SHAZAM! is one of a kind

March 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “SHAZAM! is one of a kind”

SHAZAM! Another super hero movie? Do we really need one? The answer, in this case, is a resounding YES! The DC Universe got this one right. “Shazam,” starring Zachary Levi, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Asher Angel, is written by Henry Gayden and directed by David F. Sandberg and this team creates an immediately engaging, funny, sweet, and sometimes scary story about life as we enter a world where good and evil fight hand to hand or sometimes lightning bolt to lightning bolt combat. “Shazam!” is exactly what a super hero movie is supposed to be—fun and complete entertaining escapism.

The story is loosely based on the original comic book series by C.C. Beck and all you comic book aficionados will have great joy in identifying the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film, but for those of us who are clueless about the genre, Gayden more than adequately lays the foundation for the story of Billy Batson (Angel) aka Shazam (Levi).

We begin in 1974, winter in Upstate New York, where a father and his two sons are driving the country snow-filled back roads to grandfather’s house when Thad, Magic 8 Ball in hand, is suddenly in the presence of The Wizard (Djimon Hounsou) who is searching for a pure soul to take his place in protecting the world from the 7 evils locked away in stone surrounding him. Failing the test, Thad is shot back into reality and a nearly tragic accident. It’s a jarring beginning to a film, but it lays a firm foundation and by no means is the overall tone for the film.

Fast forward to the turn of the century and we meet the young Billy who is separated from his mother. In a loss at finding her, Billy is placed in foster homes, one after another. He’s a delinquent constantly in search of his mother, hoping she has been doing the same. Placed in yet another foster home filled with an eclectic mix of kids, Billy makes no attempt to fit in, but he finds himself in front of The Wizard, reluctantly accepting his powers and this is where the fun begins as this 14 year-old transforms back and forth into a man with incredible powers, but still has the mentality of a boy.

Billy befriends his disabled foster brother who is a geeky expert on all things super hero. Together they test Billy’s new-found powers as his discovery of his new self lands him in hilarious situations, preparing him for his ultimate and yet unknown nemesis.

“Shazam!” takes us all back in time to our youth reminding us of how bullies wreak havoc and the social awkwardness of being a kid. Additionally, it creates a loving tone accentuating the importance of family and what that really means.

Angel and Grazer are magical together on screen typifying two polar opposites, but both with bold personalities that immediately connect you. Angel creates a hardened exterior with a heart of gold and we watch this young boy grow. He’s funny and energetic with an innocence of childhood yet this broken heart of his casts a shadow on his every move. This young actor has a bright future ahead of him proving that he can already find a way to create depth in what could have been a very superficial performance. Grazer equals Angel’s performance, embodying a boy with more hurdles to jump over than most of us can imagine. His quick wit and style of speech brings a sense of compassion and understanding to his character as you forget about his disability…something his character can never do.

While Angel and Glazer shine, it’s Levi’s ingenious efforts that are truly striking as he makes us believe he’s actually a 14 year old kid beneath that chiseled adult exterior. The genius doesn’t stop there as he is a gifted comedian, having fun and highlighting his timing and physically comedic attributes.

In fact, the entire cast of kids in the foster home, Mary (Grace Fulton), Eugene (Ian Chen), Pedro (Jovan Armand) and Darla (Faithe Herman) are simply marvelous, but it is Faithe who steals every scene she’s in. To describe her as adorable is an understatement and her need to hug everyone elicits an audible sigh from the audience whenever she says a word.

“Shazam!” is what a comic book movie should be—funny, charming, heartfelt, and just a good story told really well. Even the too long final fight scene that is in every comic book film doesn’t take itself so seriously (a cue upon which other super hero movies should use) so that flaw can be forgiven at least a bit. This is a laugh out loud funny movie that, as Levi said in a recent screening here in Chicago, may require ear muffs (PG-13), it’s a movie the entire family can enjoy! (Check out the video from that screening on YouTube HERE

3 1/2 Stars

“Woman at War” Gorgeously balanced thriller

March 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Woman at War” Gorgeously balanced thriller”

Can one woman save Iceland and stop the envrironmental devastation from a large industry? Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) certainly thinks she can, but is she ready for the consequences and the unexpected interpretation of her actions? The film’s universal message is an entertaining and thought-provoking one as the writers Benedikt Erlingsson and Ólafur Egilsson maintain a sense of whimsy throughout the film.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Halla is tough as nails as we meet this woman who reminds us of a Marvel superhero, Hawkeye, bow and arrow in hand as she expertly stops the electrical flow to an aluminum processing plant, Rio Tinto. As a major producer of this mineral and economic influencer of the country, her actions momentarily paralyze the region. The political action from around the world takes notice and with a small circle of friends who help her, she ups her game, intent on making people wake up to how we are devastating our earth.

On the surface, Halla appears to be a typical middle-aged woman, living life and teaching a choral group. Beneath that exterior lies a rebelliously intelligent woman with a heart of gold. Her goal of saving the world is a lofty and pure one, but as we soon learn, it may be at the cost of her immediate happiness. She finds that perhaps saving one might be as important as saving the world.

This is a gorgeous film as it captures the beauty of Iceland with its mountains, waterfalls, moss-covered lava rocks, streams, and indigenous people. Balancing dramatic elements and serious subjects such as climate change, dirty politics, the economy, and fighting big business with elements of comedy is a tough act, but director Benedikt Erlingsson does so with ease. No matter the scene, whether it’s running through the countryside away from her enemies, carrying out her well-planned acts of destruction for the greater good, or swimming with her twin sister at a community pool, a trio of musicians accompanies her. Initially perplexing, the band is there to augment her feelings and while the viewer and Halla are aware of their existence, no one else is. Additionally, we meet a hapless Spanish hiker who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this helps divert attention away from Halla, the benign woman who people think could never be responsible for such acts of “terrorism.”

The action in the film picks up quickly as Halla runs from the U.S. experts that have come in to save the political day and find the group that is responsible for interfering with the industry of Iceland. It becomes a cat and mouse game, heightening the anxiety of the viewer as Halla must use her intellect and common sense as well as her family connections, which if you’re familiar with Iceland, cousins are everywhere, to make her mark and save the world from eminent doom.

Geirharðsdóttir’s performance is exquisite as she expertly portrays a woman of both physical and intellectual strength. Her depth of character is equally extraordinary as she allows us to peel away the layers, revealing who she was and what is truly missing in her life. It is this element, becoming a mother to an orphaned girl, that is her crossroads in life. Again, balance is an element not only in the film, but in the main character which ultimately connects us with her emotionally. We believe in her, we are empathetic as she is outraged by the consequences of her actions, and most importantly, we root for her to win…one woman at war with the powers that be.

“Woman at War” is a gorgeously thoughtful, intense thriller filled with just the right touch of comedy throughout to give us an entertaining film that has social relevance to our world today. The twists and turns it takes will have you on the edge of your seat until the very end. Can one woman make a difference? Check it out at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago and other theaters nationally to find out.

4/4 Stars

An interview with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, writer and director of “The Mustang”

March 22nd, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An interview with Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, writer and director of “The Mustang””

The following is an excerpt from FF2 Media:

Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre creates “The Mustang,” a revelatory film about a hopeless, isolated incarcerated man (Mattias Shoenaerts) who enters into a horse training rehabilitation program. Gorgeously shot, this evocative and soulful film delves into our penal system as it draws parallel lines between all creatures. Premiering at Sundance Film Festival, “The Mustang” is now playing in theaters. I had the opportunity to talk with Clermont-Tonnerre about the making of this film, working with Mattias Shoenaerts and Bruce Dern, and her hopes for the impact of this film.
To read the interview in its entirety as published in FF2 Media, March 21, 2019, go to FF2 Media

4/4 Stars

“Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists

March 20th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Us” is a mixed bag of horror, comedy, and inexplicable twists”

Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” pleased critics and audiences alike with an original concept that was as creepy as it was funny. We are expecting a lot from his newest film, “Us” which premiered to rave reviews at the SXSW Film Festival. Can it and he live up to all the hype? The answer is yes and no. It’s a mixed bag this time as he creates a crazy story that focuses more on the twists in the road than the road itself.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

It’s 1986 in Santa Cruz, CA at an amusement park where little Adelaide (Madison Curry) wanders off into a house of mirrors. With worried parents, the little girl returns, but seems traumatized. What actually happened in that house will haunt Adelaide forever. Fast forward to the current day and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) and her family return to a vacation home near the fateful site where she disappeared as a youngster. With a gut-sinking feeling that she and her family are in danger, she wants to leave, but it’s too late. The apocalypse has begun and we witness the bizarre and gruesome tale unfold in the dark of night in a cabin in the woods.

Peele masterfully sets up an eerie and spine-chilling vibe as young Adelaide wanders off, slowly and deliberately, candy apple in hand, capturing her trance-like reaction to her surroundings. We are with her every step of the way, holding our breath as she enters a “Beetlejuice” type of house complete with a neon arrow showing the way. Jumping at the corniest of things, the image Adelaide sees before her makes her (and us) gasp. We now know what we are in for as the family comes back to the scene of the incident 30 years later.

“Us” showcases Peele’s seemingly innate ability to perfectly blend comedy and horror with the timing of a Swiss watch. Unfortunately, after the initial set up of the premise, the film becomes an exercise in typical horror gore. The family is being chased, they make stupid decisions, and blood is spilled…lots and lots of blood. Thankfully, Peele and his cast expertly continue the humor to pull us out of the shock of the brutality, allowing us to stick with it. As we learn the truth about what lies beneath our green grass, we yearn to find out how this family will survive. That’s great writing, but Peele sets up so many possible paths and red herrings throughout the film, that we feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us. And the use of a speech to explain everything in the last 20 minutes is a let down. It feels much like a classroom where the teacher dutifully spells out what actually had been going on deep inside this other realm.

While there are issues with the twists that still don’t quite square up, and to describe them would be a major spoiler, the acting from this ensemble cast is stellar. Curry’s portrayal of young Adelaide is exceptional as she is responsible for setting the tone of the entire film. That’s an incredible weight to carry and she does so with ease. Nyong’o creates two totally different personas and never do we question the “fact” that we are seeing two people on screen. Her eyes are wonderfully expressive, allowing us to understand her every thought immediately as the caring, loving mom who will do anything to save her children. Then there’s her doppelgänger who she portrays with a soulless void. Winston Duke (Gabe) adds most of the humor with his actions and reactions, both physically and verbally, lightening the heaviness of the brutal carnage that ensues. And the kids, Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora) and Evan Alex (Jason), find the depth to give us double performances, again never questioning that there are two different people before us.

With any horror film, camera work has to be as much of a character as the actual actors. Having actors portray two different people, frequently on screen at the same time, takes some heaving lifting and it works. Additionally, and with utmost skill, the cameras have a way of making us peer around the corner to see what’s ahead. It also gives a sense of dread as it follows the characters from behind or blinding us from seeing, allowing us to only hearing what’s to come.

“Us” is a typical horror film in many ways, but the consistent humor throughout elevates it, but not to the level of Peele’s first blockbuster that had powerful social statements, humor and horror. With “Us,” it feels as if he was more interested in surprising the audience with zingers and entertaining with gore than giving us a consistently good story. And it will behoove you to look in the Bible for Jeremiah 11:11 before you go. Trust me.

3 Stars

“Five Feet Apart” A sappy love story only a teen could love

March 15th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Five Feet Apart” A sappy love story only a teen could love”

How do you make a story about cystic fibrosis a romantic and entertaining one? You don’t. At least “Five Feet Apart,” co-written by Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis and directed by Justin Baldoni, couldn’t.

Even the angelic and All-American girl-next-door appearance of Haley Lu Richardson (“The Edge of Seventeen”) and the cool, hipster look of Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale”) wasn’t enough to create an engaging story for anyone older than 12.

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

Netflix “Jaunita” Streaming Now

March 14th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Netflix “Jaunita” Streaming Now”

Juanita (Alfre Woodard) is fed up with her deadbeat grown kids and marginal urban existence and takes a Greyhound bus to Paper Moon, Montana where she reinvents herself and finds her mojo.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Pam says: What mother hasn’t wanted to run away? (Be honest here!) Juanita is in a dead-end, difficult job caring for elders as she cares for her daughter and her grandbaby as well as her son who, in her words is “half a thug.” Her other son is in prison. She’s a “ghetto cliche.” She’s constantly taken for granted and she’s had enough of caring for everyone but herself and decides to head West. Based on the book by Sheila Williams, the film takes on its own life as Juanita frequently breaks the fourth wall, cluing the viewer into her true thoughts and feelings. Her fantasy life is just as entertaining with Blair Underwood which evolves as she does. It’s a funny, sweet love story that has subtle undertones about life, social issues, and race without being heavy-handed. Woodard is wonderful and Adam Beach portrays Native American Indian Jess, a local chef, with great authenticity. Check out this film on Netflix, streaming now.

3 1/2 out of 4 stars

Director Rebecca Stern talks about “Well Groomed”

March 11th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Director Rebecca Stern talks about “Well Groomed””

Rebecca Stern’s production pedigree includes serious and timely documentaries such as “The Bomb” and “Netizens,” but now seated in the director’s chair, she turns over a new leaf to develop a vibrant film about creative dog grooming with “Well Groomed” premiering at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. On the surface, the film is wonderful fluff (pun intended), but scratching just beneath the exterior, we find a story of women expressing their artistic skills, supporting one another, and developing friendships through this fiercely competitive sport.

I recently connected with Stern to discuss the making of “Well Groomed,” and as we discussed her background in production, she readily admitted that she “…never had an intent to become a producer…I always thought that I’d become a lawyer. Both my parents were lawyers and I’ve always had an affinity for language and I enjoy arguing…” A law degree was not in the cards for this Pasadena, CA native. She chuckled, agreeing with Greta Gerwig’s description of the town in “Ladybird,” and shared that while she had a family dog, a Lab Pitt Bull mix, she also had a lot of cats. In fact, these were feral cats. “I’m one of those rare people that go on both sides of the dog versus cat argument.” She continued to reminisce about her childhood, recalling she and her father spending time together gathering and adopting out feral kittens found nearby. But much to her mother’s chagrin, several of the kittens found a home with Stern and said, “That’s the way I grew up. Surrounded by animals and they were always a part of the family.”

Stern, like many of us, had never heard of creative dog grooming or the competitive sport of it. In fact, she joked, her childhood pup didn’t have a whole lot of grooming. “There was no grooming (pause) at all (pause) even though maybe there should have been!” After attending a Halloween dog parade in NYC, she began her research about the entire dog community, grooming, cultures, trends, and then she saw it on the internet—photos of wildly groomed and colorful canines and she had to know more. She had never seen anything like it, and as she said, “It’s pretty hard to have that reaction in this day and age!”

Stern actually began working on “Well Groomed” during her first job as assistant producer for “Cartel Land” directed by Matthew Heineman. As filming in Mexico City took Heineman away from their location in New York City for weeks at a time, Stern said, “I wanted an excuse to spend more time with dogs [and] it was a good way to marry an old passion which is of pets and animals and a new passion of documentary filmmaking.”

Stern was then connected to groomers on Facebook and attended a dog show in Pasadena. As she got to know several groomers and their dogs, she began filming more than 100 hours to create her 8-minute short. While this may seem excessive, Stern found that she had established a relationship with many of the groomers and when it was time to go back to set up production for the feature film, she knew exactly where to focus. In addition to the women she had already gotten to know in this arena, Stern wanted to additionally focus on someone who was just starting out in this field. She found a young artistic entrepreneur named Nicole from Ithaca, NY. With Adriane, Angela, and Cat, all seasoned groomers on the top of their creative game from various parts of the country, and now newcomer Nicole, Stern had the narrative arc to develop “characters” we care about and a story that is immediately engaging.

The women in the film couldn’t be any more different from one another, but they are all connected by their passion and artistry. Stern wanted to show, “How they were using this as a means to fulfill themselves in some way.” While all the women are fiercely competitive, wanting to win the Olympics of Creative Dog Grooming in Hershey, PA, they also support and help one another so they can all do their best. Stern said, “That’s so key.” She continued, “…they spend a lot of time supporting … and nurturing each other…” It’s this friendship and asking the question of what defines art that Stern found to be the goal of the film. While there are some critics of the skill, defining it as cruel to the animals, Stern said, “I never saw anything that I would think is bad for the dog. If anything, they’re incredibly well taken care of.” The film addresses this controversy using “…an archival montage of people asking the questions and their responses which I hope works well.”

I queried about working with kids and animals, two groups filmmakers always caution against and Stern laughed aloud and said, “I wish someone would have told me that adage!” Not every dog liked having a camera or crew there and Stern and her Director of Photography, Alexander W. Lewis had a zoom lens which enabled them to get the shots they needed without being too close to the dogs. “We had this one dog that loved to jump at anything that moved…so we had to film from the other side of the room,” she said with humor.

The final product is visually fun, educational, and affirming as you travel with these four women along their journey to not only compete at the highest level, but to see how their lives change. Stern found great fulfillment in making this film and shared that in her directing work, “I really wanted to find a way to bring more joy into my life and therefore into [viewers’] lives and to be able to smile with them.”

“Well Groomed” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on Sunday, March 10 and will show on Monday, March 11 at 5 pm and Thursday, March 14 at 2:45 pm. For more information, go to SXSW Schedule

An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE

March 10th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “An Interview with writer and director Josephine Mackerras, SXSW Feature ALICE”

(Published in FF2 Media, Sunday, March 10, 2019)

Award-winning writer and director Josephine Mackerras’ first feature film, “Alice,” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival recently. Living around the world, this NYU educated filmmaker delves deeply into how one woman, a wife and mother, reacts to her husband’s double life, leaving them in debt and on the brink of eviction. Filled with extraordinary performances from this ensemble cast, Mackerras turns the psychological tables on acceptance and understanding of one of the oldest trades known to women. Mackerras shared her insights on the making of “Alice” and the complexities of creating a story that questions the concepts of marriage, dependency and motherhood.
To read the interview in its entirety, go to FF2 Media

“Well Groomed” A vibrant work of art and an affirmation of women

March 10th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Well Groomed” A vibrant work of art and an affirmation of women”

Director Rebecca Stern follows three veteran creative dog groomers for one year, all at the top of their game, and one newcomer, vying for the grand championship in this little-known arena of competition. While many of us have never heard of this competitive art form, and perhaps it’s initially strange to see, Stern takes us along these women’s journey as she not only highlights their artistic skills, but their personal path as well. We begin to understand who these women are and their love for what they do. It’s a compelling and beautiful story that captures our hearts as we watch these dogs and women transform, lifting one another yet still fiercely competing for the ultimate prize.

(Full review and interview with the filmmaker coming soon)

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

“Captain Marvel” sure to please fans, sets feminist tone, but still just another super hero film

March 8th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Captain Marvel” sure to please fans, sets feminist tone, but still just another super hero film”

The Marvel Universe is getting an overhaul by a woman named Vers, aka Captain Marvel.

The newest installment of the superhero saga, “Captain Marvel” is co-written and co-directed by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck and begins on the planet Kerr where the young Vers (Brie Larson) is training as a soldier with Yon-Rogg (Jude Law). Her strength is harnessed in her hands, but emotions wreak havoc and the Supreme Intelligence (Annette Bening), is unsure whether she is ready for her first mission, rescuing a spy who has infiltrated the planet Torfu, where the Skroll have decimated the population.

As the mission goes awry, Vers finds herself on Planet C-53 aka Earth, circa 1995. With memories flashing back, Vers seeks to answer questions and to complete a mission to which she didn’t realize she was charged.

The story itself is an intriguing one, even if the beginning of the film seemed like every other superhero film to date.

After slogging on for 20 minutes and finally landing on what we now deem a technologically antiquated Earth, the fun begins. TO READ THE REVIEW IN ITS ENTIRETY, GO TO THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Saint Judy” An emotional journey into the life of one woman willing to fight for those who couldn’t

March 6th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Saint Judy” An emotional journey into the life of one woman willing to fight for those who couldn’t”

Michelle Monaghan and Alfred Molina star in the true story of immigration attorney Judy Wood, and how she single-handedly changed the U.S. law of asylum to save women’s lives.

Wood (Monaghan), a successful lawyer, uproots her son to move closer to his father in L.A. In her new position working for a law firm defending immigrants, she finds herself at opposite ethical ends of the spectrum from her boss, Ray Hernandez (Molina).  Venturing out on her own, she takes on the case of  Asefa (Leem Lubany), a woman detained and set for deportation.  It’s an emotional journey as we watch Wood fight for Asefa’s rights and those like her.  The film gives us a unique perspective into immigration and the laws surrounding this issue, of particular import today.

TRAILER ON IMDb

“Saint Judy” delicately balances this story, allowing us to see Judy not only as a lawyer, but as a mother, determined to be a role model for her young son. Uprooting him from his familiar surroundings, he struggles as does she, but her strength and perseverance allow them to ford ahead. Her confidence and willingness to sacrifice for the good of others is at the heart of this film, creating a sense of inspiration as we watch her raise her son, deal with an ex-husband, and balance all the aspects of running a law firm. We also feel the overwhelming difference one person can make as Wood attempts to gain asylum for Asefa—it is truly a fight for life and death. And Hernandez quite cavalierly identifies the fact that this case is the ugly duckling with the potential to be the swan, setting precedent for all future and past similar legal cases.

Monaghan’s performance as Wood is clear, strong, and real as she creates a younger yet experienced, but imperfect attorney fighting for what she knows is right. She evokes a sense of true caring in this character, allowing us to understand her position and root for her to win. It’s an intense film punctuating the fact that one person can make a difference.

If you already know this case from history, it doesn’t take away the thrill of the ride especially as we witness the trailer version of a courthouse where Wood argues her case for Asefa. Common portrays the opposing counsel, Benjamin Adebayo, proving that he can give heart to any role he tackles, but Alfre Woodard’s performance as Judge Benton is riveting. Her intelligence in her delivery as well as the cadence of her speech compound her intimidating and compassionate character.

“Saint Judy” hits all the right notes as it explores and demonstrates our own ever-malleable legal system and sets of rules while reminding us of our country’s beginnings and our own humanity. It’s a solid story that is not only timely but also entertaining that just may help you see the entire issue of immigration through a new lens.

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

Robert Putka’s “We Used To Know Each Other” An honest and evocative portrayal of relationships in today’s world

March 4th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “Robert Putka’s “We Used To Know Each Other” An honest and evocative portrayal of relationships in today’s world”

Writer and director Robert Putka’s sophomore feature film “We Used To Know Each Other,” addresses a familiar topic of relationships, but in a thoughtfully dramatic and sometimes harshly honest way which is as engaging as it is uncomfortable. Putka’s previous film, “Mad,” introduced us to his wit, intellect, and wisdom in storytelling, and now, he hones those skills with razor sharp precision to delve into the concepts of relationships and love in today’s ever-changing world.

Amanda (Essa O’Shea) and Hugo (Hugo de Sousa) are a young couple in a long-distance relationship who decide to move in together. However, they find that perhaps over the years, they have changed more than the relationship can tolerate… or perhaps they didn’t really know each other at all. It’s a gorgeous exploration of society’s norms superimposed upon today’s evolving outlook.

Hugo arrives in the barren desert town outside of Las Vegas, via an Uber driver from Hell which just may be foreshadowing the dissonance to come. As he reunites with Amanda, there’s a sense that Hugo is infringing upon Amanda’s space and you question how well they know one another. Their long-distance courtship for several years wasn’t as open and forthright as it should have been and as they awkwardly prepare for the night’s event with another couple, these truths are uncovered, with incremental consequences over the next three days.

“We Used to Know Each Other” in the short 76 minute running time, succinctly and eloquently creates realistic dynamics as it addresses conventional expectations and the sexual fluidity that is a more accepted aspect of our world. Hugo, who at first seems a bit lost and unmotivated, has a heart of gold, but his insecurities and immaturity weigh heavily into his ability to confront, understand, and communicate with Amanda. Amanda, on the other hand, exhibits an intrinsic conflict, exacerbated by alcohol and guilt. Together, they are at times volcanic and others magnetic polar opposites. Still, each of these characters are personalities we know, perhaps even understand because they are a part of ourselves.

Interestingly, Putka doesn’t create a true protagonist in the film. There’s not a good guy or a bad guy and we are able to see the relationship from each characters’ vantage point. And both Hugo and Amanda stir the pot, sometimes intentionally, and other times it’s just a part of who they are and who they have become. From the viewer’s point of view, we initially see Amanda as cold, unwelcoming, and at times, just mean. However, as we begin to understand her better, we also find compassion. Hugo has his flaws as well, although they aren’t as obvious until later in the story.

This is a complexly layered story weaving into it traditional values and expectations while integrating sexual identity, exploration, and the fluidity within. All of this is created with utmost care, never exploiting the topic and finding beauty, even if clarity and resolution is not the end result. The story feels like a slice of life, a familiar slice, yet one in which we immediately connect with, needing to know how this couple will deal with all their evident differences. “We Used To Know Each Other” accentuates the fact that not only is sexuality a fluid topic, people in general are as well. Only with age, generally, do we understand that people are not stagnant; we change and our past seeps into our future decisions. This film finds a way of using that rear view mirror of life as it contemporaneously watches this love affair unfold.

This is a small ensemble cast whose performances are authentic, giving not only their characters a realistic edge, but a genuine sense to the story itself. Putka’s direction allows Hugo and Amanda to connect and unravel with such a sense of ease that we feel as if we are a fly on the wall watching the relationship evolve and at times devolve. Even when we don’t agree with either Hugo or Amanda’s actions or reactions, we always feel as if we are privy to their innermost thoughts and feelings thanks to their nuanced yet direct performances. It’s also evident that Putka has a bright future ahead of him with his “old soul” wisdom of the world and people around him.

“We Used To Know Each Other” is an evocative film portraying an honest and complicated yet realistic story of a relationship in the midst of change. Beautifully filmed and with sublime performances, it’s a lush oasis of love and reality perfectly balanced with an ending that mirrors your own reaction.

3 1/2 out of 4 stars

All-star cast sails smoothly in the rough seas of life and death in “We Are Boats”

February 27th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “All-star cast sails smoothly in the rough seas of life and death in “We Are Boats””

James Bird (“Honeyglue”) continues to share his uniquely captivating view about life in “We Are Boats,” starring Angela Sarafyan (“Westworld”), Luke Hemsworth, and Graham Greene. As Francesca’s (Sarayan) life is cut short, she finds herself in a unique situation in the afterlife–intervening with lives in an effort to be reunited with the young daughter she has left behind.

The story begins with a violent and harsh blow, reminding us of the fragility of life. Francesca, a prostitute, is in the wrong place at the wrong time and now she is interviewing for another career with “Sir” played by Uzo Aduba. Francesca’s strength and determination create unpredictable results as she wanders into several pivotal situations beginning with an unhappily married man and culminating with a young couple about to be married.

Sarafyan is the lead and she shines in this role, using her expressive eyes to convey more than any words she could utter. Her portrayal of Francesca is that of a strong and realistic woman who has the ability to perceive others’ situations and difficulties in a mysterious yet reassuring manner. Encountering a lonely and emotionally lost man, a homeless woman, and a father who is attempting to right his past wrongs, she finds compassion and understanding although a soft touch isn’t always how she delivers it.

The support Sarafyan receives from this all-star ensemble cast allows the different vignettes to develop naturally and cohesively. While many of these glimpses into others’ lives have closure, it is Lucas (Hemsworth) and Ryan’s (Adrian Mather) story that delivers the emotional punch of life and love that hits home. Loyalty, regrets, family, and distrust are all at the core of this particular segment as we see Lucas and Ryan’s relationship teeter. Mather’s character as a bartender, like Francesca, sees the world and those in it a little differently, perhaps jaded, as she utters rather harsh views. For a young woman, Ryan’s past has hardened her and Mather masterfully exhibits these characteristics. Hemsworth’s performance is equally skilled as he demonstrates distrust for his fiancé based on his own insecurities. As Freddy (Justin Cornwell) enters the picture, the awkwardness and deception increases exponentially and we cringe at what is taking place. Cornwell’s performance is a treasure in this story, conflicted yet honest as he follows through with his friend’s request. Of course, Greene is exceptional as a man with regrets, spilling his guts to a bartender as if in a confessional box. He allows us to have compassion for him as he struggles with the end of his time, battling with his inner demons and possible resolution. This story is the climax of the film as we see all the loose ends tied expertly together, creating a dynamic and thought-provoking film about living life and what could possibly be next.

Developing a complicated and layered story could be overwhelming, but Bird’s vision carefully and thoughtfully delves deeply into life with magnetic characters all of whom we can relate on some level. Finding this spirit brings meaning not only to the film and story, but to our own perceptions about life as well. Bird’s message is a positive one, delivered in an astute and understated fashion.

“We Are Boats” is a films that has the power to lift us as it evokes emotion and puts into question what tomorrow can and will bring. Weaving together a common thread among the tapestry of stories gives a satisfying end that stays with you. With beautiful cinematic sequences, we connect with the characters, all brought to life with strong performances.

3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

“Fighting With My Family” A knock-out story and performances

February 22nd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Fighting With My Family” A knock-out story and performances”

Stories from real life provide some of the best material for films, and Stephen Merchant’s newest film as writer and director, “Fighting With My Family,” starring Florence Pugh, Jack Lowden and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, is a prime example.

Ricky Knight (Nick Frost) and his wife, Julia (Lena Headey), former small-time wrestlers in Norwich, England, dream of their children, Paige (Pugh) and Zak (Lowden), one day becoming WWE champions, an extension of their own lost dreams.

“Fighting With My Family” is a tale of shattered dreams and picking up the pieces as the family grows and learns. Merchant’s comedy is a perfect amalgam of drama and humor as it depicts the Knights’ exceptional yet ordinary lives.To read the review in its entirety as published in the Friday, February 22nd, 2019 edition of The Daily Journal go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

An Interview with Stephen Merchant, “Fighting With My Family”

February 20th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, News 0 thoughts on “An Interview with Stephen Merchant, “Fighting With My Family””

“Fighting With My Family,” based on a true story written and directed by Stephen Merchant (“The Office”), is a humorous yet meaningful film about a wrestling family, the Knights, whose lives and dreams change as young Paige (Florence Pugh), gets the opportunity to become the next WWE champion.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson not only has a great part in the film, he is to thank for giving Merchant this seed of an idea. While the movie premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, Merchant was also in Chicago, where I spoke with him at length about creating the film.

Questions and answers are edited for length and clarity.

Pamela Powell (PP): Congratulations on your Sundance premiere. First, tell me how you became aware of this story?

SM: It’s all because of The Rock. He was in the UK making “Fast and Furious 6.” He couldn’t sleep one night, and there it was… a documentary about this crazy family from Norwich, and because he’s from a wrestling world and a wrestling family, he related to it. I think somewhere along the line, he realized it had a ready-made, built-in Rocky underdog story that’s just waiting to become a movie. [He wanted someone with] British sensibility to write it because he knew it was a British family… so, he came to me.

PP: So, we can thank The Rock’s insomnia for this great story.

To read the interview in its entirety as it was published in The Daily Journal, Feb. 16, 2019, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Isn’t It Romantic” The Anti-Rom-Com Rom-Com

February 15th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Isn’t It Romantic” The Anti-Rom-Com Rom-Com”

“Isn’t It Romantic” is the anti-rom-com rom-com written by a trio of women, Erin Cardillo, Dana Fox and Katie Silberman, and stars Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth.

The premise is a familiar one as Natalie (Wilson) hits her head and is knocked out, waking up in an alternate world where everything looks perfect and smells like roses, and her mission in order to get back to her world is to fall in love. Most of the comedic elements are shown in the trailer, but there’s a few more laughs to be had and, more importantly, a welcomed lesson to be learned at the end.

Natalie is an architect relegated to creating the benign and lost structure of a parking garage. Her position at the firm and the structure she is charged with creating definitely parallels her own self-image and level of importance. As in all romantic comedies, our main character has a few life lessons to learn which hit you square between the eyes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

COLD PURSUIT, Dark Humor in Familiar Scenario for Neeson

February 8th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on “COLD PURSUIT, Dark Humor in Familiar Scenario for Neeson”

“Cold Pursuit,” starring Liam Neeson, takes revenge to a new level in this chilling thriller. Nels (Neeson), a snowplow driver located in a remote ski village area in Colorado, discovers his son, Kyle (Micheal Richardson) has died in an apparent overdose.

Finding his death was no accident, Nels seeks revenge upon all who were responsible, leading him to a deadly and powerful henchman.

First, this film is completely ridiculous in its premise and execution, pun intended. However, unlike so many films in this genre, there’s an element of humor in it. Be warned, it’s a very dark humor, but humor nonetheless.
To read the review in its entirety, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL

“Words From A Bear” The eloquence, history, and spirit of N. Scott Momaday

January 29th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Words From A Bear” The eloquence, history, and spirit of N. Scott Momaday”

Pulitzer Prize-winning Native American author N. Scott Momady’s story comes to full living cinematic splendor thanks to the documentary storytelling skills of Jeffrey Palmer in his directorial debut “Words From A Bear.” Momaday, a Native American from the Kiowa Tribe, has had a remarkable life which resonates with incredible strength and emotion as we walk back in time, following his footsteps, and experiencing his youth, elders’ lessons, and finally his own teachings. “Words From A Bear” is a vibrant and mesmerizing story connecting us with him, our own history, humanity, and most importantly the land upon which we are charged with caring.

We meet the elderly, yet very mentally spry Momaday, now seated in a wheelchair, having his photo taken professionally. With a candidly sly comment, we are at once enchanted by his voice and his knowing smirk. The award-winning author holds nothing back as he relays his ancestry and their storytelling techniques, describing these memories of history. Using archival photos and sweeping landscape cinematography, we hold images of the Great Plains, the desert, and the blood that was shed over the years, yet the spirit remains strong within those who are connected.

As we see these images, Momaday’s balanced and symmetrical utterances elegantly glide over your mind and heart, saturating and satisfying your thirst for knowledge while the words comfort you. Momaday’s open portrayal of who he is and how he came to be is luxuriously poetic. It strikes an intrinsic chord as we watch images of a man, his world, and nature as it changes with great meaning over the decades.

Never have I been transported, imaginatively whisked away by a voice, a tone, a timbre as I was by Momaday’s meaningfully lyrical and emotive descriptions. I could feel the texture of the surroundings he described as an inexplicable emotion welled up within me. Artistically, Palmer then skillfully interjects interviews with celebrities who have known Momaday and his writings such as Robert Redford, Jeff and Beau Bridges and Native American scholars across the continent. This gives viewers just a sample of the impact Momaday’s work has had on our literary world.

“Words From A Bear” provides a better understanding of the plight of Native Americans and the beautiful craft of verbal storytelling. While literature, as pointed out in the film, is a storytelling craft in writing, so too is it in the word of mouth form. To listen to Momaday’s stories as he recalls his childhood and his name’s origin, he elicits a focus with his calming presence, engaging you as he reassures you that there is hope within the understanding of nature.

Palmer has a keen sense of storytelling as he gives Momaday his time and space on screen, but he augments every aspect with not only the interviews from celebrities and scholars, but also with capturing landmarks from the past, photos from bygone days, and graphic art as he maintains Momaday’s voice and words. We step not only back in time to understand an unwelcoming and intolerant era but also get to know Momaday’s direct ancestors and their personalities through eloquent and rich descriptions. We see through oral storytelling how the ancestors live on via this art and their spirit.

It is the spirit, the strong spirit in his voice, that we gain insight into our own past, his past, and how we are all connected. As Redford said, Momaday has a “spiritual poetic connection to the land” and “Rock Tree Boy” as he was named by an elder, is our connection. “It is the spirit that counts and it is the spirit that is indomitable,” says Momaday and he is truly an indomitably spirit.

I am truly grateful for my own discovery of this great man, his essence, his knowledge, his words, and most importantly, his spirit. I am changed by having seen this film, gaining an understanding of a history I didn’t fully know and somehow identifying with his story. This is a film to connect us all and give us a greater understanding of who we are and who we can be. And it is with sincere gratitude that I give to Jeffrey Palmer for bringing this man and his story to everyone.

“Words From A Bear” premiered today, January 29th at the Sundance Film Festival and will continue to have 3 additional screenings. Go to SUNDANCE.ORG for more information and watch for an upcoming interview with Jeffrey Palmer!

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era

January 28th, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, Review 0 thoughts on ““Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” Beautifully portrays the horrors of man’s new era”

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is the third film by Jennifer Baichwal and Edward Burtynsky to address the environment, preceded by “Manufactured Landscapes” (2006) and “Watermark” (2013). The film, narrated in layman’s terms by Alicia Vikander, gives us a stunning visual education of our current world’s state as we leave behind the Halocene Era, one which nature provides changes, to the Anthropocene Era, where man is responsible for all of them.

The opening scene is visually gripping as you are drawn to the flames like a moth that fill every corner of the screen, mesmerizing you with its beauty. You then find the source of the flames which engulf your visual field. The beauty quickly turns to horror and this visual slight of hand pattern occurs throughout the film. What initially is gorgeously striking suddenly comes into comprehensible view to create a disturbing image. It perfectly imitates our own consciousness as we are at first ignorant about issues, but then, with information, we are awakened and see things for what they truly are.

Baichwal and Burtynsky takes us on an extraordinary journey through time and around the world to explore and explain the effects of mankind on our world. Chapter by chapter, beginning with “Extraction,” we understand how our need for earth’s resources have inadvertently depleted other necessary resources. We start in Russia at a huge metal factory. To fuel the fire, trees are cut, but that is a source of oxygen not to mention the benefits of helping with processing carbon dioxide. There’s a delicate balance that has been tipped too far in one direction as the community depends on this plant for wages, but at the same time it’s hurting them. This juggling act, understanding and caring for our environment while attempting to give people a way to support themselves is always at the forefront as is the gluttony and greed, and the land is losing.

This is the theme throughout the film as we travel to Carrara, Italy and witness the extraction of the finest marble in the world. Seen from high above as a gorgeous symmetrical design we plunge more closely and our breath is taken away by the image that lies before us. This cinematic accentuation upon the narration clearly defines the irrevocable damage upon our planet. From the phosphate mines in Florida to the grinding jaws of machinery in Germany which appear like monsters rising above the clouds, we see a land that replicates a scene from “Mad Max” or “Mortal Engines.” There’s a sense of hopelessness at what has been lost.

The film looks at this new era of man, dissecting how we have impacted climate change and extinction of animals. Interviews with residents, employees, and those who are stepping up in an effort to make a difference, save endangered species, or protect our current state from getting worse, support the underlying feel of an emergency. For example, the president of Kenya eloquently states, “…blessings come with duties” as he refers to the land and the gracious endangered species of elephants and rhinoceroses roam the land. As we extrapolate the information, it is evident that our own demise or extinction is eminent. This is a warning tale, an eye-opening, riveting masterpiece of art and story that shakes your soul as it hopefully alarms you into action.

“Anthropocene: The Human Epoch” is masterfully detailed, captivating you visually with a subtle yet haunting musical layer to tell a difficult yet necessary story. From streets comprised of compressed trash surrounded by mountains of rubbish looking serene from high above and plats of water that reflect a contemplative neon green to rocky striations of reds, blues, purples and whites, appearing like ancient stone carvings only to be revealed as a signature of our chemical times and the imprint upon the earth’s surface. There’s an artistry in our devastation making it even more disturbing as you initially find beauty in it.

“Anthropocene” The Human Epoch” is a wake up call. A call to action. A call to awareness. And a plea to understand how we have left the Halocene Epoch and are now in an era of man’s giant and crushing footprint upon our world. The film’s beauty is undeniable as are the horrors it reveals. This is one of the most visually arresting and informative films about our world and our future.

For more information about the film at the Sundance Film Festival, go to SUNDANCE.ORG

4 STARS

“Serenity” misses the boat

January 26th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Serenity” misses the boat”

“Serenity” is written and directed by Steven Knight whose previous film, “Locke,” starring Tom Hardy is a favorite. Unfortunately, this second attempt wearing both the writer’s and director’s hats doesn’t quite work. Matthew McConaughey stars as Baker Dill, a charter fisherman on the pristine and remote island called Plymouth Island. Dill finds his sole focus is catching the Big One, the one that gets away, time after time. His focus quickly changes when his ex-wife, Karen (Anne Hathaway), shows up with a story of spousal abuse and an offer that he just can’t refuse…or can he?

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Karen shares her abusive stories and promises Dill $10M if he agrees to bring her husband Frank (Jason Clarke) on a fishing expedition where he will go overboard and become fish food. In need of money and his connection to the child back home, Dill considers the offer, but there’s something off. In fact, there’s something that feels a bit hinky during most of the film, or at least until the big reveal. You can’t quite put your finger on it, and it does keep you hooked, but there are too many expressions that make your eyes roll and these characters just seem too over-the-top. You hope that it’s an element of supernatural as Knight eludes to that, drawing you down a particular path, only to be capsized.

“Serenity” certainly had potential, but it seems that Knight lost touch with the arc of the story line and the importance of the topics at hand. Addressing complex issues such as abuse and coping mechanisms, particularly with children and women is a tough topic, and this bizarre approach would have worked at if the twist was revealed significantly earlier. We then could have been allowed to appreciate and understand the characters more fully as well as the situations at hand.

With knowing the twist, McConaughey’s portrayal of the man with a secret, escaping from something we are not yet privy to while creating a persona of individuality, and strength is spot on even if it is rather one dimensional. His first mate Duke (Djimon Hounsou) is equally strong, but stable; the voice of wisdom. Hounsou evokes trust immediately from you as you urge Dill to listen to him. Hathaway gives us a sense of a femme fatale character with her mysterious and sudden appearances, her beauty, and emitting a sense of distrustfulness. Hathaway is always a pleasure to see in any role and she finds a way to add interest to this otherwise seemingly bizarre film. Clarke portrays a character that is pure evil, perhaps too evil and that is in part thanks to Knights’ choice in dialogue as he refers to despicable acts upon young girls. He pushes the evil a bit too far given that this is a fictional tale—we just didn’t need that as Frank was awful enough without that. Jeremy Strong plays Reid Miller, the oddball, suit-wearing, spectacled man always trying to catch up with Dill. His character throws a wrench into anything you might have thought was happening, but he’s a welcomed character as he puts the narrative into a higher gear. Unfortunately, Diane Lane’s character of Constance, Dill’s friend (and bank account) with benefits is quite forgettable and unnecessary.

Again, much of what I have described doesn’t make sense until close to the end and by that time you already have a sour taste in your mouth. There wasn’t enough Orbit gum to cover that up and allow you to see the film for what it was trying to be. On the surface, the film is about abuse and questioning right versus wrong and all those shades in between. But as you delve more deeply, the women in how they are portrayed is disappointing as well as the overall message.

Again, after knowing the twist and understanding that the film is about abuse and how to cope, it misses the boat. With the sex, language, and references made, it’s also difficult to see who the target audience is. It’s too harsh for kids who might be experiencing abuse and its an exercise in frustration for the rest of us.

2 1/2 Stars

“Green Book” A lesson in humanity if not history

January 25th, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““Green Book” A lesson in humanity if not history”

“Green Book” already has won several major film awards, including three Golden Globes and a Critics’ Choice Award, and earned five Academy Award nominations. There’s a good reason for this. It’s a feel-good movie that opens the door to conversation about racial prejudice and truly is entertaining and heartwarming.

Writer/director Peter Farrelly, known for classic comedies such as “Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber,” couldn’t have created anything less similar to his previous films. He does, however, maintain a sense of humor throughout this touching, dramatic, road trip buddy film starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali that will make you laugh … and cry.

The story takes place in the 1960s at a time when segregation still was very evident and even more racially divided in the Southern states. Tony Vallelonga aka Tony Lip (Mortensen), an Italian-American in New York City, making a living as a bouncer and all-around tough guy, finds himself working as a driver for the famed classical pianist Dr. Don Shirley, who is going on tour through the deep South.

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

The 2019 Slamdance Hot List

January 23rd, 2019 Posted by Film Festivals, News 0 thoughts on “The 2019 Slamdance Hot List”

The 2019 Slamdance Film Festival will open its doors at the top of Main St. in Park City, Utah at the Treasure Mountain Inn on Jan. 25 and run through Jan. 31st. This intimate, competitive, and ever-growing festival gives independent filmmakers and fans of creative films, many of which push the boundaries in both topic matter and style, a different lens with which to view them. And many of these films will be picked up for distribution and just might be the start for the next Christopher Nolan.

If you’re in Park City, this is a festival not to be missed and here are my top picks so far:

HAPPY FACE:
In the superficial world in which we live, looks determine not only how others perceive us, but even who we are. Co-written and directed by Alexandre Franchi, “Happy Face” tackles this subject, introducing us to a teenager, struggling with his mother’s diagnosis of cancer that will result in a resection of her face. Joining a patient support group for those who have congenital anomalies or resulting disfigurements from an accident, he disguises himself to fit in. This is an eye-opening look into our own reactions and perceptions of those who may not initially be physically perfect. With no make up, these real people eloquently tell their own stories in this fictional tale.
TRAILER

THE VAST OF NIGHT:
Mystery and intrigue are at their highest as the residents of a small town are distracted by a local basketball game. Only a switchboard operator and a radio DJ have an inkling that something is askew. Written by James Montague and Craig Dietrich, and directed by Andrew Patterson, the film stars Sierra McCormick and Jake Horowtitz in this “sci-fi adventure” film.

HURRY SLOWLY:
One fateful summer, Fiona and her cognitively impaired brother set a course that will slowly change their futures. Written by Anders Emblem and starring Amalie Ibsen Jensen and David Jakobsen, this Norwegian story promises to connect our own lives with theirs as it dissects family and individuality as it relates to responsibility.

IMPETUS:
Written and directed by Jennifer Alleyn the lines of filmmaking and reality are blurred to create a surreal story of love, loss and what drives us forward. With an experimental and sensual feel, the film finds a common thread, stitching themes together into one glorious tapestry of a story.

LOST HOLIDAY:
A crazy, fast-paced story about Margaret (Kate Lyn Sheil) and Daryl (Joshua Leonard) who attempt to solve the mystery of a missing friend. Their antics and issues of past love interests intersect, sometimes creating a roadblock in finding their friend. What they ultimately find creates even more surprises, many of which they might not be ready or able to handle.

WE ARE THANKFUL:
The film is part real life and part re-enactment, promising to entertain and connect us with the residents in a village a world away in South Africa. Showing the power of film and filmmaking, Siyabonga Majola wants nothing more than to be in a movie and as luck would have it, one is being filmed nearby. What lengths will he go to in order to make his dreams come true? Interestingly, this film is also re-enacted by the very people who experienced what happened that fateful year.

DONS OF DISCO:
If you thought Disco was dead, think again as “Dons of Disco” powers into Slamdance. This documentary is filled with comedy and music as it discovers the identity behind the artist Den Harrow. Part mystery, party history, director Jonathan Sutak will give audiences plenty to ponder during film and after the credits roll.

MEMPHIS ’69:
Following along the beat of music is “Memphis ’69.” The 4th annual Country Blues Festival took place in Memphis. It was an historic event and until recently, the color footage had not been located. Now, almost 50 years later, we see the talent of blues masters such as Sleepy John Estes and Nathan Beauregard and many more, in full color footage. These legends and the amalgam of people who loved them are restored and brought back to life thanks to this discovery.

Check out the full schedule of films which include shorts, features, documentaries and exclusive to Slamdance, “Anarchy Shorts.” Tickets are affordable and the venue is small and welcoming. SLAMDANCE SCHEDULE

“F*** Your Hair” Screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a must-see story of immigration, morality, and politics

January 23rd, 2019 Posted by Review 0 thoughts on ““F*** Your Hair” Screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a must-see story of immigration, morality, and politics”

“F*** Your Hair” may sound, just by the title, like an irreverent or combative story, but in actuality, it is a true American story, filled to the brim with inspiration, courage, and morality. Politics, immigration, business, and community are all thoughtfully stirred together in a well-balanced and spicy story to please your film palate.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

First-time filmmaker Jason Polevoi creates this short documentary depicting the dilemma of Andres Araya and Mila Ramirez in 2014 who had immigrated to the Chicago area determined to live the American Dream. With a love of their home country of Mexico, the flavors they cherished weren’t present in any craft beer so they created 5 Rabbit Cerveceria. Thanks to a connection, the couple landed what initially appeared to be a dream contract: having their beer as a mainstay draft at Trump Tower. For a small brewery, this catapulted them into financial stability, but their proverbial bubble was burst during the presidential election when Trump accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists, drug mules, and criminals. As Mexican immigrants, how could the couple continue to sell to Trump when they heard this? And if they followed their heart and stopped selling to Trump, their bank account would suffer immeasurably. This is the story of what happens when you do the right thing.

In well-shot interview form, Polevoi introduces us to Araya and Ramirez as they recalled coming to America, finding a home in Chicago and venturing into the brewery business. We quickly learn from the couple, their thoughts and feelings the very moment when they learned of Trump’s allegations and when they decided they couldn’t, in all good consciousness, continue to sell to Trump Tower. We are swept away by the ensuring story as they decide to rename of the beer, hear the thoughts of other local brewery owners, and even hear expert lawyers on the topic because, you guessed it, the couple gets sued. Surprise, surprise, right? But how can one little company fight big money? Jenkins takes us along this journey as we learn about the business and the intricacies of a David vs. Goliath fight.

This short documentary, thanks to the keen vision of Polevoi, not only introduces us to the motivated and creative couple, we get to know them—their personalities and their goals. Integrating humor, oftentimes ironically, as well as graphic art gives the narrative storytelling technique a visual pop, making the film visually interesting and even more entertaining. The additional interviews complete this riveting and bold picture and we walk away from the film with an education about contracts, beer making, and one couple’s hope to truly chase the American Dream even when there are roadblocks a mile high in their way. Here’s an added bonus: If you’re a non-beer drinker like me, you might even be inspired to have a tall pour of F*** Your Hair. Cheers!

“F*** Your Hair” is screening at the Siskel Film Center on Friday partnering with the insightful and relevant Kartemquin film “’63 Boycott.” For more information, go to SISKEL FILM CENTER

Writer/Director Peter Hedges talks about making “Ben Is Back”

January 17th, 2019 Posted by Interviews, Review 0 thoughts on “Writer/Director Peter Hedges talks about making “Ben Is Back””

You can’t miss newspaper articles, books, and even movies which depict the harrowing experiences of drug abuse in our world today. This year, two standout films tell an emotionally raw story not just about addiction, but of a young adult’s attempts to regain his life. “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben Is Back” both create these stories, but with Peter Hedges film, “Ben Is Back,” starring his own son Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts, he utilizes pieces of his own life as well as others’, to give us a sincere and poignant tale of a mother and son struggling for survival.

Peter Hedges was recently in Chicago for the Chicago International Film Festival where his film screened. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting this soft-spoken yet engaging, award winning writer and director to talk about making “Ben Is Back.”

Pamela Powell (PP): I understand that “Ben Is Back” is reflective of your own life in many ways.

Peter Hedges (PH): I grew up in a family that was decimated and then ultimately elevated because of addiction. My mom was an active alcoholic until I was 15 and then she left home when I was 7. I didn’t really know her full and majestic self —she was a remarkable woman—until she got sober when I was 15. The last 22 years of her life she devoted to helping other people and saved hundreds if not thousands of lives. …I saw from a family perspective what happens when a loved member of the family is engulfed by the disease of addiction. And so as I got older … I noticed that I was burying more and more friends and more and more people that I knew were at risk. A close family member nearly died and another family member did die and so I just wanted to create or tell a story that I felt could be a big part of a conversation that we need to have.

PP: You have a uniquely accurate way of creating a mother’s voice in your characters, especially with Julia Robert’s character of “Holly.” How do you do this?

PH: I had a remarkable mother and I’m married to a remarkable mother. My sister’s a remarkable mother. Most of my favorite actors are remarkable women of a certain age. Holly was not hard for [me to write]. … From the minute I started writing the mother in “Gilbert Grape” to the mother I wrote in “Pieces of April,” I like writing moms. I don’t know why, … nothing comes super easy for me, but they do. I think it’s my respect and awe and love for moms and mothers and women in my life. And my life has helped make that possible. … I was struck in reading Walt Whitman’s journals. When soldiers were dying in the war repeatedly, …. they never called out for their fathers. They never called out for their loved ones. They always called out for their mothers. I wanted to write a great love story. … I thought who would really go anywhere and will go everywhere for their child?

PP: Julia and Lucas have such a genuine connection. Tell me about their relationship and developing it to give such authentic performances.

PH: It’s a testament to both of them. They really like each other! … I mean what does one say about Julia Roberts? She’s the perfect actor to play Holly. She’s that mom. She loves her kids so much and she’ll do anything for them. What makes the movie so powerful to me is that Holly’s trying so hard to protect her child and Lucas is Ben is trying so hard to make up for his mistakes and I find that very moving that I’m going to beat this. And the fact that it’s that hard to beat is why the film’s important is because that’s what so many people are facing and some of us don’t realize how difficult it is. Someone that we sit next to at work, at school and they’re living everyday in this peril that Holly and Ben lives on this day.

PP: And what about working with your own son?

PH: He never called me dad. I mean one time he did. He came knocking on my door, he needed some money. (Laughs) But he stayed down the hall and I never went to his room. He came to my room a couple of times but I really tried to just keep the distance and give him his space.

PP: As a mother, I felt that I was Holly, walking in her shoes even though I, thankfully, have not gone through this experience directly. I had such compassion for her character.

PH: That’s the great danger of the time that we’re living in is that everything is “an other.” … when we lose our capacity to feel compassion for other people and we lose our ability or interest in understand other points of view, then we are descending toward more of a savage world, a cruel world. I think art at its best expands our capacity for compassion and maybe we’ll look a little differently at the people we’ve been writing off.

PP: Do you feel that this film is in some ways a healing process for you and your past?

PH: It is in some respects very much that. I think my mother and father who are no longer here in the physical sense and I know how much they would love this film and that makes me proud that that’s an extension of the work they were doing. And this is my attempt to be a part of something much bigger and more important. It’s definitely healing. It makes me want to keep moving in the direction of making urgent and necessary films.

PP: This topic touches so many lives directly, including my friend who lost her son. What have you seen so far of the impact of this film?

PH: The trailer came out and trailers always scare me and I was looking on the “Ben Is Back” Facebook page, and thousands of people are commenting about the trailer, but a number of [were] people saying, I don’t know if I can see this movie, I lived it, and then someone would say, this is a picture of my son that I lost and then there would be 14 comments from people all over the world saying I’m so sorry that that happened. He looked like such a great kid. … Somebody came up to me yesterday after the movie and said, I didn’t know what I put my mother through until I saw this movie and said, ‘I’m going to go call my mom.’ YES! … That’s the hard thing about the disease that you’re so caught up in it that you lose your capacity to understand that you’re hurting the people that you most love. When my mother got sober, she had to live with the fact that all the hurting she did when she was drinking. If she hadn’t have been drinking she would never have done those things. She would never have walked out on 4 children. She had to be drunk to do that. I understand there’s accountability … but they’re not themselves. And this friend of yours who lost her son, he wasn’t himself.

Film Rating 4/4 Stars

A Sneak Peek At Sundance Film Festival 2019

January 15th, 2019 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “A Sneak Peek At Sundance Film Festival 2019”

It’s that time of year…It’s time to Sundance! The prestigious film festival founded by Robert Redford to help develop a safe and nurturing space for independent filmmaking has morphed into a high-profile Hollywood scene. While still trying to hold on to its roots, and last year we saw evidence of this, the festival reportedly reeled in a record-breaking number of submissions this year: 14,259 films from 152 countries. The 2019 Sundance Film Festival (SFF) will take place January 24th through February 3rd.
To read the article in its entirety, go
HERE

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