Monthly Archives: May, 2017

"Wonder Woman" It's about time!

May 31st, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Wonder Woman" It's about time!”

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“Wonder Woman” has created quite a stir and quite frankly it’s just because she’s a super hero who happens to be female.  And, get ready for even more shocking news, the director is also a woman (Patty Jenkins).  It seems that the very axis of the world is wobbling uncontrollably because of “Wonder Woman.”  To add insult to injury, the Austin, TX Alamo Drafthouse held a “women only” screening of the super hero film which has garnered an outcry from overlooked men everywhere.  Poor dears.  Excluded from a movie screening…in one town…for one night.  The entire situation brings tears to my eyes.  What’s next?  50% of Congress is comprised of women?

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The question remains, is the new “Wonder Woman,” starring the mesmerizingly gorgeous Gal Gadot and the handsomely charismatic Chris Pine going to live up to all the hype?  The answer is yes.  While this character has been around for quite some time—Wonder Woman is a founding member of the Justice League—and portrayed in comic books, animated shows, and television by Lynda Carter back in the 1970’s, it’s been decades since this or any female has been a lead character in a super hero movie.  And I think we all know how many super hero movies there have been recently!

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This new “Wonder Woman” is an action-packed movie filled with evil characters as well as the requisite love story and misfit hero helpers that will entertain (are you ready for this?) both sexes.  Here’s the one resounding difference:  all the women are strong, intelligent, independent, and fit.  What a role model for young girls!  No damsels in distress.  No emaciated model-types looking gaunt and weak.  It’s pure strength and equality.

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We meet the young Wonder Woman aka Diana  as an adorable, precocious and head-strong little girl (Lilly Aspell) who works her way into your heart.  As she grows, her mother, the Queen of the Amazonians (Connie Nielsen) is hesitant about training her to be a warrior and leader.  There are secrets she does not share until one day, a WWII plane crashes and Diana rescues the pilot, Capt. Steve Trevor (Pine), a spy for the British Army.  The Germans find him and bring catastrophic death to the women.  Diana, bound by her moral commitment to help all, leaves the island and travels with Trevor to London in search of the God of War, Aries, to kill him and bring peace back to the world.

 

“Wonder Woman” starts off strong and keeps this powerful pace going for most of the film.  The story is familiar, as would be expected in all super hero movies, but there are fresh aspects to it that keep you glued to the screen.  The humor interwoven into the film’s fabric create overt as well as subtle moments of laughter—reproductive necessities, shopping for just the right outfit (“Outfit #224), and the inequalities of women’s rights during that time period all create a comedic relief.  There are also quite a few socially relevant statements that still ring true to today’s times if you listen carefully.

 

Casting Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman is nothing short of perfection.  Visually, she is absolutely stunning, yet there is so much more to her performance than just a pretty face.  She has depth and heart—exactly what you would expect from her character.  By her side is the equally talented Pine who embodies the hero with charm and humor and together the two hold viewers spellbound.  Nielsen creates a tough mother and queen character, but  also gives us one of the most touching moments in the film.  As she parts from Diana, her words of wisdom are perhaps words all mothers should utter regarding worthiness.  In fact, the entire cast shines in their respective roles creating this comic book/real life amalgam of a world.

 

Special effects and precision of choreographed fighting play an enormous role in “Wonder Woman,” adding an element of captivating fantasy.   Using slow-motion in a Guy Ritchie-type of fashion paired with unique camera perspectives give “Wonder Woman” that comic book flare.  Where this film fails is the non-stop battle and explosions for the final 30 minutes.  This seems to be typical of ALL super hero movies.  While the end is fitting, a bit of editing could have made this film stand out even more from all the rest.

 

“Wonder Woman” will definitely live up to the hype and DC Comics couldn’t be any happier to have broadened their already large viewer base.  Setting examples of strong, independent, fit women is something to support.  It’s a daring move by Warner Bros. to attempt to feature a female this way.  Maybe the movies can pave the way to see women in a more equal light.  Perhaps we can all be Wonder Women.

 

 

"Inheritance" Chilling supernatural thriller at Dances With Films

May 30th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"Inheritance" Chilling supernatural thriller at Dances With Films”

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Writer and director Tyler Savage’s first full-length feature film “Inheritance” is every adoptive adult’s dream and nightmare come true.  Ryan (Chase Joliet) is a hard working carpenter who has a visit from a lawyer explaining that his biological father has passed away and left him a multimillion dollar beach house—completely updated!  He and his girlfriend, Isi (Sara Montez), immediately pack their bags to discover and explore what treasures lie ahead.  Ryan, a rather reserved and brooding young man, is hesitant about celebrating their good fortune.  Perhaps it’s because of his father’s note telling him to sell immediately.  Ryan doesn’t heed his father’s warning and through old photos and “visitors,” Ryan finds his ancestral roots.  Some things are better left dead and buried.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

INHERITANCE-1.still“Inheritance” is a classic supernatural thriller, incorporating all the aspects of horror filmmaking that make you jump.  It’s intense from the beginning—always worrying about what’s around the corner.  The suspense builds at the perfect pace as you are drawn into the mystery set before you.   While Savage masterfully uses these familiar techniques to set you on edge, there is also something extraordinarily different about this film—it makes you think.  Savage leads you down a path with clues to the past as well as the future and you must put this information together to find the truth.

The additional cast of characters including Allie played by the incomparable Ashley Spillers and Bonnie played by  the talented Krisha Fairchild, give viewers a few more vital pieces of information to make us question the relationship between nature and nurture and how much really is within our control.  Little by little, never revealing too much, you put the pieces together only to be blown away at the end.

INHERITANCE.stillSavage does a remarkable job creating an intense supernatural thriller that’s smart.  There is a precise balance with suspense, relief, and shockingly horrific (and gruesome) incidents.  Directing this talented ensemble cast brings the film to a higher level with Joliet portraying the troubled and conflicted young man with uncompromising skill.  We see in his eyes the longing to find answers juxtaposed with his new-found information and how it is affecting his relationship with the sweet, adoring, and pregnant Isi.  Montez’ natural and genuine portrayal of Isi creates a sense of reality not only in her relationship with Ryan, but with the story itself.  She’s in love with this young man who is changing before her eyes.  We feel her internal conflict and understand her decisions completely.  Dale DINHERITANCE.still.7ickey finds a way to shine in the role of the motivated realtor and Krisha Fairchild gives a disturbingly wonderful performance as the nosey and well-informed next door neighbor.  Skillful writing, deft direction, striking cinematography, and a talented cast create an outstanding film in this genre.

“Inheritance” is a step above the typical supernatural horror/thriller films.  Using psychology and intellect to lure viewers into solving the puzzle of Ryan’s life, the film becomes unique and simply spell-binding.  “Inheritance” opens on Friday, June 2 at 9:30 pm at the TCL Chinese 6.  For ticket information, go to www.danceswithfilms.com/inheritance

 

The 20th Annual 'Dances With Films' Brings us the best of independent filmmaking

May 30th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “The 20th Annual 'Dances With Films' Brings us the best of independent filmmaking”

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Described as “fiercely independent,” Dances With Films (DWF), now in its 20th year, is set to screen 75 world premiere feature films including documentaries, narratives, and shorts beginning June 1-11, 2017.  This festival, always a favorite for fans and filmmakers alike, doesn’t cater to the “celebrity” aspect of filmmaking.  This festival relies “… on the innovation, talent, creativity and sweat equity that revolutionized the entertainment industry. ”  And now, in its 20th year, this is as evident as ever with the calibre of films that will screen over the 11 days at the TCL Chinese Theaters in Los Angeles.

DWF is open to the public with tickets priced at $13 prior to June 1 and $15 after that date.  With so many great films, it’s hard to choose, but after careful examination, I have several recommendations.  But don’t limit yourself to these!  Use them as a guide and be sure to take a few chances—you just might find that hidden gem before a big distribution company does!

The DWF Full Line Up of Films

THE RECOMMENDATIONS:

Narrative Feature Films include 27 uniquely creative films.

There are 27 uniquely creative films, but “D-Love” written by Dave Rogers and directed by Elena Beuca, should be tops on your list.  This real-life husband-wife couple take their own life-changing experience, cast themselves in the lead roles, and create an amazingly emotional and powerful film capturing hope in relationD Love Posterships and our connections with others—no matter how random they seem.  When a film leaves you speechless, with tears rolling down your cheeks, and you find your hand over your heart as you watch the final scene fade to black, you know you have just seen a masterpiece.  Read the review here

If supernatural dramas are more your cup of tea, put “Inheritance” on your list.  (Read the review here)  Tyler Savage writes and directs this dream come true/nightmare of any adult adoptee.  Ryan (Chase Joliet) has just inherited a $2 million beach home from his biological father he thought was long-dead.  This blessing soon is evident to be a curse, but is it too late to fight nature or can nurture win out?  It’s an intense thriller that will make you gasp, jump, and think as you put the pieces of this generational puzzle together.

Another thrilling film is “The Midnighters” which  focuses on the crime genre as Victor (Leon Russom), a 35 year ex-convict and expert safe-cracker and Gregory Sims, his long-lost son are reunited to pull of one last and very profitable bank heist.  Filled with unexpected twists and turns, this cinematically gorgeous film will leave you guessing until the bitter end. Read the review here

This category also has an animated feature “Chance,” depicting the brutality of dog fighting.  Chance, a pit bull puppy, is taken from his happy home and placed into the world of underground dog fighting.  This little guy challenges his own kind to stand up for what’s right and put a stop to this brutal and cruel “sport.”

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Eliza Sherman’s Revenge

Additional Anticipated Highlights:  “Tomorrow, Maybe,” “Austin Found,” “Being Black Enough,” “Eliza Sherman’s Revenge” ((read review here) “Game Day,” “Tater Tot & Patton,” “Imitation Girl,” “Jimmy the Saint,” “The Man from Earth: Holocene,” and “The Scent of Rain & Lightning”

 

 

 

 

Short Films

DWF offers 59 Short Films!  Ranging anywhere from 6 to 33 minutes, most around 15 minutes, short films can pack a lot of punch into a very short time period.  And many short films can go on to become full-length feature films.

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Eileen O’Meara’s PANIC ATTACK

“Panic Attack!” is a vibrantly animated short film depicting a typical morning for one woman.  We get inside her head, listening to the mental rabbit hole that she finds herself falling into as she questions whether or not she turned off the coffee maker.  Where this leads is simply extraordinary, spinning out of control.  And I’m guessing that I’m not the only one that is going to laugh out loud because I could completely relate to what happens!

“Wink” creates another vibrantly colorful world in the routine day of a housewife, bored and lacking attention.  Dialogue-light, this inventive short film puts a spot light on what happens when our emotional needs are not met.  It’s surprisingly playful and simple, yet hits some rather complex tones.

“Tonight and Every Night” brings us into the world of a man with dementia as he interacts with a young boy on a beach who is lost and lonely.  It’s a film that will help us all understand this “fractured mind” and our own humanity.

Additional Anticipated Highlights:  “Miriam’s Balloons,” “All the Marbles,” “The Candidate,” “Supermom,” “Effie,” and “Lemon”

Documentaries

to-the-moon-and-back“To The Moon and Back” is incredibly relevant given today’s political uneasiness with Russia.  As the adoption laws from Russia changed, filmmaker Susan Morgan Cooper depicts the coinciding murder of a Moscow lawyer and the accidental death of an adopted Russian child here in the U.S. as they intersect giving us insight to what happened behind the Iron Curtain.  It’s a heartbreaking and nail-biting documentary allowing you to see the facts and come to your own conclusions.

“Melting Stars” takes us on an aquatic journey to find out why there is an epidemic of starfish deaths.

A young 8 year-old girl named Evlin lives in a refugee camp on the Turkish-Syrian border where boldly stands up to ISIS.  She and others like her are resilient as typified byresistance-is-life her resistance and spirit.  “Resistance Is Life” is sure to be an empowering and enlightening new film.

 

 

 

Downbeat

If music is in your veins, you’re in luck with DWF’s “Downbeat” Section.  Featuring short films as well as full-length features with an underlying musical beat, this category has every genre represented.

alientologists-2 (1)“Alientologists” is a futuristic sci-fi story that promises to give us an introspective chuckle as we meet futuristic space “paleontologists.”  Finding garbage in orbit from the now-defunct Earth, these scientists attempt to make deductions about the creatures that inhabited that planet.

“Don’t Feed the Party Animal” takes us back to the 1950’s with the band Miracles of Modern Science’s music video.  A wallflower wants nothing more than to win the heart of the popular girl across the dance room floor, but how will he overcome his dreaded fears and win her over?

“Red” takes Taylor Swifts’ song of the same name and puts a meaningful and profound story behind it.  Told from a caregiver’s perspective, we delve into the world of dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.  This looks to be a sincere and unique story that will capture your heart and your mind.

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That brings us to the Midnight selection.   This category also gives us a selection of shorts and features—a perfect array.  From “2AM” to “G-4,” and “How2Kill” to “Paul’s Bad Day,” there’s a movie for everyone’s darker side.

Check back for more full reviews of many of these films as well as interviews with the filmmakers!  For a complete schedule and ticket information, go to DancesWithFilms.com/schedule

 

 

 

Elena Beuca’s Directorial Debut Finds Heart in "D-Love"

May 27th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Elena Beuca’s Directorial Debut Finds Heart in "D-Love"”

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When a film leaves you speechless, with tears rolling down your cheeks, and you find your hand over your heart as you watch the final scene fade to black, you know you have just seen a masterpiece.  First-time director Elena Beuca and husband/writer Dave Rogers take their own life-changing experience, cast the lead roles with the actual rIMG_8151smalleal-life characters, and bring us a story filled with heartbreak and hope—hope in the meaning of life and the goodness of others in “D-Love.”

“D-Love” stars Beuca and Rogers as Stefania and Dan Michaels, a couple in the midst of a calm crisis.  Upon returning from a vacation abroad, awaiting finding their car at LAX, the two are approached by  Ditlev Dharmakaya (D-Love), a young free-spirit asking for a lift going east.   It’s apparent from the outset that Stefania and Dan are at odds with one another, their marriage struggling to stay afloat.  Inviting this young “vagabond” to stay with them is not a part of Stefania’s plan, but Dan welcomes him with open arms.  Over the next three days, Dan and StefaJQ4A1538smallnia confront their buried thoughts, feelings, and emotions, as the centered and calm D-Love appears to be the grounded force allowing them to find who they were meant to be.  “D-Love” is simply beautiful with its powerfully emotional themes that could easily be a part of anyone’s life.  It touches upon the very core of who we are as people and how we evolve in life and relationships.

Stefania is in a thankless job with a boss who is verbally cruel and abusive.  She is the bread-winner, but is resentful of Dan’s inability to pick himself back up after losing both of his parents.  He drinks too much…way too much.  The resentment she harbors toward Dan is palpable.  While Dan’s personality seems to be more of the comedic type, he too seems lost and together, this couple isn’t on the same page.  D-Love’s easy-going, almost spiritual persona counterbalances the two, but there is always a sense of mistrust from Stefania.  All three characters reveal their inner-most secrets, regrets, and hopes, allowing us to not only understand who and where they are in life, but to empathize with them.  While D-Love’s personality may not be typical, there is an admiration for this wise-beyond-his-years young man who seems to have figured out the meaning of life.

What sets “D-Love” apart from so many movies is the unique story-line and the genuineness of the characters’ development.  Using the real-life characters to portray themselves is also quite

IMG_9341small daring, but it works.  Beuca’s performance as Stefania is wonderfully heartfelt, capturing the real emotions of life’s ups and downs until she reaches a tipping point.  Balancing this role with directing could have been a daunting task, but for her, this appears to be as natural as her performance.  Rogers as writer and lead is equally skilled as he portrays a man who deeply cares, but is struggling emotionally.  Humor paired with a complex and delicious cabernet are his tools for coping.  It is the unusual performance by Dharmakaya as D-Love that is simply breathtaking.  His ability to bring a sense of calmness to each scene makes you sit back and truly hear his thought-provoking words.  He’s beautifully unique in every sense of the word.  Together, this small ensemble cast creates one of the most well-balanced and meaningful stories about life and love.

If the powerful and real story isn’t enough to win you over to “D-Love,” then adding the gorgeous cinematography will.  Each and every shot brings you into the moment, visually and emotioJQ4A0983smallnally.  We feel the claustrophobic situations of Stefania’s work situation, the walls closing in on her home as she is unable to find freedom from the impact of her brother’s death, and the soothing and serene open areas, allow you to experience a sense of healing.

“D-Love” is an impressive directorial debut for Beuca.  This gorgeous and rich story is filled with love and heart reminding us about what is truly important in life and the connections we make.

“D-Love” premieres at the film festival Dances With Films on Saturday, June 3rd at 7:15 pm.  For more ticket information, go to DWF TICKETS

Helen Mirren, Taylor Hackford Receive Lifetime Achievement Awards from Cinema Chicago

May 25th, 2017 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Helen Mirren, Taylor Hackford Receive Lifetime Achievement Awards from Cinema Chicago”

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DSC_2615The name Helen Mirren immediately brings to mind “The Queen” for most people, but she is so much more  and Cinema/Chicago recognized this at their Spring Gala last night.  Both she and her illustrious husband, Taylor Hackford, were given the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award for their respective careers, acting and directing.  The annual event raises the necessary funds for the long-running Chicago International Film Festival headed by Michael Kutza.  It was a night filled with live and silent auction items, including a guitar signed by each of the Rolling Stones and a trip to the People’s Choice Awards in Los Angeles.  The main draw for tickets, however, was the chance to see both Hackford and Mirren in person—a ticket worth every penny.

DSC_2618Bill Kurtis, the iconic face and voice of Chicago, hosted the interview with Hackford and Mirren, allowing us to learn more about the life and experiences of this talented couple.  A montage of film footage characterizing their careers as well as heartfelt and comedic personalized video messages from Bryan Cranston, Richard Gere, and Ryan Reynolds, to name just a few, added a special touch to the evening for the stars as well as the audience.  Hackford fondly reminisced about his career and its origins, stating that “…it all started here”  in Chicago at CIFF.

Hackford shared his insight about directing, recognizing that “…casting is one of the most important things if not the most important thing” in creating a successful film.  He reiterated that an actor must “empathize with the character” and that “no one acts alone.”  He continued to discuss “An Officer and a Gentlemen” starring Gere and Debra Winger, his love of music and the importance it has not only in augmenting a film, but being the topic itself as he created “Ray,” the biopic drama about Ray Charles.  DSC_2621

Mirren, always stunning, seemed humbled by the kind words from her former directors and co-stars.  She and her husband both recalled her preparation for various roles, particularly that of Queen Elizabeth, honing in on what makes this actress one-of-a-kind.  Her rather soft-spoken and demure nature was unexpected, but this just added to her appeal.  As Kutza handed her the Gold Hugo Award, it was obvious that she was truly honored.

The evening concluded with a well-deserved standing ovation while the couple proudly held their awards.  For more information about CIFF, Cinema/Chicago, and upcoming events, go to www.chicagofilmfestival.com

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"Entanglement" Connects the dots in this charming comedy

May 21st, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"Entanglement" Connects the dots in this charming comedy”

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“Entanglement,” starring Thomas Middleditch (Silicon Valley, Joshy) and Jess Weixler (The Good Housewife, Teeth), premiering at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is a dark rom-com that never misses a beat as it explores heartbreak, our psyches, and emotional healing.  We meet  Ben (Middleditch) who is depressed and attempts to commit suicide several times, but always fails due to one little forgotten detail.  His life is a mess ever since his wife left him, but then he meets HanEntanglement-pic--200x200nah, his almost-sister, and his life takes a turn and leads him down an unexpected path in life.  “Entanglement” always remembers that it’s a comedy while it successfully integrates deep emotional concepts and even a bit of science to keep us thinking and entertained.

Watch the trailer here

Typically, there’s nothing funny about suicide, but Ben’s failed attempts most certainly elicit laugh out loud moments.  This sets the mood for the rest of the film as we get to know this troubled and depressed young man.  After answering the door during one of his attempts, (he just couldn’t resist the call of the doorbell after slitting his wrists) he is rushed to the hospital to be saved.  Fast forward to a few months later—he’s in therapy (a friend who is a child psychologist), and finds out that his parents almost adopted a baby girl.  Looking for answers to his so-called life, Ben goes on a quest to find her with the help of his best friend and neighbor, Tabby (Diana Bang).  He not only finds his almost-sister Hannah (Weixler), but he falls in love with her.  With her, he explores what life means, how to live again, and how we are all connected.

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Initially, even with the topic of depression and suicide, “Entanglement” feels light and funny—and it is.  The delicate balance and careful understanding of the fragility of life is beautifully depicted while keeping the underlying current of humor.  It’s reminiscent of Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader’s indie comedy “The Skeleton Twins,” but remains more upbeat throughout the film.   And the entire premise of the film is based upon the Entanglement Theory.  Simply put, everyone and everything is connected, always affecting one another.   Together, Ben and Hannah, express this theory with a light-hearted comedic touch.  The characters are all uniquely interesting albeit a bit over the top, but this adds to the humor as it never takes itself too seriously.  As we meet the others in Ben’s life, we begin to understand him better.  He lacks confidence and based on his interactions with his parents, we can see why.  His juvenile interactions with his therapist’s patient (Jena Skodje) indicate that he hasn’t quite matured yet, and Tabby is that misunderstood girl next door character he’s overlooking.

Middleditch and Weixler create an unusual yet perfect pair in this film.  Middleditch has a unique skill in portraying a lovable loser contrasted by Weixler’s confident and rebellious “Hannah.”  Middleditch’s mannerisms and timing demonstrates  that he’s a talented comedic actor.  It’s a strong ensemble cast, but Skodje stands out as the back-talking, insolent adolescent ready to set Middleditch’s “Ben” straight.  The astute and insightful writing, clear direction, and talented cast give us a wonderfully entertaining dark comedy with heart.

“Entanglement” will screen on May 24th at the SIFF and will also be a part of the Brooklyn Film Festival.  For tickets to see it at SIFF, go to SIFF TICKETS

 

 

 

 

s—a tangled mess that has a few kinks along the way, but we’re always trying to unravel the meaning of it all.

"Alien: Covenant" Nothing new in outer space

May 20th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Alien: Covenant" Nothing new in outer space”

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First, the good news: You don’t have to see the other six “Alien” movies to understand the newest, “Alien: Covenant.”

Now, the bad news: If you’ve seen the original, you don’t have to see this one. While the characters’ names have been changed and technology has improved the special effects, it’s the exact same story.

This second prequel (“Prometheus” was the first) to the other “Alien” films, directed by Ridley Scott, catches the audience up — for those who didn’t see “Prometheus” or whoaliena fell asleep.

To read the review in its entirety as it appeared in the Friday, May 19th edition of The Daily Journal go to www.daily-journal.com

"Everything, Everything" is nothing, nothing

May 20th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"Everything, Everything" is nothing, nothing”

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Nicola Yoon’s best-selling, young adult novel “Everything, Everything” is now a major motion picture, and it’s YA audience might be the only one it can appeal to.

Stella Maghie directs this film targeting 13- to 18-year-olds, with a script that’s slow-moving, texting-heavy and ridiculous, followed by a repetitive musical overlay in an emotionally (and visuallyeverything) sterile environment.

To read the rest of the review as printed in the Friday, May 19 edition of The Daily Journal, go to  www.daily-journal.com

‘Heather Booth’ director highlights life of social activist

May 19th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “‘Heather Booth’ director highlights life of social activist”

 

Change.  It’s vital to our growth as a nation.  Over the course of the last 50 years, one woman has been an integral part of momentous historical changes,  addressing injustices pertaining to women and minority groups.  Her name is Heather Booth.  While she is not a household name, she is the backbone of social change.  She is an organizer who has inspired, mentored and taught others to create programs and strategies for change.  From rallies on the National Mall to the Women’s Liberation Movement, Booth is at the center.  Without her, our world would be a different and most likely, a more inequitable place.

 

Lilly Rivlin highlights this extraordinary woman in the documentary Heather Booth:  Changing the World.  Rivlin introduces us to Booth and takes us back in time to her roots in New York City and Chicago through personal interviews with this leader and those who know her best.  These interviews are seamlessly stitched together with archival footage, photographs and an audio diary to create a beautiful tapestry depicting a woman who not only changed the world, but continues to do so.

Read the article in its entirety here, published on May 18, 2016 FF2 Media

An interview with Azazel Jacobs, writer and director of "The Lovers"

May 16th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “An interview with Azazel Jacobs, writer and director of "The Lovers"”

 

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“The Lovers,” starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts opened to rave reviews from Rolling Stone Magazine and RogerEbert.com as well as yours truly.  It’s written and directed by Azazel Jacobs whose previous work includes “Terri” and “Momma’s Man.”  Sitting down and talking with this meek and soft-spoken filmmaker allowed me to gain insight into this evocative and socially relevant film about love and marriage.

Pamela Powell (PP):  You appear to be rather young, but your topic matter is more fitting to someone a bit older and in a different stage in life.  From where did you draw this topic matter?

Azazel Jacobs (AJ):  I’m younger, but I’ve always felt older.  I’ve always felt connected with different people, whether it was my parents or my parents’ friends.  I wound up when I got to my 40’s, hitting this wave for the first time of real divorces and splits even though my parents are still together and I’ve been married now for 16 years.  So this is not my story, but I got hit with a wave of people breaking up suddenly…This film was in some ways trying to make peace with the idea that these couples that I knew as couples…were suddenly no longer together.  Where did that love go?  HOW could that love go?  It didn’t have much to do with age as that feeling of getting to the place that you stop talking.

I’ve had a good marriage and at the same time, definitely have hit those points where you [think] this is not who I wanted to be…I think that’s what’s so interesting about marriage is that we’re saying, ‘I’ll be there tomorrow even though I’m not sure I’ll be who I am tomorrow’…And that’s a challenge which I understand when it doesn’t work out.

PP:  And you see that change in connectivity and identity with Michael and Mary when Michael sings a song at the piano.

AJ:  Both Michael and Mary have trouble expressing themselves so it made sense to me that they wound up, especially him, expressing himself using someone else’s words.

PP:  Tracy Letts is incredible in anything and everything he does.  Tell me about casting him in this role.

AJ:  I cast Debra Winger first and I felt like that laid down the gauntlet of what type of film and what kind of skill…and level I was looking for.  There were three things:  the script which he responded to; Debra Winger [and] the chance to work with [her]; and also I know A24, he told me on our first phone call that every time he and his wife were watching a film and they liked it, they’d see the same logo at the end and they started realizing A24 was going to be one they would like.  Those three things were what made him willing to give [“The Lovers”] a try.

PP:  Debra Winger has proven herself as an actress, but I think that it’s difficult for women to get great lead roles like this as they get older.  Did you discuss this at all with her?

AJ:  I think that she saw that it wasn’t avoiding age, but it was acknowledging it in a way where it wasn’t a joke…Tracy’s had been saying that  in movies, from the point of 50 on, well…life has kind of ended.  But we know that that’s just not the case.  And I think that’s something that she responded to as a person that’s been long-married and also as somebody [who’s] trying to keep things going and interesting.  All relationships are changing.  We’re changing as people so she connected to that and she connected to the fact that A24 was giving me such freedom.

PP:  The music is as much of a character as Michael or Mary.  Would you agree?

AJ:  I do see it as a character.  I see it as a way to talk about how [Michael and Mary] could have wound up in this place….since there’s such little back story and there’s such little dialogue in the first third of the film.  Besides just harking back to the movies that inspired this film, these classic romantic comedies, it’s what happens when those romantic comedies end and the music keeps playing all these years later.  Where is the contrast?  Where does it sync up?  I knew I was getting great actors, [but] I didn’t know what would happen until they were together and what I have is way beyond what I could have hoped for…but then on top of that, the music…it was cool to bring in something that was not totally in sync.  It rubs it in another direction.  Since music is a key character and actual music as a part of their history, it opened up and changed things.

PP:  I must say that the ending was a complete surprise!  Did you play with the ending at all?

AJ:  It’s great to hear that!  It was the only ending.  I was surprised by the ending when I was writing it!  I didn’t see any other ending that felt truthful.

 

Jacobs also talked about his admiration of Letts’ work in “Bugs” and “Killer Joe” as well as Winger’s want and need for rehearsal which turned into more of a reading of the script with Jacobs allowing the two to really understand each other.  Allowing creatively daring writers and directors like Jacobs to fully express their thoughts gives us genuinely unique films not of the Hollywood format.  Bringing on talent the likes of Letts and Winger beautifully augments Jacobs’ original endeavors and we are the lucky recipients as we watch and are fully engaged in “The Lovers.”

"The Lovers" Is an exceptional and unexpected tale of marriage and love

May 12th, 2017 Posted by Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on “"The Lovers" Is an exceptional and unexpected tale of marriage and love”

The Lovers

What’s more powerful, the written or the spoken word?  In the case of “The Lovers,” the answer is neither.  It’s the lack of communication that is as deadly as a tightening noose around the neck.  Azazel Jacobs writes and directs the emotionally loaded film “The Lovers” starring Tracy Letts and Debra Winger as a couple nearing the end of their marriage.  Michael (Letts) and Mary (Winger), both fully involved in affairs, are ready to call it quits, but inexplicably, a small spark is ignited between the two, putting into question their impending marital demise.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

the-lovers-aiden-gillen-debra-wingerMichael and Lucy (Melora Walters) are in a dramatic affair as we witness in the opening scene.  This is paralleled in the next scene as we meet Mary and Robert (Aiden Gillen) in an equally emotionally evocative situation.  And then we see the awkwardly uncomfortable interaction between this married couple.  The inability to communicate that comes after years and years of comfort and complacency; the distance that is created after years of raising a child and going in two different directions; and the point of apparent “no return” at which many 50-somethings end up is portrayed in each and every scene with precision in “The Lovers.”

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As pressure to leave from both Mary and Michael’s lovers builds, each of them places a date on telling their spouse that it’s over.  Their son, Joel, and his girlfriend are visiting and this seems an appropriate point at which to tell one another.  How this unfolds is nothing like what was planned, revealing the innermost feelings of loss, fear of change, and remorse for dying and dead hopes and dreams.

Simply put, “The Lovers” is remarkably daring and poignant for the Baby Boomer generation.  Addressing a situation that occurs in many marriages in such a relevant and timely manner creates an updated version of any relationship film.  We find these characters looking back at the paved and bumpy road many miles behind them, unable to see where the potholes and forks began. And Michael and Mary’s life couldn’t be any more routine, but the excitement of their affairs seem to give them that spark they need to live, laying the path of hope ahead of each of them.  However, as they rekindle their own spark, the guilt of their situations as well as the love that was buried is now revealed.  It’s complicated—just like real life.

This is a visual and visceral film, using emotional building blocks augmented by orchestral creations to give extraordinary depth to each and every scene.  It feels much like a live theater play as we discover who these two main characters are and how they have come to this state.  While the dialogue is sparse, it is the action and reaction that is more powerful than any spoken word could possibly be.  And we become a part of what might be the final act in the marriage of Mary and Michael.

Letts, a stage actor who has proven himself to be a great talent no matter the medium, does not disappoint.  He easily portrays the typical 50-something year old husband and father who is disengaged in all things pertaining to family.  His regrets he wears on his sleeve.  His lack of inspiration is palpable.  And his want to feel alive “without the drama” is immediately  relatable.  Winger shines in her role, and again, with very little dialogue, we are able to completely understand her every thought and feeling.  She’s dismayed with life; she’s pulled in several directions; and she is also lonely and needs more in her life.  The two actors are always on the same page, their familiarity as a long-married couple believable, and their chemistry, when needed, is just as real.

Aiden Gillen’s “Robert” and Melora Walters’ “Lucy” are Mary and Michael’s lovers, respectively.  Their characters are not as well developed, but this isn’t really needed as it’s Mary and Michael’s story.  Robert and Lucy are just the conduits to conduct the story’s electricity through to the very surprising and unexpected end.

“The Lovers” is a rather complex story about a very typical situation in today’s marital society.  Extraordinary performances from Letts and Winger carry the film, engaging the viewer completely.  Its ironic humor blending seamlessly with realistic situations elevates this film to a level of filmmaking that we just don’t see enough of.  In other words, it’s not your typical Hollywood film…and that’s a good thing.

4 Stars

 

"The Foster Portfolio" Brings Vonnegut short story to life at Tribeca

May 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"The Foster Portfolio" Brings Vonnegut short story to life at Tribeca”

TheFosterPortfolio

VonnegutRenowned and critically acclaimed author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., over the span of his life, published 14 novels and 3 short story collections along with a number of plays and works of non-fiction.  His signature style, as one commentator stated, is “caustically sarcastic,” but the short film “The Foster Portfolio” is anything but that.  While he looks at human nature and what drives us, this story unfolds like a colorful mystery, steeped in tones of sepia.  Directed by Danielle Katvan and starring Roe Hartrampf as Jim Crane, the young, ambitious, but still wet behind the ears investment banker, the story takes place many decades ago.  Crane visits a possible new customer, Herbert Foster (Joel Nagle) in his tiny and very unassuming home.  Hesitant, Crane begins a conversation that quickly becomes cloaked in secrecy.  What he reveals has the potential to change everyone’s lives…but will it?

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

While the story takes place perhaps in the 1950’s it could be today as people and their motivations really don’t change over the decades.  Crane is a go-getter, but his bubble begins to burst as he takes one look at the modest home he is about to enter.  Meeting the reserved couple to discuss “bonds” and investments, Crane becomes dismissive.  Foster pulls him aside, behind closed doors, and reveals a great wealth.  Crane looks at him a bit differently as he fords ahead to manage his funds.  But there’s something pFosterHerbertuzzling.  Why must this remain a secret and why does Foster continue to work several jobs?   Crane sets out on his own personal journey of detective work to solve the mystery before him.  The film expertly peels away the layers of human nature to expose our inner-most wants and desires as Crane must find out what makes this man tick.

Taking the complexities of a Vonnegut story and translating it to the screen is a daunting task, but KatvanFosterAlma  expertly handles this.  The characters are extraordinarily rich as they find nuanced ways of expressing their thoughts and emotions.  This small ensemble cast of three balances one another like an equilateral triangle.  Crane’s innocence and drive are at the opposite end of Foster’s personality spectrum as he harbors so many emotions lying just beneath the surface.  Foster’s wife, Alma (Rebecca Watson) is the stereotypical 50’s housewife, doing what her husband asks of her, darning socks, and constantly nagging him about money.  And together, the story unfolds as beautifully as a blooming rose.

Cinematically, this film is simply gorgeous.  The set design, costuming, and camera work accentuate each and every thought, feeling, and spoken piece of dialogue.  Even in silence, the images and emotions are strikingly vivid.

“The Foster Portfolio” brings Vonnegut’s brilliant written word to full living color, completely saturating the screen and our minds to tell an extraordinary story about a seemingly ordinary man.  While the characters seem a bit off-kilter, they typify a part of us all as we tend to judge a book by its cover.  In this case, it’s a Vonnegut book.

 

LOVE, LIES creates timeless story of love and jealousy

May 1st, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “LOVE, LIES creates timeless story of love and jealousy”

PARK Heung-sik

As we draw to the close of the Asian Pop Up Festival in Chicago, viewers will have the opportunity to witness the exquisitely beautiful work of Park Heung-sik with his newest film LOVE, LIES at the AMC River East on Wednesday, May 3 at 7 pm.  The story captures the essence of human nature in its glory and its less desirable traits, specifically jealousy and envy.  As two young girls raised together during the Japanese occupation of 1943 create a bond and pact to always stay together, they find that love and life have different plans.

So-yool and Yeon-hee meet as youngsters in a school for girls.  They quickly become best of friends relying on and supporting one another until graduation day.  As artists, they have a particular role within Korean society—a role not always looked upon favorably.  Both girls are extraordinary singers as they have been trained in all the classics.  But it is Yeon-hee’s exceptional voice and talent that So-yool’s songwriter boyfriend is drawn to.  With success and opportunities, the two girls travel along different paths, each portraying the disappointments and guilt associated with growing up, falling in love, and feeling betrayed.

“Love, Lies” is a testament to the fact that no matter where in the world or when in time we are, love is the same.  Relationships, whether they are friendships or love interests,  are also experienced the same no matter who we are.  “Love,  Lies” takes us into the heart and mind of So-yool and Yeon-hee where we are brought into their earnest innocence and the pain of growing up.  Watching and feeling the pain brought on by envy and jealousy of not just love, but of another’s success is the ultimate emotional experience.

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The cinematography and costuming are equally beautiful to the story as it captures us visually.  While the story is one to which we can all relate, the singing talent of these young women is simply breathtaking.  Again, music is yet another boundary easily crossed from culture to culture, bringing us closer together.

“Love, Lies” is a cinematically gorgeous film crossing all cultural boundaries with love and music.  Skillful performances connect us to these women as they navigate the difficulties of love and growing up.

*Lifetime Achievement Award Night Thursday, May 11, 5:30 pm at the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St.). Honoree Teddy Robin Kwan will be attending this event.

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