“First One In” Aces humor and heart

September 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““First One In” Aces humor and heart”

Thrown off a popular reality show in disgrace, unemployed real estate agent Madi Cooke (Kat Foster), teams with a group of misfit tennis players in a do-or-die match against Bobbi Mason (Georgia King)–an overachieving, tightly wound, real estate shark–and her tennis-playing minions.

“First One In” is an over-the-top and incredibly fun film as it exemplifies women’s relationships, our competitiveness, and the importance of friendship all within the sport of tennis. Gina O’Brien writes and directs Kat Foster as Madi, a struggling realtor who, after a hilarious stint on a “Survivor” type of reality show, kills an endangered animal and must now figure out how to rise above the ridicule. Foster finds heart within this crazy character who is balanced by her tennis compadres Jane (Catherine Curtin), CeeCee (Emy Coligado), Preeti (Aneesh Sheth), and Valentina (Karina Arroyave), all lead by a sweet but frustrated tennis coach Fernando (Josh Segarra). Within each of these characters we can either see ourselves or one of our friends, allowing us to laugh and connect with them as they grow and support one another. Georgia King’s performance steals the show as the uptight Bobbi, successful realtor and intimidating boss.

I loved every minute of the chaos and turmoil which doesn’t take itself seriously, yet finds a way to pull at your heartstrings and remind us to lift one another. With a great story arc, “First One In” is an ace! And be sure to watch the credits for a bonus! Now streaming on all digital platforms.

3 Stars

“The Dark Divide” – A healing yet humorous adventure

September 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Dark Divide” – A healing yet humorous adventure”

Based on the story of renowned butterfly expert Robert Pyle (David Cross) who embarked on a life-changing trek through one of America’s most important unprotected wildlands in the summer of 1995.

This sweet, comedic adventure film based on the memoirs of Pyle is reminiscent of “Wild” as Pyle embarks upon an adventure he is neither physically nor emotionally trained to do.  His pitfalls find humor and his spiritual growth is inspiring as he copes with the death of his soulmate, Thea (Debra Messing).  Cross is perfectly cast as the awkward adventurer who is focused on finding new butterfly species in the Pacific Northwest.  Capturing the moss covered trees, the damp but fresh forest air, and the rugged and unforgiving mountainous terrain, “The Dark Divide” provides a healing adventure filled with humor but more importantly, a poignant resiliency which nature provides for all mankind.

3 1/2 Stars

Stream this on iTunes and Amazon

“The Broken Hearts Gallery” A surprisingly fun rom-com

September 11th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Broken Hearts Gallery” A surprisingly fun rom-com”

“The Broken Hearts Gallery,” written and directed by Natalie Krinsky is a light and easy romantic comedy that tackles our obsessions with past relationships. Geraldine Viswanathan stars as Lucy Gulliver, a young woman who takes and hoards memorabilia from boyfriends past, but this obsession gets out of control. Seeking a way to move on, she inadvertently creates a gallery for others like her to leave a momento from a relationship allowing them to move on.

We meet Lucy as a teen, bookended by her besties Amanda (Molly Gordon) and Nadine (Phillipa Soo), as the ever-romantic Lucy has yet another breakup. Fast forward 8 years and still, surrounded by her BFFs, Lucy gushes about her current and unknowingly soon-to-be ex boyfriend Max (Utkarsh Ambudkar). The inevitable happens, but serendipity also intercedes as Lucy, distraught from her discovery that Max is cheating on her, finds Nick (Dacre Montgomery).

The circumstances under which Nick and Lucy meet begin our comedic romantic journey. The two find a friendship and help one another work toward a common goal, mutually beneficial as Lucy’s background in art enables Nick to continue his dream of building a boutique hotel and she, a place to house her new-found and growing exhibition. Their relationship begins as friends, allowing them both to be open and candid about their pasts. Nick calls Lucy out on her crazy hoarding and Lucy is the positive influence Nick needs to get over barriers. It’s a natural feeling interaction with a sweetness that hooks you.

Interspersed within this story are outtakes of interviews with people who are donating their cherished items to the Broken Hearts Gallery. They tell their stories of loss and their newly found ability to look to the future. It’s a charming addition to this rather predictable story, adding an element of connection to the overall theme.

Viswanathan, full of energy and ready to shine as the lead actress in this film, shows us she can carry this load. Her natural, off-the-cuff style gives her a credible and realistic performance; she could easily be your quirky friend in real life. Unfortunately, Viswanathan’s power frequently overshadows Montgomery who has a much softer and low-key type of performance. He’s handsome and exhibits a vulnerability which counterbalances the character of Lucy, but he needed a bit more amplification to level the scales.

The supporting cast is there to do exactly that, support, but Arturo Castro who plays Nick’s best friend, is a gem on the screen, stealing every scene he’s in. Pairing him with Randy (Megan Ferguson) as his wife was genius as they play off one another to create more hilarious spots. And Gordon and Soo find the right tone to remind us about the importance of girl friends even though much of their performances are exaggerated and sometimes raunchy for comedic effects.

The film is definitely written from a female’s perspective. Lucy, Amanda, Nadine, and Randy, Marcos’ pregnant wife, vocalize the inner thoughts and conversations that women have. It was a struggle at times to believe some of the reactions from the characters of Nick and Max as the actors didn’t even seem to believe what was coming out of their mouths. Krinsky also throws a few political punches which will either make you laugh or anger you, depending upon which side of the fence your beliefs lie.

“The Broken Hearts Gallery,” like all rom-coms, isn’t meant to be real. It’s what fairy tales are made of and it’s pure escapism. While the running time is a bit long, the story does take all the expected turns while we laugh and chuckle along the way, rooting for Lucy to make the right choices and live happily every after.

*In theaters only

3 stars

“Gather” Serves up the history of Indigenous Americans in perfect proportions for everyone

September 10th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Gather” Serves up the history of Indigenous Americans in perfect proportions for everyone”

History is served up one dish at a time in the documentary “Gather,” directed by Sanjay Rawal. The film takes us on a deliciously informative journey of American Indigenous people who attempt to regain their culture and independence through “food sovereignty.”

Watch the trailer here

The pilgrimage begins in San Carlos, Arizona, through barren, dry lands once a rich, lush forested area. An Apache woman teaches a young girl how to gather grains as she introduces their cultural ways of preparing and eating foods native and once plentiful for their tribes. The breathtaking camera work immediately pulls you into the nature of the film as it captures something beyond the visual beauty. But it is Chef Nephi Craig of the White Mountain Apache Nation who is teaching a cooking class at the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture in New York State on the Traditional Lenape Land guiding us along an overgrown path of historical significance and potential healing for a group of Indigenous Americans who were all but wiped out by means of American colonialism.

Within the horrors of the atrocities from centuries ago, food counters the ugly truth as it provides a platform for healing and a sense of beauty. To reconnect to ones’ roots in this way provides more than a physical nourishment, it’s an emotional and spiritual one as well. Director Rawal finds the heart of these people and introduces us to key figures within the communities as they tell their stories of living on the reservations, the difficulties they have witnessed and encountered as well as the hope for their own future and for their traditions.

Rawal takes us across the country to lands and rivers once populated by bison and salmon where Native Americans hunted, fished, and gathered while living in harmony with what Mother Nature provided. From the Yurok Nation along the lush and gorgeous Klamath River in California to the New England area, we meet people like Samuel Gensaw III who embrace their culture and those who bring a sense of evangelism in communicating the efforts from around the country to retain what is so fragile and close to being lost.

Rawal creatively uses voiceover storytelling by bison rancher Fred DuBray with archival newsreels explaining the history of the Plains and how the land changed from having millions of Bison roaming to near extinction thanks to the cattle industry. As recently as 1990, the land has been sought to be protected and brought back to its original form. The connection between the people and their land which provides the food, as DuBray states, is palpable. While the struggle continues, there is a sense of hope thanks to the initiatives around the country. Educating the young about their culture and history is the path to lead these people to a healthier and more prosperous way of living, connected to one another and to nature.

It’s an inspiring film on the whole, but it is the young Elsie DuBray that ignites the possible spark for understanding and integration into the future for Native Americans and this country to understand the difficulties and the solutions. As a teen, her keen insight and knowledge far surpasses most teens as she grasps her cultural background’s centuries old forced tragedies and current health dilemmas while searching for solutions. Rawal focuses upon this aspect of the story for good reason as Elsie and those of her generation are the keys to opening the doors of a better way of living not just for the Indigenous Americans but perhaps all Americans.

Weaving together this story of history, tragedy, and hope as Chef Craig serves up uniquely native dishes and tells us his own unfortunately common story captures your heart and invites you to learn more. The stunning cinematography accentuates every aspect of the story, the beauty of our land, and the need to understand the gifts we have all been given to live a life of truth about our pasts and create a new path for the future.

4 stars

Now streaming on all digital platforms

“Enola Holmes” A smart, vibrant, and fun adaptation of the YA novel

September 8th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Enola Holmes” A smart, vibrant, and fun adaptation of the YA novel”

Brava! Netflix keeps the content coming with this incredibly fun young adult adaptation of Nancy Springer’s novel “Enola Holmes.” Who knew that Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) not only had an older brother, but also a baby sister names Enola (Millie Bobby Brown)? This is her story and her fight for independence while she solves riddles to find her missing mother. The apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree and Enola’s power of deduction might just be a match for her big brother.

Enola introduces herself to us, breaking that fourth wall to connect directly to the viewers, as she’s riding her bicycle through the countryside. Out of breath, she narrates the beginning of her life and how she came to this point. Her energy is contagious, her smile infectious, as we find out that while her upbringing had a rough start with her father passing away and her brothers leaving soon after, she and her mother (Helena Bonham Carter) have a unique but extraordinary relationship. Enola is devastated to discovers that her mother has disappeared. Her estranged and famous brothers come to her rescue, but Enola finds their “help” not so helpful. And she ventures out to put together the pieces of the puzzle and find Mother.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Enola’s upbringing was not a traditional one for this time period in the sense that femininity, marriage, and motherhood weren’t on her syllabus. Schooled in things that Enola will soon find incredibly beneficial like martial arts, anagram solving, and chemistry, Enola slips away after unveiling a clue that just might lead to her mom’s whereabouts.

The story is Enola’s and Brown gives her character a vivacious and vibrant personality filled with youthful exuberance and intelligence. Her presence on the screen calls us to attention, hanging on her every word as she unabashedly and eloquently speaks to the audience so that we can keep up. This is a character any young girl could admire and any adult could cherish. Of course, Cavill expertly portrays the brilliant Sherlock Holmes and Sam Claflin gives Mycroft, the uptight and unapologetically controlling older brother the edge and counterpart to Sherlock that’s needed. Bonham Carter is suited perfectly as Enola’s progressive mother who thinks outside of society’s current restrictions and together, this cast is supports one another and allows Enola’s character to shine.

The rest of the story incorporates puzzle solving and deductive reasoning skills amidst a deadly cat and mouse chase with a new-found “friend,” Lord Tewksbury (Louis Partridge) who is also on the run. Their paths, cross in ways neither of them could have predicted, add an element of mystery and of course, a charming love story. Murder, motive, and mayhem are woven together with the precision of an Orb spider creating her new lair. And within all of this, writer Jack Thorne educates us of the time period when women in the U.K. were still fighting for the right to vote. To incorporate the thrill of a mystery lead by a teenage girl who can outwit and out fight any male while remembering the tone of truth during an oppressive era is sheer brilliance.

Equally masterful is the pace of this story. There’s never a dull moment, but that doesn’t mean the action is non-stop. There is a perfect balance to the story as we get to know our main characters and the relevance of each of the supporting roles while also getting a rush of adrenaline as the ubiquitous train car jumping and hand-to-hand combat scenes are interspersed. With precision editing and choreography, our hearts race as we watch Enola use her head and her mastery of martial arts to defeat her foes. Of course, in any period film, costuming and set design are a must and the team not only brings this period back to life, but draws your attention to the mindset of things like corsets and complicated undergarments. While we chuckle at such absurdities of the era, there’s the undertone that “we’ve come a long way,” but we aren’t there yet. With deft writing lending itself to a suburb screenplay, it’s no wonder the cast is comprised of so many seasoned actors.

“Enola Holmes” is a smart and fun film which keeps us on the edge of our seats as we watch Enola solve puzzles, crimes, become smitten, outsmart her brothers and the proverbial “bad guys” as she challenges the world to see women differently. It’s a sure-fire win for both teens and adults!

Streaming on Netflix beginning Sept. 23, 2020

4 Stars

“The Argument”- A relatable and tension-filled comedy

September 4th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Argument”- A relatable and tension-filled comedy”

Writer Zac Stanford and Director Robert Schwartzman bring us a hilariously intimate look inside the minds of one couple during a momentous evening while entertaining friends. Insecure Jack (Dan Fogler), the struggling screenwriter, is planning a gathering at their apartment following his girlfriend Lisa’s (Emma Bell) performance in the play “Amadeus.” He’s got a huge surprise to unveil, but the jealousies, miscommunications, and misunderstandings of the evening get in the way of this surprise. Instead, an argument ensues, putting an end to the festivities and both Lisa and Jack will admit to no wrong-doing. To sort out who’s right and who’s wrong, they agree to invite the witnesses, er, um, the unwitting guests back the following night (and several nights after) to recreate the scene of the argument.

“The Argument” is a little bit of “Groundhog Day” meets “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Initially, the guests are perplexed as to why they’ve been invited back as Jack leads the conversation, trying to recreate every action and word spoken the night before.
The tensions soon rise and everyone’s true colors show as the characters learn of their purpose that night. And the next. And the next. It’s a brilliant take on a commonplace situation; an argument. We all wish we could have a reenactment to prove how right we were, but alas, the truth is muddled in perception and sometimes even deception.

Stanford’s precision writing is executed perfectly by each of the ensemble cast members. Their personalities, all very different and on the surface over-the-top and one-dimensional, but quickly, the surface melts away to reveal more complexities and realities. Their insecurities, backgrounds, and the depth of character are both intriguing and consuming as we see how these attributes affect their reactions.

Dan, always questioning Lisa’s relationship with Paul (Tyler James Williams) and Lisa’s over-the-top flirtation certainly gives Dan some credibility with his suspicions. Paul’s date Trina (Cleopatra Coleman) with her high pitched voice brings us back to old-time radio shows when the girls were gals and didn’t have a single intelligent thought…but looks can be deceiving. Sarah (Maggie Q) is all business with a photographic memory that comes into play but it is her incredibly condescending attitude that throws her significant other Brett (Danny Pudi) over the edge. The mix of these personalities creates a party that you’d never want to attend, but would pay money to be a fly on the wall to witness!

As the film takes place in one apartment, primarily the living room, giving it the feel of a play and there’s good reason for that, but I don’t want to spoil anything. We experience the same scenario, tweaked and varied which makes it incredibly funny, night after night as the characters do their part to recall what they said and what they did…and like a jury during a trial, misgivings and mistakes in testimony are called out, but when they all hit a wall, Jack brings in the big guns. This is an unexpected turn compounding the already high tension comedic elements in the story making it incredibly enjoyable as a viewer.

Stanford keeps us on our toes throughout the film, challenging us to be a part of this fast-paced memory game and to get to know the guests at the party. Pacing is everything in this film and thanks to exacting direction, Schwartzman pushes his cast to deliver the goods. While Fogler is the lead, the entire cast is integral to every scene and each actor stands out as they embrace their character’s position in this tangled web of truth. Maggie Q appears to find absolute pleasure in her performance as the uptight, driven breadwinner, belittling not only her hubby, but anyone who dares cross her path. Pudi plays off of this high tension, making us laugh aloud at the awkwardness he tries to brush under the rug. Williams’ and Bell’s embellished portrayal of their characters as actors brings to the surface so many stereotypes that you read or hear about, but it is Coleman’s unique throw-back performance that really stirs things up and makes it all vividly memorable.

Finding various types of humor from irony and observational to slap-stick physical and cutting sarcasm, Stanford creates a brilliantly funny script from which the actors work. It’s a masterpiece in storytelling utilizing small casts, skillful editing, dexterous direction, and of course the actors’ polished performances. Laughing and relating to each and every scene and each character in one way or another, “The Argument” is arguably one of the top films this year.

4 stars

“The Social Dilemma” Dissects the morality of social media with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel

September 2nd, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Social Dilemma” Dissects the morality of social media with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel”

Rarely do you come across a narrative film or documentary that screams from the mountain tops of how important and timely it is to see. “The Social Dilemma” is this film and it is one that cannot and should not be missed by anyone. Strongly stated, I admit, but it’s necessary.

The opening scene is a quote by Sophocles. “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse” and this describes the beginnings of technology what it has become. This film, while admitting to the greater good these advances in technology has brought us, it focuses upon how we, as a community, a country, and a world have been unwittingly duped into becoming fodder for sale. Our time, our eyes, our future desires and thoughts are all for sale. But the fallout is far greater as the curtain has been pulled back to reveal what’s really happening. And the social ramifications of programmers and their algorithms have reached catastrophic proportions. “The Social Dilemma” not only connects all the dots, it explains them.

The film is filled with interviews with the founders, innovators, and developers of the biggest social media platforms and companies in the world, such as Tim Kendall, Former Director of Monetization of Facebook, Justin Resenstein, Former Google Engineer, and others who created Facebook Pages and the “like” button, Twitter’s Head of Consumer Product, and others. We meet the lead in the film, Tristan Harris, Co-Founder and President of the Center for Humane Technology and former Design Ethicist at Google. He takes us back to that point of no return; when algorithms began to not only monetize attention to ads and particular information, but predicted it and changed who saw what. He cautioned, “If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.” With billions of users, this meant that each one of us, our anticipated wants and needs, were for sale and that we could be cultivated to desire things and have our own sense of individualized reality. One expert likened it to “The Truman Show” as we accept the reality that we are presented with. We cannot be objective if we are all getting different news.

The rapid fire growth in tech, sales of intangible items (aka our attention), is just the beginning of how our world has changed in “gradual and imperceptible ways” resulting in changing how we think and what we think. On the surface, it’s obvious that this is not for the better; just read the headlines every day for proof. Additionally, our emotional health and well-being has been jeopardized by the silly little thumbs up sign that was, according to its developer, intended to make people feel good, not compete and influence a youngster’s self-worth and identity.

This isn’t the first film to pinpoint how social media has had a negative impact on our lives, but it is the first to explain the issue from the developers point of view. As they divulge that they could no longer ignore their own moral compass for the sake of the almighty dollar, these tech geniuses resigned.

The entire film is mind-blowing as we see the correlating statistics about young girls’ suicides and social media’s presence. We see how false news become someone’s reality, and we watch from the catbird seat how the divisiveness created by these technologies are eroding our society. As each of the experts explained their former positions and how they helped develop a “digital pacifier” and “sell certainty” to advertisers as Shoshana Zuboff, PhD and Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School stated, the writing team of the film interjects dramatic short episodes of a story to represent the complexities of what they have developed and how it impacts you and your family.

The fictional story line stars Skyler Gisondo as Ben, the teen who is attached and addicted to his phone. The algorithm “team” or A.I. played by Vincent Kartheiser in three roles, manipulates Ben as he begins to question his addiction and need for connection via the phone. This narrative exemplifies what the Silicon Valley tech and business gurus have explained making it all disturbingly crystal clear.

“The Social Dilemma” accentuates that we, as individuals, are not equipped to battle the algorithms within our phones and social media. In fact, they point out that these algorithms continually morph to become more expeditious and efficient, and programmers are now behind the eight ball as they watch their creations become more independent. Is it Frankenstein gone wrong? The film does, although not to a deep enough level, touch upon possible solutions to give us hope. Perhaps the sequel to this film will be “The Social Solution.”

“The Social Dilemma” expertly tells a complicated story while using an entertaining fictional narrative to exemplify their findings. To watch a documentary about technology could easily be profoundly dull, but thanks to the writing team of Jeff Orlowski, Davis Coombe, and Vickie Curtis, it’s incredibly engaging and quite riveting as we see ourselves in this film. Integrating graphic art and the short fictional episodes is a brilliant way to augment the interviews with the experts. And it is with this innovative style that elevates not only the story, but the film overall.

We are all a part of the tech system, both for the good and the bad, and while this seems horrifying, it gives us knowledge and with that comes power. Perhaps we can also gain compassion and empathy as we look in the mirror before we accuse or judge others for their “wrong point of view.”

Available on Netflix beginning Sept. 9, 2020

4 Stars

“Measure for Measure” A deeply satisfying dramatic love story

September 1st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Measure for Measure” A deeply satisfying dramatic love story”

“Measure for Measure,” based upon the Shakespearean play of the same name, is written by Damian Hill and Paul Ireland. While the writers change some key elements and bring the premise into today’s violent and unpredictable world, the complexity and depth of story remains making it a captivatingly entertaining film. And no, you don’t have to be a fan of or even understand Shakespeare to appreciate this well-acted and deftly directed movie.

A ripple effect is at play when a shooting spree near a tenement area in a city forces many worlds to collide. Duke (Hugo Weaving), the patriarch of one underground criminal faction, and his lackey, Angelo (Mark Leonard Winter) who has been groomed to take over his spot when he retires, witnesses the brutal attack beneath the penthouse windows near the housing complex. The attack continues, placing Claudio (Harrison Gilbertson), a young talented composer who innocently is nearby, in harm’s way, but he bravely saves the next victim by tackling the out of control gunman. After the emotional trauma of near death, Claudio and the woman he saved, Jaiwara (Megan Smart), connect. Their love grows but like many Shakespearean scenarios, the two families are from different worlds and their love is forbidden.

The story takes another violent turn as Farouk (Fayssal Bazzi), Duke’s rival in the criminal world and Jaiwara’s brother, finds out about the relationship and sets up Claudio for a crime he did not commit. Claudio’s life has become a living hell and his only hope is a long-lost connection to Duke. The storylines intersect as Duke tests Angelo, revealing his true colors.

This film, at its core, is a troubled and perhaps a doomed love story as it questions whether or not Jaiwara and Claudio can overcome racial prejudices and religious restrictions. As Jaiwara is placed in inconceivable situations, she is at a crossroads which force her choose between love and life, much like Romeo and Juliet. Staying true to Shakespeare, there is plenty of backstabbing and even a bit of poisoning but we always feel that we are watching a current day story. It’s a brilliant amalgam of one of history’s greatest writers with complicated and intersecting storylines meeting today’s issues of gun control, drugs, religion, racism, and poverty.

Weaving is more than comfortable as the head honcho who has his own sordid and sorrowful backstory that has lead him to his current situation. His deep voice with his signature pacing and articulation adds to his credible performance of an old-school mobster; wise, regretful, with hope waning. The relationship between his character and that of Angelo is as troubled as the young lovers’ relationship and Winter finds just the right pacing with an understated performance to create a smarmy, conniving, directionless man with a moral compass that cannot be corrected.

As the love story is the heart and soul of the film, Gilbertson and Smart have to have an on-screen chemistry that will sweep you away…and they do. As we witness the characters’ relationship and love grow, we, too, are enamored with them both. It’s a pure love that perhaps only exists in movies and plays, but it’s one that we want to believe is possible. And our hearts break as the outside world places undue stressors upon that love. Individually, Smart expertly depicts the daughter of an immigrant family whose assimilation into her new country is looked down upon. She’s an intelligent and devoted family member who struggles to find a balance between her wants and those of her mother and the golden son, Farouk. Smart’s interpretation of Jaiwara is soulful with her eyes conveying everything and we feel her every thought and emotion. Gilbertson is equally engaging as his charisma is immediately evident. His youthful round face conveys an innocence as his character is a creative one and he shines brightly when in the presence of his character’s love. Gilbertson finds an incredible depth of character when Claudio is placed in jail, beaten, threatened and making a choice that could change both he and Jaiwara forever. The emotional turmoil he exhibits overtly as well as subtly, is expertly conveyed and connects us more deeply to him.

“Measure for Measure” is a gripping and tension-filled drama which blends a classic tale of love, betrayal, and honor into the reality of today’s world. The writers, taking a few liberties with the Shakespearean version, make it a more credible story and one from which you cannot look away. You become invested in this couple and Duke, hoping for the best and fearing for the worst. You’ll be on the edge of your seat, involuntarily holding your breath as you await the final scene and it’s a doozy. With extraordinary performances, never overstated, and a complicated yet realistic story, the film version of “Measure for Measure” would have made Shakespeare proud.

You can stream “Measure for Measure” on all major digital platforms and on-demand.

4 stars

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Questions life’s choices, regrets

August 31st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““I’m Thinking of Ending Things” Questions life’s choices, regrets”

The avant garde writer and director Charlie Kaufman (“Adaptation” 2002, “Being John Malkovich” 1999) has a new project, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” which may be one of his most challenging and haunting films to date as he adapts Ian Reid’s book of the same name. Feeling more like a stage play than a film, Kaufman takes the essential elements of story telling and burns the images from dialogue into our minds to create a visceral and evocative film.

The stage is set in the front seat of a car where an unnamed woman (Jessie Buckley) and Jake (Jesse Plemons), a young couple, drives in inclement weather to Jake’s parents’ farmhouse. We are immediately taken inside of the woman’s mind, privy to her deep thoughts and judgments about her possibly new but seemingly unfulfilling relationship with Jake. Her insights are often poetic and then abruptly interrupted by conversational attempts from Jake. He has a calm demeanor, a soft but insightful voice and together the pull you into their world as if wrapped in a warm and snuggly blanket. We hear their conversations and more importantly, we hear her intrinsic commentary as she contemplates ending “it.”

The dialogue allows us to begin to get a grasp as to who these young people are, but just as we think we know their background, the story takes a sharp left turn and we find ourselves unable to put our finger on who they are. And just as you wonder if the entire film is going to be one long conversation about life, literary references, and meeting the folks for the first time as the young woman is warned about the mother’s illness with the bar of expectations set exceptionally low, we arrive at the farm. The eeriness and strange actions and reactions ramp up making it feel more like a horror movie as they tour a barn, serenaded by horrific stories of life (and death) on a farm. Inside, as we await the parents to make a grand entrance from the second floor, Jake and the woman engage in uncomfortable fits and starts of awkward verbal exchanges.

Jimmy the dog appears out of nowhere, incessantly shaking off water followed by Mom (Toni Collette) and Dad (David Thewlis) making a splash. The young woman, strong and independent, is taken aback by Jake’s parents’ comments and outlooks. His mother is a strange bird with her insipid comments and confusions which drive Jake nuts. Dad, a bit more subdued, is odd as well and both parents have little respect for their son and his life’s choices. The subsequent observations following dinner make us question not only where we are but when we are. The young woman questions her own sense of reality and identity with the answers arriving only at the very end of the film.

“I’m thinking of Ending Things,” without giving too much away, takes us on an unexpected journey of looking back on life’s choices filled with regrets and unreached potential. The eloquence with which each of our main characters portrays their unique and ever-changing perspectives is like listening to a symphonic harmony; complex and beautiful. Our mind’s eye is always in clear focus looking back, but our wants and desires blur the lines of reality as it melds together what was and what could have been. The end of the film confirms your suspicions as it leaves you breathless and tears slowly rolling down your face.

The young woman, dressed in a way that could have been from any era with Jake’s wardrobe equally non-identifying, only gives us a hint at being in today’s world with her iPhone. Her manner is defiant as she states her mind, never succumbing to Jake’s explosions or his parents’ judgmental behavior, but her inconsistencies in her background give us the first of many clues that something is amiss. Kaufman never underscores these inconsistencies in dialogue or visual contradictions as he expects, or perhaps demands, the viewer to work for it and figure out the riddle.

And this is one intricate riddle to solve as both Plemons and Buckley recite pages of individual dialogue resembling more of a soliloquy which gives it a stage production feel. The literary choices and cultural references are more clues to where, when, and why we are, but again, this isn’t clear until near or at the end of the film. Both actors deliver understated performances which increases the intrigue of it all. Collette is extraordinary with her unexpectedly jarring vocal responses and body language creating that eerie and anxious feeling. It’s an antithesis to Plemons’ portrayal of the calm son whose blood is about to erupt.

The powerful performances of all the actors is augmented by dream-like sequences and memories that elude to another time and place filled with the promise of hopes and dreams yet to happen. The vivid colors—memories of theatrical productions and visits to a throw back ice cream shop—key us in to the past filled with hope. The current day—cold and snowy, blurring the mind—is dull and muted, perhaps representing the aging process as the synapses misfire and our memories become more fiction than truth.

The symbolism within the film is myriad and requires multiple viewings as this is an incredibly cerebral film which recognizes mortality and that we have only one chance to make the most of our lives. Although I have not read the book and it’s quite possible I am bringing my own baggage to the interpretation of the film, the beauty of the writing and the eloquence within is at the forefront. Plemons and Buckley take on a Kaufman’s Shakespearean load while delicately and deftly delivering a precision performance.

4 Stars

Available on Netflix Friday, Sept. 4, 2020

“American Street Kid” – Hope within hopelessness

August 28th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““American Street Kid” – Hope within hopelessness”

Synopsis:
Filmmaker, Michael Leoni heads to the streets of LA to shine a light on the epidemic of homeless youth in America. Once inside their world he realizes he can no longer be an observer; every day is a matter of life or death and he’ll do anything to get them off the streets.

Capsule Review:
To most of us, the thought of kids and teens being homeless is unthinkable, but Leoni takes us into the unknown and tells us the story of just a handful of homeless teens. The dangers of living on the street and the hopelessness that pervades their every waking moment is crushing, but it’s the impetus for Leoni to be both filmmaker and savior. In very untraditional documentary style, Leoni becomes the one support system upon which these kids can rely, but it’s not always enough as we watch the stories unfold. It’s an emotional set of stories that enrages you as you realize that you’re oblivious to this heartbreaking and systemic problem. Leoni highlights the inadequacies of agencies and interventions, but also shines a light on how much of a difference just one person can make.

3 stars

“The Personal History of David Copperfield” A whimsical and fantastical depiction of a classic Dickens’ tale

August 26th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Personal History of David Copperfield” A whimsical and fantastical depiction of a classic Dickens’ tale”

“The Personal History of David Copperfield” originally written by Charles Dickens is adapted into an unorthodox screenplay by Simon Blackwell. The story, whether you’ve read Dickens or not, is a familiar one as a young boy must overcome one atrocity after another to not only survive but to also succeed.

Dev Patel stars as the older version of David, but we are taken back in time to David’s birth and childhood. It was a rocky start to say the least as young David’s (Ranveer Jaiswal) father died before he was born. Witnessing David’s birth, Aunt Betsy Trotwood (Tilda Swinton) swoops in to add a fantastical element filled with comedy, stating emphatically that the girl will be named after her. Heartily disappointed at the birth of a boy, she exits, dramatically, of course, only to re-emerge later in the film.

David’s mother (Morfydd Clark) and he have a close relationship, that is until a new and intimidatingly controlling “father” (Darren Boyd) steps in. It’s a downward spiral from this point as David is sent away to work in a factory and fend for himself.

Capitalizing on the richly intense imaginative elements, no character is meant to be believable; they are more caricatures than characters. This, of course, adds humor and heart to the story as we are introduced to the likes of light-hearted Mrs. Peggotty (Daisy May Cooper) and the lovingly senile Mr. Dick (Hugh Laurie) and many more. The evil elements are well represented, too, with the steely Murdstone and his frigid sister Jane (Gwendoline Christie) as well as the dastardly manipulative Uriah Heep (Ben Whishaw).

David cherishes his youth, longing for the safety and love, but his future is tumultuous as he finds love in the looks of the intellectually challenged young Dora Spenlow (again played strangely by Morfydd Clark who also plays David’s mother). Overlooking the woman who truly loves him, Agnes (Rosalind Eleazar), David learns the lessons of life and love in the most difficult of ways.

Both writer Blackwell and director Armando Iannucci take many liberties in retelling this classic tale finding and succeeding in whimsy and humor as the emotional dark cloud hanging low over David’s head is ever present. It’s a complicated story with extraordinary details taking us along David’s life journey and while it’s more of a Cliff Note version of the book, it still hits all the high notes and acts as a wonderful introduction to Dickens and his stories.

The setting and the linguistic flexibility, fluidity and eloquence remains a highlight in this unconventional Dickens’ tale requiring the viewer to pay close attention or you might miss a hilarious comment or remark. Pairing perfectly together is the set and costume design. Wild colors and on the wall, mismatched bold patterns of pants, dresses, and vests, and a capsized boat in the sand, all remind us that we are in an imaginary world sprinkled with the dark realities of life. Those dark realities are represented visually with style and color, all bleak and dark tones coloring the life and outlook within the confines of the factory or the city in decline. Thankfully, the writer balances these scenes which keeps our visual senses sharply focused.

Equally balanced is the humor, much of it provided by Mr. Dick (Laurie) and Mrs. Trotwood (Swinton). A prime example is the fact that Mr. Dick perseverates on the beheading of a king who lived a century before. Overloaded with thoughts written on paper, Mr. Dick flies the thoughts away on a kite. And then there’s the continual attack of the donkeys. It’s madcap craziness, but unfortunately, that pacing isn’t maintained for the entire film. The 2-hour film tackles a lot of territory, but perhaps a bit too much and editing would have allowed the film to maintain the pace.

Patel’s depiction of the fictional character of David Copperfield, aka Daisy or Trotwood much to his chagrin, is a graciously eloquent one. He becomes more of a reactionary note to all the fanciful characters and the chaos and turmoil unfolding around him, but his character is the needle that stitches the story together. Clark in her dual role has the most fun as Dora as she talks through her lap dog and misunderstands much of what is said. It’s a standout cast of actors, but Whishaw, almost unrecognizable with his slicked down hair, strange teeth and hunched over Igor-esque physique steals the show. It should also be noted that the “color blind” casting may be initially unexpected, but this notion is quickly dispelled.

With the exception of a small pacing issue halfway through the film, “The Personal History of David Copperfield” now showing in theaters, is an inventive and bold depiction of a classic tale well worth seeing.

3 1/2 Stars

“Centigrade” A chilling true-life story of survival

August 26th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Centigrade” A chilling true-life story of survival”

Not even our current 90-degree days with seemingly 100% humidity can take the chill out of air while you’re watching “Centigrade.” The film, based on real events, depicts a young couple traveling in Norway to promote the wife’s new book. On their way to the book signing, they hit an ice storm on a treacherous mountain road. Pulling over, and arguing about whether or not to do so, the couple falls asleep only to awaken to be encased in their car, frozen and buried beneath the blizzard that followed the ice. With limited resources, the couple must survive an indeterminate amount of time and be saved or save themselves.

The first scene is a claustrophobic one, panic setting in to both the characters and the viewer, as the couple awakens from their slumber, realizing the dire situation. Naomi (Genesis Rodriguez), is rather unlikeable immediately as her treatment toward hubby Matt (Vincent Piazza), a sweet and supportive partner, isn’t kind. Both characters look at the situation differently as they assess their environment and food and water resources. The hours and days tick by and tempers flare giving insight into the emotional baggage they both carry. With the additional knowledge that Naomi is pregnant, water is scarce, and the temperatures falling precipitously, the stakes are raised considerably for all of them.

“Centigrade” captures not just the environment, but the feeling of being in this car. We feel trapped and panicked watching events unfold. We feel the bitter cold slicing through the layers of clothes unsure as to what we would do if in a similar position. This feeling of empathy is no easy task when filming in one isolated and cramped location, but “Centigrade” uses this as a solid foundation for the characters to build and ultimately complete the story.

To make this story believable, both Naomi and Matt have to be authentic in their portrayals—and Rodriguez and Piazza find a way to deliver exactly that look of authenticity. Neither portray themselves as perfect. They are flawed. They have secrets and issues that come to a head. (Imagine being trapped in a car with YOUR significant other!) There’s no real time to subtly introduce our main characters; it’s a crash course and both actors know this. We pick up in the middle of their lives and their history.

Interestingly, we initially regard Rodriguez’ character with disdain. She is unapologetic with this aspect, but it is exactly that choice that makes her real. Over time, we see that Matt has his own issues and Piazza’s nuances and more subtle overtones allow us to see him for who he really is. Polar opposites in many ways, they fit together. It’s a roller coaster ride of emotions, lashing out at one another, comforting one another, and sacrificing for each other. Their conversations, all pertinent to developing our understanding of each of the characters and their psychological reasoning for decision-making, pushes this story forward with the intensity of an avalanche. The deft direction and attention to every detail because with just one setting, details count, guides the two characters along their path with the precision of a surgeon. Details such as the candy wrappers, the empty water bottles, the layers of clothing and the hashmarks on the dashboard to count the days punctuate the emotional turmoil Naomi and Matt are facing. Of course, the contortionist-like cinematography brings you inside the car to experience the candid dialogue and we become a fly on the wall to witness each minute, hour, and day. While the time passes by, thanks to great editing, it never feels like we are watching the hands of the clock.

As the is film based on a true story, you may already know how it ends, but that does not take away the thrill and the chill of it. Its bitter rawness is terrifying but the connection with the characters makes this a film from which you just can’t look away. Incredible and at times inconceivable cinematography, succinct direction and dialogue, and authentic performances makes this a film you won’t want to miss. And you’ll likely keep a few more stocked items in your car next winter!

Stream this on Amazon Prime/IFC

4 Stars

“Chemical Hearts” Flatlines

August 20th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Chemical Hearts” Flatlines”

“Chemical Hearts” is a one-note wonder, making me wonder why I sat through it. Based on the novel by Krystal Sutherland, the elusive yet extraordinarily talented Grace Town (Lili Reinhart) transfers midway through senior year to a new school.  Henry (Austin Abrams) is immediately smitten with her, finding her mystery intriguing while he attempts to figure out his newly discovered feelings of love for her.

This is Henry’s story, told from his point of view.  He shares with us his innermost thoughts, fears, and feelings while we can only guess what Grace is hiding beneath her dark exterior.  Wow. After raising two teens and being team mom for literally hundreds of teens throughout the years, I really wonder how the writer came up with this dialogue ? What teen ever ponders life to the extent with the wisdom these two “kids” have?  And we see almost no change or growth in either character which means no true emotional depth is exhibited by either character.  This is incredibly dull as we watch Grace sulk and Henry strive to understand her.  The most interesting aspect is when Henry’s older sister, a neurology intern, attempts to explain the chemistry of the brain during trauma and elation.

The unbelievable dialogue paired with a story arc that doesn’t come off of the baseline and actors who graduated from high school nearly a decade ago adds to the disingenuousness of the film.  “Chemical Hearts” flatlines on all levels of storytelling.

“Words On Bathroom Walls” finds humor amidst mental health chaos

August 20th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Words On Bathroom Walls” finds humor amidst mental health chaos”

Mental health is at the forefront of many films, but finding a way to take us into the world of a teen diagnosed with schizophrenia with humor and heart is a rare find.  “Words on Bathroom Walls” is an extraordinary tale of one boy’s struggle as his family attempts to cure and ultimately find a way to understand the condition.  Based on the book by Julia Walton, Nick Navada’s screenplay brings us into this unique world to experience it safely and to better understand it.  It’s a mesmerizing, entertaining, and enlightening story that seeks compassion and understanding in this volatile world of a high schooler with a little-known mental disorder.

Charlie Plummer, a name that from this critic’s point of view, should be a household name.  His range and ability to delve into any character to give it incredible nuances is found in every role including this very complicated one of Adam.  We see what he sees, and we feel what he feels– his first love, his frustrations with his mother (Molly Parker), his distrust of his step father (Walton Goggins), and his embarrassment and insecurities.

This strong cast supported by incredible visuals allows us to better understand a disorder that for most of us was previously a mystery.  Additionally, there’s a strong sense of humor in the writing which is deftly executed by Plummer to make us laugh amidst the chaos in his head.  While the ending struggles to tie all the loose ends together and perhaps becomes a little too predictably “Hollywood,” it doesn’t take away from the sincerity and authenticity of the story.

3 1/2 Stars

“The One and Only Ivan” is exactly the type of movie we need right now

August 20th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The One and Only Ivan” is exactly the type of movie we need right now”

It’s refreshing to see Disney develop a kids’ movie that isn’t a remake of one of their former animated films and they do so in true Disney style. “The One and Only Ivan” is a charmingly sweet and heartwarming film, based on a true story, that will entertain both kids and adults. The incomparable Mike White adapts the children’s book of the same name by Katherine Applegate to tell the story of a silverback gorilla named Ivan (voice: Sam Rockwell) who lived his days as a circus star at a local mall. Ruby (voice: Brooklyn Prince), a baby elephant joins this performing family and Stella (voice: Angelina Jolie), an adult elephant with a stereotypical great memory, makes Ivan promise to help little Ruby escape the confines of the cage and live out her life in freedom.

The first scene of the film keys us into the fact that the circus at the mall just isn’t doing well; attendance is down, people aren’t even shopping at malls anymore, and Ring Leader Mack (Bryan Cranston) is struggling to make ends meet. In an effort to save the circus, Mack buys an adorable baby elephant, Ruby, who hears stories of freedom from her adoptive mom Stella. (It’s at this point that you know you need a few tissues because this happens in all Disney movies.) Mack and his small crew take good care of the animals in their confines, but it is a special bond between Julia (Ariana Greenblatt), the circus’s lighting man’s (Ramon Rodriguez) daughter, and Ivan that propels this story in a new direction. Julia spends hours chatting with Ivan, connecting with him, and eventually sharing her art supplies with this gorilla. His uncanny ability to draw stimulates his memories, but Mack, ever the hustler, sees a new path for his animal kingdom to exploit and that is Ivan’s artistic skills. What happens changes the lives of everyone in the community and all the animals forever.

This heartfelt story hooked me from the beginning thanks to the CGI/animation of all the animals and a cast with voices to give the non-human characters such grand personalities . Ivan’s expressive eyes pierce your own as Rockwell’s voice shares Ivan’s thoughts and memories of his life. Ivan takes us down memory lane as he recalls his family— the time he spent playing in the mud, his love of his father, and the day Ivan became captive. The dialogue between and among all of the animals brings us into their intrinsic world making us privy to their thoughts and emotions. It is this anthropomorphic perspective that allows us to relate to all of the creatures, rooting for them to somehow escape “into the wild” and be “free.”

While the “eyes” have it, the actors bring it up a notch, particularly when you have the likes of Danny DeVito as Bob the Terrier adding a splash of humor and sarcasm to the story. Helen Mirren makes a mark as the pampered poodle Snickers, and Rockwell’s slow, measured, and calm voice gives Ivan, a physically intimidating beast, the heart and soul we all grow to love. (For Chicagoans who had the ability to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo in the 1980’s to see Otto, the head of the silverback gorilla troop, and how he played his audience, you’ll love Ivan even more thanks to your experience.)

The humans do a fine job of it as well. Cranston brings levity to his character who is struggling but possesses a kind heart and Greenblatt is adorable, perfectly cast as the one who connects with a powerful and beautiful creature. The emotional journey we travel with Ivan balances the dramatic with the comedic thanks to the script. Given the entertainment value and message this film has, I’ll even overlook the overpowering, Disney-signature musical score that is more of an onslaught than an augmentation.

“The One and Only Ivan” is a story for everyone. Be sure to watch the credits roll as the story continues. You’ll see images captured from the real Ivan and the story upon which this heartfelt film is based.

3 1/2 Stars Available on Disney+

“Spinster” – A comedic new spin on single women

August 5th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Spinster” – A comedic new spin on single women”

Female. 39. Single. Three words that set off alarm bells for some women, but ladies, times have and are changing and Chelsea Peretti’s new film “Spinster” screams that from the mountain tops.

Peretti plays Gaby, a caterer who seems rather jaded when it comes to love and marriage as we see in the opening scene, citing the origins of the marriage contract to a prospective customer who is hell-bent on sharing an exasperating story of her “love at first sight” encounter. Dripping with sarcasm (and wisdom), Peretti portrays the realistic young woman who decided to be “single by choice.” Of course, this happens right after she’s dumped by her 3-month boyfriend with whom she inadvertently began living.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Finding solace with her childhood friend Amanda (Susan Kent), Gaby bemoans society’s pressures and expectations as she works through her own issues of self-worth and newly formed goals. Dating is a redundant endeavor, yet Gaby gives it another go and we, the audience, gets to bask in the comedic rays of snippets of disastrous dates. While there’s a bit of guilt in laughing at all the brutally awkward interactions, we gain a sense of understanding and compassion for Gaby as she lets down her guard.

Picking herself up by her bootstraps and dusting herself off, she embarks on a new adventure, that of a dog owner and weekly auntie duties to help out her overwhelmed brother. Sharing a rather tumultuous upbringing which still harbors resentment from Gaby toward her father, the two discuss life’s decisions as only siblings can. But it is the role she plays as aunt that seems to help her push away the stronghold of preconceived notions of marriage and motherhood which allows Gaby to find her true self and follow her dreams.

“Spinster” has an obvious message, but the journey we take with Gaby makes the overtness of the film an absolute pleasure. The straightforward honesty within all of her relationships propel the story forward as she gives herself permission to pave her own path.

The friendship between she and Amanda has diverged, but find a new way to connect. Their conversations give the viewer keen insight into how Gaby thinks, feels, and why she acts how she does. But it is her defensiveness at a dinner party that makes us want to stand up and cheer for her while we laugh out loud. It’s one of my favorite scenes as all the women defend one another against the accusations of insensitive, bold and condescending dinner guest. And then we have the damaged father-daughter relationship which is key in helping Gaby acknowledge and confront her past, but these wounds can only heal with the salve of forgiveness.

Peretti is comic gold with her natural style and delivery of incredibly honest material. The connection between she and her niece Willow (Charlie Boyle) is sweetly sincere, and the hostility she exudes when she’s with Bill Carr’s character of Jack, her father, is palpable. Peretti shines in this role and allows all those around her to do the same.

Consistent humor while splaying open the reality of society’s pressures upon women is an unusual combination that makes this film work. It is ok to not be married by 30 or 40 (or ever). It’s ok to not have kids. And it’s ok to follow your dreams and attain your goals whether you’re male or female. What a great message in a film AND you get to laugh your ass off, too!

3 ½ Stars

Available on all major digital platforms beginning Friday, August 7, 2020

“I Used to Go Here” – A comedic reflection of life’s hopes and memories and the reality of it all

July 29th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““I Used to Go Here” – A comedic reflection of life’s hopes and memories and the reality of it all”

Chicago writer and director Kris Rey’s newest film “I Used to Go Here” will premiere and cater to Chicagoans thanks to Elevated Films and The Music Box Theatre as it will be shown at ChiTown Movies Drive-In Theater on Wednesday, July 29 with a live Q&A. For ticket informaiton, visit: DRIVE IN TICKET INFO If you can’t make it, don’t despair, as you can still catch it virtually via online rentals beginning Friday, July 31 through the Music Box’s Virtual Cinema program. For info, go here: VIRTUAL TICKET INFO

“I Used to Go Here” depicts Chicagoan Kate Conklin (Gillian Jacobs) as a mediocre author who has published her first book to less than favorable reviews. However, a former writing professor, David (Jemaine Clement) at Southern Illinois University Carbondale invites her to speak at her alma mater. Boosted slightly by this, Kate returns, but soon finds herself immeshed in students’ lives, reliving her past and coming to terms with her present and her future.

Kate’s superficial confidence with the lack thereof bubbling just beneath the surface is the the attribute which allows her to change over the course of the film. 10 years have passed since she graduated and each and every interaction with students punctuates her lack of success and how time quickly flies by. The students look up to her, but deep down she knows she doesn’t deserve their respect that is until she connects with Hugo (Josh Wiggins), a student who lives in her old house and has her old room. From this point, Kate ingratiates herself into their world, attempting to turn back the hands of time.

Jacobs portrays Kate beautifully as a woman who has been recently dumped and her life is in neutral, but she’s looking for a way to shift things into high gear and on the right path. Her ability to hone in on the awkwardness of each and every situation finds just the right note of humor to make you not only laugh, but also connect with her.

The secondary stories within the film all support Kate’s story arc, but they also add humor and heart to the film. April’s role (Hannah Marks) provides the mirror image for Kate which instigates jealousy and anger. But looking in the mirror, she is also able to finally see her reflection which provides one of the most poignant moments in the film. Tall Brandon (Brandon Daley) is just downright funny and his connection with Hugo’s mom is at once strange and hilarious providing balance within the story as Kate begins to wake up to the realities of her past. Wiggnins is a standout as Hugo with an incredibly natural performance that is both witty and charming. He also finds a level of unexpected maturity that is authentically portrayed giving his character depth and complexity.

Rarely do you find just attention to detail in supporting characters that become equally important to the lead role, but Rey expertly does so. She also has a comedic knack for how we all perceive our pasts, but it is with Kate’s former crush on David that really accentuates how our memories sometimes deceive us. Seeing someone through experienced and adult eyes is jarring when our memory recalls a less jaded viewpoint; one filled with hope and the power of youth. Within all of these actions and interactions, Kate, in her own way, grows up.
Rey’s wisdom within the film is like looking into a crystal ball that comedically yet poignantly tells one woman’s life story. Who doesn’t look back on our college years and wish we had the wisdom of life’s experiences now to impart on our younger selves? And Rey deftly commits to this storyline with a character who is lovable yet at the same time we shake our heads at her decisions and laugh.

“I Used to Go Here” is a film that many of us can relate to, but if you went to SIU-C, you’re going to truly walk down memory lane. Rey’s succinct story telling creates an innovative and entertaining film, but with Jacobs in the lead role this movie becomes an even more memorable one.

Thanks to the Music Box Theatre Virtual Cinema Program, you can see this one week earlier than its Video On Demand Release.

4 Stars

“Fisherman’s Friends” An uplifting feel-good comedy based on a true story

July 21st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Fisherman’s Friends” An uplifting feel-good comedy based on a true story”

If you’re looking for a feel good, sweet romantic comedy that is based upon a true story, then look no further. “Fisherman’s Friends” is exactly what you’re looking for. In Cornwall, England, a group of 10 fishermen who sing to pass the time and occasionally entertain the townspeople, find themselves an unexpected recording sensation. Of course, with movie-making magic, there’s more to the story than meets the eye in this romantic comedy with a flare for fun and music.

Watch the trailer here

We meet Danny (Daniel Mays) and his buddies, all big shot executives at Universal Records in London, as they are vacationing (and standing out like a sore thumb) in the quaint fishing village of Cornwall. Danny and his friends are like fish out of water in this town as they strut along in tight leather jackets ordering high end beers and driving a large vehicle on streets designed for horses. After making waves, the young men spot a group of fishermen singing along the shore for the entertainment of the community. Danny, unimpressed, is duped into thinking his colleagues love this new genre of music and is charged with getting the 10 men to sign on for a new record label. As Danny earns their trust, and not so easily, of these tightly knit men and their families, he learns of the joke that’s been played.

The very likes of someone like Danny sets up plenty of pratfalls and insider jokes that no matter how much we predict that they will happen, we laugh anyway. While you can easily see the writing on the wall and know how this tale is going to end, it’s the convincing and loving portrayal of the characters that endears us to the story. Danny isn’t your typical leading man and each and every fisherman could have easily been pulled directly from the boat and cast in a role bringing a level of reality to the film. The scenes and narrative are set, but never do they feel contrived. But it is the chemistry and reactions between each and every character that feels absolutely authentic. From Maggie (Maggie Steed) tending bar and sitting as the matriarch of the family to Jim (James Purefoy) protecting not just his daughter from the London city slicker, but his fishing family as well.

Between Danny’s attempts at convincing the a cappella singers to sign and learning that they’ve all been duped by Universal Records, there’s a sweet love story that unfolds between Tamsyn (Meadow Nobrega), Jim’s daughter, and the fast-talking outsider amidst all of the comedic chaos. Tamsyn sees right through Danny, but as he gets more deeply entrenched in the traditions of these community members’ lives, he changes which allows a natural connection to develop between he and Tamsyn. With a few additional side stories of financial and health issues, each of these stories intertwine to give us a charmingly sweet story that is unexpectedly emotional and engaging.

While I mentioned the authenticity of the cast which is vital to bringing this story to life, Mays leads the way in this film. He elicits disdain from us with his portrayal of Danny, initially, but ingratiates himself as he allows he follows his heart and connects with the townspeople. Mays finds a way to be pompous and condescending on the outside, only to peel those superficial layers away to reveal who he really is. It’s a gradual change, again accentuating the believability of the story.

Of course, in a film about music and musicians, the a cappella songs are fun and capture the soul of those who rely on the sea for their livelihood. Filmed in the town where the actual band originated brings us even closer to this fishing village and the atmosphere. With all of these elements brought together in perfect harmony, “Fisherman’s Friends” is good old-fashioned fun. Yes, it’s predictable, but its lightheartedness and sweetness is just what the doctor ordered in these trying times. Escape and have some fun with “The Fisherman’s Friends” streaming on Amazon and all major digital platforms beginning July 24.

3 Stars

“Palm Springs” Earned that additional 69 cent purchase price at Sundance

July 10th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Palm Springs” Earned that additional 69 cent purchase price at Sundance”

“Palm Springs” gained its first recognition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival as it left the festival not just as the Grand Jury Prize nominee an audience favorite, but also as the highest sale price of any movie at the fest ever by a whopping 69 cents. That price difference is one indicator of the humor of those behind the film.

Starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and J.K. Simmons, the film is reminiscent of “Groundhog Day,” but set in the desert at a wedding reception with many sordidly funny scenarios to discover. With a few novel twists and turns, it’s a funny and charmingly refreshing reprisal of what happens when you have to live the same day over and over again.

Nyles (Samberg) wakes up to his beautiful girlfriend Misty (Meredith Hagner) getting ready for a friend’s wedding. Later in the evening at the reception, Nyles boldly grabs the microphone to toast the happy couple as you stares directly into the bride’s rather drunk sister Sarah’s (Milioti) eyes. Their connection continues well after the reception and Sarah inadvertently stumbles into the repetitive time warp that the two now must navigate together. This is where the fun begins as they are trapped in that wedding day, exploring various situations and attempting to end the loop by doing crazy stunts like driving hundreds of miles away or hitting a semi truck head on. The two find that they’re not alone in this madness as Roy (Simmons) intermittently shows up to end Nyles’ life…only to wake up again the next morning.

Like Phil (Bill Murray) in “Groundhog Day,” there’s a learning curve to living the same day ad infinitum, but all three characters take this unique opportunity and use it differently. The storyline takes a lot of creative liberties as it travels down numerous pathways to lead Nyles and Sarah to their final destination. While it is really just silly fun, the characters have their own issues and actually develop and grow with each other’s help and this bizarre situation. Although there seems to be a loophole in the story near the end, that doesn’t take away the entertainment value of the film. And let’s face it, being stuck at a wedding on repeat sounds like absolute hell which is a perfect scenario for a story.

Of course, Samberg’s signature comedic style is perfectly suited for this role and he relishes in every awkward and unexpectedly strange situation that arises making it all that much more fun for us. Milioti and Samberg are unmistakably are a match made in heaven for this quirky rom-com, playing off of one another’s timing, expressions, and actions. They never let us down as they hone in on their characters’ personalities and use it to their comedic advantage.

The supporting cast of characters enhances every aspect of the film. Ironically, the bride, Tala (Camila Mendes) doesn’t utter one line of dialogue, yet she stands out as she repeatedly performs the same situation with subtle changes. A cameo from June Squibb is guaranteed to make you smile, but it is J.K. Simmons who proves his versatility in acting. Simmons is comedic gold. Usually a dramatic actors (“Whiplash”), Simmons shines as the crazed man determined to put an end to Nyles, the man responsible for his sentence to repeat this one day.

It’s no wonder that “Palm Springs” had such a buzz at Sundance with this light, refreshingly entertaining story filled with charming performances. I think it was well-worth that extra 69 cents that Neon had to pay!

You can stream “Palm Springs” on Hulu beginning Friday, July 10.

“Greyhound” a gripping & harrowing WWII tale as Hanks becomes “Sully” of the high seas

July 8th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Greyhound” a gripping & harrowing WWII tale as Hanks becomes “Sully” of the high seas”

Tom Hanks, writer and star of the new Apple TV+ distributed film “Greyhound,” gives us a fictional look into the dangers and pressure one captain experiences as he leads a convoy of Allied ships across the Atlantic Ocean during WWII. This isn’t the first WWII film Hanks has starred in (“Saving Private Ryan”) and it isn’t the first film he’s written a screenplay (“The Larry Crowne Affair”), and thankfully, Hanks also brings a familiar and welcomed character to his portrayal of Capt. Ernie Krause. Think of him as Sully of the High Seas.

It’s 1942 and Capt. Krause is departing to lead the Allied ships from the US to England. With aerial coverage unavailable for a great portion of the middle of the voyage, Krause must battle German U Boats known as the infamous submarine group, The Wolfpack. Krause is a natural leader with a steady moral compass as we are privy to his private moments, flashbacks to the love of his life, and how he deals with two sailors who came to fist to cuffs the evening before. He instills a confidence in us immediately as we must place an inordinate faith in this man, much like his sailors, as they slice through the waves destined to battle the enemy and find their way to England.

Taking place over the course of a few days, the uncertainty of success looms over the ships like a dark cloud. As an enemy submarine is spotted on radar, the next course of action is life or death. With Krause’s calm, cool, and collected demeanor and his precision thinking, one battle is won. It is at this point, as the German sub explodes, that we see Krause’s emotional depth. While he’s happy to have evaded death and kept his crew safe, he also acknowledges the loss of life on the other side. 50 souls are lost. This sounds familiar as Capt. Sully Sullivan in “Sully” also used the same terminology. And it is at this moment that we are more deeply connected to Krause, hoping our confidence in him will allow everyone to be safe. Of course, this is WWII and that cannot be the case.

As the days turn into nights and Krause and his sailors navigate the waters, the harsh elements create even more difficulties as the pack of German submarines attempt to sink as many ships in the convoy as possible. The obstacles encountered seem tantamount to failure with radar and equipment malfunctions due to extreme cold, lack of sleep, and no matter how hard Chef Cleveland (Rob Morgan) tries, Krause cannot eat. The intensity of this situation skyrockets as torpedos are launched during which time Krause must develop a course of action and turn back to save the lives of bombed ships. Technicians quickly and precisely relay coordinates to ensigns who repeat the information exactly to their Captain, and we can see the wheels turning in his head as he outsmarts and outmaneuvers the enemy. The intensity is so great that we feel the chill in the air as we are on the edge of our seats, plunged into the murky dark environment and holding our breath as the ship lists to one side. It’s chillingly breathtaking.

The film is based upon a book by C.S Forester called “The Good Shepherd,” and while it is not a true story, it could easily be interpreted as one. We see the youth and trust these boys, and they are boys, have in their leader as they follow his every order. A few questioning glances allow us to see the youth and fear these young men have, yet their courage and training takes over to help them work together like a well-oiled machine. What makes this film different than many other WWII or any war movie is the human factor and the connections we have to not just our main character, but his connection with each supporting character. All of this is not only engaging, but also connects us to everyone aboard the ship.

Hanks, not surprisingly, is extraordinary in this role as he deftly develops a character with integrity, strength, compassion, and intellect. The finely tuned and nuanced performance gives his character layers, depth, and a sense of reality. And paired with the direction of Aaron Schneider, the film becomes a detailed exhibit of the humanity and destruction of war along the seemingly endless nautical miles of the perilous deep blue sea. Of course, to experience this so completely is thanks to skillful cinematography. Camera angles, sweeping shots, and special effects bring us onto the ship to stand next to Krause and his crew, making this a gripping adventure with an unknown outcome.

4 Stars

“No Small Matter” – Beginnings can be make it or break it in child development

July 1st, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““No Small Matter” – Beginnings can be make it or break it in child development”

Writer and co-director Greg Jacobs shines a bright light on what everyone can agree upon—we all want the best for our children. But what happens when parents can’t afford “the best” and can’t provide opportunities for their babies and children? The answer is astounding as it lays the foundation for incredible disparity between success and failure.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE
As a former speech-language pathologist who focused upon the 0-3 year old population or as it’s also referred to as “early intervention,” it comes as no surprise that babies who have a stimulating environment from the beginning typically thrive later in life. Playing catch up is not an easy task, but what prevents some children from attaining their potential? “No Small Matter” dissects that question with the utmost care as Alfre Woodard’s voice guides along, providing numerous examples and scientific research in neurological development to give us the answers.

Times have changed and Jacobs demonstrates this as he takes us back in time to when educators, parents, and doctors didn’t realize what babies comprehended. Today, thanks to interventions and techniques readily available, we now know so much more about how babies and children learn and what’s happening with their neurological systems. It’s simply fascinating as doctors, researchers, and developmental specialists share information that any parent, teacher, or grandparent needs to know. But what happens when the parent needs help and education. This is also explored in Jacobs’ documentary as parents learn to rise to their potential as well.

The filmmakers take us into the early education system and introduce us to Deborah Giannini and her class. It’s one of the most thriving and lovingly stimulating preschools that any parent would want for his or her child. We delve into an intimate look at just what goes on with our little ones as the teachers “sit and play.” And play is so much more than meets the eye. It’s an integral part in helping children develop key skills for later social, academic, and life success. With honest and forthright interviews with these teachers, it’s no wonder the U.S. educational system isn’t as competitive as it once was as we see these teachers needing to get a second job just to pay the bills.

Providing and finding day care and educational options for typical two-income families is a struggle, to say the least. We meet parents who are in the midst of this dilemma and feel the anxiety it produces. Day care is inordinately expensive and the demand is even higher than it was several decades ago. We see the detrimental and domino effects upon our society and why there’s a vast disparity among children whose parents have the resources to provide and those who do not.

What stands out most in this documentary besides a myriad number of adorable smiling babies’ faces, is the fact that the failure of equitable beginnings actually is a failure that impacts all of us, whether or not our own children or we have succeeded. Children who are in substandard day care centers and preschools are at higher risk for poor academics and have a greater chance of being a part of the criminal justice system later in life. Additionally, children in stressful and non-nurturing environments have a greater risk of developing medical and mental illnesses. The list of negatives is astounding and with that comes a high financial cost, but the cost of leveling the playing field and allowing every child to flourish is ridiculously cost-effective.

Jacobs methodically explains and explores the importance of great beginnings for every baby and child. While early education isn’t going to solve all of society’s woes, Jacobs makes a valid case for a potentially positive impact. Aren’t our children and future worth taking a chance on a better start in life?

Check out this film on VOD, Google Play, and Amazon now.

4 Stars—it’s a must see for any parent, physician, and educator!

“My Spy” a familiar yet surprisingly funny summer flick

June 25th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““My Spy” a familiar yet surprisingly funny summer flick”

Tough guy Dave Bautista is following in the footsteps of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Arnold Schwarzenegger as he teams up with a whip-smart youngster to solve a serious crime. While this has been done many, many times before, the formula, if you have the right actors, never loses its charm. Bautista and co-star Chloe Coleman along with a cast of talented comedic actors is exactly the right mix to make this a fun film even if you know exactly what’s going to happen.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

The opening scene showcases Bautista’s braun as he poses as a Russian mobster, meeting with like thugs and trading nuclear paraphernalia. Of course, things go south, but it’s the way that things take a negative turn for JJ (Braun) as he’s called out for his inability to properly do a Russian accent. The exchange around this obvious error is hysterical as JJ’s performance is compared to Micky Rourke’s in “Iron Man 2.” And then we have action! There slow motion gun fight paired with music that doesn’t quite fit adds another element of humor to the scene, but on top of all that is the CIA lead by David Kim (Ken Jeong) and tech geek Bobbi (Kristen Schaal, who are watching this all unfold via hidden cameras. Their commentary makes this opening scene keep your fingers crossed that the energy and ability to make fun of itself continues. It does.

JJ, after killing every bad guy in his situation except the one who escaped unscathed with the sought after nuclear element, is demoted to surveillance duty and partnered with Bobbi who thinks JJ walks on water. As they set up their cameras and learn about their “targets,” Sophie (Coleman) and her mom Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), we find out this duo on the run is related to the evil henchman in search of that nuclear item. Sophie quickly discovers JJ and Bobbi and blackmails them into helping her fit in to her new school in Chicago and teach her how to do spy things like pass a lie detector test.

Let’s get this out there right now. The premise and everything that happens is totally ridiculous, but that’s ok. Bautista and Coleman are great together and as Bautista’s hardened shell begins to melt, even though we knew it would, it’s still sweet. It’s Coleman’s portrayal of Sophie that really drives the narrative as she struggles in her new school, is bullied, and is also trying to play matchmaker between her mom and JJ. We can see her wheels turning at every step of the way, always outsmarting her newly found mentor and best buddy, JJ, much to Bobbi’s chagrin.

Bautista finds the right rhythm in this film, unlike his recent performance in “Stuber” with Kumail Nanjiani, seeming to recognize the fact that he’s known for his muscle but he can do a bit more than just look tough. The script is a lot of fun, even if it isn’t an original story, and the interactions, pacing, and comedy stitch this story together to make it one you want to see how they wrap it all up. With this, the supporting cast is a highlight in the film. Schaal, a recognizable face, but maybe not her name, shines in her role as the slighted and overlooked fumbling CIA agent. She has a physical comedic skill that makes you laugh even harder as she delivers her lines. And when you add Jeong to the mix, you’ve struck gold. He can turn a running commentary of deaths into a belly laugh. His delivery, timing, and reactions make you want to see more of him as you know you’re in for fun when he’s in a scene.

“My Spy” misses a few chances to be a little bit more than a typical tough guy meets smart kid movie as there aren’t really any plot twists or surprises along the way. But thanks to the skillful direction of Peter Segal, this film delivers comedy, has character chemistry, and entertaining performances so we can forgive that omission.

“My Spy” is exactly what you think it’s going to be…silly fun. This is total escapism using a familiar story line, but the actors make this one worth watching.

Stream now on Amazon

3 Stars

“Irresistible” pulls the curtain away on politics

June 24th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Irresistible” pulls the curtain away on politics”

Politics. We’ve all had it up to our ears with who’s right and who’s wrong, and pitting family members against one another all for the sake of a political party. But talk show host and comedian Jon Stewart takes the concept of Republicans vs. Democrats and flips it on its head creating a bipartisan edgy, raw, and dark comedy that will have you laughing and shocked at the antics of both parties.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Set in the rural town of Deerlaken, WI (it’s not a real place, but certainly feels like a familiar little town just north of our border), a former marine and local dairy farmer, Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), stands up to a mayor at the village hall meeting. His eloquence and experience ooze from his weathered but strong voice making this a social media sensation. When the Democratic Strategist, Gary Zimmer (Steve Carell) gets wind of it, he has hit gold in the swing state of Wisconsin. Of course, he swoops in to take over the campaign to help his new friend defeat the incumbent (and Republican) Mayor Braun…until Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), the Republican Strategist lands and sinks her talons into Braun to help him win. It’s a tug of war as D.C. hijacks this sleepy little town.

Zimmer attempts to be incognito in Deerlaken, but anyone who knows towns like this knows that’s just not possible. He quickly is the talk of the town as he walks the red carpet looking down on these welcoming and seemingly simple people. Hastings, the sensible, seasoned, and quiet veteran is bulldozed into participating in politics the D.C. way as he attends fundraisers and gets the backing of Washington big wigs. As the buzz of this sleepy little town gains even more press, Brewster “helps” Braun in much the same way and the town is overrun by campaign workers lead by two strategists who despise one another. Hellbent on winning (more for their own pride than the party’s), the antics increase, soaring into the stratosphere of dirty politics and a chance to make the viewer cringe and laugh.

“Irresistible” is like no other political farce as it takes the proverbial curtain behind which both parties hide and reveals what the system is really all about…money. And this portrayal, dare I say, is fair and balanced, never showing either party in a more positive light. Additionally, because it’s written and directed by the satirical genius of Stewart, it’s funny. Of course, having Carell and Byrne in the lead elevates the comedic undertones as there’s an element of “City Slickers” in the film. Only Carell could try to manipulate the positioning of cows during a commercial and make us believe he doesn’t understand anything about rural life. There’s also a scene between Hastings’ daughter (Mackenzie Davis) and Zimmer that boldly and accurately draws a line to accentuate the differences between “regular” people and those who are in power.

As I stated, Carell brings his familiar comedic chops to the role of Zimmer, but with a nasty edge as he creates a despicable character. He is truly unlikeable with his condescending and demanding demeanor and presumptuous behavior. Equally, Byrne brings the same tone but with a feminine quality as her character slices through Zimmer with her sharp tongue. And with Byrne’s portrayal of Faith, we almost feel sorry for Zimmer, but not for too long. Together, while reprehensible, they are magic. Cooper’s “Jack” is the positive force within the film as he could easily be your next door neighbor. He’s honest. He fought for our country. He wants what’s best for his small town. Living a simple life where many of the stores and businesses are struggling, it’s an accurate representation of many small Midwestern towns. This aspect of the film makes it relatable as we root for Jack to win the election.

Stewart brilliantly weaves together a succinct story the unveils what drives the political machine no matter where you live and which party you most readily identify. The comedy is there in unsuspecting ways, sometimes dark and frequently pointed, Stewart, like a magician, has you looking one way only to surprise you with a wickedly funny twist.

Take a trip to Wisconsin and pull back the curtain on politics. This is a film that both Democrats and Republicans can agree upon. That’s certainly a unique position for ANY film dealing with politics!

4 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.

WATCH THE TRAILER

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

“Working Man” Timely, relevant look at purpose and compassion

May 27th, 2020 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Working Man” Timely, relevant look at purpose and compassion”

Robert Jury’s debut feature film “Working Man” stars Peter Gerety as Allery, an older, quiet factory worker whose manufacturing plant is closing. This small town business is one of the last to go, devastating an already depressed town and leaving its workers and the community at a dire loss. Allery isn’t ready to stop working, though, and as he continues his routine, his co-workers band with him and change this town. The consequences are far greater than anyone could have imagined, shaking the foundation upon which Allery and his wife Iola (Talia Shire) stand.

To say that this is a quiet film is an understatement, but actions speak much louder than words. Allery’s quiet demeanor has a sadness behind it as he shuffles down the sidewalk, walking to work after methodically and almost mindlessly packing his own lunch, much to his wife’s surprise. The dilapidated homes and the boarded up shops punctuate the depressed affect we are seeing in Allery. But this town, like so many similar Midwestern towns suffering from industry shutdowns, is close knit. Everyone knows each other’s business and when Walter (Billy Brown), a newer resident and factor worker, begins to accompany Allery to “work,” a feeling of hope and solidarity arise.

This is a story of the need for purpose in life as well as, ultimately, compassion. The friendship between Walter and Allery is an unusual one and Jury makes sure that we root for success for each of them, although never allowing ourselves to relax and breathe as there is so much more than meets the eye. The relationship between Iola and Allery is forced to be examined thanks to Walter’s unexpected influence, emphasizing the need for facing our past and our demons.

Jury captures the heart and soul of so many towns like this one, but it is the heart and soul of Allery, with very little dialogue, that is so profoundly portrayed. Allery is suffering and initially we think we know why, but again, what we see on the surface is just covering up what truly lies beneath. While Allery is our focal point, Walter, a handsome, gregarious, and charismatic but somewhat mysterious man, reveals his backstory, but the fallout has already occurred, driving Allery to a final decision. He has changed and we see this happen like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

This ensemble cast is stellar, lead by Gerety whose subtle actions and reactions are immensely powerful. A glance or an aversion of his eyes with a slight intake of air tells you more than a thousand words could ever do and these actions connect you to him as you want to find out more. Jury never reveals too much in his script, like a carrot dangled before you, pulling you toward an emotional discovery. Together with Shire and Brown, the main characters are supported skillfully by the rest of this talented cast.

Visually, the cinematography captures the essence of Middle America as it is filmed in Illinois. Jury found neighborhoods, bridges, and landscapes near Joliet and many of the supporting cast is from the Chicago area. Finding an ideal location like this augments a storyline that seems more relevant today than when Jury initially wrote the script nearly 10 years ago. With a real environment and local actors, the credibility of the film soars.

Jury’s gorgeously shot and written “Working Man” is a topical film with evocative performances reminding us of the importance of having a purpose in life, and compassion for others.

4 Stars

“Working Man” is available on all major digital platforms.

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