Monthly Archives: March, 2017

"The Zookeeper's Wife" Brings humanity to the story of war

March 31st, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"The Zookeeper's Wife" Brings humanity to the story of war”


zoo posterWhen you hear the name Antonina Zabinski, most of you won’t associate her with anything.  I certainly didn’t, but after seeing “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” based on the book by Diane Ackerman, it’s a name that will elicit hope in humanity.  The unassuming Zabinski family was the only hope for many captive Polish Jews during WWII.  Starring Jessica Chastain, Daniel Bruhl, and Johan Heldenbergh, the film gives light to a little known story about hope in the face of death and destruction.

Watch the trailer here

Antonina (Chastain) is in her element as she cares for her family and her animals.  It’s evident that she is less comfortable with people particularly as she is introduced to the Berlin leading animal researcher and zookeeper  Lutz Heck (Bthe-zookeeper-s-wife09ruhl).  This initial tension is just the beginning of what’s to come.  Poland’s geographical position and Jewish population made it a heavy target for invasion by Nazi Germany.  The Zabinski’s zoo became a German military camp where the family watched in horror the atrocities of the vile actions against not just people, but  animals and children as well.  As the bombing begins and many of the Zabinski’s friends are captured, it is Antonina and Jan’s (Heldenbergh) resourcefulness and intuitive nature that balance the dark and disturbing nature of war itself.  Rescuing others from the “Ghetto” using deceptive measures and hiding them in underground tunnels and basements using piano playing as a communication device is just a glimpse inside this courage young families endeavors.

I had a chnikicaro2ance to talkwith Niki Caro (“The Whale Rider”), the director of this emotional yet factual film.  Research into the events was pivotal to bring the viewer into the story.  Caro said, “We only looked at documentary evidence…It wasn’t uncommon for me to walk into the office of my colleagues to find people weeping.”  She added, “I think a lot of our war stories on film are naturally from the male point of view, but it occurs to me that war happens to women also and it happens to children and it happens to animals.”  “The Zookeeper’s Wife” brings all of these issues to the forefront, sometimes disturbingly so, but this is a reality of war, of WWII.

The film captures humanity on every level—from its most exalted to its most inhumane.  As the family attempts to rescue more and more Jews held captive in the “Ghetto,” thf78-600x292ey put themselves in more and more danger.  The anxiety this creates is unnerving, yet it gives you hope that people in dire circumstances can do the right thing.  Antonina’s willingness to sacrifice so much, particularly when interacting with Heck, is pivotal in demonstrating her courage.

When I asked Caro about some of the more disturbing scenes, she had this to say, “Ursula, the rape of the child, you never see it…You see the damage done to that child so that she is rendered non-human…[Antonina] uses her instincts to protect her and bring her back into the human race.”  Caro passionately added, “Jessica [Chastain] and I are both extremely trothe-zookeeper-s-wife06ubled by rape scenes in films.  No part of me wants to be gratuitous about this.  Therefore, this is something you never see in this movie, but you see the damage and then you see the healing.”

While there is the horror of war, there is also beauty and cinematically, this film captures every scene beautifully.  We feel the bombing, we feel the love of life; both of humans and animals.  It’s truly a visually striking film, eliciting exactly the emotional reactions necessary to tell a complete story.  While the story seems to lag in some parts, the ability to connect you each of the characters is so strong that you feel invested in them, wanting and needing to know how this small yet important story ends.

Chastain is simply sublime in her portrayal of Antonina.  Her genuine love of animals is evident from the moment she interacts with a lion cub to caressing an elephant’s trunk to reassure it.  Caro stated that there was very little CGI used in this film.  She felt that using fake animals “…would not have worked for me and I don’t believe it would work for the film.”  In fact, Caro added, “…when you see [Chastain] with an animal, she is with the animal.  There is no double for Jessica Chastain…The trust she had in them and they in her, it’s a rare quality and it’s a quality that she shared absolutely with Antonina.”

Johan Heldenbergh’s performance as the sometimes conflicted, but morally bound Jan is equally as powerful as Chastain’s, giving us a realistic picture of Antonina’s husband.  And Bruhl’s exquisite performance found the right balance of humanity as this (d)evolved throughout the film.  The characters could have easily been over-the-top, but in no instance did this occur.  There was a sense of genuineness from all of them, embodying each character and bringing this little-known story to life.

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” is an extraordinary story told with exceptional sensitivity and care.  WWII and war itself is seen from an unusual perspective creating a beautiful sense of the importance of humanity.  In making this film, Caro said, “I don’t know that I will ever be quite the same which is a small gesture in the scheme of things.  The intention was so much to honor those millions who died in the holocaust by celebrating the hundreds that survived and the extraordinary work of Antonina and her husband…People exist who would not have exited.  Children were born who would never have been born.”  And at the core of this film is its message—the healing and the humanity that remain.

To read the interview in its entirety go to FF2 Media

NIKI CARO delves into the pain, beauty of "The Zookeeper's Wife"

March 28th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “NIKI CARO delves into the pain, beauty of "The Zookeeper's Wife"”




Unknown stories of war heroes, particularly WWII, seldom are unearthed, but the stories of heroines of that era seem to be even more rare.  The name Antonina Zabinski will soon be a recognizable name thanks to the film “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” based on the book by Diane Ackerman of the same name. The film, starring Jessica Chastain as the lead character, Antonina, had an overwhelming number of women at the helm including the director Niki Caro (“The Whale Rider”) with whom I had a chance to talk about her perspective of this historically significant story.


Niki, initially unaware of the higher than average number of women associated with this film, felt that it was “…appropriate given that it is the story of a woman in war time.” However, Caro said, “I hire the best person for the job, always. It just so happens that many of these were women, remarkably.” Recognizing that war films are typically from a male’s point of view, she said, “…but it occurs to me that war happens to women, it also happens to children and it happens to animals.”


"Prevenge" gives birth to a new genre of horror

March 22nd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"Prevenge" gives birth to a new genre of horror”


Being pregnant isn’t easy.  I know.  I have two kids.  I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t a good pregnant person.  I equated it to having an alien sucking the life out of me.  (Love yAlice Loweou, Jon and Kelsey!)    Lowe wrote and directed this gruesome horror flick while she was in her third trimester, but her character Ruth, a widow, takes the hormonal mood swings to a new level.  She receives not just messages, but has complete conversations with this unborn and apparently evil little girl.  The demon from within has quite the imagination as the bodies begin to pile up.


Not since “Rosemary’s Baby” has pregnancy been equated with a horror movie.  And never have I seen comedy and horror together in this situation.  Lowe has exactly what it takes to make this concept work—a dark sense of humor.  Having starred in and co-written “Sightseers” with Ben Wheatley, I knew exactly what kind of an adventure I was in for—and I was looking forward to it!  Lowe didn’t disappoint me as she kept that same dark, edgy humor and blended it perfectly with some rather twisted and gut-wrenching scenes.  I found myself gasping in horror and chuckling at the same time.  That’s not an easy feat to pull off!

Ruth is a widow, but we don’t understand the circumstances under which she has become pregnant and has lost her husband.  The film introduces us to her as she is buying an exotic animal for her son’s birthday, but there’s something “off” with her interaction with the store keeper.  You have a feeling of unease and impending doom for a reason.  The owner isn’t long for this world and the blood starts to pour.  This is just one in the line of many, but what keeps you captivated is the fact that you need to know ‘why’ she is doing this.  The motivation is revealed, bit by bit, as we get flashbacks to an earlier and traumatic event.  The conversations between mother and soon-t0-be daughter reveal some background as well as being quite entertaining.  Every single scene is peppered with ironic humor as well as quite a bit of cheeky sarcasm which balances the situations that are splayed out before our eyes.  It’s this balance that makes the film work.

Lowe is a genius of comedy, dark comedy, I should say.  The characters she creates are as unique as her writing.  From the D.J. in the bar (I still cringe when I think about his fate) to the woman who fights back, you knJo Harlteyow exactly how it’s going to end for them, but it’s the interaction in the middle that makes you almost root for Ruth.  Jo Hartley plays the midwife with whom Ruth has the most consistent interaction.  Her choice of words and Ruth’s responses are simply hilarious; each of them really talking from two totally different perspectives.

Cinematically, this independent film feels like a big budget movie.  The special effects are riveting and disturbing—exactly what a horror film should be.  One of the special camera views that is worth noting is when we are seeing what the unborn baby sees.  The effect is perfect, allowing us to understand the baby’s view.  This attention to detail is what cements the film in all it’s gruesome humor.

“Prevenge” is one of the most unique horror and comedy films, creating a genre of its own.  Under the direction of  Lowe, the film is at once edgy, hilarious, and disturbing.  And I thank her for making me look like an angel while I was pregnant…it’s scary that it took a murderous revenge rampage to do this, though!


"The Most Hated Woman in America" A Netflix Original Film

March 21st, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"The Most Hated Woman in America" A Netflix Original Film”


The biopic film “The Most Hated Woman in America” premieres as a Netflix original on Friday, March 24th, starring Melissa Leo, Adam Scott, Juno Temple, and Vincent Kartheiser.  Leo portrays Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of the American Atheist organization and the force behihatednd removing prayer from public schools.  O’Hair challenged and fought the Supreme Court over the First Amendment and won.  Her battle, however, continued as she fought for her life and her family in this little known story.


O’Hair, her son, and her granddaughter are kidnapped, but what unfolds is a horrific tale of brutality and apathy.  We flash back to a younger O’Hair, living with her parents and delivering the news that there will be yet another baby in the house.  Her blunt, abrasive, and unapologetic manner is at first shocking yet this is an attribute that carries her forward in all her endeavors.


Tommy O’Haver

I had the opportunity to talk with the writers, Tommy O’Haver and Irene Turner about the film which O’Haver also directed.  The two had worked together on another strange but true film called An American Crime (2007).  Finding a story like Madalyn Murray O’Hair quite literally fell into their laps.  Producers Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman  brought them the story to adapt.  O’Haver said, “We dove into the research and we were hooked immediately.”  Turner added, “Here’s a strong, opinionated woman fighting for the First Amendment with incredible family conflicts.  Who wouldn’t want to write her?  And why have I never heard this story before?  Obviously we need to tell it.”

There are two parallel stories running throughout the film as the story flashes back in time to give us a complete picture of this driven and oftentimes grating woman.  Madalyn, Jon, and Robin are missing, but no one seems to care except for a journalist who sees some strange inconsistencies in their disappearance.  The on-going investigation turns up more and more convincing evidence that there has been foul play, but getting Madalyn’s own family to acknowledge this isn’t an easy task.  Meanwhile, we are privy to the dire situation of the kidnapping.  The motivation and the sordid history between Madalyn and David Waters (Josh Lucas), one of the kidnappers and a member of her own organization, is revealed.  That, in and of itself, is a shocking story.

Using a non-linear storytelling style was the initial choice for the two writers.  O’Haver shared, “From the outset, it made sense to tell it that way…to start it with the kidnapping and then flashback through her life so you could have some context and learn who this woman was and what she was doing in this room.”  He continued, “What started to emerge was this tragedy about this family…There was a version where we tried to tell more about the investigation…but it got so confusing.  It was best to just use it as an additional driving force underneath the narrative.”

Leo portrays O’Hair with an undeniably keen understanding of this character.  She truly becomes O’Hair.  Leo was on board to play the part from the very beginning, seven years ago.  O’Haver saw her performance in “The Fighter” and knew he had his ‘Madalyn.’  O’Haver sent Leo the script and she loved the character.  He concurred that her performance was stellar, saying, “…you don’t see her acting in this film at all.  She inhabits this personality.”  Turner passionately explained that it was important that O’Hair’s voice not be “one dimensional.”  Turner said, “She had a lot of facets.  Sometimes she was wrong.  I hope that Tommy and I created a real person and not a cardboard picture of a person.  Often, women in a film can be relegated to supporting a male lead’s vision or they can be blanded out to be heroic and not have bad sides.  Finding complexity for her was really important for both of us; especially me.”

Blending archival footage into the film to paint that clear picture of what happened in the 1960’s and 70’s was an integral part of telling the real story.  O’Haver and Turner worked with several sources and [archival] interviews as O’Hair was very public in her life, both personally and professionally.  Turner said, “There’s so much written about her and she talked about her life so much that we had this voluminous amount of material.”  Using material produced in the actual time period versus a more romanticized version looking backward makes this film more intriguing.

Intriguing is just one way of describing O’Hair.  While this headstrong woman may not have been picture perfect, she did fight for what she thought was right.  The film gives us a multifaceted view of Madalyn Murray O’Hair and her life.  “The Most Hated Woman in America” will keep you on the edge of your seat and give you a greater appreciation for our history and those stories we may not otherwise have known.  Turner said, “As filmmakers, it’s fun to rediscover people.”  And as a viewer, it’s fun as well.

You can stream “The Most Hated Woman in America” to your devices via Netflix instantly beginning March 24, 2017.

"The Levelling" opens in Chicago at Facets Cinémathèque on Friday, March 24

March 21st, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"The Levelling" opens in Chicago at Facets Cinémathèque on Friday, March 24”


“The Levelling,” written and directed by Hope Dickson Leach and starring Ellie Kendrick and David Troughton, is a visually compelling film that pits a young veterinarian’s hopes and dreams against family responsibility.  Clover (Kendrick) returns home for her brother’s funeral only to confront her father, Aubrey (Troughton), about the circumstances of the death and the current state of affairs of the farm.

The village of Somerset has been ravaged by floods, creating a sombre backdrop for this story.  Charlie (Joe Blakemore), Clover’s brother, has shot himself, but the question is, was it a suicide or an acci32844986716_e996ff6bdc_m (1)dent?  While communication between Aubrey and Clover has been lacking in the past, the demons that surface along with the truth creates such tension, allowing us to understand each of them clearly.

Finding the truth about the events at hand is not the only thing that is exposed in this rich and complex film.  Finding the truth within oneself is at the core of the story.  Clover’s love of her brother and her ties to this failing farm are evident from the moment she walks slowly through the muddy streets leading to her dilapidated home.  So much has happened during Clover’s absence.  The tension slowly escalates until both she and her father must finally communicate.  It’s a raw yet beautiful portrayal of the complexities of a father and daughter relationship.

Kendrick shines in this role as an intelligent young woman who is struggling from guilt and remorse from within.   She immediately allows you to connect with her, understanding her every emotion and her decisions. In many ways, she is still the defiant teen, not taken seriously.  Going home is always tough and being respected, especially as a woman, is even more difficult and Kendrick allows all of these issues to come to the surface with a simple glance or expression.  Troughton finds a way to exhibit such strength while he is also distraught about where his life has lead him and where it may go.  Together, these two bring such power to their characters that the story propels forward almost effortlessly.

Leach as the director is able to tease out the subtleties necessary with these lead characters.  Cinematically, the film is gorgeous; conveying exactly the tension and emotion needed in each scene.  While the pace is slow, the emotional stakes create the needed investment that makes this film so compelling and relatable.  The story is masterfully layered as little by little, we peel away pieces of information to put the puzzle of life together.

“The Levelling” is a remarkable film depicting a mysterious tragedy, but more importantly, the struggling relationship between a father and daughter.  With complex characters, skilled performances, and deft direction, it’s a film that will captivate you as you reflect upon your own relationships.

You can see this film at the Chicago at Facets Cinémathèque March 24-30.  Get TICKETS

For more information, go to



Our critic's picks from the annual Austin arts festival

March 21st, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Our critic's picks from the annual Austin arts festival”



The South by Southwest Film Festival, part of the larger conglomerate festival known as SXSW, now in its 24th year, takes place in Austin, Texas, and ended on Sunday. This 10-day festival celebrates music, comedy and film drawing more than 72,000 participants. What’s the draw? Well, barbecue, of course, but also world premiere films, A-list movie stars, directors and writers all converging on this bustling little city.


I was lucky to be able to cover this high energy film festival on behalf of the Daily Journal and bring back the highlights for you. Many of the recommended films will be opening theatrically in the coming weeks and months, and others you’ll be able to find on Netflix and other digital platforms soon.

Read the entire article here as it was published in the Monday, March 20th issue of The Daily Journal.

An interview with the talent from "A Bad Idea Gone Wrong"

March 20th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “An interview with the talent from "A Bad Idea Gone Wrong"”


Sitting down to talk with writer/director Jason Headley as well as two of the lead actors, Matt Jones and Eleanore Pienta, in the hilarious new film “A Bad Idea Gone Wrong,” proved to be just as entertaining as the film. While I certainly laughed, I was also put at ease with their willingness to share not just about the film, but about who they are.  After reading the interview, you’ll understand why this film was voted Best Ensemble Cast at the 2017 SXSW Film Festival.

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  How do you define the word ‘funny?’

Jason Headley (JH):  I feel like there’s a broadening of comedy that I find sad.  It’s not satisfying.  It’s not based on real stakes.  It’s gotta get bigger and bigger.  I just feel like comedy and drama all come from the same conflict. We tried to play our comedy straight, for the most part.  There aren’t too many moments where it’s like “I’m being funny right now.”  There are lines that are clearly written and delivered in a funny way, but you try to make it all just feel as real life and real stakes as possible.

RHR to Matt Jones (MJ): What did you enjoy most about playing Marlon?

MJ:  I get to play characters that are ignorant to the feelings of others…I like to call it diarrhea of the mouth, just constantly talking and it’s just fun to play in that space.  It’s fun to play the 10 year-old version of myself in an adult body…and just really say the first thing that comes to your mind.  I don’t get to be that person in real life.  So it’s fun to play that!

RHR:  So how much of this was scripted?

MJ and JH:  100%

RHR:  Eleanore, how did you get connected to this film and Jason?

Eleanore Pienta (EP):  The first film I ever did was called SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY.  It’s based on this character that I made up.  I used to and still do make up characters and then photograph them and explore them through videos.  My friend saw this photograph of this character “Mona” and he said, ‘I want to make something with you with this character”…Most of my acting work comes from that project.  It’s a crazy character and it’s a performance that doesn’t know what not to do.  It goes for it.  I think it’s very good.  It’s the thing that I’m most proud of in terms of performance.

JH:  Other than this!  That film SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAY was…the one that I saw of hers and I was like, this lady’s impressive!

RHR:  Matt, how did you get connected?

MJ:  Through our agents.  The production did not have someone to play my part and three or four days before shooting and everything was on fire and they were terrified and I saved the day!

JH:  We had set the shoot dates …and then we got going and we were down to the wire and if Matt didn’t come on, we were going to have to push, and if we had pushed, there’s a decent chance it would have pushed into infinity the way these things do. I was really happy when he said yes, because we got to make the movie.  I’m really happy the way it turned out and I’m so happy I got to make it with him.  He did a really bang up job.

MJ:  (Laughs)  You almost sounded sincere there!  I’m just kidding…a nice moment and I ruined it.

RHR:  Eleanore, are you at all similar to your character of Darcy?

EP:  She’s a strong lady and I’m a strong lady.

RHR:  What’s the deal with the Niagara Falls theme?

JH:  You look back on relationships that didn’t work and the moment, if you’re doing your forensics, everything was ok there… then everything wasn’t ok.  For Leo it’s just this place and time, it was his happiest moment, and it was a time where he felt safe and loved.  And obviously the character Jessica felt that, and it was the best they were.  I liked having that and then working into the prop.

RHR:  OH!  I thought it was an homage to an Abbott and Costello episode!  You know, “Slowly I turn…”

No one seemed to have a clue as to what I was referring to, but then….

JH:  I grew up on Abbott  and Costello.  I forget that one.  I did a whole Abbott and Costello tribute.  I do these little shorts called AT THE BAR.  I did one [called] “A One and A Two.” It was a full-on tip the hat.  Sunday mornings I’d go to church with my mom and I’d come home and I’d watch Abbott and Costello with my dad.  They were the two alters at which I worshipped when I was a kid.

RHR:  Matt, do you have any mentors?

MJ:  Mentors?  I come from a very strange background.

RHR:  You can’t just say that and move on.  Explain that one.

MJ:  Long story short, 12 brothers and sisters, some were adopted. My mother married a Southern Baptist minister when I was three.  My momther was a teacher and I grew up in L.A.  I come from a very Christian family and then I’m now like the black sheep, not in a bad way…nobody in the history of my family has been in entertainment industry in any way.  I’ve been completely flying blind for 18 years now.  Other mentors have been comedians who have taken me under their wing and helped me out from time to time and given me jobs and given me good and terrible advice.

RHR:  What was the terrible advice?

MJ:  Mainly about women was the bad advice!  [But]  I had a lot of people who took a chance on me and helped me out.

RHR:  How about you, Eleanore?

EP:  I currently have high respect for Marin Ade who is the filmmaker who made Toni Erdmann.  I love her voice.  I love that I was crying and laughing at the same time. That’s the shit that I love.  It had these really beautiful and poignant moments.

RHR:  Is it difficult being a woman in this industry?

EP:  I came up in the comedy world and ‘women are not funny.’  I love men. I love working with men, so there’s only a problem when there’s no respect.  And that’s beeen the case in a couple projects, but never on this project.  I always felt like every person had my back. But there was going into a nervousness about being the female.  In the script, she’s the love interest, but not the LOVE insterest.  She’s grounded in her own story.

JH:  I rmember being hyper-sensative about that.  It’s all for the sake of the story, but you’re in your underwear when they find you.  I remember the wardrobe people were asking what kind of underwear do we get?  Ask Eleanore what kind of underwear that girl wears!

EP:  The ones that cover up the most!  I was so happy that there’s that shot of [Matt] up on the dryer of his bare legs and ass.  That was so refreshing to me because it was

MJ:  A beautiful butt!

JH:  Guaranteed that’s the first time you’re butt’s ever been called refreshing!

MJ:  It’s ususally a shot you see of a woman

EP:  When I first saw it, it was like this is great.  It’s not normally the case!  Equal butt time.

RHR:  Tell me about something that happened behind the scenes that we viewers would never have known happened.

MJ:  The woman that owned our location…she was great and one day she and the whole crew made cookies together…and some of the people from props were helping and they were all making cookies!

EP:  Sugar cookies.  It was all just very sweet.

Yes, this is an amazing ensemble cast on and off the set.  You might even describe them all as sweet, just like those sugar cookies.




SXSW highlights outstanding female filmmakers

March 20th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “SXSW highlights outstanding female filmmakers”

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Female filmmakers have always been better represented at festivals than in mainstream Hollywood and SXSW this year is no exception. What is exceptional, however, are the three women who have given us outstanding films at the Austin, Texas film festival: Laura Terruso (“Fits & Starts”), Miao Wang (“Maineland”) and Jessica M. Thompson (“The Light of the Moon”).  The films, all very different from one another, create captivating stories to both entertain and enlighten us.

I had the pleasure to see and connect with these talented women to discuss their films and what motivates them.  TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AS IT IS PUBLISHED IN FF2 MEDIA, CLICK HERE



"A Bad Idea Gone Wrong" is all right!

March 19th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"A Bad Idea Gone Wrong" is all right!”


Jason Headley writes and directs his first full-length feature film, “A Bad Idea Gone Wrong,” starring Matt Jones (“Mom”-TV Series) and Will Rogers (“Bridge of Spies”) as two hapless thieves who stumble upon the wrong house to rob.  Eleanore Pienta rounds out the small yet powerful ensemble cast to give us a tale of tables turning and an unlikely love story all while making you laugh out loud.

Marlon (Jones) and Leo (Rogers) are hapless losers wanting to make a quick buck without having to really work for it.  Scheming for weeks, they find just the right heist— a home robbery ofbadidea a wealthy family on vacation.  Leo appears to be the “brains” of the operation and the two devise a plan that spirals out of control from the very beginning.  Once inside the home, the two arm the alarm (yes, you read that right) and they are now stuck inside the home.  But that is just one of the problems they encounter.  Darcy (Pienta) is the other problem.  Staying in the house while the family is away, Darcy is now taken hostage.  When each of the three reveal their true motives behind what brought them to this house, the story becomes wonderfully rich and entertaining.

Marlon and Leo are best buddies; it’s quite evident with their natural rapport and their wonderful conversations that make us privy to their past as well as their aspirations.  Marlon is consumed by a radio show contest and Leo is heartbroken.  The two are simply pathetic little puppy dogs that you want to take home and help, even if they are up to no 1-o4hOqHX6YoLUJsO1pqY-dAgood.  Darcy, on the other hand, is strong, smart, and independent, but she’s not as hardened as she lets on.  The antics that occur among the three of them are ridiculously fun, particularly as Leo and Marlon “brainstorm” ideas to get them out of the mess they’ve made.

The energy and pace of this film is fast and fun,  never a dull moment.  The actions and reactions are unexpected, creating an equally unexpected connection to these quirky characters.  Rogers and Jones compliment one another like Mutt and Jeff as we route for them to somehow succeed in escaping their situation.  Jones seems to truly embrace his character who has no verbal edit mode and Rogers brings a sweet demeanor to “Leo.”  It’s Pienta that seems to be the glue that pulls them all together to give us a well-balanced ensemble that is a true joy to watch.

Headley creates a fast-paced and hilarious story that will capture your heart as he finds a way to make you connect with the “bad guys.”  It’s a classic story of one bad decision leading to many more, but each situation is full of comedic joy.  Headley has a long and successful career ahead of him if “A Bad Idea Gone Wrong” is an example of his deft direction and creative writing skills.

“A Bad Idea Gone Wrong” is a fun romp in the life of three misfits who find a common goal while they figure out life.  It’s a fast-paced, energetic film that will engage and entertain you as you laugh out loud.  And thanks to this film, I will never see the time 11:11 the same way again!  Everything has gone right in creating this comedic gem.

(Check back for the interview with Headley, Jones, and Pienta at the SXSW Film Festival!)


3 1/2 out of 4 stars


A remake Disney would be proud of

March 17th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “A remake Disney would be proud of”


The 1991 animated version of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” has been magically recreated in live-action form as only Disney could do. Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos and directed by Bill Condon, the story keeps the charm of its predecessor, updates some dialogue, creates a few new characters and still retains the beauty of this familiar love story.

Emma Watson (Belle), Kevin Kline (Maurice), Dan Stevens (Beast) and Luke Evans (Gaston) star in the film, making it seem as if the characters were written with their faces and personalities in mind. It’s a fresh take on a magical classic.

To read the review in its entirety as it was printed in the March 17th issue of The Daily Journal, go  HERE

SXSW Favorites…so far

March 12th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “SXSW Favorites…so far”


Never before have I gone to a festival where each and every film I have seen has been a winner!  SXSW has an amazing line up and it seems I can’t go wrong.  Beginning with “44 Pages” and concluding the morning with “Fits and Starts” with 10 other films sandwiched in between, the films are truly stellar.  6 more films are yet to be seen with accompanying interviews so you know what movies to put on your radar for the year!

Wondering what these amazing films are?  Here is the entire list with a few capsule reviews; full reviews to follow.

44 PAGES:  The cherished Highlights Magazine we all remember from childhood, many of us recalling looking forward to going to the dentist because of this, has celebrated its 70th anniversary.  Filmmaker Tony Shaff brings us behind the welcoming doors in Pennsylvania where this wholesome and educational magazine began, allowing us to fall in love with its principles and values once again.  We learn about the family origins and its ability to stay relevant in today’s trying times.  It’s a beautiful and reaffirming film that reminds us about what’s important in life—children.

THE HERO:  Brett Haley who brought us “I’ll See You In My Dreams” gives us yet another gift depicting the life of Lee Hayden, an old actor struggling with life’s regrets and mortality while attempting to live as boldly as possible.  Sam Elliott gives us an extraordinarily commanding performance and we, the viewers, can relish in the fact that he is the lead.  Laura Prepon, Krysten Ritter, and Nick Offerman are the light beneath Elliott that allows him to shine even more brightly.

THIS IS YOUR DEATH:  Imagine a reality game show where contestants commit suicide in order to raise money to justify their life’s failings.  Far-fetched?  Not really.  In a legal loophole, a television station uses this to create a show that will allow them to become the #1 station.  Josh Duhamel embraces the role as the show’s host, Adam Rogers, as the more and more deplorable behavior is continually pushed.  It’s a disturbingly captivating look at our society and how desensitized we have become.

A BAD IDEA GONE WRONG:  Two losers looking for a quick way to make money plan the perfect heist.  Marlon (Matt Jones) and Leo (Will Rogers)  device a hairbrained scheme to break into a house only to be trapped inside due to several silly errors.  One bad decision leads to another as we get to know and somehow love these unlikely bad guys.  It’s quite quirky and downright funny from start to finish.

FITS AND STARTS:  Laura Terruso created a favorite of RHR, “Hello, My Name Is Doris” and now brings us one of the most genuinely charming and realistically hilarious film about love, relationships, jealousy, and marriage!  David (Wyatt Cenac) and Jennifer aka J.M. (Greta Lee) are both writers, but Jennifer’s career is exploding, leaving David in her wake.  As they travel from NYC to Connecticut for a party, their lives unravel, bringing us to tears from laughing at such relatable situations.  Rarely do you find such sincerity and honesty in a film that is as entertaining as it is emotionally real.


Chris Irwin of Black Market Trust finds similarities with Woody Allen films

March 8th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “Chris Irwin of Black Market Trust finds similarities with Woody Allen films”


Music isn’t usually Reel Honest Reviews’ market, but Black Market Trust is just one of those bands that hooks you.  It’s a throw-back to a by-gone era, with modern tones and updated beats that transports you back in time.  I had the opportunity to talk with the band’s rhythm guitarist, Chris Irwin, about his training and  Black Market Trust’s start .  He also stumped this film critic with some intriguing Woody Allen movie trivia!

Reel Honest Reviews (RHR):  How did you all meet and start this unusual band?

Chris Irwin (CI):  We started off  mainly interested in the music of Django Reinhardt and that style of guitar. It’s so different than anything before or since.  It’s jazz, but it’s mixed with Eastern European folk tradition and it’s all acousitc.  All the guitar heroes from the jazz greats in America through Eddie Van Halen all played electric guitar.  Then you have this one guy, Django Reinhardt, who played acoustic guitar.  He played these really beautiful and technically difficult passages and only used two fingers.  If you’re a guitar person, there’s always some mystique associated with that  and [also]  becuase it’s a niche or subgenre of music or of jazz.  Once you start going down that path you quickly meet all of the other people who are in a hundred mile radius who are into that kind of music and you get together and jam.  That’s how we got together with Jeff and how we met Nick the violin player.

RHR: Who is Django Reinhardt?

CI:  He was a Gypsy from Belgium.  When he was a young man, his caravan caught on fire and he was badly burned.  There was a lot of damage done to his left hand and his pinky and his ring finger were completely scarred over and he wasn’t really able to use them.  So all his guitar soloing was done with only his index finger and his middle finger.

RHR:  I can’t imagine having that type of handicap as a guitarist.  Can you?

CI:  No, no!  Not at all! Its’ really crazy!  There are some people out who have specialized in trying to do what he did and really stick to trying to use two fingers.  There are a few people who do that, but most of us have a heck of a time just trying to play that stuff using all four fingers.  There’s only one video out there of him playing live and for a lot of us that’s what hooked us on his style.

RHR:  I understand that you studied with Lollo Meier and Fapy Lapertin in Europe at a Sinti Gypsy camp.  What did you learn there that you couldn’t learn listening to recordings at home?

CI:  You get close to the source.  You see and hear things a little bit different.  For somebody living in LA tyring to learn this from the original records or even from modern recordings of Gypsys playing this stuff, you’re basically just guessing.  You’re hearing it and you’re trying to understand it.  How do I make my instrument make the same sound as what’s coming out of the speakers?  Just being there and playing with these people who have learned it from people who have played it with Django Reinhardt as he died in 1953.  Fapy is probably  60 right now.  He grew up playing in Gypsy camps with people who were intimately familiar with how people played and what they were playing or where they put their fingers and how  they moved their arm.  If I didn’t learn anything, it was just exciting to be a part of that tradition, but it turns out that there were plenty of things that I wasn’t doing quite authentically or the same way that the Gypsys had grown up learning in Holland.  They were very generous in showing me… this is the way we do it, this is the way we play this song.  It was real eye-opening.  It was just a totally different thing to be able to sit and play with people who had been living and breathing this music their whole life as opposed to me who had just gotten into it.

RHR:  So tell me, what did you find that you were doing differently that they noticed?

CI:  My main role in the band is the rhythm guitarist and the rhythm guitar in the Django Reinhardt band was a really interesting situation because they didn’t use a drummer.  So you  had to make the chords but also play very percussively.  If you listen to all the old Django Reinhardt recordings, most of these were made int the 1930s and the 40’s.   The recording technology was just not great and so it’s hard to imagine what it really would have sounded like.  When I got to Holland, in a very nice way,  the people that I played with kind of laughed at [me] and were like ok, that’s interesting that that’s what you hear when you listen to old recordings, but really what they were playing was like this.  There was a thing that I was doing where I would hit the strings without making notes on them to just make a drum sound.  And they would say, that was just the microphone on the recording.  I assure you they were playing it more like this…a chord ringing on guitarjust played forcefully.  It was fun and interesting to learn new things like that.  And it was really liberating for me because they don’t sound like the records either.  That make me feel a lot better about the idea that I don’t have to play that one certain way and anytihng else is going to be inferior.  When Brandon joined the band and we had a durmmer that really made me feel emboldened to make different choices on what I do on the song.

RHR:  Quite honestly, I didn’t know there truly were Gypsy Camps.  How did you find these men who played with Django and what was their response to you joining them to learn from them?

CI:  Everybody’s on the internet today.  It’s not hard to find the website of some of these artists.  I just sent some e-mails out.  There were some Americans who went out in the 90’s, in the pre-internet era [and] they love to tell me about how hard it was when they had to do it!  Going out there, it’s pretty interesting.  Dutch society is really very segregated so the camps are apart from the rest of the city and it really still is a very insular community.

RHR:  What type of music did you grow up with?  Did you hear this Gypsy Jazz from your parents?

CI:  Growing up was all classic rock—Beatles, Beach Boys, then maybe a little Frank Sinatra.  Even when I was into Frank Sinatra as a high schooler, my parents thought that was pretty strange.  My mom was a big Jimmy Hendrix fan and my dad was a big Eric Clapton fan so I grew up on that.  I learned about Django Reinhardt late in high school or early college.  That was a time that it was so hard to find resources and it was so virtuosic that it was fun to listen to, but I just never really thought  that it was something I would be able to play myself or get into…I didn’t even know how.  It wasn’t until much later in life where I was just tired of playing the same old Crosby Stills and Nash songs on my guitar that I thoought, maybe there’s something out there on the internet or resources to learn this today. But the thing that got me into this originally, and this is a pretty common thing, Woody Allen is a big Django Reinhardt fan and he made this movie SWEET AND LOW DOWN that s a fictional biography [of Reinhardt] so a lot of that style of music is in that movie.  And even MIDNIGHT IN PARIS  he uses a lot of Gypsy Jazz music.

RHR:  How is your band different from others?

CI:  I think the biggest thing that has been helpful for us, is the more people we play with individually the more we realized there’s no one way to do what you’re doing.  This idea of orthodoxy or remaining authentic, when you’re lucky enough to get to play with the giants in the field, you find that what they care about is:  does it sound good? does it swing?  does it feel good?  are you playing from the heart?  That has opened up all of us to then play.  We do a little bit of the Django Reinhardt, but we also have the classic American swing stuff…  Because we love it so much  and because it’s so meaningful to us, ultimately audiences enjoy it better than if we were just strictly one thing as authentic as we could possibly be.  They’ve heard that one thing before, but nobody’s heard 5 people singing 4-part harmony and making as tremendous a racket as we do when we get going.

And by “racket,” Irwin really means beautiful and fun music that you’ll want to hear over and over again.  You can find more information about the band at

To read the latest review of their new album, go to Reel Honest Reviews

Patrick Wilson Receives Career Achievement Award at GIFF

March 6th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, News 0 thoughts on “Patrick Wilson Receives Career Achievement Award at GIFF”

Patrick Wilson, photo credit: GIFF

The 11th Annual Gasparilla International Film Festival taking place through March 9th celebrated the achievements of local Floridian actor Patrick Wilson as he received the Career Achievement Award.  Wilson is known for his roles in “Aquaman,” “The Conjuring,” and “Phantom of the Opera.” Winning Tony and Golden Globe Awards and receiving Emmy nominations, the St. Petersburg native is also a community activist, helping raise funds for the area by performing in concerts with his brothers Mark and Paul in their band Van Wilson .

Wilson seems to have figured out how to balance fame and fortune yet still  remain grounded and connected to family and his roots.  Attending the ceremony with Wilson were his parents and siblings as well as his wife Dagmara and his children Kassian and Kalin.   It’s refreshing to see a success story who gives back.


Patrick Wilson and family Photo Credit: GIFF

"Before I Fall" Refreshing yet familiar

March 3rd, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Before I Fall" Refreshing yet familiar”



“Before I Fall” is a female-centric film: Ry Russo-Young (“Nobody Walks”) directs Maria Maggenti’s screenplay and creates a young and current dramatic version of Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day.” Starring Zoey Deutch (“Everybody Wants Some,” “Why Him”) as Sam, the film recounts her last day of life, living it over and over again, trying to somehow make sense of the repetition. What she gains in “one day” is what we all hope to do in a lifetime.



We meet Sam as she awakens on Feb. 12, the day her school is celebrating Valentine’s Day through a popularity contest. She lives a privileged life along with her three best friends — or, in text form, their “bae.” (That means “before anyone else”; you’ll thank me later for that information.)


We watch as the four friends talk about Sam’s plan to lose her virginity that night to her boyfriend, acting in the most judgmental and superficial ways possible. In other words, they are acting like typical high school girls who are lucky to be a part of the popular crowd. But that night, they are in a horrific car accident. Sam wakes up, thinking she had a bad dream, only to realize that she is inexplicably living this day over and over again.

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE as it appears in the Friday, March 3 edition of The Daily Journal

"Take My Nose…Please" A humorously honest look at cosmetic surgery

March 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"Take My Nose…Please" A humorously honest look at cosmetic surgery”

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There’s nothing funny about going under the knife…or is there?  Joan Kron, filmmaker and contributing editor at large of Allure magazine takes a very candid look at cosmetic surgery as she follows two comedians, Emily Askin and Jackie Hoffman, contemplating a little facial tweaking.


We meet Askin who just isn’t happy with what God has given her—a bump in her nose.  While those around her don’t see the need for undergoing surgery to change this, she feels hindered by it.  Hoffman, on the other hand, describes herself as ugly.  It’s actually heartbreaking to hear her so bluntly describe herself as “the ugly girl with the highlights,”  or a John Goodman lookalike as a toddler on the beach.


The film introduces us to these two women, allowing us to truly get to know them as the reveal their past, their raw feelings, and their hopes.  We also learn about the history of society’s expectations and how this has impacted women in the workplace since the 1920‘s.  Women in the entertainment industry have an even greater difficulty if they don’t fit into the stereotypical definition of beauty, but who better to explain these issues than comedians?  Interestingly, female comedians much more readily talk about their “work” whereas other public figures want to cover that up, just like their wrinkles and smile lines.


“Take My Nose…Please” incorporates interviews with surgeons, authors, historians, and other comics to paint a very clear picture of these oftentimes intangible and unattainable goals we place on ourselves.  While the film is truly funny, it is also enlightening as we learn and admit to ourselves how superficial our society is and apparently always has been.  From past interviews with Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers to clips from ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Inside Amy Shumer,’ we can laugh about what we do and how we perceive others, but as Askin and Hoffman point out, it’s how we feel about ourselves and its effects on our overall confidence.  Askin simply says, “You might as well liknosee looking in the mirror.”


The journey of Askin and Hoffman continues as we walk with them through their decision of having a nose job or face lift.  We get to be there with them before and after surgery, watching the big reveal, and hearing their response.  It’s a personal journey that opens our eyes a little wider to truly see the societal and internal pressures of women.


“Take My Nose…Please” is a brilliantly witty and informative documentary that expertly blends humor and honesty about beauty and plastic surgery.  The film has its world premiere at the 2017 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival on March 17 at 7 pm at the Mission Theatre.  Director Joan Kron and special guests will be present.


"The Age of Consequences" A part of the One Earth Film Festival March 4-5, Chicago

March 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “"The Age of Consequences" A part of the One Earth Film Festival March 4-5, Chicago”


The One Earth Film Festival, now in its 6th year, celebrates filmmaking that increases knowledge and awareness of environmental issues.  Screening 30 thought-provoking and educational  films with several filmmakers in attendance will be shown throughout the Chicagoland area.  From climate change films (“The Age of Consequences”) to films addressing the toxicity of the electronics industry, this festival will challenge your current knowledge and perhaps even change how you see the world and live. For a complete listing of films and events, go to ONE EARTH FILM FESTIVAL


“The Age of Consequences” by Jared P. Scott will screen FOR FREE on March 4 and 5 as it takes an in-depth look at how climate change has a direct impact upon our world’s current politics and terrorism.  As our world warms, our polar ice caps melt and areas experience more drastic weather conditions creating a scarcity of resources.  Climate change is considered a “threat multiplier” as we see an increase in poverty, social instability, and wars.

Scott dissects the issues at hand  from a military perspective.  Interviews with high ranking retired military personnel create a vivid yet disturbing picture of what our generation has created, or more aptly put, destroyed.  Can we recover before the tipping point or is it too late?

Scott creatively intertwines the interviews with footage of disasters and wars around the world to give us all of the information to draw what now feels like obvious conclusions.  Seeing the devastating effects of climate change and how it impacts world peace is an issue never before addressed in a documentary.  Syria and Somalia are two countries that Scott highlights as we see an exponential increase in “climate change refugees.”  He also poses the question of how our military will be impacted, the cost in lives and money, and if the U.S. has the ability to continue to be a world leader.

Looking to our future, the film paints a very dismal and disturbing picture, but it’s not without hope.  Thanks to our retired military personnel and volunteers, there is technology and resources that can and will have a positive effect upon climate change.  Education is first and foremost and it is up to you to write the ending of this saga.

Producer Sophie Robinson will be at both screenings to discuss the film with the audience.  For FREE tickets to the March 4, 3pm screening at the Institute of Cultural Affairs, 4750 N.Sheridan Rd, Chicago, go to  On Sunday, March 5 the film will also screen for FREE at the Old St. Patrick’s Church, Hughes Hall, 700 W. Adams St., Chicago  FREE TICKETS HERE

Before the inauguration, I had the opportunity to talk with Scott about making this film.  Scott talks about the upcoming Trump adJaredPScott-300x300ministration and where we are headed.  While it clearly paints a rather gloomy picture, Scott gives us his wisdom and with that wisdom, there is hope.  The link to the interview is now available to stream.

Asian Pop-Up Cinema's opening night film "Survival Family" a big audience pleaser

March 2nd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “Asian Pop-Up Cinema's opening night film "Survival Family" a big audience pleaser”


The Asian Pop-Up Cinema, founded by film and cultural curator Sophia Wong Boccio and a part of Sophia’s Choice, endeavors to “create awareness of Asian cultures through film and promote Chicago as a place of Asian film production.”  Now in its 4th year, this festival will show 18 full-length feature films, 10 of which are free and open to the public, over the course of the next several weeks at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St.

The opening night film, “Survival Family,”  is written and directed by Shinobu Yaguchi and takes place in Tokyo, Japan starring Fumiyo Kohinata, Eri Fukatsu, Yuki Izumisawa, and Wakana Aoi.  This brilliantly hilarious new film brings us into a realistic world of a sudden loss of electricity and how a family copes and ultimately attempts to survive.    Imagine a world with no electricity.  None.  No batteries, no cars, nothing.  Could you survive?  That is the question that is posed to this typical family of four and their journey is one that is humorous, heartfelt, and thought-provoking.


One by one, the family awakens on what should have been a regular weekday morning.  But this particular morning marks the beginning of a new era; one without electricity.  Each of the family members reacts with utter disdain at the inconvenience that the outage is having, not realizing the extent of the blackout.  Days go by, resources become scarce and the family must attempt to get to the grandfather’s house hundreds of miles away—using bicycles…three bicycles for four people, in the hopes of finding electricity and safety.

The film magnificently portrays how S#054-015_LRour world is completely governed by our phones and dependency on our conveniences in life.  The lack of interaction and our absolute laziness in many areas of life is absolutely atrocious, but Yaguchi always keeps things light in this film.  His message, however, plants the seed that  if you are forced to unplug, the results just might be stunning.

Creating such vibrant and real characters in this family is what compels you to cheer for them and relate to them.  The family must actually act like a working team to survive and their skills are put to the test.  The teens are typical:  they whine and complain, overpack, and initially are quite self-absorbed.  Father (Fumiyo Kohinata) and Mother (Eri Fukatsu) have their issues, but it is the mom that seems to be the strongest and most resourceful of them all. It’s always refreshing to see a female lead portrayed in this way.

The entire premise of the film isn’t that much of an imaginative stretch.  You can definitely see something like this happening, possibly in the very near future.  It is Yaguchi’s attention to detail that provides such beautiful comedy in “Survival Family” and with this detail, the film comes full circle in a magnificent and meaningful way.

Humor is at the heart of this film from the opening scene to the very end.  We watch the teen daughter pack what she thinks is absolutely necessary to start her trip while wearing 4 inch wedges for shoes to ride a bike.S#097_038_LR  We see the reluctance of the teenage son to get rid of his unusable iPhone and attempt to learn to read a map.  Together, they wrestle with a pig in the hopes of eating dinner that night.  Each and every situation this family encounters is complex and beautiful in portraying our need to survive and the bond between family members all while making you laugh!

The entire cast is stellar, but it is the leadership of Kohinata and Fukatsu who skillfully bring this film to life.  Kohinata creates a disengaged, television-watching, food-focused father and Fukatsu is astute in finding very subtle and often-times hilarious ways of conveying her superior knowledge and skills.  With such outstanding performances, the script becomes an artist’s paintbrush, creating a remarkably entertaining portrait of a family and their ability to work together.

“Survival Family” takes us on a comedic journey  into an apocalyptic world where money becomes meaningless and water is gold.  While it poses many serious and sometimes frightening questions, it never loses its humor.  This is an exceptional comedy with outstanding performances and a rich story that is absolutely captivating.

4/4 Stars

For more information about films during the Asian Pop-Up Cinema festival, go to




European Union Film Festival sets record for number of female directors

March 1st, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “European Union Film Festival sets record for number of female directors”



European Union Film Festival sets record for number of female directors



The Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago began in 1972 and since that time, it has been home to several cutting edge “film festivals that celebrate diverse voices and international cultures…”  One of those innovative festivals includes the upcoming Chicago European Union Film Festival (CEUFF), now celebrating its 20th year, beginning March 3 through March 30.

Programming Co-Director Barbara Scharres says the experimental festival’s initial committee was comprised of various EU diplomats in Chicago as well as representatives from an array of cultural institutions such as the Goethe Institute, and the Italian and French Cultural Institutes.  “Changing times,” Sharres added, “diminished consular budgets, and diminished full-scale diplomatic presence in Chicago has meant that we need to look to other possibilities for support.  I must emphasize that we still have some terrific partners among the full consulates and cultural institutes.”

Read the entire article here



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