Melissa McCarthy shines in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?”

November 15th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Melissa McCarthy shines in “Can You Ever Forgive Me?””

Truth is always stranger than fiction and this newest film from co-writer Nicole Holofcener and director Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) confirms this adage. Melissa McCarthy stars as Lee Israel, a forgotten author living in New York who discovers she possesses a lucrative skill–forgery of personal letters from past literary geniuses. With sophisticated sarcasm and a toxic personality, she somehow also forges a friendship with Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) and together, the unlikely pair rises and eventually suffers the consequences of their actions. It’s a beautifully layered story that digs beneath the surface, eloquently revealing who these two characters truly are.

We meet Lee living in squalor, a dark and filthy apartment where she and her cat spend each and every day. With her rent past due, she attempts to sell books to a used book store, not only rejected, but to have salt poured in the wound as she is bluntly reminded of her failures. Desperately seeking an advance on a new book from her agent, Marjorie (Jane Curtain), we learn more about the shortcomings of this once successful author who no longer sees the world from her high horse.

Lee is desperate. Clinging on to her want to write a biography about Fannie Brice, she finds what will eventually be her demise…a letter written by Brice which Lee sells. Learning of its value, Lee begins to write several letters from various deceased authors. The “business” flourishes and her new-found drinking buddy, Jack, gets in on the action. Together, two lost souls and friendless, seemingly drifting through life looking in the rearview mirror fondly, find solace and comfort in one another.

The friendship between Hock and Israel is one of the most striking aspects of this story. A gay man seeing his life pass him by and a woman who is so guarded that she doesn’t even allow herself to see who she is. They do see one another quite clearly and like a volcano rumbling, there is bound to be an eruption. There’s another element of love in this film, a love that Israel begins to discover for a bookshop owner. This endears us to Israel as we begin to truly understand who she is and more importantly, why she is the way she is.

The story unfolds as if peeling away layers, one supporting another, complicated with subtle tones to bring you into the Israel’s life and emotions. The dialogue, richly textured and eloquent, accentuates the delicate artistry of the actors’ skills. McCarthy embodies this astute and troubled writer, giving a performance that is not only unmistakably authentic, but also memorable. She is a master of drama, keenly using her comedic understanding of human nature to deliver a complicated character that we can all relate to and love. And most importantly, she reminds us that we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover–everyone has issues with which they are dealing. Grant, in his role as Jack Hock, brings the laughs and levity to the film, balancing the gravity of each of the main characters’ situations. Grant and McCarthy are unexpectedly magical in this film and of course, McCarthy’s real life hubby has a cameo as well.

The style of filming and coloring of “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” brings us back to an era, particularly of NYC. There’s a certain grit and grain that allows us to feel the environment. The green and brown hues that overlay the story, bring us into the dimly lit bookshops and the seedy bar environment. And one of the final scenes in the film taking place in the courtroom, could have easily been overdone with Hollywood flare, but there are unexpected developments, and with precision camera work and direction, it elicits a response within that makes you want to stand up and cheer!

“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” is a brilliant story of a gifted writer, Lee Israel, whose life took an unusual path due to dire circumstances. McCarthy and Grant push their acting skills to a new and profoundly memorable level thanks to the skillful direction of Marielle Heller and a script that would probably make Israel herself proud. This story, told from a perspective that allows us all to relate to Israel and her situation, is a remarkably engaging and captivating story that will make it a top film for me this year!

4 Stars

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” tangles James Bond with Super Hero

November 14th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Girl in the Spider’s Web” tangles James Bond with Super Hero”

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is the American sequel to David Fincher’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” with Claire Foy replacing Rooney Mara as the lead role of Lisbeth Salander.

If you were a fan of Steig Larsson’s Millennium book series, this is the fourth novel in succession, but written by David Lagercrantz after Larsson’s death. This newest film, written by Steven Knight (“Woman Walks Ahead”), and directed by Fede Alvarez (“Don’t Breathe”), stands alone as a story, but, unfortunately, there’s not much story to be told.

Lisbeth (Foy), after suffering years of sexual abuse and escaping, leaving her sister behind to be subjected to the years of future abuse by her father, is now an adult with a single mission: to rescue abused women and mete out punishment to their abusers.
To read the review in its entirety as it appeared in the Friday, November 9th edition of The Daily Journal, go here.

Surprising answers found in Gabe Polsky’s newest doc “In Search of Greatness”

November 2nd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Surprising answers found in Gabe Polsky’s newest doc “In Search of Greatness””

What makes the greatest of all athletes great? Is it genetic or is it something else? Gabe Polsky’s newest documentary “In Search of Greatness” delves into this very question, one that has not been asked before, to find the answers which just might surprise you!

Polsky interviews the football phenomenon Jerry Rice, soccer star Pele, and the legendary hockey player Wayne Gretzky to find out what makes them tick and rise to an unprecedented level of success. Their candid, confident, and frequently humble answers to Polsky’s pointed questions reveals the unexpected: these standout athletes are perhaps not that much different from you and I. In fact, the film shows that some of the past’s greats actually weren’t physically able to rise to the top, yet they did. The difference in these men, Polsky finds, is in their creativity and upbringing recognizing the necessity of this attribute. Of course, these men and women, in the case of the Williams sisters, are driven in a different way as well. Polsky also explores the mental motivation behind their success which is yet another intriguing discovery in the film.

Polsky artistically uses old footage from all of these athletes to demonstrate each athlete’s atypical style or creativity in their sport. We watch Marciano train and fight and we begin to understand how Gretzky became the confident and innovative player that to this day stands above them all. With this found footage interwoven between insightful and candid interviews, we begin to see a pattern; a connective line or lines drawn between top athletes. But more importantly, we see how we can introduce the concept of freedom of creativity into our own lives and our children’s for success.

There are plenty of surprises in the film, particularly when it comes to the importance of statistics and reactions to shortcomings of top athletes. In a recent interview, Polsky found many surprises as he delved into the topic. In fact, as he said, “If it’s in the movie, it means it was surprising to me. I’m not going to put anything in there that I’m bored with.”

“In Search of Greatness” also included interviews with authors Ken Robinson, Out of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative,” and David Epstein, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletes. These authors, their observations, and their research combined with the athletes’ interviews, give us seemingly concrete answers to the question of what makes a great athlete great.

“In Search of Greatness” is an vividly entertaining exploration of developing the best athletes. Ironically, you don’t have to be a sports enthusiast to enjoy and glean life-changing information from the film. As Polsky chuckled, “If you see this movie and you come out the same person, there’s something wrong with you.” This film truly gives viewers the tools to help ourselves and most importantly, help our children reach their potential across any and all platforms.

“In Search of Greatness” opens in theaters Friday, November 2 in major cities. Polsky hopes that coaches, teachers, and parents will all go see this film, especially as a group and use the hashtag #takeyourteam.

To read the interview with Polsky, go to The Daily Journal

Michael Glover Smith finds balance in artistry and entertainment in his 3rd feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago”

October 18th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on “Michael Glover Smith finds balance in artistry and entertainment in his 3rd feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago””

Writer and director Michael Glover Smith creates his third feature film “Rendezvous in Chicago.” Set in the Windy City, Smith continues to tackle various aspects of complicated relationships in three separate vignettes. While the short stories feature three different sets of couples, all at various stages of their relationships, the stories are interconnected by not only location, but by looking either into a crystal ball or the rearview mirror of life. Life and relationships are on a continuum, and Smith finds uniquely intriguing couples to portray this as he strikes a balance between artistry and entertainment.

Smith’s first story begins with Paul (Kevin Wehby) and Delaney (Clare Cooney) who first meet in a bar. This isn’t an ordinary bar scene, however. Delaney is almost hiding in the back of the bar with no one around her, buried in her computer and intent on completing her dissertation. Paul happens into the empty bar to finish his work, only to catch a glimpse of this focused woman. There’s something that pulls him to her as he tries desperately to engage her, but she’s wise beyond her years. The two swap barbs, but then there’s a connection like a strike of lightning thanks to 19th century Russian literature. It’s serendipitous, but Delaney’s too smart to let Paul take the lead. Where she leads him is wonderfully surprising and at times comedic, but always, this woman is “wearing the pants” in the beginning of this relationship.

Cooney is comfortably confident in her portrayal of Delaney while Wehby gives us a familiar performance of an overly self-assured young man who eventually has the tables turned. He beautifully and ever so slowly peels away the layers of his superficial persona to surprisingly reveal a male with deep emotional potential and appreciation of the woman he just met. The pacing and genuine interaction between Cooney and Wehby is refreshingly fun, creating a longing for knowing what happens next with these two individuals.

Smith then introduces us to a couple, Rob (Matthew Sherbach) and Andy (Rashaad Hall), who are madly in love, looking into becoming committed to one another officially. The tenuous excitement is palpable as they discuss unimportant topics of conversation such as dog vs. cat people, but what lies beneath is so much more important. There’s a surprise waiting as Rob has been keeping this a secret for awhile. Their sweet connection to one another immediately connects you to them, pulling you into their situation and anxiously anticipating the outcome.

While the first vignette allows you to recall the spark of interest and even lust or excitement in a relationship and the second creates the beauty of true love, the third story, starring Nina Ganet, is explosive, typifying the end of a relationship. As the first two stories are more traditional in story-telling style, the third is more experimental, pushing the envelope of emotion. Julie (Ganet) walks in on a cheating significant other and we, the audience become her sounding board as the dust begins to settle. This raw pain is exquisitely performed and we feel that we are her best friend, allowing her to bare her soul on this difficult day.

In all three of Smith’s feature films, he concentrates on various aspects of relationships, delving deeply into the stages. (There’s even a fun connection in the first vignette to “Mercury in Retrograde!”) In “Rendezvous in Chicago,” these stages are quite ordinary, however, there is nothing ordinary about these stories. We can all relate to each and every aspect as we recall our first meeting with a potential love-interest, or reminisce about taking that next step in a relationship or even breaking up, but where Smith pushes the envelope is with the strength of the women in the first and third story. Delaney is intelligent and witty, but not every guy is deserving of her. She hammers this home in subtle ways, thanks to the adroit writing skills of Smith and credit to her skillful delivery. Ganet finds power in her emotionally wrenching reaction to her character’s cheating significant other. She’s honest with herself and the viewer, and Smith’s direction creates an unusual relationship between the camera or viewer and Julie. Ganet is simply extraordinary.

Smith also deftly and rather slyly creates a traditional relationship in a gay couple, Rob who is white and Andy who is Black. Smith is able to subtly punctuate the fact that love is the same no matter what your gender, your orientation, or your race. There is a simple beauty in this overtly complex situation.

“Rendezvous in Chicago” finds strength and harmony in three seemingly disconnected stories set in Chicago. With the Second City as a backdrop and even character of the stories, there is so much more that connects these couples at the beginning, middle, and end of their relationships than Chicago. It’s the continuum of life and love that we all experience. Smith blurs the lines of traditional thoughts and storytelling techniques to create a throught-provoking and intriguing montage of love.

Redford, Spacek, and Affleck steal your heart in the charming bank robbery movie “The Old Man & The Gun”

October 4th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Redford, Spacek, and Affleck steal your heart in the charming bank robbery movie “The Old Man & The Gun””

Robert Redford proves that he’s still got it as he gets back in the acting saddle as Forrest Tucker, an elderly gentleman bank robber in “The Old Man & the Gun” which is based on a true story. Planning heists and completing them in the most polite and charming way with his “Over the Hill Gang” comprised of Teddy (Danny Glover) and Waller (Tom Waits), Tucker’s got a twinkle in his eye for both bank robbery and his new acquaintance, Jewel (Sissy Spacek).

The cat and mouse game begins when Officer John Hunt (Casey Affleck) is on the case as both he and the audience are endeared with this “bad guy.” The robberies continue, leaving behind a string of happy “victims” who had no ill-will toward the gentleman who held a gun to them and demanded their money. This flummoxes officials and in some ways seems to entertain not just viewers hearing of these reports, but also Officer Hunt. Meanwhile, Tucker, going by a pseudonym of Bob Callahan, begins to court the farm owner Jewel. The scenes involving these two brilliantly talented actors are, you might say, the crowning jewel of the film. They light up in each other’s presense and transfer that feeling to the viewer.

Officer Hunt, equally charmed by Tucker and his gang, must somehow put a stop to these robberies and he institutes a different tactic in solving the mystery. He’s a father to two curious children who “help” in piecing together the puzzle. The relationship between Hunt and little Abilene (Ari Elizabeth Johnson) is an authentic feeling father-daughter relationship, endearing us to the very person who is after our charming outlaw! Creating a scenario where you’re rooting for both the good guy and the bad guy is a precariously fun position to find yourself as you watch the story unfold.

As the gang gets bored with the small heists, a larger one is planned, but the consequences may be a bitter pill to swallow at their age. The intensity builds in just the right ways and in just the right amount, and always finding a way to put a smile on your face.

As Hunt uses his detective skills, we are privy to Tucker’s back story, taking us back in time as we learn more and love him even more. To describe a bank robbery movie as sweet and charming seems an impossibility, but writer/director David Lowery along with his exceptional cast, creates exactly that. It’s a leisurely trip filled with lovely self-reflective images and scenery, never rushing you through the emotions of any of the characters.

Redford is exceptional as this gentleman bank robber whose very DNA seems to be programmed for heists. His engaging smile washes over its recipients who are then spellbound, creating an immediate attraction to him. Who other than Redford could possess these attributes to give us such a layered, rich and most importantly, believable performance. When you pair Redford with the equally delightful and talented Spacek, you have a match made in heaven. There’s a sparkle in both actors’ eyes that draws you immediately to them, wanting to spend more time with them and glean their life’s knowledge.

Affleck parallels Spacek and Redford’s performance, finding a calm beauty in his role as not just a police officer, but as a husband and father. Of course, Glover and Waits add to the film just like icing on a cake and the children are the sprinkles, as they give realistically wonderful performances.

Cinematically, the film finds the right tone for every scene; from car chases through corn fields and gazing over a hillside at sunset with horses in the backdrop to closeups allowing the viewer to connect with our heroes, it’s all simply beautiful.

While Redford has had an amazing career as an actor as well as wearing many other hats in life and in the film industry, we are lucky to be graced by his talent in this “truth is stranger than fiction” tale. There’s even a moral to the story, even if the morals are a bit skewed: Always do what you love.

4/4 Stars

The remake of “A Star Is Born” Shines brightly

October 3rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “The remake of “A Star Is Born” Shines brightly”

Actor and now screenwriter, song writer, and director Bradley Cooper undertakes the enormous project of remaking “A Star Is Born” for the third, or some may say the fourth, time. The 1932 George Cukor directed film, “What Price Hollywood?” is said to be the inspiration for the next 4 versions of “A Star Is Born” beginning with the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor, the 1957 Judy Garland version, and then the most well-known 1976 adaptation starring Barbra Steisand and Kris Kristofferson. That brings us to the Cooper and Lady Gaga saga, that is sure to bring old and new audiences to this timeless tale of love, jealousy, and loss.

The premise of the film remains the same, but the situations and circumstances are all brought into today’s world, complete with the original music many of which are co-written by Gaga and Cooper. We meet super star singer Jackson Maine (Cooper) who has obvious chemical dependency issues. After a performance, he happens into a bar where waitress Ally (Gaga) is performing. Awe-struck by her talent, he falls in love with her, but Ally is hesitant. The story unfolds as the two begin a relationship not only in love, but in life and work. Jackson opens doors for Ally, leading her on a path of success as he watches his own shining star begin to fade…much of which is self-destructive behavior. This classic love story pits the heart against the soul, pulling no punches in the final outcome.

From the very first scene as Ally sings a song in French, the emotions evoked are far greater than I could have anticipated. As we watch Jackson’s reaction to her, we completely understand how he feels and we are at once connected to this rising talent matched with a legendary performer. Their chemistry is powerful as we want nothing more than the two to rise to the top of their careers together and live happily ever after…but that wouldn’t be a very good story, would it? The tears must fall and the heart must be broken and as we watch Jackson’s alcohol and drug addiction effect not only his work, but every relationship he has, the story captivates you, taking you on an emotional ride.

Gaga’s talent seems to have no limits as she easily transforms from mega-star musician to a leading lady in “A Star Is Born.” Coupling this with her extraordinary musical skills, writing songs and performing them, adds an unparalleled aspect to the film. Cooper is equally talented in his musical and singing performance, as he replicates Sam Elliott’s lyrically rich, low voice who plays Jackson’s older brother, Bobby. Elliott’s performance, while it isn’t a huge role, is an important one as his character is resentful of his little brother’s talent and success, and is conflicted with his responsibility to care for him. The subtlety in his actions and reactions are indelible, eliciting such a deep viewer response. Gaga, Cooper, and Elliott are simply stellar, giving far-reaching and emotional portrayals of how life, love, and family affects you to the core.

The supporting cast shines brightly, illuminating the production. Anthony Ramos plays Ramon, Ally’s best friend and confidant with care and humor. Dave Chappelle finds a new and different way to create his character, Noodles, with a sense of reality and Andrew Dice Clay tones it down as he portrays Ally’s father, Lorenzo, a limo driver who is trying his best to help his daughter step into the next part of her life. A surprisingly complex performance from Rafi Gavron as Rez, Ally’s manager, finds just the right tone in superficial caring and honest guidance in the work place. Gavron is so subtle, his words become shocking—a truly skillful performance.

The film takes us along the highs and the lows of life and love, never missing a beat or an opportunity to pull on your heartstrings. While the performances are always intriguing, the film does meander a bit in the middle, lacking focus for just a short period of time, but unfortunately, this pulled me out of the moment. Reeling me back in at the end proved more difficult than I anticipated as the film tried to find an ending. These are minor flaws in this enormous endeavor and they do not overshadow the remarkable and engaging performances and musical entertainment in the film.

Cooper’s directorial debut is a strong one, proving that he has what it takes to write, act, direct, and even sing, but even more important, he knows how to assemble the right cast of characters to create a beautiful story worth re-telling for the 4th (or 5th) time. And you’re going to get the soundtrack for this one!

Puppies strive to become guide dogs in “Pick of the Litter”

September 28th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Puppies strive to become guide dogs in “Pick of the Litter””

Documentarians Dana Nachman and Don Hardy Jr., who gave us the informative and eye-opening film “The Human Experiment” and the heartfelt documentary “Batkid Begins,” are teaming up again to bring us “Pick of the Litter.”

This delightful and captivating story follows five promising puppies — Patriot, Primrose, Poppet, Phil and Potomac — all vying to become a guide dog for the blind. Will any of these furry, four-legged friends have what it takes to make the cut?

Over the course of two years, watching with bated breath, we get to know these dogs, their families and the individuals who need their services to guide. It’s a thrilling year filled with love, disappointment and even heartbreak while balanced by tears of joy. Yes, this “dynamic duo” of Nachman and Hardy have done it again with “Pick of the Litter.”

To read the review in its entirety, go to:

Fogelman’s “Life Itself” can’t save itself from meandering and meaningless storylines

September 21st, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Fogelman’s “Life Itself” can’t save itself from meandering and meaningless storylines”

Dan Fogelman, known for his series “This Is Us,” creates a series of vignettes, all inter-related in the much-anticipated film “Life Itself” which premiered at TIFF. The film’s title should not under any circumstances be confused with the brilliant documentary of the same name about the legendary Roger Ebert. That being said, Fogelman’s film starts off strong with a tragic story line as Will (Oscar Isaac) is in a pitiful state, full of self-loathing and completely miserable. His wife, Abby (Olivia Wilde) is gone and during his flashbacks that he creatively visits by way of his therapist, Dr. Morris (Annette Bening), we learn of how his fairytale love story became a living nightmare, resulting in the events that unfold in the next 4 “chapters” of the film.

Will and Abby’s lives are recounted from birth through college where they met, as Will reminds Dr. Morris that his memories are influenced by his very biased perception. These profound thoughts are hammered into the script the way a sledgehammer would be used for a picture hook. We find that the day that changed Will’s world and many others sets up the subsequent story lines, all connected by the previous story. That one day in Will and Abby’s life, a simple utterance and a small action inadvertently sets into motion dramatic and traumatic consequences for families for generations. The narrator of the film advises us not to get too attached to each segment’s hero because tragedy awaits. And tragic it is.

As the ripple-effect of Will and Abby’s lives continues across the world to Spain, we are introduced to Mr. Saccione (Antonio Banderas), a wealthy owner of an olive farm who invites a worker into his home where he tells him a very, very long story about himself. The strangeness of how this aspect of the film concludes eludes words to describe, but perhaps “unbelievable” would do it justice. Dylan (Olivia Cooke) is also a pivotal character who we see change from an infant to a 6 year old to a rebellious 21 year-old being raised by her grandfather. And POOF! We are on to the next chapter. Within each “chapter,” there is a dizzying array of characters all attempting to be the focus of the story; an impossible endeavor.

The dark cloud constantly hangs over all of these lives, but there are a few moments of humor thanks to our narrator and the introduction of an obnoxiously stereotypical college girl, Shari (Isabel Durant) who somehow got into NYU. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough happiness or levity to counterbalance the seemingly constant heart-breaking misery. You feel that the next shoe is about to drop…but how many pairs of shoes are up there?

While there are aspects of this film that feel like a Hallmark movie on steroids, the acting is much better. Isaac and Wilde, in their short time on screen, somehow create characters that are at once engaging and interesting. It is a standout cast, but unfortunately, the content just isn’t there to allow them to shine. An exception to that is the young Dylan played by Kya Kruse who knocks it out of the park as she expresses her feelings of loss as death which appears to follow her.

The concept of “Life Itself” had great potential as we all like to think that our actions do have an impact on this world, but the film dishes out too much misery and attempts to give too much prolific life advice. With an ever-changing focus of the film taking us along a seemingly never-ending timeline, we just don’t feel connected to anyone but our first characters, Will and Abby. The film actually feels much better suited to a television series which would have allowed it time to delve more deeply into the subsequent lives and characters. This superficial grazing makes it feel more like a soap opera sped up.

While it all does come full circle, quite predictably, the film tried to cover too much and never really covered enough. It’s exhausting and depressing, leaving you with a feeling of remorse for spending two hours in a movie theater. Perhaps a double feature of depression would work; see this and then Fahrenheit 11/9. That’s sure to leave you in a fetal position in the corner for a few hours.

2 stars

“3100: Run and Become” Opens at the Siskel Film Center Sept. 21

September 20th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““3100: Run and Become” Opens at the Siskel Film Center Sept. 21”

“3100: Run and Become” documents the annual Sri Chamnoy Self Transcendence 3100 mile road race, focusing on champion runner Helsinki native Ashprihanal Aalto. Delving into this extreme athlete and the eleven other competitors, documentary filmmaker Sanjay Rawal (“Food Chains”) allows viewers into the history and actual need for running in our quest for humanity and connection.

Completing a 5k race for many of us is a feat, but what about a 3100 mile race? If this sounds extreme, you’re right, but for a dozen individuals, it connects them more directly and completely to themselves and their spirit to live a more meaningful life. The race takes place in the heat of New York City’s summer months as 12 racers from all over the world run a ½ mile city block for 3 weeks.  Runners complete an average of 60 miles per day in the hopes of finishing, but a few hope to win. 8-time champion Ashprihanal Aalto, a spiritual name given to him by the founder of the race meaning “aspiration fire inside the heart,” through interviews months before the race and during, answers those questions of not just why would anyone do this, but also how? The answers might surprise you, allowing yourself to relate to climbing this personal mountain and even inspire you.

We meet Aalto 9 months before the race, at the age of 45, contemplating whether or not he has it in himself to do it yet again.  Sanjay depicts Aalto’s personal journey while learning the history of running and how it still impacts indigenous people in the world. Interspersed between interviews with the race directors, runners, family members, and physicians, we gain perspective from Buddhist monks whose centuries-old traditions of accepting a challenge to walk around a mountain, 60 miles each day for a thousand days.  Sanjay then transports us half-way across the globe, introducing us to Native Americans whose heritage and understanding of nature is quite similar to the monks.  And in between, Aalto and 11 others use mind and meditation to keep running, focusing on completion step by step.

We follow these 12 runners throughout the course of three weeks, watching as their exhausted muscles break down in the excruciating heat, trying to stay hydrated.  The strong of mind, body and soul persevere as others cannot endure.  We feel their pain and exhaustion, urging them to stay strong as they complete final miles. It’s a tension-filled ending, not knowing which one will cross the finish line first as we see the need for not just physical strength, but mental and spiritual.

“3100: Run and Become“ beautifully captures the heart and inspiration of all who close their eyes, take a breath, and open their hearts to life.   This transcendence run is fueled by meditation or as one director described it, “Running is a form of prayer.”  While many of us may never get up off the couch to run a 5k, we can all set a goal of becoming more aware of nature, what she gives us, and appreciate our surroundings as we walk on the Earth beneath our feet.  

Check out “3100:  “ opening at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Friday, Sept. 21 through Sept. 27 and again on Oct. 6, the day before the Chicago Marathon.

TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!

September 14th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018: It’s a wrap!”

Films seem to come in a myriad number of flavors and styles. Where better to sample all of these tastes than at the Toronto International Film Festival? This year’s TIFF proved to be one of the most competitive and entertaining festivals with more Oscar buzz-worthy films than ever before.

With hundreds of feature films from all over the world, there were plenty to please every film palate. Some of these films continue to gain critical acclaim and audience appreciation from other festivals, such as “The Kindergarten Teacher” and “Colette,” while others are shooting quickly to the top, such as “First Man” and “Widows.”

Seeing more than 25 films at this year’s fest, I’ve compiled my “Best of the Fest” list to share with you. Many of these films will be released in the coming months, just in time for Oscar consideration.

To read all about the best of the fest, go to the Friday, Sept. 14th edition of The Daily Journal:

“White Boy Rick” Gritty film deftly portraying injustices

September 14th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““White Boy Rick” Gritty film deftly portraying injustices”

“White Boy Rick” isn’t another “American Hustle” as promised in the trailers, but it is a movie based on the unlikely true story of Rick Wershe Jr. (Richie Merritt), a drug-trafficking teen who got his start as an informant-drug dealer for the FBI in the mid-1980s.

Andy Weiss, Logan Miller and Noah Miller co-wrote this crazy story with Yann Demange in the director’s chair, starring Matthew McConaughey, Merritt, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern.

It’s Detroit, 1984, and the city is suffering from every economic woe possible. Gangs and drug violence are just the tip of the iceberg in this decaying city run by corrupt politicians. Rick Sr. (McConaughey) is a gun dealer, using his shady ways to connect with and sell his wares, as he and his 15-year-old son bond over these illicit transactions.

To read the review in its entirety, go to

Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman”

September 5th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews 0 thoughts on “Filmmaker Michal Aviad talks about her empowering and realistic TIFF film “Working Woman””

Michal Aviad’s newest film, “Working Woman,” has its international premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Tuesday, Sept. 11. The film depicts the story of Orna (Liron Ben Shlush), a happily married woman who is financially struggling to make ends meet as she attempts to balance motherhood and career. With an opportunity to support the family and her husband’s opening of a new restaurant, Orna becomes a sales sensation for the real estate mogul Benny (Menashe Noy). The price she pays is higher than anticipated, combatting the advances of her boss while attempting to keep her job. This riveting and realistic portrayal of women in the work place is as disturbing and eye-opening as it is empowering. With extraordinary performances and an intuitively thought-provoking script co-written by Aviad, Sharon Azulay Eyal, and Michal Vinik, Aviad directs her cast to bring to light a subject matter that is timely and relevant while allowing others to more accurately understand a woman’s perspective and challenges in life.

I had a chance to talk with Aviad about her inspiration in developing such an intricately real story as well as her own empowering actions in life. Her strength both behind the camera and in the film industry elicits a sense of camaraderie and motivation to make a difference in our own communities right now.


Pamela Powell (PP): You’ve been in this industry long enough to see the tides begin to turn.  Looking back on your career, was any of this story inspired by your own life or observations?

Michal Aviad (MA):I worked ten years as a waitress, and since the late 1980’s as a filmmaker and film teacher. I’ve experienced many things at work and in life – from humiliating sexual comments to sexual abuse. Struggling to work as a woman filmmaker was and still often is accompanied by degrading behavior towards me as a woman. On the other hand, luckily, as an Independent Film Director, I don’t have bosses. In addition, I have been working with feminist colleagues for many years to bring issues of female equality into the national consciousness. For example, in our industry, two years ago, with The Israeli Forum of Women in Cinema & TV, I took part in writing a treaty which calls everyone to report sexual harassment at work and detail the actions that will be taken against harassers.

PP: Studying both literature and philosophy, how do these combine to help in creating such articulate and deep characters like Orna and her husband?

MA: The education I received in the Humanities helps me to understand the world. It also opened me to reading feminist philosophy and theory, as well as film theory. All those have shaped my values and outlook on society and cinema. In addition, for many years I’ve been making documentaries, which brought me to communities and women who belong to different classes and ethnicities than my own. Meeting people through work gave me the opportunity to deepen my thoughts and feelings about the ways gender issues manifest themselves.

In WORKING WOMAN, I wanted to understand how and why working relations between men and women, so often go wrong. I know women like Orna: talented and ambitious young mothers, who have to work full time to survive, but also strive for success at their jobs. I knew I wanted to tell a story about such a woman. Also, while writing I wanted to shape Orna and her husband as a loving couple, since I wanted my heroine to reject her boss’s advances because she is simply in love with another man, her husband. I wanted to make Ofer, Orna’s husband, lovable and sexy, and what is sexier for women (I wish men realized this) than a caring father? We were writing a story in which I wanted to find out how sexual harassment at work affects not only the victim’s soul, but also her relations with her entire environment. I wanted to find out why Orna and many women do not tell even loved ones about the struggle they go through.

PP: This film’s story will most certainly, and unfortunately, resonate with a majority of women in the workplace.  With such an empowering end, what do you hope others will take away from it?

MA: I am glad you see the end as empowering, since Orna, like most women and unlike the #MeToo heroines, does not go public. According to an Israeli law against sexual harassment created in 1998, Orna doesn’t stand a chance of proving her case at court. In reality, women who go through sexual harassment at work, more often than not, lose everything: their job, promised money, their hopes to advance and the ability to find a similar job. But Orna is not just a helpless victim, she goes out to fight for what she can get.

I wanted to put a magnifying glass on the much convoluted issue of sexual harassment at the work place. I wish viewers, women and men, will come out of the film with an understanding how and why it happens and how complicated it can be at times. I hope that audiences identify with Orna and what she is going through, and hope they see the blind spots the protagonists and we all have. By understanding how common and deeply engrained sexual abuse is in our culture, we can fundamentally change women-men relationships and build a society in which, rather than power, treating the other as equal humans, guides our lives together.

PP: Tell me how you worked with Liron (Orna) whose performance was subtle yet complex and exuded intelligence and strength. (Photo courtesy Matt Johnstone Publicity)

MA: First of all, Liron is an extremely intelligent and talented actress.
During auditions, most of the young actresses who auditioned for the part knew about sexual harassment from personal experience. But when Liron auditioned, I felt that she knew Orna. Liron was 20 weeks pregnant at the time, but I felt she was my heroine, so we waited for her to give birth and recover. While filming, Liron was breast-feeding, which was an additional feminist angle to the set. In the months prior to filming, Liron and I researched Orna together. We met with women who sell real estate, we toured the neighborhood where I wanted Orna and Ofer to live, and we talked for days. We slowly shaped every step of Orna’s journey. We knew her strengths and flaws. In each scene we knew how she acts and reacts. During production, Liron, who appears in each shot in the film, knew Orna as well as me, and sometimes better. She became my main partner on the set.

PP: The hotel scene literally stopped me from breathing as I hesitantly watched the details unfold. Can you tell me about the research about sexual harassment and assault that you did to portray such realistic responses? 

MA: My previous narrative feature film, INVISIBLE (2011), is about the trauma of two women who were raped many years earlier by the same serial rapist. My personal experience and years of reading testimonies on the subject, helped me grasp the complex reactions of victims of sexual abuse. Shaping the assault scene at the hotel, stems also from watching films, the majority of which were made by men. I was trying to veer away from creating a scene that can sexually stimulate viewers. Rape and harassment scenes in cinema are traditionally directed to combine the greatest ticket sales formula: sex and violence on the screen. I do not want to be part in that tradition. I wanted to show a horrific scene that didn’t involve nudity and blood.

PP: Benny’s character is slowly unveiled allowing the viewer to understand Orna’s response to stay in her job.  Tell me about collaborating with Menashe (Benny) to get such a strong and realistic portrayal of this character.

MA: … Menashe and I have worked for many years within the film and TV community in Israel and both of us personally know men who were accused and charged with sexual abuse. We agreed that Benny cannot be an evil caricature. We shaped a character that has lots of charm and generosity, a boss that appreciates Orna, his employee, and seeks to advance her, but is blind to his power and to the will of the woman he likes so much.

PP: To say that this is a timely tale is an understatement.  What are your thoughts about the timing and issues that apparently are not only happening in the U.S., but around the world?

MA: When #MeToo happened I was in the middle of shooting. The news was for me a breath of a new hope. Finally we are moving from the frustrated margins to the mainstream of the struggle against sexual abuse. But from the 200 hundred years history of the feminist movement, I know that achievements often meet powerful waves of oppression. In Israel, the variety of reactions to each new story about sexual abuse always include men who lament the death of flirting, warn against a plague of false accusations and protest against a return to puritan times. Fear and fantasy get mixed up. On the other hand, so far the women that came out in the #MeToo moment are famous, wealthy celebrities who make news. I would love nurses, chambermaids and secretaries to come out with their stories without paying a terrible price. I wish for WORKING WOMAN and for society that men as well as many women realize that we have to re-think the old values we grew up on and re-shape the society we live in. I feel optimistic, but the road is still long.

PP: You also capture the difficulties in balancing children, work, and home along with financial pressures associated with all of this.  

MA: Women struggle to prove that we can work as hard and as many hours as men do. In most Western societies, this is the only way women can obtain a career and sufficient income. But we, women, are also brought up to take primal responsibility for the home and children. Orna, in comparison with most women, is lucky to have a husband who takes some of the domestic workload off her shoulders. I hope that with the wake-up call to eradicate sexual abuse, we will change many other cultural “arrangements” between the sexes. I wish for a society where all adults work shorter days, and men join women in the joy and responsibility of caring for and raising children.

PP: In making this film, what was the most difficult aspect for you in bringing this to life?

MA: The very banal but still true answer is: funding. For four years we searched for funding. The competition for funding in Israel is fierce, but in addition, we received responses from funders in Israel and in Europe which ranged from: The script is not an interesting enough subject for a film, to not believing that Orna does not want sex with Benny, to suggesting to make the sexual abuse more brutal to create “real drama”.

It is with sincere gratitude that Aviad received the funding necessary to complete this timely story as its importance cannot be understated.

Be sure to see “Working Woman” at TIFF and walk in the shoes of a working woman, wife, and mother. For more information about this film, go to

“Operation Finale”

August 29th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Operation Finale””

Theatrically, Ben Kingsley has and continues to do it all. Starring in “Operation Finale” as the Nazi “Architect of the Holocaust” and war criminal running from authorities, Kingsley perfects his skills to bring us a chillingly real and layered performance, First-time screenwriter Matthew Orton depicts, through painstaking research, the events of Israeli secret agents tracking down Adolf Eichmann based on a tip. Finding and confirming his identity and then abducting him was the easy part of the assignment. Getting him out of the Nazi supportive country of Argentina was death defying, taking 11 days with authorities hot on their trail. To allow Eichmann, aka Ricardo Klement, to leave the country, a signed written permission was necessary and one agent was compelled to rise above the techniques his slain family had received from Eichmann’s underlings in order to obtain this document.

The horrific stories from the Holocaust continue to arise, reminding us of the depths to which people can sink, taking away not only life, but humanity. Director Chris Weitz opens the film with strikingly raw information set in white type on a plain black screen to accentuate the information about the slaughter of Jews during WWII. After a brief yet impactful history lesson, we are introduced to the characters in the film. We are taken back to the late 1950’s when a young Jewish girl, Sylvia (Haley Lu Richardson) begins to date the “son” of Eichmann, Klaus (Joe Alwyn). The identity of these young people is at first unknown to one another. By chance, Sylvia’s father (Peter Strauss) is suspicious of Klaus’ father’s identity and contacts authorities. The cat and mouse game has now begun.

The tension is immediately set and we quickly leap forward into the capture of Eichmann by the undercover team. With a major snag in this well-orchestrated plan, we see, day by day, the men’s personalities revealed and their motivation to bring this man back to Israel to stand trial.

Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is the lone wolf in this pack, attempting to hold on to a sense of humanity and attempting to connect on an emotional level with Eichmann to obtain that signature. Malkin is also a loose canon as is indicated by references to past assignments. The real story lies between Malkin and Eichmann as the two assess one another and play each other’s psychological game. During the conversations, we are frequently brought back in time to Malkin’s nightmares and his loss of his sister and her children as well as his own errors resulting in other’s future nightmares. The guilt and the suffering is immeasurable and “Operation Finale” expertly portrays this through the dark images, suffocatingly closed in shots, and bringing to life the memories of war.

Kingsley’s performance is exceptional as we see him ever so subtly trying to manipulate his abductors. He also shows us there is more to Eichmann than a monster as he cares deeply for his wife and children. The cunning and manipulative skills of Eichmann are expertly depicted by Kingsley, particularly as the final scenes unfold. Isaac is adequate in this role, but at times there seems to be a lack of emotion, disconnecting the viewer from his performance. The pacing of the film is erratic at times as it errantly attempts to find a few chuckles between the characters and even a love story between Malkin and Hanna (Melanie Laurent).

“Operation Finale” brings us back to a time that should not be forgotten, particularly with the rise of White Supremacy in the United States today. The film creates a palpable hatred as we witness gruesome scenarios and still shots of memories of bodies piled high, children murdered, and pits of people awaiting their death. These disturbing images punctuate the realities of this war and the pain that these Israeli undercover agents have experienced.

While there are some issues with pacing and editing as well as Isaac’s performance, “Operation Finale” is an important part of history that should not be forgotten. Stick around for the credits to see footage and clips of the real story.

To read the review of this film as printed in the Friday, August 31st edition of The Daily Journal, go to

3 1/2 Stars

TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald

August 26th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, News 0 thoughts on “TIFF 2018, An interview with filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald”

The 2018 Toronto International Film Festival is just around the corner with hundreds of features, short films and documentaries from around the world.

TIFF also has virtual reality experiences, conferences, presentations by legendary directors and even a few parties beginning Sept. 6 and running through Sept. 16.

This “festival of festivals” began in 1976 and has grown to be one of the premiere festivals in the world as both seasoned filmmakers and up-and-comers walk the red carpet and wait for the audience’s reactions to their creations.

Thom Firzgerald’s newest film, “Splinters,” will make its world debut at TIFF, and I had a chance to talk with the award-winning filmmaker about the film, inspired by the play of the same name by Lee-Anne Poole.

Set in a small farming community in Nova Scotia, Belle (Sophia Banzhaf) attempts to find peace with the loss of her father and to rectify and repair her relationship with her mother, who finds difficulty in accepting her sexual identity. It’s a beautiful and heartfelt drama, capturing the love of family and self as it explores the complexities of life.

Fitzgerald shared his thoughts about his characters and creating this timeless and relevant film.

To read the interview in its entirety go to

“Juliet, Naked” Best Rom-Com in years

August 24th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Juliet, Naked” Best Rom-Com in years”

The Academy Award nominated writer, Nick Hornby, hones his romantic and comedic skills in “Juliet, Naked” as Tamara Jenkins, Jim Taylor, and Evgenia Peretz create the hilariously off-kilter screenplay, starring Ethan Hawke, Rose Byrne, and Chris O’Dowd. Jesse Peretz directs the film which focuses on Annie (Byrne) whose relationship with Duncan (O’Dowd) is failing thanks to his consuming hobby and interest in the elusive musician Tucker Crowe (Hawke). Just by chance, Annie writes a scathing review about a lost Tucker Crowe album only to connect with the star. Their long-distance communications become much more than that and Duncan may find himself kicked to the curb.

We meet Annie in a small town in England as she talks to the viewers by way of narration, describing her current situation. We find out her father passed away and now fills his shoes running the historical society. We also are privy to her dissatisfaction with her long-term relationship with Duncan and why. His obsession with and over-analyzing Tucker Crowe’s life and music provides plenty of comic relief for the viewer, but doesn’t leave much time for Annie and two have drifted apart. Annie and Duncan agreed to never have children, but Annie’s tune is changing, but with no communication occurring, it seems there’s no hope. When Annie discovers the lost album “Juliet, Naked,” and Duncan discovers a new colleague at the university, the stories diverge, and we follow them both along their new rocky and frequently funny new path.

The primary story is seen through Annie’s eyes, knowing her thoughts and emotions as well as her written communication via email to Tucker. These wonderfully creative thoughts expressed in emails cut to each of their cores, finding safety in writing their honest emotions to someone thousands of miles away. We understand her new-found diversion and secretly root for them to connect, but Tucker lives in the States and has a lot on his plate, too! The humor and anticipation builds as Annie and Duncan go their separate ways and Tucker then enters the picture, much to Duncan’s disbelief.

We are also privy to Duncan’s antics and witness Tucker’s crazy and chaotic family life. The dramatic elements are always there as this film delves deeply into relationships and how they fail, but never, ever does this film forget it’s a comedy. The use of uncomfortable situations that occur in the drama of life also create funny situations that connect you more deeply with the characters. What makes this film different and more relevant is that it integrates today’s technology and communication as well as all the different family trees structures possible.

Byrne has always been the supporting actress in films, and a strong one, but this time she proves that she can carry a film as the lead. From “Bridesmaids” to “Spy,” Byrne has a brilliant sense of comedic timing and now she is able to shine brightly. Of course, O’Dowd, also from “Bridesmaids,” is hilarious with his delivery and his seemingly off the cuff comments as he plays the oblivious professor and boyfriend. But it is Hawke that is truly surprising as he offers an ingeniously funny performance, laughing as much at himself as his character’s situations. He’s as real as he is witty, allowing us to see yet another side of this accomplished actor who’s getting to really show his abilities this year.

“Juliet, Naked” takes the rom-com genre to a refreshingly new level that I haven’t seen since Harry and Sally met. The film never loses its pace or its focus while it is relevant and makes you believe in romance in real life. It was a favorite at the 2018 Sundance film festival and stands the test of time, remaining a favorite film of the year.

4 Stars

“The Happytime Murders” Raunchy anti-muppet movie delivers what it promised

August 23rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““The Happytime Murders” Raunchy anti-muppet movie delivers what it promised”

There’s a lot of hubbub out there right now about the Anti-Muppet movie, “The Happytime Murders,” and for good reason. It’s certainly NOT a kids’ movie and it certainly IS “R” rated, although it’s for language, “drug” usage (sugar snorting) and sexual references because, let’s face it, puppets really can’t be sexually explicit, right? Tack on an racy, over-the-top trailer and a law suit from Sesame Street suing none other than Jim Henson’s son, Brian Henson, the director of the film, and you have yourself some free marketing and publicity, aka a public relations directors’ dream!

“The Happytime Murders” is written by Todd Berger who gave us the brilliant independent dark comedy “It’s A Disaster.” Now, Berger and Henson team up to create a story about an alternate universe where puppets and people attempt to live together and sugar is the black market drug. With a rash of puppet murders, specifically the original “Happytime Gang,” from a throw back television series, Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) and former partner turned Private Investigator, Phil Phillips (voiced by Bill Barretta) team back up with bad blood between them to figure out who-dunnit.

The film uses narration and a tone which immediately conjures images of 1940‘s Film Noir movies like Dick Powell’s “Murder, My Sweet” complete with a slightly disheveled detective and a gorgeous woman (puppet) in need of the detective’s “services” (double entendre here). Beneath the licentious jokes, vulgar insults, and lewd scenes, there lies a few not-so-subtle messages regarding equality, discrimination, and respect for others. The story plays out like any other murder mystery, but because these are puppets, the envelope is pushed to the max regarding sexual references and the crass and offensive language uttered from a puppets lips (which Edwards is unable to read for obvious reasons) jolts you within the first 30 seconds of the film as the f-bombs start flying. At times, you laugh out loud and at others, you roll your eyes. Given the fact that our lead is a woman, in fact all three main characters are female with Maya Rudolph and Elizabeth Banks having the most human screen time, several jokes seemed to make only me laugh. Of course, I was surrounded by a predominantly male group who just didn’t understand what an effort it is to wear heels or pull of an all white outfit!

The pace of the film is fast with only a few lags, but the attention to detail, particularly the scenery, gives the film another element of humor. As this is a G-Rated paper, I’ll omit some of the signage of places Detective Edwards and Phillips went to gather information. Suffice it to say, there was alliteration and many more double entendres. Finding humor in every scene, even ones that went to the dogs as one puppet was killed by a few adorable terriers looking for the squeaker, the film kept its focus on laying the trail of breadcrumbs to find the killer. And you actually felt like these puppets were people very early into the film as you are filled with disdain for those who treated the stuffed creatures as second class citizens and you are shocked as you witness the “murders” with their fluffy innards laying haphazardly everywhere.

There’s no argument that this is a raunchy comedy, but you know that going into it. The puppetry is amazing as it, along with the editing and camera work, makes you believe the puppets are real. That really places a difficult task on the human actors to do well, and they do. McCarthy never disappoints as she develops a friendship with Phil the puppet. Rudolph, while her character of “Bubbles” doesn’t exactly push her acting skills to new levels, seems to have fun portraying this ditzy, lovable receptionist who’s head over heels in love with Phil. Banks, no stranger to this type of comedy (“Pitch Perfect”), creates the squeaky clean teen gone bad character with ease.

“The Happytime Murders” make “Bridesmaids,” “Trainwreck,” and “The Hangover” look pretty tame, but that’s thanks to the use of puppets. There are plenty of ill-humored, sexually explicit films that lack a story, but this isn’t one of them. There’s a story with a few relevant social issues addressed as well. Is it great cinema that we will hear about during Oscar season? Absolutely not. Is it fun, embarrassingly so? Yes. It pushes the envelope and a few buttons, but that’s exactly what it promised to do in the beginning. And thanks to this film, I’ll never look at licorice the same way again.

“Jake Squared” Displays ‘neurotic introspection’ with perfection

August 20th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly DVD 0 thoughts on ““Jake Squared” Displays ‘neurotic introspection’ with perfection”

If you could have a chat with your younger self, what would that younger version say?  Would he/she be disappointed or proud?  What words of wisdom would you give yourself now?  That’s exactly what happens in the new comedy “Jake Squared.”   Jake Klein is a 50 year old filmmaker who decides to throw a party while making a film about himself when he was young.  He hires a drop-dead gorgeous and chiseled young man to play this role and the two begin to film the movie at Jake’s home.  (Now, don’t hold that against Jake.  Who would YOU hire to play your younger version? I’d pick Kiera Knightley)  As the filming begins, confusion ensues, but in a completely entertaining way.  Jake appears to have many forms of his younger self appearing at different times, interacting with everyone and yielding many different reactions!  Are these people real?  Is Jake having a nervous breakdown?  Or is he just trying to sort through his complicated love life and past decisions?  

“Jake Squared” is absolutely hilarious while it still asks very important questions about life and how this character has chosen to live it.  Jake’s teenage daughter seems to have it more together than he does.  Many of their interactions are that of a typical father-daughter, but sprinkled into the mix is great maturity and knowledge on the part of  Sarah (Gia Mantegna).  There’s not a moment in the film that doesn’t entertain or enlighten you.  This is a smart comedy, happily pulling the viewer along, requiring you to pay close attention so you don’t miss any key elements.  Jake and his best girl friend, Beth (Virginia Madsen) frequently talk to the camera to break into the viewers’ world, helping you to decipher what is happening to Jake and why he has such a complicated love life.  

Elias Koteas has the arduous task of  playing Jake.  He’s also Jake at 40 and Jake at 30.  Having a conversation with these other versions in the same room was sheer perfection.  You truly believed that these other Jakes were there to question and at times antagonize Jake (50).  Throw in another version of himself at 17 (played by Kevin Railsback), a deceased father and grandfather as well as a young version of his mother to help him figure out why he can’t commit to love, and you have glorious chaos.  The conversations that these characters have with the Jake at 50 are really quite amazing.  He finds out information about his parents’ relationship as well as his own foibles.  He is unlucky in love, but maybe with a bit of “neurotic introspection” as Howard Goldberg, writer and director of the film termed it, he’ll figure it all out perfectly.

The entire cast in “Jake Squared” harmonizes together perfectly, never hitting a sour note.  The timing and interactions enable this film to be more than funny; it strikes a chord in your own life.  Jane Seymour resonates beauty, grace, and love in her role as Joanne.  It is Madsen’s character of Beth, Jake’s best friend with whom he shares his true thoughts and feelings, that completes the complicated circle of friends and family.  She is the epitome of a best friend of the opposite sex.  We can easily read her feelings as she and Jake talk, but Jake is so consumed by the strange events occurring that he is blind to what’s right in front of him.  Madsen portrays that inner struggle perfectly. And I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed watching the hot tub scenes focusing upon Mike Vogel as the young hired actor Jake.
“Jake Squared” is a fast paced, comedically intense film which capitalizes on the energy and talent of not only the cast but also the succinctly written script.  This is a very complicated story, but at the heart of it all it is really quite simple.  It’s about a high energy and confused man trying to find love and not make any more mistakes that he might regret.  Following the story-line feels a little difficult, but rest assured the loose ends are all neatly tied up for a completely satisfying film.  ”Jake Squared” is one of the most creative and unique films I’ve seen in a long time.  How many films have you seen that can make you laugh, sigh with empathy for a situation, nod your head in understanding, feel like the actors are addressing you from the screen, and make you think about your own life and decisions?  My guess is, not many.  Check out “Jake Squared” and enjoy the roller coaster ride of life.  Then ask yourself, “What would my younger self say to me?”

You can see JAKE SQUARED on DVD, iTunes, Amazon or stream it for free if you’re an Amazon Prime member.
4/4 Stars

“Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival

August 17th, 2018 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Pick of the Litter” Opens the 2018 Slamdance Film Festival”

Dana Nachman and Don Hardy, Jr. are teaming up once again to bring viewers a meaningfully beautiful and emotional story with the 2018 Slamdance opening night film, “Pick of the Litter.”  The pair are also responsible for this critic’s favorite documentaries of year’s past such as “Batkid Begins” and “The Human Experiment.”  Now, they take us on a journey in the lives of 5 labrador retriever puppies who were bred with the intention of becoming a guide dog for the blind.  We join these puppies from the moment of birth to their final destination, but only the best of the best can make it as a guide dog.  Will any of these 5 puppies, Phil, Primrose, Patriot, Poppet , or Potomac, make the cut?

“Pick of the Litter” is a thrillingly heartfelt story as we get to know the puppies, the loving people who train them in their homes for a short period of time, and two visually impaired people who are hopeful of receiving one of these dogs to help them lead more independent lives.  Tears of joy and tears of sorrow are a constant in this film, just like “Batkid Begins” proving that this Dynamic Duo has done it again. 

We meet the “P” litter as they are literally being born.  3 black labs and 2 yellow.  Your heart immediately melts even though at this stage they look more like fat gerbils than pudgy little puppies.  We know from the very beginning that these dogs were bred for one purpose…to lead the blind.  The process is a long and tricky one as we see them grow into those adorable fluffy fur balls filled with energy and they begin their training by being placed in a home.  This, as we will see, is a tough aspect of the process as the temporary owners get quite attached to their new buddy.  And then we find ourselves predicting which one we think has all the right stuff to make it as a guide dog, rooting for each of them, and being surprised as their personalities develop and they mature.

As the viewer, we get to know these little guys and gals, their home-trainers, and the hopeful future owners needing assistance.  With candid and open interviews with all involved, we are able to walk in each of their shoes, understanding what it takes to love, raise, and then let go of these smart and loving animals.  I fell in love with Phil when he was 5-weeks old.  I can’t imagine raising him and then letting him go, but it is for the greater good—a blind person gaining independence.

The film captures the process of raising and training a guide dog with such exquisite skill that we feel we are a part of the journey.    The camera work brings you down to the dogs’ level and the storyline brings you to the humanity of it.   By the end of the film, it’s like watching a race, seeing which dogs will cross the finish and become the winner of helping a disabled adult.  Those that don’t make it become “career changed,” but that’s not a bad thing.  Perhaps they will become a breeder dog, or maybe just a great companion for someone.  But in your heart, you want each of these dogs to go on and fulfill their destiny, but you know that not all of them have the potential to do this.  This is where your tears begin to stream, most of which are happy tears.

Nachman and Hardy tell a beautiful, educational, and heartfelt story that lifts you up, reminding you of the importance of helping one another and how dogs can be an integral part of our lives.

The film opens tonight, Friday, Jan. 19 at 7 pm at the Treasure Mountain Inn in Park City.  For more information about tickets, go to

McKenzie Chinn, Chicago filmmaker talks about her newest film “Olympia”

August 16th, 2018 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “McKenzie Chinn, Chicago filmmaker talks about her newest film “Olympia””

Chicago area commercial actress and filmmaker McKenzie Chinn, creates an undeniably compelling story with her first feature film “Olympia” from Cow Lamp Films. Chinn’s tale, inspired by her own question of what it means to make the transition into true adulthood, takes us on a journey of self-discovery with the main character of Olympia who is dealing with a dying mother, a loving and committed boyfriend, and making momentous decisions. Chinn’s vividly centered artistry shines through her layered characters, integrating graphic art and insightful humor as we are drawn into the character and struggle of Olympia.  We laugh as we identify with her and feel the pain of walking in her shoes while she makes her own unique journey through life. 

I had a chance to sit down and talk with Chinn, a vibrant young woman from Baltimore who moved to the Windy City in 2008 to attend DePaul University’s School of Theater to study acting. She lit up the small coffee shop as her energy and smile were wonderfully infectious. We openly discussed her background, the genesis of “Olympia,” and what it means to be not just female in the world of filmmaking, but also a woman of color. By the end of the interview, Chinn seemed wise beyond her years and from my perspective, she is now standing firmly in the land of adulthood.

Pamela Powell (PP): Tell me about the musical group you perform with.

McKenzie Chinn (MC): We fuse lyrical narrative hip hop styles of poetry with music and sound and perform that…We tend to write a lot about identity … We spend a lot of time talking about what it means to be a black person in the world today, what it means to be a woman in the world today, and what it’s like to be a part of our generation. I’m really interested in … the power of our own personal narratives and also how powerful it is when you see your narrative reflected outside of you. So when you see your narrative in the media, when you see someone who’s similar to you in a film or on TV, it’s validating in a way that’s really critical.

PP: Do you think things are truly changing quickly thanks to the #MeToo movement or do you think things began changing prior to that?

MC: I think a little bit of both. I think the way that we get to tell our stories is changing very rapidly and the ways in which we get to tell them differently, that has been precipitated by the #MeToo movement. For instance, in the early [2000’s], we had “Sex in the City” which was fun and great and spoke to a lot of people, but that show was very limited in its scope; limited in how we got to think of ourselves as women in the world. Now we have shows like “Broad City” and platforms like “2 Dope Queens” [and] I feel like we are getting to encompass more of ourselves, we’re able to be more faceted and more nuanced and way less apologetic about how we present. I think the attitude about it is deal with it. That’s not my problem any more, that’s your problem. It’s incredibly empowering. I think [these shows] really changed how women get to talk about themselves and how we get to encompass our fuller selves.

PP: When did you first start telling stories?

MC: I’ve always been a story teller ever since I can remember. One of the things I loved doing when other kids would play outside, I would just be writing little stories. One of the first stories I ever wrote, I’ll never forget it, … was about a unicorn that got kidnapped. And my sister did the illustrations.

PP: Do you still have the book?

MC: No. I wish I still did. I can still see my sister’s illustrations and we took it very seriously. For the longest time, I thought I was going to be a writer. I was going to study journalism, but then got pulled in the direction of theater which I found incredibly exciting and intoxicating. Then I went to graduate school and that was incredibly consuming. So writing as just an activity that got back-burnered in a really major way. But when I finished school in 2011, I finished unemployed [and] we were still recovering from the recession. I have all this time and all this expressive energy and so I started writing [again].

PP: That brings us to your film “Olympia.”

MC: I got a fellowship that funded a large part of OLYMPIA. It’s called the Annenberg Artist Fellowship and a component … of that fellowship is having an artist mentor and [Tarell Alvin MCCraney- “Moonlight” ] was my artist mentor. It’s so exciting to be in a moment where people get to encompass fuller selves, not just stereotypes and not just best friends, but to actually have a voice and have a story in an arc … regardless of where they come from… 

PP: That’s amazing that this was your first project and it was through DePaul!

MC: This was my first foray into filmmaking. I think I only take really big steps. [laughs] Like Burnham, one of the architects of Chicago said ‘Make no small plans,’ and I think that’s just a part of my DNA as an artist. It never even occurred to me to make a short. It was a huge learning curve, but I was smart enough to surround myself with people who I knew had much more experience and could help the vision come to life.

PP: Tell me about writing “Olympia.”

MC: I wrote OLYMPIA shortly after turning 30 which felt like a major milestone in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I feel like folks in my generation, the millennial generation, that we don’t have the same milestones that our parents had to move us into adulthood. You know, my parents’ generation, sometime in their twenties, maybe their thirties, they got married, started a career that they would have for thirty or forty years, got a house,  [and] had children.  These are very recognizable mile markers that confer adulthood. I felt like by the time people in my generation got to those same points, the rule book had completely changed… The economy has changed and what we’re able to do has changed. If those things that were mile markers aren’t really the same anymore then what does it mean to be an adult? I found myself turning 30 and feeling like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished what I should have by this age and I should have a much better handle on life. I should have a 401k and all these things I really have not done much thinking about.’ … Olympia is trying to figure out her career. She’s in this relationship that has gone really well but that she doesn’t necessarily feel like she owed anything to in terms of like putting anything into stone and her mother is ill. All of these things are coming to a head. It’s forcing her to make a solid choice and go in a specific direction. I think there are variables, but she’s just never had to choose or has felt like it was important to choose until now.

PP: In the film, Olympia is very connected with her mother who is dying. Can you explore this topic a little further from a personal standpoint?

MC: While this story is not autobiographical, I definitely pull from my own sense of what’s important and what resonates for me. One of my most cherished relationships is with my mom and fortunately she’s still with me. I think it would be so incredibly disorienting to me to not have that figure in my life… I remember feeling like that for me would be the breaking point. You have to make a choice now because you don’t have this thing you can lean on, you don’t have an escape hatch. It’s you now. For me that’s adulthood.

PP: I loved the Chicago drone shots and graphic art!

MC: The Drone shots were Greg Dixon. He was dead set on having those kind of shots. The animation was his idea [too]. It’s collaborative…lifts it to a level that you never imagined. It changed the whole tenor and tone.
PP: Tell me about your cast.

MC: As a person of color, it was just very important to me that the story be … around other people of color. That was very intentional. I think so many times when you’re a person of color in media, you get asked to lean into a stereotype or the tired type of idea like a maid.  Or how many times have I auditioned to be a slave? I’m just over it. It felt really good to write and perform in a story that, yes, I’m fully black, all the time … I’m just a person living my life. You don’t have to divorce those things. They can both be true. And that every single thing doesn’t have to revolve around oppression and marginalization.

PP: To be honest, I didn’t even realize that everyone was a person of color in the film.
MC: Isn’t that great that we’re in that place now? I think so many times we see movies where the cast is mostly black or people of color and people write it off as a black movie. No, actually it’s just a movie. It’s really so heartwarming to hear you say that!

Check back to find out where you can see this film!

“Crazy Rich Asians” More of a travel ad than a love story

August 15th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Crazy Rich Asians” More of a travel ad than a love story”

Kevin Kwam’s novel “Crazy Rich Asians,” adapted for the silver screen by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim and directed by Jon M. Chu, gives us a fairy tale Cinderella story set in China as an American-Chinese woman falls in love with a Chinese aristocrat. The film poses the age-old question of “Can love conquer all?” or at least can Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) overcome an overbearing, judgmental mother to live happily ever after?

The charismatic Nick Young and the independent Rachel Chu are the epitome of the perfect couple, living their lives in New York City and enjoying this stage of their one-year relationship. Nick, unbeknownst to Rachel, is the son of one of the most prestigious families in China. She accepts an invitation to travel with Nick to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and to meet his entire family, but finds that she is completely unprepared for his way of life and his mothers’ attempts to not just unnerve her, but drive her away. It seems she is too American and not from “the right” family and will “never be enough” for her son.

“Crazy Rich Asians” focuses primarily on the extravagance and gluttony of the upper echelon with a lesser accentuation, unfortunately, on the cultural differences and difficulties of those who are first-generation Americans. It’s a slow start to this romantic film that attempts to find its way into the rom-com category with the help of Awkwafina portraying Rachel’s best friend from college, Peik Lin Goh, and her father played by Ken Jeong, but it never quite gets there. While they do add several laughs, particularly as Peik Lin shows up to a gala event in street clothes only to have labeled garment bags for every occasion in the trunk of her car (a trick I may replicate), the film’s slow pace never hits the accelerator hard enough until 3/4 of the way through the story. At this point, there is finally some interesting interaction between Rachel, Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young, portrayed with stoic elegance by Michelle Yeoh, and his grandmother, Ah Ma (Lisa Lu) which re-engages us with the main characters.

The superfluous side stories detract from our main characters’ story. Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her sometimes scantily clad hubby Michael (Pierre Png) have marital issues and the juvenile jealousies depicted by ridiculously catty behavior of the women are two non-sequiturs in this film. And I’m still disturbed by the creepy voyeurism of Peik Lin’s brother P.T. (Calvin Wong). While these sub-stories may have been an interesting departure in the book, they aren’t pivotal in driving the story forward.

The story may plod along, but Wu’s performance as Rachel endears us to her immediately as she attempts to wrestle with her upbringing, her education, and her heritage. It is her portrayal that allows us to more readily understand the cultural differences and difficulties associated with being a first-generation American. Working together with Golding, we see a wonderfully natural and genuine chemistry between them. And the spry 91 year-young Lisa Lu gives a credible and intimidating performance as the head matriarch of this wealthy family, aka “Ah Ma,” as she exudes the utmost wisdom and grace, just as you would expect in this story.

One of the unexpected highlights of this film is that it may entice you to book a trip to Singapore. Thanks to the cinematography, you can almost taste the sizzling food served from the gourmet food trucks and smell the aroma of fresh seafood from vendors, or feel like you’re walking down the energetic and colorful outdoor market aisles as you gaze up at the extraordinary architecture, enveloped by the vibrant city center’s heartbeat.

“Crazy Rich Asians” is a predictable love story that’s too slow to get off the ground. However, once it hits the road, the elements that create interest such as cultural differences, familial secrets and obligations, the love of a mother and her child , and of course romance, strongly shine through. The added bonus of great costuming and scenery help in forgiving a story-line that finds itself along too many tangential lines.

2 1/2 Stars

“BlacKkKlansman” is sure to start a conversation

August 10th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““BlacKkKlansman” is sure to start a conversation”

From the Friday, August 10, 2018 edition of The Daily Journal:

Spike Lee never has shied away from creating a pointed story about race and our current social and political status, and “BlacKkKlansman” is no exception to this rule.

From the 1989 film “Do the Right Thing” to the more recent “Chiraq,” Lee has brought to the forefront our country’s racism and injustices in a dramatically bold way, creating more than art; he creates a platform to stimulate a conversation in hopes of change.

His newest film, starring John David Washington, Adam Driver and Laura Harrier, “BlacKkKlansman” takes us back in time to the 1970s, depicting the true tale of Officer Ron Stallworth, who infiltrated the local chapter of a Colorado KKK to thwart an attack

To read the rest of the review in its entirety, go to:

“Dog Days” Predictable and sappy puppy love story highlights rescuing dogs

August 9th, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Dog Days” Predictable and sappy puppy love story highlights rescuing dogs”

From the beginning of time, man’s (and woman’s) best friend has been by his (and her) side and Hollywood is happy to cash in on our love of these furry four-legged friends. From “Lassie,” “Petey” (“The Little Rascals”), and “Toto” (“The Wizard of Oz”) to “Benji,” “Beethoven,” “Baxter” (“Anchorman”) and even “Buddy” the basketball playing dog, creating a film about dogs brings in the viewers and even popularizes a particular breed. Now, we’ve got “Dog Days,” a romantic comedy that will popularize adopting rescues while it tugs on your heartstrings in this predictable and rather sappy, but enjoyable movie.

Elissa Matsueda and Erica Oyama pull out all the stops in writing this screenplay as Ken Marino directs his cast of canines and humans. The writers depict every scenario possible from abandoned and found dogs and runaways to problematic and aging dogs along with their owners’ love and life problems. The only thing missing were adorable puppies, but that’s not the underlying message in this film. It’s to rescue a dog and give him his “furever” home.

“Dog Days” is like a combination of every dog movie and “New Year’s Eve,” “Valentine’s Day,” or “He’s Just Not That Into You,” films with multiple storylines of love. This movie revolves around five very different sets of people (and story lines) who all become connected via their dog situations. Elizabeth (Nina Dobrev), a successful L.A television morning show host has her adopted dog Sam who’s depressed after Elizabeth’s boyfriend cheats on her. She meets Jimmy (Tone Bell) and after a rocky start, their love of dogs helps them discover love again. Dax (Adam Pally) is a starving musician tasked with the responsibility of caring for Charlie whose owner, Dax’s sister, just gave birth to twins. Tara (Vanessa Hudgens) finds a purpose in life and uses her degree for more than serving coffee as she finds Gertrude, a Chihuahua and connects with a dog rescue organization run by Garrett (Jon Bass). Grace (Eva Longoria) and her hubby (Rob Corddry) finally adopt a little girl who finds an elderly gentleman’s dog (Ron Cephas Jones), lost due to a wise crack from the young pizza delivery boy, Tyler (Finn Wolfhard).

If that sounds like too much going on, you’re right. It is. But eventually the stories collide in a very predictable and benign way and you find yourself rooting for the outcome that you absolutely know will happen. There are love stories, unlikely friendships and new families in the making, and the possible loss of a rescue organization’s home. “Dog Days” takes all of these topics and uses more sentimental strokes than Nicholas Sparks ever dreamed of. It’s one of those superficial feel-good films with little substance and total escapism however, there are plenty of laughs along, especially if you’re a mom and/or a dog owner. Unfortunately, there are also stilted and unsurprising moments, but in the end, if you’re a romantic at heart and a dog lover, it’s a sweet schmaltzy fun. You can even gloss over the fact that everyone lives in perfect homes, except Dax, and the newborn twins look to be about 3 months old. And if you’re wondering about the veterinarian’s diagnosis of the helmet-wearing Chihuahua, it’s accurate. I checked.

The human cast adequately fills their roles, but it’s Jasmine Cephas Jones’ voice that captivates you and you hope she’s in more scenes, listening to her sing in gorgeous dulcet tones. Bell and Dobrev have a natural chemistry on screen that pulls you into their relationship, suspending belief in the reality of love. Pally, of course, stands out as the comedic force, and Bass portrays that charmingly awkward underdog to root for while giving us a few chuckles along the way. Corddry, who’s usually hilarious, seems to miss the mark, being stifled by a lack of dialogue. Not surprisingly, the dogs are the stars of the film with remarkable camera work to hone in on just the right reaction to capture our dog-loving hearts.

“Dog Days” is exactly the movie you’re expecting filled with endearing stories about humans and their counterparts as it accentuates the love a dog can give to fulfill your life. Additionally, rescuing dogs from shelters is a main aspect that just may push viewers in the direction of helping a homeless pup find his or her “furever” home. Stick around for ALL of the credits as they roll the edits. You’ll laugh out loud and then wonder why they didn’t do more of this type of humor throughout the film. It would have created a much more entertaining film for adults. Parents, this is not a film for young kids! There are some drug usage references and the pace of the film is rather slow as it focuses on the human interactions and relationships so little tykes are not going to be entertained.

2 1/2 stars

“Puzzle” fits all the pieces together perfectly

August 3rd, 2018 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Puzzle” fits all the pieces together perfectly”


The 2009 Argentinian film, “Rompecabezas” (“The Puzzle”) by Natalia Smirnoff, has been rewritten by Polly Mann and Oren Moverman (“Norman”) to create a sublimely authentic American adaptation portraying a woman’s need for self-worth and identity while accentuating the influence of religion, specifically during the season of Lent. All of this is created by Agnes’ (Kelly Macdonald) newfound skill of puzzling. Who would have thought that a skill, thought to be more of a solitary endeavor, would lead to so much interaction and discovery!

Agnes is an introverted, unfulfilled, and sheltered wife and mother of two older boys. Her mundane and subservient life is turned upside down when she discovers a new outlet: competitive puzzling. As the family and her community prepare for the upcoming Catholic High Holiday of Easter, we see Agnes’ life unfolding to encompass many aspects of the Easter story including suffering, denial, betrayal, and a rebirth. “Puzzle” is an eloquently evocative film addressing current attitudes still ingrained in our society regarding women’s roles while utilizing the undercurrent of religion and a game.

In many ways, the concept of a woman’s role hasn’t changed in centuries. Women are still expected to be the nurturers, the caregivers, and the caretakers, ultimately putting their own needs not only on hold, but sometimes buried for good. We get a sense of this situation with Agnes in the opening scene as she scurries around during a birthday party, making sure everything is in order, waiting on everyone and ensuring their happiness. Moments later we surprisingly and sadly realize it is her birthday celebration. We later learn that she has sacrificed her own dreams and education in order to raise her children, one of whom belittles her with his words while watching his father do the same with his actions.

Agnes receives a jigsaw puzzle as one of her birthday gifts and sits down to easily put it together. Enjoying this different type of concentration, distracting her from her other responsibilities, Agnes ventures into New York City to purchase another one. Catching her eye in the store is an ad for a puzzle partner. Excitedly yet timidly, Agnes contacts Robert (Irrfan Kahn), a wealthy bachelor with whom she develops more than a friendship. Through Robert, Agnes’ eyes are opened to a whole new world filled with information and emotions to which she had previously been oblivious. In essence, this is the beginning of Agnes’ “transformative” experience.

Throughout the entire film, Agnes’ deep sense of commitment to religion is obvious, but it is religion and the celebration of Easter that truly drives the story forward, drawing parallel lines between this ancient story and Agnes’. The symbolism in the film punctuates the emotional tone as Agnes begins to discover herself. Early in the film, we see the daytime moon, a mythical reference that a storm is coming, but in religion, it is seen as the second and inferior luminary created by God. Both interpretations seem correct as the moon is prevalent in many of the scenes, Agnes always gazing upward toward it. She recognizes that she too is secondary in her family’s lives and feels inferior, but that “storm” that lies ahead will change her forever.

The polar opposites of light and dark are also vividly captured in “Puzzle” from the opening scene to the final one. Closed in, dark shots reflect Agnes’ life in the beginning, but as she opens up and explores her world and her own feelings, there is a brightness shined upon her. The open and bright surroundings are a direct reflection of who she is becoming, just as the season of Lent comes to a close with Jesus’ coming into the light and being resurrected. Agnes begins to stand up for herself, voice an opinion, and be more independent. This new attitude is shocking to her friends and family, but there is an inner lightness that is now evident in her.

Discussion and open ignorance about other religions create another interest in Agnes’ world. Buddhism and the concept of happiness strike a chord in her that will create a symphony of emotions later on. As Agnes ventures out into the world of puzzles with Robert, sneaking away from her family and her expected daily tasks, she begins to lie. While the guilt is evident, particularly when the Parish Father asks if she needs to have confession, she can’t begin to confront her own actions. Meanwhile, her son Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) confesses his innermost fears and frustrations, looking to her for support and guidance. During several key scenes, Ave Maria is heard, accentuating the pushing and pulling toward and away from God and home. She has been blessed, with her sons, but will she renounce that in order to hear her own voice set to her own beat?

While Agnes may be more aptly compared to Peter of the disciples as she turns her back on her religion and her Catholic roots, betraying her husband as she falls into Robert’s arms, the burden of lying has become too much.
This is the darkest point in Agnes’ life, coinciding with Easter Sunday. The slow emotional death she was experiencing found a new spark of life and now, as the tomb is opened and Christ is risen, Agnes determines if she is reborn as well.

Kelly Macdonald demonstrates her versatility as an actress as she eloquently and subtly performs as Agnes. Her understated skills give Agnes the depth and believability that create a woman many of us understand if not even identify with. Macdonald’s relationships with her husband, Robert, and her sons create such authenticity that the dialogue becomes even more powerful, pushing you to tears particularly during the scene with she and Ziggy.

Relationships identify Agnes and it is these relationships that shine a light on the strength of all the cast. David Denman’s performance as Agnes’ husband brings a familiar strength to the screen, representing many marriages and father figures. Austin Abrams typifies so many teens and creates another realistic character in his youthful yet skillful way as Gabe, but it is Weiler’s performance as Ziggy that stays with you, long after the final credits roll. And Kahn is simply extraordinary as Robert finding absolute harmony with Macdonald in this film. The deft direction, exceptional writing, and extraordinary cast make “Puzzle” a film that will stand the test of time and will certainly speak to many of us, perhaps pushing us to find our own inner voices.

4 Stars

To read the interviews with Marc Turtletaub, go to

‘Puzzle’ director Turtletaub talks female-centric film, collaborating genders


ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: An interview with the stars

August 1st, 2018 Posted by Interviews 0 thoughts on “ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK: An interview with the stars”

(From the Wednesday, August 1 edition of The Daily Journal)
The sixth season of “Orange Is the New Black” is available on Netflix, and it’s going to be a season of transformational changes.

The series, dating back to its premiere in 2013, is based upon Piper Kerman’s life and memoir, “Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison,” and now has gone well past Kerman’s experiences, transforming itself into one of the most realistic stories of prison while addressing previously unexplored subjects such as lesbian relationships, prison reform and transgender people.

I sat down with three of the stars, Kate Mulgrew (Galina “Red” Reznikov), Taylor Schilling (Piper Chapman) and Dascha Polanco (Dayanara Diaz), to discuss their thoughts and experiences throughout the last 5 years.

Let’s take a look back to the beginning of the show, of which you were all a part. Taylor, tell me about developing your character of Piper.

Schilling: It’s been really beautiful. Piper Kerman, who the book is based on, was at the beginning of the show [and] we spent a great deal of time together. … I just talked to Piper and did prison research, because when Piper went in, she had no idea about prison … but as the second season rolled around, I did go to the women’s camp at Rikers (Island prison) a couple times with Piper.

In playing each of your roles, how have your characters changed or developed, and what part of yourself do you bring to these women?

Mulgrew: It’s been my personal philosophy, in television especially, … when you’re cast in a big role for a television series, they’re looking at your personality. … So the case of Galina Reznikov, strength, forbearance, fortitude, toughness and edge, all the things I could immediately bring to bear on the audition in front of that camera is what won me the role.

And then with the disintegration of the character or … the reduction of the character, there have been added complexities and nuances I’ve loved playing because in that reduction is the humanity of the character, threatened, and I have loved that probably more than the beginning.

To read the interview in its entirety, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Maynard” Depicts a great American leader and first Black mayor of Atlanta

July 25th, 2018 Posted by Review, Weekly VOD 0 thoughts on ““Maynard” Depicts a great American leader and first Black mayor of Atlanta”

Samuel D. Pollard writes and directs “Maynard” depicting the extraordinary life of Maynard Jackson, Jr., Atlanta’s first Black mayor in 1973. With touching current personal interviews with friends, family, and colleagues, as well as documented archival footage, we understand this courageous man who was called upon to help set the foundation for racial equality in the South. Once again, thanks to the focused lens of filmmaking, we see our American history more clearly.

Maynard Jackson was bound for brilliance and service from the moment he was born and his grandfather, civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs knew it as he presented the newborn with the gift of a watch saying, “Time is important and he must know that.” In Jackson’s relatively short life, he created a more level ground upon which corporate Atlanta must play. While he struggled, ironically so, with time management, he utilized his charisma and intelligence to become involved in the political arena, gaining the respect of the people, both Black and white.

Finding his footing was no easy task as he initially struggled in law school at the age of 18. Thanks to the recognition of one professor, Jackson received the guidance he needed in order to find his path in life. Graduating with a law degree several years later at a different institution, Jackson plunged, at first unsuccessfully, into politics. His failure didn’t dissuade him; it only fueled his knowledge and honed his abilities to find the right course.

The film creates a beautiful linear story as it weaves together interviews from his children, his ex-wife, and his widow, as well as prominent figures such as President Bill Clinton, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. He was truly a “game changer” knowing how to unify and integrate people through intellect and common sense. He’s called the Father of Affirmative Action for a reason and the story is simply brilliant as to how he finds a way to do this. With impeccable integrity, Jackson brought Atlanta to a high point only to see one of the most scarring issues occur under his watchful eye: “The Atlanta Child Murders.” It was a grave time for the community and his response was criticized by many. The use of archival photos and newspaper clippings brought us into Jackson’s mind and heavy heart as he attempted to find the perpetrator. These difficult issues were balanced by giving us humor in the film as we learned about his love of food and how he spent time with his children. Of course, things are never all roses and this was true with his marriage as he divorced and remarried, but he never lost sight of being there for his children even when they clashed.

“Maynard” creates a realistic impression of this great man, communicating his flaws as well as his accomplishments. This approach allows the viewer to more fully understand and appreciate what he did, particularly during such racially volatile times in the Southern states. Perhaps Maynard Jackson continued to pave the road that Dr. Martin Luther King started, creating a less hostile environment for future Black and minority leaders. The respect and articulate lessons he provided in the short time he was here made a difference and we can certainly learn from him now.

“Maynard” is available on all digital platforms such as iTunes. Follow the film on Twitter at:, Facebook at or go to the website for more information.



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