystery.  Initially, the events and the people seem to be disjointed, but the  innovative story-lines begin to converge.  The film embraces every aspect of life, love, friendship and family and all the traumas therein, and gives us a sense of reason behind every action.  And just as in real life, the emotional pitfalls are counterbalanced with humor.  One moment you’re full of joy and hope, laughing aloud, and the next you’re caught up in a captivating yet devastating story.
Creating these emotions without becoming melodramatic and keeping the charm and humor is a difficult balance and comes from talented writing.  The details within the story are innumerable which requires paying close attention to every spoken word and visuNick-Offerman-1al clue.  I guarantee that you still won’t catch everything, but that’s ok because it’s part of the fun once you see the big picture. The story has a bonus—there’s also a lesson to be learned, but this comes from your own interpretation of the film.
Bringing the written words to life requires skillful direction, allowing the  pace to match the quick wit and intelligent writing.  There’s not an extraneous thought or moment in this film.  The characters are sometimes exaggerated, making it immensely entertaining, but again, these exaggerations are all a part of the final product.  If I’m seeming a bit guarded in giving you information, I am.  This is pure fun while taking a look at the realities in life and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The cast of “Welcome to Happiness” is extraordinarily talented.  GallnKyle-Gallner-Olivia-Thirlby-Chauntal-Lewiser  creates  the character of Woody  who is just an everyday young man, but we quickly see there are interesting layers beneath the surface that give him realistic and relatable complexity.   He allows his emotions to be seen with impeccable timing and talent; never too much and never too little.  He carries the film, but has the support of one of the best casts you could possibly imagine.  With Nick Offerman as the landlord, Olivia Thirlby as his girlfriend, and Keegan-Michael Key bringing to the table his uniquely creative sense of style and humor, the film soars.  Paget Brewster, Molly C. Quinn, and Frances Conroy round out the recognizable cast, giving steadfast performances.
“Welcome to Happiness” is a true gem.  Never has finding happiness been such fun.  It’s a playfully unconventional story with eccentric characters and superb acting to give us a neatly wrapped package full of wonderful surprises.  This delightful film is screening at the Phoenix Film Festival.  For more information about tickets and times, go to
To hear the interview with Pamela Powell on WKCC’s The Reel Focus, go to



"I Am the Blues" puts a smile on your face by Pamela Powell

March 15th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"I Am the Blues" puts a smile on your face by Pamela Powell”


I guess that’s  why they call it “the blues.”  Yes, that might be taking Billy Joel’s lyrics out of context, but it seems to fit the new documentary, “I am the Blues” by Daniel Cross.  It’s a sentimental and profoundly stirring journey as we travel back to the roots of Blues music in the deep south.  Legendary artists and talented musicians discuss what inspired and influenced this style of music through storytelling and soulful songs.  You’ll have a deeper or maybe even a new appreciation for The Blues.


“All the good days weren’t nothing but bad days and all the bad days weren’t nothing but good days.”  And that’s what the blues are, says one matter-of-fact gentleman as he reminisces about a forgotten era.  As Cross travels through Mississippi and Louisianna where The Blues originated, he uses an inclusive style of filmmaking to make you feel a part of the conversation at hand.   On a warm and sunny afternoon, we sit down with Jimmy “Duck” Holmes on his front lawn, guitar in hand, to begin our musical history lesson.   He recalls a long-gone era when the men and women, after finishing work in the fields, congregated in the “juke joint” for an evening of blues.  The journey continues as Cross visits and documents these legends discussing and playing riffs and songs that are now captured for posterity and history.

Traveling along the backroads near swamps and through rolling hills, we get a glimpse of the scenery that influenced the lyrics and tone of the music.  Interviews and candid conversations with groups give you insight into what life must have been like in Mississippi and Louisiana decades ago.   You hear the trains whistling in the background. You see musicians with guitars by their sides and harmonicas in their pockets.  And you experience the music sweetly and pleasantly as it interrupts the conversation to tell an even more emotional story.  The gossip of the greats like “Muddy” and “Howlin’ Wolf” makes you chuckle.  Bobby Ray, Emmett Ellis and Barbara Lynn take time to tell  their individual and unique stories.  And these stories are amazing.  Imagine making a guitar out of a discarded cigar box or a percussion instrument from the horse’s tail.  Or a mother leaving her home to travel with her exceptionally talented daughter to NYC to help her succeed.  Hearing their stories of hardship such as picimageking cotton as a youngster, you begin to understand their lives.  You may not have lived what they did, but their words allow you to feel some of what they endured and accomplished.   Their hardships didn’t stop them from  dreaming of success, though.  In fact, it just made the musical story  more heartfelt.

There’s a Chicago connection as these talented men and women brought the catchy yet melancholy rhythms north.  Imagine Chicago in the 50’s playing at the Squeeze Inn or the Cotton Club in Argo, Illinois and being paid in hamburgers.  Thankfully, times have changed regarding payment, but the music still retains that same deeply emotional feel.  As these talented musicians and singers are now up in age, “I Am the Blues” captures music history and the major influence on rock and roll.  We see and hear these aging artists perform, but they appear to become their 20 year old selves again.  It’s magical.

MV5BMjE0MDk1NjIyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMzg1MjEwODE@._V1_UY268_CR2,0,182,268_AL_“I Am The Blues” is a road trip through the history of the Blues.  Cross allows us to accompany him on this trip as we sit next to him and become a part of each and every story.  With captivating interviews, narration, and most importantly a lot of great music, we grow to appreciate the Blues and the backstory of the people who created it.   I dare you not to tap your foot and sway in your seat while you watch this film!

For more information about the film, footage from 20 more great blues artists, and a 3D experience, go to

To listen to my conversation with filmmaker Daniel Cross, go to




"The Arbalest" Defines The Ultimate Toy by Pamela Powell

March 14th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"The Arbalest" Defines The Ultimate Toy by Pamela Powell”


“The Arbalest,” written and directed by Adam Pinney,  premieres at the SXSW film festival this week.  It’s a film that will captivate audiences as they attempt to solve the ultimate puzzle:  what did Foster Kalt really invent?  Famous toy maker, Foster Kalt (Mike Brune), is known as  a non-verbal recluse, but is currently the focus of an interview by television news reporters to uncover dark, past secrets of his life…and perhaps even of the future.

Foster brings us back in time to a toy convention in 1968 to reveal the truth behind the greatest toy ever made.  Kalt’s attendance and chance meeting with a young couple ultimately  determines his life’s future path.  Unfortunately, poor Foster lacks confidence as a new toy maker and as he describes his invention to Sylvia (Tallie Medel) and Paul (Matthew Stanton), Kalt is verbally degraded and demoralized.  Paul’s invention, however, is viewed in a much better light.  Drinking, drugs, and a death in the hotel room create a situation of secrecy and idea theft.  A deal is made, but from Foster’s perspective, there is also a love connection.

Beautifully filmed, capturing both the 60’s and 70’s with atmosphere and style,  we are transported inside the mind of Kalt as well as how others perceive this “geek, nerd, liar…”  It’s obvious that something he has created is somehow negative, but there’s a juxtaposition in what we are seeing and what we know will happen.  Using footage from the past and Kalt’s narration creates a sense of real history.  There is also a sense of mystery and intrigue as the viewer attempts to find out what his “life ruining mistakes” are. The confusion is part of the fun in this film as you’re not sure if you’re watching a biopic or a film that is complete fiction until the very end.  It’s similar to dumping the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on the table—you know you are seeing everything you need to complete the picture, but you just can’t see it clearly.

What makes “The Arbalest” unique is the satirical look at love, greed, and revenge.  With a succinct script and perfect execution of editing, every scene and word is vital to the progression of the story.   “The Arbalest” creates unusual and somewhat sensationalized characters who frequently utter unexpected lines of humor giving balance to a rather dark story.

Brune portrays this dark and disturbed character with ease.  There’s a sad and needy look deep beneath his eyes as he demonstrates the subtle characteristics of an underdog.   Medel is striking with her looks, accentuating her brilliance in intellect and nerves of steel as Sylvia.  Her strength is emphasized by her verbal command and body language, giving the viewer a strong female lead.   Felice Heather Monteith’s performance as the self-absorbed television host is wonderfully over the top with her intolerance for everything and everyone.  Again, a perfect balance is struck with characters.

“The Arbalest” is in many ways a typical love story gone wrong, full of jealousy and revenge.  However, “typical” is not a word to describe this film.  It’s suspenseful and unexpectedly funny in the darkest of ways and cinematically stunning.  It’s a film you’ll want to see for a second time as the second go ’round allows you to see everything you missed the first time.  You won’t believe your eyes!

If you’re at SXSW, be sure to put this on your list of films to see.  For more information about this film, go to

3 1/2 Stars



"Insatiable" Overflows with Emotion by Pamela Powell

March 13th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Insatiable" Overflows with Emotion by Pamela Powell”


The restaurant scene in Chicago is ever-changing and Chef Homaro Cantu attempted to revolutionize not just this midwestern city’s dining experience, but the world as well.  “Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story” is Brett A. Schwartz’ documentary capturing the genius behind this innovative chef who wanted to solve global issues like world hunger and obesity.  Interviewing Cantu and his closest co-workers over a three year period allowed Schwartz to capture the true essence of this cutting edge, forward thinking, and big hearted “Edison of the edible” world.

homaromanMoto was Cantu’s dream restaurant located in the Fulton Market area in the West Loop of Chicago.  The then up-and-coming area was perviously home to the Chicago meat packing industry.  The street is lined with brick buildings, many of which have now been transformed into hip restaurants and wine bars.  Moto is just one of the hot restaurants, but the story behind the owner is remarkable and tragic.  Schwartz lets us inside the doors of the restaurant and the mind of Cantu to see the treasures discovered, both culinary and scientific.

Schwartz uncovers the painful beginnings of Cantu’s life.  Using photos as well as interviews with Cantu, we learn that his distressing start in life would have been understandably enough to lead him down the wrong path.  With a drug addict for a mothhomarokider, he was homeless, regained some “normalcy” by moving in with his alcoholic and abusive father, but thanks to another relative, Cantu found love and stability to finish out his high school education.  He was bound for greater things and he knew this.  He dreamed big and not for the sake of money or fame.  His drive and determination came straight from the heart.  He really wanted to make a difference in this world—to help mankind.

As noble as this sounds, reality is sometimes too harsh to allow the noble to proceed.  Schwartz follows Cantu’s discoveries of the “miracle berry” which could revolutionize food preparation and consumption.  This berry makes any sour or acidic food taste sweet thanks to a natural protein found in the fruit.  Finding that this allowed chemotherapy patients to be able to taste their food, Cantu donated his solutions to help tens of thousands of patients begin eating and enjoying life again.

Food preparation and experimentation was at the core of Cantu’s “mad scientist” attitude with the culinary arts. The film captures the visual flavors of the plated foods which will make you salivate.  But Cantu’s  restaurants were as much about the taste of the food as the experience itself.  Presentation of printed edible menus was just one example of his unique artistry.  Beyond his restaurants of Moto and inG, Cantu’s focal point was always how he could make the world a better place.  He had reinvented himself from where he started in life and was determined to also redesign our food system.  Cantu’s non-stop energy and creativity pushed the envelope of not only himself, but those around him to realize their goals and potential.

“Insatiable: The Homaro Cantu Story” is a delectable delivery of innovation and inspiration.  You’ll find that you know and understand that this chef  possesses the capability of changing the world for the better.  Gorgeously shot with thought-provoking interviews, “Insatiable” will whet your appetite for food and knowledge. It’s a story that will satisfy your hunger for greater things and it just might motivate the next genius to help our world.

“Insatiable” is now playing at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, TX.  For more information about the screening schedule, go to SXSW Schedule.

To listen to the interview with Brett Schwartz, filmmaker, please go to


"You're Killing Me" will have you in stitches by Pamela Powell

March 11th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"You're Killing Me" will have you in stitches by Pamela Powell”



“You’re Killing Me” is the new horror romantic comedy (yes, it’s quite the combination of genres) starring Shaughn Buchholz, Matthew McKelligon, and Jeffrey Self and written by Jim Hansen and Jeffrey Self.  This indie gem is available on demand through iTunes, Vimeo, Amazon and other digital platforms now!


Joe (McKelligon) has a new boyfriend, George (Self).  Joe is a bit of a loner with some issues, one of them being a serial killer.  Details, details.  As Joe informs the new love of his life about his secret passion, George is so self-absorbed in the superficialities of life that he finds this information hilariously impossible—until his friends begin to go missing!


It’s game night and the constant gabbing and complaining while tweeting and texting of the close-knit group of friends dwindles down.  Joe is the newcomer to the group and just doesn’t quite fit in.  Gossiping ensues when he exits the room, but George is quite smitten.  And as they say, love is blind…that’s an understatement in this case!  As their relationship evolves, Joe decides to hone his murderous skills upon those that pose any interference.


The conversations between friends as they discuss the little things in life set up hilarious situations.  With youtube skits that will, in their eyes, make them famous onGeorge Barnes greenscreen.Still002e day and on-line dating scenarios, there’s a myriad amount of material from which to work.   And just when you’re laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of their interactions, the rug is pulled out from under you with a shockingly grisly and often-times bloody event.  But no worries, because you’re immediately thrust right back into fun and laughter.


Self and the entire cast accentuate stereotypes and give intentionally over-the-top hilarious performances.   The entire group of actors appear to be genuine friends as you enjoy watching them each feed off of one another’s energy and reactions with the perfect timing of a Rolex watch. Then we have the unexpectedly wonderful  cameo appearance of Mindy Cohn (“The Facts of Life”)  that will bring a smile to your face.  What more could you ask for?



“You’re Killing Me” is a roller coaster ride of horror and comedy. Creating an unusual story-line with unexpected twists and turns is what keeps the pace rolling along.  Somehow, the writers find a way to make this an upbeat film that will make you gasp as well as question why we are so plugged into our phones and social media. Visually, it’s a vivid film with special effects that will make you cringe.  Balancing fun and horror is a difficult task, but Self and Hansen make it look easy.


I had the opportunity to talk with Self and Hansen to talk about making this film.  To listen to the entire interview and learn more about “You’re Killing Me,”  go to  INTERVIEW

To see this film, go to





"Jessica" is a beautifully strong portrayal of growing up by Pamela Powell

March 10th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Jessica" is a beautifully strong portrayal of growing up by Pamela Powell”



“Jessica” is part of the feature competition in the upcoming Phoenix Film Festival. Co-written by Josh Rosenberg and Scott K. Foley, the film ventures upon the journey of a young woman struggling to figure out her path in life. Starring Maya Boudreau, Brian King and Alexis Carmody, this slice of life creation confronts the consequences of life’s decisions. “Jessica” is a beautifully complex and emotionally powerful film not to be missed.

(Watch the trailer here)

Jessica (Boudreau) is a typical self-absorbed twenty-something who is flailing in her life. Stuck in a dead-end job, losing her boyfriend of 4 years, and alienating her best friend, Jessica continues to lash out at those closest to her. As we get to know her, we see from where her anger stems, but that doesn’t make the cuts she inflicts with her razor-sharp tongue any less painful. She has issues created by her upbringing, but instead of confronting her feelings, she just becomes angry and moreScreen Shot 2016-03-10 at 4.25.22 PM isolated and miserable. Beneath that angry facade, however, there is a glimmer of a sweet and thoughtful person, fighting to get free. “Jessica” is the story of life and finding the right path in which to follow. It’s a bumpy road with a few detours, but in the end, it’s the right destination.

“Jessica” truly is a slice of real life as the story hits all the possible relationship topics. Jessica’s father is a recovering alcoholic with whom she has no tolerance. Sarcasm abounds in her efforts to talk with him. She cannot relate to her doll-collecting mother, yet she desperately needs her guidance. And her grandmother is in a nursing home with dementia which creates guilt and avoidance. Her best friend, Pam, needs her, but Jessica’s selfishness overrides this. Jessica just can’t step outside of herself to see the world through anyone else’s eyes but her own. She spirals down into an emotional abyss until she Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 4.25.57 PMis able to see her true image more clearly. Young Isabel, a ballet student of Jessica’s, is part of the equation to push her along in the right direction.

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“Jessica” delves into the emotional effects of drinking, alcoholism, as well as what it takes to be a true friend and a good person. In many ways, the film captures the ordinary life of a twenty-something, but with such keen insight that we see this character grow and change. The film has a few lighter and humorous spots thanks to the skilled writing and directing. The dialogue, particularly between Jessica and her parents, is incredibly realistic. You feel her pain and her remorse, yet just like real life, you understand that only Jessica can change herself.

Boudreau’s genuine performance is absolutely remarkable. No matter her situation, she embodies the character she portrays. Boudreau’s Jessica is complex which she subtly conveys not only with her utterances, but her body language. Her emotions are raw and she’s not afraid to show us who Jessica truly is and who she wants to be. Carmody’s portrayal of Isabel, a sweet and talented dancer who admires Jessica, perfectly balances Boudreau’s character. At times, the two seem to be growing up together as they communicate and sometimes lash out at one another.

“Jessica” is a beautiful and heartfelt story about a young woman trying to grow up, face her own short-comings, and become a better person. This is not an easy task to accomplish which makes this story so real. With authentic performances from a young, but very talented cast, skilled writing and directing, and captivating music, “Jessica” will find a way into your heart.

To learn more about seeing “Jessica,” go to

If you’re in Phoenix, check it at the the PFF

The film will be screening at the Phoenix Film Festival on April 8-9:20 am, April 9-7:30 pm, and April 10-12:20 pm

To listen to the interview with Scott Foley, go to Scott Foley Interview

"At The End Of The Line" is just the beginning of understanding Kindertransport by Pamela Powell

March 7th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"At The End Of The Line" is just the beginning of understanding Kindertransport by Pamela Powell”

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“Kindertransport” sounds like a European Disney ride, but it’s quite the opposite as we learn in the new short film, “At The End Of The Line.”  Filmmaker/Musician Robert Kerr and collaborators Jason Bradley and Anthony Cousins teamed up to tell the little known World War II story about  the sacrifices parents made to ensure their children’s safety.  Kerr explained in an interview during the Peace On Earth Film Festival held in Chicago this Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.53.47 AMweekend where his film  screened, that in late 1938 in England, the upper class residents were beginning to hear about what was happening in Germany.  These concerned citizens approached Prime Minister Chamberlain and requested to set up a foster program for German children to escape their imminent demise.  With volunteer coordinators in both England and Germany, children were placed on trains headed for England to their new homes, never to see their parents again.  In a 9 month period, 10,000 children were saved.  Kerr passionately states, “It’s a phenomenal story of sacrifice and love…”

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The band Vera Zero

The short film or music video as some might categorize it, is a soulful sound with lyrics that strike a chord deep within as you not only hear and watch this film, but you feel it as well.  Integrating found  photos and footage from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, clips from the band Vera Zero recording the song, as well as captions to describe the story, you are able to step back in time and begin to get a glimpse as to what occurred decades ago.  It’s a heartbreaking story that is inconceivable, but unfortunately, it’s a part of history. Kerr emphasized that our world today has been impacted by the “contributions made [by] those kids’ lives that were saved…”

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“At The End Of The Line” is a beautiful, compelling, and powerful story of love and sacrifice.  Kerr, Bradley, and Cousins, through months of research and dedication collaborated to show us a part of history that should not be forgotten. As Kerr stated, “I wanted to honor the people who made these sacrifices.”  Thanks to this talented group, these parents have not been forgotten, but are now honored with “At The End Of The Line.”

LISTEN HERE to the entire interview with Robert Kerr

To watch the film go to attheendofthelinefilm.comScreen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.54.56 AM





"Sketch" Creates Beauty and Understanding in Autism

March 5th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Sketch" Creates Beauty and Understanding in Autism”

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“Sketch,” written and directed by Stephen T. Barton, is set to screen tonight, Saturday, March 5, 2016 at the historical Chicago Cultural Center as a part of the Peace On Earth Film Festival (POEFF).  This short 21 minute film tells the story of Michael, a young boy in an impoverished area of New York City, who not only has a negligent mother and is bullied at school, he is “cursed” with being on the autism spectrum.  Sound is not his friend, but visually, this boy is remarkably talented.  Michael captures the details of his violent community with just a pencil and paper in beautiful detail to help a detective solve a crime.

WATCH THE TRAILER HEREScreen Shot 2016-03-05 at 7.36.17 AM

“Sketch” tackles many “hot topics” as Barton calls them, from human trafficking, lack of special services in the school system, and bullying to gun violence and unfit parenting .  This slice of life in the world most of us tend to ignore, is shockingly violent, but also allows us to appreciate the differences in others and what they have to offer.  The message of how one looks at a “curse” and uses our “blessScreen Shot 2016-03-05 at 7.35.45 AMings” is creatively foreshadowed by a character we usually pass by without a second look—a homeless man.  Michael’s life is changed with this message and using his talents, he makes a significant positive impact on the lives around him.

Kwesi Boakye’s performance as Michael is “soulful” as Barton describes it.  I am in complete agreement as this boy captures the essence of a troubled youngster in a dire situation who is also struggling with autism.  His portrayal allows us inside his world to give us a greater ability to empathize with not just him, but others who may be struggling.  Kwesi’s character says not a word, but conveys deeply complex concepts with his actions and expressions.  He is truly a remarkable young actor.

“Sketch” is one of the most beautifully powerful stories to hit the screen for a mere 21 minutes.  It makes you think, understand, and perhaps even perceive the world around you a little differently.  And I must add, it’s also wonderfully entertaining!  Don’t miss this film if you’re in the Chicago area tonight.

For more information about the POEFF, go to

Listen to my interview with Barton on The Reel Focus




His artistic skills allow this tortured young boy to make a significant impact on the lives around him.

"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" Humorous Yet Enlightening by Pamela Powell

March 4th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" Humorous Yet Enlightening by Pamela Powell”
Tina Fey stars in the new comedy “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” depicting a female journalist’s experiences in the war-torn country of Afghanistan in 2006.  Yes, it’s a comedy…about war.  Fey is just the right actress to balance the line between reality, comedy, and political issues. The film is based on the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan  by Kim Barker.  I had the pleasure of sitting down and talking with the author of this hilarious book, giving insight to the making of this equally funny film.  Barker’s memoir is work of non-fiction that reads like fiction stating that she wanted to make “…it so it was really fun and easy to read where at the end…[you] might have learned something about Afghanistan and Pakistan.”  Barker wanted the book “…to be like M*A*S*H* [with] all the social stuff…”   After numerous conversations with Robert Carlock, the film’s screenwriter, and a lunch with Fey, it’s quite obvious that “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” captures the essence of the book and Barker’s experiences perfectly.


Kim Barker, author

Baker (Fey) jumps headfirst into the unknown terrors of war-torn Afghanistan, immediately questioning her decision.  Her life-threatening ignorance of the  Afghan’s culture and traditions is exasperating to her trusted translator, Fahim (Christopher Abbott).  Their respectable and deep relationship develops, allowing us to understand this foreign culture a little better.  However, Baker is always seeking the quintessential story, (the more horrific, the better) to catapult her ahead of her competitors aka other journalists.  This places her and others in questionable situations.  The dangers are never far, but being a woman creates more even more obstacles.  Outside of her work which waxes and wanes, the story focuses on the relationships she builds including a love story.

   (Listen to the entire interview HERE)

To read the rest of the review as it appeared in the Friday, March 4 edition of The Daily Journal, go to


The Reel Focus Episode 1: WTF, POEFF, and A Perfect Day!

March 4th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Reel Focus Episode 1: WTF, POEFF, and A Perfect Day!”

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Find out about indie gems, new releases, and festivals in weekly episodes of The Reel Focus!  This week, Tina Fey stars in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” based on Kim Barkers book, The Taliban Shuffle.  Listen to the review, get a glimpse into the FREE film festival taking place in Chicago this weekend, and learn about an indie gem available on VOD (Video On Demand).

Watch the short episode The Reel Focus Episode 1



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