Monthly Archives: November, 2016

"Allied" tells a story of love and grit by Pamela Powell

November 29th, 2016 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Allied" tells a story of love and grit by Pamela Powell”


Check out the review of ALLIED as it appeared in the Friday, November 25th edition of The Daily Journal:

Accomplished writer Steven Knight (“Locke” and “Pawn Sacrifice”) brings to the table his signature skills in tension and emotional depth with his newest film, “Allied,” starring Brad Pitt (Max Vatan) and Marion Cotillard (Marianne Beausejour).

During World War II in 1942 Morocco, a set of spies pose as husband and wife on a covert mission to upend a faction of Nazi Germany. Their pretense of love becomes real, and the two create a life together. But, when a question of treason comes into play, so comes the question of true love.

To read the full review go to

"Manchester by the Sea" A genuine portrayal of love, life, and grief by Pamela Powell

November 25th, 2016 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Manchester by the Sea" A genuine portrayal of love, life, and grief by Pamela Powell”





Written and Directed by Kenneth Lonergan

Starring: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, and Lucas Hedges

Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, and Lucas Hedges star in the new Kenneth Lonergan masterpiece, “Manchester by the Sea.”  Lonergan creates a realistic story revolving around loss, love, and responsibility as Lee (Affleck) learns of the death of his brother and is now charged with the responsibility of caring for his nephew, Patrick (Hedges).  Nothing is as simple as it appears as Lee has obvious guilt and remorse for an incident that drove him away from his hometown.  The story is a beautiful,deep, and sometimes harsh look into emotions and relationships.



Masterfully telling a story while creatively using a non-linear form takes an extraordinary writer and director.  Lonergan does this with ease.  We know from the beginning that Lee is carrying a heavy emotional load, but what and why remains to be revealed.  We get a glimpse into the drudgery of his life—the routine of being a janitor and the lack of any happiness frequently elicits angry outbursts that appear inexplicable, initially.  When Lee gets the phone call that his brother has passed away, his lack of emotion also is puzzling, but we find ourselves back in time when the two brothers and Patrick  have a wonderfully full and ordinary life.  The timeline continues to bounce back and forth, allowing us to get to know Lee and what is inside that baggage he drags with him every day of his life.


The relationship between Lee and Patrick is a complex one as Lee finds himself dealing with more than he can handle.  Patrick, a typical teen yet one who is much more insightful and intelligent than you’d expect for his age, manipulates his uncle to add a touch of humor to the story, but he also allows us to see his pain and uncertainty.  His openness with Lee creates such raw feelings that our heart breaks.  And Lee’s lack of communication actually balances the two extraordinarily.  Lee may not say as much verbally, but his expressions and body language say it all.  We are committed to these characters, empathizing with them, and understanding each and every decision whether we agree with it or not.

There are  a few separate yet intertwining story lines occurring in “Manchester by the Sea.” A pivotal relationship is  Lee and Randi’s (Williams) marriage.  At one time, they seemed to have been  happy  with three little ones to fill the house.  It wasn’t a storybook marriage.  It felt real.  And it’s obvious that something horrible happened as the two are now divorced.  Again, flashing back to long segments of memories, these times are captured allowing us to understand why Lee is the way he is.

Manchester by the Sea (screengrab from Exclusive clip)

This is a complicated story of human emotion and how we grieve and deal with guilt yet still have to forge ahead and  live.  To what extent is the question.  Finding the right cast to bring such core feelings to life is of utmost importance and Lonergan’s choices are stellar.  Affleck’s performance is one of the most subtle and powerful portrayals of such a rich character that you could imagine.  Every movement, gesture, and slight facial expression paints a thousand words.  Never before have I experienced such sympathy and occasionally empathy with a character on the screen.  It’s one of the most skilled and nuanced performances this year.  Williams, although not on screen a significant amount of time, has such as an evocative execution of her very important character.  Her interactions and verbal exchanges pack a powerful punch as we see what she is and has been experiencing.  Hedges rounds out this ensemble cast with an equally skilled performance.  He’s reactive and in tune with not only his surroundings and his role, but also with his cast members.  You may not recognize this young talent, but I guarantee, you will.  Chandler is ever the cornerstone of any film, bringing to the screen a genuine portrayal of a man and father just living his life with all its ups and downs.  This cast, the directing, and the powerful script gives us a sense of reality in lives we truly grow to care about.  At times, it’s gut-wrenching, and at others it’s heartbreaking and even occasionally comical, but it is always so very genuine and real.


“Manchester by the Sea” is a masterpiece of art, conveying such depth of character and story as it touches upon our most basic needs, desires, and how we cope.  With complicated characters that typify each of us in some way, this film is a beautiful pallet of human emotion, cutting deep inside our heart and soul.

I fully intend to see a few Oscar nods for this film!  Don’t miss it!

10 REELS out of 10

The making of Apparition Hill: An Interview by Pamela Powell

November 22nd, 2016 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “The making of Apparition Hill: An Interview by Pamela Powell”



Sean Bloomfield, filmmaker









The holiday season always brings into question and conversation the existence of God.  Filmmaker Sean Bloomfield has traveled to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzogovina several times, but this time, he embarks upon a very different journey with seven unique individuals.  Medjugorje is known to the world for sightings and communication with the Virgin Mary.  In Bloomfield’s film, “Apparition Hill,”  some of the participants  are believers, others want or need a miracle in their lives, and two are athiests—a true cross-section of people.  Bloomfield carefully chose these participants from a pool of hundreds and the conclusions of this adventure surprised even him.  I had the chance to catch up with Bloomfield and Mark Swoboda, one of the atheists, to discuss the film and where it has lead them.

RHR (Reel Honest Reviews):  Why did you choose this topic?

SB (Sean Bloomfield):  It’s one of the biggest mysteries happening right now  in the world… people might write it off as a religious hoax.  Millions of people go there including scientists [and] doctors…and studied it.  There’s really been nobody that’s been able to say it’s a hoax. There’s so many people that go there and experience what I would call a change of heart. But even bigger than that, the peace that people find there, it’s something that almost everybody reports.

We invited people to enter a video contest and say why they would like to go [to Medjugorje] for the first time.  We’d love to get skeptics there and people who don’t believe in it.  And also a diverse cast of people who had never been there to make it as objective as possible.  The film presents their stories and really lets the audience decide for themselves.  We didn’t want to impose anything on the audience.

RHR:  Was it difficult not to voice your views?

SB:  Our biggest concern was making a film that was true to each of the stories.  I believe in what’s happening in Medjugorje, but I would hate to make a film that imposes belief on people.

RHR:  Were you raised in a religious environment?

SB:  I’d been baptized as a baby…but after that I can’t ever remember being in a church.  I wasn’t raised with any raised with any religion or spiritual guidance.

RHR:  When did you first go to Medjugorje?

I had gone  there about 15 years ago when I was 20 years old.  It was really an eye opening experience for me.  I ended up going back a few times before I realized there’s definitely something to this. For me, I didn’t want anything to do with the religious aspect of it.  I remember hearing people praying the rosary and all excited about going to mass.  It seemed  all very strange to me because I wasn’t used to it.  [But] I really just felt something there [and] it kept me going back.  Something powerful is happening there.  It lead me into faith, it lead me to embracing my Catholic roots. Really learning so much more about christianity and Catholicism.  It wiped away all the preconceptions that I had .  I had a lot of bad thoughts about the entire church and everything it represented.  This place lead me to a new outlook on faith.  It changed my life.  I’ve devoted a lot of my career to capturing what I can of this place.  It’s either the biggest hoax of mankind or the biggest miracle since Jesus walked the Earth.  It’s something that big.

RHR:  What do you hope viewers will take away from this?

SB: Live every day like it’s your last because we never really know when it could be.   Whether or not you believe in God, that’s a really good philosophy in life [because] it makes you cherish  these really short moments that we have on this Earth. And it makes you treat others with respect and more dignity.  Really Cherish your loved ones.  If you are a believer, then you believe they’re a gift form God.   That’s easy to take for granted whether you’re a believer or not. The underlying message of Medjugorje,  of faith, and of our film is love, pure and simple.

RHR:  If every film could do that, what a world we would live in!

SB:  If it changes even just one heart, it’s worth all the effort we’ve put into it.

RHR:  Thank you Sean.  Now Mark, given that you’re an atheist, how and why did you apply to go?

MS (Mark Swoboda): I learned about this trip through my wife.  My wife being very, very Catholic.  She has long wnated me to go to Medjugorje.  She actually prayed that I would go during our wedding.  I actually left for the trip on our wedding anniversary 7 years later.  She sees it as a prayer that came true.  She’s always wanted me to go because she wants conversion.

She actually did the first video to nominate me.  Then when I had enough votes, then  I had  to do the video myself so they could hear from me directly.

RHR:  Did you have any reservations about actually going through with this?

MS:  No, for me I’m pretty easy.  I’m really laid back and I’m also very much a people person.  As long as I don’t have a language barrier…I’m happy anywhere, just being around people.  The only difficulty was being away from my family for that long.

RHR:  What are your thoughts now that you’ve returned?

MS:  It’s just been a very unique experience.  I don’t think the story involves me nearly as much.  I told Sean…that you can leave me on the cutting room floor.  This is Holly’s story.  That’s what you need to hear.

RHR:  Holly’s story is the most pivotal part of this, but what would you like people to take away from YOUR part of the film?

MS:  Pete and I, Pete was the other atheist, he and I both just wanted people to see just because you’re [an] atheist doesn’t mean you’re anti-religion.  We’re not militant in our non-belief.  We both realize that faith is a powerful thing.  Faith is a good thing for people.  It just doesn’t make sense to us. It doesn’t make sense to me.  A lot of people have a preconceived notion when they hear the word atheist like we’re against them.  But that’s not the case.  People frequently ask when they find out my wife is a Catholic and I’m an atheist, ‘How does that work? You guys are opposite.‘    You see, we’re not opposite.  If I worshipped the devil, we’d be opposite.  In this case, I just don’t have a horse in the race.  I share many many similar values of people of Catholic or Christian faiths, and that’s what I think a lot of people see in the film….  You’re seeing that we have shared  values.  We both want to be good to other people. We all want to be a better person today than the one we were yesterday.  We’re all just trying to be better and be respective of others and treat everybody with dignity and respect, but I don’t think you need faith in order to do that.  I think that’s something we can do on our own.

RHR:  Why go back to Medjugorje if your beliefs haven’t changed?

MS:  It’s nice to just unplug and go to such a peaceful environment.  Another reason I wanted to go [back] was to reconnect with people from the film because our schedule was so hectic when we were there for filming.  I didn’t know when we came back exactly how [everyone] had been affected…I didn’t have a chance to do a debrief and get what their experiences were.   We wanted to get back and sit down with them without having a camera following us every minute and just reconnect.

RHR:  Is there anything else you would like to add?

MS: If you’re a person of faith you should go to Medjugore.  It’s not about the apparitions or any other supernatural phenomenon that occurs there. It gives you the opportunity to live your faith.  For me and any other non-believers, I think you can watch the film without being spiritual and take a lot away from it because the film really touches on the human condition.  Sean grabbed so many personalities that we all know somebody in one of those pairs of shoes.  So different people resonate in different ways to those that are watching it….especially with Holly.  If you’re a parent…it’s very visceral watching that unfold.  And that’s a great reminder that we  take too much for granted and we need to appreciate the time that we have and not lose sight of that.  It’s a great reminder of what we have and what we should be thankful for.

To listen to the review in its entirety go to



"I Am Bolt" Strikes the world by Pamela Powell

November 20th, 2016 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"I Am Bolt" Strikes the world by Pamela Powell”



The world has been struck by lightning…his name is Usain Bolt.  Jamaican-born sprinter Usain Bolt is considered the fastest human ever timed.  He earned 9 gold medals and holds world records in the 100 M and 200 M events as well as the 4 x 100 relay.  No one has ever held these records simultaneously.  I Am Bolt” uncovers how this great athlete accomplished what no other sprinter will most likely ever do again.


“I Am Bolt” takes us on a journey behind the scenes of training, competing, and living the life of the  world’s greatest athlete and sprinter.  If you thought you knew this man, think again.  “I Am Bolt” brings us to a greater understanding of who he really is and what makes him tick.  It’s a positively inspiring message for not just young athletes, but for everyone.

The documentary creates an unusual blend of filming as we hear from those closest to Bolt;  his best friend and manager, his coach, his teammates, and his parents.  We get a glimpse into his past through photos, footage, and interviews.  Bolt, from humble beginnings or as Ziggy Marley describes him, “…poor in terms of economics, but was rich with talents, with life, rich with substance…” finds dedication and perseverance to be the tools to continually reach his goals.   Thrusting forward, we are brought back to all the major competitions in Bolt’s life as well as his injuries that seemed to plague him throughout his career.  Bolt’s final performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics had everyone on edge as this would be his last appearance at an Olympic games.  “Bolt openly talks about his thoughts and feelings from the age of 15, his first win and one of the most meaningful in his life, to thdsc_2887e 2016 Olympics and what still motivates him.

Bolt films a portion of this documentary himself.  With his traveling schedule and training, he talks to the camera, much the way you or I would write in a journal.  He expresses his frustrations with his injuries, but has faith in his coach and trainers to help him recover.  His competitive nature and work ethic are his driving forces for recovery and ultimately, winning.  As Bolt discusses his deepest insecurities and bold statements of confidence (rightfully so!), we can identify with this remarkable athlete.  Maybe we can’t run even a fraction as fast as he can, but deep down, he struggles with his goals and how to obtain them.  Focus, respect for his competitors as well as those around him keeps him positive.

Knowing the history of Usain Bolt and his legendary wins around the world, accomplishing what most of us will probably never see again, three Olympics with a total of nine gold medals, the film brings you back to these races to discover and feel the excitement as if we are right there on the track.  Serena Williams says it best, “You’re rooting fdsc_3597-2or you country and then you see Bolt and you’re like I’m rooting for  Bolt.”  Bolt intrinsically instills a sense of pride in what he stands for.  He is the model of honor within the sports arena.  Everyone around the world admires and is positively impacted by this great athlete.  He has accomplished even more than 9 gold medals…he has given the world a bond.

“I Am Bolt” is not just a glimpse inside Usain Bolt’s life, but also a chance to get to know, understand, and relate to this extraordinary man and what it took to get to this point in his remarkable life.  “I Am Bolt” is inspiring, uplifting, and motivational.  Usain Bolt has struck the world and that iconic stance will forever be forged in our hearts and our minds.



If you’re in Chicago, you can see this film on Monday, November 28 at the  Landmark  Century Centre Cinema.  For a full listing of locations, go to

“I Am Bolt” is available on VOD and DVD on December 6, 2016.






Ang Lee on war, truth and filmmaking by Pamela Powell

November 19th, 2016 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Ang Lee on war, truth and filmmaking by Pamela Powell”


“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk,” a film about a group of Iraq War vets who return home to a victory tour only to confront the contrasting realities of war and the retelling of it, opens this weekend at Movies 10.

Daily Journal film critic Pam Powell recently caught up with director Ang Lee.

Some of your earliest films such as “Pushing Hands” and “The Wedding Banquet” deal with the social and political issues in your home country of Taiwan. How do you think filmmaking will change in today’s current political and social environment?

Wow, that’s a tough question. From my perspective, I grew up in Taiwan in the Cold War era. I came here in 1978. I knew Americans from movies and televisbilyion — romanticized versions of Americans.

When I first came to America, I actually saw real people. It was like walking through a big movie set. After 36 or 38 years … I’m so focused on filmmaking [and] many of them are American studies. That really helped me understand the country I admired and dreamed of — and also experience the reality and confusion.

To read the interview in its entirety as it is printed in the Saturday, Nov. 19th edition of The Daily Journal, go to

"Edge of Seventeen"

November 18th, 2016 Posted by Interviews, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Edge of Seventeen"”



Do you remember what it was like to be 17? As your memories come flooding back, you probably wouldn’t go back to being a teen in high school for any amount of money!


However, the new film “The Edge of Seventeen,” starring Hailee Steinfeld as Nadine, brings you back to that mindset in the current day setting. Written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig, this coming-of-age movie is deightful and insightful.


Steinfeld was adamant about the fact that this is not a teen movie, but a coming-of-age film.

While Nadine thinks she has the answers to everything in life, she realizes “that she absolutely does not [and then] realizes that’s OK,” Steinfeld said. “She has this strength, this underlying strength that really comes through, that I think every young woman has.”

“What makes this film universal is the fact that forms of communication change, but relationships don’t. I think growing up doesn’t change,” Steinfeld added.

READ THE ARTICLE IN ITS ENTIRETY HERE as it was printed in the Friday, November 18th edition of The Daily Journal

"Bleed for This" A remarkable tale of determination by Pamela Powell

November 18th, 2016 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Bleed for This" A remarkable tale of determination by Pamela Powell”



There are champions in the sports’ arena, but there are also champions in life.  Vinny Pazienza is just that champion in both life and sports as his drive and determination, against all odds, allowed him to obtain the comeback of a lifetime.  Pazienza, a former professional boxer and world champion, at the peak of his career was in a life-altering car accident, fracturing his spine.  Recovering from this injury just to walk again would seem unlikely, but Pazienza wanted to fight again and become the champion he felt he was destined to be.  “Bleed for This,” starring Miles Teller, tells this remarkable tale of determination, recreating Pazienza’s life on the silver screen.


For those of you who think this is just a story about boxing, another Rocky-type of film, you’d be wrong.  Although boxing is the vehicle that drives the filbleedaccidentm, it captures the heart and soul of a man who couldn’t accept the probable outcome of his accident.  “Bleed for This,” written and directed by Ben Younger, chronicles Pazienza’s life before he gained world-champion status. Taking place back in the 80’s, we are transported back to a time of shag carpet and plastic runners with oil-cloth table covers in the depressed New England area.  This tight-knit Italian family, living in Rhode Island, is as involved and stereotypical as you could imagine, bringing a beautifully interesting element to the story.   Pazienza’s confidence and lust for life comes across as clear as a bell.  He gains stature in the boxing world, and just before he fights in a new weight class for another champship belt, the accident occurs.  His family and friends, thankful for his survival, are less supportive of him training to get back into the ring.  Pazienza forges ahead, against all medical advice, knowing that the consequences could end his life.  But his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) sticks with him, sometimes reluctantly so. It’s truly a passionate story about what drives all of us and what living means to each of us, individually.



Vinnie Pazienza

Teller creates a believable fighter and for those who recall this boxer, they say he truly embodies Pazienza.  He lives and breathes boxing and Teller gives us this sense.  Physically, he’s bulked up and film sequences show that he can move in a boxing ring.  Eckhart’s character is much more complex than I would have predicted.  He has a drinking problem, relationship issues, and is a bit of a has-been.  His character yo-yos back and forth between giving up and driving ahead, much like we all do in real life.  We feel his pain and seem to understand his deep emotional discord and internal conflict, just by watching his reactions.  It’s not so much what he says, it’s how he says it.  Eckhart’s portrayal of Rooney wonderfully balances the straightforward unquestioning personality of Teller’s Pazienza.  Ciaran Hinds stands out as the strong and  proud yet emotionally conflicted father.  The entire cast is just as strong as Pazienza’s upper right cut.

Whenever you have a film that centers around a sport, particularly boxing, the cinematography is as much of a character as the actors.  The camera brings you into the boxing ring as you witness each devastating blow to the head, gut, and ribs.  It captures the brutality of this, in my mind, rather barbaric sport.  The grainy texture to the film also brings us back in time to capture the 1980’s to give us an almost tactile experience.

“Bleed for This” is more than a boxing film.  It’s a film about heart and determination.  The story is beautifully told in a linear fashion to take us along Vinnie’s journey.  If you didn’t know the story already, it might seem to be a predictable one, but remember, this is a true story.  What is of concern to me, as I review films like this, is that it doesn’t portray the long-term results of constant head trauma, aka boxing.  Movies like this seem to encourage youngsters to delve into whatever sport it portrays.  I would be personally remiss if I didn’t mention this aspect of the film.

7 REELS out of 10


"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" doesn't live up to the J.K. Rowling expectation by Pamela Powell

November 18th, 2016 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" doesn't live up to the J.K. Rowling expectation by Pamela Powell”


The concept of Harry Potter isn’t dead (did he die at the end of the final film/book?  I can’t remember.) with J.K. Rowling’s newest endeavor taking viewers and readers back in time to before the infamous wizard was even born.  Eddie Redmayne and Katherine Waterston star in this film full of more CGI than actual dialogue or story, making it a rather dull and boring prequel to the unprecedented Harry Potter series.



Dan Fogler as Kowalski

Newt Scamander (Redmayne) travels to New York City in search of additions for his enchanted briefcase full of endangered and misunderstood magical animals.  With a “muggle-worthy” button, Scamander safely makes it through Ellis Island, bumping into the characters that would be a part of his life over the next day.  Tina, an ex-investigator for the wizard population, spies Scamander, an undocumented wizard in America, breaking all the rules in the book of how to interact with the No-Madges (we knew them as Muggles, those that have no magical skills).  Attempting to bring him in to her superiors, we learn of very dark forces surfacing and wreaking havoc on the city.  Along the wfantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-movieay, Scamander has a chance encounter with Kowalski (Dan Fogler), a wanna-be pastry baker who sees much more than any other mere mortal should.  The two find themselves in an unlikely friendship as they attempt to save the creatures and the world from the ultimate evil.

The story as it is described, sounds quite appealing.  However, the constant and drawn-out scenes of CGI special effects including a myriad number explosions as we watch these characters run away becomes monotonous and takes away from the story-line.  Redmayne as the lead augments the boredom with his flat-lined portrayal of Scamander.  He has no charm, depth, or much of a personality and his body posture looks like he’s a dog who’s been beaten and is head-shy.  Eye contact and interaction between he and any character is minimal making him appear detached and unappealing.  Waterston has an equally cardboard performance.  The saving grace are the two supporting actorsfantastic-beasts,  Fogler and Samantha Morton who plays Mary Lou, Tina’s sister.  Their adorable attraction with one another and awkwardly sweet interactions are absolutely comical  and entertaining.  Whenever the two are on-screen, the level of appeal rises dramatically.  Both actors show charm and skill to bring a personality that is lovable to the story.


Samantha Morton as Mary Lou

Colin Farrell is also quite charismatic as the questionable leader, never revealing his true intentions.  It is unfortunate that Redmayne and Waterston didn’t bring their A-game to this film or perhaps the characters just weren’t developed in the script to the level they should have been.



“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” is a disappointment in story-telling.  It had the potential to be so rich and full of life to give Potter fans a background story, but falls short in delivering a story we care about.  The special effects are quite remarkable, but that cannot make a story.  The main characters are one-dimensional, but luckily the supporting actors are simply wonderful.  For Harry Potter fans, you might be disappointed in the lack of depth and complexity in this film.  For parents bringing your kids to this, buy a cup of coffee at the concession stand—you’re going to need it.


1 1/2 stars out of 4

"Apparition Hill" Objectively Questions A Miracle by Pamela Powell

November 16th, 2016 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Apparition Hill" Objectively Questions A Miracle by Pamela Powell”


Believers and non-believers alike will be intrigued and captivated by “Apparition Hill,”  an emotional journey of seven strangers, trying to find answers in their lives by traveling to Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the location of sightings of the Virgin Mary.  Will they find God or the Virgin Mary or something entirely different?   Filmmaker Sean Bloomfield explores this question in his newest inspirational and unbiased documentary, “Apparition Hill.”


Since 1981, according to, the Virgin Mary “has been appearing and delivering messages to the world.”  Over 40 million people have visited since that date to experience and investigate the phenomenon.   Bloomfield, says, “It’s one of the biggest mysteries happening in the world right now.”  Is this the biggest miracle since Jesus walked the Earth or is it a hoax?  Bloomfield, who has dedicated much of his career to this topic, documents a group of unrelated strangers, traveling together to this Holy place.

pete-at-blue-crossBloomfield hand-selected 7 unique individuals from hundreds of video submissions to gather an eclectic group of people to maintain an unbiased viewpoint.  In talking with the filmmaker, Bloomfield stated that although his faith is evident, he “would hate to make a film that imposes that belief.”  He wanted to do something objective which is why he encouraged skeptics and non-believers to apply.  Sean found a wonderfully honest and open group of people who convey their experiences in a way that lets the audience decide for themselves if this is a hoax or if this place is truly miraculous.

In the film, we meet each of the individuals, several of whom are struggling in life.  Holly has been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  We meet her family and truly get to know this amazingly strong and remarkable mother holly-and-matt-2and wife.  She is the pivotal “character” that connects the group, looking for peace while her husband accompanies her on this trip.  Mark and Peter are two atheists who are going there with open minds, but most certainly doubting the possibility of experiencing divine intervention.   Ryan is an addict “looking for a miracle,” and Rich is widower who has been raising 9 children on his own for 10 years.

Through the use of video diaries, filming the entire trip, and then a follow-up filming session, “Apparition Hill” allows you to experience not just the trip, but the emotional connections that are made among the group.  As Mark conveyed in a recent interview, the “film really touches on the human condition…we all know somebody in that set of shoes.”  The honest introspection from each of these diverse individuals creates a heartfelt story, but each one comes home with a different story to tell.

Bloomfield hopes that whether or not you believe in God, the film encourages you to “live every day like it’s your last.”  Mark concurred with this, and even though he remains an atheist, he would encourage anyone who is a person of faith, to experience this pilgrimage to Medjugorje.  For non-believers, he said, “It’s nice to just kind of unplug and just go to a peaceful environment.”  He continued, “It’s a great reminder of what we have and what we have to be thankful for.”

Religion, the belief in God, and faith are topics we address each and every day.  We are all searching for answers or trying in some way to make sense of life.  “Apparition Hill” thoroughly and artistically captures the human experience of this miraculous environment.  You can identify with a little bit of each of these individuals which allows you to be a part of this journey.

“Apparition Hill” can be seen in several cities and NYC on November 25 through December 1.  For a complete listing of theaters, go to  You can also schedule a community screening at  Host a Screening.

And check back soon for the audio interviews with Sean Bloomfield and Mark Swoboda.

"Arrival" Sends a Clear Message by Pamela Powell

November 12th, 2016 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Arrival" Sends a Clear Message by Pamela Powell”


“Arrival,” starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, is based upon the short story “Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang.

In the film, Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) is a well-respected professor of linguistics. When the world is invaded by 12 unidentified flying objects, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) contacts Banks to translate what the newcomers are trying to communicate. Countries around the world desperately attempt to make sense of the symbols and unfamiliar sounds, but Banks and Donnelly (Renner) work as a team, using the science of space and of language to develop not only a means of communication, but to find out what these creatures’ intentions are.

“Arrival” takes the study of language and all of its components and meshes it perfectly with the fear of the unknown — going face-to-face with alien creatures. It uses humor to lay the groundwork of language acquisition, balancing tension and relief.

To read the review in its entirety as it was published in The Daily Journal on Friday, November 11, 2016, go HERE


Amy Adams on the red carpet at TIFF for ARRIVAL, photo credit Pamela Powell

"Bear With Us" A clever dark comedy by Pamela Powell

November 11th, 2016 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"Bear With Us" A clever dark comedy by Pamela Powell”


“Bear With Us” is described as a romantic farce, but it’s really so much more.  Filmed in black and white, this comedy of errors creates a laugh out loud dark comedy full of irony, cynicism, and screwball antics.  Co-written by Russ Nickel and William J. Stribling, and directed by Stribling, the film tackles love and figuring out life.  Colin (Mark Jude Sullivan) is hopelessly and madly in love with Quincy (Christy Carlson Romano) so he does what comes naturally—he proposes.  Having been turned down, Colin doesn’t give up.  Six months pass and he develops an elaborate plan to propose again in a cabin in the woods with the help of his and Quincy’s best friends.  What could go wrong?  Absolutely everything—in all the right ways.

Colin is a little uptight, always scheduling, planning, and reassessing his scheduling and his planning.  He’s got all the details covered as he pulls in his hapless best friend, Harry (Collin Smith), to make this convoluted weekend in the woods a dream come true.    Tammy (Alex McKenna), the free-thinking substance lover tags along to help her selfish BFF Quincy just get through the weekend.  Colin’s plan to help Quincy get over her fear of bears (her original excuse for not getting married) begins to unfold, but we know horror lies ahead.  The exquisite style of filming and editing with the the over-the-top music makes sure you know what you’re in for.  I’ll let you watch the film to understanbear2d the ever-changing scheme.  Needless to say, there are plenty of miscommunications, misunderstandings, crazy Lucille Ball types of situations, and a few gruesome scenes to keep you glued to the hilarious misadventures.

“Bear With Us” is in many ways just good old-fashioned fun.  The characters are exaggerated and we love them all, embracing their quirks and idiosyncrasies.  Bringing these old-school notions into the current day with cell phone distractions, a little drug usage somehow done in the right way (really, it is!) to make it funny, and a little bit of sex create the perfect storm. There’s never a dull moment in this film and as soon as we think we know all the characters, we are introduced to two more strange yet fun people: Hudson (Cheyenne Jackson), the crazed outdoorsman and Ranger Rick (Kevin Carolan), the protector of bears.  It’s a wonderfully silly romp in the woods…with a little blood spilled.

The cast is outstanding.  Smith’s comedic timing is sublimely paired with straight-guy Sullivan’s impeccable reactions.  They make you pay close attention so you don’t miss one laugh.  Jackson couldn’t be better cast as the outdoorsman obsessed with finding “D” batteries and educating those city dwellers who don’t know the outdoors.  There’s a lot of physical comedy in this film as well, augmenting each performance.  McKenna, Romano, and Carolan balance the film with their resbearpective characters.  Perhaps Quincy and Colin aren’t exactly a match made in heaven, but this cast is.

“Bear With Us” is a clever dark comedy, embracing old-fashioned screenwriting with today’s sense of humor.  The hilarious situations, outcomes, and interactions completely captivate you, allowing you to truly escape and just have fun.

“Bear With Us” is playing as a part of the Chicago Comedy Film Festival this weekend.  To get tickets, go to  Chicago Comedy Film Festival Tickets


"Grand Unified Theory" Ties life's loose strings together with humor by Pamela Powell

November 9th, 2016 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"Grand Unified Theory" Ties life's loose strings together with humor by Pamela Powell”






When you hear the word ‘astrophysics,’ fun and laughter doesn’t come to mind.  However, thanks to David Ray’s new film “Grand Unified Theory,” we find humor in this very topic.  In the film, Albert is a father who is also a professor of astrophysics.  He sees the universe, but doesn’t always see his own world clearly as he navigates marriage and fatherhood.  On the surface, he and his family seem to be ordinraw_6678ary, going through typical growing pains.  But as we get to know them, they each have their unfulfilled wishes and quests in life.    In other words, they are just like you and me.  What makes this film truly stand out is the way the story is told.  Their lives parallel the professor’s lectures, creating hilariously insightful and unexpected situations.  It’s truly a fun look at life, love, family, and what it all means.



Albert (Scott Bellis) is a brilliant and beloved professor, striving to move up in his career.  Rita (Kendall Cross) is a stay-at-home mom who, like most moms, is the center of everyone’s universe as she makes lunches that no one takes (or appreciates) and still manages to keep everything on track.  Gordon lives at home and attends the local university.  He’s as bright as his father, but lacks confidence as he awkwardly and humorously seeks love.  And Lauren is an intelligent and tough-as-nails high school senior, constantly questioning authority and equality as she looks to her future.  Each of these characters has their own story to tell, but just like the universe, one action effects another and ultimately they intersect into an insightful and heartfelt story.  There might be an unexpected comet or two that throws off each of their stories in the most comedic of ways.

The entire cast melds seamlessly into a believable family.  Rita perfectly represents any 40-something mom as she is frustrated and bored in life and wants more.  Her relationship with her kids, especially Lauren, is so real and familiar as the two argue and discuss the day-to-day business.  The dialogue between the two of them is so natural that you feel like you’re in their home.  And Lauren’s bold questioning of her father’s perceptibly unequal decision-making, takes Albert down the proverbial rabbit hole as thraw_6898ere is no “right” answer.  And poor Gordon.  He’s so sweet and so smart, but so awkward.  We all knew a “Gordon” growing up.  There always has to be a counterbalance character to our main character and that comes in the form of  Victor (AndrewMcNee) who believes in magic.  Throw science out the window with this guy and this adds the element of ridiculousness that is absolutely perfect.

The film addresses not just parenthood, but sex and drugs, as well as communication.  Each character has  secrets and these lead to the funniest situations based on their own guilt.  The kids underestimate their parents, as all kids do, but as Albert points out he’s smart enough to figure out a tracking device on a phone.  Lauren is simply shocked by his techie abilities.  One of the many memorable lines in the movie is, “I am an astrophysicist…What does smart mean to you?”  And you’ve never seen a more unusual yet comedic verbal fight than one among college science professors that devolves into a fraw_6789ood fight.  I won’t even begin to tell you how these two intelligent parents argue.  So there!

Ray has found the ideal cast to portray each of these slightly over-the-top characters.  Bellis could easily be mistaken for a professor on a college campus and his lectures we hear make me want to go back to college.  Cross portrays Rita with intuitive depth and skillful comedic timing.  And  I can’t imagine anyone but Haynes as Gordon.  Grabinsky is simply stellar as Lauren as she reminds me of my own daughter.  She exhibits such skill and natural instinct in giving us a complexly  deep character that  she didn’t seem to be acting.  This is one of the best ensemble casts since “Don’t Think Twice.”

The cinematography and set design are also a part of this film that should be praised.  The lectures are beautifully filmed, bringing you not only into the large college classroom, but into the vast universe to which he is speaking.  Every scene is impeccably coordinated to be visually striking.  And with a script that is intellectually stimulating and funny, you have a recipe for great film.

The title of the film has many meanings on many levels.  The scientific definition of the Grand Unified Theory is not yet complete—just like our lives.   In the film,  we discover the universe and its rules and we learn about this family’s world and the ever chanraw_6704ging rules that govern them.  It’s a coming-of-age-for-a-family kind of film. While it tackles some rather deep concepts, (metacognition, interconnectivity) it keeps it lighthearted and fun.  Making sense of this world isn’t always easy, but this family reminds us of the times we need to cherish, even when things don’t follow the rules.

Don’t miss this brilliant comedy full of heart!  For more information about the film and how to see it at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival taking place November 10-12, 2016, go to ABOUT THE FESTIVALFOR TICKETSFOR MORE INFO ABOUT THE FILM

"Where the Woods End" A Masterful and Poignant Short Film by Pamela Powell

November 4th, 2016 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Where the Woods End" A Masterful and Poignant Short Film by Pamela Powell”


“Where the Woods End” is a timely and evocative short film capturing the dangers and decision making of police officers and the instantaneous altering of lives due to one event.  These issues are in the mainstream media each and every day, and co-writers  Felix Ahrensand Lucas Flasch capture the intensity and emotion on every level to give us a nail-biting yet sympathetic tale of an innocent life lost and the woman responsible.


The young police officer Elke (Henrike von Kulck) and her partner Armin (Tom Keune) make a routine stop near the Czech border.  As the driver of the car flees, the passenger is detained by Officer Armin.  Officer Elke pursues the young man on foot, through the woods, when she is placed in a situation that is unnerving and ultimately she fires her gun.  The result is the death of this young man.  The consequences are far-reaching as she attempts to not only justify her actions, but deal with the remorse and guilt she feels.  Self-preservation on every level comes into play.


“Where the Woods End” has you on the edge of your seat from the opening scene, creating an ominous intensity that is palpable.  There is the constant feeling of waiting for the next shoe to drop as we watch the story unfold.   In 30 short yet powerful minutes, we are plunged into danger and the complex human reaction and consequences.  We get to know and understand Elke as well as the family of the victim.  We are consumed and sometimes disagree with her reactions, yet we completely understand them.  To portray this level of human psychology is nothing short of extraordinary.


von Kulck’s performance as the young female officer Elke is also remarkable as we somehow identify with her character as she struggles and reacts.  von Kulck elicits empathy and judgment, crediting not only her skills as an actor, but also the deft writing and directing.  The entire small, but extremely talented cast gives us a profoundly deep and suspenseful story that sticks with you long after the credits roll.  To augment these emotional performances, the cinematography skillfully captures each scene, allowing the viewer to truly feel and see the world through the character’s eyes.  There’s not one element of filmmaking missing in this thriller.


“Where the Woods End” is an intense and intriguing drama that is captivating intellectually, emotionally and visually.  With its social relevance of police killings and the emotional ramifications on both sides, this film might just be a fictional work of realistic art that will keep your heart pounding and your mind reeling.


"Trolls" An interview with the filmmakers by Pamela Powell

November 2nd, 2016 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “"Trolls" An interview with the filmmakers by Pamela Powell”

Mike Mitchell, Walt Dohrn, Pam Powell Photo Credit: Jessica Perez

What could possibly be more fun than watching the sensational new animated feature film “Trolls?”  The answer—interviewing the brilliantly creative people behind the story!  Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn sat down with me recently to share their three year journey from “chicken scratch” drawings to seeing people “dancing in their seats” in the theater.  It was a dreary, rainy day when I walked into the room to interview these men whose positive energy simply exuded from them and essentially parted the clouds as we discussed “Trolls.”

If you’re my age, you know, over 20 by 30 years, you’ll remember the little Troll figures or dolls.  I had a pink one with sticky feet on my bed’s headboard.  And now, Dreamworks, thanks to Mitchell and Dohrn, have brought these little dolls to life, giving us a wonderfully positive message while they entertain us.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  How did you two connect to undertake this huge project:

Mike Mitchell (MM):  We went to school together back at Cal Arts [and Walt] was one of my favorite artists. We’ve always wanted to work on something together again…after “Shrek Forever After.”

Walt Dohrn (WD):  Dreamworks had the little creature, the Troll doll.  What made Walt and I crazy about it, there was no story.  No backstory. No mythology.  There was just the hair and this little stumpy guy.  So we saw this as an opportunity to create a whole world and it can be influenced by everything, all this stuff that turns us on…Miyazaki, “Advernture Time” and the Muppets and Dr. Seuss books…it was our chance to put them all together.

MM:  Mix them up and see what would happen if we took all of our influences and put them into a giant CGI Dreamworks movie!

RHR:  So the two of you not only directed “Trolls,” you wrote it too?

WD:  We bring on the script writers early on.

MM:  We’re crafting the story as we’re making the film and we’re storyboarding it.  We make it as rough as we can, just with Walt and I.

WD:  We do the voices and draw the pictures really rough.

MM:  We screen it even just with chicken scratch and us doing the voices, temporary music and sound effects.  We sit back and watch the whole film and then we take it down and we make it again.  So we probably make the film 10 or 11 times.

RHR:  How many animators are there in the final product and when do you bring them on?

WD:  About 1000 animators, but when we first started, it’s just us and the writers.  Our production designer…starts to design the world as we’re writing it.  Then we bring on the storyboard artists.  After 6 months, we bring on more.

RHR:  How do the actors influence the final character production and did you have specific actors in mind when you wrote this?

MM:  Anna [Kendrick] was the first one on [and she] helped us write it too because she didn’t want to play the typical princess that you see in animation.  That affected the design…this girl is really quirky and weird and fun.  She never wears shoes!

WD:  Even in this world today, this conversation about body image…it was important to us to have this female heroine that didn’t depict this classic beauty.

MM:  Usually these princesses look like Barbie Dolls, little thin waists and little hooves.  And “Poppy” doesn’t care about that and it’s great because that’s Anna’s personality too.  She brought this manic positive energy to this character that is really fun.  It’s like a big group of people just working together which is to make the “funnest” and most party movie we can make.

WD: But it also needs to have emotional resonance.  The jokes don’t work if there’s no weight and real characters and a real message and theme of the film.

RHR:  What do  you feel the message is to “Trolls?”

MM:  Let’s make it about happiness.  I looked at some TED Talks about happiness.

WD:  And there’s a great Harvard study, it’s been going on for about 4 decades about the source of happiness.  We want this movie to not only make people feel good in these dark times, but also for people to have a conversation about where does happiness come from.

MM:  It seems like all the media is so scary, not just for kids but for adults [too].  The news is terrifying…Let’s create a discussion about happiness…and a positive attitude.  A positive attitude is underrated.  We wanted to make sure the film was funny, irreverent, and silly too!

RHR:  I have to ask you about Justin Timberlake and his character that doesn’t sing or dance until the end!  What’s up with that?

MM:  Walt thought that would be funny!

WD:  We brought him in to do that voice.  He’s a super funny guy and of course he can sing.  We already had a couple of songs like from Earth Wind and Fire and some classic songs.  He got so excited that he offered to be the music producer, executive music producer.

MM:  And we said, maybe.  [Laughing out loud!]  Send your resume, [we said.]

WD and MM:  [ Laughing even louder!]

MM:  It took us half a second to say, YES PLEASE!

WD:  And “Can’t Stop the Feeling” was made for “Trolls.”  He said, ‘I’m going to make it a hit song too.’  We wanted it it in the ether.  And then you’re going to see how we use it in the film.


Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn, Photo Credit: Jessica Perez

RHR:  People were dancing in their seats and some were singing the songs, loving every minute of it.

WD:  People are really rocking out in the theater!

The conversation continued, discussing the energy of the film and the bond between the cast and crew.  The sun may or may not have come out while I was inside talking with these energetic filmmakers, but I left with a feeling I couldn’t stop…happiness.  🙂

“Trolls” opens nationwide on Friday, Nov. 4





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