Monthly Archives: February, 2017

"20,000 Reasons" Opening night film for the CEUFF

February 28th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"20,000 Reasons" Opening night film for the CEUFF”


The 20th Annual Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF) is about to begin at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.  Running March 3-30 and presenting 62 new feature films from all 28 EU Nations, this festival will broaden your film-appreciation horizons.  From romantic comedies such as the opening night film “20,000 Reasons” to intense psychological dramas such as “The Unknown Girl” from the famed French Dardennes brothers, the CEUFF has it all.

As Malta presides over the EU, the opening night film “20,000 Reasons” hails from this small Mediterranean island.  It’s a romantic comedy that bursts with culture and connects you with two young people falling in love, ever so reluctantly.  While the film is absolutely humorous and sometimes downright silly, it also  expertly intertwines social issues of class boundaries and family commitments and expectations.


Sophie (Maria Pia Meli) owns her own small company.  She’s remarkably driven and eschews her family’s wealth, committed to making her own way in life, even though her company depends on the family’s money.  Her grandmother, the matriarch of the family, wants nothing more than to have her t20,000wo granddaughters well taken care of financially when she passes away.  Grandma thinks that marriage is a must in life and places a caveat on her will—both Sophie and her sister, Juliana (Taryn Mamo Cefai) must be married before they turn 30.  For Sophie, that is only three months away and she has just caught her Lothario of a boyfriend with another woman.  Making Grandma happy might be a little more difficult than Sophie bargained for as she makes a deal with a desparate man, Ramon (Aldo Zammit), the groundskeeper who has a few skeletons in his closet.

200001 Meli creates her character of Sophie beautifully.   Sophie is a little jaded in her outlook on love and focuses intensely on her work.  She’s a perfectionist and her personality collides with Ramon, but we can truly see her falling ever so slowly in love with him.  Zammit’s portrayal of Ramon, the sweet and unlucky chap who never gets a break and is always in over his head is remarkable.  Finding that balance of being a nice guy, but always making the viewer guess about his true motives is not an easy task.  Zammit gives us exactly this with absolute ease.

2000003 While Sophie and Ramon are quite relatable, it is the supporting cast with their hilariously exaggerated personalities, that make this a fun romp at the theater.  Steffan Busuttil’s portrayal of the handsome but wandering boyfriend Jonathan is sublimely superficial and narcissistic.  He wow’s us with his embarrassingly comedic proposal to Sophie in the opening scene, alerting the viewer to the fun that lies ahead.  Grandma Domenica (Marylou Coppini) is the epitome of what we envision a wealthy, controlling woman to be.  With a few bad guys to round out the schemes that create comedic confusion, it is Christopher Dingli’s Father Norbert character that stands out.  He’s awkwardly sweet, charming, and somehow is a guiding force despite his lack of Fatherly skills.  Each and every character has their own story to tell with a personality that will bowl you over.

“20,000 Reasons” is everything a romantic comedy should be.  It’s a throw-back to what makes us laugh out loud—communication mix-ups, greedy but not too bright bad guys, and a few over-the-top characters.  The pace is fast with never a dull moment giving the viewer everything it wants in a romantic comedy.

To see “20,000 Reasons,” go to


Budgets vs. Oscar Predictions

February 26th, 2017 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Budgets vs. Oscar Predictions”


Can a film’s budget predict the winner of Best Picture at this year’s Academy Awards?  Let’s take a look at that along with the other awards to see if we can accurately predict who will take home the Best Picture Oscar tonight!

9 films have been nominated, ranging from futuristic alien invasions to real life history coming out from hiding and everything in between, but there will only be one winner.  This year, the budget to complete these films are as varied as the films’ topics; $5M to $47M.  “Moonlight” and “Manchester by the Sea” were both completed for around the $5 million mark, bringing in approximately $21M and $46M, respectively.  The bigger budgeted films, “Arrival” and “Hacksaw Ridge” required $47M and $40M, respectively and pulled in $100M and $66M, respectively.  The winner with the greatest bang for their investment buck so far, however are the Hollywood darlings, “La La Land” ($30M to produce and grossing $343M) and “Hidden Figures” ($25M to produce and grossing $148M).  That leaves “Fences,” “Lion,” and “Hell or High Water” smack dab in the middle of production and income.  Looking at the profit margin, it looks like “La La Land”  is the front runner.

But it’s not just box office receipts and cost of production of the film that weighs into this.  This is a serious game of cat and mouse— the winner has boasting rights of saying their company produced and/or distributed an Academy Award winner.  The cost is much higher than you might realize.  Oscar campaigns, according to E! Online can cost as much as $25M with an average cost of $10M for the coveted little bald man.  This is a costly game comprised of special dinner and cocktail parties, press junkets and sending every Academy voter and anyone with a voice to create buzz, a DVD.  “Crash” spent over $250k just in DVD mailers a few years ago!  The question is now, which film had the money to back this type of buzz?  Distribution companies are very tight-lipped when it comes to revealing how much they have spent in marketing and publicity just for Oscar, but the deep pockets appear to be Lionsgate with “La La Land” and Amazon with “Manchester by the Sea.”

Winning awards from the big organizations such as the BAFTA, Golden Globes, and SAG also help create buzz.  Where does each film fall in this category?  So far, the big budget films haven’t even gotten on the scoreboard:  “Arrival,” and “Hacksaw Ridge” = 0.  “Hell or High Water” couldn’t make the cut either with these three awards events. “Hidden Figures” sneaks in with 1 win (SAG) and both “Lion” (BAFTA) and “Moonlight” (Golden Globe, SAG) have a score of 2. “Manchester by the Sea” has 3 (Golden Globe, BAFTA) and “Fences” has 4 (SAG, BAFTA, Golden Globe).  The clear winner with this is “La La Land” with 12, winning 1 SAG Award, 5 BAFTA Awards, and 6 Golden Globes.

When you put it all together, all three prediction techniques point to “La La Land” as being the clear winner.  While there have been 683 new members to the voting membership of the Academy (46% female, 41% non-white), it’s still quite clearly lead by older, white males.  “Moonlight,” given its topic matter may not have even made it to the Oscar consideration table prior to this change, but given the statistics, it is certainly an underdog.  Time will soon tell as the Academy Awards ceremony is just a couple of hours away!

The 11th Annual Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) begins March 2

February 23rd, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The 11th Annual Suncoast Credit Union Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF) begins March 2”


With snow in the forecast for those of us in northern climes, here’s a stellar reason to head to the Tampa, Florida area—the Gasparilla International Film Festival!  If you’re lucky enough to be a snow bird, then you’ve got an amazing film festival right in your own backyard.  The festival hosts 35 feature-length films and 70 shorts— a film for everyone in this year’s lineup.  GIFF’s president, Rachel Marks Feinman, feels that these films “entertain, educate, and inspire” the community.  Taking a look at all the world premieres and films currently traveling the festival circuit with a lot of buzz, Feinman is most assuredly correct.



“Burn Your Maps,” the festival’s opening night film starring Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air”), Virginia Madsen (“Sideways”), and Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) and “Unleashed,” starring Justin Chawin (“Shameless”), a fantasy comedy about the “perfect man,” bookend documentary, international, and narrative feature films such as “The Architect,” “Disturbing the Peace,” and Florida focused films “Turtle Tale,” “King Charles,”and more.  It’s an exciting array of films not to be missed.  Here’s how you can get tickets and enjoy the festival to its fullest degree:


If you think film festivals are just about seeing movies,  you’d be mistaken.  Parties, panel discussions, red carpets, and special events are every bit as much of a film festival as the films themselves.  Attend panel discussions to  learn how to pitch a film or find out how to get that film distributed.  These are just two of the many  topics addressed in the panel discussions.  Check out GIFF Panel Discussion Schedule for a complete listing.  Parties (Hey, it can’t be ALL work and no play!) and watching the stars walk the red carpet are all a part of GIFF too.  Unlike many festivals, GIFF invites you to participate in these events. ( GIFF Party Schedule) GIFF also remembers to include the kids in their festival.  “Family Fun Day” takes place on Sunday, March 5 from 11 am – 3 pm.  Live entertainment by Mr. Tommy, free t-shirts, activities by the Tampa Bay Rays and DJ Kitty, and a petting zoo are all a part of this fun-filled day! Family Fun Day


GIFF celebrates its 11th year in style at the Tampa Theatre, Muvico Centro Ybor, and HCC Ybor.  Don’t miss out on being the first to view great films from all over the world, seeing your favorite stars, and participating in the spectacular events and panel discussions.

Check back for continuous updates on reviews and recommendations!



February 23rd, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “GET OUT AND SEE "GET OUT"”

get out

Get out and go see “Get Out,” the hilarious new mystery/horror film written and directed by Jordan Peele of the famed dynamic comedy duo Key and Peele. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) who is African-American will meet his Caucasian girlfriend’s (Allison Williams as Rose) parents for the first time.  He expects some racial issues, but what he discovers is much more than that!  It’s a Twilight Zone meets “The Stepford Wives” thriller and a touch of “Trainspotting” tripping that will make you jump, scream, and laugh!  “Get Out” is total fun, particularly as we look at our world through a different racial lens right now.


The opening scene plunges us right into the core of the movie as we see a black man (LaKeith Stanfield) walking in an unfamiliar neighborhood, attempting to find an address.  He’s out of place, muttering nervous and funny comments as a car pulls up along side of him.  BAM! He’s abducted.  Cut to the sweet couple, Rose and Chris, preparing for a trip.GetOutHorrorMovie-640x480

Chris is hesitant about visiting Rose’s parents, but she assures him that they aren’t at all racist.  In fact, she says they would have voted for Obama for a third time if they could have.  Best buddy and TSA Agent Rod Williams (LilRel Howery) doggie-sits while the two go off and have their adventure.

The story sets the viewers up to see and question what we observe through Chris’ eyes.  The tension increases with each ticking moment, delving more deeply into the bizarre behaviors of the black people who just happen to be overly happy working for this family and the rich white people whose comments are utterly inappropriate, but realistically hilarious!  The tables are turned with the portrayal of white stereotypes which gives us a truly refreshing perspective in this off the wall story.

“Get Out” has an all-star cast and while you might not immediately recognize Kaluuya and Williams, you will after this movie.  Kaluuya shines as the lead, giving us a memorable performance and creating a connection with the audience to truly root for him.  Williams gives us the All-American girl next door performance and the two of them together are a perfect match.  Whitford and Keener are brilliant as the loving and manipulative parents.  I can’t tell you any more about them as that would ruin the fun of discovery.  Suffice it to say, they are both stellar and you’ll stir your tea with a new understanding.  But it’s LilRel Howery that steals the comedic show in “Get Out.”  As the TSA Agent and best friend, he embodies the cop-wanna-be persona with the innocence of protecting his best friend.

“Get Out” is a unique film, blending genres of comedy, horror, mystery, and thriller.  Accent on the comedy!  When you’re not laughing, you’re gasping and while there are some rather gruesome parts, they are justified in the storyline.   Peele is no new-comer to writing and now he has proven himself in the director’s chair with “Get Out,” his directorial debut.

“Get Out” is total escapism and fun in a wonderfully mind-bending, hilarious, and thrilling story that revolves around racism.  To pull off that combination is absolutely extraordinary.

Please remember that this is rated R for some extreme violence!



3 1/2 Stars

THE BLACK MARKET TRUST Finds a new spin on classic oldies

February 20th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “THE BLACK MARKET TRUST Finds a new spin on classic oldies”


Music reviews aren’t typically a part of Reel Honest Reviews’ coverage, but when I get a CD on my desk, pop it in to listen, and find myself hitting the “replay” button over and over again, I  need to write about it and share my new discovery.  The Black Market Trust is an American pop/jazz band comprised of 5 musicians, lead by Jeffrey Scott Radaich, songwriter and jazz guitarist.  Chris Irwin (vocals, rhythm guitar), Brian Netzley (vocals, upright bass), Nick Coventry (vocals, violin) and Brandon Laws (drums, percussion) round out this well-balanced and fine-tuned quintet.  Their first album was released in 2012, giving listeners a taste of “gypsy jazz.”  Now, their sophomore CD, “Just One of Those Things,” transports us back in time to the 30’s and 40’s while we get a glimpse into the influence of music from around the world.

Watch a video interview here

You’ll find yourself romanticizing about slow-dancing as you hear the soothing song “That’s All” first recorded by Nat King Cole, and snapping your fingers as you listen to “Dream of You.”  Each and every song is a familiar one, borrowing from some to the greatest songwriters from decades past, but all of them becoming something just a little different, allobmt2wing you to enjoy them in a new way.

The songs incorporate rhythms and syncopated beats such as the sounds you might find in Jamaica in “Please Stay,” or the percussion from a Hawaiian luau in “Paper Moon” first popularized by the great Ella Fitzgerald.  Combining these unique elements create a symphony of sound that you can’t resist.  The lead vocals for each song are reassuringly familiar and rich allowing your imagination to take you away, walking arm in arm with your love.  The use of strings, violins and guitars, percussion, and their harmonious voices all blend together to transport you into their musical getaway.

Listen Here to “It’s Only A Paper Moon”

The Black Market Trust is spinning old songs in new ways, reviving not only these classic harmonious treasures, but reminding us of the style and sophistication of music that’ll make you want to sing and dance right along with them.

For more information, go to



"You're Killing Me, Susana" finds humor in relationship conflict By Pamela Powell

February 19th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"You're Killing Me, Susana" finds humor in relationship conflict By Pamela Powell”




Written by Luis Camara and Roberto Sneider

Based on the book by Jose Agustin

Directed by Roberto Sneider

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” (Me, Estas Matando Susana) is based on the book of the same name by Jose Agustin.  The screenplay by Luis Camara is brought to life under the deft direction of Roberto Sneider creating a lively and humorous representation of the differences between men and women and their ever-changing relationships.  Having Gael Garcia Bernal (Eligio) as the lead elevates any film and this is no exception as we are immediately drawn to this character’s boyish narcissism.  Taking everything for granted, including his gorgeous, bright, and talented wife, Susana (Veronica Echegui), Eligio is blindsided when she leaves him.  While the audience doesn’t blame her as we see his antics, Eligio is completely baffled which adds a wonderful comedic charm to the story.  Not willing to surrender his machismo, he searches and finds Susana’s hiding place—Iowa in the winter—following her to win her back.  He might just wind up wishing he had waited till spring.

Watch the trailer here

Bernal is one of those actors that drives you to see a movie just because he is in it.  Following this rule has lead me to see outstanding films such as “Desierto”  and “Neruda” (2016) as well as “No,” a docudrama bringing the Chilean dictator and the rebellion of the people into clear focus.  Bernal is the perfect choice as the charming ladies’ man who is a struggling actor in a Mexican soap opera.  He seems to havYou're Killing Me Susana - Gael García Bernale never grown up, yet that is his appeal.  His basic disbelief that his wife could possibly not love him anymore is beyond his comprehension and his actions suggest this at every turn in the road.  While his heart is breaking, he is unwilling to acknowledge it and goes to great lengths to win Susana back.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is an eloquent amalgam of comedy, drama, and romance creating a beautiful gem of a film.  There are characteristics of the writing that have a Shakespearean flare to them with the well-balanced combination of these genres and the portrayal of the characters.  Seldom do I recall exact lines from a movie, particularly comedic lines, but this film is different.  I won’t spoil the fun for you so you’ll have to see this for yourself.  To create a romantic comedy that is smart and quick witted  is a very unusual thing to see.  Thankfully, intelligent humorous films are still being made, but you have to go south of the border to find it—Mexico.

Echegui’s performance equals Bernal’s performance as she allows any woman to her empathize with her situation.  Her words and her actions, in a woman’s mind, are completely justified.  The subtlety of her performance allows you to feel her continuous draw to Eligio while she is concurrently angry for his male possessiveness and embarrassing outbursts.  While Echegui’s character isn’t the comedian, Bernal inadvertently is by virtue of his character’s flaws and the situations he finds himself.  Bernal is an extremely versatile actor who gives us a robust and simple portrayal of a man in love, motivated by love, yet too immature to appreciate it.

The film takes us to the brutal cold tundra of Iowa as Eligio travels to save his Susana, like a knight in shining armor, except the armor is a bit tarnished and Susana doesn’t want to be saved.  The cinematography beautifully captures the opposing environments of Mexico City and Iowa, compounding the passion of the warmer climate.  The subdued and refined interactions of the students in the writing class, while passionate in their own way, create a less desirable atmosphere as we internally struggle for Susana.  Finding a way to create this outwardly simple, yet complexly layered stoGael García Bernalry takes extraordinary skill and Sneider finds a way to do this without muddying the water.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is a masterful creation of what dramatic/romantic comedies should be.  Intelligent writing, skilled direction, and  two exceptionally talented lead actors capture your attention and make you truly care for both of them.  You’re on this journey with them, figuring out their lives and what decisions they should make.  You are a part of this film, completely invested in the outcome while laughing along the way.

“You’re Killing Me, Susana” is playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning February 24th.  For tickets, go to




"A United Kingdom" Captures love and history

February 18th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"A United Kingdom" Captures love and history”


Key historical figures, many whose backgrounds and importance have been neglected or even covered, continue to make their way to Hollywood to be told via the silver screen.  David Oyelowo has portrayed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Katende (“Queen of Katwe”), and now Prince Seretse Khama in “A United Kingdom.”  Written by Guy Hibbert and directed by Amma Asante, the film also stars Rosamund Pike (“Gone Girl”), Jack Davenport (“The Good Wife”), and Tom Felton (“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”).


The story takes us back to the late 1940’s, post-World War II in Great Britain where the young Prince Kahma is completing his education in preparation to become the King and leader of his homeland, Botswana.  One fateful evening, he meets and falls in love with Ruth Williams (Pike),  a white girl from a middle-class family.  Interracial relationships such as this were more than frowned upon and the fallout from both families and the countries’ politics are far more grand than either could have predicted.  At its core is a love story, but this film is also a testament to politics and the lengths to which a country will go to protect itself.  The film beautifully blends the passion of love and the fight for what’s right amidst political chaos.

“A United Kingdom” sublimely captures the love and immediate connection between Ruth and Seretse.  You can feel their bond and as their relationship develops, they are truly interconnected, needing one another to succeed and live.  Creating a script that brings this love to life is rarely seen, but to expertly portray the high-stakes politics and cut-throat antics that weigh upon the relationship and the countries’ futures is quite remarkable, to say the least.  This, however, cannot be conveyed without the expertise of the director and exceptionally talented actors.  Oyelowo finds a certain regal grace to portray Seretse, quite fitting for the role.  He blends an overt refinement and emotional passion that one would expect from a man in his character’s position.  We feel his strength in his words and our heart breaks as we see him suffer the loss of being separated from the love of his life.  Pike isn’t the stereotypical superwoman leader that saves the day—she’s real.  She’s in love, she cares, and she creates a sense of empathy in a situation while you and I may not be in, we can still relate to.  Pike and Oyelowo create a chemistry that is palpable and weave this into an historically significant story that is still relevant to today.

While the story, acting, and directing create a compelling story, I must also comment, even briefly, on the costuming and cinematography.  This completes the story as we are transported not only back in time, but also to England and Botswana.  We feel the dust and dirt swirling around our feet and our heads.  Our breath is taken away from the exhaustion and heat.  And emotionally, we identify with each and every character and group, seeing things from their perspective.

“A United Kingdom” is an exemplary film, telling an untold part of world history.   It’s a heartfelt love story that believably weaves together the importance of love, doing what’s right, and fighting for our liberties.  The political decisions while unsettling, balance the story, driving it forward.  A fictional tale couldn’t have been created any better than this true story.

To hear David Oyelowo talk about his film, go to


An Interview with David Oyelowo from A UNITED KINGDOM

February 18th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “An Interview with David Oyelowo from A UNITED KINGDOM”


a-united-kingdomDavid Oyelowo stars in another biographic drama, this time taking place in Great Britain, post-World War II as he deftly portrays Prince Seretse Kahma.  Completing his education in England, the Prince  is about to return to his homeland of Botswana and take the thrown to govern his people.  He meets and falls in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman from a working-class family.  The two cannot bear to be apart and defy the current day’s rules and marry.  The fall-out is much more than they bargained for and their love is used as a political pawn.  It’s a love story at its core, but the social and political heart of this film is simply gripping.

Oyelowo was recently in Chicago and I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with this talented and insightful actor.  Listen to thDavid-Oyelowoe entire interview  here

"Fist Fight" has no punch By Pamela Powell

February 17th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Fist Fight" has no punch By Pamela Powell”


If you were wondering whether or not Charlie Day can carry the lead in a movie — or if Ice Cube can play anything but an angry and intimidating character — their new movie “Fist Fight” indicates that they can’t.

This insipid, repetitive and stilted “comedy” takes us back to the last day of a rough high school where Prank Day is out of control. Inadvertently, Mr. Campbell (Day), gets himself into a scheduled after-school fist fight with Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube). The antics and high jinks that fill the ticking clock’s minutes are excruciatingly mind-numbing.

To read the rest of the review as it was published in The Daily Journal on Friday, February 17, 2016, go to

"XX" Shines a frighteningly wonderful light on female writers and directors—It's about time! By Pamela Powell

February 17th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"XX" Shines a frighteningly wonderful light on female writers and directors—It's about time! By Pamela Powell”


Films written and directed by women in the horror genre is so frighteningly rare, it’s truly scary!  “XX” features 4 separate short stories to send shivers up your spin and make you jump in your seat.  While each film, “The Box,” “The Birthday Cake,” “Don’t Fall,” and “Her Only Living Son,” are all very different, they share one commonality besides the female component—they are simply chilling!


Melanie Lynskey finds a comfortable role as “Mary,” a wealthy, but disorganized mother attempting to put together a birthday party in “The Birthday Party” co-written by Roxanne Benjamin axx melaniend St. Vincent (Annie Clark) and directed by St.Vincent as well.  Mary’s disorganization is the least of her worries when she finds her husband in a state that is less than desirable.  The humorous cover up leads to shocking  results that would traumatize any child for life. Lynskey, as always, finds just the right tone to convey as she elicits chuckles of disbelief and believe it or not, sympathy, from the viewer.




xx box“The Birthday Party” gets you ready for the rest of the films that have much more disturbing and unnerving situations.  While the story “The Box” is by Jack Ketchum,  Jovanka Vuckovic is credited with writing the screenplay and directing this film reminiscent of a “Twilight Zone” episode.  As an exasperated mother of two typical young kids are riding home on a train from the city, the inquisitive little boy pushes his boundaries by inquiring about the contents of the box in an older man’s hands.  His reaction is nothing short of intriguingly shocking.  This is the premise that drives the film forward, as the consequences of knowing the contents are dire.  Slowly, appetites are lost and frustration is seen with the parents and a shocking and bizarre course of events unfold.  The story is truly gripping and disturbing as you want, no, as you need to know what was in that box!

“Don’t Fall” finds that innate fear of the outdoors and taps into your inner-child fears of dead spirits and monsters.  Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, we find several young friends out in the remote desert just camping and having a good time.  The suggestion of ghosts plants the seed of creepiness that blossoms into real fear and danger.  You’ll gasp out loud with the classic timing and set up in this good old-fashioned gory fright fest.

If gore doesn’t bother you and gxx don't fallhosts don’t raise the hair on the back of your neck, wait till you see “Her Only Living Son.”  Yes, there is a biblical reference with this and yes, there’s a menacing suggestion of satan.  As a mother seems to have been running from an abusive husband and father to her son, she begins to see changes in her boy.  He doesn’t seem to be the sweet little guy she thought he was as he’s doing things like pulling fingernails off of other children.  Not exactly typical teenage behavior.  Bizarrely, the administration doesn’t see anything wrong with that.  Her entire world is caving in and somehow she must fight for “her only living son.”

“XX” has it all…horror, gore, satan, but most importantly, it portrays every aspect of what a horror film should have.  This strong group of women writers and directors have proven that gender doesn’t matter when it comes to types of filmmaking.  If you don’t believe me, see “XX” for yourself.  And then I dare you to go camping or not think twice about asking to see what’s inside a present.

3 1/2 Stars out of 4


"That Unusual Brick" Burks' Hallmark of Short Filmmaking

February 15th, 2017 Posted by Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"That Unusual Brick" Burks' Hallmark of Short Filmmaking”


That Unusual Brick-still7

What could you possibly say in a film that is only four minutes long?  Well, if it’s a film by Jesse Burks, the sky is the limit!  In his newest short film, he continues to astound viewers with his unusual story-telling techniques and his ability to surprise you.  Two of his previous films, “One Please” and “Cured,” were gruesomely shocking and funny.  But “That Unusual Brick” shows us that Burks has many more ideas and tricks up his creative sleeve.

We find our main character (Harley Burks) in an upscale sushi cafe, beautifully appointed with warm brick and wood decor.  It’That Unusual Brick -stills obvious that this man is extremely neurotic when it comes to order as he rearranges, ever so slightly, the angle of his chopsticks and the symmetry and balance of the cups on the table.  When his food is presented, a little askew of course, he once again makes sure to put things in order, but before he can take his first bite, order is completely thrown off with a tap, tap, tap behind the brick wall.  What he discovers is bizarrely unexpected and mind-boggling with a reaction that is equally odd.

Burks’ has such a keen eye for taking an ordinary situation and making it different, sometimes visually jarring and in this case, conceptually conflicting.  His perspective, particularly in “The Unusual Brick” is as much of the story as the main character, giving a certain depth to the story that is wonderfully rich.  The cinematography utilizes a camera angle that seats us at the table across from this young man, allowing us to not only observe his strange obsession with precision, but to experience it.


This is a dialogue-freeThat Unusual Brick-still9 film, but it is far from silent.  The music is also a character, giving us the right emotion to feel at each turning point in the film.  The whimsical nature soon turns to unease, as the music stops and we hear only the din of the diners and the tapping behind the wall.  Burks’ astute awareness of the emotional power of music and his attention to detail in sound effects creates the precision of a seasoned filmmaker.

That Unusual Brick-14

Harley Burks fine tunes his perfectionistic character, paying close attention to subtle expressions and body language.  While he utters not a word, he is very bold in what he communicates.


Color also communicates so much in this film.  It’s bright, clear and crisp with bold colors sharply on display in both the foreground and background…until we see what’s behind the wall.  The colors change perfectly capturing the feeling of the scene.

Burks finds another winner with “That Unusual Brick.”  It’s gorgeously shot, expertly acted, creatively written and executed, and all with such attention to detail,  allowing an unexpected story to unfold in just four short minutes.  This striking and captivating style of filmmaking is a hallmark of Burks’ work.


UNBROKEN GLASS shows the fragility and strength of life By Pamela Powell

February 15th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “UNBROKEN GLASS shows the fragility and strength of life By Pamela Powell”

Horizontal Title 5 (3)

Dinesh Sabu was orphaned at the age of 6.  His 4 siblings and he raised one another and now, more than two decades later, Sabu confronts his past in the film “Unbroken Glass.”  The film  allows Sabu an opportunity to  gain an understanding of his parents,  currently nothing more than a faded memory, but more importantly, his mother’s mental illness of schizophrenia.

Watch the trailer here

Sabu interviews  hDinesh and grandmais siblings and extended family, asking difficult questions about issues that have been long swept under the rug.  Immediately, we feel the pain each of the 5 children experienced with the loss of their parents and the difficulty in acknowledging and understanding schizophrenia.  While Sabu discovers more and more about his ancestry, we not only see him experience an awakening, but also the pain associated with understanding.

Dinesh on train

Interestingly, each of the siblings have a different perception of their parents and a different capability of confronting the past.  While Sabu appears to find a healing quality in the truth uncovered and recovered,  another sibling finds suffering.  Sabu’s two older sisters also paint a very unique picture of  life before the apparent onset of their mother’s illness and what life was like after.  Through their eyes and their memories, we gain knowledge of what it was like to have a parent with a mental illness.  The sacrifices these two very young women made in order to keep their family together is nothing short of extraordinary.  Survival and resiliency is at the core of this orphaned family and their journey in life is still affected by what happened.

While the specific illness of schizophrenia may not directly impact your life, the concept of identity, loss, and the need to understand our roots is common among us all.  It is with Sabu’s story that we find compassion and understanding as well as admiration for all of these brave children, now adults.  With Sabu’s  creative and candid filmmaking style , we are able to walk along side him in this emotionally Susheela and Dwarka young coupleraw expedition.  He is remarkably honest as he shares his personal struggles and stories and we see his courageous humanity.

“Unbroken Glass” is an honest view of family trauma caused by mental illness through the eyes of the children.   Sabu’s personal story opens old wounds and creates new ones, however, the film is curative as well, allowing a healing and understanding about family and the need for connections.  It’s something to which we can all identify.

Be sure to see “Unbroken Glass” at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., Chicago beginning February 17 through the 23rd.  For more information, go to

Listen to the interview with Sabu here

Allen Maldonado reveals new short film app Everybody Digital

February 5th, 2017 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “Allen Maldonado reveals new short film app Everybody Digital”


Allen Maldonado (BLACK-ISH, SURVIVOR’S REMORSE)  is not only a talented actor and writer, he is also a cutting-edge entrepreneur. Maldonado has created a new app called Everybody Digital which breathes new life into all those wonderful short films only a few of us get the opportunity to view at film festivals.  The app will launch in March 2017 modeling itself after the Netflix subscription concept.  Viewers will have access to amazing short films as well as original content for a price of $2.99/month.  Filmmakers will also have the opportunity to submit their films to for consideration.  It’s a win-win situation for filmmakers and viewers!

Maldonado sat down with me during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival to talk  about his new app and what motivated him to develop it. LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE


POP AYE: An interview with the filmmaker By Pamela Powell

February 4th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “POP AYE: An interview with the filmmaker By Pamela Powell”


“Pop Aye” takes us to Bangkok as we journey with a man and his elephant.  Yes, his elephant.  Thana (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) is a “once-illustrious architect” whose job and marriage are waning.  He happens upon an elephant who he recognizes as a childhood pet and decides to return the large beast to his homeland.  The road-trip is like no other as we laugh about his predicaments and grow to love and understand this man in a mid-life crisis.

I had the pleasure to sit down with Kirsten Tan and one of the producers during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival to talk about the making of this beautifully rich  film.  Find out about the logistical difficulties of working with an elephant (ones I’m sure you never thought about) and finding as well as working with a cast comprised of almost all non-actors.  Listen to the entire interview here

SLAMDANCE 2017 HIGHLIGHTS by Pamela Powell

February 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “SLAMDANCE 2017 HIGHLIGHTS by Pamela Powell”


The Slamdance Film Festival continues to grow each year, showcasing more and more films as well as up and coming filmmakers.  The festival, touting itself as  “by filmmakers, for filmmakers” sheds a brilliant light on what means to be independent.  Last year, “Honey Buddies” aka “Buddymoon” starring Flula Borg was one of the breakout hits from the festival among many others such as “The Tail Job,” and “How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town.”  And this year is no exception to the winning rule of great films at Slamdance.  While the Sundance Film Festival which takes place in the same town during much of the same time overshadows this smaller festival, it is with great pride that I am able to  participate in  Slamdance as well, seeing many outstanding films and interviewing the talent behind them.

I was not able to see every film on my list and will give you those films yet unseen, but here are my top films that I did see at the 2017  Slamdance Film Festival:

WHAT LIES UPSTREAM:  This shocking documentary riveted the opening night festival audience as filmmaker Cullen Hoback took viewers on a journey into the safety of our drinking water.  With the disturbing Flint, Michigan discovery, Hoback finds yet another town in West Virginia whose water source has been contaminated.  The film is equivalent to a thrilling mystery as Hoback finds more and more evidence of coverup and deceit within the very agencies we trusted to oversee our drinking water.  And the consequences of the contamination is even more shocking.  The film’s message will make you think twice before filling up that glass of water to drink.  Listen to the interview with Cullen Hoback here

KATE CAN’T SWIM:  First-time director Josh Helman joined creative forces with Jennifer Allcott to write “Kate Can’t Swim,” a complex and provocative film that brings relationships and sexuality into sharp focus.  The raw emotions capture the angst of young adults attempting to figure out life, love, and conforming to societal expectations. As two young couples vacation together at a remote lake house, getting to know a new addition to the group, Kate is faced with both internal and external confrontations that put all of the relationships into jeopardy.  With extraordinary performances, exceptional cinematography, precise direction,  and a script that rings true, “Kate Can’t Swim” is a film that can’t miss. Read the full review here  Listen to the interview with the writers here

SUCK IT UP:  This road trip movie is an open and honest girlfriend story taking on the topics of loss, love, and relationships.  Directed by Jordan Canning and starring Erin Margurite Carter (Faye) and Grace Glowicki (Ronnie), these two girls couldn’t be any more different, yet their youth and one man tie them together forever.  Faye’s brother who also happens to be Ronnie’s lost love passes away.  This tragic event is dealt with very differently by each of them and together, while on this trip, the two attempt to go through the grieving process in their own way.  It’s funny yet heartfelt, and sometimes sweet yet uncomfortable, finding a way to remarkably tell two different perspectives about life.  LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR JORDAN CANNING HERE

DAVE MADE A MAZE:  Director Bill Watterson co-wrote this film with Steven Sears about a seemingly grown man who builds a cardboard box fort in his living room while his girlfriend is away…and he gets lost in it.  As Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns home to discover her boyfriend “missing,” she organizes the troupes to rescue him.  If it sounds bizarre, it is!  But only in the best of ways!  This is one of the most innovative and creative films complete with an absolutely spectacular set design that will blow your mind.  It’s funny and silly, but sweet and charming—a great combination.  The story brings to life some of our childhood nightmares and our adult dreams into one mesmerizing film.  Listen to the interview with the talent of “Dave Made A Maze” here

DIM THE FLUORESCENTS:  A struggling actor and writer find a way to make the rent by creating corporate work demonstrations on various topics.  This hilarious look at two women’s passions within their professions and the reality of competition is both insightful and delightful.  The duo create an inviting story that will make you laugh as you identify with the relationship and difficulties they both have at a pivotal time in their lives.  Filled with substance and life, “Dim The Fluorescents” is a creative female-centric film to put on your radar.

BEAT BEAT HEART:  Another female-centered film is the German movie “Beat Beat Heart.”  Luise Brinkmann  writes and directs this story about a young woman attempting to heal a broken heart.  When her mother shows up and moves in, struggling from her own relationship woes, the two delve into sometimes hilarious and oftentimes emotionally loaded situations wrought with confusion and compassion.  The mother-daughter relationship is a complex one and “Beat Beat Heart” finds every subtle nuance to portray this.  Beautiful cinematography augment the scenes, bringing you into the film and the emotion.  This is an exceptional film from a first-time filmmaker whose name you’ll surely be hearing more of.  Read the full review here  Audio interview coming soon.


Slamdance hits it out of the park again this year with their films! Check back for more links, interviews, and updated reviews!



"I Am Not Your Negro" A timely and needed documentary By Pamela Powell

February 3rd, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"I Am Not Your Negro" A timely and needed documentary By Pamela Powell”


First, let me say that I have never been so profoundly moved by a documentary.  And never before have I been ashamed to be white.  My ancestor’s history, in many ways, is simply appalling and I am embarrassed to share that history which was so graphically painted in the new film “I Am Not Your Negro.”  I do not want to be connected with that sordid history, but because of my skin color, I am.  However, I hope that by drawing attention to films such as  this,  I can do my part in making things just a little bit better.  I cannot change what happened in America’s past and I can never make that right, but I will try my best to act in kind ways to all people, always.


Renowned author, James Baldwin and writer/director Raoul Peck have created what might be the most poignant and timely documentaries in history.  Prejudice and racism, unfortunately, are a part of oJamesBaldwinur everyday conversations and “I Am Not Your Negro” examines the roads we have traveled to get to where we are.  The film recounts our nation’s history, slavery, and the country’s recent past perception of African-Americans in the United States.  Samuel L. Jackson narrates these frequently unsettling and always passionate scenes in the eloquently poetic words of Baldwin and Peck.  Using archival film footage, illustrations, and interviews, we understand the timeline and the fight for social justice with heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, the civil rights activist and member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The picture “I Am Not Your Negro” paints is a very clear one with the sharp edges of our past and our possible future as well.  It is based on fMalcolmactual information and punctuates the historical events such as the assassination of Dr. King and the murder of Evers accompanied by Baldwin’s bold and daring statements, bringing to the forefront what most want to sweep under the rug:  our society has and continues to act in horrifyingly prejudicial ways.  The images are disturbing, watching young men and women not just being verbally accosted, but beaten and kicked just for being of a different race.  The societal pressures that generations had to endure are simply heartbreaking and continue to be.

“I Am Not Your Negro” is beautifully crafted, creating an amalgam of images and voices, to tell this poignantly overwhelmiRace1ng and emotional story.  The film’s first scene is enough to take your breath away, like a solid punch to the gut.  The rest of the film grips you firmly, if not shaking you, bringing you into a world that perhaps you previously shut your eyes to.  While much of this film takes us back to the 1960’s, it is indeed one that is relevant to today.  This film is a message to today’s America.

It became extremely clear to me that it is truly a message that needs to be heard as immediately after seeing this emotionally wrought film full of prejudice and acts of violence against someone just because of their skin color, I was faced with a very disturbing situation…one that I had never observed in my 52 years.  I coincidentally had a meeting with a civil rights attorney that day.  While waiting for him, I was confronted with two self-proclaimed wealthy, middle-aged white men who, after learning I was a film critic, proceeded to talk about the race issue in the Oscar nominations last year.  What they said left me speechless.  Their ignorance cut me to the core and my attempts to share my thoughts, which were contradictory to theirs, fell on deaf ears.  Their bold and unapologetic racist comments left me even more ashamed, but they also awakened me to the fact that I must do better to stand up for others, even when those others are not present.  Ignorance is not bliss…it is the very tool to which our country might fall.  As Baldwin said, “The future of the negro in this country is precisely as bright or as dark as the future of our country.”

“I Am Not Your Negro” is a film that has changed my life and my everyday perceptions.  It has opened my eyes to a recent history that is set on a course to repeat itself.  It’s one of the most powerful and relevant films of the decade.


"It's Not Yet Dark" Shines Light on the Power of Love by Pamela Powell

February 2nd, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"It's Not Yet Dark" Shines Light on the Power of Love by Pamela Powell”


In the U.S., approximately 5600 people are diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND), commonly referred to as ALS, although there are also other types.  While the number doesn’t seem high, the number of family members it affects is tremendous.  And if you are one of those 5600, then 1 is too many.  This degenerative and debilitating disease, affecting both the upper and lower body neurons in the brain, eventually leaves the individual wheelchair bound, on a respirator, and unable to eat or talk on his or her own.  Obviously, the effects, even for one individual, are devastating.  However, filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice finds a way to perhaps more than cope with this disease…he embraces what he has every day and inspires everyone in his life to cherish the life we are given.  Filmmaker Frankie Fenton captures and tells Fitzmaurice’s emotional and remarkable journey in the uplifting documentary “It’s Not Yet Dark.”

The film immediately imparts a feeling of friendship as we get to know Fitzmaurice through old film footage, home videos, and photos with narration by  Colin Farrell.  Fitzmaurice’s parents, wife, and close friends give us an open and honest description of him from childhood to his wedding day to the birth of his children.   The images are beautifully paiimage (1)nted of this creative and determined young man who is  a son,  father,  husband and  filmmaker.  His journey then takes a marked left turn while attending the 2008 Sundance Film Festival to screen  his short film “Full Circle.”  It is at this time that Fitzmaurice notices a difference in the functioning of one of his feet and would soon learn that he has MND.


While Fitzmaurice has penned the book “It’s Not Yet Dark,” it is the collaborative effort of all those involved that make the story come to life on the big screen.  Farrell’s poetic and lilting narration becomes Fitzmaurice’s own voice and transports you to his world.  We feel as if we are wearing his shoes, taking on his journey, allowing us to be a part of the incredible trek through his life.  While MND would be a death sentence to most, Fitzmaurice’s determination and ingenuity continue to give him a meaningful and loving life.  We see this in his work and the passionate yet reserved interviews with Ruth, his wife.  Hearing her talk about living in the moment speaks not just to Fitzmaurice’s situatiits-not-yet-darkon, but to us all.  Ultimately, the film brings us to witnessing Fitzmaurice’s goal:  completion of the feature film “My Name is Emily.”

While this is a heartbreaking story, it is one that is also positive and uplifting, giving viewers hope and strength.   Fitzmaurice’s insight, intelligence, and ability to communicate is simply profound and Fenton crafts this film to give us that depth.

“It’s Not Yet Dark” is an extraordinary documentary telling us a story of not just a man with ALS or MND, but of a groundbreaking and innovative visionary who uses his intellect fueled by the love of life and family to ford ahead.

For more information about this film, go to

“It’s Not Yet Dark” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.   I had the pleasure to meet many of the caring and creative individuals associated with the film.  Listen to the entire interview HERE





Rotana's Story: An Inspiration to Women by Pamela Powell

February 2nd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Rotana's Story: An Inspiration to Women by Pamela Powell”


The Sundance Film Festival is all about film, but music is a big part of this festival too.  Rotana, the young singing sensation, hailing from Saudi Arabia played to an adoring audience at the ASCAP Music Cafe and now has a hit single, ‘Daddy,’ available on iTunes, Apple Music, and Spotify.   Rotana shared her story of oppression and her will to pave a new path for not just Saudia Arabian women, but women everywhere.  Her unusual background and her determination is one that will inspire and enlighten you!

To listen to the entire interview, go here.

Follow and learn more about Rotana on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, and Spotify:




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