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“Keep Talking” At the Gene Siskel Film Center

January 7th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on ““Keep Talking” At the Gene Siskel Film Center”

The multiple award-winning documentary KEEP TALKING is Chicagoan Karen Lynn Weinberg’s newest documentary film depicting the efforts of four Alaskan Native women fighting to save the endangered language Alutiiq. Less than 40 fluent speakers remain, placing a heavy burden on them to keep not only the language alive, but the culture and history that is an integral part of it as well. Within the film, we begin to understand the important role indigenous language plays in those seeking a sense of identity and the necessary bonds between the Alutiiq people.

I had an opportunity to talk with Weinberg about her informative and emotional film and how it has impacted her, the Alutiiq community, and other cultures around the world. Her insight and passion will at once inspire you to see the film and see the world in a different and more compassionate way.

The Indiana University graduate found her first passion for langauage in literature, particularly Shakespeare as his writing “…allowed me to personally experience the power of language to elevate and transform.” Weinberg also studied French, Spanish, and Italian, and even when she became a published author and documentary film editor, she found time to tutor English to adults when she could.

Weinberg’s teaching skills crossed over into film editing and Weinberg was invited by the Native Village of Afognak to Kodiak, Alaska to teach a one-week course. Her entire class was comprised of Kodiak Alutiiq as the group wanted to learn the necessary software to preserve their native language and their culture. Weinberg shared, “I was hooked and wanted to know more…At the time, I had wanted to try my hand at producing/directing a documentary, so I went Kari (a language activist) a proposal to take to their Elders, and they granted me see funding and permission to come film their first-ever Dig Afognak camp geared towards immersion.”

Weinberg felt her own background weighing on her as an outsider to this community. She was an outsider and says, “I mean, how many times have Indigenous people been misrepresented in the white media? I felt an enormous responsibility to get it right.” Working with the community, conducting feedback sessions, and finding translators to interpret hours of footage allowed Weinberg to immerse herself, gain the necessary funding, and most importantly, get it right.

“Keep Talking” is powerful, but the one aspect that really is quite emotional is Sadie’s story. She’s a struggling teen who seems to transform her personality and hope for her future when she is among her people, learning her native tongue, and embracing her roots and traditions. Finding and focusing on Sadie gives the viewer a true understanding of the need to not lose our culture. Weinberg shared that she and the film’s cinematographer, Nara Garber, were immediately drawn to her. “As I got to know her, I understood that she was in a tough place emotionally, much as I was at her age. At the same time, the language and Alutiiq dancing was a clear, bright spot in her life.” Weinberg continued, “While we absolutely had more people we were filming with and I wish all the storylines could have fit into this film, it was Sadie’s coming of age story that most clearly illustrated the power of culture to help and heal.”

The film’s impact upon the viewer is tremendous as it exhibits the historical tragedies that continue to effect the culture in negative ways. A reconnection to their beginnings seems to have a healing effect. Weinberg has found from viewers that “…language revitalization work helps to heal historical trauma.” She continued, “In a bigger sense, I hope that the film contributes to discussions of the need for governmental bodies to provide lasting support to programs like language revitalization: this support is sorely needed to help to heal some of the damage done by assimilationist policies practiced by the United States, Canada and countless other countries formed with colonization at their core.”

Weinberg passionately expressed that, “Making this film has me firmly convinced that modern society desperately needs a push towards interpersonal connection and communication, including strengthening people’s sense of identity with an awareness of their own ancestry and heritage.” Perhaps in looking forward, we all need to look backward and see where we began and hold on to our roots, cherish our elders’ and their knowledge, and learn about our ancestry, no matter where we began. It is obvious in “Keep Talking” that this Alutiiq culture is on a more positive path…one that would benefit us all in understanding one another and even ourselves.

In closing, I asked Weinberg what was her favorite word or expression. Her answer brings me to happy tears. She said, “Since I can’t spell or say my favorite word (which means ‘they always tease me’), I will leave you with ‘Tang’rciqamken’- I will see you later. It’s a substitute for goodbye. I love that there is no word for goodbye.” The film screened at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, Jan. 5th for its grand re-opening and will screen again on Jan. 11. For more information about tickets, go to

For more information about the film go to


“Wonder Woman 1984” is a mixed bag

December 23rd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Wonder Woman 1984” is a mixed bag”

I will be the first to admit that I don’t seek out super hero movies and I frequently get the DC and Marvel Universes mixed up. With that admission, it’s always such a joy when a super hero film surprises me, entertains me, and even, sometimes, connects me emotionally. “Shazam!” is one such example and to my surprise, I enjoyed the first “Wonder Woman” (2017) film starring Gal Gadot, or at least the first 2 hours of it. With Patty Jenkins at the director’s helm once again for the sequel, “Wonder Woman 1984,” I held out hope that it would not disappoint. What I received was a mixed bag of treasures and failures.

In “Wonder Woman 1984,” several decades have passed since Diana Prince (Gadot) lost her true love, Steve (Chris Pine) as he sacrificed himself for the greater good during WWII. Diana takes us back to her youth and her training, a visually stunning recreation of a competition among the strongest of women on the island. The one vital lesson she learned that day, “no true hero is born from lies,” will help her in the dangers that lie ahead.

It’s now the mid-80’s and a jewelry heist is taking place at a mall with 4 nefarious men who seem to be straight out of a comic book with their exaggerated mannerisms and reactions. Just as they’re about to get away, Wonder Woman swoops in to help save the day. This scene is a delight as Wonder Woman stops to save a young girl, giving her a wink of the eye, and then single handedly wraps up the thieves and delivers them to a cop car on the street below. This playful, unrealistic, straight from the pages of a comic book scenario sets up a promising tone for the rest of the film.

“The Mysterious Female Savior,” aka Diana works as a specialist at the Smithsonian when she’s not capturing theives. She’s not only drop-dead gorgeous, she’s also intelligent, a leader, kind, and speaks a myriad number of languages. Reaching out to a new hire at work, Diana befriends Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) an awkward, low-talking, socially inept wallflower who wants nothing more than to be more like Diana. This character is sad yet so humorous as Wiig is no stranger to making an audience laugh as she brings her own signature style of comedy to this role. Both Diana and Barbara find that when they can have their deepest desires and wishes come true, there’s a price to pay and that’s where our main villain Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) comes into the story. Avarice for power and wealth drive this man to use others, but his discovery of a gem just may give him what he needs.

The rest of the story plays out exactly the way you would expect in a super hero movie, but this one has a love story as a primary component. As Steve (Pine) re-enters the story, the humor ramps up to balance when Barbara isn’t in a scene. His reaction to the changes in technology from the 1940’s to the current day of 1984 adds the perfect element of levity. And his comments on parachute pants and donning a fanny pack is laugh out loud funny. If you lived through the 1980’s, it’s a walk down memory lane as we are transported back to a time of break dancing, goth styles, big hair, loud colors, and shoulder pads. Only Diana Prince can pull off the styles of the ’80’s and she does. Keeping true to the film’s beginning of creating characters that feel ripped from the pages of a comic book, Lord and our unexpected number 2 villain, have relatable issues concerning love, acceptance, and bullying, but it never tips the scales into the dark waters of reality that “Joker” found itself. (Forgive me if I’ve mixed the universes again.)

Gadot is the perfect Wonder Woman with strength, agility, intelligence and heart which are all characteristics she readily displays. While Pine reincarnates his persona from the original 2017 film, newcomer Pascal gives us a maleficent character with more than meets the eye. Wiig, a standout in the film, is transformative in her portrayal of Barbara as she hones in on subtle attributes of this woman’s personality and uses her comedic prowess. Unfortunately, once all of the characters are introduced, the film loses its pacing. There’s so much time spent on the evil Max Lord beginning to take over parts of the world, controlling all who he encounters, that the story’s momentum flounders. It’s a race against the clock, but there’s so much repetition that we forget that aspect. With a running time of 2 hours and 31 minutes, we needed the humor to stitch through the story, but alas it does not.

“Wonder Woman 1984” is chockfull of special effects, stunts, and incredible cinematography to bring this saga to life. The beginning is strikingly memorable and while the story suffers from becoming the same as almost every other super hero movie, the performances, humor, and ultimately the love story keep you engaged.

You can stream this on HBO Max on Dec. 25, 2020

3 Stars

“Judy and Punch” An unrestrained imaginative origin story

June 3rd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Judy and Punch” An unrestrained imaginative origin story”

Imagine a world where people took the law into their own hands and the ideals were archaic, ostracizing and accusing people based on superstitions and hearsay. No, I’m not describing our world today, but I am describing the new film “Judy and Punch” starring Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman. I’m sure all of you over the age of 40 will remember a children’s puppet show from the 1950’s called “Punch and Judy” where the bizarre puppets beat each other up. The puppet show and concept originated in 16th century Italy and is now flipped on its head thanks to the unrestrained imagination of first-time writer and director Mirrah Foulkes.


The story is set in the town of Seaside,“nowhere near the sea,” in 17th century England, and begins with a casual suggestion of a stoning and who will throw the first one. After recovering from the fact that yes, they are actually talking about stoning someone and it being a privilege to cast the first one, you understand that this darkly Monty Python-esque film promises to take you to some very humorous yet unexpectedly dramatic places and it does not disappoint.

Judy (Wasikowska) and Professor Punch (Herriman) are trying to resurrect an entertainment career with their magical puppet show which wildly entertains the raucous and unruly crowds. If it weren’t for the fact that Punch has a few “issues” that have sabotaged their stardom, this puppeteering duo would have been all the rage. For those of you familiar with the original series, Foulkes maintains the “simplistic set of stock characters” as she referred to them. She also keeps a through line of using a baby, a dog, and sausages. While this sounds bizarre, and it is, these elements set the tone for what becomes a story of a woman scorned.

“Judy and Punch,” as the word order would suggest, follows Judy, giving us a back story or perhaps an origin story, seeing the world through her eyes. She and many of the townspeople are wronged by her lying, cheating, manipulative husband portrayed expertly by Herriman and Judy is set to right those wrongs, but not before all hell breaks loose in the town thanks to Punch’s cowardice.

While these descriptions of the film sound quite menacing, and they are, there is plenty of humor interwoven throughout the film. Foulkes, as she recently told me in an interview, likes to “mess with an audience” by using slapstick sequences followed by violence which forces the audience to confront our attraction to violence. These shifts in tone are like a roller coaster ride as you find yourself aghast at what happens to the baby, but laughing just moments later. You feel as if you’ve been a part of a magic trick, unsure as to how this magician just made you cringe and gasp aloud and then laugh just as audibly.

This incredibly imaginative script plays out in an equally unique set which transports you to an era you’ve only read about. With bawdy pubs darkly lit, stone walled homes and churches, dirt pathways and costuming to suggest the period, Wasikowska’s brilliance as an actor shines through. She’s immediately likable and we see her struggle with her husband, but not long into the film, we find that her tolerance for Punch’s behavior can no longer be tolerated as Punch’s true colors are blinding. Wasikowska finds the right levels of each emotion as she plummets from sweet mother to an empowered vengeful woman who has suffered more atrocities than any woman should.

Herriman, no stranger to playing the bad guy, hones his skills in this role. While he portrays a character who is truly unlikeable, Herriman finds a way to allow other aspects of Punch’s personality to come to the surface as a nervous, narcissistic, and controlling man, who is ultimately nothing more than a coward. Together, although Wasikowska and he aren’t on screen at the same time for a significant part of the film, these actors find the spark in the story and light it on fire.

The entire cast supports the narrative bringing an almost theatrical feel to the film. Terry Norris and Brenda Palmer are an absolute delight adding just the right touches of comedy in just the right ways and the young Daisy Axon creates subtle tones of humor balancing some of the horrors that we behold. Within the deft acting skills and direction of this film, there are also plenty of special effects that will make your heart race or perhaps elicit a gasp. Either way, it’s a credit to the impressive yet never over-the-top special effects crew.

“Judy and Punch” is a fairytale of a film with a succinct and riveting script and paired with great performances resulting in total entertainment throughout the entire film, laughing even amidst the darkness.

You can stream “Judy and Punch” on all major digital platforms beginning June 5. To read the interview with Foulkes, go to FF2 Media.

4 Stars

Director Miranda Bailey talks about “Being Frank”

June 20th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Director Miranda Bailey talks about “Being Frank””

“Being Frank,” traveled the film festival circuit for quite some time before getting its final edits and now a release across the country. The film stars Jim Gaffigan, a favorite stand up comic whose acting career is bursting at the seems right now, as Frank, a man who attempts to balance life with two families; each unknown to the other. Of course, all “good” things must come to an end and Frank finds himself in a pickle with his son Phillip (Logan Miller). It’s a dark comedy that keeps the laughs coming thanks to the creative writing and directing as well as the casts’ impeccable ability to play off of one another yet still maintain a level of drama.

In an interview recently, Director Miranda Bailey discussed the changes made to the original concept, how she balances life, her female review site Cherry Picks, and quite shockingly, the fact that she had never heard of Jim Gaffigan before casting her film! Shocking, simply shocking.

Pamela Powell (PP): I understand you had a few changes to the overall script, making it a more personal one.

Miranda Bailey (MB): When I first received the script…it was in modern times. The one (wife) that Frank really loved was the stay-at-home mom who cooked all the time and was perfect and the other [wife] was working…We’re not going to have the one he really loves as this kind, sweet mom and the working mom is this one that no one wants around. Those elements changed drastically, the roles of the women. [The film was also] moved to 1992 which was a time in my life that was when my parents got divorced…I felt the fear that Phillip (Miller) goes through. ***SPOILER*** I was able to … say everything that I wanted to say to my dad or to myself as a child through the character. When Anna Gunn [the character of Laura] is saying .. well, he’ll always be your dad even though he’s a total dick … I wish someone would have said that to me.

PP: Initially, I thought it was an odd casting choice to have Gaffigan, but now I can’t imagine anyone else being able to pull off this role!

MB: I actually didn’t even know him when we started casting, I didn’t even know Jim Gaffigan!


MB: When the script was ready to go, and you want Jason Bateman, but it can’t be Jason Bateman, 1. Because we can’t afford him; 2. He’s not available, and 3. Then it’s a Jason Bateman movie. It’s quite hard, especially in that age range to try to find someone who can be likable and lovable and still doing something so cruel but with cowardice…Initially, we were thinking Louis CK …and I’m so lucky the agents never gave it to him!

PP: Can you imagine?

MB: ****SPOILER***** Oh, my God! That would be awful! We made this movie before…any of the Weinstein stuff came out. Movies take a long time to go from concept to [finish] so it’s been pretty interesting in editing based on those things. [In] the version at the festivals, “You Can’t Choose Your Family,” Frank was forgiven by his son and I changed that in the end because the world has changed in that year.

PP: Gaffigan’s comedy has a very dark edge to it in this film. As a director, how did you draw that out of him?

MB: He definitely does have the dark comedic elements to him. That’s not necessarily part of his standup, but, you know, tragedy is funny! I think he understands that.

PP: Frank’s relationship with Laura is based on a lie. Can you talk about the lies and all the relationships?

MB: A lot of this movie focuses on lies. Everyone in this film, not just Frank, is lying to someone else or lying to themselves. Whether it’s Phillip lying about where he’s going, that he’s not drinking, he’s studying and his best friend’s lying about being gay, and Anna Gunn’s character is lying about being in a happy marriage. Not lying, but she’s refusing, she knows, she’s reading that book, she knows that something’s going on, she knows she’s not in love, she’s staying the course, she’s lying to herself that it’ll be ok. Samantha [her character of Bonnie] is being lied to but she is oblivious and doesn’t know but that’s like part of why she keeps painting the same thing, her home in her own back yard, nothing changes. Something’s going on and she’s trying to find it. She doesn’t know what it is, it’s like this weird artful metaphor, but she doesn’t realize it’s her and her husband.

PP: I hadn’t thought about that being her subconscious talking to her! Let’s chat about your own balancing act in life as director, producer, wife, and mother.

MB: I have a stay-at-home husband and my mother [and in-laws] and brother living here. When I was filming “Being Frank,” I had a really solid support system. … I don’t think I could do it without a supportive partner who was like, ‘Hey, I really want my job to be the house person,’ which is like the hardest job there is. That said, when I come home from work, he’s like, here you go! Your turn!

PP: It’s a tough balancing act!

MB: There’s a lot of pressure on us from society… when I was producing…all the traveling…all the guys and women were single and I was married and I was like the “bad mom” ha ha ha. They’d joke about it, [saying], “You’re never around. You’re always in Toronto drinking beer with us ha ha ha.” I’m not a bad mom, I’m a very good mom, but you don’t say anything. I think we feel guiltiest. Like my dad never had to go to parent teacher conferences and never got the pressure to do that. … And I hate dealing with teachers and principals and report cards, so it’s good because I just make him [my husband] do all that. (Laughs)

PP: I bet he’s good at it!

MB: He is because he’s nice. There’s got to be someone as the tough one. I’m tough in my regular life which is not home so when I come home and they say, can I have ice cream for dinner, I’m like, yep! Sure!

PP: You’ve got so many irons in the fire all the time and Cherry Picks review site for women is one of them and has been live now for 8 months. How’s that going?

MB: We now have this fantastic design that’s operating and at the end of the month we’ll have this critics [area] where critics will be able to upload their own stuff … and we have our own articles … we’re still learning and growing. It takes a long time to build. It’s like remodeling a kitchen. It takes 10 times longer than you expect. Rotten Tomatoes is great, but it’s for a specific audience and Cherry Picks is also for a specific audience.

“Being Frank” expands across the country this weekend and you can find more information about Cherry Picks at

Film Rating: 3/4 Stars

The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC

November 16th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “The filmmakers behind “Patrimonio” at DOC NYC”

Each and every year at DOC NYC Film Festival, the films are extraordinary, providing insight and knowledge about topics, many of which were previously unknown. This year, we have a classic David versus Goliath tale in Baja Sur Mexico thanks to the dedicated talent and determination of filmmakers Sarah Teale and Lisa F. Jackson with their film “Patrimonio.” The film takes us on a journey located in a quaint Mexican seaside village, Todos Santos, where American investors attempted to not only create a vacation paradise, but also destroy a way of life for local residents. This David versus Goliath story is filled with surprise twists and turns as we peel away the layers of political corruption spurned by greed. With devastating environmental consequences, the town, initially set into division, bands together, reminding us all of the power of persistence, knowledge, and belief in doing what’s right for the right reasons. It’s one of the most inspiring and gripping tales of how sometimes money can’t buy everything.

I had the pleasure of talking with the filmmakers to learn more about the making of this uplifting documentary. Their candid responses gives viewers even more appreciation for their relentlessness in depicting the situation, their own personalities, as well as this how this beautiful film and story came to be.

***** Warning: Spoiler Alerts Ahead, but all very happy ones! *****

Pamela Powell (PP): How did the two of you first become connected?

Sarah Teale (ST): Lisa and I both make documentaries for HBO and knew about each other for years but in 2011 I invited Lisa to visit us at our farm in upstate New York. I was starting a cooperative for grass fed beef farmers and Lisa started filming the farmers and edited them into short films for the new co-op’s web site. We then realized that this was a much larger undertaking and their stories said a lot about the state of our food systems today. So Lisa kept filming. The result was the documentary Grazers: A Cooperative Story, which also screened at DOC NYC.

Lisa F. Jackson (LFJ): Also, I had just finished three docs in a row about rape and sexual violence and I jumped at the chance to spend time in the Adirondacks with Sarah and her cows.

PP: How did you first hear about Tres Santos and then decide to document the citizens fight to regain control?

ST: My husband has owned a house in Todos Santos for 35 years and I have been going there for years. In 2015 he noticed a huge foundation wall being erected on the fishermen’s beach and we heard about plans for a massive mega development starting on the fishermen’s beach. We also heard that the fishermen were fine with this but we decided to go and ask them and that started a three year odyssey in which the fishermen led an ultimately successful fight to stop the development.

LFJ: Sarah and I were looking for another project to work on together and she invited me to visit Todos Santos in the winter of 2015 with an eye towards researching a film about the Sea of Cortez, but the real film was closer to home. That day on the beach we met fisherman Rosario Salvatierra and his rage and passion was contagious: we knew we had our main character and the beginning of a story.

PP: Your film is refreshingly unusual in that we truly have a happy ending in a documentary about human rights. This “David vs. Goliath” scenario could have gone either way. As you watched the events unfold, as I’m sure this is true with many documentaries, is your story line constantly changing as you’re editing it in your mind?

ST: We had no idea where this story was going and mostly dreaded that the outcome would be as it had been in Cabo San Lucas. Cabo is just an hour south of Todos Santos and the developers have totally taken over the community. As with any cinema verité film you take off after a story and hope that it will pan out. Lisa and I grew up in the HBO stable of filmmakers where Sheila Nevins allowed you the time and the space to follow a story until there is a logical end so that is what we did. We are both rather stubborn.

LFJ: There were many times over those years when it indeed looked like the fishermen – and their supporters – would be crushed by the devious and unscrupulous developers – but I just stuck with the fishermen, knowing that they were not going down without an epic fight.

PP: Tell me more about gaining access to the citizens in this community.

ST: I think at first the fishermen were just grateful that someone had come to ask them their opinion. After that they were grateful that we just stuck around. Lisa speaks perfect Spanish and soon picked up their particular accent and prodigious swear words and after a while they more or less forgot that she was there. Todos Santanians are on the whole very open and trusting and I think they just trusted us to tell their story.

LFJ: We told the fishermen straight up that we wanted to follow their fight and I just kept showing up, both at the beach and at their homes. Total immersion was the only way to get the intimate footage that Patrimonio required: long days on the boat with Rosario, long nights shooting the blockade, endless meetings and rallies and vigils and never knowing if the next day would bring an intimidating lawsuit or a devastating high tide, a new baby or the death of a patriarch. I felt in a way that the fishermen were cheered by the camera, that it was validating their resistance and that we were all in it together.

PP: What was one of the most surprising hurdles you encountered and how did you tackle it?

ST: Lisa was sued along with five other people. It is mentioned in the film but we left out her name. On several occasions the police arrived at our house to serve her papers. This could have meant serious jail time and a massive fine and was not something to take lightly even though it was based on nothing. John Moreno kept on top of the paperwork and filing the right counter arguments and Lisa registered with the US Consulate but the only way to tackle such hurdles from a personal point of view is to carry on and try not to be intimated. Not easy.

LFJ: John’s jail time was hairy for everybody but the four of us who – along with John – had been sued by the company and threatened with arrest couldn’t help but wonder if we were next. Mexico is not a safe place for journalists and keeping my focus in the face of that was tough at times. One hurdle we couldn’t overcome was the developers’ adamant refusals to be interviewed, but their despicable acts began to pile up and in the end that told us all we needed to know about them. Another hurdle was the heavy logistical load of living in New York City while shooting a film 3,000 miles away, a problem I solved two years ago by selling the apartment where I’d lived for 30 years and moving to Todos Santos!

PP: When John was arrested and detained for months, can you share with me what was your thought process about the film and your ability to continue?

ST: At the beginning we did not think that John’s jail time would last too long but it was shock to everyone when he was denied bail. But it was in fact a gift for the film and a gift for the fight. Everyone in town was horrified and the developers revealed who they really were and how the were connected both politically and to the judiciary. John’s arrest united the community in the fight and gave our film a focus and ultimately a rather joyous ending.

LFJ: John and his family are friends of mine, and his arrest sickened all of us: in Mexico activists are routinely “disappeared” and things could have gone very badly. But after a moment of stunned paralysis the fishermen – and the town – just ramped up the fight and those responsible for having him arrested knew that we were all watching. Not continuing was not an option.

PP: I’m sure that as a documentary filmmaker, it’s hard to stay removed from the situation at hand, especially when you’re witnessing injustices. As documentarians, can you share with me some of the more difficult moments in this particular film, to stay removed?

ST: We asked ourselves that question a lot throughout this film but sometime there is simply right and wrong and we knew which side right was. The developers could have done the right thing at any time but with every step they made things worse and hoped that their aggression, their money and their political connections would win, as it usually does in Mexico and the United States. But the people of Todos Santos are very independent minded and fierce that they wouldn’t give up so we didn’t either.

PP: What is the message you hope viewers and even other “Davids” (vs. “Goliaths”) to take away from your film?

ST: We feel that the fishermen’s fight and the tactics used by John Moreno offer a blueprint for other communities and other fights. The fishermen stood up for their legal and human rights and kept that mission front and center at all times. They appealed to universal values and backed it up with law and they used every available outlet to get their information and their truth out there – marches, brochures, meetings, social media and ultimately lawsuits.

LFJ: The fight against Tres Santos was a rolling snowball and I think the film shows how the fishermen’s concern about their beach became a cumulative and collective outrage against this threat to the town’s very existence. It only becomes a David v Goliath story when the underdog decides to pick up a rock and put it in their slingshot and the audacity that the fishermen showed in speaking truth to power was that rock. It’s a simple story, but a universal one.

PP: What is it about making documentaries that appeals most to you as a creative filmmaker?

ST: Nothing beats real life for good stories. Nothing. It is scary but I also love that you never know what is going to happen and when. As with life, you just have to roll with it and hope. I have always loved documentaries and always will and was inspired by the generation before us who essentially invented the form.

LFJ: I have been involved in documentary filmmaking ever since I left MIT film school in 1971 and my career has been one where every project has been an immersion in a different reality, and the challenge and thrill of that hooked me immediately. My mentor, Ricky Leacock, was one of the fathers of cinema verite and his great advice to me was “get closer”. It’s been my great privilege to have spent over 40 years with that as my job description.

PP: And finally, as female filmmakers, how do you see, if at all, the environment changing for women in this industry?

ST: Lisa and I were lucky enough to work for a very powerful and dedicated woman at HBO. Sheila Nevins has done more to promote documentaries than anyone ever and she always supported women but more than that she supported good filmmakers wherever she found them and good stories. That was all that mattered to her ultimately and that was both very freeing and very challenging – she wouldn’t commission you just because it was you but only if you could deliver a good film. There are more opportunities these days for women and that is a very good thing but they still have to deliver and that will always be the ultimate challenge.

LFJ: Women are more technically hands-on than ever before and fearless about picking up a camera and just doing it. Documentary filmmaking has always seemed more egalitarian than the world of Hollywood fiction and it’s thrilling to see so many women taking up the challenge of telling the female-focused stories that we’ve been missing, and they’re seeing the effect that those stories can have. In the 70’s when I was starting out I didn’t have any female role models but I now see many women mentoring other women and that makes me sanguine about how far we’ve come and where we’re headed.

It is with absolute gratitude that I give to both Teale and Jackson for not being intimidated and to deliver such a cinematically courageous and inspiring film. If you missed “Patrimonio” in NYC, you’ll be able to see it on DVD and VOD in March, 2019 via First Run Features.

“Most Likely to Murder” An interview with writer/director Dan Gregor and star Adam Pally

April 29th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, Weekly DVD, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Most Likely to Murder” An interview with writer/director Dan Gregor and star Adam Pally”

Dan Gregor co-writes with Doug Mand and directs this thrilling murder mystery comedy starring Adam Pally (“The Mindy Project”), Rachel Bloom (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”).   Billy (Pally) goes home one last time before his parents move and is confronted with the memories and actions of his past.  Never having really grown up, he attempts to pick up where he left off ten years ago, but then finds himself in a world where he thinks a boy he picked on in school has murdered his mother.  The film is brilliantly funny yet somehow manages to delve into a rather poignant topic toward the end without ever losing the pace and sense of being a comedy.  I had the pleasure of talking with both Gregor and Pally about making this film.  You’ll be shocked by the genesis of the film, the candid childhood memories shared,  as well as the extortion that took place!

Pamela Powell (PP):  Before we talk about the film, Dan can you tell me about your background and the differences between writing for television and for movies?

Dan Gregor (DG):  I started writing TV at ‘How I Met Your Mother’ …  In some ways, a story is a story.  It’s about setting a problem and the rising action to fix it and the resolution… In that regard, going to movies has always felt very organic; it’s a similar muscle.  Obviously the big difference is trying to find something that really ends the sentence that gives real closure to the ideas … My writing partner Doug Mand and myself, whenever we’re breaking a story, we won’t even start writing a script until we know that we have an ending that gives it a really exciting conclusion.  Having something that feels like a third act that people are going to be engaged with, we always feel like [that’s] lacking in mainstream comedies.  You might like the first 45 minutes, but after that it’s like let’s wrap this up because I know where it’s going.  That’s the biggest difference in going into movie writing is that the third act is genuinely engaging and exciting and hopefully a little unexpected

PP:  I loved the movie!  You had me engaged the entire time and the ending was totally unexpected.  With as many movies as I see each year, that’s a tough thing to do!

DG:  Thank you.  That’s the highest praise I could get.

Adam Pally (AP):  Yes, truly the highest praise. 

DG:  I didn’t get a lot of praise from my parents growing up.  (Laughs)

PP: So how did you come up with the premise of this film?

DG:  The real beginning of the movie happened because  when I was 13 I had scrambled “Skinemax” porn in my bedroom and I would stay up all night. I would basically wait till I thought there was  a sex scene going on and then I would sprint on my tippee toes quietly to the family room that had the actual cable box and I would throw in a VHS tape and try to record the sex scene.  But I was always too late so I had this  really weird tape of the last 5 seconds of sex scenes.  (Laughs)  It’s this very weird montage.  And eventually I grew out of this phase of my life and I had the tape hidden in the back of my closet.  As an adult, I went back to my parents’ house and I stumbled across it and I was like,  ‘Oh, my God!  I can’t believe this thing still exists!’ and I was sort of desperate to watch it again, but I literally couldn’t find a VHS player.  As much as it’s ridiculous, that sort of emotion of having this piece of nostalgia that you are desperate to hold on to, but you can’t. [That] was the emotional starting place of movie.  Doug, my writing partner and I have always been obsessed with ‘coming home for the holiday’ movies in general, but also very specifically Thanksgiving weekend and the night before Thanksgiving where everyone’s back in their home town and you’re going to a local bar and you’re getting drunk and reliving past memories.  That sort of feeling that you desperately want to be in the past but you never can be again.  That was the genesis of … the movie.  Once we knew we wanted to do that, we then challenged ourselves to find a way to tell that in a [more] engaging way than white guy comes home and realizes he’s old. 

PP:  Adam, I’ve seen your two previous films, “Joshy” and “Band Aid,” two very different films from this one as are your characters.  Is there a commonality among these characters that you see as you play them?

AP:  Any character I play is a version of myself.  That’s the only way I know how to do something is to say, what part of me would be this person?  And then embrace that  and put a full spin on it.  I think they are three very different characters, but they’re all versions of myself.  I can see myself ending up like all three people with one right or left turn.  I think if I have any sort of process, it’s that. 

PP:  Some of Adam’s lines are remarkably memorable and offensively hilarious!  Dan, can you tell me about creating this?

DG:  I think that’s the fun part about writing.  By the time you’re seeing a movie, this, from concept to script, to revision to edit to improv, you’re seeing the 100th version of the movie … this movie was always written for Adam… and so even when we were writing the movie we were still checking with Adam…and also we’ve been working with Adam since we were 20 so we feel his voice pretty well.  And truly, Adam is one of the best improvisers in the world.  We have some spectacular lines in the movie that are completely improved from Adam.  

PP:  Adam, do you have a favorite line or improv situation?

AP:  The movie is written so well that it was fun to deliver the scripted lines.  You know what was really funny … is when I first curse in front of my parents.  I know that when you’re a kid, you see that other kid curse…

DG:  You go to that other kid’s house and go wait a minute, this kid is allowed to curse?  Not only in front of his parents, but at them? 

AP:  When you first see that in the movie, it gets a lot of laughs and I think that’s one of my favorite parts. 

DG:  And Adam gave it such a juvenile read, that is what I loved about it.  He’s such an angst-y teen about it.  My favorite Adam improve line, to brag about Adam, is toward the end of the movie, he’s talking about being a restroom attendant in Vegas and saying that he’s sorry that he keeps looking at people’s penises in the bathroom but it’s an accident and he can’t help but glance at a penis when it’s in front of you.

PP:  Are these characters based on any real life people from your past, Dan?

DG:  Every one is an amalgamation of people.  Every one is from my life or Doug’s life. In a very real way the character of Lowell is not a specific someone. [He] is based on the fact that when I was in middle school, I was a shitty kid.  I was not nice to people.  I went to this small private school and I was hot shit in this little school and I was not kind.  And then the next year, I went to this big public school and I instantly had the tables turned.  I was the nerd and I was getting picked on … And I had this realization that, oh, shit!  I was unkind to people and it fucking hurt.  That regret and that realization is the emotional cornerstone of the movie and the underlying ethos of the Lowell character.

PP:  Did you have any bumps in the road or was it smooth sailing?

AP:  We were extorted by the local town.

PP:  (Laughs)

DG:  Seriously … we moved to the actual suburbs where we shot the whole movie … this little town had a racket.  We found out afterwards where they let people sign up for film permits and then when it’s in the 11th hour they tripled the price.  Our amazing producer Petra Ahmann didn’t tell me what was going on because she didn’t want to mess in my head while I was filming and just snuck off to the local municipality courthouse.   Honestly, I have no idea what she did to spin them back.

AP:  Could have been a double extortion.

DG:  She somehow finagled them to let us get back to our original permit price, but the thing we did have to do is  we lost all of our night shoots.  So we had to change the entire closing sequence from a nighttime horror feel to a daytime horror feel.   I actually feel like it was a real gift because it gave that whole finale a much different look than maybe was the obvious choice.

PP:  I have to ask the next obvious question.  What town?

DG:  I’m happy to burn them.  Eastchester, NY.  It’s just the horror of making a low budget movie is that your every dollar really can mess you up pretty bad. 

“Most Likely to Murder,” a thrillingly comedic film, is available on DVD and various digital platforms on May 1.  Check out the trailer here: MOST LIKELY TO MURDER 



INGRID GOES WEST—Spicer pushes the envelope too far

November 3rd, 2017 Posted by Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on “INGRID GOES WEST—Spicer pushes the envelope too far”



ingrid2“Ingrid Goes West” takes psychological disorders and social media and puts them into a pressure cooker to give us a cringe-worthy and disturbing look at today’s world through the eyes of a misguided and floundering young woman, Ingrid played by Aubrey Plaza.  Written by Matt Spicer and also starring Elizabeth Olsen, the film creates a controversial message regarding mental illness and society’s unintentional reinforcement of unwanted behavior.  While it’s a dark comedy, the darkness may be too much for many.


Ingrid explodes like a volcano at her friend’s wedding, embarrassing herself and ruining much of the reception.  This outburst lands her in a psychiatric ward, giving her the tools necessary to return to “normal” life.  Upon her release, she is thrust back into the everyday occurrences complete with stares, jeers, and comments from her judgmental acquaintances.  Fleeing to L.A. to literally follow Taylor Sloane (Olsen) who is an Instagram sensation, Ingrid’s obsessive behaviors get the better of her and the following becomes more stalking until she is invited into Taylor’s inner circle.  The means to the end find her spiraling out of control as one lie after another creates a more tangled web of deceit.


Spicer has an undeniable skill in developing intensely awkward situations making you want to look away, but you can’t.  You have to see what happens next.  While his characters certainly represent specific groups or types of people, they certainly are not one dimensional.  Plaza continues her rather bizarre persona as Ingrid, perfectly suited to her acting style.  However, there is a subtlety to her portrayal that makes us have sympathy for her situation.  The sadness and inability to change is evident behind her eyes, but on the surface, we feel and would react exactly like those she encounters.


Ingrid encounters and takes advantage of anyone around her to attain her ultimate goal:  to be a part of the popular group.  O’Shea Jackson, Jr. plays Dan Pinto, Ingrid’s landlord and naive drug dealing friend.  Their relationship is awkward yet sweet, but as the viewer, you always have an insider’s perspective of what will come…and it does.  Olsen is simply remarkable in her performance.  She iingridss captivating as she confidently portrays the adorable (and lucky) Taylor Sloane who is successful thanks to social media posts.  Sound familiar?  Olsen and Plaza balance each other like yin-yang, but it is Olsen’s evident innocence that endears us to her character.  This female camaraderie with the dark cloud of social pressures and mental illness give this film an entirely unexpected and oftentimes uncomfortable look into young adulthood.


The main character in this film isn’t Ingrid—it’s social media and the pressure it places on young people today.  The bullying that occurs as well as the superficiality of it brews a poisonous drink in which so many overindulge.  Keeping up with the Joneses has always been difficult, but when it hits you through every social media outlet, it’s impossible to stay true to yourself.  ***Here’s a spoiler so stop reading if you want!***  The acknowledgment of depression, obsessive behavior, and mental instability is wonderfully incorporated into this story, but it is the glamorizing of attempted suicide that  gives this film a huge red flag.  Suicide is not glamorous.  It should not be reinforced.  And in no way should social media be the outlet for it.


“Ingrid Goes West” is a unique dark comedy that delves into relationships, women, and the pressures of social media.  Olsen is a standout with Plaza honing her skills as a “different” and troubled woman.  While there is humor in this film, there is also heartbreak with a final message that cannot be condoned.  Spicer pushed the envelope on this one and perhaps he pushed it just a bit too far.


2 Stars

An interview with Chad Friedrichs, "The Experimental City" Part of the Spotlight: Architecture at the Chicago International Film Festival

October 8th, 2017 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “An interview with Chad Friedrichs, "The Experimental City" Part of the Spotlight: Architecture at the Chicago International Film Festival”

The documentary film, “The Experimental City” by Chad Friedrichs, will be a part of the 53rd Chicago International Film Festival taking place in Chicago from October 12-26 at the AMC River East.  The film, a part of the Spotlight: Architecture program, is a bold, innovative, and entertaining discovery of an almost lost and forgotten story of Athelstan Spilhaus.  Spilhaus lead a team of scientists attempting to develop MXC, the Minnesota Experimental City in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  This endeavor, targeting the results of climate change actually garnered state funding and political support, but just as quickly as it was considered, it fizzled out and was buried…until now.  Friedrichs unlocks the treasure of information and provides audiences with the opportunity to know Spilhaus as well as to ponder the era and the outcome.

Friedrichs talked with me about his discovery of Spilhaus and the arduous journey in making this wonderfully entertaining and enlightening film.


I think outside certain sections of Minnesota, [the Experimental City] has been a largely forgotten subject. I came to it as I was searching for a topic along the lines of retro-futurism which is what people in the past used to think the future would look like…I came across some articles about Athelstan Spilhaus who is this scientist [and] academic…[and] this comic that he had written called Our New Age which of course is featured in the film…The very first ‘Our New Age’ that Spilhaus ever wrote in 1958 was about climate change.  He talked about [the fact] that we lived in a greenhouse and the carbon dioxide that is being emitted from our burning of fossil fuels is on the increase with the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere thus creating warming. And the last panel of that ‘Our New Age’ is NYC under water.  The very first one that he ever wrote!   But it’s one thing to do a profile on an individual, it’s another thing to try and define something far greater.  I actually looked it up on Wikipedia (You never know what you’ll find there!)… it mentioned that he had been a part of this project called the Minnesota Experimental City.  I’m originally from Minnesota, so this was something that I kind of cued in on…and you go down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and you start reading about this very futuristic sounding city.  Now, of course the Wikipedia article doesn’t give you any where near the kind of depth that we eventually arrived at, but it gave me enough of an indication that  there might be something really cool here.    


When I began this project, like all projects, you have no idea what this thing is going to look like, but…once I read the story of the MXC…[I thought] I’ve got to make this story somehow.  And I didn’t even know that those archival recordings were out there.  Walter Van den Broeck…who was one of the leads on the project donated all of these recordings and all of his materials associated with the MXC to the Northwest Architectural archives at the University of Minnesota.  A quick internet search revealed that they had these boxes. We didn’t know what was in these boxes, but it did mention that there were some reel to reel audio recordings.  Those are the kind of things that can change a film…when I say recordings, probably 40 or 50 reel to reels, and it says Steering Committee meeting, July 1967…this is going to be Spilhaus and all the rest talking about it and sure enough it was.

That was the first find and then the second find was when we went down to Texas to interview Louise O’Connor, Spilhuas’ friend. She mentioned off-hand that she had these recordings when she compiling his biography…In her recordings with Spilhaus, [he was] drinking heavily during the recording… he could say whatever he wanted, he was liberated. That was fun to listen to! That really gives you a sense of this character… we had 200 hours of audio…We had way more audio that we ever knew what to do with.  It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it is a problem.


The people (shown seated from the neck down) who are reading the MPCA transcripts at the end of the film, they’re all family members.  Even through editing, that was always the question mark, were audiences going to accept it? The idea: I’ve seen a film called “The Arbor,” that has lip-syncing involved. I didn’t have either the chops or the budget to pull off something like that. Another obvious choice would to be to do comics, to do an animation, but for some reason I just wasn’t feeling that.  And I really wanted to make sure that those recordings didn’t feel abstract.

So when you’re exposed to all this archival footage, all these still images…it’s going to distance you away from that audio…it just doesn’t have that same kind of immersion  when you’re actually seeing people talk even if you know in the back of your mind that those people aren’t real.

It’s the documentarians burden I’ve struggled with all my career.  Sometimes you have fabulous material from one aspect of the film but then you have to find ways to fill in the other aspects of the film, in this case, the visuals. 


It’s tempting to look at that.  Let me give you my point of view on that.  I always, from the very beginning, try to strike a balance.  I always want audiences to come out kind of  a 50-50 split. I want audiences to see virtues of both sides. The people from [Minnesota] absolutely had to do what they did.  I mean it’s crazy to think that the city would come in, and if you believe in where you live is a good place, that’s the last thing you want to do is have that taken away… It’s very possible that this could have ameliorated some issues that created climate change today.  It’s very possible that it may not have done anything and become a ghost town after 20-30 years.  It does show [that] Spilhaus very early on was aware.  He was on the fence.  They knew that some sort of change was going to be taking place, but throughout the 70’s they weren’t sure whether it was going to be the climate change that we know or things were going to get cooler because of particulates in the air from pollution and that would block sunlight and it would have gotten cooler.  So he was on the fence.  To cast Spilhaus as this totally prescient person about our predicament today, is to do an historical injustice to him.  He was operating on the best information he had at the time.


A lot of people expect relevance out of documentaries…[However], this film is a kind of time piece as well.  It captures the spirit of a toxic era, so I wanted to remain true to that era  I didn’t want to move it forward to the 21st century.  It was a story about the 1960’s and ’70’s…At the same time, I think it’s great that people find relevancy that makes your work fresh; it keeps it interesting. 


Number one, I want people to be entertained. There’s a burden that’s placed on documentary filmmakers to have this larger social outcome from a film.  That is not my desire, nor is it my particular talent.  Mine is making the movie and then letting other people use it as a tool.   The reason I got into this is that I’m attracted to the story…if audience walks out of it and they’re happy and entertained or sad and entertained, that’s enough for me.

"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”


“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.

entanglement thomas middleditch

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.

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"”



“The Lovers,” starring Debra Winger and Tracy Letts opened to rave reviews from Rolling Stone Magazine and 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.”

"Norman" Everybody knows one

April 21st, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Norman" Everybody knows one”


Richard Gere shows us he’s still in the game with his unusual lead role in the film “Norman.” This Israeli-American film by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joseph Cedar is a uniquely funny and charming drama with an all-star cast.  Norman (Gere) is a small-time business man who, although he tries, is always on the outermost circle of the high-powered, successful corporate heads.  That never deters him from trying to connect people and make things happen, though.  His life changes one day when he meets and buys a pair of designer shoes for the man who would, three years in the future, become the next Israeli Prime Minister (Lior Ashkenazi).


We meet Norman and immediately understand that he’s “a little off”—his hair needs to be cut as it sticks out over his ears, his clothes are slightly unkempt, and his slouched posture indicates that he just isn’t quite cut out to play with “the big boys.”  Undeterred, Norman pushes ahead, trying to make that next (and perhaps only) big deal happen.  He’s awkNORMAN-POSTERward in his interactions and just doesn’t seem to pick up on social cues, making the scene just that much more uncomfortable.  But there’s a certain sweetness and charm about him conveying a sense of harmlessness.  We see Norman who appears to be stalking Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi), a lower level Israeli politician at the time,  befriend him.  Not wanting to lose this “connection,” Norman buys Eshel an expensive pair of shoes that will likely break his personal bank.  Three years pass and Eshel, now the Prime Minister, returns to NYC and remembers his shoe-buying friend.  Norman’s life will never be the same again, but neither would anyone else’s!

The story starts off with a slow pace, carefully setting up all of the background that we need to piece this engaging puzzle together.  Set in New York City, we get a glimpse into the superficiality of high-powered companies.  The story progresses using acts of a play as Norman’s life unfolds before our eyes.  While this is a drama filled with a certain amount of sad irony, it is also light-hearted and at times even whimsical.  The situations are frequently uncomfortable, but the music accompanying the scene is cheerful, almost playful, eliciting a completely opposing feeling.


By the second act, we are fully invested in Norman’s success, but always cringing because we know he will do something “a little off.”  He makes promises he can’t quite keep, but is always working people to make things happen—it’s a dominoes effect of decision-making.  Norman is involved in the local synagogue lead by Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) which needs money to survive.  His nephew, who wants no outward connection to his uncle, needs to be married by a rabbi.  The string theory of Norman’s life becomes increasingly tangled, keeping you on the edge of your seat in Act III.

The writing and directing of this film has a certain unique characteristic to it.  Cedar is known for incorporating symbolism into his films and “Norman” is no exception to the rule.  While I am not Jewish, I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with a woman who is qualified in this area—she will remain anonymous.  She explained that the concept of anonymity within the Jewish religion is for charity’s sake, to truly help someone, attaching no shame in acceptance.  The film’s central theme incorporates this concept, but there are blurred lines of the definition.  She also shared with me the legend of 36 just men who are responsible for preserving the world.  Could Norman be one of these men?  The symbolism runs deep, and as producer Miranda Bailey shared with me, “Joseph Cedar’s work is filled with symbolism and innuendo that even I—-  having made the film—am still discovering.  One thing that I love is that I discover something new re-watching every scene.”

Cedar showcases a unique style within the film, creating a split screen to show the characters located in different places talking to one another.  Initially, this is surprising, but then it becomes quite visually entertaining as it allows us to experience the conversation and emotions more fully.  Blending symbolism, unique filming style, and unexpected musical accompaniment gives viewers a refreshing and truly new film.

Gere portrays Norman with genius skill.  We see him as a nobody who wants to be a somebody.  With careful attention to the detail of mannerisms and body language, Gere conveys just the right level of awkwardness to give this character credibility.  He finds a way to capture your heart while we are always questioning his motives.  As he interacts with the characters who are at a higher social status than he, Gere’s delivery of his lines, while absolutely hilarious and completely exaggerated, are believable.  We all know at least one or two people just like Norman.

The entire cast simply shines in “Norman.”  Ashkenazi’s confident and big-hearted performance as Eshel is the perfect balance to Gere’s awkward and unassuming one.  Sheen, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dan Stevens, and Buscemi create more than a well-rounded cast—they create characters that tell a beautiful story about life, its ups and downs, the coincidences that occur, and the true heart of humanity.  This could not have happened without the deft direction of Cedar.  He brings this charming drama to life for us all to enjoy.

“Norman” is a gem not often found in filmmaking today.  It creates an unusually unique and entertaining story with flare that is universal to all.  In addition, there are deeper levels of symbolism allowing you to discover something new.  You can’t ask for more than that in a film.

To read the interview with Bailey, go to FF2MEDIA.COM


"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!


"Sing (Mindenki)" A Melodic Message of Friendship By Pamela Powell

January 13th, 2017 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “"Sing (Mindenki)" A Melodic Message of Friendship By Pamela Powell”


Hungarian writer and director Kristof Deak’s short film “Sing” has been short-listed for the Academy Awards this year and with good reason.  This beautifully poignant film creates a rich and multi-layered story that captures your heart and gives you hope in our youth and community.  This short film has already accumulated numerous awards such as the People’s Choice Award at TIFF Kids Toronto and the Best Live Action Short Film Award at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival to name just a couple.  WATCH THE TRAILER HERE


The story revolves around newcomer Zsofi who is excited to attend her new school that has a choir.  Fitting in to an established school-setting, no matter what country you’re in, can be intimidating, but Zsofi immediately connects with Liza, the star singer within the choir.  Zsofi is quickly and quietly singled out by the  choir leader Miss Erika who tells her to just pantomime because she’s just not good enough.  Heartbreaking though it may seem, Zsofi trudges forward, but the secret may be more than she can bear by herself.  The solution is unexpected and absolutely heartwarming.  To say more would take away your joy in watching how our youth has mMindenki_Ms_Erika_3k_minioral character and resiliency.

In just 25 minutes, “Sing” finds a simple yet extraordinarily deep and meaningful story to tell.  One that will resonate not only with the main characters’ ages, but with adults as well.  Zsofi must confront her own issues of value, worth, and ambition much like we all do on a daily basis.  Dorka Gasparfalvi gives us a natural and sublime performance as Zsofi.  Her internal emotional roller coaster is never too heavy-handed, but is easily understood.  The subtleties within her portrayal are what bring that needed seMindenki_Zsofi1_3K_mininse of genuineness to the film.  While she and Dorka Hais (Liza) create a beautiful and realistic childhood friendship, it is their chemistry as friends that warm your heart.  Walking and talking as they go home from school, hanging together as they listen to music, it is this interaction that solidifies their willingness to go to any lengths to protect one another.  This ensemble cast is small, but powerful, stitched together with the gorgeous Zsofia Szamosi (Miss Erika) who betrays your eyes with the harshness that lies beneath.

“Sing” offers inspiration, love, and the hope for solidarity, helping one another and putting the goal of what’s right ahead of what’s expected.  Beautiful filming, concise editing, and a gorgeous yet understated script allow the story to truly shine.  Deak creates a melodic message that will keep you mesmerized and perhaps allow you to remember to put the greater good at the forefront of your decisions.

After seeing hundreds of films each year, “Sing” is one that deserves the Academy’s recognition.


"Certain Women" An interview with Kelly Reichardt by Pamela Powell

October 20th, 2016 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “"Certain Women" An interview with Kelly Reichardt by Pamela Powell”

Michelle Williams in “Certain Women”

Kelly Reichardt, known for her previous films “Night Moves,” and “Meek’s Cutoff,” continues to break the movie mold with her newest film “Certain Women.”  Starring Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, and Lily Gladstone, we become immersed in these strong, independent, yet very typical women in a remote area of the U.S.  The surroundings and cinematography are as much of an important piece of the film as the women themselves, allowing us to gain insight into their psyche and core feelings.   The film, now released, has traveled the film festival circuit and I had the privilege of sitting down with her in Toronto and talking with Reichardt about filmmaking and being a woman in this field.  As she explains the motivations behind her creativity, you just might see a parallel between your life and hers.


Kelly Reichardt, filmmaker

Watch the trailer here

RHR (Reel Honest Reviews):  Where did the idea of “Certain Women” come from and who are these women?

KR (Kelly Reichardt):  The stories came from two collections by Maile Meloy.  The question that runs through all the films I’ve made…is about [how] are we all connected to each other and what’s our responsibility to each other; strangers that we are.  It was this idea of connecting people that are obviously living in the same kind of region. Some of the connections are actual, and others are just how close we are to each other, and right next to each other.  I hate to sum it up in any way because the movie strives not to, [but] it’s the connection to strangers.


Kristen Stewart

They’re really flawed, these characters.  They’re super flawed people (and she says as an aside,) as we tend to be.  They each have their [goals] with their corrupt things in their lives.  Also, in the information age, trying to connect and find people, it may be easier [to develop] connections with strangers than with the person you live with or have a family with or are a mother to.

RHR:  The film, although more of a drama, like real life, has moments of humor.  Tell me about balancing that in your film.

KR:  Maile Meloy does a very fine job of that in her writing, of balancing humor but with room for some pain to come in at the same time.  Laura Dern is a super physical actor and she really can locate the moment of humor and put an accent on it.  I was laughing watching Michelle because I hadn’t given her a role with any humor in it [before].  It was really fun to see how actors can bring out those moments that are there.  They really bring them to life.

RHR:  The sounds within the film beautifully augment the overall feeling and story.  Can you tell me about orchestrating this?


Laura Dern

KR:  The sound design grows.  You have a concept of it in the beginning and then getting to the place you’re shooting, new sounds appear that you weren’t aware of.  Livingston, [Montana], happens to be one of the windiest places in the country—the wind just creates this musical sound.  So our sound person was really great at giving me a symphony of train and wind sounds to work with.  Those things end up playing the way someone else would use a score in the film…I’m using trains.  Trains and wind are sonic themes that are running throughout the film.

RHR:  As a woman in a predominately male profession, do you find it more difficult because of your gender?

KR:  A long time ago, after my first film in ’93, I naively went into it without the realization [of this].  It was like finding out things like love doesn’t last.  And then, oh, this is the sexism I’ve heard about!  It played out in different ways…trying to make a movie, being on a set, certainly.   And with the release of a movie [although] I did have a lot of male support, I became aware in the truest sense.  You’re not going to be given the benefit of the doubt that you’re possibly trying something new.  It’s going to be be more like, you don’t know what you’re doing.  I took it so personally [that] it really broke my heart.  It took me a decade to stop banging my head against a wall.   Alright…you guys don’t want me, I don’t want you! I’m going to find my own way so I can live and work.  I just really wanted to keep a camera in my hands and make films.  Eventually, I was able to make “Old Joy.”  It was going to be just an art film for me and my friends.  I had no idea it would have a life.


Lily Gladstone

I feel kind of unaware of what’s happening in the industry.  I totally expect that each film that I make will be my last.  It seems a miracle that they get made.  It doesn’t have just to do with being a woman.  It has to do with making personal films.  I think that’s easy for no one.  I keep my head toward the ground and hunker down and try to find a way to keep working in whatever capacity that might be.  Knock on wood, the door has slowly opened [and] you just find your way.

Reichardt continued to talk about her teaching experiences and how the gender make up of her classes has changed significantly.  Always keeping a sense of humor about everything, she said the fact that her classes are now 75% female, “…just might be proof of how dead film is.”  I think we can all agree that Reichardt and her filmmaking are what inspires more creative women to give us films with meaning.

“Certain Women” is now playing in cities nationwide.

"After the Storm" An Interview with Hirokazu Kore-eda

September 21st, 2016 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “"After the Storm" An Interview with Hirokazu Kore-eda”


“After the Storm” is written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, known for recent releases such as “Like Father, Like Son” and “Our Little Sister.”  Kore-eda’s ability to tell a story that crosses all cultural boundaries is a gift that continues to be a part of his most recent film “After the Storm.”  As an impending typhoon threatens,  Ryota deals with the aftermath of his father’s death, his ex-wife and young son, his feisty and wise old mother and a gambling addiction that is affecting every aspect of his life. This sometimes funny, yet poignantly relevant film is truly as refreshing as a summer storm.

Watch the trailer here

I had the distinct pleasure to sit down with this renowned filmmaker during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) to talk about “After the Storm.”  This demur and humble man, with the help of a translator, shared with me insights into what might be his most personal film to date.  After discussing the merits of my new Zoom H2N recorder and some great new transportable technologies, we talked about some of the wonderfully rich and complex characters within the film.  How can a man of middle age write from a perspective of a troubled man, a wise older woman, and a little boy?  He looked intently as he said, “You create the character…and then you take that character and say what environment am I going to put them in.  Once I get to that point, …I just let them talk and the voices just sort of come to me.  It’s like they start talking on their own.”  He began to smirk as he said, “That’s when everything goes smoothly…”


The film has autobiographical elements to it as he admitted that not only did his mother actually throw out every item his father owned after he died, there are many scenes which are based on Kore-eda’s own life.  For example, the little boy is certainly his voice when he was younger. He also sees himself in parts of Ryota Abe, but he also sees his own father in Abe as well.  He continued, “So it’s sort of a bit of both of us together that create the character.”  Parental relationships are a large part of this film and with life, as the wise mother in the film states, we all have regrets.  Kore-eda recalled that he too has regrets in life, especially concerning his relationship with both his father and his mother.  With both now having passed away, he felt that “…through film, you’re trying to sort of reconcile it.  I don’t know if you can get back what you haven’t done, but in a sense, maybe you can look at it from a different perspective.  Through working on the film, I, myself can rewrite what happened a little bit.”

This therapeutic relationship with film actually goes much deeper than what meets the eye.  Kore-eda fondly recalls the feeling and the scene following a typhoon he experienced as a child.  “After the typhoon, I came outside in the morning.  I had my schoolbag on my back and the grass was so green and sparkling…it felt as if something had been purified, that something had been released in that moment.  That’s kind of the feeling in the film as well.  You have his [Ryota’s] life and it keeps going, but in that last moment….something has shifted, something has been cleaned out.  It’s refreshing and it looks different” without resolving everything.

Women in the film, no matter their role, are all very strong, wise, and independent.  Kore-eda confirmed that this is intentional and actually replicates his environment.  He also confided that a lot of men are quite helpless, much like the men in the film.  One of my favorite lines in the film made Kore-eda laugh aloud, confirming that this is typical of his male characters in “After the Storm:”  “Men can’t love the present.  They’re always chasing what they’ve lost or dreaming of what they can’t have.”

Laughter is actually one of his goals in this very poignant and touching film.  He loved hearing audiences at TIFF really laughing and responding to his humor.  He humbly said, “Certainly I don’t have some profound lesson about life.  I remember there was a group of women around the same age as Kiki [watching the film].  They laughed and cried.  You watch the film and you see a piece of yourself.  It’s very close to you and close to your life.  Seeing people responding in that way…that’s enough for me.”

“After the Storm” will touch your life and open your eyes to see things in a new and perhaps a fresh way.  The film will be a part of the upcoming Chicago International Film Festival, playing October 19 and 20.  For more information about getting tickets, go to




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