Monthly Archives: September, 2017

Manhattan Short Film Festival arrives at the Wilmette Theater October 6,7, and 8

September 27th, 2017 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Manhattan Short Film Festival arrives at the Wilmette Theater October 6,7, and 8”

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Who votes for films in the Oscar nominations?  Well, YOU can!  As an attendee of the Manhattan Shorts Film Festival on October 6,7, and 8 at the Wilmette Theatre (1122 Central Ave, Wilmette), you not only view the 10 final short film contestants, but vote on the “best actor” and “best film” as well.  Theaters around the world will be voting at the same time and the winners go on to participate in the qualifying theatrical run in Los Angeles.  That means a possible chance of winning that coveted little gold statue in February.

This one-of-a-kind global film festival which started in 1998, received over 1600 short film entries from 75 countries with only 10 going on to be a part of the festival.  The finalists’ countries include Italy, Georgia, Latvia, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, Syria, the U.K. and the U.S.A. For a complete list of films go to:  http://www.manhattanshort.com/finalists.html

The films will all be shown in a 2-hour time period on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday with voting taking place immediately after the final credits roll.  While this festival has only been at the Wilmette Theatre for three years, Executive Director Wendy Sharon witnessed the attendance grow significantly last year thanks to Chicago’s very own Mike Pusateri who came to introduce his film “Ella Gets a Promotion?” which won the 2016 MSFF for Best Actress.

Sharon said, “I’m always looking for opportunities to bring people together…and this (the MSFF) is one of the things that just spoke to me.”  She continued, “It’s a way to participate in a festival without a major investment in time and energy.”  Citing the diversity of films from different countries and genres, Sharon is confident that “there’s something for everyone.”

Sharon felt that her programming mission is to “add value” to her communities film-going experience, particularly when competing with the big blockbuster venues.  As she said,  “See something different.”  An event such as the MSFF also is a way for people to be “…more knowledgable about how they look at film and how they evaluate them.”  Seeing them on the big screen adds yet more value in being a part of this cinematic experience.

For more ticket and programming information, go to  https://ticketing.us.veezi.com/sessions/?siteToken=bclQlQh1gkmW47aQVQljkg%3d%3d  Tickets are only $10 each and helps support this not-for-profit venue.

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"American Made" is Cruise’s best role yet

September 27th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"American Made" is Cruise’s best role yet”

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“American Made” gives Tom Cruise the role of a lifetime and it just might be his best performance yet.  With an amazing script based on the incredulous events of Barry Seal’s life as a TWA Airline pilot turned CIA recognizance pilot, then drug smuggler for the biggest drug cartel in the world, which turned into an additional job as gun runner to “help the war effort,”  the film takes us on Seal’s journey, seen from his perspective.  Reminicent of “Argo,” but with ironic humor and gripping action, “American Made” gives us a history lesson and an exciting adventure story that happens to be real.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

We meet Seal (Cruise) as the successful yet bored airline pilot whose mundane job has a little spark to it as he smuggles illegal Cuban cigars throughout the U.S.  The CIA catches him in an awkward exchange that becomes the beginning of his life in government and of crime.  The two, it turns out, are not separate.  As one of the best pilots the CIA has ever had, his “responsibilities” grow, but his paycheck does not—typical government job.  Meeting a group of youngbarrypilot  entrepreneurs from Columbia (Pablo Escobar, et al) Seal sees a way to increase revenue and enables this drug cartel to grow exponentially, becoming President Reagan’s number one target.  The Iran-Contra Affair is at the heart of this film and little-known writer Gary Spinelli gives us the blow by blow in one of the most entertaining styles possible.

 

In “American Made,” there are no “good guys.”  There are bad guys and worse bad guys.  Told from Seal’s viewpoint, we definitely have sympathy for him as we see how one bad choice spirals out of control.  Greed seems to be at the heart of the motivation, but when you have to “rake up” the money that’s blowing around your yard after yoAmericanMadeEW2017-550x425ur dog digs it up, how much is enough?  While Seal may not be the brightest bulb in the box, he is a survivor and he loves his family, but the stakes grow ever higher.  The tension builds in the viewer as we want this guy to make it out.  We all know the story, but if you don’t it’s even more gripping.

 

Spinelli and director Doug Liman choose to tell the story in non-linear form as Seal has video taped his recounting of his life, looking back to the very beginning.  Intermittently, tbarryphonehese recordings appear enabling viewers to fill in all the missing pieces of the puzzle.  His interaction with the Contras, the Sandinistas, the Columbians, and the power of circle within these organizations.  Humor is found, generally in ironic situations or unexpected dialogue, with his wife (Sarah Wright) who is loving, but not trusting, and can see right through her husband.  The small town of Mena, AK that the Seal family moves to just before a police raid on their house in Louisianna, has it’s own characters that turn a blind eye to the events taking place under their noses.

 

It’s a near perfect script with the concise writing and acting, but the action just puts this film over the top.  Flight scenes (all performed by Cruise) make your heart skip a beat and you find yourself pushing back in your own seat as Seal attempts to take off from too short of a landing strip.  Cruise is stellar in this role where he is  the center of the film and not one scene takes place without him.  He is a seasoned actor who understands that there’s more to a character than being one-dimensional.  Cruise nails it with his portrayal of Seal.  This brilliant performance allows other characters to shine equally as bright including Domhnall Gleeson, a member of the CIA and Seal’s boss, Wright as the tough spouse, and Caleb Landry Jones as JB, the dimwitted brother-in-law.   I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the shocking look-alikes of George W. Bush (Connor Trinneer) and Oliver North (Robert Farrior) in their younger years.  We even get real footage of Nancy Reagan and her husband addressing the public about the War on Drugs and the “Just Say No” campaign.

 

 

“American Made” is an intensely entertaining historical recounting of a controversial era, uncovering and implicating high level officials in carrying out illegal actions seen from the viewpoint of Pilot Barry Seal.  It’s a thrilling film that keeps you on the edge of your seat as you get to know this man and understand his situation.  You even get a tutorial about the Iran-Contra Affair.  What more could you ask for in a film?

 

4 STARS!

 

"Victoria & Abdul" Reunites Dench and Frears for historical harmony

September 26th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Victoria & Abdul" Reunites Dench and Frears for historical harmony”

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Stephen Frears is no stranger to depicting history on film or working with Judi Dench.  From “Philomena” to their newest collaboration, “Victoria & Abdul,” the pair are reunited to bring us a touchingly sweet and previously unknown true story.  In this film, Queen Elizabeth (Dench) befriends an Indian clerk, Abdul (Ali Fazal) who becomes her closest confidant and teacher, much to her family’s chagrin.  With the same artistic and emotional hand that garnered Oscar buzz for “Philomena” and  “Florence Foster Jenkins” starring Meryl Streep, Frears brings Shrabani Basu’s book and Lee Hall’s screenplay to life, allowing us to better know a key woman in history.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

“Victoria & Abdul” takes us back to an era when British Royalty ruled the India and the Queen busied herself with unmemorable dinner events complete with special presentations.  One presentation included a ceremonial coin from India, presented by two clerks who were shipped to England especially for this event.  Abdul was chosen for no other reason than that he was tall.  His height changed the course of his life, and the Queen’s, forever.  Given strict instructions to never make eye contact during the presentation, Abdul inadvertently does so and there is an immediate connection of curiosity and kinship.  As time goes by, the Queen brings him into her inner circle, defying and challenging her entire staff and her self-serving grown children.  The prejudice and misundvictoriaabduljellyerstandings of those that surround the Queen accentuate her wisdom and intelligence.  She is progressive and a bit of a Renaissance woman as she finds a new lease on life—learning, laughing, and loving a new friend.

The story carries a heavier weight than just a sweet story about unlikely friends for many reasons.  First, it’s a true story based on Abdul’s diary found in 2010.  To imagine this high-powered woman having the openness and bravery to go against the grain in that time period is simply inspirational.  We learn about the personality of a woman that most of us think of only as an imprint on a coin.  While there are certainly parts of the story filled in with poetic license, the overall essence is that the Queen was revitalized thanks to the friendship of this kind man who cared deeply for her as a human being.  Secondly, and most unfortunately, that open-mindedness was not seen among any of the staff or her family and their ill-will toward Abdul and the Queen was shocking yet familiar in today’s society.  As our own misunderstandings of different ethnicities and religions are repugnantly evident, so too was it back in the early 1900’s.  Lack of knowledge was the key downfall, particularly as it relates to the Muslim religion…and this still holds true today.

As we are plunged into the breathtaking wealth and pageantry of royalty, we watch Dench in this role, knowing that it must have been written with her in mind as she seems to be  channeling the spirit of the beloved and feared Queen.  She skillfully portrays  this initially disinterested and bored woman who just gets through the day.

victoria-abdul-832064You feel her resentment and disappointment in life and love, but after meeting Abdul, she creates a subtle yet detectible twinkle in her eye.  She changes inwardly and  we grow to love this old woman as she reveals a greater part of herself.  Fazal fits the role of Abdul like a glove, truly embracing the characteristics of a gracious man from India.  The two together are simply magnetic, creating an energy force that is captivating.  His calm demeanor settles the Queen and her need to learn is quenched with Abdul’s far-reaching skills, particularly with languages.  It feels as if neither actor is actually acting—it’s an organic and genuine connection.

Of course, there’s humor in this film.  Dench is a master, well, at everything, but she uses her natural talents to convey humor at just the right moments.  With a wink of an eye or a pause in her speech, she makes us chuckle and therefore, connect with her character.  While we learn of the history during that time period and bask in the glory of the gorgeous costuming and elegance of the era, these are all secondary.  They are important to transporting us to England and India in the early 20th century, but at the heart of this film is two unlikely people who connect on a different and higher level.  The lessons they learn are ones that we could all use to make our current world and future history a more pleasant one.

The one drawback to the film is that the characters seem to be either all good or all bad, giving it a “Disney” effect.  The script, at times, is a bit too sappy, but somehow, with Dench and Frears, that is forgiven and we can look beyond that and just enjoy the story.

“Victoria & Abdul,” thanks to Frears direction and a stellar cast, is a wonderfully enjoyable film that will lift your spirits and teach you a little bit about history and perhaps even open your eyes to the way we treat others.  History doesn’t have to repeat itself.  (Bring some tissues.)

 

 

"Brad’s Status" is Stiller’s finest performance

September 22nd, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Brad’s Status" is Stiller’s finest performance”


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Mike White (“Enlightened,” “Beatriz at Dinner” and “School of Rock”) writes and directs one of the most poignant relationship films in decades. Starring Ben Stiller and Austin Abrams as father and son, the two take a trek from California to Massachusetts to tour prestigious universities. Filled with daydreams of what could have or would havebrad's status mike white been, this exceptionally powerful and entertaining film is a raw and honest look into what we all think but would never admit.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Brad (Stiller) and his wife Melanie (Jenna Fischer) lead a comfortable life with their teenage son, Troy (Abrams) in California.  It’s not lavish, it’s comfortable and as Brad and

Jenna lie in bed, discussing finances, it’s immediately obvious that Brad is not only questioning where he currently stands in life, but if he has made any correct decisions along the way.  In other words, he’s going through a mid-life crisis, but much of it is taking place deep within his mind and we, as viewers, are privy to his every thought and his imagination.

 

The film takes us on an external and internal journey of life as Brad and Troy fly from California to the East Coast to tour Brad’s alma mater, Tufts, and the other, the prestigious Harvard.  Each and every step along the way, Brad drifts into his imagination, comparing himself to his very successful college buddies brads-status-stillwho have made all the “right” decisions in life.  Keeping up with the Joneses, according to Brad’s imagination, has never been so difficult.  During this father-son trip, Brad does a little growing up, reconnecting with his younger hopes and dreams, and reflecting thoughtfully on his accomplishments.  At times, it appears that Troy is more grown up than his father, but then, as we all know, Troy hasn’t had time to develop doubts!

 

The process of growing up in “Brad’s Status” isn’t without growing pains.  In fact, these pains are awkwardly uncomfortable with cringe-worthy decisions, but wonderfully humorous.  The creative edge that this film has is reminiscent of Stiller’s other film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” as he plunges deeply into the waters of his make-believe life for himself and for others.  He imagines life without Melanie, life with two gorgeous college girls, running along the beach in Hawaii, much like he imagines his friend Billy (Jermaine Clement) to do on a daily basis.  The situations are endless creating a myriad number of comedic scenarios, but always touching upon the reality of what we all do in the privacy of our heads.  We truly get know Brad as he narrates his thoughts and dreams.

 

“Brad’s Status” expertly portrays what we are all thinking and feeling at this particular stage in our lives.  It’s honest.  It states the harsh, ugly, comparative thoughts none of us would dare to own up to.  His insecurities and jealousies undermine his own successes, but at the heart of this film is the beautiful relationship between Brad and Troy and discovering what’s really important in life.

 

Stiller is exceptional in bringing White’s eloquent words to life.  While he’s known more for his over-the-top comedic roles such as “White Goodman” in “Dodgeball,” he shows us the extraordinary depth and talent to give us one of the most powerful portrayals of an everyday guy.  Abrams equals Stiller’s skills and the two could easily be father and son on an emotional level.  Abrams performance is perfection as he comfortably demonstrates his frustration with and love of his father.  The balance is unparalleled.  The cast is full of great cameos including Martin Sheen, Jeanine Clement and Luke Wilson, portraying characters in Brad’s life and his imaginary one as well.

 

“Brad’s Status” is a sincere exploration into how we perceive one another and the pressures we place on ourselves for “success” as we age, losing our youth and perhaps opportunities.  It’s a creative and honest film that reminds us all what’s truly important in life making Brad’s Status is one of the best and well-balanced films of the year!

 

"The Gangster’s Daughter" to open the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival

September 20th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “"The Gangster’s Daughter" to open the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival”

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On Wednesday, September 20th at 7 pm, the 5th season of the Asian Pop-Up Cinema Fall Festival opens with a charming, bitter-sweet thriller, “The Gangster’s Daughter.”  Directed by Mei-Juin Chen and starring Ally Chiu as Shaowu and Jack Kao as Kiego, the film brings to life a complicated father-daughter story.  Shaowu is a teen, living with her grandmother whengangstersdaughterdad her mother suddenly dies.  Shedding not a tear, a renewed interest in getting to know her father surfaces and the two, estranged for years, are reunited.  The life of a small-time gang leader isn’t exactly the perfect home to raise a teen daughter, but we can’t pick our family.  Shaowu struggles to fit in to her new home and school in Teipei, a drastic change from the remote area of Kinmen.  She longs to identify with her father, fully understanding exactly what he does for a living and using that information to help her fit in.  As any father would do, he sticks up for his daughter, but perhaps in ways most of us wouldn’t fathom.

The characters are wonderfully complex.   We truly get to know this mob boss, his own insecurities, and most importantly his love for his daughter.  Wanting her to be nothing like him, he attempts to guide her, but Shaowu admires him and wants to be his mirror image.  And Shaowu is a typical teen, looking for her identity, but this is complicated by her familial situations.  As they get to know one another, Kiego begins to understand that perhaps a life of crime isn’t in his future, especially when his boss begins to deal drugs.  Even he has a moral boundary that he will not cross.  Juggling his current situation while raising his daughter is profoundly difficult and the dangers are clearly evident.

Chiu is extraordinary in her role as tthegangstersdaughter-1600x900-c-defaulthe tough yet emotionally delicate and needy teen.  Kao personifies a dangerous and intimidating mob boss, but easily lets us see his sweet side just with his smile and a twinkle in his eye.  It is the two actors together that is wonderfully engaging.  They respond to one another with a deep love that only a father and daughter could have.  We grow to love and care about both of them as we watch their relationship develop.  There is something very special about a father and daughter that seems intangible, yet Chiu and Kao find a way to beautifully portray this.

Cinematically, the film is gorgeous.  Chen pays careful attention to every scene to bring us closer to the subjects, allowing us to feel the depth of emotion.  With precision editing, we are truly connected to these characters.  Chen orchestrates an engaging albeit unusual story with all of her filmmaking tools.  Telling a meaningful father-daughter story is no easy task and weaving into the story an element of violence heightens your every sense.

“The Gangster’s Daughter” is an expertly crafted film with extraordinary performances from Chiu and Kao.  While it is stereotypically violent (it is a gangster movie), there are many other elements to give the story charm, wit, and love all in perfect balance.  For tickets, go to www.asianpopupcinema.org/tickets  Films will be shown at the AMC River East, 322 E. Illinois St., Chicago

TIFF 2017: The Best of the Fest from The Daily Journal

September 15th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2017: The Best of the Fest from The Daily Journal”

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The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival, which took place this week and finishes Sunday, attracted the brightest stars, featured the most talented filmmakers and rolled out the red carpet to feature 11 days of world and regional premieres and festival darlings.

Tens of thousands of patrons attended this festival, which screens hundreds of films from all over the world. The Daily Journal was a part of the action, discovering new films that will be in theaters very soon for you to see. Check out the best of the fest, and be the first to know what just might be the next Oscar-winning film.

TOP TIER

“Molly’s Game”

After a sport-ending injury, a former Olympic mogul skier inadvertently falls into a career of running a high-stakes gambling game. When Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) is accused of illegal operations and associations with the Russian mob, she must find a lawyer who is squeaky clean but willing to defend her. Opens: Nov. 22.

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“Breathe”

BreatheAnother first-time director, Andy Serkis (who, incidentally, played Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy), brings the true story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, disability advocates, to life. Devastated physically and emotionally from contracting polio, Robin wants nothing more than to die, but his wife won’t let him. Together and with the help of friends, they reinvent life for not just their family, but for all who are severely physically disabled. It’s a beautiful, uplifting and life-affirming film with outstanding and heartfelt performances. Opens: Oct. 13

“Brad’s Status”

Mike White (“Enlightened,” “Beatriz at Dinner” and “School of Rock”) writes and directs one of the most poignant relationship films in decades. Starring Ben Stiller and Austin Abrams as father and son, the two take a trek from California to Massachusetts to tour prestigious universities. Filled with daydreams of what could have or would have been, this exceptionally powerful and entertaining film is a raw and honest look into what we all think but would never admit.

A few other top picks to look for: “3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” “The Shape of Water,” “Victoria & Abdul” and “Mudbound.”

DSC03585 2To read the article in its entirety, go to daily-journal.com

TIFF’s "The Swan" is a graceful and poetic portrayal of childhood innocence lost

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “TIFF’s "The Swan" is a graceful and poetic portrayal of childhood innocence lost”

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Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s feature debut is adapted from Guðbergur Bergsson’s novel of the same name.  Set in a rural, desolate area of Iceland,  a troubled young Sól (Grima Valsdóttir) is sent to her aunt and uncle’s farm to live and learn how to be a good girl again after being caught “thieving.”  This brilliantly creative girl witnesses the realities of farm life, relationships, and nature, and discovers the beauty as well as the repugnant aspects of the world around her.  Told from a child’s point of view, visually and cognitively, “The Swan” is truly a rare beauty, that allows us to not only see, but feel the pains of growing up.

We meet Sól as she and her mother lovingly cuddle in her bed.  It’s a magical moment between the two as Sól’s dependence upon her mother is genuine and sweet.  It is also within this very scene that we hear the cutting words that this precious little girl is no longer thought to be a good girl.  The harshness of these words is stunning and from this point, the viewer is a part of Sól, feelGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (4)ing what she feels, and completely understanding her thoughts and actions. Sól is shipped on a bus by herself to meet her relatives where everything and everyone is foreign to her.  Her keen observational skills accompanied by the accompanying narration of her poetic thoughts and stories, create a uniquely wonderful character.

Sól is quickly introduced to the cycle of nature, human and animal, as she helps deliver a calf and then later witnesses its slaughter.  The realization of survival and the choices we make spill over into her understanding of her college-aged cousin Asta, (Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir) with whom she wants desperately to admire.   However, Asta’s selfishness and morality  make it difficult for Sól to connect for any length of time.  It is her unexpected relationship with the introspective and handsomeFarmhand Jon (Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson) that allows Sól to understand what life is truly about.  There is a big brother feel to his interactions, but Sól teeters between little sister and having a crush on him.  He’s bitter and angry as he attempts to be a writer— the perfect person for Sól to look up to as she too loves to tell stories. Jon’s protective nature is at once evident, but his brutal honesty may be more than this little girl can handle.  This weakening grasp on childhood opens her eyes so she no longer is able to see the world through rose-colored glasses.  They are shattered into shards of reality, a point at which we all have gone through, but perhaps never in such a definitive way.Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal

“The Swan” is cinematically stunning as it captures the essence of Iceland as well as the graphic brutality of survival. While the beauty is evident, the situation at hand cuts deeply through the superficiality of life to reveal the underbelly of human nature and nature itself.  Grima Valsdóttir is stellar in the role of Sól.  This young girl’s understanding of her role and the ability tGríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (1)o express such complicated emotions and thoughts without uttering a word is nothing short of remarkable.  Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir’s portrayal of the spoiled and conflicted young woman with a broken heart and sometimes heartless, is equally as powerful creating an amazing balance of personality with young Sól. Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson gives a meaningfully captivating performance as he too is trying to understand life and relationships.

“The Swan” is gorgeously poetic and deeply meaningful creating one of the most powerful, haunting, and mesmerizing portrayals of transitioning between childhood innocence and young adulthood.  With stunning cinematography, deft direction, and poignant writing, the story sweeps you away, reminding us of the balance in life and the complexities of growing up.Gríma Valsdóttir in THE SWAN - Courtesy of m-appeal (3)

FESTIVAL SCREENINGS:
Sun 10 Sept 1:45PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening (World Premiere)
Tue 12 Sept 11:30AM TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4, Public Screening
Wed 13 Sept 4:45PM Scotiabank 6, P&I Screening
Sun 17 Sept 12:30PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening

TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor

September 11th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TULIPANI: LOVE, HONOUR AND A BICYCLE Blossoms with love and humor”

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Seeing the world through rose-colored glasses never looked as beautiful as it does in “Tulipani: Love, Honour and a Bicycle.”  Oscar-winning writer and director Mike van Diem makes a comeback with this sweet and whimsical love story starring Ksenia Solo, Gijs Naber, and Giancarlo Giannini.  van Diem came to the project as a “crisis manager” after the original director left suddenly due to health reasons.  (Read van Diem’s interview here)  After a re-write and a few casting changes, van Diem creates an engaging, comedic, and oftentimes bitter sweet tale.

Upon her mother’s death bed, Anna (Solo) travels to her homeland of Italy from Canada to learn about her unknown origins.  The “madonna” is met with open arms as she learns about her father and her real mother, all the while explaining to a police detective (with her singed buttocks) how she isn’t responsible for the death of a former mafia ring leader.  “Tulipani” expertly brings us back and forth between the here and now and the days of yesteryear, recreating this complicatedly funny and downright romantic story.

We meet Gauke (Naber) early in his life as he escapes the soggy Netherlands after the historic flood of 1953, on a bicycle with a basket full of tulip bulbs, vowing to find a new— and drier— place.  As luck would have it, at the same time, he meets and falls in love/lust with Ria (Anneke Sluiters) also vowing to find her when he is established in his new home.  Gauke with Olympic speed and ability on a bicycle, lands in Puglia, Italy and, not speaking the language, somehow  puts down his roots in Puglia, Italy.  Through the kindness of others, this tall, blonde man who doesn’t foreigner who has never eaten spaghetti (properly), develops friendships and a home.  Ria, with a babe in arms (remember, I said the word “lust” in the beginning) shows up and the two seem to have the perfect little family and life.  That is, until the mob interferes.  All hell rains down, creating havoc, but again, van writer/director Diem finely balances this open display of heartbreak and tragedy with the brilliant comedic effects using his current day character actors to their fullest potential.

There’s always a surprising lightness to this story given some of the events of their lives.  The pace of the story and tempo of his characters interactions allow the film to flow effortlessly.  Solo has a fine-tuned performance as she embodies the Canadian-Italian beauty counter-balanced by Michele Venitucci as the now-grown Vito.  Their connection is palpable as they stay at arms length during their ordeal of tripping down memory lane to tie up loose ends.  Young Vito, in flashbacks, simply steals the screen and every scene he’s in.  He’s adorable as he creates this boy who admires Gauke to no ends.  The connection between the adult Vito and the young boy is absolutely real.  We truly believe this is the grown Vito with his appearance, interactions, and mannerisms.  Naber couldn’t have been cast any better and given his Dutch heritage, he fits the role perfectly.  Giannini and Lidia Vitale who plays Vito’s mother, give this film the levity it needs, accentuating that not only Italians love a good story, we all do.  Giannini, gruff initially (read the interview to find out why!) portrays another level of character itching to surface.  His comedic timing is unconventional and refreshing, setting the stage for the rest of the cast to follow and have fun.  It is their interaction and reactions that remind us that stories and history are frequently blown out of proportion for the sake of that interesting and entertaining story.  Who would have thought that Giannini had the makings of a comic actor!

van Diem pays careful attention to every detail in this film including the ability to capture Italy and the historic flood in 1953 in the Netherlands.  Coordinating with the cinematographer with precision gives this film that overall lightness to a sometimes tragic story.  And it is with this ability that we not only love the characters, we are invested in them and their home country.  van Diem said, “If there’s one feeling you get from watching this film, it’s that we do love Italy and we do love Italians.”  Grazie Sr. van Diem e salute!

“Tulipano” is the ultimate immigrant comedic love story filled with lore, exaggeration, and passion.  van Diem’s touch with stellar performances create a technicolor dream story.

 

"High Fantasy" confronts gender and race bias head on

September 8th, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Review, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “"High Fantasy" confronts gender and race bias head on”

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On the heels of “Get Out,” the racially charged science-fiction/horror film comes “High Fantasy” delving into the poignant and socially relevant race and gender issues confronting the world today.  Jenna Bass directs and co-writes this feature film, her second, capturing 4 young adults on a camping trip in the Northern Cape of South Africa.  The care-free, fun-loving group find themselves having swapped bodies and deal with the emotional impact of seeing themselves as a different race or sex.  The social implications of such a situation are immediately intriguing if not insightful as the group attempts to find meaning behind the transformation.

While South African have their own stories and history of politics, wars, and rebellions, the concept of taking advantage of groups of people and how we view one another is quite universal.  Crossing all cultural boundaries, Bass brings to the forefront the concept of land ownership and reparations as she gives each of her characters a unique platform to show their perspectives.  All of this is captured using today’s universal technology and ideas—an iPhone and selfies.

It’s a carefree time for these young adults as they joke around, ready to start their adventure of camping on Lexi’s family’s farmland.  We quickly cut to individual interviews with a stark white background as we get a glimpse into their future events.  One by one, they report that the fun and laughter comes to a screeching halt when the four wake up one morHigh_Fantasy_04ning, realizing they have switched bodies.  The story flips back and forth between the events that occurred and the individuals’ recounting of their feelings about it.  The impact and sometimes lack of impact is simply enlightening at times and maddening at others.  The story unfolds rapidly as the four seem to have lost their edit mode, truly revealing their thoughts about race and gender.

“High Fantasy” doesn’t feel rehearsed—there’s an element of “Blair Witch Project” to it, but the story goes much deeper.  And the emotional range goes from one extreme to the other as do the personal revelations.  These young people are wrestling with their histories, their ancestry, and their futures, creating a complicated portrayal of life in South Africa.  Xoli (Qondiswa James) is the most outspoken and brash of the group, never shy about her opinions, but rather unseeing from another’s viewpoint.  Her judgmental and unbending perspective is representative of many people we all know.  All of these characters seem to be a compilation of someone we know.  Tatiana (Liza Scholtz) gives us a softer and more touching portrayal of what it means to be black and female in South Africa.  Tatiana becomes Thami (Nala Khumalo) and gains an even deeper understanding of the opposite sex.  Thami becomes female and his insight is the most poignant of the group, but it is Lexi’s understanding that creates the dynamic and jumping off point of conversation about race, racism, and our future.

This is a strong cast of characters.  Responsible for portraying  not only their one character, but also another’s personality within their body, as well as acting as camera person is remarkable.  The weight of the topic and the requirements for these actors is simply extraordinary and they each carry the weight with ease.  Thami andHigh_Fantasy_05 Lexi stand out as their personalities change the most.  They portray this with body movement, voice, and mannerisms, paying careful attention to the suprasegmental features of speech.  While we are seeing Thami and Lexi, we have no question that it is actually their inhabitants, Tatiana and Xoli, respectively.

To find a film that can start a deep and honest conversation while using an initially perceived humorous body swapping concept as the vehicle driving the concept forward, is a unique gem.  Stylistically, the film feels as if we are truly privy to the group’s camping expedition and the actors sublimely take on the personality of their inhabitants.  Race and racism as well as gender discrimination and male power is as much a part of the conversation as it was 100 or 200 years ago and just as vital to understanding.  “High Fantasy,” while frustrating in that there was more to be discovered by each character, it still starts a much needed conversation long after the credits roll.

TO SEE THIS FILM AT TIFF, GO HERE

 

Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe

September 3rd, 2017 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Oscar-winning director van Diem is back: This time, he’s stirring up passion all over Europe”

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The 2017 Toronto International Film Festival isn’t just for big names and big stars — it also finds and polishes the hidden gems of the film industry.

As TIFF begins next week, films from all over the world will be vying for the spotlight. In years past, several featured films have gone on to procure Oscar fame — and this year promises to have a similar outcome. One lesser-known film that I believe will shine is “Tulipani, Love Honour and a Bicycle,” a Dutch-Canadian-Italian romantic comedy directed by Academy Award-winner Mike van Diem.

I had the pleasure of talking with this talented writer and director about the tumultuous path this film and his life have taken after winning that little gold statue for his first feature film “Karakter” (1997).

To read the interview in its entirety as it was published in the Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 edition of The Daily Journal, go HERE

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